IT Certification and Training

April 8, 2010

The Learner-Centric Training Model

Filed under: certification, education — Jim Henderson @ 18:14

In yesterday’s post, I talked a bit about what I’ve been up to for the past year (or so) – and how that has led me to participate in an investigation of the next iteration of training and learning.  Today I’d like to explore a little bit and expand on the idea of a learner-centric training model.

As I discussed yesterday, the model that we’re moving from is a classroom-centric or content-centric model.   What I mean by that is that the focus is all about content – what goes in the course, how the course is structured, does the flow of the course build on previously discussed objectives and a pre-determined (and for the most part, non-personalized) learning path.

For example, to achieve the Novell CLP11 certification, you start with courses 3101 and 3102, take the Novell CLA11 exam, then go through course 3103 and take the Novell CLP11 practicum.  The path is published and defines what objectives you must meet – based on Novell’s analysis of the job that the certification applies to – in order to be certified in that area.

The focus is on the content for the learning path and the learner’s focus tends to be more on the delivery of the content (followed by the passing of exams, created in conjunction with the course materials – a discussion of that could be an entirely separate blog entry) rather than on the student’s specific and individual needs.

It is worth mentioning that even in the current certification model, there is a certain amount of self-selection that takes place; a candidate may look at the objectives and outline for course 3101 and determine that they already possess that knowledge, so they can skip that material and move on to course 3102.  In that situation, if the student finds that they are missing something that is covered in the first course, they may have an increased difficulty in keeping up in the second class because they perhaps missed a part of the self-assessment that was necessary.

There are perhaps a few reasons this can happen.  When thinking about a knowledge domain, there are three areas that one can break the domain into:

  1. The things you know
  2. The things you know you don’t know
  3. The things you don’t know you don’t know

The learner, in self-selecting how to meet their needs, tends to apply areas 1 and 2 in their quest for knowledge; area 3 is difficult for a learner to self-select, because by doing so, that knowledge moves from domain 3 into domain 2.  Put another way,  the differentiator between domains 2 and 3 is an awareness of the knowledge they are lacking.

In looking at a traditional instructor-led training scenario, the content becomes the focal point out of necessity.  The instructor is teaching a group, and in teaching a group, the content is the common “thing” that the group shares.  They have come together in a classroom in order to participate in the social experience of learning what is in the course.

They may enter the class with different experience/knowledge levels and different expectations, but (ideally) when they leave the class, they will have a shared base of common knowledge and their knowledge level (at least) will likely tend to be convergent.  The reason for this is that the training material and delivery they receive is a shared experience, not an individual experience – though through the individualized interpretation of the material, they will have some degree of individualized experiences and there will thus be variations in the outcomes from the class.

In a classroom, the interaction that takes place that guides the class and the instructor to the proper subset of the material being covered (as itself it could be viewed as a micro-BoK) at that time is an iterative process that both instructor and class engage in so naturally that it usually isn’t even thought about:  That of checking the class’ understanding of what has been covered up until this point.

The constraints of the classroom, however, also impose limits on the amount of time the instructor can spend ensuring every individual student understands the concepts being presented, because there is also an expectation that in the allotted time the class runs for, all of the content will be covered – and if the content isn’t all covered, that is usually reflected in the  customer satisfaction scores for the class.

A learner-centric training model starts with the presumption of an individualized learning experience and works backwards from that instead of starting with the content and working backwards.

To achieve this type of approach, I think, requires a different approach to content creation than the traditional ADDIE development model.  The ADDIE model depends on starting with a needs analysis and then filters the Body of Knowledge (BoK) and distills it into a predetermined subset of the BoK from which the curriculum is derived.

In a learner-centric model, pre-filtering the BoK makes assumptions about the learner’s set of knowledge that may or may not be valid.  Thus, ideally, the entire BoK needs to be available, and the learner needs to have the ability to be guided to the proper subset of the BoK that is relevant to what they want to learn.

I see at least three challenges to this approach:

  1. Incorporating that iterative process of checking understanding and incorporating it into a learning model that has a focus on an individualized learning path that guides the student to the materials they need in order to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
  2. Providing that iterative assessment of understanding in the flow of the course in a way that is natural, consistent, and unobtrusive  so it becomes – as it is in the traditional model – transparent.
  3. In the development process, identifying the BoK accurately and comprehensively enough to meet the needs of the majority of learners’ needs and then maintaining that BoK in a way that keeps the details current as the product evolves (and the details change) while maintaining the overarching theme the product covers in a way that is testable, measurable, and thus certifiable.

I don’t think any of these challenges is insurmountable, but it will be interesting to see how the technology evolves to address them in the online world.

In my next post on this topic, I’ll dive deeper into the delivery elements for content in the learner-centric model.

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