This has been my framework since the mid 1980s – other than the term “Informal” – which I include here as the unnamed (yet) Learning “Tasks and/or Topics.”
Graphic originally from this 2007 Post.
And … so … where do you use these?
These are the “packaging mode” for Instructional Activities content – or sub-assemblies of IA content.
Instructional Activity Development Outputs
The outputs of Instructional Activity Development include the following types of instructional activities, depending, of course, upon the project:
- Instructional content at the awareness, knowledge, or skill levels
- Knowledge tests
- Performance tests
- Simulation exercises
- Performance aids
- Electronic or paper desk procedures
Each of these potential types of IAD outputs is described in more detail below.
Instructional Content at the Awareness, Knowledge, or Skill Levels
Most of the time, instructional content is developed within a Modular Curriculum Development project. The content may be at the awareness level, knowledge level, or skill level. However, in an Instructional Activity Development project, portions of instructional content can be developed separate from an entire training program.
What are the circumstances under which an Instructional Activity Development project might generate instructional content? Perhaps the T&D customer needs to build content for immediate publishing, prior to releasing a more complete training package. Or maybe the entire T&D package is just a maybe . . . maybe it will be built and maybe it won’t. If it does end up being built, ISDers want the earlier content, demonstrations, or exercises to be compatible with the remainder of the course. The goal is to minimize additional downstream costs, yet to have the earlier content be robust to future add-ons.
Instructional content may be delivered at a nontraining forum, such as a trade show or sales conference (for internal or external audiences), or at sales meetings, etc. For the initial release of the training, some of the key content may be delivered at the next quarterly regional sales conference, with the related exercises occurring at a following conference. This may not be ideal, but it may be the approach that has been chosen, and ISD will find itself complying with the customers’ wishes. It can be done using the Instructional Activity Development process if planned properly on the front end.
The Modular Curriculum Development lesson design methodology includes three types of instructional activities. Any of these are fair game for an Instructional Activity Development project.
- Information activities
- Demonstration activities
- Application activities
Example Lesson Map
Three Types of Instructional Activity
The performance improvement need of the customer may be quite narrow. Perhaps the customer simply wants a series of performance-based, written knowledge tests to assess the knowledge base of incumbent populations in key job categories.
Written Tests for Performance?
What do written tests have to do with performance-based T&D? Plenty. The knowledge measurable by written tests may be an enabler to key skills involved in performance. For example, calculating the amount of paint required to cover a room may be one of the things that enables a painter to pass a qualification test.
Knowledge tests are very familiar and vary in form, including
- Multiple choice
The PACT Performance Model and Knowledge/Skill Matrix are the sources for formulating the right type of written test question. The Performance Model indicates when a piece of knowledge is important for performance. So in the construction of written tests, developers are guided by the link between the knowledge item and its use in the performance situation.
The Performance Model and Knowledge/Skill Matrix assist in keeping the developer focused on performance first and content second. In turn, this helps ensure that the test is focused squarely on performance.
Performance tests measure individual performers’ real capabilities and competency―or as near to real as it is feasible to get. They do this using testing instruments along with evaluation and assessment processes designed and developed to certify or qualify employees for certain types of performance.
These tests can include
- Performance demonstrations (real work)
- Performance simulations
- Talk-through troubleshooting
Performance tests can deal with new real work, old real work, or simulations of real work.
Performance demonstrations are tests where learners demonstrate their ability to perform by actually doing something, usually with real work. This is the best test, of course, but it is not always feasible.
Real work is not always the best place to demonstrate competencies―emergency aircraft maneuvering, for example, or landing without the wheels down. Performance simulations allow testing of a learner’s ability to perform under less than real conditions. An example of a simulation is a classroom exercise involving negotiating with a supplier. The type of instructional activity called a simulation exercise, described later, can provide even more complexity (by design) than a performance simulation.
In talk-through troubleshooting tests, learners talk their way through a series of diagnostic steps with an expert. This expert has a predetermined terminal condition in mind and answers the learner’s troubleshooting questions accordingly. For example, in response to an answer from a learner being tested on machinery operation, the expert may supply information such as: the valve gauge reads 10 and is slowly rising. The learner describes the next action to take and the expert provides feedback until the terminal condition is reached.
Like performance simulations, this type of test is useful when performing real work is not feasible. Performance tests are developed more cheaply and quickly through this approach.
Other Methods for Performance Testing
In addition to the those methods mentioned above, ISD professionals may use other methods for assessing performance capability. Among these are reviews of performance output, observations of the performer’s processes, and debriefings of those involved in the performer’s process―for example, debriefing the performer’s customer.
Other Uses for Performance Tests
A performance test can also be used as a component of an annual performance assessment process. A test instrument can be linked into many different performance management systems or perhaps to the appraisal systems already in place.
