Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Malcolm S. Knowles

I have started to read Malcolm S. Knowles, "The Adult Learner" so that I have first hand knowledge of what Professor Knowles was trying to share with his audience.  I have heard much about his six principles of adult learning from other training I have taken.  Obviously there must be more to his concepts, as the book is over 260 pages in length. Many of the courses on adult learning and instructional design have referenced Malcolm S. Knowles and his principles of adult learning.  I wanted to get this first hand for a change and read from the author's pages instead of only finding his name in bibliographies.

I have found in the past that using my blog as a method for taking notes while studying in school to be very effective.  So far I have read the Introduction and have found the language a little challenging.  Perhaps taking notes on the subject may allow me to put his thoughts into my own words.  Of course I am primarily reading his work for myself and my own career as a training professional.  I am also a fan of sharing of knowledge; anyone reading this blog may benefit by what I learn as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Adobe eLearning Suite 2

I recently purchase the Adobe eLearning Suite 2 to not only keep up to date but to replace some earlier versions of software that was not compatible with my new laptop.  My new laptop uses Windows 7 which is a 64 bit operating system.  My copies of Acrobat, Captivate, and Dreamweaver were not compatible with this system so I was forced to make the jump to the latest versions of these.  By choosing the eLearning Suite I was also able to get the latest versions of Flash, Photoshop and few other lesser known applications from Adobe.

Normally this software would run about $1800; however I took advantage of an educational discount available to me as a student.  Earlier this year I had completed an adult training certification which entitled me to this discount.  I ended up paying only $600 for the suite.  This proved to be less than purchasing any two of the more known applications within the suite.  If you are taking even a single course at your local college you can take advantage of this offering.  The Adobe eLearning suite is extremely useful to anyone within the Instructional Design field.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How Many Pages is a Job Aid?

I feel that sometimes we attempt to make training more complicated than it has to be.  I recently was asked to develop training for using a closed circuit TV system.  The manufacturer’s user guide is a few hundred pages long.  I found out specifically what the end user needed to know to do their jobs.  Turns out they required only about five pieces of knowledge and skill.  I focused my training on those items and ended up with an eleven page document with a skills assessment check list at the end.  Very simple and it does what they asked this training to do.
Ironically the training department’s expectation was a “job aid”.  Many organizations think of job aids as “one pagers” or single page documents.  I think this is a misnomer about job aids; job aids are anything that helps a learner perform their job.  It could be a cheat sheet that sits on the top of their computer keyboard, a sign on the wall or like in this case a few pages about how to do a particular task.  I think we get stuck with expectations of our clients rather than building a training solution that is right for the training problem.  If a single page is all that is required; you are wasting the learner’s time to give them too much, if one page isn’t enough than more is required.  It really is that simple.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Don't Let It End This Way

Oh the corporate battles we as Instructional Designers have. In my first position as an Instructional Designer I thought this was a unique situation with the organization that I was apart of. Of course I didn’t know any better. Now that I have worked in more than one organization, I can tell you that this is a universal challenge.

What it comes down to is the fact that most people have a preconceived notion of what training is. While our industry has developed standards and expectations of training, the rest of the world is oblivious to these. In most cases, training is assumed to simply be a collection of information in some structure resembling a PowerPoint file. The assumption is that the more you put into this PowerPoint file the better and more complete the training will be. If one particular point is really important you should say it many times rephrased in different ways.

I’m sorry to say that this is still the expected norm out there in the corporate world. In fact I have colleagues who still think that this is primarily what we do (add style and appearance to other peoples content). There is more to it than that. It is up to each Instructional Designer out their in the world to educate our customers as to what value we bring to the table. Please don’t cave into the death by PowerPoint that so many are expecting. Ironically these are the same people who will blame you when the training that they had you passively design turns out to be ineffective.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Search and Learn

Designing learning activities where the learners teach themselves are some of the easiest yet most effective training to design.  These types of learning activities work best when the learners come to the table with some existing knowledge of the subject. This way less experienced learners can rely on the greater expertise of their partners.  Another time when it's a great method for training is when there is an official document that the organization relies on such as a policy or procedures manual.  This reference material can be distributed to the learners along with a set of instructions to guide the learners in their quest for knowledge; and some raw materials such as magic markers, white boards, or flip chart paper.

The parameters of the learning activity are simple.  The learning activity is divided into three parts:

Part One:
Introduction and Instructions:  You can call it a brain storming activity or a search and learn activity, or a knowledge hunt activity or whatever clever training exercise name you wish to dream up.  I like Search and Learn myself but to each their own. Next you want to provide very clear instructions on how the activity will be performed.  I personally like to assign roles within the smaller groups.  For example one member of the group might be responsible for writing down what the group has learned, while another member might be responsible for presenting the material to the rest of the class, and so on.  The key is getting everyone involved in some way.  Rather than assigning these roles, allow the groups to democratically choose or elect one another for the roles.  Typically people select roles they are strong at or enjoy doing.

Part Two:
Research:  With the instructions at hand along with the reference material, allot a set number of minutes for the groups to conduct their research.  Instruct your trainers to use this time to monitor the groups by walking around the classroom to offer advice or encouragement.  They may also be required to put groups back on track if they end up misunderstanding the exercise.

Part three:
Presentation:  Once the allotted time have been used up it's time for the groups to present their learning to the rest of the class.  If each group has been responsible for the same research as other groups, take up the exercise in a round robin approach.  This is where one idea is presented by one group; another idea is presented by the next group, and so on until all ideas have been exhausted.  Alternatively if groups have been assigned unique research, each group can present all their content at once.

