Home Depot: The Customer Experience

This is the first blog of a new series called “Who Needs Training?”.  This series is designed to provide the consumer’s prospective on the need for staff and management training, based on personal experiences with businesses. We have all encountered both excellent and poor customer service; those experiences are critical to the success of any business. By approaching these experiences in Human Performance Technology, we can identify those who need training and professional development, while appreciating others who have been trained effectively, and apply those behaviors and practices in the workplace. This is by no means a complete Human Performance Technology analysis, but rather feedback from a customer’s view point.

My wife has an amazing green thumb and enjoys caring for her small garden.  Unfortunately, so do the bugs. Her solution was to purchase more bugs – specifically, lady bugs, that are suppose to protect her tomato plants. So today, on October 15, 2012, at approximately 4:30 p.m., I accompanied my wife to Home Depot in search of these protective lady bugs.  I, myself, know nothing about gardening or bugs, so the practical thing to do, is to seek a little more information in the Gardening Section of Home Depot. To my surprise, the customer service experience was terrible. Because of the time of the day, the store was fairly empty so finding employee assistance was very easy, however, their helpfulness ended with their accessibility.  As we approached the cashier in the Garden Section, it seemed as if we startled him, as it appeared that he was either hiding or avoiding doing any work.  When asked if they sold lady bugs, his only response was that he does not normally work in the Garden Section and we should find someone else to ask!

I am a practical individual and I understand that it’s unrealistic to expect staff members to know where every item in the store is located; however, in basic customer service training, all staff should have learned and developed the “soft-skills” necessary to assist customers and their needs. Calling for additional help, taking a moment to reference a directory of product inventory, or responding with a simple phrase such as “I am not sure, let me find out for you” is the difference between good and poor customer service.

My initial response was that this particular staff member was lazy or simply a poor employee, however, as we approached a second staff member, working in the Garden Section, he provided a similar response, and again offered us no additional assistance.  He had indicated that he was new in the Garden Section and thought that the lady bugs were a seasonal item, but was uncertain. Based on this second encounter, and the inability to find any additional staff members trained to assist us in the Garden Section, we left the store with a negative experience rather than our lady bugs.

A classic model used in Human Performance Technology is included below and will be used to analyze the customer experience throughout this blog series.

The Person

The Environment

Skills and Knowledge

Data or Information

Capacity

Tools and Setting

Motives

Incentives

When reviewing the customer experience at Home Depot, we will first address “the person”. Both staff members we interacted with in the Garden Section lacked any knowledge about the Garden Section. Regarding capacity, both individuals appeared to have the ability to possess the skills required to complete the tasks they were presented, however, we can only assume that they have not been trained to develop such skills and knowledge and/or lacked the motivation to provide simple customer service.

From an environmental aspect, neither staff member referred to any reference or resource to answer our question, which leads me to believe that supportive material is not provided to staff members, which is reflective of poor management, failing to provide an environment for staff to succeed. Reflective of the similar responses we were given by multiple staff members, I can conclude that these staff members have not been trained in customer service skills, therefore setting these employees up for failure by not providing the tools necessary to satisfy each customer’s needs. If argued, that these staff members are trained and prepared with everything they need to succeed, then it would appear that there is a lack of incentives for employees, as both these individuals lacked any desire to go above and beyond to find the answer to a relatively simple question regarding product inventory.

To consistently quantify and simplify the customer service experience from a Human Performance Technology approach throughout this blog series, we will refer back to the HPT model and give an “X” for each failed section. Since the model is developed in three sections, the worst score a business can receive is “XXX”, while the best score would be no “X”s. In my opinion, I have scored the Home Depot experience as follows:

Home Depot Experience (10/15/12)

    The Person & The Environment
X Skills and Knowledge & Data or Information
X Capacity & Tools and Setting
X Motives & Incentives

Human Performance Technology Grade: XXX

If you are interested in learning how to maximize Human Performance Technology for your business, please contact Higher Power Training

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M-Learning (Thesis Volume 5.2: Implications for Teaching/Training)

In an era when teachers try to justify field trips, developing a program that that requires both field trip preparation and post field trip assignments in the classroom provides students the opportunity to retain more information from the field trip, and can be found more beneficial.  The Ocean Institute Podcast Program provides a structured program addressing these concepts providing teachers with an alternative to developing their own lesson plans to capture the same academic success.

