Monday, August 22, 2011

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Thank you for following my Laurel Learning Tips blog. We have moved it to . You will find the most recent posts at that site.

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May your learning be sweet!


Tip #388: In Praise of Participants Who Continually Think and Question

"Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much." Francis Bacon

Every now and then, there is a participant in a training session who asks thoughtful question after question. In those instances, it can be a real challenge for a trainer to stay focused on the lesson and not get frustrated or impatient. However, participant questions that are asked out of a sincere desire to learn and understand can benefit the participant, the trainer and the rest of the learners in several ways.

Participants who continually think and question force the trainer to give better explanations, provide greater clarity and consider alternative perspectives.

1. Better Explanations

Participant questions can be a useful indication that the trainer is operating on an unconsciously competent level. This happens when trainers know a topic so well that they make connections and follow steps automatically, without any thought to what they are doing. As a result, they neglect to mention certain pieces of information because that information is already hot-wired into their brains.

Technical experts are particularly likely to have this tendency, although any trainer who has performed or taught a procedure or the same information over and over again can also fall prey to this error of omission.

Thoughtful participant questions should cause trainers to slow down, rewind, and reteach more carefully, paying conscious and deliberate attention so that they provide all of the information that the learners require.

2. Greater Clarity

Sometimes, the examples or explanations that a trainer chooses to use are somewhat vague or confusing. In such cases, participant questions indicate a real need for trainers to give careful consideration to coming up with better and clearer explanations.

The best examples and explanations highlight the critical attributes of the new learning. These critical attributes are what distinguish what is being learned from everything else. When trainers take the time to recognize and articulate critical attributes, they are less likely to gloss over key information.

3. Alternative Perspectives

Participant questions can reframe how the trainer and the other learners perceive the content under discussion. Because the learners are viewing the information with new eyes, they may see things differently than the trainer does. Participant insights can shed new light on a topic, open up a previously unexplored variation on a theme, or generate an entirely new approach to a situation.

This is one of the real gifts of participant-centered training programs: when participants are free to ask questions, the trainer also gets to learn and grow.

Thank goodness for those participants who continually ask questions. Their desire to understand and explore a topic from a variety of perspectives reflects their strong commitment to learning. Their questions, and the answers and discussion that they generate, can result in better and deeper learning for everyone involved.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Tip #387: Don’t be Afraid to Use Participatory Learning Activities

“Knowledge is the antidote to fear.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The idea of using participatory learning activities is alarming to many trainers for three basic reasons. First, they operate under the mistaken assumption that participatory activities require a great deal of time and money to create and deliver. Second, they fear that they will lose credibility if they move away from expert lectures. Third, they are concerned about losing control over the content and the learners.

It is true that there are costly participatory learning activities on the market that offer lots of bells and whistles. It is also true that are many participant-centered activities that are easy to create, take little time to deliver, and cost next to nothing.

As for losing credibility as the expert who delivers the training, there is nothing farther from the truth. Regardless of the learning activity, it is ultimately the trainer who has the final word.

Although facilitative skill in classroom management is necessary, there is also no reason for trainers to lose control over the content or the learners.

1. Participatory activities can be quick and inexpensive to create and deliver.

Simple participatory learning activities can be very effective. The point of engaging learners is to give them an opportunity to either check their comprehension or practice using what they have learned.

Simple inexpensive activities that check for comprehension and are quick and easy to create and administer include: paper and pencil questionnaires, crossword puzzles, small group brainstorming, a relay race to complete words or phrases on a flip chart, pop ups that involve participants standing to volunteer answers, small group discussion to solve a problem situation, and responding to questions about a visual on the screen.

Simple inexpensive hands on activities that are quick and easy to create and give learners practice using what they have learned include having them: make computations, operate equipment, simulate interpersonal communication situations, and/or demonstrate procedures.

2. The trainer is always the expert, regardless of the learning activity.

The reason that the trainer is in the front of the room is that the trainer has respected expertise in the subject area. The question is when the focus of the training belongs on the trainer and when it belongs on the learners.

If the training content is completely new to the learners, the focus must first be on the expert trainer who can present, explain and demonstrate the content. Then the focus needs to move to the learners as they practice the new content and develop a level of mastery.

However, during learner practice, the trainer remains responsible for coaching, guiding and re-teaching where necessary. At the conclusion of the learner practice, the trainer is also responsible for confirming or correcting the learners’ answers and results. After all, the trainer is the recognized expert.

3. The trainer can maintain control over the content and the learners during participatory activities.

Basic facilitation skills in classroom management that enable the trainer to maintain control include:

a. modeling the desired behavior in an example before the learners work on their own;

b. providing detailed instructions;

c. clarifying the desired end result of the activity;

d. allocating a specific time period for the activity;

e. monitoring the activity;

f. intervening where necessary to clarify instructions or better focus a small group on the desired activity;

g. keeping learners apprised of the amount of time they have remaining to complete the activity;

h. closing down the activity;

i. debriefing the activity by drawing answers or results from one or more work groups; and

j. confirming or correcting group answers or results.

