Sunday, March 26, 2006

What is Real Interaction?

A couple of posts ago, I stated that real interaction in learning happens in the learner’s mind, and not via the mouse. Someone has asked for clarification on this point.

I traced down the origin of this distinction, and it comes from a great thinker on workplace learning, and keen advocate for active learning, Thiagi Thiagarjan (pictured in the upper left).

I think the best way of explaining this distinction is with real examples. Not too long ago, I was asked to review a couple of eLearning programs. These are both simulations. One is designed to teach the learner about the intricacies of project management, the other is designed to teach the learner how to set up a corporate social responsibility initiative in his / her organization.

The project management simulation starts off in a promising way. You are put in charge of a project that you must steer through to completion. However, the program takes a very linear approach. You click through the program and things happen to you. As the project manager, you really do not control anything and you make very few decisions (maybe the designers think that this is a fair representation of project management!). Eventually you find yourself at the end and the course tells you that you learned a, b, c, and d about project management. Because things just happened to me in the program, I didn’t feel I learned anything. There was a lot of clicking with the mouse, but it was not real interaction.

The corporate social responsibility simulation also puts the learner at the centre of the action. You are the person charged with building support in a company for a corporate social responsibility program. However, unlike the project management course, there is no straight linear path that you click through to the conclusion. You get the lay of the land, get to hear from others in the organization, and you make key decisions and immediately see the impact of those decisions. You are allowed to make mistakes, but you can also attempt to recover from these mistakes. All along, there is a running a score on the screen that lets you know what level of support you have built in the organization for your initiative.

The first simulation was all about engaging the right fore finger with the mouse, and the second was all about engaging the mind to think through problems, make judgments and decisions, see the results of your decisions and then re-adjust your strategy. There’s a big difference in these two approaches. The second approach is one is the one that engenders real learning.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Thinking Beyond the Course

Because we all received our education via courses, this is naturally what we tend to think about when training challenges arise in the workplace. Even in the eLearning field, our first instinct is to create a course. This is a tidy and convenient way to give structure to a training intervention.

However, a course, or even a series of courses, may not always be the appropriate response. There are other ways to provide training support without the boundaries and restrictions created by a formal course structure. Two alternatives to the course are electronic performance support systems (EPSS) and learning communities.

Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS)

These are training aids that can be made easily accessible to your employees during the course of their normal work day via a few mouse clicks. For example, we are helping an organization with a roll-out of a new customized financial records system. Five hundred individuals across the organization who need to use this software will have handy “how to” modules available for any major tasks they need to complete on the system. They can experience a particular learning module, and then try the task themselves using the software.

This approach has two major advantages.

1. You train employees at their point of need (i.e. when they have to actually complete a particular task). This is when they are the most motivated to learn. Also, they will apply their learning immediately, meaning that they are more likely to retain this knew knowledge.

2. Employees only access that training that is relevant to them and their particular needs. This is a very efficient training methodology. People are not wasting time learning things that are not relevent to their immediate needs.

Learning Communities

Many times, learning can be facilitated by merely providing a means for those with similar roles, functions, or interests, across the organization to communicate with each other. A rich array of ideas, perspectives and experiences can be shared and documented, making the group, in total, smarter than any individual member. As an example, we set up threaded discussion groups for an association to work through a strategic planning process. No course on strategic planning was necessary….just the ability for intelligent people to have facilitated and spirited discussions leading to a final product (in this case a decision on their future directions).

So next time you have a training challenge, think outside the course box. There are many ways to get to the same outcome, and a course may not be the most efficient or effective route.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How do you Believe Learning Happens?

It always amazes me when I attend eLearning conferences, read eLearning articles, or listen to technology vendors talk about eLearning, that the topic of how people actually learn rarely enters the debate. It is like having an 800-pound gorilla in the room that we choose to ignore. For me, however, getting at how people actually learn is at the heart of creating effective eLearning interventions. We ignore this gorilla at our peril.

