Jesse Lee Eller: Mapping the Way to Successful Learner-Centric Design

June 2, 2014

Many of us try to open doors for learners. Jesse Lee Eller, a trainer-teacher-learner whose instructional-design efforts always strive to keep learners front and center in the process, uses those doors in a somewhat different way: to create low-tech high-impact storyboarding maps that keep all of us who are working with him on track in our collaborative instructional-design efforts.

“I’m a visual learner,” he explained when he recently introduced me to his innovative way of assuring that learners remain at the center of all that we do together. “These charts help me keep track of everything we’re doing.”

Eller--Door[1]--2014-05-20Eller’s tools to sketch flexible first-draft storyboards of learning modules are wonderfully simple. He starts with a blank door in his studio/apartment, post-it notes, felt pens, and, when the process advances a bit, pieces of tape and large sheets of paper that most of us more frequently use as flip-chart paper with sticky backing. In the early stages of the process, he prints out text from Word documents provided by his subject matter experts, cuts the text into pieces that can be taped to his door to show where they will be incorporated into online lessons under development, and places post-it notes with questions he expects to address as he completes his part of the instructional-design process for online learning modules.

Once he has arranged and rearranged the notes on a door, he begins to formalize and reassemble the map he is creating by transferring it onto the pages of flip-chart paper that are connected into a continuous top-to-bottom sheet to be hung on those same doors and shared with his instructional-design partners.

What helps maintain the focus in his design process are the headings he jots onto those top-to-bottom sheets reflecting his own commitments to facilitating learning and supporting learners: “Hook ME! Get my attention,” “What Do We Already Know?”, “Where Are We Going? (What’s in It for Me?)”, “New Info,” “Example/Show Me!,” “Assessment,” and “Summary.” Those headings provide the working space for efforts that eventually produce storyboards to be used by his partners creating online videos and other instructional materials. And this is where the process begins to feel familiar, for the headings unintentionally mirror several of the nine “events of instruction” that Robert Gagné outlines in The Conditions of Learning (p. 304): “Gaining and controlling attention,” “Informing the learner of expected outcomes,” “Stimulating recall of relevant prerequisite capabilities,” “Presenting the stimuli inherent to the learning task,” “Offering guidance for learning,” “Appraising performance,” and “Insuring retention.”

Engaging with Eller and his instructional-design door hangings can be wonderfully stimulating. Where many of us understand and apply the guidelines that Gagné and others have provided, Eller’s questions and prompts continually remind us that we need to foster engagement with learners if we’re going to serve our learners well. Seeing that reminder to “Hook ME!” consistently reminds us that if we don’t immediately provide an engaging invitation to the learning experiences we are preparing, our learners will see our products as just another set of exercises to complete, set aside, and forget the moment they have completed a lesson. “Hook ME!” provides one of the most important reminders we can receive at any stage of learning development: we’re writing to an audience we need to keep in mind; that audience has plenty of competing calls for its attention; and we must be competitive in attracting members of that audience to what they, those for whom they work, and those they ultimately serve in their workplaces expect us to facilitate—meaningful, useful, and memorable learning experiences.

Eller--Door[2]--2014-05-20It takes a bit of time to completely appreciate how flexible and useful Eller’s system actually is. Looking at the text and post-it notes on the doors throughout his studio immediately and implicitly reminds us that the early stages of storyboarding require lots of thinking and rethinking, so the convenience of being able to move blocks of text and comments on post-it notes around keeps us from locking ourselves into a specific plan of action too early in the design process. Moving those blocks of text, notes, and headings onto large sheets of paper that can be hung on doors or walls moves us a bit closer to developing a useable roadmap for the learning experiences we are crafting; it also proves to be amazing resilient as a way of making information available to others: collaborators working with Eller in his studio can easily contribute to the process by moving elements around on the sheets of paper; those who are responsible for transferring those rough drafts into PowerPoint slides to further finesse the storyboarding process can physically carry the rolled-up sheets to paper to their own offsite workspaces. And those of us who don’t have time to visit Eller’s studio to retrieve the rolled-up sheets of paper can access them through digital photos Eller quickly takes and forwards as email attachments. Having seen one of those door-hung maps and becoming familiar with the instructional-design process it represents, most of us can easily keep one sample in our own workspace and use it to format text provided by subject-matter experts for other learning modules.

