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Now what did you learn, was it something like this?
If you learned that, then you experienced a type of learning strategy for teaching concepts. Specifically you encountered the Concept Attainment model.
Here examples and non-examples of a concept are presented to a learner. This presentation helps users identify the attributes of a concept and from this, form an understanding of it. This process can be used for simple concepts like “Invisible Cats” as well as more complex concepts.
Today I’ll talk about some additional strategies for teaching concepts.
Many of you may have seen the RSA videos and if not I suggest you take a look at them. These videos are rather interesting and use a good approach to teaching conceptual information.
Here they use analogies, metaphors and images to help users visualize the concepts that are being discussed. And what emerges from this discussion is a detailed graphic organizer of the key ideas and attributes of the concept.
This approach is also nice in that it hits multiple learning styles (auditory and visual) and having multiple inputs here, can help students form stronger connections to the content. If you liked this approach you can check out Prezi, which is an application that allows you to create whiteboard presentations like the RSA videos.
Now before you go out and copy this approach, I do want to cover some of the bad things introduced in these videos. Some of these are:
Passive Activity—Video is a passive activity and on its own does not guarantee transfer. To ensure success here, include other activities that force the students to interact with the content.
Linear Activity—Video is linear and forces users to sit through all of the content whether they need to or not. Video doesn’t easily allow users the ability to skim, skip ahead or review content. Help your users out by making your videos short and to the point. Also include player controls that allow for fast forward and rewind capabilities.
Cognitive Overload—These videos have a lot of things competing for your users attention. The animations, images and panning can be a distraction to the main message that the speaker is covering. Users can only attend to a limited amount of content so make sure all of your information is relevant and supports your main content needs.
Video can be a resource intensive approach and may not be an option available to you. This is ok though as you can address conceptual information in other ways. For instance you can include the visuals used in the RSA videos to create static images that act as the graphic organizer.
An added option here would be to make the graphic organizer the main menu for your content. This option would provide greater control to the user in relation to accessing the content and be more engaging then passively watching a video. Besides the visual elements presented in the movie, you can also use simple text formatting, tables, charts and graphs to help users identify key attributes within a concept. For instance check out the following document to see how these simple tricks can be used to highlight the main ideas behind Engineering Controls in the Laboratory.
Not only does the revised content in this document highlight the main ideas behind the controls, but it also makes a nice handout that users can take away from the course. As such, focusing on a text approach can add some benefits that video can’t match.
Regardless of the approach you take remember to focus on your content—make your content interesting and relevant to your users. The RSA videos are successful in part because their content is interesting. Here the lecturers have something meaningful to say and they say it well. Your topics probably won’t have the appeal as Invisible Cats but that shouldn’t stop you from keeping your student watching/learning.
A couple of months ago I went to Chicago and while there decided to meet some family friends. I’ve only been to Chicago a couple of times so this was a great occasion to break out my GPS unit and let it guide me to my destination. So I plugged in the address and proceeded to drive.
Now you may not know this, but these units are not always 100% right as often there is construction or an odd street that will throw off your planned route. This is ok though as you can jump on a side street or take some other detour and the GPS will automatically recalculate your route. If you do this enough times you will eventually get to your destination.
Well it just so happened that this trip had some unplanned construction located near the end of my route. So as I neared my friend’s house, I ran into the construction and was forced to take a detour, a detour that made the trip much more meaningful. You see the original route was all highways and main roads—it was the most efficient route to my friend’s house.
Fortunately for me though, this detour forced me into my friend’s neighborhood. Here I got to drive around and see the fun little shops, restaurants and houses that made up their experience in Chicago. I would have missed this with the original route and wouldn’t have understood why they liked living there so much.
From this experience, I learned that sometimes it is nice to jump off the planned route; especially if you have a tool that will eventually guide you back to your destination. This is a lesson I can apply to my e-learning projects as well as I have been doing these for a long time and have identified some direct/efficient routes to follow.
Today I’ll talk about one type of project in particular that I have had a lot of experience with. Here I’ll share with you a route that will quickly get you to your destination. However, while using this route, don’t be afraid of the occasional detour as they can offer valuable experiences. Also remember that your projects are unique and this uniqueness may require a detour as well.
Software Training Initiatives
We live in a technical environment and a common training need is software training—there is always a new piece of software or a new website that is designed to make our lives easier. And if you are in a training/education role, you will probably have to develop a solution for this one day.
Fortunately, screen capturing software has made it easier to develop rich training content for software training initiatives. With relative ease a person can create demonstration movies of software procedures and functionality. Additional capabilities (tutorials and simulations) are included with many of these screen capturing tools and with them you can create powerful interactive environments for your users.
So with screen capturing software you have a tool for your solution but what about your content—what do you need to do here in order to get to your destination?
In previous posts I’ve talked about knowledge types, which are basically categorizations of the content you will develop in your course. These categories are based on the objectives you have defined for your solution. You use these objectives and your knowledge type categorizations to guide you on what and how to develop your course.
