Friday, January 30, 2009

Do Instructional Design Degrees Get "Wasted"?

In my recent post Instructional Design - What's in a Name? the usual controversy erupted.

ID student commented:
My problem with the industry is that the degree in instructional design is required of management. which is pretty stupid. My (educational) background is in Management of technology (MBA/IT). I've seen jobs that require a MA/MEd/MS in ID even though those individuals in those jobs don't design instruction. They manage people who design instruction, people who manage LMS, and they are the in-between people between upper management + clients, and the people who provide the design and training.

You truly don't need an ID education for that.

Interesting observation.

How does this comment compare to your own organization? Is the degreed-ID the department manager and not doing any actual design work? Is that a waste of an ID degree?

In Dr. John Curry's recent interview series with practicing instructional designers, he asked Dr. Andrew Teasdale what advice he would give to ID students and what he himself did not learn at school that he could've used. Teasdale is an instructional designer in the corporate market.

Teasdale responded:
  • "What it means to be a consultant."
  • "You need to speak the business language."
  • " You should get an MBA along the way."
  • "You need to know how to work with other groups and meet their needs."

Instructional Designers (myself included) often must wear many a hat. For some people, this isn't the right fit.

Why has the role of the instructional designer (at least in corporate) gone the way of the MBA? Or has it?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Are You an Order Taker?

When you design learning interventions, are you trying to create better learning or are you just taking the customer's order and delivering what they asked for?

Will Thalheimer, in the follow-up notes to his brown bag on Learning Myths, writes:
"Many of us have been trying for decades to make changes, but I think also that many of us are just doing our little part as order takers. We build learning interventions when asked."

What's your reality?

Photo Credit: mr. bartley's burger cottage waitress by irina slutsky

Friday, January 23, 2009

Learning Myths with Dr. Will Thalheimer

Another lunchtime webinosh with Dr. Will Thalheimer. The topic today: Myths the business side has about learning.

But first, the news.

Learning News

Inaugural oath flub. Justice Roberts tried to administer the oath from memory. He should have had a job aid.

Next Brown Bag will be Friday February 6th. Stay tuned for topic.

Question of the Week -- Economy

How has the economy affected your learning unit?

  • 9% Hit us Hard
  • 47% Hurt a little
  • 41% Not much effect
  • 3% Helped us

MYTHS the Business Side Has about Learning

Client asked him to develop a course for business side. To help improve on-the-job learning. Thought it would be good to address myths (asked clients, asked question on LinkedIn, looked at books).

Everybody's got myths: business side, learners, learning professionals

Captured 140 myths and categorized them (not a scientific set of findings...)

Asked participants to submit the own myths they've come across.

Most Popular Categories of Myths (A Top Six List)

6. Manager think learning and development is a low-priority part of their role.

5. Learners know how to learn.

4. Training and instructional design require no special skills or competencies.

3. Information presentation is sufficient as a training design.

2. Training alone produces improvements in on-the-job performance.

1. Bad learning designs are thought to be good learning designs.

Other High-Importance Categories:

  • On-the-Job learning is forgotten or not utilized or not supported.
  • It's a training issue. ("We need a course on this" when it might really be a management issue).
  • Formal training has little impact.
  • Experienced workers don't need training.
  • Learning development is easy and can be shortened or short-changed.
  • Measurement myths
  • Technology is key to learning success (we must use elearning, social media, video etc. -- nothing else is effective).
  • Learning designs don't need to specifically minimize forgetting (enable remembering).
  • Content doesn't need validation. (Do we really know if we're teaching the right stuff?)
  • Particular behaviors are easy to learn.
  • Learning is always beneficial. It is never disruptive or distracting. It never misinforms.
  • Opportunity costs of learning can be ignored.
  • We have to measure ROI.
  • We don't have to measure learning.

Bad Learning Designs Thought to be Good Learning Designs (a partial list, I can only type so fast!)

  • It's good to have new employees take ALL elearning courses right before they start work
  • Employees only learn by doing
  • Readings is always bad, boring
  • Training can be just as effective if we make it short
  • Training doesn't need pre or post work
  • We should and CAN cater to learning styles
  • Six-hour online course is fine
  • Some learning media are inherently better than other
  • More info = more learning
  • People remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they see
  • Most communication is by body language
  • We need more exciting visuals to grab attention
  • Immediate feedback is always better

What Can We Do About It?

Given that the Business side holds some myths as self-evident, what can we as learning professionals do about it?

55% responded that these myths cause great damage to learning and development.

Business side doesn't understand what we do, don't see the value add of learning and development.

