A Few Process Approaches to Online and Blended Learning


Nate Cottle, professor of human environmental sciences at the University of Central Oklahoma, uses the process approach to learning as delineated by William Horton (2006) in his online and blended courses. Cottle spoke to Online Classroom about using this model. “Learning isn’t something that has to be confined to the classroom, and so as I teach blended classes, I think the more I can involve the students in learning and the more contexts I can involve them in, the more they’re going to learn,” he said. “The idea is to get them to slowly digest the information in different ways and to engage in different activities so that by the time the course comes to an end, they can apply the knowledge they have learned. That’s the ultimate goal: to get them to be in a state where they can apply the knowledge.”

The process model consists of three stages:keyboard learn230

  • Absorb—During this stage, students are gaining basic knowledge. This can include reading a chapter in the textbook.
  • Do—Students then engage in an activity such as a discussion before the face-to-face session (in the case of a blended course) or a synchronous online session in the case of a totally online course.
  • Connect—Students apply knowledge to real-world situations.

OC: How do you use this approach in your courses?

Cottle: I use that basic model that Horton laid out, and I like that because the process is gradual, but it’s also hierarchical—[students] are moving up. During the absorb stage, they’re just trying to get the basic material. In some cases it would be reading the chapter and then doing some type of activity before coming to class. Instead of having them do discussion after class, I’ve been having them do a discussion before class where they’re responding to the material and interacting with their fellow students.

Instead of meeting three times a week, we’ll meet once a week, and the content they’ve already provided allows me then to have something that I can use during the in-class session. This is the do stage, which becomes focused on applying the material. … As people redesign courses, I think the question they have to ask themselves is, “What would I like to do in class but never have time to do?” The blended approach allows someone to do something in class that they may have never thought they would have been able to do because they’ve got to lecture, they’ve got to get through the material. And so students do this online lesson and read this book and then answer a question that demonstrates to me that they already know the knowledge and now they can do something with it. In-class activities would be anything like debate, or you can have them do all kinds of different interactions to get them processing the material more and more. It may be that you’re giving them a case study, a simulation, or something that they have to be able to apply the knowledge to.

The last stage is the connect stage. That’s where I think [the content] is solidified or makes sense to them. I really see that as a reflection, and so what they have to do then is be able to reflect or critique or draw some conclusions about how this material affects their lives or the subject they’re studying. The more that I can get students to think about the material and to apply it to different activities before, during, and after class, the more learning takes place. So the goal is to get them to think about it much more than they would by just walking into class and sitting down and saying “Teach me.”

OC: Do you find that students need to be prepared for this approach?

Cottle: They’re used to walking into class—maybe having read [or] maybe not—and then having the instructor do everything. It’s a big paradigm shift for them to realize, “Not only do I have to do something before I come to class, but I’m responsible for this material. And if I don’t know it, then when it comes to these activities I won’t be able to do it.” So I think it empowers students, and it requires them to be more responsible about reading the book [and] about doing those things they need to do before they come to the classroom.

OC: Do you do this exclusively as a blended approach or also online?

Cottle: I think it can be done online. … I think it just makes an online class a little bit more synchronous. And in some ways it draws back from the approach, but it certainly is something that you can do.

OC: Would you have synchronous sessions in online courses to simulate what goes on in face-to-face sessions?

Cottle: I think that’s a great way to do that. It allows you to come together. And there are more and more technologies out there that allow you to bring a small group together to have a discussion or to [collaborate]. It’s tough to schedule. The difference in the two approaches is [that] in one they’ve already committed to a time, and in the other they’re going to have to find a time that fits. As an instructor, I think you have to be more flexible in meeting their needs and providing them different opportunities for that to happen.

OC: What do students tell you about this approach?

Cottle: Some of them say it’s more difficult, that [I’m asking them] to do more than other teachers [do]. And then on the back side I get, “I’ve learned more than I have in any other class.” So it is something that challenges them, [and] when they rise to that challenge, they feel rewarded for it. There is some initial push back, but I think in the end students recognize that having to do this is important. After working in a social services setting … a lot of students come back and say, “I was so glad I was able to apply this to a situation because this happened after graduation … [after] getting a job, they’re asking me to do these things I’ve learned in class, so at least I have a starting point to go from.” And so it really becomes what we at the University of Central Oklahoma call transformative learning—where you change the person as a result of learning and that person then is prepared for the discipline that they are engaging in in their careers.

OC: From the instructor’s or instructional designer’s perspective, what is involved in redesigning a course in this manner?

