The E-Learning Revolution

Publicités

Revealed: Shocking Secrets of a Storyboard Pro

kevin-thornIn this interview, Kevin Thorn of NuggetHead Studioz fame, reveals the shocking storyboarding secrets you’ve always wondered about but were afraid someone might answer. Read on to glimpse the inner workings of a storyboard master.

COACH: When you have a story concept, what’s the first thing you do to carry the idea through to see if it’s instructionally feasible?
KEVIN:
I sketch. Literally, I carry a Moleskine with me wherever I go and when I get ideas I sketch them out in a storyboard fashion or visual narrative. Those concepts may or may not manifest into an elearning course, though.

COACH:What type of storyboard format do you recommend using for stories, scenarios and narratives?
KEVIN:
I like PowerPoint mostly. Not only is it a versatile tool to build out a sequential flow, the latest versions (’07 and ’10) have really great graphics tools. Building out a flow you can “see” how the story is structured. Once its laid out, I do the writing in an equivalent Word document.

COACH:How do you first visualize the flow of a story? Do you start with the key frames and then add the in-between details later? Do you diagram it?
KEVIN:
Yes! Keyframes. I’m an old school animation keyframer so I suppose I carry over those habits. Keyframing is really a great method and correlates nicely into storytelling and elearning. If you think of a typical story arc: opening, characters, environment, conflict, climax, resolution, conclusion, etc., each of those can be keyframes to help map out the whole concept of your story. Then go back and fill in the ‘in-betweens’.

COACH: What is your storyboarding process?
KEVIN:
The process starts in some sort of sketch. Whether that’s in my Moleskine or on grid paper, more often than not I start every project with a pencil. No matter what digital tool you prefer, sketching with a pencil is fluid, portable, and quick to make changes (erase) and no one cares what it looks like at that point. Once it’s sketched out relative to what my mind’s eye is seeing I typically move to PowerPoint to build out the flow. From there I use that as my map for developing in any tool I want.

COACH: One problem people have with sketching, is distribution. Do you scan or photocopy your storyboards to distribute to clients and team members?
KEVIN:I don’t see distribution as a problem—at least not in today’s market of having access to several means of delivery. I’ve taken a photo of a pencil sketch in my Moleskine and emailed or even sent it as a text message to a client. It’s a concept at that point and that’s really what you’re trying to convey. Other methods include scanning in the pencil sketch and then using one of several graphic editing tools to ‘ink’ it.

COACH: How many iterations do you typically go through before you’re satisfied with the storyboard?
KEVIN: Great question! I’ve never counted. Several I suppose. The first sketch is never the final storyboard. Even if I rework the sketch several times, the final storyboard typically gets moved around once it starts to take shape. Attempting to answer this question I’d have to say at least a half dozen times.

COACH:How can people communicate their visual ideas when they think they can’t draw?
KEVIN:
I LOVE this question! It’s not about drawing at all. It’s about using simple shapes and lines to visually communicate a concept. For example, if I wanted to convey the concept of time I would simply draw a circle, place a dot in the middle of that circle, add several dots around the inside perimeter of that circle, and two arrows pointing in somewhat opposite directions from the center dot. A clock. A watch. Anyone can do that! What helps separate the mind from “I can’t draw” is what Dave Gray refers to as a Visual Alphabet which is simply a collection of shapes, lines, and dots.

COACH: What are common mistakes beginners make when they first start storyboarding stories and narratives?
KEVIN:
In my view the mistake is not about stumbling through their first storyboards rather not storyboarding at all and jumping right to development. How can you build a house without a blueprint? How can you build eLearning or a good narrative story without an outline—storyboard? Beginner mistakes made early on while storyboarding is not getting out of the linear thought process. Example:

LINEAR:
See Spot run. Up the tree. To chase the cat.

NON-LINEAR:

  • See Felix the cat. A sly and cunning cat that likes to tease Spot.
  • Spot is a gullible neighborhood dog who pretends he’s king of the land with a bark louder than his bite.
  • Charleston the grand oak tree is known by all the neighborhood pets as Uncle Charlie. Just like any favorite uncle, he plays with all the young ones and lets them jump and crawl all over him yet he’s constantly protective.
  • Felix darts passed Spot as if to say, “Catch me if you can” and climbs to the top of Uncle Charlie. Spot chases after Felix as fast as he can but is too slow for the agile cat. Spot’s commanding bark suggests he’s ordering Felix out of the tree. Felix can wait longer than Spot can bark, and Uncle Charlie just enjoys the attention.

