Monday, June 30, 2008

Through the Eyes of a Child

How does a child learn? Let us look at the following examples through the eyes of a child.

Example 1


Example 2

The seven colours in a rainbow are Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red.



Example 3

Evaporation is the process through which water is converted from its liquid form to its vapor form. It is transferred from land and water masses to the atmosphere. This forms clouds and through rains, the water is referred back to the water body and land.



Sea Land

Example 4:


Give children examples from real life so they can associate better. This will not only help them understand but also remember what they have learnt.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nintendo: A Tool to Teach

A high school in Tokyo has introduced a Nintendo DS to teach English to seventh graders. The students are asked to spell out words using a plastic pen. When they get the spelling right, 'good' pops up as feedback. The children are enjoying this new method of studying. But is this because it novel or different from the norm or because it is effective? Only time will tell... But it is interesting to note that people are now trying to find innovative ways to teach. Sometimes, just one method of teaching is not sufficient to reinforce concepts taught. A combination of several learning methods must be used to ensure learning happens.

This article, Gaming and learning, with tool for young, was posted in Hindu this morning.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

An Ideal Workspace

My ideal workspace should have the following qualities:

Light: By this I mean natural light. Have you noticed how some companies are very dull because of lack of natural light. Most software companies give the impression of night all day long. (But I guess that is because they don't want their employees to realize that it is really late and you are still at office.)

Bright: The walls should be pure white or a cream. This gives a feeling of space and gives you room to think. Depressing colors(dirty blue, grays), well, depress me. The walls should generate positive energy.

Spacious: Spaciousness or at least the feeling of it is important too. Tiny cubicles (you are literally elbowing off your neighbor) are extremely putting off.

Quiet: I need to be able to 'hear' myself think. When you are trying to think of an innovative idea or close to a breakthrough it terms of a strategy, the last you want is the jarring sound of traffic.
Comfortable furniture: Cosy, comfortable furniture will keep my mind on my work.

Privacy: It is important to have your privacy. My personal space should not be invaded. At the same time, I need to be accessible to my team and them to me in return.

A Fun Place: This could be the pantry, near a water cooler/coffee vending machine, and so on. A place where you can chill and chat with your colleagues.

As an ID, the work space is really important. A good work environment inspires you to work better and opens up your mind. For the kind of work that we do, it becomes absolutely essential to have a serene environment to think and visualize. The environment can either restrict or let loose your creativity.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Designing Interactive Courses Through Decision Trees

Decision trees or branching stories are alternate paths a learner takes as a direct consequence of decision made. The outcome is different based on the choices you make. Therefore, if you attempt the exercise more than once selecting the other choices, the outcomes may be different each time. Several educational simulations use decision trees to impart skills. A few examples are Account Challenge Sales Simulation, EAP lifescape, aids awareness, and so on.

When to use decision trees?

Decision trees are used when you want learners to understand the consequence of decision-making. The design is typically at Bloom level 3 (application). Therefore, decision trees are used when you want learners to apply their skills. Decision trees can be simple or complex.

To read more, visit my original post here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Putting Theory Into Practice

Long time back, we had an interesting discussion on Malcom Knowles' theory of adult education. I have always wanted to blog this and have finally got the opportunity to do so. Malcolm Knowles was a professor of adult education and a believer of democracy. He propagated his product, self-directed learning. He believed in “helping adults learn” rather than “educate them’. (Knowles 1950: 6). During his career, he realized that he was transforming into a facilitator of learning from a teacher. We are all facilitators of learning. Instructional designers ensure that they design strategies that help adults learn.

Malcolm Knowles’ based his theory on the following assumptions:
  1. Self-concept: Adults are autonomous individuals who have a clear definition of self. This matures to help the individual transform into a self-directing human being. The adult no longer wants to be lead, he/she goes after goals set by themselves.
  2. Experience: Adults accumulate experience throughout their lives. Every adult has a set of prior experiences.
  3. Readiness to learn: Adults are ready to learn, acquire knowledge or skill to attain their goals.
  4. Orientation to learning: Adults look for information that can be applied immediately to attain their goals.
  5. Motivation to Learn: We cannot make an adult learn. We can only facilitate learning. For adults, motivation to learn is internal.
Modern practice, a how to book, discusses the role of educators in adult education. As we went through this, we realized that the life cycle was unfolding right before our eyes. Read on and you will understand what I mean. Before we go ahead, I would like to add that this is our interpretation of the theory.

Educators must:
  • Set a cooperative learning climate: Encourage learning as a continuous process.
    • ‘Friendly and informal’ learning environment
    • Flexibility
    • Prior experience
    • Enthusiasm and commitment from teachers
  • Create mechanisms for mutual planning: Identify the training needs by looking at the organization goals.
  • Arrange for a diagnosis of learner needs and interests: At Kern, we do this using learner observation and analysis. Based on the analysis results, we create a learner persona.
  • Enable the formulation of learning objectives based on the diagnosed needs and interests: The learning objectives are decided based on the learner needs and training needs.
  • Design sequential activities for achieving the objectives: Brainstorm regarding the most effective learning solution(s) that need to be employed to ensure effective training. Finalize the instructional strategy design and evaluation metrics.
  • Execute the design by selecting methods, materials, and resources: Spending learning time to get familiar with the content. Gather adequate information. Get the content dump validated and start storyboarding based on the ISD, learner persona and learning objectives.
  • Evaluate the quality of the learning experience while rediagnosing needs for further learning: First, step is learner testing where we identify whether the learner is comfortable with the course. We find out what he/she thinks about the course. Inputs gained used to modify the course. Finally, we evaluate the effective of the course using the evaluation metrics.
Let us look at how Knowles’ theory about adult education can be put to direct use. Given below are Knowles' principles and characteristics of adult learners and application at work.

