Friday, August 29, 2008

ID's Identity

My colleague, Mini, and I were having a discussion on content treatment strategies. During this discussion, we realized that our course are a level higher than the regular page turners. Why? Because page turners are edited content dumps, while in our courses, we actually take instructional design very seriously. We ensure that content treatment strategies map to the learner's needs and learning styles. Content is not displayed in the most fancy fashion but in the most effective fashion.

We avoid the content right, image left templates. These tend to be very text heavy and the image is generally a very general one, positioned there to make the slide look good. When we storyboard, we ensure that the logic for displaying content, instructional strategies are sound. It is not based on the whims and fancies of anyone. What is an ID required to do?
  • An ID must ensure that they have a learner persona in front of them always. Please map every design idea to this persona.
  • An ID must ensure that the content is held together with a common theme that the learner can relate to.
  • An ID must ensure that the instructional flow is maintained through the training program.
  • An ID must ensure that every page/slide is designed with the learner and the objective in mind.
  • An ID must ensure that quality is never compromised.
An ID is not an editor. Maintain your identity as an ID... :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Designing Effective Assessment Questions

Have you seen the following message before an assessment module?

On completion of this module, you will be awarded a certificate.

To me, this seems like the carrot stick technique to ensure that the learner takes the assessment questions. Another 'force' mechanism is disabling Next. You can only move forward if you attempt this assessment. If the learner is not motivated to take the assessment, he/she is not going to take it. He/she will just select an option randomly and move ahead.

Have you ever been told that we are designing a template for the assessment questions and therefore we can have only traditional MCQs? Or maybe you have been told that you must have 5 MCQs, 2 true or false and 3 fill in the blanks. Sheesh. Each testing point should be tested using the most effective assessment type. We have nothing against MCQs but we do have something against templates and standards that add to the project constraints. It is hard enough to create a assessments that challenge our learner without having this to contend with.

Assessment questions should be designed based on the learners and their motivation. If the motivation is high, please go ahead and use MCQs. (Though, we still believe that each testing point corresponds to an effective assessment type.) In cases where learner motivation is low, avoid traditional MCQs. According to me, fill in the blanks and true or false do not qualify as challenging questions and therefore, I will not classify them under assessment types. Let me show you some interesting examples of non-traditional assessment questions.

(Click on the images to view them clearly.)

I had a lot of fun looking for these examples. Hope you had fun reading this!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tips for K12 Courses

What things must you remember when designing K12 courses?

1. Learning is more effective when the examples are from the children's day to day experiences.
2. Repetition helps internalize the concepts taught. This is why we remember tables, alphabets, nursery rhymes. Say it over and over again. Make them practice over and over again with different examples.
3. Move from simple to complex. Ensure that when you introduce a concept you start from simple examples and then take them a level higher (complex). This move should be gradual to ensure that they are still with you.
4. Use visuals to make learning more effective and interesting. Design innovation exercises to ensure that it is fun and effective.

For example: You want to teach fifth graders proportions.

Step 1: Help them first identify the symbol ':' as proportionate to. Explain that his symbol helps make comparisons between two things. Explain that 1:4 reads as one is to four or one is proportionate to four. Have an exercise to check whether they are able read the equation correctly. For this exercise, use visuals, such as three dogs to five cats. Provide several examples to ensure internalization. Then, ask them to write out equations based on the visuals shown.

Step 2: Move them a level higher. At the nursery, there are girls and boys. For every two girls there is one boy. Write the equation. (Show visuals for this.) Then, give them a situation in which two equations need to be compared. Tina makes upma for breakfast. She typically adds two cups of water for one cup of rava. Today, she increases the quantity of rava to 2 cups. Can you complete the equation?
2 : 1 = ? : 2.

The examples should be from the learner's environment. Use names based on the nationality/location of the learner. Ensure that all items used as examples are things the learners see and recognize. For example, do not use examples such as upma for US learners. :)

Education by Emile Durkheim

Durkheim, considered to be one of the founding fathers of sociology, taught pedagogy all his life to primary school teachers. According to him, education is a social fact. He believed that the focus of education is depend on the society's notion of an ideal man. He says, ' For each society, education is the means by which it secures, in the children, the essential conditions of its own existence'. Interesting way of describing what education is.

Durkheim defines education as -
Education is the influence exercised by adult generations on those that are not yet ready for social life. Its object is to develop in the child a certain number of physical , intellectual and moral states which are demanded of him by both the political society as a whole and the special milieu for which he is specifically destined.

The definition is a clear functionalist outlook. He saw education as a tool for socialization of the youth. There are two beings: individual being and social being. Education plays an important role in molding the social being. This covers religions, beliefs, moral beliefs, and traditions.

