Monday, February 14, 2011

Why Problem-based Learning Is the Way for Corporate Learning

What is Problem-based Learning?

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional strategy which requires the learners to reflect on their experiences and collectively solve problems. Having its foundations in the constructivist and social-constructivist theories of learning, this approach was developed and pioneered in McMaster University in Canada.
Problem-based learning derives from the premise the problems precede answers. In PBL, the learning process begins by presenting the learners with an engaging problem, question, or puzzle. The learners, then, try to solve the problem as a group, relying on their past experiences and the tools/resources provided to them. In this process, the learners discover and formulate the concepts that the learning experience seeks to transfer to them.


The Corporate Learning Scenario

Learning, in the context of corporate, can safely be assumed to drive towards one end objective—performance support. All the learning, both formal and informal, that takes place or is planned, in the corporate scenario, is geared toward enabling employees to do better in their roles. While some of these learning scenarios are directly related to the three Ps in the corporate—People, Processes, and Projects—others may not always be directly tied to these three. However, they are still geared at enabling ‘better performance’ by informing employees of greening initiatives, corporate social responsibility activities, employee discounts etc. These contribute to the ‘quality of life’ quotient at a corporate and, in turn, create an atmosphere that helps employees focus on their work/performance.
What is interesting to note is that currently, much of the PBL that happens in the corporate is either incidental or informal. Faced with the challenge of meeting revenue targets in a not-so-responsive economy sales teams put their heads together to come up with a new approach that moves their sales figures up to the right. Struggling to meet client turn-around-times in phases of high inflow, support teams are forced to think of cost-effective automation options without impacting the quality to support. Project managers faced with resource crunch in working on high-impact project with competitive timelines, work out smart ways of resource allocation or cost stabilization that they otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.
While the situations presented in the previous paragraph speak of ‘success stories’ where faced with a problem, corporate learners were able to devise strategies, and best practices to deal with the problem, there are umpteen situations where things don’t turn out as rosy. And that’s precisely what learning designers working in the corporate context need to step up to prevent. The gap between the training room, situation and the real-life problems that employees have to face is the crucial divide that needs to be bridged.


Problems and the Corporate Learner

The corporate learner, by definition, is an adult who has received at least 15-17 years of formal education (or more), and has a history of varied number of years of work experience. Also, in most corporate, employees are grouped in terms of their years of experience, skill sets, professional qualifications, and ability to perform certain tasks. These groups or ‘employee bands’ are indicative of the nature, complexity, and business impact of the problems that they need to solve and decisions they make.
 As a generalization, it can safely be assumed, that in any corporate, the employee bands are directly proportional to the nature, complexity, and business impact of the problems faced/decisions made by employees--the higher the band in which employees lie, the more complex is the nature of problems that they need to solve and the greater the impact on the company’s bottom line.
Second, the percentage of problem solving and decision making in the share of assigned responsibilities is indirectly proportional to the band an employee is in—the lower the band, the lower the percentage of problem-solving and decision-making and higher the percentage of process-related tasks that an employee performs. Though each action in the corporate context has a bearing on a company’s reputation and revenues, they are considerable lower when compared to the actions of an employee in a higher band.
What this conveys, from a career progression point of view, therefore, is that in order to move up the value chain (indicated by the employee band) an employee needs to gain increasing skills in problem solving and decision making.

The Learning Design Context

Going by the conclusion of the previous sections, then, learning designers are faced with two truths about learning in the corporate context:

  • ·         Increasing competency in problem-solving is a necessary skill for an employee
  • ·         A large section of informal or unplanned learning in the corporate happens through problem solving
      The challenge then, for learning designers, is to ensure that they provide learners with learning experiences that are similar to the situations in real life that help learners solve problems and come up with new strategies, approaches that solve the problems at hand. This is why problem-based learning should be ‘the way’ for corporate learning. It provides learners with the experience that is most crucial to their development—problem-solving skills—and is similar to the situations where they learn in their day to day work life. Can there be a better win-win situation?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Free Screencast and Streaming Server Solution

Screencasts are increasingly becoming popular as web-based demos for learning (chiefly) software applications and other UI-based tools. These applications/software can be anything from a photo editing tool like Photoshop, e-learning authoring tools like Articulate Engage and Captivate, office productivity tools like Powerpoint and Excel, or simply anything that has a user interface that a learner needs to be familiar with to get started.

