Sunday, June 29, 2008

The 'cognitive' factor of Instructional design

Training can be approached from many perspectives. Performance technologists like Stolovich, like to think of training as a strategic investment contributing to the corporate bottom line. Another perspective is to think of training as a kind of service to people. Trainers offer a service to learners intended to improve their functioning in an environment. Thus training can be thought of as a kind of help, similar to help systems in a computer environment or aid provided by a social services.
The quality of training, like help, can be judged on its effectiveness and its efficiency. To understand this perspective, think of a software company such as WordPerfect Corporation.

Let's say WordPerfect offers a support system, where users having difficulties with software can phone and get help from a specialist. WordPerfect managers can evaluate the quality of help offered in a number of ways:

a. Effectiveness-solving the customer's problem, also known as the power of the help according to Inouye (1992). Does the help work?
-Availability of help. Is there someone around who can answer the caller's question?
-Relevance to the problem at hand. Is the information provided pertinent to the customer's immediate problem?
-Understandability. Is the help clear to the user? Are the instructions executable? Is the user able to take corrective action based on the help?
b. Efficiency-the timeliness and affordability of providing the help.
-Mean time to help. How long does the customer have to wait after phoning in for assistance until their problem is satisfactorily solved? Is the help message brief and to the point?
-Cost. What are the resources needed to provide the help? What are the costs to WordPerfect? To the customer?

Each time training is offered, there is by definition some problem to be solved, some goal to be reached. Even though not all training problems are as neatly quantifiable as on-line assistance systems, there are clear implications for training design which reinforce the lessons learned from the cognitive training models above. Training is most effective when it:
--Responds to an immediate performance need. Training should seek to create "teaching moments" wherein the learner is trying to solve a problem, clearly needs assistance, and is highly receptive to assistance that will help him/her perform better.
--Seeks to meet those teaching moments with relevant, clear instructional messages and practice opportunities.
--Doesn't give too much or too little help. Excessive training wastes money, and it interferes with the learners' developing cognitive skills in detecting and learning from their own errors (Burton & Brown, 1979).
--Doesn't get in the learners' way. People spontaneously apply a set of cognitive strategies to any situation or problem. Training should work with those strategies rather than compete with them.
The additional guidelines offered below are based on our review of cognitive training models and on the literature in cognitive learning and teaching methods. The guidelines are not mutually exclusive; for example, only one guideline specifically addresses motivation, yet every guideline affects motivation. We believe that designers can make use of these or similar guidelines as they seek creative solutions to problems in the design of all kinds of training and instruction.
Foster a learning culture.

1. Offer training, within an overall culture that encourages cooperation, risk-taking, and growth.
2. Get learners' buy-in and commitment in achieving training goals.
Motivate learners.
3. Demonstrate the value of of the training to the learners and cultivate their sense of confidence in their ability to master the objectives
Make training problem-centered.
4. Draw on authentic needs and contexts; make requirements of learning tasks similar to important requirements of job tasks.
5. Encourage learners' active construction of meaning, drawing on their existing knowledge (Resnick, 1983).
6. Teach multiple learning outcomes together (Gagne & Merrill, 1990).
7. Sequence instruction so that learners can immediately benefit from what they learn by applying it to real-world tasks.
Help learners assume control of their learning.
8. Provide coaching.
9. Provide scaffolding and support in performing complex tasks.
a. Adjust tools (equipment), task, and environment.
b. Provide timely access to information and expertise.
c. Provide timely access to performance feedback.
d. Utilize group problem-solving methods.
e. Provide help only when the learner is at an impasse and only enough help for the learner to complete the task.
10. Fade support.
11. Minimize mean time to help (i.e., provide "just-in-time" training).
12. Encourage learners to reflect on their actions.
13. Encourage exploration.
14. Encourage learners to detect and learn from their errors.
Provide meaningful "practice."
15. Provide opportunities for learners to apply what they've learned in authentic contexts. If it is not feasible to practice on real tasks, provide cases or simulations.
16. Personalize practice

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