Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Will's New Taxonomy for Learning Objectives

Will Thalheimer, along with many other illustrious eLearning professionals, made some great points in the comments of Writing Less Objectionable Learning Objections.

Be sure to check out Will's post from June of 2006: New Taxonomy for Learning Objectives:
Instructional professionals use learning objectives for different purposes—even for different audiences. Learning objectives are used to guide the attention of the learner toward critical learning messages. Learning objectives are used to tell the learner what's in the course. They are used by instructional designers to guide the design of the learning. They are used by evaluation designers to develop metrics and assessments.
Will talks about four, and possibly five, different types of objectives:
  • Focusing Objectives
  • Performance Objectives
  • Instructional-Design Objectives
  • Instructional-Evaluation Objectives
  • Content-Outlining Objectives (Which is what many of us are used to producing in the form of text-bulleted lists of course objectives).
How does this jive with how you've been thinking about objectives?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Writing Less Objectionable Learning Objectives

My recent post on alternatives to listing out learning objectives generated a lot of interest and a good conversation. ( See My Objection to Learning Objectives.)

I attempt to summarize here, but feel free to go back to the original post and read all the comments:

  • Clive Shepherd hates when learning objectives are the first thing you see. It's like the opening credits of a movie. Boring. When clients insist on the objectives list, Clive includes an opening scene to spice things up.
  • Karl Kapp suggests starting off a course with a series of questions related to the objectives, or to start off with a scenario. [In the comments of this post, Karl clarifies: he's not suggesting pre-test questions, but rather a series of thought-provoking questions to get the learner to THINK about the content at hand].
  • Jay Cross says it's "presumptuous and confining for developers to foist objectives on learners, for it disregards the learner's needs, prior learning, and context." He suggests a list of potential outcomes with check boxes, effectively allowing the learner to create his or her own objectives.
  • Chris refers us to Will Thalheimer's “The Learning Benefit of Questions”, in which Will argues that introductory questions have a notable impact on learning. Chris suggests that a reasonable alternative to the “At the end of this class you will be able to” list is a series of questions. Chris is also a big fan of Michael Allen.
  • Pete Blair always includes the objectives. "Personally, I don't like to hide things from learners and play guessing games, so I am an advocate of letting the learner know, up front, what they will be expected to do at the conclusion of the course, lesson, or whatever. If they choose to skip that part of the course, then that's OK by me, they must still meet the objective(s) before they complete the course."
Christy Tucker did a nice write up from the the opening presentation of the WebEx/eLearning Guild Online eLearning Summit. Michael Allen was one of three keynote speakers. He had this to say on objectives:
"...throw out the crutches we’ve used in the past, like starting every unit with objectives that make sense to designers. You can write objectives in a different way so they fit with a context of why you want to learn something. There are better ways to do some of the things we’ve been doing. You can just throw some of that out though. Think like a learner. Give them a challenge at the beginning so they experience what they have to learn instead of just telling them what they need to learn."
How do you try to think like a learner? Have you come up with some novel way to handle learning objections? Have you met resistance from your clients when you tried to do it differently?

Photo credit: I Learn By Going Where I Have To Go by Joe Shlabotnik

Monday, January 21, 2008

Putting the Demand Back in On-Demand Learning

I didn't come up with that headline. One of my very smart and witty clients said that in a conversation we were having the other day with a group of his internal subject matter experts. I'm co-opting it and encourage all of you to do the same.

So much on-demand training consists of boring page turners. I've created my share. The learner cringes. If you're lucky, they actually view every page (probably because they were forced to by a menu lockout).

What have you done lately to create a course that will intrigue and inspire your learners? That will motivate them to come back for more? That puts the demand back in on-demand training?


Perhaps you need some instructional design inspiration? Perhaps you need to think about motivating the learner?

I know I do. I'm writing financial industry software training course storyboard #10, in a series of 29 courses! Needless to say, it's demanding.

Photo credit by RossinaBossioB

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I'm a (K)nitwit!

It's winter here in New England. A time when this woman's thoughts turn to knitting. Or, rather, the desire to be a knitter.

Cold nights coupled with a growing maternal nesting instinct, have forced me to buy some yarn, pull out the needles, and learn how to knit. Yet again.

This impulse hits me every few years. Needless to say, yearly knitting events have not lead to great skill retention or mastery. These infrequent learning events are spaced way too far apart. I've forgotten most everything I learned the last knitting go-around.

As I was struggling to figure out once more how to purl, I thought about the spacing effect and forgetting. These two resources came to mind:

Luckily, I've found a great knitting book. Stitch & Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook by Debbie Stoller.