Not the best or even an eLearning example, but a demonstration that the first two sections introduce the main characters. The 3rd section introduces the supporting character and environment. While the last section presents the climax. If laid out in a storyboard keyframe each and work those paths a little deeper and then circle back around to the main objective.

COACH: Do you have any advice to help people improve how they visualize stories?
KEVIN:
When in doubt, sketch. Doodle. Draw boxes and lines and dots. Stick figures are perfectly fine if all you’re doing is conveying a concept. All the great visual stories we’re all familiar with were developed by a team. Someone may have done the actual artwork, but someone else had to sketch out the story and storyboards for an artist to follow. The same goes with elearning where an Instructional Designer has to have a clear set of storyboards to pass on to the graphic artist(s) and/or developers.

COACH: Kevin has kindly donated storyboard templates and other templates related to Articulate Presenter at the Storyboard Depot page on this site.

Thanks for a great interview, Kevin. Check out Kevin’s website at LearnNuggets and connect on Twitter: @LearnNuggets.


Get The eLearning Coach delivered to your Inbox twice a month, with articles, tips and resources. Also you can download my eBook, No More Spilled Ink: Writing for Instructional Design. Sign up below. Your email address will never be shared.

Writing Learning Objectives: Part 3

fun-learning-objectivesLearning Objectives for the Audience

In case you were asleep, the previous two articles in this series discussed how to write learning objectives for your internal eLearning team. Part 1 demonstrated how to write classic three-part learning objectives and Part 2 discussed how to make them measurable. Now let’s see how to write exciting and fun learning objectives for your eLearning audience that will cause them to react as in the photo shown here.

All of this implies that the learning objectives you write for the audience should differ from the technical, inflexible, three-part learning objectives you write for developing training products. Believe me, no audience member wants to see a long list of instructional objectives preceded by “1.4.3.5.” Only instructional designers find those lists exciting.

Advance Organizers

Cognitive psychology tells us that as part of an overall instructional strategy, learning objectives can act as an advance organizer for the learner. In the right context, presenting audience members with learning objectives can help them organize new information by connecting it to information that they already know. This should ready the mind for learning and make it easier to understand new content. Presenting a vanilla list of learning objectives without context, however, will probably not achieve this goal. In fact, most people probably skip the “learning objectives screen” anyway.

Are You Guilty?

Let’s admit to the fact that we have all been guilty of presenting an audience with a long list of learning objectives. But it’s because someone made us do it, right? The problem is, not only do we miss a chance to facilitate learning, a plain list of instructional objectives at the start of a course doesn’t make sense to the learner without context. Plus this might be de-motivating and motivation is an important component of learning.

Solutions

So what is an instructional designer to do? There are several approaches outlined here. And many more to come in future articles. David Ausbel, who developed the theory of Advance Organizers, suggested they should bridge the gap between what the learner knows and what the learner needs to know.

1. Real World Scenarios

One approach that works well is to start a course with a short scenario. The scenario should be realistic and present a problem for which most audience members probably don’t know the solution. At the end of the scenario, add a statement such as, “Would you know what to do?” Then lead into a related statement about what they will be learning.

2. How It Will Help The Learner

Another approach involves seeing things from the learner’s perspective. How will your course help the audience members? Will it help them save a life, become a better leader, repair a computer or use accounting software? Tell them how the course will benefit them and bury your objectives in those statements. Example: “As a manager, you may find it tough to not only organize projects but to lead the way as well. This lesson will teach you how to be a better leader, by practicing how to analyze given information to make sound decisions.”

3. Speak to the Emotions

It’s a well-known fact that speaking to the emotions is one way to motivate people. It also creates context—a way to connect previous knowledge with what one will be learning. Example: “In a hospital environment, patients are dependent on us during emergency situations. This module will help you quickly implement the fire emergency plan for your building to ensure our patients can be evacuated safely.”

Not Really The End

You’ve been given three possible ways to put learning objectives into a broader learning context and to make them more motivating. But this is really just the beginning of an important discussion. So please share your successful ways of introducing eLearning learning objectives to an audience. Write your comments below.

Text To Speech Synthesizers For eLearning

text-to-speech-featuredDo you like Paul and Kate or are you fond of Mike and Crystal? Personally, I think Charles and Audrey from the UK are brilliant. This is how I started to think about synthesized voice characters after listening to them lately.

