I Know What Learners Need

Last Saturday, I was talking with a past colleague and good friend Virginie, an instructional designer working in the field for 10 years now. We talked about some of the struggles we go through in this profession. We tried to pin point what was the one character quality that all instructional designers should have. We both agreed that it was empathy, that is the ability to put one’s self in the learner’s seat and anticipate their needs. This, coupled with competency in applying sound instructional design techniques is what makes an instructional designer great.

When I read a recent post by Archana Narayan, I heard her strongly say “I know what learners need“. As professionals in the field of development and training, we all need to say it stronger and louder if we want to be respected as the professionals that we are. It can be a constant struggle to have our expert opinion heard, but it’s crucial that we do, both for the learner and for our professional integrity.

Whether it’s with dealing with clients who want to micromanage their learners, whether it’s dealing with outrageous requests or whether it’s dealing with subject matter experts and trainers that dismiss the instructional design process, Archana provides some great tips to get you started.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

From the Innovative Mind of Janey Clarey: Instructional Design by Example Blog

Janet Clarey is one of my favorite bloggers on the topic of training and developement. It is no surprise that she has kicked off this absolutely fabulous idea of blogging about real life instructional design examples.

I wish her the best of luck possible and am thinking up an example to contribute in the very near future.

Corporate e-learning needs another blog. Oh yes. It does.

In this blog, you’ll find examples of e-learning courses and details about the instructional design process used in creating them. You’ll also find specifics about the logistics of the courses. Anyone is welcome to submit an example using the submission form. The site is maintained by Janet Clarey.

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Putting the Learner in the Driver’s Seat

Ever notice that a long trip is seems shorter when you’re the one driving? When I’m a passenger and I don’t have anything to distract me, I feel like a trip can go on forever. But when I’m behind the wheel, my mind is constantly engaged, thinking, processing and deciding. I actually prefer driving a manual transmission because I feel like I have more control over the car. (Sidebar: Earlier today, Karyn Romeis posted a very another interesting analogy about learning and driving and I discovered it after writing mine. Ah! I love mini-zeitgeists!)

In a post entitled Here’s Why Unlocking Your Course Navigation Will Create Better Learning, Tom Kuhlmann discusses the number one reason (I’ve heard) for why certain people are adverse to eLearning courseware:

Courses need to be designed to accommodate the uniqueness of each learner. And that doesn’t happen by trying to control them.

Yes! Exactly!

As a consultant, I find myself trying to get clients to understand this constantly. They argue that they want to make sure that the learners don’t skip something very important and that they need to ensure that everyone understand everything the same way – this seems to be very important in the case of certification programs. Maybe they’d be better served consulting with the spirit of Asimov…

Tom then goes on to make a case for problem-based learning:

Locking the navigation is a solution to stopping learners from clicking through the course. However, it doesn’t address why they’re clicking through it in the first place and not focusing on the content. Instead of locking the navigation, create a course that removes the reason to just click the next button.

This is something every good face-to-face to trainer knows well. In order to avoid having a bunch of blank faces staring back at you, you need to interact with your learners by asking a question or by soliciting their opinion, anything to get that little hamster running. The advantage of face-to-face training is the visual feedback that learners are disengaged. In an online setting, you won’t get that feedback and disengaged learners won’t be paying attention to the content, as Janet Clarey and her commenters demonstrate in a post entitled: What to do while attending a boring online learning event: stealth learning.

The premise of problem-based learning is to stimulate the learner to think. You first present a problem, get the learner thinking about it, get them interacting with the content, give them feedback. The idea is rather then spoon feeding the content to the learner, you get learners to arrive to the ideas and concepts you are trying to convey.

It is no wonder that Serious Gaming is getting more and more press and is being considered by organizations as a effective way to deliver training. I’m actually quite excited as I’m designing my first serious game for a project I’m working on – and this is allowing me to design a whole other level of problem-based learning.

I’d love to hear other creative ways people are designing problem-based learning!

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Designing eLearning Environments for Learning Organizations

My presentation at ISPI-Montreal’s 2006 Conference discussed A Systemic Approach to Designing Fluid eLearning Environments for Learning Organisations.

Presentation Summary

In a learning organization, a shared vision is built by linking individual and organizational performance objectives. The design of this organization’s eLearning environment must reflect this vision, empowering individuals, cultivating communities of practice and encouraging a holistic performance improvement perspective.

This presentation focuses on strategies for designing participative and collaborative eLearning environments. You will identify ways of assessing and implementing a new generation of eLearning tools that have the potential to keep learners curious, engaged, communicating and sharing, ultimately fulfilling a learning organization’s objectives.

