Related Issues & Topics

Free Learning & Development Resources - 7 Tips

Open Source Education

For those of you in the A/E design profession who have difficulty finding free time during a 24/7 work week consider a free, on-demand, learning–in-the-moment approach to supplement your formal training and on-the-job experience. There are a variety of free online resources available to you. Here are some great tricks and online resources for developing your own, personal professional learning skills and development.

7 Tips to Getting Started:
1. Formulate what you need to know. This is called your learning objective and can be revised as you go, but take your best shot when you begin. (Tip: Start with your annual training objectives).
2. Use search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and YouTube (the largest source of online learning) to find three kinds of information: specific, general, and connected.
3. Use search engines to find tutorials, ebooks, online courses and classes – the obvious. But also search and locate online communities (blogs, forums, associations, white papers and chat rooms).
4. Evaluate each resource that you encounter to determine if they relate or are connected to your learning objectives.
5. Organize your information for reading and assembly. If you are learning something that takes longer than a day, you can use free websites like All My Faves and Symbaloo to organize and group your links, and then retrieve them with one click.
6. Read, take notes, and learn the way you learn best.
7. If you have a certificate, membership or license -MCE requirements be sure to record and track your progress. You can do this for free in an EXCEL file or for those of you with a state license and who are willing to pay a little for convenience and due date reminders try AECredentialing.

7 Options of Open Source Courses…..

Coursera:
Outstanding engineering related college-courses from universities like Duke University, Rice University, Escole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, University of Pittsburgh, and Princeton.

Class Central:
A gateway to a variety of online and self-paced courses offered by Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Berkley, Udacity, and Courses.

MIT OpenCourseWare:
Free Online courses from MIT in energy, transportation, environment, business and others areas.

Open Culture – 625 Free Online courses:
625 Free online and self-paced courses offered by Harvard, UC Berkley,
MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford, that include the sciences, computers, Engineering (Mechanical, Civil & Electrical), Environmental, and basic business.

Ted Conference Videos:
Best for exposure and finding things to learn more about online. Inspirational, informative, cutting edgue and less than 20 minutes long.

YouTube/EDU:
YouTube really now functions as a video search engine, and so you can find much more to learn and see on YouTube than just the EDU area. However, this area has been tuned and curated just for good educational content on traditional subjects.

Today I Found Out:
Daily essays of well-researched interesting topics.

I would like to offer a special thanks to Katin Imes at Expedition 21 Media, Inc. for content suggestions.

Course Evaluations – Key 7

During a summer full of conferences, workshops, classes (both on-line and on-site), and numerous online discussion groups, lots of questions have been raised about how to structure course evaluation forms? While there are many good evaluation models available, here are the basic fundamentals that have worked well for the organizations where I have worked. This is part of Key 7 – Evaluations.

First, keep your course evaluations as simple as possible. I like to build a course evaluation using a 1 - 4 point scale. This forces participants to make a choice, to select above or below average. I have used the 1 – 3 and 1 -5 point scales but it allows the borderline evaluators to just be neutral by choosing the middle number. Neutrality isn’t all bad but when you are looking for what to improve, a neutral number doesn’t help much. And for those of you who debate whether using a 1 - 5 or 1 - 10 point scale, the only real difference that I have found are that participants will adjust their choice to reflect similar results of a slide between low, middle, or high scores.

There are 5 key areas where you need accurate feedback and information in order for you to know what, where or how you will want most to improve a course:
1. Content - is the course content useful to the participant?
2. Faculty’s Knowledge of the Subject – while this is often perception, did the faculty or instructor really knowledgeable about his/her subject?
3. Faculty’s Ability to Communicate – was faculty or instructor able to communicate their knowledge to the participants in the audience?
4. Quality of the training aids, handouts, etc. –were they applicable to the course?
5. Will the participant be able to apply the course to their job? Yes / No
Always allow the opportunity for open feedback from the participant as it can capture some amazing information occasionally. Questions about food, room temperature, arrangements, etc. should be left for the open general comments as generally the organization has little control over those issues and if it becomes an issue – it usually will appear in a general comments section. And yes, I am a believer that if you include food it can affect the results of the evaluations – poor food can lower the overall evaluations. Knowing that in advance – don’t provide bad food. And while the evaluators could be all over the scale in their final evaluations in the key areas providing you with detailed information about the course you will find it useful to ask a final general question about “How would you rate the overall program.”

If you have a way of collect the responses electronically, a tool like survey monkey - that could make your life much easier. What generally takes so much time related to surveys after the course is over is the summarizing the results. Anything you can do to minimize the staff time summarizing results is a plus.

My pet peeve is asking respondents questions that you know you are not going to use to improve the courses. Or worse still, requiring evaluation that goes straight to the storage file and then gets lost in a black hole. My final suggestion, keep your course evaluations as simple as possible.

