Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Advocating for the Student

Cammy Bean reminds us once again that we have to justify our existence occasionally.

I talked about this a very long time ago (has it already been over a YEAR?!?!) in Educators vs. Subject Matter Experts. Reading Cammy's post and staring at the beginnings of a new training project have started to crystalize my thinking. Even better - the training that we will be converting is a soft-skills training.

We're going to call this - the Legal training for staff (not it's real name or topic).

The Legal Training for Staff (let's call it LTFS - the University LOOOOVES acronyms) is an instructor-led classroom training taught by the Legal Department (also not the real department). The Legal Department wants to convert the training to an e-learning tutorial. To start - they sent us their current PowerPoint and script that they use when delivering the training.

41 slides and notes.

Now, I have not attended this training, nor do I have any idea about how long delivery takes or how some of the topics are handled in the classroom. I do know that if I was handed the PowerPoint cold (like I was), I would not have a clue about what was taught. And I have a real funny feeling that the students aren't getting much out of the training as it stands.

The regular trainer for this course is a mid level mucky muck for their department. A subject matter expert who has been with the university for almost as long as I have walked the earth. He has eaten,slept, and breathed this topic and all things surrounding this topic for a very long time. He obviously knows what he is talking about.

But I have a feeling that this doesn't translate to the student - someone like me who DOESN'T eat/sleep/breathe this stuff and only has to know it to stay out of trouble.

Why did I get this impression?

- What are the objectives really? - There are some objectives - but why is one of them "communicating the existence of the department?"

A better objective, in my mind, would be to focus on why the department exists in the first place and what they do to help YOU. To evaluate - the students should know why they would contact that department.

All of the objectives in this training really should be reconsidered and rewritten so that the student has a better idea of what he or she is going to accomplish in the course.

- Organization - just reading the PowerPoint, I suspect that if the notes for the slides were read cold, the students would not understand WHY they were talking about a particular topic or how they got there or where they are going and how it relates to the objectives. I had to go back and re-read slides after slide 4. Not a good sign....

- How many examples do you really need? Now, I don't know how these examples are addressed in the classroom. It appears from the script that there is at least some cursory attempt at discussion. But when I hear the instructor say...
Now I would like to show you 15 typical daily transactions that have occured and I would like to talk about some of the [legal] difficulties....

my first reaction is to run out of the classroom screaming. Of course, that wouldn't be professional. Instead, I would probably do my best to stifle a groan.

BTW - that quote is directly from the PowerPoint notes (with the topic changed, of course).

Oh yeah, and did I tell you that the examples are in the middle of the training before discussion of resources to help solve the issue? Or which resource I should use for each circumstance I may encounter? Or how to make that determination?

Maybe we could use one of them as a pre-evaluation at that point?

Those examples would make fantastic practice fodder. The students can then learn what resources are available, how to use the resources appropriately, when to contact the department for further assistance, etc.

I seriously doubt that all students will run into all 15 situations during the course of their career, but going through a randomized selection (of maybe 5?) - they can at least practice.

Remember: this is just my cold evaluation of this particular course using just some PowerPoint slides.

There is obviously a lot of solid information in the course. The subject-matter expert knows his stuff. But this example made clear to me why Instructional Designers are so important, and why I am not worried that Subject Matter Experts are going to take these cool Rapid Development tools and shove me out of a job. First, most Subject Matter experts (at least the ones I have met) don't have time to play with the cool rapid development tools.

Second, and maybe more importantly, Instructional Designers can advocate for the student. They can help order the material so that it is easier for someone not as knowledgeable as the subject-matter expert to get one step closer to the expert's level of expertise. And isn't that why we train people in the first place?

I am meeting these people next week with another training group who is more experienced in soft-skills training. I hope to get a better feel for what actually happens in the classroom during this training, their perceived success, any gaps they have noticed and what the department is really trying to accomplish.


Karyn Romeis said...

"Instructional Designers can advocate for the student" Yes! Only, you want to see how people roll their eyes at me when I describe this as being a key component of my job.

You are so right about why instructional/learning designers have a role to play, but the instructor you're referring to has, as you say, been running this programme for donkeys' years as is, with nary a clue that it is poorly designed. We might be able to see why a learning designer is needed, but the problem is that neither the SME nor the person commissioning the learning resource can see that. Sometimes they won't accept it even after it's been explained to them. And sometimes the SMEs have massive egos we have to be carfeul not to offend while telling them that their materials suck the pedagogical muffin.

When I expressed the view that SMEs might start to create courses themselves (and they will almost certainly be courses... complete with endless next and back buttons), it was not because I thought we were no longer necessary, but because I thought that the SMEs and he-who-signs-the-cheque might form that idea. After all, it will be cheaper!

Janet Clarey said...

...I wanted to put the PowerPoint into a manila folder and file it, sit on the shoulders of people doing the job and the people supervising the people doing the job and ask them questions, then go back to the filed material...

Wendy said...

Karyn - I was thinking about that last night. That's one reason why I am looking forward to meeting them. To get scope and also to get a bead on personalities and ask some questions.

The blog allows me to say what I really think. I'm learning to keep my mouth shut and listen more in person.

And Janet - that's what I intend to do in the meeting. Use my "newbie/stupid person" hat and ask questions.

I'll update everyone after the meeting and let you know how it goes.

I think this is also when good metrics can argue how better training impacts the bottom line can be helpful. I know our department is talking about how to collect those types of metrics now using our various systems.

To be able to argue "Yeah, it may be "cheaper" in the short term for you to do it yourself (never mind the organizational cost of your lost time). But in the long run, here's how much $$$ you are losing with ineffective training. Both in lost employee time throughout the organization and loss of potential gains. Here are the numbers..." would be a fabulous thing.

Of course, we know most people are more into short-term gain vs. long-term. So that may backfire. But at least it would be worth a shot.

Cammy Bean said...

A big piece of what instructional designers bring to the content is that beginners mind.

I've been in endless content sessions with SMEs lately, constantly reminding them that they are experts and no longer know what they know. I can stand back from the messy content and ask all the stupid questions that they forgot long ago. And remind them endlessly that 'less is more' -- we don't want to overwhelm the new student with all the depth...

Good luck with this project!

Wendy said...

Cammy - thankfully, I am in the (un?)enviable position of really being a complete beginner at most of the topics I will be developing instruction for.

So it should be easier to get a reasonable response for my stupid questions (rather than the eye-rolling that occurs when someone thinks you should know what they are talking about).

Hey - and good luck with your attempts to persuade the SMEs in your world! Let us know how it goes!!!!