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. 

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