Friday, July 17, 2009

Summary of research about e-learning

The US Department of Education recently analyzed a series of research on the use of online learning. It was geared specifically for K12 education but contains interesting implications for adult use of e-learning as well.

The questions they set out to answer:
1. How does the effectiveness of online learning compare with that of face-to-face instruction?
2. Does supplementing face-to-face instruction with online instruction enhance learning?
3. What practices are associated with more effective online learning?
4. What conditions influence the effectiveness of online learning?

Some of the key findings:
  • Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.
  • Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
  • Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning.
  • Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.
    • Of those variables, (a) the use of a blended rather than a purely online approach and (b) the expansion of time on task for online learners were the only statistically significant influences on effectiveness.
  • Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
  • Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.
  • Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.
  • Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.
"Despite what appears to be strong support for online learning applications, the studies in this meta-analysis do not demonstrate that online learning is superior as a medium. In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages. At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What to do when you don't agree with your stakeholder's requests

When I attended the ISPI Principles and Practices of Performance Improvement three-day workshop last year, I remember a story that Miki Lane told. He was a young performance consultant when a company called him up and asked him to lead a team-building training. He said, "Yes, I am happy to help." He conducted a brief analysis and discovered that, in his opinion, this team did not need a team-building training. He recommended several alternative performance interventions. His client did not want to hear his ideas and did not hire Miki as a consultant. A few weeks later, he saw a news clip about ABC company taking their team on a team-building trip in the woods. 

This story has remained with me for over a year and seems particularly relevant in my current situation. It illustrates an example of when a stakeholder calls you up, knows exactly what solution they want, and doesn't want to listen to any alternative solutions. 

In my current situation, a key stakeholder has decided that he wants to implement a certification program that includes a difficult SAT-like examination. I am firmly opposed to any multiple-choice tests in the workplace (a topic for another day)! I do not believe they accurately measure performance. Since the vast majority of performance problems result from environmental problems (like a lack of clear expectations and feedback, inadequate tools and compensation models), why does it make sense to test people? 

The test will be used not only to assess individual's skill gaps but also to identify gaps in training offerings. It seems to me that if we have to create this test, we should create learning solutions from which people can study first. I am concerned about the self-esteem (or worse, employment) issues that may result from people "failing" the test. I am worried that it will be a waste of time because we do not have a clear plan of what we'll do with the data or how to communicate scores and gaps to the learners. 

And yet, the stakeholder says we must do it, so we will.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Presenting at DevLearn in November!

We will reprise our "Web2.0 and Performance: What's Working for Google Employees" presentation at the Elearning Guild's annual conference this year. 

We hope you will join us in November in San Jose at the DevLearn 09 conference!