Learning Transfer – The one-sentence summary

7 May

I’ve been focusing on learning transfer this week, trying out new approaches and techniques during long running training session.

Usually, I run this particular training session with a multiple-choice quiz at the end. The quiz covers the learning objectives and learners leave the training session with the key information front and centre.  

However, this week I’ve decided to switch things up by using the “one-sentence summary” approach. The one-sentence summary approach allows learners to synthesize a process or concept by answering these questions in one sentence: who does what to whom, when, where, how and why?  

As an instructor, I’ve been able to quickly evaluate the sentence, check that the learner has fully understood the process/concept, and provide feedback if necessary.

Undoubtedly, the one-sentence summary approach has made the transfer of learning process less passive and more interactive. The only drawback is that the process takes some time to implement in a large class.  


What is the biggest challenge for instructional designers?

6 May

Recently I was asked what was is the biggest challenge for instructional designers. Now, there are multiple answers to this question – working with difficult SMEs , meeting tight deadlines with limited resources etc …

However, for me, when I think about being an instructional designer, I think about the choices I make to ensure that the learner is engaged and that the learning objectives are met. By choices, I really mean deciding the appropriate tools I should use that are available from/in my learning environment toolbox (i.e. LMS).     

Undoubtedly Ed Tech and web 2.o  technologies/applications have expanded the number of tools that I have at my disposal. However, the real challenge is selecting the best tool to achieve a specific learning objective or objectives.  


This is where you need some sort of checklist or cheat sheet, so here is my rough guide:

  •  If the learning objectives focus on reflective activities then select a tool such as a blog.  Why? A blog is an excellent tool to get learners to explain how they did something, as well as provide an opportunity to give/receive feedback through comments.
  • If the learning objectives focus on group work then select a tool such as a wiki. Why? A wiki allows learners to collaborate together, but also allows the instructor to see the effort of individual members of a group.
  • If the learning objectives focus on presentation skills then select a tool such as screencasting. Why? A screencast can capture a presentation in real-time or be recorded/edited for future viewing.

 So, in sum, the work the instructional designer has to do is:

  1. Analyze the learning objectives
  2. Identify the activity/activities required
  3. Select the appropriate tool to achieve the goal of the learning objective(s)

Seems simple, but when you think about it, making the right decision ultimately determines the success of the learning. Therefore, for me, deciding the appropriate tool to achieve the learning objective is the biggest challenge an instructional designer faces.


When a MOOC could be a “massive” headache cure

10 Apr

Over the past year I have taken and completed a number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The idea of MOOCs really appeals to me as a lifelong learner. Not only can I develop my professional skills by taking courses run by experts in their field, I can do so from the comfort of my home.

However, more recently I’ve been thinking about benefits of the “Massive” part of a MOOC, not just the benefits of the course being online and open. 

My thinking has been shaped by the “massive” projects that I have been working on lately. By “massive” I mean having to train hundreds of staff on new technology, within a short amount of time and with limited resources. Working on these type of “training projects” has traditionally required extensive planning and organizing, from creating/printing/uploading learning materials to scheduling the availability of classrooms/students.

At times, massive training projects have been massive headaches.

It is due to these headaches that I am beginning to see the potential benefits of running a MOOC.  Of course, the next step now is to design a MOOC! Maybe a different type of headache?

Challenges of implementing Flexible Learning

9 Apr

I’ve been thinking about flexible learning a lot lately. Flexible learning, according to Wikipedia, is “a set of educational philosophies and systems, concerned with providing learners with increased choice, convenience, and personalisation to suit the learner.” At the University of British Columbia (UBC), they have a flexible learning initiative that focuses on “developing, delivering, and evaluating learning experiences that promote effective and dramatic improvements in student achievement.” The key to the initiative is enabling “pedagogical and logistical flexibility so that students have more choice in their learning opportunities, including when, where, and what they want to learn.”

I am currently working on a project that is moving towards the goal of flexible learning, however, there are some major challenges with implementing such a learning strategy. Here are just some of those challenges that I have faced over the last few months:

  • Redesigning courses to reflect a flexible learning approach. It is about creating a complete network of paths that learners can take to ensure a successful learning experience. To do this successfully, you need to brainstorm numerous scenarios and use tools such as mindmaps.
  • Working with instructors to promote a world of learning outside their classroom. Flexible learning is about giving learners the opportunity to decide what they want to learn, when they want to learn, and where they want to learn. This is an pedagogical mindshift for many instructors who are fearful about losing control of the “learning experiences” they create in the classroom.
  • Find ways to motivate learners that flexible learning is beneficial to them. Perhaps this is the most surprising challenge, but some learners only see learning experiences as classroom based. Many are unmotivated about or fearful of learning outside the traditional classroom setting. For me, it is about giving these learners the skills to be able to learn outside of the classroom – it is not just promoting the idea of choice in learning.

Gamification and Super User Training

28 Jun

In recent weeks I’ve been developing a lesson plan for Super User training on a communication device called Vocera.

These Super Users will not only deliver training to front line staff in the future, but they will be also providing support to staff on the floor. Many of these Super Users have limited or no experience of Vocera, so naturally feel nervous about becoming Super Users.

As such, the challenge to me has been to design a training session that makes Super Users confident experts on Vocera in under two hours.

To achieve this, I didn’t want to just dump information. An information overload on what the device could do, would be too much in a one-off two-hour training session. And I didn’t want to rely on a ton of resources that the Super Users may never read or use. Instead I wanted to create a training session that would be structured but allow learners to develop their expertise in a multi-levelled manner. A bit like a computer game.