When TTS Is Useful

We can probably all agree that computer-generated voices do not have the warmth and richness of a human voice, nor can they display the range of talents found in a skilled narrator. But there are times when this option is worth exploring.

One reason to use text-to-speech (TTS) software is to provide accessibility to visually impaired persons or those who have difficulties with reading. Not all online courses are narrated and often instructions are left as text only. TTS is a way to overcome these obstacles.

TTS can also be effective as the voice of an avatar or guide. It also seems appropriate when there isn’t time or budget for recording and syncing visuals and audio, particularly for dummy or scratch audio when you need to show others how the media elements will be integrated. Finally, in an imaginative piece, TTS could be appropriate as the sound of a machine, object or computer.

Text-to-speech capabilities are integrated into Adobe Captivate, providing a way to use this feature without requiring additional software. But if your authoring tool of choice does not have this functionality, you will need to rely on external software and import the audio files. Below is a list of text-to-speech software you can explore. Listen carefully to the voices as some have demos that read back text you’ve entered. Also, many now have speakers in multiple languages.

TEXT TO SPEECH SYNTHESIZERS

iSpeech

iSpeech has a variety of online services and pricing models for converting TTS and downloading the files from their site. If you are developing a website, such as a learning portals, you can also connect through their API using a few lines of code and you’ve got a spoken version of your text.

NaturalSoft

NaturalSoft makes the NaturalReader software that comes in several versions, including a free one. The Professional version is most relevant to online learning as it converts files to wav/.mp3 formats and comes with two or four voices.

NeoSpeech

NeoSpeech is primarily an on-demand service, though they do license their software engine to developers. You buy credits, select a voice, enter or copy/paste text into their editor, and download the synthesized audio files.

Read The Words

This is an online TTS application that provides conversion of text files and documents to audio files using a variety of voice characters. There’s a free version and a paid upgrade.

Speech-Over Professional

This TTS software works with PowerPoint. It generates narration from PowerPoint text.

SpokenText

SpokenText is an online speech to text synthesizer that converts text files, documents (pdf, doc, ppt) and web pages to audio files. There are a variety of pricing structures and several voices to choose from.

TextAloud

NextUp sells the synthesizer TextAloud 2 for the PC and Ghostreader for the Mac. It also sells diverse character voices in different languages from the major voice publishers, including AT&T Natural Voices, Acapela Group, RealSpeak and Cepstral.

Virtual Speaker

Virtual Speaker is another text to speech converter. It has a lot of options for making recordings, but potential buyers need to contact the publisher, Acapela Group, for pricing.

VoiceForge

This is an online TTS service using Cepstral’s voices. You get access to all the character voices for one price, but this service is for online applications and devices only.

VoiceReader

Linguatec publishes VoiceReader software, which can convert any text to audio. VoiceReader text-to-speech works in many different languages.

Wizzard

Just in case you’re a developer or in case your business is looking for a TTS technology, check out the Wizzard site. They produce speech applications for developers and businesses and they use AT&T’s Natural Voices.

VOICE PUBLISHERS

Acapela Group

Acapela provides diverse audio services and one of these is the creation of character voices in many different languages. Check out the variety of their voices at their site.

Cepstral

Cepstral is a synthetic voice publisher. You can meet Allison, Lawrence, Vittoria and many more character voices from different countries at their Demos page. Voices work with both PC and Mac.

How do you use text to speech in online learning? Tell us your experiences and recommendations.

 

8 Tips For Preparing Audio Scripts For Recording

tips-for-preparing-scriptWhat does it take to turn a storyboard into a script that a narrator can easily read? Whether you are recording at a studio or in-house, whether you are using a professional voice over artist or a coerced colleague, there are certain conventions that make the task easier.

Here are tips for formatting and organizing your script that apply to all types of recording—at work, home, and in professional studios. Some are known conventions and some are simply what I have discovered through trial and error.

1. Double-check for Errors

Every script has errors. It could be incorrect content or a misuse of grammar. Each error you discover during the recording session slows things down and stops the narrator’s momentum. If the error requires contacting the SME, that can be a real headache.

Therefore, go over that script with a thorough eye for detail and read it aloud. Ask someone else to review it for errors too. Making real-time corrections during a recording are not uncommon, but the less this happens, the smoother your recording will go.

