“Great Goals” for 2019 and Beyond

I recently listened to a podcast about a man who has nearly 50 years of teaching experience. 5-0! His name is Joe Hoyle. If people who aren’t teachers listened to him, they might consider becoming teachers…he was that inspiring. I love listening to people who are so obviously passionate in their field because their energy is infectious.

In the podcast, he talks about the importance of having great goals. Without these goals, he argues, how can we aspire to be great teachers? As I stopped to think about this, I realized that I have career goals, but I don’t have clearly defined goals that push me to teach and design as best I can. So, I thought I’d change that by reflecting on my great goals.

Why Great Goals?

I have goals in nearly every aspect of my life–fitness, health, relationships, you name it. Some of my career goals include finishing the PDAL program, producing my own workshop, and teaching formally. While these goals are fine to have, they don’t really help me focus on the “why.”

These career goals are important to me because they give me a sense of direction. I like that they plant my feet firmly in the ground. Yet, when I achieve these goals, I have to create new ones. I think I’d better start calling these milestones, since that seems to be more accurate. They are milestones that I hope to achieve in my career. I would be very happy if I did.

But the goals are what I need to develop to help me continually answer the “why.” I think they’ll help me check in with myself and take on opportunities that align with my beliefs. And if I’m developing goals, they really ought to be great goals.

My Great Goals

Joe discusses his great goals in this blog post, which I recommend reading. As I started to reflect on my own goals, I realized I have two main passions: teaching and designing. Both are important to me, so both should have goals. Here are my goals related to teaching:

  • Help students understand how they learn. I want to teach them strategies that will help them outside my class and prepare for a future of lifelong learning. In workbooks, I have started to add learning tips to help them better process information.
  • Promote curiosity and an open mind. Despite challenges and hurdles, I want to instil joy and passion for learning, while still being critical of new information. I steer away from “giving them the answer” when possible.
  • Have students teach me as much as I teach them. We are in such powerful positions as teachers that I feel it’s important to not take total control. In class, I’m working on interacting more with students and minimizing my amount of lecture time.

As for designing:  

  • Design the kind of learning experiences I wish I had. My intention here is to design curriculum people will want to take. I’ve begun applying aspects of SAM to involve learners early on in the design process.
  • Create meaningful experiences that will transfer after a program is done. I want these experiences to mean something to students, so I’m working on creating lessons that are relevant and timeless.

These goals are central to the kind of work I want to be doing. Even though I’ve shared how I’m trying to incorporate the goals, applying a certain number of strategies doesn’t mean that I’ll “reach” these goals. They will be something I’ll always have in the back of mind, striving toward.

Additional Resources

I’ve realized that I have many idols in the teaching and design industries. I try to follow along with them as best I can; I use Diigo and Inoreader to automate how I receive articles, but I still find this to be overwhelming at times. For a visual representation of some of my favourite people and resources in these fields, check out my Symbaloo: https://www.symbaloo.com/home/mix/13ePBiAC5g

Reference

Running image taken from Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/PHIgYUGQPvU

Constructivism For Real

I have always considered myself a constructivist teacher. But it’s only been in the last couple years that I realized there was so much more to my narrow, subjective version of the learning theory. That’s because it can get quite warped in its application. For example, one of my master’s teachers explained to the online class at the beginning of term that he was a constructivist. “Ah good,” I thought, “we’ll get along just fine.” But his application of constructivism seemed to suggest that we were mostly on our own for the semester, with the curriculum already typed out and his email just a click away should we need it. Needless to say, it was a lonely and isolating experience.

A Constructivist Approach

We can’t expect learners to build their own connections and knowledge without providing proper support and encouragement. In this article, I’m going to explain the 4 essential principles of constructivism based on Baviskar, Hartle, and Whitney’s (2009) research.

These principles can help us make informed applications of a constructivist approach to learning. Keep in mind that there isn’t a regimented application for constructivism to work. This theory is always about making the right choice for the learners and content to teach. These principles are simply meant to guide the way.

