“Organisations Cannot Treat One Particular Aspect of L&D in Isolation in the Future”: Prof. John Keller Gets Candid

January 2, 20178:04 am973 views

Understanding motivational design principles, to designing e-learning programs, measuring effectiveness of the learning initiatives for sustained employee engagement and exploring the impact of mobile-based learning on mentor-mentee relationships, Prof. John Keller, Professor Emeritus, Florida State University, Educational Psychology and Learning Systems gets candid with HR in Asia.

In this exclusive interview, he shares insights on the future of L&D and how organisations need to evolve, setting pace with technology to maximize learning effectiveness for different types of learners. Know more…

  • What are some of the challenges faced when designing an e-learning curriculum?

The challenges vary depending on what type of e-learning curriculum it is. If it is a self-directed, independent study curriculum the challenges are different from situations where there are student interactions, either synchronous and/or asynchronous.

The types of challenges that I have been confronted with, in my asynchronous online class included how to build a sense of community at the beginning of the course, how to design for small groups and large group activities, how to design the workload to be meaningful and reasonable, and how to manage the assessment events so that I did not bury myself in assignments to grade and so on.


Prof. John Keller, Professor Emeritus, Florida State University, Educational Psychology and Learning Systems

  • How should learning content be designed, developed and delivered to sustain employee engagement during the training process?

I believe that the two cardinal criteria with regards to design and development of learning content are variability and meaningfulness. When you discover a strategy that is appealing to your students, it is tempting to use it over and over again. However, the students will soon tire of it. You should map all of your tactics across the curriculum to ensure that you vary them.

There may be some strategies that will be successful more than once, especially if you use the same type of strategy for the same types of learning events, but variation is important. For example, crossword puzzle exercises probably should not be used more than once to assist learners in acquiring new concepts or vocabulary.

However, case study exercises can be used more than once because they are richer types of problem solving activity. It is also important to ensure that all of the learning activities are meaningful, which means do not use an activity just because it is novel or fun.

  • What are the motivational design principles and how can they be used when designing and developing e-learning programs?

Briefly, there are five fundamental principles which underlie motivation in learning environments. The motivation to learn is promoted when:

  1. A learner’s curiosity is aroused due to a perceived gap in current knowledge
  2. The knowledge to be learned is perceived to be meaningfully related to one’s goals
  3. Learners believe they can succeed in mastering the learning task
  4. Learners anticipate and experience satisfying outcomes to a learning task
  5. Learners utilize study habits and other self-management tactics to stay on the task

These can be incorporated into the curriculum by applying a systematic motivational design process that is similar to the instructional design process. At the LearnTech Asia Conference 2016, Professor John Keller spoke in detail about the motivational design process, which can also be applied in the design and implementation of virtually all types of delivery systems including online learning, blended learning, flipped learning and print-based self-instruction.

A recent news  further informed that, LEARNTech Asia has now been acquired by CloserStill Media for an undisclosed sum.

  • With content being increasingly made available on hand-held devices, how do you think learning in the mobile era would evolve in the years to come?

I have seen the instructional design process evolve through many, many different technologies during the 40+ years of my career. However, the fundamental principles of learning and motivation continue to remain the same in the mobile era, while becoming more sophisticated with continued growth in knowledge.

However, this will be adapted to the new hardware and learning conditions that cannot be predicted until they emerge. And, this continued flow of new devices and conditions will make this field of work very exciting.

  • As a result of this revolution in mobile learning, how do you think the mentor-mentee relationships would evolve or be impacted as a result of this dynamic shift?

Twenty-five years ago Gloria Gery, Barry Raybould, and others created a set of tools called an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS). This system could act as a virtual or actual mentor and coach by providing advice, tutorials, reference materials, links to experts, and feedback on performance at the moment is needed at a person’s workstation.

The workstations have changed from large mainframe computers to personal computers to laptops and now even Smartphones. Each transition has brought about new challenges to adapting the EPSS environment to the new device, but the challenges have been met and innovations are occurring continuously.

  • How can organisations identify and solve learner motivation problems?

First, the organisations have to learn to distinguish between things that their workers can do versus what they want to do. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between them, because if people don’t want to do a task it can appear that they lack relevant abilities or skills.

Being able to tell the difference requires an understanding of what the key motivational characteristics are, and having means of observing and measuring them, but this can be difficult to do.

The typical “performance appraisal” measures conducted by supervisors once a year are seldom, if ever adequate for the task. Supervisor’s ratings are often based on superficial impressions, instead of careful observation and data. Why? There are many reasons for the same, but one among them is that, it takes time to design and implement a performance appraisal system that is effective.

