Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Confessions of an Instructional Designer

I failed Will Thalheimer's Learning Research Quiz. I was mortified. I've been doing this for over ten years and I did terrible. How can I even call myself an instructional designer?

It turns out that I'm not alone. Will just published the results of the Learning Research Quiz (2002-2007).

The 32% average score---and the stubborn lack of improvement regardless of
experience, education, and age---suggests that most people in the
learning-and-performance field are unprepared for roles as designers of
learning, at least as far as their ability to apply knowledge of learning

It was a hard quiz. I took my time and thought carefully about the answers. And I probably only got about 32% (although I didn't track my score).

What I have done -- and what I would recommend everyone do -- is all of the suggested follow-up. I took the quiz then immediately reviewed the feedback and results. I scheduled a follow-up review for myself a few days later in Outlook (repetition, spacing). And then another follow-up a few weeks after that.

What I've found is that some of the information has actually stuck. Meaning, I think I done learned me something.

What exactly? Repetition, spacing, prequestions/pretesting, learning objectives/performance objectives, relevance, delayed feedback, etc. The obvious stuff...Instructional Design 101.

Now -- if I can just get back to actually doing instructional design from all the project managing I've been doing....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

DIY vs. Formal Learning

DIY Learning (Do-it-Yourself) is the term of the week, it seems.

Elliot Masie's most recent Learning Trends newsletter leads with the headline "DIY: Do It Yourself Trends". He quotes an article by Dion Hinchcliffe in ZD Net in which Dion states,
The idea of DIY (Do It Yourself) is to get developers and IT departments out of
the demand loop and letting users self-service themselves.

Eliot goes on to talk about how "Content Widgets might add to the creation of learning assets" and the rise of "Do It Yourself Content creation."

Harold Jarche says, The future of learning is DIY:

This is the power of informal learning, if organisations decide to enable it. It has to be DIY, user-driven and uncontrolled. People will figure out what’s best for them, as they have for millennia.

Brent Schenkler has been on a soapbox recently, talking about the death of ISD in the wake of informal learning. He responds in DIY not ISD:

I can over-simplify the issue significantly and state the following: ISD is only necessary when you are mandating learning to unwilling participants...for everthing else we do indeed learn it ourselves.

This is a very interesting conversation... and seems like a no duh to me. But then, I've been working in small organizations for the past 11 years. Small companies rarely have money or time for formal training programs. These flatter organizations tend to be more transparent. A staff meeting includes all ten of us -- opportunities for knowledge transfer are endless. In small companies, DIY/informal learning is pretty much all you got. It's a way of life down here.

It's been years since I've taken a formal training program for work. (I went to school a few years back to learn a completely unrelated trade. That was definitely formal classroom training. I had teachers. Tests. Grades. Report cards. And tuition payments.)

Ironically, I've never taken an e-Learning course, although I've been producing them for over decade. Or rather, I've never been mandated to take an e-Learning course. I check 'em out on line in the name of professional development -- see what all the other vendors are doing.

Lately I've been taking e-Learning courses on e-Learning -- because I want to learn more. Because it's out there. And I can. I'm getting a Masters Degree in Instructional Design. And it's free. Free range. Free of cost. "User-driven and uncontrolled" as Jarche says. Of course, I won't get a grade and I won't have fancy letters to tack on at the end of my name. But I'll have the knowledge and the confidence that I know what the hell I'm talking about for once. Maybe.

So is the world of the Large Corporation so different? I guess it is. You've got Compliance. And Standards to live up to. And Managers to report to. And Performance Competencies that your LMS tells you you need to have in order to get that raise you want. And there's all that $ that needs to get spent on something, right? Do folks have time for DIY when they've got all these other things to live up to?

Large Corporations, it seems to me, need to learn something from us small fries down here where free-range, DIY, informal learning is a way of life by necessity, by design, because it makes sense.

The sticking point, however, for those Large Corporations are Brent's "unwilling participants". Smaller organizations typically have to weed out those unwilling folks; large corporations have to stick with 'em. They serve a function. They have necessary skills. But they don't always feel like training or learning. So how can you expect these folks to embrace DIY learning?