Cottle: I think the first step is to not try to make a blended or online class the same as what you do in a live class. I think you have to start from the learning objectives and ask, “What do I want to accomplish?” Allow yourself to do whatever it may be that will accomplish those learning outcomes in either the blended or online environment. There are things that you can do online that you could never do in a class. There are opportunities and tools out there, and so really to say, “Well let’s just take what I do in class and move it online,” is somewhat shortsighted. You have to ask, “How will the students be different after this class?” Then ask: “What activities do I need to put together? What readings do I need them to have access to in order to reach that outcome?” When you think about course redesign, it’s starting from scratch rather than “This is what I do in a live class; let me just do a little bit of that online.” You’ve got to start and say: “What do they need to know? What do they need to absorb? How can I have them apply it? And how can they connect it?”

Extend Learning with Online Synchronous Sessions


Consideration of convenience and flexibility typically leads instructors and instructional designers to favor asynchronous over synchronous learning. But given the potential benefits of synchronous communication, perhaps it’s time to rethink the 100 percent asynchronous course.

At St. Leo University, education professors Carol Todd and Keya Mukherjee have been using Elluminate, a platform that enables synchronous audio, video, and text chat as well as various collaboration tools to enhance their asynchronous online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses. In a study of their use of this synchronous tool that included quantitative and qualitative data, they found that synchronous interaction can improve community.

These two professors use Elluminate for specific pedagogical reasons, not just for building community; however, desire for community building and reducing isolation prompted them to use this tool. “When I first came to [online teaching] from teaching face-to-face courses, one of the areas I struggled with was the silo effect. Students missed the community of the face-to-face courses. That’s why I started looking at using the [online learning space] to build a learning community, so students are not just silos working from behind their computers and turning in individual pieces of work,” Mukherjee says.

Mukherjee holds synchronous sessions once a week in her online courses. Each 30-to-45-minute session has an instructional agenda. She spends approximately 10 minutes answering questions related to assignments, and the rest of the time is spent on “extending the instruction of the online module,” which might include additional readings, jigsaws, viewing video, or discussion.

Similarly, Todd uses Elluminate sessions to

  • enhance the instruction in the online modules;
  • explain assignments and rubrics; and
  • build community.

Synchronous sessions are optional in both instructors’ courses, and while attendance varies, they typically get 80 percent attendance rates, presumably because students find these synchronous sessions valuable. (Recordings of each session are available for those who don’t attend.) Students can participate via text chat, audio, or video—depending on their access to the various technologies.

Evidence of community
Based on observation and feedback from students, evidence of the effects of synchronous sessions on community emerges. For example, in a recent synchronous session at the end of one of Todd’s courses, students had a few questions regarding the last assignment, but most of the conversation focused on the community aspects of the synchronous sessions. “You could see in the chat and listen to their conversation and understand that they had built these relationships with each other that they would not have had the opportunity to build strictly [asynchronously] online,” Todd says.

In addition to observations, Todd and Mukherjee asked students Likert scale and open-ended questions about their experience with these synchronous sessions. “Over and over again in different ways, [students] talked about how there was no more social isolation.”

Todd also gathered data on classes before and after using Elluminate. She teaches the first and last classes in the program and looked at the data and end-of-course evaluations in the first class pre- and post-Elluminate and the last class pre- and post-Elluminate. She found in these two courses, especially in the first class, that post-Elluminate scores were higher than pre-Elluminate scores in terms of student interest and learning.

In end-of-course evaluations, ratings of communication in particular improved. “Communication had always been my weakest area in my end-of-course evaluations prior to using Elluminate. I can no longer say that,” Todd says.

An added benefit
When online instructors teach courses that they had no part in developing, their role can be rather limited, providing guidance and feedback in discussions and on assignments. However, online instructors have a wealth of experience and expertise in the subjects they teach that often does not come across to students.

Synchronous sessions can give adjuncts a voice and provide an opportunity for them to share their specialized knowledge, experience, and opinions in a way that might not necessarily come across as effectively via email or discussion boards, Mukherjee says.iStock_computerFromOverShoulder230

Advice for getting started
Be flexible. You won’t find a time that works for everyone. Pick a time and offer recordings to those who cannot attend. Given the nature of online learning, it would be difficult to require attendance, but if you make the experience valuable, students will make an effort to be present at the live session.

Have an agenda. “To become interactive, you need each session, however small, to have an agenda that links to the overall course, to the particular module. And you need to tell the students, ‘I’m going to enhance the instructional module.’ There needs to be a draw. There needs to be a reason. My suggestion would be that all instructors need to design something that is beyond what was in the module as a way for students to see there is value in this session. Using it for office hours is not in my experience a very successful venture,” Mukherjee says.

