Sunday, May 1, 2011

Part Three, The best instructional design models for today...

The question on the table is (still) what are the best Learning Models, Instructional Models, Delivery Models, and Assessment Models for any given training or educational need--given all the technologies now available? Or more succinctly, how do we determine the best way to design eLearning and hybrid learning experiences?

Let's break down the decision-making process. We are assuming that you have by now sorted out exactly what your learning product needs to accomplish (more on that in my previous post). So here are your next steps, in order:

1. Define your media. Whoa. What? Start with media? Well, it is a bit counter-intuitive to start by talking about the media you'll be using before you settle on those all-important learning and instructional models, but that's what I do. And here's why. Making the media decision early requires you to know your audience and your message intimately, and then allows you to tuck those media decisions under your arm and carry them with you through all those important decisions you'll be making later.

Remember Marshall McLuhan and his "media is the message" message? What he said is more true today than it was 40+ years ago. You have at your fingertips the ability to supercharge your message to this audience by matching it with the appropriate media. Match it well, and you are riding the media wave with all the power that implies. Mismatch it, and your message can get lost, dragged out to sea in the unpredictable undertow where poor training and education are cast away. So how do you choose your media?

Know your audience. Defining media starts here. When I say know your audience, I don't just mean demographics. Learning is about change, and change is about motivation. And motivation is about dreams and goals. Who they think they are and what they want to be, how they think of themselves, how they want to think of themselves--this is your sandbox. Your message, your learning product, your "Y factor" (as defined during your Discovery) is going to address these core identity issues, or it's going flail about, sputtering for help.

Know your message.You know what you want to accomplish and you know your audience. Now take a close look at your message. Certain messages are better delivered through certain kinds of media. Put another way, the content type drives your media choice.

Here is my list of content types*:

1. Factual Knowledge (facts, data, vocabulary, formulas, schema)
2. Conceptual Knowledge (principles, ideas, theories, models)
3. Procedural Knowledge (skills, techniques, methods, processes)
4. Contextual Knowledge (strategies, tactics, applications, problem-solving)
5. Cultural Knowledge (values, mores, systems, empathy)
6. Motivational Engagement (goals, drivers, desires, expectations)
7. Identity Engagement (self-worth, self-perception, purpose)

Take a look at your "X factor," the big results you expect from your learning intervention. Look at the list above. What kind of knowledge are you trafficking in, if you are going to achieve those ends? There will likely be more than one kind.

Choose your primary media. Now that you know both your audience and your message, choose your media. What are your options? If you're reading this on a fairly recent desktop or laptop and a web connection, you could probably create any one of the following using this sentence as content--the sentence you're reading right now--and you could do it before you stand up: Slides, narrated slides, video lecture, audio lecture, web page (in a social network, at least), blog, tweet, journal entry or report, email, screen capture, photo with captions, photo with narration, phone interview, video interview, spreadsheet, or graph. Take a look at your "Applications" directory and you will likely come up with a similar list--probably adding several more. I'm not saying you have to do-it-yourself. Professionals can help you pack a punch. I'm just saying you have lots of options, and you should consider them.

Does it matter which media you choose? Look at the various media available to you right now, this instant, and you can see how they would not all be equally helpful for each of the above-listed content types. You can see how a bar graph might not stimulate motivation, or a phone interview might not be the best way to teach visual procedures. Right? And that's the point of deciding on your primary media early. If you want to focus your message, the art of matching media with it is crucial. These decisions can evolve, but right now you want to make an early decision about your primary media types. Over the years I have developed a methodology for just this purpose, for this critical moment--it's basically a matrix that matches content types to media approaches, and it's ever-changing.

As you begin to look at your constraints and your learning objectives, you can now keep your compass pointing toward that powerful, magnetic pole that is your chosen media.

2. Define your constraints. This is the opposite pole from selecting your media, the negative to all that positive energy. But it's highly necessary, especially now, to avoid going over budget or just overboard.

Financial Constraints. Fortunately, you ended your Discovery Process by defining that hole in the bucket through which your organization's investment is disappearing--the hole your solution is going to put a cork in. How much is that cork worth? You don't have to be an accountant; a little back-of-the-napkin figuring can project out those excess costs and lost revenues over the next five years. Is it worth investing a fifth of that amount now in order to stop the bleeding? A tenth that much? A twentieth? Likely that's all you'll need, probably even less. Get agreement on the approximate size of the cork, and you've got your first limitation defined.

Technical Constraints. Technology is a second limitation, one that is always related to the monetary one. But often, there are non-financial reasons that certain technologies must be taken off the table. There are two sides to the technology constraint: users, and providers. What do the learners have already? The answer is usually easy; companies know what is available in the workplace, and universities know what is already required of their students.

The provider side of the technical constraint is a bit trickier. Often limits are strictly defined by an IT or an IS department, in terms of hardware and software. I "go to the cloud" whenever possible, to avoid the headache of internal installation and maintenance of software, and to sidestep political headaches. But like pollen in the springtime, these are not always possible to avoid.

Expertise Constraints. You will likely have limits put onto your effort by both the development subject matter experts and the instructional subject matter experts--those who build it, and those who teach it. Who are your SMEs, and how do you access them? Define this early. You may face some financial limitations here, but the biggest bottleneck will likely be their time. Speaking of which...

Time Constraints. Not just your subject matter experts, but the time constraints on your students must be considered. What do they have time to do? Can they spend an hour a day? Four hours a day? Eight hours a week? Learner schedules will have a significant impact on your models.

3. Create your primary learning objectives. Now instructional design begins. Many people start here, and of course starting with your learning objectives sounds logical and right. But as mentioned, I have found this step much more productive when you know your two opposite poles: your base-line media and your primary constraints.

Carefully define the highest level objectives, and write them in terms the learners will understand and embrace. (Some call these "terminal" objectives, but to me that adjective calls up images of death and layovers, both of which I prefer to avoid.) These are your learners' sign posts, and yours. These are the highly visible standards that will be raised at the beginning and measured at the end, announcing to one and all the common goals of the learning. You will have lower-level, supporting objectives that will be defined later, when the content is being structured and organized. These sub-objectives are often called "enabling" objectives. (But I don't use that term either. I'd rather be supportive than be an enabler!)

Write your objectives down in plain language, with your students as subject: "By the end of this learning experience, participants will be able to... [remember, explain, apply, analyze, evaluate, create...]." Whenever I develop objectives, I find it amazingly helpful to overlay Bloom's Taxonomy (revised version--click the link for Iowa State's very cool, interactive visualization), to help determine what the learners actually need to do with the content.

Ah, this has gone on too long again. We will get to the Learning, Instructional, Delivery, and Assessment models next time. I promise!

* Numbers 1-3 on this list come from the cognitive knowledge types in the revised Bloom's Taxonomy by Anderson and Krathwohl et al. Numbers 4-7 are my own subdivision of their single meta-cognitive category into common types of self-awareness that are well known to me, and to other learning professionals with whom I have worked. I have also baked into this list all three domains: psychomotor, affective, and cognitive (But that's grist for another post!).

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