Introduction This paper will first clarify what “documentary” and “adult learner” mean. Then it will speak generally of what the adult learner’s’ educational needs are and what makes documentary film a useful tool for meeting these needs. It will then focus on the specific areas where documentary is used, including the university, the workplace, the community and the home.
What is a “documentary”?
I have observed and participated in many debates about what “documentary film” is or should be. For the purposes of this paper I will use the Oxford English dictionary’s definition of:
Non-fiction. Factual, realistic; applied esp. to a film or literary work, etc., based on real events or circumstances, and intended primarily for instruction or record purposes (Oxford English Dictionary, 2011).
Who are “adult learners” and how do they learn best?
“Adult learners” will be defined as those learners age 18 and above who are learning outside the K-12 educational system. This enormously varied group can include college students away from home for the first time, employees of all ages learning procedures on the job or obtaining required continuing education credits, people wanting to promote a cause they believe in or just become more informed citizens, individuals needing to learn specific skills to apply to their home lives and senior citizens taking a non-credit course for the joy of learning. There is much variability in the adult learning population, so therefore it is challenging to make generalizations (Gailbraith, 2004). However some considerations apply very frequently to most adult learners and therefore should be taken into account.
In general adult learners are busier than younger learners and thus more careful about how they spend their time. They often are not motivated to learn something unless they understand why they need to and “what’s in it for them” beforehand (Gailbraith, 2004). Adults usually learn best when they feel they have more control over the learning process. They usually have many more life experiences to draw upon and connect to what they are learning (Knowles, 2005).
Why use documentary film for adult education?
Learners today have greater access to documentary films then ever before. They can be obtained cheaply or for free, and viewed at a time that best serves the learner’s needs and preferences. YouTube videos, Snagfilms and other websites allow viewers to have discussions about the films or embed them on other blogs or websites to increase the opportunities to discuss the film and learn from it. The following statements were made about the benefits of using fiction films for management training. But I believe they serve as a good summary of the benefits of many other kinds of films and documentaries and learning situations:
• They present topics in ways which are more graphic, engaging, sharply defined, motivating and memorable than conventional classroom methods
• They may cover issues which are difficult to raise through other classroom methods
•They enable students to encounter situations, events and contexts which they may have had no access to in their own lives and experiences
• Allow us to see events through multiple voices and diverse standpoints . . .
• Although they often feature dramatic and large scale events, they can provide a metaphor for the everyday and small scale, and thus resonate with students’ own lives (Leonard, 2011)
Places where documentary is used:
It is not known how regularly documentaries are used in universities. Brian Newman, of “ sub-genre consulting,” states “in the US there is a pretty robust educational marketplace” (for documentaries) (DocMovies, 2011). There is a dramatic range of prices universities must pay for educational documentaries – some distributors still sell documentaries with educational licenses for several hundred dollars. Consumer DVDs may be purchased for as little as $15. Snagfilms streams many documentaries for free as long as one can tolerate commercials. It even has a special section just for documentaries of interest to students entitled “Campus Documentary Films” (Snagfilms, 2011). There is now a wealth of affordable options that can be viewed at an adult learner’s convenience.
The market for educational documentary is currently in transition – while DVDs still predominate, more and more people in general (including college professors) are transitioning to streaming video off the Internet. According to Brian Newman some people in academia are requesting that filmmakers send them the film on a hard drive to upload to a server so that students can log in to watch it that way (DocMovies, 2011). Neither the author (who is also a filmmaker herself) nor any of her colleagues have observed or experienced this yet. However, it is a plausible scenario for the future. This will be of benefit to adult learners because it will allow them access to documentary resources at times and places better suited to their preferred learning styles and schedules.
PBS and ITVS (the Independent Television Service) are the main source of high-quality curriculum guides for documentaries. In addition, some distributors and non-profit organizations (such as Cambridge documentary film, Outreach Extensions and Active Voice) as well as independent filmmakers also provide supporting materials of varying levels of quality. There are two ways documentaries are used at the university level (this applies to K-12 education as well):
Documentary as text
English teachers use documentaries the same way they use other texts – in order to develop the students’ ability to analyze the use of rhetoric, style, propaganda and argument by deconstructing the film’s use of language (College Board, 2011). In this case it is cinematic language instead of written language that is being used. One of the Standards of the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association is that students can:
. . . read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment (NCTE, 2011)
Documentary as resource (case study):
The second way that universities use documentary is the same way that they would use any other text that would increase knowledge of a particular subject. One example is the film American Feud: A History of Conservatives and Liberals. This film was co-produced by the author of this paper. The 90-minute film feature “uses expert and man-on-the-street interviews, archival film, photographs, electoral maps, quotes, colorful graphics and music, and a little donkey and elephant to tell the history of Liberalism and Conservatism from the 1890's to the present” (American Feud, 2008).
Dr. Steven Schier is the Dorothy H. and Edward C. Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College, a small, private liberal arts college in Minnesota. He was interviewed about how he uses this film in the classroom. He is able to show the film in its entirety because his class is 105 minutes long. Since most college classes are 50-70 minutes long, the film would either have to be shorter or shown over two classes. He sees his students as “some of the smartest in the country” with very high test scores and academic ambitions. Therefore they don’t experience cognitive overload with a film of such length and challenging subject matter. However, he does feel a 20- or 40-minute version may be more appropriate at the community college level or other places.
His preference is to show longer, more substantial documentaries that develop an argument and lay it out well. However, the majority of his colleagues are mostly using 5- to 15-minute clips of films. He does believe the attention span of college students is shrinking because of the proliferation of media in their lives. Professor Schier first screened the film for an upper-class seminar in American political problems and controversies and is currently using it at the beginning of an introductory course in American government. He screens the film, then gives his students 30 questions to answer to help them write a paper detailing their own political views. Professor Schier’s main resource for finding films to use in teaching is Amazon.com, which is where he found this film. He has found that it is “very rare that something important and useful isn’t on Amazon.” When asked about study guides or supporting materials that would be useful, he replied that he would like “about 5 or 6 well-focused discussion questions so that the instructor could pick 2 or 3 to use” (Schier, 2011).
Documentary can be used in many different ways in the workplace, depending on the audience and objectives of the training. OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has many videos used by trade unions and employers to teach about worker safety (Smith, 2011). Instructional Designers creating training using Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction find that a whole film or clip from one can serve well for the first step of “gaining attention” (Smith, 2011).
Stanford University’s Biomedical Ethics in Film Program creates documentary films that “can be used as dramatic and interactive teaching tools that will engage students and scientists in thinking about the ethical, philosophical and social issues involved in their research.” They believe that a film’s visual imagery can “portray complex situations from multiple perspectives and can easily engage viewers in meaningful discussions of the issues. Film is one of the only media forms that compels the viewer to experience and empathize with the situation deeply enough to truly weigh ethical dilemmas” (Stanford, 2011).
Often non-fiction is used to demonstrate processes and procedures (Smith, 2011). There is some question in this author’s mind whether video is always the best way to do so. In these days it is relatively simple and inexpensive to make a video of somebody performing a procedure and upload it to YouTube. The work that Clark and Myers did comparing illustrations and text to animations for learning may apply to non-fiction as well. They discovered that:
Presumably, the so-called passive medium of illustrations and text actually allowed for active processing because the learners had to mentally animate the changes from one frame to the next and learners were able to control the order and pace of their own processing. In contrast, the so called active mediums of animation and narration may foster passive learning because the learners did not have to mentally animate and could not control the pace and order of the presentation. In addition, animation may overload the learners’ working memory because the images are so rich in detail and are so transitory that they must be held in memory (Clark, 2008, p. 70).
However, they did also find that:
In spite of these results, there might be some content that is particularly suited to animation or video rather than static frames of illustrations or photos, such as descriptions of how to perform a motor skill (Clark, 2008, p. 70).
