Thursday, December 16, 2010

Everything about ILT

How can an ID add value to an ILT?

ILT requires as much instructional design as an eLearning does. Even if PPT is the backbone of your presentation, an ID can do a lot. Make sure the course is real.
  • Give your slides character: You can do this using a template or interface for your presentation. Define a theme for your ILT. Think of adjectives (vibrant, cool, fun, strong) that help define the character of your ILT. 
  • Visual Look and Feel: Use placeholders for images. Rather than screens than look flat, introduce elements that give more depth to your slides. 
  • Instructional Flow: Keep a very close eye on the visual flow. Since ILTs are instructor-led, we tend to take the instructional flow for granted. Transitions, logical breaks, activities need to be positioned well. 
  • Mix it up: Ensure that your program does not over-use a single method of interaction. For example: Do you over-use role plays. Role plays can be very distracting and can go on a tangent. Also, too much of it will be an over kill. Use a healthy mix of role plays, games, group activities, debates, quizzes, and so on. 
  • Readable and useful information: Keep only the necessary information on screen. Avoid too much text. Otherwise, the learner will read it rather than listen to your instructor. 
  • Planning: Ensure that you set time for every topic, activity and break. This will ensure that the topics are well spaced out and conducted in a disciplined manner. 
  • Interact with the SME: If the SME dumps information, do not accept. Push them to understand that the key goal is to help the learner learn. Ask them "What will the learner do with this information?" Avoid theoretical information. Simplify to help the learner understand the crux. 
  • Interact with the trainer: Ensure that you give all the information - learner profile and mix, your expectations, client's expectations - that the trainer needs to deliver it the way you planned it in your head. Ensure that you are there to answer any queries about the learners and the program. If required, connect the trainer to the SME to ensure clearer understanding of complex topics. 
  • Pilot: Insist on a pilot with atleast 10 learners. Attend the session and see how the learners react. Capture feedback and plug it into your course. Keep a gap of at least 10 days before the training goes live. Pilots are useless if you are going to have the first session the very next day.
How do you know that you have selected the right SME?

  • Collaborative: You want to work with SMEs who are open to discussion and collaborative. Avoid working with SMEs who stuff information down your throat (easier said that done, agreed.) Be tougher if required. Let them know that if you are not convinced, it won't go in the program. 
  • Availability: You want to work with SMEs who have the time to interact with you and revise the content as many times as is required to make it work. Avoid SMEs who are doing too many things at a time. Chances are that you will get a half-baked product or work that you cannot revise because he is never available. 
  • Timelines: Your SMEs should stick to the timelines set. It is important that they understand that you are working as per a schedule. 
  • Learner-centric: When the SME writes content based on the learners, you know you have hit jackpot! The SME has to keep in mind the end objective while writing a content. Let's face it is easier to write a book than write content for a specific audience. It requires a high level of customization. You need to understand their world and realities to connect with them. If your SME gets this, you have a crucial ingredient for a great program.
  • Right attitude: I have heard SMEs say "There is no way the learner will do this." Well, its our job to encourage them to see the value in it and show them how they can do this. Let us do everything we can make him see this. If we don't believe in it, how can we make the learners believe in it. If something radical needs to be done, we want the SME with the right attitude around. We want a SME who believes that iterations are part and parcel of good work.
What makes a good trainer?

  • Asks the right questions: I was surprised when a trainer called me and said "Please tell me about everything about the learners." After I finished, he actually said "I wish I were part of the contextual inquiry, it really helps understand the people better." This is exactly how you want your trainers to start. Trainers must understand that the central point of the training are the learners and not the content. 
  • Prepares well in advance: If you get a call at 10:00 in the night and trainer says, "I am unable to view the activity page." You have every reason to panic. Trainers must spend necessary time preparing for the training. I have heard trainers say "It's a piece of cake. I have been doing this all my life." You may be confident about the domain, but you have to spend time preparing for your session. 
  • Reliable: You don't want your trainer disappearing a few days before training. Imagine you are trying to reach him and his phone is switched off! You need reliable trainers who will reply promptly to mails and answer or return your calls. The trainers should have a calendar that is handy to check availability of dates. You do not want to work with trainers who are clueless or disorganized. 
  • Stick to the process: When you have training programs in four different zones of the country and have to train 400 people, you want to ensure that the trainers stick to the process. The training has to be uniform to a large extent. Trainers must not skip important topics or activities because of lack of time. 
  • Timing: It is important for trainers to stick to time allotted for each topic. I have come across trainers who spend ages on the first few topics and run through the rest. They have to space it out well. 
  • Judge learner's reactions: I had an opportunity to witness a veteran trainer in action last year. He always had his finger on the pulse. He observed the learner's reactions closely. When he realized that interest level was dwindling, he quickly moved to a light or interesting activity to charge them up. It is important for the trainer to understand what the audience needs at that point in time. 
  • Respect the learners: I also happened to witness a trainer reprimand a learner for not getting it right. Let us understand that if the learner is not doing it right, it is our fault and not theirs. We are not teaching it right. 
    • Feedback should be specific to the incident and not to the learner. If you pick on the learner, your audience is going to turn against you. I have seen this happen.
    • Don't talk down to the learner. You are not teaching them something. You are just facilitating learning. You are helping them explore concepts for themselves. You really don't know more than them. If you think you do, they will do their best to prove you wrong.
    • Stay out of their personal space. Do not lean into them and stand uncomfortably close to the learner. Do not force them to answer your question thinking you are encouraging them to talk. They will feel cornered.
  • Keep the energy levels high: If the trainer is sloppy and drained, the learners will not listen. There are trainers who just make you want to listen to them because they have that energy reverberating through them.
  • Involve the learners: A good trainer makes the learning come from the learner. He only guides them to reach the possible answers. The learners feels like he has discovered the points himself. the trainer keeps an open mind to other solutions and acknowledges them. Give the learners the power and make them feel good. 
  • If you don't know, say you don't know: I have heard trainers laugh about how they say they will get back to the query and evade it completely. Hello! Learners/students recognize this trick. They will respect you more if you say you don't know and will have to check. Also, ensure that you do get back to them later. 
What makes a good client?
Clients who take an active role in the training are definitely great to work with. We had four top level individuals attend pilot sessions. The learners felt good that they were being looked after and we had tremendous respect for these individuals because they truly cared. You want to work with people who genuinely seek the feedback of the learners and share it with you. Clients must ensure that venue is suitable for training and everything is available for the training to progress smoothly.

I am sure there is a lot more we can add to my lists. Please feel free to do so. (I have to stop somewhere! :))

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Designing Product Training - Challenges and Solutions

About the project: We had to design an induction-product training for employees of a global bank. We had to share the history of the bank and share information about the products.