2. Indicate Emphasized Words

I remember the first time I was at a recording for a script that I wrote, I was surprised that the voice talent didn’t always intonate sentences the way I intended. In hindsight, this seems obvious. How could someone else, who is not even familiar with the content, read a script with the same voice modulation I had in my mind.

That’s when I started to add emphasis in every script. Typically this is done through text formatting, such as using bold or italicized text. To avoid confusion, use one method for the entire script and communicate this convention to your narrator in a prerecording briefing.

3. Provide Pronunciation for Little Known Terms

Using terms that are unique to a field can slow down a recording. If you use medical, technical or other specialized vocabularies, find a way to communicate the pronunciation of these words and acronyms in the script. Point these out to the narrator before recording begins.

For example, you can write out the phonetic spelling of a term in brackets, so the narrator can quickly see the pronunciation. If the script uses acronyms, indicate whether the term should be pronounced by its letters or as a word. For example, when the letters alone are used, I write it with dashes, as in U-S-A.

4. Indicate Where You Need Pauses

If you allow for pauses in the script, it is easier to accommodate graphical changes on the screen, such as animations and progressive reveals. You can add an ellipsis (three dots) to the script or write the word “pause” in brackets when you need that extra half-second of silence.

Let the narrator know that at these points, you would like a pause of “one beat.” That nearly imperceptible moment of silence will help you synchronize the audio and visuals seamlessly during course production.

5. Insert Page Numbers

During a recording at a professional studio, one of my team members created a script without  page numbers. The audio engineer teased him about this the whole time. That was enough to ensure I always remember page numbers. They are essential because during a live recording because everyone present will need to reference them. Also, be sure the page numbers are located in a very obvious place, such as bottom center.

6. Avoid Page Turns

When using a paper version of a script (which I find many professional voiceover artists prefer), be sure that he or she will not need to turn the page in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. The sound of paper turning usually gets picked up by the mic. Actually, this is a good tip even if the narrator is reading the script online. The time it takes to find and press the Page Down key can ruin the sound byte.

7. Name Your Audio Files

When recording for an eLearning course, I like to prepare the script so that the audio segment for each screen is associated with a unique file name. Devise a naming strategy that makes sense in your production environment. For example, m2s3.wav indicates this is the audio file you will be using in module 2-slide 3.

Therefore, my scripts have two columns—a narrow one on the left and a wider one on the right. The column on the left indicates the name of the audio file; the column on the right holds the script. This ensures that everything is well-defined for the person (even if it’s you) doing the postproduction work of breaking up the audio into smaller files.

8. Make it Easy for the Voice Talent

Regardless of whether the script is read online or from a print-out, double-space the text and use an easy to read typeface so the script is highly legible. The physical attributes of the script should be transparent to the narrating process.

Always provide the script to your narrator a few days before the recording session. Professionals always ask for a script ahead of time, so it makes sense to give it to your colleagues too. Not only will the recording have fewer retakes, your narrator will feel more comfortable and prepared.

Do you have any tips for preparing a script for production? Comment below.


 

How To Be Effective At Persuasion For Learnin

by

persuasion-and-learningDo you ever need to persuade an audience during a learning experience? Although the persuasion may be subtle, I’m guessing the answer is yes. Designers often embed persuasive messages into a learning experience  because the need for training and support often results from a change or transition in the workplace.

For example, when you need to teach or provide performance support for new software, new regulations or new procedures, the learning experience requires persuasion. The reason? Most people don’t want their old ways of doing things to change. In an attempt to convince the audience that the new way is the best way, persuasion becomes part of the subtle underlying message.

When the purpose of the learning experience is to change habits and attitudes, your persuasion may be more explicit. It can even be part of an organization’s larger internal marketing campaign. Learning why one should make smart lifestyle choices, volunteer for a charity event or use hand sanitizer after seeing patients are examples of explicit persuasion.

Persuasion is an important element of instructional design, but we don’t know enough about it. What exactly is persuasion? What works? And how are people persuaded?

Persuasion Defined

Persuasion can be defined as “an interactive process through which a given message alters an individual’s perspective by changing the knowledge, beliefs, or interests that underlie that perspective (Miller, 1980).” In plain terms, persuasion is a communication that tries to get other people to change a belief, attitude or behavior.