More work will have to be done to resolve the question of when videos of processes and procedures are best used (Clark, 2008, p. 72).
In addition there is sometimes a question of credibility for some of the videos found on YouTube. While some videos are clearly produced by experts in their field, others may not in fact be teaching the best practices. Worse yet, they may be demonstrating a procedure that is unsafe or incomplete.
Continuing education credits
Continuing education credits are required for professionals in certain fields in most states to maintain licensure. One example of the use of documentary film for continuing education credit is The American Institute of Architects awarding such credits for viewing and discussing the film Blue Vinyl. This film focuses on the effects of PVC on health and the environment (Barrett and Leddy, 2008). In addition to being used in churches, organizations, universities and agencies, a film called Cargo: Innocence Lost about human trafficking has been certified by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council and the Board of Behavioral Sciences for continuing education credit (I Stop Traffic, 2011). The Pine Mountain Institute combines documentaries such as The End of Suburbia, Everything's Cool , The Inconvenient Truth and What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire with the completion of a course guide for continuing education credits for mental health professionals (Pine Mountain Institute, 2011).
Screenings at conferences
Documentaries can be used at professional conferences and meetings. An example was when the American Public Health Association’s 2010 national meeting featured a screening and discussion of the documentary Living Downstream, about environmental links to cancer and other aliments (APHA, 2011).
Those who want to promote a cause or inspire a change in society sometimes use documentary film. Documentaries can be made available by television broadcast, traditional theatrical screening, community screening or private house party. Organizations that fund such films usually desire concrete evidence to prove that their money is being spent effectively to promote measurable change. Therefore, there is more research on the impact of these films than other kinds of documentaries. Those involved in such endeavors believe that presenting their case is only part of their goal. They seek to inform, but with the goal of causing or changing behavior in some way. As one documentary viewer said:
I saw "Super Size Me" in college and haven't been able to go back to McDonald's since... so it was certainly a powerful learning/cementing-knowledge-in-my-mind tool (Wilson, 2011).
Dr. Don Kirkpatrick created 4 Levels of Evaluation for educational endeavors. They are:
Level 1: Reaction To what degree participants react favorably to the training
Level 2: Learning To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence, and commitment based on their participation in a training event
Level 3: Behavior To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job
Level 4: Results To what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement (Kirkpatrick, 2011)
“Activist films” can potentially have educational impact at all these levels. However, there are challenges in measuring change and ascribing it solely to the film when it is being used as part of a broader outreach campaign involving social media, facilitated discussion, public relations, etc. In addition, hard data is often difficult to gather about the effect of viewing a film. Therefore one must “look at a variety of data sources, such as survey results, case studies and anecdotal data” (Barrett and Leddy, 2008). The most comprehensive study was done by the Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation in England. It examined the documentary End of the Line about the consequences of unsustainable over-fishing. The study revealed both immediate changes in knowledge and attitudes about the problems and longer-term behavioral changes in the purchase and consumption of more sustainably harvested fish (Channel 4 BritDoc Foundation, 2011).
Most films designed to create social change have a clear bias of some sort. The perception of bias can adversely affect the motivation of some potential learners. As one documentary viewer said:
The first notion I get that a documentary has a hidden political agenda (especially if it doesn't agree with my tenants [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][sic]) I tend to zone out and devalue the rest of the information even if the other information has nothing to do with politics. (Wilson, 2011)
Documentaries are not the only educational resource that may tell only “one side of the story.” Lecturers, books, websites, etc. may also have biases. This doesn’t mean one can’t learn something from them. However, it does mean that it probably won’t cause learners to change their opinion, and may discourage some learners from viewing the film. The “selectivity bias” means that these films tend to only attract viewers who are already interested in the topic and unlikely to change their opinions. There is such a an abundance of entertainment options these days that:
. . . those few citizens with a strong interest in political or social issues can take advantage of an abundance of media choices to tailor their viewing habits to their pre-existing political views. As a result, both “preference” and “ideological” gaps characterize the audience for any film (Barrett and Leddy, 2008).
Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth is one example of this (Barrett and Leddy, 2008).
In a community setting, the individuals might not have previous contact with each other. Therefore learning will occur more easily if the audience’s potential anxiety is addressed. In her Guide for Designing Curriculum for Documentaries Jessica Schoenbaechler makes the following recommendations for adult learners:
. . .the group, who may be coming together for the first time, could benefit from preparation before they watch the film. Establishing expectations for behavior, like confidentiality and compassion as Tracy Droz Tragos does in the guide for her film Be Good, Smile Pretty, can alleviate anxiety. Allowing each participant to write down what they hope to gain from the discussion can steer the direction of the meeting. In fact, answering questions and writing down ideas about the topic before watching the film, provides great discussion material after the film. Audiences can discuss their preconceptions, and perhaps misconceptions, and compare them to new knowledge they acquire from watching the film. (Schoenbaechler, 2011)
Adults also use YouTube and other videos to learn processes and procedures outside of the workplace. They go to film festivals and other screenings, film “meetups” and salons and buy and download documentaries just for personal enrichment and watch them on various television channels. There are even “non-credit” continuing education classes for senior citizens to watch documentaries, such as a Howard Community College class that watches and discusses “Contemporary Documentary Film” (Howard Community College, 2011).
Documentaries are already used in a myriad of ways for the adult learner. However, educators can and should consider using them more frequently, as they can be effective tools to teach and engage students. Filmmakers should consider the educational uses for their documentary in the early stages of the pre-production processes in order to facilitate this.
This paper only scratches the surface of how documentaries can be used for adult education, and doesn’t even broach its uses for students in K-12. Possible topics to explore further include:
• Any science about whether any particular length or structure of film is optimal for learning. • What kind of discussion and study guides and other supporting materials would be most helpful for educators to have. • The differences between using documentaries for children and adults. • Using YouTube for education. • Much training and education is focused on health care. One could also write a much longer paper about effectively using documentaries in this field. • An exploration of better ways to inform instructors of the availability of suitable film titles and guidance on how to use them. References
APHA (American Public Health Association). APHA Annual Meeting to be held in Denver this month: Nation’s premier public health event. http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/content/40/9/1.3.full. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
Barrett, Diana, and Leddy, Sheila. Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact. The Fledgling Fund. 2008. http://www.thefledglingfund.org/media/research.html. Retrieved August 1, 2011.
Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation. The End of the Line: A Social Impact Evaluation. http://site.britdoc.org/resources/0000/0142/TheEndOfTheLine_EvaluationDocument_LINKS.pdfRetrieved August 7, 2011.
Clark, R. (2008). E learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
College Board, The. AP® English Language and Composition: Using Documentary Film film as an Introduction to Rhetoric. http:apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/.../AP_CurricModEnglish.pdf. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
Doc Movies. The Future of the Documentary - A Discussion with Brian Newman about DIY. http://docmovies.com/news/226-brian-newman-intervew-.html. Retrieved August 6, 2011. Galbraith, Michael W., & Long, Huey. (2004). Understanding Adult Learners. Adult Learning Methods: A Guide to Effective Instruction. (3rd ed.). Malabar, FL: Kreiger Publishing.
Howard Community College. 60 Plus. Non Credit Continuing Education Courses. http://coned.howardcc.edu/Courses/seniors/courses.html. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
I Stop Traffic. http://www.istoptraffic.com/html/about_us.html. Retrieved August 7, 2011. Kirkpatrick Partners. The Kirkpatrick Model. http://www.kirkpatrickpartners.com/OurPhilosophy/tabid/66/Default.aspx. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
Knowles, Malcolm S., Holton III, Elwood F. & Swanson, Richard A. (2005). Exploring the World of Learning Theory. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Class in Adult Education and Resource Development. (6th ed.) Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.
