Games vs. Gamification (Part 2)

It is January . . . time for looking at upcoming trends for 2017. An interesting way to look at gamification trends is to contrast them with game trends. Contrasting them helps to delineate commonalities and differences while identifying opportunities and limitations for applying gaming in the world of eLearning.

JAG Global Learning

JAG Global Learning

GAMING, CONSUMERISM, AND LIFE

Gaming is a major part of U.S. and international consumer culture. Regardless of the platform—Nintendo, PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and various mobile platforms—individuals play games while waiting for their dentist or the chicken to roast while at home. Advances in the field, and this is not surprising, are driven by technology.  Moreover, gaming has become an integral part of consumerism and rewards, driven by our use of portable technology, which has become a measure of identity. Life without it, for many, seems unimaginable. In short, gaming is a central to daily living not just education. But . . . let’s close the door of dystopia and focus on a couple of gaming trends to see their powerful application for eLearning.

Two key gaming trends are the use of GPS in the field and VR in a fixed environment.  Regarding the latter, VR technology has improved greatly and is becoming more widely available and affordable to the general public. In order to appreciate advances in eLearning gamification, let’s look at two important games: Pokémon Go and Resident Evil: Biohazard.

Pokémon is a wildly popular console game created two decades ago with the goal of players collecting, training, and using fictional characters (Pokémon) in battle. This concept was franchised through trading cards, movies, and videos. The most recent incarnation is Pokémon Go, which is a free mobile app that empowers participants to travel to different physical spots using GPS to locate different types of Pokémon. The Resident Evil console game is quite different. Instead of traveling to different spots in the “actual” world, through the use of cutting edge virtual reality (VR) headsets, the VR participant is immersed in a digital world, ostensibly supplanting the “actual” world. Biohazard has been singled out for its shocking, graphic realism.

NEW GAMING TRENDS AND GAMIFICATION

1. Variations of Reality

Variations of reality? Let’s look at references in popular culture: Keanu Reeves’ Neo in the Matrix and Jessie L. Martin’s Tom Collins in Rent. Neo combats the Matrix to release humans from their unconsciousness albeit physical slavery that sustains their virtual world; alternatively, Tom Collins, from MIT, is kicked out of his doctoral program for his theory of Actual Reality, which mocks theoretical concepts of reality in favor of civic action to address inequity and injustice.

Let’s look at different types of reality, as it were represented by the extremes noted above. When thinking about alternative uses and understandings of reality, remember the context. A primary gaming goal is to entertain the participant. There are, of course, secondary benefits, but entertainment is central. This can be performed through the satisfaction of game mastery or simply emotional release. The primary goal of gamification is different: learning, or for us, eLearning, which ultimately has the associated benefit of real-world application.

Virtual Reality (VR) provides gamers with a more compelling experience by supplanting actual or visual representations of the world with a complete simulation; likewise, VR provides learners with the most tangible sense of trial and error that they would otherwise only be able to obtain by personal training. What’s the obvious challenge for developers in eLearning? Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that has huge capital resources for R&D. eLearning does not have that benefit. However, in as much as the government uses VR in its training and executive operation, it is possible that educational institutions might be able to draw upon that intellectual capital given that government VR applications were created using public money.

Augmented Reality (AR) is capable of adding (augmenting) digital information to live videos. This provides users with an ability to appreciate space/size ratios among other things. Imagine using an AR app to position not-yet-bought furniture around a video of your living room. While this example draws on a consumer, marketing app, there are a range of eLearning opportunities. Note field use is not restricted to eLearning outside.

Program-Based Reality creates narrative scenarios through a basic user-computer interface. The “reality” is governed by the gamer or learner’s operation of commands, which then generates programmed results. This was a precursor of VR’s trial and error. This is traditional eLearning that uses in-class or Internet based educational portals.

On-the-Job-Training (OJT) is the traditional manner through which skills and trades are transmitted to new employees or apprentices. No use of technology per se. Each perspective of reality noted above—VR, AR, PBR, and OJT—figuratively and literally position the gamer or learner in his or her use of technology.

What are some of the new applications in eLearning? Nurse training, McDonalds management training, repair/maintenance, and anatomy tutorials are the most commonly sited examples. While we all may have our favorite “reality” approach to eLearning, but who is to say that they cannot be used in combination? Imagine training individuals working in complicated and vast storage and/or archival network. Much can be accomplished through each approach used above, with OJT being the final run through before employee independence.