Personally I enjoy this type of design as you do not need to reinvent the wheel here.  There are several advantages to you as a designer.  First there is no need for updating the training each time the reference material is updated by the organization as the training does not contain the reference material itself.  Another benefit to that same point is that you don't need to rewrite the reference material into a training format and have it signed off by subject matter experts.  As long as the reference material provided remains accurate, your training will convey the right ideas to the group.  Also this form of training breaks away from the passive methods such as lecturing.  Learners learn best when they are engaged, talking with one another, sharing ideas and involved in some kind of activity.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

eLearning is Just Another Tool

There has been much debate around the office recently over what online learning is or isn't and of course if it truly is it an effective means to train.  I myself have gone back and forth on this issue over the years.  In my last position with a large telecom that was spread all across Canada we did a great deal of web based training.  The obvious reason for this was the vast distance our company spanned and the number of points of presence was large as well.  Trying to get 10,000 people in 2000 locations under one roof for training is a logistical impossibility.  For that organization eLearning just makes sense. 

The current client that I'm working for is an organization that is hundreds of employees in one location.  While online learning may eventually be an option for this organization, they have not officially rolled out their LMS.  This particular project is a curriculum of hundreds of short courses that need to be rolled out in the next few months for a business transformation project.  While most of these employees already work in similar jobs, the changes in their responsibilities mean subtle differences in what they are used to doing.  Our training will make them ready for these changes.  I feel we not only can deliver a more robust classroom solution in the short term, but we can avoid the pitfalls of launching a new online learning solution for them as well.  I personally would rather spend my time building the training and not troubleshooting if the author-ware will publish results that will upload properly with their LMS and so forth.

If you rely only on online learning, you are also missing several learning domains.  If you were given the task of changing an organizations attitude for example (affective domain of learning), I’m not sure you could accomplish this in an e-learning module.  Even if it was really well designed, I daresay you could only change the attitude of some of your audience.  It also isn’t a very good tool for the psychomotor domain (physical skills), unless the group is learning computer skills.  If the group needs to learn how to rebuild an engine, you will never really know if they can rebuild an engine upon completion of an online learning module.

I see online learning as a tool rather than a complete methodology.  Even when I worked for the telecom with all the points of presence across the country, we still ran classroom training; we still brought people in for specialized training events.  No, I feel that online learning is a training tool, in the same way that flip-chart paper or conducting role plays are training tools.  You can use them from time to time when it’s appropriate, however you cannot rely on them exclusively.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Training is Never Finished

When sending your second draft of training out for approval, only send the content that received feedback during the first round.  Don't send anything that did not receive criticism the first time, otherwise they may find something they would like to change during the second round.  Stake holders love to change things.  Without their changes, what would they have contributed?  My thinking is that if there was something wrong with it the first time they would have said so.  Don't give your SMEs or stake holders an opportunity to simply create more busy work for you.

Leonardo da Vinci said: "Art is never finished, only abandoned."  I think this is generally true of training design.  There comes a point where the training needs to go out to the field.  I'm certain if you got enough people to review your work, there would be something to change everyday.  Even once you get beyond spelling and grammar, there are subtleties in the way things are said that could be interpreted differently.  You could literally work on training design forever.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rapid Instructional Design

I've decided to give myself a project this week and next.  I'm going to template out all the learning exercises that I typically inject into my classroom training.  I found myself racking my brain this week trying to think of a learning activity for a classroom course that I'm presently designing.  I was flipping through books and reading my blog trying to come up with something.  To my dismay I had nothing.  It wasn't until I came home that day and flipped through one of my older courses and saw essentially what I was looking for.

I think if I had a thumb drive filled with the skeletal structure of all the learning activities and exercises I can think of, I would save hours trying to find the right exercise.  This way they will all be at arm's length and I can get back to the work at hand.

Monday, September 20, 2010


You've heard the old expression; "Never assume because it makes an ass out of you and me". 

I'd like to suggest an alternative that may be a little more useful in an instructional design world; "Never assume unless you assume the worst case scenario".

I design to that worst case scenario all the time.  I like to assume that the person delivering my training has no knowledge of the subject and little to no training experience.  How many times have you received a PowerPoint file with no leader's notes or delivery instructions?  These types of files are typically designed by people who expected that they themselves would be delivering the material.  That or they simply do not care to put the extra effort in.

I think a general business rule should be to leave instructions to your replacement.  This is especially applicable to leader’s notes in training.  While you might be off on the next project, someone entirely different may be required to deliver your course.  It just makes sense to provide them the context needed to do a great job.  Not only is it professional, it's a testament to your instructional design capabilities.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back At It

I apologize for the lack of entries over the last month.  I have been hired by a large organization to create and revamp the majority of their training programs.  It's obviously a big job and very time consuming.  I will try to publish more regularly.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Library Book vs. Yesterday's Newspaper

I have worked alongside many Instructional Designers over the years.  Some good and some not so good.  I personally believe that getting something done right is far more important than getting it done on time.  Ideally you want to do both, however if one has to be sacrificed, I don't want it to be accuracy.  I would much prefer to be a little late but accurate, instead of on time and wrong.

I also prefer to be the library book on the shelf, rather than yesterday's newspaper. In other words, I don't want to design work that needs to be taken down or recalled tomorrow. In my line of work I want something I create to be well enough designed to have value for years to come. This not only shows that the value of my work is high, but it also gets rid of the need for re-work that often comes from not thinking ahead.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Letting Informal Learning Happen

I have discussed informal learning before in this post here, however one of the challenges in informal learning is allowing it to happen.  The reason it's a challenge is that you cannot control it.  The moment you control informal learning, it stops being informal learning.  At best you can foster an environment conducive to formal learning.

I recall taking some training some time in my past where the instructor noticed that the group activity that I was participating in had completed their work and we began discussing a topic related to the lessons we were involved in.  In a move that was more police-like rather than trainer-like, she interrupted what we were discussing and told us to return to our original seats if we were finished the group activity. 

I was surprised that we were shut down.  The conversation which our group continued during our lunch break was very informative and I felt that the collaborative nature that this group dynamic created was very beneficial to those that were involved.  When I returned to work after the training and asked by my manager if I had learned anything, my response was yes, but I almost didn't.

