Monday, July 17, 2006

Size isn't everything

I was reading an interesting post from the E-Learning Queen this afternoon and it (as with other engaging reads) got me this case, thinking about the relative merits of size when planning learning content.

Back in my days in the big green machine, lessons and learning objectives were kept pretty manageable. Of course, they had to be...consider the sheer volume of information, for example, that someone on Basic Training has to contend with? So it stands to reason that you have to keep the content focused, with clear and simple objectives...the soldier can then truly learn in a near-continuous fashion and keep up with the cultural transformation they must undergo when they sign on to serve.

So we leap forward to the challenge of corporate e-learning. Barbara Daley has discussed the complexities of blending learning, context and corporate practice. But for me the issue remains "how much"? As in "how much" do we want/need them to learn? More importantly, is the learner actually involved in that decision somehow? Both Daley and the late Cyril O. Houle observed that corporate learning programs (notably Professional Development) were poorly planned and implemented...and 'ignoring the learner' is, in my experience, high on the list of mistakes that organizations make when considering learning.

So where does that leave the learning planner or curriculum designer? Well, if they take a page from the thinkings of Wayne Hodgins, they might feel a little less confused. At the ELEARN conference in Vancouver, he spoke about the Learning particular, the importance of learning in context and in time. That concept also got me thinking.

"If learning is supposed to be timely...or even 'right now', then you have to think small. Make the learning objective focused and simple and straightforward."

Its all well and good to develop these rich, complex and involved learning programs, but unless we really think hard about how to make those valuable little morsels of learning available to the learner when they need them, we do the learner yet another disservice.

Of course, that statement leads to the inevitable "how small is small?" discussion. But that's for another blog entry.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Tao of "isms"

(cross posted in shorter form to my Personal Learning Landscape)

It has been an educational weekend, to say the least.

While I've taken the opportunity to start reading my texts for the upcoming pre-residency, I was doing so without the context of a specific assignment or deliverable. I was okay with that. I ignored my good little educator voice and forged ahead, if for no other reason but to get myself into that academic frame of mind.

Saturday AM: my official reading requirements and initial assignment arrived.

To say that I was, after reading the assignment, well in the throes of cognitive dissonance would be a significant understatement.

The initial assignment is daunting in its simplicity: 1000-1500 words (suitably composed following the APA style guide) on my assumptions about learners and learning, and how those assumptions are reflected in the readings. I will, apparently, receive constructive feedback on the submission and we'll revisit it as the residency progresses.

(Sidebar: Hmmm....academic writing. Pretty much diametrically opposed to the business writing I've been doing for the past 10+ years. Even the practicum for my Adult Training & Development Certificate was pretty business-like. The last real academic piece I submitted was probably the better part of 12-13 yrs ago, and I don't think that my treatise on Bismarck's role in 19th Century European/German history would have much value here.)

As with most things, some of the reading was straightforward enough and some of it was like reading Greek. I found myself barraged by a slew of "-isms", "-ologies" and theories and approaches as I valiantly waded through the first (of two) required chapters in my Perspectives on Research text. I haven't seen this much brain theory this side of a Psychotherapists Convention. Everywhere I looked, there was a new term to research, which led to more research and linking. I mean, there was an "-ism" and an "-ology" for almost everything! I was absolutely surrounded and about to be overwhelmed. I'm certain that if I hadn't left a mental trail of bread crumbs I'd be basting nicely inside someone's oven. Just to make things interesting I still had this paper staring me in the face with no discernable starting point. In fact, I felt more lost than when I started.

However, if I may mix my metahpors, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. No, it was not the oncoming train. We were required to download a study paper which dealt with learning and professional practice. About 4 paragraphs in, I was hooked. I finally saw the connections. Meaning was given to my learning/learner assumptions, and I actually saw a starting point for my assignment paper. Associated reference papers were sought, found, and saved for future reading.


The afternoon definitely went better than the morning. Yes, I still have to get through the research text, and I still have to re-read the first 2 chapters of Making Sense of Adult Learning but I feel a lot further ahead than I did yesterday morning.

I guess it illustrates one of the assumptions that I do make about learners: we need relevance and meaning in order for 'information' to become 'knowledge', and occasionally we need a push in the right direction.

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Translation: Holy crap, I might just have a chance at making this thing work!