SCORE Courseware Offers Model for Adult Learners

by BRETT BIXLER, Instructional Designer and JOHN SPOTTS, Instructional Designer Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy Penn State University University Park, Pa. The Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at Penn State, in conjunction with AT&T Corporate Human Resources and Florida Community College at Jacksonville, and funded by the National Workplace Literacy Grants program of the U.S. Department of Education, has developed customer service computer-assisted instruction for mid-literate adults. The courseware is called SCORE (Sales and Customer Service Occupational Readiness Education). This article discusses the design and use of SCORE in detail. The examples are all very specific to this package's particular focus on customer-service skills. The overall design, however, is useful as a model for other types of industry-specific training for adults. The emphasis on "mid-literate" adults, those who may need extra practice in basic skills such as reading for information or filling out forms correctly, is also portable to other training programs. Background AT&T's on-going objective is to provide opportunities for its customer service and telephone sales personnel to upgrade their skills. In order to assist them in acquiring the additional skills needed for advancement, AT&T is developing new programs that enhance critical basic-skills performance. Those who successfully complete the basic skills training (or who are exempt by virtue of a high score on a pretest) are eligible for extra technical training in customer service and telephone sales. To begin with, AT&T surveyed many of its job sites to identify what their customer service people need to do. The jobs identified by AT&T were then analyzed in a literacy task analysis by the Adult Literacy Institute at Penn State to identify the basic skills required. The Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System's (CASAS) list of basic skills needed in the workplace was used to aid analysis. CASAS is a California-based, nationally validated, adult education curriculum management and assessment system. When all tasks were analyzed, the institute created 16 job-like scenarios (simulations) in a computerized courseware design that incorporated essential tasks and the basics skills required to complete them. SCORE uses simulations in a functional context to teach basic skills. Simulations are best suited to training and education involving problem solving and/or decision-making skills and provide learners with control over the learning process.1,2 The functional-context approach adds intrinsic value for learners.3 In functional context instruction, tasks are first analyzed for their basic skill components; this analysis is then used to compose the instruction. Thus, SCORE employs real workplace tasks to develop basic skills. Overview Because each scenario is set up as a "you are there" simulation, it is highly visual. The computer typically displays a 3D representation of an office -- complete with objects such as a desk, chair, manuals, forms and a computer. Learners arrive at work, are told what the job is, do the job and then receive an evaluation on their performance from a simulated supervisor. SCORE teaches basic workplace skills in: Reading: SCORE teaches learners how to interpret a form, chart, manual or computer screen in the context of a job they must perform. Writing: Writing is stressed through completion of job forms, charts, letters and computer entries. Math: SCORE gives learners math tasks. For example, they must use simple formulas when completing an Insurance Comparison Form or adjusting a bill. Problem Solving: Learners must apply problem-solving strategies to accomplish a task. In one scenario, for instance, they must determine what product or service best meets a customer's needs and explain why it is the correct choice. Critical Thinking: Critical thinking skills are developed and enhanced in the courseware's instructional exercises. Learners can choose to receive instruction when they want it or are guided to it by a built-in tracking system whenever they have difficulty in successfully completing a task. Courseware Scope & Design SCORE consists of five distinct modules (see Figure 1). Each module is designed to build upon skills obtained in the previous module and add new skills. Each scenario (computerized simulations of workplaces) within a module has specific tasks or situations learners must accomplish or handle. Where possible, variability is integrated so learners may use a scenario repeatedly without encountering exactly the same situation. The first module learners encounter is Module 1 -- How to Use the Computer. This teaches them basic computer use and provides an introduction to the rest of the courseware. Modules 2 through 5 each consist of four scenarios that teach learners about using forms, charts, manuals and computers as reference tools. All scenarios revolve around a customer service theme. Modules are hierarchical in difficulty, with Module 2 composed of relatively easy tasks and Module 5 having more difficult ones. Questions appear on the screen that learners must answer. Learners typically interact with the computer using the mouse or the keyboard, manipulating objects in the computer environment by clicking on or dragging them. Online help, in the form of a Panic Button and also a Help Button, is always available to assist navigation through a scenario and to provide information on what to do next. In addition to the courseware, several manuals are included: the Metacognitive Manual, which contains classroom exercises instructors can use to enhance the courseware; an Instructor's Manual, with guidelines for implementing classroom and courseware activities; and a Technical Manual that describes correct use of hardware and software. Customizable vocabulary drill-and-practice software is offered as well. Completion of a task usually requires several basic skills. In SCORE, basic skills instruction is integrated directly into the job task. The related basic skills are: Reading Skills Read and interpret specific information from written materials. Read and interpret tables and forms. Organizational & Learning Skills Use note-taking skills for remembering important information. Demonstrate ability to organize time and prioritize personal, educational and workplace responsibilities. Use resources to seek information. Communication Skills Initiate action in response to requests from a supervisor, instructor or customers. