Anchored instruction and narrative learning

Anchored instruction and narrative learning

When we develop self-paced online learning we try to look at how people actually learn in their work environment and model our pedagogical approach based on that reality.
A large amount of learning occurs just-in-time. Many of us wait until we actually need the skill or technique before we learn it and apply it to solving a specific problem. For example, a marketing analyst may not master Excel macros until he or she needs them for a particularly complex spreadsheet. Or a computer programmer may not take a formal course in a new programming language (such as jquery) but instead learn it piecemeal from books or online tutorials on an as-needed basis. This makes sense, after all: it often represents an efficient use of the most valuable resource we have—time.
When we emulate this pattern of learning it leads us naturally to embedding instruction in our narrative learning—what academics call anchored instruction.
How does this work in practice? When we develop an online learning resource we review the learning outcomes first and consider where specific skills or concepts can be integrated into the narrative environment. This is better illustrated through a real-life example.
Example: Anchored Instruction in a Simulation
When we developed a management simulation focused on sustainable management, we knew that we wanted learners to use some techniques for calculating return-on-investment (ROI) on competing projects that would improve sustainability.
In our “Taking the Helm at Coastal Industries Simulation” this meant anchored instruction in a decision point where Coastal Industries, a company that manufactures transformers, is considering three competing levels of energy conservation retrofits for its manufacturing plants. Learners are asked to figure out which of the three investments (Options A, B, and C) in retrofitting will yield the highest return-on-investment (ROI). To prepare the learners to conduct this analysis, we provide the background on ROI techniques and give an example of how ROI works.
screenshot of simulation
Then learners are given the raw data in the format they are likely to encounter it in the real-world. The next step is for learners to employ a prepared worksheet (using the web-based Zoho tool) and calculate the various ROIs.
screenshot of Zoho sheets
Then learners choose one of three options based on this analysis. The simulation then reveals the correct ROI calculations, allowing learners to check their work and understand why a given decision is optimal based on the ROI results.
So learners have been asked to:

  • learn what ROI means and how it is calculated;
  • apply this knowledge to a real-world problem and calculate ROI for three competing projects;
  • make a decision based on their analysis and immediately see whether they have calculated ROI correctly and, consequently, made the optimal choice.

What makes this more than a stand-alone problem set is that this decision-making process is part of an ongoing narrative. Learners can see that making the correct “just-in-time” decision about ROI (as they would in the workplace) influences their aggregate score in the simulation, reflecting its impact on the company. They also see how a series of decisions over time (compressed in the simulation) can move an organization in a given direction.
We’ve found anchored instruction in narrative learning to be a powerful way to show learners the importance of applying tools and techniques in a real-world setting. They are more likely to grasp the significance of a given analytical approach or skill if they can envision its use in context and see how it is integrated into actual business circumstances.


Copyright © 2012 MindEdge, Inc.
More information on MindEdge’s Taking the Helm at Coastal Industries Simulation.