Main | June 2006 »

May 29, 2006

A brief look at teaching and learning research

Because the Creating the One-Shot Library Workshop book is more of a how-to handbook for design, I didn’t take much time to show how the practical aspects of the instructional design process are supported by a rich body of research in learning theory. But when I work with librarians and staff, they are sometimes interested in having this background information in order to create a more compelling argument to make changes to current practices.

Here, I’ll bring three important bodies of research into the discussion: Chickering and Gamson (1987), Marchese (1997) and Merrill (2002). These are seminal works that are used regularly in university courses and in university centers for teaching and learning as guiding principles for effective teaching.

Chickering and Gamson’s work is focused on good practice in undergraduate education, but we can apply much of this to adult learners in general as you will see with Marchese and Merrills’ work.

Chickering and Gamson learned that good practice:

• encourages contact between learners and teachers,
• develops reciprocity and cooperation among learners,
• encourages active learning,
• gives prompt feedback,
• emphasizes time on task,
• communicates high expectations, and
• respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Notice the connections to the PAF model in step 12 of Creating the One-Shot Library Workshop which emphasizes application of learning and feedback during the workshop. Keeping students engaged via contact, active learning and feedback is critical to good teaching practice.

The next researcher, Marchese (1997), drew from neuroscience, anthropology and cognitive science to encourage teachers to emphasis certain approaches to instruction that includes engagement, but that also adds among other things, active involvement in real world tasks.

Marchese shows that the more a teacher can emphasize

• learner independence and choice
• intrinsic motivators and natural curiosity
• rich, timely, usable feedback
• coupled with occasions for reflection and
• active involvement in real-world tasks
• emphasizing higher-order abilities
• done with other people
• in high-challenge, low-threat environments
• that provide for practice and reinforcement

. . . the greater the chances he or she will realize the deep learning that makes a difference in student lives.

David Merrill’s research come along more recently and also points out that learning is facilitated when

• learners are engaged in solving real-world problems.
• existing knowledge is activated as foundation for new knowledge.
• new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner.
• new knowledge is applied by the learner.
• new knowledge is integrated into the learner's world.

There are a number of common themes here that can help guide us in our instructional design process. The next article will examine 4 of these: interaction, feedback, problem-based learning, and application to real life.

Thanks to the Digital Media Center at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities for their "Teach" handout on this research.

May 15, 2006

Are your learners drowning in content?

IMHO, learner overload is probably one of the most interesting challenges we face as library instructional designers and teachers. This is because for most of us we might never see this particular group of learners ever again. All we probably have is the 50-minute, the 1 hour, or the 90 minute timeslot with them total. Of course we panic. There is SO MUCH we want to pass onto our learners. There is so much important content, so many important lessons, so many tips and tricks and survival skills and just-in-cases and pearls of wisdom. And all that in a few measly minutes! These poor learners. They deserve days of workshops, they deserve a semester, a 3-credit course, a minor! But all they get is a few measly minutes with us.

I think that the step in the process for filter content (step 4) may well be the most important step in the entire process. It takes an enormous amount of willpower to keep the perils of cognitive overload front and center in our minds, and pick, pick, pick away at the content until we get to the kernels – the most important, critical pieces of content. My advice is to take this step very seriously. Keep asking yourself for everything you want to include in the workshop, is this item critical for learner success? Will they learn it on their own or somewhere else? Are you certain that it’s critical? But most importantly, if you do include it, does that mean that other things you’ve included in the workshop get diluted?

Think about it this way – the human brain has limited capacity to take in new content. There are lots of methods to address this capacity problem (some which I address in the book), but as many clever ways that you as a designer and teacher address this capacity problem, you’re still going to hit a wall at some point.

If there’s only one thing that you take away from the instructional design process, it’s that if you can’t manage the volume of your content and integrate methods to help your learners process that content, they’re dead in the water. Are you sure you're doing all you can to keep them afloat?

In order to help your learners process new information and move it into the long term memory, you have got to be serious about integrating frequent opportunities for learners to DO SOMETHING with the content. You can't expect them to take it all in by just sitting there in your classroom and watching you lecture and do a demo, and then in the last 10 minutes jumping on the computer and doing some searching. Instead, modularize your content into small enough segments so that every 8-12 minutes (or even sooner, after 7+or-2 information items) they have to DO SOMETHING with the content. You doing something - you doing a demo or asking a question and having one person respond - is not the same as your learners doing something. Get them in action, get them practicing and applying every 10 minutes or so, and you’ll be doing them an enormous service. Sure, it means that you have to cut back even more on your need-to-knows, but you can feel confident that at least the ones you have left will be learned and not just immediately dumped out of the other ear or in the trashcan as your learners exit your workshop.

If you are intrigued by this whole concept and want to read more beyond what I've got in chapter 4, I highly recommend reading Ruth Colvin Clark’s work. She’s got some great articles out there in the training and education field, but check out her books too. One that I recommend came out a few years ago and is called Building Expertise. She’s got a new one out that I haven’t gotten to read but it looks great - called Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load. So, if you’re inspired, please do take a look at her work. There’s so much there we can take into the library world of instruction!

May 14, 2006


Hopefully you've had a chance to pick up the book and either begin thinking about integrating the design process into your own work, or have actually begun. But of you’re anything like me, despite all your good intentions and your commitment to designing even more impactful, successful workshops, life gets crazy, other priorities tug at you, and before you know it you’ve found yourself designing and teaching your workshops the tried-and-true way that you know best.

Okay, sure that is going to happen. What I’m hoping, though, is that by getting this newsletter as an RSS feed or by checking in periodically you’ll get nudged to come back to the instructional design process, pick up some helpful tips here, plus have a place to ask questions, share your experiences, or make comments yourself.

I wish you the best of luck taking your first ride around this design cycle. I hope this newsletter can help!

Keeping up-to-date with this newsletter: If RSS feeds are not your thing, I'd be happy to set-up an email notification for you when an entry is added. Please contact me via email to do so.