The Importance of Asking WHY
We ask the why question before determining the appropriate content and learning objectives.
– Jane Vella
In the online training world, there are interesting obstacles to designing for a learning-centered event. Some of these include, how to incorporate interactive dialogue, affirmations, feedback, and group work. These challenges seem to work themselves out to some extent, and can be managed, handled and even supported by building a good design. However, some training content is easier to navigate and deliver than others in an online format.
While designing for an online Early Childhood professional development course in positive interactions between caregiver and child, I was a little stumped in how to deliver content on interactions in an asynchronistic format– or self-paced learning setting. The challenge has always been how to incorporate Dialogue Education into this seemingly impersonal environment, but this posed further challenges for me. Though the instructional designer on my team assured me that we could make it work, I lacked complete confidence.
Historically, this course has been offered as a face-to-face learning event in which participants are interactive and use dialogue and group work to meet achievement-based objectives. I had facilitated this training before, but it was designed years ago by another team. Would it be possible to simply recreate the face-to-face training into a virtual setting? I started looking at the design and considered how it could be converted. In doing so I had simply skipped ahead in designing, only to find that the face-to-face design was not working and would not work in an online format. So, what was the point of this training? What was the underlying cause for this information? What was the content that I needed to use, and what could be left behind?
Having just returned from the Advanced Design and Evaluation retreat with GLP, I remembered a learning task around the need for evidenced-based rationale or reasoning in our designs to support accountability and transfer of “information.” One of the accountability principles that Kurt Levin speaks of is, “It takes more than just firsthand experience to generate valid knowledge.” I could name the skills or knowledge needed to improve interactions between caregivers and children but was that valid enough? I couldn’t really answer beyond my own firsthand understanding of this training. I began to wonder, where had the previous team taken their content from?
So, I went back to the beginning, and began by really slowing down my design process. Initial questions were: Who was going to participate in this online learning course; who was going to establish or verify that the learning event had occurred, and who was recommending or requiring this learning event for the participants? In my discovery, I could name that this course is recommended for all early childhood educators and required for educators in certain early childhood programs participating in a Tiered Quality Rating System. Naturally, I asked why.
The Why? What is the rationale or reasoning for this recommendation or requirement? This question was a good place to really pause and consider the skill, knowledge or attitude shift that a learner would be making in this course. Was my assumption correct? Our state system sees positive interactions and experiences between caregivers/ educators and children as an indicator of quality early childcare. Our state views quality early childhood education as an important foundation for all children. Our state is constantly striving for quality improvements that support the families and children in our communities. Again, in this discovery, I could name a general reason, but still could not define “quality” or how this would be measured, observed or recognized; but because I could not name the evidence that defined quality, I was not done establishing a solid rationale.
I began to research the definition of “positive interactions.” I started by referring to a book the face-to-face course is built on and reviewed the research the authors started with themselves. This was the first time I had spent so much time with the content. It was fascinating. I ended up with 5 evidence-based sources for this training that began to highlight what the rationale and reason was in having “positive interactions” in early childhood settings – and the path became clearer: two articles, two assessment tools and a statistical data that looked at educator/ child interactions over the course of a day. This step took time, but it was well worth the stop.
Jane Vella speaks to this “Getting an honest answer to the Why Question controls your response to all the design questions that follow.” (On Teaching and Learning, pp 33-34) This statement makes so much sense now. I feel like I was able to hone in on specific information that builds skills and knowledge, simply based on the research I uncovered by asking Why. This rationale was where I started my accountability to the learner through this design. What I was presenting was built on solid evidence; there is honesty in the design.
The research named the skills and provided the knowledge base for quality interactions with children, and the data supported the need for all educators to adapt this skill set into their practice. The intended change came into view, based on the research and the data. I was able to move quickly through the rest of the steps for this design, naming content that was applicable to a self-paced learner but that still would achieve the same outcomes as the face-to-face learner.
What has this left me with? When including this evidence-based research and data to establish Why, I had a sturdier foundation to build upon; a stronger footing to establish achievement-based outcomes and could show how verifiable tasks could meet the intended change. Both in the learning event, and in the transfer learning events to follow; each helping to support and sustain quality practices in early childcare.
What has your journey been like when moving a face-to-face course to the virtual space, or from an online course to an in-person setting?
Jesica Radaelli-Nida (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Program Specialist UNM Early Childhood Service Center.