Make sure you allow time to let informal learning happen.  It's very collaborative and social and can happen when you least expect it.  Because it's driven by the participants it usually is far more effective then some written curriculum so don't stifle it when it happens.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Learning Revolution is Needed

Sir Ken Robinson is an author, public speaker and an international advisor on education.  Earlier this year he spoke at TED about the need for an education revolution.  He states that education in it's current form is similar to manufacturing.  Students are all treated the same and put through a system where the expected results are all the same as well.  When a student doesn't fit into this mold they are usually left by the wayside.  He suggests that an organic approach is better.  Like a farmer creates an environment for his crops to grow, education should simply create an environment that is conducive to allow the student to flourish.  Here is the video:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Don't Forget There Are Two D's in ADDIE

I have been thinking about the design model we know as ADDIE.  ADDIE is an acronym for...
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Implement
  • Evaluate
These are the stages or phases that an Instructional Designer typically takes when creating learning.  Many who design and develop their own work often consider combining these two steps into one step or stage.  Typically I design my courses in Microsoft PowerPoint as a storyboard.  Since I was typically the one who also develops my courses into full blown e-learning, I take the time to convert my work from PowerPoint to one of the various authoring tools that I use for creation. 

Why would I waste the time?  Why not simply design my course directly into the author-ware I intend to use?  There are several reasons for this.  The first reason is that subject matter experts and stake holders like to receive something in email that they can easily open up and view without any effort on their part. 

The second reason is time.  Developing can take more time than design.  In other words, if I designed a course in PowerPoint, I don't need to spend time building all the functional buttons, animations and interactivity into that PowerPoint.  That can come later.  My goal is to get approval as quickly as possible so I can move on to the development stage.  I will then have the time to test my design, and ensure everything works great before I implement it to my learners out in the field.

Another issue is that subject matter experts and stake holders may force you to change directions.  I can't tell you how many times my courses have ended up going in a completely different direction.  This can mean you having to return to your storyboard and dramatically change your design.  Having to redesign an already developed course would waste a great deal of your time and may jeopardize your deadlines.  Make sure you do not skip the steps of ADDIE.  Trust me, they will work in your favour.

Monday, July 19, 2010


One problem that e-Learning designers face is designing with cheaters in mind. Early in my career as an Instructional Designer we used e-Learning software that presented evaluations on a single page in whatever order you entered it. Once an evaluation was submitted, learners saw a results page that revealed all the correct answers. We began to see a trend where the first learner from each location across the country would receive a lower average score, while each subsequent learner would score much higher. What we suspected turned out to be true. The first learner was sharing their results with other learners, resulting in much higher scores for the remaining learners.

To resolve this we switched to a new authoring tool capable of providing different evaluations to each learner who took our online courses.

The key features of this authorware's evaluations were:
  1. Questions in Random Order - The authorware was capable of randomizing questions so that the order of the questions was never the same
  2. Randomly Displayed Answers - while some of the questions may get repeated, the answers themselves appeared in random order. In otherwords, what might have been answer a) the first time the course was run, may become answer c) the next time
  3. Pulling from a Larger Pool of Questions - the authorware was able to generate its random set of questions from a larger pool of questions. For example, we might have 10 questions presented from a possible list of 30 questions.  This would also present a completely new set of question each time the course is run

Employing these techniques certainly reduced the number of cheaters who were taking our online courses, however improving the quality of questions helped as well.  We almost entirely stopped using True/False questions.  The reason is that a True/False question tends to lead the learners to the correct answer.  In an organization where keeping employees positive about the products and services they sell, the answer to a True/False question is usually true.  You don't want to draw attention to what isn't true about a product or service.

Also ensuring that all the answers in a multiple choice question are at least plausible is important.  If the learner can deduce the correct answer by eliminating all the improbable answers, then you really haven't evaluated their knowledge of the topic.  All you have tested is the learner's skills of deduction.

Another thing relating to the plausibility of possible answers is the length of the answers.  Back in high school, I learned that when I didn’t know the correct answer to a multiple choice question, the longest answer was often the correct answer.  The reason for this is that designer of an evaluation may have to be careful about phrasing correct answers to ensure there is no room for interpretation.  The same is usually not true of wrong answers.  Obviously a wrong answer only needs precise wording when there is risk of it being a correct answer.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ferris Bueller's Style of Training

Many of my generation think back fondly to the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  It is a story of the popular yet rebelious teenager who skips school to go on an adventure in the city of Chicago with his best friend and his girlfriend.  Throughout the film, the school principle is one step behind them trying to catch them in the act of ditching school.  Of course it almost goes without saying that Ferris, like all kids from the 80s, is much smarter than the principle of the school and manages to avoid Mr. Rooney with ease.

When I reflect on the film now as an adult and professional within the adult training field, I actually see an interesting thing occur in the film.  Ferris and his two friends actually receive a great education by skipping school, and there is an interesting sub message within the film.  In fact, Ferris and his two friends could easily have experienced many of the things on their day off during a class field trip.  I'm sure they experienced and learned more than their fellow students who were back in school listening to Ben Stein's lecture about the great depression.

During their trip they visited the Sears Tower and learned about it's enormous height and how it was built, Saw the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and witnessed how commodities are traded, They visited the Art Institute of Chicago and saw many famous works of art.  I dare say they learned a great deal about themselves as well.  They explored their own feelings about themselves and one another and what the future has in store for them.  The Irony is that their principle spends all this time trying to catch up with them so he could ultimately return them to the environment of books and classrooms where they likely wouldn't have learned all that much.