Leonard, Pauline. Using Feature Films as ‘Critical Documentary’ in Management Education. http:in-visio.org/wp-content/uploads/Using-Feature-Films-in-Management-Education.pdf. Retrieved July 31, 2011.
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts. http://www.ncte.org/standards. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
American Feud. American Feud: A History of Conservatives and Liberals. http://www.americanfeud.org. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
Oxford English Documentary. Documentary Film. http://www.oed.com/. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
Pine Mountain Institute. The Psychological Aspects of Transition Continuing Education Programs. http://www.pinemountaininstitute.com/Continuing_Education_understanding_issues.htm. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
Schier, Steven. (2011, August 8). Telephone interview.
Schoenbaechler, Jessica. Creating a Curriculum Guide for Your Documentary Film. www.der.org/resources/curriculum-guide-for-film.html. Retrieved August 3, 2011.
Smith, M. (July 29, 2011). Videos in Training. (personal email). (August 2, 2011).
Snagfilms. Campus Documentary Films A-Z. http://www.snagfilms.com/films/browse/category/campus/a-z. Retrieved August 6, 2011. Stanford School of Medicine. Documentary Film. http://cirge.stanford.edu/researchareas/documentary.html. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
Wilson, M. (2011, July 14). Documentary. (personal email). (August 2, 2011).[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Recently the Washington Post featured a story on how Millennials actually prefer print to digital reading. I thought is was an interesting article that made some relevant points. I too prefer reading something on paper, finding sitting down with a printed book or document both easier to absorb and less distracting. The point of the textbook industry trying to push the e-books for their own financial motivations also makes a lot of sense.
However, you shouldn't try to stereotype a whole generation. If you took one younger relation as representative you would think the whole generation goes through life not only attached to their devices but more concerned with taking pictures of their activities and posting on Facebook then experiencing them. Yet another is rarely on Facebook and can't be bothered to figure out how to get a cell phone that works affordable both Canada and the US, so just goes without most of the year.
As an active participant in an internet forum on "i-Docs, Multi-Platform & Cross-Media Projects" it seems that we have yet to find an interactive site that seems like even a prototype of what the form could or should be. It still seems that there is much work to be done in figuring out how to use the capacities of technology in a way that aligns with how the human brain learns and what actually motivates people and engages them.
In the training world we often hear "communities of practice" or "learning communities" touted as a more effective method of "just in time" learning and mentoring. Yet very few organizations have figured out how to successfully create one that will last. Outside of a few education focused ones like "edutopia" most seem to languish, with very sparse attendance or contributions. Instructional design has been no exception. Amazingly, 15 years ago, before Facebook and Twitter, some visionary documentary filmmakers had figured out the formula. The "D-Word" is a thriving resource for this rapidly changing industry that should be a role model for anybody who wants to attempt such a community for their own field. I have used it as a sample of what best practices for those considering such an endeavor.
If you want to learn more click here for a short blog based on a paper I wrote in grad school. A key-takeaway is that, like almost any other training or educational endeavor, it will take time and money to make something effective and worthwhile. It is not just "build it and they will come". There really aren't any substitution for patient and continual attention by a "benevolent dictator " (in the words of founder Doug Block).
The D-word is currently seeking funds for a major upgrade. I have no doubt that their members, even though they are for the most part struggling artists, will be happy to reciprocate for all that they have received from the D-Word. Learn all about it here: http://d-word.com/page/15for15
Facebook somehow actually figured out something I'd be interested in recently - KQED's Mindshift Blog. Recently they wrote a great post about the problem with MOOCs. I've repeatedly said that by $1500 3 credit course in "Adult Learning Theory" at UMBC could have been boiled down to one word:
It makes me wonder if the ideal scenario for most learning is a flipped model (recorded lectures watched at the students convenience) with the in-person sessions being used for conversation, analysis, synthesis, skills practice and keeping the learner motivated.
Internet Forums are simply online sites where people can have conversations on a variety of topics by posting and responding to messages. “On-line bulletin board”, “message board” and “bulletin board” are often used interchangeably. If well moderated, an internet forum can become a place where people from all over the world come together to share knowledge about their discipline or subject of interest – a true “community of practice”. Friendships, professional connections and reputations are developed as well. They can exemplify the best of informal learning. However, not all Internet forums are equally successful. In this paper I will briefly touch upon the history of Internet forums and look into the different varieties that exist today. I will discuss some of their limitations and focus on one called “D-Word” that I am familiar with and consider a very successful example.
Perhaps we could trace the true origins of “bulletin boards” to graffiti from the antiquities. Centuries ago, paper was precious. Newspapers were posted in public spaces so that members of the community could come together to read and discuss them. Some newspapers inserted blank spaces so that readers could add their own comments for the person they would be passing the newspaper onto. As paper eventually became more affordable for the masses, “bills” and “broadsides” could be posted where people were likely to see them. Bulletin boards made a central place to post and read information.
In the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s computers gradually began to enter the home. The first dial up Bulletin Board system (BBS) was started in 1978 when a Chicago blizzard stranded computer hobbyists Ward Christensen and Randy Suess inside. People would dial into this and other bulletin boards on 1200 bit modems. Many were run as a hobby, while others charged a subscription. Some were run by businesses to provide customer support. Given the limits of the technology, they were basically limited to sharing software and text based information.
BBSs reached their peak usage in 1996, but declined rapidly in popularity with the World Wide Web. Internet forums today are more robust, offering a place for people with any sort of interest a place to share information, ideas, images, movies etc. Better search features allow people to take advantage of the wisdom of previous discussions. People can learn and teach others in these communities at a time that works best for them. The information they need is available when they can best make use of it. Some are geared towards hobbies, others towards various professional fields such as education and instructional design. Subject matter ranges from art to zoology, and just about everything in between.
However, some forums fail to gain a critical mass of participants, and others are plagued by strife and discord. “Trolls” are people who use the cover of anonymity to speak in an ill-mannered way or “flame” others. Often posts or questions get no response. The conversation dies and people become disengaged for various reasons. In addition, informal learning is more difficult to evaluate and quantify. Therefore it is harder to introduce into certain workplaces that are focused on immediately verifiable results.
One example of a very successful on-line community is called “D-Word”. It was formed over 10 years ago by a documentary filmmaker named Doug Block, who started with a series of online journal entries “depicting the joy and angst of making and selling his feature documentary, Home Page. It was meant to inform, inspire, humor and depress the hell out of working or aspiring documentary filmmakers, or anyone else interested in the filmmaking process, for that matter.” It evolved into a community of over 3,000 professional Members and 5000 “enthusiasts” from some 80 countries. The hosts screen potential members to make sure they have some professional experience. 95% of applicants are accepted.
I am an activate participant in this community. I have learned many invaluable things and been the beneficiary of incredibly useful advice about all aspects of the production and distribution of documentary films. I have made friends from all over the world, several of whom I have met when they come to DC. I have established a reputation of someone with expertise on web design and educational distribution.
An interview I did with Doug Block revealed that as the primary host and creator he sees himself as a “benevolent dictator with no entrepreneurial spirit”. In the first years he spent about 2 hours a day on it, now it’s down to about one hour a day. In addition there are 3 other co-hosts who also contribute. He sees his primary role as keeping folks on topic and making them feel welcome. In the early years he had to regularly be a more heavy handed “topic cop” to keep people focused on the sticking to the topic. Now he’s more of a “light overseer”. The “parking lot” is a special topic expressly designed to allow people to rant and rave. Even gently suggesting to people that they take something “to the parking lot” often diffuses tensions. In 10 years only 3 people have been kicked out. Approximately 150-200 people participate regularly. Doug thinks you get the most out of it if you check in every day.
Doug Block’s advice to anyone wanting to start an Internet community is: “People think it’s simple to start a virtual community but it’s not. Be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort. People don’t want to pay for it. It will require strong motivated leadership – a benevolent dictator”.