The challenges:
  1. The learner profile was diverse. We had people who had varied roles and experience. The course had to cater to the needs of a new joinee and also cater to the needs of an existing employee who has moved to a new vertical. 
  2. It was essential for the learners to not only know about the products in their vertical, but also to understand what other products the bank had to offer. While the learner is interested in understanding the products that he/she is going to deal with, why would he/she be interested in learning about the other products? The motivation to read about their products was high and the motivation to read about other products was low.
  3. The learners had to take other trainings along with this one. Therefore, 'the what is in it for me' had to be clear enough. We had SMEs sharing ocean of information. An overdose of information will kill any motivation to learn.
  4. Information had to be readily accessible. Interest levels for different topics were varied. 
  5. Through learner analysis, we knew that most people did not absorb anything during inductions and mostly learnt things on the job. 
The solutions:
  1. Since the learner profile was diverse, we ensured that product information was available a click away. Therefore, the learner can select the topics that interest them first and check the others later. 
  2. It was important to show the relevance. We had to make the learners understand why they needed to know about credit cards even if they belonged to investments. How did we do this? We told them: You are the face of the bank for your customer. Your customer sees you as the one-point contact with the bank. Therefore, if he has any queries about the bank or its products, he will ask you. In this situation, how would it look if you didn't have an answer. Wouldn't you rather be sure, confident, and helpful? We started each topic with a gain attention where a person is stuck in an embarrassing situation where he/she couldn't answer a simple query.  
  3. Our strategy was a simple one - customer-centricity. We did not list features, plans, tariffs, blah blah blah. We shared scenarios of real customers and showed them how they benefit from the product. We filtered information and ensured that only the most important information was covered in this section. We had the detailed product training for phase 2. Therefore, there was no need to include everything in this course. We ensured that we identified a common structure for all products and shared similar information. The main idea was - What kind of questions will customers ask you? And, how can you answer these?
  4. We ensured that information was available upfront. The learner can explore which ever topic she wishes from the menu page. We also ensured that the topics were relatively short, say 7-10 minutes duration. To keep the interest levels high, the testing points were also designed as customer queries.
  5. Inductions can be overwhelming for new joinees. They think they have a lot to learn and no context to learn it in. How will he remember which product to suggest if he doesn't understand the context? We defined the context right at the beginning to ensure that they absorb the information.  
With this strategy, what the ID was doing was simplifying the information to make it easier to read and understand. Imagine you have PPT with a list of products and its features and you need to show this from the customer's point of view and make it interesting and easy to read. It was a challenge which we thoroughly enjoyed. Do you have similar experiences of tackling Product Training or Inductions differently? If yes, I would loved to hear them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Which feature do I add on the learner interface?

I was reading this articles posted by Geeta, NO Next and Back Buttons on Learnability Matters. It was great reading and reminiscing the experience of designing the course on 'Dealing with Conflict Management.' At Kern, we give a lot of importance to user and learning experience. How you ask? Let me ask you a question.

How do you decide what goes on the learner interface?
A. We use the basic buttons/features: Next, Back, Pause/Play, Audio Mute, References, Glossary
B. We decide based on the learner profile and the need for features

If your answer is A: That's incorrect! (Love telling that to the learner, but hate having to read it ourselves?) Why? Because there is no such thing called "basic" buttons. Focus on learning experiences rather than adding features. Think about it. Who says that these are the basic or the most essential buttons that your learner needs to navigate through the course? We assume this to be the case. Do a really small experiment. Take a course and test it on your learners. See which buttons they use and why. You will observe that they will not use the buttons you thought were essential. And what's worse, they may look for other features that you have not included. 

The idea is not to undermine the importance of features provided in a course. But, to ensure that you integrate the right set of features in your package. Why give the learner features he will not use? Why miss out a feature that he/she is likely to search for? What do we do to get the right set of features?

1. Do a learner analysis: Understand the following:
a. What's their typical day like?
b. Have they taken an eLearning course before? How comfortable are they with the computer?
c. If they are expected to take the course during their work hours, what are the possible distractions in the learning environment?

2. Based on the profile and instructional design strategy, pick the features that are essential for the course. For example, if your course is an audio-dependent course, do not add a mute button. Instead add a pause button. If your learner is not fluent with the language, avoid transcripts.

3. Ask why and not why not. When discussing the features that you want to add on the learner interface, always ask your team why the learner needs a particular feature. In most cases, we say 'why not; let's just include this. This is bound to be useful'. If there is a doubt, keep it out. You can always add the feature later if your learner really needs it.

4. Do not design for edge cases and what ifs: Design for your primary user and for second visits. Do not design for edge cases and try to accommodate the what if scenarios.

5. Keep it simple. You cannot go wrong if you keep it simple. It is an extremely challenging task to just keep it simple. But it ensures that learner experience is not hindered due to clutter and unnecessary choices.

6. Test your course on sample learners: Test your course on atleast 5-7 learners. If you do not have access to them, test it on people who have a similar profile. This really helps understand how your learners will react to your course. It will give you a first hand experience of what their experience is like.

It is important to understand what the learners need than to just populate the learner interface with the regular features. Are we forcing actions that the learner does not need? Learner interface, navigation in particular, plays a crucial role in making your training program a success. So, think it out well. Spend some time getting it right.    

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Choices - Too Many Does Not Help Anyone

What is the point of choices if they do not work for you?

This is the new tagline for the latest commercial of Monster India, a online job search site. The ads are funny and the message is really strong. Whenever I view this ad, I am reminded of how true this is in the learning arena also. 

Do we give our learner too much of content and expect them to choose what will suit them? I remember Geeta telling me that a client wanted a compliance training program that can cater to everyone in the organization. During my early years, Geeta drilled it into my head (and I am so glad for that) that we cannot have a single solution for EVERYONE. Compliance (for example) means different things for different people. For some, say the security staff, it may mean application-based knowledge while it may mean good to know information for certain roles.  

Learning paths can also be confused as categorization of content. Content chunking as individual/independent topics is very different from learning paths. Learning paths are customized based on rationale such as age, role, gender, need, and so on. But giving learners access to different topics and expecting them to pick out what ever they want may become a case of giving them too many choices. 

How about features on the interface of an eLearning application? Do we add unnecessary features for the learners to use? Do we even stop to think whether it adds real value to the course and whether people truly use these features? We automatically include features that we think must be included such as audio, mute, transcripts, glossary, references, etc. 

