Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A moment of empathetic instructor panic

Last night I went to guitar class as usual. I'm recovering from a cold, so I didn't have a ton of energy, but I had requested the song that we would learn this week, and it was the last class of the quarter, so I went anyway. I am so glad I did, because I witnessed how my instructor handled an unexpected situation with grace and managed to turn a near-calamity into a successful teachable moment!

The typical class session in this series starts off with a review of the previous week's music. (We, the twenty students, all practice like aspiring guitar rockstars (folkstars?) all week, of course, unless life happens to get in the way.) We then learn a new song by first listening to a recorded version of it, receiving a handout of the transcription in tablature, then having the instructor demonstrate the tricky parts, measure by measure. We then get a chance to practice together so she can assess our progress and rectify any mistakes we're making.

Last night was anything but typical.

For the first third of the class, we reviewed last week's music, as usual. It took slightly longer than normal since it was arranged as a duet, and some people wanted the chance to play both parts, so we played through it a total of four times. The instructor then put in the CD of this week's song that we were about to learn, and as we listened, she realized she did not have the printouts of the arrangement. "I must have left them at Kinko's down the street!" she exclaimed. While we continued listening to the recording, she dashed to the copy machine in the building where class occurs. Seconds later, she returned and announced that the copier was broken. Of course!

My stomach lurched. I pictured myself as the instructor and wondered what I would do in that situation. Panic! 

Here's how she gracefully handled it:
  • Sent someone to Kinko's to search for her original copies and/or to make new ones
  • Talked about how she arranges songs by ear
  • Played the song for us again, called out chords, and invited us to play along with any strum or finger-picking pattern we wanted [I loved this part because it got me to think about just the chords, not the fancy finger-picking pattern that I usually focus on; it sounded great because everyone played along with a multitude of strums but since they were all on the same chords, it sounded harmonious; there's nothing quite like the sound of twenty guitars playing well together; I knew that even if I didn't nail every single fill when practicing or performing the song, I could still play the chords and sing along and it would sound great!]
Just as she started to teach us the fancy fills by demo-practice (less-than-ideal without having the music to look at), the copies arrived! For the remaining ten minutes, we walked through the music as we usually did. 

I left the class feeling inspired not only to practice the song but also to think about how to handle unexpected situations during training sessions.

Anyone have an example of a time your training or class didn't go as planned? Please share in the comments!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Top 10 Tools for Learning Professionals

Jane Hart at the Centre for Learning and Performance technologies has asked learning professionals to contribute their lists of top tools we use to enhance learning and performance. 
  • Blogger : experts can easily contribute tips, thoughts, and best practices to a large community of learners. They can also be used to create a community of learners following learning events.
  • Google documents:  multiple collaborators can contribute to online documents and spreadsheets. They can be used to brainstorm ideas, edit project plans, share ideas, and generate repositories of information for use before, during, after, and instead of a learning event.
  • Google Moderator: this online tool enables a community to submit questions, ideas, and suggestions about a given topic. Members of the community can then vote on the ones they like best. President Obama has even used this tool a few times to gather citizens' sentiments.
  • YouTube:  we have been using flip cams and SnagIt to have experts share tips, tricks, and best practices on a variety of topics. Members of the community can view these easily and rate the ones that they like best or find most effective. The YouTube Symphony is a recent example of gathering top performances from around the world!
  • Twitter: I love hearing from learning and performance experts share quick tips, links, and information about what they're working on and how they're using new technologies. Our team has also used it for internal communication across geographies and for creating communities of learners following learning events.
  • WebEx:  Since travel budgets have been slashed, virtual classrooms are being used more and more. I love the features of WebEx Training Center, which include enabling participants to write on (or annotate) the screen (great for brainstorming!) and break out into virtual sessions with each other (connected to each other via phone and a shared computer screen).
  • SnagIt: I love this screen capture and screencast tool. For static captures, the annotation features are excellent (especially the spotlight and magnify features) for creating job aids for tool walk-throughs. For dynamic screencasts, SnagIt beat out Camtasia in a head-to-head competition for ease of use and quality of output (even though it has limited editing capabilities). Easy enough for a Subject Matter Expert to use! 
  • Captivate:  Adobe Captivate is a great tool for creating interactive scenarios. It quickly records what is happening on your screen, including audio narration, and adds captions. You can also add interactive elements like rollovers and clickboxes easily!
  • InDesign: I am a big fan of job aids. I think job aids can replace training and learning events 90% of the time; if not, they can certainly supplement what is being taught. Adobe InDesign enables the production of high quality, sharp PDFs.
  • Wikis: I don't have a favorite wiki provider, but wikis are amazing tools for online editing and collaboration. Wikipedia is a great example, but I also have used Google Sites and PBWiki successfully.