MADE for U of T | Ep. 11 | Luke Hobson

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In the 11th episode of MADE for U of T (see all episodes), we hear from instructional designer and author, Dr. Luke Hobson, who shares his experience working as an instructional designer and suggests what other designers can do to level up their skills and offerings.  

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Prefer to read rather than listen to the podcast? Below is a transcript of the interview.  It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Inga Breede (IB): In a recent collaborative article that I saw on Linkedin, it was about the best ways to keep online learners engaged. You shared your rule of 70-30: 70% on student participation and 30% on exploring content. Can you elaborate a bit on this approach? And why you do it this way?

Luke Hobson (LH): Absolutely, and I'm so glad you asked this, too, because we have all gone through a course or a training before, where they just hammer you with readings and videos, and especially for anyone who's been in part of a grad course before. You have to read like 7,000 textbooks. And you're like, but why?  What is really the point here? What am I really learning about at the end of the day? So essentially, I take that, and I flip that on its head, because for a majority of the time, while yes, readings, videos podcasts, other forms of exploratory content; by far, they are important. At the same time, I know from research and best andragogical practices, thinking about the science behind how adults learn is that the more that you are involved, the more that it is engaging in that sense, and hands on and active - the more you are going to want to be motivated and retain that information. It's going to stick with you for everything. So, when I think about all these different forms of courses and trainings that we have gone through, usually, that means that people will then try to be able to hammer you home as harsher with multiple choice questions, discussions and essays. And within the online learning space, we could do so much more to make these meaningful, relevant, and just incredible for our students, and for our learners.  So as far as for thinking about from practice, questions to reflections, to case studies, to narratives, to journals, to scenario-based learning, to peer review based feedback simulations, gamification, team-based learning, project-based learning. There's so much more that we can do that really makes the entire learning experience revolve around that 70-30 split of 70% of a time, you are doing something. You're not just sitting there trying to be able to click that next button to make it go to the next thing. And the next thing, because you have to be focused inside of this learning space. And I have found from doing this for the last decade is that that's what really makes adult learners say “Whoa, this is not a usual course!” Well, no, because I actually want you to participate! This is something that you can't just sit through and click, click and smash that next button. I really want you to be involved inside of this with me. So that's why I do this. And I was thrilled that that collaborative article on Linkedin people were upvoting that because I was like: Yes, please. Yes, yes! So, that's why Linkedin has now blessed me with like the top “Higher education voice” badge, whatever they're calling those things now. And it was because of those articles like that where I'm like: Here's what you do to make higher education interesting. And it's not trying to be able to put 7 discussion posts inside of one week. It's variety. It's always different forms of engagement that that we love.

IB: When you're working with a subject matter expert on developing an online course, how do you decide on what modality to use for a particular piece of their content?

LH: So it definitely depends, which is, of course, the answer that you were hoping for! The nice, straightforward answer of like “it depends.” But it really does depend, though, because, depending upon what we are talking about, I will 100% change how I approach this. So let's kind of break this down. I'll give you a real-world example. Years ago, I created a course at MIT that was about networking and with culture. The Professor, who I was working with right at the start of everything before we did anything, thinking about, from learning objectives or thinking about other forms of assessments or anything else. He taught a version of this already at his courses on campus, and he was this like “By far Luke, the favorite thing, but I always hear from students at the end of a day is that we use this one simulation in particular from Harvard. It's called the Change management simulation. These students love this. We have to make this class focus around the simulation,” which, of course, makes, like all the red flags in my head, go up. Because I'm like, we haven't done anything yet. And immediately you're like, but what about this piece of content? It's like, Okay, going to keep this in mind. We work through our way for the backward design model, starting first with the end goals in mind. And eventually, you know, we reached this point of time as far as within that design stage, but I checked out the simulation. I vetted it. I used it. And I was like, you're right. Actually, this is not just when you think about a simulation. There are some out there that exists that really they don't live up to the hype. It's much more about the marketing aspect of it. I mean, you go into the simulation, and you're like, it's not that great, but this one was truly great. And I was like, okay, I can do quite a bit with this. So, taking that, making that as far as for thinking about the summit of assessment of everything for the course I tied that into things and wrapped around all these different forms of assessments and activities around the simulation. So, because of that, that became as he was, hoping, the heart and core of the course. And we did it in our own unique way. That wasn't like just starting off with, Hey, play the simulation. And we're going to talk about it in the class. It was much more about: we're building on these real tangible skills, and piece by piece, brick by brick, we’re getting you there into being able to take this simulation that was based around a type of a scenario for a realistic hypothetical scenario, asking them what they would do inside of this case, and it was all about leading a change inside of their organization.  How would you actually go about with doing this? So it was fascinating, being able to do and thinking about it from that perspective. Now, if it wasn't a simulation, and if it was something else, let's say they had all of these different videos recorded ahead of time, for instance. Well, then, I would change that approach as well. So, all depends upon the content. And what we're actually trying to be able to focus on. So really, I try to be flexible and keep an open mind with where they're coming from, and then, of course, at the same time as a designer, I'm vetting things as well, and I'm making sure that I do my due diligence and my research to make sure that it is going to be one of the contributing factors for the best learning experience possible.

