When people come to me and ask me about creating a course to get people “good” at something (most recently it has been Teaching Online or Converting Courses from Live to Digital but in the past it has been Negotiating, Leadership, or just “Digital”), I ask them to tell me something they are good at. Each of us is good at something; hopefully a few things.
Go ahead, think of something you are good at…….Got it? Ok now, describe the course that you took that made you good at that thing.
That’s right, I usually get a laugh or a frown. There is no single course you took to get good at that thing. For all of us, there was a set of various experiences over time that allowed us to do that thing well. I can’t design a course to get you good at something, but together, we CAN use systems thinking, human-centered design and technology to design and develop a set of experiences to accelerate, enhance and scale the process.
Getting good at something typically includes the elements below:
Some will Practice on the job and some may get feedback from their stakeholders and clients, but the feedback is typically sporadic and usually not specific enough to act on. Some may be Performing, but they may not be doing it correctly and they may get a performance review from their manager every few months, or even worse, once a year, but the feedback is typically not specific enough for them to improve. So you may end up with some outcomes, but it won’t be consistent and it is not a direct result of 1 and 2. This is why many L&D organizations are afraid to measure. Knowledge and Learning are essential but NOT ENOUGH to provide ROI on their own.
.B performance solutions is changing the way things are done. We start and end with Performance and Outcomes. Our framework combines system thinking, human-centered design and technology to develop performance solutions that are more efficient, more cost effective and more responsible for your organization. Tell us what you want to be good at.
As leaders, people are looking to us to know what to do. Is that fair? The truth is, this situation is unprecedented and we have just as much information as those we lead; sometimes less if we are juggling too much. Managing in this environment was definitely not in the job description.
So how do we lead in a place and time we’ve never been before and where we are not sure where to go next?
We lead by example, with optimism, empathy, bravery and collaboration. We have to adapt to the situation as it evolves but most of all, we have to always remember that our people come first.
Lead by example and make sure you are not asking them to do things that you would not do yourself. If you are asking your team to make sacrifices, make them yourself first. Conversely. If you are pushing for more work life balance, then make sure you show them how to do it.
There is so much skepticism around, your team needs some optimism, whether you believe it yourself or not. In times of uncertainty, go with the glass half full and you may be right 50% of the time and even if you are wrong, you made your team feel better for a bit.
You must be able to see things from the perspective of your team. Empathy is so important when those you lead are scared and concerned. This doesn’t mean that you have to know or sense how they feel. At a minimum, it means asking questions instead of assuming and then taking the answers to those questions and reflecting on them as if they were your own answers. This will provide insight into what they need from you.
We are all scared and concerned, being brave means that you move forward anyway. Being brave means that you’ll stand up and stand out for what’s right for your team.
You’re not alone. Collaboration is essential. Because this is a new world and you as the leader don’t have all the information, it creates a great environment for collaboration with your team and within your organization. Leaders should invite everyone in to discuss and provide input into strategy, especially the people that are doing the day to day work.
In such a fluid situation, you have to be able to adapt, or get out of the way. This is no time to be stubborn or to fall back to what you’ve done before. Make data-driven collaborative decisions based on both qualitative and quantitative data and be prepared for that data to change rapidly.
Most of all, remember that as a leader, your people come first. If they don’t, they will know it, and you may keep the title, but you will lose your team.
This is what our people are looking for from us as leaders, no more and no less.
It is pouring rain on a spring evening in 1989 and I am looking at the crowd of kids in front of the school. I see Kristen with the older 8th grade guys. I want to impress her with a cool bike trick. I see it in mind...... ride like a blur, jump the curb just before the crowd and fly by and impress her and everyone else!
I had about 100 feet and I got going as fast as I could, it was going to be awesome! I hit the curb, and the curb hit back. The bike stopped and I didn't. I flew in front of the crowd but not how I had envisioned. The older guys helped me up as blood ran down my skinned knees and elbows. Kristen was standing there with her hand over her mouth. I couldn't tell if she was laughing or concerned but she definitely was not impressed. Everyone was asking if I was ok but I just had to get out of there. I tried to laugh it off and quickly grabbed my bike and took off with the rain mixing with tears in my eyes.
