FEATURED ARTICLE: The Original Remote Instructors: ID Lessons from TV’s Greatest Teachers

By Catherine Wecksell

With an increasing demand for online learning, instructional designers are adapting existing online instruction programs to create remote learning. TV legends like Fred Rogers, LeVar Burton, and Bob Ross provided effective distance learning before it became widespread. What techniques do these three TV hosts offer instructional designers for effective workplace learning today?

Fred Rogers was more present virtually than most people manage to be in person. 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1968 to 2001, one of the longest-running children’s PBS series. Mr. Rogers spoke directly to children, validating their feelings and helping them name, face, and understand their emotions. Many have applied his methods to adult contexts such as leadership, HR, and pedagogy. 

Mr. Rogers engaged children with open-ended questions, asking them about their experiences and urging them to draw upon prior knowledge. He presented models and examples in "The Land of Make Believe,” encouraging children to connect these to their own experiences. Jack Mezirow established transformative learning theory in 1978, with the concept that the learner’s critical self-reflection can transform the learner’s perspective (Mezirow, 2009). Mezirow grounded his concept in the foundational theory of constructivismbased on the idea that people actively create their knowledge and understanding. Your reality is determined by your experiences as a learner.  Learner-centered instruction further acknowledges learners' differences, shifting the planning and control of learning from the instructor to the learner.

Mr. Rogers exemplified this principle, to the extent one can on TV. While the children couldn't direct the content on the episodes (the true learner-centered approach), his show included enough other content (such as visiting factories and interviewing guests) that the emotional instruction was an "offering" rather than a lesson to be imparted. Mr. Rogers’ gentle guidance and questioning put the learner at the center of the experience. He sang these words at the end of each episode: “I’ll be back, when the day is new, and I’ll have more ideas for you… You’ll have things you want to talk about… and I will, too.”

LeVar Burton helped a generation become self-directed learners.  

Actor LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek the Next Generation) hosted Reading Rainbow on PBS from 1983 to 2009. This beloved show encouraged a love of reading by exploring various topics related to a featured children’s book. Segments approached books from many directions, from character interviews and celebrity appearances to visiting the book's setting. Reading Rainbow earned over 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody and 26 Emmy Awards. There are now interactive Reading Rainbow apps and video field trips for the iPad® and Kindle®.

LeVar taught around a subject, adding context by introducing related topics. Interdisciplinary learning combines learning objectives and methods from more than one branch of knowledge to focus on a central theme, issue, or problem. Interdisciplinary learning transfers knowledge gained in one discipline to another and deepens learning. 

Even with LeVar's acting skills, he didn't read or dramatize the book. Learners were encouraged to read the books themselves. Sometimes people misunderstand self-directed learning (SDL)—it is not about working alone. SDL means a learner sets and often measures their own learning goals and progress.  Another critical part of SDL includes sharing the learning process with peers and collaborating. LeVar would say, “But you don’t have to take my word for it…” Children would then come on screen and make book recommendations to each other.

Bob Ross taught skills one happy cloud at a time.

Bob Ross hosted The Joy of Painting, another PBS television show that aired from 1983 to 1994. Bob Ross demonstrated with each brushstroke how to paint landscapes in oil. Many enjoyed watching him demonstrate specific landscape painting techniques by showing how to create integral elements, such as the sky, trees, and “happy clouds.”

Observational learning is a subset of social learning theory and describes learning from watching and mimicking others' behaviors. Techniques of observational learning include modeling, shaping, and chaining. Observational learning is most common with children as they tend to copy adults naturally. However, on-the-job skills are also learned via observational learning.

People often develop new skills by shadowing. An example of this is having a new hire observe a more experienced employee on the job. Video tutorials and recorded screen captures are also observational learning. 

Bob Ross’s consistency and demonstration of skills set his instruction apart. His impeccable planning of the show achieved this consistency. Bob planned each word and made three copies of his paintings for each show. Careful planning, prepping, and storyboarding are also vital to quality workplace learning and facilitation excellence.

Employ Learner-Centered techniques as Mr. Rogers did:

  • Build open-ended questions into the learning experience.
  • Have the learner draw upon their own experience and construct their own meaning.
  • Allow the learner to direct and take ownership of what is learned.

