Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Blooms Taxonomy: Not a Verbs-Based Framework

Original Image: Bloom's Taxonomy Verbs.png, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Like many new instructional designers, 20 years ago, I was introduced to the Bloom's taxonomy and with it, a verbs list

As far as I know, the original taxonomy by Bloom and Co. focused on assessment, providing examples of test items for each of the six categories. These test items explained certain behaviours (or verbs) associated with different objectives. The revised taxonomy by Anderson and Krathwohl focused on clarifying that educational objectives indicate that the student should be able to do something (verb) to or with something (noun)-a verb-noun relationship. The revised taxonomy included a table that had the list of cognitive processes, the alternative names (verbs) and some definition and examples. Neither of these publications, as far as I know, included a "verbs list" that we see in both higher-ed and workplace learning contexts.  

I am very careful about using or sharing verb lists just because the same word may take on a different meaning depending on the context. I am sure we have all seen the same verb appear under different categories in different lists available online! I don't think Bloom's taxonomy was meant to be a verbs-based framework. Such an approach relies on firm and consistent use of language, which is rather challenging. 

When mentoring new instructional designers, I have let go of the verbs list and focus on sharing the taxonomy, categories, and the cognitive processes and sub-processes involved in learning. I also stress the importance of the relationship between performance outcomes, learning activities, and assessments. 

The way I look at learning, I want to assume that all learning objectives are performance objectives and need to be about things we need to do (apply; apply not always meaning hands-on) and any enabling objectives can be simply tagged under performance objectives using any verbs.

So, yes, we need to understand, identify, define, categorize, etc. but ultimately, we want to be able to do something and apply our learning. 


Monday, August 10, 2020

The Present is Skills; The Future is Learning

Photo by Steve Buissinne from StockSnap

New Jobs - New Skills

Nothing can highlight the importance of skills more than a pandemic can! During COVID-19, we have had a high demand for "Contact Tracers". These are people who are hired to trace and track the spread of infection by interviewing people. Although contact tracers have been around for decades, COVID has instantly created up to 100,000 new jobs for contact tracers across the United States. As part of New York's contact tracer pilot program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in April that he will hire at least 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 individuals in regions across the state. In total, the program is expected to include between 6,400 and 17,000 tracers statewide. Here, in BC, Canada, in just the Vancouver Coastal Health region, a 12-person team of contact tracers that existed before COVID-19 ballooned to more than 270 people. In the UK, the Government is recruiting 25,000 contact tracers to deliver its new test, track and trace strategy. 

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with Bloomberg Philanthropies, launched a free online course “COVID-19 Contact Tracing” on May 11 to help train a large national workforce of contact tracers as some states and cities in US made a move to reopen. 

Gurley, who serves as a lead instructor for the online course given by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, made it clear that in order to take the course, people do not need a background in infectious disease or public health. Infact, she emphasized that the course was designed so that anyone with at least a high school education will be able to follow it.

Skills Versus Degrees

International Health associate Tashrik Ahmed, PhD ’19, is part of the Bloomberg School group who developed the Coursera curriculum that teaches the fundamentals of contact tracing. When asked, "What does it take to be a successful contact tracer?" this was his response:

"You don't need to be a formally trained epidemiologist by any stretch of the imagination. In addition to some basic knowledge of how the disease is transmitted, what is really needed is the ability to understand and put yourself in that person's shoes, to be able to communicate with them and have them open up. 

Active listening is number one. That is the paramount skill for a contact tracer, and curiosity is the second one. You have to be curious, you have to probe. You can't take the answers you're given at face value. Meticulousness is the third key skill. Someone who is very detail-oriented is a huge value to contact tracing.

A best practice is to have a contact tracer that's as close as possible to the community they’re interacting with. If the outbreak is among a Hispanic population, you should get contact tracers from that community. As part of the probing process, the contact tracer needs to understand cultures to ask the right questions. For example, right now is Ramadan. A culturally-aware contact tracer would be more likely to think to ask about iftar and fasting and going to prayer at night. A tracer without an understanding of the community can’t be expected to know that. You get more responsiveness from the people you're talking to if they're dealing with someone who is from their community and understands their context."

Given the above information about the skills needed for contact tracing, what "degree requirement" would one establish for such a job? Isn't it more about the core skills of information gathering, communication and documentation layered with empathy and understanding of cultural context?

Roger Shapiro, a professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health says, "It takes some training, but it's not impossible to train almost anybody with reasonable social skills, who can work off a script, begin a conversation with people, convey a few key messages and collect data."

The Need for Reskilling

A McKinsey study found that 62 per cent of executives believe they’ll “need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023”. 

This article by McKinsey highlights, how "Even before COVID-19 emerged, the world of stable lifetime employment had faded in the rearview mirror, replaced by the expectation that both executives and employees must continually refresh their skills."

