Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Exercises that help reflect on gray areas

Think about this:
  1. The objective is to get your learners to design better forms. The exercise shows a form in which the user wants to change his password. The learner can add/modify elements in the form to ensure that the errors are minimized.
  2. The objective is to let the learners know that consumers are loyal to particular brands for specific reasons. The exercises makes the learners reflect on their own brand preferences and their reasons for it.
  3. The objective is to let the learners understand their personality style and their traits. The exercise requires them to respond to particular situations. Their personality traits are displayed based on their responses.
Can these kind of exercises have one correct answer? The answer is no. In most instances, the answers are bound to be subjective and/or there are several correct answers. So, do you avoid these completely? No. These exercises are extremely powerful. They make the learner think, reflect, and respond based on their experiences and knowledge.

How may times have you been told by a SME or a client that all exercises must have the right and wrong answer? I have heard this often. Why is it so important to tell the learner, 'That's correct/That's incorrect.' Everything cannot be classified under black or white. As in most cases, there is a lot of gray area. Why do we get scared of designing exercises for this area? I had an interesting discussion on twitter with @thoughts and @manishmo.
@rnarchana: All exercises must have RIGHT answers. Why this mindset? There are times when there are no right/wrong answers. The aim to make them think!
@thoughts: @rnarchana Exercises without correct answers can be an activity; perhaps not an assessment.
@rnarchana: @thoughts 1. exercises that teach/reinforce 2. exercises that assess the understanding. With quesns that have no rite ans, u cannot assess.... Just elaborated on your thought I guess. What I am trying to say is 'Activity' is a powerful learning tool too
@manishmo: @rnarchana So what do you want the learners to think (exercises w/o rite answers)? There's always a direction you are trying to push toward
@rnarchana: @manishmo Yes. Ex: Exercise that reinforces that we form perceptions based on material things (cars/clothes) is subjective; no right ans
@manishmo: @rnarchana But even in this case we want to move learners to the direction of "don't form perceptions".
@rnarchana: @manishmo Actually no. This exercise was only meant to make the learner conscious of the perceptions they make unconsciously.

This discussion encouraged me to blog this to get my thoughts on the matter together (Thanks Manish and Geetha). Further, I had this interesting discussion with Geeta (my boss and mentor). I was explaining how the SME had requested that we insert a right/wrong answer feedback even though there were none.
Me: Why does everyone assume that learners have absolutely no prior knowledge and experience that they can use to make an approriate reponse? Why do we not encourage them to think and reflect?
Geeta: This is because most SMEs and IDs still promote the educational system followed in schools. The learner is not allowed to think. They treat adult learners as K12

Why is it so important to control everything? We should start letting the learner take responsibility for his/her own learning. This does not go to say that we should avoid exercises that provide correct answers. Exercises can play one of the following roles:
  1. Exercises to teach, reinforce, and reflect on a concept
  2. Exercise that check the learner's understanding
Use a healthy mix of these in your training program. As Geeta rightly suggested, we should look at opening the learner's minds to new possibilities rather than restricting them to what we suggest is the right answer. When using exercises without right/wrong answers, remember:
  • The aim is to make the learners reflect on a concept based on their experience and knowledge. Their answer is bound to be very subjective.
  • Do not use this assuming that that will come up with the right answer that you have in mind. This may not be necessarily true.
  • Use these are teasers. The learner may get curious and conduct their own search online to get their thoughts in order or even better discuss with a peer.
  • Provide all the information that the learner may require to make an informed decision.
I am working on a really challenging project. We have included several instances where we leave the learner to come up with the answer. We encourage them to share their answers, thoughts, and responses with their peers and experts in a social networking forum.

1 comment:

Geeta Bose said...

Aptly pointed out Archie. Why should exercises have correct and incorrect answers? As the name suggests, exercises are meant to enable learners to try things out, practice, and fail safely within the learning environment. So, why burden the learner with testing his/her knowledge and understanding?

In fact, I'm also against post-assessments. In a way, these tests shift the onus of learning to learners and not to teachers. The very objective of assessing learning at this stage is flawed. At the most, post-assessments can test the "immediate or short-term memory" of learners and not long-term learning. Also, by scoring post-assessments, we are holding learners responsible for poor-learning! How ironic!

If at all, post-assessments can be a test of effectiveness for instructional designers who can measure how effectively they have delivered instructions based on the learner's performance in these assessments.

Sadly, we have a long way to go before we can convince ourselves against this "didactic" practice!