Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CSTD Conference - My Day 1 Summary

CSTD Day 1 Impressions and Thoughts

(Warning:  This is a long post...feel free to grab what you wish from it)

After years of not being able to attend the Annual Conference I finally got the chance to go, but I will admit that I entered Day 1 with a little trepidation.

With a lot of conferences, there;s usually an opening keynote, then participants head off to their various sessions afterward, but CSTD took a different approach; the first day was dedicated to a large audience setting with a number of speakers all focused on helping us understand the various ways in which academic research can eventually find its way into real practice.  As I looked around the room and thought of spending all day in a conference seat there was a little twinge of angst.  However, full kudos go to Saul Carliner for setting the stage for the day and for putting things in perspective.  I also took the opportunity to change seating locations a couple of times and that had some unexpected benefits, but more on those later.

One critical disappointment - shared by others I spoke to - was the lack of WiFi availability for participants.  The organizers were trying to promote and encourage the conference backchannel through Twitter, but for those folks who a) brought laptops in hopes of WiFi, or b) don't know how to use their smartphones to tweet, or c) don't have smartphones or phones with data plans, or d) don't know how to use SMS to Tweet, it left them with no outlet to share observations and comments or to connect easily with other participants (or non-participants).  Some of us managed to "get the word out" but if we were stuck in somewhere like the South Hall or somewhere with lousy cell service, this conference would have been held in a relative vacuum.

To their considerable credit, CSTD acknowledged the issue and promised a better solution for 2011.  So, End rant. ;-)

The speakers for the day were all recognized experts in their field and - as expected - brought stong academic credentials to the table, but they also had their feet pretty squarely planted in - what many of us refer to as - the real world.

I'll take the opportunity here to put my own OpEd spin on the various speakers and the messages that resonated most with me.  The big disclaimer here, of course, is that this is what I observed and grasped from the sessions...your actual experience may vary. ;-)

Saul Carliner - Research Journals

Saul was up first with his initial thoughts about the value of research and who really publishes research results.  it served as a good reminder that research is generally shared only with other researchers through the medium of peer-reviewed journals.  Access barriers to the majority of journals aside, I note that some of this research is easier to digest than others - something not specifically mentioned, but something I know I experienced in the early days of grad school.  The important take-away for me is the concept of research as proof.  In general terms, research published in these journals really serves as evidence, rather than inescapable proof. 

He also points out that researching journals on their own won't necessarily lead to a transfer of knowledge to workplace situations, but...what it can do is to provide some avenues for experimentation in design and also to help you understand what other people already know.  I think that's important because we shouldn't be so completely convinced that what we're doing is "new".  Besides, there's no small value in researching (even informally) the lessons learned from any situation, particularly if it helps you avoid a particular - and previously unforeseen - pitfall.

He also talked about the value of research for its potential to unlock different avenues for evaluation, although he does point out that very few of us in the industry get past the smiley sheet stage (sidebar thought:  what can we do to change that?  Is it just a predisposition to following Kirkpatrick or do we really need a new model that will let evaluations become more organic to the learning throughout the cycle?)

The final big take-away from Saul's comments was that research tends to be looking more in the long-term (e.g. new models, new strategies) and isn't as adept at providing short-term solutions.  I think I can see why.  the submission and review cycles for peer journals can be somewhat lengthy, so a shorter-term solution might wind up being obsolete by the time it hits the presses...if it gets approved at all.  Longer-term solutions are - by definition - more strategic, and thus probably have a longer shelf-life for adoption, assimilation, and discussion.  At least, that;s what my gut is telling me.  I'll be interested to hear what others think.

Graham Lowe - Healthy Workplaces.

Graham started by getting us thinking about the elements of a "truly excellent workplace".  In a quick audience survey there was lots of focus on the human factors in workplace "happiness".  I find it interesting that there are fewer comments about appreciating the benefits of a viable business. That leads me to the question, "Could you still have a workplace that offers trust/respect/ownership that ultimately proves to be unviable as a business?  Is that still considered "healthy"?"