It is my conclusion that in many educational endeavors there are often no shortcuts and technology is just another tool. It often takes hours of preparation and effort for a teacher or trainer to pull off a good lesson or lecture. Similarly, it takes dedicated hosts and facilitators willing to donate many hours to make an Internet forum truly flourish. Improvements in technology will add new features to Internet forums and improve their search features. However, I’m skeptical that the necessary human element can ever be replaced. Those of us who have volunteered for community groups know that it takes a cadre of dedicated volunteers willing to contribute much time and patience to form community. The same applies for Internet forums.
¿ http://www.ewenger.com/theory/ ¿ http://www.slate.com/id/2265214/ ¿ Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865 , Richard D. Brown ¿ WIKIPEDIA ¿ Doug Block, telephone interview 9/25/2010
As a person with a many pots on the stove, keeping up with the latest movies usually falls pretty low on the priority list. So I only recently saw “Up in the Air”, a wonderful take on life in a globalized world. George Clooney portrays a man whose job has him flying all over the country on a continual basis. He is kept busy by cowardly bosses who don’t have the guts to tell their employees themselves that their services are no longer required. In these times, he might seem to be one of the few with job security. However, a fresh faced young woman has recently been hired by the company. She introduces the idea of reducing the cost of doing business by firing people via web conference instead of in person. Management is quite smitten with the idea and authorizes her to implement it right away. In one scene she is shown making a flow chart type of diagram. When Clooney’s character asks her what she’s doing she replies that she is making a flow chart of possible outcomes so that anybody can be easily trained to do his job.
What she could have said is that she was doing the design phase of ISD. Of course, very few members of the general public would have understood that response since very few people seem to know what ISD is. But that was indeed what she was doing. George Clooney’s character was horrified by it, feeling that his work was too complicated and skilled for this approach and required a personal touch. I won’t spoil the ending, but urge you to see “Up in the Air” for yourself. This film was a refreshingly nuanced and compelling take on many aspects of modern life – including the costs and benefits of increased efficiency rendered by “best practices” ISD.
“I’ve found some of the best e-learning developers have a background in video production. Why does a video background help new e-learning developers? Because video relies so heavily on the eyes, one has to think visually from the start. Same goes for e-learning. Computer screens cry out for visual treatment.” Ruth Clark, Evidence Based Training Methods
This paper served to be a nice summary of what I’ve learned at UMBC in the course of completing the Certificates in Instructional Technology and Instructional Design. Much credit goes to my partner Rosemary Harty – I highly recommend partnering with an English teacher for collaborative paper writing! Abstract
In order for e-learning to become “real learning” it must be designed thoughtfully and carefully. E-learning should be approached with many of the same best practices used in instructor-led training. This means the focus should be squarely on the learner and instruction should be planned with a sound understanding of learning theory. Examples from research and practice, guidelines for selection, design and content approaches are examined in the context of e-learning. Learning theories, from long-established to emerging, are discussed and addressed. A case study exemplifying good principles in learner-centered design demonstrates key ways that theory can successfully be applied.
Key words: E-learning, workplace learning, rapid e-learning
E-Learning for Real Learning
In a recent interview with T & D, the American Society for Training & Development’s magazine, e-learning “guru” Jay Cross describes how he became a disciple of the power of e-learning in 1998: “I’d been in the training business and adult education for more than 20 years, and when the Web came along, I was blown away; I fell in love. Learning and the Web were made for one another, and I wouldn’t let go of it. I was a man obsessed” (“Jay Cross”, 2011, p. 72).
The enthusiasm for e-learning has only grown since Cross’s epiphany. E-learning is seen as a cost-efficient means to deliver training: once prepared, a training session can be used over and over without a facilitator. E-learning eliminates the need to send workers off site for training, and, particularly with new development tools, can be created in house and deployed rapidly. Economic pressures can partially explain the growth of e-learning in workplace training, but companies are also investing in e-learning simply because they believe this mode of delivery to be more effective (Dable, 2009). However, just as classroom learning relies upon a symbiotic relationship between learner and facilitator, e-learning should not be seen as one-way delivery of information from an expert source to a passive learner. Individuals bring existing skills and knowledge, mental maps, attitudes, and life’s hard-earned wisdom to any learning activity. As e-learning presents new and rapidly growing opportunities for training and human development, it is more important than ever to keep the learner firmly at the center of the endeavor.
This paper will explore how sound principles of instructional systems design can guide effective e-learning. First, the discussion will explore some key learning theories from John Dewey through leaders in adult learning methods, including Knowles, Houle, and Brookfield. These principles begin with an understanding of how people learn and they focus particularly on the kinds of barriers that are raised when adults face new and potentially uncomfortable learning situations. A definition of e-learning, along with an assessment of where it stands in workplace training today, is discussed. The paper will then offer ways in which those who design e-learning can marry both practice and andragogy in producing asynchronous, online training that is designed to be learner-centered, allow for the retention and transfer of information to the workplace, and is informed by research-based guidelines for the use of graphics, sound, and content. Finally, a case study exemplifying learner-centered design, Connect with Haji Kamal, is examined for its use of best practices in e-learning.
Learning and E-learning
As a basic level, learning is often defined as the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, or abilities. Others see learning as growth, change, or adaptation to new situations. Defining what makes good e-learning must begin with a consideration of what it means to learn.
Definitions of learning abound, from the philosophical to the purely scientific. Dewey (1964), whose ideas about democracy and education revolutionized American schools at the turn of the 20th century, says that “learning is learning to think” (p. 245). He urges educators to consider the connection between the process of and the product of thinking. While to a certain extent, to learn means to take in and digest information, Dewey says, knowledge can’t be used in new situations unless individuals truly comprehend the information, requiring “constant reflection on the meaning of what is studied” (p. 249). Few see learning as a purely cognitive process. For example, Galbraith (2004) defines learning as “a cognitive process that is influenced by existing or prior knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, and the state of the learner” (p. 33). Thus, each individual brings his or her own experiences—for better or worse—to any learning activity.
Some adults may have decades of experience to bring to the training situation, so is important to consider theories that offer insight into how adults learn. Houle (1996) defines learning as a “cooperative” and “practical” art and advocates educational activities that reflect the experience of the learner. Vella (2000), Mezirow (1997), and Knowles (1980) see learning as transformational, best achieved in partnership with a naturally self-directed learner. Vella (2000) further emphasizes that learning starts with a genuine respect for the learner and his or her goals. Here, the overarching goal is to enlist the participant as an equal partner in the learning activity.
The business world links learning to improved performance with tangible benefits for the organization. Here, perhaps the most important definition of learning involves the ability to transfer new information to long-term memory and apply it on the job. This can be hindered when adult learners cling to stubborn beliefs and practiced ways of doing things, so existing knowledge needs to be held up to the light of inquiry. E-learning pioneer Elliot Masie (cited in Addison, 2009) suggests that today’s technology has already changed the nature of learning because ready access to information has made learning more “curiosity driven” (p. 18). Therefore, learning may be considered a process of focused inquiry. Just as Socrates used dialogue to foster meaningful inquiry, even in today’s digital world learning takes place when people formulate their ideas and talk about them with others. “Conversation,” says Jay Cross, “is the most important learning technology the world has ever seen” (“Jay Cross”, 2011, p. 7).
Within the broader realm of a rapidly changing workplace, definitions of workplace learning continue to evolve. The types of skills required today demand a focus on what Chacon (2005) distinguishes as “deep learning,” that which allows restructuring of mental maps and schema. Fenwick (2005) argues that today’s so-called knowledge economy requires workers to innovate and experiment, while Mezirow (1997) champions the cultivation of the “autonomous” thinker: one who is capable of making independent judgments related to his or her job and organizational goals.