Encourage Self-Directed and Social Learning the same way as LeVar Burton:

  • Encourage independent exploration of content by providing ample resources and materials.
  • Build peer collaboration with discussion boards and communities of practices.
  • Use an interdisciplinary approach to teach many job functions around a single example.

Create consistent Observational Learning in the same way Bob Ross did:

  • Include demonstrations or simulations. 
  • Provide guides to support workplace shadowing.
  • Prototype your learning assets.

Mr. Rogers’ listening and empathy were profound, allowing children to feel acknowledged without even being in the same room. LeVar Burton stimulated self-directed and social learning. Bob Ross led learners through excellence in observational learning. They engaged learners without being able to see or get feedback from them. You can use the same learner-centered, self-directed, social, and observational approaches employed by these famous TV educators to engage remote workplace learners today.

REFERENCES

Mezirow, Jack (2009). An overview on transformative learning. In Knud Illeris (ed.), Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists -- In Their Own Words. Routledge.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Photos of Fred Rogers and LeVar Burton were obtained from Wikimedia commons, who provide the sourcing and copyright information for them at the following links:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LeVar_Burton_July_2017.jpg

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Rogers#/media/File:Fred_Rogers_and_Neighborhood_Trolley.jpg

®Bob Ross name and images are registered trademarks of Bob Ross Inc. © Bob Ross Inc. Used with permission.

FEATURED ARTICLE: The Importance of Needs Assessments in Global Technical Communication

By Kylie Call

According to John K. Burton and Paul F. Merrill, "the first step in solving a problem is to decide that you have one." In a college technical communication course, I applied this idea to engage with an international community in Nepal. My professor divided the class into groups. We were required to design a web or mobile application prototype with user documentation. The products needed to demonstrate cultural awareness by addressing an issue that people in Nepal face. First, my group conducted a needs assessment.

Needs assessments are the foundation for products intended for global distribution. They outline project goals and explain how cultural differences may impact reaching those goals. I can break down my experience into three steps: data collection, data analysis, and data application. 

Data Collection: Knowing Your Audience

Collecting sufficient information is essential to the needs assessment's success. I gathered data from local newspaper articles, journal articles, and various websites because distance prevented me from direct observation. I sought out information about digital literacy and gender inequality. Doing this initial research helped me think of questions to ask the subject matter experts (SMEs) who represented Code for Nepal, an international volunteer-based organization. The SMEs filled in my data gaps and helped me understand the context and issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic better. I learned about factors that play a role in Nepal's low digital literacy rate, such as geographical differences and limited internet connectivity. Digging deeper, I discovered how digital literacy empowers people economically and socially. The SMEs’ involvement was valuable because I struggled to find information about Nepalis communities during COVID-19 on my own. They eased my initial hesitations about whether I was capable of communicating to a global audience. The relationships that I formed with them are among the most significant takeaways from my service-learning experience.

Data Analysis: Putting the Pieces Together

Data analysis helped define a specific audience and objectives. From my data, I concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Nepal's existing problems with digital literacy and gender-based inequalities. Students and teachers are struggling to adapt to life online. Technological advancement has many positive outcomes for communities, such as providing economic mobility. But the greater use of technology coupled with the lack of knowledge about cyber-safety makes people vulnerable to predators. Cyber-crime has been referred to by The Kathmandu Post as one of the "biggest challenges to law and order." Data also revealed that women and young girls in Nepal experience cyber-crime in the form of cyber-sexual harassment at high rates. While social media has become a popular pastime for young people during quarantine, it has also become a platform for cyber-sexual harassment to occur. My findings helped me brainstorm a mobile application geared towards young Nepalese women to understand cyber-sexual harassment and provide them with social media safety tips. 

