Whole Brain Teaching: Is this Real?

 

So this week I am facilitating a discussion forum on “Whole Brain Teaching”. The best way to demonstrate this technique is through video. Here’s a link for this technique applied to a college Philosophy Class:

My first response to this video was to laugh. I took a great many Philosophy classes in University. This is the noisiest Philosophy class I have ever seen.

Personally, if I went to a class like this, I would not be able to tolerate it. I would quietly excuse myself and drop that class as quick as I could.

The big selling point of this technique is classroom management. The prompts allow teachers to control the pace and participation of the class. Many teachers swear by this method claiming to have seen great improvements in learning.

One of the things that drove me absolutely NUTS about researching this topic was the lack of scholarly material. There are tons of blogs and websites out there on the topic, but a review of several article databases at my college left me empty handed. I guess the argument could be made that with the accessibility and ease of internet mediums, the often times expensive and inaccessible scholarly mediums are on their way out, so a newish technique like Whole Brian Teaching might latch onto only the web. However, that would be inaccurate. Journals are still a very lively academic space, particularly in Education. The fact that Whole Brain Teaching is all but absent from this space, I think should be met with caution.

Another interesting quality I found doing this research is that there were very few critical views of Whole Brain Teaching. Most of the websites and blogs out there are written by proponents of the technique. In most cases, the material has a ‘sales pitch’ feel. The only real critical material you can find is a few news articles debunking some of the science claims proponents make.

It also occurred to me during the discussion forum I am facilitating that the student voice is absent. This is an interesting note to ponder in general, not just with Whole Brain Teaching. A good reflective practitioner I think should adapt to both student needs and reactions (I know these can often contradict). So the student voice should be present in evaluating teaching strategies. In the case of Whole Brain Teaching, this is definitely a voice I would like to hear from.

Informal Assessment Strategy

Please check out a colleague’s digital project on Informal Assessment Strategy:

This project gives a very thorough outline of Informal Assessment Strategy. It’s very well put together and researched.

It kind of reminds me of one of my early ideas for this digital project. I wrote about Formative Assessment in a previous blog and because of it’s value and the general neglect of it’s practise in the workplace, it was one of my top choices for a topic. In the end “Frames” won, but oh well!

While I was watching this project, it reminded me so much of the call audit/monitoring processes most call centres have in place. Call monitoring is so fundamental to employee training in call centres. Often times, there will be a structured checklist which peers or managers will fill out while listening to calls. This checklist structures the coaching and feedback that typically following a call monitoring session. One trick I used to like to do when I was managing call centres was not only assess the call myself, but then have the employee listen to their own call, following the checklist and assess themselves. We would then meet and discuss how we rated the call and why. As a manager that was development focused, these were some of the most memorable and satisfying moments in my career, as this was a partnership in learning and improving.

Another interesting call centre application is what I like to call “coaching ops”. It’s very common that more than one employee may talk to a customer or work on a particular issue. This means they are often more aware of the performance of their peers than the superiors. Encouraging this feedback can provide great opportunities for learning. If the group of employees is not comfortable providing feedback to each other, management can be used as a buffer by having employees inform a manager. The manager can then provide feedback or coaching to the employee anonymously.

Great topic!

 

Learning with Travel

A friend of mine asked me for some advice today, as he is planning a trip to India.

About 5 years ago I had I just finished University was about to leave my previous company to explore other options. This transition point was a great opportunity to take so extended time to travel, so that is what I did. I had always dreamed of going to India–I love the food, the language, films, music, dancing…you name it. And boy was it a trip of a lifetime.

I spent 3 months travelling India. One of the things that most people will tell you about travelling to India, particularly if you are from a western country, is not matter how much you prepare, you will experience culture shock.

I am reminded of my ‘shock’ both by my friends questioning and one of the active discussion forums this week on cognitive dissonance. Not only would culture shock be a form of cognitive dissonance, but some aspects of experiences in India are so contradictory.

It starts the minute you land. Most of the International airports are in cities 10 times the size of a large city in Canada. As you’re ride drives you to your hotel, you will see examples of enormous wealth and immense poverty, sometimes side by side. When you see this and walk the streets, you can see a sense of a disregard for the value of life. There are millions of people around you, someone can fall or get hit by a car and life just goes on. Not like here, where events like that life stops to aid. This is not to say anything bad about the environment or lifestyle in India–it’s different and one where survival is at the forefront.These things are shocking when you first see it, but in time, they become less of a shock because you too need to fight and survive.

India is also a place of immense love and hospitality. I had plenty of home cooked meals while I was there after briefly meeting locals in markets. I had shopkeepers invite me in for tea, not to sell me things, but to share stories, become facebook friends, and get a signature in their most cherished possession–a guest book.

