6 Elements of Effective Online Learning

The world of online learning has taken the world by storm over the last several years. One of the questions we struggle with is, “How do we create effective online learning?

It’s simple: Address the why before the how.

In any learning, this is the most important element. Without question. No exceptions. Mic Drop.

After the why, we can then dive into the what and how.

While some may tell you that it is the skills that are most important in learning, they are wrong. It is all about pedagogy and the learning environment, and ultimately–the learner.

There are 6 major areas that must be addressed in e-learning:

  • Motivation for learning
  • Relevance of learning
  • Bite-sized learning
  • Hands-on learning
  • Resources for learning
  • Community around learning

Motivation is not external. You cannot motivate learners, but you can provide a learning experience that allows them to discover their own motivation. Buy-in is real and matters. And it is vital for learning.

There are 2 possible reasons learners are spending time with your learning.

  • Want: learners are here voluntarily and are already motivated, or at least willing to become motivated. In this scenario, it is a different game. You don’t need to convince them to learn, but you will need to provide reasons to continue when it gets hard. Take advantage of that raw energy and eagerness and dive in immediately. The only danger now is not providing engaging learning, and they lose interest. Shame on us if this happens.
  • Need: Design interesting scenarios where the obvious solution involves the skills and ideas of the learning. Let learners see that there is a definite need for these skills. There is clear value in them spending time on this learning.  Get them excited and amazed at what they can do with the learning. Then design learning to guide them through scaffolded steps where they build their learning and motivation steadily.

This is why the connection a student has with a course is so important. An engaging, genuine, and enthusiastic instructor, whether live or recorded, helps build that connection.  That connection will expand to include everything about the course, including the content and skills.

It must be crystal clear how this learning relates to the world, but not just any world, the world the learner is in right now. Know your learners: are they mid-career professionals looking to get ahead, are they inexperienced but ambitious young professionals building up their resume, business leaders looking to learn more about an industry, people just looking to learn enough just to get started, or are they just discovering learning for the first time. Use examples, stories, and demonstrations that clearly demonstrate the skills, ideas, and concepts in action. Target your audience;  giving an example of a factory quality assurance system is not the real world for college students. In the same light, using TikTok examples is not going to appeal to your senior leaders.

Bite-sized learning
You have to take high-level and abstract ideas and break them down into smaller chunks that have meaning to the student. They have to incrementally see how the skill or topic applies to the world around them in real ways. But there is something we have to be careful of, called cognitive load, which in essence means you cannot just keep cramming information down their throat all at once. Break it up, and give them chances to digest, synthesize, explore, and review. Provide frequent practice and activities to interact with the content and make sure to intentionally incorporate previously learned skills from earlier lessons. Blending existing knowledge (recent and long-term) with new learning is a powerful way to increase retention.

The days of passive lecture are long gone. Learning must be two-way, where the student is doing things and getting feedback throughout, not just at the end. Interactive learning is used for both basic knowledge as well as application of knowledge. There must be opportunities to demonstrate their learning, yes to a possible employer or boss, but more so just to themselves.  That practice and application helps “store” their new learning in a different area of their brain. Simply providing recorded videos with some questions at the end will not reach your students, and will rarely be effective. It’s ok to use a quiz or test as part of the learning, but practice and demonstration must play a much larger part.  Use interactive and animated visuals;  be especially sure not to just display and describe them, but include some interactions or activities that let students apply what they see in the visual. That can be done through both objective and open-ended questions.

Research shows us that even in virtual learning, students want some sense of community. Find ways to let learners interact with other learners. This can be a student discussion board, social media group, peer feedback, or even online office hours with the course leader. When I was doing my online master’s degree at Ga Tech, I drove several hours just to work together with a group partner for an evening. Is that logical? No. Was it necessary? Yes.

Students will learn on their own, just as they are in your course. You have to replace having an instructor in a room to whom they can ask questions. Anticipate the questions students will ask, and prepare examples and demonstrations for different levels of understanding.  Scaffold the learning enough so you can prepare for common questions, sticking points, and confusion. You will have students lost right at the start, and you will have advanced students getting stuck much farther along. People need different types of learning and resources at different points in their learning journey. Provide a variety of learning including video, audio, text, diagrams, and animations to explain concepts and teach skills.

