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Lesson 5 - Learner and Context Analysis

Lesson 5 Readings
  • Read Chapter 5, Analyzing Learners and Contexts, from Dick and Carey.

Background Information

By now you've assessed your needs to determine the skills and knowledge you want your learners to acquire. From this came a goal statement, and after that you analyzed that goal to identify substeps, subordinate skills, and entry behaviors. The next thing we want to look at is the learners themselves, the context in which learning will take place, and the context in which the learners will eventually use their new skills. This is done by conducting both a Learner Analysis and a Context Analysis. There are three things you want to accomplish by doing this. First, you want to describe the characteristics of your target population. Then you want to describe the contextual characteristics of eventual setting where the learners will use their new skills. This could be a classroom setting, a work setting, or the real world. Finally, you want to describe the contextual characteristics of the setting where the actual instruction will take place.

If you look at the graphical representation of the Dick and Carey model, you will see that this step is carried out at the same time as the Instructional Analysis. Even though the steps are covered in successive chapters, they can be undertaken simultaneously or in reverse order without compromising any of the results. In the ASSURE model, the learner analysis is part of the first step (Analyze Learners).

This all seems like a lot of analysis, doesn't it? But remember, at this point we're still in the design stages. Before any great product is created, there must be an extensive design process. Frank Lloyd Wright didn't just go out and build Fallingwater, he designed it on paper first. By the time the first stone was laid, the genius of the house had already been realized in the design. Did the Egyptians just wake up one day and decide to build the great pyramids? No, they had to plan the entire process first, and we still don't know for sure how they did it! How's that for a design feat?

Analyzing the Learners

Unfortunately, in many cases instruction is created without any consideration being given to who the learners are on the receiving end. If you remember, one of the main focuses of Instructional Technology is the idea of individualized learning. In order for there to be a chance of that happening, it's important to know who your learners are. Remember that we are not teaching to groups, but to groups of individuals. In addition, by knowing a little bit about your learners you can better arrange the environment to increase the probability of individual student learning. There are many factors that affect how a person learns from a particular learning environment. Here are a few:

  • Cognitive abilities of the learner.
  • Previous experiences of the learner.
  • Motivation.
  • Personal learning style.
  • Clarity of the message.
  • Interaction with the learning environment.

There are ongoing studies in our field to determine which variables affect learning the most, and how we might use that information to improve individual learning experiences.

Chapter 5 in the Dick and Carey book describes the process of analyzing the learners and identifies a set of learner characteristics that have been shown to affect learning. Therefore, in addition to general characteristics such as age, grade level, and topic being studied, you should be able to describe your learners in terms of these characteristics:

  • Entry Behaviors - These are skills associated with learning the goal that must already be mastered. What should learners already know how to do in order to be successful with the new instruction? In the last lesson you determined specific entry behaviors related to your goal, but there may also be some general entry behaviors that were overlooked in the instructional analysis yet would be useful to mention at this point. For example, the ability to read, or the ability to perform basic math functions.

  • Prior Knowledge of the Topic Area - What must learners already know about the topic?

  • Attitudes Toward Content and Potential Delivery System - What are the learners' impressions and attitudes about a topic and how it might be delivered? In other words, will they have any preconceived notions about the topic or the delivery system?

  • Academic Motivation - How motivated are learners to learn the topic, and how much is it likely to interest them? You might want to ask potential learners these questions:
    • How relevant is the instructional goal to you?
    • What aspects of the goal interest you most?
    • How confident are you that you could successfully perform the goal?
    • How satisfying would it be to you to be able to perform the goal?

  • Educational and Ability Levels - What are the achievement and general ability levels of the learners? This helps determine the kinds of instructional experiences they may have had and their ability to cope with new and different approaches to instruction.

  • General Learning Preferences - What types of learning approaches do the learners prefer? For example, lecture, seminar, case study, small-group, or web-based?

