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

Welcome to the Flipped Classroom

The what! classroom . . . ? For many, flipped classrooms represent radical change. If the old classroom was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my children! If it ain’t broke, don’t fit it!! Yet even skimming newspapers reveals growing concern about the state of education: the United States lags other nations in mathematics and science while children do not know “basic” historical facts; calls for reform range from cultural vitriol to dry bureaucratic reports. So what is and where does the Flipped Classroom fit in? For those unfamiliar, this blog—the first of a three-part series—will provide a quick historical context along with the basic concept, principles, and rationale for the flipped classroom; for those familiar, this blog will offer a review along with some amusing anecdotes for points of reflection.

A Brief Historical Context

Three closely related issues exist in educational reform: the purpose of education, the content of education, and style of education. The U.S. educational system was structured to create model citizens, drawing upon classical sources: Greek and Roman literature along with the Bible. This model used a traditional, teacher-centered didactic, top-down learning with teachers distributing knowledge and disciplining students who were viewed as passive vessels receiving information. Failures in learning frequently were interpreted as character flaws.

With the rise of industrialism, bureaucratic and production efficiencies created new educational demands, with expanded political rights and social roles, educator demographics expanded and included neglected perspectives. Tensions arose from these changes: one questioning the purpose—and value—due to market demands and one questioning the content—and social role—due to an expanded range of participating stakeholders. Each dynamic, though, frequently maintained the traditional, teacher-centered didactic. Still, evolving educational theories created innovations to improve student learning. For example, philosopher John A. Dewey questioned the passive role of the students and argued for experiential learning.

Flipped Classroom

1. Basic Concept. K. for the first time . . . what is this idea all about? The Flipped Classroom is an integral part of alternative teaching models emerging over the past couple of decades. More specifically, the framework was derived from the research of Alison King and Eric Mazure among others, while gaining impetus from Louisiana-born entrepreneur Salman Khan and his creation of the Khan Academy. By utilizing technology and transforming educational relationships, flipped classrooms promise greater student comprehension, retention, and utilization of materials in a range of disciplines and educational formats. In short, students receive the bulk of educational material remotely, generally on-line, from the classroom setting; the classroom, then, serves as a forum for the students to better question, understand, and integrate the material through student collaboration and the guidance of a teacher. Contrary to the traditional model, flipped classrooms are student-centered, break down hierarchy, and create educational partnerships amongst students, their peers, and teachers.

2. Principles. This all seems to include everything that’s already being used in the classroom . . . aren’t we just moving things around a bit? The teacher still is important . . . right? Yes and No. With the Flipped Classroom, elements of the educational process are redefined and retooled. In traditional styles, the teacher imparted information in the classroom setting, reinforced it on the chalkboard, and was the final arbiter of its interpretation; students were required to be alert and take notes. In addition to lectures, students might perform in-class assignments and readings to be judged by their teacher. In short, there was an educational vector from the teacher to individual students; homework served as reinforcement if not a test. Blended Education, alternatively, draw upon different technologies and types of materials. The significant surge of technology over the past couple of decades—wider access to the internet most importantly—created the option to alter and relocate the traditional educational vector.