Principle 1: Elicit Prior Knowledge

Constructivism recognizes that learners need to connect to their prior learning in order for new learning to happen. Students also need a clear link between “prior” and “new” knowledge, and it’s important to help students make those connections because they can’t always do it themselves. Here are strategies for eliciting current knowledge:

  • Concept map
  • Short knowledge check
  • Student polling

Principle 2: Create Cognitive Dissonance

Now that students have recognized their background knowledge on the topic, they need to be made aware of how their current mental model could have some gaps. For this to happen, the instructor might choose a problem or ask a question she knows will cause a disruption in student thinking. She is not presenting the information as a prescribed way to think, but rather an opportunity for reflection and inquiry. Strategies for creating cognitive dissonance:

  • Share shocking statistics
  • Present a provocative quotation or photo
  • Ask students to research different sides of an issue
  • Get students to solve a problem or puzzle

Principle 3: Apply Knowledge and Receive Feedback

According to constructivist theory, students now have to expand or modify their new knowledge in the context of their prior understanding. This is a great opportunity for students to work with each other and get feedback from their peers and formative feedback from instructors. Strategies for applying knowledge and receiving immediate feedback:

Principle 4: Reflect on Learning

I think this is an area many of us struggle with. We want to fill in the silences and help students tie up the loose ends. But once students have acquired new knowledge, it’s important for them to reflect on what they’ve learned. Making time for metacognition can be as simple as a class debrief or as complicated as an exam. Here are more strategies:

  • 1-minute paper
  • Muddiest Point
  • Exit Pass

Final Takeaway

It’s important to note that just because a lesson applies active learning strategies or is “student centred” does not mean it’s constructivist. As well, social constructivism is different from the classic constructivism theory. It is not a constructivist lesson unless an instructor elicits prior knowledge, supports students through dissonance, provides feedback on applied learning, and helps students reflect on the journey!

I am a firm believer in using multiple learning theories in my teaching, but I like the idea of a constructivist approach being at the core of my lesson plans.

References

Baviskar, S. N., Hartle, R. T., & Whitney, T. (2009). Essential criteria to categorize Constructivist teaching: Derived from a review of the literature and applied to five constructivist-teaching method articles. International Journal of Science Education, 31(4), 541-550.

Water ripple image taken from Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/FB_xKJOLsfI

Lesson Plan Revamp

Designing a lesson plan for other people to use can be challenging. It’s especially difficult if you’re not sure of other people’s comfort levels with using lesson plans. Before I began in my role, a team member who no longer works with us formatted all lessons using a template. It had seemed like a good way to formalize the lessons and eventually share them with new instructors.

But what happens when no one on the team uses them?

The Original Plans

It’s not that the lesson plans don’t provide useful information. It’s just that the facilitators find the layout distracting. It’s hard to find what they need when they’re in the middle of facilitating a lesson. This is the lesson plan template. You can imagine what it must look like when it’s filled with text:

As you can see, it contains lots of useful information and prompts. However, our facilitators have a combined teaching experience of half a century. Any new hires will likely have facilitation experience as well. They all want the lessons to be clear and to the point.

I’ve been in situations before where well-meaning people take content and try to put it into a context that makes sense to them. The result is usually something that makes sense, but not to anyone else on the team. These kinds of designs need to be a collaborative effort; otherwise, they won’t get used. This has been one of my biggest takeaways from working in this industry. I have been in the position where I’ve produced something without consulting enough people, and then created a product that didn’t get used because people weren’t involved in the process or have any buy-in, even though they’d be the ones using it.

My Lesson Plan Template

As I’ve been creating new lesson plans with the team, I’ve also been trying to standardize them. I consulted with the team by taking suggestions and looking at past lesson designs that seemed to have worked. I wound up designing something that is simple, but doesn’t simplify the learning taking place. Here is the template:

With this template, facilitators can easily see the main objectives, takeaways, and activities. If they wanted to create sections in their own lesson plans for reflection, I think that would be great. But the general template should be as clean and clear as possible.

As with anything, there are limitations. The bullet point design doesn’t always lend itself well to explaining or giving directions. It also doesn’t provide as many cues as the original plans, but the titles still provide context. We’ll pilot these lesson plans and tweak them as we go along!

