Social Instructional Design with Beth Kanter

I recently found Beth Kanter‘s Engage365 presentation on social instructional design very helpful, especially in light of a recent national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that “the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth.”

According to the research,  “8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).”

And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

Kanter noted there isn’t conclusive scientific evidence about the value of social instructional design;  however, she explained that based on her experience as both a trainer and learner, it can be helpful, depending on student learning style.

Kanter described the possible benefits of using social media for training as more engagement, attention, and improved retention, especially for the more hands-on learner. During the bulk of her presentation, she further described six favorite social media tools for training, as well as secrets to using them:

  • Using Google Forms for Pre/Post Participant Evaluations
  • Using Delicious To Research and Build Your Resource Link Lists
  • Sharing Your PowerPoint Deck with SlideShare
  • Using A Wiki For Electronic Handouts, Electronic Flip Chart, and Leave Behind
  • Integrating Twitter as A BackChannel into Instruction
  • Documenting Your Workshop With Photos and Videos

In her conclusion, Kanter observed that using social media in this way may require instructors to improvise more during trainings, with a greater comfort-level for tweaking presentations in real-time. She also recommended not getting overwhelmed by all the tool options, and to concentrate instead on gradually integrating new techniques into your approach to training.

For more information on the what is known in social media circles as the Backchannel—that is, live chats that occur during a workshop or presentation, most often through Twitter, but also via online chat—Kanter recommended Cliff Atkinson’s The BackChannel.

For Beth Kanter’s related post about the BackChannel and her recent Engage365 presentation, see  How To Make A Back Channel Light Up Like Clark Griswald’s House.

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Links of Note: Social, Informal, and Online Learning (Sept. 2009)

It’s back to school time, here in Boston, and what a busy month it has been, settling my kids into the new school year, and as for myself, starting a new tech writing contract assignment. So, with these disclaimers, I belatedly present my Sept. post for this “Linkworthy” series,  featuring this month a round-up of links on social learning.

Despite concerns to the contrary, a few recent studies conclude that social learning may in fact be more valuable than traditional learning and teaching methods, especially for today’s students, known as Millennial Learners and Digital Natives. However, others continue to link online networking and computer games to a host of health risks, from cancer to autism.

Whether its impact is positive or negative, or a situational somewhere in between, it’s clear to me that social media is changing the way we think. What say you?

Learning Styles

  • Understanding the Three Learning Styles: The Visual Learner,  The Auditory Learner, and The Kinesthetic Learner.
  • From eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions e-Magazine: Understanding Today’s Learner (PDF doc) by Jane Hart.  This link represents a highly informative essay, with a focus on management strategies, based on learning styles in the work-place. In the introduction, Hart provides a nice break-down of characteristics for the various generational cohorts, describing Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.

More on Millennial, Digital, and Visual Learners

Social Media’s Effect on Learning

  • Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom: A recent 93-page report on online education (including Web-based video, instant messaging, and collaboration tools), conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, concluded, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms. That enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful.
  • Social Media’s Effect on Learning: This Wall Street Journal post reports on the results of a recent study on social learning, by Patricia Kuhl, a University of Washington professor.  After studying bilingual Japanese-English speakers, the researchers concluded that brains of bilingual speakers are constantly adapting and reshuffling data as they translate. “Bilingual people aren’t cognitively smarter, but they are more cognitively flexible,” Kuhl explains. “Practice at constant switching improves an aspect of their cognitive abilities. They become more facile at adjusting to new situations and inventing new situations.” According to the researchers, this cognitive flexibility is much like what people do when they’re updating their Twitter status, instant-messaging friends, or answering text messages and emails, while they’re doing something else. Dr. Kuhl said this multitasking, where people are stimulating new patterns of sequential processing, could then reap the same benefits as bilingualism.
  • Psychologist: Facebook Makes You Smarter, Twitter Makes You Dumber: Twitter and Facebook are very different beasts when it comes to improving your “working memory,” which relates to “the structures and processes used for temporarily storing and manipulating information in short-term memory.” Dr. Alloway has developed a working memory training program for children, aged 11 to 14 at a school in Durham, and she found out that Facebook did wonders for working memory, improving the kids’ IQ scores, while YouTube and Twitter’s steady stream of information was not healthy for working memory. Also, playing video games, especially those that involve planning and strategy, can also be beneficial.
  • Online Risks: from Cancer to Autism? Susan Greenfield, the eminent neuroscientist and head of the Royal Institution, is the latest to weigh into an ongoing debate, warning that young people’s brains may be fundamentally altered by internet activity. “While concerns about children and computers have usually focused on their forging inappropriate relationships online, or failing to get enough exercise as a result of being glued to a screen, Greenfield suggested the consequences may be more profound.” “She explained it would be worth considering whether the rise in autism – a condition marked by difficulties forming attachments – was linked to the increasing prevalence of screen relationships.”
  • Social Websites: Bad for Kids’ Brains? Dr Aric Sigman has claimed that sites such as Facebook and Bebo could harm people’s health. He joins Jeremy Paxman and Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and the Guardian column of the same name, to discuss Susan Greenfield’s claims.
  • Mind Games: Many brands have devised games that specifically aim to develop mental agility in people of all ages. It is not just older people who are being targeted. The education system has long been aware of the potential use of computer games and a survey last year suggested about a third of teachers used gaming in the classroom, to sharpen motor and cognitive skills. Research done on animals has linked stimulation from visual tasks to the strengthening of neuron connections in the brain, says Professor David Moore, the neuroscientist who founded MindWeavers. Stronger connections between neurons have not been demonstrated directly in humans because a test would require putting an electrode into the brain, he says, but neuro-imaging of whole human brains shows activity in the same areas when people play these games.

