Learning Systems

What is learning?

Learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying or reinforcing existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information, presented in different types of media.

Old School Learning Systems - BooksWhat is education?

We go to an educational establishment or website to learn. Education is the process of facilitating learning. Education is facilitated by providing students with programs and intervention either by a teacher or an automated online learning system presenting the student with information. Lastly, the educational system documents the results to analyze and determine whether the desired learning outcome was achieved.

Education systems provide:

  • A Goal
  • A Program
  • Learning Content
  • Documentation of Learning
  • Results and Reports

What is an outcome?

An outcome is simply the desired change in an individual’s knowledge, skills, attitude, values, preferences, or behavior.

Examples of outcomes include a student passing a course, a student learning the required ideas to be an engineer, a professional extending his career knowledge with new information, a worker learning to drive a forklift safely, a person changing their view on a social issue, and a customer buying a product.

What is involved in the process of learning in general?

The goal, or desired outcome

This can be very specific or general. In the case of colleges and universities the goal is to prepare an individual for a knowledge- or skill-based career, usually focused within a certain industry segment. Continuing education and training programs will have more specific goals accordingly. Continuing education targets individuals who already have a career, but desire to augment their particular knowledge and skill sets. Training programs aim to teach specific ideas or tasks to meet certain workplace requirements and guidelines.

There are few differences between marketing and learning in general. In fact, marketing is a simple form of education where individuals or organizations educated their target market to achieve a targeted outcome: “Buy our product.” Marketing usually has a fairly specific goal, while PR campaigns can have broader desired outcomes.

Educators and marketers alike first start by specifying the goal when planning their educational campaigns. Defining the desired outcome and identifying the audience are the foundation for future planning and success.

The plan, or program

The terms curriculum, track, program or campaign are all relatively equivalent. Generally, it’s the organized set of ideas that if an individual learns, will lead to the desired outcome.

A good example of this is how the teaching of mathematics is organized in school. Educational institutions build a student’s learning from a very basic level, then building on these lessons, present ever more complex ideas, leading to greater and greater mathematical understanding. So we learn our numbers, then how to combine these numbers in simple ways, then we connect these ideas to physical space and objects geometrically, and we learn how to derive unknown quantities and perform numerous operations until we can use mathematics to predict when the sun will expire!

The learning of mathematics follows a curriculum, which is a set of courses, each course usually involves several lessons, and each lesson involves one or more specific ideas. Continuing education and training program models often follow this pattern.

Public relations includes a campaign, which is a set of targeted information dispersals such as websites, magazine articles or television commercials. Each advertisement communicates one or more ideas or even feelings.

When a program is developed, and all the ideas necessary to achieve the desired outcome are outlined, then it is time to think about how the ideas will be communicated.

Intervention, the presentation of content

It is the intervention, the teaching, the showing of information, that creates the outcome.

Content is information, in the form of ideas, and can be presented in manifold ways. A teacher can lecture to a classroom of students and use any number of physical visual aids and experiments. Online learning systems can present pages, links, files, videos, images, interactive games, and all the multimedia variety of the digital age. Students can simply play, take field trips, and do activities or projects in teams. All of these means are used in combination to present the learner with the ideas necessary to achieve the desired outcome, in a organization consistent with the program.

The creation of learning is not undifferent from SEO and content design from a marketing perspective.  The content should be planned, be highly organized, and the desired outcome always in mind.

Documentation of learning interactions

The documentation of learning experiences and interactions is a crucial part of the educational process.

In automated, online systems, educational institutions need to document and verify that the learner was indeed confronted with the necessary information to achieve the desired outcome. Systems may track page views, link clicks, file downloads, time of a video watched, interactions with a quiz or test, learner course evaluations, and more.

With in-person scenarios such as classrooms or activities, attendance is tracked, and the teacher can make reports on the learner’s activities.

Testing

To test is to verify the transmission of information from one party to another.

To do a proper outcomes assessment, the learner should take pre-tests and post-tests. Pre-tests are preferably given to the learner before the intervention of content, to establish a baseline of the learner’s knowledge before the educational system began to facilitate learning on a subject. This data can be used as a metric to determine the success of a learning program.

Testing after the intervention of content, or post-tests, are the proof of learning. Each idea that the learner was confronted with is an opportunity for a documentation point.  If the learner was confronted with ideas and then was able to pass a test or tests which require the knowledge of that idea, then this is proof that the learning system effectively communicated its ideas.

Testing also provides the learner with proof that they successfully comprehended the ideas and are ready to move on in the program. Generally, the passing of one or more tests coincides with a grade, course credit, a certificate, or acknowledgment from the educational institution that the learner has indeed comprehended the ideas presented and achieved the desired outcome.

Further testing should also be considered which can augment the documentation and proof of educational institution effectiveness. Follow up testing on each idea 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months later will show that not only was the information comprehended initially, but that the information was retained in long-term memory, and can benefit the learner for their lifetime.

Lastly, portfolio work where the learner must apply the information learned by producing artifacts is another way to document and verify both the learner’s comprehension and the educational institution’s effectiveness.

For any individual learner or educational organization, the proof of work is in the documentation of results. This documentation of learning experiences and interactions is the necessary data for the creation of various outcome assessments.

Analysis / Reporting / Outcomes Assessment

An outcome assessment is the statement of results based on the analysis of all compiled reports determining whether the desired outcome was achieved and to what degree. The assessment can come in many forms with different audiences.  Assessments may summarize the results for achieving multiple desired outcomes simultaneously.

Both the learner and the educational institution need to analyze and understand the results of the program’s learning experience.  At a simple level, students need to know if they passed the course and are qualified to move on in the program.  Grades can help identify areas of strength and weakness. Learners may need documentation of learned knowledge to present to potential employers.

We are all aware of the basic report that a university provides after the graduation of a degree program. It’s called a transcript.  This report documents the results a student had in each course taken in the program.  This report is very general and although it documents a learner’s overall success in a program, the amount of specific information about what a learner actually can be proved to know is limited.

With the advent of the Internet and all of its associated technologies, it is possible to document the learning journey to a very discrete degree. It is possible to build systems which track a user’s progress towards the comprehension of every single idea, not just a grade for a course of ideas overall. Patterns can be recognized.

Learners and teachers can identify specific ideas that they are having difficulties understanding, and provide individual intervention towards the desired outcome.

By compiling all the results for all students in program teachers and educational institutions can identify ideas that most people are having trouble comprehending, and improve their content accordingly.  They can know what they are doing right and what they need to do better.

Similarly, marketing agencies track conversions to their goal, tracking page views, products purchased, and the characteristics of the users they convert. Tracking analysis of results to the particular campaigns, or campaign advertisements is used to further refine the campaign and its content.

 

Photo 1: Rainbow of books by john Nakamura Remy CC BY 2.0

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