My kind of scaffold – part 1

In the series of posts that follows, I want to share the process I’ve used to try build a “different”* scaffold for compliance-based courses.

Building facade, stairs and windows, shot from the bottom looking up.

After I wrote the post about my stuttering start to designing this course, I realised I had fallen in to an all-too-common trap of focusing on the activities first. Indeed, I was halfway committed to what type of content I would need to build, had made sweeping decision about what design approached use when I hadn’t yet confirmed what the purpose of the course was. Trying to explain my ideas and clarify the objectives sparked heated conversations in my team about what eLearning was and wasn’t and no clear agreement on learning outcomes.

I needed to take a step back, and focus on the bigger picture – what do we want our learners to achieve and how will we know that they’ve done it? What is the purpose for this course in the first place? From there, I was confident that we could reach an understanding on what the course would look like.

First off: course objectives.

The course ‘themes’ I’d been given were pretty much “know” and “understand” i.e. know what an apple is, understand what an orange is, know who to tell about bananas and apples.

Unfortunately, this makes it quite hard to design a course because what does “know” actually mean? How can you measure what someone knows? How can you show that someone understands more at the end of the course than at the beginning?

Butchering Inspired by the action-mapping process by Cathy Moore, I needed to clarify:

  1. What is the business goal?
  2. What do users need to know to achieve (1)?
  3. What will they do differently if they know (2)?
  4. What skills or activities can they practise to achieve (3)?

Let’s imagine, the goal is that shoppers wearing red tell staff whenever they see oranges, green apples and green bananas, and do so straightaway. They need to know unique identifiers, like are they wearing red, understand what an orange is, who to talk to and how.

The problem I faced was getting to the next step – what will they do, what do they need to do?

That’s where Bloom’s Taxonomy came in handy.

I mapped the “know” statements to the first 4 levels within Bloom’s taxonomy’s cognitive domain: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyse. For example:

  • Learner knows what an orange is –> Learner is able to identify an orange from a bowl of random fruit
  • Learner knows who to talk to –> Learner is able to apply reporting process when faced with a bowl of fruit

The advantage here is that it was much easier to get collective agreement on defining the desired behaviour we wanted our learners to exhibit that would demonstrate desired learning with the verbs and their categorisation in Bloom’s Taxonomy – they’re already split into levels that were simple to comprehend, even for people without deep learning design or eLearning knowledge.

Now, I had learning objectives with substance: recognise a banana, describe an orange, explain what constitutes wearing red, execute this, compare that. This informed the pieces of information and the skills required to achieve those behaviours. To recognise a banana, a learner needs to know where to look, what a banana looks like, how it compares to other fruit; not required is to be able to accurately describe a banana from memory, so approximation and coping strategies are sufficient.

The skills required then, can inform the activities. In the example above about recognising a banana, it would be appropriate to test a learner on picking a banana out of a bunch of fruit, or recalling/identifying the characteristics that separate a banana; it’s not necessary for the learner to be tested on the definition of a banana by selecting it in a multiple-choice quiz question.

Takeaway 1: use the language and structure of Bloom’s taxonomy to build learning objectives. They’ll have inherent scaffolding and more easily lead to specifc activities.

*I say “different” because I’m sure many in my extended network will see little that is new in what I share; however, the expectations of those I’m encountering would suggest that what I’m proposing and working through is indeed new and different to them. It’s all relative, right?

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