I recently did a keynote and session for a large government organisation. As a Debunker Club member – I always try to add a little bit of debunkification to my sessions. After I was finished – I had the opportunity to attend another session delivered by some senior leaders within the organisation. Their goal was to tell all the training professionals in the room about their experiences with this organisation’s training system and how the system needs to change.
I have always found it interesting that there are people that believe because they have attended training, they have expertise in the analysis, design, development, delivery and evaluation of training. Of course everyone has valuable feedback to offer, but in this case, the senior leader stood in front of the same audience I told to stop worrying about generational differences and claimed we have to treat the youngsters differently because she has three boys and they are different. Oh my. Stand by for a small rant – which I saved for here rather than embarrassing this person in front of about 80 training professionals.
She started by educating us on learning styles and how we all learn differently. My migraine was beginning. I’ll leave that one alone. If you still believe inn Learning Styles – here is an article that I hope will help you think differently!
Then it was on to generations and the need to change the way we train the younger generations. The example provided was changing a tire. Her son had a flat. She told him what to do. He didn’t believe her and went to YouTube to find a video that showed him. It provided the same information. SO because the boy used YouTube, training professionals need to change the way we “do” training. HOWEVER, in the next breath she told us that SHE used YouTube to learn how the repair her toaster! (I think it was her toaster – could have been something else.) Two different generations using the same medium to access information to learn something they needed at the moment to complete a task. Video may or may not be the right way to support a desired learning outcome. Patti Schank (2019) explains it very nicely in her article. It’s about what needs to be learned. Not the age of the learner.
Example #2 of why organisations need to change for the millennial… they want organisations to be invested in their personal and professional growth. Okay. Doesn’t everyone – regardless of age, gender, race etc want their employer to be invested in their development? This isn’t exclusive to one group! No matter how you want to divide up your workforce!!
Example #3. Millennials learn at different paces. Yes. Yes they do! So do Boomers, Gen X ers, Gen Y. I am a horribly slow reader and have an even worse memory for certain things (names, title of books etc). That slows me down. I have friends who I am pretty sure have near eidetic. That helps them get to where they need to be faster. Lucky them. Thankfully Google and Kindle are technologies that helps a young Boomer (or old Gen Xer) like me to close that gap!
Example #4. Millennials want learning to be FUN! I am sure they do! So do I. The problem here is – not all learning can be “fun.” Some learning is hard work, extremely stressful, even painful and there is no way to design fun into it. Aspects of infantry training, paramedic training and surgery come to mind. Do you want your surgeon to have fun or be the best surgeon she or he can be? Fun doesn’t necessarily increase engagement or improve learning outcomes. Sure – there is a time and place for it. It depends on the desired learning outcomes and the best methods and media to “get there.”
I think that’s enough on generations. As Christensen and Tremblay (2013) said… “The most current research has shown that generational differences between learners [or race or gender sic] do not in and of themselves warrant the specification of different instructional designs or the use of different learning technologies. Rather than focusing valuable energy on determining if different generations will learn more from direct instruction, e-learning, blended instruction or gaming, instructional designers should continue to work closely with subject matter experts to identify the required objectives of the curriculum.”
Christensen, B.D., & Tremblay, R. (2013) Generational learning differences. Myth or reality? In R. Sottilaire (Ed.), Fundamental issues in defense training and simulation (pp 21-30).
Author’s note: The names have been changed, faces blurred and voices altered to protect the innocent in this post.
It’s a story I have heard many times. The boss wants training, the Instructional designer – performance technologist – analyst KNOWS that training isn’t going to fix the problem but is told to “gimme the training.”
A client told me awhile back that they needed a course. That’s always the first red flag right!?
I asked “Why? What’s the problem?” Turned out that my client was told that a group in another part of the organization wasn’t performing as needed when requesting and using my client’s services to get their job done. Their boss wanted my client to train his people. Classic example of picking the solution before understanding the problem.
