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Friday, October 06, 2006

Design: Teaching Soft Skills: A Four Step Method

Often I am asked if soft skills: negotiation, leadership, etc can be taught online. To some extent the answer is “yes.” While I do not believe one can ever truly become a leader or expert negotiator just from online courses, I do believe that soft skill courses in those subject areas can reduce the overall learning curve and make people more effective when they are faced with situations in which they must use those skills in the physical environment.

So…how is this done?

One way to teach soft skills online is to use a four-step method. The first step is to present a model of the desired behavior to the learner. For example, in an opening lesson on team building the steps of forming, storming, norming, and performing are modeled through a short video clip.

A short video clip or a montage of moving images on team building showing the interaction of a successful team and how it functions effectively to solve a difficult issue is useful to set the learning expectation. Principles have a variety of intricacies that must be observed first-hand to be fully understood and appreciated.

The second step is for the learner to develop a mental checklist of the key behaviors of a particular principle. For example, in team building, the skill of active listening is important. Active listening involves paraphrasing, acknowledgement, and understanding how something was said in addition to what was said. It is best when learners are asked to deduce those behaviors from the video model presented in step one. While this poses a problem when designing online instruction, it can be over come by including a button or a link like “What the Expert Would Do” or “Ask the Expert.” Or having a “Frequently Asked Questions” button or link. Also, through clever links and questioning of the learner, you can force them to think about those things and provide answers.

The third step is to provide numerous examples of the applied principle in the form of scenarios. This involves case studies of the skills being applied in a variety of situations. It can also involve discussion of what the learner would do if confronted with a situation in which the particular principle was required (this can be done in an online classroom environment to supplement any self-paced courses or even done through a blog.)

Step Four is that the learners need to have the opportunity to practice the principle in a realistic environment that provides feedback on their actual behavior. This can be an online branching story or an interactive environment.

Please remember…teaching soft skills online is a step in the process and is not the final answer to learning how to negotiate or lead. The learner then needs to really be put into situations where they are required to lead or negotiate and given face-to-face instruction to finish the learning (if you can every full “learn” those skills.)

For more information, see a whitepaper on the subject Designing Instruction to Teach Principles(Soft Skills)

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Anonymous said...

I think you have to be careful at tackling certain softskills online. While I think Karl presents a good method, it's still risky, especially when tackling areas like teambuilding and conflict resolution. I think so much is accomplished by just getting the team together to have an inperson training. Even if they take little away from the actual content presented, they were physically there together and had a chance to discuss what they liked, disliked, etc. about the exercise if nothing else. Don't get me wrong, I'm an advocate of online learning. But as Karl stated, some things are just better taught in a traditional setting. If you have the budget and resources to do it, spent it on the teambuilding and softskill areas.

Karl Kapp said...

Your raise a good point and I often have discussion with people about team building exercises like...rope courses or catching someone who blindly falls backward. While they build the team at the moment, do they translate into the workforce, I'd really like to know people's view on this...I have to admit I am a bit cynical but trying to keep an open mind...let me know what you out of work team building exercises translate into a better team back at work?

Anonymous said...

sorry but what u talking about man. this is not a good way to post your comment. Don't mind plz as a frnd i m just telling u. don't talk about anyone like this. this is not good way . how u can say this online courses are not beneficail some courses are gud. sorry again plz don't mind.
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