Archive for the ‘instructional design’ category

Funny business

27 November 2013

Do you find yourself going to too many meetings? Or to meetings that don’t really achieve anything? I know I do.

Like many large organisations around the world, my employer is not immune to that most insidious of diseases: the ineffective meeting.

However, unlike other organisations that prefer to sweep the problem under the carpet, I’m proud to say that ours has chosen to tackle it head on. The term “proud” might seem somewhat of an over statement, but allow me to put it into context…

You see, in Australian terms at least, the company I work for is old. And with age comes a reputation for being risk averse, compliant, not really innovative, but big and safe. Perhaps we are some or all of those things, but in any case I think it sells us short.

I’ve been employed by the company for a while now, and I can personally vouch for the progressive changes that have occurred over that time. I think no better example of our evolution is a little video clip that we produced to combat the aforementioned spectre of the ineffective meeting.

In the clip, a woman in a supermarket asks the store attendant for directions to the bread aisle. The attendant dutifully escorts the customer to the bread and asks her what type she wants. What follows is an excruciating sequence as she defers to her colleagues for their opinions, everyone suggests conflicting ideas and alternative solutions, someone turns up late, no one is willing to make a decision, and eventually everyone departs, leaving the attendant holding a perfectly acceptable loaf of bread that no one wants.

Customer: Greg’s the key decision maker here.
Attendant: Greg…?
Customer: Greg’s not here.

It’s cheeky; it’s self-deprecating; and above all, it’s funny.

And it set the organisation alight. Our enterprise social network was deluged with positive comments, ranging from wishes of congratulations to urges to post it onto YouTube. Never before have I witnessed such a reaction to piece of training content.

Will it change the meeting culture of the organisation? Only time will tell. But given raising awareness of the problem is an objective, it’s off to a flying start.

Loaf of bread

All this got me thinking about the under-exploited role of comedy in education. Perfect timing – because just as I was contemplating this theme, my friend CJ Delling flew back into town.

CJ is a German-born comedian, cartoonist and “maker of stuff for the easily amused”. She has performed at the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Inevitably, the first observation anyone makes upon meeting CJ is the oxymoron of the German comedian. But that, of course, is a myth. I have met a surprising number of Germans over my lifetime and I have found the vast majority of them to be well humoured. CJ goes one step further by being hilarious.

But this post isn’t about the sociability of our continental cousins; it’s about e-learning – so I cornered CJ on the pretence of catching up for coffee and asked her the following questions:

     • Should comedy be used in education? (0:17)
     • What style of comedy is most effective for education? (0:56)
     • When should comedy not be used? (1:38)
     • What is your favourite example of comedy used in education? (1:55)

Typically creative, CJ illustrated her answers to my questions via the following animation…

I agree with CJ’s view that comedy should indeed be used in education. As she explains, it can improve the learner’s attention, interest and memory retention, while simultaneously reducing their stress and interpersonal barriers they may be experiencing.

I also subscribe to CJ’s advocacy of observational comedy in education. While we view the scene from a safe distance, we still see ourselves in it and hence its relevance to our own worlds. It works because it’s true.

With this in mind, I can see why CJ’s favourite Air New Zealand safety videos work so well. Moreover, I recognise how some of my own favourites might be re-deployed to develop mindsets and capabilities in the workplace. For example…

     • Leadership

     • Followship

     • Teleconferencing

     • Writing skills

     • Influencing without authority

While the comedic device may be…

     • Facetious

     • Dry

     • Black

Yet as CJ also notes: it’s important not to over step the mark. For me, Dilbert springs to mind. While the comedy might be champagne and the message cringeworthingly accurate, the cutting style of Scott Adams might dig a little too deep.

According to the anonymous online employee survey, you don't trust management. What's up with that? Oh. Right.

Does it matter? Yes! You can’t forget your objective, which is essentially to change behaviour. So you can ill afford to alienate your target audience.

That’s why I consider our supermarket clip such a powerful force. It’s obviously a comedy and a fictional scenario, which lets our guard down and provides a psychological degree of separation. Yet it remains unequivocally familiar, and so drives its message home.

Because we ridicule it, we feel the imperative to change. Lest we ridicule ourselves.

Face time

16 September 2013

My wife and I are studying Foundations of Business Strategy together. And by “studying”, I mean we are watching the videos – which are excellent, by the way.