As teachers and trainers we should look to Ferris Bueller and get out of the text books and classrooms and get our students to truly experience life.  They will learn so much more than just what they read in books and lesson guides.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


A couple of years ago I went to Chichén Itzá in Mexico. I was amazed that the ancient Mayans built structures like the pyramid of Kukulkan seen here using only their hands and the simplest of tools. Even more amazing is the quarry for the stone used was over a mile away and the Mayans had not yet invented the wheel.  What would it have taken to motivate a group of people to build such an object?

I'm always amazed with peoples ability to stay motivated to complete a job. As someone involved in training I'm very interested in motivation and I'm always looking for new ways to tap into this ability.  Dictionary.com uses words like inducement or incentive when describing motivation.  I think of motivation as the 'reason' behind anything we do.

When I was a sales manager for a large chain of retail stores, what I found interesting was that money wasn't always a motivator for everyone.  This surprised me because the people in question had all chosen a career of sales.  Certainly sales is something that involves money.  I had several employees that were motivated by food and/or drink.  A plate of chicken wings and a pitcher of beer was usually all it took, however if I offered the same in cash, these individuals were not as motivated as the food and drink equivalent.

Within training, motivation comes from the affective domain.  This is the emotional side of training that involves how someone feels about a topic or task.  This is probably one of the most difficult things to train as peoples feelings vary from one to another.  You need to have people unlock there own potential much like a coach of a sports team.  Simply telling them what to do will not provide the motivation on it's own.  Instead have your learners figure out what the results of the change will mean to them and what types of rewards those changes will bring.  Like most things that we as professional trainers teach,  the most engaging stuff will be the things the learners have to do for themselves.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blooms Taxonomy: Part Three

The affective domain is the third domain of learning included in Bloom's Taxonomy.  Skills in this domain tap into the way people feel about the learning material.  The goal of this type of learning is usually to get people to react emotionally and get in touch with attitudes toward the material.

Training within the affective domain is probably the hardest domain to achieve, however when it is done well, it literally can be a call to action or change the emotions of an entire group.  I have posted this video before, but here is an example of affective training.  I believe the goal that Dr. Randy Pausch had when giving this lecture was to remind us that how we live our lives is important and we should not waste the precious gift that life is.  I think you will agree that he is very capable of tapping into our emotions and perhaps changing how we think or feel about death.

Many organizations use this type of training to change the attitudes of their employees.  Perhaps they have had a fundamental shift in ideals that they wish to convey to their employees, or perhaps they are attempting to correct behaviors or attitudes they have become aware of.

Like the other domains there are levels of learning within the affective domain.  They are:

  1. Receiving - learners passively pays attention through listening and/or observing.
  2. Responding - learners actively participates by reacting in some way demonstrating their willingness to be involved.
  3. Valuing - learners agree with the material that is presented not just through compliance but because they have a belief in the content itself.
  4. Organizing - learners put together values and compare, relate and elaborate on the material that is presented.
  5. Characterizing - the learner has adapted these values so as to become apart of their makeup as a person.  These values will affect how the learner behaves and are characteristic of who they are.
When stating your objectives and describing your learning activities will require action verbs that are appropriate for this type of learning.  Below are some examples:

Receiving – ask, attend, choose, describe, give, identify, listen, receive, use, view, watch

Responding – communicate, comply, consent, conform, contribute, cooperate, discuss, follow-up, greet, help, inquire, participate

Valuing – accept, adopt, approve, complete, choose, commit, desire, differentiate, display, endorse, explain, express, form, initiate, invite, join, justify, propose

Organizing – adapt, adhere, alter, categorize, classify, combine, compare, complete, defend, explain, establish, formulate

Characterizing – advocate, characterize, defend, devote, disclose, discriminate, display, encourage, endure, exemplify, function, incorporate, influence, justify

By the way, Dr. Pausch did eventually pass away and while he was still with us, he managed to fulfill another dream of his.  He was invited to play a character in the latest Star Trek film.  He is on the bridge of the USS Kelvin in the opening scene of the film.

Blooms Taxonomy: Part Two

The second domain from Bloom's Taxonomy that I am going to discuss is the psychomotor domain.  The psychomotor domain is where the learning achieved through the cognitive domain is demonstrated with physical skills.  This is an important domain when you are training skills that would be considered manual labour.  This domain can be broken down into 5 levels as follows:

  1. Imitation - learners will attempt to duplicate an act that has been demonstrated to them.  Error is expected and encouraged as a learning opportunity for the learners.
  2. Manipulation - Continual practice of the act so that it becomes habitual and confidence is built.
  3. Precision - The skill has been attained.  At this stage refinement or further accuracy become the goal.
  4. Articulation - At this stage learners will adapt their movement patterns to accommodate special needs or to meet a specific problem.
  5. Naturalization - Naturalization occurs when the skill becomes an automatic response.
In this domain's case, learners will likely start out with the first level; imitation and then progress to manipulation, precision and so on.  In the psychomotor domain you would write your learning objectives and learning activity instructions based on the current level of performance that your learners are currently able to demonstrate.  For example you may have beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses that gradually move the learners from Imitation right up to naturalization.  You would most likely want each course to be a prerequisite of one another to ensure that the appropriate skills needed are achieved first.

An example of training in the psychomotor domain would be physical side of training for a pilot.  In the beginning you would demonstrate the skills for them to imitate.  Likely this would be done in a simulator for safety reasons.  The potential pilot would be encouraged to make mistakes and see what the results are.  Continual practice would occur during the manipulation stage so that confidence is built up and actions become habitual.  At this stage the potential pilot would like gain experience in real air craft.  Further practice would be used to gain the level of precision.  Articulation would teach them to be adaptable when needed, perhaps how to handle emergency situations.  In the final stages of their training, naturalization would occur.  The pilot would simply react appropriately during different situations without having to spend time thinking about each situation.