This discussion of e-learning focuses on an understanding of workplace learning that goes beyond the surface level to challenge individuals, to consider what they bring to the learning situations, and to carefully consider learning as a cognitive process.
From a novelty in the early 1990s, web-based training has continued to grow. ASTD’s 2010 State of the Industry report on training and development (Green, 2011) reported on information gathered from 400 organizations. Concerning the mode of training delivery, the survey found that 70 percent of workplace training is still delivered in a classroom; 60 percent of that training is delivered by live instruction. While the report tracked a decline of technology-based instruction, from 36.3 percent in 2009 to 29.1 percent in 2010, a dramatic surge in e-learning is expected with the economic recovery (Green, 2011, p. 50).
Growth in higher education online learning, meanwhile, has continued at a dramatic pace, in part to accommodate the pressures of enrollment growth and cost control. According to U.S. Department of Education statistics (Radford, 2011), the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in at least one distance education course grew from 8 percent to 20 percent between 2000 and 2008, while Ubell (2010) tallies at four million the number of students in distance education. This growth has clear implications for the coming generations of workplace learners who are comfortable with learning online and on their own.
The training and human development field generally recognizes three basic types of e-learning: synchronous, asynchronous, and blended. Ordonez and Lane (2008) further identify three types e-learning by learning objective and mode: (1) rapid, deployed for urgent matters, and developed in three weeks or less (2) traditional, usually comprising static content, and developed in three to eleven weeks and (3) strategic, requiring four or more months of development, and geared for sophisticated workplace knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Among the newest developments in e-learning, so-called “rapid e-learning” is a forced to be reckoned with, as the proliferation of authoring software, cloud-based computing, and new collaborative tools factor in the ease of creating learning modules. Some in the broader industry define “rapid e-learning” in terms of the length of the module itself. For instance, the Rapid Learning Institute offers “six- to 10-minute programs focused on a single learning concept” (Rapid Learning Institute, 2012). Others believe that the “rapid” in “rapid e-learning” refers to the length of time it should take for the learner to absorb the material (Karrer, 2006). However, the most common usage of the term “rapid e-learning” refers to the length of time it takes to produce the e-learning module and the level of expertise required to produce it.
E-learning will continue to grow, and those in the ISD field must bring their expertise and knowledge of how people learn to help shape effective e-learning. The remainder of this discussion will establish some key areas deserving attention and further study before embarking on the selection, design, and implementation of e-learning modules.
Learning Theory in Action in E-learning Design
Adult learning benefits enormously when learners are empowered to be active instead of passive. This is achieved by giving them the ability to control the pacing of training and the opportunity to make decisions for themselves along the way. Several techniques and approaches can be used to implement this, including better navigation design and varying information delivery with engaging activities.
Meaningful Learner Control
One of the most highly touted advantages of e-learning is that even in its most basic of formats, it offers a measure of learner control that classroom training typically has not. Learner control, a term created by Mager in 1961 (Derouin et al., 2004), encompasses everything from navigation through a self-paced, asynchronous module to having a say in how the content is presented or what method (discussion format, WIKI, interactive quizzes) is used. While the trainer standing before a group of adults has to direct training to all present (risking boredom for some and difficulty for others), e-learning gives the individual many options in approaching the training—including, to be honest, the option of skipping everything to take the assessment at the end simply to have it done.
Yet not all online training has meaningful levels of control beyond the trainee’s ability to press “forward” and “back” arrows, and that may be because an individual’s natural urge to make choices and act independently are not thoroughly considered. After a lifetime of passive education, adults may accept (even welcome) training that does not really involve them in a meaningful way, but that also may mean they do not learn anything (Knowles, 1980). Though Dewey (1964) was talking about the classroom and not a computer, he urged educators to allow their pupils to test things out for themselves: “There is innate disposition to draw inferences and an inherent desire to experiment and test” (p. 253). While Knowles advocated the case of the self-directed learner long before e-learning came into view, he said that this self-directed learner needs help to emerge. He offers four ways to prepare individuals to learn: (1) relationship-building exercises that orient the learner (2) a cognitive map of self-directed learning (3) skills-building exercises and (4) constructing a learning contract. These ideas are easily adapted to the online classroom. For example, merely including an opportunity for learners to introduce themselves and state their goals is a way to provide an orientation to an e-learning situation. A learning contract can be as simple as a check box in the first module that asks learners to participate fully, complete all the exercises they believe are necessary for their learning, and to ask questions if they have them.
DeRouin et al. (2004) analyzed research that showed learner control sometimes improved learning outcomes, but not always. Issues such as motivation and relevance factor in this failure, but sometimes learners “are poorly equipped to use [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][learner] control” (p. 149). DeRouin et al. developed 15 research-based guidelines for design that begin with giving learners the time to adjust to e-learning when this mode is new to them. Learner control options should also be calibrated to the skill and ability of the learners to lessen frustration when the material is new or difficult. Individuals should not have to return to previous modules to handle the material in new ones, and care should be taken not to “lose” any participants because of confusing navigation. Genuine learner control occurs when training designers—keeping in mind that adults want material to be relevant to their jobs—involve trainees in selecting the context or learning scenarios to be used (DeRouin et al., 2004).
Addressing the Fear of Failure
Workers can (and often do) approach training with a fear of failure. A learner who is steeped in anxiety will be blocked from learning. Research has shown that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol impairs learning (Jensen, 2000). Especially for learners with limited computer skills, good e-learning makes sure that the individual is challenged in a way that enables learning but does not cause undue stress.
Presenting something that is new or novel releases a moderate amount of stress hormones that can actually result in better learning. A reasonable challenge is an example of a positive stress (Jensen, 2000). Goals can be effective in motivating learners, but only if the target is set at an appropriate level. The goals should be “challenging, but obtainable” (Jensen, 2000, p. 85). Workers are even more empowered if they play a role in setting the goal, as by the use of a learning contract (Knowles, 1980). There has to be enough feedback so that the learner can make corrections. The learner must have enough confidence to persevere in the face of negative feedback. She must also have the necessary skills and workplace support (Jensen, 2000).
Carnes (2012) proposes that motivation is increased when the learning is clearly and obviously connected to greater organizational goals and mission. This can be during a pre-lesson email, during the registration, and/or on the first slide of a webinar (Carnes, 2012). However, if too much focus and importance is placed on goals, this can increase the stress level of learners and cause them to make simple mistakes and fail at assessments of material they actually know (Jensen, 2000).
Learning for Effective Problem Solving: Mental Maps, Schema and Metacognition
Complex training situations may be more successfully approached by considering what adults know about how they learn and by encouraging an awareness of the process of learning. When metacognition is active during e-learning (Hill & Wouters, 2010; Tsai, 2009) students gain the ability to monitor their progress and gain more control over the learning situation. Not only can learners spot errors, but they also learn to recognize why an error was made. While learners vary widely in their metacognitive abilities, skillful instruction can draw these out in all learners (Osman and Hannifin, 1994).
Dobrovolny (2006) studied corporate e-learning in which participants voluntarily chose to take asynchronous training they believed would aid them in career advancement. She asked them to identify how six strategies were used in e-learning: (1) conversations (2) reflection (3) metacognition (4) prior experience (5) authentic experiences, which allow learners to practice skills in a context related to their own job and (6) generative learning strategies, those that allow the learner to make connections (such as analogies) through active learning. While learners reported using all of these strategies, metacognition topped the list. For adults, Dobrovolny concluded: “self-paced, technology-based training, starts with, and is sustained by, metacognition. . . . Thus, instructional designers need to create frequent opportunities for adults to self-assess and self-correct, that is, include questions or self-checks, practice exercises, and/or simulations (‘interactivity’) in all instruction” (p. 165). Learners need to ground their new knowledge in experience, Dobrovolny says, and must have post-course access to review key concepts when they need them.
