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The Challenges of Integrating Learning 2.0

Instructional designer: new decisions

These are the challenges facing designers: unfamiliar design templates and more interactions that need attention during the design phase.

Learning 2.0 is so new there are few templates or rules of thumb yet for designers. It’s a big blank whiteboard right now. In order to bring some order to this intimidating openness, let’s apply a couple of frameworks. To start, we could adapt the situational leadership model Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard created in the 1960s. Hersey and Blanchard note that leaders should make a determination of the guidance needed by team members, based on the specific situation and people involved. Leaders should choose one of four styles, based on the amount of direction and support needed. In defining the leadership styles, Hersey and Blanchard also described the team members in terms of their developmental levels:

  • Level 1: Low Competence, High Commitment – These team members lack specific skills, but have the motivation and willingness to learn
  • Level 2: Some Competence, Low Commitment – Team members with some relevant skills, but they are uncomfortable in the situation and need some help and direction
  • Level 3: High Competence, Variable Commitment – Team members who are experienced and capable, but who may lack the confidence or motivation required
  • Level 4: High Competence, High Commitment – Team members who are experienced, comfortable with the skills, and motivated to accomplish the tasks at hand

Now, team member developmental levels can provide a framework for designers of Learning 2.0.  Designers can apply them to learners in today’s business world. They describe levels of interaction between learner and instructor or facilitator. For instance, a Level 1 learner is motivated to learn but lacks basic skills. This person thus needs some extra attention at the beginning of the course but should be relatively independent by the end of the course. The Level 1 learner will need help setting up a blog and understanding how to create a post, but will be a willing contributor after mastering those skills. A Level 2 or Level 3 learner will require extra attention throughout the course. These learners will need individual coaching to get their blog started, and constant reminders to ensure participation. On the other hand, instructors can take advantage of the Level 4 learners – they make excellent informal coaches and advocates for the technologies you are utilizing.

Another new design framework made possible by Learning 2.0 is the extension of learning beyond a single event. The technology allows an eight-hour course to be delivered in eight one-hour blocks once a week over two months. Blogs and wikis allow the discussion to continue in the time between class sessions. Podcasts and RSS deliver content to the learners in measured doses, keeping the information fresh in their minds. Although this requires more forethought from designers, the greater granularity allows for better retention rates and deeper learning.

In this granular world, classroom time is maintained or reduced but the number of interactions between learner and content increases. Learners have more contexts around the content, and more chances for cognitive rehearsal to reinforce understanding. Where learners are learning from each other as well as the experts, designers must include more opportunities both to check for understanding, and to provide remediation to prevent the introduction of errors. All of these events should be consciously designed to provide the most efficient learning. This new format is novel for now, but the learning curve is not much different than that of traditional instructional design.

Instructor: the Learning 2.0 classroom is familiar but different

While designers are busy constructing more chunks, instructors assume a modified role as well. The talking heads of our industry have been preparing us for this shift for years, however. Remember the tired phrase from countless training conferences, “Now you’re not the Sage on the Stage, but the Guide on the Side?” Web 2.0 tools finally make this transition possible. In fact, some instructors are already onto the next evolutionary step, the “Community Manager,” whose role is cultivating a thriving community around one or more areas of learning.

These are the challenges facing instructors: increased workloads, unfamiliar technology, loss of sensory feedback, and uncomfortable learners. For instructors there will be familiar rituals, but many changes in both their role and their responsibilities.

Let’s start with the similarities. An instructor is still responsible for the agenda, classroom setting, pacing delivery, setting and completing objectives, making rules, and refereeing interactions between learners. The instructor must still create a friendly social environment that encourages both learning and participation, and that provides a safe place to practice new skills. Instructors are still expected to know their subjects, to be ready to educate learners on the important points, and to be seen as a subject matter expert (in perception if not in fact). These expectations are well known to both instructors and learners accustomed to the physical classroom.

The challenges come in several forms. The workload for instructors is often higher for Learning 2.0 courses. Pre-course planning and preparation time is more important and more involved. The lack of well-established expectations for this new medium and framework presents another challenge. Learners, faced with strange surroundings and possibly unfamiliar technology, will look to the instructor to set the bar for online behavior both in synchronous sessions and in their timely and consistent participation in asynchronous interactions. Instructors must be prepared to troubleshoot technological issues. With more granular learning, instructors must allow more latitude for learners to chart their own learning path through the content.

In addition, new technologies must be integrated into the instructor’s toolkit. This may present the biggest challenge for a classroom instructor used to “winging it.” Well-adapted to relying on visual cues and sensory-fueled intuition to read the learners and subtly adjust the pace of delivery, a classroom instructor is in a virtual sensory deprivation chamber in the Learning 2.0 world. The instructor must be able to use the technology without conscious thought in order to read the “body language in the bandwidth,” as virtual classroom expert Jennifer Hofmann puts it. With learners relying on the instructor for cues on how to use the technology, an instructor must be self-assured and confident in the use of the various tools at your disposal. Any hesitation with the technology will damage credibility with those reluctant participants who are already looking for a reason why this won’t work.

Finally, the instructor must be a constant communicator. Communication is the glue holding Learning 2.0 together. An instructor must strike a delicate balance between dominating the direction of the group discussion and allowing enough freedom of the discussions so learners are open to participation. The instructor’s role in the classroom is changing, but Learning 2.0 still needs talented instructors to make it all work.


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