Sunday, May 22, 2011

The next wave of innovation in higher ed.

"An organization simply cannot disrupt itself," asserts Clayton Christensen and the authors of Disrupting Class---->. If you're going to innovate, really innovate in the way that iPods or PC's or online day-trading innovated, you're going to have to do it outside the usual boundaries. This, of course, is what the online for-profit universities did, working outside the traditional ivory infrastructure to reach a huge customer base that was absolutely not going to stop working, move near campus, and go back to school full time for that next degree. The traditionals didn't want those students, and so the for-profits went after them with online classes and office-park classrooms. The classic disruptive innovation cycle began. That cycle continued on its normal trajectory until last summer when the traditionals, with their governmental power base, turned on the for-profits with punitive regulations, most notably the "gainful employment" clause. If you can't beat 'em, regulate 'em out of existence.

That punitive effort, as has been stated here before, seems bound to crater. It's always felt a bit last-ditch to me, and now The Hill reports that it's in serious bipartisan trouble. It seems you can't take away from millions of Americans the best path to a better life that they have ever known, without creating an uproar. So the classic cycle of disruptive innovation rolls on, right? The innovators target a new market that the old guard doesn't want, provide it with a product that changes the landscape, then the old guard eventually embraces it or pays the consequences.

Except that something odd is happening in higher education. The for-profits have stopped innovating.

Reeling from the regulatory crack-down, many have spent their time, money, and energy fighting back with lawsuits and other legal maneuvering. But what is the basis of their legal arguments? If you pull back the covers, you find this: You're treating us unfairly, singling us out, and really, we're not any different from them. And what this means is that behind the scenes, the one-time innovators are scrambling to distance themselves from their innovative roots, straightening out any wrinkles that may make them look, well, unseemly (Innovation? Us? No, no, we're just like them!). Now you have former-innovators working hard to fit in, and to become organizations just like their peers. At least one for-profit that was actively fighting the "gainful employment" rule went full circle and converted to non-profit status earlier this year. If they can't beat you, join 'em.

So if an organization simply cannot disrupt itself, what does that mean for higher ed? It means opportunity for some new innovators.

Did you know that Compaq invented the iPod? Or rather, the first palm-sized digital "jukebox" with enormous storage capacity? I just learned that, thanks to an article I stumbled across in C-NET Reviews. Compaq beat Apple by 3 years and still lost in the marketplace. Compaq was simply not prepared to make their own innovation a centerpiece of their business strategy. Apple, fully familiar with the idea of making the most out of someone else's invention by perfecting it, and its business model, was well prepared to launch into a business that was not originally theirs.

So who will the new innovators in higher education be? Who are those who are watching all this unfold, and are ready to take what has been done so far to the next level? I had lunch once at a conference with two of the product people who worked on Apple's iTunes/iPod system. "We couldn't believe Sony wasn't already doing this," one of them said. "We were in a hurry," the other chimed in, "because we thought that before we could get our product to market, one of the big entertainment/technology companies would already be there." Apple couldn't have been more right about their product, or more wrong about their competition. Not only was Sony not there, the media giant and one-time innovator (remember the Walk-Man?) would line up on the other side, working to protect their portfolio of artists from the revenue squeeze that the mp3 revolution brought about.

The new innovators in higher education are not in the spotlight right now, but they are not on the sidelines, either. They are working hard as all this plays out. They have accreditation. They understand in ways that most of the original, big-name for-profits never did that quality is key--educational quality, product quality, business quality, and academic rigor. Like Apple, they understand that perfecting the business plan and the product means huge opportunity. Blackboard and streaming lectures are 1990's technologies. The future is differentiated learning, using the power of technology to mass customize education and prove outcomes beyond a shadow of a doubt.

They're waiting. But knowing how innovators tend to think, you can bet they won't wait for long.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A better business model than the shell game

It doesn't have to be a full-on, for-profit business model, it just has to be better than the current shell game. Inside Higher Ed reports that a number of state governments took stimulus money in 2009 and poured it into higher education, while actually cutting higher ed budgets. And those cuts are going to be exposed very soon.

The stimulus package "opened up the ability for states to reallocate dollars away from education and mask it with federal money." Why did they do this? Because overall budgets were crunched and the feds were offering windfalls for education. It seemed good to state lawmakers to take their own local tax revenues and redirect them into budget areas that weren't being so lavishly supported by Washington. A shell game? Robbing Peter to pay Paul? Call it what you will, but don't call it a sound business plan.

I suppose it's barking up the wrong tree, or perhaps the wrong tower, to make the modest suggestion that universities (and state legislatures) might examine their education revenues and plan ways to increase them without relying so heavily on taxpayers' dwindling dollars. I understand the monumental nature of this suggestion, but I also know that there are places to start. Like, perhaps going to online options that can actually compete with the online, for-profit brands.

After all, the for-profit schools have managed to do well enough with a model that creates a positive cushion between expenses and income, even while growing. Yes, growing! The state schools (surprise) lose money on every student, so when their budgets are cut, they have to consider reducing enrollments. Unlike anything at all in the private sector, the solution is not more paying customers--it's fewer. Think about that a moment, and take it to its logical extreme: State schools would be at their financial best if they had no students at all. Amazing, but unfortunately, quite true.

Any business model improvement would be a positive one for the university system, and for our economy, and for our wallets as taxpayers. As it is, some mad scrambles are ahead for many university systems. Maybe someone, some brave soul somewhere within academia, will think about the free market as a possible solution. And if not, maybe a legislator or two will speak up?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

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

Now that we have clarified the question (part 1), conducted a Discovery (part 2), and framed up our media, limitations, and objectives (part 3), we can now answer the original question: How do you go about choosing the best Learning, Instructional, Delivery, and Assessment models--given all the technologies available for eLearning today?