The door-hangings that Eller and those of us collaborating with him are using may not replace the posters, photographs, and artwork we hang to stimulate our creativity in our workspaces. But creating and developing those rudimentary and flexible storyboard templates upon our doors provides an effective reminder that doors to learning can be used in many different creative ways to serve our learners well.


eLearning Guild: Big Answers to “Social Media in Learning” Questions We Should Be Asking

September 14, 2012

There’s a marriage waiting to be made in heaven for trainer-teacher-learners reading learning technology innovator Ben Betts’ Social Learning: Answers to Eight Crucial Questions, published this week by the eLearning Guild.

In his concluding remarks within the 36-page document (available free of charge to paying members of the Guild), he reminds us that social learning “usually means a learner being more active in the [learning] experience, connecting, creating, and curating ideas.” He also suggests that our “role as learning professionals” may be undergoing a shift from “creating simple and accessible learning resources” to “curating content that already exists.”

It’s a theme that was discussed among colleagues a couple of years ago at an American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) conference—we were acknowledging the fact that we had created so much content that users were having trouble locating and accessing it. The theme is also an essential element in the shifting responsibilities colleagues are assuming in libraries all over the country. Which leads me to think that if members of library staff continue to more fully embrace lifelong learning as part of their natural responsibilities and services—it’s a commitment that already exists in the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Strategic Plan, where the need “to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all”  is part of the organization’s mission statement, and in ASTD, where the mission is to “empower professionals to develop knowledge and skills successfully”—we could be looking at very effective partnerships between library staff and members of ASTD itself since we’re all working toward the same goal: meeting an overwhelming need for effective learning opportunities in an onsite-online world where those who stop learning will be left behind.

Betts, in Social Learning, does a fantastic job of helping us frame the discussion as to how we can better meet a tremendous need. The questions he asks focus on needs and results and set a positive context by beginning with the question “What Is Social Learning?”; continuing with questions about the benefits of social learning and business risks of leveraging social learning; and moving through a review of existing frameworks, ways to generate value from social learning, tools of social learning, measuring success in social learning, and our own roles in the field.

By the time we have completed this wonderfully inspiring and straightforward journey with him, we’re in a position to see that the instructional/learning and information-management skills required of workplace learning and performance (staff training) practitioners and library staff have never been more overlapping. It’s as if this need to combine learning, information sharing/literacy, and content curation is priming us for a merger of ASTD and ALA into an International Society for Training, Learning, Information Literacy, and Content Creation/Curation (although I have to admit that the acronym doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue—ASTLILCCC?—and may need a bit of work even as a Twitter hashtag).

Betts is very effective in helping us understand what already is in place—social learning (learning that is not entirely dependent on formal teacher-trainer-instructors) is hardly a new concept or practice—and what is changing (social learning, he suggests, has been co-opted by members of the e-learning industry to be about “how we learn from one another via digital devices”). But there’s no denying the positive role social learning plays whether we are discussing online, face-to-face, or blended learning. Collaborative/social learning clearly produces positive results for the learners and those they ultimately serve, as he consistently documents throughout his report, and social learning augments formal learning in addition to supporting professional learning and individual’s self-organized learning endeavors.

He reminds his readers that effective social learning, like any form of effective learning, starts with efforts to assure that “your approach makes sense” within the context in which we are designing and implementing it. He suggest that we pay equal attention to the people we are serving, the objectives we are establishing, the strategies we will use, and whatever technology will help us foster the social-learning endeavors we are implementing.

In attempting to generate value, we are encouraged by Betts to engage in instructional scaffolding—“creating a supporting framework for learners to gradually grow in confidence in a new area until they are fully able to support themselves.” And he reminds us that we are building toward success if we use social media tools our learners already use and like rather than trying to develop new tools that learners will only reluctantly embrace, if at all.

“Perhaps it should come as no surprise that workplace uptake of social technologies has been slow when most of us can’t use the tools we’d prefer,” he says near the end of the report, offering a learning nugget that ought to be plastered all over the physical and virtual walls of every trainer-teacher-learners’ workspace to help keep us on track toward fostering effective learning.

He brings us to a strong conclusion by suggesting that we engage in a collaborative learning cycle: design for performance improvement; support existing communities; create, source, and curate resources; leverage appropriate technologies; champion effective social learning; and measure and prove impact.

If those of us who are not already seamlessly moving between libraries and other learning organizations are inspired to reach across the aisle by what Betts writes, we may help bring to fruition the wonderful goal ASTD has so consistently proposed: “creating a world that works better.”