From participants:

  • We can be mythbusters
  • Gently guide and present the right solution when presented with the wrong one
  • Need to discuss learning models and theories when appropriate (educate our clients)
  • Have proof and case studies of good design
  • Stick to the truths we know and respond to the business side tactfully (L&D is often seen as arrogant)
  • The best leaders DO understand the value
  • Provide real evidence of success
  • Help management solve problems, don't just do a workshop

Help people understand how learning works.

Learning Intervention --> Performance Situation --> Learning Outcomes

My notes from other Webinoshes in this series:

And don't forget:

Will Thalheimer: The Learning Show: Don't Forget Forgetting

Update: Here are Will Thalheimer's notes on the session.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Instructional Design: What's in a name?

I stumbled across this on a writer's blog today: "Officially, I’m now an Instructional Designer. A fancy term for writing training material." [Blog link not provided to protect the innocent].

Koreen Olbrish asks "Is Instructional Design Dead?" If all we do is write training material, then perhaps yes.

The debate has raged here and elsewhere as to whether instructional designer's need to have advanced degrees in ID. The ID survey on this blog now has over 200 responses: 62% do not have advanced degrees.

We have questioned the value of Instructional Designers.

Perhaps the term Instructional Designer is simply overused. Some folks are "writers of training material." Some folks are curriculum designers. I say there are shades of instructional design.

I am an "Instructional Designer". I write and design self-paced eLearning for the corporate market. Plus a bunch of other stuff, which you can read about in my job description. What shade of instructional designer are you? What's your scope?

Listen to John Curry's interviews for some different day-in-the-life scenarios of four different instructional designers (myself included).

And then, let the debate rage on.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interviews on Instructional Design

Last night, Dr. John Curry interviewed me for his Introduction to Instructional Design class.

I was one of four instructional designers that John interviewed and the only non-degreed one in the bunch.

John asked each of us a series of questions: how we came to the instructional design field, what our current day-to-day jobs as instructional designers are like, what skills we feel are important for instructional designers, and what we feels the future of the field will be.

Each interview is about 30 minutes long.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Instructional Objectives -- How Some of them Work

Lunchtime webinosh with Will Thalheimer, PhD (president of Work-Learning Research, Inc. Help organizations to bridge the gap between research on learning and reality.)

Brown Bag Learning follows subscription learning approach:

  • Repeats key concepts over time: Spacing
  • Enables you to get reminders and deepen your understanding
  • Enables you to remember over time

Learning News

Big topic this week -- Neon Elephant Award to Robert Brinkerhoff for developing case success method evaluation of learning and his new book.

Next event: Fri. Jan 23rd on Myths

Question of the Week

How has the economy affected your Learning Unit? (responses in parens below)

  • Hit us Hard (18%)
  • Hurt a Little (50%)
  • Not much effect (32?)

Instructional Objectives

The Learning Landscape (how the learning experience goes):

  1. Learning Intervention (Learner Learns)
  2. Performance Situation (Learner Retrieves, Learner Applies)
  3. Learning Outcome (Learner Fulfillment, Organization gets Learning Results)

Question: ID creates course on threshing and grinding, but only presents objections on threshing. What will happen?

Possible answers:

  1. Info on T & G will be better recalled (T+,G+)
  2. Info on T will be better recalled, while info on G will stay same (T+,G=)
  3. Info on T will be better recalled, but info on G will be more poorly recalled (T+,G-)

#3 was most popular choice among respondents.

We'll come back to that in a minute. (Delayed feedback.)

Types of Instructional Objectives

There are many types of Instructional Objectives

Two audiences we should be aiming for. Instructional objectives designed to guide behavior: for the learner, for the developer.

Instructional Objectives for Learner:

  • Table of contents objectives (these are the things we're going to teach you)
  • Performance Objectives (this is what you'll do..)
  • Motivation (why you should pay attention)
  • Focusing Objectives (what you should pay attention to)

Instructional Objectives for Developers:

  • Instr. Des Objectives (what we want learners to learn, behaviors for them to do)
  • Evaluation Objective (these are the things we're going to measure)
  • Situation (these are the list of situations)
  • Organizational Objectives (the benefits that will come to the organization)

Don't want one objective to fulfill all purposes.

Today's focus: Focusing Objectives

A statement presented before learner encounters material to help guide learner attention to the most important aspects of the learning material.

Correct answer (to question above):

#3 If provide learning objective to learner, they will focus more on that material. Info on T will be better recalled, but info on G will be more poorly recalled (T+,G-)

Research shows: When info is targeted by learning objectives the learner recalls that info better, but they pay less attention to the other stuff (thus the reduction in G).