The agenda should be based partly on students’ needs, Todd says. “When I invite my students to come, I have an agenda, but I also meet them where they are in the course. You have to have an agenda, whether it’s answering questions, instructing, or clarifying. I do all of these, and I have an agenda I share with my students.”

Make it compelling. One of the distinguishing features of online learning is convenience, which was and continues to be a major attraction for students. However, Mukherjee believes that students will rearrange their schedules to accommodate worthwhile synchronous sessions. “People are willing to do it if they see it as meaningful. The synchronous sessions have to carry meaning and weight, and students must see the connection between the learning going on in the module and the synchronous session,” she says.

Encouraging The Online Learner Participation


Sustained, high-quality student participation usually doesn’t happen on its own in the online learning environment. The instructor needs to model participation, create assignments that encourage it, and foster an environment that supports it. Here are some ways that I promote student participation in my online courses.

Use discussions as assignments. Rather than assigning an overall participation grade, I treat each one-to-two-week discussion as an assignment. The discussion assignment is typically tied to an independent assignment. For the discussion portion, each student reviews the work of one or two classmates and is required to post comments and/or questions. The independent assignment is worth 20 points and the associated discussion assignment is worth 10 points.

I find that students do not necessarily need much preparation to interact in these discussion forums after I model participation for them. I post substantive comments, and in my modeling I never have yes or no questions.

Create informal conversation spaces. The assignment and discussion forums are not the only forums in my courses. I have two other forums: The Coffee Shop and The Teacher’s Room. The Coffee Shop is for students to engage with each other on topics other than the content of the course, which helps build community and makes students feel comfortable with each other. The personal relationships built there can carry over into the content-related forums, and I think this informal space helps make posting in all forums feel safer.

The Teacher’s Room is for administrative issues and questions and comments about current and past assignments. I advise students to check this forum regularly for important information, and I encourage students to answer each other’s questions there. Sometimes students will post additional resources or they’ll bring up issues that aren’t necessarily related to the current week, but they add to the learning experience.

Encourage and recognize go-getters. In each course there are typically two to four students (out of 15) who are real go-getters. They help set the tone of the course and can be very helpful in getting others to participate. I’ll encourage their participation by sending them private emails saying something like “I really like what you had to say about … . Thanks for contributing.” I’ll also recognize them publicly through an announcement in The Teacher’s Room or an email to the entire class when I feel that a student has made an insightful comment about the course content.

Use student moderators. After I have moderated the discussion forum for three or four assignments, I turn moderating duties over to the students so that they become facilitators of the conversation, which creates a positive learning environment in terms of power-sharing, involvement, and ownership of the course.

Students can select which forum topic and week they would like to moderate on a first-come, first-served basis. The responsibilities are described in the instructions, and a week before they are to moderate I send out a reminder about their responsibilities, which include:

  • Focusing the discussion on course content
  • Encouraging new ideas
  • Initiating further discussion through questions or observations
  • Finding and communicating unifying threads
  • Drawing attention to opposing perspectives
  • Summarizing and posting a report about the discussion

I let the student moderators take the lead. I do not participate until the latter part of the week’s assignment, but I do participate because it’s important that the students don’t feel abandoned by the instructor, particularly when the discussion is facilitated by a student who may not be very confident in the role.iStock_000013516629Small.120607.230

An interesting dynamic occurs when students moderate. Students who either have moderated already or who will moderate in the future are very supportive because they’ve been in the hot seat or will be there soon.

Another wonderful quality of having student moderators is that they bring a different perspective to the course. I look at the content in a certain way. Student moderators—especially good ones—will often look at the content from a different perspective. They will raise topics that I would never have thought of talking about. They bring in different ideas—some do extra research to make sure they are well informed—and the conversation often goes off in impressive directions.

Students are usually quite positive about the moderating experience. When I survey my students, they typically say that moderating deepens their understanding of the content, that they enjoy taking on a leadership role, and that they see the benefit of having others’ viewpoints brought to the forefront.

Joan Thormann is a professor in the Division of Educational Technology at Lesley University and coauthor of The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Teaching Online Courses.

Online Discussion Questions


Most online faculty know that discussion is one of the biggest advantages of online education. The increased think-time afforded by the asynchronous environment, coupled with the absence of public speaking fears, produces far deeper discussion than is usually found in face-to-face courses.

But many faculty undermine this natural advantage by crafting poor discussion questions. The number one mistake is to confuse a discussion question with an essay topic. What are the three criteria used to judge whether patients are competent to make a medical decision for themselves? is not a discussion question. I’ve also seen instructors turn discussion into research assignments by requiring students to cite a certain number of outside sources in order to get full credit.It’s an essay question and should be left to an essay assignment. Thinkstock-adult-at-computer-open-book

I’ve come to believe that crafting good online discussion questions is just plain hard and instructors fall back on essay questions for lack of better ideas. Below are some question types that will help generate real discussion.

