December 2006 Archives

December 30, 2006

Weekend Post: Implementing a Distance Learning Course

The implementation of a Distance Education program can seem daunting to various school institutions, particularly when it comes to funding. In the article posted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, they explore the implementation of K-12 cyber charter schools that are becoming more and more available to parents that would like to keep their children at home while they attend school.

The Program
Students have the opportunity to take courses that are generally not offered at any one school through online courses. Currently, there are 12 cyber-schools that are available in the Pittsburgh area with nearly 3,000 students attending (Chute, 2005). This is still a fraction of the total 1.8 million students in Pennsylvania, yet the program is becoming more popular. Parents choose to send their children for a number of reasons, mainly because they are looking for something that they can’t get in a traditional public school. Whether it’s a mobile classroom, alternative to spending hours on a school bus in rural areas, or just being able to find a program that is tailor-made, the cyber-classroom is a nice alternative (Chute, 2005).

Implementation Problems
There are several problems with implementation of a cyber-classroom, many of which the article touches on. The first is the lack of course diversity in many programs. One mother has all but one of her children in cyber schools, each of them having tried at least three during their school programs (Chute, 2005). She has the same concern, namely that not very school has the program that she and her children want to have available. So, they go to different courses as they become available and interested in different subjects.

The next problem would be funding. In Pennsylvania, there is a state law that requires a course program to provide a home computer and printer to a student that is without such equipment and the parents do not have to pay tuition, which is paid for by the state (Chute, 2005). This means that the schools need to balance their funding with the price of equipment for the students, material designed for the online delivery, equipment to deliver the material, and instructors to teach a variety of topics.

The final concern is commitment. Many of the students end up dropping out of their cyber-schools because they have lost the motivation to continue on with the demands for online learning (Chute, 2005). It’s often up to the instructor and the parents to work together, in order to keep their children motivated and participate in the courses.

Conclusion
The article covered many of the concerns of distance education that all institutions have, namely funding, availability, and motivation to keep the student throughout the course. What hadn’t been covered, and could have been, were the methods used to keep students, particularly K-12 students, interested and motivated through the online course. Otherwise, it was a well-written article.

Reference
Chute, Eleanor Cyber Schools Spring up in State, Post-Gazette.com, Pittsburgh, PA May 8th 2005. Found online at HYPERLINK "http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05128/500990.stm" http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05128/500990.stm on 05/14/2005.

December 29, 2006

Teaching Styles

Just as students have very different learning styles, instructors have their own styles of teaching. These teaching styles reflect on how the instructor approaches the topic, and how they present the material to the students. Anthony Grasha has four main clusters of teaching styles of how the instructor addresses learning courses.

Teaching Styles
Grasha has five teaching styles that he has identified. These include the Expert, Formal Authority, Personal Model, Facilitator, and the Delegator. Each of these styles identify how an instructor addresses a course and material.

The Expert
The Expert addresses the class as one that possesses knowledge and expertise that students need (Grasha, 1996). The instructor focuses their efforts on keeping their status by displaying knowledge in detail that the students do not have. This has the advantage that is centered in the knowledge that the students need. Unfortunately it can make for a very over bearing classroom environment, alienating the instructor from the students.

Formal Authority
The instructor is focused on the knowledge that they have, and in providing feedback, establishing learning goals, and setting rules for the students to follow (Grasha, 1996). The advantages would be clear expectations within the course. The disadvantage would be the lack of flexibility in the class.

Personal Model
This learning style is focused on teaching by personal example, establishing a method of thinking and behavior for the student to emulate (Grasha, 1996). Here, the instructor would be focusing on how their course is organized, keeping the methods and tasks structured in a way that encourages the learner to think and behave in a specific manner. The advantage to this style is the direct emphasis on observation as the learning method. Unfortunately, it can alienate students by making them feel unable to perform at such high expectations.

The Facilitator
Concerned with the relationship between the student and the instructor, the facilitator will focus on direction through questions and exploring options (Grasha, 1996). This is perhaps most like the Socratic method, in that the instructor will guide a course through questions that allow the students to explore all aspects of a problem based on their own experiences. The advantage to this is the personal flexibility, but it does require a lot of time in order to be sure that all required topics are covered in the course.

The Delegator
Of all the learning styles, the delegator requires that the students focus on their own learning achievements, functioning as an autonomous, independent person or group (Grasha, 1996). This means that the students gain confidence in knowing that they completely understand what is expected of them, and can achieve their goals by relying on their own abilities, rather than the instructor. Unfortunately, many students become anxious when they are given such autonomy, and therefore the style can backfire.

The Clusters
The clusters represent learning styles that are related, and often are found together. Though there are four clusters, the one that is perhaps the most applicable to my personal teaching style would be the fourth cluster, putting the Delegator, facilitator, and expert teaching styles, which give the students a level of autonomy while giving the students direction and providing direction to the courses. I focus on these because I feel that it is the best application to my chosen teaching style.

Teaching Styles and Distance Learning
Each teaching style can be applied in a classroom or a distance learning environment, but in order to provide success for both the student and the instructor, the course would need to provide a learning environment that benefits both. With a traditional classroom, the instructor can provide a number of examples and activities that are spontaneous based on the synchronous manner of their instruction. In a distance education course, it’s necessary to plan the course participation, and how the course information would be best addressed. Distance education courses are most often asynchronous, which require students to make the effort to participate. This being the case, the facilitator’s method of teaching is very well suited. The instructor is able to provide discussion questions, spend time to focus on the discussions, so that students are able to increase their understanding.

It also gives the instructor an opportunity to focus on diversity, as participation would be well planned and it gives the instructor and students time to both understand and respond respectfully to each other. It also gives the students plenty time to review and better understand one another. Finding common ground through the direction of the facilitator or delegator gives plenty of learning opportunities for all, and gives the students and instructor an opportunity to understand a different point of view by relating that point of view to experiences that they have had.

This, of course, is different from my impressions on the first week in that I hadn’t thought of specific methods of teaching beyond the expert or formal authority figure. Now, with the experiences that I have had in this course, I have learned that diversity is best served when students have the opportunity to focus on the material by relating to their own experiences.



Reference
Anthony Grasha, Teaching with Style Pittsburgh, PA: Alliance Publishers, 1996, p.154. 

December 28, 2006

PDA Ideas: Return of Newton

Today I was reading the posting on CNET.co.uk regarding the top ten Apple rumors, and got caught in the Return of Newton. Now, as you know I have mentioned my wishlist for an Apple iPhone, but if you notice not one of the features were specific to a phone. Instead, they were specific to a PDA that can and will work natively with the Apple computer. It's been a while since I had read about the Newton, and it seems that in the past few weeks (including my trip to Cupertino), the Newton has come up quite a bit.

The reason why the Newton has been referred to so often in the past couple of weeks, in my opinion at least, is because the iPhone has people talking glorified PDA with phone capability. The Newton was so well designed that it easily remains one of the best PDA's one can own. But if that's so, why did it fail? Let's take a look and see:

The Development Team
This information I have is coming from an inside source from Apple, so please take it as the hear-say that I heard. According to the source that I have within Apple, the Newton developers were rather proud of their role. They saw themselves as creating a destiny for Apple that would revolutionize the company into a portable handheld world. And as such, they made some very stupid mistakes.

First, they ignored the budgetary constraints that were placed on the entire company when times were hard. After all, if you were redefining the company's future, why shouldn't you have frequent catered lunches? This, of course, didn't go over very well within company management, or within the rest of the company. But this could have easily been overlooked if the device had been a huge success.

Second, they developed a huge device that made it difficult (at the time) to lug around. Now the device would be acceptable if only because most professionals no longer carry a PDA in their pocket, but rather carry the device in a backpack/briefcase/handbag. But in the early 1990's, it was too bulky to be considered a portable device that was of any use.

Marketing
The final nail in the coffin was the price. At the time, personal expenses could be written off to the company for a device if it was under $500. This means that any more expensive device needed to be tied directly to income, and that limited the purchasing power of more expensive devices within the Corporate world. My source was aware of this, and actually asked the Newton development team if they had run a cost analysis on the Newton, and if their choice of pricing it above $500 was taken into consideration. The answer she received was"We are Apple, people will pay what we tell them to pay."

Yes, blunders like that are precisely why Steve Jobs axed the project when he came back as CEO of Apple. Since then, according to Wikipedia, the Newton has floundered. In the end, though many of the software innovations that were created for the Newton have been implemented into Mac OS X, hope for a Macintosh PDA or tablet PC has been all but dead.

