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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Awareness vs. Performance

I read an interesting blog post recently by Cathy Moore. I follow Cathy's blog, but in this case, she was a guest blogger on Allen Interactions' e-Learning Leadership Blog. The title of the post was What to do if They Want "Awareness." The scenario she presented was that the client simply wants you to convert a 97-slide PowerPoint presentation into an e-learning course/module. The client's primary interest is to make sure that his employees are "aware" of the policies and procedures.  As I read this post, I made some connections with a project I am currently working on.

Looking through a course I am currently revising and listening to what their contact people have said, it appears that application of the terms and vocabulary to critique artworks is their goal; however, a click-through information dump has been their approach. In fact, one person reiterated in a recent phone conference that they really need for the students to "know" the terms. In the business-world, I'd ask the client what the employees were NOT doing or how did they know that the employees didn't know the policies and procedures (i.e. terms and vocabulary). Then how is this lack of understanding affecting performance? Ultimately, what measurable performance goal do we want to achieve? What should the student be able to do?

In order to create effective learning activities, we need to know about the current performance level.
What are students doing wrong now or failing to do?
What are the most common mistakes?
What are the most egregious mistakes?
What do students need to do instead of what they are doing?

I hear the client saying, "They just need to know the terms and vocabulary." But to write meaningful activities, there need to be more specific job tasks such as, "They need to utilize artistic vocabulary to verbalize their reactions to works of art or to describe techniques and media used to create a work of art." Notice that the learning activity goes beyond simply knowing (i.e. memorizing) and understanding the terms. Students need to be able to apply, analyze, and evaluate.

While we're considering specific tasks, it's a good idea to determine why students aren't performing the assigned the task or why they're doing it wrong. Is the problem really a lack of awareness or knowledge of the terms and vocabulary? Cathy presents a graphic that I've seen before that breaks the four most common aspects that affect people's performance into four quandrants: knowledge, skills at the top and motivation and environment at the bottom. In my experience, very few performance problems are caused purely by lack of knowledge or skills. As Cathy more notes, a more complete solution often includes process or software improvements, clearer assignment instructions, more fulfilling rewards for good performance, or something as simple as a quick-reference job aid for information that doesn't need to be memorized.

Once these questions have been answered, then we can start to design more contextualized, challenging activities that help the students practice applying the terms and vocabulary. Instead of a series of information screens, you can design activities that require students to make decisions and learn from the consequences. As Cathy notes, "you can first challenge the learners with a realistic decision like those they make on the job (or in future courses in their major), and then you can use the consequences to reveal the necessary information. In other words, reverse the process from "tell" then "test" to "test" then "tell."

By focusing on observable results, we think in terms of actions--not information. What the student can do as a result of participating in the learning activity is most important. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

View PowerPoint Presentations on iPad or iPhone

I just found this app and downloaded it (free). Since I've been working on creating e-Learning modules using PowerPoint as a base, I thought I'd give it a try. What I like is that it maintains all my fonts and animations. SlideShark

Friday, October 12, 2012

Free eLearning Books

Christopher Pappas originally published his list of free e-Learning books in 2010. 41 Free e-Learning Books – (Update 10/11/2011)=> If you have read any of the following books I will highly appreciate if you share your opinion with the e-Learning community. It's a great resource list.

Free eLearning Books

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cool Technology vs. Good Learning Design

An interesting thread in one of my LinkedIn discussions regards a poll. The question was:

Have we strayed from basic adult learning principles in favor of “cool” technology?
Responses as of October 3 were:
  • No, we are enhancing (26%)
  • No, we are on target (10%)
  • Yes, we have strayed (42%)
  • Yes, we are going for cool factor (15%)
  • Don't know (5%)
Jacinta Penn commented in her blog post about the poll that no one brought up the fact that "some people never used good learning principles in the first place." This is true both in face-to-face situations such as academic courses and workshops. No one can tell me that having someone stand in front of a large group of people and drone on and on with an occasional PowerPoint slide of bulleted points  interspersed represents good pedagogy. In these cases, I'm often reminded of Ben Stein's segment in Ferris Beuller's Day Off.