  • Attitudes Toward Training Organization - How do the learners feel about the organization providing the training? Do they have a positive view of management and peers, or are they cynical about leadership? With teachers, you may already know your students' attitudes about school, but keep in mind that some students actually like school, while others may hate it. It's important to know which kind of students you will be interacting with.

  • Group Characteristics - Is there heterogeneity within the target population? If so, you want to make sure to accommodate any diversity. Also, get a general overall impression of the target population based on interactions with them.

That may seem like a lot of information to collect about your learners, but it can aid you immensely in providing more meaningful learning experiences for the learners. Some of it you may already know, but much of it should be culled by talking with learners, instructors, and managers, and by visiting classrooms, training facilities, and the learners' actual workplace. Other helpful methods include surveys, questionnaires, and pretests. Collecting this type of data may be much easier if you are a schoolteacher as you are already immersed in the environment, and thus may already know many of the students you will be teaching. However, don't immediately assume that you know the answers to these questions. Remember, when you assume too much you make an ... oh well, we're all familiar with that clichéd saying.

The list of learner characteristics you end up with will be used throughout the remainder of the instructional design process to make decisions regarding the various steps. It will help you determine the objectives (next step), as well as play a major role in the instructional strategies you employ later on. According to Dick and Carey, "They will help the designer develop a motivational strategy for the instruction and will suggest various types of examples that can be used to illustrate points, ways in which the instruction may (or may not) be delivered, and ways to make the practice of skills relevant for learners" (pg. 98).

Analyzing the Context

In addition to analyzing the learners, this step of the instructional design process also deals with analyzing both the performance context and the learning context. Adequate attention is not usually given to the idea of context. Why is this important? Well, if we understand the setting in which new skills, knowledge, or attitudes will be used then we can do a better job of planning instructional activities that will approximate what learners will face when they are finished with the instruction and head back into the real world. In this way the learning will have more meaning for them and the skills they acquire will transfer easier. Additionally, if we understand the setting in which instruction will take place then we can do a better job of planning activities that will make the best use of the instructional environment.

Performance Context

The performance context is the setting in which the new skills and knowledge will be used by learners after the instruction is completed. Knowing this information will enable you to create a more relevant environment for learning to take place in. It should also help increase learners' motivation, and aid in the transfer of new knowledge to the work setting. Dick and Carey list several factors to consider when analyzing the performance context:

  • Managerial Support - This is the organizational support that learners can expect when using new skills. It often helps to include managers, subject matter experts (SMEs), or trainers in the planning stages. It can be frustrating to deliver new instruction if there will be no real world support for the learners when the instruction is finished.
  • Physical Aspects of the Site - This is the physical context in which the new skills will be used. Try to find out what equipment, facilities, tools, timing, or other resources will be available and necessary.
  • Social Aspects of the Site - The social context of the performance setting. Ask yourself some questions: o Will workers work alone or in a team? o Will they work independently in the field or as a supervisor? o Will they be the first to use these skills?
  • Relevance of Skills to Workplace - How relevant are the new skills to the actual workplace? Are there physical, social, or motivational constraints to the use of the new skills?

Analyzing the performance context requires that you actually visit the site in question. Information can be obtained from on-site visits using interviews and observations. The purpose is to gather information from potential learners and managers, as well as observe the work environment where learners will eventually use their new skills. Analyzing the performance context using these factors can be a tricky matter for schoolteachers. It may be years before students enter the "real world" on a regular basis and have to apply skills learned in school, and some skills may never be applied. Or perhaps there may be skills that are learned in one grade that are necessary to progress through future grades? Your take on these factors may be quite different than that of non-teachers, and it may be difficult for you to actually visit the performance site. In any event, it would be a good idea for you to spend some time thinking about the context in which the skills learned in school will actually be used. Perhaps students have a point when they ask, "Why do we need to learn this?" As Dick and Carey state, "We encourage you to think beyond the accepted textbook and curriculum guide approach to public schooling. That approach has led to the criticism that much of public education emphasizes factual recall over conceptual understanding and textbook problems over authentic applications. Constructivist theorists have been justifiable sharp in their criticism of teaching/learning activities that are abstracted from, and thus not relevant to, actual physical, social, and problem contexts" (pg. 102).

