Thursday, December 09, 2010

Blended learning in martial arts

This week I passed for my 2nd degree (dan) exam in taekwon-do (ITF), which is the result of several months of training labour. Without the required learning and training of both mental and physical skills it's extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve a black belt degree. In a reflection on the learning process I went through, I also would like to give the reader a little insight in martial arts training, and more specifically the thorough and blended learning approach (including ICT!) that we followed to prepare for the exam. As you may know, martial arts is not only a physical thing, i.e. kicking and punching each other or performing a spectacular power break. As a matter of fact, a lot of techniques are performed in a non contact or semi contact way. The success and failure of your training labour depends largely on the five so called tenets (values): self control, integrity, courtesy, perseverance and the indomitable spirit.

So how to prepare for a degree exam? First of all there is the list of ITF criteria which in detail describes what you need to know and perform in order to pass the exam. The exam includes the following categories: patterns (hyongs), partner exercises, self defense, breaks and some sparring. In the near future the exam will also include a theoretical part about (historical) facts and background of taekwon-do. As an example of how a blended learning approach is applied I'd like to elaborate on the way how the performance of a pattern can be trained.

For the 2nd degree you need to train the first 12 (of a series of 24) different patterns. For the exam you know for sure that you have to perform the highest pattern (no 12, Ge Baek), four others are selected randomly by the exam committee, i.e. they mention the Korean name of the pattern and you need to start performing it immediately after the start command. To give an impression what it means to perform a pattern, take a look at the following movie of the Ge Baek pattern:

The question is how to learn such a pattern. Not only in the sense that you perform every movement in the same, mandatory sequence, but also to achieve that your movements have the right speed, balance and power.

The following list shows what we do and use to learn performing a pattern:

  • video examples of each pattern (like the one above)

  • a text book in which every pattern is described and illustrated with a series of pictures

  • instructor led training

  • practicing each pattern by yourself

The video examples work very well in different phases of the learning process. First it helps you to orientate on what the pattern looks like, secondly it is helpful when you want to practice the pattern at home and the instructor obviously is not around to ask questions or to demonstrate the pattern.

The text book basically has the same function as the video examples, although the emphasis is different. The pictures are of excellent help to show the specific positions between the subsequent movements. The movies can show how the movement itself needs to be performed. We used a text book written by van Beersum and Jansen (2009), two certified Dutch taekwon-do instructors (4th dan). In addition to the book we also used some reading materials about self defense and some advanced partner exercises.

A major part is probably the instructor-led training given by Sabum Ad Dekker. This part was done in the local dojo in Boxtel. This training is necessary to (1) demonstrate (first step-by-step, then as a whole) how the pattern should be performed and (2) to give immediate feedback once you need to perform the pattern yourself. The only way to perform a pattern really well is to do it over and over again, but also to receive feedback on how to improve your performance.

Obviously, it is not possible to use every training to perform patterns, so there is a need to practice patterns by yourself, outside the dojo, at home, together with fellow students.

This example demonstrates that a blended learning approach can work really well in sports education. In addition to the four points mentioned in the bullet list, the blend was even further extended in the sense that we could participate in several national training events of ITF Royal Dutch in Nieuwegein, hosted by master Steve Zondag and Sabum Hennie Thijssen. Here we had the opportunity to train with other certified instructors and masters in taekwon-do. Moreover, we were invited at the dojo of Sabum Willem Jansen and Sabum Paul van Beersum (the authors of the book), to train a couple of times with them in Bemmel.

I think it's fair to say that all of these training sessions did contribute to the final result: pass! The blend of tools, resources and trainers (who all had their specific insights and feedback to share; many thanks to all of you) provided a really rich learning environment.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

ITIL Foundation exam

Yesterday I participated in an official ITIL Foundation V3 exam. For those who are not familiar with ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), it offers a systematic approach to the delivery of quality IT services. However, although I work in the field of e-Learning, I am not really an 'IT guy'. So sometimes I felt like a complete stranger in a world that obviously has a relationship with e-Learning, but the focus is on delivering IT services and creating value for the customer. Different semantics and a lot of acronyms (AMIS, SPOC, SPOF) do not make things easier.

The training sessions (3 mornings) were offered in a F2F setting in combination with a Study Guide and a map containing handouts of the powerpoint slides (230), a glossary and two sample exams. The map also contains some brief overview document, which I cannot recall reading. For each training session we had to prepare some reading in the Study Guide and a part of the ppt slides. As I happen to work in the field of e-Learning the first question that raised my mind was, why not do the preparation with e-Learning? There is already a lot out there about ITIL V3. The second point that made me feel like a stranger is that in a normal training / learning situation the learner tries to find relations with knowledge structures that are already present (activating prior knowledge). I can assure you that this becomes rather difficult in a setting where a lot of the terminology is new and at first gives no clue. When I read something about 'follow the sun' you might think of some romantic place in a sunny location, but not about a service desk that is located in different continents in order to offer a 24/7 service. The third point I was not really fond of, is the fact that ITIL Foundation is a lot about knowledge and facts. Although the trainer did give us some small assignments, it is not about gaining insight or skills. This is also reflected in the MC exam with 40 MC questions. It was a deja vu experience (not in the good sense of the word) to my first year at the university. If you learn the full book by heart, you have a good chance of finding the right answer. Questions in which you have to read four statements and answer which one(s) is/are right are not really fun to do. In some sample questions the only difference between statement 1 and 2 could be the word 'AND', which was replaced by 'OR'. So you read the statements, you feel relieved to recognize the concepts that are mentioned, but then you still feel unsure whether the right answer was 'AND' or 'OR'. Luckily there were also some easier questions such as 'what does PDCA mean?'. At the university the MC exams were not really my friend. I often needed two or more attempts to pass. On the other hand exams with open questions in which you had to proof your insight, connect concepts with each other, reflect on it, led by far to better results.

So, after more than 20 years this was the first time I was confronted with a MC exam again. First of all I did not really have the time to do a thorough preparation, lots of stress at work are not good circumstances to study. So I postponed the preparation to the last day before the exam and did that in a marathon session from 08.30 until 23.30. Of course a couple of small breaks for coffee or eating. Via Twitter I had some contact with colleagues who were preparing the same exam. Most of the time I spent in reading the book, not at a very deep level I believe and looking through the ppt slides. Furthermore, I made two sample exams. On the one hand to see whether I would be able to achieve the pass score of 26, on the other hand to do a sort of question analysis. In one sample exam I discovered that if you have to answer which statement(s) is/are correct and you really don't know the answer choose 'all of the above'. When I made the sample exam as you make it normally I achieved a score of 21. When I applied the rule I just described to the questions I answered wrong, my score went up to 26! The difference between fail and pass.

So back to the beginning of my post. The exam was yesterday morning. Did I pass? I don't know yet, since we had to fill in a form, which was taken by the official examinator. The forms need to be scanned before we get the results. It could be next week, but may also take up to 14 days... I'm slightly optimistic that I did achieve the pass score of 26 or more. I'm just a little worried that when the result comes in that a lot of the theoretical facts already have left my brain. New knowledge is lining up to fill the ITIL knowledge gaps. It's much more important to know where I can find the necassary information, interpret it and see whether I can apply it to a specific situation instead of simply learning it by heart. Moreover, a point I did not even address here, it is obviously a prerequisite that ITIL procedures need to be implemented on the organisational level too, in order to be able to create added value for the customer.