Reference

Rolled papers image from Raw Pixel: https://unsplash.com/photos/CRuuAIvG3PM

Remote Controlled

During my recent trip to Fort McMurray, we stayed at the Radisson. This is such a dorky thing to write about, but I’m going to blog about the mattresses at the hotel. That’s right, the mattresses. Evidently, the Radisson is known for their adjustable mattresses. A coworker’s first question about my trip was about the Radisson mattresses. Well, here’s my review…

Mattress Control

The first thing anyone does when they get to a hotel is sit on the bed (before gingerly removing the runner at the foot of the bed). It is so satisfying. When I went to sit, I noticed a remote control on both beds. They looked kind of strange, out of place. I tried to turn one on, but it seemed broken. After playing with the other one for a couple minutes, I honestly couldn’t figure it out. I just left it. The mattress felt left like a deflated air mattress, but that’s the way I found it. It wasn’t until my last day that I realized there were instructions for the mattress control on the bedside table. It’s so weird because the front of the card implies it’s for pillow firmness:

But if you flip it over (like I did because I’m super nosy), you realize it’s instructions for the mattress remote control.

I thought this was such an odd way to represent instructions for the mattress firmness! And then I started to think about the need for the instructions at all. It’s pretty obvious the control is for the mattress. But, it’s not obvious how to adjust the firmness, and honestly I don’t know why it was so hard to adjust, but it was. I kept thinking “they don’t feel any different–how do I know if it’s actually worked? 35 seems like a high number for the ‘ideal’ firmness number, so how many numbers are there?!” I suppose they could have both been broken, which is an issue in itself.

Product Design

This experience reminds me of Don Norman’s book, The Design of Everyday Things. In it, he talks about the difference between “knowledge in the head” and “knowledge in the world.” Whenever we design something, we have to consider people’s cognitive loads. That is, what will we expect them to keep in their heads as they use the product, and what can we put into the world (or the product/environment) to make their experience an enjoyable and efficient one?

An example of “knowledge in the world” is the buttons on the remote controls. The remote should be intuitive for anyone to pick up and use. Whenever we design a product, we hope to design something that doesn’t require most people to use the instruction manual. If most people have to use a manual, we have probably designed something too difficult and put too much pressure on “knowledge in the head.” (There are exceptions of course, like IKEA manuals, but c’mon, that’s really not the norm!) If there is too much cognitive strain on customers, they get super frustrated with a product and don’t want to use it, like I did with the remote control. Even IKEA found the value of simplifying their instructions into more manageable chunks!

Relevance to Learning

This mattress experience made me think about “knowledge in the head” that I put on learners. Whenever possible, we should consider what is already out in the world, or what we can put out into the world, to make learning more accessible. This doesn’t mean that we are making learning too “fun” or “easy,” just that we are minimizing any needless barriers. Plus, we live in the age of The Google, as I like to call it. Most everyone has access to the Internet. If we have a question, we can usually find an answer. (Finding credible, reliable information…now, that’s a different story!) What I’m saying is we’d better make the “knowledge in the head” parts of learning interesting, challenging, and “unGoogleable.”

Another aspect to consider is course design. I’ve designed a few manuals and online courses, and with each iteration, I find strategies that put less effort on learners to figure out how to navigate through the course, and more focus on the learning itself. Here are some strategies:

  • Show students the big picture–how does starting at point A help them get to B? I like to share a short introduction, learning objectives, and modules right from the start.
  • Cut down on content, and focus on how students can process and apply key concepts.
  • Provide a job aid or reference material that is separate from the application. Teach people to fish!
  • Use a Table of Contents, headings, and icons when possible and makes sense to do so.
  • Don’t make an appendix too long. If the content is critical to learning, it should not be in an appendix.
  • Turn off features not being used. For example, if a course doesn’t have quizzes or use announcements, turn them off for now.
  • If an activity takes longer to explain that it does to roll out, consider cutting it.

Seriously, who knew a mattress remote control could evoke so much reflection!? It’s funny how some things go out of style, but the important ones, like The Design of Everyday Things, still stick. Maybe even especially so with the rise of our knowledge economy. I wonder what future learners will think when they reflect on the design of their learning experiences?

Reference

Norman, D. (2002). The Design of Everyday Things (Revised). Basic Books.

WiFi in a Remote Location

Over the last couple days, I’ve been working in Anzac, a hamlet in Northern Alberta. I drove up with my project manager to support the facilitators and twelve women enrolled in a blended course. My role was to introduce the Moodle course and GoToMeeting, so students would feel comfortable with their online learning experience in the coming weeks.