2. The Future of Gaming and Gamification?

While Pokémon Go and Resident Evil are taking the gaming world by storm, there is another approach, just as important, but with a different modus operandi and significant future application for eLearning and gamification. Minecraft, one of the best selling video console games of all time, has been around for a relatively short time. While similar to other gaming applications, Minecraft is distinctive for incorporating the capacity for gamers to build virtual landscapes and even change the rules of the game; participants can play in various modes: survival, creative, adventure, and spectator. The game permits individual and multiple players.  Why should this be of value to eLearning and gamification?

As noted, gamification draws upon natural human capacities in a variety of ways, for example, competition and social recognition. Many elements of gaming, though, are based on competition. Yes, there is value here, but to reach its full potential, eLearning needs a wider focus. Minecraft permits survival (competition), but it facilitates adventure and creation too. Isn’t that what education and eLearning should be about?  Instead of creating platforms for competitive games, eLearning administrators can create intellectual and visual landscapes that depict the relationship of concepts and areas of study instead of relying upon analog outlines. Here, learners can walk through and access/add content information. On a different level, learners can create their own landscapes and projects or develop discussions questioning given ideas and offering new ones. The challenge here . . . as with the facets of gaming and its application in consumer culture, one must be mindful that the means of eLearning does not override the primary goal: learning.

Next week let’s take an academic turn in our discussion and look at some seminal gamification articles as well some recent publications. See you next week!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

Gamification and E-Learning (Part 1)

THE CONTEXT

When thinking of games in the context of learning, the conventional pedagogue might shutter. Games are for children! Students are learning so they might find their place in the adult world. If games were used in education at all, they were considered to be part of a “break” in learning, that is, students were given time to release excess energy and/or re-focus their thoughts for additional learning. Games were considered an external tool to facilitate learning, not a part of the learning process.

Yet gamification existed even in the traditional framework. How is that? Well let’s remember growing up . . . First, at one time during our early school days, we did a particular assignment well. Yea! We get a gold star. Second, during summer reading programs, readers would get a check next to every book read, and if enough books were read by summer’s end, he or she would get a prize. Third, in large college classes—before the era of privacy—professors would post exam grades, and students with excellent grades would be afforded social status. One can come up with other examples, but the above should serve to make the point.

Advances in technology have driven gamification, and home computing and the Internet have been the most important elements of this evolution. In addition, changes in educational philosophy, based on a large body of research, have pushed gamification into educational practice. So let’s look at the basics.

THE BASICS OF GAMIFICATION AND eLEARNING

A. Definition

While noting above that “gamification” existed in earlier eras, the term generally refers to the conscious decision to employ the concepts, motivations, and techniques of games into non-game venues. Such venues could be in employment productivity, marketing, but especially into education. In this context, gamification is not thought of as a respite from the “serious” work of education but an essential part of comprehension, retention, and application of knowledge. There have been a range of critiques on gamification, but it has generally been accepted and is increasing being employed as an important element if not the central element of most educational enterprises. (TABLE)

B. Gamification Elements

Games constitute systems that are governed the rules and tools of the game. Each system is based on a combination of chance, skill, and/or strategy with an overall goal ranging from simple completion to a competitive success. Games—and gamification—are so engaging due to various factors that can be broken down into rewards versus other elements. Regarding rewards, gamification designers will draw upon natural human tendencies toward achievement (intrinsic) or social status and/or tangible rewards (extrinsic). Related to rewards, albeit separate, are other natural human tendencies toward competition, human inquisitiveness, and socialization. Separate from notions of reward are others such as altruism, engaging narratives, and self-expression. Gamification in learning employs these elements to increase attention span and motivation toward the overall capacity for knowledge comprehension, retention, and application. (APPLE)

C. Participants

Gamification can be employed in three different contexts: solitary, competitive, and team building. Each one has it’s own value, though they can be employed separately or together depending upon the nature of the subject and organizational goals.

Lets come up with a simple educational goal: remembering an information set. This seems simple, but the challenge can come from the size of the set and whether or not set contents are ostensibly related. Gamification designers can develop tools assisting participants to do this as solitary individuals, competitively, or with a team. One can employ rewards for the individual or team or use an interesting narrative and/or mnemonics to enhance recall. (PENCIL)

Next week we will continue our discussion on gamification and will move into more subtle and cutting edge elements. I strongly encourage readers to send in memorable anecdotes about their educational experiences that relate to this subject. We will be sure to highlight them at the onset of the blog.

Oh, by the way, without looking, do you remember the three capitalized words at the end of each sub-section.  It was an attempt to draw you into a game that might pique your interest as one might in gamification. To facilitate learning such non-sequitors, one can visually situate the objects: imagine a table with a single apple and pencil on it, nothing else. Remembering that visual image is far easier than remembering three random words. See you next week!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

Gamification: A Holiday Wish

Tis the season . . . .what better way to accent the holiday season than to blog about games and toys? Well . . . at least gamification. Before getting into any deep, intense discussion about the subject, let’s begin with a few “stocking stuffers” to whet our collective appetite.

