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Category Archives: instructional design

The PowerPoint Coma, Dilbert, and Trainings.

Three days ago, on April 5th 2016, The Times of India ran a Dilbert strip about the PowerPoint Coma. About a week ago, on April 4th, I was in a meeting with a senior training manager, discussing an upcoming program for their organization, attempting to outline the focus areas. The training program would address senior and mid-level managers of the organization, who are often called upon to share their domain-expertise with others. “One of the areas,” said the gentleman, “is PowerPoint. They walk in with a PowerPoint presentation, dim the lights, and for the next hour, everyone dozes off! They can’t do away with the PowerPoint presentation, because it keeps their content grounded and ensures that they stay within the scope.”

Two days later, I saw the Dilbert strip, and the term “PowerPoint Coma” stayed with me. I’m not a fan of PowerPoint, but that doesn’t make me blind to its advantages. I know it has many, especially in the training scenario of today, where the rapidly reducing half-life of knowledge makes its almost mandatory that the trainers have a cue-sheet to keep them on track. How then, do we handle this double-edged sword? How do we use the strengths of PowerPoint without falling prey to its weaknesses?

Read “PowerPoint Coma – Causes, Effects, Prevention, and Dilbert,” for a rapid-fire round of quick tips.

 

 

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Returning…

Dear Readers,

It has been a while that I posted anything here. A medley of reasons kept me away – the most important being some critical health issues. Yet, every dark cloud that hovers over your head filling your view of the world with darkness and gloom, either explodes into a storm of rain and drenches you cold, or sails away in time. This cloud is sailing away, and though I can still see its tail on the horizon, I am confident that the wind won’t reverse its course to bring it back. At least I hope that it won’t.

So, in all probability I am back.

I intend to dust away the cobwebs and scrub this blog to make it sparkle again. I also want to thank the latest follower of this blog who inspired me to return. (If you followed this blog yesterday, you are the one I am talking about.)

As I couldn’t move about a lot, I spent the last whole year experimenting with some new learning mediums. I worked extensively on the mobile platform (specifically iOS) and this year I intend to work on development of Android apps. I intend to share my learnings on content development for the mobile learning or m-learning medium here along with my thoughts on e-learning. I am also experimenting with Kindle. Recently I have once again started accepting corporate training assignments in Instructional Design and eLearning. I also plan to share my experiences from those programs here.

This blog primarily focuses on the psychological principles that relate to learning (directly and indirectly) so expect to see the regular stuff on cognitive psychology too 🙂

I leave you with a link to my latest article on the Creative Agni Website.

 

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The Experiment – Stanford Prison, Milgram, and The Threshold.

It happens because we have the ability to absolve ourselves by shifting the responsibility of our actions to another entity, which may be a person or an organization. We are not responsible for the atrocities that we committed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, said the German soldiers who tortured and killed their captives. We were just doing our jobs. We were just following orders.

The Milgram Obedience Experiment

Stanley Milgram conducted what came to be known as the Milgram Obedience Experiment. In this experiment, perfectly normal people like you and me were assigned the roles of the teacher or the learner. They were separated with an opaque wall, but they could speak to each other. The teacher was given the task to teach the learner some words by asking him/her questions. If the learner responded incorrectly, the teacher would give the learner and electric shock that increased by 15 volts with every incorrect answer. Actually, the learner was replaced by an actor, and he’d not receive the shock but scream nevertheless. To make a long story short, the shocking outcome of the experiment was that there were people who continued giving electrical shocks of upto “450 volts” to their “learner” even after the learner begged for mercy. Why? Because they were asked to do so!

The Stanford Prison Experiment

I was prompted to make this post, after I watched the Adrien Brody – Forest Whitakar movie, “The experiment” yesterday. This movie is based upon another, yet more gruesome experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, Philip Zimbardo a psychologist with the Stanford University got together 2 dozen students who had absolutely no criminal record/tendencies for violence, and assigned them either the role of a prisoner or of a guard. They were to stay within the prison walls for 14 days (the initial plan) but the experiment lasted only 6 days. Reason: only after a day, the role-players began to take their roles for real. The “guards” began misusing their authority while the “prisoners” either revolted or turned completely passive. The “guards” ended up torturing the prisoners – and a riot broke out.

