Monday, March 27, 2017

Why is Micro-Learning Futile? How to Fix It - Tip #126

This week I had an exhilarating conversation with a Caltech professor at the Athenaeum Caltech Faculty Club. The professor is responsible for the facilities where robotic experiments are conducted. He said, “many of my graduate research students stand back and would not touch the robots at first. They fear they might damage the robots that cost millions of dollars. Having no experience, they worry that they may destroy them. So I break down the different parts of the robot and show them how each part works, and that the parts can even be purchased from eBay.”

Apparently by doing this process, the students see that parts perform a function and the working principles are just like other components. However, the remarkable insight is how the robots work after they are all assembled and programmed to perform even more complex tasks.

Each time I try to shrink or compress content to turn it into micro-learning, I face the ultimate boundary that micro-learning has to do with the learner and worker's ability to use the content to some useful end. I arrived at this by breaking down the parts of the micro-learning and learn how each part works. Then I reassemble it to see how else it can work.

The following are my discoveries.

Essentially it is futile to reduce or resize content, unless we design it for the worker in action. Ultimately, it is the learner who decides the value and use of content and can do this better than any other learner can. 

An equation that misses the view
In Equation # 1, the left side is the learner and worker and the right side is the content.
It is the learners and workers who decide how to use content. They see instances of problems and want to find solutions, which at times come in the form of content or knowledge. Because these occurences are ultra small, unpredictable and split-second, micro-sizing a content to fit the need is a near - impossible task. I am convinced it is a futile effort. The best we can do is a big approximation and mostly a guess.
When Google designed their search feature, they did not change the content. They allowed users to search endlessly until they found the answers or simply stopped.
In Wolfram Alpha (What Happens When New Becomes Old? - Tip #89),  the users enter their questions and queries and the software assembles the answers. It does not do anything with the content, but assembles and combines data to serve the users' needs.

Reflecting back on our left and right side diagram in Equation #1, as designers our focus seem to be on the right side of the equation (the content) rather than the left side - the worker's side and what is going in the user's situation.

These are my dilemma and reflections

Is it because I am a content provider and designer that I am compelled to resize content? Perhaps. However, my knee-jerk approach usually fails if I miss to ask one question: “What is the view of the learner and worker, and pointedly, let’s just say the worker's situation?” Do we even ask this question?

The Circular Equation

So I began to ruminate and ask the questions from different angles or varied points around the worker and Circular Equation #2, crystallizes in my mind.
In Equation # 2, the workers must contend with finding problems and creating solutions in the different factors affecting them. Their actions and solutions are influenced by such factors as well as impact the outcomes in each of the areas.

The workers’ decisions and actions are influenced by these factors:
  • Customer - defines what is success and value
  • Process - must be optimal
  • Supplier of parts - must adhere to the specs
  • Teams - should be coordinated
  • Plants or facilities - updated and humming
  • Information and data - timely and useful
  • And many others
What glues all of these together? The workers make things happen by constantly fixing, changing and improving all the parts. It is a very difficult situation to know what form and type of content they would need to be useful in this situation.

Where is the fix in our micro-learning approaches?

Looking at the Circular Equation view of the worker and not the left and right view of Equation # 1 -Worker and Content, I am inclined towards following these thought processes. This helps me correct my misunderstanding of micro-learning. These are some insights. Hopefully, they be of value to you.
  1. The “learning” aspect of micro-learning is doing us a disservice. I suggest we think of the worker's micro-decisions and actions. I also call this the diagnostic actions. This view is holistic and returns our attention to helping the worker through the process of making decisions and taking action - away from content. You then help the worker micro-size all decisions and actions in the world of Equation # 2.
  2. The focus on micro-sizing of content, as a starting effort, is futile unless we start with the learners’ situations as shown in Equation #2. At best it is a process that many of us try to do to approximate what the learners and workers need. We need to cut the huge pile of “garbage” and bias that content (and our jobs) is important particularly if we develop content that is so remote and distant from the workers' decisions and actions. We have to learn to let go of the content. Let’s find intersections in the workflow where we can help the learner. (See the handout and recording of my webinar on Strategic Micro-Learning: Making Training Initiatives Keep Pace with Rapid Workflow)
  3. Business leaders intuitively sense the potential disruption value of micro-learning. Let’s do the fix before we, as learning professionals squander the opportunity. Let’s find new metrics and standards to help the workers and leaders see the value of micro-learning. Unfortunately, our usual knowledge checks and tests, LMS completion tracking and memorization type of assessments do not work. How do we assess micro-learning in the world of Equation #2?
Conclusion

Like in our robotic lab story, we can break down the parts of micro-learning and truly understand the essence of each part and build them back together to actually deliver real results, not the ones we are used to, but new capacities to deliver on the value of micro-learning.