This morning, it was close to -50. Our car door locks were frozen shut. The tires felt like solid blocks of ice on the highway. Slow and steady, we made it to the training centre, ready to present. However, it was so cold that the tablets in the room were dropping 10% in battery every few minutes. The facility’s WiFi quickly became overloaded, blocking people from entering the online course. The WiFi boosters didn’t work. It sounds like a cheesy sitcom plot, but this was real life.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The Day Before Presenting

We arrived in Anzac the day before to help set up the classroom. After unloading the simulators and boxes of supplies we had driven down, we ran a quick bandwidth test, determining the WiFi was strong. It was already a long day by that point, so we headed to the hotel.

A (Somewhat) Related Side Note

A while back, I had read about this PhD candidate who brought in fresh baked muffins and coffee to his thesis defence. He personally wanted to feel comfortable, but he also wanted to create a comfortable environment for all people involved. It’s the same reason realtors bring in fresh baked cookies to an open house. Anyway, I loved this candidate’s effort to make the room inviting while minimizing stress levels. I started to think about ways I could do the same for the students I was introducing to Moodle. I focused more on my design choices in Moodle, and how I could offer reasonable support as the 5-week course unfolded. Some of my strategies:

  • Create a course discussion forum in Moodle where I can answer future questions related to course logistics.
  • Create a narrative structure in Moodle to direct people how to move through it. (FontAwesome is amazing for this!)
  • Build trust by giving students simple tasks during the presentation, like changing their passwords.

In highsight, I should have paid more attention to students being able to access Moodle quickly and efficiently during the presentation….

The Day Of Presenting

A new student began the course that morning, so my main focus was creating a profile for her in Moodle and then signing her up for courses and GoToMeeting. After I got that sorted, it was time to present to students.

The training room was much more toasty today. Before we had arrived, the lovely training centre employees had set up space heaters in the room. Little did we know, this caused the breakers to trip. Anywhere that we tried to draw power from was a dead end. This means we couldn’t plug in the tablets or WiFi boosters, and the WiFi bandwidth and tablet batteries were quickly depleting.

I focused on helping students sign into Moodle and change their passwords. I had plugged my laptop into the tv, so they could at least see my screen and follow along. It was hard though, because Moodle is new for most of them, and I didn’t want to move too quickly. Some of them were using their mobile phones to access the Moodle course, while others had some luck on their tablets. (I hadn’t even thought to introduce them to the Moodle mobile site, so this was an interesting turn of events, because it displays differently from tablets or desktops.)

As my co-workers talked with the training centre employees, I continued to help students access Moodle. I ended up telling them to follow along as best they could with what I was doing on screen. All of them were eventually able to log into Moodle and change their passwords, but because of the WiFi issues, I didn’t have them all sign into GoToMeeting. I simply showed them what it would look like, along with a few pointers for future use.

Lessons Learned

All of this was a less than ideal way to show students Moodle (and GoToMeeting), but it was a good lesson. My greatest takeaway is that I will try to avoid making assumptions before another presentation.

I had assumed the tablets would be mostly charged, ready for use. Next time, I will make sure someone is responsible for charging them the night before, and that power cords are accessible for all. I will also test the WiFi boosters ahead of time, in case there is a need to troubleshoot issues. While I presented, one of the WiFi boosters turned on, while the other didn’t. A co-worker had to call someone from our IT department to walk us through troubleshooting the issue. After trying to reset the booster, they ended up having to take out the SIM card and reinsert it. Once we did that, it fired up no problem. We also realized that the boosters were on two separate networks. We were advised that half of the students should be on each network, and that we should retain the network passwords so students aren’t logging onto those networks with their phones. They already had access to free WiFi through the training centre, anyway.

Working in Remote Locations

This was my first time up in Fort McMurray and the Anzac area. It was such an amazing experience to meet the students taking the course I designed. Previously, I had been used to designing content for students I’d never meet. I was also used to facilitating in classrooms that had fairly stable network connections. There were never any crazy surprises like what I experienced up in Anzac.

