Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I'm Still Here

It’s been awhile since you’ve heard from me and with very good reason. A career change has caused me to put all things on hold while I got a grip on my new reality. So, let me back up a bit and start from the beginning.

In 2014 I began an incredible journey to become a Media Specialist - a teacher librarian. There were so many reasons behind my choosing this path that it is difficult to list them all here. But, to make a long story short, I graduated in December 2015 with my Ed.S. in Instructional Technology and Media Specialist Certification and found a job (slightly before my graduation) with an elementary school close to my home.  It all happened in an epic whirlwind and, truthfully, a lot more quickly than for which I think I was prepared

I wondered if this blog would still be relevant to the topics I was used to discussing. Now that I'm knee deep in 5-10 year olds, I was concerned that my thoughts on training, leadership, and technology may not be as applicable any more. On the contrary, I've found in my new role as a teacher librarian I am even more immersed in training, technology, and leadership than I ever thought possible. So, without further ado, I am ushering this blog into a new era of librarianship. We’ll call this Library Training Wheels 2.0 - the teacher librarian edition.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Manager vs. Leader

I recently took a self assessment quiz as one of my assignments for class and found it to be enlightening. Go ahead and  take the quiz - I’ll still be here when you get back.

What did your results say about you? When I took this quiz I scored myself an 8 in People and a 6.8 in Task. Overall, that put me within the Team Leadership category. This quiz, however, made me reflect on my journey to that category. If I were to take this quiz two years ago, I don’t think I would have fallen in the same area. Instead, I would have been more in the middle of the road or, perhaps, a socialite.

I wasn’t surprised that I scored higher in the people category because, let’s face it, I’m a people person. I once thought I wanted to go into archives until I did a semester-long internship that proved sitting in an office alone was not the best choice for me.  My current position in a public library has proven that people centered jobs are no cake walk, either. In fact, finding the path to effective leadership in a middle management position with little power and a lot of responsibility can be difficult.

I struggled as a new supervisor, at first, because my main motivation was for people to like me. I skirted around the tough issues because they were uncomfortable to address. I found myself making excuses for team members regarding issues such as low productivity or poor prioritization of tasks because the alternative meant that I was not leading the team effectively. In truth, I was afraid to sit down and speak with underperforming employees because I did not want to hurt feelings. When I realized that my non-communication was being unfair to the employee and causing the team to suffer, I bit the bullet and began the tough conversations.

What it comes down to is understanding that tasks and people equally make a business run. The tough conversations have to be had, but completing tasks and losing sight of the people who perform those tasks can be disastrous. Once I decided to have a conversation with an employee regarding performance, I had to decide how I was going to start the conversation. I could just as well state the facts, assume no responsibility, and refuse to listen to excuses. Or, I could present my observations, ask question about my observations, listen, and collaborate on a solution.

Tasks are important, but people are important, too. Clark summarizes the questionnaire perfectly in his notes when he speaks of “People and Mission.” Some of the questions seem to be paradoxical because they hold both people and task as the most important. How can two things be the most important? Clark puts it best:

“nothing is more important than accomplishing the mission and nothing is more important than looking out for the welfare of the people. A good leader can do both!”

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Project Management for Librarians

I’ve been in public libraries for 9 years now and I have never met a librarian who said they got into this profession because they like business. I’m sure these librarians exist somewhere out there, but I’d be willing to bet you won’t find too many of them in the public sector. Most of us public librarians have chosen this path because we just want to help people. For myself, it’s about lifelong education that has attracted me to this position. In spite of what others outside the profession may think, a Master of Library Science (affectionately called library school) didn’t teach us the Dewey Decimal system, most of us knew that already. Instead, it taught us about information, organization, and leadership. I learned a lot in library school, but nothing compares to what I’ve learned over the course of the last month - and I think many librarians would benefit from the same lessons.

Libraries like hosting programs. Programs get people in the door, they make us feel engaged with the community,and, if nothing else, they break up the monotony of shelving books and answering questions. But the amount of time and effort we put into programs and classes can often yield mixed results of few participants who really enjoyed the program. Most may think this was just a result of a marketing problem, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem started several months prior when the program was just an idea in a librarian’s mind. The problem? Project Management.

