Learner Centered, Performance Based
Telling Ain’t Training
Telling Ain’t Training is a book that focuses on some effective techniques that can be used when teaching adult learners. It covers a wealth of topics, touching on cognitive psychology, the philosophy of knowledge, lesson planning, and effective assessment (among many others). The authors immediately stress their overarching philosophy of training from chapter one - learner centered, performance based. They argue that effective instruction must have these two qualities. Otherwise, students will not leave the lesson with the content that you intend for them to absorb.
On the surface, the idea of learner centered and performance based instruction seems pretty reasonable (perhaps even obvious). However, the devil is in the details. How do you build a learner centered lesson for a class of students? How do you effectively assess performance when everybody starts at different skill levels? Moreover, how can we do this in an online environment - one where you do not get any face-to-face interaction with the people you are tryinig to teach?
Many researchers and educators are hard at work trying to answer these questions. I would love to offer some ideas that I am going to try out on Cupcake Physics.
Learner centered instruction means that the lesson at hand should be tailored to the knowledge and skills of the learner. This is not a new concept; educators have applied models like the Zone of Proximal Development to their lesson planning strategies for decades. However, I wanted to think about how I can implement learner-centered lessons to Cupcake Physics.
Keep the Lessons Small
It can be difficult to pay attention to a long lecture when you are sitting in a classroom. It can be near impossible to stay interested in the same lecture if it is recorded and played back on a computer. Unfortunately, there are too many distractions that can tear you away from a lesson online - even I find myself drifting away from online physics lectures when I am sitting at a computer, and I have spent a good part of my life focused on the subject! Thus, one of the ways that we keep the lesson learner-centered is to respect the fact that the online learning environment is fundamentally different than that of a classroom. Instruction must be focused and relevant in order to keep the learner interested when it is so easy to find another source online.
This one seems a bit weird at first glance. In an era when we are being bombarded by a constant stream of information, it seems reasonable that we need to do more to keep up. However, learning takes place not just in the classroom, not just on Cupcake Physics, but during the quiet moments when we have a change to reflect on what we have already done. As I develop content on the website, I am going to try to find ways to slow down the pace of learning. The point of this is to encourage the learner to reflect on what has already been done. Self-reflection is one of the strategies that can be used to work towards a truly learner-centered curriculum.
Performance based instruction means that we want students to be able to apply the knowledge that they have learned from our training. The authors describe this as “being able to act and to achieve worthwhile, verifiable results” (Stolovitch 14). As always, easier said than done. A worthwhile result to a student (i.e. get an A on a test) might not match up directly with a worthwhile result from an instructor (i.e. develop knowledge about fundamental physics). A verifiable result to a student (i.e. get all of the questions on the homework correct) might not match up with the ideas of the instructor (i.e. parse a context-specific physics problem and come up with a best solution where there is no one correct answer). How might we measure performance on Cupcake Physics in order to maximize learning?
Constantly Collect User Input
Creating small chunks of instruction is only part of the story. Watching ten short videos back-to-back is not that different from watching one long one. There needs to be user input between each of those lessons to ensure that the lesson is still calibrated to the user’s skill level. This input can serve additional purposes. It might be a gateway to ensure that the student understands the preceding section before moving onto the next one. It might be a crossroad where the lesson goes in different directions, depending on the previous answer. Engagement is not a direct indicator of a learner-centered lesson, but it does imply that the lesson is within the skillset of the student.
Keep the Feedback Cycle Tight
Last but not least, the idea of tight feedback loops ties all of these ideas together. A tight feedback loop will (ideally) keep a student engaged in the lesson at hand because he or she will receive constant feedback on how much progress has been made. Additionally, it will give the program an opportunity to pivot and offer a new piece of content based on the answers given before. The classic idea of “questions at the end of the chapter” is not engaging in an online environment, nor does it does assess performance in an effective way. In a world where the answers to questions can be looked up on a whim, end of lesson questions no longer provide accurate feedback on the skillset of a student.
There is a lot more to unpack in this book - far more than can be covered in a single blog post. As I develop content for the site over the next few weeks, I would love to continue exploring some of the lessons that I have taken away from this read. If you get a chance, please visit Cupcake Physics to try out the site. Until next time!
Stolovitch, Harold D. Telling Ain’t Training: Updated, Expanded, Enhanced. 2nd ed., Association for Talent Development, 2011