Case study
Case studies are an ideal way to illuminate the practical consequences of different concepts. For example, in a medical ethics course I used the following:

A 72-year-old man is admitted to the hospital for a kidney transplant. His daughter is brought in as the best available match as a donor. As the man’s doctor, you discover from the pre-op lab work that the daughter is not a suitable donor because she is not his biological daughter. What, if anything, do you tell the man, his wife, or the daughter?

This example provides an ideal way to explore how fundamental principles of privacy, physician honesty, and shielding a patient from harm collide in the real world. The question allows for a variety of answers, each of which takes the students deeper into the fundamental issues being taught in the course.

Another good discussion device is to generate controversy with a statement that challenges common orthodoxy. Consider this question in an information security class:

A fundamental tenet of information security is that you must force the user to periodically change his or her password. But this practice actually undermines security. With constantly changing passwords, users are forced to write them down in an easy-to-find location or use an easy-to-guess algorithm (my street address followed by a ‘1,’ then changed to a ‘2,’ then changed to a ‘3,’ etc.). We are better off letting users keep the same password indefinitely. Do you agree?

Also important is that a controversial statement needs to draw a fine line that allows for reasonable positions on both sides of the issue. It’s not helpful to say something patently outrageous, such as “Passwords should not be required at all.” A good statement that challenges what is being presented in the readings demonstrates that the instructor considers the students co-investigators and allows them to draw upon their wider knowledge base to engage the issues.

It’s been argued that the highest form of understanding is demonstrated through transfer of principles to new situations. For example, I’ve taught the classic “Prisoners’ Dilemma” (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/PRISDIL.html) as part of my ethics and political theory courses. If you are not familiar with it, the upshot is that there are situations in which the rational choice for each individual involved leads to a situation that is not optimal for anyone. Think of it as the “invisible hand” in reverse.

The concept was developed as a way to understand political structures, but once you understand the concept—really understand it—you find that a lot of ordinary situations are prisoners’ dilemmas. I’m a bike racer, and I realized that bike races are examples of the prisoners’ dilemma. So one type of discussion question is to demonstrate the application of a concept to an entirely different situation and ask students to generate their own examples. Students can then evaluate how well the others’ examples illustrate the concept.

The summary
A good way to end discussion threads is to post a summary of the main points as well as your thoughts on them. Revisiting material is good for retention, and these summaries demonstrate that you are keeping abreast of the discussion. Alternatively, you can assign different students to post summaries of each discussion.

I like to do video summaries. Something about hearing a voice and seeing a face captures our attention. It requires only a cheap webcam and a few minutes of my time. Don’t toil over getting it perfect—just speak your mind for a few minutes, and post it as a video.

Excerpted from Online Learning 2.0: Discussion Questions That Work, Online Classroom, 13.8 (2013): 4,7. © Magna Publications. All Rights Reserved.

Improve in the Classroom


For the last 15 years or so, I have performed improv comedy in Chicago. During much of that time, I also taught English classes at Kendall College, a culinary and hospitality school. As you might imagine, my improv skills come in handy in the classroom. Here is a brief introduction for how the basic concepts of improv, when employed skillfully, help improve the classroom climate.Professor in large lecture hall