I’m fortunate to work in a library with a digital media lab that has pretty much everything you would need to create movies, music, podcasts, etc. About six months ago I came to my managers and said, “hey, we really need to ramp up programs for this space!” At the time, the digital media lab just failed to catch a lot of attention. My idea for programming was met with enthusiasm and lots of questions:
  1. Who is the program going to target?
  2. What would participants learn?
  3. How do you know that what you are teaching is what the target audience needs to know?
  4. When will this class be?
  5. How do you know that is a good time for the target audience?

The questions continued and, after the first two, I was feeling deflated! I had created a program based on observation of what I thought my target audience would like to know, but I never actually asked. Needless to say, I tabled the programming for a little bit so I could conduct some research.

One of my managers, with experience in project management, pointed me in the right direction to get the answers I needed to those questions. Just as it is true with training, projects need to have goals and/or objectives. I knew I wanted to boost the foot traffic of the digital media lab, but by how much? Gosh, did I even have solid numbers of how often it gets used?

Fast forward a couple months later and I was able to create a solid plan that would lead to accomplishing a set of goals.  I called this plan my Statement of Purpose. This written document detailed the how the digital media lab and how the organization wanted it to grow. The goals that were incorporated into the document were measurable and , in further detail, I exacted how each of these goals would contribute to the growth of the digital media lab.  Finally, I assessed the risks. Every project has risks and it is important to identify what these risks are. If the risk outweighs the potential benefits, then there may be cause to create a new plan. In my case, the risk was the amount of staff time devoted to a project to make it succeed.

Now, with goals firmly in place, I can easily assess what takes top priority and what should be tabled. Staff time is an organization’s greatest asset and it shouldn’t be spent on half-baked ideas. Ideas are great, but they need to be backed up with evidence. Use project management to let an idea fully cook and you’ll see, the numbers don’t lie.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Events #8-9: Assessing Performance & Enhancing Transfer

Arguably one of the most difficult tasks of training is the evaluation - and I would be lying if I said that I’ve mastered this skill. Measuring how well learners have retained the information is no easy task which is why I typically follow Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation.  Within Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction, Kirkpatrick’s model fits well.

I’ve been experimenting with performance assessment and I’ve found that, just as transfer of information should be tailored to the subject, so should the assessment. In the traditional classroom, evaluation takes on the form of a test. Assignments, games, role playing, and any other method that you may use to get learners performing the tasks independently is a mode of assessing performance. Tests are quantifiable as you have immediate gratification of what the learner’s have retained - but tests are usually taken at the end of training and do very little for sustained retention.

Games and role play can be good practice, but the measurements are qualitative and subjective. If instructing a large class, it may be difficult to observe all participants to accurately gauge their level of performance.

That leads us to assignments.  I personally like assignments that are given within the confines of a classroom setting but that can be completed or continued outside the classroom and have direct impact on their job. An assignment without instruction can leave the learner feeling lost, so I recommend to pair assignments and instruction carefully.

It can often seem like when the learner leaves the classroom, they leave behind all the information they acquired. Kirkpatrick’s levels 2, 3, and 4 address this concern. Giving an assignment will help assess the learner’s performance a week or two after training has been received, but trainers must rely on observation from supervisors to ensure that performance in maintained.

At this stage, communication is important between all parties involved - the trainer, employees, and supervisors. It is critical that the supervisor already be trained on the new information and that they allow employees the time to use that information they have just acquired. Enhancing the transfer of knowledge will occur on the job when the practices have been put in place and employees are actively using their new knowledge. It is crucial to keep the lines of communication open so that needs can be addressed and final assessments made to determine the success of the training.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Event #4-7: Presenting Information - Providing Feedback

When I brought out the guitar and the keyboard, I knew I had everyone’s attention. The props were for a training on GarageBand, and by the time I was ready to use them and begin with Event #4, I had already done the following:

  1. Gained their attention - I used a storytelling technique for this approach, telling of a young musical team that will need to use the software to record.
  2. Informed the Learner of the Objective - I briefly mentioned what we would accomplish in training, emphasizing that this was just an intro course.
  3. Stimulated Recall - I told learners that we would be recording the song “Heart & Soul,” allowing them to recall what the song is supposed to sound like so that they can compare it to the recording.

