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"instructional-design" Posts

Mind the Gap: The Ultimate Instructional Design Responsibility

When you put your training course out into the world, how do you know it’s successful? What are you really trying to measure?

This is an age-old concern for the instructional designer. (And for the project owner. And especially for whoever is paying for the course.) Too often an instructional design team prematurely congratulates itself on a training course well done, just because it’s been launched—way before anyone knows how effective it was for the learners.

Here are three ways success is typically proclaimed in a training course and the problems with relying on these signals:

  1. People participated! You built it. People showed up. Of course you want people to experience the course, but that’s only part of the plan. Sometimes learners are required, coerced, or even guilt-tripped into taking a course. Maybe there’s a competition, or an incentive for the team with the highest participation. These can be effective motivators, but they don’t necessarily result in actual learning.
  2. All pages were visited! The learner was not permitted to move ahead in the eLearning course until all the pages were clicked. And guess what, all the pages were clicked! Hooray! Not so fast. Clicking the “next” button is not an accurate measure of engagement or comprehension.
  3. The end-of-course assessment was completed! Even if you’re measuring scores—80% is a typical “pass rate” for final quizzes—it doesn’t mean much if there’s no indication how that knowledge is actually applied in real life.

When measuring success, could it be that you’re asking the wrong question? Instead of “Did people show up?” or “Did they pass the test?” ask, “Did the learners’ behavior change after taking the training?”

MindTheGapSo how can you better encourage and measure success in training? Here are three suggestions for instructional design teams.

  1. Mind the gap before, during, and after the training event. Identifying the gap is the first thing to do when designing a new learning experience. Figure out the distance between the current state and the desired state, and map out the journey to guide the learner. Clearly document the progress made, and make note of any new mini-gaps that open up along the way.
  2. Follow up with participants after training is launched. Conduct post-training interviews or surveys with participants. Ask for their feedback. Ask for stories about how their jobs are different or how their behavior has changed as a result of the training. Consider making this information available to other participants or those who will be taking the course.
  3. Build in opportunities for perpetual learning. Training does not need to be a discrete event. As part of the master training plan, create on-the-job shadowing or teach-back opportunities. Give learners templates and other resources to document their experiences and share their wisdom with others.

These three strategies focus on closing the gap identified at the beginning of a learning plan. What other strategies do you use to guide learners from their current level of knowledge and behaviors to the desired state? How do you measure success?

History of eLearning: “E” is for “Evolutionary”

TimelineBlogLarge ILGeLearning—also known as online learning, educational technology, computer-based training (CBT), and web-based training (WBT)—has roots deep in the early decades of the 20th century.

What does the e in elearning stand for? It’s not just electronic anymore. The elearning pioneer Bernard Luskin says it represents “exciting, energetic, engaging, extended learning.”

We’d like to propose an even better meaning: e is for evolutionary.

The biggest difference between the elearning of the 20th century and where we are today is that it’s evolved to become an enhancement of learning, not a replacement. (There’s another e-word!)

Where did it all start?

The First eLearning Devices: 1924

“There must be an industrial revolution in education in which educational science and the ingenuity of educational technology combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education.”

– Sidney Pressey, 1924, inventor of the Automatic Teacher, the first electronic device used in schools

The Automatic Teacher was essentially a primitive Scantron/bubble-sheet testing machine. The cost was about $15—half the amount required to educate a student for a whole year during that era. The machine worked by requiring children to answer each question correctly before going on to the next one.

But it was not to be. “Pressey’s ‘Automatic Teacher’ is a rich example of failure in the midst of modernist commitments to scientific and technological progress,” says Stephen Petrina in his article “Sidney Pressey and the Automation of Education.” Although Pressey’s intention was to give actual teachers more time with their students—and not replace them with a machine—only 250 were ever produced.

BF Skinner’s “Teaching Machine”: 1954

30 years after Pressey’s invention, BF Skinner created the “Teaching Machine” to promote self-management—or how students think and respond to stimuli in their environment. It was a mechanical device programmed with questions and rewards for correct answers. The machine gave students immediate and regular reinforcement designed to keep them engaged with novel material.

This video shows Skinner himself describing its use. Fascinating!

The goals of the “Teaching Machine” that BF Skinner describes are similar to our modern interpretation of online learning:

  • Immediate feedback
  • Self-paced learning
  • Ability to align with student’s level
  • Ability to cover more material in less time

 From Mainframe to Mainstream

Throughout the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, computers continued to shrink in size while offering exponentially greater power. Not much innovation took place in business elearning until the 1980s, when employees gained access to personal computers. Floppy discs and CD-based videos were gaining popularity in training. By this point in academia, the Open University in the UK began offering Internet-based courses, which were incredibly popular with 2,000 students enrolled during the first year.

 Modern eLearning: Collaboration

Thanks in part in part to Moore’s Law and our increasing access to the Internet, today we’re immersed in computer-supported collaborative learning. CSCL relies on technological innovation to improve teaching and learning. Think “eLearning 2.0,”—social, collaborative, networked environments where learners work together on tasks and share information and knowledge. The tools of CSCL are virtual classrooms, wikis, blogs, podcasts, and virtual worlds. (Hey you’re reading this online, aren’t you?)

