Training Transformation Lessons from Top Universities


Better learning, better retention, better transfer, and better business results — critical goals of any organization’s training and development program. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve these training outcomes in our classrooms and online training offerings. Have you ever wondered about how our nation’s most prestigious universities pursue these same goals?

During the past year as Enspire Studios engaged in work activities with the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Teaching + Learning, I was exposed to learning science experts and campus learning initiatives from UT Austin, Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, Teachers College at Columbia University, and Stanford University.

UT Austin’s own Course Transformation Program is engaged “in reinventing higher education in the 21st century” by applying the latest evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning. I’m excited to see these approaches in learning sciences and instructional technologies applied to corporate and non-profit organizations’ learning programs.

Below, I’ve distilled the basics of several higher-ed transformation lessons that you can integrate into your training.

Flip It
You’ve probably heard about and even used a flipped classroom approach: out-of-class readings or viewings (often in the form of video lectures) cover base content knowledge acquisition while in-class activities focus on deeper thinking and application. One skeptical faculty member said to me, “flipping the classroom used to be called homework.” But there’s actually quite a bit more to “flipping” instruction.

More than a methodology, the flipped classroom is a huge shift from teacher-centric instruction to learner-centered pedagogy. Beyond replacing the classroom lecture, it’s more about how to better use the social learning venue of the classroom. Done well, student participation, interaction, and personalization all increase. The instructor’s role is vital to guiding students to deeper thinking and applications of the content.

For additional information, check out UT Austin’s resources on “flipping” a class.

Trade Tasks
Too many instructional activities and too much class time concern “getting to the right answer.” However, the best of the academy say that “getting into the mistakes” is a highly effective instructional technique.

I attended an interactive talk by mathematician Dr. Michael Starbird in which he said “Mistakes are directive — they highlight unforeseen opportunities and holes in your understanding. They show you which way to turn next, what needs to change.”

Professor Starbird suggests that instructors “trade tasks.” Rather than a focus on producing right answers, focus student attention on investigating their mistakes and raising essential questions about a problem. Starbird said its far better to “use the insight from your mistakes to identify the features of a correct solution to your problem.”

This makes sense to me because it develops critical thinking and problem solving skills with the content, and in turn enables flexible transfer of learning to other problems.

Hear Dr. Starbird talk about the usefulness of mistakes in this Youtube video produced by the UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences.

Advanced Audience Response Systems
When I first saw Dr. Brian Lukoff demo Learning Catalytics, I exclaimed “in my 20 years as an instructional designer, this is absolutely the best classroom technology I’ve ever seen!” I meant it then and now.

With colleagues at Harvard’s Mazur Group, Dr. Lukoff created the next — and better — design of classroom “clicker” systems. He calls it a “cloud-based educational assessment and engagement platform” and has since sold the technology to Pearson Education.

Learning Catalytics uses more than a dozen types of question formats that, according to the Dr. Lukoff, “go beyond simple multiple-choice questions and uses intelligent data analytics to create a richer interactive experience in the classroom.” The open-ended response categories produce outputs like composite sketching and word cloud generation. I saw a demonstration of the product for English Language Arts in which students highlight rhetorical devices used in a text. For a biology demonstration, we labeled parts of a cell. For calculus, we entered differential equations. The visual feedback was immediate and generated lots of buzz among students who were more vested in their responses and in their reasons behind responses.
BTW, you can implement a simple student response by using answer flashcards of A, B, C, and D,. or the old-fashioned hands-up method.

Peer Instruction
I also saw examples of peer instruction implemented with the Learning Catalytics system. Peer instruction – also originating from the Mazur Group at Harvard – posits a teaching “by questioning instead of telling” methodology.

Students prepare for class by doing readings and answering questions about those readings; the in class, the instructor poses prepared concept questions. Students answer the questions using Learning Catalytics and review the group responses with the instructor. Does he or she still support their response? Students then pair up with one or more other students to convince others of their thinking and answers. Afterward, students commit an individual answer again and review the results again.

While many instructors use activities that require students to “turn to your neighbor,” the main operational factor here is that nothing clarifies thinking and ideas better than explaining them to others. According to Mazur, peer instruction helps teachers drive out misconceptions, diagnose hang-ups, enable real understanding and real-world transfer, and quickly adapt to student needs for further review or explanation.

For more about peer instruction, check out Turn to Your Neighbor – The Official Peer Instruction Blog moderated by Dr. Julie Schell.

More to Come
Of course there’s much more happening in the transformation of higher ed. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are popping up everywhere. Big data and business analytics gave rise to learning analytics. A glut of new startups and technologies aim to improve everything from academic advising for quicker graduation rates to social networking services that pair roommates or study group partners. Electronic interactive textbooks, simulations, and computer-based experiences are gaining on paper-based curricular materials.

Transformation is happening at the highest levels of education. Take their lessons and apply them to your training programs.