The bottom line is the more unnecessary choices you give to the learner, the more confused he is going to be. He will not be able to figure out to do with them. Will leave you to think about this with this piece from The Paradox of Choice - Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz

About six years ago, I went to the GAP to buy a pair of jeans. I tend to wear my jeans until they're falling apart, so it had been quite a while since my last purchase. A nice young salesperson walked up to me and asked if she could help. 
"I want a pair of jeans - 32-28," I said
"Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy?" she replied."Do you want them stone washed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?"
I was stunned. A moment or two later I spluttered out something like, "I just want regular jeans. You know, the kind that used to be the only kind." I turned out she didn't know, but after consulting one of her older colleagues, she was able to figure out what "regular" jeans used to be, and she pointed me in the right direction. 
The jeans I chose turned out fine, but it occurred to me that day that buying a pair of pants should not be a daylong project. By creating all these options, the store undoubtedly had done a favor for customers with varied tastes and body types. However, by vastly expanding the range of choices, they had also created a new problem that needed to be solved. Before these options were available,, a buyer like myself had to settle for an imperfect fit, but at least purchasing jeans was a five-minute affair. Now it was a complex decision in which I was forced to invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread.   

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Thoughts on Geetha Krishnan's session on Learning and Technology

I had this great opportunity of being at the right place, at the right time. What am I referring to? I got an opportunity to attend Geetha Krishnan's session at Kern during my one week long visit to Hyderabad. Geetha conducted a dynamite session where he introduced teasers that made us to think about several aspects of learning and technology. You can read (must read, actually) what was discussed during the session here. Now, given below are the truths and my response to these. 

1. Learner's real world is full of distractions.
Do we really assume that the we have the learner's undivided attention? We sure do. We think we have designed an absolutely compelling, thought provoking, visually appealing training program that will glue the learners to their seats. Keeping our massive egos aside, let us accept the truth. For the learner, this is 'just another training program.' There I have said it! They will do any or all of the following as they take your training program - take calls, chat, check their mails, scratch their head, think about what they are going to eat for dinner, talk to a colleague, wonder how long your training program is going to last, and so on. Think about it. We have done all these and more when we were in school/college. Why should our learners be any different? So, what can we do?
  1. Take your content dump and attack it with a butcher's knife. Chop out all the unnecessary things, slice out extra information, keep information that is directly linked to the learning objectives.
  2. Ensure that you keep your course as close to the learner's reality as possible. Why? Because this increases their chances of remembering it. During the session, Geetha mentioned that it is important that the content is 'familiar to the learner' but not 'obvious to the learner.' Don't teach him things he already knows. But, ensure that what you teach him is very close to his world. 
  3. Design the course keeping in mind the learner's work and work environment. For example, we had to design training on grooming and personality development for sales executives of a retail store. They had to stop everything they did to attend to a customer. Therefore, we designed really short learning nuggets for them. On the other hand, in a very recent project, we were told that the learner will take this training program in the first three months of joining. First three months are totally dedicated to training, therefore, we know for sure that they will not be interrupted by customers.
  4. The advantage of eLearning is that they can revisit it whenever they want to. Therefore, do not expect them to remember everything. Ensure that the most important information registers. 
  5. Strike an emotional chord. The higher the impact of training, the more interested they are going to be. 
  6. Understand them before you design for them. Find out what makes them tick, what inspires them. During the session, Geetha Krishnan mentioned that he was not a big fan of usability testing as people tell you what you want to hear. I think any form of testing is an attempt in the right direction. Whether controlled or not, you are making an attempt to design for your learner. And if the interviews are conducted right, people are going to give you valuable information. 
2. Learners in eLearning are quasi-customers
First and foremost, I think it is great if teams truly design eLearning based on mental models of the learners. In most cases, it is typically the mental models of clients and IDs (or their bosses) that the team keeps in mind. Learner diversities can be kept in mind by doing extensive research during learner analysis. At Kern, we do contextual inquiry, mystery shopping (for sales related roles), interviews, observations, and secondary research to understand who our learners truly are. Based on the learner profiles, we also create learner personae if we see contradictory or a variety of prominent traits and characteristics. While I agree, that a trainer in a classroom has 30 participants in front of him and he needs to cater to different mindsets. I don't think this is any less true in online training. Having said that, I must accept that I have had a chance to meet and talk to learners in 90% of my projects. Some others are just not as lucky. 

Also, I have attended training programs where the trainers have a very sketchy idea of who their participants are. They gauge the learner's reaction for half the day and then change their training style to meet the learner's needs. While it is great that these trainers think on their feet and quickly undo any damage done, I think half a day is crucial and if you don't make the right impression immediately, you have already been judged. Also, in most classroom sessions, you have only two days and therefore, half a day is a long time. Understanding who the learners are and how they will react to your program has to happen much earlier.

3. Faculty considers technology to be their enemy.
Why? Because they are worried that technology will make them redundant? They think that they may not be able to provide ALL the information a learner may need? They are scared of parting with 'their' content? Your guess is as good as mine. Another interesting thought that jumped to my mind is... why do ID's love technology? Because it gives them more control? It gives an opportunity to try fancy things or do things differently?

4. If technology helps people learn, what do ID's do?
As Geetha mentions, technology is only the 'way' a training module is delivered and ID the 'how'. Technology plays a crucial role in the learning experiences and therefore, must be selected carefully. Instead of the client telling you that they need an eLearning course, it should be derived from the learner's needs. It is not about using the latest technology to awe the learner. It is about using the most effective technology to deliver your training. Remember the technology that inspires you, may just scare your learner off. For a project, we wanted to introduce web 2.0 tools to encourage discussion and informal learning. But, during concept testing, we realized that our learners were not comfortable sharing their opinions out in the open. Therefore, technology must be decided based on the learner's needs/attitudes.

This doesn't mean that we continue doing things the way we have been doing for ages. If we do not explore newer technology, how will we know the learner's reaction to it? Ensure that you do your research well, involve your learners, seek their feedback/opinion regularly. Geetha mentions that faculty love their content most. Do IDs love their technology and tools most? What do you think?

5. Why are marketing and learning the first two industries to explore technologies?
I do not think these industries are insecure. I believe they are early adopters and constant learners. From the learning industry's perspective, it is necessary to explore technology to know whether this will excite the learners, reduce drop out rates, engage them further, make learning more entwined with their work. I think it is important to add newer ways of delivering content to the already existing basket. You can pick from wider range of choices based on your learner's needs and your client's budget. I don't believe that a technology will replace another. I am reminded of this point that Geetha Krishnan brought up - Informal learning and networking will kill eLearning. While I agree that we can not design/control/measure informal learning, I don't believe that eLearning is going to die. Yes, eLearning as we have seen it or understand it, may cease to exist. But, it is not going to die. Secondly, Kern does not believe that eLearning is the only solution. While eLearning is our forte, we do understand that other forms of delivery may just be the answer to our learner's needs. This, I think, is the mark of a learning solutions company.  Informal learning is important. It has always existed. In online training, informal learning can ensure that the learner get an opportunity to share their thoughts and reach out to a wider audience. Having said that, informal learning will continue to take place even if you do not design avenues for it.

