One of the biggest challenges in training is identifying your students’ knowledge gaps and having a strategy for dealing with them.
Generally, you want to identify certain performance goals for your trainees. That sets the target, and then after your intervention, you will want to test to see that those goals have been achieved.
Much has been written about defining performance goals and filling the gaps in training. This idea was introduced by Dr. Tom F. Gilbert, the father of Performance Engineering, in the 70s. But the process of analyzing content and determining the training goals still relies heavily on the skills and intuition of the instructional designer.
Instructional designers are only human, and we aren’t always too good at anticipating our students’ needs. This may not seem so critical an issue in a classroom environment. After all, the teacher is there to answer any questions. But in an online asynchronous environment, it becomes extremely critical and will affect the online class’s drop out rate.
What you want in developing your curriculum is to have a clear plan for what needs to be taught to achieve mastery.
The first problem to solve is what is the unit of measurement for knowledge? Currently, instructional designers define the goals by the target behaviors that students are expected to achieve. The tests ask students to perform these behaviors. The instruction is supposed to prepare students for these tests but there is no explicit connection between the instruction and the test. If there were, all students would achieve mastery, instead, there is a gap between what they are taught and how they perform. Let’s review what knowledge is and how we can tighten the connection between teaching and results.
Knowledge is a combination of information and problem-solving strategies. Raw information alone is not knowledge, although you do need information as a basis to solve any problem. What is Knowledge made of? It’s made of concepts.
A concept is an idea. Concepts are the basic building blocks of knowledge. Concepts are built out of other concepts. The concepts that make up another concept are prerequisites to the concept. So, if you break down a concept into sub-concepts, you automatically know which concepts to teach for the student to master the target concept!
You can take these concepts that you want to teach and turn it into a map. This map looks like a mind map or a knowledge map, but unlike these other maps, it has a very strict structure. The links between nodes have only one relationship. It is “concept A is a prerequisite to concept B.” This map, which we call a Knowledge Matrix™, shows every concept the student needs to understand to master this knowledge domain (or group of concepts). This knowledge domain can be as simple as how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or as complex as how to build a rocket engine!
In this Knowledge Matrix™ (above) you can see that the concept Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich is made up of the concepts Jelly, Peanut Butter and Sandwich. These are prerequisite concepts to Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich.
Once you have developed your Knowledge Matrix you can then focus on how to teach each concept.
We will explore that in a future post.