I’m going to start keeping a running list of items that need to be checked off before working in a remote location. I can share this checklist with co-workers ahead of time, delegating tasks to those who can complete them. This way, the setup is more straightforward, even though I will always anticipate a technology-related issue!

My checklist (so far):

  • Check WiFi bandwidth
  • Test outlets
  • Plug in tablets/devices ahead of time
  • Make sure all students have access to plugins or extensions
  • Have printed instructions for troubleshooting WiFi boosters
  • Check WiFi boosters ahead of time
  • Connect tablets/devices to boosters ahead of time
  • Set home website to the course page
  • Write instructions (in black marker) on whiteboard
  • Create instructions for students to use after presentation (so they can focus on presentation, especially if something goes wrong)

Through this experience, I realized the “muffins and coffee” feeling I described earlier is nostalgic, but it’s also creating a sense of safety and security for people. By using a checklist such as the one above, I can set up the conditions for those feelings to occur at the first point of contact in their online learning journey!

Reference

Anzac image taken from Wikimedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Welcome_to_Anzac_Sign.JPG

Is Training the Solution?

Any time a client says “we need a training solution,” my internal alarms start to go off. The first question I ask (internally) is, “will training fix the problem?” Sometimes the answer will be yes, other times it will be no. It’s harder when the answer is no, but who wants to develop a training program that doesn’t solve the real problems? Been there, done that.

What Can Training Do?

By itself, training can’t fix a company’s culture, people’s motivation, or the environment. Training is really only meant to address a gap in people’s knowledge or skills. By conducting a needs analysis, one can start to get a sense of what that gap is, and possibly how to close the gap. Maybe the issue is a combination of a culture problem and a knowledge gap. In this case, it’s best to address the non-training related issue first, so the training can actually be about the knowledge gap. Other times, the gap will be entirely non-training related. The solution could involve something like a change in process or communication strategy.

What Does Training Do?

Cathy Moore developed this amazing infographic to help designers figure out if training really is the solution. There’s a corresponding video that’s equally as wonderful:

A needs analysis will often result in many different factors affecting people’s current performance. As instructional designers, it’s important to identify the problems and zero in on the solutions that training can actually solve. This way, you are clear with the client from the start about how the training will solve a business need related to generating revenue, maintaining revenue, or meeting compliance standards. If the solution doesn’t meet one of these objectives, it probably isn’t training related (Carliner, 2015).

How Can We Connect to Performance?

I recently had an “aha” moment in my Program Design course. If the training is related to performance (for example, you want employees to increase the total number of widgets sold next year), there needs to be connections to performance outside the formal training experience.

It sounds obvious, but I think this is often the missing link in the L&D world. We provide all these wonderful training scenarios and practice opportunities, but then what happens when they leave the training classroom or online portal? What if, instead, they had a follow up knowledge check, or a challenge sent to them, or a new component added to their performance review? And what if it actually meant something? I think we would start to see real performance changes as opposed to a “one and done” training solution. Plus, real adult learning happens when learners can transfer their learning to their jobs.

If we use the flowchart and acknowledge that training could address the real issue, I have one strategy that could help offer this wrap-around approach.

3 Cubed Solution

I learned this strategy from a company called xPan. After training, they follow up with learners 3 different ways, 3 different times: 3 days after the event, 3 weeks, and then 3 months. The beauty is, they build this out so it’s delivered automatically to attendees. The check in can be as simple as providing a scenario and letting learners choose the most appropriate solution, sending a smiley or frown-y face for learners to assess their understanding of a concept, or something a little more complex. It’s a great way to check in with learners, trigger their memories, and prod them to apply what they learned.

References

Carliner, S. (2015). Training design basics (2nd ed.). ATD Press: Alexandria, VA.

Caution image taken from Unsplash.com: https://unsplash.com/photos/FFgcWvplwsc

Moore, C. (2013, May 7). Is training really the answer? Ask the flowchart [Web page]. Retrieved from http://blog.cathy-moore.com/2013/05/is-training-really-the-answer-ask-the-flowchart/

An Interesting Story Structure

A murder mystery article slides into my inbox one afternoon. Sent by my manager. Curious, I click into the article and am immediately mesmerized. It’s one of those long-form, scrolling news articles that weaves in audio, video, and graphics. It’s a work of art.

