Learning from a Project “Post-Mortem”

DSC_0309-2 (104x150) In my professional life I work as an instructional designer and often am required to manage projects which I am a part of as well. When I work as a project manager I typically am pretty successful. However, when I set out to plan my partner’s, Phyllis, and my first baby shower I should have approached the task more as a project manager and less like only a member of the project team.

As a first time parent, there were a number of people who had volunteered to be a part of the planning and throwing of the baby shower. The decision was originally made that my sister-in-law, my best friend and Phyllis’s best friend would work together to plan and throw the shower. We communicated with each of them and shared their contact information among them. We were told that we should step back and allow them to plan the party and just show up and enjoy the fun and festivities. But, when it came to less than a month before the shower should happen we began to get nervous and started asking some questions. It seemed that no one had communicated among the three of them. Two of them, separately had been looking into locations for the shower at completely different locations and types of facilities. Though the idea of being able to step back and let the team do the work seems wonderful, in this case, it was a disaster!

The outcome of the way this project was managed was that one shower became two and my sister-in-law ended up not only not planning the shower but not even attending. The two showers were planned and thrown by two people who were not one of the three original contributors and those who were original chosen became attendees who provided some of the food and/or decorations. The locations of the showers ended up being at the houses of the friends who threw the showers which had a good deal to do with the decision to have two showers due to the amount of space available at the houses. And the friends who volunteered to let us use their houses really took over most of the responsibility of the planning and throwing of the shower. Phyllis and I chose the dates and sent out the invitations as well as purchased the decorations and game prizes ourselves.

If I would have come at the planning of the shower as a project manager, still working as only a manager of the team, but allowing the team to do the work of the overall project I believe it could have been much more effective and would have avoided the drama and stress that resulted from the lack of communication and organization. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008) explain that successfully launching a project requires that “everyone associated with the project must understand the roles and responsibilities of project teams and stakeholders (p. 76). This just simply was not true with this project.

Greer (2010) says that “you need to meet with all of your stakeholders and conduct a brainstorming session in order to document, in “high resolution,” everything you are going to be building” (p. 13). We should have taken the time to meet with everyone at the beginning of the project and discussed what each person would be responsible for completing and how they would communicate with each other and with us. Also, timeframes should have been made much clearer from the beginning. The reason Phyllis and I took the reins and ended up doing a lot of the work is because we didn’t feel things were happening in an appropriate timeframe. Since we did not communicate our expectation of timeframe from the beginning no one had a deadline to hold them to and thus things did not get done.

Communicating expectations from the beginning both the role and responsibilities and timeframe would have made all the difference with this baby shower being planned more quickly and effectively. In the end we had two wonderful showers. However, not only was there a lot of stress, but relationships were strained from the lack of management of the project. This was a project that needed to be managed but unfortunately I didn’t approach it in that way. I will definitely look at it differently if ever I am faced with a “project” such as this one again in the future.

References:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Defining Distance Learning

I currently work for an organization that parents a number of universities that provide degrees through both traditional classroom settings as well as completely online courses. Before attending courses here at Walden I had only ever taken one course online myself and that course as well as my knowledge about this type of course was from my exposure through my current employer. That being said, when I heard the term “distance education” as presented as the title of this course, my mind went directly to online learning. If you had asked me what my definition was I would have said something like, “Distance learning is a student taking courses online instead of in a classroom. They complete their work in their own space and in their own time as long as they meet the requirements of the institution. They communicate with their professors and the other students in their courses through the computer or by telephone.”

However, after only one week of reading and material in this course on distance learning, my understanding and my definition of distance learning has changed. Not only do I see that distance learning can involve other avenues of communication outside of a computer and online, but I also believe the work I do as an instructional designer within a corporate setting can be included in this broad methodology of learning.

Reading about the history of distance education this week was very eye opening. I hadn’t considered that distance learning could have begun at least 160 years ago. Of course, it looked a lot different then. “An advertisement in a Swedish newspaper in 1833 touted the opportunity to study ‘composition through the medium of the post.’” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2008) This mode of distance education is also one I had not thought about. My mind automatically goes to how I see distance learning today. A world where we have high speed internet and cell phones on which we can access virtually any information we may be looking to find; this is the world where my definition of distance learning has been shaped. Still today, distance learning can include methods such as the mail, videos, and the telephone, not only the computer and the internet.

The method for distance learning was not the only change that my definition had to undergo this week. When I considered distance learning before it was almost exclusively used for education in the higher education arena. However, we read three different articles this week that defined how distance education is also being used effectively in the K-12 and training and development areas. This should not have been a new part of my definition. In fact, in training and development, it should have been a major part of my definition as this is what I do in my work on a day to day basis, but it is not something I would have defined as distance learning before this week. I now see this differently. I now define distance education differently.

