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Archive for June, 2008

One of the foundational components of an instructional course is the learning objectives that form the goals for both learner and instructor. Learning objectives define the knowledge, skills, and abilities that a learner should be able to demonstrate upon successful completion of the course. But learning objectives also target the specific depth of knowledge, skills and abilities that will be covered in the course. Bloom’s Taxonomy has helped us quantify the depth and breadth of instructional content. Instructional designers and instructors each carefully consider the depth and breadth that is appropriate to accomplish the purposes of the course.

As competency models are developed, modelers will also consider the depth and breadth of the knowledge, skill, and abilities that need to be demonstrated to show proficiency. As competencies are defined it is not only important to define a structure that represents the categorical groups and definitions but also the performance statements or demonstrated behaviors that will help in the evaluation of the competency.

While instructional courses and competency models provide statements (objectives) to assist in the evaluation of success, competency proficiency is not measured by the successful completion of a course. Here’s an example,

As a journalism major at the University of Kentucky, I was required to take a course in layout and design. The purpose of the course was to teach the theory and practice of well designed newspaper pages so that the most important stories received the right placement, that pages were balanced in their appearance. Stories, photographs and advertisements were combined on the page to fit the space in a way that gave the right placement and space to the most important elements. I did very well in the course.

After graduating, I was hired as the sports editor for a local weekly newspaper where my first day was also the one day in the week the paper went to press. When I arrived I learned the rest of the staff had written the stories for the sports page but I was going to need to layout the page and have it ready for paste up. All I had to do was layout one page. Other staff members would take care of the rest of the paper.

As the clocked ticked by I struggled to make the stories, photographs and advertisements fit. The rest of the newspaper staff finished all of the pages of the that week’s edition long before I was able to get one page done. Finally, very early in the morning I was able to get everything to work on the page and was able to go home.

I learned then that while I had passed the layout and design course in college, I really didn’t know how to layout and design a newspaper page. I had passed the course but I was not competent in the knowledge, skills and abilities to do it well. I think I learned more that first night at the newspaper about layout and design than any one could have taught me in a simulated environment.

As competency models are constructed to provide definitions and performance statements that aid in evaluation they are often also mapped to instructional courses that will support that attainment of a competency. But it is important to remember, the successful completion of a course does not make someone competent. The learner may very well be proficient upon completion of a course, but proficiency is not a guaranteed.

Looking back on Dr. Orndorf’s course at UK, I’m sure that I could have worked harder to ensure that I was able to apply the principles he taught us in a real world situation. I could have worked harder to understand that in a real environment the photograph is not always the size you plan for; or there may be more ads than you’d like there to be. In a simulated environment it was too easy to make it work, especially without the intensity of a real deadline and writers who didn’t want to see their stories cut down to fit.

This example shows a glimpse of why competency models should be structured to go beyond the mapping of competencies to courses and plan for tools to help evaluate the employee’s true proficiency.

What tools have you used to help evaluate true proficiency in a given competency?

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Recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very large organizations (large to me = billion or more in revenue and 10 to 20 thousand people) who are wonderfully talented and really smart but fail to have a strategy in place to help them navigate this learning and performance world. Taking time to develop a strategy is one of the most thoughtful, professional, and organizationally responsible things any leader can do for their organization. Simply put, it allows you to make better decisions and align and link your group’s achievements to the rest of the organization. This makes everything you do within your group more effective and efficient, rather than unorganized and uncoordinated. These are not hard to do….really! However, I will recommend using a consultant organization as they can set up and run meetings, interviews, and group data collection activities across organizations that are sometimes limited by politics and positions from folks who are within the organization. Also, I wouldn’t pay for a lengthy engagement but I would hire a group who has done learning strategy analysis, has a methodology, can show you some past successes, and can get in and get out in a limited amount of time. This article is taken from an opening chapter in an eBook that was published by the eLearning Guild earlier this year. I wrote the opening chapter but you should also take a look at some of the other chapters as they are written by some folks who I consider pretty accomplished and credible. You decide….

You can go download the entire book from our website. Look on the left side menu there is a download button. What I’ve taken from the chapter for this article is some of the background information, intent of the strategy, and what it should encompass.