I learned a lot that night and hundreds of other nights and days over the years where I've made mistakes that have taught me some of my biggest lessons.
Isn't that what experience is though...having gone through something and come through the other side with real life lessons? In a hiring situation, you want to know that the applicant has been in similar situations, made mistakes and learned from them so they won't make them when they are working for you. Otherwise we would just hire the person who read the most or took the most classes related to what we want them to do. No way, we know that those without experience, are going to make mistakes and we don't want them making mistakes while working for us.
From a teaching and training design perspective, we should try to ensure that our learners make their first mistakes in a safe place, designed to prepare them for the real world. In order to do that, we need to build in real life examples where they can (and should) make mistakes. I wish that I could have learned some of the lessons of that rainy night in a safe, dry place. I still have scars on my knees to remind me.
Having had a long commute over the past 4 years, I listened to many audio books. At first, I felt like I was cheating. It was definitely easier than reading but was I getting as much out of it? This question, along with my time in the Peace Corps teaching where there was no school and no books. Where most of what I learned could not be found in a book, started me thinking back to how people learned before books, before the printing press and before writing.
Humans have always learned best from stories and storytelling. I think we all remember listening to stories and many of you now read some of those same stories to your own children. Stories with lessons. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is one I often have to tell my 6 year old and I recite Green Eggs and Ham every time my girls refuse to try a new food. Try it and you may I say.... I also remember bible stories from youth group when I was young.
When we listen to a story, our brain is taking those ideas and concepts and trying to imagine or create images of what is happening, just as if we were seeing it or had seen it before. Like a memory. Images make the imagining even easier. That is how the brain retains the information/lesson and is able to recall it and make a decision based on it when they see or experience a similar situation.
That is how we evolved and it helped us survive and thrive and build culture and community and values. These stories can use analogies, add context and relationships to concepts that are often difficult to grasp if you've never experienced them before. These stories, context, relationships and analogies were often personalized for the audience making them more valuable.
The learner could then easily visualize and then practice on their own and get immediate feedback and make corrections and try again, improving each time after getting feedback initially from the story teller/teacher/coach and once confident enough, from their peers. Each of their peers may have had a different set of stories, contexts, relationships and analogies to share with each other and could share different aspects with each other. And the story grows, and the confidence and competence grow...and the learning continues.
The stories were eventually accompanied by drawings and paintings on cave walls, then tree bark. Storytelling combined with images, bringing stories to life. (Stories, sermons, plays, opera, Radio shows and silent movies turned to television and the movies of today). This was a game changer for learning. We had the images now that went along with the story so our brains did not have to go through the effort of visualizing it in our minds. It also brought consistency. When we listen to something, each of us has a unique image in our minds. Now the image was the same for all of us and that helped to build better understanding and tighter communities. Many ancient conflicts were caused by different interpretations of the same stories. I wonder if consistent imagery may have prevented some of those from happening. Maybe today?
Long ago those images evolved into sounds and letters and writing the stories down allowed them to be told far away from the storyteller and long after they died. Now if you could read, YOU were a storyteller, spreading the word. It was a tremendous benefit of course, but not as good as the original storyteller. They could still tell the story but most likely did not personalize it to fit the audience needs with context, relationships and analogies.
When we read, it is similar to listening to a story, but there is an added layer. It is much easier for us to turn language into images in our brains than text. There is a translation that needs to take place in our minds before the imaging part can begin. By ages 10-12 this translation is nearly automatic but it is still there and can get in the way with new words, or reading difficulties such as dyslexia.
Those letters then went on a printing press and those stories could be spread far and wide and populations learned to read and the storyteller lost importance in the developing world. The storyteller is still very important to a large part of the world who cannot read and do not have electricity for radio or television.