  • Yes, and …” “Yes, and …” is probably the most fundamental concept in improv. It’s pretty simple to understand. Basically, when you are onstage with a scene partner, the two of you are tasked with creating a scene together. To do this, you need to support each other’s choices. So, if your scene partner proposes that the two of you are astronauts who have just landed on the moon, you must affirm this choice and then add something to it. The reason for this practice is that if you were to negate your partner’s choice, the scene would become bogged down in argument. This applies to the classroom in a number of ways, but for me it applies primarily to discussions and brainstorming. Practicing “yes, and …” while facilitating classroom discussion puts me in an affirmative rather than combative mind-set. I am there to help students tease out their ideas and opinions rather than to tell them they’re wrong. “Yes, and …” is also helpful when teaching brainstorming. By practicing “yes, and …” you can model for students how quickly a group can put a coherent brainstorm together. “Yes, and …” seems to protect against some of the critical self-censorship many students are prone to. Given a task, they might begin it but almost immediately feel compelled to circle back and scrutinize their ideas to the point of paralysis, severely bogging down the writing process. By practicing “yes, and…” we circumvent this self-editing tendency in favor of simply going with the flow, following the last thing.
  • Your first answer is your best answer. On stage during a show, you don’t have time to think. No audience will enjoy watching you up there trying to think of the clever thing you want to say. Good improvisers become very practiced in letting go of this need to say something that is perfectly formed. In a way, you get practice in saying many dumb things in front of large groups of strangers. This is helpful in that it loosens our need to always be right. And it can be good practice for students who, again, often feel hesitant to participate in discussions or show you rough drafts of their papers. I encourage students to simply say what is on their minds and to say the first thing on their minds. In this way, the classroom can become an encouraging place to experiment, where students are free to play with new ideas and ways of thinking.
  • Improvising around the lesson plan. Every class has an individual energy, not just over the course of a term but also during each particular class meeting. This energy is subject to change, I’m sure you know, from moment to moment. Given the ever-changing energy of any individual class, one is called upon to improvise around the lesson plan. Maybe this means dropping a planned activity altogether. Maybe it means one day extending discussion beyond the 10 minutes allotted for it. Maybe this means, as happened to me recently, calling upon a student to come to the front of the class and teach for five minutes because this student seemed exceptionally knowledgeable about the topic at hand. Whatever the case, this kind of improvising requires the kind of deep listening one finds among the best improv groups. This listening, a form of awareness, I believe, can be developed, but it entails sometimes being quiet and paying very close attention not only to what students are saying (or not saying) but even to how they are moving about in their chairs (also, do you have them moving about?). We get caught sometimes stubbornly conducting our lesson plans against a classroom dynamic that has shifted before us, hoping that this dynamic will somehow shift back toward our preference. Instead, wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge the changed dynamic and then make changes to a lesson plan in accord with it?


Five Tips to Make Slides More Engaging with Photoshop


I love conferences.

I speak at several in the learning industry and several in the software development industry each year. I love to speak and network, and I’m always anxious to see what leaders are doing in the field. I come seeking new ideas and energy that I can apply to my own businesses.

A few years ago, I was at an eLearning conference and went to a session led by someone I did not know and had never heard of. It was a session on graphic design. I’m always seeking tips and techniques I can use to make content more visually engaging.

Before starting, the presenter stood at the front of the room chatting with some people in the front row. And then she turned on the projector.

It was ugly.

Never before had a presenter so quickly undermined her entire presentation. It was one of the PowerPoint templates that makes me scream because not only is it ugly—it’s banal.

Don’t be this presenter. Create slides that engage students, whether they are sitting with you in a classroom or watching your presentation in a virtual environment.

There are two skills involved here—creativity and production. With a little of both, you can greatly improve the quality of your presentation. Here are five techniques to get you started.

Technique 1: Integrate the unseen instructor

People often relate to course material through the instructor. That’s why I like to make courses with instructors who act like they are in the classroom with the student—versus a disembodied “announcer voice.” If you’re creating a class with videos, it’s easy to integrate the instructor. However, if you’re creating courses with voice-over and more traditional slides, it’s more difficult.

We try to avoid the “instructor in the box.” But we do integrate the instructor into our slides. For this technique, you’ll need several pictures of your instructor in different positions (Figure 1). These images can range from serious to silly.

Figure 1: We take 10 to 12 photos of the instructor in different positions to use in our course slides. These are photos used in my current online courses. Integrating a visual of the instructor helps forge the important instructor-student relationship in online courses. Hopefully your instructors are better looking.

Alan’s Books on Educational Technology provide ample inspiration and extensive practical tips


Alan November’s thought-provoking books on educational technology provide ample inspiration and extensive practical tips supported by engaging stories for transforming education. Readers will appreciate his well-organized, easy-to-follow approach, and will be moved to apply his principles to their own classrooms and schools straight away. Educators at every level and ability will find meaning in November’s spot-on observations and recommendations for motiving learners with effective use of technology. Browse and buy today!

Who Owns the Learning?

Who should be working harder during class? The teacher or the students? In the “Age of the Empowered Learner” we can equip our students to take responsibility to manage a large proportion of their learning. We can also empower our students to create content that contributes to the learning of their peers. Research indicates that one of the most powerful strategies to improve learning is to provide students with self assessment strategies. This workshop will provide step-by-step strategies that creates a culture of the empowered self directed and collaborative learner.

Empowering Students with Technology

Alan’s best-selling book includes powerful stories, ideas and practical applications. This book has been embraced internationally by a wide range of educators and policymakers interested in the impact of technology on learning. Teachers can modify practical activities to support subject areas. Activities, called “E-ventures,” are designed to motivate and challenge students to develop critical thinking and problem solving strategies. Stories of teachers are woven throughout to provide examples of strategies that work.