And the amongst all this hospitality and beauty other contradictions will rear their ugly heads. Take my trip to the Taj Mahal for an example. I was among thousands of people that day with many of the locals visiting for their first time. Yet I left feeling me and my friends were photographed more than the 7th wonder because of our white skin.

To travel India is to learn. It also requires acting and believing in contradictory positions. You’ll see and experience the beauty and the ugly side of human kind. Does it change your perspective? Most definitely, but not in the way most would think. You don’t come back and devote your life to end poverty. Rather, you understand survival through your brief taste of it.

 

I’m back!

So I had big plans for my time off. I figured that after a few days I would get bored and miss work. I was planning on spending the time perfecting my digital project. While my digital project is nearly finished, I could have been more productive. Although, I guess that is what vacations are about–getting away from work.

I spent most of my time reading. I wish I could say there was learning/education/development content to it, but really is was pure pleasure reading. I am addicted to books, but I find during the course of a normal week, I may only get 30 minutes per day for my pleasure reading. Sure that still sounds like a lot, but I wish I could be reading 12 hours per day.

Why do I read so much? I think this can be answered with a education/learning theme. Reading exposes me to new perspectives, topics, and ideas I may not give much thought to. I’m often inspired after reading a good book, which compels me to research the topic or context further.

A good example of this is one of my vacation reads: “Sport of Kings”. This book spans a few generations–from 1950s to present day–of a couple of families living in Kentucky (with a few jaunts in Ohio). The book dealt with contrasts between race and socioeconomic status told through the workings and evolution of a farm.

What initially attracted me to the book was that I knew nothing of the topic. I know little about the region in which it takes place and I know nothing about race horses (in fact I have a life long dislike of horses).

As I read the book, what was really interesting to me was to learn about the differences between the two states (Kentucky and Ohio) and just how close they actually are. In some parts, the only thing that separates the two states is a river. Even more interesting, is the fact that Ohio was a free state for African Americans during slavery, but Kentucky was not. Cities like Cincinnati attracted many African Americans seeking refuge from slavery in states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

Having most of my education in Canada, I have had little exposure to US history. Before reading this book, I did not think of Ohio much. I knew it was a big state of some importance, but it’s not something that enters into one’s books an intriguing place to travel. It’s no New York or Washington. It’s changed my opinion somewhat. OK so it won’t be on my bucket list, but I would gladly enjoy a long layover there sometime.

We have an office in Columbus–maybe I can increase interest with Vancouver employees with this trivia.

 

Preparing For Instruction 1-Characteristics of Adult Learners

I must admit when I embarked upon the study of adult learners and education I reduced a lot of the differences between adult and child learners to psychological and physiological differences. Adult brains are fully developed which should make understanding complex concepts a little easier. On the flip side of this, children can pick up on new lessons with relative ease as their brains are still developing. I think this is a common or popular view amongst people who have not studied or worked with adult learners. I quickly discovered this is a very limited view of the field.

Malcom Knowles is a much discussed writer in the field of adult education or andragogy. In his work, he outlines the characteristics and assumptions of adult learners. Unlike the popular view, many of these characteristics are not directly associated with psychological or physiological traits associated with adulthood. Most of these characteristics highlight the goals, self concept, roles, and experiences that adult learners bring to education. Further, unlike children who need to acquire a breadth of knowledge and education to use throughout their lives, adult learners are “problem centred” in that they seek education to fill some specific need or goal.

There is a plethora of information on the internet discussing the characteristics of adult learning and Malcom Knowles work. I like to connect theory to practise, so here is an interesting article applying Knowles’ characteristics to the customer support environment:

http://customerthink.com/six_characteristics_of_adult_learners/

.In this article, Matt McConnell outlines 6 characteristics of adult learning: the need to know, self concept, role of experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation. For each of these characteristics he applies this to a generalized role of customer support agent. I would like to take this one step further with specific examples from my experience.

The Need to Know

This characteristic assumes that adult learners need to know the ‘why’ or value of the learning opportunities.

In most customer service environments, new products, campaigns, or process are introduced to the team regularly. The need to know is vital for buy in and adoption by the team. For an example, if a new process is introduced to the team without explaining the need to know, often times this is met with resistance or even seen as an arbitrary introduction of a new rule from the top down. On the other hand, if you explain that this new process will reduce call volume or increase customer satisfaction, most agents will gladly engage in the training and adopt the new process easily.

Self Concept

This characteristic highlights the assumption that adults are autonomous beings that can make their own choices and self direct in learning.

This can be a tricky characteristic to apply in the workplace, as often times training is required for day to day business. In the customer support environment, while there is a certain level of required training, it is common to see elective training programs. These include self directed learning opportunities to become a product matter expert or different certification programs. These programs allow agents to choose to learn as much, as little, or even directed in specific skills sets that interest them.