Learning Context

The other type of context is the learning context. This is the setting where the actual learning will take place. The goal is to familiarize yourself with the facilities where the learning will occur, and to identify any limitations of the setting that might affect the design of instruction. Dick and Carey list several factors to consider when analyzing the learning context. However, you may have noticed that the factors they list within the chapter are not quite the same as those they list on their sample forms at the end of the chapter. It's uncertain why they did this, but we suggest that you use the categories listed on the forms, as they are easier to understand. To review, they are:

  • Number and Nature of Sites - How many sites are there, and what facilities, equipment, and resources are available at the sites? Here you mainly want to describe the physical characteristics of the sites.
  • Compatibility of the Site With the Instructional Requirements - Does the environment include any tools or other items that are necessary for the learning of the goal? For example, if your instruction requires computers, are they available at the site, and are they properly configured? Can the site support the desired delivery approach? Also, are there any personnel or time constraints that you can identify?
  • Compatibility of the Site With the Learner Needs - Are the sites convenient to the learners, are there necessary conveniences available, and is there adequate space and equipment for the expected number of learners?
  • Feasibility for Simulating the Workplace - Does the learning environment adequately simulate the eventual work environment? Is there anything that can be done to make it more like the work environment? The closer you can simulate the performance site, the easier it will be for the learners to transfer their newly acquired skills.

Analyzing the learning context requires that you actually visit the site in question. Information can be obtained from on-site visits by interviewing instructors, managers, and potential learners, as well as observing the site in use. Collecting this type of data can be much easier if you are a schoolteacher as you are already immersed in the environment, and thus may be quite familiar with the context in which the learning will take place. However, remember not to assume too much. Instead, take another look at the classrooms you teach in, and run though the list of factors described above. You may find ways to improve your instruction and provide more relevant activities for your students.

At the end of this process you should end up with a clear idea of who your learners are, the context in which they will be exposed to your instructional materials, and the context in which they will eventually use their new skills. With this information you will be ready to write instructional objectives that are appropriate the identified skills, learners, and contexts.

Instructional Design Project Part Three

In Parts One and Two of your ID Project you assessed your needs, wrote a goal statement, and created an instructional analysis that identified your goal steps, subordinate skills, and entry behaviors. The next thing we want to look at is the learners themselves, the context in which learning will take place, and the context in which the learners will eventually use their new skills. You've had to think about your learners in previous lessons, but now it's time to take a really close look at who you are designing your instruction for.

Step 1: Learner Analysis

By the time you reach this stage in the instructional design process you should know a great deal about what is expected of your learners if your goal is to be accomplished. However, you may need to know more about the learners. Although you identified who was associated with the need and who should accomplish the goal, you should take a closer look at these learners in order to identify possible incompatibilities between the learners and the goals. To begin with, briefly answer the following questions regarding your intended learners:

  1. What are the general characteristics of your target population? Examples include age, grade level, topic area, etc.
  2. Are there any entry behaviors that are not specific to your goal, and yet you feel are required for your intended learners to possess? (Entry Behaviors)
  3. Do the learners already know something about the topic? (Prior Knowledge)
  4. Do they have a positive attitude towards the content and the delivery system? (Attitudes Toward Content and Potential Delivery System)
  5. Is it reasonable to expect them to want to learn what needs to be learned? Is the topic likely to interest them? (Academic Motivation)
  6. Is it reasonable to expect that they can learn what needs to be learned? (Educational and Ability Levels)
  7. Do they have any general learning preferences? (General Learning Preferences)
  8. Do they have a positive attitude regarding the organization providing the instruction? (Attitudes Toward Training Organization)
  9. Are there any important group characteristics? How similar or diverse are they? (Group Characteristics)
  10. How did you obtain this information regarding the learner characteristics?