The trainer is actually in control of the activity at all times. The trainer has designed the activity, can guide the learners in the direction they need to go, can stop the activity to clarify and refocus where necessary, and will have the final say regarding the time the activity takes and the learning that occurs.

Participatory learning activities can be inexpensive, quick and easy to design, and result in effective learning that builds learner mastery. When trainers embrace participatory learning activities in lieu of lecture, they still retain expert credibility and content control. The only real difference is that now the learners are doing the work rather than the trainer! Isn’t that the way it should be?

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Tip #386: The Value of Being Willing to Admit: “I Don’t Understand”

“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.” Marvin Minsky

Trainers often say with great sincerity that “There are no stupid questions.” Despite this clear encouragement, some learners are still hesitant to ask a question that will let others know they are having difficulty. This is a shame, because a learner’s lack of understanding is rarely a personal failure. It can just as easily be attributed to the trainer, the training content and/or the training techniques.

Learning is not a race where the person who understands first wins. The primary focus of any training program is to help all learners ultimately be successful. If a learner doesn’t let the trainer know there is a problem, the trainer will never realize there is a need to reteach the content and the learner will remain frustrated.

When learners are willing to admit that they don’t understand a concept or technique, everyone benefits: the individual, the trainer and the other learners in the workshop. There are many reasons why asking for help is the best thing to do:

1. It’s honest.

2. It indicates the learner’s sense of ownership and commitment to learning.

3. It shows that the learner wants to understand.

4. It means that the learners have seriously tried to work it through by themselves and come to a dead end.

5. It reflects the learner’s degree of comfort with and trust in the trainer.

6. It gives the trainer important feedback.

7. It puts a spotlight on key learning stumbling blocks.

8. It challenges the trainer to focus on alternative ways to deliver the information.

9. It forces the learning down to a real rather than a theoretical level.

10. It requires the trainer to dig deeper to discover more useful examples.

11. It frees the learner and trainer to try again.

12. It benefits those who were similarly confused but uncomfortable asking for help.

13. It encourages teamwork as co-learners try to help each other better understand.

14. It increases the likelihood of successful learning outcomes.

15. It paves the way for a real sense of accomplishment once understanding is achieved.

16. It enriches the learning process for everyone.

So, trainers, encourage your learners to let you know as soon as possible when they are having difficulty. And learners, recognize and admit when you need help. The trainer and your co-learners will appreciate and benefit from your honesty.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Tip #385: What is Magic About the Number Three in Designing Curriculum for Better and More Lasting Learning?

Education is the methodical creation of the habit of thinking.” Ernest Dimnet

If training is to effectively change learner behavior, then the curriculum must be designed with learning activities that encourage and require the learners both to feel strongly and to think deeply about their conclusions. These design models and principles come in sets of three:

a. Triune Brain Model

The evolutionary Triune Brain Model (developed by Dr. Paul MacLean) identifies three major layers of the brain:

1. The Reptilian System operates relatively automatically and is concerned with safety and survival. Pre-reason and pre- language, it is over 500 million years old. This is the first brain to engage in any situation, which is why it is so important for trainers to create a comfortable learning environment.

2. The Limbic System is over 200 million years old and also pre-reason and without language. It monitors emotion and plays a significant role in remembering new information and organizing events. The memory is lodged in the emotions. The more senses and sensations engaged, the more likely a memory will be created and retained.

3. The Neocortex is only 50 million years old, but it constitutes 80% of the total human brain. This is the seat of reason and language, capable of creativity and complex analysis. It provides the ability to put feelings and thoughts into words.

The fact that the memory is lodged in the emotions means that participant-centered learning activities that engage the learners’ senses will result in longer-lasting learning.

b. Multimodal Learning

Research conducted for Cisco by the Metri Group has identified three design principles:

1. Recognize and address learner’s prior knowledge, experience and preconceptions about the topic. Positive transfer means that this information will be useful as a base on which to build any new learning. Create learning activities that will draw these from long-term memory into working memory.

Negative transfer means that this information can easily get in the way of the new learning. A good learning designer makes sure to incorporate learning activities that enable the learners to identify and build on positive transfer- and disconnect negative transfer.

2. Make learning meaningful by relating it to the learners’ experience, goals, or interests and values. Create learning activities that help the learners’ discover why a topic is relevant and meaningful.

This will result in authentic learning that has three key components:

(1) depth of learning

(2) real life relevance

(3) learner application

Learning designers need to incorporate learning activities that engage the learners both emotionally and intellectually and then give them a chance to apply what they have learned. These activities will, therefore, draw on working memory, sensory memory, and long-term memory.