And with software training initiatives you will need to address 4 key knowledge types:
A small but important part of your training should focus around selling the software. In this type of solution you are trying to get your users to buy into the idea of using the new software. Here you are trying to change their attitude—you want them to accept the new method of doing things.
Now this may not seem like a big need as users often don’t have a choice—the software is being implemented so they have to use it regardless if they like it or not. This may be true but with training you should think of potential stallers.
Phrases like “This software sucks” and “The old system was better…” are not uncommon with software implementations and if not addressed this attitude can derail your training. Simply put, your users are not going to learn your content unless they have been sold the need for it or you have answered the “What’s in it for me” question. Failing to answer this may mean higher numbers of help desk calls once the software is implemented or that your users fail to use the software to its full potential
A significant percentage of your overall course objectives will be conceptual knowledge types; however, this will not transfer into a large percentage of your course content. With this knowledge type you are basically describing the purpose of the various forms, pages, and reports that the user will use within the software. This is important information as it can be used to help sell the software being implemented and focus users on key values to use in the system.
For significant upgrades or new system implementations, cross tables can help users organize this information. Here you will want to indentify the old form/page that users used for a particular purpose and what the new form/page is in the software.
This knowledge type will probably be the bulk of your content and with it you will need to define the fields within the software as well as the data/values used within the fields. Key values such as what not to enter or codes that trigger specific events need to be highlighted and noted with this content.
Since this is a large chunk of factual content, performance support tools can help your users transfer this knowledge once they complete their online training. To address this you should create additional materials that users can access after training is complete. Materials that users can print like job-aids and manuals can be useful in this regard. Help files are an additional option that can be used here. These files can be an especially useful as you can connect your content directly with the software by using context sensitive help functions.
This knowledge type will represent a large percentage of your overall course objectives and content. This content is where you define the specific steps and procedures users need to follow in order to use the new software.
As you create materials for this knowledge type you need to highlight the steps within the procedures. This information should list the specific forms, fields and values users need to process within the system. As with the factual information, job aids and help files can be useful support tools for this type of content. Such treatments can be especially useful for complex procedures and for procedures that users do not encounter often.
With your procedural content, you should take care to develop realistic scenarios and make sure that any screen shots or simulations do not have junk or sensitive data displayed.
Getting to Your Destination
The following table will help you develop content for each of the above knowledge types:
Addressing the 4 knowledge types should provide you with the content you need to create effective training for software training initiatives. In essence this guide is your quick route to get you to your destination. And as you use it, just remember to keep an eye out for detours.
Before getting into Instructional Design, I started off as a high school social studies teacher. While prepping for that field, a main area of study for me was history and in one of my classes a professor once asked me, “why is the study of history important.”
Up until that point I had never really considered the why—for me, it was just something we had to do. So in answer, I gave the usual, “you should study history so that you don’t repeat the problems encountered in the past.” I thought that sounded pretty good, after all, there is a famous quote similar to what I said so it must hold some relevance.
However, my professor had a very different reason:
“The study of history is about cause and effect—this event lead to this result, which then lead to this... So in essence, the purpose behind studying history is that it improves your critical thinking skills and is why history is taught in our schools.”
Hmmmm, now that actually sounds like a real reason for the study, unfortunately, it doesn’t match up with how history is taught. For instance, think back to your old high school history class—what kind of tests did you take; were the questions something like:
- When did Columbus discover the new world?
- Who conquered the Aztec empire?
I bet that’s pretty close to the truth—most of the tests you took probably centered on dates, names, and places. And for the most part, these tests assessed your ability to recall and memorize facts and figures. What they didn’t do was assess your critical thinking skills.
Now as may be common with my posts you may be asking yourself what this has to do with you. Well it’s simple, this is a common problem associated with test construction, this being, creating test questions that are not focused on the right thing. Often the tests we create are focused on recall and memorizing facts and figures rather then the real purpose behind our training.
When constructing a test a way to avoid this problem is to step back a moment and reexamine your objectives, specifically, you should check to see how your objectives match up to your content knowledge types.
By using knowledge types you can break down any content into the following categories:
These categories are important because they provide you with information on how each objective should be covered and assessed in your course.
In this light your test question needs becomes a little clearer, for instance:
- If you have an objective that is a procedure, your assessment for that objective should be focused around testing the procedure. “Demonstrate how to …”
- If you have an objective that is a rule/principle, you should assess that rule/principle, “Calculate the ….”
- If you have an objective that is a concept, you should assess that concept, “Distinguish between …”
Levels of Learning
The verbs you use in your objectives will start to highlight what is factual information or recall level and those that are at a deeper level of learning—the application level. Verbs such as define, identify, list,… are aimed at recalling factual information and as such, like the history tests we took, probably don’t fully address your training needs.
