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Notable Books

Recommended Books

  • Turning Research into Results: A Guide to Selecting the Right Performance Solutions, by Richard E. Clark, Fred Estes
  • How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, by National Research Council, edited by John Bransford, Ann L. Brown, Rodney R. Cocking
  • Criterion-Referenced Test Development 2nd Edition, by Sharon Shrock, William Coscarelli, Patricia Eyres
  • Michael Allen's Guide to E-Learning, by Michael Allen
  • e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, by Ruth Colvin Clark, Richard E. Mayer
  • Efficiency in E-Learning by Ruth Colvin Clark, Frank Nguyen, John Sweller (2006)

Best-Selling Books

  • The Long Tail

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Monday, 17 July 2006

Using Celebrity to Increase Learning

Unless you've been a hermit since birth, you should have noticed that we human beings are drawn to celebrity. From peasants to the so-called intellectual elite, we are vastly more likely to pay attention to celebrities (and their activities) than to anyone else.

The evidence is everywhere.

  • Movie producers hire big name actors to draw people to theaters.
  • Yahoo's home page almost always leads with a celebrity.
  • Google gets more searches for Johnny Depp than for any of your neighbors.
  • Advertisers pay big bucks for celebrity endorsements.
  • Celebrities get the largest book advances (and sales).
  • Conferences pay big bucks to hire celebrities, even if they have little to say.
  • Much of our idle chatter involves talk of celebrities.
  • Tournament organizers groan when the big names get ousted or withdrawal due to injury.

I have to admit it myself. While browsing the web, I often find myself clicking through to a story about a famous person. It's almost an unconscious response. I seem to be drawn to want to know what's going on with them.

The New York Times has a nice piece about the power of celebrities to draw interest on the internet.

How Can We Use Celebrity to Increase Learning?

First, we have to distinguish between drawing attention and creating distraction. Using celebrity is a good method for getting more of our learners to initially access the learning message. It might also be useful to maintain attention longer than normal. But we have to watch out for the distraction factor and make sure that the learning message is supreme.

I'd actually like to see a study that tests my little theory.

  • Hypothesis 1: Celebrity helps garner attention, AND increases long-term retrieval of the main learning points.
  • Hypothesis 2: Celebrity helps garner attention, AND decreases long-term retrieval of the main learning points (but increases long-term retrieval of information about the celebrity or the learning event itself).
  • Hypothesis 3: Celebrity does nothing. We only think it does.

The research would have to be very careful to avoid experimenting with captured learners. Why? Because the hypothesized benefit is due to more people attending to the learning event in the first place. If everyone, regardless of whether we use a celebrity or not, is captured, there are less likely to be learning benefits.

In a natural, authentic training environment, I'm betting on Hypothesis #1 above.

If anybody has learners and funds to test this theory, give me a call. Let's get to work.

Training Implementations

Some of us use celebrity already. I've seen e-learning programs from Type A Learning Agency that used in-company celebrities to reinforce messages within e-learning programs.

Celebrity doesn't have to reside only in individuals either. Executives love being sent off the Harvard Business School events, for example.

Elliott Masie--the training industy's P. T. Barnum--uses his celebrity to draw people to his conferences, which are pretty good learning events after all.

Local ASTD, ISPI, SHRM (etc.) chapters use celebrity speakers to draw a crowd at their sessions.

More and more, executives (in-company celebrities) are teaching leadership courses to company managers.

The Bottom Line

It's worth considering how we might use the concept of celebrity to draw learners to our learning initiatives and increase their attention on our learning messages.

Thursday, 13 July 2006

Bloom's Taxonomy Problems

The Bloom is Off the Vine

I just came across this nifty little piece on Bloom's Taxonomy, written by Brenda Sugrue for ISPI's Performance Express.

It's a nice critique on the validity and usefulness of Bloom's Taxonomy for Instructional Design.

Read it here.

I tend to agree with Brenda's Critique. For a long time I've been suspicious of Blooms.

Thursday, 01 June 2006

New Taxonomy for Learning Objectives

Let me propose a new taxonomy for learning objectives.

This taxonomy is needed to clear up the massive confusion we all have about the uses and benefits of learning objectives. I have tried to clarify this in the past in some of my conference presentations—but I have not been successful. When I get evaluation-sheet comments like, "Get real you idiot!" from more than a few people, I know I've missed the mark. SMILE

Because I don't give up easily—and because learning objectives are so vitally important—I'm going to give this another try. Your feedback is welcome.

The premise I'm working from is simple. Instructional professionals use learning objectives for different purposes—even for different audiences. Learning objectives are used to guide the attention of the learner toward critical learning messages. Learning objectives are used to tell the learner what's in the course. They are used by instructional designers to guide the design of the learning. They are used by evaluation designers to develop metrics and assessments.

Each use requires its own form of learning objective. Doesn't it seem silly to use the exact same wording regardless of the use or intended audience? Do we provide doctors and patients with the exact same information about a particular prescription drug? Do designers of computer software require the same set of goal statements as users of that software? Do creators of films need to have the same set of objectives as movie goers?

