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.


Geeta Bose said...

Archie, you've raised an interesting question. I was present in some of the learner testing sessions, and was amazed with the observations. One person rated the course as 'simple & easy to understand' in a not-so-positive way and clarified saying: 'could make it more complex.'

Findings like these inspire me to re-look at the deductions we make based on learner research. "Because he/she is a first time eL user, let's keep the course simple."

Points to ponder: Do we want to focus on the simplicity of design, simplicity of interaction, or simplicity of cognition. And, how do we arrive at deductions where the course design is simple yet it inspires a higher level (more complex) of cognitive interaction.

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks Geeta. You just made things clearer in my own head! :) Our learner testing left us spell bound because we ended up making the content simple and the navigation hi-fi. What our learner needed was simplicity in navigation and higher level of complexity in content. But then again these would have never come out if we had not tested them. This is the true power of learner testing. It gives you a chance to correct assumptions and make a course work right.

Alex_tom said...

Hey ! Archie nice thought you have. The Question's you arise are most probably needs to think. Without any research we can not consider any study material is good or so but there is a problem we can not do a wide survey in limited time or with limited sources.So the problem will not solve , No ! It can be solved by doing online survey. I know a site Study 8 Home which provide a good functionality of intracting with billions of students and tuter's also. We can achive our goal with the help of it.