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Teaching and Training During the Time of COVID-19

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
July 12, 2020

I’ve been invited to present a virtual poster at the National Training and Simulation Association’s iFest 2020. It was initially the usual conference poster you see at academic meetings. I prefer poster sessions because I enjoy the interactivity and the change to engage scholars in more in-depth conversations about my work.

However, this time I am building a poster in Microsoft Publisher while scripting a five-minute introduction to the concepts on my poster. You can see the modestly titled, “Brantley Learning Experience Design,” (BLXD) below. It is the culmination of reading and testing teaching models and methods for the last twenty years. I created it one day sitting at the University of Maryland’s food court while waiting for my class to start.

I had just read Paul Hanstedt’s Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World. Dr. Hanstedt argues that students should learn to deal with, “Wicked problems,” to help them build the skills for preparing for life after college. According to his model, students combine content knowledge, skill knowledge and a sense of authority to create thoughtful change. Dr. Hanstedt’s model reminded me of Dr. Fink’s Significant Learning Model, which had similar components: foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring and learning how to learn.

From this initial sketch, I added in other models and the lessons I learned from flipped learning and Universal Design for Learning. I added in Bloom’s taxonomy and Kolb’s Learning Cycle. Building the model was a fun exercise, but what good is it? Something was missing.

Dr. Sternberg’s Successful Intelligence Theory

A few months after creating the BLXD sketch, I was cleaning out my bookshelves when I found Dr. Sternberg’s The Triarchic Mind. After a little research, I discovered his updated theory—successful intelligence:

“Successful intelligence is the integrated set of abilities needed to attain success in life, however an individual defines it, within that individual’s sociocultural context. People are successfully intelligent by recognizing their strengths and making the most of them at the same time that they recognize their weaknesses and find ways to correct or compensate for them. Successfully intelligent people adapt to, shape and select environments by using a balance of analytical, creative and practical abilities.”

Adding the successful intelligence theory to BLXD gave me the missing piece. Now I had an underlying theory of intelligence that informed how to build the training content to create wicked students. Successful intelligence theory tells me how to select the right skills, knowledge and abilities to design the course around. Once I have the content, I could use the Flipped Learning General Standards from the Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences to build the learning activities both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.

Preparing Students for Public Administration’s Wicked Problems

The purpose of preparing students for careers in public administration is to help them make meaningful changes. Both Fink’s model and Hanstedt’s model pairs the theoretical knowledge with the abilities to put that knowledge to work. Students learn how to deal with the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous situations posed by wicked problems. I used a much earlier version of this model to create a public administration class that used simulations, directed readings and case studies to give a different educational experience than the usual lecture. I recently used the model to create a graduate leadership class that received rave student ratings. I recently received a teaching grant from the University of Maryland to further develop the model.

A New Instructional Design System for Government Training

Students are not the only ones who have to deal with wicked problems. Public servants also have to deal with wicked problems—sometimes daily. I have used BLXD to build courses for public employees. Recently, I developed a program to help Trademark employees learn innovation lab concepts such as agile project management and design thinking. Each of the knowledge, skills and abilities in the program could be traced to the successful intelligence theory. The learning activities combined preparatory work and a two-hour interactive online course using breakout rooms and interactive games.

A COVID-19 World Demands Successful Intelligence

In just a few weeks, government agencies had to adapt to a new reality. Few agencies were prepared for the challenges wrought by moving government workers to mandatory telework and safeguarding front-line workers. Training had to be developed quickly and made ready to deliver online. There will be much need for thoughtful change by government employees as they confront the continuing VUCA challenges of COVID-19 and a post-COVID-19 world.


Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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