Multimedia is another motivational tool used in the classroom; podcasts have become a popular multimedia format over the past few years and used my various organizations including museums and schools.  Many museums offer professionally produced podcasts as a directional guide as visitors travel through the museum experiencing what the museum has to offer.  In schools, many teachers provide their lectures in the form of podcasts, while other teachers help students develop podcasts instead of speeches or book reports.

This project is unique in that all it will combine the critical elements provided by museum and school podcasts.  Many informal educational facilities such as the Ocean Institute pride themselves in what they have to offer students; however, the general visitor does not have the opportunity to experience the same programs students complete nor do they understand the impact these facilities have on local students.  This program will generate a platform for the general public to experience the same programs as students; while at the same time, showcases the work of the students on a world wide scale since the podcasts would be downloadable on iTunes as well as the Ocean Institute’s website.

By Higher Power Training

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 2.1: Review of the Literature)

Introduction

There are many elements that must be addressed before producing a technology-rich instructional program.  First you must follow your instructional design guidelines including identifying your target audience and needs.  There are many elements that must all be designed properly for the entire program to run efficiently, including your actual instruction, your presentation platform, your assessment tools, and resources.  This review of literature will address learning theories developed by Thorndike and Skinner; technology integration to improve curriculum by Dr. Gardner; general technology integration into the classroom, distance learning, multimedia instruction, gaming and motivation, and podcasting integration; all while focusing on the foundation of instructional design.

Literature Review

When designing any program, one of the elements you must take into account is the target audience; you must understand how they best learn.  Conditioning human behavior is a topic that has been researched for years.  Two psychologists that spent much of their lives researching and testing their theories were Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner.  Both psychologists developed their own theories on how to condition human behaviors; Thorndike’s theory is called the Law of Effect and Skinner’s theory is the Reinforcing Stimulus/Reinforcing Concepts.  Although both theories are different, they both share many similarities and can potentially be combined to help create an effective computer software program to effectively teach students in the classroom.

Thorndike’s Law of Effect states that a response followed by a pleasant consequence is more likely to be repeated, whereas a response followed by an unpleasant consequence is more likely to be diminished.  The Law of Effect is directly a function of the interactions between positive (pleasant) and negative (unpleasant) reinforcements and punishments.  A positive consequence is defined as the gaining of something, while a negative consequence is the removal of something.  A positive reinforcement can be defined as something that can be perceived as a pleasant consequence, thus increasing the likelihood that a behavior will occur again.  A negative punishment is defined as something that provides an unpleasant consequence thus decreases the likelihood that something will be repeated.  The greater the reinforcements or punishments, the greater the effects of the law.

Skinner’s Reinforcing Stimulus/Reinforcing Concepts defines a reinforcing stimulus or reinforcer as a special kind of a stimulus encountered by someone performs a behavior.  This special stimulus has the effect of increasing the behavior occurring just before the reinforcer.  Skinner’s concepts state that if a behavior is followed by a consequence, and the nature of the consequence modifies tendency to repeat the behavior in the future.  A behavior followed by a reinforcing stimulus may result in an increased probability of that behavior occurring in the future; while a behavior that lacks a reinforcing stimulus may result in a decreased probability of that behavior occurring in the future.

Both Thorndike’s and Skinner’s theories have many similarities and differences.  Both theories recognize that consequences due to behaviors have a direct impact on conditioning human behavior.  However, in Skinner’s theory, a behavior is likely to reoccur based on a reinforcer rather than whether the stimulus is positive or negative.  Thorndike’s theory on the other hand is based primarily on the reinforcements and punishments, both which in theory could be stimulating.  Both theories can cross paths in an attempt to positively reinforce someone for a good behavior.  The theories are less likely to co-exist in negative behaviors.  For example, if a child does something they are not supposed to, you are likely to yell no to them which is a negative punishment, however still very stimulating to a child.  The one instance when a the theories can cross paths for negative behavior is when the negative punishment described by Thorndike involves taking attention away from the person doing the behavior, thus limiting the stimulus described by Skinner.