But Why Bring It Up Again?
Good question: Why would I bring it up again? Because so many PDA's that I have used and experimented with have let me down. They either have a battery life that make them virtually unusable, have a screen size that doesn't work well with the applications that I try to run, or they don't work with the platforms that I would expect from my PDA. I'm sure that I'm not the only one out there that has this same desire, and would like to see a decent device come out that not only does everything you need it to do, but is also relatively inexpensive as well.

I've looked at and played with several, including the NEC MobilePro's (which I really liked), Palm Pilots, GPE on an iPaq, and various Pocket PC's. Every one of them has lacked a single feature that I would want om a PDA that works for me. Either it was too complicated to learn how to write (Palm), too small to type (MobilePro), lacked connectivity and syncing abilities (GPE), or lacked native platform support for the Macintosh (Pocket PC).

Added to that is the price. Being fiercely Scottish myself, I don't want to pay a lot of money for something that is scaled down from a Desktop for the same price. Why don't I buy a WiFi + Bluetooth iPaq or phone? Because I can spend that same $400 and build a decent PC running Linux, and have it do more. Nope, if I get a PDA again, it needs to either be closer to the price of an iPod, or it needs to be comparable to the same priced PC. With components becoming less expensive, you would think that would be very possible.

So, what is it that I want out of a PDA? Here is my wishlist:
1. Needs to sync with the Macintosh, and Linux as well as a PC.
2. Provide connectivity (WiFi + Bluetooth), perhaps with 3G phone technology.
3. Support CalDAV standards, and utilize subscriptions to iCalendar formats (either vCal or iCal). Additional MS Exchange Server support would be a plus.
4. Video Conferencing out of the box through open standards (Jabber), and popular standards (AIM, MSN Messenger, Bonjour, etc.).
5. Very simple user interface. I just want it to work.
6. Audio to text dictation. Speech recognition has greatly improved, and should be utilized.
7. Simple developer interface. Use something like Dashboard widgets, and have it drag and drop to the Mac.
8. At least a 10 hour battery life.

There isn't a lot there, if you notice. I didn't say that I was going to require a color screen, though it would be nice. In reality, I would be happy with a black and white screen, as long as it did everything else I like. I also don't really care about editing documents either. If I was going to edit a document, I would use my desktop, or a small form notebook. That is, after all, what they are designed for. But I would need to read the document, or leave notes. While handwriting recognition would be nice, I think voice recognition would be more effective if possible. And finally, I don't care if I can't watch full length movies or listen to my iTunes music on it. That's what the iTV is for, and an iPod Shuffle.

Anyway, I don't know if anyone from Apple is looking at this, but if they are, I hope they understand that the request isn't necessarily for them, but if they would work with a PDA company to develop a device that meets all these specifications, they would definitely have my money. ^_^

December 27, 2006

Back Home Again: Apple Train the Trainer Roundup

My last post seems ages ago, as I have since returned home and had a very busy holiday weekend. So let me fill you in on my overall impressions for the Train the Trainer program that I attended last week.

As previously posted, the first two days consisted of learning how to train adults in particular, and then presentation styles. The remainder of the week was basically the same, covering the rest of the chapters within the course material. Training methods were explored, feedback was given, and overall it was a worthwhile experience in preparing to present the course materials. Ultimately, I doubt very much if it would change the way I had planned on teaching the courses, but I did get some great contacts, which I will bring up later.

The Presentations
The presentations that were given came right out of the Support Essentials Workbook, which one gets when one attends the training course. The workbook contains most of the presentation slides, as well as the exercises. Of course, we didn't actually go into the exercises, because we were focusing on the actual presentation methods. Ultimately, we were being judged on whether or not we were good enough to provide the public face of Apple Computers. The most important thing I had learned is that one doesn't say "OS X (ex)", but rather "OS 10". Also, it's possible to mention any third party utilities that work well, even if Apple has an application that does the same thing but not as well. That was refreshing.

The Feedback
The feedback process was nice, in that the candidates for Train the Trainer were all able to share what they thought was good, and what they thought they needed to improve on. It was a really good experience being able to give feedback, and receive it. We were all to become a "sponge", receiving feedback without making any comments. Then the instructor gave their feedback based on what they felt went well and what needed to improve. The good news is that everyone attending (all three of us) did really well. The other two candidates did an excellent job in their training presentations, and I was told I did fine as well.

That being said, I don't think I changed my presentation style very much. We were video-taped for review later, and it helped for me to see myself. I did notice my poor posture, as well as a tendency to say "so" and "um" quite a lot. That is something that I would like to work on. But my presentations went pretty much as I would have expected. It isn't perfect by any means, but it has proven to be effective in the past.

The Training Program
Something that really frustrates me about industries in general is the lack of detailed information about the training program itself. Now, I don't mean materials, as that represents an investment and needs to be guarded. No, I mean the general flow of the training process. How does one prepare for the class? How does one organize their materials, order new materials, utilize training seats sold by the parent company, etc. Much of this is covered in house with most companies, and leaves a training facility out in the cold without inside help.

This same issue I found to be true initially with Apple Training. It was almost like pulling teeth trying to get the course requirements, class registration information, etc. in time to do real scheduling within a university timetable. But to be fair, I expect to have the same concerns with RedHat and SuSE when I begin those programs. The real benefit of attending this training was getting to meet a lot of the folks at the Worldwide Customer Training program. I got to ask about porting their training materials over to a more University schedule format, get to know how the program works internally, and get contact information for those that I may need to contact later for various issues. That was, in my mind, the best opportunity for me attending the CT3. For that reason alone I would be happy to attend all of the T3's that are planned for each of the new courses I will be teaching.

Caffe Mac
Caffe Mac is perhaps the best kept secret for Apple employees. Sure, there are a lot of companies that have excellent food offered, but generally it's very expensive to fill full. Not at Caffe Mac! The food is varied, freshly made, and amazingly inexpensive for the quality. I was in heaven when I had a real fire-baked pizza (not gas flame, or electric, real wood fire!), or a delicate soba with seaweed. It's a great place for lunch.

The Company Store
And, if that isn't enough, there is the company store that has everything short of hardware, and at a decent price (particularly if your instructor is kind enough to share their employee discount!). I did all my wife's holiday shopping there for her, because I knew she loves her Mac. Another great secret for employees.

So, needless to say I enjoyed the experience, and look forward to going back again in January for the T3 for Server Essentials. But until then, look for more postings about issues I see coming down the pipe.

December 20, 2006

Apple Train the Trainer So Far

I know I haven't posted anything substantial in a while, but the train the trainer program that I am currently going through has been quite time consuming, keeping me busy. I must admit that there was a lot going into this training that I was not looking forward to, in particular the "how to teach adults" section. As I have an advanced degree in adult education, I thought it would be a waste of my time. Suprisingly enough, it hasn't been. Let me tell you why.

Day One: Presentation Style
The first day we spent time working on presentation style. This was everything I was afraid of, and confirmed my fear that I was going to be covering a class that my advanced degree already covered. We started by giving presentations on subjects that we already were familar with and were not related to the technical side of things. This was, as you might expect, pretty standard. But it was a great opportunity to receive feedback, and focus on presentation skills. Anytime you have an opportunity to fine tune your presentation skills from a critique from your peers is a good thing.

We then went to the Apple Training Department Christmas Party, which was really cool. We got to meet a lot of people that we have only spoken with on the phone, and that was a great opportunity. It was also a great opportunity to get into the Apple campus, and see what the culture is like. As you can imagine, it fits most concepts of Apple is all about. It was very relaxed, though the security is quite high. And there are coffee stands everywhere. Apparently they spend a lot of time working, and need a lot of stimulants to keep going in the day.

Finally, we had an opportunity to go to the Apple Company Store. That was the best experience for the first day of training I could have had. The employees have a considerable discount on merchandise there, and our trainer vouched for us. I got a lot of my Christmas shopping done that day, and I am looking to get more done on Thursday (the last day).

Day 2: Presentations
Day 2 was spent mostly going through presentations that we had prepared. This was an opportunity to not only show what skills we have, we now can show what we know about the subject. That was a good experience as well, since Apple has specific terms that need to be referred to correctly. It was also an opportunity to learn some very obscure material that is not covered anywhere in any reference manuals.

We also got to go to Caffe Mac for lunch, where Steve Jobs occasionally visits. We didn't get to meet him, but it was a really cool experience to meet others from the Apple camp. No news on what is coming for MacWorld, though, because no one would crack.

Anyway, I'll fill in more details about the training experience at another time. Stay Tuned!