Data Application: Creating a Mobile-based Prototype

My data helped the group make decisions regarding the design of our project. We formatted our mobile application as a quiz game to capture the attention of our young audience. The user answered questions about realistic scenarios that they might experience online. The questions taught users how to identify cyber-sexual harassment and what actions to take to protect themselves. Real-life occurrences inspired the questions. The Himalayan Times stated that in 2015, police arrested Rahul Balmiki for hacking the Facebook accounts of over 40 women and blackmailing victims with obscene images and messages. This incident prompted my group to include questions about sexual harassment on Facebook. Data also influenced the prototype’s and user documentation's development. GlobalStats reports that Android is the primary operating system in Nepal, so the prototype was developed as an Android application. The user documentation provided step-by-step instructions for navigating the application. My group used plain, simple sentences for easy translation to Nepali. We created annotated visuals to aid the text. A section in the app included additional cyber-safety resources for children and adolescents from reputable organizations such as UNICEF.

Overall, needs assessments serve to guide decision-making when developing a project. My needs assessment allowed me to target a critical issue that puts people's health and well-being from a marginalized community at risk. I better understood the problem of cyber-sexual harassment in Nepal and outlined a course of action that benefitted my intended audience the most. Through the process, I gained skills valued by the modern, global workforce. I learned how to collect information for stakeholders (i.e., my Professor from Nepal and the class's community partner) and work with diverse colleagues. Performing a thorough needs assessment was time-consuming. But it improved the quality of the deliverables. I feel that higher-quality products increase the likelihood of the audience reaching the desired outcome.

 

I want to thank Dr. Sweta Baniya, my professor, and the representatives from Code for Nepal, for providing me with this opportunity. I gained a greater intercultural understanding; familiarizing myself with the needs assessment process also enhanced my skill set as a technical communicator. 

Bibliography

Burton, John K., and Paul F. Merrill. “Chapter 2 Needs Assessment: Goals, Needs, and Priorities.” Essay. In Instructional Design: Principles and Applications, 21. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, 1977. 

Dhungana, Shuvam. “Crime Rate in Nepal Rose by 40 Percent in Past Five Fiscal Years, Police Data Reveals.” The Kathmandu Post. The Kathmandu Post, December 8, 2019. https://kathmandupost.com/national/2019/12/08/crime-rate-in-nepal-rose-by-40-percent-in-past-five-fiscal-years-police-data-reveals#:~:text=National-,Crime%20rate%20in%20Nepal%20rose%20by%2040%20percent%20in%20past,in%20the%20last%20fiscal%20year. 

“Operating System Market Share Nepal.” StatCounter Global Stats, February 2021. https://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/all/nepal. 

“Youth Arrested on Cyber Crime Charges.” The Himalayan Times, July 9, 2015. https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/youth-arrested-on-cyber-crime-charges

2014-2015 IDL Scholarships Awards Announced

IDL SIG’s 2014-2015 Scholarship Winners

The IDL SIG awards scholarships each year to assist students who are pursuing a graduate degree  in a field related to Instructional Design. Students applying for this scholarship are expected to be able to demonstrate their focus on topics related to Instructional Design through their academic studies, current jobs, and graduate or special projects. The Scholarship Committee recently evaluated several applicants’ academic records and potential for contributing to the Instructional Design profession, and selected two deserving winners:
  • Elizabeth J. Allen, who is enrolled in a Master’s degree in the Instructional Design program of the Learning Technologies Department at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Kyung Kim, who is pursuing a PhD in the Learning, Design, and Technology program in the Learning and Performance Systems Department of Pennsylvania State University.
Elizabeth’s background is in business and higher education. Her passion is to understand adult cognition and how modern technological tools can support deep learning. As Program Director of Literacy NJ, Gloucester County, Elizabeth uses instructional design to study and enhance our adult literacy student curricula and digital tools in an effort to address the workforce development and literacy needs of the region. Kyung’s background has covered being a high school teacher, an educational technology journalist, and an instructional designer in Korea. He also worked as a researcher at the Global Teacher’s Institution. In America, he was the recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award from the Northwestern State University. His goal is to make education possible, available, and better for all learners through the design of effective learning environments and technology. Congratulations to both winners, and thank you to the other applicants for your efforts. All of the submissions were fascinating to read and judging was challenging. Watch for an article by each winner in an upcoming issue of IDeaL, the IDL-SIG award-winning newsletter. Also, please bookmark this page, watch for announcements, and return here early in 2016 when the 2016 scholarship competition will re-open. Application forms and other documentation requirements will be posted then. In the meantime, please read our Scholarship FAQs.