Jean Marrapodi, the chief learning architect at Applestar Productions and senior eLearning designer at Illumina Interactive, has a wealth of experience as an educator. The eLearning Guild recognized her as a Guild Master at Learning Solutions 2016 Conference & Expo. Jean has worked in special and elementary education at the primary level; adult education; higher education; and adult education with a focus on working with low-literacy adults. She entered the eLearning arena at the very beginning of online training, working as a training marketing manager for CompUSA in the 1990s. Jean has excelled at bringing strategies and vision from primary and early childhood education into her work with adult learners and corporate eLearning, and she lives by her motto: “It’s a great day for learning!”

I spoke with Jean recently about eLearning design for adult learners who come into the training with a broad range of experience and knowledge. The interview has been trimmed for length and clarity; the first part of the interview was published August 18.

Pamela S. Hogle: You started out as a classroom educator and shifted to, not only not teaching kids, but online. What overlaps and what’s different with your current work, teaching adult learners online?

Jean Marrapodi: My teaching background really did very little to prepare me for the change because it was all stand-up-and-deliver, pre-done curriculum. In the classroom, I tended to vary the curriculum that I was teaching and add a little bit more energy and creativity to it. I found myself in a very different world when I began working in the corporate sector.

K-12 exposes children to a broad base of information, to kind of give them a foundation for life. Higher education continues that exposure but takes a deep dive into a specialty area. Finally, we have early childhood, which is about discovery and exposure to the world. They want the kids to experience lots of things, and lots of it occurs through discovery. I tend to incorporate that early childhood thinking into the learning that I develop in the corporate world.

Corporate training is similar to education in that it has a predefined curriculum, but there is a need that is driving it, whether something is changing in the business, software, whatever, leadership development—there is usually some driving force that says, “I need to provide this to my people.”

One of the other differences is the difference between andragogy and pedagogy. Pedagogy is the teaching of children, and andragogy is the teaching of adults. Adults come to the classroom with a ton of background experiences that children don’t necessarily have, and so we have to expose [children] to things.

Adults, on the other hand, are more like Swiss cheese. They have background, but there are definitely holes and gaps in their information. We work to provide remediation, in some cases, or, in the corporate setting, adding to the assumed foundation that they have.

PH: In a corporate setting, or any setting with adults, you can’t assume that everyone has the same foundation of knowledge, whether it is technical knowledge or knowledge in the specific subject matter of the corporate environment.

JM: Exactly, and that creates a challenge when you are teaching. We’d like to assume that they know certain elements of navigating a website, or saving a document, or cutting and copying. But that’s not necessarily true. In the Millennial world in particular, we have expectations that they know how to use the software—Word and Excel and PowerPoint and all that—because they’re techno-literate in theory. In reality, they are mostly self-taught on those things; there’s a gap.

PH: So sometimes you have to go back to the beginning, even with people who are digitally literate—in their own minds, anyway.

JM: Right. That’s looking for the hole in the Swiss cheese, and teaching to the hole rather than teaching to the cheese.

PH: What advice would you give to eLearning designers, particularly those who are relative newcomers to eLearning and those who are designing for these diverse audiences?

JM: When you are designing a course, whatever it is, you need to be able to get it down to one single sentence: In the end, the learner needs to know ______ and be able to ______.

If you can’t get to that point, you really haven’t defined the point of the course well. And you should state that goal in the course. At the end of the course, you should say, “Hey, in this course, we learned how to ______. You should know how to ______. Do you think that you’ve gotten there?”

That question, that sentence, should solve a problem. Especially in the corporate world, there’s usually a need that they have for training, so your statement should be a solution to the problem. They don’t know how to accurately do wire transfers? OK, in the end, they will know the laws and steps to create a wire transfer and be able to effectively execute a wire transfer.

And it may be with the aid of a job aid. There may be all sorts of conditions that we put around that, but you want to get to that one single sentence.

PH: Does that sentence sometimes show you that a training course is not really the best response?

JM: Yes. It sure does. Because if there’s nothing that they are supposed to do in the end, how do I measure that they’ve gotten what I’m trying to get across to them?

PH: Sometimes just the job aid is the answer.

JM: Yes. And that’s OK. If that’s the goal, then that’s OK. Gloria Gery had a wonderful chart [Figure 1] that she used in her talks about how well you want the learner to know the knowledge. [Editor’s note: This chart began life as “The Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill.” It originated with Noel Burch, an employee of Gordon Training International, in the 1970s. Gery and many other speakers and trainers have used it extensively over the years.] It starts with familiarity and goes up to unconscious competence. I need a person who’s taking EMT training to be unconsciously competent with CPR. I need them to walk in and go. If I’m training an elementary school teacher on CPR, she might need to know it, but she can take action by thinking through the steps. She doesn’t need to be unconsciously competent, so I don’t need to drive her to that point. I need her to know enough that, in the event something happens, she can take action. But the likelihood of her needing to take action doesn’t require her to be unconsciously competent. So we need to know how well we want them to learn.

Figure 1: Stages of learning (attributed to Noel Burch and Gordon Training International, c. 1970-1980)

When we’re doing new-hire training, we need them to have the beginners’ level of stuff, where they’re going to need structure around what they’re doing. And that’s OK. A person who is an advanced learner, well, I’m expecting them to know how to do some of this in their sleep. And some of that comes with practice, so at the end of training, it’s not always possible to be unconsciously competent.

PH: So not all training is going to get every learner to the same level. You really need to know what’s appropriate for your situation, in addition to what the process is that you’re teaching.

JM: Right. And what’s the benchmark that makes it OK? In learning, we have this 80 percent magic thing that allows learners to pass. They got 80 percent on the score, so now they know business continuity. Really?

That’s not our goal. Our goal is that they know what to do in the event of an emergency, right? Not that they pass the test with 80 percent. So we have to determine if what we have given them is actually getting them to the point we want them to be at.

PH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

JM: I’ve learned a lot; I have a master’s degree in online learning and a PhD in adult education. But I learned a lot more in the years I was in the trenches and connected with The eLearning Guild. It’s the best place to learn practical nuts-and-bolts things. Leverage your personal learning community. Build a personal learning community, and the Guild is absolutely the place to go.