aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Informative Events vs. Information Dumps

Posted by Ellen on April 9, 2010

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile know that a few themes keep emerging — like waves lapping the shore:

– Learners need to know why what they’re about to learn matters (relevancy).

– The delivery mode of the training must be a good match to the type of content being taught (I’ll pass on any surgery performed by someone who’s only read the textbooks and hasn’t seen the inside of an operating room).

– Whenever we can make the learners practice what they’ve learned in the environment in which they’ll apply that learning (or a close facsimile of it), they’re more likely to remember — and be able to implement — it.

In commenting on my previous entry ["If You Want to Do a Webinar, Read This"], Christy Tucker pointed out what appeared to her — and perhaps to others — some contradictions in what I’ve written about the purpose of Webinars and examples of how they can be best be leveraged for successful training.

I love a good debate, a meaningful conversation. I appreciate being challenged and every time I’m corrected on something, I think of Roger Shank :) So I was disappointed in myself for responding from a defensive position — instead of opening up the conversation.

Christy challenged my standard recommendation that Webinars are most effective for conveying information rather than teaching skills and gave a great example of how Karen Hyder was able to include instruction and practice on writing poll questions within a recent Webinar.

She asserted (echoing Karen’s point of view) that if you’re just doing an “information dump” you shouldn’t waste everyone’s time in a live Webinar, but should simply send out the info so it can be studied individually at the recipient’s chosen time and place.

I agree.

But I still say that the best content fit for Webinars is to teach information.

Ah! Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?

Let me explain:

I don’t agree that teaching information is the same thing as an information dump.

Dr. Stephen Yelon, professor emeritus of educational psychology at Michigan State University, defines four types of knowledge:

– facts (learning = recall facts)

– concepts (learning = identify new examples of a concept)

– principles (learning = apply a principle to a new case)

– skills (learning = perform a skill)

The example Dr. Yelon uses is a bird: you can define the bird by the characteristics that make it unique to the animal world (facts) and maybe point out a bird that matches the one shown during training. But without understanding the concept of a bird, you wouldn’t be able to recognize other flying animals as birds. Learning a concept is to be able to classify, identify, or recognize new examples. A bird isn’t just a robin, a bird can also be a roadrunner or even a chicken.

For this discussion, let’s consider “facts” and “concepts” to be “information.” Notice that their learning objectives are “recall” and “identify.” These can be done pretty well via a Webinar.

For Example…

Let’s say a new federal regulation with a short turn-around on compliance will affect many of our members.

We decide that the fastest way to reach the most members is to provide a Webinar and we want to keep it to within an hour.

We decide to invite a government agency representative who will explain the regulation (“facts”) and a member of the association showing examples of how that regulation will need to be followed as well as non-examples so the distinction is clear (“concept”). Each speaker talks for about fifteen minutes, with  five minutes after each for a quick quiz review, followed by another 20 minutes of Q&A  before the Webinar wraps up.

Learning Objectives

1. At the conclusion of this Webinar, learners will be able to recall 1, 2, and 3 [facts] about Regulation X. 

2. At the conclusion of this Webinar, given examples and non-examples of implementations of Regulation X, learners will be able to identify the examples based on the defining characteristics of Regulation X [concept].

Ideally, the moderator takes some time after the government agency representative speaks to review the key facts about the regulation, then asks a few quiz questions so learners can check their comprehension.

After the second speaker, learners should be shown some examples and non-examples so they can practice recognizing correct conformance with Regulation X. Those examples and non-examples should not be repeats of any already shown.

Chat can be used for clarifying questions — “Why was Example Q correct when it seems in conflict with Fact 1?”

Informative or Information Dump?

A Webinar covering the text of the regulation (just the “facts”) without clarification, distillation, distinctions or other context around it would be an information dump. It wouldn’t be providing anything more than someone who reads it couldn’t get on their own.

Adding the second speaker who provides additional context through examples and non-examples transforms an information dump into an educational event by focusing on the concept of the new regulation.

