Adult ed: You're doing it wrong

[This] hands-on learning event... will model instructional design processes and address:
* Why should you care about learning styles? How do you deal with the issue?
* Why is the learning cycle the foundation of training? How do you build a cycle?
* When do you start planning the evaluation piece? What are some tools?

Whether you are an instructional designer, manager, consultant, or other training professional, this session will help you to inform your clients or leadership team about the need for solid instructional design in any training program.
- advert for training session

Yeah, um... no.  This session wasn't hands on and it didn't do any of that.

I'm a little skeptical of adult learning principles (see here).  Still, the principles can be useful insofar as they give us things to think about and encourage us to do a better job.  And you, sir, could use some encouragement.

Let's start with "learning styles" - which, by the way, aren't really an "issue". Adult Learning Principles remind us to deliver information in a variety of ways so we can communicate better with an audience made up of people who learn best in different ways (seeing, hearing, talking, writing, doing and so on).  Talk about it, but also write it out.  Put up a chart, but also explain it verbally.  Give people a chance to talk about it with themselves, each other or you.  Allow them time and space to write it down, or to doodle thoughts across someone else's writing.  Offer reflection time and reflective questions.  Write out or talk through some scenarios, or offer exercises to allow people to apply ideas. Make sure you present ideas by moving from the individual to the general, and also from the general to the individual.  And check in often.  Ask, "Is that enough information?"  "Do you need to see that again?"

What you can't do "about" learning styles is fit them individually into different slots in a linear learning process (often oddly referred to as a "learning cycle") such as ERGA or Experience - Reflection - Generalization - Application.  You can't, as you proposed, offer something for the divergers in one stage, something for the convergers in the next, and then provide something for the assimilators.  You can't make the first third of your process attractive to auditory learners, tailor the second third to visual learners, and wrap up with a kinesthetic third. If it's anything, ERGA is a unitary process. Nobody learns by attending to only one stage or step: all your learners have to pass through all the stages.

And what to say about your surprise announcement, "When we did the crossword puzzle, that was the experiential, hands-on learning piece..."?

Seriously?  I thought the puzzle was an ice breaker.  Dude, experiential learning has to be more than token.  People may be surprised to find they've done hands on learning, but they should never be surprised to discover that their learning was hands on.

Nor does writing a sentence or phrase inside a picture of a sticky-note, twice, constitute two other instances of hands on learning.  You might as well have said that "hands on learning takes place wherever learners have hands."  (And let me just slip in here my suspicion that this odd reduction of hands on learning to writing is an out-growth of elearning systems that preclude practical, tactile, hands on experiences.)

By the way, even if you're not doing an ice-breaker, it helps if you find out something about your audience, and allow your audience to meet one another.  The whole tone of the workshop would have struck me as exceedingly rude if I hadn't recognized the motif: the expert professor standing in front of his class.

Another free tip: don't serve a heavy, all-carb lunch immediately before you deliver a talk-heavy workshop in a room where the windows won't open.  (And, yes, knowing your room in advance is also part of your responsibility.)

And maybe you didn't realize that, in a professional workshop setting, important written information needs to be available as handouts - handouts which mirror the powerpoints or wall-mounted, pre-prepared flip chart paper.  And that flip chart paper needs to work with the actual sight-lines of the room.  If it is not important, then don't bother us with it.  In any case, if you find yourself saying to a full quarter of your audience, "Some of you at the back may need to stand up over here to see these [sheets of flip chart paper]" then you've pretty much failed.

(Please note: a trite "I don't do powerpoints" in no way excuses you from doing something useful for visual learners.)

While we're on the topic of prep, neither a 90 minute infomercial for your course, or a listing of the salient points good trainers (allegedly) need to be aware of, really counts as a learning experience - unless, I suppose, people came to learn about your course and, you know, a bullet-point version of all the terms you think people ought to know.  Dude, if you have too much information to deal with appropriately in 90 minutes, plan to deal with less.  Better to make one point well than to offer a cursorily look at a whole host.

