ID and Course Reflections

CECS 5210 has been an enlightening journey. Working with a real client to solve a real problem through instructional design has enabled me to learn the following things:

  1. Things rarely go as planned. I had set some lofty goals for myself during the first meeting with my client. What first began as an online course with different modules for front desk training (scheduling appointments, answering phones, verifying insurance), clinical training (taking case history, performing a visual field, applying insurance benefits to contact lens purchases), and optical training (frame styling, lens options, applying insurance benefits to glasses purchases) quickly turned into an online course for just lens options alone. What first began as an online course in SmartBuilder quickly turned into a built-from-scratch website with Captivate presentations and activities.
  2. It’s important to be flexible. With things rarely going as planned, it’s important to be flexible. I had originally decided to build a SmartBuilder course because it was a free authoring tool that also offered free hosting. But after spending an entire day trying to learn how to use SmartBuilder (and not getting very far), I realized that I should probably invest this time learning an authoring tool that a large majority of companies like to use: Adobe Captivate. The $299 price tag for the student edition was money well spent. I was able to learn the program much more quickly since I was already proficient in other Adobe products, and I was able to quickly produce presentations and activities. (Being able to add Adobe Captivate to my resume was another bonus, too, of course.)
  3. If a topic of instruction is new to a designer, he or she must perform a great deal of research to create effective instruction. Due to my inexperience, I greatly underestimated the time it would take me to create an online course on lens options because it took me a lot longer than I anticipated to learn about all of the different lens options. The more I learned the more I realized that there was a lot left to learn. As I learned about the purpose of each lens option, I realized that the optometric assistants also had to understand the availability of lens options; how to select them based on a patient’s prescription, preferences, hobbies, and daily activities; how to properly communicate the lens options based on the patient’s personality type; and how to calculate the pricing. I could not create meaningful practice activities without learning about each of these aspects first.
  4. The client often takes longer than you like to respond. Regardless of who the client is, it is likely that he or she has many urgent priorities and that answering your email for a training project isn’t one of them. My subject matter expert for this project, for example, is an office manager for a busy optometric practice. Being the omniscient one of the office, she’s constantly having to put out fires, addressing employee and patient issues and managing vendors. Even though she would love an online training course for lens options as soon as possible, answering one of my emails just isn’t at the top of her priority list. Who has the time to answer an email when a disgruntled patient is standing right in front of her? They’ve lived without the training for years already; how could putting it off a little longer hurt? Fortunately, the instructor of our class is very understanding. She warned us from the very beginning that we should try to accommodate the client’s schedule as much as possible, and that she would work with us to iron out any kinks. One meeting with my subject matter expert helped me see exactly how busy she (and the office) really was. With her working well over forty hours a week, I did not want to add to her stress at all. In the end, we agreed that quick meetings and phone calls instead of emails worked best, and the plethora of information available online helped reduce the number of questions I had to ask her.

Armed with the lessons learned from this class’s two instructional design projects, I’m ready for more. What does CECS 5211 (Instructional Systems Design II) have in store for me? I’ll keep you posted.

Designing Instruction

Designing instruction is a lot like writing. You must take into account a topic, an audience, and a purpose to construct a work of art with the right language. When the elements are orchestrated well, the audience walks away changed. Such a task requires empathy, foresight, resourcefulness, organization, a passion for learning, and a strong understanding of how people learn.

In order to meet the needs of a learner, you must understand the learner and see where the learner is coming from. Empathy allows you to place yourself in the learner’s shoes, so that you can reduce the chances of boredom or miscommunication. Instruction with forced audio and no skip button, for example, may frustrate learners who already know the material and want to skip forward to a more unfamiliar section. Multiple-choice questions are too often written with no empathy. Take this example provided by Vanderbilt University. The writer considers answer choice D to be correct, but answer choices A, B, and C could also be considered correct by some since a cell with 46 chromosomes also contains 12, 18, and 32 chromosomes.

Foresight is required to prepare for the unexpected. Technology may fail during a lesson, or an activity may be too simple for a particular audience. Having the foresight to incorporate flexibility can prevent wasted time and money. Resourcefulness is another time and money saver. With projects commonly having tight deadlines and budgets, instructional designers must be able to use what they are given to create the maximum effect.

