Egg > Chicken Content vs. Objectives

chickeneggsm.jpg

Artwork by E. Kilkenny

Question for Instructional Designers out there (and others who develop learning materials)… have you ever encountered the following situations?

  • SITUATION A: You work with the Content/Subject Matter Experts (CE’s and SME’s) to develop objectives for a course. You have the course files and printable materials created and developed and in the eleventh hour, one of the SME declares that you must add additional questions that he/she drafted to the final exam. In addition, they have drafted additional tables and content which don’t appear to align with any of the learning or performance objectives.
  • SITUATION B: The SME’s or developers of the content through a great deal of content (which requires the student to re-call information) rather than practice or perform tasks. Moreover they just want to throw content out to the learners. There is little or no thought to what a successful learner (looks/behaves like). Just put the stuff out there they insist must be in the course. The learners must ‘know’ everything.

The Fast Food Approach:

Both situations seem indicative of a “Fast Food Approach”to developing training. It seems that I’ve worked with so many groups who seem to feel that the “Fast Food Approach” to learning is the only option they have (we’re so ‘busy’ we don’t have time for anything else). It’s much easier to take the seemingly easier and quicker path to develop training. It’s faster than taking the time to build out your business process around the tasks you wish to train to or to determine the expected behaviors and proficiencies (for the learner). Practitioners of the “Fast Food” method seem to cling to the following options when it comes to developing learning content:

  • Content Dump – Dump as much content and theory on them as possible. Build the learning objectives around the content. While understanding the breadth of the content might provide a good start, just developing the lessons and objectives around content is just like mixing random ingredients into a bowl without considering what kind of cake you want and how big you want it to be.
  • Lecture (Passive Learning) -We don’t have the time to develop anything past lecturing (PowerPoint)
  • Give them job aids! – Job aids are GOOOOOOOOOD. Job aids are easy to develop and they seem satisfied with them (the problem with this is that most job aids teach to linear processes. No way to help them understand how to troubleshoot)

In conversations with some of my fellow instructional designers, I posited that perhaps the inclination to develop lessons around knowledge content for passive learning stems from the fact that it’s a more familiar and easy approach to developing training. It’s familiar because generations of people who were ‘formally’ educated relied on the rote memorization approach for learning materials. Easier to develop because it’s often easier to go with what you know (content) rather than how to develop the content best around the learner’s needs.

Possible Remedies to the Fast Food Approach:

If you’re developing training around a systems change or business process… Map out what the successful process is like. Determine the ‘key’ performance objectives of each of the players involved in that system.

If you’re developing training around expected performance goals … (Example: we want the learner to be proficient at writing an expository essay or we want the learner be proficient at writing a differentiated instruction lesson plan). Determine what the successful behavior looks like. List the major skills/knowledge needed to achieve this behavior/performance. Determine if these skills/knowledge are terminal or enabling. Determine if there are additional enabling objectives necessary for achieving the terminal ones. Order those skills and knowledge objectives (if necessary) in the order which is needed to accomplish the tasks or demonstrate the behaviors successfully.

Benefits of NOT following “The Fast Food Approach”:

  • If performance/behaviors are measurable you can align your evaluation and assessment to track if learning results in successful performance
  • You won’t be wandering around the desert of Training Design Revisions for forty years
  • You have a solid outline for developing sound training content – Note: that along the way you might discover that some of the objectives can change, especially after you’ve done a pilot test of your training. Sometimes simply the Instructional Designer or the SME might find that they missed something that they need to revisit. However, I’ve found that when you have strongly thought out and well-authored objectives as a guide you don’t have to deal with SME’s or stakeholders adding content willy-nilly.
  • The training content fits the needs of the learners and isn’t just driven by the knowledge held by the experts.  I’d like to cover this in a future post, but lately, I’ve been feeling that most of lecture-based content is so instructor-centered rather than learner centered.  Let’s face it when you’re teaching on-line spending hours lecturing or presenting content just doesn’t cut it anymore. The students might as well have a book.
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