Social Learning in the Classroom and WorkPlace

  • Twenty-Seven Interesting Ways to use Twitter in the Classroom: Tom Barrett provides innovative ways to use Twitter in the classroom. (Check out his professional blog, ICT in my Classroom, on using educational technology in the classroom.)
  • Learning Gets Social: According to Tony Bingham, a recent survey on informal learning shows that 36 percent of surveyed organizations dedicate no money to informal learning, and 78 percent dedicate 10 percent or less of the training budget to it. Bingham notes that between 70 and 90 percent of learning occurring in organizations is informal, but most of the money is allocated to formal learning. “This must change if we are to be successful in the future,” he cautions.
  • Informal Learning Reading List: The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies provides helpful resources for implementing Informal Learning 2.0 in the workplace.

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What Is It Like to Be A Student Today? ~ Generation Y, Social Learning, & User Assistance

In the video “A Vision of Students Today,” Dr. Michael Wesch and the students of “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (Spring 2007)” at Kansas State University offer a powerful commentary on today’s millenial learners, highlighting how traditional classroom settings are failing them in a Web 2.0 world.

As part of the video’s production, 200 students worked together, surveying each other and making 367 edits on Google Docs, answering the question, “What is it like to be a student today?” According to respondents, they are collaborative multi-taskers, who are online as much as 3 1/2th hours a day, and who spend most of their class lectures on Facebook. Only 49% of students complete assigned classroom readings, reporting that only 26% of those readings are relevant to their lives.

Other self-reported statistics: Expected to read only eight books this year, most of these students will view 2300 web pages and 1281 Facebook profiles. The 42 pages they write for classes per semester pale against the 500 pages of e-mail they’re likely to also produce, in the same time frame.

As of this posting, the most noteworthy statistic of all is the 3,379,231 views “A Vision of Students Today” has received on YouTube. To me, that sounds highly relevant to a lot of people, and a valuable lesson to anyone who needs to better understand Generation Y, especially for information delivery purposes.

Characteristics of Today’s Social-Media-Saavy Learner

In her post on social learning, Jane Hart, Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, identifies the features of today’s new social-media-savvy learner, who the Kansas State University students represent so well, and the type of learning that best suits them:

  • “They prefer hyperlinked information coming from many sources.”
  • “They are skilled multi-taskers, and they parallel process. They are used to simultaneously working with different content, and interacting with others.”
  • “They are highly visual learners, preferring to process pictures, sounds, and video rather than text.”
  • “They are experiential learners who learn by discovery rather than being “told.” They like to interact with content to explore and draw their own conclusions. Simulations, games, and role playing allow them to learn by “being there,” and also to enjoy themselves and have fun.”
  • “They have short attention spans, so prefer bite-sited chunks of content (either on a PC or iPod).”
  • “They are very social, and love to share with others.”
  • “They enjoy working in teams. Interaction with others is key to their learning, and they want to be part of a community, collaborating, sharing, and exchanging ideas.”
  • “They are happy to take on different roles in their learning, either as a student, or even as an instructor, facilitator, or supporter of others, and switch between them.”
  • “They prefer to learn ‘just in time,’ that is, have access to relevant information they can apply immediately.
  • “They need immediate feedback, responsiveness, and ideas from others, as they are used to instant gratification.
  • They are very independent learners, and are able to teach themselves with guidance; they don’t  need sets of instructions like their predecessors — just like they found out how to use their iPods or Google.”
  • “They prefer to construct their own learning – assembling information and tools from different sources.”

Implications for Technical Communicators

For analysis on the implications “A Vision of Students Today” has for technical communicators, make sure to check out these rich discussions, where I first saw Dr. Wesch’s powerful video:  Ellis Pratt’s Is the future of education also the future of technical communication?  and Tom Johnson’s How to Avoid Extinction as a Technical Communicator.

Pratt’s post highlights that the challenges of educators are the same challenges facing user assistance professionals, with likely similar solutions. He links to Dr. Wesch’s presentation, on the Future of Education, in which Wesch discusses the “crisis of significance,” facing millennial learners. This crisis requires today’s educators to integrate semantic and personal meaning into the educational experience, placing learning in context of a big picture that is relevant to students’ lives. According to Wesch, educators must also harness students’ intelligence, rather than just “talking at” them. The goal of education should not be to merely acquire information, but rather to “discuss, challenge, critique, create, share, and add” to the body of information that is increasingly available online. Finally, Wesch recommends that educators leverage the existing media environment, getting students to use new media “less to entertain themselves,” and more for critical thought and knowledge creation.

In a related post about Dr. Wesch’s video, Tom Johnson explains how the changing characteristics of his intended audience is impacting the nature of his user assistance deliverables. Johnson notes that he has been trending towards quick reference guides (anywhere from 1 to 8 pages) and short video tutorials (2 to 4 minutes) as his core deliverables. He also creates online help, “as a searchable repository of answers,” but he “create[s] it with the idea that it will be searched, not necessarily navigated for information.”

“Single sourcing the full online help to a printed manual is just another step,” which Johnson doesn’t omit, while not promoting much either. According to Johnson, “the key to solving the problem of information fragmentation is to get the content into a format that is versatile enough to be pushed to any format.” Johnson further observes…

…”If you can keep the original source in one location and just export to different formats for your audience, letting users choose based on their learning style and preferences, then you could perhaps solve some of the problems Wesch raises in his video. (The exception of course is video and multimedia, which you can’t simply output to.)”

For all of these reasons, Johnson is excited about the new DITA publishing capabilities of Flare 5, because “it means you can push the content out to additional formats more easily.” “You can convert DITA to the Confluence Wiki format, DITA’s XHTML target to WordPress, DITA to InDesign, DITA to web pages, and other formats,” Johnson concludes.

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