For example, many appraisal systems are based on generalised lists of characteristics, not just job specific ones.

Having a friendly attitude can contribute to a more pleasant work environment, but being resolute and uncompromising when you identify a problem are important qualities as well. Thus, the way you identify and solve motivational problems is by having adequate measures of the characteristics that are important and then producing training programs that are targeted to those qualities.

See: Agile Thinking for Business: How Can a New Mindset Enhance Engagement and Effectiveness?

  • Harnessing education technology to create new kinds of learning experiences – traditional learning, collaborative learning, Interactive learning, blended learning, continuous learning, self-directed learning and some more perhaps. Which type of learning experience according to you, works well in most cases to create higher employee engagement and why?

Any of these approaches can, in my opinion, be highly stimulating or deadly. It is not the method in itself, but whether the method matches the goals and conditions of the learning experience. However, having said that, I think it is more difficult to produce higher levels of employee engagement with self-directed learning and traditional learning (if by that you mean traditional classroom lecture-type classes) than with the others, that includes more opportunities for group interactions and problem solving activities.

  • Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be followed when designing training curriculum, how can organisations develop training programs to meet different learner types?

Extensive research by Cronbach & Suppes and others on the relationships between individual differences in aptitudes and different methods of instruction indicate that it was far more effective and efficient to design methods that had heterogeneous characteristics.

Even though people can be shown to have differences in their preferred learning styles, these differences are not usually significant compared to learning experiences that are well-designed from an instructional perspective and rich with multiple types of examples.

One of the few times I did notice a real difference was, when I presented the same workshop to a group of sales representatives and then to a group of engineers. The salesmen were content with generalities, while the engineers wanted more details. However, the knowledge requirements of these two groups were different. I learned that if I had done more detailed task and audience analyses I would have made differences in the design of the two training events.

Thus, even though there are differences in the two types of audiences, there is no need to consider the differences in learner types within the same audience.

  • How can element of fun be introduced in technical training programs, to ensure employees are wide awake on their seats and not sleepy at work?

I believe there are two ways to introduce the element of fun in technical training. The first is intrinsic, which is to include things such as gaming activities that are an integral part of the learning experience. There are many types of games ranging from simple crossword puzzles and contests to complex simulation games. Any of them can add fun, while improving the learning experience if they support the learning objectives.

The second method is extrinsic. If the technical training has components that are long and causing fatigue among learners, then giving more frequent breaks or even including time to play activities such as table-top shuffle board or ping pong can be energising.

  • Why is learning sometimes so difficult for employees especially those in their middle-ages? Explain the role of educational psychology in creating awareness and maximising effectiveness of the training programs?

At least one important aspect of this problem is, I believe, that the more experienced an employee gets, they have established ways of performing their jobs, which gives them a feeling of comfort and competence. When they have to learn something new, it is like becoming a baby again. They are likely to make mistakes or perform more slowly than normal, and this can be embarrassing, especially if they feel that they are losing face in front of their coworkers.

Thus, the older employees usually need more time and practice, while in the training environment to transition from the old behaviours to the new. This allows them time in a safe environment to unlearn the old familiar skills and habits, while learning the new ones.

This doesn’t mean that they are less capable, in fact they might be more capable, but it takes time to develop skill levels to avoid fear of embarrassment, while building upon and performing their new competencies.

  • What will be the major transformations witnessed in future for L&D?

Forty years ago L&D (learning and development) began as a massive shift from a philosophically based paradigm, as in adult learning approaches, to systems design approach. The adult learning principles that were valid and useful are still here, but they are embedded within the systems approach to problem solving and design.

More recently, L&D has evolved in workplace environments. There has been an expansion from the idea of training as an isolated, peripheral part of an organisation to an integral part of organisational development. I was fortunate enough to work for companies such as IBM, Citibank, and AT&T during this transition and it was exciting to see the growth in our field – as organisations began to consider training as a business process and not just a cost center.

This holistic perspective allows L&D to be integrated with other parts of the organisation that are concerned with things such as job design, human factors design, and employee benefits to mention a few.

This broader, integrated perspective is important for many reasons. For example, changes in workers are occurring along with changes in knowledge requirements and technology. People are more tech savvy from a younger age, which has implications on job design and training. And I believe these changes will continue into the future.

That is, organizations cannot treat one particular aspect of L&D in isolation, but to ensure healthy growth it must consider all of the interacting components within the HRD system and the organisation.

Also read: Brimming with Ideas, Innovation and Creativity: Candid Q&A with Reed Collins, Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong

Image credit: latestlearnerships.com

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