Monday, August 13, 2012


I have a few teachers reading, so I wanted to mention the fact that though my work project does not utilize progressive educational research as much as it should, the company at large does. I think one of the times I really like at work is when I can attend a tri-weekly meeting of instructional designers. We’re all over the world, so the meeting is through video-teleconference, but it’s still fun and useful. Most importantly it’s a really short hour spent with people who understand some of what I am saying and pushing for at work in my project. That respite or break or reception or acceptance or confirmation is nice. It’s nice. I’ll mention two newer findings which differ from what I was taught when training as a teacher.

Objectives: In my current job, in a set of business courses, there is a really long introductory part of the lesson. Let me give you an example.

Slide 1 – This is the name of this Track (like a major, a set of courses).

Slide 2 – This is the name of this Course.

Slide 3 – This is where this course fits in the order of all courses in this track.

Slide 4 – This is agenda and timing of this course. These are all the modules within this course. And this is how long each module takes to be taught and how long any labs take.

Slide 5 – These are the course objectives and what you should be learning.

Slide 6 – This is the name of the first module in this course.

Slide 7 – This is where this module fits in with the other modules in this course.

Slide 8 – This is agenda and timing of this module. These are all the lessons within this module. And this is how long each lesson takes to be taught and how long any labs take.
Slide 9 – These are the module objectives and what you should be learning.

Slide 10 – This is the name of the first lesson in this module.

Slide 11 – This is where this lesson fits in with other lessons in this module.

Slide 12 – These are the objectives of the lesson.

By this point, half of the students I was teaching in India were asleep; the other half wondered if the entire content of the course were objectives and slides about lessons and modules. Inside I was laughing. You think I’m joking but this is serious (to be fair, slides 7 and 11 may not be separate slides, but that still leaves 9 slides of course structure information). In fact, in the slide that includes the Course agenda and timings, 15 minutes are allotted to do this series of slides and short explanations. Fifteen minutes!

Well, guess what! I’m reading a book called Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen, and Julie thinks that’s ridiculous. (YAY!) In fact, she recommends removing objectives unrelated to what the learners will actually do from the slides. In other words, it’s ok to have objectives for yourself, as a teacher, but is it really important for the students to see it? When considering if students or learners need to see the objectives, she suggests keeping objectives that relate to what the learners will actually have to do. For instance, though I may want my learners to be able to explain what an HTML tag is used for, in real life, they will never explain it. They simply need to be able to program or write HTML computer code using those tags (this is not true if you plan on testing learners with a traditional exam in which you ask them to define different HTML tags). So in this case, I can leave objectives that students see on slides related to what they will actually be able to physically do when the lesson is over. Yay!!!

Learning Styles or Modalities: At my company, though learning styles are important, instructional designers don’t focus on learning styles but rather making really great lessons. Why is this? Research shows that when you ask people what is their primary/preferred/best learning style (kinesthetic, auditory, visual, etc.), then  assess the same people’s learning styles based on a questionnaire of behavior, and finally assess people’s learning style based on test performance, you find that the three results do not agree. Do you follow what people say, how they answer behavior tests, or how they perform on tests? Because of the discrepancies, we tend to focus on making great lessons which was never taught to me. This doesn’t mean that learning styles are not important. They are. It just means because of the proclivity to error in our assessment of primary learning styles, we focus more on creating great lessons.

If you’d like to talk more about other education stuff and current research, email me. I’d be happy to talk. Speaking of education, I wanted to tell you about autumn internships at Ashoka. If you know any students or recent graduates, please pass this announcement on.

Ashoka is currently accepting applications for fall internships. If you are looking to deepen your knowledge of social entrepreneurship, be part of a network of the world’s leading changemakers, and gain skills that would enable you to create new innovations and spearhead your own project, then you should definitely apply! Although our interns come with different qualifications, skills, life experiences, and stories, they are all enthusiastic, willing to learn, open minded, and entrepreneurial. To apply, please

Oh, one other educational moment. I recently read a NYT times opinion-editorial on the Conversion of  a Climate-Skeptic. It’s written by a former climate-skeptic, Richard A. Muller, who is a professor of physics at UC Berkeley (see you can be a climate change-skeptic and be a scientist). His team recently carried out a robust study analyzing about 250 years worth of data. He now believes that global warming is real and that humans are almost certainly the cause of it. I hesitate sending it because it might seem as if I’m trying to convince someone to believe in global warming or human-caused global warming. I just found it quite interesting that he was a renowned scientist who saw problems in previous climate change research that left him a skeptic. It’s also interesting to me that he did his own study and came to the same conclusions. Check out the article.

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