References





Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Proof of Disruptions - Tip #125

When you hear the word “disruption,” what do you think about? Most would probably equate it with something that temporarily derails from achieving an objective. For instance, a car breakdown on your way to work.

Disruption usually has a negative denotation. In this post I’ll share with you a more positive meaning of the word.

Disruptions in Learning

Disruption—as it applies to learning—has taken on a new meaning. Instead of distracting us from our goal, it now pertains to new and innovative technologies that propel learners to reach greater heights. In other words, disruptive innovation, or new technology disrupting the status quo in learning and development.

Leading this disruption are mobile and cloud technologies, which allow us to work collaboratively and deliver solutions in a matter of hours or minutes instead of months and years. Other technologies that are at our full disposal include video cameras, self-publishing platforms, social media, live streaming and many more.

As my friend and expert on learning and development Brent Schlenker, rightly puts it:
The way I see it, new technology disrupts learning in three ways: 
  1. Need-based content production. Electronic tools have made data collection faster, spurring production of content centered on learners’ needs.
  2. Reduction of content development costs. The shift in focus to micro-content that serves micro-actions, instead of overproducing content, has led to cost savings in the area of content development.
  3. Expanding ways to gain knowledge and experience. Disruptive technologies have expanded the avenues of learning from other people’s  knowledge and experience, which are difficult to gain from formal learning.
I talk more about these in my Micro-Learning workshops.

Examples and Case Studies

The effective use of new technologies in learning has led to these successful case studies:

General Motors (GM) Corporate University

General Motors developed internal training with the aim of producing world class engineering practices. General Motors University developed e-learning formats called Employee Performance Support System (EPSS) or “GM” assistant and e-Guides, which are 20-minute training bursts in slide format. While English is the language used for the slides, the voice track is translated into native languages for overseas audiences.

The training functions to provide workers with the skills necessary to perform routine jobs. The micro-training strategy puts the learner at the center of the training experience and provides high-result, training-on-demand capabilities. One GM engineering group that used the micro-training-enabled system reported that on-time performance improved and the need to re-work significantly reduced.

General Electric (GE) Training Center

GE established a training center for potential GE managers. The training program runs the gamut from corporate finance to emotional self-regulation. Their learning activities included one-on-one counseling sessions, team-building, group hiking, and group meals.


Our New Role in Learning

New technologies no doubt bring new opportunities and challenges. The opportunity is we now have the capability to develop and deliver content fast. But the challenge now becomes, how can we step up to the demands of learners in the 21st century?

Schlenker suggests trainers and designers to shift their approach from being creative to proactive. In the past, we get notified of problems after they have occurred. Now, it’s more practical to engage with employees and learn about problems as they happen or even discover opportunities before they become problems.

In addition, by putting the learners at the center of the learning experience, disruptive innovations recognize that:
  1. Talent is the building block of any organization.
  2. Values are more important than numbers.
  3. Solving problems proactively with the use of technology is one approach to engage with employees.
  4. Disruptions in learning are opening opportunities for more individuals to access quality and personalized education.

References

Arnett, Thomas. Why disruptive innovation matters to education. Claton Christensen Institute, January 6, 2014
Horn, Michael. Disruptive innovation and education. Forbes, July 2, 2014



Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Are Instructional Designers Incapable of Micro-Learning Design? - Tip #124

I have asked this serious question in multiple ways.

Why is it difficult for instructional designers to think and do micro-learning? I define micro-learning closely to that of Theo Hug's description:

Micro-Learning is:
  • Low effort
  • Fast
  • Easy
  • Immediately applicable
At the heart of this definition is the focus on what workers and learners actually do in very short, rapid and almost instantaneous basis while trying to fix, change and improve something.

A good illustration is about fixing the broken screw
“The screw does not fit in the equipment.

I checked the manual and it says this is the correct screw.

I tried again, a few times, to no avail.

I checked the supplier’s website to see if there has been a change with the equipment. There are none.