December 18, 2006

Apple Train The Trainer Experience

Currently, I am sitting in a Hotel in Cupertino, CA getting ready for a Train the Trainer session at Apple Headquarters. This post will be a short one, but I wanted to give you an idea of the trip here, and let you know that I will be posting some experiences for anyone else that may be interested in becoming an Apple Certified Trainer. Hopefully this information will be helpful to you.

The Flight
I don't like extensive travel that leaves me in a position where I can't get around. Hence, I don't like to fly to a lot of places within the US. Unlike Europe with their extensive train system, the United States is very much wanting in mass transit options. I could rent a car, but being the scot that I am, I don't like to spend the money. So, needless to say, I was very apprehensive about this trip.

The airport was busy, even for a Sunday. Getting the boarding passes took some time, but as Salt Lake International has an automatic pass machine, it made it that much more convenient. Once the pass was in hand, I headed up to the gate. I didn't check my luggage, because I only had two bags. One that met the requirements for the carry-on bag, and the other was my laptop bag. That simplified the flight process considerably.

The flight was very pleasant. It took only 2 hours to fly from Salt Lake International Airport to San Jose. I flew Delta because they had the lowest rates that I could find, and the flight was very comfortable. It was a smaller plane, so there was a lot more motion than I like, but as I didn't get sick I would call it a success. The only thing I regret is not taking a set of headphones with me, so that I could watch my iTunes videos while flying. Oh well, a purchase for the return flight, I guess.

The Hotel
Now that I am in San Jose, I needed to get to my hotel. I didn't have access to an airport phone (and didn't have the change for a pay phone), so I called the hotel from the cell phone. The hotel I am staying at is the Cupertino Inn, which is just across the freeway from Apple's Infinite Loop campus. I chose is specifically because it is within walking distance from the campus, and therefore makes getting around less of a hassle. The rates are decent, at $119.00 per night ($165.00 during Holidays), and the staff is very attentive.

So I called the Hotel, and they sent their shuttle to pick me up. They knew which Terminal I was at (good thing, as I didn't until I left the terminal), and were prepared to call me back if they couldn't find me. The wait was about 15 minutes, which isn't bad for mid-day traffic on a Sunday. The really cool thing is, it was a Limousine that picked me up. Yes, that's right, the hotel has complementary limousine service. That sold me on the hotel right there. I could have shown up to a complete hole in the wall, and still loved the hotel.

Once at the hotel, I entered through the courtyard. That is because the hotel is currently under construction to renovate the space. The desk attendant was very helpful, and was patient as I signed the traveler's cheques. A quick side note on the Hotel, they don't take checks. Not even certified checks from well-known Universities. So if you are going to be staying at the hotel, have either a credit card or cash/traveler's cheques ready.

My room is on the ground floor, right across from the pool. The irony is huge, as I love to swim but didn't even think of packing a swimsuit. This is because the weather in Salt Lake was 36 degrees and snowing. It just didn't register to me. The room is spacious, with a large bathroom, desk, love seat, comfy chair, and a king sized bed. The TV is a decent size, with plenty of channels if you don't already have your viewing programs on iTunes. ^_^ All in all, it is a really nice hotel room.

The hotel is within walking distance of a Rite Aid, local market, a Quizno's Subs, a mom and pop cafe, and an Outback Steakhouse (right across the street from the Apple Campus). There are also two gas stations, should you get that middle of the night craving for really bad nachos (and who doesn't?!?). On top of that, the hotel has a 24 hour room service that is reasonably priced (first I have ever seen!). I am looking forward to trying it out one of these nights.

Anyway, that's how it's been so far. Stay Tuned as I post my experiences with the Apple Training Staff!

December 15, 2006

Evaluation: How You Know The Work Was Worth While

Your adrenaline is moving out of your system now, the class is over. How did you do? Most trainers can "sense" a general feel in the presentation and participation from the learners, but what were they really thinking? Did they get it? Can they do their job better now than they could before they started the training?

If you are a trainer, chances are you were hired for a specific job: making sure learners work better/faster/smarter. As with any other job, chances are your boss will want a full accounting of your performance in this area. How can you prove that you have accomplished your goal in a way that's measureable, and easy to understand? You do this through evaluation.

There are a number of ways you can evaluate the success of your training, depending on how much time you have to prove your worth to the company. There are the direct, timely methods, and there are indirect methods as well. Let's take a look at them both, and see which is best for you.

Direct Evaluation Methods
These are commonly called "Tests", "Assessments", and "Surveys". Basically, you check to see how well the learner had performed at the beginning of the course, give them quick tests in the middle of the course to see if they understand each of the modules you are presenting, and then have a final exam that tests overall comprehension. This is probably the most traditional method of evaluation, and everyone is pretty much familar with it. But it only looks at a small snap-shot of the learner's abilities. You don't know if the targeted skills are going to be applied.

A real bonus from this method, particularly from the survey, is that you can get a feel for your development and implementation of the course. How did it appeal to your learners? How are you doing as a presenter? There are a number of things that you can learn that will add to your ADDIE development through this method, outside of just whether or not the analysis was correct.

Indirect Evaluation Methods
Indirect evaluation methods would include monitoring employee performance over a long period of time, focus on overall numbers and how they relate to the skill that needed to be taught. Is there an improvement? Did it warrant the devotion of resources?

For those who are familar with any type of research, this should be nothing new. Researching the results of a change is part of what analysts do, and makes them so valuable to companies (mostly because it's so boring no one else wants to do it ^_^). But what do you analyze? Focus on the results as compared to your initial needs analysis. Did the numbers you focused on for your initial analysis change? Did they change for the better? Where there other factors involved that were not initially recognized?

For those trainers that are caught in the political arena within your company and were forced to create a training program to compensate for non-skill related issues, this is a perfect time to emphasize that while the skill became better known, the outcome did not improve because of the x and y factors. If you provide the information in a scientific way, showing that even though the training was a success the solution failed to be realized, the management will often concede, or let you go, which would also be an acceptable alternative. Who wants to be blamed for someone else's incompetence?

Seriously though, it's a good method to see how effective your training was, your analysis was, and how well each of the learners assimilated the information. You learn how well things are going, how you can improve your teaching style, and therefore increase your effectiveness as an instructor. A success here will validate your work, give you a great promotion, raise, and a chance to win a free 2 week vacation in the Bahamas! ^_^

When to Use Your Evaluation Style
Neither evaluation method is perfect on it's own, so combining both is essential for a full view into how well you are doing. Use a quick assessment at the beginning of the course to find out where your learners are (if that is in question). Once you know, have them keep their scores for future comparisons and self-evaluation. Also have an after-class evaluation that is done anonymously away from the classroom environment. This way the instructor doesn't have a presence to influence the outcome of the evaluation.

Then, send two more evaluations, once after 3 weeks, and one after 2 months. This way you can find out how well the content is remembered, and what the percentage of recall is for the learners. This is good long term data to be gathering. And finally, spend some time doing indirect evaluations by checking performance numbers. Of course, this assumes that you have access to the information. If you don't, you may want to provide a quick spreadsheet to the company that contracted your services so that they can provide the final data to you. They can leave out any information that may be proprietary and still provide enough information to let you know if you have been successful in your endeavors.

So, that finishes this segment of the ADDIE program. I may post some additional information on the subject, but for now, I wish all of you good luck in your training development!

December 14, 2006

Implementation: What Makes The Work Worth It

Everything that I have posted up to now comes down to this section here: Implementation. Actually getting out there to deliver the material in a way that makes the work behind it worth it. While this sounds like a simple deal, and is often taken for granted by a number of people, I want you to think about the last training session that you attended. Did you like the trainer? Did you like the training? Do you remember what the topic was about? Do you remember any specific thing from that training?

If you had a good trainer, you probably can say yes to every one of those questions. If you had someone that was just pulled in to do it because they happened to know something about the topic (SME), then you probably can't say yes to everything. So let's get down to what makes the trainer excel in the actual presentation.

Entertainment
Yes, believe it or not, as a trainer you are an entertainer. If you are going to be presenting anything, you need to keep people's attention. For some presenters (i.e., a CEO), this can be accomplished through the unspoken threat of unemployment. As a trainer, you don't have that ability. Instead, you need to captivate your learners by a mixture of humor, interesting material, and applicable media that can keep their interest. You also need to have an ability to judge the learner reaction, and adjust to keep their attention. Luckily, they are generally there for a reason and will give you more attention than they probably did their High School teachers.

Follow the Course Outline
Some instructors like to wing it when it comes to covering the material that is outlined. They think of themselves as catering to the learner's needs, and basically discount the work that course designers have put into the curriculum. I will tell you right now that if I had an instructor like this working for me, it wouldn't last long. The content is there for a reason, and the outline is there for a reason. You cover the material that is listed, and don't make it up as you go along.