“Gamification” in relation to education has become quite a buzzword in recent years. While I really like the idea of creating an immersive gaming environment for learners to lose themselves in, the reality is I don’t have the time or resources to develop such an environment. Instead, I think where “gamification” can be most useful, is in applying the concepts of gaming to develop skills and competencies in the classroom.

This is best explained in an excellent blog post by Jo Cook. In the post, Jo refers to a presentation by Julie Dirksen about how traditional classes are “like constantly cycling uphill with more and more new things to learn.” Julie instead suggests structuring classes so they are more like a game, where they “start off easy then add more information, speed up the process and so on to the end challenge.”

In terms of introducing concepts of gaming, this approach seems more achievable for the instructional designer. And arguably, the training session should be more beneficial for the learner, especially when they are tasked to become experts.

I’ll find out in the coming weeks …

Storyboarding and Structure – Key for Video Creation

23 Apr

Recently I’ve been reading Lee LeFever’s excellent The Art of Explanation. I’ve always been an admirer of Lee’s Common Craft videos and his book superbly explains the process of how Common Craft videos are made.

For me, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Common Craft’s video making process is the storyboarding. Lee explains that there is a common story arc based on three basic elements:

1. A character wants or needs something.
2. He or she despairs without it, and must overcome a hurdle to get it.
3. He or she is eventually successful.

This framework for storytelling mirrors the structure I try to follow when storyboarding my own Common Craft type videos.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been creating so-called “John and George” videos.


John is your typical worker, frustrated with the challenges of modern-day work and new technology. George is John’s co-worker, who is always around to help (think on-the-job, informal learning).

In a typical video, John finds himself with a problem and seeks George’s advice.

For example:



The video always ends with a successful outcome. For example:


So far, I’ve created eight John and George videos and the feedback has been positive.

Predicting the end of the world (or at least whether I’ll complete this MOOC)

26 Feb

A couple of weeks ago I read an article on the BBC news website about researchers who have developed software which could predict future events. You can read the article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21322203

The article piqued my interest because over the last few weeks I’ve been enrolled in the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (EDCMOOC). This MOOC has focused on two key themes emerging from popular and digital culture. The first, utopias and dystopias, and the second, being human in a digital age. Notably the article on the BBC touched on both themes.

The BBC article explains how researchers from Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a prototype software that uses a combination of archive material from the New York Times and data from other websites, including Wikipedia to predict future riots, deaths and disease outbreaks. While other research has been carried out with similar datasets, this research is the first time that data has been used to predict the future. As Eric Horvitz, one of the researchers on the project, noted, “I truly view this as a foreshadowing of what’s to come,” adding that, “Eventually this kind of work will start to have an influence on how things go for people.”

For me, the “an influence on how things go for people” part of the quote really stood out, as it suggested that technology (software and data) could be used to determine what would happen to people. After reading about social and technological determination in the EDCMOOC, I began to look further into the work of researchers from Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Mining the Web to Predict Future Events

The researchers from Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Kira Radinsky and Eric Horvitz, published their findings in the article “Mining the Web to Predict Future Events.” You can read the article here: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/horvitz/future_news_wsdm.pdf

In the article, Radinsky and Horvitz explain how they were able to “demonstrate the predictive power of mining thousands of news stories to create classifiers for a range of prediction problems.” The prediction problems that Radinsky and Horvitz focused on were disease outbreaks, deaths and riots. Interestingly their research noted the success rate in their forecasts of between 70% to 90%, a range that they say can serve to guide interventions and “change outcomes for the better.”

The process of how Radinsky and Horvitz were able make predictions is quite complex. Below is a diagram of their process:

Flow diagram

Essentially they created a system that learns patterns from large amounts of data and formulates a prediction.

Being able to formulate a prediction is fascinating, but what does this all mean? In the conclusion to their article, Radinsky and Horvitz write that they hope their work “will simulate additional research on leveraging past experiences and human knowledge to provide valuable predictions about future events and interventions of importance.”

In terms of education, I would suggest that “leveraging past experiences” and providing “interventions of importance” is already happening through the use of learning analytics.

Learning Analytics

While the hot topic in education at the moment is MOOCs and whether they will revolutionize the education system, I would argue that the use of learning analytics could prove to be more revolutionary.

Learning analytics, as the Open University report “Innovating Pedagogy” states, “involves the collection, analysis and reporting of large datasets about learners and their contexts in order to improve learning and the environments in which learning takes place.” You can read the Open University report here: http://www.open.ac.uk/personalpages/mike.sharples/Reports/Innovating_Pedagogy_report_July_2012.pdf

The Signals project run by Purdue University is the flagship for learning analytics. The Signals project mines data about students from the Learning Management System Blackboard Vista (including academic background and grades) and translates this data into a performance indicator in the form of a traffic light. Green meaning all is well, amber suggesting areas of concern, and red noting significant problems. These colours are then used to communicate to students, providing frequent and ongoing feedback during a course. Undoubtedly a perfect example of “leveraging past experiences” and providing “interventions of importance.”

As the Open University report concludes, distance learning organizations are “well placed to exploit analytics for learning, drawing upon detailed learning and teaching datasets that they have built up over many years.” “The challenge now,” the report notes, “is to bring together datasets and expertise from within and beyond an institution, in order to implement powerful analytics that have a positive and measurable impact on learning and teaching.”

Future Predictions

Interestingly learning analytics and the work of Radinsky and Horvitz suggest a future of predictions. But what would the educational world look like if learners through technology (software and datasets) could predict the outcome of their future endeavours? Is this a utopian dream or a dystopian nightmare? Is this a case of humans controlling technology or technology controlling the actions of humans? The answers to these questions are difficult and complex. However, what is clear is that an understanding of the role of technology and its relationship with human beings is integral to predicting the future of education.