3. Teach learners how to think about what they are thinking (metacognition). Create problem-solving activities that require the learners to predict outcomes and learn from their failures. This learning strategy creates germane cognitive load in working memory when learners are encouraged to give their own explanations of work examples.

c. Productive Self-Explanations

Cognitive load researchers suggest three ways to promote productive self-explanations:

1. Train learners how to give constructive explanations of their thought processes and rationale;

2. Use faded worked examples (where they have to complete portions of the example) and have the learners explain their rationale; and

3. Use worked examples (where learners have to complete the entire example) and ask questions that will stimulate self-explanations.

This three-pronged approach gives learners the knowledge of how to explain their thinking and graduated practice giving explanations of the underlying rationale for their conclusions and decisions.

d. Influence Learner Behavior

The three concentric circles of the Golden Circle (developed by Simon Sinek) explain the phenomenon that training is more likely to influence learner behavior when it starts with Why:

1. The outermost circle is What. Here, rational decisions [made in the neocortex] are justified on the basis of facts and figures. Since facts alone can be skewed, decisions made at this level generate the least amount of confidence in terms of emotional commitment.

2. The middle circle is How. Here, gut decisions [made in the limbic system] are justified on the basis of a “gut feeling.” Decisions based on feelings generate somewhat more confidence in terms of emotional commitment than fact-based decisions.

3. The center circle is Why. Why decisions [also made in the limbic system] “feel right” and can be justified with facts and figures. Both factors generate great confidence in these types of decisions, resulting in the greatest amount of emotional commitment.

This is another reason why curriculum design should begin lessons with a learning activity that enables the learners to discover why the topic is important and, thereby, make it meaningful to them.

Engaging learners on both emotional and intellectual levels generates greater commitment to new learning, increasing the probability that the learners will remember and apply it once they leave the classroom.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Tip #384: What is Magic About the Number Three in Brain Research- and What It Means for Training Design and Delivery

"There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge . . . observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination." Denis Diderot

Evidence-based research findings regarding how the brain works have serious implications for training design and delivery. Paying attention to these findings, which just happen to occur in sets of three, will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning that occurs.

a. Three Types of Memory

Research shows that there are actually three types of memory:

1. Working memory is where thinking gets done. It is dual coded with a buffer for storage of verbal/text elements and a second buffer for visual/spatial elements. Working memory is short-term and limited in terms of the amount of information that can be simultaneously stored.

2. Sensory memory occurs when we experience any aspect of the world through our senses. A sensory experience is involuntarily stored as episodic knowledge in long-term memory. We need to pay attention to sensory memory episodes for them to get introduced into working memory.

3. Long-term memory in humans is estimated to store the equivalent of 50,000 times the text in the U.S. Library of Congress. Learning is accomplished when information is stored in long-term memory and learners use that information to solve problems.

There are also three types of long-term memory:

(1) Episodic memory stores images of past events. It recalls both events and information related to those events.

(2) Semantic memory stores mental models of meaningful facts and generalized information. It contains verbal information, concepts, rules, principles, and problem-solving skills.

(3) Procedural memory stores the series of steps necessary to perform different tasks. Remembering one step stimulates the response of remembering the next step.

b. Cognitive Load

Working memory has a limited capacity for the amount of information it can hold or process at one time.Cognitive load refers to the amount of work imposed on working memory.

There are three different types of cognitive load, and only two of them are helpful to the learning process:

1. Intrinsic load is the mental work imposed by the complexity of the content to be learned and is primarily determined by the training goals.

2. Extraneous load imposes mental work that is irrelevant to the training goal, such as unnecessary information, learning activities, and visuals.

3. Germane load is relevant mental work imposed by learning activities that help to achieve the training goal.

The three types of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous and germane, are additive. The more there is of one, the less room there is for the others.

c. Expand Working Memory Capacity

There are three ways to expand the virtual capacity of working memory:

1. Increase expertise so the schemas, or mental models, in long-term memory grow and enable working memory to process larger content segments.

2. Automate knowledge or skills so they are coded into long-term memory and can be exercised with minimal or no resources from working memory.

3. Divide content between the auditory and visual components of working memory so that neither processor is overtaxed.

d. Information Processing

Cognitive scientists have discovered three important features of the human information processing system that are particularly relevant for PowerPoint users:

1. Dual-channels: People have separate information processing channels for visual material and verbal material. As a result, PowerPoint design should use both words and pictures to present material.

2. Limited capacity: People can pay attention to only a few pieces of information in each channel at a time. As a result, PowerPoint should be designed without extraneous gimmicks that can increase the possibility of cognitive overload.