Although pictures, audio, and videos can enliven a piece of instruction, they can be distracting and nonsensical as well. An organized approach to designing instruction ensures that all of the necessary elements (e.g., the content, the practice activities, and the feedback) are there and aligned with the goal(s).

A passion for learning enables instructional designers to gain the knowledge and skill themselves, and a strong understanding of how people learn enables them to pass them on.  I have worked with writers and instructional designers who do not take the time to learn the process themselves, and the result is an inaccurate product of no use that can only be resolved with several more rounds of feedback and revisions (and several more rounds of frustration and waste).  As Herbert A. Milliken states in his paper on “The State Certification of Music-Teachers,” “one cannot teach without knowledge, but many cannot teach who have it.”

Let us salute all of the instructional designers out there who manage to constantly learn new things and create effective learning with empathy, foresight, resourcefulness, and organization. Corporate America needs you!

Self-Regulation

The second half of CECS 5210 has been a bit less structured. Although the class schedule lists tasks for each week, no major assignments are due each week to ensure that my classmates and I are on track for having the final project finished by the end of the semester. As a result, we are having to self-regulate more.

Online graduate courses, in general, require self-regulated learning. There is no instructor (and no parent) checking in with you every day or even every week to ensure that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. That job is yours alone. You are paying a hefty sum to take a course and learn, and if you do not want to waste the money, you must plan your own learning schedule, monitor your learning, and evaluate whether learning is taking place. If learning isn’t taking place, it is up to you to change your strategy and seek help when necessary. Only then can goals and objectives be met.

Communication is essential during self-regulated learning. You must communicate with yourself and really think about where you are, where you need to be, and how to get there. You must convince yourself to sit down at a computer after work to make progress on a class project, even though you would like nothing more than to plop down on a couch and watch television. You have to convince yourself to curl up with an article for class instead of a fictional novel. And if an assignment doesn’t make sense, self-regulated learners need to communicate with peers and instructors to get clarification. Open communication lines (e.g., checking and responding to email regularly and in a timely manner, taking time to reflect) and an organized approach facilitate communication, whereas unavailability and inconsistent, unorganized, incoherent directions impede communication and cause frustration.

As instructional designers and educators, we likely have a knack for self-regulated learning. We know what it takes to make something stick and we have the motivation to do what it takes. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be where we are today.  As Daniel Pink so eloquently summarizes in his talk at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), “there are three factors that the science shows lead to the better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery and purpose.” CECS 5210 is giving us the autonomy and purpose to solve the real-life problem of a real-life client so that we can gain the mastery to solve instructional problems more efficiently and effectively.  I’m loving it!

Project A Reflection

Creating Project A was a lot more challenging than I expected it to be. I had no problems finding a client (I knew an optometrist who wanted help with creating training for the staff of his private practice), but I had trouble determining the appropriate amount of content to meet the limited time frame and getting the client to pinpoint exactly where training was needed. It took some digging. When asking my client what problems he was currently experiencing with his staff, he immediately said, “Consistency.” Trying to get him to go into detail and elaborate was a bit more difficult. Eventually, he summarized with, “Well, the training can be divided up into three areas, the reception area, the optical area, and the clinical area. We’re just having issues with having them consistently perform certain things, like remembering to walk the patient to the door, etc.” I immediately suggested that a checklist could solve that problem, and he said, “Well, we have a checklist, but for some reason, they’re not following it.”

At that point, I was unsure about what to do next, so when I saw the assignment instructions to create a three hour course for a client, I thought, “Okay, I’ll have my client narrow down what they need to nine topics (three for the optical, three for the clinical, and three for the reception) and I’ll continue to dig from there.” I naively thought I could easily create twenty-minute instruction on each topic. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

My first actual interview was with the Office Manager, the person who was in charge of training the employees. She wanted to begin with creating training for the optical area, since her employees were already performing well in the reception and clinical areas, and once we began determining the business goal for the optical, and what it would take to get there, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t have the time to create training on all three topics for the optical area, not to mention training for the reception and clinical areas. There were so many little topics in the overarching topic of lens options alone. I felt horrible after confessing this to my client and his Office Manager, but they seemed pretty understanding. At least we had narrowed down the topic to selecting and communicating lens options, and I knew that the Office Manager really wanted an online course so that she wouldn’t have to spend too much time training new hires and the current staff.