Why more and more learners and instructional designers are leaning towards screencasts is pretty simple to figure out. Running a face-to-face demo for a huge or distributed set of learners is very cost-intensive and iterative. Further, a face-to-face demo isn't able to cater to a learner who needs more time than his peers to get familiar with the interface and learn the ropes quickly. In such situations, screencasts are being very effectively used as standalone teaching/training objects or as a part of blended learning involving live instructor-led demos.

However, often instructional designers/trainers are faced with at least three hurdles that they have to overcome before they can include screencasts into their learning strategy: 

a. Screencasting tools like Adobe Captivate are very, very expensive and can push training budgets up by a lot in one go. Of course, they are excellent tools and come with their package and frills but you can't deny the cost factor.

b. Once you create a screencast and want learners to access it from the comfort of their desks (probably situated across the country/globe/organizations) you need a streaming server where you can host the necessary files that the learner can access over the Internet/intranet. And, streaming servers are neither inexpensive nor environment-friendly.

c. Especially in case of UI-based applications, instructional designers/trainers have to depend on SMEs(subject matter experts) to create effective content. Now, your SME might be the best power user of the tool you want to teach, but how do you make your resources (authoring software) accessible to them and collaborate with them for creating your learning content?

The ideal solution would be a 'free' tool that doesn't require downloads or installation, therefore, doesn't sit on any single machine and is accessible to all over the Internet. Wait! Did I say that's all? This screencast created by this tool should also be similarly 'free' in terms of streaming server requirements and learners should be able to access it from anywhere, anytime!

Screenr is a web-based screencast solution. Now, you can create your screencasts the easy way! Not only can you or your SME create a screencast on the web, with a single click, you can post it on to Twitter for all your followers to see.

Don't want to post on Twitter? Cool. It'll be available on the Screener site and you can use the link to post the video on your blog or site, or simply share it over email/IM or post the link as a resource in your LMS.

A couple words of caution. Make sure the screens you use don't have any sensitive data that might put you or your organization into trouble. Also, realize that we do create too much hue and cry over corporate security. If somebody else gets to see and learn to use what you have to share what's the harm? So, just be judicious and follow the link below to get started!

Don't forget to check out their 1-minute tour!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's E-learning 2.0?

Off late (well, not quite perhaps) there has been a lot of hype over e-learning 2.0. The learning/training industry is filled with the buzz about this new paradigm in learning. In a slightly quieter mode, there has been a lot of perceivable changes experienced by the average Internet user in the way they interact and engage with the Internet. Even without a lot of hue and cry, we all know how we 'connect' with our peers/friends over the internet on social networking sites, share music, videos, opinions, survival tips and recipes, and don't think twice before posting our opinions on our blogs. Well, we also don't mind unobtrusively reading what our co-workers/friends/or some co-habitant on this planet feels about issues that perturb, interest, or surround us. Sometimes, we post a comment and that triggers off a discussion. This! is web 2.0!

As we all know, this isn't a 'new world' that emerged out of magic lamp. It has been made possible partly by the advancements in technology and mostly by you, me, and every other netizen. What we do need to introspect on, however, are the implications these gradual changes have wrought on the way we all 'learn' from and over the Internet.

The practical manifestations of this implication is what pundits have termed e-learning 2.0. While you ponder on this, get your arguments in place (for and against), I will come up with another post on this shortly. For now, watch this short video on e-learning 2.0 by 'ready-to-go' a company offering (e)learning solutions. And oh! do let me know your thoughts on this post!