Learning Measurement and “Topic-based” vs. “Task-based” Approaches

…and the Implications for Content Creation for Information & Instruction to Improve Workplace Performance and for the Meaningful Measurement of Impact at L1-2-3-4/5. Or at least for: 3-4-5.

Those in the business of Content Creation for Information & Instruction to improve workplace performance should measure themselves at L3 and L4 only – because if you don’t move those needles in the right direction in your real world – L1 and L2 successes won’t suffice for long. Nor should they*. Not for those concerned with returns on shareholder equity investments. Nor for those concerned with good stewardship of that shareholder equity.

*Besides, Level 1 and 2 data are not really trustworthy: http://tiny.cc/p1KSf – per research into the correlations between L1 and L3/4/5.

And I wouldn’t measure L3-4-5 after each course/module!!! How incremental for the big impact measures!!! That’s too much too often!

Topic-based Information & Instruction
Ever been given a topic to address with your learning solutions-set by your Client? How do you proceed?

You probably next outlined the flow of content and would perhaps show templates as you storyboard or rapidly prototype right in front of the Client’s eyes.

Then when it’s time to develop you probably start with the content versus the tests – which is counter to best practices in ISD. You should first start with your testing of the learning objectives – enabling and terminal. Most don’t. Testing is most often an afterthought, let alone being designed into place for the Learners’ benefits – to help them with meaningful Progress Checks.

But developing meaningful testing is hard to do when you aren’t anchored to actual task performance – and only have an outline of content flow. You now have to develop all of the content first – and then you can develop testing on that content! Oh boy!

There is another way – covered later.

Task-based Information & Instruction
When given a Task by your Client for you to train to- and for learners to learn XYZ – it’s so much easier to proceed.

You can probably take that “TASK statement” from the Client: “train ‘em to or on XYZ” and then break that down and also build up to the higher levels to see how this fits within the big picture of overall process performance – so as to set the Context-Stage, so-to-speak.

I break it down and expand my view during analysis efforts. Tasks are what people do with the resources available to produce worthy outputs – that are measured by Stakeholders at both the Product level and at the Process level.

Learners probably need to understand “how score is kept” as well as how to play (tasks) and what to produce (outputs) in the workplace performance sand-box. You can also examine typical gaps by incumbents – because if that is ultimately difficult to learn on the job (Informally) by those incumbents – then it’s too tricky to leave to chance. You need to address it adequately, by design.

I also ask about the big picture, of how this process-outputs flows into other value chains to determine if “what’s important” has any variances, and what those are, one context to another. The down-steam and higher-level contexts – that is.

I often want the learners/Performers to see the big picture – including the consequences for their performance. To me, that is always part of a structured Advanced Organizer for the Learners’ benefit – as well as for the Developers.

The Typical Difficulty Being Authentic with Topic-based Approaches
If you have a topic and details about that topic, but not the performance contexts in which it is relevant, you cannot create anything other than Mickey-Mouse Content and Quizzes – those that are simplified, boiled down to the common denominator to the point that it’ll be necessary to keep reminding those learner/Performers about how to personally think about WIIFM – because the developer couldn’t.

Unless of course, you just got lucky that day.

What are your Instructional/learning Products:
What have been your recent experiences with what your Clients give you?
• Topic-Based?
• Task-Based?

Being Authentic with Task-based Approaches
When I have a Performance Model (or equivalent) in front of me, I can start with the test development, and with the design of applications exercises (knows as APPOs in PACT), as well as the DEMOs chunks, and the INFOs chunks. Whether or not I use the formality of a PACT “Lesson Map” in front of the Client or not. I still ask questions and pose ideas with this framework in mind.

And you have to work hard to escape the authenticity of the data in front of you – on a Performance Model chart that is.

How to Immediately Convert a Client’s Topic-Based Request into a Task-Based Request – and Survive the Moment
When I have a Client request for a topic be covered, I say yes immediately (as I was taught to, by Joe Harless) and then move into initial analysis to convert a topic to a task.

I usually try to start with a focus on the Performers/Learners – and ask about the Learners and try to pin them down somehow: What can I safely generalize about their both their terminal performance contexts, and their incoming awareness, knowledge and/or skills.

This is for both of us – because sometimes there are other audiences, perhaps many audiences, and I get caught up in thinking only about the one that the Client starts with. It’s what’s at the top of their mind – but it may not be inclusive.
Then I go for a better understanding of how that TOPIC plays out in the TASK performance requirements of the Target Audience(s). I need to understand this well enough to “see the APPOs in my head” – and then I “Test for Understanding” with the Client about those potential “applications” and their appropriateness of the variations (or not) of the Target Audience(s). The “secret sauce” in Client discussions for me has often, not always, been a quick focus on the applications of the learnings – to what can they do with this and how can we test/ assess that?
Clients really do like that. A Focus on applications.

Then I ask about other enabling Knowledge/Skills required to truly enable the Target Audience(s) in Task performance.

Then I ask about existing content and other communications/training that might support this – and what from the past may be in contrast or competition with the new content to be developed/acquired (build/buy).

And then I write that up, as needed, and get on with making it happen. And initially focus on developing the tests, the application exercises (APPOs in PACT) first and then back out the details of the content in the “Activity Spec” boxes on the Lesson Map.

PACT is covered in lean-ISD, available as a hardbound book and a Kindle at Amazon, plus as a free 404-page PDF at http://www.eppic.biz/

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