My wife is a marketing professional, while I’ve been in the corporate sector for most of my working life, so we find ourselves regularly pausing the videos and launching into conversation about what was said. And it’s great!

I’m learning from her, she’s learning from me, and we’re both learning from the professor. Much more so than if either of us were studying alone.

A Moai in a field on Rapa Nui

Of course, peer-to-peer interaction isn’t a novel concept in e-learning. We have asynchronous tools such as online discussion forums, synchronous tools such as instant messaging, and semi-synchronous tools such as Twitter.

To add voice to the conversation we can use teleconferencing or VoIP. To add faces we can use webcams and maybe, one day, holograms.

But what strikes me about my interaction with my study buddy is that it’s so natural. Of course we know each other well, but being at the same place at the same time means we can read each other’s body language, recognise non-verbal cues, and follow the rhythm of the conversation. Which makes for a rich learning experience.

I recall thinking along similar lines after attending the local meetups that I organised for my colleagues and members of the public who were participating in a particularly popular mooc. I had never attended a mooc meetup before, and I severely underestimated it. The opportunity for the attendees to put a face to a name, share their experiences, gripe about common problems, suggest ways to solve them, and simply feel less alone left a lasting impression on me.

Then for good measure, I read Helen Blunden’s gorgeous Sometimes You Just Need to Meet Your PLN Face-to-Face, in which she recounts her experience meeting up with her Twitter buddies while on holiday in the UK. My favourite part appears towards the end of her post:

Reflecting on the LPITweetUp, the gathering made me realise that the relationship with our PLN is strengthened when we include a face-to-face connection – and you only need one of those to transform what was a digital online relationship to a whole new different level to one which has impact, meaningful and memorable.

Helen's tweetup partners enjoying a refreshing beverage

So my suggestion is to face up to better instructional design.

By all means, continue to facilitate asynchronous discussions – they’re incredibly important. And if you can, organise synchronous sessions, preferably featuring the participants’ voices and faces.

But if you want to transform the digital online relationship to a whole new different level which has meaningful and memorable impact, the answer is clear: you need face time.

Is the pedagogy of MOOCs flawed?

26 August 2013

This is a question that I tackle in my Udemy course The Wide World of MOOCs.

Almost immediately after I uploaded this preview to YouTube, someone on Twitter politely challenged me.

She took umbrage to my assertion that MOOCs are pedagogically richer than “regular” online courses.

Her counter argument was that the pedagogical devices that I cited – readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups – are the same learning and teaching functionalities available in any LMS.

While this claim is partly true, I wish to share with you my [elaborated] defence of my initial assertion. Why? Because I think it’s important to hear all POVs, and I’d like to know whether you agree…

Hand on keyboard

Right off the bat, I don’t believe that all the pedagogical devices that I cited are available in any LMS. They may be available in many LMSs, but certainly not all of them. Moreover, although an organisation may have a subscription to an LMS that offers these devices, it may not have them activated.

That of course is not to say that the e-learning designer is prevented from using these devices; for example, he or she might leverage other non-LMS technology within the organisation or in the cloud. However, in my experience and in conversations with others, it is clear that they often don’t.

Again, that’s not to say that no e-learning designers integrate devices such as online discussions and social media groups into their LMS-hosted courses, but even if they do, the target audience tends not to play ball. How to encourage active participation on social platforms is a hot topic in the L&D sphere, and there is no easy answer because it’s a question of organisational culture which can’t be “fixed” over night.

As for local meetups, in all my years I have never seen this offered in a regular online course!

Network Analysis of the EDCMOOC Facebook group

MOOCs, on the other hand, are the polar opposite. All of the MOOCs I have experienced include readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups. And the participants do participate. Sure, that’s to be expected given the massive scale of MOOCs, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Case in point, the University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC is one of the best online courses I have ever experienced. While it had its fair share of pro’s and cons, it was a hell of a lot richer than the boring page turners that too many among us have learned to associate with “e-learning”.

And there was no LMS in sight.

A defence of the “Next” button

4 June 2012

The “Next” button doesn’t have many friends in the e-learning community. The humble yet shiny arrow is associated with boring page turners.

Neon arrow

Hell-bent on avoiding the “Next” button, many instructional designers will delinearise the content by creating a course homepage with a raft of topics represented by funky icons. The learner is free to explore and discover the knowledge contained therein at their convenience and – more importantly – at their discretion.

