Connie Malamed, AKA the eLearning Coach, is a learning experience design expert who helps people learn, build, and grow instructional design skills. She’s also an author, blogger, and podcast host, and she leads a membership community that offers both live and self-paced courses.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Jeff Cobb talks with return guest Connie about hybrid and blended learning, including the ambiguity of those terms. They also discuss the pandemic’s impact on learning designers, forgetting and retention, visual design, using community to support learning, personal networks as knowledge, and the importance of the learner’s journey.
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[00:00] – Intro
Starting a Community
[01:24] – How challenging was it to get the community you started off the ground?
It took a few years to get it going, but, once it got started, a lot of people came.
It’s always challenging to lead people. Connie says she learns as much from the community members as they learn from her. She’s learned a lot about how to run a community and recognizes she has a lot more to learn.
[02:11] – What tips can you share from about putting together that a community for learners to help others not stumble right out of the gate?
Have lots of conversations with your potential or current members to find out what they’re interested in.
Connie thought she was going to attract newbies, but it turns out she has people along the full range of instructional design knowledge and experience.
Members want to hang out with a group of like-minded people. The people who are new in her community love having the more experienced people on the calls because they can learn from them.
Her biggest tip is to be loose and flexible because you have no idea what’s coming.
Motivation in a Community
[03:29] – What do you think motivates people to participate in community? Do they have knowledge gaps, or are they looking for peer connection?
People come and go (Connie has an open-door policy). A motivator for a big chunk of her participants is that they want to enter the field, and they’re interested in courses that will help them do that. Others are interested in a particular topic, like design thinking, and they’ll take a course on that.
Connie has to keep a mix of offerings that are advanced and basic.
Because we are so technology-oriented and also somewhat isolated because of the pandemic, she’s found people like being in contact with others through the live courses. They can ask questions on the spot when they don’t understand something and can hear explanations from Connie and other learners.
The Pandemic’s Impact on E-learning
[05:25] – What’s your perspective on the overall impact of the pandemic on e-learning? What do you see as the positives and negatives of that big shift to online?
Online learning, virtual training, and virtual education got a giant boost from the pandemic. Folks who never new about instructional design before figured out that there are careers in that field, and people working in instructional design can help with making the shift to online more effective. The broader awareness of instructional design was a positive outcome of the pandemic.
As a negative, hundreds of thousands of teachers quit after facing challenges related to virtual teaching. That should be a wake-up call to administrators.
In terms of business, I just think that people realize that a certain amount of things can go online, and then there’s always that human touch that’s needed. So I think that leads us into the whole blended learning conversation, where people see technology alone is not the answer. And I 100-percent believe in that. Just because I’m the eLearning Coach doesn’t mean I think that’s the only way.Connie Malamed
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Hybrid Learning vs. Blended Learning
[09:09] – Do you make a distinction between hybrid learning and blended learning?
Connie doesn’t feel like she’s the authority to say what “blended learning” and “hybrid learning” mean definitively because those terms aren’t used consistently in the field.
For her, blended learning is about pulling together different approaches, the best approach for each performance objective, and combining those into a package or curriculum.
For her, blended learning doesn’t necessarily have to be a mix of online and offline. It’s about taking advantage of different media and methods to provide an effective and dynamic learning experience.
Connie interviewed an expert on blended learning on her podcast who said the biggest downfall is the mishmash that it can create and the confusion. In e-learning, we want the user interface to be transparent and intuitive to the learner. If you’re using 15 different types of learning, every time someone has to try a new approach, it requires cognitive resources.
We need to stop and think about how to put together a holistic plan that uses a variety of approaches that fit the performance-based objectives and are easy for learners to move among.
[13:34] – Face-to-face learning blended with online learning (e.g., a flipped classroom) is getting a lot of attention now. As someone who designs learning experiences, what do you see as the potential advantages and disadvantages of that kind of approach to blended learning?
Blending face-to-face learning with online learning is great if it works for the audience, the content, and the situation.
If the content is information only (and no practice), then letting adult learners skim a PDF file quickly rather than sit through 30 minutes of e-learning may be more effective and appropriate.