Based on my experience and my knowledge, including what I have learned in the past week, if you asked me today what my definition of distance education is I would say something like, “Distance education is a person gaining knowledge through a method of learning outside of a classroom using resources provided from an instructor who communicates through a variety of different means.” It is much broader. It is much more encompassing of not only my own experience but the experience of a much larger audience.

As my definition has changed based on what I now know about the history of distance learning, the future of distance learning must also be considered. Where is distance learning going? What does the future of distance learning look like? I am no expert in this field, and I do not own a crystal ball. However, having seen computers go from a flashing green cursor on a black screen only 20 years ago to a tablet that can now access the world wide web by just touching the screen, I would say that the future of distance learning has no limit. We are already able to take our courses from a cell phone, from anywhere at any time. As technology continues to advance so will the possibilities for distance education. The challenge will be in designing the instruction for the learning to meet the needs of all learners in these new formats. This is why being in the field of instructional design in the present is so exciting, because the future looks so bright!

Distance Learning Mind Map

 

Two Courses Down… What Have I Learned So Far?

As I just finished up my second course in my Masters Degree in Instructional Design and Technology, which I passed with an A (I have to brag a little!), I want to stop and reflect for a moment on what I have learned so far.

I was sitting around a fire pit with friends the other night and a 16-year-old sophomore started talking about under water dragons or dinosaurs. She was fascinated with the subject and started telling us all these different facts. When we inquired where she learned all of this she said that she initially saw it on TV, but she was so intrigued that she Googled it and read more about them. This was an “ah ha” moment for me, connecting what I have learned about how children, and adults really, are learning in such a different world than they ever have before. They have access to all of this information at their finger tips, and when the motivation is right, they can learn about any topic by simply using a search engine. What an amazing tool that could be used within the world of education. We need to take advantage of this new way of learning and not avoid it.

Change is happening! Change is ALWAYS happening. It is the one thing we can always rely on – Change! So, as we develop instruction for any field we must consider the learners and the channels which they typically use to gather information. If we are using out of date, dinosaur aged technology will we ever really be effective in helping these learners to grasp our curriculum? I don’t think so. If they are bored with how we present the information, then it may not matter what the information is. There must be a change in the mindset of instructional design to meet the needs of this new generation of learners! It’s an exciting time to enter this field!

So, change and technology… and the theory behind both, this is what we have gotten through so far. So much more to learn!

Fitting the Pieces Together

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory, but a theory without the opportunity for real-life implementation will soon fade away” (Blythe & Gardner, 1990). As I am coming to the end of my course on learning theories instruction at Walden University, I read this quote with different eyes than I might have when I first started. Theory has always been a word that left me with little to no emotion or excitement. However, as I studied learning theory over the past month and a half, I have actually found myself excited at the prospect of, not just studying theory, but having the opportunity to implement it in real life.

When I first began this course and was asked which theories were most in line with how I learn, I pointed to the cognitive and constructivist theories. In the seven weeks since that time, after studying multiple learning theories, I would still agree that I learn through a cognitive and constructivist view. However, I would also have to include a connectivist and adult learning theory approaches.

I connect with the cognitivist theory as I believe that, for myself, it is extremely important to understand how I am learning just as much as what I am learning. Using metacognitive strategies is something I do regularly to check my comprehension of information. Before this course I did not have a name or definition for what I was doing, but this is something that I now understand as not just a concept that helps me to learn better, but one that needs to be brought to light with the learners I work with to help them to be more effective in their learning as well. Bransford and Donovan (2005) gave three principles of learning that are particularly important for teachers to understand and be able to incorporate in their teaching, the third of these three principles is that “a metacognitive approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.” (p.2) This is true for me and for the learners I work with, and thus I believe the cognitive theory is in line with the way I learn best.

The constructivist theory is one that I connected with immediately when reading and learning about its basis. I think this stems from the fact that I grew up in an environment that required me to learn to do things on my own. My parents worked hard and were not always there to guide me in my learning. This meant I was constantly learning from watching others and applying what I observed. The social constructivist theory specifically stood out as how I have learned many skills in my personal life. I also described in my original post for this course that the constructivist theory is the theory that best describes my learning of instructional design before entering the Master’s program. I learned from observation of others and observation of design. I was put into the environment and learned by doing the work. Through this observation and practice I developed my understanding and beliefs about the field.

In adding to my original post, I would also include the connectivist theory approach as being in line with the way I learn best. This learning “theory for the digital age, where individuals learn and work in a networked environment” (Anderson, 2008) is one that makes sense in my world. As an instructional designer that has worked in a building where I am the only person doing what I do, the only way to learn is to connect to the network of instructional designers and information on the internet and social networking. I learn so much about the new trends and information of instructional design through these avenues, and now through my courses at Walden. I have a network of other students that I discuss the issues of the current world of instructional design on a weekly basis. This theory, though it has a lot of push back, holds validity in how I learn. And I think it also must be considered with the current generation of students that we work with as well.

