Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's Not My Course - It's My Learners' Course

Our learners are mostly adults - adults with a lot of learning; learning accumulated by way of their own personal experience, learning they picked on their way, ideas gathered from their own thoughts and analysis, and so on. For all those reasons, handling an adult learner can be tricky. The role of an ID in such a scene moves away from that of a teacher to that of a facilitator. No more can you push your learning. Rather, you let the learners decide what they want to learn. The ID can then structure the course and content around the learner's requirements. This is pretty much what Malcom Knowles meant when he said that adult learners are self-directed, goal-oriented, relevancy-oriented, and practical.

One of my recent projects was to create a training program on a tool. My SME was very sure that all of the content on the PPT file that he passed on should reach the learner. Fair enough, I thought. But was it fair to the learner? How do I cater to the learners right from the beginning of my course?

I decided to create a pre-course questionnaire. This questionnaire will contain a set of questions addressed to the learners. It is largely intended to understand the learner's awareness of the course topic. Apart from these, I also wanted to encourage the learners list what they expected to learn from the course. Additionally, was there something specific that they want to learn about the topic?

I prepared this questionnaire and finalized it with my SME. I conducted a learner survey with a few sample learners. The results were amazing. The content that the SME wanted to push to the learners were already known to them! My additional questions on what more they wanted to learn brought in a whole new perspective to the existing content. There was much more that the learner wanted to know.

My SME modified the content to cover what the learners expected to learn. The storyboarding is yet to be done. But I already know that the learners are motivated to take the course. It is their content - they chose what they wanted to learn.

I want to share my experience on preparing this pre-course questionnaire and what it contained. I started off with the main objectives. What will the learners get to learn at the end of the course? I was able to gather these after discussions with the SME.

For example, my course is on a specific tool. By learning this tool, learners will know about the best code practices and about the relevance of .NET technology in code development.

How do you prepare a precourse questionnaire around this? Questions such as "Are you aware of the best practices in coding" or "Do you use .NET technology while coding" are very broad and vague to ask. The responses to both could be a Yes or a No and it stops there. This will not give you a clear picture on the knowledge level of the learner in these two aspects. I wanted preferably measurable responses - what is their extent of knowledge? What more should I ask to guage whether they actually use .NET technology, and so on. To take another example, a question like "how do you rate your level of awareness of depreciated methods in .NET" takes the learner to a deeper aspect of the .NET technology. (Not that I knew anything about the .NET technology. But this is where the SME helps :) )

My questions were very specific. My SME guided me on such specific points that a learner ought to know. I gathered such data and framed questions around that.

When my survey was completed, I got a clear picture on what I should cover in the course. I analyzed whether the content covered all of these, filled the gaps, and then, I was ready to go.

In short:
  • Start off with the main objectives
  • Drill down to the specific tasks
  • Frame questions around these tasks
  • Ensure to frame your questions in such a way that the learner gives maximum information through the answer
  • Verify with your SME and add/modify questions accordingly
 Do you always conduct pre-course interviews before you start on your courses? Do you have more suggestions for a learner-driven course? Please do share them.