In designing an online program, it is critical to take the consistencies within both of these theories to identify the most appropriate ways to positively reinforce students for success within the program, while limiting the stimulus for incorrect decisions within the program.

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 1.2: Background of the Study )

Learning about science is a lifelong process; science is a constant ever-changing subject.  It is one of those few subjects that most people find to be interesting in one aspect or another; whether you are looking to research the latest diet fads, visit a local zoo or museum, or wants to buy the newest technology on the market; science is functional in everyone’s lives.  Individuals rarely engage in science learning in order to become experience in a field or science, or to achieve a certain level of generalized scientific knowledge and skills.  Despite these findings though, the American public has consistently demonstrated a deep and abiding interest in personally relevant science and technology topics, suggesting that many people find science and technology interesting enough to pursue in their free time and that they engage n many kinds of activities that hold the potential for learning about science (Falk, Storksdieck, and Dierking).  In fact, the National Science Board conducted a survey in 2004 where only 14% of those surveyed had not been to a museum, zoo, or library in the previous year (McComas, 2007).  The hands-on or psycho-motor element of learning is a central design element in many informal settings.  At these sites one finds buttons to push, levers to pull, experiments to try, and paths to walk.  There are unusual animals, puzzling questions, interesting equipment, and endless ways to put these objects and experiences together and discover new and meaningful insights.  The opportunities for these tactile experiences to affect the affective domain and result in new learning are vast (McComas, 2007).

The biggest challenge for informal learning centers is to create lesson plans that result in efficient and measurable results.  If a designer builds particular learning goals into an exhibit and the museum visitors fail to grasp the intended lesson, it may be reasonable to suggest that the museum has failed.  If students visiting a science center return to school with new misconceptions or without having tied the experience to the school curriculum, the experience may be deemed unsuccessful.  The learner in these situations does not fail, but designers, tour guides, and teachers may if they do not take responsibility for considering the learning and facilitating knowledge construction (McComas, 2007).

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 1.1: Introduction )

The purpose of this Ocean Institute Podcast Program was to bridge the gap between science, education, and informal science education, while motivating students in the field of science and technology.  The program is showcased on a National scale with the use of the Internet, while students have the opportunity to take ownership of their own project.

The Ocean Institute is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to improving science literacy in the schools.  The Ocean Institute was established in 1977 and currently serves over 90,000 K-12 students per year with innovative science and social science field and lab programs.  The Ocean Institute engages students with 60 standards-based programs and a philosophy that encourages small group learning, trained professional science instructors, and inquiry methodology.  In 2002, the Ocean Institute built a modernized Ocean Education Center that offers fully-equipped At-Sea, Ecology and Surfscience Learning Labs supported with a collection of local marine life in over 60 tanks, a Coastal Ocean Observing Station, 16’ Oceanography Test Tank, Digital Video Analysis Lab, Folino Center for Technology and Communications, and a Center for Cooperation in Research and Education (CORE).  In addition, the Ocean Institute operates three seagoing vessels including the 70’ research and education platform R/V Sea Explorer, brig Pilgrim and topsail schooner Spirit of Dana Point

The Ocean Institute has emerged as a leader in developing innovative solutions to science education with particularly strong achievement in linking university research to formal and informal education settings.  The Center for Cooperation in Research and Education has become a think tank for addressing challenging educational projects and currently manages seventeen active projects including two National Science Foundation-funded projects: Sea Floor Science targeting middle school Earth Science standards, and SeaTech which addresses career and workplace training for underserved youths in middle school and high school.

The Ocean Institute is one of the county’s leaders in providing high quality professional development for area teachers.  Each year the Ocean Institute hosts over 1,500 teachers through workshops, seminars, lectures and programs designed to improve content mastery and inquiry teaching skills.  The Ocean Institute employs videoconferencing technology through its FolinoCenter for Technology and Communications to provide efficient professional development to teachers throughout the United States.  Finally, the Ocean Institute maintains a staff of over 50 trained science instructors who serve as role models for over 3,000 teachers annually who are engaged in Ocean Institute field trip programs.