You have to make sure that they have information that can help them work through their problems as they are working through the course. I can’t emphasize enough the power of great resources.

There you have it. E-learning can be engaging and effective. In truth, the elements I introduced in this article translate directly into any type of learning.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 6 Elements of Effective Online Learning

How to get more females into the tech industry?

Well, it starts in school.

This is something near and dear to my heart. There are several things I experienced as a high school Computer Science teacher that can help us explore this and learn.

Code.org supports females in tech

In education, technology and CS courses have typically been basically boys clubs. That is who led them, who joined them, who planned activities, who planned the learning, and who they recruited. Diversity of any kind was never a consideration.

Computer Science programs which are designed by hard core techies are designed only to attract other hard core techies, and this is where our stereotypes came from. But what about students who are not already a ‘hard core techy?’ Is there any chance to find their new passion? Yes, if we design CS programs with non-techies in mind. The better CS program will be the ones who target these students, then a strong program develops those same students into technology-minded students will rock solid skills.

How can we change this?

Girls in Tech

Creating learning environments that are attractive to females as well as males. When a girl walks by a Computer Science classroom, she needs to see people in there she can related to, otherwise she walks on by even if she might have been interested. And even take it one step further, reach out to those girls, invite them in, help them connect. Make sure the classroom climate is welcoming to females,recognize them, give them chances to be leaders in class, tell them directly when you see good work, don’t let boys “come to the rescue” of the girls, Zoom with females in industry, teachers use examples and stories with females in leadership roles, and make sure the boys are aware when there is awesomeness happening by some of the girls in class. Talk publicly about how technology needs women, tell them about the status quo and how this is not ok. Ask them if it ok that women are not involved in research, design, implementation, sales, support of technology, both software or hardware. Shouldn’t the people making the technology look like the people using it? Make sure on your classroom walls are pictures of women in tech, posters with diversity represented, and articles supporting this.

Diversity in Tech

The projects you use in class need to be attractive to all genders not just boys. How do you do this? Open-ended projects that have real meaning. This is where project-based learning can be especially powerful. Technical skills can be learned through any context, and what better opportunity to let student learn new skills while pursuing topics and issues they love. Let the project be about real problems and issues in the world around them. We found that students have a lot to say, and want to express themselves, but are never really given that opportunity. Computer Science offers so many cool options for expression such as apps, websites, games, and digital devices such as robotics. Students connecting to the project is essential to students learning the skills needed to complete the project.

There are organizations such as NCWIT, National Council for Women in Technology, whose sole motivation is to help promote and encourage girls in technology. Encourage your girls to engage with NCWIT.

But does this approach really work?

I remember walking into my first CS classroom and there were 5 white boys. I asked, “where are the girls?” So, that became my mission. By the time I left, we had increased our enrollment of women to over 50%, including diversity in color, religion, and life style. Our school had more girls recognized by NCWIT than any other school in SC. And as they made their way into business, the girls were finding their way to the tech worlds at Google, NASA, Honeywell, Meta, and Microsoft.

If this is of interest to you, here are some other articles I have written on the topic

Webinar presentation I made on this topic

If you really want to dive deep – I wrote a book about how to create a Computer Science program as described above.
Here is where you get can get it on Amazon

Posted in Females in Tech | Comments Off on How to get more females into the tech industry?

The Great Resignation. The Great Layoff. What happened to loyalty?

Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA: https://www.pexels.com/photo/crop-unrecognizable-businesswoman-typing-on-laptop-at-home-4050216/

Immediately following Covid, we saw “The Great Resignation” where the nature of working changed, people were unsatisfied with their current role, the way they were being treated, or how much they were being paid. Because they were remote and alone, they could job search and interview freely. Companies were forced to hire remote workers, so suddenly location became irrelevant. It opened up a world of possibilities for current employees that would not have been there pre-covid.