The types of action verbs you would use for stating objectives and writing learning activities would be:

Imitation - begin, assemble, attempt, duplicate, follow, mimic, practice, reproduce, try

Manipulation - acquire, complete, conduct, do, execute, improve, maintain, make, manipulate, operate, pace, perform, produce, progress, use

Precision - accomplish, advance, exceed, master, reach, refine, succeed, surpass, transcend

Articulation - adapt, alter, change, excel, rearrange, reorganize, revise, surpass, transcend

Naturalization - arrange, combine, compose, create, design, refine, originate, transcend

Like before many of these words are interchangeable and certainly could apply in more than one level (especially during imitation, manipulation, and precision).  Remember you are not limited to these words, there are likely thousands of action verbs you could use for every level of Bloom's Taxonomy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blooms Taxonomy: Part One

Some Instructional Designers moan about going through the exercise of using Blooms Taxonomy while designing training.  I submit that when you have attended training sessions that over promised yet under delivered, it’s likely because the designer of the training ignored Bloom's Taxonomy.  The most important aspect of Bloom's Taxonomy from the perspective of your learners is that they will receive exactly what was promised during any type of learning activity.

If I promised you the ability to rebuild an automobile engine by the end of my course and simply stood at the front of the class and forced you to memorize facts and figures about cars, you could no more rebuild an engine than you could before you started.  Essentially it’s like bad advertising.  Writing proper learning outcomes will also force you to further develop your learning activities so they do achieve the goals of training.

Bloom's Taxonomy can be broken down into the three domains of learning: cognitive, psychomotor, and the affective domains. Most training and education falls within the cognitive domain so in this first of three parts on Blooms Taxonomy that I will discuss.  The cognitive domain can be broken down into 6 levels of learning.  Here they are explained using some interesting scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean (just for fun).

Cognitive Domain

  1. Knowledge is simply the ability to remember fact or content. 
  2. Comprehension is the ability to understand the material through interpretation, translation or the ability to predict consequences of the material.
  3. Application is the ability to independently apply material in new situations.
  4.  Analysis is the ability to break down material into it's individual parts.
  5. Synthesis is the ability to create something new from the material.
  6. Evaluation is the ability to judge the value of the material
So how does this apply to planning your lessons?  Simple, your goal should be to achieve the higher levels of the cognitive domain.  While knowledge and comprehension are important, memorization and understanding is no substitute for being able to do or create something new or to judge it's value.  This is where true learning occurs.

Secondly to ensure that you direct your learners toward these higher levels, you need to choose the correct language in both your learning objectives and in your instructions for learning activities.  Selecting the correct action verbs will help your learners prepare for what they must do.  Below are some examples of words that will tell your learners what's expected of them and which level of learning these types of activities accomplish:

Knowledge - select, identify, label, match, recall, recite, reproduce

Comprehension - describe, define, explain, illustrate, restate, rewrite

Application - demonstrate, apply, develop, organize, operate, produce, solve, modify

Analysis - compare, distinguish, analyze, breakdown, classify, separate, subdivide

Synthesis - combine, compile, compose, conceive, construct, create, design, generate, invent

Evaluate - appraise, conclude, contrast, criticize, decide, defend, discriminate, write (a review)

Of course several of these action verbs can fall into more than one level of learning, and there are many more possibilities as well.  This should allow you to take your learning activites and determine what level of Blooms Taxonomy they achieve.  For example if I had a learning activity that stated:   

"Please select the correct answer from the following list of wrong answers." 

...you would know that this only achieves the knowledge level.  Simple memorization is all that is required to answer this question.  It doesn't determine if the learner actually comprehends the knowledge.  Of course that might be fine.  Perhaps it isn't required that the learner know why something is correct, just that it is correct.  If a learner's job requires the ability to analyze a situation and act appropriately with that information, you are going to want to design course objectives and learning activities that tests their ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the material you provide them.  More difficult to do? Yes.  More rewarding for your learners? Absolutely.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

e-Learning On a Shoe String Budget

One of the biggest challenges in developing e-Learning is to create visually appealing work with little or no money.  There are millions of sources online that you can draw from for your visual images, however the legal use of these images is something you need to consider before you publish to your audience.  Using a photographer's work without their permission and without paying the appropriate license fee is copyright infringement. 

Some of my collegues have tried to claim that using a photo from the Internet in an e-learning course, can fall under fair use laws.  This is only sometimes true.  If you were teaching your audience about a company, you can use their company logo and claim fair use.  You could not use a photograph of their CEO taken by a photojournalist, nor could you use a funny comic strip about that company without paying the appropriate license fees to the original creators of those materials.  There are balance tests that a court would use to determine if fair use applies to each individual case, however you don't want it to get that far.

Here are some great resources for multimedia that may be helpful for those with little or no budget to spend:

Wikimedia is a collection of multimedia that for the most part is open and free to use without individual permission.  The multimedia ownership is retained by the individual creators.  Check for the particular license for each item to ensure that your planned use is acceptable.

Love Vector Free is an excellent site for vector graphics.  The files will be in .AI, .SVG and .PNG formats which can be opened in most professional graphic editing software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop.

MorgueFile is a site dedicated to free photography.  In most cases you can reuse their material within your work, however it cannot be used on it's own.  You may be able to modify much of the work, so cropping out parts of the photo that you do not need can be considered acceptable.

Turbophoto maintains a small repository of free stock images that you can download and reuse.  The selection isn't vast, however you can add this as a source in case you are designing material that happens to fit one of the ten or so topics they cover.

4FreePhotos is an awesome site that is maintained by photographers who just love taking pictures and getting them out there.  The site seems to be funded by lots of ads but I don't mind this as the photos are all free.

Stock.XCHNG is another great resource with a very large number of photos.  They do require an account setup with a login and password, and you will need to read their license agreement for the photos you download as there are some restrictions.