Critical Look at the Educational System

Dr. Howard Gardner takes a critical look at the educational system in the United States by identifying the objectives and evaluating the success of the educational system.  Through his findings, he identifies the issues within the schools across the country and offers four reforms to enhance learning in the educational system.  Are his ideas on education accurate?  Can his reforms be implemented and successful?  How can technology aid in Dr. Howard Garner’s reforms?

Critique of Dr. Gardner’s Ideas on Education

Dr. Howard Gardner has presented some valuable insight into the minds of students as well as into the effects of the educational system.  In his opinion, most schools have failed to be successful and unable to obtain their goals; while those schools that proclaim success still lack the ability to provide their students with deeper understanding.  Although I completely agree with his opinion, I disagree with his statement that the failures in school are a reflection of failures in society.  I am a firm believer that although some students may fail under the constraints of formal education, those same students may continue to learn and succeed with the aid of alternative learning provided throughout our society.  Dr. Gardner states that “Human beings have tremendous capacities to learn and develop, as can easily be seen if one watches a child actively exploring his environment during the first years of life.” (Gardner, 2004, 249)  I am completely in agreement with Dr. Gardner but question the cause of limiting a person’s capacity for learning as they mature.  What in human nature, society, or education prevents children from continuing to learn at the same capacity as their first year of life?  In my opinion, the structure of education places the constraints of students’ ability to learn.  This opinion is backed by Dr. Gardner who points out that “educators should exploit the cognitive and affective powers of the five-year-old mind (an energetic, imaginative, and integrating kind of learner) and attempt to keep it alive in all of us.” (Gardner, 2004, 250)  Unfortunately, “schools are subject to various constraints that make it difficult for them to serve diverse clientele and to undergo smooth changes.” (Gardner, 2004, 251)  I am in complete agreement and would label ‘state standards’ as one of those constraints preventing success in the educational system.  State standards force teachers to teach information to be regurgitated in testing and limits students the ability to develop inquiry-based thinking as well as a deeper understanding of the information.

Evaluation Dr. Gardner’s Proposed Reforms

Dr. Gardner proposes four reforms to assist in the improvement of the educational system.  The first deals with how students are assessed, the second is concerned with the quality of curriculum, the third addresses teacher practices in the classroom, and the final component is community support.  Although my opinions are somewhat mixed with Dr. Gardner’s critique of the educational system, my opinions are in complete agreement with Dr. Gardner’s educational reform.  Assessment is key to any program, including the educational system.  Standardized testing is a poor evaluation due to the fact that it is only measuring the student’s ability to regurgitate information.  Building portfolios as mentioned by Dr. Gardner is a much truer evaluation of students’ ability because it would allow students to problem-solve, use creativity, and have a deeper understanding of the information presented in class.  As stated by Dr. Gardner, “unless the accompanying curriculum is of quality, the assessment has no use.”  (Gardner, 2004, 254)  Both the second and third reforms dealing with curriculum and teachers are related to one another.  Although Dr. Gardner does not go into great detail about improving the quality of the curriculum, he does note that professional development is critical for teachers to improve the quality of teacher practices in the classroom.  I am a firm believer that professional development is necessary for teachers to continue to improve in their professions as well as introduce new ideas, information, and technology that may help teachers improve the quality of learning in their classrooms.  The fourth and final reform addresses the need for community support.  Dr. Gardner calls for the local communities to be active in the schools.  I think this is very important when motivating students for the future as well as introducing real-world applications for information taught in the classroom.

Recommendations for Dr. Gardner

Dr. Gardner has identified some very key factors in improving the educational system.  My only recommendation I would have for Dr. Gardner is to go into greater detail with his reforms by offering specific examples of how to apply the reforms.  My suggestions would include specific assessment types such as art portfolios, science projects, or PowerPoint presentations.  The quality of curriculum may be improved by changing the focus from regurgitated information to the development of problem-solving skills and inquiry-based thinking.  Community support can also be improved by offering internships and collaborations with other businesses, museums, art galleries, and other informal education facilities.

