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.