From an instructional design perspective, I think it's a great resource: excellent illustrations, written in a conversational tone (as if you were sitting next to the author and she was teaching you), with lots of hipster humor.

Dan Roddy recently shared a link to a great article on tips for writing in a more conversational tone. Because the brain thinks conversation is important, it remembers the content better. Me likey.

So here's to me remembering something this time around.

And, yes, I am knitting a baby blanket (although it's not for my baby).

Photo credit: Learn to Knit by abbynormy

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Predictions for 2008

I won't deign to make grandiose predictions about the state of eLearning in the year 2008 as many have already done.

My Predictions for Learning in 2008 are, well, more about expected outcomes for my own learning journey this year based on some key personal events on my near horizon.

I will learn much, much more about chaos. My changing body shape attests to the fact that I will have a third child in May (at the ripe old age of 39!). While I'm already an expert diaper changer and don't need to learn much more on that subject, I do expect to have to learn a lot of new skills. Particularly, how to parent when outnumbered by children.

I will learn how to take a maternity leave and learn about managing even greater work/life balance issues. My first two kids were born while I had the flexibility of working as an independent contractor. This will be very different. I now have a full-time job with certain obligations. And I don't live in Canada where I'd be assured of a 12-month maternity leave.

I will learn first-hand about the current state of the American Public School System. My oldest child enters kindergarten this fall. Big steps in the journey. He is already dreading it. My daughter, however, wakes up asking to go to kindergarten. She's got two more years, poor dear.

It's going to be a rich year.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Instructional Design and Market Sector Differences

The field of instructional design is vast and varied.

In the survey I've been running, Instructional Designers: Do You Have an Advanced Degree? about 30% of respondents have graduate degrees in instructional design. Based on comments, it sounds like an advanced degree is a requirement more so if you're working in the academic sector.

Many of us (myself included) work exclusively in the corporate sector, designing training experiences for employees of corporations. I primarily design self-paced eLearning programs.

But even within the corporate market, I know the roles of the instructional designer vary widely. What kinds of programs do you design? Do you have a graduate degree in ID?

Many of us work in the academic field (both higher ed and k-12), designing what I imagine are completely different types of experiences.

If you're an ID in the academic sector, what does that mean? What do you do? What do you design? I'm guessing you're designing online distance learning courses. Classes for college credit that are taught online. Do you have a graduate degree in ID?

Are the required skill sets of the instructional designer different depending on which sector of the market you're in?

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Value of Instructional Designers

I've been having on ongoing conversation with other instructional designers as to whether or not we need to have the technical skill sets to actually build the courses we design.

Many instructional designers (Christy Tucker, Wendy Wickham) build their own courses using tools like Captivate. (See Christy's post, Technology Skills for Instructional Designers for more on this conversation.)

I come from an old-school approach: I sort of understand the technology, but I leave the graphics and programming expertise to others. I primarily focus on the content, the writing, and the schmoozing with the client. (My experience is mainly in development of self-paced eLearning for the corporate market.)

In the December 10, 2007 edition of The eLearning Guild's Learning Solutions magazine, Reuben Tozman (President and founder of edCetra Training) gets into this topic in The Next Generation of Instructional Designers.

He says it's important that instructional designers understand the tools and technology that are out there (as an architect understands building materials), but an instructional designer should be tool-independent and "technology-agnostic". The programming skills should be left to the programmers.

Reuben on the downside of rapid e-Learning tools:

The emergence of "easy-to-use" authoring tools, however,
has tempted us to believe that the instructional designer
can do it all! But, paradoxically, it is worth noting
that as instructional designers become adept at
using a specific tool, their value as designers will
drop. This is because an instructional designer is supposed
to avoid having to stuff material into a predefined

We imagine providing the same tools to subject matter experts that we expect instructional designers to use, and asking them to be a one person show. In reducing the value of an instructional designer by handing them tools to be lone gunmen, we have created the problem of believing we can replace or eliminate the instructional designer, since our in-house resident experts can do the very same job.

Reuben on the value of the instructional designer:

The skill that an instructional designer possesses, that writers, teachers, programmers, technical writers, and so on don’t, is the ability to systematically break down content so that it is applicable to learners and their learning styles.


Photo: Instructions for Monkeys by Sister72

While the instructional designer's value may be needed for more complicated content, what Clive Shepherd calls the higher tier of eLearning, is this true for the lower tier end work?

