How many times have you seen (or experienced as a learner, or applied as a teacher) an approach to learning that looks somewhat like this?
Goodness knows I have.
The role of application/performance has always fascinated me in learning design. Put it at the end of a sequence, following a clever rationalisation for a series of progressively more challenging and consolidating lessons, and it appears safe. Accessible. Nobody's asked to perform until they've been given very careful preparation.
But what happens if we put performance at the very start of our learning design?
Something more along the lines of this:
As in, we'll start with an invitation to actually perform something, like a key skill or action. If it turns out you can perform this action at the level or in the way we listed in at the course design objectives, what's the point in asking you to do a set of three (or more) lessons and practice activities oriented around it?
(You may be thinking this ought to have been identified at a pre-course diagnostic stage, but think about it: how many times do you see--or require--all learners doing the same broad set of activities, whether or not there has been any check to see what they can already do?)
In any case, let's say you've been invited to perform a key task, and you've done so successfully. Why not let you go on to the next activity or course element? The design is now starting to cater to your individual skills and competence, and now it's a case of moving right along, thank you very much.
But then there's those learners who can't do the task, or try it out and perform below the required level of competence. Now at least we have a solid rationale for the lessons, because both teacher and learner realise they can't perform an action we are looking for.
There are some things to consider at the unsuccessful -> lessons A/B/C stage.
First, are we risking a plunge into despair and depression by asking them to perform up front and letting them fail? I don't believe so, and with proper 'course culture' and appropriate task introduction information (including the fact that there is a network of lessons supporting a second or third attempt at the task), hopefully we can get across the notion that this correlates to performance out there in the real world, with the very real chance of mistakes or failures.
A lot of learners don't realise they know how to do something, and a lot of others think they know how to do things when in fact they can't or are only partially competent with them. Asking them to perform something from the beginning creates an evidence process and rationalisation for the overall practice and learning system (we might hope).
Secondly, do all learners really need to do all of lessons A, B and C to get the necessary information, help and practice that will allow them to re-try the performance?
With good learning design, based on the initial try, we can point each individual learner to the specific lesson (or section of a sequence of lessons) that will provide the information and practice they need. They may need to start at the beginning, or they may qualify to go directly to the mid or final lessons.
There is a lot to like in a learning design that (a) allows learners with competence to demonstrate this from the outset and move along to new challenges, and (b) identifies not only a lack of awareness/ability with performance but points learners to the specific skill-building that will facilitate the building of that competence.
So is that the end of the story? Successful = move ahead, unsuccessful = learn/practice and re-try?
Perhaps, but I also think there is room for mentoring in this design:
In essence, if a learner is obviously competent in a skill or performance behaviour, it makes sense to me to encourage and offer the opportunity to mentor classmates who have evidently struggled with the initial task and are engaging with any of the skill-building lessons or even moving to re-try the performance task.
Mentoring tends to happen naturally in most settings, where people who quickly master tasks and have the demonstrable skills and knowledge are amenable to helping out a classmate or colleague who has broken down somewhere.
However, I think that teamwork, collaboration, leadership and mentoring are such strong employability skills that any/all learning frameworks should encourage and cater to them in a salient way.
The option to 'mentor' immediately after success with a task could take many forms, and we can cater to this in our learning design in various ways to produce evidence of it. This could range from the direct evidence of forums to a quick report recounting how the learner assisted a colleague with one or more of the lesson stages, or even a range of SBL (Scenario-Based Learning) activities emphasizing the assistance/mentoring angle with the performance objective in mind.
The learner who elects to complete the mentoring extension not only gets a chance to build and demonstrate the collaborative mentoring skills, he/she also reinforces their own knowledge and awareness of the performance objective, providing further evidence of competence in the skill.
Of course, the successful learner may elect not to engage in mentoring. Depending on the core performance behaviour(s) targeted, that may be fine.
It's also worth recognising that some learners may not want to mentor straight away, but could be comfortable/amenable to the idea later in the course (when they've completed the next activity, for example, and started to get that feeling of being ahead or at least safe in their progress), which adds another pathway to our framework model:
Considering the overlap and consolidation of multiple performance skills, it may be appropriate to ask learners to come back and mentor at this stage of the course via simulated and/or scenario-based situations (if, for example, there are no 'real' learners to mentor by that stage).
So, by moving performance to the front of the learning sequence, we start to get some interesting options and pathways.
In many ways, the framework mapped out here is far more representative of and conducive to real world performance and learning settings - and certainly more 'in touch' than the present-practice-produce model shown at the start of the post.
And with the E-Learning tools and methodologies now at our disposal, a framework like this is more feasible than ever.