Based on your answers to the above questions, describe your learners. This should be an organized summary of what you have already described above.

Step 2: Performance Context

Next you want to describe the context in which the learners will use their new skills and knowledge after the instruction is completed. Keep in mind that this is different from the context in which they will actually learn the skills. Begin by briefly answering the following questions:

  1. What type of organizational support can learners expect to receive when they use their new skills? (Managerial Support)
  2. Will the use of their new skills depend on certain equipment, facilities, tools, or other resources? (Physical Aspects of the Site)
  3. Will they work alone or in a team? Will they work independently in the field or as a supervisor? (Social Aspects of the Site)
  4. How relevant are the new skills to the actual workplace? Will the new skills actually be used in the performance setting? Are there any physical, social, or motivational constraints to the use of the new skills? (Relevance of Skills to Workplace)
  5. How did you obtain this information regarding the performance context?

Based on your answers to the above questions, describe the eventual performance context for your instruction and your learners. This should be an organized summary of what you have already described above.

Step 3: Learning Context

The final step is to describe the context in which learning will take place. The context in which learning will occur may affect the accomplishment of your goal. Keep in mind that this may differ from the context in which the skills will actually be used. Begin by briefly answering the following questions:

  1. How many sites are there, and what are the characteristics of the sites? What equipment and resources are available? (Number and Nature of Sites)
  2. Does the site include any tools or other items that are necessary for the learning of the goal? Are there any personnel or time constraints that you can identify? (Compatibility of the Site With the Instructional Requirements)
  3. Are the sites convenient to the learners, are there necessary conveniences available, and is there adequate space and equipment for the expected number of learners? (Compatibility of the Site With the Learner Needs)
  4. Does the learning environment adequately simulate the eventual work environment? Is there anything that can be done to make it more like the work environment? (Feasibility for Simulating the Workplace)
  5. How did you obtain this information regarding the learning context?

Based on your answers to the above questions, describe the learning context for your instruction and your learners. This should be an organized summary of what you have already described above.

Submitting Part Three of your ID Project

Part Three of your ID Project should be typed up in Microsoft Word. At the top of the paper type "ID Project Part Three: Learner and Context Analysis". Underneath that include your name, email address, and the date. When you save the file name it "learners.doc". When you have completed your activities, upload the Word document to the "instrdes" folder in your Filebox. When you have finished uploading your file, proceed to the online student interface to officially submit your activities for grading.

Assignment: ID Project Part Three
Points:
20

Grading Criteria:

Learner Analysis

  • Describes general characteristics of target population. (.5)

  • Describes general entry behaviors. (.5)

  • Describes prior knowledge of learners. (.5)

  • Describes learners attitude towards the content and the delivery system. (.5)

  • Describes the academic motivation of the learners. (.5)

  • Describes learners' educational and ability levels. (.5)

  • Describes learners' general learning preferences. (.5)

  • Describes learners attitude regarding the organization providing the instruction. (.5)

  • Describes any important group characteristics. (.5)

  • Describes how they obtained learner analysis information. (.5)

  • Summary description of learner analysis (4)

Performance Context

  • Describes the managerial support at the performance site. (.5)

  • Describes the physical aspects of the performance site. (.5)

  • Describes the social aspects of the performance site. (.5)

  • Describes the relevance of new skills to workplace. (.5)

  • Describes how they obtained performance context information. (.5)

  • Summary description of performance context. (3)

Learning Context

  • Describes the number and nature of the learning site. (.5)
  • Describes the compatibility of the site with the instructional requirements. (.5)
  • Describes the compatibility of the site with the learner needs. (.5)
  • Describes the feasibility of the site to simulate the workplace. (.5)
  • Describes how they obtained learning context information. (.5)

  • Summary description of learning context. (3)