Week 2: Understanding Learners Needs

This week in #OCTEL, it was all about the learners – but I wasn’t so sure.

With a background in learning and development, understanding learner needs is not new to me. I’ve done many needs analyses in my life so it comes part and parcel when designing any course but my thinking was focussed on the designer and the community manager instead.  Let me explain.

Firstly, we were asked to complete one or two of various questionnaires and instruments that universities and online providers use to predict whether someone is ready for online learning.

I have to clarify that in my experience, in the corporate world, when you say, “online learning”, people think of the boring e-learn page turners that are developed in house by one of many rapid authorware tools or by external courseware providers.  Much of the mandatory and compliance training in organisations is developed in this format.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smanography/2366162104/

This is how I feel every single time I have to do my mandatory online training http://www.flickr.com/photos/smanography/2366162104/

However, I’ve noticed that universities and other educational institutions classify “online learning” as the delivery platform that includes the content (that may be in any format) and the other parts such as the discussion boards, wikis and others in an online environment.

I work with a team who provide e-learning and virtual learning support services to the business.  Technically, we should just call ourselves ‘Online Learning’ because we provide design and development services (in Lectora), film, edit and upload podcasts, co-ordinate and train the business on virtual classrooms and also create Sharepoint learning spaces for internal clients who want to create ‘portals’ for their learning programs because they have pages that look like this and then they wonder why their learners aren’t using it…

So in effect, we provide support and training of the tools for online learning.

But if I tell the business we do that, they immediately think of the boring online compliance training – I have to explain that it’s part of the bigger picture of online training where we provide them the support and coaching around the various tools and help them put it altogether to create a blended learning program.

Back to the questionnaires.

I did a couple of them and if you want to have a go, here are a couple of them:

These took me back to 1998 when we were first implementing e-learning (the boring type – Powerpoint page turners) and I recall the boss telling us that we had to come up with some kind of guide that would tell our learners if they were “ready for online learning”.  Since then, I had created a few of these questionnaires with other clients in particularly around “e-learning readiness audits” for their organisations.

I conducted my last e-learning readiness audit back in 2004 with a major brewer in Australia.  I believe it’s because e-learning has well and truly been implemented in many Australian organisations by now and frankly, learners (especially in corporates) are used to online learning (of the boring type).

What they aren’t used to is the online learning around an online community and that’s where I was thinking this guide would be the perfect solution to reinvigorate into the workplace to set the context of what to expect in the new social learning environment.

You only have to look at what some bloggers are writing about being overwhelmed when they do a MOOC.  If we introduced this into the corporate environment, some learners would get a shock initially.

Let’s be frank.  In my experience, some learners expect to be spoon fed.  These type of learners will find learning and contributing in online learning difficult.  They may not see the sense or value in it.  They may not be able to self direct their learning – and it’s likely that it will be these learners who will make the most noise about it.

If we had a checklist or guide of some sort that set their expectations upfront about their online program, they may be in a better position to be able to control whether the course is relevant for them at this point in time.

So after I completed the questionnaires, it got me thinking that we not only need to design one for our learners completing blended learning programs but ALSO for our clients who come to us asking us to build them online learning spaces and who will act as community managers for these portals.

Some of these portals are thriving little online communities but many of them are wastelands or glorified file drives with empty discussion boards that just push information out to participants – but no interaction going on at all.  I believe we could do more with coaching these community managers to be aware of their role and responsibility in ensuring the community around that learning program remains active for the duration of the course – and if it cannot be done in Sharepoint – then to move it into Yammer.

But we’re not there just yet.

So my take away for this week is that I will need to develop a checklist for the community managers first to make them aware of their role and responsibility for online learning with their groups.

Activity 2.1 Learner Expectations

We had to find a colleague or someone who had limited experience of online learning and TEL and discuss the following topics with them:

  • How ready were they for online learning?
  • What expectations did they have about using TEL?
  • Do these expectations resonate with your experience of this course?

This was a difficult activity simply because everyone I know has done some form of online training somewhere somehow.

I have met a few L&D people who adamantly refuse online learning and virtual learning of any kind.  In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why they could be so belligerent about it but then I realised it was fear.  Fear of not knowing their way around technology.  It’s easier to disagree with something if you fear it.  So I’ve learned to steer away from these discussions and focus on talking about the weather instead.