I have seen elearning courses that greatly resemble this approach. They are linear in design, largely text-based, with a few YouTube videos thrown in for good measure. They often include the bullets from the PowerPoint presentations without any explanation. Learners have little choice but to progress from one page of text to the next.

As I develop my online courses and modules, I keep good pedagogy in mind:
  • Chunk information into small pieces
  • Provide a variety of ways for the learner to gain information
  • Built in formative and summative assessment to check understanding and reflect on what they are learning
  • Keep it simple--less text the better
  • Easy to use and navigate--intuitive, accessible design, guidance when necessary
  • Incorporate visual examples
  • Relate to real life--authentic learning usually with scenarios
  • Keep the content relevant and at the right level for the learner
  • Make the learner interact with the screen or make decisions
  • Educational focus--even though may include "game-like" approaches
This approach recognizes the interdependence of ‘design’ (of e-learning materials and environments) and ‘teaching’, in that I am able to incorporate a wide range of learning opportunities in the design. The technology allows me to accomplish my goals. I no longer have to provide a linear  elearning experience.  I have learned a lot from the Articulate Community (E-Learning Heroes) blogs, forums, and award-winning course examples.  Not only does Tom Kuhlman discuss the technical aspects of developing courses, but he also incorporates pedagogical best practices.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

How Long Does it Take to Create ELearning

A colleague recently asked me to ballpark how much it would cost/time it would take to create an elearning course with 40 slides and no assessment. I explained that I didn't have enough information to accurately answer that question. As Sarah Gilbert explains in her recent blog post,  calculating the time is based on a number of variables--the type of project, the developer's content and technology knowledge, the relationship between the developer and the SME, the level of interactivity, existing assets vs creating assets, etc.

I provided a recent interaction that I was working on as part of a larger module started out as four pages of text in Word and became over 30 slide with hyperlinking and level 2 interactivity (just beyond the page-turner format). Even though I started out with a template idea from a previous course, it still took me several days to complete that one section of the module. Adding in additional interactions and extending the branching would add more time.

This SlideShare presentation uploaded by Chapman Alliance contains research collected from 249 respondents about how long it takes to create different formats of learning including instructor-led training materials, Level 1 eLearning (Basic), Level 2 (Interactive), Level 3 (advanced, simulations and games), and blended learning. The research is available as Creative Common meaning you are welcome to share the contents with anyone, as long as you list the source when referencing.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Inspiration from the Web

The folks at Born4Design agency recently posted a list of 12 free web design resources. The first 8 are available as ebooks and can be downloaded at PDFs for reading on a computer or mobile device. Although these resources are directed at web designers, they can also provide useful ideas for the e-learning course designer.

Tom Kuhlman at The Rapid E-Learning Blog advises that one way to get away from the inherent linear, bullet-point presentation model in many courses and PowerPoint presentations is to create your own templates. One spark of inspiration for his template designs is other Web site designs. He likes to periodically peruse the Web sites of ad agencies and graphic design sites and look at their project portfolios. He not only gets ideas about design elements but also color combinations. Take a screenshot of the site and create an "inspiration collection." You might even consider posting your images to Flickr as Patrick Haney did. You can also collect your clips in an Evernote notebook.

When we design a course, we are asking our learners to spend their valuable time take that course. These are some tips that will help you design courses that look good.  Combine inviting design elements that with sound instructional design and you’ll have courses that hook your learners from the start and never let them go.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Teaching to Fail

I was reading an article with the above title written by Edward Burger and published in Inside Higher Ed today. Burger's assertion that we need to teach students that it is okay to fail and that all human ideas are derived from a "natural, thoughtful, and (ideally) unending journey" that involves a process of iterative deep thinking. That sometimes we moved backward or hit a dead end before we can move forward. As educators, we need to explicitly (key word here) highlight those dead ends and mistakes. In other words, we need to teach students the power of failure and how to fail effectively.

