I can still remember the early days of teaching technology. During the word-processing section of a PC Literacy course, an actual gasp would be heard as the text and cursor magically moved to the next line. That was a different time in our instructional journey. Content was king, and you couldn’t have enough of it. Since many learners had no prior experience in these technologies, they needed as much content as they could get, and many didn’t seem to care how instructionally sound it was.
As many who design and distribute content know, this format doesn’t fly today. Content, in and of itself, doesn’t get us as far as it used to. Dr. Allison Rossett of San Diego State University put it this way when talking about the next generation of learning: It’s all about motivation and understanding the nature of its components. She said that motivation is driven by a combination of two variables: perceived value and degree of confidence. On a scale of one to 10, a 10 in value combined with a zero in confidence results in very low motivation (if any at all) and vice versa.
In the early days of “word-wrap instruction,” motivation came from the belief that there was sheer value in knowing technology. The confidence factor was built in the classroom through a gifted and inspiring instructor. In other words, motivation came from good content in a safe environment.
Welcome to the new millennium. Motivation is still based on value and confidence, but for many, the variables have changed. Content for content’s sake is not enough anymore, and the classroom isn’t the only game in town. Because we did such a wonderful job teaching word-wrap, our learners have matured beyond simply needing and seeing value in more “stuff.” They want relevance—job relevance. This profoundly affects how a CLO selects and distributes learning content.
Most traditional design models work in terms of a course with a definite start and stop, as well as a specific flow. With the shift to a more job-relevant motivator, courses are broken out into other form factors, such as workshops, seminars and clinics. These can be best defined by intent, rather than content. Workshops tend to be more lab-, scenario- and group-problem-solving-based. The instructor becomes a facilitator and coach, and students learn to apply knowledge and solve real-life scenarios using critical thinking skills. Seminars tend to be shorter, with a subject-matter expert covering a lot of material and demos, which are especially powerful for learners with a strong background in the subject who simply need to understand new concepts, processes, steps or features. A clinic is often a short overview with little or no hands-on activity. Specific topics are covered that relate to solving a unique business problem. Each of these form factors emphasizes the relevance of the experience and its related content. The context is the key.
Many learners find the classroom too leading and are migrating toward e-learning and other independent environments because they match their level of confidence with their ability to find a solution. It’s almost like taking the training wheels off of a bike. Once learners can balance on their own, they do not want to be held back by the medium. Their confidence increases when they are able to continue learning by finding answers quickly and efficiently. Poorly introduced, designed and delivered independent learning options do not build confidence.
The answer doesn’t lie in the tool, but in the learning methodology and approach. This is called “metacognition.” According to the North Central Regional Educational Library, metacognition is the students’ ability to be “aware of their own thinking processes, have effective strategies to achieve their learning goals and make conscious choices about how they are going to learn. They use executive control mechanisms to monitor their learning and adjust their strategies when they are not being as effective or successful as they would like.” (See www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/atrisk/at7lk5.htm.) This is where confidence is built and maintained. It can start in the classroom, but it really needs to be fostered, supported and grown outside of that domain.
Well-designed content will remain the foundation of good instruction, but content without context is ineffective. As learners go through our instruction and their careers, our understanding of how value and confidence are achieved must mature with them. Word-wrap just doesn’t bring ’em in the door anymore.
Bob Mosher is director, learning evangelism and strategy for Microsoft Learning. He has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. For more information, e-mail Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.