As we find ourselves now facing an apparent recession, instead of The Great Resignation, now we are seeing “the Great Layoff.” This is where we see the guts of an organization. Layoffs tend to be done behind closed doors, then announced suddenly. It sends a wave of fear, uncertainty, uneasiness, and even anger running through all employees. Those affected find their worlds shattered , and those not affected realize that same uncertainty about their own job, but now also of the organization itself. Any loyalty and trust that had been developed is lost. Desperation becomes the emotion that drive business now.

What is interesting — and not part of the conversation— is the humanity that goes along with loyalty, both employee to employer and vice versa.

It does not have to be this way

The Honeymoon Phase

Think about the excitement of starting a new job from the perspective of the employee. There is eagerness, energy, ideas, and desire to say yes to anything. The loyalty to the organization is unquestioned and given freely. Both in and out of office, the conversation about the company is positive and reaches many ears. Think of the Linked In post, “I am happy to announce I started a new job”, the network of networks all see that; it’s icing on the cake for the company, shows that the company is hiring and doing well. Win win. The thought of looking for another job is not on anyone’s mind.
The employee is all in.

Photo by fauxels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-taking-group-picture-3184398/

Think about the excitement of starting a new job from the perspective of the employer. You have a new employee with eagerness, energy, ideas, and desire to say yes to anything. You want to take advantage of all that so you put those people on the projects they can best help with. Colleagues on the same team are excited to have some “new blood” , and perhaps some needed skills, on the team. The new employee may bring a new approach, innovative suggestion, or process change that is huge. New features,new revenue streams, new opportunities. The thought of hiring another person for the job is not on anyone’s mind.
The employer is all in.

Why does that go away?

The long hours you might work, the late night or early morning. Is that noticed? And more than just saying it was noticed, but it can be formally recognized with a gesture, included in the performance review, award , or reward. In other words are your efforts noticed, appreciated, recognized? Is there incentive for you to continue to give your all? Are you still challenged? Do you have the resources you need to succeed? As you get better and faster at what you do, is that rewarded in some way, or are you simply given more work?

I’ll challenge the status quo that this is not all on the shoulders of the company.

Show loyalty.
You feel underappreciated, underpaid. But is it justified? Just because you think you it is, does not necessarily mean it is so. Is this based on something real or just ‘because’? Did you read an article online and now have new expectations? Are you spending your time job searching when you could be upskilling, offering help to a colleague, networking with people in your company, or spending time on a 20% project? If you have extra time and energy and capacity, have you told your boss you can handle more responsibility? Are you going beyond the expectations of your role and is that clear? On those occasional days where some extra effort is needed, are you willing to do it with eagerness? Are you still all in?

You work hard to recruit, but do you spend that same effort retaining your employees? Are you giving them reasons to leave? Are you giving them reasons to stay? Are you expecting more and more, not not offering more? Are your benefits, salary, and perks keeping people excited where they are and no need to look? Are you keeping up with the market and competition? Think about how much it costs you in downtime, interview time, lost revenue, low morale, and training. In most jobs, it can take 1-2 years for an employee to really get good, where now the ROI is clearly there. You lose that every time someone leaves and you have to replace them. Are you spending time ensuring employees have the resources and skills needed to exceed expectations? Are you supporting efforts to upskill? Are you as all in with all your existing employees as you are with new employees?

If people feel valued, paid fairly, and happy, they do not look for jobs elsewhere.

Is there another option for employers? Show loyalty.

Photo by fauxels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-brown-suit-jacket-3184339/

Yes, times are tough now, but the recession will be over in a year or so. Think of how thankful your employees will be if you are honest with them, tell them times will be tough, we are going to need everyone to step up, be creative, do extra, and add more value in any way they can—but in return everyone keeps their job. You just increased the loyalty of everyone in the organization by 100%. These same people are now even more loyal, willing, and able to help you make it through the recession. Employees will be exceeding expectations. You will see new leaders emerge, new ideas generated, people reinvigorated and energized. In fact, you may have just made the organization stronger and that may be exactly what pulls you through the recession.

Your employees are all in.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Great Resignation. The Great Layoff. What happened to loyalty?

Is there a best strategy for Instructional Design content creation?