6. Adult learners hate eLearning, why?
 I think adult learners hate training, period. It doesn't matter if it is eLearning or classroom training. When delivered at the wrong time to the wrong people, this is the response we are going to get. Discourage clients from implementing 'one size fits all' training programs. Encourage them to understand importance of customization and relevance to learners. Geetha opened my eyes to a very valid point. We teach within a very specific context and this context is typically true for that organization only. But when we design training for our clients, we try and ensure that it meets their organization objectives also. Training vs education is an interesting discussion. I think training meets an immediate need and education a larger need (which may not be obvious to the learner).

7. Training happens at transition points.
Training happens on a verge of a role change. This is why training is necessarily specific to the organization and this immediate need to ensure that they adjust well and quickly. 

Geetha Krishnan also asked why people give so much importance to networking. I think it is the basic social need to be known and to connect. People want to share common experiences and find out what others are up to.

Finally, is learning open-source? This is question Geetha left us to chew on as he ended his session. It left several more queries in my head and I am not sure if I am closer to an answer. Help me out, guys. Learning is open source. Everything is available on the Internet, on the job, and in the social interactions. Learning is also very personal to the learner. He draws his own inferences from the training based on his experiences, attitudes and his motivations or immediate need.

Learning is open source today when you involve the learner in design, development, and implementation process. They have a say in what they are going to learn. They share their opinions and feedback. They have an opportunity to approve/disapprove. They have an opportunity to be more in control of what they learn.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Grays in Learning

I was reading Donald Clark's latest post on Funny Exam Answers. I found the Neils Bohr's incident particularly interesting. Read the post to understand what I am referring to. This had me thinking.

  • Do we always assume that there is only one way to do something or one right answer?
  • When we design assessments, do we fail to take into consideration that there may be more than one right answer?
  • Do we ever consider that the subject we are dealing with may have gray areas and is not necessarily black and white?
  • Do we take into account the fact that there are several variables in a real situation? Are we making it too simplistic and therefore, unusable because we fail to include the various permutations and combination that exist in real life?
  • Do we restrict our learner's imagination and insult their experience by giving them multiple choice questions that keep in mind only one aspect of real life?
  • Do we given them type in answers and then reprimand them for getting a spelling wrong or for not writing things the way we taught them?
I remember an incident from my college days. My English teacher would recite a poetry and would ask us to interpret the meaning of a verse. I would always wonder that there are several interpretations that can be drawn out from poetry. It all depends on the way you look at it. Most of the times, we are going to have different people interpreting different things and very seldom there is one right answer. Also, I think we want our learner to think of several situations. They should be able to apply what they have learnt in different contexts using their discretion, knowledge, and experience. We do not want to make all learners similar by expecting them to behave in the exact same fashion. We want to encourage them to think and make the right choices. Read another post that I had written some time back on Exercises that help reflect on gray areas.

Recently, we developed a small learning nugget on understanding your consumers and positioning a product. This nugget was meant as a refresher for an ILT program. The objective was very clear. The learner should be able to apply what he learnt during the ILT. He should be able to observe the farmer and his realities, identify what type of consumer this is and position a product accordingly. This was the learner's first experience to eLearning. During Learner testing, we realized that they wanted much more. They wanted more cases, they wanted to compare farmers, they wanted more variable factors and increase in complexity. Simplicity is fine, but pointless when it fails to capture the real influencing factors. The common misconception may as well be that simplicity means fewer variables. What I now understand is that multiple variable factors is far more realistic. So is it about simplicity vs. reality? Are we trying to equip the learners to deal with what is real or are we massaging their egos that giving them easy stuff? That's the question that needs to be answered.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Help L&D Transition to T&D

I was reading 'Is it a dead-end for L&D professionals?' thoughts shared by Mathew Kuruvilla. In August, I had blogged on 8 Tips for the Training Department, but after reading this post I got an opportunity to understand things from the other side of the table. Mathew mentions:

“Unless L&D professionals evolve to a more strategic role in the organization, it’s going to be dead end for them. L&D will always be treated as a support function to HR.”

If you are just filling in the training calender with courses no one needs, it is surely a dead end for these L&D professionals. When you read Mathew's thoughts, you will know exactly what the L&D needs to do to ensure that move to a more strategic role. What I am more interested is how can learning consultants help make this transition from L&D to T&D (Talent and Development)? What are the challenges that learning consultants face? How can these be overcome? Let us take this one at a time.

How can learning consultants help L&D transition to T&D?
For every project, start with a contextual inquiry. I have seen that contextual inquiry gives you a wider access into the organization. It gives a clear picture as to what gaps exist and these gaps may not necessarily be training related. We have suggested process changes, structural changes, training, and so on to address these gaps. Assessment centers also help the L&D departments understand the existing competencies and the areas of focus (if any). This will help identify the key needs to help the employees grow.

What I truly appreciate in Mathew's interview was his 3-E mechanism: Education, Exposure, and Experience. This truly helps the employee grow in a more holistic fashion. Most times, we end up giving extra attention to just one of these aspects. These make the person who they are and therefore, it is important to understand this. Most L&D professionals consider their employees as a 'clean slate'. I have often heard my cousin from the IT industry grumble that he needs to take a compliance course every year because of a US law. He mentioned that the scenarios are tweaked but the same thing is presented year after year. Imagine the effect of this on motivation! Why not have a a simple check to ensure that the person still remembers what was taught. It is less painful for the employee and we have done our job of keeping the US government happy.

The crux of the matter is that training decisions have to be strategic decisions. How will the employees benefit from this? Do they really need it? What am I hoping to achieve? If only more L&D professionals think like Mathew does.

What are the challenges that learning consultants face? How can these be overcome?
The article touches on the challenges that L&D professionals face. But what challenges do learning consultants face?
1. We are treated more like vendors who execute training rather than consultants who provide suggestions. We know our work best and that's why we do it. Make your opinions count. Make them trust you to make the right suggestions. Be extremely transparent. Don't think about your pocket, think about success. Work as an extended team.
2. We do not have access to the real learners. If your clients trust you, they will open the doors and give you all the access you need. If they know why you are suggesting a particular task, they will understand that you have only their interests at heart.
3. Clients underestimate the importance of training. Give them holistic learning, not just training. Support them while they implement the training. Give them ideas and solutions to make learning a habit, to encourage transfer of knowledge. Your task does not end with implementation. You are an extended team that supports them when they need it. You do your work right and your clients will see the difference for themselves.

Can we really help L&D professionals make this transition to T&D role? Are you going to stand by and watch them make this transition or are you going to make your presence and importance felt by helping them? I am quite sure there is a lot more to this. Please add to this or share your thoughts or critique mine.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Working with the Client, not for Them

I thought this video was very funny. I get the joke, seriously, I do! But what really gets to me is that most us may be working this way. I wish the designer had given an opinion, made a case for himself, suggested why certain things work and certain things don't. WAKE UP, man! As a designer, your job is not to create SOMETHING for the client. You job is to understand what your client wants, what is the goal of the project and then give your expert suggestions. They have hired you because you are an expert at what you do.