To make the story easier to understand, let’s call the group that is experiencing the performance issue the “Jocks.” We’ll call my client – the one told to fix the problem, the “Wizards.” The Wizards are responsible for producing some pretty cool magic that helps the Jocks prepare for their games. The problem is that the Jocks don’t understand exactly what type of magic the Wizards can provide, how to ask for or use the magic once they do get it and as you can imagine – Jocks and Wizards don’t exactly speak the same language, so they don’t even know how to interact with each other at this stage.
As a good performance technologist or CPT, I asked for more information from the Wizards and the Jocks – starting at the end – the outcome – the desired level of performance. In this case, that would be the Jocks being ready for the game. Two other key pieces of the puzzle were the Jock’s “playbook” and the Wizard’s “spells book.” Much to my surprise, the playbook used by the jocks to get ready for games had much the same process as used by the Wizards. It may look familiar:
Define the objective
Yes… at a deeper level of fidelity, there are some differences, but overall, the Jocks and the Wizards are using the same process, with the same goal. So after carefully reviewing the plays and the spells, it was pretty apparent to me that if we added the information that the jocks had to give to the Wizards at each step above, training really wasn’t necessary. All we had to do was update the playbook!
A meeting was held! After showing the Jocks and the Wizards that what they are doing is similar enough that the time and effort required to build a course might be better spent on improving the playbook, I was not at all surprised to be told, “just gimme the training.”
It might be because the direction given to my client was for a training solution. It might be because the Jocks don’t know what they don’t know at this point and they want to have the training first, work through the process a couple time first and THEN update the playbook. It might be because the Wizards don’t want to pay me to update the Jock’s playbook. I’m not sure at this point. I noted in a previous post that you may just end up getting a training solution when you really need a performance solution. It’s killing me that we are going to spend a lot of time and energy developing this course, knowing that the solution is an updated process.
In 2007 I attended the International Society of Performance Improvement’s (ISPI) “Principles and Practices of Performance Technology Workshop.” Geary Rummler and Roger Addison were my teachers. To this day I remember our discussion about this very situation and Roger’s advice that no matter how much training you develop – always leave them a job-aid.
In 2012, my good friend and mentor Dr. Roger Kaufman – a legend in the field of performance technology (far right), introduced me to another legend, Dr. Joe Harless (middle). I had read many of Joe’s articles which all hold true today. As Guy Wallace explains at the linked article about Joe, you never say no to training. Harless (1985) is also credited with coining the term “Inside every fat course there’s a thin Job Aid crying to get out.”
So I am bashing ahead with designing and developing the course. I’m going to add in a “Student Manual” that will contain one page that explains the whole process. Thanks Geary, Roger A., Roger K. and Joe.
Harless, J. (1985). Performance technology and other popular myths. Performance & Instruction Journal, July 1985.
Once in a while, a topic seems to be begging to be written. A couple weeks ago, CBC’s The Nature of Things aired an episode called “The Brains Way of healing.” Last week, a discussion on policies for accommodating learning disabilities popped up in one of my professional networks and a few days later Sean asked me how the Canadian military deals with accommodations. Around the same time, friends of ours, who have a son with autism stopped in to watch the Nature of Things episode. Through all this, my own daughter who deals with disability and her quest for a career that will enable greater self-sufficiency weaved its way through the other discussions, trying it all together.
I contacted Brett due to my son’s interest in being a paramedic in the public sector or the military equivalent of medical technician. My son, next year, is entering in to his last year of high school making this a real issue. The main reason I reached out to Brett was to find out how the military deals with accommodation of learning disabilities in its occupations, as I couldn’t find any information on this. The college system in Canada is very clear on the process for students with learning disabilities, they are assessed and then college decides what the student needs to be successful. In my son’s case, he has several diagnosed disabilities including: a grapho-motor disability, ADHD, and mild dyslexia. These three combine to make it difficult for him to read and write. That being said, to the outside world, he comes across as a very intelligent and articulate 16 year old. His IQ is slightly above average, and he has a vocabulary several years above his grade level. From a learning accommodation perspective, if my son can have content presented and studied without reading (i.e. video or audio) and is tested orally or from a performance basis, he learns as well as his peers. His knowledge of his limitations draws him to kinesthetic types of fields for work, and not fields that would require him to read quickly to attain the information he would need to make a decision. For this reason, he has been attracted to the first responder’s field, or just the other night he mentioned maybe being a carpenter.