GAMIFICATION AND STOCKING STUFFERS

The inner child in me squeals: Yea!!!!! It’s time for the fun stuff. Various theorists and, yes, philosophers define games in different ways. They focus on concepts such as competition, entertainment, play, rewards, rules, and the like. Separately, while games are fun, they also meet other important needs, for example, education, understanding how to confront uncertainty, skill acquisition, and socialization.

Let’s touch upon some bite-sized thoughts to sample the world of gamification by looking at a holiday gift stocking. Instead of the incredibly big, overpriced-gift we all ask for (and may never receive), stocking stuffers frequently are items that can be broken down into a few different categories: fun food, toiletries, and the whimsical.

1. Fun Food

By fun food, think of candy canes, chocolate coins, and the like. They don’t sustain us, but whet our appetite and keep us interested. How does this relate to gamification?

Let’s remember the genesis of our blog on eLearning. This approach to education appreciates that learning is a human activity; the notion that students should sit in a formal classroom dutifully learning “dry” material is not only outdated but contrary research about how to better facilitate learning. The notion of “fun food” can be thought of in different ways. In the context of gamification, it can be thought of as a reward—a key element in games, which creates incentives. The point of the game is not candy, but to win, that is to learn. Gamification is a technique to keep the learner engaged and motivated. Why? Again, because we are humans who need incentives apart from the “dry” dictate to learn.

2. Toiletries

Ah, toiletries, not like fun food at all, LOL! Still we find stockings filled with floss, scented soaps, and toothpaste. Contrary to the notion of fun food, these stocking stuffers supply us with the necessities of our modern lives, things needed to take us through the New Year. Again, gamification?

Gamification seems to run contrary to the notion of necessities. We think of games, we think of rewards, but necessities are a part of many games (think game rule comprehension). Some game rules are simple while others are very complex. Understanding game rules grant a player strategic advantages while rule mastery grant her or him a sense of confidence. Gamification translates this dynamic into education. By understanding basic concepts, learners are better equipped to progress into more nuanced ideas that, obviously, build upon those concepts. Likewise, learners are affirmed in their progress with the appreciation their efforts have value.

3. The Whimsical

OK, we’re getting to the bottom of the stocking. What’s the whimsical? Think about fun, silly puzzles or the quirky item that we don’t need but we all want. This is similar to the notion of “fun food” but different . . .

Whimsy touches upon game elements relating to entertainment and play. Including whimsical elements peak our curiosity and arouse our desire to learn. This especially is valuable when dealing with subjects that otherwise might seem “boring” or “dry.” An interesting anecdote or an interesting factoid can offer the “hook” to draw one into the learning process. Gamification can accomplish this through the use of engaging narrative and animation that make one smile though not forget the purpose of the training.

Enjoy this holiday season and be safe and warm.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

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

Tip 2: Self Paced Learning and Remote Learning

Self Paced Learning and Remote Learning

Last week’s tip dealt with self-paced learning (SPL) and the issue of scheduling, in short placing the Flipped Classroom in the context of synchronicity. Remote Learning is another element of SPL. Scheduling deals with adapting learning to temporal realities of work life, whereas remote learning adapts the locale of the learning environment to SPL and synchronicity. At first blush, the comparison might seem peculiar—and, yes, there are areas of overlap—but appreciating remote learning is essential. Many blended approaches embrace learning that is inside and outside of the classroom; indeed, it behooves the educator to take this approach with certain subjects (think CPR). But there are some approaches that are wholly remote and generate large economies of scale. How might smaller learning and training venues create such economies?

SYNCHRONICITY

Let us remember the traditional teaching didactic: in-class group instruction led by the teacher with homework performed outside the classroom. The first element is considered real time (synchronous) whereas the second is not real time and remote (crudely synchronous). Here, SPL cannot function due to a standardized time schedule, that is, education is not self-centered around the learner and thereby not asynchronous. With the Flipped Classroom, educators can “flip” the traditional approach and facilitate SPL by using various learning modalities and technologies.

Some Flipped Classrooms function entirely outside of the classroom: imagine on-line degree programs where learners start and end independently of others. Such programs generate economies of scale and operate in a larger educational setting.