It’s obvious that an experiment of this nature was considered immoral and unethical, and never repeated. Yet, it underlined the conclusion of the Milgram Experiment, which was that authority does make people do things that they otherwise won’t do.

The Training Connection – Authority & Obedience

More often than not, I can predict the conversation that would take place, if I were to meet an HOD or a CEO of a company, and discuss instructional design with them. I won’t take you through the entire conversation, but at some point the gentleman or the lady is bound to tell me that his/her training programs have always been such grand successes, despite knowing nothing about this mythological critter called Instructional Design.

Obviously they do. Because they are the authoritarian figure. Nobody’d dare question what they say in their training programs. We the humans are more evolved than our brethren of other species yet we haven’t completely flushed out our pack mentality. We succumb to authority all the time.

On a positive note:

Classroom trainers can use their authority to really reach their audience. They know that their authority allows them to steer the discussions and the lectures; and that their trainees don’t have an option but to accept your authority. Now you can either misuse the authority the way those “guards” in the Standford prison experiment did, or you can use it productively. The trainees are your sheep and you are the shepherd.

Do read about the two experiments. The Wikipedia links that I gave above are portals to more details on these experiments, so please explore them.

 

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Creative Agni eZine, Sloth & Froth, and Some ID Fiction.

The Creative Agni eZine notification was sent out today. I know that it should’ve been done earlier, but I just couldn’t get down to wrapping it up until this morning.

If you haven’t subscribed to it, you can do so here.

I should say that there are two posts (among many others) that I would really love to share with my blog-readers.

  1.  A Short Story – Dushyant & Shakuntala – Why Love kills Logic?
  2. Sloth & Froth Comics – Teamwork Training and Decision-making

While you are there, you can also explore rest of the site and also meet Coffeebeans the Pup.

 

 

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Announcing the birth of the Creative Agni Instructional Design and eLearning eZine

I’d like to invite the readers of this blog to the Creative Agni eZine site. It was designed in my after-work hours. Those extra hours took their toll on my neck and shoulders, but when I was done, I felt that  it was all worthwhile 🙂

The Creative Agni eZine has the following five sections.

  • ID Fiction
  • The IDEAL
  • ELearning
  • The Creative Lounge
  • Sloth & Froth

Do visit the eZine site here. If you like what you see there, subscribe to the Creative Agni eLearning eZine 🙂

 

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Walking the Tightrope between Structure & Flexibility – from Design to Implementation

In my previous post, I raised a question that was inspired by an IDCWC Online Course Participant. The question was, “Is Design an Inhibitor?

I received a detailed thought-provoking response to that question from Tricia Pottratz. You can visit her new but promising blog “Tricia’s Teacher Toolbox” here. Thank you, Tricia.

Here are Tricia’s thoughts.

Having designed many classes myself, I understand where you are coming from.  Curriculum seems to take on a life of its own.  Once written, it becomes what the instructor deems it to be.  I think a big part of that comes from two sources: who you are designing for and what your objectives are.  I work for a multi-million dollar for-profit corporation with campuses all across the United States.  Before our small campus was purchased, instructors had the academic freedom to modify curriculum to meet their needs while still teaching to the objectives. The key was in keeping the objectives simple and few.

Since the buyout, the curriculum has evolved.  The first revision was similar to the original, but the coming revision is vastly different.  Sadly, the objectives are many and room for changes is few.  The idea is to create uniformity across the company; however the result is that the company’s curriculum does not leave much room for interpretation or regional flavor.

The solution depends on the parameters.  If you have any flexibility or say in the curriculum, I would suggest creating simple objectives, which leave the instructor the room for interpretation.  A really good article at http://itdl.org/journal/sep_05/article03.htm suggests that to be effective at brain-based learning, instructors should incorporate 4 basic things: memory and retrieval, learning styles, attention, and emotion (Clemons, 2005).  I find that in order to accomplish those goals it is important to offer a variety of media and classroom activities that vary in size and scope.

The other two-edged sword in education is the rubric.  As an instructor and as a student, I love the fact that it sets specific parameters.  The dilemma is still the same: the more specific the objectives, the less creative the project.  I have found that the only way to overcome this is to allow for students to develop the rubrics themselves.  After all, if you give a template, they will only follow the template.  This line of thinking also works in the classroom: if the students design the projects (based on the learning objectives) they become more emotionally involved and willing to go further with the project than I would have ever expected.