IB: And do you have a favourite mode of delivery? A mode of content delivery that you've been experimenting with lately. So, whether it's text based, video, podcasting. What's your favourite these days?

LH: So since you said the word “experimenting,” I'll tell you one of the things that I've been experimenting with. Speaking of simulations, I am one of those crazy people who pays for ChatGPT. 4. I started playing around with Chat GpT last December, actually before, like the madness and the explosion of everyone talking about it.

IB:  What madness are you referring to Luke? (laughs)

LH: (laughs) Oh, you know just the fact that you can't get around Gen-AI now. It's all people could talk about. But I had a friend who was asking me about why I wasn't checking this out yet, because he had another colleague who introduced him to this. And he's like, you ggotta start using this. And I'm like: No, I don't believe you. That pretty much was my mindset. I was like it can't be that interesting. I'm sure it's overhyped. And finally, he convinced me to use it. So then, that threw myself into there, I was like, Wow! Alright, alright! There's some pros and cons here, but I can really see your point as far as for this goes. But now, with the latest advancement of GPT4, I found out I can create my own simulations and that has been interesting, because now I can ask it to be able to do what I want. And then I can download it, and then I own it. So, then it's not going anywhere. So, to give you an example, I heard from instructional designers about how they want to be able to practice for interviews, and they wish they had a way to be able to do this of a simulation. I was like, oh, that's interesting. Can I create an instructional design interview simulation as far as for uploading my feedback, depending upon their answers, trying to be able to help them out with giving them a score and keep on going from there? So I did, and I made my own. It took quite a bit of time being able to experiment with it. But it is fascinating that I was able to do this. Ask about the different form of colour scheme, the branding, making sure that everything was exactly the way that I wanted to be able to do, and then I could download it. And it's just literally living on my desktop somewhere now, and that was through Chat GPT. You have to have GPT 4. You gotta pay for it. That's how they get you cause you need to be able to pay for that version, to be able to do that.

IB: Is that simulation available online right now, can other others try it out?

LH: It's not public facing yet. So, if you want to be able to see some of the things that I have been working on as far as for with the latest advancements of AI, I do have my own custom. GPT that exists that is, public facing that's called your UDL Pal, where essentially, I want to make a Chat GPT that focus specifically about helping educators to learn about universal design for learning and accessibility and trying to be able to really help with their overarching designs and to make them better. So, if you want to use that, that is available and open to the public. And I can send you over the link afterwards if you want.

IB: Okay, exciting stuff!  Okay, so my final question. You have a lot of experience working with instructional design. What are 3 things and instructional designers should be doing or trying now to level up their skills and offerings?

LH: So there's quite a bit which is kind of fun, because you are right now thinking about this from a very interesting point of time, where, when I started off an instructional design back in 2013, a lot of these things didn't exist which is kind of interesting, of like, what stands the test of time and all the new different types of things that do keep on coming about. So, it is really interesting to think about. First and foremost, I would say, networking. Networking is not going to let you down if you are currently not on Linkedin, if you're not currently collaborating with others as far as joining different forms of communities on Linkedin or Facebook, or Reddit, or Discord, or Twitter, or whatever you're currently using for your community based platform, I would certainly look to be able to network with other people, and to try to be able just to have conversations with them. There is nothing wrong, and I know it feels kinda strange and weird at first to kinda like reach out to a stranger to say like, Hey, I've been following your posts on Linkedin. Do you have 15 min to just to have like a virtual coffee chat with me, because I'd love just to hear more about what you're going through, what you're doing. Do you have any advice for me? Things of that nature. And you'll be surprised about how well that really does work.

IB: I mean, we have a podcast episode with you today because of that!