E-learning Professionals in the Learner’s Seat

November 16, 2011

Those of us involved in preparing and providing e-learning opportunities are also pretty happy consumers of learning opportunities, Patti Shank confirms in her latest report for the eLearning Guild (eLearning Degrees and Credentials: Needs of the eLearning Professional, published in August 2011 and available online free of charge to Guild members).

Reporting on responses from more than 500 Guild members, Shank tells us that four out of five respondents recommended the academic and certification programs they have pursued or are pursuing, and “[t]he vast majority of the respondents were happy with their programs” (p. 15).

In the larger context of her topic, Shank leads us through the needs and motivations of e-learning designers and providers; calls our attention to certification programs including ASTD’s Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) designation and others; and looks at current and desired job responsibilities for those pursuing degrees and certifications.

“One of the major conclusions of this report is that both credentials and skills are important to respondents,” she writes (p. 21), with the additional warning that “If you’re complaining that people are talking about technologies that you think couldn’t possibly be used for learning and don’t know the lingo that others are using, you’re in the danger zone. That’s not a good place to be for eLearning professionals.”

The motivations are clear: nearly a third of the respondents work in instructional design and want to advance their careers in instructional/educational technology, while another third of the respondents listed instructional design as an area of study. A much smaller group works in instruction/teaching/training/coaching (14%), and only 10% of the respondents listed instruction/teaching/training/coaching as a desired job responsibility—less than the 15% who said they “desire to be Independent Consultants or Executive Management” (p. 8).

Shank offers the useful reminder that “you’re unlikely to learn everything in the eLearning field in one degree program. Many people attend multiple programs, such as obtaining a Master’s degree and a Certificate of Skills, for this exact reason” (p. 10). And she warns that “keeping their skills fresh is a moving target” (p. 10).

Which, of course, reinforces for so many of us the idea that we need to see ourselves as trainer-teacher-learners if we want not only to keep up with those who rely on us for continuing education, but also if we want to excel at what we do in a world where those who take a break are liable to find ourselves facing an even steeper learning curve than we would if we simply incorporated all three elements of our work into our day-to-day routines.


Char Booth: Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, and a USER at the Center of the Process

March 30, 2011

Doctors have medical school and residencies. Attorneys have law school. And trainers have…well, those involved in workplace learning and performance often have little more than a nudge from a supervisor or a colleague and the command to go show someone how to do something that they should have known yesterday.

Char Booth—a writer, teacher, trainer, librarian, and colleague whom I very much admire—documented a small piece of this too-familiar picture through a survey she completed: “…only about a third of those who regularly teach and train in libraries completed education-related coursework during their MLS [Master of Library Science] studies, only 16 percent of which was required. Strikingly, over two-thirds of these instruction librarians felt that their LIS education underprepared them to teach…”

“Many library educators,” she continued, “are involved in instruction on a part-time basis and therefore lack the immersive challenge that allows other educators to develop skills quickly and keep current and engaged”—a situation that applies to a far larger group than those providing training for library staff or library users, as a phone call from a non-library colleague who is about to face her own first group of learners without any formal training in how to help others learn reminded me this afternoon.

Booth has done more than simply document a problem affecting trainers, teachers, and learners. By writing Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators, she has created a first-rate resource for those new to training, teaching, and learning. The book is an engaging, concise, and welcome guide to creating engaging learning experiences for learners of all ages, and it’s a tremendous gift not only to those inexperienced trainers and teachers who are about to work with their first groups of learners, but also to anyone wanting a first-rate survey of key instructional design techniques and learning styles.

Furthermore, Booth introduces her own variation on the familiar ADDIE—Analysis, Development Design, Implementation, and Evaluation—model through her four-step USER—Understand, Structure, Engage, and Reflect—model that, through its name, continually reminds us who we are working to reach through formal and informal learning opportunities.

Among the real gems in Booth’s work is the fourth chapter, “A Crash Course in Learning Theory.” An introductory paragraph at the beginning of the chapter helps ground us in our field of play: “The first major modern school of educational thought—behaviorism—investigated animal responses to different kinds of stimuli…which inspired the common practice of providing positive reinforcement for correct answers. A second school of thought—cognitivism—explores the capacities of human memory, which inspires teaching and design techniques that reflect the brain’s information processing abilities. The most recent school—constructivism—explores the effects of individual perception and the social environment, which have led to more collaborative and self-directed learning strategies” (p. 36). And she circles back to the theme at the beginning of the next chapter with a critically important reminder that leaves us grounded rather than confused: “It is not necessarily desirable to choose one theoretical model over another” (p. 50).