Also, I could have asked my parents or friends who are my parents age who are now found enjoying retirement life on the golf course but once again, I wasn’t prepared to listen to stories that started with “I’ll tell you about how we learned in my day…..”

So I then decided that there was a very small percentage of people in this world who had little or no experience with online learning in my life so the activity was irrelevant for me.  However, the challenge now was to focus on how this online learning had changed in the corporate world – the days of boring e-learning content where you sit there reading pages onscreen and clicking on arrows to reveal bits of information or swirl some graphic will soon be gone.

People will actually need to contribute, share, write, create, collaborate…online – and we need to let them know.

Activity 2.2 Researching Themes in Learner Needs

We had to consider one of the following themes:

  • The nature of adult learning and implications for practice
  • Studies of online expectations and readiness
  • Implications of digital literacy
  • Implications for your teaching approach/delivery

I decided to pick ‘Implications of Digital Literacy‘ as I believe this is a gap in current corporate learners.  We have many programs under the streams of  ‘Leadership’, ‘Operational Management’, ‘Sales and Service’, ‘People Management’ but we have nothing on ‘Digital Literacy’ and I believe that this is going to be a core critical skill set for any connected worker in the workplace.

However, no one at work is talking about this. It’s simply not on their radar.

I will need to do more research on this but I do likeHoward Rheingold’s 5 competencies which are relevant as these are gaps in the corporate world:

  • Attention 
  • Critical consumption 
  • Participation 
  • Collaboration 
  • Network Awareness 

I’m going to propose to the Head of L&D at my workplace that this is an opportunity for our department to include this into the Capability Framework.  It’s going to take a while as these things don’t happen overnight…

About Helen Blunden

My unique super power is that I see learning experiences in everything I do. #alwayslearning
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9 Responses to Week 2: Understanding Learners Needs

  1. Pingback: What I Learned In April | Activate Learning Solutions

  2. Thanks for your comment Phil. One of the challenges with corporate organisations is the dreaded firewall (but I understand this that there needs to be things still kept within firewalls) especially if it means risk to brand, reputation, privacy and security. As a result, I know that there are social platforms like Yammer and other tools that integrate with Yammer that do what these open tools too. Just this morning someone sent me a ‘Sched.do’ poll (an app within Yammer that does polls) – much like what Doodle does.

    I think these are great tools for a corporate organisation because even though entirely ‘not open’ they do then create the behaviour of employees using the social platform the organisation promotes to connect with others within the organisation – so it’s like their own organisational world wide web.

    The challenge is then with all these tools, how do you use one over the other. We still have a part to play to help our employees use these tools. We start off small – let them create a Yammer profile first – then over time, they will get used to using it and different ways before they become confident using all the different apps. It’s early days yet. That’s why I like the difference between academia and education – everything is out in the open – out in the web – but we cannot do this in corporates – although we can provide a ‘space’ like it within the organisation so the behaviours are the same but our playing field is within our organisation. It’s still a great step for us because at least people are connecting with others.

  3. ps your example of the conversation with the PM resonates strongly with me. I have often thought about how education fits into the PRINCE2 methodology, as learning is by nature not ‘controlled’ in the same way as building a web service, or swapping out a server. You have made me this about the way in which ‘learning’ is reduced to an event within projects.

  4. “I think we are using a range of exciting external software and do not want to be confined in the VLE. Do you have any thoughts on finding some middle ground?”

    I can only speak from my own experience of using Moodle in HE (as a Learning Tech). I’ve thought about this problem too, especially with regards to how to get the art dept to engage with the VLE. I don’t have a complete answer, but at Lancaster we employed some students to help with our recent VLE changeover and most came with HTML skills, from computing… We encouraged them to find new and exciting ways to mashup content in Moodle, for example using Google Maps, videos and other online web services or social media. Most of this is fairly easy to achieve with or a bit of javascript, but there is a greater effect in SHOWING something rather than just talking of capabilities. Then the tutors will say fantastic but i don’t know how to do that, but at least we have moved onto the first rung… (there are many ways to support innovation when you have something concrete to work from…)

    Addressing Helen’s issue of how to unify several existing technologies such as sharepoint, moodle, yammer etc is much harder, and perhaps where the GAfE (Google Apps for Education) comes into its own. We don’t have this at Lancaster (we are Office365 soon…), but I’d be interested to hear from other users if this ‘unifies’ the learning experience in any way…

  5. Thanks Roger, you make a good point about learner/employee motivations and yes, I do agree that it is part of the design of the program. And yes, I also understand your sentiments about learners/employees not using the tool to how it was designed. It’s frustrating!