While being wholly remote, such programs can combine synchronous and asynchronous learning. Independent of others, learners can access recorded lectures, shared reading materials, and message boards for popular questions. This is blended with synchronous elements such as chat groups, live teacher response to questions and webinars. But, how can live chat groups and gamification operate? With larger numbers of individuals enrolled in a given program, regardless of the time a learner starts and progresses, there will always be learners at various stages of the training: first stage: introduction; second stage: basic concepts, et cetera. How is it possible for smaller venues to gain such economies of scale?

A. Best Practices

Many organizations in public sector have common trainings across disciplines. For example, all federal government employees are required to receive yearly trainings on matters of conflict of interest. Generally, each department and/or agency has its own training program (with some standardized information). Imagine if this could be streamlined. In this context, instead of waiting to sign-up for training in the January of the next year, new employees could simply sign-in through a central training portal using their government e-mail. Since various parts of the government are always hiring, the new employee can start the training within a prescribed period of time and then pursue a SPL approach. Learners who progress at a slower or faster pace need not worry, because the universe of new employees will be large enough to ensure that each new stage of the training is populated with enough learners to permit both asynchronous and synchronous learning.

In the private sector, one can imagine similar trainings, though not necessarily across disciplines. Imagine centralized trainings for work-site safety for new construction employees. Such a program could not only operate independent of the hire date but also across different corporate entities.

B. Membership Organizations

Membership organizations offer an important venue for centralized, remote SPL. Trainings would be unique to the character and mission of that membership organization and could be utilized on the level of state and/or local chapters. Think about ethics trainings for the real estate industry or, importantly, courses for “training the trainer.” Similar remote trainings could exist as subject-based tutorials in a variety of areas; synchronous elements could be complimented with live, on-line practicum of those going though the “training for trainer” program. Perhaps the most obvious training for membership organization would be matters relating to membership oaths, responsibilities, et cetera.

C. Nationally-Recognized Certifications

Nationally-Recognized Certifications are similar to best practices but with an important exception, the criteria for knowledge mastery and application is defined by a central organization that issues certifications. Here, wholly remote training could be initiated in substance abuse counseling. Again, there would be opportunities for both asynchronous and synchronous learning. All withstanding, all such trainings much be structured and geared toward being inclusive of differences within states and localities.

Another interesting avenue for wholly remote training is in the field of industry and/or machine operation. These trainings would be operated from the proprietary portal of a business. Here, for a given technology, say, a new magnetic resonance imaging machine, or, computer software, the portal would be available to the new user for basic and skilled use of the different facets of the buyer’s new purchase.

Self-Paced Learning is a basic concept, not a formula. Different approaches serve different needs and learning goals. Contact JAG Global Learning Group to find out how we can help your company or organization.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

Tip 1: Self Paced Learning and Schedules

One of the hallmarks of the Flipped Classroom is self-paced learning. Yes, we discussed that a bit before, so tell me more . . . Self-paced learning empowers learners to spend more time on certain concepts and information sets before moving onto the next stage. This approach draws upon micro-learning logic as well as the insight that differing individuals have differing learning strengths and weakness. The digital architecture of flipped classroom teaching modules accommodates this by guiding learners back and forth through various paths in the training to facilitate comprehension and retention. Traditional learning models do not address this differential; rather, they are linear in their flow and focus while operating under non-negotiable time constraints. Imagine, this month in a traditional classroom: learners focus on topic ABC and meet twice a week for fifty minutes; next month, learners focus on topic XYZ, and so on. Even though trainings rarely last that long, a similar logic obtains. Yet there is another time-related factor to consider when structuring training: learning schedules.

Learning and Schedules

Two types of time constraints are associated with learning. First, even though an organization has already accepted the concept of the flipped classroom, it may need to document training completion by a set time. Second, in order to participate in the training, participants must be able to integrate training time demands into their respective schedules. Sometimes this latter matter is not significant, but other times it can be quite restrictive.

