In this series of five articles, i’m exploring a methodology for e-learning: Context, Demonstration, Exploration, Reflection and Footsteps.
We communicate in stories; stories about our history, our aspirations, how to work our way through moral dilemmas and tales of adventures. Even in formal learning situations we use stories, telling people how to make a sale, complete a process or carry out a particular task. How do we know if someone has understood a story? Well, one good way is by asking them to tell it back to us.
We can think of this process as ‘reflection’, and there are two things to think about here. First, we want to give individuals the chance to reflect upon what has been learnt, to give them time to internalise the learning, to incorporate it into their schema of understanding. Secondly, we want them to tell us the story back again, as they understand it. Reflecting the story back to us is a method of assessing how well they have understood it.
One of the main challenges we face when completing any piece of learning is understanding how to take what we’ve learnt and use it to transform what we do in everyday life. It’s easy to understand things in the abstract, to understand it academically, but harder to take footsteps out of the learning to transform what we do day to day.
With new things that we’ve learnt for fun, this isn’t a problem, we may just be learning them out of casual interest, but in more formal learning situations, particularly for work, we need to find ways to change what we do as a result of the things we’ve learnt. From a Training department’s perspective, we also need to demonstrate that we have successfully ‘taught’ people something new!
There are creative ways that we can assess people, allowing them to reflect their learning back to us; through the use of scenario based assessments, where users are presented with a scenario and have to navigate their way through it, using the new knowledge, skills and behaviours that they have learnt. This is often done with branching video, but it can equally well be done with other media.
Often we will be looking for the ability to diagnose a situation, to take actions depending upon what is discovered, to demonstrate an understanding of the consequences of those actions and to summarise the reasons for making those choices.
Applying the new knowledge to a situation is one way, but, equally, we could ask them to simply write down their understanding in an old style ‘answer’. In a more modern context, we could encourage participation in debate or collaborative case studies within a forum, even a moderated forum where the moderator allocates specific tasks to different groups and gives feedback on their ability to reflect the relevant learning back to us.
At a more abstract level, reflection can simply mean that we have to recognise that not all the learning takes place whilst on the course. Part of the process of internalisation, of integrating new knowledge within existing schemas, takes time, and that is an ongoing process. Even if we don’t factor ‘reflection’ into how we design a piece of e-learning, we still need to consider that it might take time for the full benefits of the learning to be appreciated. Arguably, until we have the chance to apply that learning, the process is never complete.