While I broadly agree with the constructivist sentiment of this approach, I can’t help but think it’s a band-aid for a much deeper issue.

Let me explain by rewinding a little…

In my previous post Informal first, I articulated a mindset that prioritises informal learning over formal training. I argued in favour of providing all the necessary learning resources to the target audience in an open, structured format. I had in mind an Informal Learning Environment which would host the bulk of the content and enable peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

This is constructivist design. It facilitates pull learning at the convenience and discretion of the learner, and moreover it supports on-the-job learning just in time. Its primary focus is not on training, but on performance support.

Having said that, I am the first to agree that sometimes training is necessary. This is where an online course can step in.

By design, an online course is meant to transmit knowledge to the learner. By design, it’s meant to be programmatic in nature. By design, it’s meant to be ruthlessly efficient.

In other words, it’s meant to be linear.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that an online course should be stripped of all constructivist principle. On the contrary, I highly recommend that the learner be empowered to explore and discover the contents of the course as they wish, free of the yoke of forced navigation. However, it is important to note that such freedom is not mutually exclusive with linearity.

What I am suggesting is that the instructional designer who rails against the “Next” button is valiantly (but futilely?) trying to backfill a void in their organisation’s learning architecture. Because open, searchable, browsable, accessible content does not exist, he or she feels compelled to create it. But the LMS is not the place for it!

Open, searchable, browsable, accessible content should be available to the learner all the time on an open, searchable, browsable, accessible platform.

In contrast, an online course should scaffold the learning experience to achieve a pre-defined objective. It should not be played with for hours on end, and it certainly should not be used for ongoing reference.

Neoen arrow through the heart

So whenever you are consumed by the burning desire to deride the “Next” button, ask yourself whether you are assigning guilt by association.

Perhaps the true guilt lay closer to home?

Next!

Something all learning pro’s should do

10 April 2012

Learn a language.

I don’t mean a programming language (although the theory probably still holds). I mean a bone fide foreign language like French, German, Japanese or Mandarin.

By going outside of your comfort zone, you stimulate your brain into new realms. But more importantly, you experience once again what it’s like to be a novice learner.

Now YOU are the one on a steep learning curve.

It’s daunting. It’s awkward. And it’s humbling.

Teacher assisting mature student in class

As a teenager I developed a fascination for the German language. I think it stemmed from my love of history and my desire to understand what the enemy soldiers were saying in the movies.

Over the years I dabbled by doing a class, listening to tapes, buying an English-German dictionary and reading a few language books.

However it wasn’t until recently when I planned to revisit Germany that I made a conscious effort to give it another red hot go. I didn’t want to be one of those tourists who’s first words are inevitably: “Do you speak English?”

No, I wanted to understand – and be understood – auf Deutsch. At least enough to get by.

And I did all right. But in no uncertain terms I reminded myself of what works and what doesn’t in the learning process.

All those fundamental pedagogical principles that had faded into the background came flooding back with avengeance…

Instructivism and formal learning

When you’re a novice in a domain, the guidance of an expert is golden.

For example, the teacher at the front of a language classroom already knows the grammar, vocabulary, phrases, habits and customs that you need to know. He or she is in a prime position to provide you with a programmed sequence of knowledge.

In my opinion, there is no other way of getting up to speed so quickly.

Constructivism, connectivism and informal learning

While instructivism and formal learning are valuable, they comprise only one piece of the puzzle. Anything else you can access is invaluable – whether it be a copy of Der Spiegel, an episode of Inspector Rex, or a Twitter buddy in Berlin.

The motivated learner who extends the learning process beyond the formal curriculum is destined for mastery.

Skills development

You can learn about a language until the Friesian cows come home, but to acquire the skill you have to actually do it. From simply saying new words aloud, through role plays, to full-blown conversation cafes, the objective is to practise.

Make mistakes, improve your pronunciation, get the vocab front of mind.

OTJ, PBL and job aids

Developing a skill is a waste of time if you never apply it in the real world. At some stage you need to immerse yourself in the environment (in my case, Germany) and actively participate (eg order food, buy train tickets, ask for directions). In doing so, you continue to learn.

When you are in the moment, job aids – especially mobile job aids – become indispensable. I gave Google Translate a beating!