In education today, there is very little storytelling, very little personalized context, relationships or analogies and even less practice and feedback. We put learners into classrooms and expect that they all learn the same things, at the same pace without personalization. And since they are all hearing the same things, they can't share different experiences and help each other grow. Practice is limited and typically saved for home and feedback even more limited.
You can do well if you learn to memorize what to write down on the periodic tests, but by the time you have to apply it in real life, you don't recall much of what you wrote on the test so long ago. And you can pass each year, even if you only remembered 70% of what to write down on the test. Those 30% gaps can add up quickly and make it harder to learn and harder to move ahead. Knowledge gaps can be very stressful for learners and when stressed or threatened, the learning part of the brain shuts down. When learners are scared, stressed, frustrated or threatened at all, they aren't learning.
We need to go old school with designing learning. We need to go back to storytelling, personalized with context, relationships, analogies to add value for learners and include continuous opportunities for practice and feedback. The more frequent the practice and feedback, the faster the learners will become confident, build competence and move from curiosity to mastery.
So I am reading this book right now titled Opening Skinner's Box. I had learned about Skinner and his experiments a long time ago in my early studies but this book gets into more depth and I am reading it now under much different context and finding it very interesting.
One thing that I find particularly interesting is his writing on how rewards can shape behavior. It seems obvious, I get rewarded, I keep doing that thing that got me the reward. So in the business world, we incentivize people to do what we want them to do. The problem is that this doesn't work very well, especially with financial incentives and people aren't sure why.
Reading through the book, I got to a section in which Skinner found that when he rewarded his test rats on a regular basis, their motivation was lacking, but when he randomized the rewards, their motivation went crazy. I know we aren't rats and some of what Skinner wrote is very controversial, but I started thinking about this a lot. That seems crazy, I would prefer to get rewarded all the time as opposed to just randomly, wouldn't I?!
But then it hit me. The thing about rewards is that when they are given out regularly (like a raise or annual bonus), they are expected and are NO LONGER REWARDS. A reward is unexpected and fun and gives us the dopamine we need to keep us motivated to perform and get to the next level.
How do we apply this to designing learning experiences?
Motivation Made Simple
As a project manager, I need to be able to motivate people to perform and deliver for the projects that I manage. The success or the failure of my projects depends upon me being able to do this. The challenging aspect of the position is that I do not have the leverage that a manager or supervisor would over the resources that I work with.
I have been able to motivate people long before becoming a Project Manager. While in high school, college, serving in the Peace Corps and afterwards, I’ve often found myself leading teams and asking them to perform with me to reach a common goal. And I have been in situations where I’ve been motivated by others.
I did not fully understand the process of motivation until learning the theories and and drivers behind it. Once I began to learn these, it was as if a light was turned on in a dark room which revealed something that I had felt with my hands, but had never seen with my eyes.
Now that I am able to see it in its different parts and pieces, I am able to use it to help me succeed where I may have previously failed. It also allows me to look back on past experiences to see why an effort may have succeeded or failed.
The best explanation of motivation that I have read is in Allison Rossett’s First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis. In it, she breaks down motivation to two key factors; Value and Confidence. It is so simple yet so true.
If you value doing something and know how to do it or are confident, then you are going to be motivated to perform that task and most likely, do it well.
If you value something, but are not sure how to do it (not confident), you may try to perform but chances are you will fall short. This short-coming may eventually diminish the value you place on the task, as it is not rewarding to do something you are not good at. On the other hand, you may learn to do it well, thereby gaining confidence.
If you know how to do something (confidence), but see no use for it or no value in doing it, then chances are, you are going to fall short. The difference here is that you are choosing not to perform.
Any way you break it down, it just works.
If we can provide confidence and value, we can sit back and watch the desired performance. I often use this to explain to clients why training may not always be the right solution. Providing confidence through training can often fall short because there may be other factors acting as barriers to performance and the training may not address the value component of the equation.
I believe that Keller’s ARCS model is a slightly more complex explanation of this simpler equation. Attention, Relevance and Satisfaction provide Value for the individual and Confidence often comes from training, job aids or other support tools. I would even argue that the Attention component may be redundant in many cases because if something is relevant and satisfying, then the attention will follow automatically. I find it difficult to think of a scenario where an individual would not be motivated just through R, C and S. In a situation where someone has to perform the same task repeatedly, it may be beneficial to put the A back in.
