This week I’m returning to one of the themes from the FETC conference I attended back in January. (Don’t remember what FETC stands for? Look at last Tuesday’s blog.) That theme was centered around the recognition that traditional face-to-face training does not work anymore. Several speakers addressed this issue in different ways, but it all comes down to the fact that people only remember a small percentage of the facts that they hear during an oral presentation or training session. Sorry, I don’t remember what that percentage was J.
Ok, all kidding aside, we have been in the digital age now for at least two decades, longer for some people, but we still rely on printed books and lectures to transfer most knowledge. That statement remains true no matter whether we are talking about our schools or training in your job. If you look in on any classroom, you will see some people working on something on their laptops (or more recently their tablets). Some might be texting, perhaps about the game last night or where to go for lunch. A few might be staring out the window or looking around the room obviously disinterested in the topic being discussed by the presenter. And if the presenter turns down the lights in the room to begin a PowerPoint presentation, you probably won’t need to wait long for the sound of snoring from that person in the back corner. The sad fact is that this is true no matter whether you observe a school classroom, a college lecture hall, or a company training room.
Then when it comes time to apply the lessons learned in these classes, many of the people who have supposedly been trained fail. Who is blamed? The instructor is of course. They must not be effective. Hardly ever do people think about the effectiveness of the delivery method. In fact, in training centers and classrooms around the country, blackboards have been replaced by whiteboards which have been replaced with smart boards. With all of this money spend on technology, has education really improved? The problem is, as Heidi Hayes Jacobs as Executive Director of the Curriculum Mapping Institute and President of Curriculum Designers, Inc., says, “People do dumb things with smart boards.” The point she was trying to make is that merely adding technology to the training process does not guarantee success. Rather it is more important to consider how we use technology as part of the training process.
Think about the last several times you attended a training class. Compare how much you got out of the training class if you merely sat and listened to someone talk as opposed to a class which either used individual or group participation in activities that applied some of the principals that were being taught. I’m sure you all agree that computer training classes that involve hands-on labs greatly aid your understanding of the material. However, I ask you to think about the ‘feeling’ of a class which merely asks you to follow a lab step by step with every action you need to perform listed in a nice numbered list. Compare that to a class in which you individually or within a group solve a series of ‘problems’ using some of the material covered and develop your own solutions to those problems.
One of the presenters suggested that one reason that classes are not more interactive is that even the presenter has limited knowledge of the tool or technology being taught. They may know how to follow the steps required for the exercises, but little else. When questions arise outside of their knowledge area, they either fake an answer or try to side step the question. How much more effective would the training be if the instructor simply said, ‘I don’t know, but let’s find out.’ Then either together with the group they might try different solutions, research the question on the Internet, or perhaps even assign the research to the person asking the question to report back to the group the next day (or meeting period). Heidi asks, ‘Who owns the learning?’ It should be the students in the class, not the instructor. Everyone can take ownership of their own learning by researching the answer to any topic by going to the Internet to ‘Google it’ or ‘Bing it’. This leads to a level of independence and control over your own learning that never existed in prior generations. Furthermore, technology makes it easy to collaborate with others around the world who may be trying to learn the same thing you are. They may have insights that you never thought of. You may even get a chance to talk to experts in your field of study. But most importantly, the knowledge you can discover will be current, not stale like knowledge recorded in paper books or in binders. When it comes to books, think of e-textbooks as having the ability to be constantly updated rather than limited to what was known on a topic 5, 10, or even 20 years ago.
How we use technology is more important that the specific technology we use. Do you really know how to use all of the features of your current technology? How many people don’t know all of the features of even their cell phone, much less their home or work computer or the applications they have? The presenters challenged the attendees to learn at least one new thing every day. There are lots of resources on the Internet to do that. So why not start today?
One of the problems with all of this is: Change. People generally resist change, a topic I covered back on November 2, 2011. However, I submit to you that change is only scary when it is forced upon you. If you take control over your ability to learn new things, you can control change and vanquish that scary monster that is keeping you from being all that you can be. If you teach classes, think of how you can use technology to give the students a greater opportunity to take control over their own learning through labs, group work, research projects, etc. Pose questions and ask individuals or groups to research the answer and report back to the group either verbally or with a demonstration, video, or an interactive lab exercise. If you are providing training at a company, challenge them to find ways to apply what they learned back at their job. Give them time to ‘brag’ about their successes to their peers. That can spur others on to their own success as well.
In all of this, keep in mind that you do not own the learning for someone else. Only they can own their learning. Your goal is simply to engage them to learn more on their own than you have time to cover for them in your class. That is when true learning occurs.