    For us, in our organisation, online learning – by that I mean, online collaboration through discussion boards is still relatively new. There is also a stigma about writing something that can be misconstrued by others or ‘on record’ for everyone to see. Also, I’ve had many people tell me that although they enjoy reading other’s posts, they simply feel they have nothing else to add, nor do they have the time to write – they see it as an additional responsibility over and above their normal day to day responsibilities on the job. Also, some people don’t feel that this is ‘real learning’ unless they are in a classroom – or at some event – away from the office. We have a lot to influence our key stakeholders and business clients that learning occurs on the job, through each other by peers and in other ways.

    One example last year is that I was working on a Transformation Project and the Project Manager turned to me and asked ‘give me a date of when you think training will be completed’. I said, “I can’t give you an exact date because the teams are currently learning the new processes at the moment. Everyone learns at different rates. They are all learning the new processes by SMEs on the job around their current committments and work loads”

    He stared at me blankly. “What date do I put in my project plan that training will occur? he asks again.

    “Your project plan assumes that learning is an event – a classroom” I said.

    “Well, yes, isn’t it?” he asks

    “No. They are all learning the new processes being coached by SMEs first and then they become experts in the process and teach others – peer to peer learning – and they do this by using live files, live customers, during their work day under guidance of a coach. There is no classroom”

    “So what do I put in my project plan?”

    I told him to put the end date of when all learning must be completed by the project – as we were working towards that date but this showed me how ingrained even the expectation that learning is event based in project teams in organisations!

  6. Thanks Jo. It’s interesting that we use the tools differently depending on our organisations. We’re the opposite, we need to be able to contain the environment within our firewalls but still have the opportunity to collaborate. We use Sharepoint for all our documents, project work and learning but the discussion happens on Yammer (but not everyone in the org is on Yammer).

    I feel as if our tools are ‘separate’ – they don’t flow – certainly not part of our daily work flow at all. If anything information is pushed out to us but there are some slowly now who are using the power of social networking in Yammer to extend beyond their departments for answers. It will take a while but it’s highlighting a need for new employee capabilities one of which digital literacy is one of them! Thanks for your reply and good luck with OCTEL MOOC!

  7. Hi, thanks for your post which was thought provoking especially as you are more involved with commercial sectors, whilst I am based in higher education only. You made a point that “Some of these portals are thriving little online communities but many of them are wastelands or glorified file drives with empty discussion boards that just push information out to participants – but no interaction going on at all” – and I wondered what was wrong with a lack of interaction?

    I get frustrated when my students don’t make use fully of some of the facilities I’ve included in my course to interact, discuss, reflect, challenge, seek help, provide help etc etc – but I’m also starting to realise that (a) this might not mean that they are having a reduced learning experience [though I think it could be enhanced beyond the learning objectives of the course if they did interact more] (b) not everyone is skilled or confident in being able to do this and (c), reflecting some of the theory covered in this course so far, especially for adult learners, they will only do something that relates at that point in time to what they need to find out.

    This is all a fascinating area really – a lot comes down I think to the different objectives from the different stakeholders – that is course designers, instructors, through to students, employers etc. It will also be influenced by the background of the learner – such as adult learner in employment. I was thinking that if I had to do a course because my manager needed me to do it, then I would be unlikely to take part in some of the interactions, and just do the very minimum needed to pass, But if I was doing a course that I had wanted to complete, then I might be more engaged, and more likely to take part in the discussion and interactions, especially if I received feedback from others, and thus completing a sort of communication loop.

    Well I’ve gone on enough.



  8. Pingback: Motivation – role of autonomy, mastery and purpose | Jo Conlon #OcTEL 2013

  9. Jo Conlon says:

    Hi Helen – I enjoyed this and agree with it. I was in a focus group yesterday on why academic staff (particularly in Art & Design) weren’t doing more in the VLE we have. I said ‘because it looks like that’, just as you have and described it as a filing cabinet. I think we are using a range of exciting external software and do not want to be confined in the VLE. Do you have any thoughts on finding some middle ground?
    I am also interested in your ideas about participation in the on-line community being necessary but overlooked.I am going to check out the Rheingold video (yet) again. I am currently thinking of how these can be embedded in learning outcomes and assessment tasks (digital literacy across the curriculum) and a mechanism for fostering this our course community alongside…

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