Within the military, the absence of a policy on how to address learning disabilities has left training facilities and supervisors in the workplace to deal with each individual as best they can. I experienced this personally as Chief Instructor of Acoustics from 2000 to 2002, having a number of students with learning difficulties including ADHD, ADD and others that I wasn’t privy to because they are medical problems that the students and the health system don’t have to share, causing a barrier in helping the student succeed. It was frustrating, but we did the best we could.
My friend’s son with autism will be going into grade 7 next year. He is an awesome guy and makes me think of what a young Sheldon Cooper would be like. He likes things a certain way and when you say it’s time for hot-dogs, buddy you better have his dog on the plate ready to go. He is very high functioning and has strengths in math, memorization and organizing things. My daughter has disabilities to deal with as well. She’s 24, she completed a college program in visual. Thanks to support from her family and an employment counselor she has held down a part time job in a florist department in a market for several years. She shares an apartment with a friend and has made an incredible amount of progress towards her goal of becoming self-sufficient. Saying that, her desire to move into a more challenging and financially rewarding line of work has been a struggle.
I have been known to help myth bust learning styles pretty regularly. I just did it again last week in a webinar for the ISPI San Francisco Bay Chapter. The topic of accommodation got me to thinking about it, and I went back to check my notes to be sure I had the right message. When instructional designers are doing their bit for the greater good, it is a waste of time, effort and resources to use learning styles in the design of learning. Dr. Will Thalheimer provides a great top ten list of resources supporting this. It’s great advice and I agree 100%. Until you get to someone with a learning disability – and this is the difference. When designing training for the masses, learning styles are bad ju-ju. But what about addressing the needs of individuals that are placed into the learning environments designed for the masses?
As a seasoned Instructional Designer (ID), I agree with Brett and Dr.Thalheimer regarding learning styles. At the end of the day, the learning activities chosen by the ID must be aligned with the learning/performance objectives. If the objective is to be able to do something (say build a widget,) then the learning activities must be kinesthetic (build the widget.) In instructional design 101, we teach that we must design our training to the lowest common denominator, or in other words, to the population having the biggest performance gap. Then we come up with other strategies to meet the needs of those having smaller gaps (staggered entry etc.) The question that Brett and I floated around was “as IDs to we need to include learning disabilities into our gap analysis and choice of learning activities?” In my opinion no, as they have a much wider difference in strengths and weaknesses in different learning abilities. Also, adults with diagnosed learning disabilities should be aware of their accommodation needs and can advocate for themselves in the learning environment. In the example of my son, he will struggle with learning activities that involve reading activities and written assessments. However, he excels when given hands-on, practical activity, auditory text and instructional video. So, in the example of paramedic training, if the chosen instructional technique for starting an IV line is through a text book, followed by simulation, he will struggle with text book learning, but once sees an instructor demonstrate the technique he will learn quickly. Or he might ask the instructor to recommend a video alternative to the text book (for example How to Insert an I.V.) In the case of Brett’s friend, typical accommodations for autism may include, the much heavier use of written media, visuals, pictures and graphic. They will often need to know the “why” of a lesson and they often learn best from whole to part (complex to simple.)
So with such a wide range of functioning and abilities seen across individuals diagnosed with a learning disability, it would be next to impossible to design for these individuals as the accommodation needs are individual.
