Un-learning Google Forms

What is the role of the Instructional Designer in anticipating the learners need to un-learn and in supporting the teacher, in that perhaps most important task, facilitating un-learning?

I came to this assignment with a mild bias against Google Forms. A very long time ago, we made forms with HTML. Moreover, that offered a huge amount of customizability though at the steep price of building them from scratch. Six to eight years ago, my workplace transitioned to Google. Forms were among the tools available as a result. Looking back I am uncertain whether Forms has improved over time or if the functionality was there and we did not know how to use it. However, we soon switched to Survey Monkey (much more sophisticated was our participation in the MISO survey, a powerful tool, but mostly a black box) and more recently the Qualtrics product. It was with this in mind that I approached this assignment.

In this instance, un-learning was triggered by recognizing the feeling of misgiving that perhaps something was missing. In the workplace, I have gotten good at trusting that feeling when it comes to others’ presentations or projects. In my personal relationships, I recognized it when I rationalize or giving half-measure. This, for me, is first an aspect of listening intently, to others, and then to myself. However, in this case, my listening was dulled by my bias. Sometimes in life, we tell ourselves rich and complex stories based on just a few ambiguous facts and a bunch of emotional energy. These stories get in our way of relating with other people and of learning. In this instance, I was not telling myself a rich or emotional story. Rather, “Why is Skip having us work with Google Forms? I know there are better tools out there.” My simple story blocked my progress for a long time.

It was these misgivings in this case that slowly dragged me into realizing I needed to un-learn, in order to complete this assignment.

Because of previous work, I came to this project predisposed to create all of my content up front. In addition, this was an approach that actually delayed my insight into needing to un-learn. On many other occasions, I simply fire up a new program and see what it can do, learn it on the fly. Here I imagined that I knew what Forms could do. It also caused me to miss the nuance in Skip’s emphasis on “branching logic.” I sensed it was important to him and accordingly imagined I needed to write it into my content, up front. Yet, I was working on a real-world project, and real-world data (Google Analytics tells us a fair bit about folk’s use of our website) accordingly I needed to ask about what we do not know. Unfortunately, that did not fit well with “branched questions” hence Skip and I struggled to communicate here. If I was simply doing a simulation for the assignment then I probably would have been quicker to un-learn, but this project had real-world consequences for me, hence I was more stubborn then I might have been otherwise.

We were at an impasse as I approached Tuesday, evening’s synchronous session. The technical difficulty in my logging in meant that I heard Skip’s talking about the “description” and “question” text fields incompletely and out of context. However, it was a moment of niggling misgiving. My last attempt to use Forms had been stillborn on this functional ambiguity. Questions as spreadsheet headers, or not, made analyzing the data cumbersome and impractical (real world, I need this now and I do not have time or patience to figure it out). Therefore, this started my repeating my simple story above, “Why is Skip having us work with Google Forms? I know there are better tools out there.” The misgiving was inarticulate at that moment but it was simply my recognizing I did not know as much as I thought I did. Seeing Skip fumble around with the Forms interface was likewise an ambiguity. I started to repeat my story but pressed pause because Skip said, “They must have recently updated Forms. Things have moved around.” This simple fumble, I am sure, not intentional, but oh so real, caused me to watch the video that Skip posted. Why had I not bothered with the other video tutorials? First, I knew, already about Forms. In addition, internet access now is more challenging; hence, I am increasingly declining high data, and high bandwidth, options. I also have a vague recollection of Skip saying the Atomic Learning tutorials were “older.” My bias and my situation caused me not to engage with all the online learning objects.

Watching the new tutorial connected the dots for me. Skip is interested in branching logic because it is a feature of the Forms functionality. He wanted us to recognize the power. This was obscured for me in part because I tried to write my form completely and upfront in Google Docs.

Another important moment of realization that I needed to un-learn came from interacting with Valerie’s assignment. She has nicely broken her survey into sections. In fact, as a survey taker, this is something I dislike a lot. The only time I have patience for it is when the survey designer provides enough information to navigate the form and manage my impatience. This bias likewise stood in my way to discovering the branching logic functionality. Indeed, I discovered the section button on the toolbar and then immediately removed the section I accidently created when I was first messing about with moving my content into Forms. Seeing Valarie’s form was the moment of understanding regarding how sections and branching logic function in Forms. Skip said it in his tutorial, but to learn it I needed to interact with a peers’ form.

I still believe there is significant room to be critical of Google’s Forms. They are right-at-hand, powerful, richly featured, grossly under-explained, and not particularly intuitive. That said most of my struggle was due to my own internal monolog. So, how do I as a budding Instructional Designer design with a learners’ need to un-learn simultaneously along with their learning, in mind? How do I help teachers facilitate learners in un-learning? Treating myself as a case study I see the following elements that might have broader application.

  • Peer-to-peer
  • Down and dirty learning object(s) targeted at miscommunication
  • Sensitivity to miscommunication
  • Experience may provide a clue that a topic is likely to require unlearning
  • Collect and offer samples to interact with

A down and dirty search of Academic Search Premier, “unlearning” limited to education and psychology peer-reviewed article, shows that “un-learning” appears across many disciplines, medicine, social work, teaching, technology, organizational change, and leadership. The concept itself is contested (it would not be academia otherwise). It is not my intention to research this here, nor to argue for the concept.  Rather, I want to use it as a a “variable” as I sort out my tentative re-invention of self as Instructional Designer.

In my case study, I mentioned the stories we tell ourselves.  And this is a construct I learned from the Crucial Conversations training from Vital Smarts.  They also offer a mnemonic, AMPP, which stands for Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, and Prime when one is trying to stay on track in crucial conversation.  It is also a useful tool for interrogating, and interrupting and rendering the stories folks are telling themselves as objects of self-reflection.  This without being rude or causing defensiveness.  I think of the story I was telling, “Why is Skip having us work with Google Forms? I know there are better tools out there.”   I could have engaged in my own AMPP process and probably made quicker progress on this assignment.  However, I need to get into the skin of an Instructional Designer and apply the mnemonic from that point of view.  I see the need for AMPP as I work with Professors on a daily basis to interrupt the stories they tell themselves about students and about their subjects. But how do we anticipate as distance learners need to “unlearn”?  How do we build that into a curriculum?