Planning committees can use ideas and pioneering stories to move beyond technology literacy to information and communication literacy. Principals benefit from ideas about leadership and managing change. With more than 50 useful websites, Empowering Students with Technology is an important book for any educator who endeavors to build an engaging and interactive learning environment.

Seven Strategies for Assessing eLearning Effectiveness


Simulations of common workplace scenarios, such as responding to irate customers or aiding frantic callers to an assistance hotline, offer opportunities for learners to practice soft skills like problem solving and communication. With practice, employees’ confidence that they can field such calls from actual customers increases.

All of your employees have completed their required eLearning, and they all scored 80 percent or higher on the test at the end of the training. Was the eLearning successful?

That depends. Completing an eLearning course does not guarantee that an employee has learned anything. Passing a standardized test or other objective assessment might not mean anything either: A learner’s ability to correctly answer multiple-choice or true-false questions doesn’t mean that she can apply that knowledge to doing her job. If the test is administered immediately after the learner completes the eLearning course, all it measures is her short-term memory; that student might not be able to score as well a week later.

How can managers move beyond multiple-choice tests to more deeply evaluate the effectiveness of eLearning? Here are seven strategies for measuring employee learning:

  1. Clearly define learning outcomes and a means to evaluate success at the beginning of your eLearning design process. Have a clear goal: Our employees will be able to do ____. This gives you something to measure. If the goal is to list and describe 10 financial services products your company offers, then a standardized test might be the best tool to measure learners’ success. But if you need employees to perform a complex multistep process or apply “soft” skills like empathy to problem-solving, a multiple-choice test is not the right instrument.
  2. Measure and certify competence in a skill or performance of a procedure by observing and evaluating employees as they perform that skill. Ask learners to complete a project (alone or in their work teams), submit a video of themselves performing a skill, or have an evaluator observe them at work. If an in-person or video observation is not feasible, build a performance aspect into the training. Some serious learning games simulate and test real skills.
  3. You can conduct subjective assessment using pre- and post-tests that ask questions about employees’ attitudes and beliefs. These tests measure the impact of learning more deeply than closed-ended questions with a single correct response.
  4. In-person training includes interaction between an instructor and learners, providing opportunities for instructors to gauge whether learners comprehend and have internalized the knowledge. When dealing with skills acquisition or harder-to-measure soft skills, these conversations can be crucial—and difficult to replicate online. Simulations of common workplace scenarios, such as responding to irate customers or aiding frantic callers to an assistance hotline, offer opportunities for learners to practice soft skills like problem solving and communication. With practice, employees’ confidence that they can field such calls from actual customers increases. Managers can use a “dashboard” in the eLearning module to track employees’ progress and see whether they’re choosing appropriate responses in various scenarios. At the completion of training, real-life role-playing among staff, online or in person, can reinforce those skills before learners are turned loose on real customers.
  5. Teaching others is an effective way to both solidify and demonstrate mastery of a skill. Asking employees to teach newly acquired skills to their colleagues and encouraging sharing of information on intra-office learning networks can show managers whether employees have assimilated, and are correctly applying, information conveyed in eLearning.
  6. Asking learners to evaluate an eLearning module, both immediately after they complete training and after an interval of several days or weeks, can provide important information about its effectiveness. During and just after the training, employees’ responses can indicate whether the eLearning was engaging and whether the learners believe it was worthwhile. After an interval, employees can report whether they believe that they’ve used anything they learned in the training to do their jobs; it also provides an opportunity to gauge how “sticky” the learning was.
  7. If learning goals have direct links to skills or tasks that are part of a learner’s job, evaluation of the employee’s performance pre- and post-training should indicate whether the training had any impact. Self-evaluation, though not completely reliable, is also a measure. Does the employee have increased confidence in his ability to perform a procedure after the training? Is that confidence and improved ability reflected in his performance?

Simply checking the box that employees have completed their online training is not enough. Clearly defining eLearning goals and outcomes—as well as describing what success looks like—are essential precursors to creating effective eLearning and assessing employees’ progress.

Every New Teacher Should Be Able To Answer The 7 Questions


Teaching for the 21st century looks a lot different. Here’s what admins — and teachers — need to know for job interviews and beyond.

Not long ago, the leadership team of a school district I was working with asked me: “If you were going to hire a new teacher, what would you ask in the interview?” They were concerned that hiring teachers with the right skills now can save a district a lot of money in staff development later. Moreover, they wanted to hire teachers who would be open minded about changes to come. The problem is to balance the reality of today’s pressure for test scores and required teacher evaluation with the changes that can be anticipated during the next two decades.