That being said, society, businesses, and agencies need to play a bigger role in making sure these individuals are successful in their learning, performing in the workplace and making a positive contribution to society. I anticipate that this will be a greater concern as my son’s generation enters the workplace, considering almost half of every school classroom has students with Individual Education Plans (IEP.) Given the current Duty to Accommodate rules under the Canadian Human Rights act, we don’t have a choice but to provide accommodation, with the exception of undue hardship and occupations that have a valid reason to discriminate.
If we want these individuals to be successful, the learning and performance community is going to need to be flexible with these learners, but in my opinion it is on the delivery side and not the design side. A well designed course, following adult learning principles, and incorporating neuro-science principles such as those outlined by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel in Make It Stick (2014) will create an effective learning program that can be supplemented with alternative activities based on the learning needs of those individuals with disabilities. The good news is that Brett’s experience as an instructor who didn’t have access to this information on the students is changing. The fact is that today, children coming through the education system with an IEP are aware of their accommodation needs and can articulate them to the instructor. I could see it coming shortly that things like the pre-course survey would ask participants about any accommodation needs they have. No different than dietary/allergy factors we are asked on a regular basis. This would provide the instructor/facilitator the opportunity to open a dialogue on how to best help the learner succeed.
As Sean noted above, there are Duty to Accommodate rules under the Canadian Human Rights that have been incorporated at the Provincial level as well. You can read more on Ontario and British Columbia’s positions at the links. After I read these examples, I noted one common thread. The requirement to accommodate appears to be directed at employers. Reading between the lines, that means if I am disabled – I should not disclose my disability until after I have secured employment, as discussed here in Duty to accommodate mental health disability upheld by landmark Ontario Human Rights Decision. If you disclose your needs in a hiring interview, my gut tells me that any other candidate without a requirement for accommodation will get the nod. So where does that leave kids like ours? A little more digging reveals a real morass of services to wade through as shown on the inclusion BC website. When you look closer, the actual support to people with disabilities looking for employment, the available list for support gets short quickly.
The progress Sean describes in the (Ontario) education system is awesome. It still requires that the disability is recognized, properly diagnosed and then reported to the education system so it can be addressed. With my daughter, the full scope of her disabilities was not clear until she was almost finished high school. That was a set-back but we are thrilled to see the progress she continues to make.
With my performance technologist and MEGA-Planning view on the world, where If you are not adding value to our shared society, you have no assurance that you are not subtracting value (Kaufman, 2011), I still see a very large gap between when a child with an IEP leaves the education system and the transition to the workforce where they have an opportunity to add value to our shared society.
We’d love to hear YOUR thoughts. If you found this post worthwhile, please DO share it!
Kaufman, R. (2011). The manager’s pocket guide to mega thinking and planning. Amherst, MA, HRD Press Inc.
Brown, P et. al. (2014). Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
This will be a short and sweet post! Yesterday I was asked if I knew the location of a video produced by BSU OPWL on “scalaring.” The term was new to my learned colleagues at BSU so I had to translate it into normal speak and explain it is a task analysis method. My curious mind wondered why they didn’t know this term, so ingrained in my own vocabulary.
Task analysis is defined bu Businessdictionary,com as:
“the systematic identification of the fundamental elements of a job, and examination of knowledge and skills required for the job’s performance. This information is used in human resource management for developing institutional objectives, training programs, and evaluation tools. See also activity analysis, job analysis, and performance analysis.”
In my time working in the Canadian military training system we used “scalaring” to assist in completing a task analysis. This often results in a wall full of post-it notes that provide a visual breakdown of the tasks and how they are grouped into performance objectives, “duty areas” (groups of related tasks) and then specific jobs.
I am not aware of the history behind the military use of the term scalar or its verb form “scalaring” which obviously hasn’t taken off like “googling” something. A brief search on the web leads me to believe this is a unique to the military training realm as everywhere else I looked it is related to mathematics, computing or physics.