  • Technological Innovations. While digital and internet technologies are the key elements of blended learning, it is important to remember that technology always has impacted the style of educational practices. I fondly remember my father recounting how he constructed a giant (and operational) slide rule to teach his students; similarly, nobody could hold a candle to his overhead projector and transparencies. Why are these examples significant? Because technology gave the teacher the ability to condition content and delivery based on real-time student needs and questions. Technology can condition the educational dynamic instead just offering a simple flow of information. Digital technologies and the internet offer students the option to learn outside of the classroom (at home or the library) and/or without direct teacher instruction (using a digital/technological interface). This flexibility can accommodate a variety of student needs to progress at their own speed and more closely review difficult concepts. For many younger learners, this technology already is second-hand and reinforces existing skill sets. Blended education has a wide array of options and models. Educational goals and existing educational environment influence one’s choices.
  • Alternative Aptitudes. The scholarly community differentiates between a range of cognitive skill sets (or, as suggested by Martin Gardner, “types” of intelligence); similarly, there are different means to develop such. For example, many are familiar with the notion that artists and designers are “visual learners.” Such is the same with other skill sets (e.g., memory, ordering, et cetera.) Information can be adapted using the internet and digital means best suited for an educational task. The classical Socratic method still can be valued (direct learning through questions and answers), but lest we forget, writing and speaking, too, are mediums of information.
  • The Educator’s Role and Homework. With traditional didactics, homework was integral to the learning process; inability to succeed was interpreted as a lack of discipline. As such, the teacher served as a performance judge; alternatively, in flipped classrooms, the teacher serves as a mentor who fosters a community different from the traditional classroom. This should not be all that foreign: think of the roles of students and teachers in science labs. Instead of being a point of judgment, homework is transplanted back into the classroom, that is, the classroom becomes the arena where concepts and information are more fully explained and integrated together. This makes sense if the ultimate goal of education is mastery.

3. Rationale. So, again . . . remind me . . . why is this important? Shouldn’t students just listen and spend enough time doing their homework and less time watching television? This, again, is a very good question. With all of the new educational approaches and theories, let us briefly reflect back to the historical context: the Flipped Classroom is NOT about the grand purpose of education, and the Flipped Classroom is NOT about the content of education. Rather, flipped classrooms can be utilized to improve educational goals, that is, helping students to understand, remember, and, actually, use the material at hand. There may be some differences across disciplines, but . . . it is a universal educational style.

  • Comprehension and Micro-Learning: In the traditional classroom setting, student comprehension could be limited by a variety of factors—distractions, length of instruction, et cetera. We all have memories or can simply point to popular culture references of the teacher “droning” on . . . Wha, wha, wha, wha-wha . . . But if education is viewed as a supportive community, not a top-down convention, the process of learning can be satisfying, even an adventure. One of the key elements of comprehension is micro-learning. What is it? An anecdote first, if I may. As an undergraduate, I had a difficult time learning new material. O.K., then, just put in more time? But the more time spent seemed fruitless, reading the same pages over and over again. I began to realize that it was easier and more efficient to break down the information in smaller bites (no pun intended). In so doing, I was able to more easily retain information by envisioning relationships and arguments. Micro-learning draws on this logic.
  • Retention and Mastery Learning: While most educational systems have year-end examinations, a problem exists with the relation of such tests for learning. Short-term learning is a very different skill than maintaining a mastery of a body of knowledge. Ultimately, one can comprehend when being taught while not being able to retain that information for future use. I recall a high school physics teacher who permitted his students, including this writer, to take any of classroom test as many times as desired (changing numbers and the like of questions). What? Isn’t this cheating? Well it depends upon your definition. If cheating is crude competition, then yes; however, if education is viewed in the context of educational mastery, then no. Part of the problem associated with the mastery of knowledge is based on alternative approaches to the education. Recall apprenticeships undertaken by sushi cooks: for one year, the apprentice only works on cooking rice. Again, what? If I am paying for this, I want my money’s worth! Yet the approach of a master is not to offer a certificate, but rather to ensure individuals will be competent, independent professionals. Without student mastery, the teacher is regarded as remiss. Regarding academic education, we should, with some irony, remember that universities originally were based on this guild model, which accounts for its top-down control and narrow scope. Yet, mastery learning is still essential regardless of counterproductive traditional didactic styles. This is the role of the flipped classroom, adapting teaching styles so that everyone can be a master.
  • Utilization and Experiential Learning: As noted in the section on mastery learning, the model of education utilized by guilds and trades draws heavily upon experiential learning. The style of education is not simply mastery of information, but a means for understanding when and how to use that information in “real-life” settings. Recalling one of science classes, the final exam presented students with a geological map charting the outcrops of various rock types; based on the year’s learning, students were expected to generate a geological cross-section depicting the various inclines and synclines. While I found the test an extremely satisfying test and use of the year learning, many stared at the test and did not know what to do. Unfortunately, the class did not employ the type of experiential learning that would have empowered the students to more easily connect “textbook” information with the “real world.”