After that, I was ready for Events Four through Seven.

Now that we were ready to open the application and begin recording, it was necessary to give a short tour of GarageBand and demo what the program could do. Presenting information can take on many forms depending upon the type of material you are presenting. In this case, I was presenting a piece of software, so the information I was giving to learners was more visually based. If this had been a training on procedural information, the presentation would have been more aural.

If you follow the ADDIE process, how you present the information for your training will be worked on during the Development phase. Take the time to consider the best approach for reaching your learners. There is no right or wrong way, but you will often find that some methods work better than others. You may even want to write in contingencies if your original method does not seem to strike a chord with your audience.

Now that you’ve given the learners the information they need, this is the time for them to provide feedback. Training often incorporates group discussion, games, or roleplay and all of these provide opportunity for the instructor to provide guidance to the learner. In my GarageBand training, I provided guidance while learners added a new instrument for recording. They had just seen my demonstration, and now I would walk them through the process.

At this stage, you will see the variations in how your audience learns. For some, just seeing the demonstration is enough - those are your visual learners. For others, they will need to perform the motions themselves before committing anything to memory - those are your tactile learners. No matter what, it can be agreed upon that the more practice available, the more likely attendees will retain the information.

By the time I had demonstrated the process and walked the participants through the process, they were ready to repeat the process on their own. This is where eliciting performance comes in to play. Typically, you will see this aspect of training in the form of role playing. In the case of technology, practicing the use of the software or equipment is the equivalent of role playing.

I’ve written in the past that I am not a huge fan of role playing in the traditional sense and I still stand by my reasoning. There are other ways to elicit performance that are not as gut wrenching as performing in front of your peers. I challenge you to think out of the box and let me know which ways you get your learners performing during training.

You cannot, in good faith, let a trainee leave having not followed up with them on their performance. Ultimately, you want to let people know how they did. Are they getting it right? Do they need some extra practice? Are they struggling with a specific concept? In order to provide feedback, you will need to be observant so that feedback is detailed and tailored to each individual.

Giving feedback to participants to help them grow does not need to be a formal conversation, but should be conversational and fit the scope of the course. Anything from “Good Job” to “You may also want to try it this way” or “If you would like more practice” will be perfect for most training courses.

It is important to note that Eliciting Performance and Feedback should be continual, going on even after the training is complete. Once the learner is back in the trenches, they will be expected to use what they learned (eliciting performance)  and receive feedback from their supervisor. And this sets us up for the final steps of Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction - Assessment and Retention.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Event #3: Stimulate Recall of Prior Knowledge

Adult learners come with a lot of baggage - and that’s an awesome thing - but it occasionally feels like some training ignores that baggage instead of embracing it. Our ideas of how people learn and how teachers should engage their students have changed over time. When I was in school, instruction was more lecture-based. Now, you would be hard pressed to find a K-12 class taught in that manner. “Facilitation,” “hands-on,” and “collaborative” are all words used to describe the 21st century classroom and are very much applicable to the on-the-job classroom as well.

Robert Gagne knew what he was talking about long before classroom participation became a “thing” and this is reflected in Event #3 of his 9 Events of Instruction - Stimulating Recall of Prior Knowledge.  For adult learners, especially those who come to the classroom with previous experience and valuable knowledge, the ability for them to share what they know gives them the freedom to make the training personal. The more personalized a training is, the more invested a learner will be.

Recalling previous information sounds pretty tedious - and it will be if you make it a lecture session - but it has the potential to be one of the most fun activities for your learners. Here are a couple of strategies that I use:

In case you haven’t noticed, people like to talk. After all, we are social creatures. You can use small group or whole group discussion to stimulate recall by asking learners to chat about a specific topic. For example, a training on Customer Service may ask learners to discuss poor customer service experiences they’ve had in the past. This information lays the groundwork for exactly what NOT to do.