LH: I mean, it's true. And I do that. I used to do that so many times as far as for both back in the day was, of course, pre-pandemic when I was actually at a university, and I was just reaching out to the different instructional designers at the university because at the time I was an academic advisor, and I was like, What do you do? I have no idea! What in the heck is this job? And I want to be able just to reach out. A lot of people are willing to spend their time, and as long as it's, of course, respectful, and all that other stuff that you all know as adults. But either way, that's definitely one thing, but I recommend to be able to do. The second is that if you are not yet already doing so, I always try to be able to think more about your portfolio, no matter if you are currently a student, or if you are a seasoned instructional designer, it is never a bad thing to make sure that your portfolio is going to be up to date just in case if something does happen, you're looking for a new opportunity exploring those different types of things. So, with a portfolio, though one of the questions I often hear about is, Well, how do I be able to gain experience?  Now, the unique advantage that we have right now in 2023-2024 soon is about the fact about how far these different types of areas when thinking about with this is that you have this word of mouth, that you can spread as far as for being able to share and talk about how you are essentially a person who designs learning experiences, and there are a lot of people out there who have never, ever thought about this before. As for themselves, being able to do this. But, boy, they want your help. They truly, truly want your help to be able to do this. I have talked with people who are just local entrepreneurs. As far as we're having different forms of businesses to authors, even to different forms of, I've talked to an NFL player,  I've talked to other people who are like, “I want to create something, I don't know how.” And it's just like, Well, hey, here are instructional designers; this is what we do. We can help you with creating learning experiences. So, by being able to work and to connect with other people doing something with freelance, or if it's something very small. But you want to be able to do with volunteering your time being able to do that. You can certainly go down that road as well. There are different pros and cons from freelance versus volunteering.  There are different things you need to be aware about as well. But that's definitely one thing you can be able to do. And then last, but not least, of the third tip - is just try. Just try designing and just making sure that you're actually experiencing really what it's like to be able to do this because it's different. It's odd, the traditional way of thinking about from an educational perspective. I know that when I was teaching back at a university years ago, it was, hey, Luke, here's your textbook. Go do something with it. And here we are saying we're doing the opposite. I don't want to even look at a textbook. I want to do all of these things, first with identifying what the learners actually need inside of the real world, and then working around that skill gap and trying to be able to help them, and then, of course, I will find the right exploratory content that's going to help with piecing things together. But as far as mapping out an entire learning experience from start to finish. It's interesting, really, to be able to do with thinking about what the problem you're trying to be able to solve with training, with education, to identifying the different types of learning objectives, to then thinking about what different forms of assessments and learning activities makes sense to be able to help the learners see the end goals in mind. And then taking the content and wrapping it all together. It's a different type of process. So being able just to try this and to fail, and you will fail. And that's wonderful because you're going to learn part of a learning process. I have made 7,000 mistakes. That's why now, I'm confident in speaking with folks like yourself, because I have already screwed up so many things, so I can tell you from past experiences about what not to do, because I have done them. So just try learning from failure and to keep on going from there. Those would be my 3 tips to be able to share with folks.

IB: Excellent. Thank you. So that concludes the formal part of the interview. I just wanted to ask if you had anything new exciting that's coming down for you in the New Year that you wanted to share with the community that we should keep an eye out for?

LH: I mean, I'm constantly working and doing more. The new thing that I want to be able to do, which. I have a whiteboard behind me in my to do list. And it just, it's never ending. It is constantly growing up. But the new thing for me, but you can be able to look out for is that I have so many different learning experiences right now offered all throughout the Internet, and you can find them. But I have different types of courses here and there, and webinars here, and such. I'm trying to now put them all inside of one location. That's the new project I've been working on is that Instructional Design Institute is essentially getting rebranded to now house all the things I have. And that's going to be living inside of bright space. That's an LMS (Learning Management System).  So, I'm putting everything together so hopefully, you can find more of my information in one centralized location, instead of looking for all these ever different things. But if you haven't yet already checked out the blog post that I wrote to that I've been hearing from people has been extremely helpful. I wrote a free ebook. I just put it out there for folks. It's in a blog on my website, and it's called “So you want to become an instructional designer.” And it's like a 180-something pages of just advice about what to do every step of the way. You can find that online for free, drlukehobson.com.

IB: Okay, thank you for sharing that, Luke, and thank you for sharing your time with us today to talk about all things instructional design. We appreciate your time today.

LH: Absolutely!  Thank you for having me!

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