Have we reached the point where each learner can learn at their own pace? I hope so

Crystal BallIn spite of what I have achieved, I am not a fan of the entire education system; I believe, as do others, we can do better. Before our educational system was established, individuals would learn a subject on their own pace often under the tutelage of an expert. As the Industrial Age settled in, we thought it was best to group learners together and “teach” them en masse. Learners no longer had control of their learning; they moved together through a set curriculum on a timetable. They moved from one subject to another regardless if they understood the subject or not. Some topics were too basic for one set of learners but they had to stay on the timetable rather than work on more challenging material. Learners who struggled were left behind to become more frustrated and possibly drop out of the system. The problem is people do not learn this way. Hopefully, we have entered an age where learning can be on the learner’s pace and choosing. “A system that was truly designed to maximize learning would not force learners to move on before they had learned the current material, and it would not force faster learners to wait for the rest of the class” (Reigeluth, 2012, p. 75).

 “A system that was truly designed to maximize learning would not force learners to move on before they had learned the current material, and it would not force faster learners to wait for the rest of the class”

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Great Organizations are Constantly Learning and Improving

Time to re-inventI would like to challenge you this new year to learn something new to improve your craft and organization. Two often, we become comfortable with what has worked for us in the past, and we are hesitant to try something new. We are afraid of failing. We are afraid what others think of us when we try and fail.

Great organizations become great organizations because the learn and adapt to an ever changing environment. There are many organizations and programs that failed to adapt and as a result are now extinct. Here is a list of good stores that never adapted quickly enough. These stores failed because they were content to doing it the same way.

I am interested in education. I am interested in my personal education, informal education, corporate education, extension education, higher education, non-profit education, adult education, technology in education, etc. What is fascinating is the more I read about education and learning, and the more I am involved in education and learning, the more disconnection I am finding. Dewey, Lindeman, Knowles, and others have been admonishing educators for over 80 years that the lecture method is not the best method for instruction, yet, it is the most common method in our schools today. We need to listen to their advice and make changes.

There are three areas I would like you to look at when you look for something new to try: subject matter improvement, instruction methods improvement, technology implementation improvement. As an educator, these are the three areas I consider most important. Presently, I am looking at it from the vantage point of extension.  Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

  • Stay abreast of changes in your field of study by subscribing to or creating a Paper.li newsletter. More.
  • Reflect on what you learn using a blog or podcast.
  • Improve support to your courses with performance support and job aids. More.
  • Make your course more engaging by flipping your instruction. More.
  • Use QR Codes to enrich your physical documents. More.
  • Use tools like Evernote, Diigo, Zotero, and Dropbox to become more organized in your research. More.
  • Read a book on improving your instruction.
  • Read a book on implementing new technology.
  • Teach a class in a way that you never have before.
  • Let others know what you are reading and why. More.
  • Keep an eye out for what others are doing well and benchmark the ideas. More.
  • Add fun and engagement to your class through gamification. More.
  • Improve your operations by creating a checklist. More.
  • Make time for learning, attend a Webinar, read a book, explore a program, just do it.

One of the most frustrating things I face is when people dismiss something on hearsay instead of investigating it for themselves. I challenge you to honestly explore new methods, techniques, and technologies for yourself before dismissing them, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Make a commitment to yourself this new year to go out and learn something new. Try something new in your classes, your students will appreciate it, especially if you are not lecturing.

Book Review: The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning

What if you were successful only 15% of the time? Would you continue  working in that line of work? Here is an example from the book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results* by Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, and Andrew Jefferson, what if FedEx only got 15% of their packages to their destinations on time… would you consider FedEx successful? Probably not, yet, typical corporate training departments only have a 15% success rate for participants applying what they learned to the job. Read more

My many methods of note taking.

Note taking
Note taking

I just finished reading an interesting article Social media & learning – note taking on steroids by Donald Clark. He discusses the benefits of note taking and using social media tools. After reading his post, I realized I was using similar strategies.

Clark comments on note taking at conferences, and questioned why many professionals did not. I personally am an avid note taker at conferences. Lately, I have been using Evernote as my primary tool. You can read more about this strategy here. Evernote has been a great tool for collecting and later finding notes and ideas.  My friend, Deb Beck recently wrote about taking notes with pen and paper. While I appreciate her need to do this, I personally can not make the connection. My connection is with technology – having a digital record that I can quickly retrieve.

I also use Twitter to get the word out about items I find interesting. If I happen to be retweeting a link, I often capture the link into my Diigo account. Diigo is my actual note taking tool for keeping track of great finds in the wilds of the Internet. Most importantly, I use the Diigo’s tagging system to organize and make sense of all the links. Diigo’s search feature is also extremely useful.

