Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Better elearning through the basics

So I'm catching up my blog reading when I caught up with Clark Quinn's piece titled Seven Steps to Better E-learning and I found an article that did not open up any new vistas to me, but instead recalled items that I learned on my journey as an instructional designer and have ingrained in my thinking that I have forgotten some of them. His seven points are:
  1. Meaningful skills - training should be about doing something new, not knowing new ideas
  2. Keep things lean and light - we should not try and crowbar in as much text as possible on a screen, your learners' eyes will glaze over and no meaningful skills will be transferred.
  3. Emotional engagement - don't start with the trite, when you are done you will be able to: blah, blah, blah As Clark states:

We know that learning is more effective when learners are emotionally committed. So in addition to addressing individual learning styles, we must address motivation. We should make learners see how new skills will help them actually do things, beyond whatever value others may place on these skills.

As an additional element of emotional maintenance, set expectations about what's to come. Let learners know how much time they'll be spending, and what their expectations should be about the overall experience. This helps learners maintain focus throughout the experience. If they know ahead of time there's a tough stretch ahead, for example, they're much more likely to persevere.

  1. Connected Concepts - Clark gets a little long-haired here, but basically he says we should present the new skill in the context of a larger well understood concept using multiple means for the learner to comprehend and assimilate the skill sets.
  2. Elaborated Examples - This point, in my mind, is very similar to the previous point. Clark reminds us that we should not present abstract, but should instead present real examples of the skill being used. These examples should include both good and bad examples since we all learn from our mistakes.
  3. Pragmatic practice - Up until this point we have been talking to the learner and they have been passive in their involvement. Now we need to help them learn. Again Clark captures the challenge with this issue--the need to create practice activities that walk the fine line between being challenging, but not frustrating.
  4. Refined Reflection - Clark proposes an individualized summary based on the learner's performance on the practice exercises. He acknowledges that the problem is that most elearning does not track learner progress at the practice level. He also notes the dark little secret we all carry in the back of our minds: most learning is forgotten within three days of the training session if it is not used. He argues that learners should have opportunities to practice so that the knowledge remains fresh.
I can't argue with any of these points and I think all instructional designers should take them to heart. As for me. I'm going to print his article out and keep it posted where I can grab it and refresh my mind about these obvious points again and again.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dealing with Digital Natives

I subscribe to the Breakthrough Briefing web newsletter from a group called the elearn Campus. It's a great group that offers regular interesting webinars free-of-charge (always a good deal for a hard working instructional desinger). But my jaw had to drop when I read the article preceding their last webinar, Engage or Enrage.

What got me was this :
Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-based Learning, delivered a keynote address at this summer's Desire2Learn Users Conference titled "Engage Me or Enrage Me." He talked about the great divide between digital natives (the kids who have grown up in the digital age) and the digital immigrants (folks like me who came of age well before the dawn of the digital world as we know it). Prensky's thesis is that many kids are thoroughly bored and uninterested in school because the nature of schooling has not changed much in hundreds of years. (my emphasis) The digital natives face the same old rote memory approach to learning that we did. However, in their lives outside the classroom they are using digital tools (e.g. WWW, wireless text messaging, electronic games, MP3s, PDAs, high end software) to be creators and active participants in activities, not just passive receptors and regurgitators of information. Hence, their rallying cry at school is "engage me or enrage me."

While a great number of today's kids may be truly web-engaged I think it is a gross overstatement to assume they all have to be catered to by engaging them with games. They claim Prensky argued that "...many very bright and creative kids have to turn off their brains and slow down when they go to school because they are not challenged in the ways they are, for example, playing electronic games."

I got news for Mr. Prensky I went to school in the 1960s and 70s when computers were still mainframes and I still got bored at the teaching styles. It's not a matter of digital natives being turned off by the teaching that occurs in school. It is all kids who get bored with what passes for education and it's one heck of an indictment of our teachers--even with their new teaching styles--it's still boring. But kids will always be bored because they do not want to be in school. The trouble is engagement too often becomes entertainment and no learning occurs.

Sometimes we have to do something that seems boring in order to learn. It's just the way of the world. And sometimes, in the corporate world, elearning has to be a page-turner.