Of course last but not least, almost everyone owns a digital camera.  If everyone in your training department took a dozen or so pictures each week to contribute to a team multimedia database, you would find that you would have a large stockpile of free to use images or videos in fairly short order.  Take pictures of your companies building, your competition, products that you sell,and more.  Since you own the pictures you will never have to pay royalties or license fees to anyone.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Training for Different Language and Culture

Many instructional designers make the mistake of only thinking in their primary language, and forgetting that some things are simply not translatable. I try to keep simplicity in my course design so as to avoid the additional challenge that multiple languages creates. Designing only with English in mind is clearly a mistake when someone lives and works in a country like Canada. Here in Canada we have two official languages, English and French. Geographical speaking the majority of Canada speaks English, while French is mostly spoken in the province of Quebec.

A lesson designed for a new hire course revolved around the famous “Who is On First” routine by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. This lesson illustrated how easy it is to misinterpret what someone is saying. Using tasteful humour such as this example can be very effective in training, however because this comedy routine was never translated nor performed in any other language except for English, it could not be used in French speaking Canada. To do so would create more initial work for the designer, and creating a break in continuity between versions. This would also create additional work in maintaining future updates as well.

In cases where lesson material is designed only for learners whose first language is English, many learners who first language is something other than English will often fall behind the rest of the class. The reasons for this are many; however some examples might be they:
  • Only have a basic understanding of the language
  • Do not share a cultural background and will miss certain references
  • Are not familiar with technical terms or jargon

Like as in language, you should be very careful with humour when it comes to cultural differences. A humorous video may seem harmless, yet it may completely go against the grain of another culture. The resulting offense to another culture can detract from the purpose of training and force you to spend time putting out unnecessary fires.

The following things to avoid in your training may seem obvious; however you would be surprised how often people break with these rules. Avoid opinion or discussion that includes...
  • Profanity of any kind
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Cultural stereotypes
  • Sexuality
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Ethnic or racists remarks

There are several things you can do to ensure you don’t cross any lines. If you are unsure and think that a piece of material may be questionable, play it safe and simply leave it out. In this case it’s far better to avoid a potential problem with language and culture then to try and recover from it later.

Secondly you should always conduct a pilot or your training with a safe group of your peers. Try to include a culturally diverse group or bilingual group when possible, they certainly can point out problems that you may miss or may simply not be aware of.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Teaching Like Oprah

Although some lectures can be very exciting, you may be afraid to bore your learners to sleep.  Here is a learning activity that may prove to be more engaging than the traditional lecture. 

Ask for a volunteer to play the part of a talk show host.  You will provide them a list of questions that must be asked of you the instructor so that the topic is well covered.  Remember you are the one being intereviewed.  In addition to the scripted questions, invite the host to ask their own follow up questions as they see fit.  Toward the end of the activity, the talk show host will call upon questions from the audience to also address any knowledge that was missed.  Use this time to evaluate what the students learned and address any missing pieces of knowledge.

The advantage of this learning activity is that it takes the learners from the more passive role of listening to a lecture to an active part of a mock television show.  It may prove to be more engaging and will take some of the pressure off all involved as this will create an informal atmosphere.

Take a look at some popular talk shows and try to emulate some of the segments that they include to get the audience more active in participating with the show.  You may want to avoid shows like Letterman and Leno and focus more on the self help style of shows like Oprah, and Dr. Oz.  If you are successful, I promise your lesson will be far more memorable than a boring lecture.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Learning Strategies for Teaching Adults with Learning Disabilities

We have all heard the term learning disability and may know one or two learning disabilities themselves, but what is a learning disability?  Simply stated, a learning disability is a disorder that affects the acquisition, retention, understanding, organization or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information.  This entry discusses those who have average to high intelligence, yet have an impediment that prevents them from learning skills or knowledge in the same method or rate of speed as others with similar levels of intelligence.

Many learning disabilities are genetic or possibly caused by an injury. These disorders can include difficulties in the following skills:
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Visual recognition
  • Math
  • Spatial or Mechanical
  • Social
Learning disabilities are more common than most people expect.  As trainers of adults, there is a likelihood that about 20 percent of our learners will have some form of learning disability.  Many learners who are approximately 35 or older may never have been tested for learning disabilities, and while some of your learners will be aware of their challenges, others may wrongly believe they are just not as smart as others.  For those that know they have a learning disability, it is up to them to inform you of their additional needs if they so choose.  In Canada having access to accommodation for learning disabilities is considered a human right.  Denying a learner the accommodation they may require can get you into legal trouble.

Some people argue that accommodating those with a learning disability gives an unfair advantage over others.  For example, you may provide a learner who has difficulty reading, more time to complete a written test.  In this example, the additional time is needed to comprehend the question as it is written.  The additional time you provide the learner does not give them necessarily more time to answer the questions.  I like to compare these types of accommodations to other tools we use to assist our lives.  For example it is common to wear eye glasses when you have trouble seeing or reading, yet no one would argue that wearing glasses gives those an unfair advantage.

Of course your learners with learning disabilities will still need to accomplish the learning objectives of the training.  If the model of performance is to type 40 words per minute, then the student will still need to demonstrate this by the end of the training.  Providing accommodation does not give them an unfair advantage, but rather removes or reduces any disadvantage their disability presents.  Here are some examples of accommodation you could provide in the event that someone with a learning disability requires it:
  • Course outlines to reduce the need to take notes in class
  • Copies of materials such as overheads, diagrams, PowerPoint files, etc.
  • Access to alternative testing methods (oral, or online)
  • Additional clarification of questions on tests
  • Use of a calculator during math problems
  • Extended time to complete evaluations (usually 1.5x)
  • Open book testing
  • Extra tutoring

Because so many learners with these types of disabilities will not be identified, there are some things you can do to ensure you are as accommodating as possible.  Use...
  • Easy to understand agendas so learners will know what to expect throughout the course
  • Clear instructions both written and explained verbally
  • Key concepts or terminology at the beginning of each lesson
  • Clear visuals in your printed and overhead material (images should clearly look like what they are depicting)
  • Physical examples such as models or actual items
  • Point form to increase comprehension
  • step-by-step instructions to break down tasks
  • Group work where learners get to choose specific or unique roles within the group
  • Words, pictures and sound to convey ideas (offering choices in how to learn)
  • Multimedia when possible rather than reading or lecturing
  • Job aids that can be referred to upon returning to the workplace
Here is a video that demonstrates how difficult it can be for someone who has a learning disability related to reading:

Similarily here is another video that deals with how difficult a learning dissability can affect visual information:

    Unfortunately much of the resources available online are geared for children rather than adults, however many of the accommodations can apply to both children and adults equally.