We should always think about the audience and keep in mind where they are coming from.
[16:16] – What trends and new developments are you paying attention to and excited about?
Connie is always looking at the research around the best way to help people learn.
Another trend she’s looking at is microlearning (not defined by a time limit per se but by meeting one meeting one small outcome). Microlearning has a lot of potential because people are busy.
She’s also paying attention to and learning more about blended learning. Since being isolated during the pandemic, we have became more aware of how much we need human contact.
A Learning Journey to Promote Retention
[17:27] – How do you think about promoting retention so that people don’t forget but retain what they’ve learned and are able to use it?
Retention is a topic Connie pays attention to, and she tries to borrow the best from user experience, design, marketing, and other overlapping fields and use that. One thing she has borrowed is the customer journey, and she brings it to the learner’s journey. We get people to retain by taking them on a learning journey.
It’s been proven for decades—I mean, decades—that the mind is not a recorder. And so we have to continually interact with people and take them on a learning journey that revisits what they’ve learned.Connie Malamed
You have to do follow-up if you want people to remember, and reflection can be an effective tool. She’s finding that discussion is one of the best ways to reflect because it provides the opportunity for you to hear people verbalize things that you may have been thinking but hadn’t put into words. There is a crowdsourcing effect that can come from discussion with and input from others.
After Webinars and conferences, to stave off forgetting, convene little communities of people to help each other retain and use what they learned.
It’s been proven that one learning intervention can’t work. Whenever she’s asked to teach a course, Connie tries to break it up into at least two days rather than one eight-hour day because brains are exhausted at the end of a single long day.
Community to Support Retention
[20:27] – Do you consciously try use community to support retention and to stop forgetting among the audience you’re serving?
Connie does use community to support retention. Once a year she teaches a big instructional design class. Learners have exercises to do and a forum where they can ask questions, and there are live online components where they can talk.
She’s found that if somebody really wants to learn, and they’re dedicated and motivated, they take advantage of everything in the course. Those who are just trying to slip by for whatever reason don’t get as much out of it. You can’t force people to learn and retain.
Jeff notes that, although we have a responsibility to design it right, people are only going to learn if they want to learn and if they engage with it.
[22:04] – Last time you were on the Leading Learning Podcast, we talked about your work on visual design. Has your thinking on visual design evolved as you’re looking at community, blended learning, or other developments in the past few years?
On the one hand, Connie thinks visual design is more important than ever. People are using infographics to teach.
On the other hand, she thinks there are more important things than visual design like understanding our cognitive architecture.
People can only process three to four things at one time. So I feel like, of course, they need to be integrated. But the very first thing you have to do is understand how people learn. And visual design, the visual aspect of our materials, is part of that, and aesthetics is part of that. But there’s a bigger whole there.Connie Malamed
People are becoming more aware of visual design and its role. Aesthetics is unbelievably important in because it makes your work more professional and believable. If people respect the materials they’re working with, they’ll be more motivated to learn. So visual design is important—but it’s not the key thing. The key thing is how people learn, apply, and transfer what you’re teaching.
Lifelong Learning Habits
[24:33] – Has the pandemic prompted you to change how you’re approaching your own lifelong learning?
Connie sees more value in community than ever before. She knows she can’t learn everything so her network of knowledge includes friends and acquaintances who know a lot about different fields.
She’s given up trying to become an expert in learning games because, if somebody has a question, she can ask gamification expert Karl Kapp. It’s made her life simpler to accept the fact that she can’t be an expert in all of the diverse areas.
Connie recommends picking the areas that fascinate you. She knows she’ll be fascinated with cognitive psychology and visual design forever so shes can zero in on those. She can go to her network and experts like Patti Shank and Julie Dirksen so she doesn’t need to know it all.
[27:00] – Wrap-up
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Episodes on Related Topics:
- Designing Smarter Learning Experiences with Connie Malamed
- Design for How People Learn with Julie Dirksen
- Diving into Deeper Learning with Dr. Patti Shank