The efficacy of experiential learning draws upon many of the previously discussed issues—technology, alternative aptitudes, micro- and mastery learning, et cetera—all directed toward linking theory with practice. The key point with experiential learning is the use of these different components in a manner that enhances learning, not just granting the teacher free time.

Next week’s discussion will focus on how to utilize the flipped classroom in your educational and/or organizational setting. Again, please comment or email any suggestions or thoughts about this issue!

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Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

How to Make Your Presentations Pop

Classroom settings create training challenges and opportunities.  Reminding ourselves about the experiential dynamics of the classroom can increase content retention while positively impacting participant perception about and satisfaction with your organizational culture of learning. After reading this blog, soon your trainings will be able to POP . . .

A primary experiential classroom dynamic is that of distractions, interruptions in the planned flow and rhythm of a presentation that detract from learning.  Interruptions always will be present to one degree or another—a participant coughs several times while another adjusts her/his chair; such interruptions are momentary by nature. Still interruptions can monopolize attention—a noise is heard; a coffee fell…did it splash…who’s reacting…should I help? Interruptions, however, can lead some to disengage or even become cynical—a computer is not working; restarting doesn’t help…a murmur envelopes the room…some check e-mail…“this always happens”…“it’s a stupid training”… et cetera.

With thoughtful preparation, a skillful trainer can prevent many of these interruptions from becoming distractions or to avoid them from even happening. The dynamics of distractions can be termed POP: Personal, Operational, and Professional.  This week’s blog will deal with personal distractions.

Personal Distractions

In theory, personal dynamics of distraction can be discounted: we are adults who can focus; we are professionals getting paid to work. While being adult and professional, participants are also human.  That is, while everybody has universal needs, everybody is unique with lives outside of work. Likewise, while nobody per se is exempt from training, nobody is taking the training is perfect. With this realization, trainers can appreciate several personal elements.

A. Trainer Identity. The tone set at the beginning of a session frequently conditions how participants will receive the information delivered. The trainer needs to be professional, positive, and welcoming. Also, trainers are “experts,” who need to be sensitive to the natural vulnerability of students in the learning environment. All of this is key, because initial opinions about the trainer directly impact whether and how the participants engage during the session.

  1. Clothing: If the trainer is from outside the organization, then one could simply wear traditional business attire, or even call the organizer to obtain a sense of the style of the audience. Alternatively, if the trainer is from the organization, he or she should wear clothing consistent with the organizational culture. For example, if ALL staff members wear casual clothing, then wearing a suit and tie could to alienate participants. Clothing may seem to be superficial—and, in many ways it is—but something as simple as clothing should not create a distraction that prevents participants from focusing or taking the trainer seriously.
  2. Approachable: While ostensibly an “expert,” the trainer truly needs to be approachable.  Smiling, as is often quipped, uses fewer muscles than a grimace.  If he or she is not positive, then participants are apt to feel a sense anxiety or to be negatively disposed, which ultimately distracts from the learning process. Also, when interacting, be sure to affirm questions and be non-judgmental; an audience can turn away from a trainer if the session is imbued with her or his sense superiority as opposed to excitement and personal warmth.
  3. Preparation: Organizations use trainers for their talent in presentation and ability to convey chosen information. The trainer needs to be prepared and, regardless of familiarity, still organize and prepare. Something may have changed meriting a revision in your presentation. If participants point out the error, then one’s authority can be diminished. Yet even this can be a positive learning experience: instead of being defensive, one should thank the speaker for the information while affirming that others should feel comfortable in sharing. Training is not simply a transmission of dry facts but a reciprocal learning environment. This helps participants to engage mentally and increases trust for in-class exercises.

B. Courtesies. Remember to go over the basics surrounding the classroom site at the onset. Unless this is an in-house training, most will not be familiar with the location of various things: exits, elevators, restrooms, building cafeteria, food establishments in the area, et cetera; much less a courtesy, many jurisdictions require trainers at remote sites to provide disaster/safety information.  A good trainer will outline the training, define its goals, and share the anticipated break and completion times. All of this provides participants with focus regarding training value as well as a means to envision how the session fits into the rest of their day while eliminating associated distractions.