Instructional Method: A Professional Action Plan

Learning contracts do not need to be complex. A number of years ago when I was involved with the AIA/CES Firm Leadership Symposium we needed to a simple method for an after-training-support-by-the-faculty. The process and tool we developed was simple. At the beginning of the workshop we would spend a few minutes explaining that each participant would be expected to identify at least one goal that they would like to accomplish after the workshop was over and they returned to their work environment. The action plan exercise was always planned at the end of the workshop so should that should they choose, the participants could include some of what they learned during the workshop into their action plan.

First we would discuss the purpose of the action plan. We would provide each participant with a Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan worksheet. The worksheet was intended as a simple structured outline for developing an individual action plan. Each participant was expected to identify at least one goal or action that they wanted to complete. The Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan required that the participants respond to 7 questions:

What is the goal?
What are the strengths related to achieving the goal?
What obstacles are we likely face?
What opportunities would likely be present?
What resources would they need?
What action steps are needed to complete the plan?
What were the related timelines?

First the participants would work to complete their own action plans. Additional time was then set aside to work in pairs - sharing with each other their goal and how they intend to accomplish it. At the end of the exercise participates exchanged POC information and committed to contacting each other after 30 days and again after 60 days.

The group faculty member or facilitator can become as involved after the event as appropriate. For those who did make contact at the 30 day mark, most went on to complete their goals. This process can be accomplished on-site, on-line or as a blended approach. I have since used the action plan approach successfully at the executive, manager and supervisory levels, and in both the private and public sectors. Hope this provides you with enough information. If you would like a free WORD copy of the worksheet just contact me directly at tlowther7@gmail.com.

How to Analyze a Case Study

Photo by Thom Lowther

Most of you who know me well know that I believe passionately in the use of cases studies as a learning tool. Years ago I discovered a excellent tool for analyzing case studies in the "Handbook for Training and Development" published by ASTD. I share below a simplified version of tool. I have used it often - in professional firms, in associations workshops and in college classrooms.

When analyzing a case study, an orderly, step-by-step approach is helpful. It is important to gain an appreciation of the overall situation initially, as well as to learn what information is contained in the case. Therefore, it is suggested that the case study be skimmed first to gain this overall perspective. While or after doing so, jot down the key points and issues that come to mind, as well as your first impression of the problems, issues, and opportunities facing the company. Then read the case in detail, adding to and modifying your initial thoughts. Remember that not everything in the case is vitally important, nor is all the important information necessarily included. The case represents someone's (e.g., management's) description of the company and its situation - it is up to you to probe deeper, sort and shift things out, and acquire additional information. It is your responsibility to analyze and recommend alternatives and approaches to management.

The following guide may be helpful to you in your task:

1. Define the situation. What are the challenges, problems, potential problems, opportunities, and potential opportunities facing the company? Typically, the case will contain various systems you will have to diagnose. To do so, try and isolate the major issues facing the company and their causes. Keep in mind that there are likely to be sub and secondary issues, as well as related and perhaps extraneous issues described in the case. Your task is to assign priorities to the issues, focusing on the critical few.

2. Assemble and analyze the important facts (gleaned from the case) which bear on the situation.

3. Specify important information that is needed but not included in the case. Determine whether or not it is available elsewhere. If available, acquire about it.

4. Make assumptions! For important information that is not available from the case or elsewhere, make logical assumptions as to what it might be. State these assumptions.

5. Draw conclusions Based on your analysis, information, and assumptions.

6. Determine alternatives and their likely outcomes. What are the major alternative actions open to the company, and what is likely to happen if each is adopted? Evaluate each.

7. Make recommendations. Based on your analysis, what do you recommend to management and why? Be prepared to defend your recommendations under critical questioning by the instructor and the class (the types of questions which might be posed by the company's management and other stakeholders).

8. Prepare an implementation plan. How should your recommendation be implemented, by whom? and in what sequence (short-term versus long-term actions). Where will the resources come from?

9. Prepare contingency plans. What do you recommend if your suggestions do not work as anticipated, or if certain external or internal conditions change?

Are Teaching Methods Important?

Several months ago I noticed what I thought was an interesting question on the LinkedIn, Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, There Barbi Honeycutt, Ph.D. asked, “Why are graduate students required to complete a course in research methods but not in teaching methods?” This question really struck a chord with me having worked in higher education. Dr. Honeycutt is right; the emphasis is extensively on the subject content – which is to be expected. But what is really amazing, the system seems to ignore the fact that, at least in higher education another major component of the process is to impart that knowledge on to the students. It’s as if, because you have so much knowledge you will be able to just tell others all of the important facts and they will be expected to learn from you.

Taking this concept a bit further, outside of higher education and into the association and the private sector - my observation is that so many subject matter experts in all fields are so zoned into the content that they often forget that delivery is part of the communication process. On those occasions where industry experts want to share their knowledge they fall into the same trap. The result, the message is often lost in the research and content. The content, the organization and development of the content, and delivery are all key elements of Instruction. However, content research is not course development, which is not delivery. Each step requires separate yet inter-related skills. You can be highly effective at one or two of the elements, yet miss a third and the course can be a dud.

Adding to the complexities of instruction today is the online instructor category. This requires yet a very different set of skill requirements. Instruction online today is at a minimum - a blend of on-site classroom with an online components, writing skills and leading online group discussions.

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