To Brent's unwilling participants, I might add those learners who don't even know what questions they should be asking. I wrote about this a little in an earlier post Informal Learning: Getting Learners to Ask the Right Questions. This is where ISD still plays a role. Or maybe it's not the ISD our mothers' told us about. Maybe it's managers or mentors who have to provide guidance -- on-the-fly instructional design.

(I do think DIY Learning is a better term than Informal Learning -- if we're gonna use labels at all.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Learning Show

Thanks to Will Thalheimer for continuing to provide great learning resources. I just watched/listened to The Learning Show: Don't Forget Forgetting. A 26-minute presentation with just the right mix of theory, practical information and humor.

The focus of the presentation is how to maximize the learning experience in order to minimize the forgetting experience; to "minimize the ravages of forgetting." Since learners are bound to forget what we teach them, what strategies can instructional designers use to transfer that info to the learner's long term memory?

Some notes (by writing these notes, I am creating an activity of repetition, aren't I?)

  • Since learners are bound to forget, it's best to cover the high priority information. Don't cram everything into your e-Learning program. Instead, focus on the most important stuff -- provide repetition, spacing, extra time. Then put the other information into references, performance support and follow-up courses. (I cringe thinking about the amount of material I've tried to cram into a course -- because that's what the client told me they wanted.)

  • Well designed training should include performance support. We know the learner is going to forget, so make sure they'll have access to the information they need when they need it. (The only performance support I've actually ever written are bulky user-guides to go along with a software training program. "Job aids" and "printable tip sheets" are often discussed in the pre-planning stages, but somehow always seem to disappear.)

  • Tests are usually too low-level. Better to test decision making skills. Try to mimic the performance environment as much as possible, create that connection of context for the learner which will better enable information retrieval. (Think simulations and branching scenarios).

  • Delay testing. Immediate tests are biased -- they test what is "top of mind". Which is why most of us do really well when we cram for a test. A delayed test is more predictive of long term retrieval. (In e-Learning -- how best to implement a delayed test? Have the system send a link to a test a week or two after the learner completes the course? Do LMS's do this automatically?)

More nuggets:

  • Retrieval practice
  • Space the learning experiences
  • Make learning as realistic as possible -- in context/on the job
  • Don't cover too much material
  • Don't forget about performance support
  • Provide for more authentic practice -- practice & decision making in context (simulations!)
  • Spacing Effect -- space our learning over time. Will admits this is not always an easy thing to do. But if we "chunk" out our learning events into smaller pieces....
  • Assess learning with authentic tests
  • Assess learning after a delay
  • When doing an upfront needs analysis, ask how will learners use this info on the job? How often? If they will use it right away, may not need extra repetition. If only using it every once in awhile, think about "booster events". If not so often, remember performance support.
A lot of useful information in a short time. Thanks, Will! Let's just hope I don't forget it all...

Where Are All the Women Part II

I wrote about this a few days ago in my post Where Are All the Women? where I was pointing out the general lack of women in the e-Learning blogosphere. But perhaps this is just a general business-blog issue. It seems this is old news.

For some backstory, see the Boston Globe article, "Women tap the power of the blog" July 17 2006.

Molly Holzschlag wrote way back in April 1 2005 Women Bloggers Just Ain't Good Enough

Barriers to entry are everywhere, if not in technical education and know-how, how about the self-esteem and identity issues that the individual faces trying to get out there? And then what about the vulnerability and pressure of being here? No one ever talks about that oft-challenging side of blogging.
I was googling this issue and came across a few resources or webrings:

BlogHer "Where the women bloggers are..."

Blogs by Women The blogs displayed today on the home page had titles such as "More Women Waiting to Tie the Knot", "Harvard Promotes its First Woman to Position of President", "Trends in Pregnancies..." -- marriage, pregnancy, health issues, parenting -- the Harvard story was the only business-related story. Now, as a woman, I'm definitely interested in those topics. But I guess this isn't where I'll find the female e-Learning bloggers.