In training, keep the learning goal and the learner as the focus. Back up your suggestions with logic for why it would work and why it wouldn't. Don't just give in because finally the client is bound to be disappointed with your work. Your work is to find out what will truly work and ensure that the client gets that. If they are still insistent, let them know you are not happy about it but will do as is suggested. They will treat you as an expert. They will ask you for your opinion. Why?

  1. They trust you are looking out for the good of the company. They realize that you are trying to do your job right. They will support you as your goal is in line with their goal.
  2. They realize that you know what you are talking about. You have the expertise in this field and that you rationalize things before you suggest them. You don't say no, I can't do it. You say this may not be good for the design because....
  3. You are part of their team and not just any vendor. They respect you and value your presence.
So, do you have a spine? Do you blindly do as you have been told? Do you think for yourself before your execute? Do you behave like an expert? It is tough, but the least we can do is try and try really hard.

Also read That Dirty Word -Creative and Getting Stuck and Unstuck.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gain Attention - What's the Fuss?

The first few minutes of any interaction is crucial because the people involved are all judging what they are experiencing. This is true for face to face interaction, the first few pages of a book or movie, a phone conversation, and so on. First impressions... Have you ever picked up a novel and found it difficult to complete it? Have you sat in class and starting doodling or passing notes because you couldn't care less what the lecturer had to say? Have you formed an opinion to not like a movie just by looking at its trailer?

First impressions... In learning also, first impressions are crucial. The first few seconds decide the fate of your course. The learner may just drop out or click Next continuously to 'get it done with'. If first impression is not positive, your great ID strategies within may just fall on deaf ears.

Gain attention:
1. Sets expectation: What is in it for me? and What is this all about?
2. Get them thinking: Really?/ No way!/ So true!!
3. Makes an impact: Strike an emotional chord. Touches the learner's heart. I don't mean 'mush' :)
4. Makes them give you a chance: They want to hear/see more. You have their undivided attention.

Types of gain attentions:
  • Myth breaking: Break an existing Myth. There is nothing like challenging an individuals belief's systems. It triggers an emotion in them. If you prove what you say right, you may have found respect for your course.
  • Fact Sharing: Share facts that will inspire/surprise them. Saying Roses are red isn't going to make them notice. Share information that will really interest them.
  • Challenge/pretests: This is good for learners who believe they know it all and there is nothing more to learn and for demotivated learners. Do not test the learner. The objective is for him to understand where he stands, to judge himself. Don't try to trick him. (When should we use pretests?)
  • Story/Scenarios: Make the learner empathize with a scenario or people in the scenario. Make them want to help the people out. Give them control over the destiny of another individual's lives. Creaet scenarios that will make them feel, 'Hey, this happens with me all the time!' or 'That's a tough one. How will she get out of it?' Make learners love/hate the characters.

I think gain attentions should have 'depth'. Visuals is a way to communicate the message. But the visuals never become more important than the message itself. If you really on WOWing the learner based on just the 'look and feel', you may just manage to capture his attention for a few seconds.

If you WOW the learner through an effective message, you will grab the learner's attention for way longer. Like Micheal Allen says what use is a fancy graphics and a spinning logo if it does not aid learning.

I think we don't fuss about it enough. Gain attention makes your users sit up and notice. It makes them want to see what lies ahead. It makes an impression and they are willing to give you a chance. Grab it while you can!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

DezineConnect: Connecting Designers

Are you a designer? Are you inspired by one? Do you want to know how their mind works? Do you want a sneak peek into the kind of work they do? DezineConnect interviewed Neil Dantas, designer who designs graphical T-shirts with a strong social message. Read more here and be inspired!

As an Instructional Designer, I think it is great that these sites bring us closer to the design community. There is so much we can learn from them. A little about DezineConnect:

DezineConnect celebrates design from India. It connects creative people to the world. DezineConnect aims to showcase designers, design buyers, and design support people.

If you know a great designer, who must be featured here, get in touch with the DezineConnect team. You can follow DezineConnect on Facebook and Twitter. Stay connected to see some interesting stuff!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

5 Unlearnable Elements in Your eLearning

What are the 5 unlearnable elements that all IDs should steer clear off?

1. Definitions

Definitions (especially poorly written ones) are
not important. Look at a few examples.

Negotiable instrument is a written document by which a right is created in favour of some person and this is transferable by delivery.


Credit is the provision of resources by one party to another party where that second party does not reimburse the first party immediately.

Sounds confusing!

Direct manipulation is a human-computer interaction style which involved continuous representation of objects of interest and rapid, reversible, incremental actions and feedback.

Now in English please...

How many of us are comfortable introducing a concept using a definition? Have we ever stopped to wonder how effective these definitions are? Here's what we typically do: Start any module with a definition because it makes the content look authentic. Then, we go on to simplify the definition further. If we stop to think about it, we may just realize how unlearnable these definitions are.

Definitions are meant to simplify a concept. Help understand an idea/process better. Why is it important to share a definition when you can jump directly to the explanation? I remember in school how I had all the important definitions by heart. But looking back now, the visual depiction of evaporation or osmosis was far more useful in understanding the concept. Think about it. Is it important for a manager to know the definition of conflict or identify a conflict situation and react appropriately? Don't bother with definitions. They only intimidate or confuse the learner further and serve no learning purpose.

2. History

Why does man have the urge to start from the beginning? Why is it so important to know what happened in the past? When I learnt about computers, it started with history of computers. When I learnt about the Internet, it started with history. When I learn about Search Engines, it starts with history. Really, how important is this information to me? What can I do with the knowledge of history? When can you use history?
  • Teach a scientist the history of a particular theory because it may important for him to know: 'This has already been tried and the results were 'this'.
  • When you want to drive home the important of a current process vs a previous process. Common Craft Videos do this beautifully.
Don't use it unless it is absolutely critical to learning. If your SME insists, move it to references.

3. Information dump

Some eLearning applications look like a dump of information. What we need to understand is that SMEs (at least 99% of them) will give you information. Let me share an instance with you. I was handed responsibility of storyboarding for a technical skill-based course. I had a never ending content dump. Most of the content in this was theoretical and could be classified under information. When I asked the SME for examples to substantiate the theory, the SME told me: 'We have done all the research that need to be done. So you don't need any more information. All you need to do is make it learnable.' Sure. I didn't give up and thankfully I had another very cooperative SME. I would surf the Internet for suitable examples and get it validated. The content dump and the course look completely different.

Next time you dump information in your storyboard, dont bother. Just mail the word document to the learners. Your eLearning is as learnable as the content dump. No one is going to give you information in the learnable format. It is our job to make it learnable. Make information learnable. Remove all the necessary content and get the real stuff out.

