Thursday, January 21, 2010

COURSE - ProgPlan

Finished the Program Planning in Adult Education course -- simple, logical, effective and completely online in the ANGEL (which was anything but) LMS.

Coursework was based on Caffarella's Interactive Model of Program Planning (above) -- which (integrates and) distinguishes itself from pre-existing models in four ways:

  • " is interactive and comprehensive;" -- program planning as a set of non-sequential, interconnected, iterative components that planners work with, taking into account all aspects from concept to final evaluation
  • "people and place are acknowledged as important in the planning process;" -- actively discerning the organizational context in which learning will be applied, building a solid base of support with key stakeholders and negotiating amongst stakeholder groups

  • "differences among cultures are taken into account in the planning process;" -- sensitivity to conflicting needs, objectives, communication styles and agendas among individuals, teams and organizations that make up the the stakeholder groups in a learning program

  • "and practitioners find the model useful , and therefore a practical tool;" -- although iterative, and therefore not a step-by-step model, it is nonetheless practical in identifying and cross-referencing all the components of the planning process that must be attended to

Students were divided into groups of 6 in ANGEL, and the bulk of our online communications were conducted within our own teams, although other teams' discussions were also visible.

Evaluation was based on four discussions (responding to specific questions posted by the prof and satisfying specific criteria laid out in an evaluation rubric) plus three assignments.

Assignment 1 was an analysis of a previous program-planning experience vis-a-vis the Caffarella model. Below is a snippet from my assignment, in which I identify areas for improvement:

In hindsight (and from the perspective of the Interactive Model), I was an inexperienced program planner. First, I should have insisted on establishing clear and common stakeholder objectives early on (p. 27, Assumption 5). This, along with a solid transfer-of-learning plan (p. 26, Assumption 1), could have set a strong foundation to keep the project on track through later crises.

Accomplishing this would have required a willingness and ability to facilitate open dialogue among groups with competing interests (p. 72), a skill I will need to develop to be a more effective program planner.

Second, while I believed that I had a good understanding of the organizational structure and cultural context (p. 63), I did not do a good job of
identifying power dynamics and did not succeed in building alliances to move the project ahead when it hit roadblocks (p. 26, Assumption 3). Such a support base could have been solidified with regularly planned reporting opportunities to key people (p. 24).

Third, during difficult negotiations, I could have made better use of organizational belief statements and professional codes of ethics to defend the program (p. 51)...

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I should have consciously applied an iterative approach to program development (P. 26, Assumption 2). Rather than going through the project as a sequence of moments (or series of crises) to be passed through to reach the next stage, I could have used the data gathered at various stages of the development process to reopen previous phases improperly completed. Doing so would have allowed me opportunities to resolve the earlier issues, rather than simply dealing with their consequences.

Assignment 2 focused on program evaluation. Having participated in a fruitful webinar with Jim Kirkpatrick, I had already been doing some thinking about the current Kirkpatrick model of evaluation, which I then cross-referenced with Caffarella's interactive model to construct a needs-based program-planning process for my own context. Below is a snippet from my assignment:

In this assignment I sketch out a model for a needs-based program-planning process -- one that attempts to embed needs-assessment throughout the program planning, delivery and evaluation sequence.

The three phases in the sequence have been tied together in iterative cycles; needs are interrogated at each step within each phase, and data gathered at one step in any phase often feed back into what’s happening at other steps and phases.

Much thought has been put into integrating the learner and work context into the planning process, from developing program objectives through to program evaluation, and meta-cognitive and transfer-of-learning activities have been integrated into the delivery format. As the particular type of client for which this model was built is a language learner, much of the collaborative planning (if done in the target language) can itself serve as training.

The model was constructed based on two existing models:

  1. Caffarella’s Interactive Model of Program Planning, from which I take the functions to be fulfilled and tasks to be accomplished in program planning. Although I stay true to the spirit of the model, I have in some cases modified the language and structure to fit my context.

  2. Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Model of Evaluation, from which I take the steps in the program planning, delivery and evaluation sequence. I like the emphasis this model puts on post-training learning in the work context and its focus on behavior in the learning process. Again, I have modified some of the language and structure of the model to fit my context.
To these I have added a greater emphasis on the application context and formulated key questions to be answered by the planner at each step along the way.

The model has been written to be applicable to both individual and organizational clients, and need not be restricted to the field of language training. It proposes a process that can be launched from the moment a client walks in to produce a tailored program that focuses on negotiated objectives specific to learner needs and operational contexts.

Assignment 3
required working online with the team to plan and develop a full-blown program, applying Caffarella's model. After much negotiation, the team settled on the fictional context of a corporate training company requiring an educational program to familiarize their trainers with social networking tools, in preparation for a merger which would reposition the the company as global education provider. A snippet from the program developed follows:

Taking it Online: Introduction to social networking tools to expand the classroom

Participant Objectives - the learner as a result of this program shall be able to:

  1. Use common online social networking services with ease.
  2. Select appropriate social networking technologies for a range of teaching situations.
  3. Facilitate positive interaction among learners by creating safe and engaging online learning environments.
  4. Develop and publish multimedia content for online learning contexts.
  5. Feel comfortable with the online delivery format and conduct their existing courses using this medium.
Operational Objectives - this program aims to:
  1. Develop a training environment that simulates employees' eventual delivery format using online social networking services.
  2. Address the perception that new training approaches and technologies will cause unmanageable workloads for employees.
  3. Improve collaboration among employees and teams that are geographically dispersed.
  4. Strengthen internal perceptions of the company as a global quality education provider.
  5. Prepare employees to maximize the use of new technologies to assist in the shift to delivering services online.
  6. Identify and subscribe to all necessary online software services.
  7. Upgrade office computers and networks to latest generation to support online synchronous communication.

By the end, we had created a solid 15-week 'train the trainer' program, complete with weekly instructional plans, that could (with some tweaking) be applicable in each of our working contexts.

The online technologies we used as a team to collaborate on developing the program (GoogleGroups, GoogleDocs, Skype) were also integrated into the program itself, along with other technologies we decided would be useful (communities, bookmarking, wikis, blogs, podcasting, audio/video editors). At the end of the process, we reflected on the effectiveness of the technologies we had used. A snippet follows:

The program was developed in phases on the Google Doc, with agreed-upon structural content being inserted during the live Skype sessions and detailed content being filled in asynchronously by individual members according to collaboratively delegated tasks....The ability to comment on the work of others proved to be the most effective functionality of Google Docs, as members were able to solicit and integrate feedback over time. The overall effect was one of watching the same page evolve from planning document to rough draft to final product.

....The primary advantage provided by Skype during the planning process was the ability to have real-time group voice communications while working synchronously on the Google Doc. The Skype sessions allowed for more immediate team negotiation and decision-making processes, as compared to the more reflective and longer-term processes that emerged in the Google Doc environment.

Negotiation was a significant component of the planning process, and in the final project I was able to (a) apply the the negotiation tactics I had outlined for myself in Assignment 1, and (b) apply the program-planning process I had developed in Assignment 2 -- both with some degree of success.

As such, I found this an extremely useful course that allowed me to (i) reflect on my past experiences, (ii) develop strategies to make adjustments for future experiences and (iii) apply those strategies in a realistic context to build skills.

And all of this was accomplished at a distance via a simple approach -- a focus on the text (the Caffarella model), collaboration with peers and minimal intervention (apart from evaluation) on the part of the prof. Observing the course unfold was a learning experience in its own right.

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