So -- who else is out there in the e-Learning blogosphere of the female persuasion? Who are the credible female voices in this conversation?

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Science of Learning

This is the kind of science I like. Information framed in practical terms, rather than theory. Stuff I can actually apply to my work.

I started off reading Clive Shepherd's recap of a workshop he attended with Dr. Itiel Doror of Southampton University (UK). According to Clive,
Itiel is becoming a bit of a celebrity amongst the e-learning community in the
UK as someone who avoids the grand theories of learning and concentrates
instead on practical tips based on what we know about the brain and how it
works (assuming we really do and this I must place on trust).

I especially like the part about "avoiding grand theories of learning."

Stephen Downes wrote a rejoinder in which he gets into more of the neuroscience of it all. This one I'll have to read a few times in order to allow my little brain to understand it. (Repetition, repetition, repetition).

So much of this information is new to me, in spite of having been "doing" instructional design for so long...I greatly appreciate the education I'm getting. Thanks, gentlemen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Informal Learning -- Getting Learners to Ask the Right Questions

In a post on informal learning by Ray Sims (thanks to Tony ), he lists out a whole bunch o' good things "to do on behalf of increasing informal learning aligned with company strategy and goals."

This got me musing on some of the issues that have been bumping around in my head as I read all the blog talk on the topic of informal learning as well as Jay's book (which I have admittedly only gotten partly through). The biggest question I have is how do organizations ensure that the right content is in all the right places? You've got your wikis and your blogs and your rapid e-Learning pieces and your social networking tools, but should someone be making sure that the right stuff is out there?

As an occasional classroom teacher, I have always been extremely aware of those students who don't even know what questions to ask. The role of the teacher in the classroom is often to guide these students to asking the right questions.

In the world of informal learning, who can be the teacher/the mentor? How can organizations ensure that the right questions are being asked by the informal learner?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Where Are All the Women?

So, where are all the women in this so-called e-Learning blog-o-sphere?

I see Brent, Tom, Dave, Tony, Jay, Mark, Steve, Clive. The dominant voices seem to be all male. Are women involved in this conversation? Are women not into e-Learning? Or have I just by chance stumbled across the old boys network? Is e-Learning an old boys network? Does it matter?

The e-Learning Queen is out there. And I was delighted to run across Wendy today. Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users kicks ass, but she's not writing about e-Learning.

I just find this interesting.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rapid Authoring Tools Speed Dating

Check out the Engage presentation done by the folks over at Kineo: Rapid Authoring Tools Speed Dating. 5-minute interviews with Articulate, Atlantic Link, Composica, Experience Builders, Mohive, Outstart, Raptivity, ReadyGo.

I hadn't even heard of some of these companies, so was eager to check out their solutions. Some of them look better than others. I thought the Experience Builders simulation tool somewhat intriguing. ReadyGo is very minty green and not that great to look at.

See what you think.

eLearning Technology: What is eLearning 2.0?

Thanks to Tony Karrer for a great overview article on eLearning Technology: What is eLearning 2.0?: this clearly effects how we should all be designing and building courses now.

I particularly liked this approach he describes for a software training course. It solves that issue of allowing users the ability to go through the content at their own pace, but then provides access to an expert who can really focus a training session on their specific needs.

"These learners would go through online courseware for about 6 hours that would
teach them about the software and test them using simulations. At any time
during the course, the learner could click “Ask a Question” and it would allow
them to type in a question that would be saved in their question list. At the
end, they would be able to edit their list and then it was sent to the
instructor. Once all five people were done with the courseware, the instructor
would schedule a WebEx and go through the questions.
This would be a great approach for a large scale software rollout -- do the e-Learning portion upfront, and then have tailored classroom/WebEx sessions that focus on just what the learners need and where their gaps are.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pretesting: Why bother?

Over at The Learning Circuits Blog, Clark Quinn is wondering about pre-tests.