The past decade has been especially monumental for elearning. It’s all about connectivism—the perspective that knowledge exists in the world rather than in an individual’s mind. Opportunities to connect are found everywhere. YouTube. Twitter. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). ScoopIt. iTunes U. Skype. Any number of topic-specific blogs. We could go on and on!

(By the way, if you’re having trouble keeping up with the nomenclature of learning, you’re not alone. Check out this great infographic, which breaks down learning lingo.)

So, readers, does “elearning” still have to be a thing? Is it still so novel that we need to differentiate it from “regular” learning?

How do you see learning continuing to evolve? Please leave your comments below.

IdeaLearning Group Case Study: Northwest Community Credit Union

Northwest Community Credit Union was founded in 1949 and remains a member-owned, not-for-profit organization with branches throughout Oregon. Nearly everyone who lives or works in the state is eligible for membership and can benefit from a full range of financial products and services.

Northwest Community is a great example of IdeaLearning Group’s success in embedding ourselves in our clients’ workplace in order to produce the most effective, results-driven experiences for our clients and their learners. Since we began working with Northwest Community Credit Union in February 2012, IdeaLearning Group has managed a wide range of projects, including training courses focused on new employee orientation, software training, and management development. In just a short while, our team has become an integral part of the extended Northwest Community family.

And because we’ve spent time really getting to know the NW Community culture, values, and mission, we consistently make valuable recommendations to train staff members as they transform and roll out their new business model and supporting programs.

LoansPQ Training

Northwest Community Credit Union needed database training for the new LoansPQ system, which is a web-based consumer loan management application that allows effective cross-sell of loan products to consumers. The purpose of the training was to introduce the concept of computer-generated loans and to provide practice using the new loan system. The training program included two-hour webinar sessions with supporting materials. The timeline was aggressive—six weeks from concept to completion—and IdeaLearning Group partnered very closely with Northwest Community to ensure content integrity and a smooth roll-out.

The program manager for Northwest Community Credit Union reports great success with the program.

“The results have been phenomenal,” he said. “We initially set up a ‘war room’ to prepare for what we assumed would be a flood of support calls as our staff went live with the new system. But it was almost a non-event! We answered fewer than 20 calls a day, although we were prepared with four full-time help desk staff members. The training and the supporting materials provided were a key component to the success of our launch. We hit this one out of the park!”

eXperience Culture Training

Northwest Community Credit Union needed to roll out a new training program designed to empower employees to deliver consistently delightful experiences to members, have better conversations more often among branch staff and managers, and improve the effectiveness of their decisions. The training also focused on demystifying the complexity of bank regulation that is added to the industry—layer after layer, year after year—so that staff members can help customers feel more comfortable with the risk and regulation inherent in banking.

The training program involved a series of sessions with managers and assistant managers, who participated in the training and shared it with their staff members. The program manager describes the overwhelming success of the program.

Working With Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

As an instructional designer who’s worked with hundreds of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)over the years, my perspective is that SMEs and Instructional Designers (IDs) need each other. In the end, we all want the same thing: a dynamic learning experience that captures the audience’s attention and makes a meaningful difference.

IDs and SMEs bring different strengths and information to the project. The learning design expert can build an innovative, beautiful framework, but without the content expert’s contribution, the structure could easily crumble.

Here’s more about what I’ve learned from collaborating with subject matter experts.

Subject matter Experts and Instructional Designers working together

Understand your roles. Instructional designers are not often experts in the content areas they write about, nor should they expect to become experts. As an ID, I want to learn as much as possible in order to create a learning experience that’s meaningful for the audience.

When I begin working with a SME, I make an effort to get to know what she’s responsible for at work, how she likes to collaborate—email, texting, phone calls?—and how she sees herself contributing to the project. I explain that her expertise will enable me to do my job: organizing and creating a fabulous training program for her business.

 It’s mostly about respect. Regard SMEs as true experts. Sometimes they bring 30 years of detailed knowledge to the project! Even if this knowledge comes to me in the form of a pile of printed materials thicker than my tallest coffee mug, I still take the time to look over the information the SME compiled. By building respect with the SME, I also improve my access to reliable resources that I’ll need to accomplish our goals.

Keep the lines of communication open. Even after our official discovery period is over, I make sure that SMEs know they can contact me by phone, email, Skype, or in-person meetings as needed. I find that SMEs are very receptive to answering questions and providing additional details when I run into roadblocks, even if I’m in the middle of developing a course.

Guide the conversation. It’s important to respect the SME’s expertise, but make sure that he understands the big picture for the training program. Guide the conversations and ultimately design the course only using the content that supports the learning objectives. If multiple SMEs are involved and they’re saying different things, as the ID it’s my responsibility to actively listen to seek clarification and consistently.

 Engage your curiosity. Demonstrating sincere curiosity and asking intelligent questions are essential for instructional designers. Sometimes SMEs are so knowledgeable that they forget the rest of us don’t know the inner workings of a solar panel system, a human resources certification process, or what certain technical acronyms stand for. I am never afraid to ask for clarification or an alternative explanation.

 For more perspectives on the ID/SME relationship, check out Jane Bozarth’s article and Patti Shank’s series. And add your voice to the conversation below!

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