The online course quickly turned into an instructor-led course, however, when I realized how much information I had to learn about selecting and communicating lens options. In order to create effective instruction, I feel that I have to become comfortable with the content myself, so I took a great deal of time getting trained on the content, and the deadline approached way more quickly than I would have liked. How was I going to have the time to learn about selecting and communicating lens options and how to use Captivate in such a short amount of time? After all, it took me ten hours to simply create a job aid in Captivate (approximately 1/10th of the content I needed to address), not to mention an entire course. I got to the point where I had to wave the white flag again and admit to myself and my clients that I wasn’t going to be able to have an online course ready in a month with so many other responsibilities to attend to (e.g., another course, a family, a full-time job). So we agreed that I could create an instructor-led course for this first project and transform the course into an online course for the second project. (I am extremely fortunate to have found such a flexible and forgiving client.)

In the end, the instructor-led course turned out great. The staff thinks the job aids I’ve created are helpful, and they are being used regularly. But the implementation brought to light a couple of problems. First, my training failed to address the fact that certain options aren’t available in certain scenarios. For example, Transitions Extra Active and Transitions Vantage lens options are not available for Essilor 360 lenses with Hi-Index 1.74. There is an availability chart that optometric assistants are supposed to reference, and I did not learn about it during my research. Secondly, the optometric assistants need more practice with calculating what patients with Superior, Spectera, or EyeMed insurance would have to pay and more practice scenarios. I hope to address these issues in the online course I am creating for my second project for CECS 5210.

Method of Loci

For this week’s assignment in CECS 5210, we were asked to practice using the method of loci (or memory palace technique) to remember the four components of Wilson’s view of Situated Instructional Design. I’m a huge fan of the BBC show Sherlock, whose protagonist uses the mind palace technique to retrieve relevant facts and memories to solve cases, so I was excited to try out the technique myself.

At first, I had trouble with the assignment. Having to constantly open my eyes to look at the assignment instructions and what I had to memorize was repeatedly jarring to my relaxed state. And the examples provided in the assignment threw me off as well. I just couldn’t see how imagining “the faces of 20 people staring out from [my] front door at the top, hands holding a harmonica up to one of the faces to practice emerging from another spot on the door, while a piece of sheet music hovers in front of the door as an ‘outcome’” could help me remember “A learning community examines and negotiates its own values, desired outcomes, and acceptable conventions and practices.” But then I decided to instead imagine a group of people in my living room negotiating and the made-up word VOP (for values, outcomes, and practices), and my effectiveness with the technique improved from there.

Out of curiosity, I read some research articles on the method of loci. In an article titled “Effects of instruction on learners’ ability to generate an effective pathway in the method of loci,” Cristina Massen, Bianca Vaterrodt-Plunnecke, Lucia Krings, and Benjamin E. Hilbig (2009) present some interesting findings. For example, “it has been found that the method of loci is more effective for material that is presented orally rather than in a written format” (p. 725). (Based on the difficulties I had in memorizing the written components for this assignment, I agree that the experience would have been easier if I had had someone read aloud the components to me instead.) The results of the experiments conducted by the writers also showed that “recall performance was superior when participants were instructed to generate and apply loci on a path to their work as compared to loci on a path in the house” (p. 729). They hypothesize that these results may be due to greater distances or more distinctive qualities between items along the path to a workplace or due to a less complex pathway.

Another article titled “Looking for long-term mnemonic effects on serial recall: The legacy of Simonides” summarizes research performed by Alvin Y. Wang and Margaret H. Thomas (2000). Their study found that “students given mnemonic instruction and those who had generated their own spontaneous strategies retained more information than those who had engaged in maintenance rehearsal. There were no significant differences between the two mnemonic groups and the spontaneous strategy control group” (p. 335). Mnemonic instruction was provided on the method of loci and the pegword strategy; spontaneous strategies involved using spontaneous organizational or imagery-based techniques, such as making a story, using acronyms, or imagining the words as a picture; and maintenance rehearsal involved simply repeating what was being memorized over and over again. The results of this study led me to believe that I really wasn’t using the method of loci but the spontaneous strategy of imagining the words as a picture.