Scholars think of persuasion as a continuum of change that is part of a gradual process rather than a change that happens immediately. Persuasion is ongoing as a person re-examines his or her values and beliefs in light of gaining new knowledge. Researchers point out that although the communicator (you) provides the information, in reality, people persuade themselves.

The Central Route to Persuasion

An influential model of persuasion was introduced in 1986 by Petty and Cacioppo. Known as the Elaboration Likelihood Method (ELM), it describes two routes of information processing that might occur in a recipient: the central route and the peripheral route. It assumes that an individual’s ability to process messages and motivation are important factors in success.

The central route to persuasion focuses on the quality of the argument as compared with an individual’s prior knowledge, which results in an acceptance or rejection of the content. This route is based on an individual’s cognitive ability, interest and motivation to process a persuasive message. According to the model, this route results in a more stable and persistent change.

If your audience is likely to process the message through the central route, use rational messages that are relevant to the audiences’ experiences in the workplace. Tout the benefits of a new approach. Demonstrate increased efficiency and productivity. For instance, show how new regulations will make the environment better or safer; demonstrate how you can use the new enterprise software on your phone, etc.

The Peripheral Route to Persuasion

On the other hand, the peripheral route to persuasion is based more on non-cognitive factors that surround the message. This could be the emotional impact of the communication, the credibility and characteristics of the sender, the visual design and even the length of the message. People who are influenced through the peripheral route do not care as much about the quality of a rational argument. This is often the approach you will find in commercials and advertisements. The peripheral route is considered somewhat weak and unstable in terms of influencing lasting change.

If your audience is likely to process the message through the peripheral route, you can tell persuasive stories that arouse emotions. Humor may also work, when appropriate. Another approach is to find influential leaders or well-liked employees who will demonstrate and model new approaches.

Note that even audiences who are persuaded through cognitive arguments can be motivated and influenced through a peripheral route.

Factors Affecting Persuasion in Learning

Before you design your next persuasive message, consider these factors that have been shown to influence attitude, value or behavioral change:

  • Characteristics of the learner: prior knowledge and relevant beliefs influence persuasion.
  • Ability to process a message: stronger comprehension skills result in deeper processing of the message, which makes it more convincing.
  • Ability to retrieve relevant beliefs: this makes it more likely the person will process the message and be persuaded.
  • Characteristics of the message: the strength of the communication and the content itself affect persuasiveness. In general, presenting both sides of an argument and then refuting one is an effective approach. Also, generating an emotional reaction can improve the effectiveness of a message.
  • Interest in the topic: as a person’s interest in a topic increases, his or her beliefs are more likely to be modified (probably because the person will be more reflective). You can increase interest by providing related content prior to an event and also by making the topic relevant to the learner’s world.
  • Continuous messaging: It takes time to persuade, so it must occur in multiple steps. Similar to acquiring knowledge and skills, a single message will not be enough. You will need to help the audience appreciate the value or behavior you want to instill.
  • Emotional component: Rational decisions are at least partially based on emotions. Appeal to the cognitive and affective aspects of the audience.

What are the most effective persuasion techniques that you use? Answer in the Comments below.

References:

  1. Miller, G. R. On being persuaded: Some basic distinctions. In M. Roloff, & G. R. Miller (Eds.), Persuasion: New directions in theory and research, 11–28, 1980. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  2. Morris, J.D., Woo, C.M., & Singh, A.J. Elaboration likelihood model: A missing intrinsic emotional implication. Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, 14, 79–98, 2005.
  3. Murphy, P.K. & Alexander, P.A. Persuasion As a Dynamic, Multidimensional Process: An Investigation of Individual and Intraindividual Differences. American Educational Research Journal: 41.2: 337-363, 2004.
  4. Seel, N.M. Persuasion and Learning in Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, 2600-2604, 2012.

Best Practices In Blended Learning

Best Practices In Blended Learning

10 Strategies for Design

blended-learningOriginally, blended learning referred to adding an online component to instructor-led training or classroom education.

But now that technology offers so many varied options, a blended approach has evolved to mean the use of more than one delivery method to provide and enhance training and support. This is the way of the future.

Advantages of Blended Learning

Some of the advantages of using an effective blended strategy include:

  • Designers and learners are not limited to one medium or delivery channel to meet the learning objectives.
  • It promotes a continuous learning approach which is more effective at creating change and deep learning.
  • It provides more opportunities for social learning, collaboration, increased participation and informal strategies.
  • Using both synchronous and asynchronous approaches can provide more opportunities for learners to cultivate skills and apply them.
  • There is the potential for faster development and reduced costs depending on the approaches that are selected.
  • Technology-enabled delivery can reach a geographically dispersed audience.

