Friday, November 21, 2008

Does education need to change?

George Siemens asked a really really big question. Does education need to change? This question will, hopefully, help me clarify my personal vision of what I want to accomplish over the next 5-10+ years.

The aspect of professional education that has always bothered me is the multi-hour / multi-day sit-in-a-classroom model of "training." I hate teaching that way and I hate training that way. It is grueling for all parties. And, in the end, I never got the feeling that anything we talked about stuck.

Much of the online courseware we purchased is of the same model. Multi-hour sit-at-the-computer and hope you don't get too distracted while working on the tutorial. At least in a classroom, there are fewer opportunities for distraction. (If you lock the door, collect all cell phones and lock down the computers).

We talk about moving away from the notion that education is an "event." Instead, creating an environment where folks get the information they need when they need it and in the appropriate context. I see that creating this environment requires the following:

- MUCH shorter chunks of information. 5-15 minutes max.

- More focused / contextual information. i.e. "How do I DO x" or "Where do I find information on x."

- Emphasis on designing an ongoing support structure. Where can someone find help when they need it?

- Classroom / synchronous interaction time designed more for allowing an opportunity to focus and talk. Fantastic for introducing new material, implementing new processes, the personal touch of change management.

- Providing processing tools for knowledge creation / management. This is where I am seeing wikis and blogs becoming a valuable resource.

I personally have 2 projects where I am trying to implement this model.

- A classroom series (mostly Captivate workshops) for those wishing to put their materials into our LMS for reporting. (BTW - just because it is in an LMS doesn't mean it has to be 3 hours long....or even a fancy interactive movie.....I'm just saying.....)

- A major upgrade to our enterprise higher education administration system.

Some of the ideas I am working on / kicking around:

- Short online courses and quick references will be made available for general tasks and broad training. These are proving to be quite popular, even without broad advertising. Just knowing that something is easily available and out there seems to help.

- Most of the classroom time for the Captivate project will be focused on individual projects. As a result, the classes will be very small - 5 people max. I'm having them bring their own projects rather than creating a "general" project. Kill 2 birds with 1 stone. They get work done and trained at the same time.

- For the upgrade project - larger classes will be created and team-taught with the local experts / managers. The managers can answer the procedural questions that I am not in the position to answer. Most of the questions that occur during implementation training tend to be of that sort anyway. I'm expecting some of the managers to balk at having to be there.

- During the design phase for both projects, I am focusing on processes and tools for ongoing support after the class. For the Captivate project, I am looking at cohorts. For the upgrade project, I am going to be working with the local "experts" and creating cohorts between them as well based on their most common tasks (cohort for payroll, cohort for student administration, cohort for student billing etc). That one may be trickier.

- For both projects, I am looking at implementing a wiki for the cohorts. I'm still researching how best to implement and administer this. We've had some success within individual IT teams - particularly among the Help Desk and Operations staff.

- Since what I do is technical training - I'm getting the help desk involved during the assessment phase. Particularly for the upgrade project. Where are people having problems with the application currently? What are the most frequently asked questions? What technical problems are they running into the most? In exchange, I've been introducing them to Captivate (because the help desk staff like new toys) and including special training for them as part of the plan. A closer relationship with the people who can help with support can be nothing but a good thing.

This is not a radical change, per se. More of an evolution. Trying to retain the best characteristics of what we do while trying to meet the current needs of our audience. Shorter chunks, more context, ongoing education rather than event education and greater support "post-learning." That's how I want to change education in my world.

5 comments:

Kevin Jones said...

Great thoughts, Wendy. But I am not so sure that education in general will be able to support this model, at least not any time soon.

The structure of the education needs to be supportive. I would think that the best way to do this is to 'start from scratch.' Trying to change a philosophy, structure and culture that is so set in its ways may be more difficult than the alternative (starting over).

How that would look? I don't know. But it would be fun to do!

Wendy said...

It would be AWESOME to just chuck everyone and everything and start over. Fire every single educator currently in practice, deprogram their brains (and the brains of everyone else, for that matter) using state-of-the-art brainwashing technology and start completely from scratch.

One problem - I don't think you CAN start completely from scratch. There is always history and culture and the pesky problem of people to contend with.

Plus - my model is only for my little corner of the universe anyway. Trying to change ONE assumption. Because, from what I've been able to tell, big change requires a series of little actions by a lot of people. I chose to tackle what I can do right now.

Thank you so much for your comments. Lots of food for thought.

Karyn Romeis said...

Well, you get stuck in with your small corner of the universe. That bit's yours to deal with. We each must carry our own load, and together...

Some nice ideas, here. I probably say that because many of them could just as easily have been expressed by me ;o)

You seem to be leaning towards a just-in-time performance support model, which I reckon can work well in a process-driven environment.

One concept I designed for a client whose project kinda sank with all hands (not due to me... promise) was to create a learning solution front end that was an interactive end-to-end process map, which the user could drill down into. Drill down into a phase identified the tasks associated with that phase and the roleplayers associated with those tasks. Drilling down into the task might lead to a Captivate video, or a link to another resource. At every step of the way was to be the details of the identified expert in that particular area - preferably including a photo, but definitely including contact details.

I was adamant that a strong feature of the solution was that it would put people in touch with people, instead of trying to be the all-singing, all-dancing, all things to all people panacea of a learning solution.

The thing is that you then have to get middle-to-senior management on board to adjust an individuals KPIs to account for the fact that they now spend time empowering their colleagues. Purely results driven organisations are not conducive to this approach and it will die on its feet, because employees will ahve to choose between meeting their targets and helping each other. When the chips are down (and the credit crunch is on) it will take a brave person indeed to opt for the latter!

Eric W said...

Though not currently facing the same situation, I face a similar one in classes I attended. We do the Multi-hour sit-at-the-computer online class that really really is hard to hold attention in. I would love to have only 5-15 minute chucks of class for online education, it would be more effective. I very much like the idea of the ongoing support structure. Blackboard is currently what we have to use, I can’t say that it is used that well.

I also like how you include help desk in your projects, they are so often left out of the loop it’s sad.

Wendy said...

Eric - I am the biggest believer in making friends with the Help Desk and involving them in some of the instructional design process. I find asking them questions, providing cookies and small bribes, and using their insight early in the process makes EVERYONE'S life easier.

Furthermore, the longer I'm in this racket, the more important real-time, post-course support is.