Until recently I have argued that we ought to delineate between objectives for learners and objectives for designers. This was a good idea in principle, but it still left people confused because it didn't cover all the uses of objectives. For example, learners can be presented with objectives to help guide their attention or to simply give them a sense of the on-the-job performance they'll be expected to perform. Instructional designers can utilize objectives to guide the design process or to develop evaluations.

The New Taxonomy

  1. Focusing Objective
    A statement presented to learners before they encounter learning material—provided to help guide learner attention the most important aspects of that learning material.
  2. Performance Objective
    A statement presented to learners before they encounter learning material—provided to help learners get a quick understanding of the competencies they will be expected to learn.
  3. Instructional-Design Objective
    A statement developed by and for instructional designers to guide the design and development of learning and instruction.
  4. Instructional-Evaluation Objective
    A statement developed by and for program evaluators (or instructional designers) to guide the evaluation of instruction.

I made a conscious decision not to include a "table-of-contents objective" despite the widespread use of this method for presenting learners with objectives. I can't decide whether this should be included. There's no direct research on this (that I've encountered), but there may be some benefit for learners in having an outline of the coming learning material. Your comments welcome. I'm leaning toward including this notion into the taxonomy because it is a stategy that I've seen in use. Maybe I'll call them "Content-Outlining Objectives" or "Outlining Objectives."

One of the clear benefits of this taxonomy is that it separates Focusing Objectives from the other objectives. These objectives—those presented to learners to help focus their attention—have been researched with the greatest vigor. And the results of that research are clear:

  1. Focusing objectives guide learner attention to the information in subsequent learning material that has been targeted by objectives, but they also take attention away from the information not targeted by objectives.
  2. Similarly, focusing objectives improve learning for the targeted information and hurt learning for the information not targeted.
  3. Prequestions are as powerful in creating this focusing effect as learning objectives, and they may be more powerful.
  4. The wording of the focusing objective or prequestion must specifically mirror the wording in the learning material. General or abstract wording doesn't cut it.
  5. Adding extra words, particularly words that specify the criteria of performance (ala Mager) will actually distract learners and hurt learning.

Monday, 28 November 2005

Aligning the Learning and Performance Contexts

Research from the world's preeminent refereed journals on learning and instruction shows that by aligning the learning and performance contexts, learning results can be improved by substantial amounts. In fact, it is this alignment that makes simulations effective, that creates the power behind hands-on training, and that enables action learning to produce its most profound effects.

The research suggests the following points related to instructional design:

1. When humans learn, we absorb both the instructional message and background stimuli and integrate them into memory so that they become interconnected.

2. Humans in their performance situations are reactive beings. Our thoughts and actions are influenced by stimuli in our surrounding environment. If cues in our environment remind us of what we previously learned, we'll remember more.

3. These first two principles can combine to aid remembering, and hence performance in powerful ways. If during the learning situation we can connect the key learning points to background stimuli that will be observed in the learner's on-the-job performance situation, than these stimuli will remind learners of what they previously learned!

4. The more the learning context mirrors the real-world performance context, the greater the potential for facilitating remembering. When the learning and performance contexts include similar stimuli, we can say they are "aligned."

5. The more learners pay attention to the background contextual stimuli, the higher the likelihood of obtaining context effects.

6. Context effects can take many forms. People who learn in one room will remember more in that room than in other rooms. People who learn a topic when they are sad, will remember more about that topic when they are sad. People who learn while listening to Mozart will retrieve more information from memory while listening to Mozart than listening to jazz. People who learn a fact while smelling peppermint will be better able to recall that fact while smelling peppermint than while smelling another fragrance. People who learn in the presence of their coworkers will remember more of what they learned in the presence of those coworkers.

7. Context can aid remembering and performance, but it can have negative effects when aspects of the learning context are not available in the on-the-job performance context.

8. Context effects can be augmented by prompting learners to focus on the background context. Context effects can be diminished by prompting learners to focus less on the background context.

9. The fewer the background contextual elements per learning point, the more powerful the context effects.

10. The easiest and most effective way to align the learning and performance contexts is to modify the learning context. But other options are available as well.

11. The performance context can be modified through management involvement, performance-support tools, and other reminding devices.

12. When the performance context cannot be determined in advance---or when the learned tasks will be performed in many contexts---multiple learning contexts can facilitate later memory retrieval and performance.

13. Learners in their performance situations can improve the recall of what they learned by visualizing the learning situation.

14. Cues can be added to the both the learning contexts and the performance context to aid remembering.

15. Context effects have their most profound impact when other retrieval cues are not available for use. For example, context effects typically do not occur on multiple-choice tests or for other performance situations where learners are provided with hints.

16. To fully align the learning and performance contexts, instructional practice should include opportunities for learners to face all four aspects of performance, (1) situation, (2) evaluation, (3) decision, and (4) action. To create the best results, learners must be faced with realistic situations, make sense of them, decide what to do, and then practice the chosen action.

To read more about this fundamental learning factor (or to see the research behind these suggestions), you can access an extensive report from the Work-Learning Research catalog.