Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Instructional Design Training: Using Visuals to Support Learning and Performance

When developing learning materials, most instructional designers and trainers rarely give much thought to how they use visuals and graphics. Typically, they just add them as a way to liven up dull looking text.
In contrast, as most graphic designers and artists know well, there is an entire vocabulary and language connected with the use of visuals. This is something rarely included as part of conventional instructional design training. A pity, because it is a language which instructional designers and trainers would get a great deal of benefit from knowing.
If you are interested in learning more about the language of visuals, as good a starting point as any is an understanding of the five instructional functions for graphics. These functional categories are as follows:
Decorative visuals: used to make instruction more appealing and motivating. They typically do not have a strong association with the instructional content. Interestingly, in a study of sixth grade science textbooks in the US, Richard Mayer found that over 85% of graphics fell into the decorative category.
This statistic seems to support the view expressed in the opening of this article - that many instructional designers pay little attention to the significance of visuals and graphics. In the light of this finding, it's probably fair to say that decorative graphics should be used with caution.
Representative visuals: used to make information more concrete. They convey information quickly and easily, reducing the need for lengthy textual explanation.
Organisational visuals: help learners understand the structure, sequence and hierarchy of information and help people integrate that into their existing knowledge. Examples include charts, graphs and displays that help people see relationships between elements.
Interpretive visuals: used to help learners understand difficult and ambiguous or abstract content. In general, they help make information more comprehensible. Examples include models of systems and diagrams of processes.
Transformative visuals: used to make information more memorable. They are intended to aid learners' thought processes. They focus more on helping the learner understand than on presenting content. Transformative visuals can be a little unconventional and because of this are not widely found in learning materials.
In conclusion, we've all heard the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words". And many people accept this wisdom without question.
In fact, just because something is visually composed doesn't necessarily make it more valid or easier to understand. A poorly designed visual or graphic could just as easily impede learning as facilitate it.
Indeed, a poorly designed graphic where the purpose and instructional function are mismatched might need a thousand words to help explain it clearly to learners.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

How Do You Improve Your Ability to Learn?

The pace of change in today's world is accelerating. A person needs every advantage that he or she can obtain to compete and stay ahead. If you are without strong learning skills to help you keep up with and understand changing technology you are already falling behind. You truly need to improve your learning skills and learn to love to learn™.
So, how can you improve your ability to learn? Listed below are six steps that you can follow to improve your learning. These have a basis in research on how learning takes place.
First, you must be motivated to learn. Learning is hard work. You'd be amazed at how many people pass up learning opportunities because they are lazy. You must have a burning desire to learn. Successful learning requires a huge amount of intrinsic motivation. This comes from the inside and no one can give it to you. You have to "wanna" learn.
Extrinsic motivation, that is, studying hard to get a good grade or to get a raise or some type of certification, is powerful, too. But a burning desire to learn (intrinsic motivation) trumps everything. You literally can't be stopped if you are self-directed and have personal discipline.
Second, you need to possess a strong basic learning skill set. Do you read fast and comprehend it? Are you good at math? Do you know how to use the tools of modern data processing? You have to be able to answer "yes" to each of these questions and a few more or you are setting yourself up for failure.
You have some work ahead of you if you are without a strong set of basic learning skills. You can do it but only if you are aware what needs to be improved upon. Skip this step and the success of your learning attempts is in question.
Third, you need to take advantage of what we know about how people learn. For example, learning situations that supply the learner with immediate feedback provides a superior learning experience. If you just read a chapter in a book and set it down and walk away you have missed an opportunity to improve your learning. It would have been better to have constructed your own test questions while you were reading and take the test that you designed the next day.
Fourth, use spaced study sessions rather than mass practice sessions. You would be better off, for example, to have three, 30 minute reading sessions spaced by 15 minute breaks than to read straight for an hour and a half. Massing study sessions, otherwise known as "cramming", isn't an efficient way to learn and you may very well become fatigued.
Fifth, use multiple senses when attempting to learn. Saying it, writing it, typing it, viewing it, recording it, listening to it all involve multiple senses and provide for superior learning results. Use as much input to different senses as you can. You can create your own study notes by writing, typing or recording them (audio or video). Re-read them. Listen to them. Watch them.
Sixth, assess your learning when you complete your study session. Take the review tests in the back of the chapter if they are available or attempt to explain what you just learned to a friend. Consider writing a short paper on what you studied. Relate what you studied to the real world explaining the subject matter that you learned to someone else. Did you achieve your original learning goals? Determine what you might do differently in your next study session.
The way you improve your learning is to commit to it. Follow a structured method. Make sure that you follow a variety of different study methods and seek feedback. Assess whether you were successful in your learning attempts.
Above all else, stick to it and keep what works for you and throw out what doesn't.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How to Create an Exam Plan and Study Guide

Exams can be stressful. The key to success is applying discipline and good planning to one's studying. If you've got an upcoming exam for school, college entry, or professional licensing or accreditation, use this guide to help you prepare a strong exam success plan.
The most important aspect of a good plan is to start early and giving yourself enough time to study and review the information, as well as taking practice exams. To figure out how much time you need, review the coursework and start dividing and categorizing. Here are some of the key questions to consider:
1. How much material needs to be covered? 
2. How familiar are you with the material? How difficult is it? 
3. What areas am I stronger and weaker? Where may I need help? 
4. Are there study guides and other study support materials available? 
5. Should I consider co-op group study?

Set a weekly time for studying and then start allocating hours. For some professional licensing exams, this may mean a year's worth of preparation, while other situations may only need a few weeks.
Once you've determined how much preparation time you need, write it on a calendar. Success depends greatly on one's discipline and commitment, writing a plan will help you stick with it. Be reasonable with your expectations. Also, be specific with your study calendar. Don't simply put "study" in a two-hour block. Write down the particular material and coursework that needs to be reviewed. In addition, allocate time for notes review. This type of deliberate planning will not only lead to a more thorough plan, but it is important to see the broad picture so you can be sure your not miss anything important.
For some examinations, such as college entry standardized tests or professional licensing tests, it might be wise to look into a professional exam preparation course. Consider this early in the process, as one's calendar will have to accommodate this time, too. If one cannot commit to a full course, it may be useful to inquire about a one or two-day test preparation seminar, which focuses on test taking strategies that arms you with useful tips to help on the actual exam itself.
Another important component of the calendar and study planning are practice exams. These are crucial for standardized tests and licensing exams as they provide a gauge to progress where it can illuminate weak areas that need more study time. These exams are available in published study guide books as well as online. Take a practice exam early in the process so you leave time in your schedule to make up for deficient areas or adapt your study plan.
Another non-educational aspect to a good study plan is health and nutrition. Be sure that you are eating right and you are getting plenty of rest and some exercise. Exhausting one's mind and body is not a good strategy for exam preparation. Taking exercise or rest breaks are important for memory retention, so put these specifically into your schedule. Don't be quick to change your schedule, but you should know when to adapt too. If you feel you are getting burnt out or bored with the study routine, try a different location, or time of day.
No matter the case, stay on your toes. Every moment you put toward exam preparation will pay off on that very event.