All this sounds very traditional and repressive? Well, let me tell you that Durkheim's time was around in the 18th century. Now, all this will make more sense. But it is interesting thought that education is defined by the society we live in.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


What are schedules?

According to me and my work, schedules are systematic delegation of work and expected time within which this work has to be delivered. Schedules let everyone know when they are expected to start and finish a task. This includes ID team, development team, decision-makers, SMEs, clients, and so on. The schedule is signed off by the client to ensure that the dates suit them also.

Why are schedules important?

  1. Everyone is clued in on when their intervention is required. Clients and SMEs are very clear on intervention points for clarifications and sign offs.
  2. Schedules ensure that you do not spend extra time on a task that requires less time. Extra time on a task would mean you are eating into the company revenues. It also means that you are wasting resources that could be moved to another task.
  3. The actual execution happens in a smooth and systematic function. There is no chaos and no ‘sleep time’. Sleep time, according to me, are those intervals in a projects where we are waiting for the next task to happen to continue with our work. The task could be feedback, response to clarifications or sign off. The projects goes to sleep till the other team wakes up and completes their task. Then, after ages, the project moves and everyone else has moved on.
  4. When a schedule is drawn and shared at the beginning of a project, you get an opportunity to plan your time and resources in advance.
  5. You have a clear plan that you can analyze later to check where and what the delays were. This will help you plan better for future projects.
How to create a schedule?
  • Always ensure that you understand the requirements clearly.
  • If you have an outer deadline, backtrack. Start from the end date and then reach the start date.
  • Based on you team’s strengths and weakness or availability, assign time for very task.
  • Ensure that you keep five days buffer time at the end of the project. This will take care of any surprises you may encounter during execution.
  • Ensure that you keep in mind the number of people and person days (how may days/weeks a person will spend on that particular task).
  • Always have reasonable timelines. Do not over or underestimate yourself and your team.
  • Take into account reviews, fixes, edits, audits and so on while creating the schedule.
A clear plan will help your team understand what is expected of them. They also get to see how they fit in the whole picture and how their contribution adds values (sorry about the functionalist thought :P). Even if you miss the deadline, if you have schedule in place, the delay will be short. But I should also add that if individuals just do not respect deadlines, nothing will work…

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

ADDIE - The most popular ISD

ADDIE is a popular instructional systems design (ISD). I say popular because it is the most discussed about methodology and also several organization still follow this methodology (with small modifications). I thought I must quickly capture what ADDIE is all about. So, here goes...

ADDIE model was designed to solve training problems. It was first established by the department of defense. It became popular after World War II.

Analysis phase is typically the first phase in the e-learning lifecycle. It involves analyzing the business goals, content for the course, and the learner’s prior skills. Analysis phase checks the quality of your course. It guides the designer while creating learning objectives. This phase involves the identification of the people and the deliverables for each of the phases. The areas addressed in this phase are:
  • Goals and objectives of this course
  • Learners and their prior knowledge
  • Training gaps
  • Available resources
Design Phase includes three steps:
  1. Planning a design strategy
  2. Selecting a format for the course
  3. Creating a design document
The planning team, such as the manager and Instruction designer (ID), develops the project plan that guides each of the e-learning teams in the various phases of their activity. The output for this phase is the e-learning project plan and the design document. This plan provides guidance during the various stages of the e-learning process. The areas addressed in this phase are:
  • Organization of content
  • Presentation of ideas to learners
  • Delivery format
  • Types of activities/exercises

Development phase involves the actual creation of course or storyboarding. Information collected in the analysis and design phase is used to create the course. The design document plays a crucial role when the course is being storyboarded. A prototype is created to check for efficiency. Based on efficiency of the prototype, the course material is developed. When the first draft is complete, the course undergoes several review cycles to ensure accuracy of content. Typically, a pilot session is conducted on a few learners to test the efficacy of the course. The activities that are covered in this phase include:

  • Develop instructions
  • Create a prototype
  • Develop the course material
  • Conduct a review
  • Run a pilot session
Implementation phase indicates the completion of course creation. The course is launched into the market based on the mode of delivery (CDs, web, PDA, etc.) decided by the planning team. The learners take the course. Learners and instructors are notified about the launch of the course. The activities that are covered in this phase include:
  • Schedule the courses, enroll learners, and reserve on-site and off-site classrooms
  • Notify learners and their supervisors about the course
Evaluation phase of e-learning tests the efficacy of the course. It judges/evaluates whether the course was successful and whether it helped the learners reach their end goal. The Evaluation specialist carries out the evaluation along with the instruction designer and the interface designer. Based on the feedback from the student assessment and instructors, the e-learning course material can be revised. The questions that are answered during this phase are:
  • Do learners like the course?
  • Did learners achieve the learning objectives at the end of the course?
  • Did the course help the company achieve its business goals?
  • Did your course bring about the desired behavioral change?