The Canadian Forces Individual Training and Education System manual Design of Instructional Programmes describes a scalar diagram as:
The recommended means of conducting and documenting an instructional analysis. [my emphasis] A scalar diagram clearly defines the overall structure of the course content by graphically illustrating the hierarchy of Enabling Objectives (EO’s) and teaching points for each Performance Objective (PO).
The video in question on Task Analysis performed by Dr.’s Don Stepich and Steve Villachica. One of the great challenges in task analysis is getting the expert to fully explain all the required knowledge, skill and abilities involved in successful task completion. The BSU video below provides a great demonstration of an expert analyst – Steve on the left, asking a Subject Matter Expert – Don on the right, all the probing questions needed to thoroughly deconstruct a task.
I thought rather than lose this video link in my digital pile of reference material, a quick blog post would make it simpler for me (and you) to find in the future.
UPDATE: Dr. Steve V (in his comments below) pointed out what I should have concluded with… I was in a rush. It was Friday! In conclusion, this is another great example where language matters! Scalaring in the military context is meant as an instructional design method, while task analysis comes before instructional design and as Steve says, aims to “provide an accurate, complete, and authentic representation of exemplary performance.” THANKS Steve!!
A-P9-050-000/PT-004, Manual of Individual Training and Education, Volume 4, Design of Instructional Programmes.
How many training sessions have you gone to where you received a one sheet evaluation form that asked you to rate your instructor, the course, the room, the chair and the snacks provided at ten a.m.? Chances are you have filled out a few of these over time. In my own experience I have probably filled out hundreds and after a while, there is a tendency to just tick off “strongly agree” on everything, especially if it’s getting close to supper time!
Once in awhile, a new method comes along that radically changes the way we do things. Fire, the wheel, smartphones… you get the idea. Have you heard about Dr. Will Thalheimer’s book Performance Focussed Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking of a Dangerous Art Form? Will is one of my top go-to guys in evidence-based performance improvement and for myth busting methods being used in the field that aren’t so evidence-based.
Will explains why the current design of end of training evaluations are actually counter-productive, and sums it up nicely with this list of nine points:
They are not correlated with learning results.
They don’t tell us whether our learning interventions are good or bad.
They misinform us about what improvements should be made.
They don’t enable meaningful feedback loops.
They don’t support smile-sheet decision making.
They don’t help stakeholders understand smile-sheet results.
They provide misleading information.
They hurt our organizations by not enabling cycles of continuous improvement.
They create a culture of dishonest deliberation (Thalheimer, 2016, Kindle Locations 137-143).
That’s just in the book’s introduction! Will uses the rest of the book to show us all a better way for “creating smile sheets that will actually help us gather meaningful data— data that we can use to make our training more effective and more efficient” (Thalheimer, 2016, Kindle Locations 2646-2647) by targeting training effectiveness and actionable results.
Here are the results from question #1 which Will calls “The world’s best smile-sheet question.” By asking this question we are getting a measure of potential for the trainee’s improvement back on the job.
37.5% responded “I have GENERAL AWARENESS of the concepts taught, but I will need more training/practice/guidance/experience TO DO ACTUAL JOB TASKS using the concepts taught.”
62.5% answered “I am ABLE TO WORK ON ACTUAL JOB TASKS, but I’LL NEED MORE HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE to be fully competent in using the concepts taught.”
Dr. Thalheimer provides a rubric or set of standards in the book to measure the responses for each question. The standards for question 1 are shown in Table 1 below.
Not bad, but not what I can accept either. Two-thirds of the respondents felt they would be able to employ the methods taught in the workplace with more practice. One-third has a general awareness but won’t be able to apply what they learned. This is a one-day workshop that covers a lot of ground and arguably the goal is to raise awareness of performance improvement. There is also a follow on “at-work” component that the learners can do to further increase their skills and earn a certification if they choose. My goal is to have all the learners choosing C or D. Clearly, I have some work to do in the design and delivery departments for this offering.
The result above made me question if the learners had enough hands-on practice with the case study and the exercises. That takes us to question 9 shown below.