Recommendations for the Educational Establishment

When taking into account Dr. Gardner’s reforms, the greatest recommendation I have to offer is to develop a successful pipeline for students to be successful not only in their current grade level, but future grade levels — to motivate students to attend and succeed in college.  To develop a successful pipeline, schools must develop a successful program early in a child’s educational life.  To be successful, schools cannot educate students alone; informal educational centers, museums, and businesses must collaborate with schools to develop in-class curriculum, after-school activities, and hands-on experiences to reinforce and generate deeper understanding of information taught in the classroom.  Schools must also address the needs of all students; understanding that not all students learn the same nor can they be evaluated the same; thus assessments should be flexible enough to obtain truer results than the typical standardized testing currently in place.

The Role of Technology in the Future of Education

Dr. Gardner’s reforms can be enhanced by the use of technology in education.  When reevaluating assessment design, the integration of technology can assist in new and exciting ways to evaluate student progress; these technologies can include podcast production and PowerPoint presentations.  As Dr Gardner noted, an increased improvement in curriculum is critical and can be accomplished by integrating technology that provides alternative learning, reinforcement of information, deeper understanding of curriculum, and motivation for students.    Technology such as software, Internet, and interactive multimedia can provide alternative teaching techniques, access to information, help develop problem-solving skills in the classroom and encourage inquiry-based thinking.  Technology integration can also impact teacher practices in the classroom which was one of the other necessary reforms.  However, with all new applications, professional development focusing on technology integration will be key.  The final role of technology and perhaps the most important role is the ability to showcase students work on a much larger platform, thus increasing student motivation and pride in their academic accomplishments.

Conclusion

Dr. Gardner has a very objective and critical, but true view of the educational system.  He offers some great reform theories that may truly improve the success of students on the educational system.  As he identified, it is the responsibility of teachers, administrators, parents, and all other citizens in the community to reach out and assist in the reforms for there to be any great improvement.  In this Era of Technology, multimedia and technology can be a positive benefit to enhance Dr. Gardner’s reforms and generate even greater success in improving the educational system.

By Higher Power Training: Providing Instructional Design and Training Services since 2000

Reference

Gardner, H. (2004). The unschooled mind, tenth anniversary edition, pages 249. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Hybrid Courses: Getting into the Technology Pool One Step at a Time

If the advances in technology have you a little intimidated in the field of learning and training, you are not alone.  Many companies, students, and Universities are sensitive to resistance of complete distance learning with an e-learning platform.  The answer for those seeking to try the technology-based learning without committing fulling to the online experience is the development of the hybrid course.  Hybrid courses are courses that combine face-to-face classroom time with online learning activities that are designed to complement each other.

Hybrid courses contain three key points:  (1) Web-based learning activities are introduced to complement face-to-face work; (2) “seat-time” is reduced, though not eliminated altogether; (3) the Web-based and face-to-face components of the course are designed to interact pedagogically to take advantage of the best features of each. (Hybrid Courses)

Hybrid classes are designed for students that are looking to combine in-line classes with on-line activities.  They also provide students that have a full schedule with family, work, and other classes with the ability to take additional classes by eliminating travel time and on-campus time.  They also provide students that prefer an on-line environment with the opportunity to take advantage of some face-to-face interaction.  Where are hybrid classes offered?  How are they perceived by teachers and students?  Are they superior to traditional classes?

Hybrid classes are offered across the country at various universities including: the University of Central Florida, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, and Bakersfield College.  Although these schools offer hybrid courses, the subject are very diverse, supporting an idea that most courses can be designed as a hybrid course.  The University of Central Florida offers more than one hundred hybrid courses to help assist with the overpopulation of the institution; some of those classes include: U.S. Space History, Assembling Digital Media, and Composition I.  The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee offers a number of different classes including: Advanced Nursing Practice Interventions, Cross-Culture Study of Religion, Survey American Literature, and Management Analysis.  The University of Arizona also offers a variety of classes such as Instructional Leadership.  Bakersfield College offers hybrid courses in multiple levels of mathematics.  Brigham Young University also offers hybrid courses, however their course structure differs from the other universities mentioned. At BYU, “Hybridization occurs when on-campus educators adopt distance education technologies and practices, and when distance education organizations adopt/adapt campus-based educational practices.”(Hybrid Learning)   With so many opportunities to experience a hybrid class, how are they perceived by the teachers and students?

