Archive for the ‘e-learning development’ category

The dawn of a new generation

22 July 2014

User-generated content (UGC) is not a novel concept, but most of us in the corporate sector have barely scratched its surface.

Beyond enterprise social networks – which are hardly universal and face substantial challenges of their own – UGC in the broader sense is beset by concerns about content quality, accountability, organisational culture, job security and power dynamics.

And yet… the world is changing.

Notwithstanding either the validity or the importance of our concerns with UGC, the traditional training model is becoming increasingly unsustainable in the modern workplace. And besides, I think most of our concerns can be addressed by a change in mindset, a little imagination, a dash of trust, and a collective commitment to make it work.

To explore the practicalities of user-generated content, the Learning Cafe sponsored a webinar entitled Learner Generated Learning Content – Possibilities, mechanics and chaos? The event was hosted by Jeevan Joshi and presented by myself, Andrew Mazurkiewicz and Cheryle Walker.

My part comprised a proposed solution to a fictional caselet. Both the caselet and the transcript of my proposal are outlined below…

Call centre

Ron is the manager for a 250 seat contact centre at an insurance company in 3 locations. Ron has made sure that there is a comprehensive training program to cover all aspects of the job. However in the past 6 months improvements have plateaued despite improving the content and structure of the training workshops. Ron did an analysis of contact centre data and concluded that further improvements were only possible if practical knowledge and better practices known to the team were shared in the team.

Denise, a team leader suggested that operators would be keen to share how they dealt with difficult or complex calls using the web cam on the PC and post it on the intranet. Ron was concerned that recording may be a distraction and may be perceived by some as monitoring performance. Kit, the Learning Consultant insisted the videos should be loaded on the LMS so that the time spent and results could be tracked. There were also concerns that inappropriate videos may be posted. Denise was however convinced that it was a good idea and the only way to improve further performance. What should Ron do?

Formal training

Well firstly I think Ron should retain his formal training program. It’s important for the organisation to cover off its “must know” knowledge and skills, and formal training can be a quick and efficient way of doing that. Besides, moving away too radically from formal training would probably be a culture shock for the company, and thus counter-productive. So in this case I suggest it would be best to build on the foundation of the training program.

Training is the front end of an employee’s learning & development. I know from first-hand experience that there is a lot for contact centre staff to take in, and they can’t possibly be expected to remember it all. So the formal training needs to be sustained, and a powerful way of doing that is with an informal learning environment.

Formal training complemented by a content repository

A key component of the informal learning environment is the content repository – such as an intranet or a wiki – that contains content that the employee can search or explore at their discretion. The logical place to start with this content is with the existing training collateral. Now, I don’t mean simply uploading the user guides, but extracting the information and re-purposing it in a structured and meaningful way on-screen.

If Denise knows operators who are keen to generate content, then I would certainly welcome that. These people are the SMEs – they live and breathe the subject matter every day – so they are the obvious choice to add value.

However, I’m not sure if web cams are necessarily the way to go. In the case of dealing with difficult calls, audio would be a more authentic choice; visuals wouldn’t add anything to the learning experience – in fact, they’d probably be distracting. The operator could request a particular recording from the quality system and write up in text how they handled the call. And if they used a tool like Audacity, they could easily cut and edit the audio file as they see fit.

Another way of generating content – especially for process and system training – might include Captivate or Camtasia, which are really easy to use to produce handy tutorials.

An important point to remember is that the operator on the phone might need to look up something quickly. For example, if they have an angry or abusive caller on the other end of the line, they won’t have the luxury of wading through reams of text or listening to a 7-minute model call. So it’s important that the practical knowledge be provided in the form of job aids – such as a template or a checklist – that the operator can use on-the-job, just-in-time.

I don’t agree with Kit that this content should be put on the LMS. Frankly, no one will go in there – and in my opinion, that’s not what an LMS is for. By definition, an LMS is a Learning Management System – so use it to manage learning. It makes sense to use the LMS for the formal training program – for things like registrations, grading, transcripts, reporting etc. In contrast, what we’re talking about here is the act of learning – not its management. The operator needs a resource that is easy to access, easy to navigate, to learn what they need to do their job in the moment.

We must remember that the point of learning is performance – so the focus of our measurement and evaluation energies should be on the performance stats. The employees would have been thoroughly assessed during the formal training program, so now is not the time to go loading the LMS with more stuff just for the sake of tracking it. The real tracking now should be done with the business scorecard.

Formal training complemented by a content repository, which in turn is complemented by a social forum.

OK, a missing link in this solution is a social forum.

