Analytical Thinking

I have characteristically been known as a a bit of a late bloomer.  Some may call it a nature of procrastination.   I know I simply work better under pressure.  Whichever viewpoint is held, the fact of the matter is that the true synthesis of all my GMU studies only came together in late 2010 after completing all my coursework and, even then, only after taking the time for some significant reflection in light of recent career considerations.  In light of the latter, I went so far as to audit (i.e., "sit in on") EDUC 998 - Dissertation Proposal in the Fall of 2010 in anticipation of possibly not being in the local area for the entire Spring 2011 semester.  In doing so, I was able to observe, comment, and reflect upon the progress of my peers who are on the same journey, but just slightly further down the path.  This experience also provided me a fairly clear perspective as to what might be expected of Dissertation Proposal preparation and defense.  In all, I am confident that my progress through the program thus far has provided me with the competencies and focus to carry out a worthwhile piece of research.

This section of my Ph.D. Portfolio serves to tie EVERYTHING together into a single cohesive direction which defines my identity as a scholar-practitioner and also forms the basis of a dissertation.

In a nutshell, my research interests focus on:

(a) Instructional Systems Design (ISD) as both the art and science of creating learning experiences which improve the human performance of their intended audience,
(b) Adult Learning Theory as a educational philosophy or foundation upon which ISD and the learning experiences therein created can be based,
(c) The Federal government as an under-represented population in educational research,
(d) Federally-Mandated Training as a content area within the Federal government which receives a great deal of focus, and
(e) The use of online and/or computer-based methods by which all of the above is combined and realized.

To wit, the (anticipated) purpose of my dissertation is to investigate whether Adult Learning Theory principles are incorporated into the instructional design of computer-based, mandatory training for Federal government employees.

This is a dissertation intended to understand the phenomenon.  From a personal perspective, this interest stems deeply from my previous post-secondary studies in adult education and my present professional career path which focuses on managing the effective use of instructional technologies.

The following statements outline a number of key premises which have led me to where I presently am regarding this investigation:
  • Premise One: It is my primary assumption that, if a theoretically-sound approach to training is not prevalent (i.e., evident) in creating performance interventions for the intended audience, then we are committing a most serious case of learner abuse.  In the case of this occurrence with respect to the Federal government employee, I believe it to be an abuse which truly affects the health of our Nation.  As a patriot, I see it as my duty to contribute positively towards ending any such "injustice."
    • Premise Two: In support of Premise One, I further assert that ALT is valid as a foundational learning theory which has explicit value in this specific application - training the Federal government employee.  In support of this, my first intention in dissertation will be to address the historicity of ALT as a valid educational philosophy or platform upon which to stand, as well as presenting a treatise regarding its current naysayers (if there are any still).
  • Premise Three: My secondary assumption is that, regardless of what definition may appeal to your senses, the average Federal government employee can be considered an adult.  I know that this assumption may be more difficult to defend than the first, but I will my very best (that's a joke).  As a learning organization, the Federal government is the Nation's largest employer with roughly 2 million civilian employees (and this doesn't include the Postal Service or the Uniformed Military!).
  • Conclusion: Finally, I assert that it will take a courageous act of educational leadership to introduce radical new methods of learning in the Public Sector, but that technology and its advance and adoption shows no sign of slowing and that technology now offers tremendous potential in creating robust learning experiences tailored specifically to each individual.  It is through the appropriate use of technology that I believe approaches which integrate ALT into the training of Federal employees is now truly available.
It is the intersection of these assumptions which I intend to investigate through, likely, a mixed-methods approach to educational research.  But first, I will describe a model which depicts how ALT, Instructional Systems Design (ISD), and Human Performance Improvement (HPI) all cooperate to present a theoretically-informed approach to the design, development, implementation and evaluation (i.e., the ISD) of learning activities for the Federal worker.

Regarding ISD, I believe there is little argument that the Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation (ADDIE) model "reigns supreme" (to use an Iron Chef moniker).  My experience in leading and managing complex ISD efforts for online learning in the Federal government has often led me to conclude that we do NOT, often enough, take into account (i.e., Analyze) the self-evident developmental status of our audience, specifically in regards to their individualization as, in most cases, mature adults.

As a result, I have found that much of the D, D, I, and E of training interventions for this population often fails to consider the (a) learner's self-concept, (b) experience, (c) readiness to learn, and (d) perspective towards learning.  I mention these four considerations specifically, as explained below.