Examples

In workplace training, blended instruction can incorporate any strategies that improve on-the-job performance and satisfaction. For example, a blended approach could mean a webinar enhanced with forum discussions and outfitted with mobile support tools. Or it might involve a flipped virtual classroom and working with a mentor.

Ten Best Practices

Designing for blended instruction is going to be different than designing for a stand-alone course. In an effort to identify effective design strategies for this approach, I researched journal articles, books and white papers and synthesized the following ten best practices.

1. Design to meet learning outcomes, not to use specific technologies. Choose approaches that will fulfill the learning outcomes, rather than focusing on a specific technology. The appropriateness of meeting the learning objectives should take precedence in the design.

2. Design to meet organizational drivers.
Know the underlying purpose for using a blended approach. Is it to reach a wider audience or to meet the needs of varied learners? Whatever the organizational drivers are, be sure to also meet those goals.

3. Design for synergy.
Determine how the components of a blended strategy will fit together as a whole. Link the learning experiences from each component of the blend to each other so they work to reinforce and augment each other. Think in terms of weaving a tapestry.

4. Consider learner preferences and use cases.
Take learner preferences into account during design and development. Survey the audience to discover the learning environments they prefer. For example, if audience members are isolated from their peers, such as a widely dispersed sales force, they may wish to partake in an online learning community.

5. Design from scratch rather than redesign an existing course or curriculum.
In The Handbook of Blended Learning, authors Bonk and Graham recommend taking a fresh start with your blended design. A blended approach needs a new perspective. If you re-work an existing course you are already constrained by the previous approach.

6. Consider the full range of options.
Learning designers have more options now than ever before. There are numerous online technologies and apps. One thing to remember are the on-the-job options, such as coaching, mentoring and shadowing experts.

7. Find ways to make social and emotional connections.
Provide ways to build community, when this is appropriate for the audience and content. Make interaction and engagement part of the blended approach. Social learning is powerful.

8. Ensure the asynchronous components are considered as valuable as the live components.
Although this may be obvious to eLearning professionals, those who are coming from an instructor-led background could have a bias toward thinking that classroom training is more important than other approaches. Value all the components that are part of your blend.

9. Evaluate the program with a pilot.
To evaluate a blended program, start with a pilot version. See if learners can understand how it works and watch to see where people may stumble. Note which aspects are motivating and which are frustrating. Implement a continuous improvement strategy.

10. Prepare the learners.
Because a blended strategy will be new to many employees, it is important to provide an orientation and rationale for using this approach. You may need to introduce it at an organizational level, getting buy-in from upper management.

What about you? Please add your best practices in the Comments below.

References:

  1. Bonk, C. & Grahm, C. The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. Pfeiffer, 2005.
  2. Glazer, F. & Rehn, J. Blended Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the AcademyStylus Publishing, 2011.
  3. Kineo & The Oxford Group. Blended Learning Today, 2013.
  4. Oliver, M. , & Trigwell , K. Can “blended learning” be redeemed? E-Learning , 2 ( 1 ), 17 – 26, 2005.
  5. Schuhmann, R. & Skopek, T. Blurring the Lines: A Blended Learning Model in a Graduate Public Administration Program. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 10(2), 2009.
  6. Singh, H. Building Effective Blended Learning Programs. Educational Technology,
    43 (6), 51-54, 2003.

Three Brainy Books Reviewed

Three Brainy Books Reviewed

brainy-booksThere’s no better way to unwind after a hard day of thinking than to curl up with a relaxing book about neuroscience and cognition. Right?

Although the books reviewed here have been around for awhile, I chose them because they influenced my understanding of learning, instruction and intelligence in a powerful way. I wanted to share in case you haven’t read them yet.

The Art of Changing the Brain

art-of-changing-brainAuthor James E. Zull will prove to you that neurons physically change as people learn. Why should you care? Because the author, a science professor and dedicated educator, uses this knowledge to radically change the way he teaches. And he gets good results.

As a professor, Zull stopped using the lecture format. He learned that effective teaching starts with the learner’s knowledge rather than the expert’s. He also began using teaching methods that promoted understanding rather than memorization.