4. Visuals

Simply putting an attractive visual on the screen will not help the learner learn. I have seen SBs where the visuals are based on the least important information on the screen. Focus on designing learnable, useful visuals. They must support and reinforce what is being described.

5. Exercises

Exercises for the sake of it is a pure waste of time. The usefulness of the exercise is in danger if it is:
1. Very obvious
  • the question is poorly designed and gives the answers away
  • the question is really not important/too simplistic
  • The question does not require much thought (while designing or solving)
2. Forced (because I have to add an exercise after 10 screens)

Exercises also have to be learnable. They have to have a purpose. They must make the learner think.

Next time, we start storyboarding let us not start with the definition, move to the history, dump information on screens, provide useless visuals, and add pointless exercises at regular intervals. What are the other common used unlearnable elements that you have witnessed?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Challenge: Facing it or running away?

I was chatting with my colleague Yatin, when he jokingly told me 'Well, you don't seem to like the challenge then.' I always thought myself as a person who enjoyed challenges. I hate mechanical, dry, boring, work. I have to have to use my head, else my heart is not in it. And, I cannot work if my heart is not in it. So, then why did I not like that particular challenge?

I like a challenge, when:
1. I can see the light at the end of tunnel. I know that there is a way out. Like in games, when you know that you just have to keep planning your attack and finally you will get past to the next level.

2. I am confident that I have what it takes. Let us face it. We are good at certain things and not so good at others. It is ok to accept that there are things that I do bad. What can I do about this? Think about how I can improve. Read more about it. Talk to people who are good at it. If it is not worth investing time in, I check whether someone else can help me do this while I focus on doing what I am really good at.

3. I have all the resources that I need. I have everything I need to tackle this challenge. Or I know where I can find these resources. If I don't have the resources, the challenge is impossible to meet. Brings me to the next point...

4. The challenge is truly attainable. Don't you just hate challenges that you can do nothing about it. Like a dead end in a game or an impossible opponet who refuses to die. As a gamer, I prefer to give up my life and redo things better. But the challenge has to be attainable, else I give it.

5. The possibility of an 'epic win'. I have to know that I am close to an epic win. That I can crack this case. That I am soooo close that it will be stupid to give up. That I am on the verge of something great.
6. I have the time and luxury to sort things out. Conquering a challenge requires clarity of thought. Therefore, I need time to figure things out. I need to sort things out in my head before I attempt to try my hand at this challenge.

Have you ever given up a game because it was just too frustrating to continue? Have you felt so disappointed with loosing that you never try again? So, I think there are challenges and there are challenges. Some of them excite you and some of them scare you off. Some of them make you want to give it your best, while others make you want to quit. I think these are really useful when we design online training also. We use challenges to engage the learner, but this will fall flat if we don't:
1. Make the challenges attainable.
2. Show them light at the end of the tunnel.
3. Reward them for right choices.
4. Create situations where epic wins are possible.
5. Provide necessary information to make the right decision.
6. Give sufficient time to figure things out.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Instructional Design and Experiential Learning

I was reading an interesting blog post on Instructional Design versus Experiential Design: do you have what it takes? by Koreen Olbrish. I have picked out a particularly interesting bit.

Experiential learning is a process of learning by doing. According to David Kolb, an individual learns from personal experiences and from the environment.

1. Having said this, I think it may be incorrect to deduce that elearning/workshops may not be able to provide experiential learning. In well designed programs, the learner can learn by doing and needless to say, he will learn from his own experiences and from the environment.

2. Instructional design is based on the learner's true needs. Therefore, it will be a systematic layout of content if the learner truly needs this. Instructional design is about designing the program such that learning happens. Therefore, the type of instructional strategy suggested above is just one among millions.

3. Even VLEs require to have a sound instructional base. Why? Your environment may be extremely real and may wow the learner. But, if you have learning presented in a manner where they are required to read off a book, attend a lecture in a VLE, or have information which is just difficult to find, this will make it less easy to learn. The learner may be better off with an eLearning program.

4. Even games have boundaries, rules, logic that can be learnt very quickly. If these are defined well in an eLearning program, I think we can design experiential learning. If the learner gets to do things to learn, I think you have a good program. Again, it has to have a strong instructional base.

5. I guess it is great if instructional designers break content into simpler chunks to ensure that they have a greater understanding of the content itself. But how the content should be presented, should be based on the learner's current knowledge and the skills that he wishes to acquire.

6. I am a huge fan of VLEs provided the usability issues are removed. But, I think it may not be right to say that great eLearning programs and workshops cannot provide for experiential learning.

7. I completely agree with Koreen that it requires a different kind of skill set to actually design experiential learning. It requires a lot of research into the learner's reality, the content itself, iteration in the design process, lots of brainstorming, and competent instructional designers, visual designers, and SMEs.

8. Therefore, my point in a nutshell, it is never Instructional design versus Experiential design. If your learners are learning, there is always instructional design in work there. You may not have designed it your self. I remember @Abhinava mentioning the same during his session at the IDCI session. We learn a lot of things unconsciously but this is always backed up by good instructional design.

What do you think?
1. Can we ensure experiential learning in eLearning/workshops?
2. Is experiential design truly possible only in a VLEs?
3. Is instructional design always about simplifying content?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Unconventional ILTs

In my last post, The Role of a Trainer, I touched on what it takes to be a good trainer and what are the list of don'ts that the trainer can keep in mind. There are several more aspects of ILT that I find intriguing.

1. How your ID strategies may be absolutely brilliant but your trainer can ruin the training very easily or how a brilliant trainer can make up for poor ID
2. How ID for ILT is so very different than ID for an eLearning module
3. How an instructional designer has to take into consideration several things: other learners, the venue, the seating arrangement, the facilities, the space, the trainer, the mood, the attitude, and so on

What I find even more intriguing is designing activities for ILTs. Activities in ILT are the crux of the training (atleast I think so). The activities encourage social learning and active participation. It also ensure 'hands on learning'. What do you need to keep in mind when designing an activity for an ILT:
1. What type of activity are you designing? Is it a case study/scenario/game/individual exercise?
2. How do you want to divide your participants? In groups of 2, 3, 4, 5?
3. Are any props required? Can you use relevant props that will aid learning and make the experience extremely memorable for the learner?
4. How much time would this activity take? 20 mins inclusive of discussion? 30 mins?
5. How will they share what they have done? Should a representative present the thoughts/findings? Should the class see the whole 'event' unfold in front of them?
6. How is feedback shared? Ask the other learners to share their thoughts in what just transpired?
7. How do you summarize the learning to make it easy to remember? Here's an experience that has to stored as learning. How can this be done?
8. How do you ensure healthy competition? Offer an award/reward by listing the criteria for emerging winner? Offering praise at the end?

