Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Course Design Steps

Now that we have covered the Analysis portion, we can get to the fun stuff: Design. Developing a course, in my mind, outlines the course content, builds the framework for the course, and gives the course it's shape. This is opposed to material development, which outlines the delivery methods used for the course material. What we will get to in another post.

Topic Layout
This section should be fairly simple if you have already built it into the task analysis portion. You need to plan each course module to be independent in it's delivery, and yet build upon a previously set foundation. Why? Because the reality with workplace learners, particularly adult learners, is that they have already gathered a specific basis of knowledge through experience. The problem is, poorly designed training modules can insult these learners and turn them off to any new concept that may augment their previously acquired experience. This is the heart of Andragogy, as opposed to pedagogy which is basicaly the same, but focuses more on delivering content instead of including the adult learner in the learning process.

Once you have your outline, start building your content lectures. Why so soon when you don't know how the content will be delivered? Because you need to have content first. I start with lectures because it's Auditory, and that's how I learn best. If you are a Visual learner, you can start with Powerpoint slides. Tactile learners can start with a series of projects that best outline how each topic will be handled. How ever you find it easiest to create the content, go for it. But keep in mind that you will be augmenting any learning material with addiional learning method content once you start the design stage.

Instructor Guide
The Instructor Guide is the outline that you will be following while teaching. Some like to have it outlined on 3x5 cards, some like to have the complete written lecture. Here is where you start to think about who will be teaching. I like to write out the lecture completely, much as you would expect from a text book, so that anyone with a reasonable amount off knowledge can both use it as a reference and teach the course. The guide method is entirely up to you, depending on who you expect will be teaching.

The Learner
I began with the outline that let's you choose how your content will be delivered. I specifically said that you could choose your delivery method you like best as long as you have some delivery material and have an idea of what will be taught. That's great! Now it's time to work in other learning methods.

There are three main learning methods that are best utilized: Visual, Auditory, and Tactile learners. let's look at each one in more detail:

Visual Learners
Visual learners like to be able to see it in action. They learn best from visual aids, representations, and pictorial or video representations of data. Often considered artistic, they focus on visually appealing materials. This means just using pictures and video isn't enough. You need to be sure that the display is clearly shown, that the layout is well created, and that you can work well with the display. Luckily, any slide show program can help in this department.

Auditory Learners
Auditory is often misunderstood as hearing and listening only. That's not true, as auditory learners are also able to assimilate written instructions very well. Often the auditory learner will take a book and learn how to do something through the book alone. Anyone that has gone through preparing for an exam without springing for the training class, and succeeded, would most likely be an auditory learner. Focus on written take-aways for these learners, as they will refer to the material long after your lecture has been forgotten.

Tactile Learners
Tactile learners require hands-on experience. In the past I have had trouble trying to appeal to this group of learners as most corporate training programs squeeze the time out of projects. If you can do so, always work a tactile project into the learning environment. It not only appeals to tactile learners, but also gives an excellent self-evaluation method for all learners there. Make sure you have the tools available, and if you don't try to get the test environment as close to the real experience as possible.

Yes, now you can start looking at testing. As mentioned before, testing needs to be as close to the real life experience as possible to be effective, though other methods have been utilized in the past. If you have any limitations here, you may want to look at virtual representations so as to minimize risk to your current system. But also look at alternatives that may be ideal for assessment in comphrension, and not just skill.

Instructor Dictated Learning
Lectures, reading material, and demonstrations are pretty much one way, as they only dictate material to the learner. But it's also the most common method of training, allowing for swift deployment of your modules. If you are worried about speed over complete comprehension, these methods are perhaps for you.

Instructor and Learner Directed learning
There are a number of ways to involve the learner in the learning process, which mostly focuses on discussons that are lead by the instructor. The topic is presented, the learners are given time to research, and then come together to discuss what they have found. Some of my favorite high school teachers employed this method while teaching their classes. Why is it so important? Because the learner is given the illusion of direction in the course material. I say illusion because the topics are already dictated, and the discussion is generally initiated by the instructor by setting a position.

Learner Directed Learning
Learner directed learning is a bit more complex, more focused, and a lot more complicated for apprehensive instructors. In this method the learner dictates the topic that is discussed, and is often augmented by the instructor if any points have been missed. That's the important part, as the augmentation makes sure all skills and knowledge requirements have been met. Here the learner can be the instructor, using their own presentation. They can also participate in role playing scenarios, or even gathering their own data through experiments.

While most trainers are a little apprehensive with this method (if anyone can do it, why pay a trainer so much?), it's important to understand that delivery and development are two completely different skill sets. Anyone can honestly deliver material (not necessarily well), but not everyone can develop the material that needs to be delivered. So job security should not be an excuse for excluding this method of learning.

Ultimately the decision of learning methods is completely up to you. The best learning environment will employ each of these methods in various degrees of implementation. Find what is best for you, and go for it!

Next we will have the development stage, which focuses on the learning material development. This will include visual, auditory, and tactile learning environments, and how they can work together. Stay tuned!

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