C. Physiological Matters. Especially for sessions lasting several hours if not the entire day, trainers must be cognizant of a certain type of interruptions.

  1. Sleep: In the context of morning or longer sessions, participants may present as sleepy and/or distracted.  This distraction frequently is created physiologically (and, ideally, not from the trainer).  In the morning, participants may not have gotten enough sleep and/or are exhausted; if possible, having refreshments always is a winning strategy—especially coffee. Alternatively, after returning from lunch, many experience the “postprandial dip,” that is, the diversion of energy from cognitive attention toward digestion. Hosts and trainers frequently provide an array of bite-sized, wrapped candies, which serve to “jolt” takers into a grateful attention. Other trainers ask the class to stand up, take a group stretch, and shake out their hands; another trainer, buttressed by studies, lowers room temperature a few degrees arguing it makes people less drowsy and more attentive.
  2. Hunger/Thirst: Having small snacks and a variety of drinks can be useful to create focus. Especially for morning sessions, participants may not have had time to eat that morning; having snacks and juices demonstrates consideration on the part of the host, while assuring the trainer that the audience will not be restless due to hunger.  Similarly, having bottled water available eliminates the need for participants to exit the room for the water fountain. Some budgets (and conditions) may afford for the provision of lunch—especially important when the session is located at a site not close to any food establishment.

D. Emotional Matters.  The dynamic of emotional matters is at once the easiest to identify while being the most difficult to resolve. When participants are anxious, depressed, or annoyed, then their attention span and ability to engage and learn is dramatically reduced. Emotions can be read through body language and expressions, but it is challenging to divine its origin. What are the results of their last performance evaluation?  Will the bank refinance their mortgage?   Can they afford to send a daughter to her college of choice? Unless the source is somehow clearly related to session and/or the trainer, not much can or should be done to address such matters.  

The trainer should effectively teach the subject matter, not serve as a therapist.  Still, trainers should be intuitively sensitive to and understanding about participant needs while creating a welcoming, non-threatening atmosphere that also is interesting. Engaging sessions mentally transport participants, granting them license to explore ideas unrelated to personal challenges and problems. You not only serve as an expert but as an entertainer providing a respite—all toward the end of helping members of the audience to learn.

E. Competing Technology.  Yes, welcome to the twenty-first century! Participants vary in technological competence: some multi-task several projects on different technologies while others get locked out of their organizational portal. Yet virtually everyone has an organizational or personal cell phone, tablet, and/or laptop; indeed, many use them while arriving at the session: checking texts, emailing, or making a quick on-line purchase (here, time is less money!).  Consumer technology is omnipresent, distracting the user and irritating others. If not careful, competing technology can steal the focus. Different strategies can be used to minimize distractions generated from competing technology.

  1. Participant Courtesy: At the onset, cheerfully, respectfully, though clearly remind everyone how competing technology creates serious distractions.  Ask participants to turn their technology off or to the vibrate setting. Also, provide a protocol for those who expect to receive urgent communication during the session; encourage them to sit at the rear of the classroom, ideally close to the door to momentarily leaving the room to afford them privacy and avoid distracting others. When interrupted by an errant cell phone ring—and it will happen—avoid irritation and simply ignore the interruption unless the receiver actually is orally responding to the caller. In such scenarios, trainers should politely request the cell phone user to finish the call in the hallway. (Most are embarrassed and will hastily comply.)
  2. Session Agreement: Again, discuss how competing technology creates serious distractions. Now, and this is a bit bold, ask everyone to hold up their cell phone, and after they do, then warmly and softly implore them to turn off their cell phone at that moment or—at the very least—to switch the setting to vibrate. Relay a humorous anecdote to ease any tension. This can create a humorous aside and a bonding moment of levity should a cell phone ring.

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Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

6 Tips for Using Visuals to Connect with your Learners in Online Courses

 

Human eye.

