The Connection Between Consulting and Education

I have spent much of the last four years making connections between my marketing career and my academic pursuits in adult education. While I wondered at first if pursuing an M.Ed. after a 20 year career in marketing “was a hard left-hand turn down a completely new path,” I soon realized the myriad similarities. So it is again that I find myself trying try to wrap my head around the connection between consulting and education.

A few weeks before class started, I came across an interview with Dan McGinn, Senior Editor for Harvard Business Review, who wrote an essay entitled “Inside Consulting’s Black Box.”  During the interview, McGinn mentions a book by Martin Kihn who worked for a few years at Booz Allen, one of the big consulting firms. According to McGinn,

The book actually sheds a lot of light on the [consulting] industry… and [Kihn] really does describe what it’s like to live the life where you wake up at the crack of dawn on Monday, your suitcase is all ready, and you fly into some company you know nothing about and work really hard to try to figure out something smart to tell these people.

Exactly… and what does this have to do with adult education?

Peter Block says, “Your goal or end product in any consulting activity is some kind of change.”  And change is something I can easily connect to education. Change often requires the input of new information and some type of implementation phase where you get comfortable with what is new.

But change is scary, and let’s face it… who among us feels they handle change well? I admit, I don’t always. And yet I have been drawn to this field of adult education where things are changing so rapidly that one of the most talked about forces in education today — MOOCs — only came on the scene five years ago.

So how do I as an educator — consultant — facilitate change? How do I get someone comfortable with change — which has been described as “often unpredictable, absolutely unrelenting, and, more often than not, terribly unforgiving“?


I don’t know. But I’m here to find out.


Posted by on September 7, 2013 in ADLT 610


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How Do You Know When It’s Good?

I have always been a decent student.  I was in National Honor Society in high school and graduated cum laude from college.  To date, I have a 4.0 in my graduate studies.  But what do all those honors mean in terms of what I’ve learned?  And what should my take aways be from my academic achievements now that the student is becoming the instructional designer?

Over the past several years, I’ve written about evaluation and assessment one, two, three times at least.  It’s a topic I enjoy revisiting, so it seemed appropriate that I choose this question to answer with my final reflective blog for this particular course – What is the standard process for project evaluation?

My short answer is – there is no standard process.  Or an even shorter answer – it depends.

My long answer goes like this.  There are countless ways to look at a program in terms of its effectiveness: Are there measurable learning objectives? Is the content appropriate to achieve the objectives? How is technology used to enhance learning?  Is there a logical flow between modules?  Are the choices of assessment tools suitable to measure the learning objectives?  Is tech support available when needed?  How is formative assessment used to improve the learning during the course?  How is summative assessment used (if an assessment is given as an end result and never viewed with an eye toward how it can be used to improve learning or teaching, has there been a bigger opportunity missed?)? Is the assessment authentic (meaning that it demonstrates you understand “both the products and the processes of learning.”)?

For every question, there are myriad resources available to provide guidance to the struggling new instructional designer.  One of the most often-cited tools is the Chico Rubric for Online Instruction (ROI) which is designed to answer the question, “What does high-quality online instruction look like?”  Far be it from me to tear down a highly esteemed tool, but I’m not a huge fan of the ROI.

With the Chico ROI, the three rankings seem to start from the assumption that the lowest ranking is acceptable by using the term baseline.  However, if you read some of the descriptions for the baseline level, you’ll see phrases such as “not aligned to learning objectives” and “limited or no activities to help students develop critical thinking.”  Other baseline rankings feel more appropriate to be deemed a starting point such as “New teaching methods are applied to enhance student learning” and “Assessment strategies are used to measure content knowledge, attitudes and skills.”  It is difficult to determine if a baseline ranking is really all that bad or just allows for improvement.

So I went on the hunt for other program evaluation tools, and I discovered that even experienced learning professionals are looking for a checklist or rubric that can be used to assess the quality of the instructional design.  Like the Chico ROI, many resources are free to use; however, I did discover one that cost $500 on top of a Continuing and Professional Education membership that cost over $3,000!  For that much money, that rubric ought not only to provide a score but also a 20 page report that details suggestions for improvement!  I kept hunting…

I found tools that simply captured YES/NO answers, offered guidance for specific letter grades, and one that used a spectrum between “action oriented materials” and “information dump.”