How does intrinsic motivation fit into this discussion? If someone is not performing for an external reward but instead performing for their own satisfaction, they are intrinsically motivated. In this type of motivation the value comes from within, but what about the confidence? What drives someone to try something they have never done before and may not be confident in? Here I believe that the confidence is not about knowledge related to the task or action, but instead it is confidence in their abilities to learn to perform. These people believe in a growth mindset.
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….In the story The Little Engine That Could, the little engine was motivated because it valued helping the toys get to the other side of the mountain for the boys and girls in the town below. But what about confidence? The Little Engine had not tried to carry a load that large and therefore had not experienced past successes, so it could not be confident in that way. The little engine was however confident that it could do something that it had not done before and therefore was intrinsically motivated to perform. In this situation Motivation equals Value plus Confidence as well. I believe any theory of motivation has to tie back to that simple equation.
Systems Thinking, Systems Dynamics and Distance Education
The Public Education System has followed the same industrialized mindset for a long time. Everything around it is changing, progressing and becoming more efficient, yet public education has remarkably stayed the same. This is partly because experimenting with the system to try new methods is not something we can do without impacting our students. To alter the educational system without knowing what the results would be irresponsible and dangerous.
This is where System Dynamics (SD) can help. SD allows us to dynamically model a complex system and change variables to analyze what the outcomes may be without adversely affecting real systems. SD has been used in Engineering and Business to make those fields run more efficiently by analyzing variable data and feedback loops. These are both fields where experimentation is not a viable option. Experimenting in engineering can cost lives and doing so in business can cost money and jobs. Creating dynamic models of these systems has allowed the field to test variables to see possible outcomes, both negative and positive, of well intentioned ideas. Education is another field where this should be used. In order to begin creating this dynamic model of education, the data needs to be collected and input into a model to begin experimenting with variables.
My research during my EDTEC 550 Distance Education class showed that another important reason to create a dynamic model of education, but more importantly Distance Education (DE), is because so many new educational concepts are attempted and not given enough time to see results before they are cut and the field moves on to the “next best thing”. With an accurate dynamic model we may be able to predict what DE holds for us in the future and gain the ability to display that it will have a positive impact in the field of education, therefore recruiting more followers.
Following my research in 550, I had an idea that I would like to pursue that would allow for collection of data on DE. The premise would be to set up satellite schools as an alternative to inner city schools. More research still needs to be done in this area but the initial idea stems from my work with at-risk youth and news reports of children in the inner cities bringing weapons to school to protect themselves. These schools are overcrowded and dangerous and this has an obvious negative impact on education. My contention is that DE can help students in these situations.
These satellite schools would serve two purposes. The first would be to make education in these areas more efficient, displaying the value of DE. The second purpose would be to allow us to collect data on the interactions that take place similar to the parameters that Saba and Shearer set forth in their 1994 article, Verifying key theoretical concepts in a dynamic model of distance education. This project, if done on a large enough scale, would give us enough data to create the dynamic model of Distance Education that is needed.
This project would use the local YMCA’s, Boys’ and Girls’ clubs, churches, etc. to educate at-risk youth using a distance education model. Some of the advantages of using DE for this project include:
I believe that this endeavor combines much of what I have learned regarding Systems Thinking, Systems Dynamics and Distance Education. In order to gain credibility we must first display the usefulness to a large audience. It seems that many in education are hesitant to experiment with education in its current form for fear that any changes may have a negative impact on students. I think these same people would be willing to try something new if it meant helping students that are already negatively impacted by today’s educational system. We had explored pursuing a grant for this program during the semester, but the semester was over before we could make much progress. This specific area of Educational Technology excites me because I feel that using DE to help at-risk youth rise above their environment would have an immediate positive impact on both the youth participating and the field of Distance Education through using the data to build an accurate Systems Dynamics model