Learners sometimes remember what they see better than what they hear. Some learners tend to prefer reading, writing, and art to listening to lectures or music. Fortunately, eLearning is by its nature a highly visual medium. The key is maximizing your tools to create a truly effective and engaging eLearning experience.

 

  • Use Metaphoric Visuals– Using graphics may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to use “filler” images, rather than meaningful ones that augment the material. Think about visually representing concepts. For instance, you might show the parts of an essay as the various cars of a train, having the learner click on each train car for additional information. Metaphoric images like this can stick in the learners’ mind, making it easier for them to recall the concepts later.

 

  • Use Concrete Visuals– Or you might use images that directly depict the subject matter, such as showing a form and highlighting the key points as you move through it. If you can use images to forge an emotional connection with your learners, it is even better. Images that make learners laugh, feel sympathy, or stimulate their curiosity will make your course more engaging and memorable.

Using Visuals to Connect with Learners

 

  • Break Up the Text– You can also use pictures to break up text-heavy pages, which can strain the eye. Inserting images throughout can give the eyes a rest, and allow the brain to connect the images with the text. Isolate the key information on the page and use images to direct the learners’ attention to that information.

 

  • Quality is Key– Don’t use generic photos, unimaginative graphics, or poor quality images. Use images that show real people, places, or things, and that connect the learners’ prior knowledge to the new information. Make sure the images are appropriately sized and laid out in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

 

  • Think Visually– It’s easy to fall prey to the dreaded bulleted list for page after page, especially if you’re a linear thinker. Instead, try to imagine the information visually. Can you make those bullet points a chart, mind map, timeline, flow chart, or graph?

 

  • Use Videos– Videos can be a great tool, especially for showing “how-to.” Many people enjoy watching others to learn a new skill. YouTube has plenty of tutorials where you can learn everything from knitting to bricklaying, attesting to the popularity of visual learning. If your budget allows, creating your own videos can be a great way to take your course to the next level.

 

  • 508 Requirements-Just keep in mind that as with all visual elements for courses that require access for people with disabilities that there are special steps required to make sure that images and videos can be properly accessed by the various screen reading technologies. More on this topic in a later blog.

 

Do you have any tips for using visuals to connect with your learners?

Tips for Using Animation in eLearning Courses

Life Science Demo Animation

Adding animation to your eLearning courses is an excellent way to emotionally connect with learners, break down difficult concepts, and enhance the learning experience. In this post I’ll review the benefits of using animation and offer tips for creating effective animations.

 

 

Why Use Animations?

Movement and Mood– Animations give your course personality and movement. Our eyes are naturally drawn to motion, and animation offers more visual interest than a static screen. You can also use animation to set the course’s mood. Do you want learners to feel relaxed or alert? Is this course going to be light-hearted or serious? The animation you use in your introductions can impact your learners’ mindset as they approach the material.

 

Information Accessibility– Animation is also a great tool for breaking down difficult concepts or multistep processes. For example, some courses use whiteboard animation, which is a popular and engaging method of depicting complex information as hand drawings on a whiteboard in sync with audio. Showing difficult concepts as bite-sized animated chunks makes them more accessible to learners and easier to retain. You can also animate static graphics like charts and graphs, making them more engaging. Further, animation gives learners the ability to learn at their own pace. They can replay the animations as many times as they need or even slow the animation down, making the information incredibly accessible.

 

Social Context– Lastly, animation can create social context for solo learners. Most learners are accustomed to instructor-led classroom or seminar settings, which include social interactions with peers and instructors. Including a social aspect in your eLearning course can boost learner motivation and interest. You can create animated characters that act as expert instructors, peer instructors, or co-learners, simulating a classroom experience.

Dos and Don’ts

While animation can be a great tool, when used incorrectly it can demotivate or even annoy learners. Here are a few tips to keep in mind so learners get the greatest benefit from your animations.