As I wrote in my last article, the traditional skill we have valued in teachers when paper was the dominant media—the ability to transfer knowledge of a subject—is becoming less important. Increasingly, a teacher’s knowledge can be found online and in various learning styles. As the internet drives down the value of a teacher’s knowledge, their ability to personalize learning with resources from around the world will increase. We will have more data generated about our students as we build out our online communities. We will need teachers who understand how to make meaning of this data to personalize learning for every student from a vast digital library of learning resources. Also, of increasing value is their ability to teach students to be self-disciplined about how “to learn to learn.” Rather than losing overall value, teachers will be more important than ever.

The big change is not adding technology to the current design of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning and fundamentally changing the job descriptions of teachers and learners.

I offer seven questions we typically ask of teachers in the interview process, along with corresponding questions I think are geared to align with how the internet will force the redefinition of a teacher’s added value.


Current question: What do you know about your subject?

New question: How do you manage your own professional growth?

We typically hire teachers for what they already know, subject knowledge. But what may become more important is to hire teachers who have a great capacity for continuous learning. How do you find resources around the world that you can share with your students? How do you continuously learn?

I would hope that candidates would be able to demonstrate how they follow critical hashtags on Twitter, and how they participate in professional communities online, sharing with other teachers from around the world. Or maybe they’ve taken online courses on their own, from sources such as EDX.org or Coursera.org


Current question: How do you share what you already know with students?

New question: How do you teach students to learn what you don’t know?

A common interview question is to demonstrate a lesson you’ve created. But at a time when knowledge transfer is less important than learning how to learn, we may need to reframe this question to: How can you teach students how you learn?

Increasingly, teachers are going to be in a position where their students will have jumped ahead in the curriculum as they explore YouTube and iTunes U for content on the subject. Increasingly, curious students will come to class asking questions about the subject and the teacher may not know the answer. Teachers can either encourage this spark of curiosity and “awe and wonder,” or not.


Current question: How do you teach students to solve problems?

New question: How do you teach students to become problem designers?

With relatively limited access to information in the world of paper, we generally give (maybe spoon feed) students the problems they need to solve. We emphasize finding and memorizing answers. But now that the internet is replacing paper as the go-to media we need to balance our student’s skill set from finding answers to asking the most interesting questions.

A seminal moment that jolted me to understand the value of teaching students to ask questions came when I had the chance to spend most of a day with Stephen Wolfram, who invented the computational search engine WolframAlpha, along with his brother, Conrad. He was showing me the remarkable capabilities of this “knowledge engine,” which can instantly produce answers (and very often all of the steps) to traditional assignments, such as how to balance a chemical equation or to solve a math problem (even word problems). By the end of the day, it was clear to me that his tool was disruptive to giving students traditional assignments. We would either have to block it to prevent students from finding answers (cheating) or we would have to use it creatively to reach higher levels of creative thinking (teach invention).

I asked Stephan, “What do you think is the most important skill for students to learn, given their access to a knowledge engine?” He immediately said, “The ability to ask good questions. Almost all of the answers to traditional school problems are on the internet—What is not on the internet are the questions.”

If I were interviewing a new teacher I would love to hear their answer to “What do you believe are the most important skills to teach your students? I would hope that a successful candidate would answer, “Teaching students how to ask the most interesting questions.”


Current question: How do you assess student work that is handed into you?

New question: What are your expectations for students to self-assess their work and publish it for a wider audience?

Researcher John Hattie has pored over nearly 1,200 educational studies from around the world to identify the factors that most strongly contribute to student success. Of the 195 independent variables he has identified, self-assessment ranks third on his list.

We need graduates who are independent. Yet in our schools, too often we’re fostering a culture of dependency, where kids are waiting for teachers to tell them how well they are doing. In some cases, our system of assessment becomes a ceiling for quality work. Many students will ask “What do I need to do to get an A?” The rubric for an A can lead can stop students from creating their very best work.

Giving students the tools to self-assess their work helps them develop a sense of autonomy, and research suggests it can lead to deeper self-reflection.

The good news is, we now have more tools to help students self-assess. For example, after a student attempts to solve a math problem or balance an equation he or she could produce a screencast explaining the thinking behind the answer. So now you’re getting students to reflect on their work, instead of just providing the answers. What’s more, you could have students go to WolframAlpha, type in the equation, and then compare their work to the steps that WolframAlpha provides. They can reflect on how their own work compares and where they might have gone wrong. This provides deeper insight for both the student and the teacher, and you’re also helping students take ownership of the assessment process.


Current question: What is your contribution to our faculty?

New question: What is your global relationship?

