Friday, July 31, 2009

Stop Hovering over Learners

Helicopter Parents: Image courtesy The Telegraph, UK

Helicopter parents, as we know, hover over kids, micromanaging every aspect of their lives.

Unfortunately, like many other well-meaning actions, helicoptering can deliver more harm than good. It has been argued that too much hovering sometimes backfires, because kids learn their values backwards: they feel entitled to things that they must earn, they lack empathy where it is needed.

How does a parent instill a sense of personal responsibility in children? What will help teens develop decision-making skills? One school of thought says, stop hovering. Don't go nuts with worry.

Excessive hovering is not unique to parenting. Such excesses have their parallels in the learning world.

Take e-learning design, for example. Often we design courses that spoon-feed learners. When we do everything for learners, they end up thinking they in fact cannot do it themselves. Excessive guidance and tracking can actually shut down communication, depriving us of a key goal of interactivity.

Are you a helicopter instructional designer? Take this simple quiz.

  1. I don't always provide immediate feedback - sometimes I delay it so the learner can observe the consequences of mistakes. (Yes/No)

  2. My learners have a choice to navigate a course relatively freely - they can jump ahead or drop several levels back based on how they are doing. (Yes/No)

  3. I allow some means for learners to self-assess, and reflect on their accomplishments (Yes/No)

  4. My games and simulations carry an element of risk to learners, so they must weigh their decisions carefully (Yes/no)

  5. I use pre-test or other methods to establish a learner's current level and maintain an element of stretch throughout the course. (Yes/No)

  6. Assessments I design have multi-level hints: I do not give it all away at once. (Yes/No)

  7. I mix informal learning experiences in the structured learning path. (Yes/no)

Please grade yourself. Here is a suggested grading scheme based on the number of affirmative replies:

6-7: The chopper has landed. Your learners will breathe easy.

4-5: The Hovering Bird. We know you enjoy flying, but with some persuasion, you can land the helicopter.

2-3: The Black Hawk. You have the approach of a military helicopter. The target will never be out of sight. At times you hover at close range.

0-1: The Lawnmower. You believe in mowing down the learner's path clean of all obstacles.