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!

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