At the end of this session, participants should be able to:

  • Recognize the principle requirements when designing eLearning environments for learning organizations;
  • Identify techniques and tools for designing networks that offer both collaborative and self-directed learning;
  • Describe the new generation of eLearning technologies, potential uses, strengths and weaknesses;
  • Select strategies for developing and implementing participative eLearning environments, and
  • Define criteria for success and growth.

Organizational Learning Strategy and eLearning

Situating the Current Popular eLearning Offering

When one decides to venture into the world of eLearning, he or she will quickly come across the following terms:

  • Learning object: a pre-defined parcel of learning that elaborates on a subject or a notion. It is usually developed with rich multimedia.
  • Learning Content Management System (LCMS): a system that enables the organization and sequencing of learning objects to follow a preset learning path.
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS): a system that manages individual learning paths and tracks the learner’s participation and results. It usually interacts with an LCMS and many systems today integrate both.

These technologies are usually worked into a training oriented design where information is essentially pushed to the learner. A certain degree of computer programmed interactivity is planned with the objective of keeping the learner engaged. However, the overwhelming majority of learning objects, at best, transfer a small amount of procedural knowledge—how to do something—and are often limited to declarative knowledge—what is something.

This approach, if properly developed, can be useful when a content push is required such as in the case of introducing new information, demonstrating a step-by-step procedure or other similar processes, etc. But it doesn’t even begin to address the need to develop situational, critical and creative thinking skills at an individual level. This approach cannot transfer contextual knowledge, causal knowledge or foster the development or transferable skills. In essence, it is an incomplete solution and we must push the eLearning offering further.

Looking At a Larger Picture

Organizational development experts began to really expand on the concept of a Learning Organisation in the early 1990s. Peter Senge, a leading expert defines learning organizations as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” (Senge 1990: 3)

The idea that was brought forward by many experts in this field was one of transformation through systems thinking primarily at three levels:

  1. Aligning Objectives: Building a shared vision by linking individual performance and objectives with organizational performance objectives.
  2. Empowering Individuals: Enabling individuals within an organisation to develop personal mastery and reach their goals by providing them with mental models and continuous learning opportunities as well as encouraging creative and critical thinking.
  3. Cultivating Communities: Promoting team learning, cultivating inquiry and dialogue, addressing differences and tensions and using them to stimulate innovation.

Now fifteen years later, the American Management Association reported in their 2005 Global Study of Leadership that “fostering creativity and innovation” was the fifth most highly ranked leadership competency today. They insisted that the “the leader must foster creativity and innovation, both by providing the opportunity to tackle big business issues and by creating a culture where risk-taking and decentralized decision-making are encouraged and rewarded. All too often, executives preach risk-taking and the encouragement of change, but practice control and adherence to established policies and practices.” (AMA 2005: 61)

That said, in order to entrust employees with the mandate of being change agents, the manager needs evidence that employees have the requisite skills and competencies. The plan to develop these skills and competency needs to be embedded in the organization’s learning strategy.

Dynamic eLearning Environments for the Learning Organization

eLearning expert Stephen Downes explains that today’s Web user expects more than a content push. With the advent of social networks, online communities, blogs, wikis, podcasts and other types of conversational Web usage, online users are creating connections in a complex self-directed learning network. Many Virtual  Learning Environment Systems such as Moodle, in recognizing that a series of sequenced learning objects will not suffice, are strategically integrating these functionalities within their systems with the intention of fostering a socio-constructivist learning environment.

Downes, as well as many experts in the field, insist that eLearning must look at these current networking and information sharing practices and embed them into our eLearning strategies. “Learning is characterized not only by greater autonomy for the learner, but also a greater emphasis on active learning, with creation, communication and participation playing key roles, and on changing roles for the teacher, indeed, even a collapse of the distinction between teacher and student altogether.” (Downes 2005)

By developing learning strategies that incorporate these social networking concepts, the potential for designing and developing learner-centered environments that foster reflective, creative and critical thinking is limitless.

Rethinking Multimedia Instructional Material Design for an Equitable and Critical Pedagogy

I presented on the subject of Rethinking Multimedia Instructional Material Design for an Equitable and Critical Pedagogy at two conferences this spring:

  • In Touch with Technology conference presented by the Association of Media and Technology for Education in Canada (AMTEC), Laurentian University
  • Pioneers in a New Age conference presented by the Canadian Association of Distance Education (ACED/CADE), York University

Summary of Presentation

There is a need for educational environments that integrate multimedia learning materials that go beyond basic thinking skills, and incorporate creative and critical thinking skills too. A complex thinking framework fosters multidisciplinary ways of understanding a topic, engaging a student’s awareness of their prior knowledge and ways of knowing, to then work collaboratively with others and develop a broader and more inclusive perspective.