Saturday, 24 October 2009

Do you want me to listen or to read....?

I attended a couple of days training this week, delivered internally. It was an interesting course and I met some great people. However there was a consistent bug bear for me throughout the course in the way that Powerpoint slides were used.

The web is full of discussions and articles about how to use (or not use) supporting slides for presentations (my favourite site is Presentation Zen). My particular pet hate is when a person stands at the front of a room and feels that they must have a slide behind them full of lines of bullet points or with a diagram so complicated that it needs 20 minutes to explain! Why do I hate this?
  • My style of learning is quite auditory. I like to listen to people tell me something and I like to hear people discuss things so I can hear different points of view. Putting up a visual slide doesn't really do much for me and actually makes it more difficult for me to concentrate on what someone is saying.
  • Do you want me to listen to what the presenter is saying, read the slide or do both? If you put a slide up then I am going to try and read it. When I am doing this then I won't be listening properly to the presenter. If the slide is full of lots of text then it is going to take me a while to read it.
  • The slide should be something that complements the presentation - not something that works against it. Just show something very simple on the slide - perhaps a handful of words or a picture that reinforces what you are saying.
Rant over.......

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Learning that is free....and there's no catch!

I read a great article in the Sunday Times last week that described a variety of learning resources that are available via the internet.....for free. I thought it must be too good to be true so I did some browsing of the sites and wanted to share my thoughts with you.

If you want access to completely free material of a high quality then read on.

This is an offshoot of the Open University that offers a large variety of courses covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from Arts and History to Business and Management to Mathematics and Statistics.....a truly broad curriculum.

The courses are available to download in a variety of formats (although I couldn't find audio of video) and each course has its own discussion forum. A facility to post a video log (vlog) is interesting and you can also create Learning Groups to learn with others wherever they may be. A browse through the Business Management sections found some courses that interested me:

Each course is about 6 hours and divided into various modules and you will find a student rating for each course (most of which have 4 or 5 stars).

You Tube EDU

This is a specific channel on YouTube devoted to educational material. Again you will find a variety of subject areas to choose from including Business, Literature, Law, Science and much more.

The format is the usual YouTube style video clip but there is some interesting material in there. A quick browse revealed some interesting clips:

Again some great material to use as part of a wider learning intervention or simply to learn in an interesting way!

This site, containing actual course material from MIT's course offerings is attracting 1.2m visitors per month. I think it is a really clever move by MIT that promotes their position as a thought leader and reinforces their brand.

There is an absolute plethora of material on the site with a large variety of formats ranging from actual course notes to multi media clips and material. The quality is second to none. The material includes course from the world famous Sloane School of Management including titles such as:

Many of these not only include the actual course material but also video lectures and notes - fantastic!

As part of the iTunes store there is a special section called iTunes U. This contains a massive bank of free material provided by a variety of top educational sources such as Cambridge University, Stanford Business Management School and Oxford University. The format is the usual iTunes format (audio and video) so you can simply download to your iPod to listen to at your convenience. Here are a couple of examples:

- Leading Change: a conversation with Ron Williams

- Managing the Leaders by Dr Mark De Rond

- Let's have less pride and more shame in the work place

Again an incredible library of free resource.

The Sunday Times article had an interesting observation:

A small study by the University of New York in Fredonia claims that downloading a lecture can be more effective than actually attending one in person. Researchers compared 64 students, half of whom attended a lecture and half of whom received it via a podcast. In a subsequent test, those who downloaded the podcast performed better - possibly because a podcast allows you to replay difficult parts as and when you want.

So I really do recommend having a look around these sites - there is some great material out there that is definitely worth exploring.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Kolb - is it useful?

I was asked to deliver a short session on Kolb recently which made me think about his models and how useful they are in practice. As I reflected on Kolb's model it made me remember how useful a tool it is for helping think about how people learn.....but of course there is a flip side too...

As a quick recap David Kolb is an Organisational Behaviour Professor who is probably best known for his work on experiental learning. Along with Roger Fry he created a model for learning that is generally known as the Learning Cycle.
I won't go into the detail about how the model works but for me it highlights a useful way of thinking about how people learn. Other sites have described this in some detail and I particularly like this one that shows it in an interactive way.

As well as the Learning Cycle, Kolb put forward 4 learning styles with each style representing a combination of two preferred styles. Kolb came up with the terms Diverging, Assimilating, Converging and Accommodating for these styles - see below.

Why is this useful?

  • A training course is not the complete answer! I have often heard about how the model can really help design a high quality training course. Using the styles and learning cycle we can create a rich experience that caters for the diferent ways that people learn. All of that is true but for me largely misses the point. Kolb's Learning Cycle shows how people learn in a continuous cycle based on a set of experiences. A training course may provide all of these experiences.....but only at a single point in time. So you may design the most fantastic training course but once people have gone back to their 'day job' how do you help them reflect on what they learned? How do you help them experiment and think about how they will use these new skills? How do you give them a set of experiences in which they can apply and develop further these new skills?

  • Coaching: I think Kolb's model is a useful one to support you as a coach. Clearly coaching has a strong role to play to help people reflect on their experiences but a coach can also help people think about new concepts, how they may apply them etc. In fact a coach has a role to steer people around the cycle many times... (I also think that Action Learning links strongly to Kolb's model too - read more about this here, here and here)

  • Understand your audience: If the only thing the model helps you to do is to think about your audience more and to adapt your approach accordingly.....then that is a good thing. Not everyone learns the same way that you do and you are very likely to have a mix of people in your audience - how will you cater for all of those different styles?

......and the flip side?

For me there are a couple of drawbacks to the model which means that whilst useful I don't think it should be taken to literally.

  • Simplistic: The model of 4 learning styles may be a little simplistic in practice. There may be many other styles that are appropriate to specific situations eg. simply memorising something through repitition. There are many other models on learning styles. For example Honey and Mumford developed Kolb's model further to create their Activist/Reflector/Theorist/Pragmatist model.

  • Realistic: The concept of learning stages doesn't necessarily fit with reality. People may jump around the stages at different times and out of sequence.

  • Evidence: I am not aware of much empirical evidence to back up the model

  • Culture: In my own experience, understanding the culture of your audience can have a huge influence on how you design a learning intervention. Compare a UK audience to a Saudi audience and you have two completely different styles just based on cultural difference.

So, Mr Kolb I like your model and have found it useful to keep my thoughts about learning and development on the straight and narrow - thanks! But it is not something that I use in a literal sense.....but I doubt that you expected people to do that anyway.