Spectrum rubric

After hours of research, I felt no closer to finding a standard process for how to evaluate a program’s effectiveness than when I started.  At this point, I turned my search inward and asked myself if the classes I’ve been taking recently have been good, and if so, how do I know that?  Call it intuition or maybe even a gut-check rubric, but I can say without a doubt that – at least for me – these classes have provided some phenomenal learning opportunities.

Was it because the learning objectives and instructional and assessment activities were closely aligned?  Maybe.  Did the courses offer ample opportunities for interaction and communication student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content?  Yes, but it was more than that.  I know good learning is happening because, just as I did when I wrote my final reflection for ADLT 606, “as I sit down to write this reflective essay, I am thinking back not only on what I’ve learned in this course, but on how what I’ve learned in this course has brought up some of the themes I’ve been thinking about over the last two [now three] years.”  They call that transfer of learning, right?

While one of my classmates accurately pointed out that “sometimes what is modeled doesn’t transfer until the course is long over,” I’ve been fortunate to find ways to model what I’m learning now as well as revisit what I’ve learned before and incorporate it into my new learning.  My efforts have been acknowledged by my professors, but (and I mean no disrespect) it’s been my own words that have rewarded me by showing how much I have learned over the past few years and how well I weave my academic learning into every aspect of my life.

So for me, it is not so much transferring what I learned into my own teaching practice right now as it is about paying attention to these practices in other areas – such as the recent trend in gamification in marketing, the move toward mobile technologies, and questions surrounding analytics to assess ROI on social media – and applying what I have learned in this class to understand how to answer the questions that surround these topics in a different context. (ADLT 640 Final Self-Assessment)

Through self-assessments and especially through my reflective blogging practice, I am proving to myself that I am establishing significant learning.


Posted by on May 8, 2013 in ADLT 642



Getting To Know My Inner Child

By Richmond standards, we had a long winter, but spring has finally sprung!  This past weekend was the prettiest weather we’ve had in over six months.  I spent three hours in a study room in the library on Saturday afternoon working on the “40% Project” with my partner, and I spent a total of 6 hours on Sunday driving to and from Hampton for a long (but productive) committee meeting for the Golden Retriever rescue group, and the rest of the weekend I spent outside with my dogs.  It was glorious!  And much needed.

Every morning I read from Awakening: A Daily Guide to Conscious Living. Lately, the readings have focused on getting in touch with your inner child and finding a balance between seriousness and fun.  This past weekend, I found that balance, and it was amazing how good I felt by Sunday night, even though I hadn’t once checked email for work, hadn’t written a blog post, hadn’t watched the videos I had said I would for our project.  But I’d taken care of my inner child who needed to play and feel the joy of the warmth of an early spring day.

But most of us, as we’ve grown into adulthood, have disowned our playful child. Without it, life feels dull and drab. We need to reconnect with our natural, playful inner child who adds sparkle to our lives.

“Work hard, play hard.” a friend said to me recently, and I realized I need to work more on that second part.  These past few years have been filled with a lot of hard work, and I’ve purposefully pushed play aside to stay focused, thinking that is what I needed to do to get where I want to be, doing what I want to do.

Sometime our inner child will actually sabotage our attempts to be successful or to do the things we think we should do, because secretly the child knows that its needs will not be met by what we are striving for. The child may stop you from being professionally successful until you start to give it more nurturing, more love, more time to play, or whatever it needs.

Okay, kid, you’ve got my attention.  Let’s keep this balancing act going and see where it leads us.


Posted by on April 16, 2013 in ADLT 642


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Ready… Set… ACTION!

Photo sourced from Manatee School for the Arts

Photo sourced from Manatee School for the Arts

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started to explore the concept of action learning.  It is a bit of a preview of the capstone course I’ll be taking next spring, so I’ll be curious to come back to this post then and see if or how my thinking changes.

As a way of quick introduction for those not already familiar with action learning, it is a way to approach problem solving that goes beyond just providing a solution, but seeks to explore the problem more deeply through questions and reflection, thus not only resulting in a better solution but also providing learning to those involved.  I have to admit, I approached this idea with a fair bit of skepticism.  It seemed time-intensive and academic, and I immediately jumped to reasons it would never work in my current workplace.  But then I realized, that was exactly the kind of behavior (jumping to conclusions) that action learning can overcome.

