Tip 3: Pitfalls to Avoid in Self-Paced Learning

For the past couple of blogs, we have been reviewing different facets of the Flipped Classroom and Self-Paced Learning (SPL). You should have a greater degree of familiarity with these issues and are probably beginning to think about ways it can be incorporated into training programs. While the idea of SPL is simple, its implementation can be a challenge; there are many pitfalls to avoid, so it is useful to identify them at the onset.

SPL AND PITFALLS

Developing educational material and creating a structure for Flipped Classrooms and SPL is not the same thing as breaking traditional lectures into smaller pieces. A common pitfall is to replicate various elements of the traditional teaching didactic while embracing the Flipped Classroom and SPL in name only. Instead of being Student-Centric Learning, trainings often devolve into teacher-centric pedagogy.

1. Seductive Details

We all remember this trying experience: a thirty-page PowerPoint presentation chocked full with so much information that it is neither possible read nor understand. But, hey, that shouldn’t be so bad, should it, isn’t more better? Actually, no, more frequently is worse. Trainers frequently jam trainings with seductive details for any number of reasons: to illustrate their own “in-depth knowledge,” to demonstrate (to their supervisors) their level of preparation, to create content that meets the needs of learners at lower and higher levels, et cetera. Such trainings prompt some to leave early, others to “phase out,” and others to sit patiently to sign the attendance sheet. The handout eventually finds its place in a growing pile of dusty trainings.

Seductive details are hard to discount, since by nature they are interesting; yet, including them can detract from the educational goals of the training. Extraneous details take a variety of forms (graphics, illustrations, music, photographs, textual examples). Such information often amounts as “filler” and, sometimes, an experiential reward to “spice-up” the training. See! This training isn’t so boring!! But remember, the training is for learning not an exercise in toleration. Moreover, seductive details can detract from the transfer of learning, which empower learners to apply their knowledge in real-world settings.

2. Writing As Usual

Traditional forms of writing are linear in style. That is, most articles and books use a rhetorical style of presenting arguments logically supported by a variety of evidence. SPL, though, is different. The focus is student centered. The logic of argument is still important, but how can our students learn if, for whatever reason, our self-professed “logic” eludes them? Should we think, oh they’re not trying hard enough . . . or perhaps, they need to properly “self-pace” themselves. Such assessments can be seen as employing the traditional teaching didactic under the guise of a Flipped Classroom. What do you mean? Aren’t we breaking down the training into smaller pieces? Yes, but SPL is not simply an abbreviated outline: the whole is neither the sum nor greater of its pieces; the whole is simply different from its parts. So different facets of learning—behavioral, emotional, neuro-cognitive, and social among others—need to be considered when helping our students put together the pieces.

To truly employ the SPL approach, trainers should employ student-centered logic not simply the logic of their argument. For example, one should not assume everyone knows or understands key definitions used in the training, and research demonstrates students frequently are better served by addressing them at the onset. Similarly, research documents that foreshadowing key concepts in the beginning provides a context for content at later stages.

3. Over Excitement

In an earlier blog, we discussed the importance of the trainer’s character. He or she should not do anything to distract us from learning. Training should facilitate student learning not focus on exciting trainers. Hey, again, I thought the trainer should be exciting to draw me into the lesson . . . I don’t want to be bored! Yes, but before being exciting, they should be engaging, otherwise we risk replicating the traditional top-down teaching didactic.

While a teacher-centric approach should be avoided, we also must guard against over-excited presentations.  Whaaaaat?!   By over-excited presentations, I am neither referring to gamification nor role-based animation; both are central to SPL. Rather, “excited” presentations utilize software tools to highlight textual information. For example, textual examples sequentially spin into place with music, bullet points flash to create accent, and other graphic effects. Instead of facilitating learning, these tools are technology for the sake of technology creating cognitive overload degrading learner memory.  Blended learning, though, employs a variety of technologies and modalities to facilitate the learning, not demonstrate the trainer’s prowess with software. Consulting with training experts or even contracting for training can help training administrators strike a proper balance and focus for SPL.

Had this blog been a journal article, you might read seductive details and pages of citations. Yes—guilty as charged LOL! But wait . . . yes, please, cut him some slack . . . Writing is not synonymous to education. The former is only a tool in our educational holster, a tool used in different ways based on our framework. Flipping classrooms and SPL focus on student needs not intellectual vanity. So shhhh . . . don’t tell anyone I’m anticipating the 17th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

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