  1. One-Step-At-A-Time. 
    • In order to appreciate the context of schedules, let us place it in the framework of micro-learning. There are two simple categories, both of which are mutually reinforcing, central concepts and information sets. The training need not be bifurcated in this fashion, but it can serve as a useful rubric when appreciating learner progress. Similarly, it can highlight the strengths and weaknesses regarding differing learning styles.
  2. Individual Learning Pace & Plans. 
    1. Fast-Medium-Slow: Because of different job demands and schedules, training administrators would do well to have separate “tracks” for the pace of their different learners. Think of different training options: full-time intensive versus part-time and slowly paced. In this context, the flipped classroom is great for accommodating both time constraints through self-paced learning. For learners who require more time or with overly restrictive work requirements, they will be offered the latitude to complete the training over a longer period of time, say one month. But for those who are fast-to-moderate learners, then a shorter schedule may be set. Let us all remember not to associate negative value judgments toward “slow” learners; again, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. A former colleague is extremely intelligent and articulate, but was unable to write a required training. Why? My former colleague has dyslexia and compensated for it by developing his oral acumen to an extremely high level.
  3. Tracking Different Tracks
    1. Simply because different learners benefit from different paces of training due to their learning styles or job requirements does not mean that training administrators should remain oblivious to learning progress. Indeed, in order to best facilitate learning progress, administrators need to be keenly aware.  But how can you do this without being overbearing? Again, super question. To facilitate self-paced learning and to avoid the negativity associated with traditional grading and teacher oversight, it is useful to provide the learner with visual measures of training mastery. While progressing through a given module or training section, the learner will be able to clearly see (on the side/top) measures of progress for core concepts and information sets. If he or she still needs work in a given area, then such would be highlighted as well. Creating this type of an overview empowers the learner for her or his accomplishment and helps them comprehend how the different parts of the training are connected. Through this process, of course, the administrator is cognizant of learner progress and is able to engage in a virtual dialogue. Again, this permits learners to progress at their own pace while having the nurturing support of a mentor—outside of the glare of any possible judgment of fellow learners. As a result, these learners will feel more comfortable and have a greater incentive to participate during in in-class team-building exercises.

Think about these ideas. When you do, then you will begin to better analyze the different elements of your organization’s training culture and see opportunities for growth. See you next week! And, as always, please write in to let us know what you’re thinking!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

Measuring Flipped Classrooms

New ideas are great! That is…until the next new idea comes around? Hmmm?? Do we need another update?! Think for a moment, lest we forget, the Flipped Classroom is not so much about with replacing the OLD with the new. By understanding various bases for learning, one can pragmatically apply such to enhance the overall learning experience so learners can better comprehend, retain, and apply information. So how does one “grade” flipped classrooms compared to other models? Numerous metrics exist, and organizations should selectively draw upon them to best understand the impact of their trainings.

Measuring Flipped Classrooms

Impact of the Flipped Classroom

When trying to determine the impact of any training, information should be drawn from many sources. We should welcome training comments not just afterwards but at times prior to and during the classroom. Flipped classrooms have two-three distinct stages: first, delivery of training content—often on-line—prior to any classroom engagement; second, discussion of content—the homework, as it were—in the classroom setting with the “instructor” assuming the role of a mentor; and, third, post-classroom review, integration, and completion. Obtaining feedback at each stage is essential.

A. Informal Training Commentary

There are two types of informal training commentary:

  • In-Training Input. On-line and in-class commentary can be extremely valuable. Even before the classroom meeting, students should be encouraged to suggest and question the training content. I thought experts were creating the content? Yes, trainers should create eLearning content that is accurate, complete, logical, and thoughtful. Yet nobody is perfect, and even award-winning writers benefit from editors. Think crowd sourcing, the use of ostensibly disconnected individuals with the common goal of gathering information and/or completing tasks. Here, staff are not only valued but empowered, giving them a sense of ownership. The suggestions can be something as simple as pointing out typographical errors, adding useful examples, et cetera. The goal here, remember, is creating the best training. Indeed, the mentor can reinforce such suggestions during the in-class time, thereby affirming specific staff members in the context of creating an educational community. Soliciting comments prior to the classroom assists mentors to more efficiently utilize that time. In-class comments generally will take place on a one-to-one or group basis; remember, the classroom is a site of mentoring, not the site of the traditional top-down didactic.
  • Post-Training Opinions. Staff comments during trainings are frequently different from those collected afterwards. Managers can glean such attitudes at the proverbial water cooler or during individual and team meetings. The trainer, too, should definitely forward to the administrator a self-assessment of that specific meeting(s). Each should be cross-referenced with the other, and any striking difference should be addressed. Special attention should be paid to the role of technology, the structure and delivery of the training, and the overall efficacy of the teaching model.

B. Formal Learning Assessments

To assess the utility of Flipped Classrooms as an educational/learning model, focus should be placed upon two student areas: satisfaction; and, content understanding, retention, and application.