Collaborative teams are part of today’s workforce, bringing varied perspective to issues and problems. E-learning, therefore, must draw out these valuable skills. Alonso et al. draw ideas for e-learning from Keller’s ARCS model: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction. Here, the use of “good problems”—those with multiple solutions and collaborative teamwork—contributes to real learning. However, they advocate going beyond asynchronous training. Positing that critical thinking is best served through live interaction with others (either in video conferences or one-to-one mentorship), they recommend building these opportunities into training. In their model example, an eight-week training course for instructional technology professionals, they blended online learning with face-to-face classes and assessments scheduled at the beginning and end of the sessions. Throughout the training, they augmented self-paced modules with live chats and video conferences. This type of engagement and support—beyond the self-paced module—should be pursued for deep, reflective learning.
Allowing for creativity and fun in the learning process engages learners, and this can be accomplished with technologies such as games, simulations, virtual worlds, and other meaningful activities. Bonk and Zhang (2008) developed R2D2 (Read, Reflect, Display, and Do), which among other things, addresses the lack of hands-on activities in the online classroom. They promote the use of carefully designed activities that promote higher-order thinking skills. These include ideas such as mock trials, role-play, and digital storytelling. Quinn (2005) suggests delivering experiences (especially those that encourage decision making), in course design. Rather than PowerPoint slides and repackaged lectures, include well-designed games in training, Quinn advises. By actively making decisions throughout the game, adults grasp and have the opportunity to reinforce learning concepts. Karl Kapp (2011) encourages designers to tailor content carefully given the learning situation: is the training geared to developing declarative, conceptual, procedure, or problem-solving skills? Among Kapp’s suggested approaches for problem solving, for example, is role play: give the learner a situation (for example, a bank manager discovers someone has been embezzling), limit the information available to him and her, and encourage the learner to see the situation through to the end, digging deep into personal experiences to put new knowledge into action.
As younger workers continue to join the workforce, e-learning developers may turn increasingly to virtual words, using avatars to enhance experiential learning for a generation of gamers. Franchesci et al. (2009) studied the use of virtual worlds in business education and found these activities are successful in developing critical thinking and creativity. The “virtual presence” individuals gain in their communities engage them in a way that discussion boards and other activities do not. They also have the advantage of interacting with others in an expressive way, using body language, facial expressions, and gestures to support their position. Testing a group of students in a collaborative exercise, they found that online students performed better and were more engaged in their virtual worlds (Franceschi et al., 2009).
Designing E-Learning for Learners: Graphics and Tools
While planning engaging content begins with the learning objective, learner-centered graphic design eases the learner’s journey through the material. Issues of motivation, working memory, retention and transfer will be addressed here. In some cases, special attention must be devoted to novice learners with little or no experience with online learning, or when designing training for workers with varied knowledge of the subject matter.
Motivation and Learner Satisfaction
Thoughtful graphic design can help improve motivation and learner satisfaction with the learning experience. Levie and Lentz’s 1982 research found that illustrations can “enhance enjoyment and other affective reactions” (Lohr, 2007, p. 27). Rieber identifies two overall types of graphics: those serving an affective function and those serving a cognitive function (Lohr, 2007). Because decorative visuals make instructional content more enjoyable, attractive and interesting (Lohr, 2007), they are useful in making a good first impression on the learner by gaining her attention and motivating her to continue (Lohr, 2007).
Personalizing e-learning means the various steps one can take in e-learning to embed social cues instead of having a more neutral or computer-generated voice. This includes using a first- or second-person voice instead of third-person, polite phrases, voice quality (if audio is included), images of instructors or hosts and collaborative activities done online (Clark, 2010).
Human brains are hard wired to pay more attention and devote more mental effort to social messages. In order to ensure their survival, humans have historically had to focus more deeply and consistently on interpersonal messages so they could reap the benefits of mutual cooperation (Clark, 2010). This means that more personalized information is more likely to make its way into long-term memory. Clark (2010), citing experiments with American learners by Mayer (2009) and Wang (2008) advocates the use of a conversational and polite tone for better learning outcomes.
Working Memory: What it Means for Design
Sometimes a learner becomes discouraged and unmotivated because the training has been designed in a way that is inappropriate for how their brain processes information. Good e-learning must be paced, structured and designed for how the learner actually retains and applies information on the job. For learning to occur, information has to be transferred from working memory to long-term memory.
Working memory is defined as the “the conscious part of your brain that thinks, solves problems and learns” (Clark, 2010, p. 30). Good learning design allows this to happen by not overtaxing working memory and by allowing adequate time for the knowledge to be transferred. While long-term memory has infinite capacity, working memory can hold between five and nine items (Lohr, 2007). When a learner reaches his or her limit, processing capabilities slow down; beyond that limit, cognitive overload occurs.
Good graphic design lessens the amount of mental work learners have to do to understand the lesson, allowing them to focus on what is being learned. Working memory has dual channels: separate areas for storing visual and auditory information. Using both these channels enhances working memory, but simultaneously displaying the same text and audio leads to a redundancy effect and actually diminishes learning (Clark 2008).
Visuals can either enhance or depress learning, depending on how they are used. Graphics that may look impressive from an artistic standpoint may actually be detrimental to learning. Just as too much text or audio can overtax working memory, too many graphics (especially irrelevant ones) will have the same effect. Particularly when novice learners are approaching complex content, a simple line drawing is preferable to complex three-dimensional graphics (Clark, 2010). Similarly, simpler animation has proven more effective then more complex movies (Clark, 2010). Graphics that are merely decorative overtax working memory (Clark, 2010), a conclusion also of Levie and Lentz’s 1982 research, which found illustrations that “simply embellish content do not enhance learner understanding” (Lohr, 2007, p. 27).
Proximity (simply arranging graphics and text close to each other) lessens the strain on working memory. This is especially important for novice learners. Those with extensive previous knowledge of the subject matter may already have a picture in their minds of the concept being are presented (Clark, 2010). For novices who haven’t yet formed this visual picture, good graphic design is even more important to avoid cognitive overload (Clark, 2010).
One way that information moves from working to long-term memory is through repetition, or “rehearsal” (Lohr, 2007). In e-learning, rehearsal might involve having the learner listen to information multiple times, chunk it into more manageable segments, look at a picture of it, organize it or find an analogy to something they already know (Lohr, 2007).
When the training objective is to build skills, the use of examples is particularly important. In this kind of training it is important to regularly alternate practice and examples, building in adequate time for reflection. Too much practice can overtax working memory and not allow it the opportunity to absorb the new skill into long-term memory (Clark, 2010). In addition, Carnes (2012) suggests supplementing positive examples (showing what should be done) with negative (or “error-based”) examples to transfer learning to on-the-job action. Among the examples she provides is the use of a learning scenario in which a video depicts a manager doing everything incorrectly while delivering an employee’s performance review (Carnes, 2012).
Knowledge transfer is also improved by pre-exposure to what will be learned. This step provides a foundation to which the learner will be able to connect the new knowledge. Therefore, providing background knowledge can help accelerate learning. Jensen (2000) suggests such tools as video previews, museums visits, library exploration or reviewing the text the professors will be using before the first day of class.
If the learner already has some background knowledge, it is helpful to assist her in recalling it prior to introducing the new knowledge. Techniques used to recall prior knowledge could include role-playing exercises, skits, making mind-maps, and brainstorming. Novice learners have different needs then ones with pre-existing knowledge of the subject since they have less foundational background knowledge.
Preliminary research shows that adding stories to training can increase learning outcomes, but only when the stories are directly related to the learning goals and objectives. When they are indirectly related they can have a detrimental effect, as they distract from the content and overtax working memory. Since stories can be more compelling they are more likely to make it to long-term memory (Clark 2010).