For my academic and professional research, I use Zotero. I have gotten into the habit of reading books with a note taking focus. Once I have read a book, and scribbled notes in the margins, I then spend the time to add it to my Zotero library. When I started my library, I would only add notes regarding my academic research. I now add notes about all the books and journal articles I read. This has helped me on a number of occasions when putting together articles, reports, and grants. It has increased the breadth of my research. Here is a little more on Zotero.

Finally, I use this blog to pull my ideas and notes together. This blog helps me make sense of things I have read or discussed. Again, as Clark points out, it allows me to search through my writings, which I have had to do on a number of occasions.

I would be interested to hear how you use social media for your note taking, or even, why you don’t.

Does your instruction stop at the classroom door?

Mechanic using job aid
Mechanic using job aid

The past month has been a rich learning experience that has caused me to pause and look closer at the idea of learning transfer and performance support. This has led me to ask, where does your instruction on a topic stop, at the classroom door or weeks later when the learner has demonstrated proficiency? Do we support the learner enough once they have left the classroom? Have we done our job if we do not ensure they can demonstrate proficiency weeks after the lesson?

This line of thought originated at a recent American Society for Training and Development conference I attended. During this conference, I sat in on a number of fascinating sessions. During the sessions, folks like Tony Bingham and Bob Mosher talked about extending the classroom and providing performance support through mobile devices. Andrew Jefferson and Cal Wick talked about performance support and learning transfer using tools, job aids, and checklists.

These sessions resonated with me so much that I was compelled to pick up some books to learn more. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend that you read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande; The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results by Calhoun W. Wick, Roy V. H. Pollock, and Andy Jefferson; Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving From Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere by Allison Rossett and Lisa Schafer; and Designing mLearning: Tapping into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance by Clark N. Quinn.

Here are some of the takeaways I picked up regarding learning transfer.

The discussion of learning transfer was a central topic throughout the conference. It seems we do a good job training; however, we need to improve how we ensure learning transfer has occurred. Wick and Jefferson stressed improving instruction from the very beginning with the invitation to the training session. In the invitation, you should address what is in it for the learner, what is in it for the organization, what is the learner expected to transfer. They recommend providing a timeline for the complete experience. This includes time when learners are at their office. Training doesn’t end with the completion of the formal session but should extend through a learning transfer period. One of the more novel thoughts was changing the course completion certificate from certificate of completion to certificate of commencement. A certificate of completion indicates that training is done. Home Depot hands out certificates and trophies only when learners report back on how they improved operations based on the training. Educators can also support learning transfer by providing support content in both push and pull formats. With pull formats, learners visit your content and download it. With push content, you send it to learners. For example, it is possible to schedule email messages to go out to trainees on regular intervals reminding them or encouraging them to work on different tasks. Finally, training and support must also be provided to managers and supervisors. Basically, everyone stressed that organization leadership had to have buy-in and be directly involved or learning was going to suffer.

I believe closely related to the idea of learning transfer is the idea of performance support; a key piece being mobile support. Performance support can take the shape of planners, job aids, checklists, or software help screens. These performance support aids can be print or digital depending on the need. Expect to see an increased emphasis on mobile learning in the coming years. Mobile learning in the United States is on the rise. There were 1.6 billion mobile devices sold in 2010. More time is spent outside of the classrooms, yet only 15% of organizations are supporting mobile learning. Mobile devices are so important that business leaders would rather lose their wallet than their phone.

“You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know.” ~ Papert

Mobile learning should support formal and informal learning before, during, and after a learning session. Mobile learning is a great tool to augment learning and tasks. Checklists are an example. In order for learners to use performance support aids outside of the classroom, they should be used during  the entire lesson from beginning to end.

Mosher points out that there are five moments of need when learners need job aids or performance support. The first two are used primarily in the classroom; however, most learners are using the last three items. Disney, for example, designs for three through five and back fills with one and two.

  • When learning for the first time
  • When wanting to learn more
  • When trying to remember and or apply
  • When things change
  • When something goes wrong

We should be pushing out reminders, new content, and collaboration opportunities to subscribed learners. We need to be flexible because learners are gathering information through a number of different devices and programs. When people list tools, none of the tools listed were specific learning tools, e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Google, Evernote, etc.; however, they were used for the purpose of learning.

Clark Quinn, a leader in mobile learning, stresses that the key to supporting mobile learning and mobile support is to start designing and implementing now. We can build native applications, web applications, or both. Quinn recommends starting slowly with pilot projects and then design for a specific platform. He does not recommend designing courses specifically for mobile devices. Instead, he recommends crating mini lessons or modularize content.

After listening to others and reading what others had to say, I came to the conclusion that I need to do a better job providing performance support.  What are your thoughts?

Book review: From Telling to Teaching: A dialogue approach to adult learning

Yesterday, I received this book in the mail and I was pleasantly surprised by what I read. Joye Norris has described a learning design approach for adult learners that just makes sense. In From Telling to Teaching: A Dialogue Approach to Adult Learning*, she outlines a strategy for developing interactive learning lessons and workshops. Read more