Monday, June 27, 2011

Business Skills Training

I'm working on a fascinating project right now -- development of business skills training for Deaf professionals. Teaching judgment and decision making is a complex undertaking. I have even heard people in the training profession suggest that it can't be done. Of course, they are confusing something that is difficult with something that is impossible. Teaching judgment making is very hard, not impossible, though. Thank goodness for that, or we would have even fewer people in this world making good decisions!

This training will have three parts:
  • Self-paced tutorials;
  • Group instruction, through webinars or something similar;
  • One-on-one mentoring.
Self-paced tutorials I think can be effective for some kinds of content -- what has been described as "knowledge needed" or "What do I need to know before I can start to learn how-to do something." Defining terms, giving students facts, describing the structure or process of something are all types of content where a self-paced tutorial comes in handy. It will give the student the opportunity to learn something at the speed he finds most comfortable. I anticipate that learning English vocabulary and specialized terminology will be important to Deaf professionals, and self-pace tutorials are the best way to learn this kind of content.

My concept for this training is something like the way they doing over at e-Cornell. There, if you buy an online course,  you only have access to it for a period of time. That is because they have real live teachers at the other end of the wire. Contrast this to Element K's product, which is 100% online and without the intervention of humans. I think the e-Cornell approach is preferable, even though I worked at Element K and lead their early efforts at business skills development.

Much of what is currently available in the realm of self-paced tutorials is incredibly boring and ineffective. So whatever we develop has to be entirely new, interesting, engaging, and effective. We are experimenting with using the features of ASL to guide our graphical interface development. The hope is that signing individuals will find that the content "works" for them, and is more effective and engaging because of that.

Self-paced tutorials fall very flat when it comes to teaching how to make judgments, and making judgments is what business skills is all about. Why won't a self-paced tutorial do the job? Because when learning to make judgments, we need subtle corrections from experts. Self-paced tutorials just can't distinguish between almost, almost right and almost right. It can only say right or wrong. The kind of gross distinctions that self-paced tutorials make is not fine enough to really help people understand how to change, if they aren't dead on immediately. To do that we need feedback from a live person, and in my plan, we will do this in a group instruction setting, such as a webinar.

But new judgment makers need even more feedback than that -- they need the input from a coach or mentor that is focusing just on them, and on their unique situation. So I am proposing a time-bound engagement between learner and mentor, where the mentor will give focused feedback and encouragement to a Deaf professional. Of course, it would be optimal if these coaches were themselves Deaf, but that might be a challenge in the beginning. But ultimately that is what we will want -- people who themselves have been successful in advancing their careers serving as mentors and coaches.


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