Does that mean that you don't have any flexibility? Absolutely not! You can be flexible in how you address the material, and even in which sections you cover first (some textbooks will not cover what you want to cover). But don't dismiss your course material as a tool. It's there to help you stay on track, let you gauge how much time you have to cover the remainder of the material, and whether or not you are actually teaching the required skills. Without that gauge, you might as well waste everyone's time.

Topic Comfort
Every trainer that teaches a subject needs to be proficient in that subject to the extent that they can cover the skills required. This is not a suggestion, but a requirement. This is where having a Subject Matter Expert (SME) handy is almost required. Inevitably you will get a learner that wants something more than what you are teaching. You need to either address it while teaching (establishes credibility), or if you don't know the answer, offer to find the answer and get back to them. If you offer to get back to them, you need to get back to them with the answer, preferablly within 24 hours. Why? It establishes credibility with your learners, and establishes you as a well connected individual.

This doesn't mean that you have to know it all! That's almost impossible for anyone to know everything about any given subject. But it's a good sign of a scholar if they are able to identify sources to find the answer, rather than just spouting an answer that is shooting from the hip. Remember that your credibility as a trainer can be dramatically affected if you start making up answers without checking with the SME over your subject. If you don't have one, find one. Even if you have to contact the CEO first to go down the chain to the person that knows your topic, do it. Ultimately it's the best move that you could ever make.

Preparation
It seems almost redundant to mention this given all the previous posts that focus on preparing for a course, but your personal preparation is probably the best way to make sure the training session goes well. Leave all your emotional baggage behind, and focus on the present. While you are up there infront of the class, you belong to your learners. Having a bad day? Try to leave it behind. As always, this is much easier said than done, but if you need it take a couple of minutes before the training session to meditate and relax.

Also, spend some time in the classroom to be sure everything is working correctly. If you need speakers, make sure they are working. Have any video or slide show presentations? Make sure your projector/TV is working for you. Check the layout of the classroom to be sure all students can see you. If they are behind a column or barrier that may make it hard to see or hear you, block off those seats. Are all your tools functional? Make sure you go through each one before you start the class. A technical problem during a training session takes away from the flow, and makes it less enjoyable.

Have Fun!
Above all, make sure you are having fun while you are teaching! If you don't, your learners will catch it, and they won't have any fun either. If you make it a fun environment for yourself (and it's not sadistic humor, mind you!), then it should be a fun for the students as well. If you are getting done with a particularly long lecture or session, have everyone stand up and stretch. Perhaps you can have them do jumping jacks, act a little silly, or something like that. It's all about how comfortable everyone feels, and what would be fun for the entire class.

While this post isn't completely comprehensive, I hope it helps someone realize what can make a good trainer. Even SME's can make a good trainer if they are able to implement as many of these suggestions as possible. Of course, you need to make sure the course is effective, which comes to our last section in the ADDIE model: Evaluation. Catch you next time!

December 13, 2006

Course Material Development

Well, now we know what we need to teach, we know how to address this information, and now we even have our information outlined. We just need to develop the presentation material that best addresses the needs of the learners. How do you do this? Well, it begins with your design concepts and addresses the learning methods that you are most likely to employ in your training class.

Identifying Your Media
Your first step will be to identify the media you are going to use. Is lecture the best method? Perhaps a presentation slide show? It's all down to what you are teaching, and what your learners need in order to learn. For instance, if I were going to teach someone how to cook, I would probably use live presentations, video presentations, some take away material for future reference, and projects to evaluate what has been learned. But this works only in a classroom setting, and not in a distance learning environment.

So while choosing your media, remember how the media will be distributed. Will it be distributed through online means, physical methods (books, magazines, etc.), or are you going to use a live presentation? How many do you expect to reach at once? What phase of the moon is expected on the training date? Okay, that last one was a joke, but I hope it gets the point across. What are the physical limitations that you have on the training that need to be worked around?

Classroom Events
Classroom events are the best, in my mind, because projects can abound and collaborative learning is simple. Here the instructor can work with the learners in a more interactive way, allowing them to actually do hands-on work that can be easily and quickly evaluated. Lecture is easily integrated with project material, ongoing support by the instructor, and even group activities make this a really good opportunity for media deployment.

Live Presentations
Live presentations are generally presentations to a large, live audience. In these cases, breaking people up into groups can be more of an organizational hazard than it is worth, so visual demonstrations are more likely. But don't let this be your only presentation option! You can provide written material as well, and to some extent have audience participation. It all depends on the deployment of staff that you want to use.

Broadcasts
Now that we are moving into the realm of asynchronous communication, audience participation during the presentation becomes almost impossible. But you can utilize your ingenuity in this area as well. Focus on following up with your learners. Find out what they thought, their positions, etc. Blogging or a live chat option in this case would be ideal, and gives you an idea of their understanding and comprehension as well. Another assessment method? You bet!

Posting Documents
Whether online or in a physical packet, reading is reading. That means many people don't when they are supposed to, or they choose to ignore the document all together (i.e., the instructions). If you are going to create only reading material, make sure you provide visual aids as well. Also include some step by step examples that allow tactile learners to follow along at their own pace. While it is my least favorite method of teaching, reading documents/books is actually my preferred learning method.


Once you have your materials planned for, start creating them. Here you can use any artistic abilities that you have (which I sadly lack), and create something that will turn heads. Not in the "Ahh! It's After Me!" way, but in the "Wow! How About That!" way. Once your materials are ready, you are ready to implement your training to it's fullest potential. And with that, I will leave you until the next posting on implementation. Cheers!

December 12, 2006

Course Design Steps

Now that we have covered the Analysis portion, we can get to the fun stuff: Design. Developing a course, in my mind, outlines the course content, builds the framework for the course, and gives the course it's shape. This is opposed to material development, which outlines the delivery methods used for the course material. What we will get to in another post.

Topic Layout
This section should be fairly simple if you have already built it into the task analysis portion. You need to plan each course module to be independent in it's delivery, and yet build upon a previously set foundation. Why? Because the reality with workplace learners, particularly adult learners, is that they have already gathered a specific basis of knowledge through experience. The problem is, poorly designed training modules can insult these learners and turn them off to any new concept that may augment their previously acquired experience. This is the heart of Andragogy, as opposed to pedagogy which is basicaly the same, but focuses more on delivering content instead of including the adult learner in the learning process.

Once you have your outline, start building your content lectures. Why so soon when you don't know how the content will be delivered? Because you need to have content first. I start with lectures because it's Auditory, and that's how I learn best. If you are a Visual learner, you can start with Powerpoint slides. Tactile learners can start with a series of projects that best outline how each topic will be handled. How ever you find it easiest to create the content, go for it. But keep in mind that you will be augmenting any learning material with addiional learning method content once you start the design stage.

Instructor Guide
The Instructor Guide is the outline that you will be following while teaching. Some like to have it outlined on 3x5 cards, some like to have the complete written lecture. Here is where you start to think about who will be teaching. I like to write out the lecture completely, much as you would expect from a text book, so that anyone with a reasonable amount off knowledge can both use it as a reference and teach the course. The guide method is entirely up to you, depending on who you expect will be teaching.

The Learner
I began with the outline that let's you choose how your content will be delivered. I specifically said that you could choose your delivery method you like best as long as you have some delivery material and have an idea of what will be taught. That's great! Now it's time to work in other learning methods.

There are three main learning methods that are best utilized: Visual, Auditory, and Tactile learners. let's look at each one in more detail:

Visual Learners
Visual learners like to be able to see it in action. They learn best from visual aids, representations, and pictorial or video representations of data. Often considered artistic, they focus on visually appealing materials. This means just using pictures and video isn't enough. You need to be sure that the display is clearly shown, that the layout is well created, and that you can work well with the display. Luckily, any slide show program can help in this department.

Auditory Learners
Auditory is often misunderstood as hearing and listening only. That's not true, as auditory learners are also able to assimilate written instructions very well. Often the auditory learner will take a book and learn how to do something through the book alone. Anyone that has gone through preparing for an exam without springing for the training class, and succeeded, would most likely be an auditory learner. Focus on written take-aways for these learners, as they will refer to the material long after your lecture has been forgotten.

Tactile Learners
Tactile learners require hands-on experience. In the past I have had trouble trying to appeal to this group of learners as most corporate training programs squeeze the time out of projects. If you can do so, always work a tactile project into the learning environment. It not only appeals to tactile learners, but also gives an excellent self-evaluation method for all learners there. Make sure you have the tools available, and if you don't try to get the test environment as close to the real experience as possible.