Role of Experience

This assumption acknowledges that adult learners approach learning opportunities with different backgrounds and goals, which influences not only what they want to learn, but also how they learn.

In the customer support environment, experiential learning is one of the primary training methodologies. New hires often ‘job shadow’ a senior representative to understand the types and how calls are handled. This is then applied and compared to their previous experiences. Another common opportunity is projects where agents get to work with other departments on broader company initiatives. These give agents the opportunity to compare and contrast their experiences and perspectives with others.

Readiness to Learn

This characteristic assumes that adults are more attune to learning opportunities that they can apply to real life situations.

In the customer support environment, these opportunities are frequent. Coaching via case or call recording is one of the most frequently used learning opportunities. In this situation, an agent would listen and discuss how they handled a specific call with a coach or manager. While the coach or manager may offer feedback on areas for improvement, this is also a good opportunity for self evaluation.

Orientation of Learning

This assumption outlines how adults are “problem centred” learners.

While this is very similar to readiness to learn, I think this extends further to include a curiosity of learning. For an example, an agent may identify a ‘gap’ in knowledge or process on the team and actively seek for ways to learn more and fill in this gap or solve a specific problem.

Motivation

This characteristic outlines how adult learners are responsive to both external and internal motivators. Internal motivators are often the more powerful motivators.

There are tons of studies done on external versus internal motivators for performance. In the customer support environment, external motivators are very common in the form of individual and team incentives for reaching a goal. Internal motivators, I think are an industry weakness—one I have worked very hard to overcome in my own practice. Career development, opportunities to work on interesting projects, and informal leadership opportunities are often readily available in the support environment, which can easily garner interest and commitment to learning initiatives.

Trends in Adult Education: Online Learning

 

Online learning is a major trend in adult education (even education as a whole). This trend is of interest to me for several reasons. First, as someone working in learning and development, it represents a method by which I can reach a wider audience that is separated geographically. My company has several offices working in different time zones, so physical presence is a challenge. Additionally, arranging convenient times to maximize audience is a challenge, not just due to different time zones, but other conflicting professional obligations amongst employees. Online learning can solve the temporal spatial conflict ever present in the workplace.

On a personal level, there are few years of my adult life where I have not taken some sort of course or workshop either for professional or personal reasons. Online learning is a convenient trend to makes doing so easier.

As side from the convenience factors, many are starting to discuss additional benefits to online learning platforms. Breaking away from the physical classroom also allows us to reconceptualise learning in the online classroom–it need not be bound by the traditional way classroom way of doing lectures. New tools can allow online courses to personalize the education experience. While this video is focused on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses which is a wide enough topic in itself), it describes the potential of personalizing education through online modules:

In this TED talk Daphne Koller discusses the Coursera platform. While Coursera courses often have 100s of thousands of students, the platform is able to personalize the education experience using smart technology and active feedback. She discusses the “Sigma 2 problem” in which different teaching styles affect learning outcome–ranging from lecture style, mastery (where students cannot move  on until mastered module), to finally individual tutor.The learning outcomes of those taught by individual tutor are 2 standard deviations above those taught using traditional lecture style. Koller suggests that the personalization potential of online platforms presents the opportunity to create an education experience to that of an individual tutor.

Online learning platforms also have the potential to provide better content. Student feedback is easier through rating and ranking systems. Those that fail to meet expectations will disappear, but those that are engaging will go ‘viral’. This forces online educators to keep material content engaging and current. Josh Bersin discusses this in the following article:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2016/01/05/use-of-moocs-and-online-education-is-exploding-heres-why/#61a10c2f7f09

In this article he discusses that not only can students rank and rate courses, but anyone can create new content–from top university professors to business leaders. The ease of use and access also appeals to a wider audience. People will enroll in courses for interest, where in the traditional classroom module many would be detracted by the effort needed to enroll, let alone show up to weekly classes.

Finally, one benefit that is starting to garner attention is the learning community aspects that the online platform provides. John Green’s talk on online learning focuses on the learning community:

Using social media and forums, online learning communities allow students to engage in problems or ideas around the world. This can also present students to new perspectives and ideas that one would not have in traditional learning classroom. The exploration in online communities are engaging–much more rich experience where learning can be fun at the same time as informational.

I have seen the online learning experience evolve quite a bit since I took my first online class in the early 2000s. Some have been structured similar to traditional classroom with powerpoint modules, quizzes and assignments. Others have been well developed series of video lectures. There’s still a lot of room for growth.

As I am a committed life long learning, I’m certain online learning will continue to be a large part of my learning experiences. What excites me most though is that broader use of these technologies will attract more life long learners with it’s ease of use and accessibility.

Let’s keep developing!