When presented with a learning objective -- it sits in the long term memory. So later when that info is targeted in the material, the long term memory is triggered.


Which focusing objective will product the best learning?

  1. The physical appearance of three kinds of typefaces
  2. The physical appearance of gothic types, italic type, roman type
  3. Both will produce equal results

#2 is the best answer.

If objectives worded general, they have very little effect.

Focusing objectives should be VERY specific.

Do you use focusing objectives?

47% of us said "some of the time"

Which will be more effective at guiding learner atttention?

  1. You will learn that perch navigate by using the sun?
  2. Answer yes or no. Can perch navigate by using the sun?
  3. Both will produce equal results

#2 is best response. The value of pre-questions. Research shows prequestions do work. Especially in prequestions that learner answers rather than reads.

Prequestions are about equal but slightly higher to a focusing objective.

What other ways can we guide learner attention to the most critical material?

[I've written on this topic before in My Objection to Learning Objectives. Be sure to read all of the great ideas put forth in the comments.]

Scenarios, pauses in material -- "pay attention to this", etc.

You don't need to use focusing questions and prequestions in every course. They are a tool in your toolbox. We all know that people mostly just click through a learning objective page of text bullets (they've been overused).

Sometimes it's good to surprise the learner.

Prequestions, especially scenario-based questions, are great for eLearning.

Lots of ways to guide a learner's attention: narration, white space, graphics, video, etc.

Focusing Objectives Summary:

  • Improve learning by 5-40%
  • Non-targeted info worse by 25%
  • Must be specific
  • Delivered close to learning (don't need to all be bunched up at the beginning of the workshop -- you can spread them out to when they will actually be learning that material)
  • Pre-questions are good

Learning Myth of the Week

Myth = Learning Objectives Don't Work. They do. They sometimes don't work, because the learners aren't paying attention. (So how can you design your courses so that learners DO pay attention?)

Myth = Objectives must be used. No. There are other ways to guide attention.

Myth = Objectives should be used like a Table of Contents. No

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

When the Content is Really Boring....

So you've got some great ideas on how to make your content more engaging, how to get the learner into the flow. But what do you do when the content itself is just plain boring?

You can't just send in the clowns. You can't put lipstick on that pig.

Sometimes you have to get in and out as quickly as you can, minimizing everyone's pain...

Admit to the learner upfront that the content may be dry. Set the expectation. And then remind them why they still have to learn this stuff.

Michael Allen urges designers to provide "meaningful and memorable learning experiences." In Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning he reminds us to motivate the learner by giving them the WIIFM (what's in it for me). Sell the course to the learner. Tell them why they care and what the personal advantages are. For more on learner motivation, read Tom Kuhlman's tips.

And, please, keep it short! Cathy Moore urges us to chop the basic fluff out of the course. Stick to the meat. Don't restate the obvious. Don't teach the learner what they already know. Don't go over material they've already been taught. Don't...oh wait, I'm getting verbose...

What do you do when you're handed a pile of content that makes you want to roll over and die of boredom?

Photo credit: Evil Clowns by Pink Moose

eLearning Guild 2009 Salary Report

Check out the 2009 salary report from the eLearning Guild.

Brent Schlenker asks, "Are you making over $78k as an elearning professional?"

Want more? Here's an older post of mine on salaries for instructional designers.

Monday, January 05, 2009

On Games and eLearning

As eLearning designers, your goal is (hopefully) to make the learning experience engaging.

(Realistically, sometimes all you can do is build the sucker in order to meet some crazy deadline.)

It's easy to equate engaging with fun.

(Fun is a funny word.)

So then it's really easy to think that the best way to make a course more engaging is to make it fun.

And the best way to make it fun is to make it a game. Right?


Clark Quinn in Learning Predictions for 2009:
I continue to see interest in games, and naturally I’m excited. There is still a sadly-persistent view that it’s about making it ‘fun’ (e.g. tarted up drill and kill), while the real issue is attaching the features that drive games (challenge, contextualization, focus on important decisions) and lead to better learning. Still, the awareness is growing, and that’s a good thing.
Mark Oehlert likes to remind me about flow: being immersed in an experience with a sense of full involvement and energetic focus. Which is a much better way to think of engaging.

Go for flow, not fun.

(Of course, sometimes they coincide.)

(Now go have some fun with this Flow Game).

What are you doing to create a more engaging experience? How do you help your learners get into a state of flow?

Photo/Video Credit: Amusement Park -- a Long Photo by respres