  1. Training Questionnaires: Training administrators need to assess subject matter (content), evaluate educational style (both training format and mentor performance), determine cognitive understanding, and reflect upon its professional and organizational value. Traditionally, administrators and teachers generally concerned themselves with only cognitive understanding and measured this through testing and grading. However, if organizations are truly concerned with actual learning, then they need to appreciate how learners receive trainings. Staff members and students who do not care generally do not learn. So training questionnaires are essential and should not be taken pro forma. Can’t the “learners” just get inline? An anecdote: while working as a waiter in graduate school, my colleagues and I would become frustrated with patrons regarding a given tip. We would regale others with that customer’s bizarre behavior. All of these conversations were just therapy. The customer’s reality is the reality, and the same goes in education. This is not to say that anything goes, but administrators need to refocus and appreciate that the traditional top-down pedagogy is not the sole solution. Hence understanding the perspective of learners is key for improving the learning process.
    • Types of Questions: When composing questionnaires, the type of question is just as important as the subject matter. Should the questions be Yes/No, multiple choice, or free expression? Generally it is best to have a combination of types. Binary questions (Y/N) should query subjects that have defined answers (was the instructor on time). Alternatively, Likert scale questions (multiple choice) are best used for opinion-based answers (the training emphasized ABC: not at all, not enough, a fair amount, too much). With Likert scales, consider whether or not to have an even or odd number of options. An even number forces learners to affirm one side of the spectrum, whereas an odd number leaves open the “neutral” response. Finally, open-ended questions (is there anything else you would like to add, et cetera) are essential to obtain information otherwise not captured in the preceding question types.
    • Timing of the Questionnaire: We do this at the end of the training, right? At the end of the training, yes, but not at the end of the classroom session. Frequently, learners (and instructors) are impatient to leave the classroom to attend to other matters. In fact, many participants do not even fill out the questionnaire or only do so hastily. So what is the remedy? Administrators increasing are requiring training participants to fill out questionnaires online after the training, often several days after the classroom session. Why? The intervening days give participants the proper perspective to more fully appreciate the training and separate it from emotions of unrelated matters. Moreover, administrators can make a response—a complete response—a requirement for credit or certification. While participants might try to skip out early on the class (and the questionnaire), none of them will be able to fully complete the training without their online response.
    • Answer Consistency: Don’t staff members just respond based on what the administrator wants to read? That is a tough issue. Sometimes learners are overly effusive (excellent, excellent, excellent . . .), sometimes they are overly negative, and sometimes, they just want to finish the questionnaire as quickly as possible! First, by increasing training effectiveness and value (through innovations like the Flipped Classroom), learners are more likely to take the time and offer constructive feedback. Second, administrators should design questionnaires to query smaller, constituent parts of training value. Answers about “micro” value assist administrators when comparing them to a final Likert scale about the “general” value of training.
  2. Testing Diagnostics and Efficacy:
    1. Pre-On-Line, Post-On-Line: Think of this . . . Training as diagnostics. What do you mean? OK, it is exactly what you think. That is, at differing stages of the training, users are queried about the subject and given differing storyboards based on their responses. This serves not only to gather information, but also to stylize the delivery of information for each user. So if a user’s response suggests a level of understanding demonstrating mastery, then the subsection is concluded with the progression to the next stage. If, however, the user’s response suggests he or she did not fully grasp essential parts of the stage, then that user would be redirected back through training in a fashion that even further explicates the content and its connection to the larger subject of the training. All of this serves to assist the learner in a stage-based approach by using a micro-learning algorithm and to provide the basis for improvements in the training itself. This information would be available to the mentor prior to the classroom session.
    2. In-Classroom Learning and Mentoring: Again, learners in the Flipped Classroom are not engaged using the traditional teacher-led didactic model; rather, mentors help learners to better understand material and appreciate why they might have misinterpreted the training content. If the mentor chooses to utilize group learning, then he or she should be careful that the groups do not devolve into unrelated social interactions, which, on one hand, is good for bonding amongst learners but not so good for learning. One way to handle such is to direct individual members of a group to assume different roles (for example, one person takes notes, et cetera). Diagnostics during this period, as one might suspect, tends to be more qualitative than quantitative; however, when assessed in a longitudinal fashion over numerous trainings, then such data can be useful in terms of streamlining the content and structure of the training as well as gaining a better understanding as to how to facilitate the classroom mentoring for that subject matter.
    3. Periodic e-mail/text reminders/queries: After the in-classroom learner-mentor sessions, learners should receive periodic e-mails refreshers about key content and subject overviews. On occasion, they can be prompted to follow links to an online portal testing them on the training, which, in turn, serves to condition the content and duration of any subsequent e-mails. The training administrator, of course, keeps abreast of learner responses to this process, which also serves to inform interactions in next part.
    4. Individual/Group Post-Training Review: Individual learners will discuss trainings with their supervisors to reaffirm content; supervisors should be able to appreciate whether or not staff members have been able to operationalize training content for work.
    5. Testing/Grading/Passing: Do Flipped Classrooms have traditional testing? How are learners graded? Or is there simply a Pass/Fail approach? All good questions, and there is not one easy simple answer. Part of this issue is based on the nature of the material; part of this issue is based on whether or not the training was required; and, part of this is based on organizational culture. For example, if the training is required in the context of a contract or certification, then, most likely, some type of direct testing and grading will be necessary in order to document proficiency and the like. OK, are you telling me that we didn’t really flip the classroom? No, that is not it at all J Tests in the context of determining levels of mastery is not a defining element of the flipped classroom per se. Rather, the Flipped Classroom is based on inverting educational dynamics and transforming educational roles. Whether or not learners take a “final” test is unrelated to the flipped learning model.