The averaged response was 54%. Will believes (and I agree) that the absolute minimum for time devoted to practice is 35%. Given the number of practical exercises, I think this number needs to be higher… in the 65% range, so that gives me some quantifiable results and work to make changes to the design before the next session. More practice – less lecture. Check!
One final example. Have you heard of spaced learning theory? Casebourne (2015) provides a good overview of the body of research that suggests that by spacing learning over time, people learn more quickly and remember better. Will has designed questions such as #11 below to measure spacing.
The results were interesting because one respondent apparently went back to the training facility the following day! Overall, it seems that the spacing designed into the workshop was effective and 69% of the respondents recognized that topics were covered more than once. As noted above, the learners do have the opportunity to apply what they learned back on the job and submit it to ISPI to earn a certification which is another spacing strategy, but one I have little control over.
In order to get a measure of actual performance improvement for question #1, and to accurately measure the spacing effect, I will need to conduct the survey again after the learners have had sufficient time to apply the skills they were taught on the job. That’s still to come.
If you are still using level one evaluations or smile sheets that ask if the learning was fun, if the learner liked the instructor and the facilities were comfortable, it’s time to re-think your approach. If you attend a training session and still receive those old style smiley sheets, you might also ask yourself how effective the training design really was. I hope this example has shown you enough evidence to convince you there is a better way. If it was – please share it with your friends and colleagues. Heck – share it with your enemies, they might become your friends!
Casebourne, I. (2015) Spaced learning: An approach to minimize the forgetting curve. Retrieved from https://www.td.org/insights/spaced-learning-an-approach-to-minimize-the-forgetting-curve 06 December, 2017.
Thalheimer, W. (2016). Performance-focused smile sheets: A radical rethinking of a dangerous art form (). Work-Learning Press. Kindle Edition.
I was recently invited to the NATO School in Oberammergau Germany to deliver instruction on evaluating E-Learning. As an added bonus I was asked to present the closing keynote speech to the class on the subject “The Education Revolution.”
While I am comfortable on the topic of evaluation, I am (was) not as familiar with the keynote topic so research began! The regularly scheduled keynote presenter is a big supporter of learning technology and that in part shapes his view. I too am a supporter of Learning Technology and have been branded by some as a “Techie” but you just have to see the WiFi go down in my house to know that’s not necessarily true. Anyway… as I sat down to begin my research, I wondered “Is there an education revolution underway?”
I have said “words are important” in previous posts. It’s a lesson I keep learning and applying, so no different here. I thought I had better look at the definitions of education and revolution and make sure I understood what I was looking at – and for. Thank you Merriam Webster!
1a: the action or process of educating or of being educated; also: a stage of such a process
1b: the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process
2: the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools
Pretty straight forward right? Albert Einstein’s explanation here strikes a chord with me. So what about revolution? Whenever I hear that word, images of civil wars, the Arab Spring and so on, pop into my mind. Merriam Webster‘s definitions of revolution are…
a: a sudden, radical, or complete change
b: a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed
c: activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation
d: a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm
e: a changeover in use or preference especially in technology
Definitions A and B didn’t seem relevant to me. I am not aware of a sudden, radical or complete change in the education system or a fundamental change in political organization (in the West) that has impacted education in a revolutionary way so I struck those off the list and honed in on definitions C to E.
The Australian Government implemented an Education Revolution in 08-09 which had a digital component, and an infrastructure component so when you google the term – you get a lot of hits related to Australia. It was assessed just three years later that this “revolution” was not successful (Author, 2011). As a counter-point to the government’s description of the program, historian Geoffrey Blainey argued that there has only been one education revolution in Australia and it occurred in 1870 (Vanstone, 2009). Now I am no historian because remembering who did what to who – and when – has always been a challenge for me so I set off to find out what happened in 1870.