Burger calls this the "quality of failure" and even includes a place in his grade book that represents how each student grew and learned from taking risks, making mistakes, reflecting, and growing from those failures. This view of assessment is completely counter to the long-held view of assessment as a summative, judgmental evaluation of how much as student knows and doesn't know.

Burger states, "If we foster an environment in our classrooms in which failing is a natural and necessary component in making progress, then we allow our students to release their own genius and share their authentic ideas — even if (or especially when) those ideas aren’t quite polished or perfectly formed." In other words, we foster an environment in which assessment is not only OF learning but also FOR and AS learning. We recognize that the primary focus of assessment is on improving learning and teaching process. Formative assessment, often viewed as Assessment FOR Learning or Assessment AS Learning, provides students with feedback so they can judge their progress and the efficacy of their study methods. Instructors also receive feedback on student performance in order to modify and improve their teaching and assessment strategies.


An underlying principle guiding the use of assessment FOR learning is the idea that we, as instructors, are obligated to ensure that our students not only know the facts and concepts but that they know them in meaningful ways in order to be able to use that knowledge in authentic situations and to solve real-world problems. They are not only equipped with the facts, but they are also able to gather and evaluate additional information if needed. In other words, memorization is not enough; knowledge must end up in practice and doing.


Assessment AS Learning involves students in the process of looking at their learning and reflecting on their own abilities and progress. With guidance from the instructor and through focused activities, students are encouraged to think about and assess their learning. The self-assessment process is ongoing and tied to the learning outcomes. It aids students in becoming aware of how they learn, solve problems, and make decisions. Assessment AS Learning involves self-monitoring and self-evaluation which helps focus students’ efforts and encourage responsibility for their learning. Its purpose is to enhance learning through the process of writing and thinking about the learning experience.

At the end of the semester, Burger asks his students to write a one-page reflective essay describing their productive failure over the period of the course and how they grew as a result of those experiences. I have incorporated similar narrative responses in several of my courses as a means of gathering data from the students as well as a way to get students to look back and reflect on what they had learned in the course. Although I have never explicitly tried to teach my students about the "benefits" of failure, I have tried to instill in my students that when they try something new, they may meet with obstacles and frustrations (especially when trying out new teaching methods and incorporating new technologies in their teaching practice)--and that this is okay and expected to some degree. It's how we respond to these obstacles that makes the difference.   If you get on a bicycle and don't fall off you already knew how to ride and learned nothing -- it is only by falling that you learn. I also reminded my education students that according to Dewey, knowledge is formed by the process of combining experience and previous learning with ideas presented which causes a state of disequilibrium for the learner. In order to learn, we essentially must be "off-balance."

In my Educational Technology course, I incorporated a reflective blog assignment in which I asked students to reflect on what they were learning--how it related to their career goals, how they could use the new knowledge in their personal lives, how did they solved a problem or made a decision. Their classmates were to provide comments. My intent was to make their learning more authentic, to provide context.

I always had trouble trying to figure out how to grade these reflective assignments. How can you put a grade on someone's thinking? I wound up judging the level of reflection and growth over time using a holistic rubric. Burger asked his students to conclude their essays by providing their own grade on how they had grown through their failures (from 0 – meaning "I never failed" or "I learned nothing from failing" to 10 – meaning "I created and understood in profound, new ways from my failed attempts"). After reading their narratives and reflecting on their class participation, he generally awarded the grade they had suggested.

The last two paragraphs of Burger's article struck home and are worth repeating:

To my skeptical colleagues who wonder if this grading scheme can be exploited as a loophole to reward unprepared students, I remind them that we should not create policies in the academy that police students, instead we should create policies that add pedagogical value and create educational opportunity...

Beyond the subject matter contained in the 32 to 48 courses that typical undergraduates fleetingly encounter, our students’ education centers about the most important creative feat of their lives — the creation of themselves: Creating a mind enlivened by curiosity and the intellectual audacity to take risks and create new ideas, a mind that sees a world of unlimited possibilities. So we as educators and scholars should constantly be asking ourselves: Have I taught my students how to successfully fail? And if not, then: What am I waiting for?