For those in L & D, internal and external training, and instructional design roles, we have the goal of creating engaging and effective learning content in the optimum learning experience. Ideally that happens through tried and proven methodologies , frameworks, and models.  The friends at your party include ADDIE, SAM, Gagné , and Kirkpatrick, plus a few new kids on the block and a couple has-beens. All of these have the same ultimate goal–to guide you in learning creation so that it is effective. Some of them are decades old, while others have modern spins on old ideas. Truthfully, they are all good and worth your time to explore, but in reality, I find that there is no single one that is only used, nor any one that is necessarily better than the others–because it all depends on the project itself and the people involved. 

They might use different terminology, but essentially for many there is still a basic high level flow. And others might focus in on certain aspects elements of the process. For example Kilpatrick is more focused on evaluating effectiveness than how you involved users in testing throughout.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-black-and-white-stripe-shirt-looking-at-white-printer-papers-on-the-wall-212286/

What I have found is that I bring in strategies from all of these depending on the situation. Yes, if all the parameters in your project are constant, then you might have the luxury of choosing one approach and sticking with it to the end. But I am pretty sure in the history of learning , this has never happened. In reality, project deadlines change, priorities change, project finances change, and project stakeholders change. Your boss had originally given you 8 weeks, but has changed it to 4 weeks.  The budget for the course was $25K, but got cut to $10K. The SMEs change mid-stream and have different styles and beliefs and opinions.  The team you partner with for user testing and client feedback has a reorganization of leadership.

But there are other elements that are part of course-building experiences, such as your own style and personality, the style and personality of the SME, the culture of your company, and the availability of people related to the project.

Photo by Elina Fairytale: https://www.pexels.com/photo/life-is-now-neon-signage-3811074/

And probably most important is just life itself. Someone gets Covid at a crucial point, so maybe that round of UI feedback is bypassed.  A death in the family means the content is delayed for a week. The production lab is having a makeover and is closed for 4 days. A surprise vacation from one of the key stakeholders(raise your hand if this has happened to you). And keep in mind, while the project may be top priority for you, it may be a side project for others involved, or even a backend project for some.

If you look at some of the more modern methodologies, such as SAM, they still follow the same high level flow of basic design (i.e. ADDIE  is Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation), but they incorporate threads of Agile throughout.  

I would say the common thread I see regardless of which is used is adaptability and flexibility, but also just common sense. Be willing and ready to change the process. No course will ever be perfect. You could always spend just a bit more time on this or that. One trick that I found that was always helpful was just to take some time away, maybe just a day or two. This gives you fresh eyes that will look differently.

Photo by Christina Morillo: https://www.pexels.com/photo/three-woman-in-front-of-laptop-computer-1181233/

It’s not about you, the topic or the concept… it’s only about the learning and the student.

Posted in Instructional Design | Comments Off on Is there a best strategy for Instructional Design content creation?

What we need in business

The business world needs more technical people who can interact with non-technical people. We need more non-technical people who can interact with technical people. We need more non-technical people to develop technical skills. We need more technically-trained people to develop business skills. And we need more business-trained people to develop technical skills.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What we need in business

The lack of Liberal-Arts minded Engineers

This post is a response to this article/commentary from the CEO of BMW.

100% agree. The elephant in the room is that what we don’t need is nerds who cannot interact with people in non-technical ways. The stereotypical engineer still exists , in part, because of the systems in place in education. Most high school and university-level engineering (software, hardware) programs recruit and produce the exact stereotypes that have been there for 4 decades. Modern programs have to change their recruitment strategies to attract different types of students. It’s a self-fulfilling circle: stereotypical students are attracted, so they fill the classrooms, curious students look into the classroom and don’t see anyone who looks and acts like them so they don’t enter the classroom. The article talks about the need for engineers to be more balanced with non-technical topics, but I’ll challenge that, equally if not more important, is that we broaden our pool of engineers to be more diverse and inclusive. This means we get more people in the engineering field who ask different questions, bring different perspectives, and approach challenges differently. That kind of classroom both attracts and produces a different type of person….perhaps the liberal-arts-minded engineer that Knudt is referring to.

Posted in Engineering | Comments Off on The lack of Liberal-Arts minded Engineers

Digital Native Skills

Having spent many years in the Computer Science classroom, I developed a pretty good understanding of how digital natives interact with technology.

