Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OMG! Control freak much?

I've just finished up the first draft of my latest book, Social Media for Trainers, due out from Pfeiffer in summer 2010. It's pretty much a quick explanation of some Web 2.0 tools (like Twitter & Facebook) with ideas and instructions for conducting specific training activities with each (see the post from November 9).

One weekend I brought home a pile of activities-for-trainers books from the office, intending to do a quick sweep to see if I'd missed anything major (I had. Duh. "Use online technologies to enable learners to interact with an author or expert.")

Seeing the books in the aggregate brought a huge shock, namely, that typically 1/3 to 1/4 of the text is dedicated to "rules for learners". To quote my favorite checkout person at Target, LaQuinta: "OMG" (pronounced "OMG"). There were ground rules for class, ground rules for discussions, ground rules for breakouts, ground rules for role plays, ground rules for ground rules. Team Agreement Templates. Guidelines for participating in online discussions. Procedures for posting responses.

And ironically: Most of the books were also touting "constructivism", "letting learners take over" and "putting learning into the learner's hands". Learner's handcuffs is more like it.

Holy moly. Has anyone else noticed this? Anyone else wondered what effect it has on learning? On learner attitudes toward training? And as an aside: Any thoughts on what this says about the trainer's view of his/her role?

16 comments:

Joe Fournier said...

Hi Jane, while I have done the ground rules thing in virtual classes, I find the most functional approach is to ask the learners to help you brainstorm some ground rules; that way it's not a meaningless set of mandates, but rather, a collaboratively developed social contract.

Looking forward to the book!

Joe

Joe Deegan said...

Great point Jane! Training facilitation books can take the "Facilitation" part over the top. I'm sure all of these "Ground Rules" contribute to a negative attitude towards learning and education. Could it be due to a fear of letting the learners take over? Or is it that it's just easier to follow instructions rather than dancing to the music being played and letting the activity go where the learners take it. Interesting topic.

Sahana said...

Rules for learners = Handcuffs for learners...yes, I can see how.

Looking forward to your book...I can see that it's going to be informative and very very interesting.

All the best with the writing. And wishing you a wonderful 2010! And ideas for many more books. :)

mike said...

Maybe it's just me, but as a learner I frequently ignore many of the rules. I'm curious to hear how other learners view these 'rules' when they are participating in a learning event.

Jane Bozarth said...

Love all the comments here!
Several of you have commented about the learner's perception of and response to rules, and what Joe D might call "being facilitated". I hope we see more talk about that.

BunchberryFern said...

If I do a Training the Trainer type thing and leave out the 'ground rules' part, people go bonkers.

(I do lots for non-profits too and they always demand a chunk on 'how to deal with challenging learners'.)

Ditto:- ice breakers, Learning Styles - you can see where I'm going with this (so I won't go there).

The best I've come up with is dishing out a template 'learning agreement/group groundrules' type document couched in 100% negative "Don't do this, don't do that' language and getting people to rephrase it positively or chuck it out entirely.

@mike - I think it's like anything else. First impressions are make or break. If some 'facilitator' starts telling me what to do and it's either (a) stupidly obvious or (b) something I disagree with then I usually walk. Unfortunately for trainers and facilitators, there isn't any advice (I can think of) that doesn't fall into (a) or (b). Your rules better be pretty darn nifty.

PS Having said all this, I do like a facilitator to lay down the law a bit. Part of their job is to draw flak/poison/ridicule and absolve the group of the responsibility of being harsh to each other. This is a great example of laying down the law:
http://boingboing.net/2008/03/27/boing-boings-moderat.html

Jane Bozarth said...

BBFarm: I do some train-the-trainer work and have likewise had lots of requests for tips on "dealing with difficult learners". I've been in the training business for 20 years and have never really had a problem with anyone. The requests invariably come from weak facilitators and/or those whose egos interpret every question as a challenge. Or from those who know the training is bad...

Preliminary reviewers insisted I include something on this in my book From Analysis to Evaluation, so I did, but I also used the opportunity to offer some tips on preventing problems in the first place:

"While there is ample literature on dealing with difficult behaviors, there is little available on preventing problems in the first place. There are a number of proactive steps available to trainers. For instance: send pre-course communication clearly outlining the content and goals of the program, so learners know what to expect; involve supervisors in training design so they can better decide which training is appropriate for which staff. Find out as much as possible about the learner group in advance, so you will know if there are any employees with famously challenging behaviors enrolled, and to find out whether members have had unpleasant experiences with the topic before."

Ken said...

Great points, including the comments (and great blog -- I just came over on Karl Kapp's advice). I especially like the suggestions to pre-empt disruptions by involving participants and conducting some due diligence about them ahead of time.

