Wednesday, November 26, 2014

IDs Use Standards: Ensures Context Sensitivity

Standards are the measures that IDs use when determining whether they will sign-off on a learning solution they have created, or not – whether their name goes on the final product.

The competent instructional designer/developer (ID) ensures context sensitivity.

Little things can be jarring; they jangle the nerves and create distractions.  Little things out of context can become blow up disproportionately to become flaming issues.  

P-20 education and workplace (adult education) often come to loggerheads over terms simply because their contexts and expectations based on context differ.  One of the highly touted differences between childhood education (pedagogy) and adult education (andragogy) is the undeniable fact that adults bring years of experience.  

      (Side note: having worked with special needs children and children of abuse and poverty, I content that children bring significant experience to their learning, especially their P-20 learning as well... experience is the essential difference according to experts.)  

Creating learning without considering the learner’s previous experience is futile at best.  This may be the reason that so many courses spend the first twenty-to-thirty percent of the course defining and building common experience bases.  During this time early in the course, the instructor and learners get acquainted, learn about each other’s jobs and roles and experiences, discover the course goals compared to the learner’s goals, and map out the course’s structure.  Along the way, they discover whether there are potential barriers such as language, technology, physical environment, or just a mis-match between learner and course intent. 

Why spend that much precious time setting context?  Because, context is important.  In fact, learning will not occur until the learner sees a need for it (also see; The Teachable Moment).   When learners have context, they learn. When context is missing, they struggle.

For a moment, consider the impact of requiring a course with 25%-30% of it’s content focused on US laws, regulations or code.  Contextually, this is important for learners within the United States.  However, does it work in Puerto Rico, China, Australia, Canada, India, Greece, Switzerland, or Sweden?  Language differences aside, the issue of laws, regulations and codes needs to addressed in order for the rest of learning to be effective outside the US. This an essential context issue. 

Now, consider the impact of words.  The US government has enacted the Plain Language Act [] requiring government agencies to write in ways that avoid confusion.   They are improving, but the task is monumental.   Very few courses start out by defining the reading level.  Even fewer courses intentionally choice a ‘voice’ for their course.  Yet, both reading level and voice can impact learners’ ability to learn. 

Case Study #1: Fun and Games

Once upon a time many decades ago, (before web-based everything) our intrepid instructional designer had the opportunity to work on a CD-based learning game.  The project team included a skilled technical writer.   This writer started his participation in the project by asking what we (the project team) wanted our learner/player to hear in their head when they played.  It took the team awhile to work it through.  Eventually, it was clear.  We wanted to game to come across as “fun”, even though it was teaching highly technical terms.   The writer re-worked every sentence in the games material to echo that “fun” idea.  What magic did he employ?  I’m still not sure.  Technical writers are valuable members of instructional design teams, because they bring an impartial eye to context and the language of that context.

Case Study #1: Developmental Delayed Hispanic Young Adults

In another time and place, an instructional designer was asked to build a computer skills lab for developmentally delayed young adults (17-21) whose primary language was Spanish, but did speak some English and needed to build technology-specific language in both Spanish and English.  They needed to be able to access computers to write emails and text messages, visit websites such as sports and hobbies, and they need to be able to computer play games.  They needed to be able to talk with their peers and co-workers about using computers.  The course designed a very repeatable lab which each learner could do multiple times to strengthen his or her skills (keyboard, mouse, and language skills).  The lab provided them with many different job aids on binder-ring.  Each index card for the ring had a term in both English and Spanish, a short explanation (under 10 words) in both English and Spanish, and a picture of the computer part or term.  For this learning, the context was concrete and factual.  The learners loved it and loved having job aids that they could share.  The shareable nature of the cards provided context for them across learning, work, and home.

Definition of a Standard – Ensure Context Sensitivity

Consider the definition and performances listed for The Institute for Performance Improvement (TIfPI’s) standard Ensures Context Sensitivity.

considers the conditions and circumstances that are relevant to the learning content, event, process, and outcomes.

Performances that demonstrate this standard:
  • Creates solutions that acknowledge:
  • §  Culture
    §  Prior experience
    §  Relationships to work
    §  Variability in content
  • Verifies that materials reflect the capabilities of audience (e.g., readability, language localization, plain language, global English, physical capabilities, technology limitations, etc.).
  • Maps to other learning opportunities
  • Aligns content with learning objectives and desired outcomes
Individuals applying for learning solution certifications with marks and badges will be asked to describe ways in which he or she accomplished at least 3:4 performances (required) one of which must be:
  • Creates solutions that acknowledge:
  • §  Culture
    §  Prior experience
    §  Relationships to work
    §  Variability in content

Can you see yourself doing these performances?  Can you see yourself doing at least the three of the four required performances with every learning solution?  

Can you see other IDs doing these performances, perhaps differently, but still doing them?  If so, you need to consider applying for a learning solutions development credential.  Get the ID CertificationHandbook and visit for more information.

Want a list of all nine IDstandards?   

Would you like to know about the study -- a practice analysis -- that TIfPI Practice Leaders did to generate and validate nine standards, including Elicits Performance Practice?   Would you like a copy of the infographic with standards and learning solution certification types?   

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