A performance test can also tighten up a loose process. A loose process is one in which performance variations exist but are undesirable. While some jobs can be evaluated solely on the basis of the product produced, most jobs are evaluated at least partly on the basis of how a product or output is produced, how much time or money is expended, or how procedures are followed. Performance tests can help do that.
Sometimes Curriculum Architecture Design or Modular Curriculum Development projects begin as projects to construct performance tests for use as qualification or certification instruments. Later, the scope of the project expands into a full CAD or MCD effort. Implementing performance-based testing can help T&D customers see which specific areas of performance are good candidates for high-payback training developed using MCD.
An Instructional Activity Development project may generate simulation exercises. Simulation exercises allow performers to simulate doing real work, although in a way that is broader and more complex than the performance simulation described earlier.
A simulation exercise might focus on a manager’s role in the steps of progressive discipline. Managers who participate in this exercise may find themselves in a simulated series of individual interactions and meetings―sometimes alone with a union-represented individual, and other times with the individual and the local steward. In other meetings, another management representative may take notes and act as a witness to the proceedings in case corroboration is needed later.
Learners may find themselves rotating through the various roles of a simulation exercise―for example, playing the union employee, the union steward, and so forth. This allows participants to practice the target role and to gain insights from playing related roles. It also allows learners to observe and learn from the attempts by their fellow learners in the safety of an instructional event. A lot of “aha’s” happen in these types of simulation exercises.
Another type of simulation exercise might focus on the job of the project team leader for all of the phases of a product development process. Participants find themselves planning and conducting meetings in each of the process phases, dealing with typical issues (both problems and opportunities) that a team and leader face in a project. As they rotate through the roles of engineering, manufacturing, sales, and service, participants gain functional insights from role-playing. They also have the opportunity to observe and learn as other participants attempt to lead their teams.
Simulation exercises test and build competency. They do this through an incremental knowledge/skills build-up approach to competency mastery that includes dealing with the real-world issues and barriers to high performance. It’s often much better to practice in the relatively safe confines of T&D than to be experimenting with new behaviors and tasks on the job.
The components of a simulation exercise typically include the following, all of which are described below:
- Simulation exercise Datapaks
- Simulation exercise participant output formats and templates
- Simulation exercise facilitator tools and templates
Simulation exercise Datapaks provide the learner with the simulation exercise instructions, examples of the outputs to be produced, background and scenario information, specific exercise data and information for use in the exercise, and a schedule for conducting the simulation exercise.
The simulation exercise participant output formats and templates are of the fill-in-the-blank nature that the exercise output may require. In general, the exercise instructions, process, and outputs should be tightly structured. The formats and templates help accomplish this.
Simulation exercise facilitator tools and templates can include observer critique sheets or checklists, answer guides, and even last-minute data additions of the “monkey-wrench” variety. (“Your competitor has just brought out a product with these five features: . . .”) These monkey-wrench components are especially important if the real world often throws new obstacles onto the path of superior performance and creates new, last-minute problems and opportunities.
A simulation exercise can be used within a selection system as an in-basket exercise. This is literally a simulation of going through the items in an in-basket and attempting to deal with those items. As such, it is a test of the performer’s capability to deal with the various realities of job performance.
Simulation exercises can be used as pretests or posttests within T&D. They can provide practice opportunities within T&D. And simulation exercises can give learners an opportunity to practice certain aspects of the job at varying levels of difficulty.
If the learning situation calls for the simulation of real work, the Instructional Activity Development process guarantees a focus on real performance. Please note, however, that simulation exercises may also be created in a Modular Curriculum Development project.
In some performance situations, the decision process is difficult due to the complexity of the question asked of the performer, the answer, or both. These situations may require a performance aid to reduce cycle time and ensure the accuracy of the answer provided by the performer. Performance-based performance aids (a.k.a. job aids or reference guides) can have a high return if they work and are used as intended by the target audience.
Often the performance situation is an open book situation where performers have ready access to supplementary information. It may be that the performance aid is simply a formal version of the cheat sheets that many performers create for themselves (necessity being the mother of invention).
An Instructional Activity Development project may be conducted with the intent of producing no training but dozens or hundreds of performance aids.
Performance aids come in the following forms:
- Decision trees
- Process models and maps
- Tables or matrices
- Visual aids
Electronic or Paper Desk Procedures
A set of performance-based electronic desk procedures (just like performance aids or job aids) is called an electronic performance support system (EPSS). These can have a high return if they work and are used by the target audience.
Electronic desk procedures are likely to be used in many different types of help desk or call center operations, where a quick response to complex, varied situations is needed, and where decision rules can be used to process a call correctly. For example, when a credit card number is rejected in a sales situation, a call center operator might be able to quickly pull up the procedure for what to do next―e.g., resubmit the number, ask for another card number, or terminate the call.
Desk procedures may be on paper or accessed electronically.
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