“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” ~Lily Tomlin as “Edith Ann.”
Sure, course content is critical, but translating that content so that it’s useful may be even more important than the content itself.
Dr. Barbara Martin, a former professor in the College of Education at the University of Central Florida and at Kent State University in educational technology and educational psychology, specializes in instructional design (ISD), criterion-referenced testing, evaluation strategies, distance education, and instructional theory. She has written articles on ISD and educational technology, including a book on designing instruction for affective behaviors.
According to Martin, subject matter experts (SME) are indispensable when developing training courses. “SME’s have technical skills and practical knowledge that are necessary to help non-expert students learn. However, SME’s are rarely professional educators,” she said. Martin said that SME’s may not know how to design a training course so that it as effective as it can be.
“They may not know to organize and present information,” said Martin, “and they may not know how to develop and use tests and evaluation instruments to improve student learning and to improve the quality of the course. So while technical information is essential to effective training, good teaching practices matter, too.”
Whether you’re an educator or a student, you’ll want to read Martin’s piece on five important teaching practices that can improve the quality of a training course.
1. Know Your Students. Your students come to training with different levels of knowledge and experience. It is important for trainers to know the variety of skill sets that students have when they arrive. Trainers need to do an audience analysis before students arrive (if possible) or conduct a brief learner analysis in the first hour of class. Then classes should be arranged so that students of similar backgrounds can work together, that students who already know the content can move ahead, or that more knowledgeable and experienced students can work with other students and help them learn. Knowing students’ prerequisite knowledge can make a big difference in how a class or course should be organized.
2. Write Learning Objectives. Learning objectives should be written in terms of what the learner will be able to do when s/he finishes the class and/or what skills s/he needs for the job. An example is: The student will conduct a site survey. They should not be written in terms of what the instructor is going to do, e.g., Present information about electrical design. Learning objectives should also focus on the application and use of knowledge and skills, rather than on rote memory and recall. For example, NABCEP’s task analyses can be used by trainers and curriculum specialists to establish learner-centered, application-based objectives.
3. Include Practice and Feedback in the Training. Learning is a two-way street. Just hearing information rarely helps students learn what they need to know. Students must be actively involved with the content to learn. This does not just mean physically engaged, e.g., hands-on labs, although labs are a good thing to include. It means that the student must be mentally engaged. Students should be asked to practice new learning by answering questions, doing problem solving activities, engaging in real-life or problem-based exercises, and responding to case studies and troubleshooting examples. Instructors can then provide feedback to correct mistakes, give additional information to clarify or extend content, or to tell students that they’ve “got it.”
4. Create Simple PowerPoint Slides. Slides and transparencies should include no more than 8 to 10 words on any one slide. That’s right, just 8-10 words!! This forces the instructor to talk to the students rather than reading the slides to them. Many instructors cram as much information as they can on a slide so that it will trigger their memory when they are teaching. However, the tendency is for instructors to read the information to the students rather than to teach it. Since students can read faster than the instructor can read it to them, students are often ready to move on before the instructor has finished. Instructors should include just a few words on a slide to jog their memory as they are teaching and also include photos, graphics and illustrations to make the slides more interesting.
5. Design Test and Evaluation Measures that Promote Transfer. Each and every class should have a test, quiz, or evaluation instrument that assesses whether or not students have learned the content stated in the objectives. This evaluation is in addition to any test that might be given. A classroom-based test should measure the stated learning objectives. These evaluation instruments should re-create what the learners will be expected to do on the job; successful students will demonstrate that they can perform job-based tasks without assistance. This allows the instructor to better determine whether or not the skills learned in the training will transfer to the job. Based on the test results, instructors can do at least two things: (1) tell whether or not students have learned what was intended and (2) evaluate their class and their instruction to see what, if anything, needs to be improved.
For more information about these teaching practices, contact Dr. Martin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org