Introducing the pretty good model

Skills courses help students learn to do tasks independently. Programming, statistics, graphics design, technical writing… universities have many such courses. Most of these courses are about solving problems, not simply rote performance.

I’ve been teaching skills like programming for a long time. It's taken a while to get it right, but at last everything has come together. My courses aren't perfect, but they’re pretty good. Students learn useful skills, classes are fun, and the semester runs smoothly. If you're looking for a way to do right by your students, without driving yourself crazy, this is a pretty good place to start.

The pretty good model (PGM) is based on other people's work. First, the "what": what should a pretty good course be like? For that, we can use learning science and instructional design (ID) research, particularly 4C/ID and complex learning. For a quick intro to that world, see chapter 7 of Neelen and Kirschner's Evidence-Informed Learning Design (2020).

Second, there's the "how": how do we go about making a good course? For that, we can dip into agile methods, developed for making software, then adapted to instructional design. Examples are AGILE (for Align, Get set, Iterate and implement, Leverage and Evaluate), and LLAMA (Lot Like Agile Methods Approach). PGM is compatible with these methods, as you'll see.

Some people in corporate training see courses as one part of a larger performance system, that helps people get things done. The 5 Moments of Need framework is an example. In the workplace, we might give people performance support tools, like checklists for uncommon tasks. People learn how to use the checklists in courses, and in refreshers as new performance support tools are created.

PGM is about making and running courses. However, PG courses can be one part of a performance system. PGM's emphasis on learning for tasks is compatible with the broader view.

Here's how the paper is organized.

  • Boundary conditions - what situations is PGM for?
  • Course goals - what is "expertise," anyway?
  • Course elements - what a PG course is made of
  • Course operation

Onward! To pretty goodness!