Lesson Plans–Hybrid Learning Methods1 Feb, 2007 By: Matt Murphy
Traditional teaching doesn't always translate into learning.
I've been in the traditional or formal training business for a long time. When I say traditional or formal, I mean I've taught regularly scheduled classroom training or seminars. These classes require two to four days out of the office to learn all the clicks and picks of new software. I've noticed a decline in this traditional type of instruction, especially for most professionals in the CAD training area.
In this article
Regularly scheduled training classes and seminars are on the decline. Why is this happening? A number of factors are contributing to the reduction. I'll describe some of my observations to explain this shift in learning and training.
Mature CAD Training
CAD software has been around for more than 20 years. Users have had time to become familiar with it. Do we need to attend a multiday session when the new information we need to learn may take only a few hours? Time has become an expensive commodity. We want to cover more concentrated topics and specific aspects of the software in less time, so we can return to work quickly and be more productive.
Hybrid Learning Solutions
Several terms can describe a new way of perceiving learning. Some people call it blended learning, but I like the term hybrid learning because it is analogous to a popular trend in the automotive industry.
Hybrid cars run on more than one power source, widely known as alternative sources. Some hybrids are gas/electric, gas/ethanol 85 or even diesel/vegetable oil. The hybrid model uses two or more fuel sources, or even power plants, and then chooses the appropriate fuel source or plant based on what is the best option for each specific use requirement.
Hybrid learning isn't much different. Hybrid learning is learning that mixes various event-based training activities, including face-to-face, instructor-led classroom training; live (synchronous) or recorded (asynchronous) Internet-based e-learning; and self-paced learning. Hybrid learning represents an alternative to traditional instructor-led training. The most important factor is that individuals can choose which type of learning best suits their personal learning needs.
Flexible Training Options
I've found that both advanced learners and experienced users don't have the time or budget to attend formal, instructor-led classroom training. Everyone feels the pinch of the demand to produce more in less time.
Although e-learning and Webcasts often can be the perfect replacements for traditional classroom training because they can be taken at users' desktops, most have many distractions within the office. The distractions prevent participants from being engaged and retaining the information in a synchronous e-learning event or Webcast.
Asynchronous e-learning and recorded Webcasts can be pared down and prepared with search features for keywords and topics to accelerate the learning process. These courses are available at a time convenient for participants. This technique avails itself without taking too much time.
Today's experienced CAD product users have matured to a point where they want to drive their learning in a more meaningful and self-directed manner.
Instant Training Options
Instant training provides immediate learning of small bits of knowledge that users can apply based on their needs as they arise. Examples of instant training include JIT (just-in-time) and JWIN (just-what-I-need) training.
Users have become accustomed to JIT types of personal redemption. Powerful Internet search engines and broad-band connections let people query news, research and shopping in just a few minutes to tell them exactly what they seek. Wouldn't it make sense to search in the same way for only those topics, lessons and training we need?
Many of these powerful bits of learning are already included in the software. Every Autodesk release has a New Features Workshop that allows users to query and search for new features of the software and to explore instant lessons for immediate learning in small, digestible pieces.
Emerging Communities of Learning
The most common informal learning environment today also is Internet based—e-communities, forums, threaded message boards, blogs and chat rooms. Many already participate in these e-learning communities. Most people wouldn't consider them learning environments, but they are.
Many of these communities have grown and have huge followings of SMEs (subject-matter experts) and superusers. Even software vendors such as Autodesk offer some form of these communities on their Web sites.
AUGI (Autodesk User Group International) is the largest organized group of Autodesk users in the world. If you've never been to www.AUGI.com, take time to explore the user communities and discussion forums. Within the discussion forums, users can post questions regarding an issue or problem they are having with software and other users within the community will respond. Not only is this a powerful method to obtain JIT information, you also can participate as an SME to answer other user questions. As a community, everyone can contribute knowledge and insight.
The term blog is derived from Web log, which is a user-created Web site where entries are made in a journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order. Many blogs often provide commentary or news about a particular subject such as food, politics or local news; some function on a more personal basis. Many technical blogs provide insight or instant learning. These blogs combine text, images and links to other blogs, Web pages and other media related to the topic. Many blogs also offer the ability for readers to contribute comments in an interactive format.
Those new to blogs may want to search for blogs based on their personal interests first and then check product evangelists' blogs such as the ones at www.autodesk.com/blogs. After building a list of sites, users might want to subscribe to www.bloglines.com or other free blog-management tools that automatically alert you when a blog has been updated. This service lets users read only new information as it's added, instead of searching or reading the entire site.
Search for the Expert
The other form of hybrid learning that continues to grow is often called the grapevine approach. Every organization has closely knit communities of practice within each department. Often these networks haven't been controlled, so many companies have ignored or even discouraged their existence.
Clearly, peer mentoring can be distracting and unpro-ductive if left unchecked; however, it can be very powerful, especially for the experienced learner, if it's fostered correctly. The easiest way to control and encourage these communities is to sponsor them within the corporation itself. Tips and techniques with brown-bag lunches, lunch-and-learn sessions or meet-the-expert days are some examples of how organizations now formally tap into what used to be a frowned-upon, informal learning method.
Mentoring comes in a variety of forms: on-the-job training, apprenticeships, job shadowing, internships and coaching. The definition of mentoring is to pair one person (protégé) with a more experienced person (mentor) who will teach, coach, counsel, sponsor and encourage the protégé. The key to any good mentoring relationship is to focus on identifying and developing the strengths of the protégé and to help them help themselves become better at what they do. Nowadays, mentoring may provide both professional and personal support, and it often occurs outside of a manager/employee relationship.
Mentoring is also important because we have four generations working together. Those Traditionalists and Baby Boomers can be great mentors to the X and Y Generation, newer employees who aren't as familiar with the company products and design methods. X and Y Generation employees are great adopters of new technology but lack the experience in the industry. Pairing these individuals improves overall job performance because together they provide a higher relevancy of knowledge and skills.
Build Your Own Hybrid
Hybrid learning is a natural extension to traditional class room training. Building a hybrid model that works for you is as much a personal preference as it is an adaptation to your learning style.
If you're a manager, you'll want to extend the opportunity for your employees by encouraging them to seek alternative methods of learning. Building a hybrid-learning model is effective because it is personal.
But does this mean the end of classroom training? Absolutely not! No single class, person or trainer has all of the answers, just as no single training or learning method will make you an expert.
The rules for learning have changed. It's time to explore the alternatives that are available for hybrid learning and be a proactive learning opportunist.
Matt Murphy is a member of ATCAB (Autodesk Training Center Advisory Board) and a certified technical trainer. He teaches AutoCAD productivity and Training the Trainer seminars for Autodesk University, AUGI CAD Camps and private companies. He can be reached at matt.murphy@ACADventures.com.
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