3. Active processing: People understand new information when they know what to focus on and are able to organize the information and integrate it with their prior knowledge. As a result, PowerPoint design should use simple graphics to highlight key points, include some type of outline, and provide real life examples that are familiar to the learners.

Designers of training curriculum will increase the probability of successful learning if they follow the precepts of this evidence-based information from brain research.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Tip #383: What is Magic About the Number Three in Curriculum Design?

"No one can remember more than three points." Philip Crosby

It may seem surprising, but the number three plays a significant role in curriculum design in both theory and practice. Following the principles outlined in the eight triads below will significantly improve the likelihood that the training you design will effectively achieve the desired learning results.

a. Needs Assessment

Curriculum design begins with finding the answers to three key questions that will help determine whether training is the right solution to the identified problem:

1. Who is the target audience?

2. Why is there a need for this specific training?

3. What should the learners know or do differently when they leave the training?

Answers to these key curriculum design questions will ensure that the right:

1. People will be in the right training program;

2. Solution to the problem will be identified (which will avoid unnecessary training); and

3. Knowledge and skills will be developed.

b. Trainer Decisions

Trainers make three decisions before, during and after interaction with the
learner that will increase the probability that learning will occur. The UCLA Mastery Teaching Model states that, regardless of who or what is being taught, all training decisions fall into three categories:

1. Content [what content to teach next];

2. Learner Activities [what the learner will do to learn and to demonstrate that learning has occurred]; and

3. Trainer Activities [what the trainer will do to facilitate learning, through group facilitation and stand up presentation techniques].

Curriculum design addresses the first two categories. Classroom management addresses the last category.

c. Desired Level of Learning

It is essential to clearly identify the desired level of learning and mastery the participants should attain. Although Bloom's Taxonomy of Behavioral Objectives includes six progressive building blocks of knowledge, achieving the first three levels will convert a training session from trainer-focused to learner-focused:

1. Level 1 is knowledge, where the instructor imparts information to the learners.

2. Level 2 is comprehension, where the learners both know and demonstrate their understanding of what has been taught.

3. Level 3 is application, where the learners know, understand and practice using what they have learned.

If the training goal is to build or strengthen specific skills, application must be the minimum desired learning level.

d. Learning Objectives

Learning objectives explain in specific, observable and measurable terms what the learner will do to (a) learn specific skills and (b) demonstrate that they have learned them. When we streamline the task analysis process, we make it easier to create learning objectives. This process has three phases:

1. Identify the key content.

2. Determine the appropriate level of learning for each learner action in the key content template.

3. Add a learning-level appropriate verb to each learner action identified in the key content template.

e. Learning Activity Selection

The decision regarding which learning activities to incorporate into a training program must satisfy the need to:

1. Select an activity that can effectively achieve the desired learning level;

2. Fit the learning into the specific time available, given the fact that different activities require different amounts of time; and

3. Use a variety of participatory activities to meet the needs of different learning styles as well as to keep the learners engaged.

f. Learning Styles

The most basic learning style model is based on the senses:

1. Visual learners who rely on sight, so they learn best through the use of audiovisuals;

2. Auditory learners who rely on hearing, so they learn best by listening; and

3. Kinesthetic learners who require movement, so they learn best through hands on activities.

This simple learning style model explains why a training program that relies on only one training method or learning activity will be much less effective than if it incorporates a variety of learning activities.

g. Learner Practice

There are three closely related approaches that a trainer can take to ensure that the learners have the preparation and practice they need to build their confidence in their own competence:

1. Plan for the learners to demonstrate their learning in the classroom. When designing the curriculum, the learning objectives should identify what the learners will do both to learn and to validate their learning during the learning session.

2. Ensure that the learners are able to get immediate feedback regarding their mastery of the new learning. Participatory learning activities enable learners to practice and, at the same time, assess their ability to use new learning.

3. Provide practice opportunities for learners that require them to assume increasing responsibility for their learning. Brain studies have found that learners require three examples or iterations to learn new skills or concepts.

The three practice opportunities can include:

1. Directed practice, in which the trainer walks the entire group of learners through a new process or procedure;

2. Guided, monitored practice, during which the learners work in small groups so they can support each other; and

3. Independent practice, during which the learners either work singly or in pairs or triads. By the time of this third practice session, the learners should be sufficiently prepared to perform without the assistance of the trainer.

h. Hands On Learning Activities

Hands on learning activities accomplish three results:

1. Learners can practice and demonstrate their ability to apply what they have learned.

2. The trainer will have observable proof of the actual learning that has taken place.

3. Learners will gain confidence in their ability to apply what they have learned. As a result, they will be much more likely to use their new learning back on the job.

Curriculum design that follows the principles stated in these sets of three will result in a training program that will effectively achieve desired learning.

May your learning be sweet.