Thursday, March 25, 2010

Learning 2.0

We take it for granted but we are only in the third decade of the personal computer revolution.  Perhaps less if you consider that the personal computer really didn’t become the mainstream medium that it has become until the mid 1990s.  Certainly computer based training and later web based training have only been around for less than two of those decades.

Of course the twenty first century really changed things.  Better operating systems showed up, while faster and more efficient microprocessors drove the industry forward.  Multimedia really began to affect online training with the introduction of high speed internet connections.  Now you could bypass the previous limitation of dial-up and stream full quality multimedia over the net.  Also the current generation that has began to enter the workforce, have expected a level of technology that they had for their entire lives.  Unlike my generation, they could not remember a time when there were no personal computers.

So how do we satisfy these current crops of learners?  I think we all know that successful training needs to be collaborative to truly be engaging.  So how do we make web based or online training collaborative?  For that matter how do you incorporate new technology into classroom training for more than just the sake of the technology?  Whether you call it Web 2.0 or Cloud Computing or Learning 2.0, these new technologies may be the answer.  When the World Wide Web first became available to the masses, what did it consist of?  Well mostly it was just page after page of words and photos.  There was very little interaction while you were online.  At best you were an observer.  Sure you could download software, but it only could be executed once it was on your PC.

Think about the following technology based services:

Each of these services remains on the internet (you don’t need to download them in order to use them) and they all are very collaborative in nature.  With the social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, you connect with other users and share information with one another.  Sounds like much of the group work we as trainers facilitate, doesn’t it?  Facebook doesn’t create the interaction but rather facilitates it, much like the instructor of a classroom session facilitates learning.

YouTube continues with the concept of social sharing and stimulates us to be more creative than if we didn’t have access to such a service.  Although my still camera and my cell phones have had the ability to shoot short videos, I didn’t shoot video until it occurred to me that I could share it on YouTube.  I think at present teachers are using YouTube in the same way your Social Studies teacher used the Audio Visual department in school.  Simply show you a film on whatever topic was relevant.  I suggest that YouTube could be a delivery mechanism for the students to visually collaborate with each other.  I’m certain each class probably has one or two Steven Spielberg’s with a camera phone ready and willing to take it to the next level if they were given the chance.


Instructors are often subject matter experts in the fields in which they teach.  I'm sure many of us remember teachers from school who had personal collections that they would share with the class.  Unfortunately when the class ended the teacher brought these collections home again.  If you are a teacher of art or photography you certainly could make your collections available to students 24/7 by using sites such as Flickr or Webshots.  This could be expanded as well to a method for students to share and collaborate their own work.  It even could be a method for submitting work to the instructor.

Blogging is certainly a great supplement to the traditional lecture.  Like most corporate trainers, I usually only had access to my students for about a week and then it was on to the next round of students.  Wouldn’t it be great if they could read my latest lecture online?  Remember that a blog is also collaborative.  Anyone is welcome to comment on each entry that I place here and certainly those comments would affect what I write now and in the future.  The possibility for discussion truly makes it collaborative.


A good use of sites like Wikipedia is certainly for research, but don't forget that this is a collaborative tool as well.  Your students can write and edit articles on Wikipedia.  The concept isn't limited to Wikipedia as well.  Students can setup and maintain their own online wiki, using it for class projects or assignments, each one contributing to the whole and sharing ideas in the process.

Another piece of the puzzle are the portals like iGoogle and netvibes.  Nothing personalizes a web experience than having all of your favourite stuff contained on a single start page.  Where once, sites such as Yahoo and MSN attempted to predict what you wanted to learn about or see online, now you get to decide what your web experience looks like.

Of course the trick is getting all this into our training.  I know that my focus moving forward is to use as much of the technology as possible.  We are really just at the gates of the potential of learning with technology, and I am only scratching the surface here.  Here is one piece of advice though; don’t decide on an online service and figure out how you are going to use it.  Instead figure out what you want to accomplish, and then look for a collaborative online solution. It will certainly be interesting to see what we have done with it in another three decades from now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Principles of Adult Learning

Those of us in the training profession often make reference to the principles of adult learning.  We talk about it to our stake holders and subject matter experts, we put it on our resumé and mention it to each other in discussions about training.

Do we really know what those principles are?  I have attended many sessions over the years that included the so called principles of adult learning as part of the course and I have seen similar yet unique lists of these principles for almost every course that I have been on.  In most cases we turn the page in our work books and that's the last place it's mentioned.  Here are some examples from my past that I have gathered up in one spot for the purpose of comparison.