When we think ILT, unfortunately, everyone imagines training within four walls. While this is not wrong, I wish out bound trainings also sprang into our minds. Or when we think of training within the classroom, we do not imagine the trainer near the whiteboard and the learners seated in an orderly fashion. I wish we would think of people all over the room, enthusiasm in their faces, order within chaos, almost like a play where everyone gets to play a part and learn from it. Hmmm, FUN!

I wish in the near future, I get to design such a training program where learners are on their feet and learning by doing. Soon.... Meanwhile, if you have designed such a training, please do share. Would love to hear and turn green with jealousy! :)

Also, check this video out: What Makes a Great Teacher?

The Role of a Trainer

I have always worked on eLearning rather than ILTs. I did start my ID career working on an ILT. But last year, I have had the opportunity to work on two completely different types of ILT.

Type 1: During this session, we had to teach call center executives the basics of Internet. We conducted telephonic contextual inquiry and mystery shopping (over the phone) to understand our learners. The learners were a fun loving lot: young, eager to work well, motivated. Designing ILT for these guys was absolutely fun. We introduced several videos and interesting activities and group discussions, which had the desired impact. We also had young, enthusiastic trainers run the training program.

Type 2: This was much, much more challenging. This training program was huge! Kern Learning Solutions conducted an assessment center to understand the current competencies and carried out detailed contextual inquiry. Based on the findings, training areas were formulated. I learnt a lot during the storyboarding phase of this project:
1. Working with SMEs
2. Designing activities that interested the learners
3. Ensuring printing too place (believe me this can be a nightmare)
5. Clear communication with the trainers

I attended the pilot to check how the learners responded to the training. The experience needless to say was absolutely thrilling. I learnt a lot. I specifically wanted to share what I thought of the role of the trainer. During a #KernLearn session on Twitter, I posed the following question:

rnarchana What makes a trainer 'good' during classroom training?
partvinu The trainers should be able to involve the participants in the discussion through listening, and creative interventions.
chneels Should be able to convey the right message and content to the learners without putting them to sleep:)
chneels trainers should teach content with more examples and situations..
partvinu trainers can use humor but only to enliven the atmosphere, not to divert the attention of the learners
sandeepdev Learning by doing & learning by mistakes... the holy way of teaching
geetabose Good teachers do not provide asnwers, they say Find out yourself! RT @sandeepdev: Learning by doing & learning by mistakes...
rnarchana Good trainers always have their finger on the pulse of the audience. They adjust based on the participant's needs.
rnarchana They inspire, encourage, and praise. RT @geetabose: Good teachers do not provide answers, they say Find out yourself!
rnarchana A good trainer is extremely 'likeable', 'approachable', 'full of energy', 'good listener', 'highly observant', 'confident'.
rnarchana A good trainer makes the 'learning' come alive. He engages the learners mind without solely depending on presentation tools
rnarchana A good trainer will never be heard saying 'Man! The participants are terrible. They won't open their mouths.'
rnarchana gd trainer ensures that every participant gets a chance 2 voice their opinion/participate. He uses their names (not hey U! )
rnarchana Good trainers are well-prepared. They find all the answers. And if they don't know an answer, they are not afraid to accept it.
mutechords @rnarchana A good trainer is one who can visualize the realistic outcome of the training program
mutechords I enjoy trainings where there were no PPTs but more interactions+anaysis of situations. good trainers are like that i guess.
even before it has started
shana1729 @rnarchana A good trainer shud b interactive n engaging
shana1729 @rnarchana A good trainer will have a clear learning/teaching objective, wil conduct mock sessions before he goes live..
shana1729 @rnarchana A good trainer should be able to tackle the participants who goes on and on debating something useless.
shana1729 @rnarchana A good trainer will never read out the text on the slide!
shana1729 @rnarchana A gud trainer ll nvr underestimate learners. But understands and digs out the deep knowledge n crazy ideas from participants..
shana1729 @rnarchana A good trainer Sets expectation participants before starting off then maps Expectation and Achievements at d end
shana1729 My views on a good ILT, nd my bad experiences as well: #KernLearn
sumeet_moghe @rnarchana that's the one part i slightly disagree with. good trainers are facilitators -- they guide participants to the answers.

This discussion captures the characteristic of a good trainer. What are the 'don'ts'?
(Photo credit: Veer)
1. Do not invade the learner's personal space. If the trainer goes too close, he will end up intimidating the learner.
2. Do not 'stuff' information down the learner's throat. The trainer must remember that the learner has 'prior knowledge and experience'. It would be terrible to assume that the learner knows nothing. The trainer show draw out the answers from the learners and ensure that everyone learns from each other.
3. Don't be rigid. The trainer is a facilitator of learning. It is ok to add more points to the training material. The attitude 'It is not in the text book' will not work here.
4. Don't hurry topics because you have to meet a deadline. Don't skip activities or rush through the topics because you are worried you won't finish on time.
5. If there are obstacles, underplay them. For example, there is a power cut as you are taking a session, what would you do? Make a hue and cry over the facilities or the lack of it? Or ensure that you continue with the discussion without allowing anything to interrupt your flow?
6. Don't drag your feet. If the trainer is not energetic, how will the learner energy levels stay up? Regardless of how well they know their stuff, if there is no energy, they are detrimental to learning.
7. Don't digress. Too many thoughts/ideas is not what they need. Stay on the right track. Prepare well in advance to crystallize your thoughts.
8. Never blame it on the learner. If they don't respond to you, it is because you have made ZERO impact on them.

If you have any more points to add to this list, feel free to comment.

Kern Turns Green!

Kern Turns Green! Check our new website, brand new us!

More on why 'Green' later. Watch this space! In the meantime, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts on our website.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Art of Giving Feedback

(Photo Credit: Veer)

Giving feedback is truly an art that one needs to master. Before I go ahead, let me make it clear that I am referring to feedback given for assessments. We had this really interesting #KernLearn session on Twitter last week on Designing Assessment in eLearning. Given below is the transcript.
rnarchana 1. Do assessment questions aid learning? How can they be designed so as to enrich the learning experience? #KernLearn
partvinu #KernLearn yes, they do, the strategies are dependent on multiple variables, formative or summative, blooms level, audience maturity etc
shana1729 @rnarchana 1) IF designed better, assessments enrich, otherwise kill learning. understand learner motivation n design acordingly. #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana how to design assessment in elearning- a guide: #KernLearn
@rnarchana A) Numerous no. of qn kills interest B) design in innovative way- dare 2 move out of traditonal methods, yet learnable #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana C) Make assessments more visual, but avoid unnecesary images. In elearning, a dry screen de-motivates learner.. #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana D) Challenge the learner (if the profile of learner fits it) E) Make it game based F) Design around a story..#KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn
shana1729 @rnarchana #KernLearn 2. I think max is 10 if it is designed in traditional methods - mcq, mmcq etc..

