Dealing with Attitudes, or SKATE-ing away.

Mar 20, 2015

Students of Instructional Design (like me:  UMass/Boston, graduating in a few months) first come across SKA as “skills, knowledge and attitudes” from Dick & Carey’s "Instructional Systems Design:"  

The final step in the instructional analysis process is to determine what skills, knowledge, and attitudes, known as entry behaviors, are required of learners to be able to begin the instruction.”

For “entry behaviors” I substitute “course readiness requirements". Long before Dick & Carey, Benjamin Bloom’s "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives" identified three Domains of Learning:  Cognitive, Psychomotor, and Affective Domains.  These easily translated to Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes (KSA).

It is easy to see how instructional designers may confuse Dick & Carey’s use of SKA (to classify readiness requirements) with KSA (to classify targets of instructional objectives), though these are different in application. My first recommendation to readers is:

  • Use the order of letters to make that distinction in your own work: 
    SKA = entry behavior, KSA = learning objectives.

Robert Mager, another canonical figure in Instructional Design, prohibits “Attitude” when preparing instructional objectives:

[S]tatements about the affective (feeling, attitude) are always statements of inference, not of performance.  ….  If statements about abstract states such as attitudes can’t be called objectives until the performances which define them have been derived and described, wouldn’t it be fair to say that there’s no such thing as an “affective” objective?

To clarify this distinction between SKA (entry behaviors) and KSA (course outcomes): say I need a positive attitude to be an effective salesperson (positive attitude as readiness criterion). If I have a negative attitude (based on my life experiences) an online course will be unlikely to change that (positive attitude as affective objective), though it can teach me to smile when I try to sell things (smile as behavioral objective). 

Skills and Knowledge function equally as readiness criteria and instructional objectives, but Attitude does not. A lack of knowledge or skills needed to take a course can be remedied with a prerequisite course. Not so much attitudes. In my practice, I discovered a situation where this difference was important, and that is why I am writing this post.

I am developing an online course which proposes to help K-12 teachers adopt 1:1 student-centered learning in their classrooms.  It specifically targets Rogers’ “late majority” adoption group, who are not progressing.  In my analysis phase, I asked two related questions:  “Which barriers are preventing these teachers from progress in adoption?” and  “Can a course remove these?”   

Through a survey, I found that my target learners (the "late majority")  described negative experiences of their performance environment. They felt that there was not enough technical or administrative support to risk the change effort needed, and that their classrooms would self-destruct and they would be blamed. This was an example of the A in SKA as an entry behavior.

However, I could not convert this SKA to KSA. I could not reasonably target changes in that particular attitude as a course objective. The teachers needed different experiences in their performance environments.  The school would need to change aspects of the environment (and teachers would need to experience or at least believe in that change).

By bringing these concerns to the school leadership, substantiated by research and survey results, I triggered some administrative decisions that had been lurking in the background and evidently needed the extra push, and which promised to provide the environmental changes required.  I could now develop the course in good conscience.

My first recommendation was to use SKA for readiness requirements and KSA for instructional objectives.  My second is:

  • When converting SKA to KSA, consider not only what training can provide, but also what environmental changes could provide Tangible Experiences to address Attitudes. 

Proposing organizational changes may be beyond the scope of instructional design, but proposing that a course will change attitudes come by honestly from current conditions is bad instructional design.  Remember Samuel Butler’s observation:  “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

In my first version of this post, I proposed adding “Tangible Experiences” (TE for short) as a fourth readiness requirement, turning SKA into SKATE.  As I prepare to press "submit", this seems like a trivial and forced distinction. But it does confer some respect for the learner’s prior experience, and acknowledge the limitations of course-only interventions.  So I will include it:

  • When defining entry behaviors with SKA, remember to SKATE: Consider Tangible Experiences of the environment that would support readiness to apply instructional objectives to performance.

What do you think?

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