Digital native technology

The biggest thing I noticed is that their tech device is a part of them like a wallet is to an older generation, or a car to another generation. It’s not something they necessarily appreciate, it just IS. Just like you and I jump in the car to drive to TacoBell, we don’t even think of the decades of work that went into car technology. Some of us love our cars and have chosen to get really good at “under the hood.” Same thing with digital natives, some of them are really good at “under the hood” such as coding , electronics, or cybersecurity. And some of us are just power “users” of our cars , meaning we don’t necessarily know how the engine works, but we can drive the heck out of the car, onroad or offroad. And some digital natives are especially good at using and exploring the functionality of the technology

Sometimes we assume simply because students grew up with technology, that students are wizzes at every aspect of that technology. So, this is really no different than any other subject area or industry, if you want to be a power user of technology, then you master Excel, PPT,Word, Movie Maker, Photo Editing, Tik Tik, and the settings screen on your IPhone. If you want to explore technology as a career, then you master the skills of Computer Science, I.T. or Cybersecurity. Or if you just want to use it minimally, then that is ok as well. There are digital natives who fit into each of those categories. #digitalnative

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Digital Native Skills

Education Must Evolve

Education is famous for being an incredibly slow moving body when it comes to change. But if anything good came out of Covid, we learned that we can adapt and learn new ways of doing things.
Teachers: Learned that they can utilize technology to reach their students in new ways. They learned to experiment in their classroom to find out what works. They learned that it is ok to make mistakes and to not have all the answers. 
Students: Learned that learning can be more engaging and that learning does not have to begin at 8:00am and end at 3:00pm. They learned to be empowered to learn on their own.
Schools:  Learned to give more freedom to teachers to explore possibilities in the classroom.  Learned that education can happen in a variety of ways. They learned that procedures and policies of the past are not applicable in post-covid school.

What does this mean?

Education pre-covid had not really changed in several decades; we were basically doing education like we did since the 50s. Now is the chance to redefine

  • What we need from education
  • What we want from education
  • When, where and how education is delivered

Those schools that truly explore these questions will not only survive, but will pave the way for learning to finally transform into the modern era. This is true for K-12 as well as higher education.

The assumptions, traditions, policies, procedures, and priorities that existed pre-covid–toss ’em out the window and start fresh!

Let’s ask, explore, and figure out what assumptions, traditions, policies, procedures, and priorities we can embrace and develop so that education reaches students in ways unlike we ever have.

What does innovative and engageing learning in this new world look like?

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Education Must Evolve

Reimagining Education

This post is in reference to this article

Why not take the opportunity to look at every facet of education, keep the parts we love, kick out the parts that are useless, fix the parts that broken, update the parts that are out of date, rethink the ones that are not quite doing what we want…in other words lets ask questions about every component., and be ready to accept whatever answers we get. 100% agreed if we are seeing schools just go right back to the older decade out of date style, those schools will fail by failing our students. But this is not going to be easy. We are past the point where we need to blame anyone or anything. We are where we are; we got what we got. We need compromise, civil discussion, brainstorming, collaboration, listening….and then we need action, decision, and honesty. Students can start by talking with their teachers. Teachers can start by talking with administrators. Administrators can start by talking to city and state and national leadership. Parents can start by talking to teachers, administrators, and politicians. State and local educational leaders can start by listening to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and business owners. Let’s start asking questions now.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Reimagining Education

K12 Education Really Comes Down to 3 Things

First: Watch this
To anyone out there involved or interested in K-12(and even higher ed) education, find 5 minutes to watch this TODAY. What we need in education really comes down to 3 things: 1) mastery learning where students learn at their own pace, 2) flexibility where students don’t all have to learn the same thing in the same way , and 3) divergent outcomes where we accept that there are numerous ways to define success. In some ways, school in the way we do it now is actually limiting to many students. The entire premise of education is based on the “average student”, but yet that “average” student does not even exist? Every student is unique. We can do better. What I challenge this audience to do in the comments is suggest ideas on how we get there…not pie in the sky ideas, but ideas that can grow roots and grow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on K12 Education Really Comes Down to 3 Things