Now it’s hard to talk about verbs for objectives and levels of learning without someone bringing up Bloom. Bloom and his colleagues did some great work identifying levels of learning and establishing a hierarchy of these levels. And if you want to use their work to help you develop your objectives and assessment needs you will probably be fine.
I will caution you though to think about your true needs while consulting Bloom’s work. For instance, synthesis and evaluation are at the top of Bloom’s hierarchy—it is doubtful though that you will need to assess at that level with all of your content. The important thing to remember here is your goal for the training; is it to change a specific behavior or to create a subject matter expert? Answering this should help you determine what level of learning your need to focus on.
In later posts I will expand on knowledge types and examples of questions to use for each type. For now just make sure you focus your test questions around the real purpose of your training. Is it recall, is it application, is it to change behavior, or is it to create a subject matter expert?
Back in the day my buddies and I use to play a lot of D&D and I am not talking about the computerized role playing games that they have now. No I am talking about old school 4, 8, 10, and 20 sided dice, paper-based character sheets, graph-paper dungeons, and lead figures.
I look back fondly to those days of slaying orcs, raiding dungeons and the inevitable in-party fighting and would love to play the game again but I can’t. I can’t because someone destroyed my D&D world back in the early 2000s.
You see that is when the rules for the game changed—during that time Wizard of the Coasts updated the game with new abilities and level development options. And with the group of guys I was playing with, three viewpoints emerged:
- Those with interpretation A of the rules,
- Those with interpretation B of the rules and
- Those that didn’t care—they just wanted to play.
I was a member of this last group and we thought that both interpretations made sense so we wanted to take the best of both and just play. We were not very successful in this matter and it all came to a head one night when Raff (a 6th level thief) defiantly ran into a room full of undead. This act caused a series of events that should have lead to the death of the entire party (At home, Google "Leroy Jenkins" one day to see an example of what should have happened). We then spent the next 2 hours fighting over which interpretation to use and the resulting fallout is that we never played D&D again.
In an earlier post I mentioned the war that is going on in our field. Sometimes this war is a lot like my D&D experience—groups of people (the science guys) fighting over which rule to use:
Interpretation A “According to Mager, you should …,”
Interpretation B “Yeah but this study says that …”
A common area of contention for these groups are objectives, here people disagree on the style of objective to use, the verbs to use, and the requirements on what makes a good objective.
What Makes for a Good Objective
Generally the science guys will tell you that objectives should contain the following elements:
The conditions under which the behavior is to be completed should be stated, including what tools or assistance is to be provided.
The behavior should be specific and observable.
The level of performance that is desirable should be stated, including an acceptable range of answers that are allowable as correct.
Using that definition the following would be considered an appropriate objective to use by some groups:
Upon completion of the unit the student will discuss 3 of the components of effective training.
Note that I said some groups; there are others that will want to drill down into the semantics of the objective:
- “the verb discuss would indicate that the student …” The verbs you use are really important to some folks and there is a whole other set of theories and fights in this regard.
- “the condition should really state the student’s environment- is he at his desk, using the computer,…” Some folks indicate a need to be specific with your condition and standards. This level of detail can be important in some areas like compliance and in the military.
What You Should Focus On
Now personally I don’t care about how your objectives look, what verb you use, or your format- I’ll let the science guys fight about that. What is important to me—the part in their interpretations that makes sense to my projects—is using objectives to design effective training. To do this you need to have good objectives.
In my opinion a good objective, regardless of format/style, is one that will provide you with information on the type of content you will need to develop in your course. These objectives will provide you with clues as to the knowledge types your content will fall into. For example, all content can be broken down into the following categories:
By looking at your objectives, you can categorize them into one of the above knowledge types. This categorization is important in that it provides you with information on what and how each objective should be covered in your course. This is because each knowledge type has unique requirements or best practices for presenting content.
Let’s take another look at the objective I wrote above.
Upon completion of the unit the student will discuss 3 of the components of effective training.
By looking at this objective we can categorize it as a concept (components of effective training) and from this categorization we can define some strategies that can be used to develop our content. For instance, one strategy to teach concepts is to use the concept attainment module. Another strategy is to use graphic organizers/images to represent the concept. Here we could use one, both or pick some other strategy aimed at teaching concepts.
Now let’s think about some other examples.
- If you had an objective that was categorized as a procedure, what might you do to help the learner use or internalize this information?
- If you had an interpersonal objective (maybe something on conflict management) what could you do?
One approach could be to use numbered and bulleted list to effectively highlight specific steps or requirements within the procedure. Another approach would be to create job-aids and handouts of the procedure that the user could print out and have on hand.
Certainly role-playing activities would be a good approach to help the learner practice and learn these behaviors.
One thing I am working on is developing guides to help you make decisions about knowledge types and appropriate strategies for these types. I will cover these in later posts, for now though, concentrate on creating objectives that help you make decisions about your content. If you have objectives that help you determine appropriate strategies then they are good enough for me and while we play, we can let the science guys continue their argument about the rules.