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.