V Yonkers said...

I think there needs to be a distinction made between "rules" and "framework or structure within which to work." Rules are established to be followed linearly (more of a cognitive approach).

However, as a student and having worked with students in teaching distance learning, there needs to be parameters established and negotiated, not only at the beginning, but during and at the end of a learning process. I have had teachers (that I train) who will say that students will develop their own goals, do their own work, and then the teacher will assess their learning. But there are stakeholders that will require certain criteria and outcomes. What if the learner can't meet those criteria? Yes, they learned something, but was it something that they need to learn?

I give my students criteria within which to work, then negotiate what that means with the student (on any given project). Students are required to give me updates, drafts (which I give tentative grades and exhaustive feedback on), and we have realignments of criteria when it is necessary. Giving students choice and constructivism does not mean that teachers give over "control" and responsibility for learning to the students. Rather, it means there is equal responsibility with the instructor helping to guide the students to where they need to go (based on their own desires, but also the requirements of stakeholders, including schools, management, funding agencies, and even society).

Jane Bozarth said...

V, Your comments are a good reflection of the different perspectives of those of us in training adult learners v. others, like you, who are involved in academic education with "students". There are, as your ideas illustrate, very different power structures at play.

JeffJ said...

Hey,Jane! Keeping warm? This is a great line of thought and, I think, shows partly where resistance to technology comes from: the overarching need for control most trainers have. The comments by the "educator" highlight where that starts and how it gets perpetuated. How we control and manage 2nd graders and undergraduates is later translated to the workplace by trainers who think that is how training should be, and tolerated by managers who remember Jr. High School. Trainers need to learn to give up all the rules and control if they intend to stay viable in the new world. Learners have options now, and the smart ones will choose them. (P.S. It's easy to see now where the idea of learners as "prisoners" came from, isn't it?!)

Jane Bozarth said...

Hi, Jeff. Where have you been? :-) There was a related conversation the other day w/ Jane Hart via Facebook. Your comment about the problem being "self-perpetuating" ties to something in that other discussion, where I made the point that managers tolerate bad training b/c their experience of "learning" is "school", complete with its bad practices and power plays. I don't think there's much hope for traditional training to change until we can help management change what it believes about learning -- and that will need to have roots in their experience of "school". Make sense? JB

V Yonkers said...

Actually, I have done as much teaching in corporations as I have in higher ed. In fact, the majority of my students work in adult education/corporate training. If a "trainee" does not come out of the training with the expected outcomes from the corporation, I (as the trainer) still need to justify that.

I found it was even more necessary to have a framework that was flexible enough to allow each trainee to achieve learning for their own context, but "rigid" enough to justify to an employer or corporate training department that there was measurable learning going on.

I find in higher education, however, that many professors are given carte blanche when delivering instruction. The framework is much more visceral. However, in lower grades, the framework becomes more rigid. What is important is that there is a structure/framework within which to work, but there is also a level of flexibility to negotiate learning with the learners. You need only look at the difference between training for customer service and healthcare providers. Healthcare providers often have legal restrictions within which they must work. The limits of their learning framework are much more rigid than those within the customer service. And yet I have seen very flexible designs from my students (instructional designers for the healthcare field) within that structure.

Ceres said...

Hi Jane
Yep, all so true! I've worked with trainers who even wanted learners to raise hands to ask questions - yikes! I agree with the comments of JeffJ, there is a strong element of self-perpetuating behaviour here. People see learning as like school because trainers treat learners like children - and so it goes on. The term 'formal learning' is used for workshops and is accurate, as anything formal brings rules along with it.
Solutions? In formal workshop environments, not so easy, it's very difficult to change 'trainer' behaviour and at times the issue is equally caused by management attitudes to learning. Online and informal learning however happens in a world without trainer 'control', there are no 'ground rules' here, learners are just free to learn.
Looking forward to your new book Jane!

Michael Eury said...

Hi Jane
Yep, all so true! I've worked with trainers who even wanted learners to raise hands to ask questions - yikes! I agree with the comments of JeffJ, there is a strong element of self-perpetuating behaviour here. People see learning as like school because trainers treat learners like children - and so it goes on. The term 'formal learning' is used for workshops and is accurate, as anything formal brings rules along with it.
Solutions? In formal workshop environments, not so easy, it's very difficult to change 'trainer' behaviour and at times the issue is equally caused by management attitudes to learning. Online and informal learning however happens in a world without trainer 'control', there are no 'ground rules' here, learners are just free to learn.
Looking forward to your new book Jane!

JeffJ said...

Sorry V, but see, there it is. A trainer calling people "students" just speaks volumes. So Jbo, how do we break this "school" mentality?