Testing
Yes, now you can start looking at testing. As mentioned before, testing needs to be as close to the real life experience as possible to be effective, though other methods have been utilized in the past. If you have any limitations here, you may want to look at virtual representations so as to minimize risk to your current system. But also look at alternatives that may be ideal for assessment in comphrension, and not just skill.

Instructor Dictated Learning
Lectures, reading material, and demonstrations are pretty much one way, as they only dictate material to the learner. But it's also the most common method of training, allowing for swift deployment of your modules. If you are worried about speed over complete comprehension, these methods are perhaps for you.

Instructor and Learner Directed learning
There are a number of ways to involve the learner in the learning process, which mostly focuses on discussons that are lead by the instructor. The topic is presented, the learners are given time to research, and then come together to discuss what they have found. Some of my favorite high school teachers employed this method while teaching their classes. Why is it so important? Because the learner is given the illusion of direction in the course material. I say illusion because the topics are already dictated, and the discussion is generally initiated by the instructor by setting a position.

Learner Directed Learning
Learner directed learning is a bit more complex, more focused, and a lot more complicated for apprehensive instructors. In this method the learner dictates the topic that is discussed, and is often augmented by the instructor if any points have been missed. That's the important part, as the augmentation makes sure all skills and knowledge requirements have been met. Here the learner can be the instructor, using their own presentation. They can also participate in role playing scenarios, or even gathering their own data through experiments.

While most trainers are a little apprehensive with this method (if anyone can do it, why pay a trainer so much?), it's important to understand that delivery and development are two completely different skill sets. Anyone can honestly deliver material (not necessarily well), but not everyone can develop the material that needs to be delivered. So job security should not be an excuse for excluding this method of learning.

Ultimately the decision of learning methods is completely up to you. The best learning environment will employ each of these methods in various degrees of implementation. Find what is best for you, and go for it!

Next we will have the development stage, which focuses on the learning material development. This will include visual, auditory, and tactile learning environments, and how they can work together. Stay tuned!

December 11, 2006

iPhone Rumors, What They Say To Me

This is a bit of a divergence from the recent series that I have been posting, but I feel the need to make a comment on the recent rumors about an up-coming Apple "iPhone", that is supposed to be announced this January. I have been following the rumors for quite a while, mostly because I think it's an interesting concept if all the proposed features are implemented. But we need to stay focused: Why do Mac users want such a gizmo? Can't they fulfill their technology needs with other devices? This isn't so much about the device that is proposed, it's about what's lacking in current devices. Let me explain:

Easy UI
The first complaint that I have had with just about every phone I have used is the UI. Mobile phones have very complex UI's that require someone to go deep into different folders to get to each feature. Wouldn't it be nice to have a single screen that can rotate to each section with one screen? Then have that one screen have all the features you need. Make it intuitive, and you have a winning UI for any device.

PDA Flexibility in a Small Package
I don't like modern PDA's, because they are generally too bulky to be comfortably functional. Do they need to be that big? Not really, particularly if you can use a separate display option (see My Vu eye wear). Also, do you really need to have such a large writing display for handwriting recognition? Maybe if you tried using a bluetooth lazer keyboard to input your information, you wouldn't have an issue. Or better yet, if you used an internet Calendar program using CalDAV (Google Calendar, iCal Server, Yahoo Calendar, etc.) to enter a lot of your information, you would rarely need to enter any text at all. Use the microphone to take notes for yourself, and enter them into your online PIM manager once you get to a computer. That cuts down on the overall size, and makes it that much more convienient.

Better, More Open PIM Management
Exchange is not the answer, and constantly syncing your information can be a hassle. What I want as a Mac user (or a *nix user in general) is a PIM system that has open standards and will sync with any open standards server out there. That means that if I use Google or Yahoo Calendar to keep track of my classes, I can sync it through my phones Internet connection without having to sync with anything. Why not Exchange? Because it's not open, and therefore very restrictive.

But, I would also like to point out that currently the only mention of PIM management has been through syncing and through .Mac, both of which I would not be happy with. I would much rather have a CalDAV client that will let me subscribe to a CalDAV server to access my calendar information. Hopefully Apple has this in mind, should they actually make the iPhone.

Open, Simple Development Options
Little has been speculated about the iPhones OS, other than it's supposed to be really "cool". What would I consider really cool? I ported version of Darwin, that would run programs that can be made with simple tools. Dashboard widgets would be great, but more to the point I was thinking of building a development base such as GPE or OPIE. Keep it open source, easy to develop for the platform, while keeping the proprietary software for Apple. This could technically be possible, but as I have yet to find a website devoted to porting Darwin to embedded devices, I'm not sure how this could be possible.

iChat AV
Ever since I saw a commercial for HP showing a young lady in the middle of a video conferencing session with her iPaq in the middle of Red Square in Moskow, I have wanted a video chatting device that was mobile. Now, it must be said that previous phone connections have been too restrictive and slow to make this happen. But now with 3G becoming available in most major cities (yes, even in Salt Lake City), it should be possible. And why not? Isn't this something that we have all dreamt about, ever since seeing Inspector Gadget's niece Penny speak to Brain the dog on her video watch? Despite dating myself with that last comment, I think it would be an amazing innovation that few have seen fit to integrate.

Syncing Abilities with All Platforms
I know I said I don't want to sync with my computer, but that's just me. Many people out there would like to be able to sync with their personal mail client, calendar software, etc. And not all of them use the Mac, or even Windows. I'm talking about all those Linux users that have to fight through dependencies to get synce, multisync, opensync, etc. working on their system just to use a PDA. Why force someone to go through all the pain? If Apple is going to release this, they need to think of the Linux users out there, which would be a change for Apple. They haven't been too keen on releasing any of their proprietary software for Linux in the past. But this change would be a welcome change, if Apple saw fit to release it.

Cool, Killer Apps
Really cool, killer apps need to be released for the platform. That means a universal eBook reader for those that like to carry their books with them for a quick read. That also goes for games (including multiplayer games), GPS, etc. This could best be implemented by using the Dashboard Widgets out there. They already exist, most have a small footprint, and few require other applications installed to run.

In fact, this whole platform could be just one integrated Dashboard with a Front Row navigation system. That would make it easy to install your software apps, and make it easy to navigate through them all. Why hasn't someone thought of this before? It eptomizes the ease of use for Apple, the "just works" mentality, and makes the complex install process for Palm and Pocket PC look that much more unattractive to the average user.

Battery Life
Yes, I want to be able to use iChat AV on a device for longer than an hour or so. I would also like to see the battery be something that can easily be replaced if it goes bad. This means more of a traditional cell phone battery, rather than the iPod's battery that requires someone to tear it apart in order to get to it. That way the device can live longer than the battery, and it's more eco-friendly. It's also cheaper to maintain, which is why I would want it. ^_^

Final Words
So, while the iPhone hype is still frenzied out there, I thought I would give out my list. You notice that I didn't mention watching video or listening to music on my list. Why? These have already been done. While listening to music or watching a movie would be nice, I would rather have a device that allows for multimedia communication and open standards PIM management over a glorified MP3 player on my phone. Make a device that fulfills this need, and you will capture my heart as a consumer. If Apple does this, great! If not, I hope someone else is listening to the hype, realizes the need, and meets it.

Any EE majors out there? This would be a perfect project, particularly if you can do it within a small budget. ^_^

Analysis Day 3: The Objectives

Now that the main body of the work has been accomplished, we need to identify the objectives. This outlines specific goals for the training session. What do we need to specifically accomplish? Well, let's find out.

The Learning Objective
The learning objective outlines the problem, the results, the environment and conditions for success, and the resources available for success. What's more, this is all in one sentence, so the use of commas are encouraged. It's through these objectives that your overall success can be measured by, and therefore how to determine if the training was worthwhile. This doesn't include evaluation methods, though they are closely related to this process. We will cover that in a later section.

So it is important that we identify what exactly identifies success. This is defined by the Input (problem) and the Output (results). The Input presents the issues that the training module is going to address, and is generally linked to the inability to perform the task at hand.

The Output outlines the ability to perform the task within the set measureable guidelines required by the training. These can be satisfaction, performance, productivity, or safety guidelines. Just anything that measures success for the learner.

Following that, the Aids (resources) and Conditions need to be recognized. Aids identify the experience or needs that the learner requires to perform the task. For example, an aid would be a diagram showing how to insert the key into the ignition. In other words, it can be reference material, access to support staff, and anything else that can assist with the performance of the task.