He also offered a really simple yet effective matrix on Low/High decision latitude and Low/High Psychological demands. 

Low Strain           Active
Passive                 High Strain

But I did find it interesting that he acknowledges that "Not all roles can fit in the upper quadrant".  So that kind of begs the question for me about the differences between psyhcological demands and cognitive demans and the links to employee engagement in their tasks.  Can you have a low-cognitive job but still be in a healthy workplace?
 
His High Performance practices aren't necesarily new - at least for me, thanks to my involvement with the Employee Engagement survey work at SSHA - but if there;s no culture of innovation (internally as well as externally), it's tough for most orgs to make these workplaces a reality. T&D is, of course, critical, but I think we need to make the distinction between formal and informal learning, and educate learners about the relative merits.

Culture becomes a strategic advantage (I'd say, imperative) in supporting these initiatives.  He spoke briefly about healthy vs unhealth organizations and I wonder, "What's the ratio of healthy-to-unhealthy?" 

I wonder if this concept is a long-term transformation similar to that of e-health, where it will take the generation of physicians raised with technology to be teaching student physicians for the transformation/adoption to be complete?  Will it take the generation of new workers - raised with an expectation of healthy workplaces - where these workers are now leading organizations - to drive the change and make them the rule rather than the exception.  Are we already on that path?  If so, how far do we still have to go.

He did make a point that I agreed with in principle: he suggests that we can research our organizations, because they should be treasure troves (my word) of information.  This is true.  But as I noted in a surprisingly popular tweet, "sure, you can mine for data, but sometimes you really need a pickaxe."  As my friend Victor is fond of saying, "those that talk about Silos in the workplace deserve to be buried in one."


Carolin Rekar Munro - RRU
Transformational Learning Experiences across Multigenerational Workplaces

(really wish she had used better quality graphics at the beginning of her presentation, but they got better)

Carolin offered us a really good recap of the various generational descriptors and attributes and a good reminder of things like attention spans for GenY for engagement and also employee retention.  She also reminded us to be cautious of stereotyping.  Probably a good practice for educators to understand some of these general guidelines but also to understand what makes each individual tick.

I really liked her excellent reminder of the polarities among learner/participant opinions and how you can often receive conflicting feedback which makes you question your whole plan.  (Sidebar note: I can see how things like "Unconference" can appeal to the right group of learners/participants but you really have to know your audience)
There was an -interesting and inspirational group dicussion about how we prime and prep participants to work and learn together in spite of divergent expectations and polarity of preference.  I don't know that there was consensus among the ad-hoc group I was in, but there were some good points being raised by all.  One gentleman surprised my by offering the observation that (coincidental with some recent readings at my end) that Learning Styles - as absolutes - are really a crock.  More politely put, while they make instinctive sense, a) they don't always apply to different situations, and b) they definitely don't have a lot of rigorous research showing their efficacy in practice.

I love serendipity.

David Livingstone - Relationship between Worker Practical Knowledge and Job Requirements

Tough to have the spot just before lunch when stomach rumbles tend to diminish participant engagement, and it's unfortunate that a lot of really awesome information and research from David's work didn't really make the leap to the audience.  I don't want to appear to be too harsh and I'm certainly not critiquing his data because he gave us some interesting statistics, but I think some of the key messages got lost in the sheer volume of text he opened with and the slew of charts.  Sadly, it didn't help matters that his data labels got bitten by the font monster.  In conversations with some participants at lunch, we seemed to agree that there was some really good stuff in his research findings and anecdotal comments, but they came so late in the presentation.  However, these comments and findings did leave a significant impression with me where we saw workers yearning for more autonomy in their roles and really desiring input into the various processes around them.  He also alluded to some of the challenges faced by Stelco and Dofasco and their lost generation of workers. 

What resonated with me in his presentation was teh fact that a lot of people feel like they have more education/skills than their jobs require.

My lingering questions are:  What does that say about our workplace when some employers complain that higher ed isn't preparing people for the workforce? Also, what do we need to do to harness all the "unused" education so that we're not stuck in "use it or lose it" mode?