So, I checked the last person who worked on this. He said, ‘I used a slightly bigger screw for the next level because this screw, although it's supposed to be the right screw, does not work.’”

The above situation involves a Micro-Action. Learning is not the main focus; work and fixing this problem is the primary goal.

When instructional designers were asked by me to design content for this Micro-Action, here is what happened:

“I added all the steps to the content.”

“The learning objectives must be clear.”

“I designed a show-and-tell video.”

“I will create an exercise so they will learn and remember this.”

I wrestled about this for a while. I ran this exercise through hundreds of people in my micro-learning workshops and interviewed instructional designers to understand better.

These are their concerns:

“They need to know all the steps since they may not do it correctly.”

“I feel I am missing a lot of content if I only focus on the tasks that the worker is solving.”

“The worker will not know what they don't know. So I should want them to have all the content.”

“My leaders feel that it is too short for learning.”

“I compressed the ideas from 10 minutes to 2 minutes -- but all ideas must be in the lesson.”

What I discern from these interviews are the following:
  • Instructional designers look at workers' needs regarding the “problem screw” from a content view, instead of the workers' need to fix, change or improve things while at work.
  • The designers focus and compel themselves to provide all the content.
  • The momentum of the traditional instructional design of “analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate” somehow slows down their responses. It is hard for designers to think of the work that needs instant solution. Their default thinking is the design process.
This is a conundrum - content by design versus content for solutions is so ingrained in the thought processes, emotional experiences, and design and production tools that it is very difficult for many to make a shift.

How to enable instructional designers to shift to micro-learning practices will remain a challenge. But recognizing that we are facing this dilemma will be a good start to help us reflect and make some changes in our approaches.
Conclusion

Like SMEs, designers have to let go of the thinking that learners have to know all the steps. What they should focus on instead is Micro-Action. E-learning design should help learners work and fix a problem or be able to help them make changes on the fly.

References



Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Micro-Instant Learning - Tip #123

Instant learning suggests a sense of immediacy and urgency. It means understanding on-demand information and developing skills to perform a specific task precisely at the moment of need. The increasing complexity of jobs and the accelerating advances in technology necessitate workers to learn fast and develop skills needed to perform efficiently. In essence, there is a demand for the implementation of micro-learning to enable better workflow learning.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure you’re facilitating micro-learning in the workplace.

1. Be Learner-Focused

How would you feel if your mentor/trainer pushes you to learn what he/she wants you to learn? Allowing the learner to drive their learning makes the experience more engaging and immersive. The learner absorbs knowledge faster this way.

Bottom line: Place learners in the driver’s seat. Wear your learners’ glasses.

2. Create Micro-Lessons

Overloading learners with massive amounts of data (data dump) within a short period will slow down learning. Learners will get bored.

On the other hand, breaking down lessons into bite-sized portions can grease the wheels. Thus, a training nugget for each objective can accelerate learning.

3. Leverage Learning Videos

English philosopher and physician John Locke once said that knowledge comes from our sensory experiences. In other words, we learn faster and remember lessons better when our senses are engaged.

One way to activate our senses is through watching videos. Learning videos not only activate our senses but also stimulate our imagination and enable us to create mental imagery.


4. Embed Affective Context, Meaningful Scenarios

In a previous tip, I mentioned that unless you connect with the learner’s context, there is no connection, no learning. Creating this sense of relatability for the learners keeps them engaged. When they are emotionally involved, they care and this persuades them to act or apply the lessons learned.


5. Use Real-World Examples and Tackle Real-World Problems

It’s also imperative for trainers and designers to align content with real-life scenarios, such as real-life blunders and fiascos, so learners can access it as needed. When examples have connection to the real world, learners are mentally and emotionally engaged and see the immediate need to act.


6. Implement Simple Rules

Simple rules help workers know what to do on the job and perform their tasks effectively. Unlike traditional on-the-job support, simple rules are easily accessible and immediately useful.

Examples of simple rules include Rule of Thumb, Stopping Rules, and Boundary Rules. Read more about simple rules and their role and application in instant learning or micro-learning here.

Consider the two images below. In Image 1, we see the PVC Extruder operational guide and schematic, which takes time to read and understand. Now take a look at Image 2; it’s a short instruction on when to stop the PVC extruder. Which of these would learners easily understand and apply on the job?
Image 1. PVC Extruder operational guide and schematic. (Click here for enlarged view.)
Image 2. PVC Extruder stopping rule.