Last night, I viewed a video of Michael Marquardt’s keynote address to the Virginia Association for Adult and Continuing Education on action learning.  When I woke up this morning, I realized that one point in that talk was still rumbling around in my head.  Great questions always lead to great reflection.  Great reflection always leads to great learning.  And great learning always leads to great action.  I am on board with most of that, but I am still reflecting on that last part about always leading to great action.

Marquardt talked about the type of problem best addressed by action learning.  He said it must be urgent.  I suppose it is that urgency that comes into play that drives the learning into action.  I wonder if the instances I’m thinking of that did not result in great action were caused by (a) not enough good questioning upfront to define the true problem or (b) not enough urgency to require action.

Dog questionsIt’s said that things happen in 3s.  Last fall I was introduced to contemplative meditation, asking a series of why questions to get at the source of your beliefs.  A few weeks ago, we had a presentation in class about root cause analysis, a common business practice in which you continue inquiry until you discover the true source of the problem.  And now, action learning.  Taken together, these three cover my spiritual, professional, and academic pursuits.  I look forward to developing my questioning and reflection skills as I continue to learn more about each.

So in true action learning format, I shall leave you with a question, thus allowing you to respond with statements.  (Feel free to do the same in your replies.)  What experiences have you had where questioning led to reflection, which led to learning… that resulted in action?


Posted by on April 7, 2013 in ADLT 642


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“What would Jaron say?”

I found myself wondering this in class this week as the question was asked if we thought technology could advance from being the medium to being the teacher itself.  What would Jaron Lanier, author of You are not a gadget, say about that?

I have been meaning to break apart my Prezi on Lanier’s book in individual blog posts since I last December.  I guess since I’ve waited this long, it doesn’t matter that I’m starting closer to the end of Lanier’s book than the beginning.  In the fourth section of the book called Making the Best of Bits, Lanier examines how we make sense of or process all the bits of information we encounter everyday and turn them into usable information and knowledge.  I use the word “process” to lead into the theory of computationalism.  Lanier offers three “less-than-satisfying” common descriptions of computationalism:

  1. “a significantly voluminous computation will take on the qualities we associate with people” (think Moore’s Law)
  2. “a computer program with specific design features [i.e., ‘strange loop‘]… is similar to a person”
  3. any information structure that can be perceived by some real human to also be a person is a person” (think Turing Test)

However, Lanier prefers what he calls realistic computationalism which he defines as “the idea that humans, considered as information systems, …are the result of billions of years of implicit, evolutionary study in the school of hard knocks.”  From those experiences, we create evolutionary storytelling.  Does technology have such a storied history?

Blaze NoseLanier introduces us to the work of computational neuroscientist Jim Bower who suggests that the way humans think is based in the sense of smell.  “Smells are not patterns of energy, like images or sounds,” says Lanier.  Smell comes from molecules (bits of information) that Lanier says “require input from other senses” in order to create meaning.  “Context is everything.”  Where will computers draw upon in their stored memory to put sight, hearing, and feeling together with a smell to create meaning?

And one last argument that Lanier makes about making meaning from bits relates to language and the work of neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran.  Similar to Bower, Ramachandran studied how the senses are interconnected to create meaning when they encounter unfamiliar words.  Can technology master the nuances of language and put them together with other sensory intakes?

As I tried to pull Lanier’s far-flung ideas together in my presentation under the umbrella of implications for adult learning, I drew on my readings about a few other “isms” — cognitivism and constructivism — and for that I returned to a more traditional text by Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner:

The learner is more than a cognitive machine. The learner is a whole person made up of the mind and body and comes to a learning situation with a history, a biography that interacts in individual ways with the experience that generates the nature of the learning.”

Don’t these kinds of learners deserve a teacher who has just as much mind and body, history and biography to add color to the learning?  Lanier proclaims that we are not a gadget, and if I may be so presumptuous to assert, I believe he would say our teachers should not be gadgets either.