As it turns out, Blainey’s argument related to definition C “activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation.” In the early to mid 1800’s Westerncountries began to mandate education for children and in the later 1800’s state funded school boards, mandatory attendance and secondary schools were implemented. This meant that children subjected to child labour were now moving from mines, factories and fields into school rooms. That’s pretty fundamental socioeconomic change so I agree with Geoffrey’s assertion that there was a revolution in the 1870’s (each country’s timeline is a little different). This gave me a “baseline” to view the education system from.
With the shift in policy, a private system for the privileged was being supplanted by a public system for all (in the west). Engineering of education had to happen to find efficiencies to meet the influx. There are always pros and cons to any system design. A core curriculum that everyone must follow, including standardized testing to ensure that students are learning what the system requires (and the teachers are teaching what they are supposed to) provides efficiency, but there are going to be compromises. The two cartoons show the trade-offs of an efficient education system pretty well, but I digress… I could not find anything to indicate that between the first revolution of the 1870s and now there has been any new activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation via the education system. (If you know of something – please feel free to share your thoughts so I can become more educated). Before I struck definition C off the list, I looked into the current child labour situation. In 2014 there were approximately 168 million child labourers in the world! Based on this, it would seem that moving children from mines, factories and fields into school rooms is not yet complete and therefore the socioeconomic change started in the 1870’s (even in parts of the west) was not entirely sudden, radical or completed (definition A).
At this point, I struck off definition C and pondered, between the 1870’s and now, has there been a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something [education], a change of paradigm (definition D)? Prior to 1543, man believed that the Earth was the center of the universe (and Toronto was the center of Canada – still a belief). Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a new model with the sun at the center (Wikipedia). A true paradigm shift! What is at the center of the universe is somewhat analogous to training and education… is it the student or the teacher at the center? In my experience there is strong agreement that it should be the student, but as we can see below in many cases the environment today (top) is much the same as it was in 1901 (bottom) and the teacher is still up front being the sage on the stage. So what about content?
Prior to 1870, the core curriculum was the “Three R’s” of reading, writing and arithmetic. I burned more than a few brain cells as a kid wondering why they were referred to as R’s… In the 1870’s the curriculum was expanded to include the sciences, history and geography. The current system still uses the same core curriculum. I’m not seeing a fundamental change in what is being taught. What about the media?
Media, or the replicable “means”, forms, or vehicles by which instruction is formatted, stored, and delivered to the learner has, and continues to change dramatically. Especially in the past 20 – 30 years. With the exception of the Pressey Learning Machine in the top right of the media examples pictured here, I have been subjected to them all. The next aspect I considered was learning methods, or the “conditions which can be implemented to foster the acquisition of competence” (Glaser as cited in Clark, 2011). Examples of learning methods include Action Learning and Coaching. There has been – in my time in the field – a steady flow of “new” methods, however, in my humble opinion, there are many that are a re-packaging or slight tweaking of existing methods aimed at generating revenue for entrepreneurial folks in the field. I am not aware of any revolutionary methods that have turned the education world on it’s ear. Again – if you are reading this and know of something – I’d love to learn about it!
When you put the media and methods together with a learning strategy that identifies activities that motivate and engage learners, formative and summative assessments to provide a program that meets organizational needs – you have a great instructional design. Nothing revolutionary here either. This has been the practice for at least 60-70 years. At this point, I concluded that a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm in the education system overall has not happened since the 1870s. Yes, media, specifically technology based media (We still have teachers, books and white-boards) continues to advance and influences methods and strategies but is it revolutionary?
Merriam Webster’s last definition of revolution a changeover in use or preference especially in technology has two key words. USE and PREFERENCE. This made me think of the Digital Immigrant and Digital Native debate that was popular at the turn of the century when proponents like Tapscott (1999) and Prensky (2001) believed there was a generation of technologically adept learners that required a radical transformation of the education system. At that time, to me, it felt a bit panicky… like there was a crisis and if we didn’t “revolutionize” the educational system for the digital natives they were all going to fail miserably. Others like researchers Bullen, Morgan and Qayyum (2011) took the view that technology should simply be used to enhance current practices.