And that,
"The pandemic has only heightened the urgency of doubling down on skill building, either to keep up with the speed of transformation now underway or to manage the particulars of working in new ways." 

Move to Skills-Based Hiring

I largely work in the areas of skills and competence development, competence assessment and competency-based Recognition of Prior Learning frameworks. In all these sectors, skills and competencies are the most important currency! In addition, recognition of all types of learning including formal, non formal and informal learning is critical. 

When businesses and organizations view a degree as a blanket qualification for all types of skills - technical and interpersonal - they are often shocked by the lack of real workplace skills. But transforming to skills-based hiring is not simple. Although skills are the currency of the future of work, many organizations haven't adapted their recruitment and talent development strategies to move towards skills-based hiring. Why? It requires significant upfront effort and investment especially around validating existing skills. It requires changes not only at a system level but also at a cultural level. 

To move towards skills-based hiring, we need to ask ourselves key questions like:
  • Are all current roles and job descriptions based on skills and competencies? 
  • Do we know the existing skills that our employees possess?
  • Do the skills and competencies tie back to the business needs? 
  • Can we effectively anticipate future skill requirements?
  • Do the learning and development efforts help bridge the gaps in these skills and competencies to meet the business needs?
Skills-based hiring and continuous learning can enable organizations and countries to better respond to some of the challenges that we are likely to face in a post-pandemic society. Skills-based hiring can also increase the entry pool and enhance our ability to hire and retain a more diverse talent. This calls for a paradigm shift, not only within organizations but in education and training systems where lifelong learning and adaptability are valued throughout the educational journey. 

A 2016 World Economic Forum report found that “In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.” The increase demand for contact tracers around the world is one such example. So are the new positions related to health and safety administration, such as greeters at malls, offices and construction sites who screen people for COVID symptoms as they arrive. There are many other industries including healthcare, manufacturing and Information Technology including AI and machine learning that are doing well during COVID and are increasingly seeking skilled workers. 

With increased remote work, rise of gig-based economies, digital transformation and automation, the landscape of work has already started to change in a post COVID world. If the only thing that's constant is change, skills are the currency that can help us survive in the present and continuous learning is the mindset that can help us thrive in the future.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Reimagining the Future Post COVID

Several weeks ago, I participated in an insightful webinar where Josh Bersin described the idea of a 'Back-to-work' Playbook. In his post, Josh describes how companies have responded to COVID-19 in three phases: React, Respond and Return (see exhibit).

Josh describes the React stage as "coming to grips with the new reality". The shutdown of businesses and work was an example of the React stage. The Respond stage is all about "adjusting business practices to the new reality" and the shift from face-to-face learning to online learning is an example of this second stage. The Return stage is about "business transformation" and many businesses are currently in this stage where they are thinking about making big changes to their business operations and processes.

The Safe Work Playbook example from Lear Corporation (detailed in his post) does a fantastic job of putting things into perspective. This back-to-work checklist by Josh Bersin Academy does a good job of supporting the 'Return' phase.

While it is important to focus on 'back-to-work', it is equally important to understand from organizations and people that never left work! Needless to say, all essential services continued to be available and manufacturers continued production. But they had to be the first ones to react, respond and return. Some innovated to on-demand manufacturing and others pivoted very quickly to pandemic-related manufacturing. The 3-D printing industry was one of the early sectors to respond to the needs of increased demand for PPE for nurses and doctors. So, were schools and universities that shifted to emergency remote teaching. And there are learnings to be had from those early innovations.

Now that some countries and companies are beginning to see themselves in the Return stage, it is perhaps time to think about to the next step in this process?

In an article in McKinsey & Company, the writers highlight how industries need to think and act across five horizons. On this path, beyond Return, there is Reimagination and Reform (see exhibit).

"To rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, industries must undertake a journey that begins with resolve and ends with fundamental reform."

In March 2020, Greta Thunberg tweeted this:

Add caption

As we move forward, it is time to think about some of the issues and crises that we were suffering through in the days of what we called as normal. As we make our way forward, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that there is no going back. 

In terms of the workplace, we have seen how remote work is suddenly 'normal' after years of it being an exception or a challenge to the norm. In the same light, schools and traditional brick and mortar universities rapidly shifted to distance learning where making this technology leap was their greatest challenge and a potential roadblock for growth just a few months ago.  The 'future of work' as we knew it is here and it is now. This is the time to let go of the shackles of our minds and part with habits, systems and processes that haven't worked. 

We are all defining our new normal as individuals, companies, countries and the world. This is the time when we need to think out of the box and take the leap beyond what we know to what we can imagine or perhaps that what we cannot even imagine. Where is that leap of imagination taking you?