  • DO offer a mute or skip button: Give learners the opportunity to mute animations or skip introductions, especially if every section begins with the same animation sequence. Respect your learners and give them control over their eLearning experience.
  • DO use a well-written script and high quality audio recordings: Poor quality dialogue or audio that is too loud, busy, or poorly recorded will not engage learners.
  • DON’T use animation that’s inappropriate for the audience: Remember your learners are adults. Animation, while it can be funny, cute, or entertaining, should always suit the audience, subject matter, and mood of the course. Avoid anything juvenile or inappropriate.
  • DON’T use “filler” animation: Animation should always connect with and/or augment the material. Don’t use animation to fill space or add it just for entertainment’s sake. When in doubt ask yourself, “Is this relevant to the content?”

In a later blog, I’ll discuss how to ensure that learners with disabilities have an equivalent experience (section 508 compliance) when animated elements are presented in a course.

Check out our Life Sciences animated Demo by clicking this link.

How have you used animation in your learning development?

 

 

3 Tips for Engaging Auditory Learners in eLearning

being aware and engagement in elearning

People like learning in different ways. Auditory learners, for instance, tend to think in words and can easily recall information they hear. In conventional classroom situations, auditory learners enjoy discussions, lectures, and debates. Since asynchronous eLearning courses don’t supply these experiences, here are some tips for engaging auditory learners in an eLearning environment.

 

  • Video and music– Enhance your eLearning experience with video clips and music. Be sure to choose videos that are relevant to the subject matter; don’t add videos merely to fill space. Many education professionals believe that background music can improve concentration, memory, mood, and productivity. It’s important to choose music that doesn’t have lyrics, which can be distracting. You should also give learners the option of changing the volume or turning the music off entirely, if they choose.

 

  • Mnemonic devices– Auditory learners often like using mnemonic devices for recalling information. A mnemonic device is an acronym, phrase, song, or rhyme used to recall information. “30 days hath September, April, June and November,” is a mnemonic device, as is ROY G BIV (the colors of the spectrum in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).
  • While mnemonics may seem silly or childish, remember that organizations use them to teach critical safety information. (Think the National Stroke Association’s FAST to remind people of stroke symptoms.) You can find more information on different types of mnemonic devices here.

 

  • Narrators– A narrator can engage auditory learners, however, the narrator shouldn’t merely read what’s printed on the screen. Use a narrator to enhance learning by offering tips or giving instruction for multi-step processes. You can use narration to explain visuals or infographics. Be sure the narrator’s tone matches the style of course. It should be conversational and friendly, yet professional.
  • When possible, you should hire professional voice-over actors to narrate. Narration should be clear, succinct, and move at a reasonable pace. If it’s too slow, you risk losing the listener’s attention. If it’s too fast, the listener won’t be able to process it. Lastly, be sure the learners can control the narration’s volume, and give them the option of skipping the narration entirely, if they desire.

 

What tips do you have for engaging auditory learners?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behavior Modification Through E-Learning: Avoid the Info Dump

No dumping sign and blue sky with copy space.

It’s no secret: Instructional Designers love information. We live in the Age of Information. Clients come to us with massive files of information. And it’s our job to turn that information into a course, right?

Wrong.

Our job as an instructional designer is to solve the problem.

 

Oh, the Problems

The clients who come to us have a problem.

(Sales are down! Form 9.5 hasn’t been filled out correctly! Sales reps need better phone manners!)

They need their problem solved. The best way to solve their organization’s problem is to better educate their employees. So they come to us with memos, technical manuals, and Powerpoints and ask us to turn it all into a course.

 

But there’s a problem with this. Dumping a huge amount of information onto learners isn’t an effective way to modify their behavior.

For example, let’s say Steven, a store manager, has a problem: customers routinely come to him complaining about unpleasant or unhelpful store employees. He realizes his employees need more training in customer service.

So in order to solve the problem Steven sits his employees down and delivers a lecture on the importance of treating customers with respect.

This strategy wouldn’t get his employees to change their behavior markedly because it doesn’t teach them HOW to treat customers.

If Steven wanted to effectively teach his employees how to handle customers he would:

  • Demonstrate the behavior and
  • Give them opportunities to practice the behavior

 

Research shows we can only hold information in our short-term memory for about 20 minutes. Have you ever had a client tell you their email address, and you think, “I don’t need to write that down. I’ll remember it,” only to get to your computer and find that you can’t remember if it ended in .com or .org? You’ve forgotten because that information wasn’t committed to your long-term memory.