Sometimes you may have a training where talking isn’t the answer. Instead of having a discussion among the group, perhaps introspective conversation can take its place.  For this, ask learners to contemplate an experience, idea, or question and have them write down their responses on paper (or electronically, if applicable.)  For a class that has the potential to be vibrant and fast-paced, this activity will take out time to be slow and thoughtful.  What you do with the written responses is up to you: read them aloud anonymously, use them to address specific concerns, or have learners draw responses and provide feedback.

Remember the game of memory you used to play as a child? Trying to recall which card had the matching picture was only for fun. Games like memory, however, are just as important to learning as they are to having fun. Besides, when learners are having fun, they are more receptive to new information. For this reason,  utilizing games during Event #3 is a great way to stimulate recall. Simple games such as word scrambles, quizlets, family feud, etc. will set the mood for learning and act as a jumping off point to facilitate discussion.

Discussion can be a breeding ground for new concepts and ideas. Use discussion to allow participants the chance to share their knowledge. In many cases, even the trainer can stand to learn a new thing or two. While learners are sharing their wealth of information, as a trainer, you should take it all in and make mental notes of what the participants’ foundational knowledge is. If you follow the ADDIE process, you most likely did research on the needs of your participants. Even the most detailed research, however, cannot always prepare you for what learners will say. Use the information you gather from discussion participation to help tailor the next part of your training - Events #4-7: Presenting Information, Providing Guidance, Eliciting Performance, and Providing Feedback.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Event #2: Informing Learners of Objective

Think about the last training you attended.
If the trainer used Power Point or an equivalent, you probably saw a slide similar to the one below. Yep, those are objectives. Chances are, you don’t even remember the slide because it is usually the most boring of slides in the entire deck. The objectives, however, are one of the most important factors in training. This is precisely why Robert Gagne made “Informing Learners of Objectives” number two in his list of 9 Events of Instruction.

I’ve written about objectives a lot on this blog and for good reason, they are difficult to master on paper and pretty tedious to communicate. A training void of objectives, though, leaves the learner feeling lost.

We traditionally think of objectives as learning outcomes - what the learner is expected to know by the end of training. Objectives as learning outcomes allow you to measure the success of a training. For example, consider the parameters of this scenario:
  • you are training on model reference behaviors
  • one of the stated objectives is that learners will be able to define the stages of the reference interview
  • you cover each objective during training.

If, by the end of training and thereafter, the learner is not able to fully complete the objective, then you know that the training was not completely successful. The 9 Events of Instruction have a step for evaluating performance, so I won’t go into that quite yet, but it is important to point out that you can not measure success if no goals have been stated.

Depending upon the subject matter, goals can be many or few. But the point of learning outcomes is that they should be specific. Vague objectives such as “the learner will know the stages of the reference interview” are hard to measure. The term “know” can mean understanding concepts as much as it can mean the ability to apply concepts. In training, the idea is that learners will apply concepts. With that being said, it is important to have objectives that are straightforward and easily measurable.

Before you leave for a long trip, you always look at a map to see which direction you should take to get there. Objectives are the road map of a training - they tell the learner what to expect. If you don’t give the learner a road map to follow, then how will they know they have arrived? They won’t. But the thing about road maps is that we rarely concern ourselves with the small cities along the way, we pace ourselves by the big cities.  Objectives can work the same way.

Terminal objectives are the bigger picture - the big cities you pass along the way to your final destination. Terminal objectives state what the learner really wants to know. For example, in the picture above, these objectives are Terminal objectives in that they give the learner a road map of what the training will cover.  They hit the big points, but leave out the minute details that may be too complex or boring for the learner to be engaged in.

The little objectives, or Enabling objectives, are the activities, process, and steps the learners will be engaged in during the course of training. For example, the Enabling objective “differentiate between attached and detached sound clips” is a nitty gritty detail that is important for the trainer to teach, but it can be nested under the larger, Terminal objective of “edit footage.”

Both Terminal and Enabling objectives are needed for training development and planning, but the terminal objectives can be the presentation worthy bits that get included. For tips on creating great Power Point presentations, including making a memorable objective slide, I highly recommend this webinar from Training Magazine - 8 Great PowerPoint Presentation Tips to Save You From a Fate Worse than Death by PowerPoint.