an ‘Aha’ on An "Aha" Moment

Dennis Coxe in Sailing by the Sound shared his “Aha” moment after viewing a Vodcast by Stephen Downes. And this led me to my own little ‘aha’ moment.

In his musings, Dennis mentions that he’s been working through necessary distinctions between formal instruction and informal learning … where the need for each might enter into our line of work as ID-ers.

… but I always felt that informal learning could not work without formal education. How could a person conceive what type of immediate learning is needed if they were not aware of the general scope of the issue.

He goes on to illustrate his thinking quite well with an analogy of a new hire at some pharmaceutical company who has to learn that company’s particular policies and procedures.

And then it struck me … granted, most of what I’ve gleaned here is a conversation about the need for classroom as the primary formal instruction environment. But I’ve not designed a classroom program for quite a few years myself. All of my ID work has been with web-based training and other e-delivered courses.

Although not part of a classroom environment, these too are formal learning events.

Serendipitously, this hit me because I’ve been assigned a project to look at some existing web-based courses and come up with a recommendation for alternate delivery methods/channels for the same content – which is mostly policies and procedures … just the thing that tends to land in the formal learning arena.

The client’s motivation for this project is because they are in nearly constant maintenance and updating mode. No sooner has the course been updated and deployed in the LMS, but the content is out of date. Add to that the client’s need to stay on top of policy/procedure changes due to frequent mergers and acquisitions … and this is a recipe for continual churn.

When I started working on this project this week, my head immediately turned to looking at how such content could be made available more to learners/users in the informal arena … how to get that same content pretty much at the fingers of the learners/users at the moment of need, instead of having them sit through four to six hours of WBT and then go back to their jobs.

“We think that we add value by having practice scenarios for the learners to work through and not just collecting the content,” said the training team lead of my client.

Maybe so … but but even with all sorts of scenarios – no matter how well designed – the learner is likely to forget such a huge chunk of this stuff because it’s not used right away.

Yet I’m now coming to the conclusion for this client that they aren’t  incorrect. There is a need for the formal training event … and having practice scenarios would be helpful and valuable at that moment.

So rather than scrapping the idea of formal WBTs, I’m now figuring out how to pare down the formal content and then wrap informal learning elements into the client’s own systems, communications and culture.

Again, Dennis offers some really good ideas:

This is where informal learning comes into play and the responsibility of the employer to provide the informal resources for the employee to refresh in their mind what they learned.
This could be via:

  • Procedural guides published as wikis in which the end users at the very least can comment on the information so that they can recommend changes that improve the process being performed
  • Blogs that can provide them with alerts to changes in policy, government regulations, etc.
  • Chat rooms or groups where they can share information and ideas
  • Podcasts and vodcasts that discuss critical elements in their activities that they can use to recall what was presented in the information dump that was the formal training
  • Web-based simulations that allow them to fine-tune their activities.

The churn may never go away completely for this client … that’s just the nature of the beast for them, I think.

But by combining the informal and formal elements … this seems to be a better approach overall and a better use of the client’s resources.

Thanks, Dennis for this aha moment today.


About Rory

I make my home in the central part of the Garden State along with my family. When I'm not working as an Instructional Designer (focusing mostly on Web-Based learning ... and other eLearning technologies) or researching something, I'm found at home playing computer or video games. Among other things, I volunteer as a choir member and catechist for 8th graders at my parish.
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