A friend of mine also suggested going with a tiered learning system. Her argument is that it gives options for the students while still ensuring the quality of the project is within the set parameters.  My problem with tiered learning systems is that it is not always feasible and can create conflict in the classroom.  I am more for offering options with a similar difficulty level instead of varying the levels.  In that way the “slower” student does not feel like they are being singled out and the “quick learner” is not feeling like it is unfair in the classroom.

Have you ever had any luck with tiered learning in the classroom?  If so, I would love to hear about it.

Sincerely,

Tricia Pottratz, BS, LMP

I attempted to address Tricia’s question by sketching a paradigm with two basic assumptions. 1. The learners are all adult learners. 2. The learners constitute a heterogeneous group, especially in terms of their existing skills and/or their ability to learn.

I believe that the answer has to be chiseled out from the goal of a training program. What is it that you want to achieve for your group? Notice that I don’t speak of what the learners want to achieve, but what “you, a representative of the learning provider” wish to achieve.

Let me illustrate through three simple examples:

1. You wish to orient the learners towards a new corporate policy.
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This is a lower level goal of awareness generation. You might want to use a tiered system here. You can create your learning groups on the basis of individual motivation and learning ability. At least everyone would take away something. As you won’t be grading their performance in this sort of program, you will possibly see a lot of happy faces at the end of your training.

2. You wish to train the learners on a specific role-based skill so that they can do their job proficiently.
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I don’t think that a tiered system will help you achieve you goal in this case. You need everyone to reach approximately the same level in the new skill. Eventually everyone might not reach the desired level, but then you’d like to see the distribution of marks and ensure that only those who reach the required level of competency are certified to do the job.

However if your program is flexible enough to accommodate the slow learners by allowing them additional practice/time, tiered learning may work. (We should also review the impact of this on learner motivation and individual egos.)

3. You wish to train the learners for a skill that demands accuracy and precision (for instance: a career in medicine?)
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Attempt to take all the learners to the same level, and use the rubrics wisely to grade the post-training skills. Sometimes the assessments have to be done against very specific objectives. I think that creativity is related more to the content-type than to the specificity of the objectives – especially when you create the learning and reinforcement activities.

I should also mention that I completely agree with Tricia’s belief that allowing the learners to participate in the creation of the assessment rubrics is a double-edged sword. I think it could work well with a group of mature and motivated participants, but not otherwise.

I know that heterogeneous groups are a reality and this reality contradicts the dream that every trainer and instructional designer has, which is 100% learning effectiveness.

A Note for the regular readers, who might’ve been wondering why my previous two posts have been replete with ATDs:  I guess my excuses are the same as the ones given by everyone else – I was too tired and a little ill, and then I was busy trying to meet the deadlines for my deliverables and delivering on my promises – but then, excuses don’t help, do they? So, I spent some time going through whatever I had written and removed the ATDs …thanks to a cup of coffee and the zoom-in capability of my new laptop. I prefer not to get my stuff edited (for better or for worse, this is how I write,) so bear with me…and ignore the bad to focus on the good 🙂

 

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A Question – Is Design an Inhibitor?

In one of the discussion groups of IDCWC Online (Wavelength’s Instructional Design and Content Writing Certificate – Online Course), a participant raised an interesting point.

She said that when a teacher or a trainer is required to follow pre-designed content, the opportunity for creating something that will enhance the effectiveness of the program for the learner, disappears.

I think she’s made a valid point. When we begin to roll-out a program, we are extremely sensitive to every little signal that we receive from the audience, and we don’t let go of our own instructional knowledge while implementing it; but with each pass, the content begins to harden. We start believing that there could be nothing better than to just follow the content. Thus, we stop directing the learning experience, and allow the content to become the director.

Having spent more than a dozen years developing eLearning content, and about 7 years implementing the content that I was instrumental in designing; I think that with every phase of ADDIE, some degree of rigidity is introduced in the content; and by the time it actually reaches the Audience, it acquires a sort of permanency…and nobody then wants to question the design at all.

Still wondering…is there a way out?

 

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