My kind of scaffold – part 2

Part 2 of the series of posts wherein I share the process I’ve used to try build a “different” scaffold for compliance-based courses.

Building wall of mismatching windows. By Edgaras Maselskis, via Unsplash. CC0
In a previous post, I spoke about how I used a combination of butchered action-mapping and Bloom’s taxonomy to create course objectives with actionable verbs and that provided more direct mapping to activities. Here, I want to share the course design and activity design approach, and why I think this goes beyond what many (especially in corporate/compliance training) believe constitutes ‘eLearning’ – the “Next” button.

One of the common pitfalls of a Learning Management System (Moodle, Blackboard Learn, Canvas) is that they don’t necessarily support the creation of learning ‘content’ that is typically expected in corporate environments. Instead, the majority of them support discrete activities that are collated together to form a learning experience rather than a coherent and simple flow*. Another common downfall arising out of using LMS’s is that, despite the built-in activities common in LMS’s, all too often they’re used to house individual resources (pdf files, URLs, word documents, videos) and then an in-built quiz to assess the learning. Having worked on both the vendor and the user sides of the LMS/edtech world, I would purport that the root of this both in the technology and the typical user – but that’s a conversation for another day.

I’m not sure which came first, the LMS or the content creation tools (Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Lectora) but I can understand the gap that they fill – create the learning experience (the work flow) and the content at the same time! It’s nifty thinking. Unfortunately, the majority of courses/modules built using “rapid eLearning” tools I’ve personally experienced are no better than the dump of information resources and a quiz at the end that critics of the LMS mention. I fail to see how separating the information into 3 paragraphs a page and inviting the learner to click “Next” as they move though, or click to reveal content and then answer some “comprehension” questions at the end is any more effective a pedagogy/heutagogy/androgogy.

And so, that’s not what I’m doing. Instead, I’m using case studies. Specifically, I’m using scenarios and case studies as the basis for all activities and, as much as possible, applied questioning for assessment.

What does the course actually look like then? I mentioned previously that from a goal like:

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.

We have course objectives that now use specific behavioural/action-based verbs like:

  • 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

So the learner needs to be able to recognise the characteristics of an orange, a bowl of fruit and recall and follow through with a reporting process, including recognising who to report to.

Research shows users rarely read screeds of information online – they skim or they click over. If they’re not reading, how can they possibly comprehend it?

Cathy Moore’s idea of throwing learners in the deep end resonated and I used that together with Gagne’s events of learning to help inform an overall structure where:

  1. Interest is piqued by encouraging consideration of the consequences
  2. Awareness of lack of knowledge is created by ‘testing’ existing knowledge
  3. Fundamental point is covered explicitly – are you/the people around you wearing red (because everything else hinges on that)
  4. The Learner dives straight into scenarios where they are asked to make judgements (is Mary wearing red, does that look like a banana, is that a bowl of fruit) that are scaffolded through the activity with guiding questions and links to supporting resources

We’re using a largely unmodified version of Moodle. So, The actual course structure, including Gagne’s learning events and Moodle tools, looks a little like this:

proposed course structure - 5 modules

Some of the preliminary activities are optional (e.g. reviewing the course objectives – Book module). Others, like the pre-course tests, are required to move on. One reason for these required activities is to provide a baseline for existing knowledge, which will help inform the success of this course but also related educational programs outside of the LMS. Secondly, I’m hoping that questioning learners upfront will challenge their own assumptions and misconceptions of the subject matter, which are rife in this area, and which will hopefully help move learners quickly from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. The feedback provided in these pre-tests highlights the piece of information that will help them answer the question correctly, rather than the correct answer – a topic for a subsequent post.

Takeaway 2: Learning Events can be more than 1. Present content, 2. Assess; use the variety of tools available to you.

*As an aside, while this a typical LMS’s course structure (discrete activities house in modules that require manual navigation by the user) may suit a course delivered in pieces over the course of a longer period of time, i believe it adds unnecessary complications to a compliance-type course where the learner’s objective is to get in, get the info and get out as quickly as possible (a style I’m calling “FIFO courses” that I plan to blog about later). Perhaps this is why the “rapid eLearning” content-development tools were built, to help create a cohesive, consistent and simple interface that helps users work through the learning experience. The functionality of Moodlerooms’ Personalised Learning Designer enhances Moodle by going some way to automating progress through activities based on a variety of criteria. What I’ve seen of Bridge by Instructure looks intriguing as a way of combining content and course creation that seems to sit the corporate training target market quite well.

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