I've always wondered about them myself and have only reluctantly included them in courses. They've always just seemed annoying to me. Well, I recently took Will Thalheimer's Original Learning Research Quiz which had me rethinking the whole point of prequestions/pretesting.

Will points out the validity of pretests and prequestions, arguing that
"prequestions function as learning objectives" guiding the user's "attention toward some aspects of the learning material and away from other
aspects of the learning material."

So if pretests/prequestions are a way to focus your user's attention on the important aspects of the content, then the big question here is, are you asking the right questions? Or are you just asking questions for the sake of asking a question -- because someone told you to include a pre-test?

Art History e-Learning Nuggets

I was looking for some inspiration the other day -- a way to refill the creative cup -- and decided to head over to the Louvre website for a closer look. Found some cool little e-Learning nuggets: short Flash pieces with audio and callouts and beautiful images to teach you about the history and symbolism of various masterpieces. The interface is nothing exciting and somewhat counter-intuitive, but it's balanced out by the beauty of the artworks themselves. Check out the Mona Lisa for an in-depth study.

I laugh, remembering Art History 101 in college -- a darkened lecture hall, slides projected on the wall, me falling asleep in spite of myself, sometimes even snoring. How cool it would have been to have these resources available back then...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Enough Web 2.0, sometimes it's good to be passive

Most nights after I get the kids to bed -- if I haven't fallen asleep with them -- I read. I love reading. I have stacks of books next to the bed that are in progress or just waiting for me to crack open. Sometimes, if I've got the energy, I fold laundry or do dishes or even mop the kitchen floor. That doesn't happen all that often. Last night, I went crazy. I watched TV. And I loved it.

Now, we're probably one of the 122 families in America that have tv but don't have cable or satellite. We get about 5 channels. And we don't even have a remote control. It got smashed.

Of course, we watch DVDs and videos and YouTube. Most of our entertainment is on demand. What I want, when I want it.

But last night, I watched commercial tv. I was engrossed. I was a passive recipient of mediocre programming and it was perfect. I hadn't seen any of the shows I watched. I hadn't even heard of some of them.

Now, that's not learning. It's not e-Learning. It's pure entertainment. But it was cozy and comfortable and familiar. Passive. Couch potato. Perfect. I watched for 2 hours and I never once changed the channel. Sometimes it's nice to not have to choose. Sometimes it's nice to be fed entertainment -- or information. Informal Learning, Web 2.0, self-directed, self-paced -- all that stuff requires motivation. I was motivated last night, but in a different way.

There's some lesson in here for me about learning...and teaching...and presenting information.

Maybe it's just where I sit -- on this generational cusp -- computers have happened all around me. But sometimes the familiar is what's right. Sometimes being passive is perfect.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Back to bloggin'

I'm gonna try this again. I kind of lost interest for awhile, but now that I've got my Google Reader going, I've become caught up in all the chatter. I've been lurking for awhile. I actually dared to enter a comment over at Brent Schenkler's site yesterday, where I admitted to being a dealer of Crack e-Learning page turners. See Corporate eLearning Strategies and Development: Welcome to the Learning Clinic. I got an adolescent rush seeing that my comment was up there and that Brent had actually responded. I felt like a part of something...I felt...connected.

And so now I feel compelled to enter the conversation, although I'm not sure yet if I have anything to add. Everyone that I've been reading appears to be so darn smart, so motivated, so passionate about this stuff.

My exposure to the e-Learning blogosphere points to a pretty small world -- the key players seem to have a private conversation going on. Lots of self-referential patting each other on the back? Endless loops of people linking back to each other -- so I've read at least 10 blog entries about that really cool Web 2.0 video that everyone's linking to on YouTube in the past few days....

But I guess that's the point? Share it...connect the about it...change your mind...learn....

So...deep breath. I'm gonna try it. And I might look kind of silly while doing it. Like, I don't know all the lingo, man -- I don't understand this backtrack and web stats and all that...

Here goes.

(Cheaters note: I've copied some older posts I had from another blog and put them up here...)