Posted by on March 31, 2013 in ADLT 642


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Making the Square Round

I started this M.Ed. program three years ago. At the time, I wanted to make a career change and find a job in corporate training, something I had dabbled in previously providing product training to the sales teams I supported. Since then, I have gone back and forth about whether it is really a corporate environment I want or maybe an academic setting where I can put my adult education training to work. All the while, though, it has been a trainer/teacher position I imagined.  This semester, however, has shown me that there are many more opportunities in adult ed than just being the one facilitating the education.

In my 20+ years in marketing, I have worn a lot of hats — writer, editor, event planner, agency liaison, public relations coordinator, web site content manager, and campaign result analyzer, often all under the same job title. Marketing isn’t just a job, it’s many jobs. And like so many other comparisons I’ve blogged about over the past few years, here again marketing and adult education parallel. Through the design challenge projects we’ve worked on this semester, I have seen that as an adult educator, I am likely to wear many hats again — trainer, developer, designer, scheduler, platform evaluator, provider of tech support as well as some of my familiar roles as writer, editor, and event planner.

To be honest, this is not a completely new realization, as I had stumbled across this SlideShare presentation last year. However, this semester is, as some of my classmates have noted, a capstone course in our chosen track of educational technology, which is making me realize how close I am to being ready to find a job in my new chosen field. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a scary realization. Not scary in the sense that being an adult educator means so many different things, because I’m used to that in marketing. What’s scary is trying to show a potential employer that while none of these job titles appear on my resume, I can be an asset to their team as an instructional designer, instructional developer, eLearning technologist, or project manager.

Actually, that last title is on my resume, but it has the words “marketing communications” in front of it. Much of my past experience does transfer nicely into adult education, but it’s going to take a little work on my part to convince a potential employer of that. To that end, I am glad to have the diversity of projects this semester to gain experience on real-world problems working with people in the field I desire to be in. Merging the goal of this class with that of last semester’s class: experience + my PLN = (I hope) my foot in the door.

I am the square pegMore so than my resume, my blog has become the showcase for what I can do. Therefore, I respectfully submit this little corner of the web as evidence that I can be an effective member of your learning team. While you can find plenty of applicants with work experience that fits exactly with the role you’re hiring for, I believe that my academic studies plus myriad experience demonstrate the adaptability and intelligence that are not only needed in this role, but are also essential as the organization grows and faces new opportunities and challenges. I look forward to hearing from you to schedule a time to discuss my application.


Posted by on March 17, 2013 in ADLT 642


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The Avoidance of Doubt

“I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.”  ~ Bertrand Russell

I was reading an email from a co-worker this week in which he used the phrase “the avoidance of doubt.” My first thought was that would make a great book title for a murder mystery.  But then as I thought about it some more, I knew it would have to be the theme for my blog this week.

There are some things about which it is comforting to be sure of such as the love of family or the dawning of a new day, but “it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” (Again, my thanks to Mr. Russell for saying it so well.)  Questioning opens the door for doubt which leads to inquiry which begets learning.

The idea of questioning the status quo came to mind as I was watching a video about students who designed their own schools.  “It’s crazy that in a system that is meant to teach and help the youth, there’s no voice from the youth at all.”  That’s the opening line to Charles Tsai’s video about Monument Mountain Regional High School’s alternative academic program.  According to Tsai, when the project was first proposed, it was met with a lot of resistance from teachers who doubted that real learning could come from students developing their own curriculum, and yet the learning these kids demonstrated is amazing.  “The… project itself continues to evolve,” says Tsai, and “dozens of schools around the world have already expressed interest in [the] model.”

The notion of questioning also came up during the presentation on creativity in class this past week.  We were introduced to the idea of lateral thinking, a term for breaking existing thought patterns.  Brainstorming is a common tool for coming up with new ways to approach a problem, but I was particularly drawn to the idea of “provocation,” a concept every parent has experienced with the incessant why questions from a five year old.  How many times you have played that game, sure that you could explain a concept to the child only to find yourself stumped somewhere around the fourth or fifth why?  And when you found yourself wondering why, did you investigate the answer and learn something new?

Leave room for the doubt because to be so sure of your thinking or of the accepted way of doing things is to close yourself off to the possibility of learning.


Posted by on February 24, 2013 in ADLT 642


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