The Knowledge Management Team in Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) produces a variety of instructional content to meet the needs of those they’re working with. They provide some great eLearning resources at elearn.mit.edu, for those interested in creating eLearning for their department, lab or center (DLC). The team also develops instructional materials for clients in the community.
Doing whatever it takes
The team produces everything from online courses to in-person workshops.
“We do whatever it takes to help people do their jobs more effectively and improve performance,” says Jeff Pankin, an instructional designer. “It could be traditional eLearning; writing a Knowledge Base (KB) article, training manual, or quick card; or producing a video. What’s appropriate for the learner and the situation? We produce those materials.” The team takes a blended learning approach, which consists of both eLearning and traditional in-person training.
A multi-step process
The team’s first step in a project is always to do a needs analysis. Is training the correct way to solve the problem at hand? Is there another solution that will help the team accomplish its goals? “We want to find out why they may not be doing something correctly,” says Pankin.
Once the team identifies that there is a need for training, they gauge what kind of approach would be most appropriate. “It involves a lot of conversations and research with the project team, as well as end users, to find out what people are having trouble with,” says Sara Davies, an instructional designer.
After they identify the gaps, they choose the best course of action for training materials. “We are well versed in training solution ideas,” Davies says. “The needs analysis helps us look at what’s there and what might be needed. We don’t just create based on a request, we assess what training would be best for the specific project and put together a training plan.”
To create training materials, the team must first learn about the relevant product or service. Betzi Bateman, an instructional designer, likes to jump in and use the program, putting herself in the position of an end user. “I like to get into the system to figure out how it works,” says Bateman. “Putting yourself in the shoes of the end user is helpful to me. That also lets me figure out what might be confusing about the program.”
Context is key
What’s the difference between teaching adult professionals and teaching college students? Context. “The difference is that you have to make it relevant for them,” Bateman observes. “A student has to take certain courses for college, which is motivation in and of itself. With adult learners, you have to make it relevant to them and put yourself in their shoes. What do they need to know for their job?”
Giving adult learners context and incentive is the key to training success. “It’s important to get learners to understand why they’re in the room and how the training is going to benefit their work,” says Davies.
The earlier the better
The team should get involved in a project from the very beginning. “My goal is to integrate a member of the team into all IS&T community-facing projects and initiatives” explains Irina Cyr, the manager of the Knowledge Management Team. This gives them the most time to analyze the situation and produce meaningful training content.
“The earlier that we can be involved in a project, especially as it grows in size, the better assistance we can offer,” says Pankin. “The longer we have to get to know the product that we have to teach, the better we’ll be at creating materials to do the teaching.”
This is also true when working with clients developing their own eLearning. Liz Horrigan and Nate Rogers, from the Division of Comparative Medicine, value the team’s approach: “We have worked with the Knowledge Management Team over the last couple of years to develop a suite of ecourses to complement our in-person training. This work has allowed us to better streamline our training program and has created a richer learning experience for the trainees.”