His principles are applicable to all types of learning design. The book’s premise is that knowledge resides in powerful neuronal networks and that instruction must build on these existing networks.

Furthermore, learning is based on the brain’s plasticity to add or lose synapses or to change the strength and pattern of its signaling. In essence, changing the brain involves “recognizing the existing neuronal networks in a learner and inventing ways for her to use them.”

The Art of Changing the Brain is filled with gems, such as:

  • Working memory is for completing tasks.
  • Concepts and broad principles should be developed from specific examples.
  • Prior knowledge is a gift to the teacher; it tells us where and how to start.

Using a wonderful mix of science and stories from the trenches, Zull walks the reader through his own evolution as a teacher. He brings the learning cycle to life, showing how it relates to various parts of the brain. Through this lens, you will explore how to promote learning through sensory experience, active participation, integration with previous knowledge, and reflection.

The Tell-Tale Brain

tell-tale-brainIn The Tell-Tale Brain, author V.S. Ramachandran, shows us what it means to be human from the perspective of neuroscience. The author, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UCSD, highlights the inner workings of the brain by drawing conclusions from individuals with abnormal neurological conditions.

The central neuroscientific puzzle he seeks to solve, is what makes humans unique compared to the great apes, considering that every anatomic region of the human brain has an analog in the brain of the great apes. To do this, the author delves into the handful of brain regions that “have been so radically elaborated that at the functional (or cognitive) level, they actually can be considered novel and unique.”

Ramachandran explores mirror neurons, which automatically simulate the actions of others. Mirror neurons also allow us to read people’s intentions and to anticipate next actions. Through this, he hypothesizes, humans developed capabilities for social learning, imitation and the transmission of culture.

He also explains brain plasticity, based on his research with amputees who experienced “phantom limbs.” Contrary to the common view that plasticity is only available to babies and children, the author provides excellent proof that the malleability of the human brain lasts through a lifetime.

Other topics that The Tell-Tale Brain examines include: how visual information is neurologically processed, the link between perception and emotion, synesthesia, autism and the development of the integrated self, language development, aesthetics and transcendence. You may find yourself disagreeing with certain theories or taking offense at his occasional out-of-place comment, but this book does provide a fascinating look at the brain through compelling stories and science.

On Intelligence

on-intelligenceAlthough this book was published several years ago, there may be no better theoretical framework for how the brain generates intelligence.

Author Jeff Hawkins invented the Palm Pilot and then turned his intelligence to neuroscience. In this book, he teams up with science writer Sandra Blakeslee, and perhaps this is why the book is so accessible.

To reach his goal of creating intelligent machines, Hawkins has devoted 30 years to understanding the workings of the brain. He hopes to build machines that work on the principles of the newer brain, the neocortex. Fortunately, we can benefit from his research and theorizing.

On Intelligence uses concrete analogies to help the reader picture the brain. Telling us that the neocortex is as thick as a stack of six business cards and stretched out it’s around the size of a dinner napkin gives us a shared understanding from the start.

At the core of his approach to intelligence is a contrarian theory that comes from a paper published in 1978 by Vernon Mountcastle. The theory states that “the cortex uses the same computational tool to accomplish everything it does.” This stunning and simplistic idea means that there is a single algorithm at use in all parts of the neocortex, no matter its function. Ponder that for awhile. The theory goes on to say that the brain is affected by the type of input that flows into it, which causes functional specialization.

Using this as a basis, Hawkins explores how the brain passes information up and down a hierarchy that devotes more signals to feedback than to top-down processing. Ultimately, he builds a theory of intelligence that centers on prediction. “Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence.”

The book is well-written. The reader is brought along Hawkins’ scientific journey, making theoretical discoveries along the way. In the process, you may be persuaded that his theories are not only plausible, but probably correct.

E-learning 2.0

Is Microlearning The Solution You Need?

Microlearning (a.k.a. micro learning or micro-learning) is an emergent learning strategy known for quickly closing skill and knowledge gaps. It seems to be an ideal instructional approach for many situations because:

  • Information changes quickly
  • People find it difficult to keep up with things
  • Resources are freely available online
  • Newer technologies support it

What is Microlearning?

Some in the industry conceptualize microlearning as a small andmicrolearning informal self-directed learning experience arising from one’s personal learning environment, such as watching a Ted Talk or taking a lesson from Khan Academy.