No doubt that younger people love their Information and Communication Technology (ICT). But how and why do they use it? What are their preferences with regards to ICT in learning? Before I go further, an important note here about generations and generalizations. “The popular press, scholarly publications, business leaders and social pundits have all used the inherently weak practice of grouping individuals into broad generational categories to support speculation that millennial students enrolled in today’s higher education institutions, as well as different generations of employees in the workplace, require different approaches to education and training” (Pedro as cited in Christensen and Tremblay, 2013). Research has shown that “leisure time use of ICT doesn’t necessarily translate into effective use of technology in education and training” and not all members of a generational cohort have the same access to ICT (Christensen and Tremblay, 2013). Trying to generalize USE by generation is tricky business or maybe bad design (or science!?).
What about PREFERENCE? Do students (of any age) prefer one form of media more than another for learning? Do we need e-Learning for children and Chalkboards for Boomers? Of course not! After chasing e-learning as the holy grail from the mid to late 90’s for at least a decade, the field began to realize in the early 2000’s (Pappas, 2015) that a blended learning approach is often better. Research has shown that “students use a limited range of mainly established technologies such as search engines, e-mail, mobile telephony and SMS messaging frequently, while “Web 2.0″ technologies such as blogs, wikis and social bookmarking tools were only used by a relatively small proportion of students” (Christensen and Tremblay, 2013). Other studies (Corrin, Lockyer & Bennett, 2010; Lohnes & Kitzner, 2007) have shown that younger students use ICT more for social purposes and older students use it more for study. I also wonder if the use of newer media has been limited by instructional designers who stick to what they know and are not using the newer technologies yet. Another potential topic!
If there has been a changeover in use or preference especially in technology (for learning) it seems that it may be with older learners like me? AND it still doesn’t seem to be revolutionary. I did an online course for math in 1996 using a Commodore 64 computer. Khan Academy is certainly slicker but I was learning the same gizintas ( 2 gizinta 4 twice) on a 64K machine with a dial up modem. I took psychology courses in 1997 and 1998 using books and a telephone. The LMS and Skype are also slicker but the same design methods still apply.
There has been steady progress and incremental change but there is a long way to go. Saying that, there are also interesting things happening that have me wondering if we are on the cusp of a true revolution.Finland‘s education system is switching from the standard core curriculum to an interdisciplinary approach. Definitely revolutionary – if it works and is applied broadly.
Another interesting initiative is Victor Saad’s Leap Year Project where he took a year off from work to create his own MBA education, described in this (20 min) Tedx Talk. From this, he created the Experience Institute to “establish experience as a credible form of education and equip students with the tools necessary to transform our world. Through apprenticeships, self-guided projects, meetups, and coaching, we create a space within higher education that helps individuals build creative confidence, agency, and a compelling portfolio.” In addition to the cohorts following the Ei program, Saad has also partnered with Stanford University to integrate his approach into educational institutions. The Leap Course is explained in this short (2 min) video.
If you made it this far – thanks for sticking it out to the end. I know this was a long post. My final conclusion is that at this moment in time while there area lot of good things happening in our field, there doesn’t appear (to me) to be a revolution underway. I am in agreement with Bullen, Morgan and Qayyum (2011) and we should continue to apply new technology (and methods) to enhance current practices – through the deliberate application of instructional design of course!
Bullen, M., Morgan, T., and Qayyuim, A (2011). Digital learners in higher education: Looking beyond stereotypes. Proceedings of the ED MEDIA Conference, Lisbon, 1 Jul 2011.
Christensen, B.D. & Tremblay, R. (2013). Generational learning differences – myth or reality? In Best, C., Galanis, G., Kerry, J., & Stottilare, R. (Eds.) Fundamental Issues in Defence Training and Simulation. Farnham, UK: Ashgate