What this means is if your learners don’t move the information into their long-term memory within those 20 minutes, that information is lost.

So dumping huge amounts of information on learners isn’t going to change their behavior because they can’t possibly retain it long enough to move it into long-term memory.

Business woman in stress

Ok, So What Do I Do?

We need to pare down the information, which means approaching course development with the end goal in mind. Think of this as having three steps:

1) Ask the client, “What do we want the employees to be able to do?”

2) Then determine with the client what activities will allow the employees to practice the desired behavior.

3) Finally, isolate the key information that the employees need to perform the required behavior.

 

For instance, Big-Box-Mart, the mega-retailer, is worried about potential data breaches caused by employee negligence. So it asks you to develop a course that instructs its employees on the history and legal ramifications of data breaches from the beginning of time.

“Hold on a moment, Big-Box-Mart,” you say. “What’s the end goal of this course? What do you want your employees to be able to do?”

Big-Box-Mart says; “To not compromise our customers’ and company’s privacy by causing a data breach.”

Now you work with Big-Box-Mart to decide what kinds of activities will give employees real-world experience navigating situations where they could potentially cause a data breach. These activities might include scenarios, case studies, hands-on demos, or learning games.

Lastly, have Big-Box-Mart select only the information that’s crucial to performing the desired behavior.

Remember

Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it meaningful.

 

 

 

How to Dig in the SME Goldmine: Working with a Subject Matter Expert

 

Speaker giving talk on podium at Business Conference. Business and Entrepreneurship. Expert presenting his work in lectures hall.

This is Dr. SME, the Subject Matter Expert for your course. He has a 900 slide Powerpoint on atom splitting that he’s very attached to. It’s his life’s work, actually. You’re going to use it as basis for your course. If you cut anything out, you’ll be sorry. So, so sorry.

Wait! Don’t run away.

A Subject Matter Expert like Dr. SME can be a goldmine of useful information and resources for your course. But like in all mining operations, you’ve got to have a plan. You have to deliver a course that meets the learners’ needs. Dr. SME can help you do that, but only if you partner with him. Here’s how to foster a good relationship with an SME so you can strike gold.

 

Respect– All good relationships start with respect. Respect an SME’s knowledge and involve them from the beginning of the project. You should meet with an SME early on to discuss the course. Stay on their good side. Don’t show off your knowledge of educational theory, technical wizardry, or use too much Instructional Design jargon. Your goal at this meeting is to show how your training will add value and help the learner. Getting an SME to like you and care about your project will make everything that follows much easier.

As the project continues, make the SME feel like a valued team member. This is especially important if the SME was assigned to your project rather than volunteered for it. If the SME hasn’t chosen to be part of your project he will be less vested in its success than an SME who wants to be actively involved. You can motivate less-than-eager SMEs by making them feel their contributions are valued. Send a glowing email to your SME’s supervisor. Frequently express your sincere appreciation for your SME’s input.

 

Communication– Regular communication with the SME will keep the project running smoothly. Check in with the SME periodically to keep him involved.

It’s helpful if you and the SME exchange a dictionary of regularly used acronyms or field-specific expressions. You’ll appreciate this if the SME’s subject area is highly technical. The SME will also appreciate knowing the meanings of common Instructional Design buzzwords. It’ll make communication much easier if you both have agreed upon definitions for your field-specific lingo.

 

Collaboration– Work with an SME to determine the course’s goals and structure. Remember Dr. SME’s 900 slide Powerpoint? Like many SMEs, Dr. SME has worked hard on the material and is proud of it. But a since an interactive, learner-centric course can’t include every detail of Dr. SME’s material, help Dr. SME divide the information into three categories: “Vital to Know,” “Good to Know,” and “Nice to Know.”

This allows you to focus your course around key information and will prevent the course from getting bogged down. If your SME won’t let go of the “Nice to Know” information, you can add a separate Resources section, which prevents hurt feelings and keeps your course streamlined.

