Posted tagged ‘authentic’

An offer they can’t refuse

10 March 2014

One of the best conference sessions I have ever attended was presented by Chris Bessell-Browne from Qantas College.

E-Learning at an airline is challenging because a relatively high proportion of the workforce does not have ready access to a computer. This poses a problem when, for example, you need to roll out compliance training to each and every individual.

One way in which Qantas solves this problem is by showing a series of video scenarios to large groups of their employees. The scenarios involve real employees as well as paid actors, and they recreate scenes that have actually happened at the organisation – eg a young woman receiving unwanted attention from a colleague at the Christmas party, a baggage handler being bullied by a peer in his team, a manager reprimanding one of his team members for her dishevelled appearance, etc. Each video is then followed by a slide featuring several discussion questions, asking if so-and-so was in the wrong, that kind of thing.

According to Chris, the discussions get quite animated as people argue their case for or against. Because there is often no clear “correct” or “incorrect” answer, the interaction represents a melting pot of views and perspectives – carefully facilitated by the L&D pro. It makes the learning experience engaging, relevant and authentic. In other words, nothing like typical compliance training.

As Chris proceeded with her presentation at the conference, everyone in the audience was on the edge of their seat as they eagerly anticipated the next instalment.

When was the last time anyone reacted like that to your training?

Businessman with information and resources streaming out of his smartphone

Video breathes life into content.

For example, while reading about how to provide effective feedback and perhaps downloading a 6-step job aid may be enough to improve your feedback giving skills, suppose you could also watch a video of a manager providing feedback to her direct report. Now you have a role model to follow, and a real-world example to make sense of.

So why doesn’t everyone do this? We have the tools at our disposal – from the camera on our smartphones to a plethora of free editing software downloadable from the internet.

I suspect one of the barriers is fear. We look at the slick productions such as those commissioned by Qantas, and we’re afraid our own efforts will appear amateurish in comparison. And you know what: they will!

When professional production houses shoot a video, they do so beautifully. The picture is rich and sharp. The audio is crisp and clear. The lighting is perfect. That is, after all, what you are paying them for. And it ain’t cheap.

When we record a video on our smartphone, the picture might be somewhat dull, the audio tinny, the lighting dodgy. But I put to you that if the quality of your production is good enough to see and hear, then it’s good enough to learn from.

And if the content is relevant, you’ll find your target audience surprisingly forgiving. You needn’t be Francis Ford Coppola because what really matters is the learning outcome.

So my advice is simply to give it a go. Test a few home-made clips on a pilot group to see how they fare. Incorporate constructive feedback, build on your success and scale it up. Your videography skills will improve over time, and you might even consider buying better equipment and software.

Sure, a beautifully crafted production will always be preferable, but it’s not always attainable or even necessary. You have the power right now to provide your audience with a learning experience that’s engaging, relevant and authentic.

So make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Eye of the tiger

12 July 2011

In my previous post, Learning vs Development, I connected Cook-Greuter’s bidirectional view of development to the two sides of the L&D equation: horizontal growth representing the “L” and vertical transformation representing the “D”.

While the former refers to the traditional notion of learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the latter is a more powerful concept. According to Cook-Greuter, “it refers to how we see the world through new eyes, how we change our interpretations of experience and how we transform our views of reality. It describes increases in what we are aware of, or what we can pay attention to, and therefore what we can influence and integrate.”

This reminds me of ecological psychology. When I was studying this subject at university, I found its core concepts such as umwelt abstract and vague. Although I eventually got my head around it well enough to get through, I was never fully satisfied with my depth of understanding.

Then I read The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant.

Now, this book isn’t a high-brow treatise of epistemology, but rather a fascinating story of tiger poaching in the wilds of far-eastern Russia. From this unlikely source I obtained a wonderfully simple explanation of umwelt…

Siberian Tiger

In 1909, an Estonian-born baron-turned-psychologist named Jakob von Uexkull introduced the concept of Umwelt to the world. Uexkull is considered one of the fathers of ethology, which is also known as behavioural ecology. It is a young discipline whose goal is to study behaviour and social organization through a biological lens. “To do so,” wrote Uexkull in “A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men,” “we must first blow, in a fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of those bubbles, the familiar is transformed.” Uexkull called this bubble the umwelt, a German word that he applied to a given animal’s subjective or “self-centered” world.

An individual’s umwelt exists side by side with the Umgebung – the term Uexkull used to describe the objective environment, a place that exists in theory but that none of us can truly know given the inherent limitations of our respective umwelten. In addition to being delightful words to say, umwelt and umgebung offer a framework for exploring and describing the experience of other creatures.

In the umgebung of a city sidewalk, for example, a dog owner’s umwelt would differ greatly from her dog’s in that, while she might be keenly aware of a SALE sign in a window, a policeman coming toward her, or a broken bottle in her path, the dog would focus on the gust of cooked meat emanating from a restaurant’s exhaust fan, the urine on a fire hydrant, and the doughnut crumbs next to the broken bottle.

Woman walking dog on sidewalk

Objectively, these two creatures inhabit the same umgebung, but their individual umwelten give them radically different experiences of it. And yet these parallel universes have many features in common: both dog and mistress must be careful crossing the street, and both will pay close attention to other dogs, if not for the same reasons.

Vaillant then goes on to explain how the success of hunting depends on how well the hunter can step inside the umwelt of his prey and see the world through its eyes.

What’s this got to do with e-learning?

Of course, ecological psychology isn’t new to edtech. Its principles have been applied to video games, online forums and the semantic web, for instance.

However while the screen-based umwelt is obviously important in the modern workplace, I’m also interested in the world around us. And this is where I think technology-assisted games have much to offer.

While the pedagogical benefits of games are well documented in terms of motivation and engagement, their potential to complement authentic umwelts is probably under appreciated.

Airport security

Take airport security for example: consider an augmented reality app designed to train a customs officer to recognise the tell-tale signs of a passenger who is concealing drugs. The officer holds up her device (such as an iPad) to a real checkpoint, over which virtual passengers stream through.

The objective of the officer is to select the passengers whom she suspects of carrying drugs. Each selection prompts an explanation of whether she is right or wrong, and reinforces the reasons why. Combine this with a points system and competition among her colleagues, and she’ll become a mule-busting expert in no time!

Woman in forestAnother example context is environmental science: consider a treasure hunt designed to train a biologist to identify the major vegetation types in a forest.

QR codes are placed on indicator species (such as trees and ferns) along a trail, but out of plain sight.

An initial clue is provided – perhaps descriptions and photos of several plants typically found in a rainforest.

The objective of the biologist is to walk along the trail until he reaches the rainforest gully, find the QR code in the vicinity, scan it with his iPhone, and study the new clue which points him to the next vegetation type. The game is not complete until he finds all the codes and hence familiarises himself with all the vegetation.

In neither of the cases above was the learner’s workplace simulated on screen. The setting was real.

The corollary, then, is that when a person’s performance on the job is highly dependent on their umwelt, a technology-assisted game can help them acquire the “eye of the tiger” in that context.