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Identify effective problem-solving strategies such as formulating, evaluating and choosing options. Math Skills Perform simple arithmetic operations. Determine rates, costs, accounts or other specifications for various types of items. One Scenario in Detail To illustrate key components of the courseware, one scenario in Module 5 is described below in detail. In this scenario, learners must recommend a product to a customer. Learners work for a fictional insurance company that now offers a new Gold Insurance Policy in addition to the standard policy; learners must determine which is best for their customers. Forms are read and math is used to determine the best product to recommend. When learners enter Module 5's "Forms -- Recommend a Product" scenario, they are told they must complete an Insurance Comparison Form. They must decide which insurance plan is most cost effective for a given customer -- a standard policy or the new Gold policy. To assist them in this task, they have an Insurance Claim Summary Form (a past record of the customer). Then they are told the types of skills they will need to complete the scenario. For example, in this one they need to know how to read, interpret and use forms as well as use simple mathematical formulas to complete the Insurance Comparison Form. A customer service representative drops off an Insurance Claim Summary Form and a blank Insurance Comparison Form for learners. A series of prompts and questions guides them through the process of completing the comparison form. Learners are assessed constantly by the courseware and are given instruction when and where appropriate. After completing the comparison form, learners decide which policy to recommend to their customer, who is then informed of the learners' decision. After answering all of the questions, learners receive a Job Progress chart containing feedback on their performance. This chart lists the basic skills they had to use to complete the tasks and how many attempts they needed to do so. All learner data is stored on individual floppy disks. Information typically recorded for each learner includes the Job Progress Chart for each scenario completed, a map of the lessons he or she used, and any online notes made by the learner using a built-in notebook function. A report generation feature will either display this information on the screen or print it out on paper. Thus it is readily usable by instructors to monitor progress and to guide the selection of supplemental instruction if needed. Under Learners' Control Learners control their environment through the use of buttons and pull-down menu selections. Instruction for each button and its function is offered in Module 1. Learners can also click on a Help button to get a reference chart that briefly explains each button. Listed below are typical buttons and what they do. Learners can click on the Learn About button at any time if they need extra instruction on any aspect of the scenario. This will bring up a menu list of appropriate lessons for the scenario on which they are working. If learners are uncertain about the necessary steps or their proper sequence, they can click on the Job button. This lists the steps (in sequence) that must be performed to accomplish the task. If learners are not sure what kind of help they need, the Panic button will ask a series of questions designed to help them. The Look at button allows learners to examine something (like a chart or a form) up close by zooming in on it. The Check Work button allows learners to check their progress in a scenario. It shows the Job Progress Chart mentioned previously. The Notebook button allows them to write online notes and messages for later reference; notes may be accessed at any time. The Stop button allows learners to exit the courseware. Bookmarking keeps track of where they stopped, so they can continue from that exact place at a later time. The Previous Screen button, found in lessons but not simulations, is used to back up in an instructional sequence. The Go Back button also occurs in lessons. Learners use it to end an instructional sequence and return to the scenario. SCORE puts learners in control of their learning environment. This control results in increased learning and positive self-esteem. Learners may work together in pairs or small groups, which enhances teamwork and communication in problem-solving; or they can work individually. SCORE, available for both Mac and Windows, was created with Macromedia's Authorware Professional. It needs 4MB of RAM and 20MB of free space on a hard drive. SCORE is available directly from the institute; estimated price is $460 for the courseware; demo disks are also available for $20. Vocabulary practice exercises (on disk), with manuals, are $30. Contact: Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy Penn State University 204 Calder Way, Suite 209 University Park, PA 16801-4756 E-mail: ISAL@psuvm.psu.edu Brett Bixler, who has a master's degree in Instructional Systems, is an instructional designer with the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at Penn State and is responsible for designing computer courseware for adult literacy, at-risk students and vocational education. He has taken part in developing SCORE, the Penn State Adult Literacy Courseware, the Penn State Adult Literacy Word Quest, the Penn State Adult Literacy Word Processor, Introduction to Computers for the Adult Literacy Educator, Job Trails, R.O.A.D. to Success, A Day in the Life... and Daybreak. Currently Bixler is in charge of development for workplace literacy efforts for several large organizations, including AT&T and Pennsylvania Blue Shield. He also d'es technology-related workshops for teachers and tutors. John Spotts, who has a bachelor's degree in Vocational Industrial Education, is also [is] an instructional designer with the institute. He is currently completing his master's degree thesis in Instructional Design, with an emphasis on research in computer animation and graphics. Spotts helped develop SCORE, Job Trails, R.O.A.D. to Success, A Day in the Life... and Daybreak. Prior to pursuing his master's, he worked in private sector management positions that required varying degrees of training responsibilities for adults. References: 1. Kearsley, G., Computer-Based Training: A Guide to Selection and Implementation, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. Reading, MA (1983). 2. Office of Technology Assessment; Congress of the United States, Power On! New Tools for Teaching and Learning, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office (1988). 3. Stitch, T., Functional Context Education: Workshop Resource Notebook. San Diego, CA: Applied Behavioral and Cognitive Science, Inc. (1987). Reprinted 1991, University Park, PA: The Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.

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