I start out each morning with the greatest of intentions. I tell myself that I will work on my next book for 90 minutes. I will then work on the curriculum that I owe my client for the next 90 minutes. I will then have a 12 minute lunch and spend 75 minutes working on the competencies draft I have been slogging through. And then two minutes before my son is due to walk through the door home from school, I tell myself that I will have completed all my bookkeeping for the month. As you probably guessed, none of that happens as planned. I usually end up dealing with Stuff That Comes Up - my son's forgotten lunchbox; a call from a former colleague; a slew of new paperwork that a client for whom I completed a project three months ago demands I complete if I want to get paid this year; a meeting with a potential client who wants to interview me on my past work for an hour. You know - Stuff.
I end up working late into the night several days of the week but really that's when I get my best work done. All my clients are asleep or having proper social lives; my son is tucked into bed; my husband is doing his late night work 20 feet from my own desk and well - that's when the flow is so perfect. No interruptions, no calls or meetings or demands on my time other than what I set out to do. This time is golden and my most productive. It's my best mode for learning and productivity. I think to jobs that require people to be in a certain spot to do their job and really, the indicated spot to 'work' is not always where our best work can be done.
This makes me think of training activities where we pull together people out of their work space to teach them some new knowledge or skill which we then expect them to apply back in the very workspace we took them out of. This uprooting should be a growth experience where people can learn new skills and behaviours simply by working with others who have fresh ideas or different ways of looking at something. They have to work harder to accomplish the set tasks because the people around the table are new to them and thus do not know their work habits. It is such a rich opportunity to learn collaboration and problem-solving as well as the new set of knowledge and skills being taught. Sadly, I continue to observe painful death-by-slidedeck lectures where even the presenter is bored. Or I click through a shiny new e-learning course which periodically asks me to parrot back the text that was presented in the previous screen. At least with the e-learning, I can turn off the machine when I am bored to tears.
The field is suddenly awash with people calling themselves Instructional Designers who simply add pretty pictures to those same, boring slidedecks. Or who copy and paste material from a print manual into an online interface and call it (and bill it as) e-learning. I welcome these self-proclaimed Instructional Designers to the fray on the condition that they make training- in any format - worth their learners' precious time - time that their learners took out of their carefully planned day, time that they otherwise could be attending to Stuff - to sit and hopefully learn something new. There are loads of opportunities out there for new IDs to learn how a curriculum needs to be appropriately written and designed appropriate to different formats. It should be noted that very little of a solid course curriculum framework has to do with shiny, pretty pictures. It's all about understanding how children or adults best learn different types of content - and applying those principles and methods appropriate to your audience and your context. That's the whole shebang. Now go learn it in whatever mode best suits you and apply it.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about curriculum lately. I recently visited a government-sponsored regional training center here in Asia complete with four state-of-the-art training rooms. The center only just opened last month, yet the schedule at the center is completely booked for the next three months. I walked past the three occupied classrooms where training activities were in full swing and I could only wonder how many of the trainings being conducted were accompanied by a curriculum for the trainer to follow. If the trainings taking place there that day are typical of how most trainings operate, there were probably few that employed the use of well-crafted and tested curriculum. And yet, NGOs spend more money on capacity-building activities, such as trainings for particular individuals, than any other activity.1
My guess is that most trainings that take place do not have a formal curriculum in place. After all, it costs too much time and money to develop something quality. ASTD estimates that quality training curriculum takes approximately 40 hours of prep time from analysis to evaluation PER hour of instruction. Yes, that is a LOT of prep time but it's quality time, ensuring that time spent training is of the highest quality. As a curriculum designer, I feel strongly that no training should be held without a standardized curriculum - to do so without a curriculum is likely to waste the time of the trainee, the trainee's supervisor, the trainer and the poorly planned training allows minimal transference of knowledge and skills back to the workplace. Think of the time that trainees are away from their workplace - the lost productivity when they are stuck in a training room watching endless powerpoint presentations. Think of the money needed to rent the venue, put trainees and trainers up in hotel, payment of per diems, travel to and from the training, the cost to feed everyone. Why is it that we can make sure to get all the logistics right but be unwilling to ensure that the reason everyone is there in the training room - the actual training - is learner-appropriate, utilizes appropriate methodologies to teach knowledge, skills and attitudes, and provide continuous formative assessments against well-crafted objectives?
1. Riddell, R. C. (2008). Does Foreign aid really work? Oxford University Press, USA.
An educator nomad traveling and teaching her way around the world. Fun stuff.