C. Discerning Training Efficacy

Keep in mind, discerning training efficacy is the equivalent to program analysis, which is an extremely large and nuanced field of study. The subsections below offer a structure of an approach, not a listing of specific techniques. Each one focuses on a different dimension and, moreover, how all of this is related to measuring the Flipped Classroom.

  1. Individual Performance: Determining whether or not a given training “worked,” that is, helped the learner do her or his job better can be tricky. First, obtaining any quantitative comparison regarding output or external client feedback is only possible if such information is available from prior to the training. Second, sometimes individual performance might be difficult operationalize. Third, qualitative comparisons are useful but limited. But, if prior quantitative data is available, then comparisons can be made; similarly, administrators and program directors can collaborate by assessing training and performance in a longitudinal fashion.
  2. Organizational Goals: Discerning training efficacy regarding organizational goals is, perhaps, even trickier than assessing individual performance. As we know, many factors—internal and external—impact whether or not an organization has been more or less successful in executing its mission. Again, sometimes it is possible to utilize quantitative metrics, and, ultimately, this is key, especially if an organization is investing greater capital and money in its system of training. So be sure to develop mechanisms and metrics when designing trainings in order to operationalize its value.
  3. Cybernetic Feedback: Cybernetic? Yea, now we’re talking! Finally the cool stuff!! Cybernetics sounds very futuristic if not like science fiction. (So, ehh, what is cybernetics?) If we think of organizational training as a system, that is, relationships amongst course content, educational style, and the learners, then learning is a process. Certain systems—and organizations—can be incredibly efficient; others can be terribly dysfunctional. Most, as we know, are somewhere in between. Being creative—remember, welcome to the Flipped Classroom—is a start, a big start. But simply importing learning models is not the solution per se. The solution comes from using tools to make sure the system, here, organizational training, is effective and adjusting the approach in a manner to make it even better. How do we do that: informal training commentary, formal learning assessments, and discerning training efficacy. Ultimately, organizations will modify their trainings while getting an even better appreciation of the value of those trainings vis-à-vis its organizational goals.

These past three blogs provided readers with an intellectual orientation and pragmatic tools about Flipped Classrooms. We will be discussing select topics about the Flipped Classroom from this point while taking the occasional detour to discuss emerging ideas and issues in the field of eLearning. See you next week!

Contact us to learn how we can help your company or organization utilize these tools.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

Building Flipped Classrooms

Any organization can benefit from using the principles of the flipped classroom. Your employees will greatly benefit, which ultimately creates a positive impact on your mission. So here we go! This is the beginning of adapting and integrating flipped classrooms to your existing system of education and training. Probably the most important part of embracing and using a flipped classroom is appreciating how it could fit into your existing organizational culture.

Jumping into the Flipped Classroom

A. Organizational Analysis. For those choosing to include flipped classroom models in their educational plan, it is easy, very easy, to focus on exciting technologies and the like. When do I get to wear my virtual reality glasses!? Though before even considering such, thoughtful leaders and administrators, first, need to analyze the nature of their educational requirements and map them with the different approaches to the flipped classroom. Second, assess deficits about existing training and determine how flipped classrooms can address those deficits and aid in resolving other problems in general. Third, after determining the requirements and existing deficits, project organizational needs vis-à-vis technology, support contracts, and administration.

 