Overall, I thought this article was a good read, although I found the title a little misleading. I was expecting more of a vision of the future; more on what instructional designers need to do to stay relevant in today's changing world. This article focused more on what instructional designers should not be (lone gunmen).

What's your view?

  • Do you think instructional designers should be able to use the tools?
  • Do you work in or favor a design shop where each person has his or her own role (ID, graphics, programming, QA)?
  • Do you think instructional designers should go away and leave the rapid tools to the SMEs?
  • Do you think you actually add any value these days?
[I continue to wonder out loud on this topic...be sure to read all of the great conversation happening on this post in the comments section. And check out a subsequent post I've written: Instructional Design & Market Sector Differences.]

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Instructional Designers with Degrees: Survey Update

Over 50 instructional designers have now responded to the survey: Do You Have a Degree in ID?

About 27% of instructional designers have an advanced degree in ID. And 73% of us don't.

Photo credit:
Graduation Cake Guy by CarbonNYC (David Goehring).

Only 11% of instructional designers without an ID degree have reported that they were denied work due to the lack thereof.

As reported earlier, there continues to be a wide range of backgrounds for IDers, mostly in the liberal arts.

View the latest survey results here.

I have questions:
  • Is this a good representation of the field in general?
  • Are more people getting advanced degrees in ID these days or fewer?
  • Is there a difference between these percentages in the corporate and academic sectors? One commenter said there is more pressure at academic institutions to have at least a Master's.
Brent Schlenker of the eLearning Guild, commented on my post Memoirs of an Instructional Designer:
I'm one of the unfortunate ones with a actual honest to goodness Masters Degree in EdTech. The degree opens many doors but that's about it. Nothing I learned is actually applied today.
He goes on to say that current ISD programs are more like history programs.

What's your take?

If you do have an advanced degree in instructional design, what difference has it made to you? Do you agree with Brent?
The survey remains open indefinitely. Please chime in if you haven't already done so.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Go Read a Book

How many books did you read in 2007 that were not work or school related?

Reading Well

Reading Well by moriza

73% of Americans said they had read "a book of some kind", according to a survey cited in this fascinating article (I was reading way past my bedtime last night):

Twilight of the Books: What will life be like if people stop reading? by Caleb Craine, The New Yorker, December 24, 2007.

It's all in how you ask the question. Another survey asked Americans if they had "read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months". The numbers were down at 46.7% in 2002.

Granted, these stats refer to words in print, and don't include pages read online.

The History and Biology of Reading

Craine references a book by Maryanne Wolf: “Proust and the Squid” (Harper; $25.95), an account of the history and biology of reading. Add this to your reading list for 2008.

As people read less (and Craine's statistics indicate that they are), he wonders if we're transitioning from a literate culture back to an oral tradition. Reading brains work differently from listening ones.

The Benefits of Reading

As we learn to read fluently, our minds our freed up. Imaginations wander and you make your own connections with the content.

With the gain in time and the freed-up brainpower, Wolf suggests, a fluent reader is able to integrate more of her own thoughts and feelings into her experience. “The secret at the heart of reading,” Wolf writes, is “the time it frees for the brain to have thoughts deeper than those that came before.” (Craine)

As you're reading this post, you're thinking about other things. How you read. What you've recently read that sparked some new insight. What you should have for lunch.

In a recent book claiming that television and video games were “making our minds sharper,” the journalist Steven Johnson argued that since we value reading for “exercising the mind,” we should value electronic media for offering a superior “cognitive workout.” But, if Wolf’s evidence is right, Johnson’s metaphor of exercise is misguided. When reading goes well, Wolf suggests, it feels effortless, like drifting down a river rather than rowing up it. It makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone. (Craine)

Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good For You) (a book of which I read about half of in 2007) argues that games can make us smarter. What do you think?

Audio Narration and PowerPoint

And then there was this, yet another argument in favor of NOT narrating the text of a PowerPoint (or eLearning course):

....there is research suggesting that secondary orality and literacy don’t mix. In a study published this year, experimenters varied the way that people took in a PowerPoint presentation about the country of Mali. Those who were allowed to read silently were more likely to agree with the statement “The presentation was interesting,” and those who read along with an audiovisual commentary were more likely to agree with the statement “I did not learn anything from this presentation.” The silent readers remembered more, too, a finding in line with a series of British studies in which people who read transcripts of television newscasts, political programs, advertisements, and science shows recalled more information than those who had watched the shows themselves.

A Call to Action

Don't just sit there. Go read something. (Oh wait, you just did!) And then go read something to your kids.