Conclusion

In a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment, tasks become complex yet need to be completed immediately and effectively. It is therefore imperative that workers learn instantly and develop skills they can use precisely at the moment of need. This is the primary goal of micro-learning.

References

Nick Shackleton-Jones. Towards a Working Theory of Learning: The Affective Context Model. aconventional, May 5, 2010.
Ray Jimenez. Instant Learning: How it works and how to make it happen?. Vignettes Learning Blog, April 21, 2011  

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Monday, February 27, 2017

Learning Objectives are Dead Unless You Do CPR - Tip #122

Learning objectives are good as basis for defining what we want to impart to learners.

Unfortunately, when we stop there, learners find the learning objectives senseless and as a result, disengage and/or skip the objectives altogether.

A Linear Structure Kills Learning Objectives

A typical course — its objectives, content and context as well as the type of lessons in this course follow a linear structure, which is common in traditional learning designs.

Below is an illustration of the difference in learning objectives between the traditional objectives and Story Questions:
The topic is Avoiding Burglary in your store. The target learners are Retail Store Managers.

Traditional learning objectives are factual statements; they’re bland and frankly boring. On the other hand, story questions provide learners with clearer images and reference points. They stimulate the mind and attract learners’ attention unconsciously and instantaneously.


Breathe Life Into “Dead” Learning Objectives

In my years of experience using stories to deliver lessons, I’ve found that there are a number of effective ways to revive learning objectives. Here are some of them:

The Set Up

The Set Up is a story-based learning objective which helps learners arrive at a State of Readiness. That is, the objective gives learners a glimpse or peek at what lies ahead. It answers the question “What can I look forward to in this lesson?” and helps learners imagine content goals in real-life situations.

To help learners get into their state of readiness, try the following approaches:
  • Show a challenging scene from the story
  • Ask story questions to help learners visualize possible consequences

Focus on context
Story-based learning objectives are driven by context, which they quickly turn into contextual form. They aid learners visualize the value of the context in real-life content.

Use the table above to guide you through the specific steps you can follow to help you convert your content into highly contextualized learning objectives.


Use probing questions

A simple way to spice up learning objectives is to convert them into story questions. Story questions point learners to a vivid picture of the content in the context of a real-life event or story.

A trick on how to do this is to get “behind the scenes” and dig up the story driving the factual statements. There’s always a story behind every factual statement. Keep digging!


Embed learning objectives in stories

Speaking of stories, why not try embedding learning objectives in a story-based lesson? This will allow you to follow through or continue using the story to deliver the rest of the lesson. Plus, this method is more exciting, don’t you think?

There are four steps to embed learning goals in stories. These are as follows:
  1. Think of learning objectives as outcomes and as observable behaviors.
  2. Think deeply of the patterns of behaviors and the stories associated with them.
  3. Tell the story that helps learners identify and discover what you want them to learn.
  4. Show the actions and use first-person words of characters.


Objectives as discovery points

This tip helps make learning objectives less intrusive to learners. To achieve this, we have to help learners see the value of the lesson by focusing on the impacts.

Try transforming learning objectives into discovery points, which are topic areas that learners are interested in at one point in time. Infuse/attach positive or negative consequences to learning objectives. For example:

Version 1: Understanding Manager Responsibilities in Safety Violations

Version 2: Be a Manager, Go to Jail Law

I actually did an experiment on these two versions way back. We used the first version to promote my seminars and around 150 registered and attended. But when we used version 2 in our next round of promotions, we received a whopping 500 participants in each location. Amazing!


Relocate traditional learning objectives
Try relocating learning objectives at the top as shown in the image above. This way, you comply with HR requirements and at the same time, provide learners with the option to view it at their leisure.

Conclusion

Just as sailors need lighthouses to guide their ships at night, trainers and learners need learning objectives to navigate the deep and wide ocean of training and development.

Learning objectives form the base or foundation for program content and activities and how these are sequenced or divided. So it’s important to create learning objectives that help both trainer and learners focus on what really is important.

References

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University. Learning Objectives
Ray Jimenez. Learners are in a State of Readiness - Avoid Rigid Learning Objectives. Vignettes Learning Blog, October 12, 2011
Ray Jimenez. How to Embed Learning Goals in Stories. Vignettes Learning Blog, October 11, 2010



Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"