Hybrid classes have many positive benefits for both teachers and students.  Hybrid classes offer teachers new teaching opportunities.  For instance, teachers can develop the lesson plans to utilize the strengths of both on-line and in-class teaching strategies to be more effective in achieving the class objectives and goals.  These courses thus provide solutions to problems that were difficult to fix with the limitations of traditional in-class or on-line classes.  Teachers also have the opportunity to connect to their students more in a hybrid class than they do in an on-line class, while students are more responsible for their participation and work than they typically are in an in-class course.  “The integration of out-of-class activities with in-class activities allows more effective use of traditional class time.”(UW-M)  Discussions that spread over both on-line class time and in-class time can be much more effective for two reasons.  The first is that students can spend more time reflecting on the discussion topic, research the topic, and collect their thoughts.  The other advantage is that students who are less likely to participate in an in-class discussion can still share their ideas via on-line.  “Faculty believe that their students learn more in the hybrid format than they do in traditional class sections.  They report that students write better papers, performed better on exams, produced higher quality projects, and were capable of more meaningful discussions on course material when reflecting online.”(Hybrid Courses)  Another benefit is the organizational process of a hybrid class.  Quizzes, grading, surveys can all be automated, while threaded discussions, course documents, announcements, and grades are easily accessible for students.  Although there are many positives offered in a hybrid class, new technologies and teaching approaches are likely to have their challenges as well.

There are a few challenges that hybrid courses present to teachers.  The first is the redesign of a course; course objectives and goals may change, teachers will have to redesign their lesson plans to effectively integrate in-class lessons with on-line activities, and most importantly, teachers must be comfortable with all technology necessary to provide an effective on-line component.  The biggest challenge a teacher will face once the class is established is managing the two different environments learning without overwhelming themselves or their students.  Students on the other hand will be forced to learn new technologies which can make a course more difficult to achieve the goals and objectives if students are spending more time troubleshooting technology rather than on the on-line activities.  After weighing the positives and negatives of hybrid classes, how do they compare to traditional in-class courses and on-line courses.

When hybrid courses are properly designed utilizing the benefits of both on-line and in-class components, the hybrid courses become superior to both on-line and in-class courses.  Students have a greater time flexibility and convenience by working on-line.  Students will have the opportunity to interact and participate with classmates and their teacher in the environment they are most comfortable with.  Students will have 24/7 access to course work and on-line resources while having face-to-face time to assist with any difficulties students are having on-line.  In-class time will also provide classmates and teachers the opportunity build stronger connections than an on-line class will.

Based on the information gathered, hybrid classes on an effective alternative to the traditional in-class or on-line courses.

Hybrid classes are highly recommended due to the number of benefits for teachers, students and universities.  Teachers “may find improved attendance in the reduced classroom portions of the course, while their face-to-face teaching techniques are expanded and discussion responses by students are generally more thoughtful when written than when given extemporaneously.”(Hybrid Learning)  Students benefit by “increased time flexibility – including reduced commuting and parking time & opportunities for employment.  Students also have access to pre-recorded lectures and course materials for review if needed.”(Hybrid Learning)  These lectures are typically better quality and easier to comprehend because they are done in shorter modules.  Universities also benefit by “increased enrollment without increasing classroom space. Schools can offer “paired” courses on one day (block scheduling) allowing commuters & part time students the opportunity to take 2 classes with only one on-campus visit.”(Hybrid Learning)   Hybrid classes take advantage of technology and successfully integrate it into education improving learning across the country.

By Higher Power Training: Providing Instructional Design and Training Services since 2000

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Arizona State University.http://asuonline.asu.edu/FacultySupport/Hybrid.cfm.

Bakersfield College.  www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/distance_learning/hybrid.asp.

 Brigham Young University. http://home.byu.edu/webapp/home/index.jsp

 Hybrid Courses. http://www4.uwm.edu/ltc/hybrid/.

 Hybrid Learning. http://media.njit.edu/hybrid/defined.php.

University of Central Florida. http://www.ucf.edu/.

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/LTC/hybridcourses.html.