The Conditions outline the limiting factors within the performance of the job. If an Internet connection is required, and may not be 100% reliable, that needs to be taken into account. If access to the key locker is necessary, that needs to be taken into account. Basically, all factors not related to knowledge and skill are outlined here in order to set a reasonable expectation. If someone doesn't have the correct tools, you can expect them to perform the task.

Once the sections have been outlined (I do this in the Task analysis document, directly above the inserted table), the objective can be created. So let's outline the sections!

The Input and Output
First we need to define what the problem is for this task going into training, and what we expect to get out of it. For instance, if we start the training with the idea that our taxi driver doesn't know how to start the car, we would assume that after the end of this module the driver can now start the car while meeting all performance guildelines. That is an example of input and output. Here is how you can write it:

INPUT: The driver is unable to use the key to start the ignition.
OUTPUT: The driver is now able to start the ignition using the automobile's key to the extent that customer satisfaction and proper use guidelines have been met.

So what do we have here? We have the beginning and the end of the learning objective! That's right, we can actually copy and paste this into the learning objective, which saves a lot of typing. Finally! A short cut!

Aids and Conditions
I format my aids and conditions in a similar manner. While continuing with the example:

AIDS: Access to automobile manual, keys to the vehicle, and support staff.
CONDITIONS: Assuming the vehicle is in good maintenance, the driver is already licensed, and is familiar with the vehicle in question.

Here we have the center portion of the learning objective. Again, we can copy and paste this directly into the objective, which will save us a lot of heartache (and sore hand joints) in the long run. But how does it all go together?

Putting It All Together
It's time to look at the whole application of this work. Here is how it should look in your Task analysis document:

Task A: Starting The Vehicle
INPUT: The driver is unable to use the key to start the ignition.
OUTPUT: The driver is now able to start the ignition using the automobile's key to the extent that customer satisfaction and proper use guidelines have been met.
AIDS: Access to automobile manual, keys to the vehicle, and support staff.
CONDITIONS: Assuming the vehicle is in good maintenance, the driver is already licensed, and is familiar with the vehicle in question.

So we have our task, we have the problem stated, the expectations, the resources, and the conditions that are outlined. So let's put it togeter into the Learning Objective!

The learning objective would be formatted this way:

Given [input] and [conditions] with [aids], the learner will be able to [output].

For our example, it would look like this:
Given the driver is unable to use the key to start the ignition and assuming the vehicle is in good maintenance, the driver is already licensed, and is familiar with the vehicle in question with access to automobile manual, keys to the vehicle, and support staff, the learner will be able to start the ignition using the automobile's key to the extent that customer satisfaction and proper use guidelines have been met.

Yes, it's one long sentence and it's probably not formatted correct grammatically, but it outlines each of the important steps in the training process. We finally have an objective that is specific enough to keep us on topic while developing and designing the material. But before we can get that done, we have one final step: The Assessment Methods.

Assessment or Testing
Yes, you need to test your learners in some manner to be sure they are learning what you are trying to teach them. No matter how well you think you are doing, chances are you have lost someone that is too afraid to speak up. And if you have lost one person, you probably have a few others that are just barely keeping up. Assessments are necessary in determining their success, and whether or not you are teaching properly. If you lose a lot of students, it's time to rethink your approach.

In order to evaluate someone's abilities in the most efficient manner, the best thing is to create an environment as close to the actual performing environment as possible. No matter what other instructors (or even professors) may think, Multiple Choice doesn't do this. The real evaluation method is in practice.

That being said, if it's not possible, or economically feasible, to do so then alternative assessment methods can be used. After all, all certification classes (with a few exceptions) are multiple choice tests. This posting isn't meant to be a discussion on the virtues of each evaluation method, so you need to decide what is best for you.

When it comes to your Assessment methods, I would have at least three options selected: one for Tactile learners (hands on), one for Auditory learners (written exams), and one for Visual learners (presentations). This gives you a general pool to pull from while designing the course, and will give you a lot of flexibility on future implementations. For instance, when I created training curriculum for a certain company I worked for previously, I outlined assessment methods for both online and in class training. I envisioned a number of alternatives the instructor could implement, and therefore created possibliities for future development.

Putting it All Together
The Learning Objectives and testing methods I place on the same document, being separated from the Task analysis. This document is then used in conjunction with the task analysis to create the learning materials, and design methods for each training module. As a quick tip, if you notice that a lot of your material is the same for each task, use your copy and paste option. It's an ideal solution for sore fingers.

Finally, we have finished Analysis! The next session in the ADDIE series will be Development. Fortunately, it's not nearly as long as the analysis section, and a lot more fun!

December 6, 2006

Analysis Day 2: The Skill Assessment

Well, we got over the initial examination, and found a need for training. But what needs to be taught? We may know what the problem is, but that's only a quarter of the battle. Now we need to know what to do about it.

Identify the Skills
The first thing to do is to identify the skills. This starts with understanding what the duties of the employee is, and how the deficiency relates to those duties. Then you need to break that duty down into specific tasks that outline what the employee needs to do in order to fulfill the duty. Then, you break those tasks down even further, identifying each sub task that accomplishes the task. Finally, you can outline the skills and knowledge needed in order to accomplish the sub task. Does this sound like overkill? You bet! It also represents a one-time deal. Once this is done, you never have to do it again (unless the skills change).

The good news is that the outline, or list of duties, should be defined by your Human Resources department in the job description, and maybe some of the tasks. This means the work has been started, and it gets you that much closer to the end. Check with HR to see if those documents are available. If they are not, they should be, and the work you are doing is something that HR can use. Do I hear a potential funding from another department's cost code? Whatever gets the job done, go for it!

The Duty
Duties are general descriptions of what is expected for the learner to get done. In previous postitions I would count a duty as a program that is being used (Open Office, Management Software, etc.), and then build the task list from there. But it can also be a specific realm of performance (Employee Career Development) that represents specific tasks. Keep in mind that every job has a number of duties, and duties are generally not associated with active verbs.

A Quick Word on Documentation
Once you identify the duty, start your document. What?!? Document?!? Yes, you need to document this process, or you are going to get lost in the details, run screaming out of your office/cubicle, and bludgeon a poor defenseless door to death with your Cup of Noodles. Keep yourself on task by documenting everything.

Now documentation is best if it's intuitive to you, and another version of documentation may not work. But here is what has worked for me. I start with a single document that represents the Job. Then I outline the duties within that job, and occasionally some tasks. Throwing that into a folder with the Job title, I then start a new document with the name of the Duty, and number the document. The Duty would be, for instance, I. I then create a task (numbered A), and create a two columned table below it. In the left column, I outline my subtask in the first cell (1), and then in the second cell I outline all the skills and knowledge that is required (i). Once that is complete, I start with the next sub task (ii), and so on.

The Task
Every duty has a list of tasks that need to be completed. These tasks are action words, which upon completion will satisfy the duty. This is where analysis can get hairy, because you need to distinguish between the task and sub-task. How do you do it? Well, keep in mind the hierarchy: sub tasks fulfill an action for Task, and the task fulfills the duty.

Ultimately it's your decision what gets put where. There isn't an Inquisition that will rate your material. Just be sure it's logical to you, and you are fine. The key to this process is modularization of the training, with each task being a module that can be taught as a separate section. This makes it easy when putting things in sequence, and it makes it easy to provide refresher training on sections without going through the whole duty again. This is the strength of the skill assessment, when done to this degree of detail.

The Sub Task
Sub tasks are action verbs that accomplish another action verb. For instance, in order to "Drive a Car", you need to "Use the Ignition". Using the ignition is just one part of driving a car, as is watching the road, using the pedals, etc. What's interesting is that this task doesn't represent a particular skill, like putting the key into the ignition, putting the car into park/neutral, etc, but rather it focuses on the action, which completes the task (driving the car), which satisfies the duty (Delivery). Keep this breakdown, and you should be fine.

The Skill
The skill represents individual expectations that can otherwise not be broken down into smaller skills. For instance, typing on a QWERTY keyboard would be a skill, as opposed to texting from a phone. Putting a key into the ignition as opposed to putting a key into a door lock. These examples represent skills that are needed to complete a task (or in our case, a sub task).

For your breakdown of skills, focus on the needs of the learner, specifically someone that has not done the job before. What would they need to know? For instance, in teaching a class that introduces Mac OS X, you need to start with skills that people may not have, particularly if they have never used a computer before. What does that mean? That means moving the mouse, turning the computer on, changing the background. All these skills are expected when using a Macintosh computer, as with a PC with Windows, or *Nix installed. Focus on the lowest common denominator. Remember that the instructor can always avoid that material if not needed, but may not be able to cover it if it's not included in their curriculum.