Use it or lose it

Repetition is key. I’m not referring to rote learning, but rather to the continual application of the knowledge.

When I was overseas, I must have looked up the same words six or seven times each; they weren’t very common.

On the other hand, other words were everywhere. I only needed to look those up once; they were naturally reinforced thereafter.

Now that I’m back in Oz, I know that I’ll lose much of my German unless I find ways to keep up the reading, writing, listening and conversing.

World in the hand

Of course, I realise I’m not telling you – a fellow learning professional – anything you don’t already know. But honestly, when was the last time you consciously used the concepts and principles I have just mentioned to inform your work?

During the daily grind it’s easy to slip into production mode and put your brain into hibernation. As a profession, we need to shock ourselves out of that state.

It’s time to put some skin back in the game, so why not learn a language?

Wer wagt, gewinnt!

Clash of the titans

26 December 2011

I have really enjoyed following the recent argy bargy between Larry Sanger and Steve Wheeler. From a learning practitioner’s point of view, it raises issues of pedagogy, instructional design, and perhaps even epistemology.

Having said that, I think it all boils down to the novice-expert principle. As a novice, you don’t know what you don’t know. Thankfully, an expert (the teacher) can transmit the necessary knowledge to you quickly and efficiently. In eduspeak, you benefit from “scaffolding”.

Then, after you have acquired (yes – “acquired”) a foundational cognitive framework, I suggest a constructivist approach would be appropriate to expand and deepen your knowledge. In other words, now you know what you don’t know, you can do something about it.

My sector of practice is corporate rather than K-12, but I would assume that because the learners are children, their level of experience and prior knowledge is limited. Hence, having the basic concepts explained up front is a perfectly reasonable teaching strategy.

Teacher in front of K-12 class

I wonder, though, whether conversation (online or otherwise) would indeed be a useful technique after the basics have been bedded down? Perhaps the last third or so of the class could be devoted to discourse facilitated by the teacher? Or assigned to participation in a district-wide online discussion forum? (Moderated, of course, by teachers and class nerds.)

Or – more likely – I’m exposing my ignorance of the logistics of managing a classroom.

My point is that constructivism can complement, rather than substitute, instructivism. This is something that I have argued for previously.

My secondary point is that I am quite getting over the Twitterati’s tendency to devalue the role of the expert in education. Not only is the expert aware of the important facts, but they can also impart their meaning and context.

Googling ability does not a scholar make.

3 hot resources for best practice multiple-choice quizzing

27 April 2011

In my previous post, 14 reasons why your multiple-choice quiz sucks, I listed typical clangers whose only purpose is to render your assessments ineffective.

Thumbs down

If they’re the bad and ugly aspects of MCQ design, what’s the good?

To answer that question I hit Google and a couple of academic databases, but mostly in vain.

It may be due to my poor researching skills, but I found very little empirical evidence of best practice multiple-choice quizzing. Plenty of unsubstantiated opinion (of course) but not much science.

Cartoon

You see, Google wasn’t much help because “best practice” is frequently confused with “common practice” – but it’s not the same thing.

The peer-reviewed literature wasn’t much better. Alarmingly, many of the studies were inconclusive, adopted a flawed experimental design, and/or didn’t compare the performances of the quiz-takers on the job under the different treatments – which is the whole point!

However, through a combination of persistence, serendipity and social networking, I finally uncovered 3 resources that I consider worth recommending: a journal article, a website and a blog.

1. A Review of Multiple-Choice Item-Writing Guidelines for Classroom Assessment – In this article, Thomas Haladyna, Steven Downing & Michael Rodriguez validate a taxonomy of 31 multiple-choice item-writing guidelines by reviewing 27 textbooks on educational testing and 27 research studies. If you want insight into the myriad of MCQ variables, here it is.

2. QuestionMark – David Glow and Jayme Frey independently pointed me to the wealth of resources on this website. QuestionMark is a business, granted, but they know what they’re talking about – a claim backed up by the fact they have a psychometrician on the payroll (cheers David) and I heard Eric Shepherd with my own ears at LearnX last year and was very impressed.

3. The eLearning Coach – Connie Malamed is a qualified and experienced e-learning designer whose blog provides advice to fellow practitioners. I value Connie’s expertise because it is practical and she has implemented it in the real world.

If you are aware of other good MCQ resources – preferably evidence based – please share them here…