Define your models. These models all overlap one another and inform one another, and none of them stand alone. They should be considered together, as significant parts of a single whole.

The Learning Model. This is the path your learners will take as they navigate the experience you have defined for them. Let's start with Gagne's Nine Events:

1. Gain attention
2. Inform the learner of objectives
3. Stimulate the recall of prior learning
4. Present stimulus material (content)
5. Provide learner guidance
6. Elicit performance
7. Provide feedback
8. Assess performance.
9. Enhance retention and transfer

Other research-based events:

--State the purpose of the learning
--Model the behavior/skill/application
--Provide guided practice, without assessment
--Provide student-centered closure
--Provide opportunity for self-reflection

Each of the above events is backed with solid research findings that show an increase in learning and retention if they are included. In order to generate a learning product that has the best chance of producing the desired learning outcomes, pick your events and put them in a standard order. That's your Learning Model. Each lesson, each unique module, should follow your chosen pattern, your Learning Model... until you decide that a lesson or module should follow a different one. Then define that one.

And let me just say that, as someone with a deep media background who understands impact, I can absolutely vouch for the power of these steps. If they didn't work, I never would have started using them--I'd have just added more video, more animation, more of that powerful media stuff. But in fact, getting this right is the single most effective thing you can do to increase learning. No exceptions.

So. By carefully choosing the order and matching your media with these events, it is possible to include almost the entire array of instructional options ever conceived, from the case method to discovery to self-paced and differentiated learning. You can also include group work, projects, discussions, whatever learning methods are appropriate. They all fit, because they can be used to achieve learning events. There is art to this, absolutely. Talent and experience are very helpful companions here, but the threshold is low. Creating a Learning Model is neither rocket science nor the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Assessment Model. Notice Gagne's event numbers 8 and 9... they are about assessment. This is why I consider the Assessment Model to be part of the Learning Model. How will you assess that the objectives have been met? Decide it early, and build it in. It is your proof of success. Most technology platforms have test engines, which suffice for most uses. High stakes assessments are more science than art, however, and creating reliable ones will require some psychometric expertise. Factor that in if you need it.

The Instructional Model. Did you notice that while Gagne's events define learner activities, they are actually written from the instructor's point of view? He wrote them in 1965, a classroom-only era... and in those classrooms the space between what the students were asked to do and what the instructor was doing was very, very narrow; pretty much two sides of the same coin. Online, though, the space between can be as wide as you want it. Self-paced instruction is one end of the spectrum, where there are no instructors at all. Live videoconferences or webinars are the other extreme, pretty much a traditional live grouping, but instead of being enclosed by walls all are connected by the web. Your Instructional Model defines what you want the presenter/instructor to be doing, event by Gagne event.

The Delivery Model. And here is where all the above comes together in your technology. Here is where you find ways to use all the exciting new technologies at your disposal. Or not. What you want to do now is to balance all that you want to accomplish with your audience, all your media choices and your constraints, and (this is a really, really important moment) build your Learning Model into your technology. And particularly, into your user interface.

The Learning Model cannot fight the technical infrastructure. If you want to be successful, your Learning Model needs to work within the actual user interface, it must become one with the learner experience, and be facilitated by all the screens and prompts and media that your learners are facing. Your goal is to build the learning model into the technical interface. At its best, the technology enhances your Learning Model at every turn, and wonderfully supports your Instructional Model (what the instructors are doing) as well.

Wait, I already made my media choices, you may be thinking. Doesn't that define my user interface? No, the two are not identical; your media will always be a subset of your user interface. While participants are watching a video, for example, that video and its controls are the user's interface. But how did they navigate to the video? Where do they go after watching? How do they know where they're going next and do they know why? All of that, all the steps that move learners through the entire experience, add up to your User Interface.

Everything about the student's pathway through the material, then, even their navigation panel or menu, should reflect your order of instructional events. And that order of events is, of course, your Learning Model. My teams and I have gone so far as to name the buttons on an interface after Gagne. We have had students, for example, click on "Recall Prior Learning" at the appropriate point in the lesson.

So about all those new and different technologies... how do you factor them in? You've already chosen your primary media, so you should at this point have a standard media approach enfolded into your standard Learning Model. If you've decided that podcasts are key to delivering your message, for example, then you are probably going to use them for many of the first four or five events on Gagne's list. But this should not limit you. At each point in your Learning Model, at each event, you are plugging new content into what is in effect an outline, right? So keep an open mind about what would be effective. Maybe a video will help now and again. Maybe construct a little interactive element. It doesn't have to be your primary media every time; if your technology can deliver it, and you can build, borrow, or license it, factor it in where it will help. With a solid Learning Model, everything is possible if your technology will support it.

What if you can't make your delivery platform perfectly reflect the Learning Model you want? It means that you need to start adjusting each of your models, based on all you know and all you want to achieve, so that they all work together as a whole. Each model informs and often limits the other models, and you will be making trade-offs. But your mission is to make all of the models fit together, beginning, middle, and end, providing your learners with a unified experience, driven by the most powerful media you can manage, to the end that your message is has a measurable, effective impact.

So that's my answer. It wasn't as thorough as it could be, nor as concise as I would have liked. But if you want to get the bang for the buck, then this is how I recommend going about it. At least, it's how I do it, and it's been very successful in many arenas, with many technologies, over a worthy period of time.

So to my original inquisitor, and any and all with questions in this area, I hope that helps! (And don't be such a stranger... you have my contact info.)

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!).