Regardless, I can definitely see the benefits of using such a cognitive activity to improve the acquisition of knowledge. Using metaphors, stories, or acronyms, for example, in an instructional design would greatly help facilitate the learning process. The brain retrieves information via associations, and if we as instructional designers can create more and more associations to help learners retrieve that information, then we are doing are job well.

References

Massen, C., Vaterrodt-Plunnecke, B., Krings, L., & Hilbig, B.E. (2009). Effects of instruction on learners’ ability to generate an effective pathway in the method of loci. Memory, 17(7), 724-731.

Wang, A. Y., & Thomas, M. H. (2000). Looking for long-term mnemonic effects on serial recall: The legacy of Simonides. American Journal of Psychology, 113, 331_340.

Instructional Design

I’ve been practicing instructional design for my entire professional career; I just didn’t realize it. As a teacher, I had to analyze the situation each day, design and develop a lesson, implement it, and then evaluate the lesson. The next day would depend on whether the goals were met the previous day. As a writer and editor for educational publishing companies, I did pretty much the same thing, but I wasn’t able to analyze the learners and their needs as effectively since the products were intended for a general audience. The companies that I worked for did not implement an evaluation process either, so I did not really have the opportunity to determine whether the instructional materials I created were effective, how they could be improved, which methodologies actually worked, etc.

The lack of analysis and evaluation felt wrong to me and led me to search for more meaningful work. I felt that it was more about the quantity rather the quality, what could sell instead of what actually worked. During my job search, I came across several job postings wanting instructional designers. The work sounded exactly like what I was doing as a writer and editor for an educational publishing company but with the analysis and evaluation processes incorporated.

As a test to see whether this field was for me, I read Julie Dirksen’s book, Design for How People Learn, and that’s what cinched it: I wanted to be an instructional designer. The field involves everything I love to do: writing, editing, designing with technology, learning, and teaching. And it places great emphasis on effective design practices and learning methodologies. Ever since then, I’ve been on a wonderful educational journey, learning more about those effective design practices and learning methodologies, the research that supports it all.

I’ve been able to learn more about what I’ve been doing right and wrong all these years and why. I’ve been able to meet with several subject matter experts, learn what they know, and then spread their knowledge with successful applications of instructional design. The entire analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation cycle is a lot more time-consuming than the design projects I performed early on in my career, but in the long run, I know it is still worth it, because what I am doing ensures that the instruction will actually work and be used more often. Instructional design is a fascinating field that will continue to grow as more and more organizations realize how much time and money effective instructional design saves. I am excited about its future and my future in it.

Analysis/Design

My analysis of my client, his training needs, and his learners’ needs have been enlightening. A visit with the client allowed me to learn about the history of the business, the learners, the learning environment, and the problems they are experiencing. Based on what we discussed, we agreed that this design project should focus on helping the business improve optical sales, which are currently down due to a lack of familiarity with lens options. There are several different lens options, each having its pros and cons. Remembering all of the information and then being able to match specific options with individual customer profiles is a challenge. I’m planning on improving existing job aids and creating an online training module to allow learners more practice with lens options information.

In brainstorming about which activities to include in the design of the lesson, I used Cathy Moore’s action mapping process. I began with the business goal:  to increase optical sales by ten to fifteen percent. Then I asked, “What do the learners need to do to meet this goal?” To increase sales, the learners must select the appropriate lens options based on a customer’s prescriptions, preferences, and daily activities and communicate the appropriate lens options based on the customer’s personality type.

According to the action mapping process, the next step is to design practice activities to go with each action. Therefore, I will be writing mini-scenarios, where learners will be able to practice applying lens options information to realistic situations requiring them to select and communicate appropriate lens options. Learners will have access to the actual job aids they will have access to in real occurrences, and the job aids will have the necessary information they need to succeed.

Analysis and design are interrelated. Although I am in the analysis phase, I am already envisioning the design process and how I can implement what I am imagining will solve the issues of my client. The design process cannot happen without an analysis, and an analysis is worthless without the design process. In designing the training, I may even realize that I need further analysis. As Piskurich (2006) states in Rapid Instructional Design, the instructional design process is “like a web with all of the aspects interconnected and leading to parts of each other” (xvii). The Information R/Evolution video describes the interconnectivity of the web well. Just as digital information is linked as a web, so is each phase of the instruction design process.

Piskurich, G. M. (2006). Rapid instructional design: Learning ID fast and right (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.