Different types of content require different approaches. “Show-and-tell” type training is defined as training that involves little or no interaction and is meant to simply convey information. It can be either an instructor-led lecture, PowerPoint (or its e-learning equivalent), or a documentary film. This kind of training can cause anybody to reach cognitive overload if it goes on too long—in general an hour or less is recommended (Clark, 2010). Jensen (2000) recommends building into a lesson “brain breaks” after every 20 minutes (p. 124).
Adding interactivity at a regular basis is beneficial. However, length between breaks should be even shorter with novice learners, as their lack of background knowledge will cause them to reach cognitive overload earlier. Similarly, they will reach a state of cognitive overload more quickly with problem-based or immersive learning as well (Clark, 2010).
Training to build procedural skills is best structured in a stair-step or “directive” architecture. This kind of training is structured to “tell, show, do, correct.” It is especially well suited for novice learners when it breaks the training into “small steps and frequent corrective practice” in order to minimize cognitive load (Clark, 2010). “Show- and-tell” type training as defined as training that involves little or no interaction; it is best suited for learners who are advanced in their fields already. This is because it is easier for them to “assimilate the new knowledge into their long term memory structures” (Clark, 2010, p. 46).
Case Study: Connect with Haji Kamal
It has been established that good training puts the learner firmly at the center of any training activity. Best practices take into account important learning theories, such as the cognitive and affective dimensions of learning, and enlist participants as true partners in this endeavor. Designers of the best e-learning know that learners must be challenged, but not overwhelmed; they must be presented with many new facts, but not drowned in information; and they must have some control in what they learn and how they learn it. The use of graphic design, the selection of content and activities, and the proper use of self-assessments improve the chance that learning can be retained and applied in the workforce.
Effective E-learning in Action
Connect with Haji Kamal ( http://www.worldwarfighter.com/hajikamal/activity/), an e-learning scenario developed by Cathy Moore andKinection for the U.S. Army, is an example of best practices in e-learning design for many reasons. Part of a broader effort to teach cultural competency and decision-making skills for American troops, the training includes classroom discussion to allow for reflective learning (Moore, 2010). In this example, workplace learning demands successful retention and transfer, as issues of life and death shape the learning objectives.
Learner motivation is addressed in graphic design, pacing, and learner control. The interface allows users to read the scenario and make decisions at their own pace. The look and feel of the piece are modern enough to attract attention and inspire confidence in its importance. However, it is technologically simple enough to avoid distracting the learner with unnecessary bells and whistles. The comic book format should be familiar to many of the learners, and have good associations for them.
The quest to motivate the learner begins with the very first slide. Participants learn that the scenario is “based on real events,” making it relevant to their roles. Next, the game’s explanation that there are “12 paths through the game with 2 ways to win” presents the learner with a challenging, but achievable goal. Stating that the module will only take 10 minutes reassures the learner that they will not be cognitively overloaded.
The use of branching scenarios increases learner involvement and thus better develops critical thinking skills by forcing participants to make numerous choices and consider how they will defend them.
Good graphic design does not overtax working memory. It displays information in a clear, easy-to-read way and establishes a manageable pace. In this game, the use of a limited range of colors simplifies processing of the images, thus not distracting from the content presented.
The module is short enough to allow adequate time for reflection. The use of comics instead of photos allows the learner to generalize more about types of people they might be facing instead of being distracted by focusing on the specific features of individuals. This choice helps learners to personalize the experience, as they can more easily project the identities of those they know on general types of characters than specific individuals in photos.
Personalization also occurs by structuring the course so that the learner is addressed as “you” and must imagine himself or herself in the role, instead of experiencing it from a third-person perspective. An immersive architecture is used, which is appropriate for a situation where the learner needs to apply critical thinking skills on the job.
As Carnes (2012) states in her webinar: “Training is a process, not an event.” Many principles and best practices that apply to instructor-based training also apply to e-learning. In particular, one should not expect that merely compiling information into learning modules—whether it takes three weeks or three months to design the training—will necessarily result in true learning. Delivery of information must regularly and carefully be mixed with other types of activities that engage the learner, with time for reflection built into the training. Presentation of information should be no more than 50 percent of the learning activity (Jensen, 2000). Therefore, e-learning is far more effective when incorporated as part of a larger lesson plan then as stand-alone training.
“Rapid e-learning” warrants special scrutiny because of the intense marketing focused at companies who seek to cut costs and development time; much of the work in this emerging and profitable area of training is not of high quality. Training professionals recognize that good training takes time and careful design. It is often penny wise and pound foolish to quickly generate large amounts of training material if little is absorbed or applied. The content will just have to be retaught at another time or the organization will pay the price in trainees who haven’t acquired the intended skills.
E-learning can be very effective when the training objectives, the technology, and the learner all come together in synchronicity. When this is the case, all that remains is to design the right learning activities. However, this synchronicity is often elusive, so e-learning is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. If blended learning opportunities are not possible because of time, distance, or costs, then support systems created through blogs, discussion boards, wikis, and other e-learning technology should be utilized to augment what asynchronous learning itself could not provide.
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Featured Article Apple’s recently released iBooks Author is a promising tool for those in training and development. The fact that Apple has partnered with several major textbook publishers bodes well for its future. This software allows one to produce multimedia books for the iPad (but the iPad alone). These books can contain movie clips, interactive animations, diagrams, photos and simple quizzes. It is relatively easy to learn for those already familiar with Macs, and will seem especially familiar to those who have used iWeb software. While iBooks Author is free to download, you will need a relatively new Mac (at least an Intel core 2 Duo) that runs Leopard, the latest operating system. An upgrade to Leopard will cost $30. Some people online reported problems with upgrading. However, this author’s experience went smoothly, even with her five-year-old computer.
To preview your book you will need an iPad 2 or 3 that has iBooks2 installed. Once you have created your book and previewed it on your iPad you are ready to publish. You can choose to either sell your text, or offer it for free. Either way, you are only allowed to distribute it through the iTunes store. However, you retain rights to the content, and can repurpose it as you see fit. You have the option of creating a PDF file from your book. However, you will lose any interactivity, and “made with iBooks Author” will be displayed on the bottom of every page.
The fact that the book is only available for iPads and not other types of tablets is a significant limitation. However, this new medium and its ease of use creates new possibilities for training and education. Being in the iTunes store will give some publications a new life by exposing them to a different audience. iPad books are already being used by sales people in the field to reference and demonstrate products. In combining the best of different media, the interactive book could prove better in elucidating certain concepts than either a traditional book or movie alone. I am looking forward to seeing the new ways people will find to use this new technology in both training and education.
In my imperfect analogy, those in Training and Development are like handymen and women. However, instead of fixing problems like broken windows and faulty wiring they have to deal with performance gap problems like employees not being able to enter data properly into databases or answer help desk questions in a timely manner. The hammer is only one of the tools in the handyman’s toolbox. In the human performance technology toolbox there are also an assortment of tools, in this case meant to fix performance gaps. Instructional design is just one of a selection of tools including organizational development, human resource management, total quality management etc. In a progressive organization our T & D handyman is given a nice big toolbox full of all kinds of tools to pick from to best repair the problem. She is also given enough time to troubleshoot and repair the problem properly. Instructional Design is but one of the tools at her disposal, as not all problems can be fixed by training. Some performance gaps are caused by environment, worker morale, lack of resources etc. and thus will require different tools to do the job.
However, in all too many organizations our friendly T & D professional is not given a full toolbox to do their jobs with. In addition, some of the tools may be locked away and she is not given access to the keys to all the drawers in her toolbox. Or perhaps the key-keeper manager will limit the time she is allowed to use the tools – like an Instructional Designer who is not given adequate time or resources to do enough analysis.
