Been thinking about how to generate meaningful learning in optimal (read: concise but effective) ways. And a lot of what I’ve been thinking about involves contextualized meaningful practice (no surprise there, eh?). So how might this play out? Thought I’d use a story to convey the experience I’m thinking of:
Pat logs on to the system, and notes that it’s time to take a crack at the next assignment. In it is a setup with a role for Pat to play. The story details a business situation: the organization, it’s current status, and a situation that’s occurred that requires an action. The details are exaggerated, so it’s a dire situation with a lot riding on the outcome. The instructions are phrased in the form of an email directly from the CEO, with pointers to some folks to talk to for assistance.
The necessity is for Pat to create a plan to address the need. In this case, it’s a marketing plan for a new product that has been the focus of most of the organization’s effort. With old products facing receding sales, this product has to succeed. The existing plan, legacy of a departed individual, is ‘old school’ and an up-to-date approach is needed. The indicated need is heavily aligned with this week’s topic of social-media marketing.
Pat starts work to create a document to send to the CEO. This includes making ‘calls’ (viewing videos of quick messages from the various roles involved including the product manager, the financial officer) to find out the parameters which are in play and to get expert knowledge. There are also some marketing materials available.
In previous assignments there were support tools about creating documents and about marketing plans, but this time such support isn’t available. Pat realizes that this being a more advanced cut through the topic, it’s time to start taking ownership of the process. The CEO has asked for an interim plan report before creating the entire marketing plan, and Pat uses previous materials and adapts them to create the plan.
Pat will get feedback from the CEO to incorporate in the plan before putting together the final submission. Ultimately, the success of the plan will be presented, and then feedback on the details of Pat’s submission. The document creation will be evaluated separately and in the context of previous documents required across this particular topic and previous ones, while the marketing plan itself will be evaluated in terms of it’s response to the context.
Several things to note here. The contextualized performance requirement isn’t unique, of course. This very much draws upon similar work seen in Roger Schank’s Story-Centered Curriculum and Goal-Based Scenarios. It differs in that subsequent assignments might use totally separate story settings. It’s similar also to work like Bransford, et al’s Anchored Instruction. The notion of embedding performance in context reflects research that shows abstract instruction doesn’t transfer as well. My own proposal (research, anyone?) is that the story should complete before the conceptual feedback is presented, or indeed that the story outcome includes the conceptual feedback in an intrinsic way.
The second important thing is that the document creation details are assessed separately, and tracked across other such assignments that might appear anywhere. The point is to develop meta-skills like digital document creation (and others such as presentations, working in groups, research, etc) as well as the domain skills.
I believe that we need learners to create complex work products that are challenging to auto-mark, because the outcomes are necessary. This means that you need people in the learning loop; totally asynchronous isn’t going to work to develop rich capabilities. I’m trying to figure out ways to approximate that with as little human intervention as possible because pragmatically we have more learning to achieve than we have resources to achieve that (at least until we get our priorities right ;).