    Learning Disabilities Association of Canada http://www.ldac-taac.ca/
    Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario http://www.ldao.ca/
    Learning Disabilities Association of America http://www.ldanatl.org/

    Monday, May 31, 2010

    A Better Level One Evaluation

    For those that are new to training, level one evaluations refer to Donald Kirkpatrick's methods or levels for evaluation. I've discussed this before, however a level one evaluation measures the learner's reaction to training. Simply put; did they like the training or not.  We've all has these handed out to us moments before we dash out of a training session. These are the evaluations you fill out where you rate your feelings about the training and the instructor. Sometimes we refer to these as smile sheets.

    I believe that very little thought is put into filling these out by most of your learners.  The majority of your learners will very quickly determine which side of the check boxes are either good or bad and then arbitrarily check off all the answers to reflect their overall feeling. Usually the learners don't take time to read each question and select an answer that is truthful or accurate about how they feel.  This is why I feel there may be a better way to administer a level one evaluation.

    Here is an alternative to this method. Rather than waiting until the end of a course or session, pick a half way point to administer an evaluation. If you are running a one day session, hand it out just after lunch. If you are running a two day session, hand it out at the beginning of day two. At least this way they will take the appropriate amount of time to complete this activity, rather than rush through, hoping to get the extra time for a break or their departure home.

    I recommend that you change the questions to reflect that you are only part way through the session. In addition avoid a rating scale. Ask open ended questions so that you can pinpoint exactly what concerns your learners have. Ask questions like:

    • What am I as an instructor doing well?
    • What would you like to see more of today?
    • What would you like to see less of today?

    You could also review these with the class and build an agenda to ensure that the topics identified in this evaluation are covered during the rest of the session. You may want to remind your learners beforehand that while you are open to covering additional topics you will need to stay on topic to achieve the learning objectives of the course.  If you are teaching your learners about a new point of sale system,  having an open discussion about payroll will not achieve the goals of today's training.

    The advantage of this style of evaluation is that you can shift gears in your teaching style and hopefully provide what your learners need to be successful.  Next time you have a course, try this as either a simple alternative to what you have done in the past or simply add it to your existing agenda.  I'm sure you will see positive results.

    Friday, May 28, 2010

    The PAF Model

    As far as I’m concerned, using a basic lesson structure of some kind is what makes a lesson teachable.  There are several schools of thought out there, but what I like to follow is the PAF model for systematic learning.  This was taught to me by Instructors from Friesen, Kaye and AssociatesPAF stands for Presentation, Application, and Feedback.  I find that it’s easy to implement in your design because of its simplicity, yet it is very effective.

    During the Presentation phase, the instructor teaches the new knowledge or skills.  During the Presentation you typically include some type of introduction which will include the what’s in it for me (WIIFM) for the students as well as some test for understanding to ensure that the knowledge or skill has been transferred.

    Application is simply the time given to the learner to practice what they have learned.  Although likely the simplest step in the process, Application is by far the most important.  As far back as Aristotle we know that we learn by doing.

    Feedback is needed to build the confidence in your learners who are performing well and to assist those that require further help.

    Each stage should represent about 1/3rd of the lesson time.  Depending on the exercises that you introduce in a lesson, you can often combine Application and Feedback to occur simultaneously.  This allows for more time to be applied to the Application and it allows for correcting or reinforcing behaviours as they happen.

    Most training that is considered boring or ineffective by the learners, likely did not have sufficient time allocated to the Application and Feedback phases.  Instead it relied too much on Presentation. Using this model keeps you on point.  It’s easy for a passionate instructor to ramble on, especially if the topic is one of personal interest. 

    There are other models of lesson design out there; however some can be rather complicated to easily remember.  PAF keeps things simple and therefore far more likely to be used properly. 

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Digestible Chunks

    How much is too much training?  I guess the only ones who can answer that are the learners themselves.  What I try to do to make training easily digestible to my learning audience, is to break it down into easy to manage chunks.

    One method of doing this is a part of Information Mapping, which I've spoken of before.  Information Mapping is a method of organizing information into "maps" that only cover one topic.  This information is further broken down into blocks which only contain one thing (set of instructions, piece of knowledge, etc).  Information mapping's goal for how much information can be contained in either a map or block is 7 plus or minus 2 things.  That seems a little strange but what it means is that the amount of information that we can remember is somewhere around 7 things.  If you only have 2 other things to remember this is considered not enough information to break out into a new map or block of information, so up to 9 things are considered acceptable.

    For those that doubt me about remembering 7 pieces of information, you can prove it to yourself by simply reciting your phone number.  Also if you doubt the point about up to 9 pieces of information, include the area code (For North America this will in fact be ten pieces of information).  Interestingly enough the phone companies who introduced direct dialing choose the format for telephone numbers because of this very fact of how people remember things.

    Now what is interesting about the human mind is that we can interpret a great deal of information as a single piece of information.  In fact most of us consider that 7 or 10 digit number as one piece of information.  So in fact we as people may remember many phone numbers that seem important to each of us.  I know my own phone number but I also know my wife's, my parents, my sister's, and I even know my mother-in-laws phone number.  If you asked me to recite all that information it would actually be 50 individual digits that make up those 5 different numbers.  It's easy for me to remember because I only think of it as 5 things.