I can’t read it all at work, so I send it to my personal email to read later. It’s an exceptionally well-written article named Murder, Lies, and a Missing Deer Head. I can hardly wait to chat about it with my manager the next day. I am so caught up in the “Can you believe?!” of the story, that I hardly notice its structure. Thankfully, my manager fills me in. He calls the story structure a “chiasmus.” I remember thinking “it’s a what-us?!”

Let me explain.

Chiasmus Story Structure

Right at the beginning of the article, there are three lines that immediately stand out to introduce a family murder that took place in 2013:  

The crunch and pop of truck tires on a frozen road.

A dog barking.

A gunshot.

Makes your hair stand on end, right? These lines begin the story, but they aren’t immediately explained. You don’t realize they are clues until you find out that the son and his friend worked together to kill the family (sorry, late spoiler alert). The two lines toward the end of the article explain what happened to induce the gunshot after the family was murdered:

When Keela [the dog] came snarling and growling, Josh shot her, too.

They left Gordon’s truck by the Battle River, then Jason drove Josh back to Castor, leaving him in the dark just outside town.

They are the reverse order of the lines from the beginning of the article, making it a chiasmus. Again, let me explain.

The Story Structure

The way this story is written is called a chiasmus or ring structure because it follows this pattern: ABC…CBA

The beginning concepts or ideas (ABC) precede the thesis/main events of the story (…), and then the concepts are repeated in reverse order toward the end (CBA). In the beginning of the news article, we are given a couple sentences and find out there was a gunshot. Following that, we find out the events that led to the gunshot. Then we are told of the fallout after the gun shot. The chiasmus structure blends these elements together in a fascinating way, forcing the reader to pay attention and connect the dots themselves.

In biblical times, this story structure was quite common. You can see its impact on religious texts such as the Quran. It is a structure well suited for oral storytelling, because it would help orators remember the order and detail of events while presenting a dramatic story.

But it’s also a structure well suited for the digital age. More and more, we see the roots of oral storytelling making a comeback online. By incorporating different media and using oral story structures to make the story “sticky,” we can connect with our audience. We can help them circle back to concepts and keep them interested the whole way through.

My Experience with Chiasmus

I practiced using the chiasmus structure in a Behaviour-Based Safety course I am developing. In one of the modules, we cover the importance of participating in safety culture on the work site. I’ve been researching how companies are inspiring their employees to think about making safer choices while completing their assigned duties. One idea that stuck with me is to relate safety on the work site to their everyday lives.

I started to think of an everyday scenario that would resonate with my female audience. I pictured a hectic morning, a young mother trying to get her kids organized and dropped off before work. This is a situation many women could relate to. I set up the story with these two lines:

All is quiet in the house, except for the faint giggles of a small child learning to test her boundaries.

The smell of burned toast wafts its way through the air.

Then the main events of the day unfold. The main protagonist, Malia, gets to the work site and has to deal with a bunch of typical work stuff. But, she also has to deal with an unsafe situation on the work site by coming to terms with the awkward reality of what it feels like to speak up when no one else will. She makes it through the day, realizing that she makes the choices she does to keep herself and others safe, so they can all go home to their families in one piece. This message isn’t necessarily spelled out, but reinforced when she’s back at home and then the next morning experiences the same events she did the previous morning:

The smell of burned toast wafts it way through the air.

All is quiet in the house, except for the faint giggles of a small child learning to test her boundaries.

It’s not necessary to repeat the same lines for a chasmic structure, but I liked the repetition. I also think it points to the idea that many days are monotonous and routine. On work sites, the repetition of tasks can lead to complacency and the rise of incidents. There are a lot of parallels to Malia’s home life and her work life, which I tried to show through different ways she keeps her kids, her co-workers and herself safe. The ring structure just helped me do it in an interesting way.

Helpful Resources

After learning about the chiasmus, I realized there are tons of other story structures I probably don’t know about! And they can be really interesting ways to tell stories to adult learners, who don’t need everything spelled out for them, but probably appreciate the aspect of using story to learn key concepts. The hero’s journey is getting a little overdone, so it’s good to branch out and see what else is out there!

Here are a few I found:

Reference

Bible image from Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/oUiTrFhnEkE