She leads us through the “ten transformational trends in educational technology” surveyed by Curtis Bonk, author of The World Is Open: “web searching in the world of e-books, e-learning and blended learning, availability of open-source and free software, leveraged resources and open courseware, learning object repositories and portals, learner participation in open information communities, electronic collaboration, alternate-reality learning, real-time mobility and portability, and networks of personalized learning” (p. 72). And she follows that with an introduction to Robert Gagné’sseries of principles that link all design models”: “Design is more about improving learning than improving teaching…Learning is a process influenced by many factors…The design approach can be tailored to fit different learning scenarios…Design is iterative—it informs itself in an ongoing cycle…Design is a process consisting of steps and substeps…Different learning goals call for different instructional approaches…” (p. 86).

As she moves into an explanation of her newly developed USER model, she leads us to a helpful structure designed to produce effective learning: “In the USER method, goals focus you on your instructional role; objectives organize content into activities and content units; and outcomes describe how participants are substantively different because of the knowledge they have gained,” she writes (p.118).

Booth’s approach never loses sight of the fact that we are well served both by having formal learning models from which we can draw and also by remembering that not every learning opportunity requires that we engage in every step of an instructional design assessment, development, delivery, and evaluation process. “More than anything, it should remind you to teach simply, reflectively, and with the learner at the center,” she reminds us (p. 94).  The overall message she delivers is that “reflective and design-minded teaching leads to effective, learner-centered instruction. Librarians are redefining our value in a changing information paradigm, and it is essential that we perceive the role of education in this process” (p. 151)—a goal that any teacher-trainer-learner is likely to embrace.


E-Learning Innovations, Lori Reed, and Destination Learning

January 28, 2010

We seem, in many ways, to be in a training-teaching-learning renaissance. The stunning burst of creativity among workplace learning and performance practitioners—what we colloquially and inadequately call “trainers”—is virtually nonstop, exhilarating, and just plain fun to watch.

Experimentation with ways to deliver effective online learning is abundant, and Lori Reed, a close colleague and cherished co-writer who serves as Learning & Development Coordinator for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (among other things), has just provided another wonderful example of where we might and should be going.

Like Beth Harris and Steven Zucker at Smarthistory.org, Reed has started with a blog and innovatively manipulated it to create a visually attractive and dynamic website (“Destination Learning”) offering numerous learning opportunities which are available to us at the moment we need them and in a format which makes them incredibly easy to navigate.

If you’re looking for well reasoned and heartfelt writing—the centerpiece of any great blog–she consistently meets your expectations by delivering pieces like her introductory posting on the new site, where she considers her transition from thinking and working on training to “focusing more on the end result—performance and answering the question of how…we improve the services and quality of service we provide to our customers.”

Those in search of other training-teaching-learning resources will find plenty on her Curriculum Vitae page, where links to published articles, educational presentations, and webinars are included among the standard background information about her own skills and expertise.

But what is most innovative here is something rarely seen on blogs, which often become dumping grounds rather than useable repositories of retrievable resource because of inconsistent or non-existent tagging or other clues as to what resides within the site. Reed’s archives begin with the sort of admirably simple and user-centric set of explanations great trainers provide:

“Categories are sorted alphabetically.

“Hierarchical categories are grouped and indented under their parent category.

“Reports are listed once only, under the category they are first shown.

“A count (in brackets) is given of comments received against individual reports.

“The number of reports under each category is given (in brackets) after each category name. “Reports may be filed under more than one category and are included in the total for all categories under which they are filed, but are not included in a parent category’s total.”

We then find ourselves on familiar ground via an alphabetized index, by category, to every piece posted on the blog. If we are looking for articles about customer service, we easily find them grouped under that heading. The same is true for “instructional design,” “learning,” “learning 2.0,” “online learning,” and a variety of other topics. Simply clicking on any of those headings leads you to the titles of various articles she has written on those topics, and each title provides a direct link to the individual piece.

What we have here, therefore, is the same sort of creative hybrid available on the Smart History website: a living, constantly evolving, and free-ranging combination of a traditional printed work on a broad topic; a wiki (via readers’ comments); a blog; and a knowledge management system providing learning opportunities at the moment of need. In other words, a masterful lesson by a master trainer on how to master the organization of information in a compelling and assessable fashion for all trainer-teacher-learners.

Let’s see how long it takes the rest of us to catch up.


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