Why But Up With the Monotony?!?
This is a really long, time consuming, and flat out boring job. That goes even for anyone that lives for analysis, too. There is only so much the human mind can take before it cracks. Don't take it too seriously. Take some time to multitask by focusing on another aspect of your job, such as organizing your pencils, taking inventory of books, juggling stress balls, whatever you need to do to keep sane. If your boss doesn't think you are working hard enough, show them what you have been doing. Generally they will understand (while being very impressed), and suggest something for you to do that isn't so thought-intensive and analytical.

Just remember that you are doing this for a reason: modular training that can be put on the shelf, prepped by anyone with reasonable understanding of the subject, and then taught within a relative short amount of time. That makes all this work worth it. Also, you can make your HR department very happy if they don't already have this information, which can score you a lot of points come leave time. And finally, the impression this makes overall within the department is huge. Respect will be given, recommendations for raises can come, as well as eventual promotions.

I'm Finally Done! Now What?
Unfortunately, completing this section doesn't complete the analysis portion, at least not yet. There is one more section to cover before we get on to the fun part, Development. Stay Tuned as we talk about Analysis Day 3: The Objectives.

December 5, 2006

Analysis Day 1: Determining Your Need

I am, by nature, an analyst. I love to analyze everything from complex learning strategies to the movie I'm sitting through. Yes, I can safely say that analysis is a big part of my life (to the chagrin of my wife). And as such, you would think that instructional analysis would be right up my street. Well, you would be right, but only when I take it in short bursts.

Instructional analysis comprises a strong 75% of my overall design process, because of the need to get every detail worked out. The details are often so minute that they can sometimes be missed through initial surveys. So I developed my own system that adopts many other systems I have been exposed to, but works best for me. That being said, please don't think this is the one size fits all scenario. The process itself may not work specifically for your situation, but the basic elements should apply everywhere.

What is the Problem?
The first step in any analysis process is to determine the problem. A problem would basically mean a need is not being met. In the corporate world, this generally means that a job is not being performed to the standard that is expected.

This doesn't mean that a job isn't being done in the way that is expected, but that the outcome of the job produces results that are not as expected. I want to be very clear on that point, as innovation can be throttled if a single process is the only process allowed.

Is "throttled" too strong of a word? Good! I want to impress in this posting that the job of training is not to produce conformity, but to instill a level of competence that allows the learner to not only do what is required, but find ways to do it more efficently. This, utlimately, is what makes a good employee: Someone that is able to innovate within their realm. It also makes for really good resume fodder.

Also important to note, I have found that many managers feel that training is the answer to everything. It's not. As I've mentioned before, you can't expect more knowledge to improve on poor management decisions. At best it insults the employees, and at worst it exposes the poor management style for what it is, ruin morale, and shorten the employment span of the employees.

Where Does the Problem Exist?
So, having established what it is the trainer is looking for, it's necessary for the trainer to focus on causes of the problem within the context that it happens. Often this means going right to the source: sit with the employees that are expected to benefit from this training. Does everyone experience the same problem? What do they know? What don't they know? What are they allowed to do? What are they not allowed to do? These are all really good questions to get you started.

The next step is to check with those that do not experience the problem, which generally are more senior members within the group. What makes them different? This is the key that will answer the problem riddle, and determine whether or not training is necessary. Are the senior employees more empowered? Do they have access to resources that others do not? Do they have more knowledge than those that continually run into the problem? Do they have any insight into what could be the problem? These questions should clarify where a problem can exist, or at what point the process fails. If it doesn't, continue up the chain until someone gives an idea of the expectation and you have enough information to identify the problem.

Houston, We Have the Problem. Now What?
Once you have identified the problem, it's time to identify the solution. What is the only problem that applies to training? "There is a lack of knowledge or skill that needs to be addressed." That's it. Not having the tools to work with doesn't get resolved through training, it gets resolved through new tools. Poor management decisions doesn't get resolved through employee training, it requires a better manager. Unclear expectations do not get more clear with training, they need to be clearly communicated by management to the employees.

While working for a previous internet company, I found a major problem. Employees didn't know what critical updates had been rolled to the site, and therefore couldn't support the users that had trouble with these new updates. What did management try to do? Give them more training. Did the employees need it? No! They knew how to resolve the issues, but they didn't know what changes were made, and hence could not prepare properly. This was a classic example of a communication failure within the company. Training cannot resolve this issue.

Also, with the same company, I found a new project that was being rolled to the site. This project was complex, and required a complete rethink of the entire process to utilize on the site. Does this require more communication from the developers? No, because I already had all the information, it just needed to be distributed to the rest of the company to teach the employees the new skill. This is an excellent example of what training is all about.

So determining the need itself can be a long and comprehensive process, but this is a necessary step in order to determine if training can actually resolve the issue. If not, you don't have to invest any more time into developing for training, and more time and resources into resolving the problem on another level.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry: Analysis Day 2: The Skill Assessment. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

December 4, 2006

ADDIE in Corporate World Training

In the corporate world, Training can be viewed with a lot of doubt, particularly when those who are less experienced with training and more with the subject matter are delivering it. As a manager of mine had once said, "Subject Matter Expert's are not Trainers". Why would that be so? SME's are often more knowledgeable than a trainer is, and therefore can provide greater insight into an issue than a trainer can. So what makes a trainer so special, and in some cases higher paid, than the SME? One tool a Trainer has over an SME is the ADDIE system.

The ADDIE System
The ADDIE system of curriculum development is what separates a SME from a trainer. That is, the Analysis, Development, Design, Implementation, and Evaluation of the content (ADDIE) can be applied to any subject, any situation, and build deliverables that are directly targeted to the skills that are required. By using this process the trainer can build a framework for the instructor (not always the trainer) to follow while offering their training course. So let's look at this development concept more closely.

Analysis
This is by far the most time consuming process in training development. Analysis is not just an analysis of what needs to be taught, but whether or not training as a whole is the answer. Just because there is a deficiency in one area doesn't mean that better or more training will fill the void.

Training only helps people that do not know what they don't know (unconsciously incompetent). Training allows people to know what they don't know (consciously incompetent), and help them identify the tools that will add the skills to what they know (consciously competent).

Other potential problems that Training cannot resolve are management issues, unrealistic expectations, undefined requirements, poorly developed tools, etc. These are issues that need to be addressed in other areas, and training can't influence. Poor management (i.e., "The Boss" from Dilbert) can completely undercut real performance and development from the consciously competent level to the unconsciously competent level (where we all strive to be). Unrealistic expectations and undefined requirements leave the employees in a sort of limbo, which impacts performance heavily. Also, if the tools are inferior, there is only so much the employee's abilities can do to overcome it.

Training is specifically geared to understanding and comprehension. If the problem you have is related to this area only, then a training course can be the answer to your needs. But what needs to be trained?

Analyzing the job is definitely necessary. Every Duty, task, sub task, and skill needs to be identified. By identifying the work process in this manner, training can be developed from the ground up. But be warned, this is a time-consuming process best suited to those personalities that can take that much analysis. As such it can tack on hours of preparation to the actual training process. The good news is that any properly run Human Resources department should have done this for you. If not, get ready to break down the task as best you can. And once it's done, be sure to archive it so you never have to do it all again (just update it as it changes).

Development
Once you have waded through the Analysis portion, it's now time to start developing the course. Development means creating an outline, getting the learning objectives stated, and identifying the assessment points that assess the learner's acquired knowledge.

The outline is basically the final analysis document, but organized in the learning pattern everything will be presented. Generally, the course topics will build upon each other, as well as allow the learner to build upon what they already know. This is known as the Constructivist theory of learning, and is the most common method of teaching being used today.

The learning objectives outline what is expected to be learned after the section is complete. This is directly related to the assessment points, as each point needs to be satisfied in order to complete the learning objective.

Design
Training is, ultimately, a form of entertainment. It doesn't matter how well someone knows their stuff, if they can't keep the attention of the learner then it was all for naught. The design portion is a way to outline the course, much like blocking out a scene on the stage. Design includes how the content is deployed, and therefore which learning style is focused on. It can be a hands on trial (for tactile learners), written content (for auditory learners), or visual presentations that catch the eye in an appealing way (for visual learners). A good trainer will utilize at least two if not all of these design segments in order to appeal to all the potential learners out there.

Here I spend time creating participant guides, instructor guides, gathering multimedia presentations that apply to the course, etc. There is a lot that can be done in the Design phase, and luckily it's generally the most fun.