Learning Strategy
A learning strategy describes the input, output, and measures of the system and should have organizational, departmental, business unit, and individual references. This should be a far reaching document that details how the organization is going to facilitate continuous improvement in its employees. This implies a focus on the development of a learning culture. To achieve this goal, the utility of knowledge must be increased through three key components:

  1. Capture/creation of data, information and knowledge assets in support of each individual’s performance functions across the organization. Links to knowledge management and document management practices.
  2. Intelligent storage leveraging useful taxonomies, search, and retrieve capability that better manages and improves access to content.
  3. Dissemination/access practices, including but not limited to: e-Learning, instructor-led training, documentation, mentoring/coaching, and outside sources.

Historically, the three components listed above have been critical in research and practice. However, the movement and integration of knowledge has yet to be fully realized within many organizations. A complete system for managing information has been out of reach for many organizations due in large part to the lack of a comprehensive strategy. The measures of any system for knowledge and learning should include the accuracy, specificity, and timely delivery of the knowledge that is received by the user, and how effective that knowledge is in changing behaviors and improving performance. In addition, a key measure for success should be based on how the knowledge feeds back into the system to make it a continuous, accurate, and valuable resource that meets the needs of the user.

Business Process
The e-Learning strategy lives through the learning strategy, which in turn is deeply embedded in the organizational strategy. This is true for all departments within the organization. In addition, the learning strategy must link clearly to the mission and vision of the organization and the value driven by learning and performance must be reflected across the organization in how people, customers, clients, vendors, and the job environment are perceived.

Ultimately, the process of developing a well-thought out and successful learning strategy will consist of a focused e-Learning Strategy and will provide details around the following:

  • Defining the initiative and vision around the strategy.
  • Defining the needs and expectations of executive leadership.
  • Defining the needs and wants of the users at the organizational, departmental, business group, and individual levels.
  • Define the technology to support the system.

The strategy will also consist of a process to ensure alignment of each offering to overall organizational goals and objectives. It is highly recommended that the learning strategy consists of:

  • Alignment of learning strategy goals with organizational and departmental goals.
  • Ensuring support of executive leadership and acceptance of contributors and users.
  • Determining baseline technology requirements and capacity to support the learning and e-Learning Strategy.
  • Partnering with the internal training professionals in creating a plan for roll-out and implementation.
  • Devising a methodology to evaluate and measure results

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Over the past 10 years, the way businesses and consumers use the Internet has evolved from informational to transactional and to participatory forms of content. In its commercial infancy, the businesses flocked to provide information about themselves on the web. No one was really sure what to do with the new medium but they knew it was an important component.

As technology improved and both businesses and consumers became more comfortable with it, the transactional application of the Internet became important. We watched as Amazon and EBay capitalized on the ability of the Internet to sell goods without a storefront.

Now, the Internet has made another evolutionary step. Not that the information or transactions have gone away like dinosaurs, but the technology has expanded to allow more robust media as well as two-way flow of content between site owners and their users. Tools like Wikipedia and YouTube allow users to create their own content and share it with the larger community. Even TV shows like Lost and Heroes are leveraging the technologies to provide content to its fans in a variety of formats. The shows’ writers provide videos, stories, clues and insider information to their biggest fans. Fans can even post their own ideas and questions and interact with one another.

As the Internet evolves, it expands to provide new ways of leveraging the technology, improving the many ways we communicate and know one another. Businesses and consumers are both reaping the rewards.

The Internet technologies available now can provide a lot of value to any organization whether non-profit, commercial or governmental.

What is the value?
The value of leveraging the Internet technologies now available is threefold:

  • Increases productivity
  • Reduces costs
  • Repeatability

Let’s explore each of these in the context of a specific implementation.

How do we leverage the technology?
For example, imagine a local economic development organization who is challenged to communicate the assets, advantages and resources of their community to attract new business development and new residents to support the economic growth. Leah, the organization’s director believes that using the Internet will provide a good outlet for posting their materials. But she wants to do something beyond just posting a text, she wants to create an experience for her target audience.

She decides to develop a two-stage approach to the experience. The first stage is to develop a traveling program that introduces the region to neighboring government, business, community and corporate leaders. Stage 2 is the development of an online community that will enable Leah’s audience to:

  • Choose topics that are most relevant to them
  • View information about chosen topics in layers, each giving the viewer more depth of information
  • Participate in discussions with other users by viewing, posting and responding to questions and other posts in a technology-based discussion board
  • Access recent updates through news articles and blog posts connected to the site
  • Locate other sites that provide more focused information

The value of this mixed approach is that Leah’s organization can reach more people than with a live presentation alone. This allows Leah and her core team to spend the most time with the contacts that will be most productive to reaching her goals. Participants who want more information will be able to seek that information even after the presentation ends. This allows the presentation to continue its work even after the live session ends.