  • Requirements. There are different types of educational requirements for different employees. First there are basic trainings in which everyone participates; think organizational orientations. Second, educational requirements might exist due to contractual obligations; think, stipulations requiring all program employees must receive “safety” trainings for onsite work, or, understanding proprietary concepts and information. Third, some organizations may require by contract requirement or their own internal standards that certain employees obtain certain types of certification; think employee competency in emergency first aid, or professional licensure for, for example, nursing and social work. Fourth, similarto the third, many licensed professions are required to take CEU (continuing education units) in order to maintain their legal standing.
  • Existing Deficits. While looking at the application of flipped classrooms, organizations already have an existing structure of education and training. What is working? What is not working? Do employees consider training to be a waste and/or burden? Flipped classrooms can help with each question. It is fairly easy to identify trainings that “work.” (Though they can become even better when employing a flipped classroom model.) These trainings operate smoothly without any type of employee “push back.” Staff ask pertinent questions, receive proper answers, and are able to operationalize the training, for some, immediately. Here, think about a training about using the new entrance security system or using the new voicemail system on the phone. Spotting trainings that don’t “work” can be difficult. Frequently staff employ work-around strategies, including drawing upon the staff “expert” to help her or him with the problem; such is not only inefficient but also a constant drain on time. Probably the worst deficit associated with training is the impact on organizational moral. Poor trainings create beliefs about poor management, reinforce divisions amongst different parts of the organization, and create a sense of cynicism about one’s job.  Such deficits are highly corrosive! To deal, briefly, with this latter deficit, flipped classrooms are effective in increasing faith in management (mentor role model), bringing staff—literally—together in the context of an educational community, and generating a sense of meaning and value about organizational work.
  • Needs. With an understanding of the requirements and deficits, organizations then can successfully determine their needs to move forward. Do we need to purchase technology? Do we need a training specialist? All very good questions that require an answer inorder to obtain the most efficient and cost-effective results. While needs may be governed by fiscal restraints, needs also are governed by the type of training. What is the training goal? Not withstanding matters of content, two training goals are easily identified: mastering and applying training content in some analytical fashion and mastering performance and/or procedural operations. Think understanding new government regulations and applying them to organizational operations versus understanding how to deliver CPR to those in need. So the first type noted above might employ a blended learning, flipped classroom that includes micro-learning and gamification, while the second type might employ animation and gamification. Generally speaking, this part is best handled by a learning professional who understands your requirements and deficits and who can assist you in determining the right blend. Unless you have this talent in-house, most likely a consultant can easily assist you in this process.

B. Moving Ahead. This section contains a quick jumpstart and two different and extremely useful tools for a Flipped Classroom.

  • Jump Starting a Flipped Classroom: In the flipped classroom, students learn the bulk of the material outside of the classroom setting. O.K., let’s assume that employees take turn going through a guided, node-based presentation; along the presentation, an employee is peppered with related questions before continuing. Inaccurate answers will prompt her or him back to that issue area for review. By the end of the presentation, managers can derive information regarding the parts of the presentation with which the employee had difficulty. This can serve as part of the basis for in-class mentoring. Mentors can either engage employees individually, or, perhaps group together those students who had similar challenges and work with them as a team. There are a variety of approaches one can take. 
  • Micro-learning: There are numerous ways to employ the concept of micro-learning. All of them, however, deal with breaking the subject matter into smaller pieces. This provides learners with the critical information they need, just in smaller chunks. If we try to intake large amounts of information all at once, the vast majority of people confront “cognitive overload.” In short, our memory and ability for synthesis progressively declines based on attention span, fatigue, a lack of specific interest, et cetera. With micro-learning, the scope of learning is narrowly defined, permitting students to grain mastery over individual pieces, often through repetition, which is facilitated by different types of technology. Problems associated with cognitive overload decline. Let us recall the metaphor “One cannot see the forest for the trees.” Advocates of micro-learning understand that focusing on everything at once creates cognitive overload, which in turn, not only makes it difficult to appreciate particularity but also creates a blur when trying to comprehend the larger meaning.  The big picture, the forest, as it were, often gets lost when people get bogged down trying to remember all of the details, most of which they cannot remember anyway because of cognitive overload. Using micro-learning in the flipped classroom creates a patterned, sequential approach enabling learners to reinforce information mastery while gaining a better comprehension of larger ideas, which, in turn, greatly improves the learner’s ability to remember and use that information in the context of real-world work situations. Again, all of this is facilitated with different types of technology with the overall goal of effective learning. There are numerous techniques you can employ in this regard in the context of integrating learning with traditional work:
    • Short, informational e-mails or videos: these bits of “micro” information are reinforced at daily/weekly staff meetings and later assessed, perhaps, through an automated diagnostic query answered by employees at their desk. With this information in hand, managers can bring staff together to culminate the training through the process of mentorship that helps individual employees with challenges identified through their diagnostics while fostering team comprehension and cohesion.
    • Flashcards: instead of an informational e-mail/video, employees can learn through applications that simulate flashcards. Similar to language acquisition, the flashcard application is programmed to continue to the next stage or repeat based on employee comprehension.
    • Mobile Technology: Here, the delivery of information is accented throughout the workday. Instead of a “fixed” training time, employees are periodically prompted with information through texts and the like. This approach is better suited for those who do not have “desk-based” jobs.

Next week’s discussion will help you develop metrics for determining how well your flipped classroom is working. Again, please comment or email any suggestions or thoughts about this issue!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG 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