Lastly, get your SMEs’ input when designing activities for your course. Explain that you need activities beyond quizzes and fact-checking to assess learner understanding. You can draw on your SME’s wealth of experience by asking questions such as:

What kinds of mistakes do new people make?

What kinds of mistakes do people make when they’re careless or overconfident?

If someone doesn’t know this information what could potentially go wrong?

These sorts of questions will help focus your SME on the “Vital to Know” information, and give you excellent ideas for scenarios and activities.

 

Dealing with SMEs can be tricky. You don’t want your project to turn into a cave-in or landslide. Alienate an SME and you’ve lost one of your best partners on this expedition. Keep your SME at one side and your best instructional design practices at the other, and your course will strike gold.

Online Training or Face-to-Face Training: Which is Better?

Bing. You just got a message in your inbox. Your client needs you to design a course. It’s up to you how to present the material. Should the course be presented online or face-to-face (F2F)?

Google around and you’ll see there’s hot debate about whether online or F2F learning is more effective. While there are certainly pros and cons for each, it’s best to look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to determine whether online or F2F learning will best benefit your learners.

Digital Online Training Mentoring Learning Education Browsing Co

Favorable Factors for Online Learning

Large Audience– Online training is the most cost-effective way to reach a large, geographically dispersed audience, such as the employees of a multi-office corporation. Presenting the course F2F means paying for preparation, multiple instructors, travel expenses, accommodations, etc. For an extremely large audience, the cost per head expenses favor online learning.

Consistent Message– If you want to spread a consistent message through all levels of an organization, online learning is the way to go. Instructors vary, and even a course taught by the same instructor can vary depending on the audience. If you’re trying to establish consistent baseline awareness of policies, procedures, or values throughout an organization, online learning trumps F2F. In addition, it’s easier to monitor individual understanding with online learning. You can see who has completed required trainings and spot any knowledge gaps, ensuring consistent understanding at all levels.

Changing Material– Say the course you’re designing involves a rapidly changing field. If the information in the course frequently needs updating, you’re better off using online learning. It’s time-consuming and expensive to constantly retrain instructors and supply them with updated materials. With online learning you can easily change the material from one central point.

Face-to-face training

Favorable Factors for Face-to-Face Learning

Specialized Audience/Instructor – Courses directed at an expert audience such as specialists or senior managers are best taught F2F. An audience with a high degree of prior knowledge may want to focus on a particular subject. An F2F format easily allows the instructor to tailor the course to the audience’s interests. Additionally, courses taught by specialists should be presented F2F. If the CFO of a major corporation is leading the course, the participants will want to see and meet him/her in person.

Specialized or Confidential Material– Courses with hands-on components need to be taught F2F. True, a chemistry student could watch a video of chemical reaction, but that’s a poor substitute for actual lab experience.

If your training is highly dependent on monitoring social cues and body language, such as a counseling or conflict management course, you should present it F2F. Make sure you give learners the opportunity to apply their new knowledge in classroom activities. Kinesthetic learners will especially appreciate these sorts of exercises, but all learners will benefit from an opportunity to apply what they’re learning through role-playing, discussions, and F2F interactions.

In addition, if the course involves instructor-student confidentiality, it’s best to present it F2F. For example, in a conflict management course, learners may want to ask the instructor’s advice for how to handle a difficult employee or co-worker. In an instructor-led online course, learners can post questions or email the instructor directly, but most people would avoid putting confidential questions into writing. In a F2F situation, the learner can approach the instructor privately.

Networking– While synchronous learning offers learners opportunities to work together on online, you can’t beat F2F courses for networking. Courses that involve bringing people together from different companies or departments to collaborate should be taught F2F to give learners valuable opportunities to pool resources, network, and generally schmooze.

 

To wrap up, online courses are the most cost-effective way of disseminating a consistent message to a broad audience with a limited budget, while F2F courses are best suited to networking, and specialized audiences, instructors, and material. Take a hard look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to decide which method will best serve your learners.