Regarding ALT, I prefer the simplicity of Malcolm S. Knowles' original presentation of the theory in 1968 as possessing four key assumptions about the adult learner:

1.      As a person matures, his or her self-concept moves from that of a dependent personality to one of a self-directing (independent) human being.

2.      An adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning.

3.      The readiness of an adult to learn is closely related to the developmental tasks of his or her social role.  Learning serves as either a foundation for more learning later or to solve a problem at hand.

4.      There is a change in time perspective as people mature – from future application of knowledge to immediacy of application.  Thus, an adult is more problem centered than subject centered in learning. (as cited in Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 84)

Finally, regarding HPI, I maintain that, whether due to the sequencing now available in SCORM 2004 4th Edition or other means, individualization of learning experiences is possible through existing technologies and, even more certainly, technologies to come.  Being able to directly address the context of a single learner's needs is within our grasp, even when charged with the mass-production of online content for an audience of 218,000 (e.g., the latest reported population of the DHS).  In speaking of context, I am specifically addressing the Knowledge, Skills, and/or Attitudes (KSAs) which have been identified as objectives to be met through any proposed intervention.

Whereas I have never, even with a Master of Arts in the subject, seen a graphic representation of how Knowles' four assumptions of ALT might inter-relate, I have recently coupled my academic efforts, my professional competence, and strong reflection to arrive at the following:

1. Consider Experience (#2 above) as the ordinate of a two-dimension Cartesian coordinate system.  Naturally, the learner with greater self-perceived or real experience is "higher" along this axis.
2. Consider Application (#4 above) as the abscissa of a two-dimension Cartesian coordinate system.  Closer to the origin is the learner whose perspective of applying the KSAs being attained through various interventions or processes as anticipated for future application.  Whereas the learner who holds the perspective of applying the KSAs being attained for immediate application is further outward along this axis.
3. Consider assumptions regarding Dependence versus Independence (#1 above) and Foundational versus Problem-Solving (#3 above) as elements of the specific context in which the learner finds themselves.  In the two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, these two assumptions of the adult learner either expand away or contract towards the origin depending upon the Experience level of and the Application of KSAs anticipated of the learner.

For my graphic representation of this, please access my drawing here.

Where technology-enabled learning experiences can aid in this model is by providing accelerated Experience(s) and/or directly addressing the Application required of the learner.

More specifically, online learning experiences for the Federal government employee which are designed, developed, and implemented with the primary assumptions of Adult Learning Theory in mind are better optimized for their intended audience.

I have every reason to believe that we can add focus to how we design, develop, implement and evaluate learning experiences for the Federal government employee if we approach them with the value gained by addressing (analyzing) our intended outcomes in terms of Malcolm S. Knowles.

As an example, please come away with me back to a time immemorial when I was flying Coast Guard helicopters....

Imagine, if you will, the brute fact that certain maneuvers in these $17M (minimum) contraptions have been shown to simply be to risky to life, limb, and the Coast Guard's budget to be accomplished in the actual aircraft, but were much more safely carried out via practice in a 6 degree-of-freedom (6DOF), full-motion, full-visual simulator.

Imagine that this experience exceeds any E-Ticket experience you've ever enjoyed (?) at a theme park and the maneuvers carried out in this simulator, at a minimum, are designed to illicit specific behaviors which may be linked back to particular KSAs which are relevant to flying helicopters.

Now consider that these KSAs which had to be demonstrated had been empirically shown as necessary to remain proficient and certified in piloting of one of these Sikorsky HH-60Js.

It was ONLY through simulation (i.e., a technology-enabled learning experience), that my Experience(s) gained through immediate Application of KSAs in Problem-Solving which led to my Independence (i.e., a lack of dependence on an instructor or other outside resources) in being able to successfully operate one of those crazy whirlybirds.

What if this scenario could be the norm for the Federal government employee seeking to perform their role in an improved fashion?

What if technology afforded the Federal worker with experiences tailored to their context (i.e., application of KSAs in addressing a very real problem) which allowed them to perform effectively as an individual contributor towards a greater organizational goal?

This vision is what I hold of a theoretically-informed approach to training our Nation's adult workforce.  It is also the vision I hold of how education in general may be reformed in order to build self-directed and motivated learners in our K-12 and post-secondary school system.  It is the vision for a promising future for education is the key which unlocks many doors.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jay Allen,
Dec 27, 2010, 8:32 AM
Jay Allen,
Dec 27, 2010, 8:31 AM