Others think of microlearning as the planned organization of brief learning experiences designed to meet an extended learning goal. Still others think that microlearning is synonymous with performance support or mobile learning.

Characteristics of Microlearning

Regardless of whether it is used informally or as part of a structured learning experience, microlearning has a few consistent features.

  • Brevity: Microlearning events are short, though there is no defined duration.
  • Granularity: Due to their brevity and purpose, microlearning focuses on a narrow topic, concept or idea.
  • Variety: Microlearning content can be in the form of a presentation, activity, game, discussion, video, quiz, book chapter, or any other format from which someone learns.

Benefits

Like any type of learning intervention, microlearning has strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few of its benefits.

Immediate Results. One benefit of effective microlearning is that it enables a person to quickly close a small knowledge or skill gap. For example, some universities are using a microlearning strategy to help students learn about collaborative and social technologies, such as how to set up a Google+ account.

Diverse formats. For both unstructured and structured learning, microlearning has the potential for using a very blended approach to instruction.

Budget friendly. Production costs for microlearning should be much lower than the costs for a major course production. The vision of microlearning is smaller and laser focused.

Quick achievements. Because people can typically process around four bits of information at a time, it’s easier for a learner to achieve success from a short learning intervention. I’ve found this myself when studying a foreign language.

Ideal for tagging. Small chunks of instructional content can be tagged for easy search, access and reuse.

Fast-paced culture. Microlearning is a solution that busy workers will appreciate because it is not as disruptive as a day of training or even an hour or two of eLearning.

Disadvantages

There are some disadvantages to using a microlearning strategy. Here are some to consider:

Lack of research. There is insufficient research to know whether microlearning is an effective strategy for reaching long-term learning goals.

Learning fragments. For long-term learning goals, microlearning interventions could end up as content fragments that are not tied together.

Lack of cognitive synthesis. We can’t be certain that learners will synthesize content from microlearning well enough to construct appropriate mental models.

Potential for confusion. If a microlearning solution includes a wide variety of formats, some learners could have problems switching between them.

Most likely, many weaknesses in the approach can be fixed by sound instructional design practices, such as providing overviews, recursive content and ensuring there is sufficient content integration.

Some Ways to Use Microlearning

Very brief lessons and learning activities are becoming more common. When the audience and content can benefit from extreme chunking, well-designed microlearning seems to be a good strategy. Some example uses:

  • Learning languages or topics that require repetition
  • Learning a software application
  • Business processes and procedures
  • Interacting with case studies
  • Practicing micro skills that build into larger skills
  • Applying best practices

Where You Can Find Microcourses

A few platforms and/or websites offer microcourses. Here are a few.

  • Grovo: Teaches professional skills with 60-second videos
  • Coursmos: Platform that supports micro courses
  • Daily Bits Of: Short courses delivered by email

References:

  1. Grovo. Bite Size Is the Right Size: How Microlearning Shrinks the Skills Gap in Higher Education
  2. Hug, T. Microlearning in N. Seel (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, Springer, 2011.
  3. Hug, T., & Friesen, N. Outline of a microlearning agenda. eLearning Papers, Nº 16, pp. 1–13, 2009. http://www.academia.edu/2817967/Outline_of_a_Microlearning_agenda
  4. Kovachev, D., Cao Y., Klamma, R., and Jarke M. Learn As You Go: New Ways of Cloud-Based Micro-learning for the Mobile Web in Lecture Notes in Computer Science Volume 7048, 2011, pp 51-61.
  5. von Rosing, M., von Scheel, H, and Scheer, A. The Complete Business Process Handbook. Morgan Kaufmann, December 6, 2014.

Source : E-learning 2.0

The Agile Learner

The Agile Learner

agile-learningMarshall Goldsmith, prolific author of management and business books, states that successful leaders of the future will needlearning agility. This is an ability to be flexible in what one learns and how one learns.

Learning agility is important no matter what a person pursues in life because we are immersed in an information-rich environment. The capability to be interested in and understand content in diverse fields is simply a requirement for effective living.

This is one of the advantages of well-designed digital learning. Digital formats tend to parse information into reasonable chunks, making it easy to get involved, learn what is needed, exit when convenient and return later for another visit. This type of accessibility is not only attuned to a busy lifestyle, it is attuned to how we learn. Learning in small bits makes it easier to absorb and retain information than marathon learning sessions. Thus, learning through digital media can help support learning agility.