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
    Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario
    Learning Disabilities Association of America

    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.