Leah’s team can also leverage the web site presentation to reach audiences that may not be reachable in person. By monitoring their web site traffic, Leah can make decisions about which areas may be the most impacted by a live presentation. This reduces the cost associated with each presentation made.

After the web site is setup, Robert, visits the site and is pleased to see how rich of an experience is provided. During his visit to the site, Robert views an online presentation sequence that includes animations, music, voice over and video of information about the topics he selects. At specific points during the presentation, Robert has the option to choose to learn more in-depth information about a specific part of the presentation or continue with a broader overview of information.

As part of the overall experience, Robert can sign up for more information about the live presentations and login to a discussion board to interact with other users of the site and members of Leah’s organization.

As Robert is viewing the presentation, he notices something that his colleague Jennifer may be interested in. He immediately sends her an email with the link to the site and Jennifer is able to view the same presentation.

The repeatability of the presentation brings value to everyone involved. Leah and the organization, Robert and Jennifer all benefit from a common message, that can be viewed any time by any one.

What are the benefits?
By integrating live presentation content with online versions and deeper levels of content, many organizations have been able to leverage Internet technologies to:

  • Provide more depth of information to their users
  • Provide updated information to an audience they have already met
  • Create an online community of interaction with customers and others interested in their information
  • Build trust and respond quickly to user needs
  • Facilitate relationships between their users and their members

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Stop Putting Your Class To Sleep And Engage The LearnerEdutainment. In some circles this is a dirty word. Some teachers may respond, “I am not in class (or online) to entertain, I am there to teach!” Well, let me ask you, have you ever looked out over your class and seen people asleep? Have you ever felt like you were the only one interested in the topic you were teaching?

Unfortunately, many teaching lectures and classes fail to engage the learner. I vividly remember experiences in Elementary School, High School, and College where the difference between teachers that showed up for class and teachers that engaged the class stood out in glaring contrast.

Elementary School Comparison
One teacher was a “screamer”. She called all her students by their last name (which is typically a sign of contempt). I honestly cannot think of a thing I learned while in her class. Contrast her with a teacher I had the year before and it was night and day difference. This teacher was much more compassionate. Called all her students by their first names and made sure to say “hello” and “good bye” to every student each day with a hug. She was creative and energetic in her approach to teaching. Did I learn in her class? You bet I did. I listened to everything she taught me. Why? Because she engaged me and each of her students on a personal level.

High School Comparison
Granted, High School is not the easiest season of life to try and engage students in learning. Many students would rather be hanging out with their friends. Many of my teachers were good. But good can be the enemy of great. I remember one great teacher who engaged his classes. This man would take time out of his day if he saw you needed help. He had the kind of creativity and character that you wanted to aspire to and kids wanted to hang around him. Not because he was their “buddy”, but because he cared about what he taught, who he taught to, and how he taught it.

See a pattern emerging?

College
Similar situations — professors who were excited about their subjects passed that enthusiasm onto their classes in entertaining ways. Other prof’s that were more interested in their own research/grants seemed to see classes as interruptions in their personal schedules.

Know The Audience
So, what does all this have to do with edutainment? In order to engage the learner you need to know who they are — know your audience. Do your homework. Listen to focus groups, students, and customers.

Also, ask yourself if you enjoy what you do? Maybe teaching is not for you. It could be you have more interest in research. If you are not genuinely excited about what you’re teaching then it will be obvious to everyone — but you.

Tips

  • Be yourself – use humor if that comes naturally to you.
  • Be honest and open – when you’re transparent your class can better relate to you and will listen to what you have to say.
  • Use props – strong visual reminders can do wonders for cementing concepts in the minds of your class/audience.
  • Activities – to be used only when it makes sense and reinforces.
  • Participation – engage members in participating what you are teaching.
  • Remove distractions – whether in the room or any annoying habits you have picked up, remove them.

Edutainment is not a dirty word. We need to engage the learner. We need to engage them on a personal level and academic level. We need to help them understand why the knowledge and information we are conveying is relevant. If not, we have lost their attention and, consequently, lost any opportunity to truly teach.

If you have others ideas let me know in the comments section below.

Additional Reading
Entertainment And The Educational Impact
NextGen eLearning And World Of Warcraft®
Are There Benefits to Online Games And Learning?

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