You know, even an old fashioned lecture or essay provides a clear introduction, middle and conclusion.  Done well, these provide concrete examples to illustrate generalized ideas.  They use a minimum of acronym-laced jargon.  They give their audience or readers every opportunity to divine what they are about to tell them, what they are telling them, and what they told them.  You didn't seem to do any intro or wrap-up at all.

Oh, and this isn't university, so stop telling me that I have to use your model "or one very like it."  I do serious work with serious people.  Models either help me with that - and a helpful model is self-evident - or they make more paper piled up on the side of my desk.  Let me say that again: helpful models are self-evidently helpful.

Telling me that, if you came to evaluate my program, the model is all you would be concerned with, only tells me you pretty-much missed the point of evaluation.

While we're talking evaluation.....  Yes, evaluation is important, and it needs to be thought about from the very beginning.  That's the not very interesting answer to "When do you start planning the evaluation piece?"  But your idea that we ought to plan out our evaluation before we plan out our learning goals is not a formula for success: it's a formula for fraud.

Moreover, learning goals are best co-constructed.  (Among other things this helps get around the sticky question of who determines the "needs" in a "needs assessment".)  Even when certification is involved, quality facilitators - and I do mean facilitators, not testers - find out what learners already know and what they want to learn, how they feel they learn best, and how they want the facilitator to check in on the effectiveness of their learning.

Speaking of evaluation, in a workshop setting, it may be possible to ask people what they want to get out of it.  That is, I think, the ideal.  But it may not be possible, and that's okay too.  But there really is no excuse for not checking in with people about whether or not they understand what you're saying, or have questions, or even care enough about it to go on....  And if you're going to trash the "happy, sad, mad" type of evaluation, you ought to have something to replace it that's more sophisticated than "Give me one word that sums up this workshop for you." [Up-date: on promised web evaluation; see below]

Was the workshop a complete waste of time?  Um.. yeah.  It mishandled learning styles, had a questionable take on evaluation, over-emphasized the value of models, and ignored key factors like positive relationships, a safe, nurturing environment, an individualized curriculum, and the opportunity for learners to experience and build upon small successes and shared, positive adventures.

But it did call attention to two interesting challenges.

One is the issue of clients.  Who is the client in a classroom or workshop or training setting?  Is it the learner who has come to learn, or the funder who is paying for the service?  You touched on that when you acknowledged that at any moment "the Minister of Whatever" can declare a training need and expect us to move to meet it.  But you blustered on saying something about how knowing the theory helped win some battles or not lose as many or something, and off we went to your world of theory.

I think you're wrong.  I don't think knowledge of theories or research papers or acronyms are at all useful when it comes to dealing with the Minister of Whatever and his Business Roundtable on Social Spending buddies.  I don't think it answers questions like "Who is the client?" or "What do we do when the wants and needs of the learner don't match the wants and needs of the funder?"  And I think those are really important questions.

The other challenge or problem has to do with the fact that most of us know what, in theory, we ought to be doing, but frequently do something else.  Why?  Is the theory wrong?  Are we lazy or light headed?  Do we lack moral courage or critical faculties?  What are the forces at work - from without or within - that stand between all those "best practice" papers and our actual, day-to-day practice?

We need to know if we want real change.

I'm not great at short-session training.  But even on my worst day, I've never presented a workshop as badly as that fellow did.  They say he's director of a Diploma in Adult Education program at a university, as well as a long-time consultant in the adult training industry.  Gawd help the adult training industry.

"CSTD does not issue refunds."

No, I shouldn't think so.  Not with product like this.


I was offered a chance to complete an online evaluation form, but it started with, "Your information (Required)."  Yes?  My information?  Do you mean my workshop registration number?  766803?

No.  You want my email address (again) and my phone number.  Because phone numbers are important for evaluations because...   Yeah, um... no.  Don't call.  It's not me, it's you.


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