For many in the eLearning field there seems to be an unspoken assumption that eLearning is about transferring information electronically from point A to point B, and then testing the “learners” on their ability to remember a certain amount of this information. However, as noted learning expert Roger Schank puts it, “Knowing isn’t doing.” This is where so much of education and training goes awry… knowing something is nice, but the key is what is the learner actually able to do with this new knowledge? Can it be applied?

In the case of workplace training, can it be applied so that there is a measurable improvement in performance?

There are three important dividing lines in this debate about how learning happens.

1. What is your view of the learner? Is the learner a passive receptor of information, or an active creator of knowledge?

2. What is your view of learning technologies? Do you view technology as a delivery vehicle and broadcast tool, or do you view technology as the enabler of a learning environment / meeting place / network?

3. What is your view of interaction? Is interaction enabled via the mouse, or via the learner’s mind?

In eLearn Campus’ upcoming course titled Making the Right Choices for Your eLearning: Setting the Vision, we will be making the case for the latter in each of the dividing lines noted above, and participants will develop competencies to plan and develop eLearning that is about having learners demonstrate what they have learned, as opposed to telling what they have learned. When you start with this objective in mind, it is much easier to create active, engaging, applicable eLearning based upon a “learning by doing” approach. Real learning happens by doing.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Three Rs: Rants, Raves, and Reflections

Every participant to the Learning 2005 Conference last fall was given a copy of Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections. I finally got around to reading it this weekend.

This collection of articles by training and development specialists was edited by Elliott Masie of the Masie Center and published by Pfeiffer. The idea was to get a “state of the union” update on workplace learning from those on the front lines…the good, the bad and the ugly so to speak. There is a particular emphasis, as would be expected, on both the promise and shortcomings of eLearning as it is practiced today.

On the whole, the book is an uneven, disjointed effort. Some of the submissions are broad
industry-wide reflections, and others have a much more personal, “here’s what we have being doing” flavour. This is a danger of such collections.

However, there are some good points in this collection. Here are a few.

Elliott Masie, The Masie Center

  • “Stop using silly numbers, measure what counts”…silly numbers include total learners trained, learner evaluations, completion rates, focus on organizational results…the numbers that matter
  • "Content is lonely without context”…workplace learning is too focused on content….it is context that is important, what makes the learning real, and understandable and applicable
  • “We are rapidly moving toward the deconstruction of the course”…learning will be on demand, and available in smaller, digestible chunks at the point of need

David Metcalf, DM2 Research and Design

  • “Rather than being relegated to a corporate overhead cost, smart learning experts are seeking out opportunities to make significant financial and operational impact on their organizations.”

Beth Thomas, Bank One

  • “How many times have you seen, or been part of, training on broken processes? Why doesn’t anyone ask, WHY are we training on this? Can’t we make it simpler so we don’t have to have any training?” Not everything is a training problem…it could be a process problem, know the difference.
  • “Stay away from all that training-specific lingo during conversations with executives! The way you sell it is by understanding what the top business goals of the company are, what type of people are needed to get the job done, and how this translates to shareholder value.”
Scott Sutker, Hewitt Associates

- Successful training vendors view themselves as business partners not salespeople.

Larry Israelite, Pitney Bowes

  • Three mistakes we make in workplace learning: we are attracted to things (i.e. technology toys) instead of thoughts, we exclude learning professionals from the creation of learning, and we put too much faith in pundits, instead of finding our own solutions
Lance Dublin, Consultant
  • “What managers care about are measurable business results in a language they can understand: profits, costs of sales, time to proficiency, and increases and decreases in key business indicators.”….Training professionals experience the “Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome” (get no respect), because they do not talk in a language that management understands

Nancy DeViney, IBM Learning Solutions

  • “Content will be delivered within the context of a person’s role and interests, seamlessly embedded into the workflow.”
Do these themes resonate with you as well…why, or why not? Let me know.

We will be exploring many of these issues in our upcoming webinars this week and online courses, which begin on April 3rd.