Many e-learning organizations have their e-learning life cycle that best suits them. ADDIE is the most popular approach. Many suggest that ADDIE is time consuming and very systematic. The focus invariably moves away from the learner. Some suggest that ADDIE involves many rounds of rework and documentation and creativity suffers.

Successive approximation is another alternative suggested by Michael Allen. This process involves creating a functional prototype that would be tested on typical learners. It is known to be an iterative process that involves less rework.

At Kern, we have our own DLC that is learner-centered. This process has been carefully designed to ensure that the DLC is iterative. At every phase, checks and value additions happen. It works well for us as every Kernite believes in this methodology.

Dick and Carey Model

Walter Dick and Lou Carey created a systematic process for designing instruction. This theory borrowed from behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist schools. Dick and Carey were influenced by Robert Gagne’s conditions of learning. The basic assumptions based on which this theory was proposed are:
  • The relationship between instruction material-learning is similar to that of stimulus-response.
  • The sub-skills that have to be mastered should be identified.
  • Acquiring these sub-skills result in the intended behavior.
Let us look at the methodology in detail. The methodology suggests:
  • Design instructions based on the reductionist model (breaking down into smaller components).
  • Use appropriate conditions of learning.
  • Use an Instructional System Design, a systems approach for designing instruction.
  • Apply across a wide range: K12 – business – government and novice - expert
Dick and Carey outline a methodical design and development process. A system, according to Dick and Carey, is technically a set of interrelated parts, all of which work together toward a defined goal. This model is called systems approach because it contains components that are related to each other. Each component has an input and an output. Dick and Carey listed the following reasons for advocating a systems approach:
  • The focus is on what the learner is required to know/do by the end of the course.
  • Each component in the system is linked carefully to the other.
  • This process is empirical and replicable.

The steps proposed in the ISD refer to a set of procedures and techniques that an instructional designer should employ to design, develop, evaluate, and revise instruction. The steps proposed by Dick and Carey in ISD are given below.

Identify the Instructional Goals. Instructional designers should identify what the learner should be able to do at the end of the course. The instructional goal is set based on needs assessment and learner requirements.

Conduct Instructional Analysis
. Instructional designers should identify the instructional steps and sub-steps that will help the learner attain his/her goal. Instructional analysis also involves analyzing the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that the learners are required to possess to begin instruction. These are known as entry behaviors.

Analyze Learners and Contexts
. Learners and contexts in which they will learn are analyzed in parallel while the instructional analysis is in progress. Learners’ prior skills, preferences, and attitudes are determined. The instructional setting in which the new skills will be used is also analyzed. Information gained at this stage is crucial as it decides the instructional strategy.

Write Performance Objectives
. Based in the instructional analysis, findings of entry behaviors, and prior skills, the learning objectives are listed. Skills to be acquired, learning conditions, and criteria for successful performance will be considered while framing the objectives.

Develop Assessment Instruments
. Based on the performance objectives, the instructional designers should develop the assessments. These assessments will measure the learners’ progress through the course. The assessments are framed to bring out the behavior defined in the objectives.

Develop Instructional Strategy
. Based on the information gained from the previous steps, instructional designers are required to identify the instructional strategy. This strategy will cover the following areas:
  1. pre-instructional activities
  2. presentation of information
  3. practice and feedback
  4. testing and follow-through activities
The strategy will be based on the current learning theories and research, content to be taught, learners’ characteristics, and medium through which instruction will be delivered.

Develop and Select Instructional Materials. Instructional strategy is used to produce instruction. This done using learner manuals, tests, and instructional materials such as instructor’s guides, student modules, videotapes, computer-based multimedia formats, and web pages for distance learning. Original materials will be created based on the content being taught, availability of existing relevant materials, and other resources available. Based on a set of criteria, existing materials are selected.

Design and Conduct Formative Evaluation of Instruction. Several evaluations are conducted to improve instruction. Three types of evaluation are one-to-one evaluation, small-group evaluation, and field evaluation. These provide insights into how the instruction can be improved.

Revise Instruction. The findings from formative evaluation are used to revise the instruction. The obstacles in learning are related to the specific deficiencies/drawbacks in the instruction. Instructional analysis, assumptions about entry behaviors and learner profile is validated again. The learning objective, assessments, and instructional strategy are modified as per these findings.

Design and Conduct Summative Evaluation. After revision of instruction, evaluation of the absolute worth of the instruction takes place.

This model was mainly designed for a classroom setting in educational institutions. Is Dick and Carey model used today? Yes, it is in the form of ADDIE. Many believe that ADDIE evolved from Dick and Carey model. Will blog on ADDIE soon...