geetabose 1. Assessments in refresher courses: used an exercise to help learners recall skills & clearly identify areas to brushup & focus. #KernLearn

geetabose 1. What was special abt this exercise - it cud guide learners across levels based on response & help zero in on thr focus area. #KernLearn

rnarchana 2. Assements in eLearning: How much is too much? Any thumb rules you follow? #KernLearn
geetabose @rnarchana Clearly depends on the key testing points identified and their impact on learning outcome... 1-2/ LO is a good measure #KernLearn
geetabose RT @shana1729: F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn | this is an interesting point...
rnarchana 2. Learner will think its too many only if he does not see the purpose. If designed well, a quesn will have him wanting more. #kernlearn
geetabose For adult learners, their motivation is high if they know upfront they r being examined & know the consequences @shana1729: F) #KernLearn
rnarchana 2. 2 many/2 little is relative. How many testing points do U have 4 the learning objectives is. imp & R they motivating enuf #KernLearn
partvinu #KernLearn 3 screens 1 AQ, and final assessments generally 1 per objective, or 2 per topic
geetabose RT @rnarchana: 2 many/2 little is relative. How many testing points do U hav 4 learning objectives is imp & R thy motivating enuf #KernLearn
geetabose Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is the 'diagnostic' feedback that the learner receives - #KernLearn
rnarchana Assessments should have rewards and punishments. Increases impact. These should be designed based on the learner's motivations. #KernLearn
rnarchana RT @geetabose: Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is the 'diagnostic' feedback that the learner receives - #KernLearn
rnarchana Designing assessments is not about tricking the learner into making errors. It is about making them think rather than guess #KernLearn
geetabose Use assessments creatively- enable learners to demonstrate knowledge, explain reasoning, develop argument or evaluate a situation #KernLearn
geetabose What's the most creative use of assessment that you have seen? Share some examples? #KernLearn
vijeesh @rnarchana Assessment Qs: Response and analysis based assessment Qs can work wonders #KernLearn
vijeesh @rnarchana 2. 10 interactive and motivating Qs per half an hour #KernLearn
vijeesh 1. Most important! RT @shana1729: @rnarchana F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn
rnarchana An example for interesting assessments: Check Employee Security, Front Line Loss Prevention, #KernLearn
rnarchana Examples of interesting assessment in ELearning Check examples of scenario based learning #KernLearn
rnarchana Examples of interesting assessments in eL Check Pre-Op intro and Main Surgery #KernLearn
varmarashmi RT @rnarchana: 2. 2 many/2 little is relative. How many testing points do U have 4 the learning objectives is. imp & R they motivating enuf #KernLearn
varmarashmi RT @geetabose: RT @shana1729: F) Don't let learner think that "I am being examined" #KernLearn | this is an interesting point...
varmarashmi RT @geetabose: Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is the 'diagnostic' feedback that the learner receives - #KernLearn
varmarashmi Assessments enhance learner involvement and interaction (also visible in twitter sessions) #KernLearn

While there are several thoughts here that interest me, the one that mattered most is the one shared by Geeta: Most critical aspect of assessments that aid learning is 'diagnostic' feedback that learner receives.

Tell me something...

1. While designing feedback, do you ever think, 'How will my learner react to the tone of the feedback?'
Why is this important, you ask? What is the standard feedback that you use "That is correct. or That is incorrect? I will tell you what I think is wrong with these (I could be biased as I hate conventional ways).
a. It just sounds too robotic! The learner will find no joy in getting it right. On the other hand, if he does get it wrong, it is going to have 'zero' impact on the learner.
b. It sounds condescending. If your learner is the sensitive/timid/introvert/self-respecting type, he is going to be offended. Learner motivation dips and you have lost him.

What can you do instead?
Think about the tone. Think about the feeling that you want to evoke in your learners. Use direct feedback to make them feel good (You are right! or Absolutely! or We agree!). Use milder (but still effective) ways to tell him he got it wrong (Oops! or Nope. or Really? or Are you sure?). Please do not reprimand. We want to encourage him to learn and not make him feel small.

2. Do you ever think about what you want the feedback to do?
For example, how does the following feedback help?
Feedback for incorrect answer: That is incorrect. Rakesh falls in the low income group.

This learner has got this assessment wrong. This means that 'something' went wrong. She has not understood what you have explained previously. (Remember that is also not her fault) This is your opportunity to ensure learning is checked. This is your chance to set things straight. Here, you can explain why Rakesh falls in the low income group. If you don't, the learner is not going to go back and check (not even the studious ones go back). He will move ahead and your learning objective is already in danger.

What can you do instead?
Do not underestimate the role of feedback. It can play a very crucial role in checking misconceptions/understanding. We all know that assessments are designed to check understanding. But checking does not mean identifying whether they got it right or wrong. By checking, I mean providing them the rationale. Tell them why they went wrong. It is not important to prove them wrong but to make them understand why it is wrong. Even if the learner gets it right, the rationale reinforces all that she has learnt. When she reads it, she feels good that she also had the same logic in mind. If it was good guess work, at least she can read why it is right.

3. Feedback can be more than just text!
Text is just one way of giving feedback. Coming back to a point that I have touched briefly, what is the desired impact? Do you want to the feedback to have a high impact? Make the learner think? Use more than just 'That is correct. or That is incorrect.'

What can you do instead?
Audio: You can use audio to let them know how they have done. Audio is a very powerful medium of getting feedback across. You must have seen how games such as Mario Brothers, Pacman, Tetris, and others use audio to indicate whether your move was a good one or bad.
Visual: Show the consequence of an action as a visual. For example: image of a happy or a angry customer.
Rewards and punishments: Add a challenge and raise the stakes. This ensures high impact. Some simple ways to do this could be points system, a (virtual) pat on the back, a big jump ahead, happy ending, and so on.

3. Choose my feedback strategy based on my learner.
But most importantly, chose your feedback strategy based on your learner (or as we say at Kern, learner persona). Why? Imagine this.
Your learner has to take your course because your research shows that this is a skill that he needs help with. But your learner believes otherwise. He thinks he knows everything he needs to about the topic.
So what will you do? I would suggest you go for rewards and punishments. If you go by the conventional method, he will think he knows better and that the exercise itself must be flawed. So, challenge him. Trust me this works like a dream. At the end of the course, the learner still feels good about himself and he has also learnt a lot.

If your learner persona is a shy type who is afraid of getting it wrong, keep your strategy fairly simple. Encourage him all the way and he will do his best to learn. Therefore, chose your feedback strategy based on who your learner is. Understand their motivations and design your feedback accordingly.

Next time you are writing feedback for an assessment, ask yourself 'What do I want to do with this feedback?' (I pray the answer is not 'nothing' :)) Let us work on mastering the art of giving good feedback. Do share instances of how you use (un)conventional feedback to teach better.