Implementation
Finally, after all that work, the instructor can finally implement the course. If the course was designed correctly, anyone with the appropriate skills and knowledge can take the materials and teach the class, as long as they have some basic delivery skills. As I had said before, training (or teaching for that matter) is all about the performance. Read your learner audience. Are they responding? Do you get blank stares? Do you perhaps need to crack a joke to see if they are breathing? There are a lot of techniques that each trainer likes to use, depending on the subject or audience. Find what works for you, but be willing to be flexible in your delivery.

It's also important to let the learner know when you don't know an answer. Don't blow it off, make up an answer, or through the question back at the learner for asking something you don't know. What you do is tell them you will find out. I can't tell you how many times a learner has been given bad information by a so-called "trainer", and have it adversely impact their job. And once the bad information or skill is learned, it takes a lot more work to correct the learner and get them on the right path.

Evaluation
Evaluation should, honestly, be conducted throughout the course creation process. At every stage the content can be evaluated for quality and effectiveness. But, ultimately, the best evaluations are conducted after the training is over. Here is where you get to find out how well the course was taught, and whether or not the training accomplished what it was set out to do: fix the deficiency.

That, in a nutshell, is the ADDIE program. There can be a lot of detail added into each section, but overall this is how it works. Course development can take months of planning, analysis, development, etc. All so that a skill is learned, which increases the success of the learner, and therefore increases the success of the employer of the learner.

Does this mean SME's can't do it? Of course not! SME's can learn to use the ADDIE process, but once they do they become Trainers. At least to me, they do. And if a "trainer" doesn't use this process, they are just a glorified SME, and perhaps not even a SME at that.

December 1, 2006

College Degrees and Training: Are They So Different?

This week has been marked with the constant negotiation with various certification entities to provide training for their products. I say negotiation, because most training departments are geared for professional training organizations with a for-profit business model. And, as a consesquence, they take various steps to ensure the training quality is acceptable to be associated with their name.

Working with eBay, we had several companies that were "Education Specialists", which meant they sepent the $150.00 to go through the online training in order to be considered officially licensed by eBay to provide training. If an educational facility wanted to provide similar training, they had to use the same method with no exceptions.

This example is actually very minimal considering the requirements that other tech companies have for their training. Many require high investments initially, high investments for training materials, and still more strict quality control through course evaluations. All of this most educational facilities are unable to expense, and therefore are not able to include in their curriculum. So the division between educational institutions and business training gets wider, and students need to go elsewhere in order to receive the training that they need.

Many educational institutions then begin to write off the inability to provide industry standard certification training as "beneath them", and unfortunately many of the students buy into the rhetoric from their professors, and think it's better not to get a certification...until they get out there in real life and realize their potential employers want either experience (which education is rarely considered as a replacement), or a certification of some sort. Why is that? Why do businesses see degrees from institutions as less-effective than certifications?

Experience is hard to teach, and even harder to fake. While learning theory and development is great for the thought process, the business world wants a more targeted focus from their employees. Granted, having a great problem-solver is a huge benefit to any company, but as problem-solvers are hired after proven track records the newly hired college graduate will be tasked with doing the basic tasks. They may know the theory, but they don't have (in the company's view) the experience or the proven track record that shows they can react in a real situation.

Training Strengths
Then enter those who have pretty much taught themselves in their field (usually within mechanical or technical fields). These people are generally exceptionally gifted, and often do not go on to get an actual college degree. Why? Because they don't have to. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on a 4-year degree that focuses on "liberal education", they go to a trade school or study on their own to pass the industry certification. With that certification, they have a proven track record of understanding which satisfies the industry. What could have been thousands of dollars can cost as little as just the testing process, and perhaps the purchase of one $50.00 book.

For those that go to a training facility, the costs are often offset by the employer. Employers like to have their employees certified in their respective fields, as it boosts confidence in their abilities and makes the company look more experienced. The boost to the share-holder confidence can often make the expense of training a worthwhile investment.

Training Weaknesses
But the problem with training is the "short-cut" techniques to get the certification. Many computer jobs have been ruined by an influx of low-quality employees with certifications that were earned from training geared towards a test and not the actual subject in hand. Test questions are memorized, time is spent more on quizzing than on applying the knowledge.

As the tests are generally multiple choice (for ease in scoring), they are fairly easy to pass with this method. Therefore, the certification becomes less of a benefit, and almost a liability. In fact, back in the dark ages at Packard Bell, I had intended to get my MCSE. I stopped (thank goodness!) when I found that many of the MCSE holders were grossly underqualified for the jobs they were getting. So I decided to move away from the industry in general, and move towards something a little less known. That is what originally pushed me towards open source operating systems.

But the real mystery is, businesses still look for the certification as a sign of competence. Why? Why do they rely on something as arbitrary as a certification, and often times treasure it more than a college degree? The answer is in the focus, as I will outline later.

College Degree Stengths
Nothing, in my opinion, can take the place of a college degree. The higher the degree, the more likely you have someone that will be able to reason, make real decisions, and overall benefit any organization with thought and logic. Colleges currently focus on liberal education, meaning that you need to have a broad exposure to your learning in order to graduate. Both the Arts and Sciences are taught to undergraduates, regardless of their focus in study. As both sides of the brain are excercised in this way, the ability to identify and reason is increased.

And even within the specific discipline that is being studied, the strength of the College education shines through. Theory is explored, experiements are used, and students understand the foundation of their craft before they build upon it. This is something that Training often neglects in the interest of time, which means a certification will generally represent less depth than a college degree.

And, for the degree, the student can often cover broad areas of the discipline, focusing on how everything relates to each other, rather than how one particular area works. Training is rarely designed in this fashion, as a specific skill is being targeted. A broader range would mean more training time, which starts to eat into the cost-benefit for the employer.

College Degree Weaknesses
But there are also colleges that spend too much time on the theory, and not enough time on the practical application. Therefore students leaving the academic world find themselves unable to perform at a level demanded by the employer. This leads to the decline in the value of the degree, and what ultimately lead to the need for industry certification in the first place.

Companies are looking for specific skillsets within specific situations that are often not covered by the college through theory. Instead, they expect the student to figure it out for themselves as they get out into the real world. Often times they can, but so many have not that even Universities have started to orient their educational structure toward skill training, and away from heavy theory doctrine.

And finally, there is the arrogance factor. As much as I respect professors, graduate students, and other experts in their respective fields, they can be condescending and rude to those that they feel do not "measure up". Often this arrogance is rooted in the belief that expertise in one area makes you an expert in all areas. This, in my mind, is the worst kind of folly any person can fall into. As the great scholar Socrates said, "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance" (from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers). Acknowledging your ignorance is the first step to brilliance, in my mind.

Can the Two Be Resolved?
So, can the two methods of education be reconciled? I think it is very possible. The idea would be that students need both skill training and educational theory to strengthen their base, and therefore strengthen their marketability to the industry they want to enter. This can be done very easily by including industry certification training as part of the College or University curriculum as electives. They are not required for the degree, but give the student a chance to build up their skillset as part of their degree. Therefore the students get the best of both worlds, while often avoiding the pitfalls of each.

So Why Isn't It More Common?
It's a very good question, and one that has no simple answer. Businesses tend to enjoy their programs adoption into a College or University curriculum, as it lends a level of validation to their efforts. But, in the same token, they often price their curriculum out of the reach by most educational institutions. Also the various legal and procedural limitations put in place to preserve the quality of training and the brand name often becomes too difficult for a College or University to navigate.

Another problem is timing. Businesses are generally able to devote more time and energy to a project within a quarterly time frame, and can start or stop training on a dime. Education generally needs to have offerings planned for months in advance, if not a whole year. This means that education doesn't have the patience that Businesses have when it comes to contracts, funding, and start-up costs vs. projected revenue stream.

The Good News: It's Changing
Businesses realize that they need to start getting more reliable employees that have a stronger background in their respective fields. Colleges and Universities realize that they need to give their students more skill sets on top of their theory of understanding to keep the degree program popular. Both realize that they can benefit each other by making it easier for the partnership to exist.

One excellent example is Novell's Education program. They provide educational institutions with experienced faculty with the necessary tools to teach to their certification without the red tape they normally have for businesses. The universities win by getting certifications integrated into their degree programs, and the business wins because they are getting exposure to a whole generation of future technical professionals.

As more businesses start to learn from this model, and more universities start incorporating the industry certification program into their curriculum, the ultimate winner is the student. Students now have both the theory and certified skill set to be a major player within their chosen field.
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This page is an archive of entries from December 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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