Many schools have formed professional learning communities in which faculty work together to improve instruction. Who can argue against the value of educators sharing best practices and how to help specific students? However, if all these conversations are limited to people you see every day, within the structure of a school, there is a very real danger that an echo chamber will develop that has serious limits to professional growth. There is even a danger of unknowingly perpetuating bad practice.

If you look at research on effective systems, it turns out that systems with some outside influence tend to become stronger over time. But many schools don’t really operate this way.

We need educators who value the ideas wherever they can be found. We need teachers who are willing to share their work and seek feedback from colleagues all over the world. For example, my colleague, Kathy Cassidy, first-grade teacher from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, seeks ideas from colleagues in Argentina, Italy, and many other countries. She shares student work with these global colleagues and is continuously gaining insights (see Kathy’s website).


Current question: How do you make sure students are on task?

New question: How do you give students an opportunity to contribute purposeful work to others?

This comes from Dan Pink and others who have written about purpose, and why it’s such a motivator for doing our best work. Educators know that all students aren’t motivated by grades; achieving a higher grade is an external reward (or punishment) given by someone else — the teacher. By adding a larger purpose to the design of student work, we may be able to have more students who are much more likely to become engaged and self-motivated.

For example, a friend of mine who teaches geometry in Istanbul had her students design the entire geometry curriculum for blind children. This requires a very deep understanding of geometry because it’s challenging to understand physical concepts when you can’t visualize them.

My friend had her students visit with children who came to a center for the blind every Saturday, and over time, her students got to know these children well. When I talked to her students, it was clear that designing this curriculum gave them a deep sense of contribution or purpose. They went well beyond the required number of hours. When I asked them why they were spending so much time on the project, they said, “These kids need us. They expect us to come, as do their families. We have to do this work.”


Current question: How do you manage your classroom?

New question: How do you teach students to manage their own learning?

Traditional teacher evaluation systems often focus the evaluator’s observations on the teacher’s behavior. Much of this behavior is focused on creating students to become dependent upon their teacher. Many classrooms are set up to teach students “how to be taught.” What we need are teachers who can teach students to “learn how to learn”.

In a teacher-centric classroom, students are dependent on the teacher for direction. But compare that to a teacher who has taught her students to be self-directed and collaborative learners. Our society needs people who can figure out ideas from all over the world and manage their own work. This is a really important skill.


Learning how to learn

Notice that there are no interview questions that ask about the candidate’s technology skills. While an understanding of technology is essential, these questions revolve around the application of technology to fundamentally change the culture of the classroom.

Collectively, the questions move away from a classroom that is designed to “learn how to be taught” to one that highly values “learning how to learn.” In some ways, the teachers we need moving forward are the antitheses to the teacher skills we have been demanding. It will be difficult to avoid the tension that would naturally evolve between the two approaches to managing a classroom.

While disruption of the traditional classroom culture is inevitable, it would be impossible to simply flip a switch to the new one. We will need leaders who understand how to manage the transition.  Now is the time to rethink the added value of a teacher in the age of the internet and to redesign our hiring practices to match this new role.

Learning Disabilities


The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Council on Children with Disabilities published a statement summarizing what is currently known about visual problems and dyslexia. The statement also covers what treatments are and are not recommended when diagnosing and treating vision problems, learning disabilities, and dyslexia.

Thanks to advances in imaging techniques and scientific inquiry, we now know much more about learning disabilities (LD), dyslexia, and the role of vision problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Council on Children with Disabilities, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology published a joint statement that summarizes what is currently known about visual problems and dyslexia. The statement also covers what treatments are and are not recommended when diagnosing and treating vision problems, learning disabilities, and dyslexia.

The eyes play an important role in sending visual signals to the brain, and a lot of information presented at school is presented visually. For these reasons, it’s important to make sure your child is able to see well and correctly. Schools often do vision screenings at the beginning of the year, and your pediatrician’s office can refer you to an ophthalmologist with experience in caring for children. However, vision problems are not the cause of dyslexia or learning disabilities. The federal definition of learning disabilities is careful to state that the learning disabilities do not include learning problems that are primarily due to visual difficulties.

Because vision problems do not cause dyslexia or learning disabilities, treating LD or dyslexia through approaches such as eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses won’t help. Therapies and treatments like those described are not supported by scientific evidence, and are not recommended or endorsed.

There are several recommendations that do support the needs of children:

  • Children who show signs of learning disabilities should be referred as early as possible for further testing.
  • The diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities depends on the collaboration of a team that may include teachers, audiologists, speech therapists, physicians, and others.
  • Children with identified learning disabilities should receive appropriate support and individualized evidence-based educational interventions combined with psychological and medical treatments as needed.