And the final learning theory I want to speak of my connection with is the adult learning theory. Not only because I am an adult, but because of the basic principles of the theory, I think this is one that falls in line with the way I learn. I am a self-directed learner who wants to be involved in the planning and evaluation of my learning. I need to be able to apply what I am learning in my life and learn from my experiences with that application. I prefer to learn through a problem-centered learning environment rather than a content-oriented one. (Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, 2002) I also find that in being an instructional designer in the corporate world that these principles are key to being successful in my day-to-day work.

Lastly, I want to touch on how technology plays a role in my learning. On a daily basis, I probably use a search engine of some type, Google, Bing, etc., an average of 3-5 times a day. When I am looking for a new way to put people into groups, a new format to develop a lesson, or a new animation action in Power Point, I go to the internet. I have an iPhone and apps that help me to know the weather, my class grades, and keep up with my favorite internet sites. There is no end to the use of technology in my learning. When I think back to how learning occurred only 5 years ago, it is amazing the changes! With my knowledge of learning theories and the access to technology to aid in my continuous improvement, I hope to be able to always stay abreast of the latest trends and be the best that I can be in my field.

References:

Anderson, T. (2008) The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.). Edmonton, AB: AU Press

Blythe, T. & Gardner, H. (1990) A school for all intelligences. Educational Leadership.47(7), 33-37

Bransford, J. D. & Donovan, S. M., (2005). How students learn: History in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.11100.html

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Adult_Learning

Blogs I Follow

“Thousands of accomplished educators are now writing blogs about teaching and learning, bringing transparency to both the art and the science of their practice… And all of this collective knowledge is readily available for free” (Ferriter, 2009). What an incredible truth! I am so excited to begin participating in this knowledge field – both to contribute through my own blog, The Arch of Learning, and to start taking advantage of all of the resources available to me.

As I started doing some research for l blogs to follow in the field of Instructional Design, I found there are a lot to choose from. I have chosen to follow a number of blogs, but I wanted to share three of them here and give a brief description of each one and how I feel they can give me an advantage and help me to be the best in my place in the instructional design world.

The first blog site is The Learning Circuits Blog. This is a blog that is a community feature of Learning Circuits which is a newsletter from ASTD. The site allows anyone in the training and development field to share ideas and opinions about the state of learning and technology. Anyone can post on the blog and comment on the blogs posted. The latest blog post “Face Up To It: Are You the CBT Lady?” had me laughing as I have had similar experiences as the ones described in the blog. As I perused the other blog posts I knew I would have to follow this one. It has relevant information to the field and will give multiple viewpoints as it is an open forum as opposed to being just one author. I also like the idea of being able to post on the blog itself. Maybe one day I will get my confidence to the point of feeling I can do so!

The second blog I would like to share is online learning insights. This blog is authored by Debbie Morrison. I was drawn to this blog because of the content, focusing on online learning as well as the volume, as Debbie seems to post to her blog on a regular basis. The topics of her blogs drew me in and made me think more about online learning in my world. I like that Debbie is an instructional designer in a world much like mine. It makes me feel as though I could not only learn from what she has to say but that I can also contribute to the conversation.

The final blog I will list here is Allison Rossett. The name of the blog is the same as the author. She is a consultant in training and technology-based performance. I am immediately drawn to her because I would like to have this title myself one day. She also has an impressive list of credentials and experience. I feel as though I can learn a lot from Allison about the field of instructional design and this is why I am following her blog. Her most recent blog post “Consulting with executives to turn technology investments into results” drew me in right away! This is a topic, ROI, that is important in the field of Training and Development. The topics covered in the blog are varied throughout the T&D field and how it can be made more effective. This will definitely be one worth following!

There are a large number of other blog sites that I have bookmarked and started following. I feel as though I will find which ones will be most relevant to me in the coming weeks as I check in with my Google Reader. I will keep you posted. 🙂

References:

Ferriter, B. (2009). Learning with blogs and wikis. Educational Leadership, 66(5), 34–38.

Hello World!

Writing the first post is harder than any other I would imagine. I feel the pressure to make it interesting and entertaining since that is what I promise in my introduction of myself. I sure hope I can deliver. 🙂

I am starting this blog as an assignment for a class I am taking at Walden University where I am pursuing my Masters Degree in Instructional Design and Technology. I have always wanted to start a blog, and this is great motivation to do so! That being said, my posts here will sometimes be school assignments pertaining directly to my field of instructional design and technology. I love the work that I do and hope that I may be able to offer up some experience, knowledge, or just my two cents and that it might be helpful, or at least entertaining, to those who may come across it.

So, welcome to my page. I am glad you have come to share this journey with me! I sure hope its a wild ride!