    You can do the same thing when organizing your training.  For example; you may have determined that you need to train 18 individual concepts to a group of learners.  Once you analyze the information you realize that these 18 steps fall into only a couple of larger categories.  Here is an example as to how you might group the similar steps so that no single larger group of steps contain more than 7 smaller steps:

    1. First Step

      1. Step 1
      2. Step 2
      3. Step 3
      4. Step 4
      5. Step 5
      6. Step 6
      7. Step 7
    2. Second Step

      1. Step 8
      2. Step 9
      3. Step 10
      4. Step 11
    3. Third Step

      1. Step 12
      2. Step 13
      3. Step 14
      4. Step 15
      5. Step 16
      6. Step 17
      7. Step 18
    Using this approach could allow you to teach a skill that is actually rather complex but make it seem easy.  You wouldn't actually label the sub steps as I have up to 18 as this would defeat the purpose.  This is only to illustrate that it is possible to teach 18 steps or more in what will seem like only 3 major steps. 

    Sunday, May 23, 2010

    Training = Customer Service / Customer Service = Training

    My wife and I frequent a certain local gas station for not only our fuel, but for other convenience needs as well. When we embark on a long drive to the city or to visit friends or family, we usually stop in to top up the gas tank and pickup a coffee or a snack for the drive. I estimate that at our peak (when gas prices were higher), we were spending approximately $500 per month at this one location.

    Because we frequent this establishment so often, odds are that we will not get great customer service every single time we visit. Since new management has taken over some time ago, customer service has gone downhill. For me the major issue is that staff seems not to know what to do when something out of the ordinary takes place. An example of this occurred last week.

    My wife and I stopped by as per normal, and attempted to purchase a fill up of gas. The pump seemed to act unusual and then suddenly reset to normal. I filled the tank and went inside with my wife to pay for the purchase. Due to some computer malfunction, they could not take our payment for anything other than cash. We offered debit card, or credit card, but the only thing they could accept was cash.

    Well like most people now-a-days we don't generally carry cash. The attendant suggested that we withdraw the funds from their bank machine and simply pay for the purchase. While this is a great solution for them, we are charged an additional $1.50 service fee by our bank for using their machine. To both my wife and I this was unacceptable. We ended up writing essentially an IOU and vowed to return and pay the amount at a later time. We left the store frustrated and angry over how once again they were unable to satisfy us by making what should be a simple transaction, more complicated than it needed to be.

    So you may ask where the training opportunity exists. It's simple - train your staff on the policies and procedures of the store. In this case there should be a policy and procedure on what actions to do when the computer responsible for taking payments for gasoline purchases fails. Maybe it's to deactivate the pumps, or maybe something simple as placing a sign out by the pumps informing customers that cash only purchases are acceptable. In either case the alternative of continually putting customers through the difficult situation my wife and I found ourselves in cannot be the solution. If you own a business, please train your staff. If you have trained your staff and they cannot cope with the unexpected than maybe you need to rethink your hiring decisions.

    My wife and I worked for the same corporation when we met all those years ago. As my own sanity check, I quizzed her on many of the common scenarios we were trained on. For example; we both knew the procedures for what to do when our stores were held up for money or merchandise. We both recalled the procedures perfectly and would have been able to handle that situation. I should point out that neither of us has worked there in about a decade and neither of our stores where ever held up by criminals.

    Training is crucial and no business can expect to function properly without it. It doesn't matter whether you hire a professional like myself or you conduct the training yourself. Ensuring your staff knows what to do when the unexpected occurs is the difference between your business running poorly or smoothly. My wife and I have decided not to return to this gas station for our future purchases, instead we will frequent their competition down the street. It's too bad because the competition does not offer all the conveniences that we enjoy.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Documentary Heaven

    I am a visual learner.  When someone like me decides to learn, their first instinct isn't to pick up a text book or to attend a classroom where they will listen to a professor speak for an hour.  Our first instinct is to look for something visual.  It may be a PowerPoint, or a flash demonstration or for that matter a full movie on the topic that we hope to learn about.  For me there is nothing more pleasent than learning though a rich combination of visual and audio elements.

    In every class you teach or for every online course you design, you will have learners who are just like me.  If you want these learners to become engaged, the use of video will draw them right in.  Of course continue to cater to all learning styles but the visual folks will love a good movie.

    I stumbled across a great site that contains videos which seem to actually reside on Google or Youtube video.  It's called Documentary Heaven.  Unlike Youtube or Google Video, this site is organized into full feature length documentary films.  If you maintain a blog like I do you can cut and paste the "embed code" from the video's source on Youtube directly into your blog.  Double clicking on the videos found here will bring you to their source on Youtube where the "embed code" can easily be found.

    For example, I love the history of the Mayan people.  Ever since I visited the Mayan ruins in Mexico I have been fascinated with their history and culture.  If I was teaching a course on Ancient Mexico I could embed the following video that I found by simply searching for "Maya" on Documentary Heaven, copy and past the "embed code" into the "Edit HTML" tab of your blog's entry page.  The result is something like this...

    Alternatively you could use this during an online or instructor led course as well. Your visual learners like me will become much more engaged and will certainly enjoy learning as well.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Use Screenr to Create PC Tutorials

    I'm not an expert on this particular tool (yet), but I discovered it today and see a real application towards e-learning.  Screenr is a web based tool for capturing on screen tutorials and other PC type actions for creating simulations.  If you have already invested in Adobe Captivate or another similar tool then you don't need it, however as free web 2.0 type tools go, this is pretty cool.  Here is a screenr produced by a fellow training blogger Tom Kuhlmann :

    So it seems that all you need is a browser, a microphone and a good idea.  As I learn more about this really neat web application, I will post more details, however you  can check out Tom's blog on rapid e-Learning and his other Screenr videos below: