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