Principle 1: Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
Characteristic 1: Self directed

Application at Work
  1. Conduct a thorough learner analysis by observing the learner and interviewing them. During this phase, ensure that you capture their thoughts on a particular training need identified by the management. This will help understand how they feel about it and what their motivational levels will be. Understand their needs.
  2. Conduct learning testing. Let them go through the prototype and encourage them to share their thoughts with you. What do they think about the content coverage? Would they recommend it to a colleague? How effective is it on a scale of 1-10? Analyze the response to identify the trend. Include these in the course to ensure that the loopholes are closed.
Principle 2: Experiences (including mistakes) provide the basis for learning
Characteristic 2:
Practical, Experiential Learning

Application at Work
  1. Using learner analysis, understand current skill set and prior knowledge.
  2. Allow the learner to learn through experience. Through this experience, they realize the consequences of their own decision making.
  3. Allow the learner to be the judge of their decisions before telling them what could have been more appropriate.
  4. Allow them to make mistakes as it helps in the learning process. Let them learn through their own experience.
Principle 3: Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life
Characteristic 3:
Goal-oriented, Relevancy-oriented

Application at Work
  1. Use the learner persona to identify whether you are catering to the ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ factor.
  2. Map to learning objectives every time to check whether to you are on the right track.
  3. Ensure that you provide the information that can be directly applied. Do not digress from the learning objectives.
Principle 4: Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented
Characteristic 4:
Practical, Goal-oriented

Application at Work
  1. Use problem-solution approach to show direct application. For example: For managing angry customers, rather than giving theory, show examples with responses.
  2. They are not interested in theory, but in how they can put this theory to practice.
  3. Keep in mind the learner persona and learning objectives always.
Most of what you have read is common sense. So, lets make it a practice!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What were they thinking?

What is a nursery rhyme? According to wikipedia, "A nursery rhyme is a traditional song or poem taught to young children, originally in the nursery. Learning such verse assists in the development of vocabulary, and several examples deal with rudimentary counting skills. It also encourages children to enjoy music. In addition, specific actions, motions, or dances are often associated with particular songs." Hmmm....

Let us look at a popular nursery rhyme: Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Isn't it sad that Jack and Jill ended up hurt? What are we trying to teach our children? Actually there is a thrid and a fourth verse which is not heard of.

Let us look at another: Rock a bye baby
Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
This is a tradegy! The baby falls for heaven's sake!

Another one: Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses
and all the King's men
couldn't put Humpty together again.
Must I go on?

What about Hansel and Gratel? Their own parents leave them in the woods to die. This is even worse than the witch who wants to eat them! Why would we want our children to hear such a story.

There are some really good nursery rhymes and stories that children actually learn from. For Example: Old Mc Donald had a Farm, ABCD, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe and Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty (though all these stories all build the notion that being "beautiful" is very important).

As teaching technique, nursery rhymes and stories are incredibly powerful. It grabs the attention of the children, sets free their imagination, and makes learning fun for them. I guess what was missing for the above nursery rhymes were the learning objectives. :)

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Every project must include brainstorming in its design phase. Who should be part of this brainstorming session? I think it should include the entire ID team: instructional designers, visual designers, ID reviewers, graphic designers, programmers, and if possible, SME. The saying 'Too many cooks spoil the broth' does not hold good here. In this case, 'more the merrier' applies better. Any one attached to the project can be part of the brainstorming session.

Planning for the session
  1. The project lead must assign a day and time for the brainstorming session.
  2. Send mails to the team with the content dump or raw content, the learning objectives, learner persona, and schedule for this activity.
  3. Give them three days (may vary) learning time. This is to ensure that everyone has gone through the material before they meet. Everyone will be on the same plane and this will be the foundation of the discussion.
  4. You can also break the brainstorming across a few days to ensure that it is not too much for the participants. We, typically, start with macro design brainstorming and then move to micro design or page-level brainstorming.
  5. Arrange a place where the brainstorming session will be held. Ensure that the room can accommodate all participants. You should ensure that everyone will be facing each other. This ensures active participation by all.
During the session
  1. Appoint one person as the mediator. This person can introduce the topic and write down the points on the white board.
  2. He/she must list the rules of the session. These are:
    1. Any idea is welcome. No idea will be scorned at or mocked.
    2. List down all the ideas and then discuss each one by one the pros and cons and whether it is feasible or not.
    3. Do not judge or negate anything immediately. An idea will be rejected based on the consensus of the group.
    4. Similarly, the strategy will be decided based on consensus of the group. Discussions will continue till everyone agrees to an idea.
    5. There is no limit to the number of ideas. Keep noting till no more come up.
    6. Encourage everyone to participate and share their ideas.
    7. Ensure that the conversation does not digress into other topics or a specific idea.
  3. Discuss the ideas written on the white board one by one. One by one drop the ideas that won't work. Discuss till you gain a buy in from all.

  • It helps think of various alternatives keeping in mind the learners, the learning objectives, and the project constraints.
  • It ensures the buy-in of the whole team. Everyone understands how to proceed and are on the same page. Active participation of the team ensures that they are more involved in the project (beginning to end).
  • It ensures that you do things differently each time. Your courses will be innovative.
  • It increases quality as everyone is working toward a common goal and every stage value will be added as rework will be minimal.
  • It increases the motivational level of the team. Everyone will do their best as now it is their 'baby' too.