Another unfortunate possibility is that this key-keeper/manager is not willing to do the hard work of changing the organizational climate that is causing the problem and instead insists that the employees just need more training. This would be like our poor handyman being told to fix the broken window with a socket wrench – it’s just not the right tool for the job.
Camy Bean and her followers said it best a few years ago here: http://cammybean.kineo.com/2007/12/my-objection-to-learning-objectives.html
Learning objectives in the beginning of a project can be a signal to “listen up kiddies, and prepare to be bored”. As a learner I also usually skip over objectives. I’m afraid that to alot of people they are preceived as a signal to prepare for some really dull “educational” but good for you cod liver oil. As you may know, I’m a career changer with only a few actual design projects under my belt so far. It is my preference to try to engage and motivate the learner first. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s crucial to have well thought out objectives in order to design effective training. I just don’t believe it’s alway necessary to introduce them to the learner in the beginning of a module.
But the issue comes seems to come up again and again with every project I do. My current project is a live webinar/presentation about an emerging technology and how it applies to e-learning. The goal is to get us used to presenting and inform other students. So I jumped right in, and was having a grand old time making something which I think will have a nice flow and be interesting and informative. Then it occurs to me that I’m not using proper ISD techniques because I’m not writing, much less including the old “Objectives: Here’s what we are going to learn today bullet one, two, three etc.”. Will I be marked off for this by the teacher? When I asked him he said (to paraphrase) . . .
“at least let us know what we are going to be learning” if you are going into several points in the presentation then it would be good to have bullet points”.
Perhaps this is a good compromise, and won’t make the presentation start off too stiffly. But I do wonder from the point of view of a portfolio piece, will not having formal objectives in the beginning be seen as a mark against me? Will I be judged as someone who doesn’t understand ISD principles? Or worse yet, as somebody “too creative” to be hirable by a company that does more routine training?
It’s not that you ever get to the point where you “know everything” about the industry. However, I’m finding that equal to the actual knowledge you gain at an event like this is the reassurance and inspiration of meeting so many interesting people and hearing about so many worthy projects that face struggles similar to yours. Here are some random highlights: - “transmedia” is the new buzz word, but seems to basically mean the same as “cross platform” or “multi-platform” or “multimedia”.
- Sponsors want to hear that your project is “transmedia”, even if they don’t really understand what they means or how to make it happen.
- The Bay Area Video Coalition has helped many of the transmedia presenters at the conference.
- Public radio producers are at the forefront of transmedia. Story Corps has worked with animators to produce some wonderful (bring tears to your eyes) animations that have shown on POV and all over the web. My son’s media literacy class has shown them as well.
- Al Letson of the show “State of the Re:Union” spoke about how he worked with filmmakers to make short video documentaries about the subjects they were doing radio documentaries on. He said it was a matter of learning to accommodate each other – a radio person wants to practically shove a microphone in someone’s face, while a film person doesn’t want to see it at all.
- Glynn Washington of the show “Snap Judgment” spoke of how he liked to do features based on documentaries. He said that documentarians shouldn’t feel territorial about “their ideas”, as being featured on his show always lead to increase in sales. He said he really needed to talk to “that guy” with the show about homosexuals in rural areas; it would be perfect for him.
- Transmedia is seen as a way to attract more young people both to causes and public media. The average age of an NPR listener is 56. Non-profits are thinking of how they will attract the next generations of young donors and activists as well.
- The gathering of useful metrics bedevils those of us in many fields – instructional design, documentary filmmaking and transmedia collaborations.
- Once you create a budget, add 20-25% for the testing and refinement of digital media.
The case studies were particularly helpful. They included:
- Jacqueline Olive has a great project in development called “Always in Season” where a documentary about America’s history of lynching will be accompanied by a Second Life “Island” where people can actually interact in a lynching scenario and possibly try to change it. When asked what would happen if a bunch of neo-Nazis participated, she said these possibilities are still being worked out. The project will have a soft launch at sponsoring universities.
- Roland Legiardi-Laura has a project “To be Heard” about under-privileged teenagers using poetry to change their lives. In addition to the documentary, there is the development of a mobile phone ap that will allow poetry composed on smart phones to be posted as a stream on a website. They poems could then be used by non-profits focused on the issues raised by the poems, such as child abuse, teen pregnancy etc. He frankly said that the film would cost approx. $340K, but they would need another $120K to develop the aps etc. To make the website truly sustainable they would need paid staff for a couple years so add another $240K. They are well on the way with the fundraising.
This is a point I’ve been making for awhile – these interactive websites, Internet forums, online communities etc. are not “build it and they will come”. They require active, time consuming moderation and nurturing to work.
- Dean Hamer did indeed do a great presentation about the amazing outreach he and his partner Joe have been able to do with their film “Out in the Silence”. Some new quotable things he said were:
- “The best thing that happened is that we had to make our film with no money”. By this he meant that it allowed them to make the film their way without worrying about pleasing sponsors. I also think it allowed the film to move forward, instead of being fussed over and polished more than was needed for its purpose.
- “The limiting factor for our films is not whether you’ll see it on TV or a festival (or the web) but whether you’ve heard of it at all”
- Giving away their film for free over the Internet not only resulted in an uptick in DVD sales, but allowed it to better serve its activist purpose. A gay teenager in a rural area who wouldn’t want to be seen in public buying it, renting it, borrowing it from the library etc. would be able to see it privately in his own bedroom.
David Mallon of Bersin and Associates gave a surprisingly engaging presentation to the UMBC ISD community. Yet afterwards I heard a lot of the same reaction that presentations about informal learning often get. Many comments seemed to be of the “sounds good in theory, but how do I actually sell it to management?” and “this will take away our jobs” variety. To paraphrase some of his nuggets of wisdom:
“don’t think of designing the “right” piece of instruction – think of putting the right people in the right place at the right time”.
“don’t talk learning theory to your clients – talk to them in their language of business metrics”.
“72 % of companies say they believe in informal learning, but 30% of their resources are focused there”.
“Information Architecture is a sister to ISD. Soon these fields will converge, as Information Architecture plays a similar role in learning environments as ISD does in formal courses”.
He also used an interesting term “community management” – where instructional designers go from designing training to being facilitators of the communities and systems where employees informally learn. This really made sense to me, as I recently did a study of an informal learning community for documentary filmmakers called “the D-word”. This forum works magnificently as a fountain of information about all aspects of documentary filmmaking, outreach, marketing etc. However, it requires over an hour a day from a moderator now that it is established. It took even more time in the beginning to set the tone for the group.
I am currently taking EDUC 682: Instructional Technology Design and Development at UMBC. This class is taught on-line synchronously. Last week’s lecture focused on wireframing. Many students were unfamiliar with this term, and confused about the difference between it, “storyboarding” and a “flow chart”. Professor Mark’s was almost evangelical about clarifying the differences. I think this is because in his experience in the “real world” he has observed that being able to do all 3 results in much better planning and project management. In a nutshell, a “wireframe” is a prototype of a single page of a website or learning module. A storyboard shows all the pages together in sequence. Only the flow chart allows for branching. Thus if a learner doesn’t follow the lesson sequentially, but is allowed to skip ahead or repeat based on their learning needs the flow chart will show their alternative paths.
At Professor Mark’s company professional software is used. I asked if there were any free on-line options for those of us who have already spent too much on software. He pointed us to this site: http://speckyboy.com/2010/01/11/10-completely-free-wireframe-and-mockup-applications/
I haven’t had a chance to test every program mentioned, but her are my preliminary results. Since I have a Mac, your results may vary:
Lumzy was the best.
Mockingbird and Hot Gloo – no longer free
Denim – was able to launch application, but not to figure out how to work it. Marks would slowly appear, then disappear
Cacoo looks to be the easiest to use and best designed, but very slow (constantly got what we mac users call “spinning volleyball of doom”}. It exported an image as a png