The local college where I took an Adult Teaching course used this list:
  • Adults must want to learn
  • Adults will learn only what they feel is a need to learn
  • Adults learn by doing
  • Adult learning centers on problems and the problems must be realistic
  • Experience affects adult learning
  • Adults learn best in an informal environment
  • Adults want guidance, not grades

A company my former employer hired had this list:
  1. Adults like active participation in their learning experiences.
  2. Achieving goals is the adult learner’s responsibility.
  3. Adults have a wealth of experience and like to share what they know.
  4. New knowledge and skills must be integrated into previous learning.  Information that conflicts with previous knowledge or values will be integrated more slowly.
  5. Understanding how learning will be useful (WIIFM) gives adults the necessary motivation.
  6. Learners need to practice in order to perform a skill or solve a problem.
  7. Self-esteem is a critical component of learning.
  8. Adults learn better when they are having fun.
  9. Energy level and interest influence attention span.
  10. To maximize retention, adults need small chunks and frequent summary of information.
Note: WIIFM = What's In It For Me (in case you didn't know).

Another such company had this list:
Adults need:
  • A clear introduction including objectives, benefits, and an agenda
  • An opportunity to express themselves and share experiences
  • A variety of methods
  • The appropriate level of challenge
  • A comfortable learning environment
  • Immediate feedback concerning their progress

Here is a list provided by an individual hired to train us at the same company:

Adults want...
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • To save time
Adults bring...
  • Experience
  • Established behaviours
Adults expect...
  • Efficient use of their time
  • To know the end goal and the process

An American university used the following (I removed the subtext as it was rather long winded):
  • Adults are autonomous and self-directed.
  • Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect learning to this knowledge/experience base. 
  • Adults are goal-oriented. 
  • Adults are relevancy-oriented. 
  • Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work. 
  • As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. 

Of course I can’t talk about adult learning without mentioning Malcolm Knowles.  He has written entire books on this subject, however the following main points summarizes what he has said:

  1. Adult learners need to know why they are learning, what they are learning, and how they will learn.
  2. Adult learners move from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  3. Adult learners accumulate a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  4. Adult learner’s readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of their social roles.
  5. Adult learner’s perspective of time changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly their orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centeredness.
  6. Adult learners are internally motivated to learn by its intrinsic value and personal payoff.

After reading all these versions, I felt inclined to re-write it into my own language, and in such a way I might find it useful when I am either conducting training, or designing training.  Here is my attempt:

Paul Wilson's Principles of Adult Learning
  • Show your adult learners respect by providing them a comfortable learning environment where training has a clear benefit, objective, and agenda. 
  • Organize your training into easy to manage sections with clear summaries at the end of each section
  • Adults bring experience to the classroom.  Use this experience in your lessons.  Adults can teach one another through group activity or discussion.  Adults must see how new learning fits into their prior experience
  • Adults will become motivated to learn when training can show value by providing solutions to problems they have a vested interest in.  Adults will focus on those aspects and set their own goals for learning
  • Remember that adults learn by using a variety of methods and learning is retained when it is enjoyable.  Adults are self directed and cannot be told when it's time to learn.
Of course like Knowles I expect that I may go back and revise mine a little over time.  He had over twenty years to consider his.  I've just really thought about mine for a couple of days.  If you feel I've missed anything or got something completely wrong, feel free to let me know.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dealing with Bad Behavior in a Classroom Setting

Have you ever had a learner in one of your training sessions who is displaying bad behaviour?  It is rare in adult learning situations, however it can happen.  Sometimes you are dealing with “Type-A” personalities such as sales executives who feel they have nothing to learn, or perhaps a long tenured employee who questions your ability to teach a subject they know well. 

There are several small things that you can do while still maintaining respect for all your learners.  Making eye contact with the learner who is exhibiting poor behaviour can sometimes be a gentle reminder that it’s time to get focused on the training.  You can also walk toward that learner, shifting the attention of the class toward the general area where the learner is seated.  This can have the effect of making them much more aware of the rest of the class.  It will appear the class is looking at them when in fact they are simply listening to you.  They also become aware of your presence when they realize that they are now within ear shot of the instructor.

Years ago I took a course on Advanced Instructional Techniques from Langevin Learning Services, and the Course Leader Steve Flanagan taught us this technique for resolving situations in which learner behaviour is creating a problem for you or the class.  When you identify that someone is disruptive to your training, and you have exhausted other more subtle methods to handle the behaviour, take them aside during a break and privately go through the following...

I (Your feelings)...
When you (their behaviour)...
Because (affect on you or the class)...


For example if you had a student who was constantly late from breaks and interrupted the class in order to catch up on what they missed, you might say to them at the beginning of the next break:

“When you return late after breaks, I feel frustrated because the rest of the class is falling behind schedule.”

Steve suggested that constructing these “I-Statements” was beneficial because if you try to confront a learner displaying bad behaviour without planning what you might say, you can easily get trapped by emotion and blurt out something you may later regret saying.  Having the statement prepared in your head beforehand will save you getting into an emotional debate with them.  If the learner attempts to defend their behaviour, simply repeat the statement to add emphasis to what you already said.  In all likelihood the learner will realize what they have done wrong and apologize, allowing you to continue to train the rest of the class.