Could the same learning outcomes be achieved via a recording?

Maybe, but probably not. Watch for a follow-up post exploring the differences between attending a live Webinar and viewing a recording, and the learning implications around those differences.

Skills and Information

The objectives of the Regulation X Webinar are different than those for the Webinar providing instruction for writing poll questions (among other tasks), but they are both successful uses of the Webinar for training.

It’s clear that with more people gaining experience designing and leading Webinars (with more versatile Web conferencing/training tools at their disposal), using them to teach skills can lead to more effective outcomes than they have in the past.

But that doesn’t mean that all skills can or should be taught via Webinars. There’s a reason learning via video tapes didn’t go very far, at least not for skills training. And there’s a reason classrooms and labs  — despite being in use now for centuries-old  — are still the heavily relied upon for skills training.

There isn’t an absolute either-or answer. Sometimes synchronous learning is the best option. Sometimes a stand-alone tutorial is best. Sometimes face-to-face sessions will meet the learning outcome goals better than any other choice. Often a blend of these will deliver greater benefits than any solitary option.

Knowing what your options are and making the best match you can between the delivery mode and the content is what will ultimately make the difference between a successful event and one that’s a waste of time.

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3 Responses to “Informative Events vs. Information Dumps”

  1. Thanks for clarifying your thoughts. I think you and actually agree on more points than how it originally appeared to me. There’s obviously more nuance here than what you could fit in the “one-liner” I read first. Your initial statement seemed very absolute to me; now that it’s in context I understand your position much better.

    I agree that it’s much easier to do webinars for conceptual training than it is for skills training. It’s a better fit overall.

    That said, I’ve had success using webinars for skills training. The trick, for me, has been something you mention above: “Often a blend of these will deliver greater benefits than any solitary option.”

    At my previous job when we moved to a new LMS, we used Adobe Connect to do live training sessions with small groups of facilitators. The facilitators were all given self-paced tutorials to review prior to the session. We did a demo, but spent a lot of the time answering questions as follow-up and reinforcement to the tutorials. After the live session, we gave them access to a practice course in the live environment and a list of tasks to try. The webinar format was great sandwiched between the asynchronous practice. Culturally, a number of our facilitators really needed the time with us live to feel like their questions were being heard and they weren’t just being abandoned to struggle through it alone. The webinar was as much about change management as it was about skills training. If we’d tried to do the entire training as webinars, it would have failed–but as one part of the blend, it was very good.

    I just did some Moodle training on a smaller scale. We had 3 live sessions over WebEx where I used a mix of software demos and interactive whiteboard activities. After each session, leaners had practice activities in the live environment to reinforce the skills. I wouldn’t have been able to do it quite this way with a bigger group, but I only had 2-3 people at a time. That meant we had lots of time to interact.

    Right now I’m part of a team converting a face-to-face training program to WebEx and TelePresence. TelePresence is much closer to classroom training, but some of the same issues apply. With both technologies, we have limited time live with the trainees. Therefore, we’re doing a lot of the information transfer as prework before the sessions (read this whitepaper, watch this video, etc.). Then the live sessions can be spent answering questions, role playing, reviewing case studies, and practicing skills. We want the live sessions to have as much impact as possible. Rather than using them for teaching information, we are specifically planning to use them for skills practice and reinforcement. So we’re coming at it from the opposite side of things, but still ending up with a blend of techniques ultimately.

    Thanks for the good discussion! This has helped me clarify what I’m working on in my current project.

  2. Ellen said

    Sound bites just don’t cut it, and I should refrain from them in the future :)

    I appreciate your following through on my long and winding logic, Christy — and that you pushed the point so I could give it more thought.

    It really is great to see Web conferencing tools being leveraged for better online instructional sessions and your example here adds to the list of good designs for accomplishing just that!

    Thanks again, Christy!

  3. [...] Informative Events vs. Information Dumps [...]

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