Karl Kapp - Games and Learning

Q: what role can game splay in the learning cycle and what does the research say?  (Google "Kapp Notes" for more details)

Powerful statement for me that goes beyond gaming environments, "[an] extended commitment to self is (required for) the long haul."  In his discussion on avatars and immersive simulations, he notes that human social models influence behaviour, beliefs & attitudes (Bandura, 1986)

So, if Bandura knew this 25 years ago, why have we been subjecting people to 'death by [insert name of Presentation Graphics App here]' for years?
I was interested to learn about the research finding of a strong influence from avatars on learners even when their functionality is limited.  So, an avatar doesn't have to be CGI movie quality for it to resonate with the learner in a simulation.  

Even more interesting was this:  more than one avatar can work better than a single avatar.  e.g. multiple channels for providing the same information.  So how could we plan those channels within a simulation.  Are they concurrent?  Dependent on content or outcomes?  Lots of fodder for the research mill, there.

I was struck by my own experiences using Wii Fit:  avatars and their influence on exercise. He showed an example of avatars in a gym/fitness setting.  The research showed that if it looks like you, you're more apt to engage and exercise in the real world.  Might have to get back at it, I think. 

His research also showed, and I'm not really surprised, that there's no requirement for entertainment in a simulation.  Helpful, yes, but not required and certainly not applicable for ann learning situations.  I mean, if you're an airline pilot you don't want a Don Rickles voiceover if you're doing your Emergency Procedures refresher in the A340 simlulator, but you could probably inject some fun and humour into customer service simulations and scenarios because, let's face it, we've all been there.

Another solid point made was that "simulations aren't good just because they are simulations" - e.g. simulations with no interactivity.  Design elements  be(presumably instructional design?) can't leave the simulation and the sims need to be embedded into the instructional content to be truly effective.  We also have to consider how learners can be embedded in the context of the story.  (does this lead back to the concept of "digital storytelling"?)

Simulations have a strong influence on types of knowledge (Declarative 11%, Procedural 14%, Retention 9%)  There wasn't a lot of content on this so I think it's worth exploring more.

He quoted a figure of $100K to develop a game-type simulation.  (my take: only if you use the wrong tools!)

My take-away thought: "If you become the avatar, you can realize some real changes to life perceptions."  Neat!


Thomas Michael Power - Implementing Technology-based Learning


Given that this is more or less what I do on a regular basis (and what I did in grad school), I was tempted to this one a miss, but I'm really glad I didn't because I think this was the hidden gem for the day.


This talk was a lot less about just the basics of implementation but really about a transformative experience getting Educators to understand and leverage the power of technology as a means to support their learning efforts. So, yes, you could say "it's just about implementing it" but the title really undersold the value of the content included and if we get access to the slide decks, you can see why.


He opened by sharing some of his training experiences in some exotic parts of the world and talked about the challenges of trying to front-load a lot of the design process.  What really surprised me was the result of the quick poll on the relative effectiveness of ADDIE as a model for developing technology-based learning.  A shocking majority of people think it is!  Could it be because they haven't been exposed to other models and frameworks?  Personally, I couldn't go back to ADDIE for the work that I do simply because I'm now so spoiled by being able to move from concept to production that much faster.  ADDIE is so ideally suited to ISD and instructor-led settings, but that methodical, gated process just doesn't scale up for e-learning development...unless you really want to wait 4 months to develop 20 minutes of Level 2 e-learning.


What I liked about his presentation was that his research coincided with my own experiences in changing processes, tools, and approaches to dealing with our customers.  Sure, we've still got some learning to do at my place of work, but that's really half the fun when you think about it.  If nothing else, I felt a little validation for what we discovered largely by accident.


The day ended with a panel discussion with all presenters.  I won't get into the details of that because I was busy tweeting and chatting with some clients suffice it to say there were some good, relevant questions raised by the participants and we got to see a little more of the panelist expertise in action.


So...a good day.  One that realized more promise than its superficial description might have warranted.  I'm hopeful for similar inspirations and happy findings on Day 2.

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