If an operator can’t find what they need, a social forum enables them to ask their crowd of peers. And again, because these peers are themselves SMEs, someone is likely to have the answer. Not only does this approach service the operator with the information they need, but other operators can see the interaction and learn from it as well.

Also, by keeping tabs on the discussions in the forum, the L&D professional can identify gaps in the solution, and review the content that is evidently unclear or difficult to find.

So in summary, my solution for Ron is an integrated solution comprising his formal training program, complemented by an informal learning environment including a structured content repository, which in turn is complemented by a social forum.

Those among us who like the 70:20:10 model will see each component represented in this solution.

Formal training (10) complemented by a content repository (70), which in turn is complemented by a social forum (20).

Do you agree with my integrated solution? What else would you recommend, or what would you propose instead?

Are we witnessing the dawn of a new generation? Can user-generated content be a core component of the corporate L&D strategy? Or is it just a pipe dream?

The Average Joe imperative

24 June 2014

There once was a time when I thought Second Life was going to take over the world. Well, the virtual world.

I was so impressed with the technology – and amazed at its availability for free! – that I saw it as an unstoppable force.

Yet more fascinating for me was its implications for education. Web conferencing was starting to become popular around the same time, and while these days Skype and FaceTime are de rigueur, back then webcamming introduced a sorely needed human element to distance learning.

However, I noticed something peculiar with web conferencing. While the webcam presented the human face, the learning experience remained undeniably isolated. We were all together, yet each alone.

Second Life was different. Its animations reproduced not only the full human form, but also the learning environment: chairs, tables, stage, etc. Now (at least visually) we were all together. The irony was that by making the interaction entirely artificial, it made it more real.

A virtual learning session in Second Life

Alas, Second Life had an Achilles heel. While it was drop-dead easy to participate as a consumer, it was relatively difficult to participate as a producer.

For a start, if you wanted your own space, you had to buy your own virtual real estate. But worse, it was surprisingly hard to make stuff. I remember trying to build simple objects using the developer tools, but I struggled. So I’d give up, go back to it later when I could steal some time, only to abandon it again. Until I finally gave up for good.

Now I’m a fairly tech savvy kind of guy. While I can’t hack into NASA, I’m confident enough to give any software a go and not be put off by shiny new toys. But I was put off by this. And so too, it would seem, was the rest of the L&D world.

Graph of Gartner hype cycle showing that all new innovations follow the same predictable trajectory from hype to eventual application

The moral of the story is deeper than the Gartner hype cycle.

In fact, while we experienced a peak of inflated expectations with Second Life, and then the trough of disillusionment, I don’t think as a profession we ever reached the slope of enlightenment, let alone the plateau of productivity. Sure, some educators such as Sydney Medical School are doing wonderful things on the platform, but that’s hardly universal.

So what happened?

To me it’s simple: Second Life failed to accommodate Average Joe. If Joe wanted to attend a virtual conference or a meetup, he could do so with ease; however, if he wanted to host a virtual conference or create a meetup venue, that was beyond him.

And so Second Life sailed off the edge of the virtual world.

Statue of Achilles Thniskon

Compare Second Life’s journey to that of other products that have emerged recently. For example, everyone says that Articulate Storyline looks and feels like Microsoft PowerPoint. Well guess what… that’s the point.

Love it or loathe it, PowerPoint is easy to use. So hundreds of millions of people use it.

Articulate’s master stroke was to piggyback the usability of PowerPoint for their own purposes. And the proof of the pudding is in its eating. I am seeing Average Joes everywhere who wouldn’t touch other authoring tools with a 10-foot pole expressing an uncharacteristic willingness to give this one a go. That’s not by accident; it’s by design.

I predict a similar fate for other emerging technologies, be it Tin Can, augmented reality, responsive e-learning, or whatever else lay on the horizon.

Address the Average Joe imperative. Lest your Achilles heel becomes your fatal flaw.

On the Money

11 October 2011

I had so much fun creating Australia’s Nobel Laureates, I decided to create another simple interactive learning object.

This one’s called On the Money and it pays homage to the great people who feature on Australia’s currency:

Australia's Nobel Laureates

On the Money

Launch the learning object

Download the files

This time I used Adobe Captivate 5.5. I’m still getting used to it, but I see the residual rollover effects have been fixed.

I also used audio this time to increase media richness.

If I were to create this learning object again, I would probably make better use of Captivate’s master slide functionality.

Australia’s Nobel Laureates

27 September 2011

The Nobel Prizes will be announced next week in Norway and Sweden.

Despite a few controversial decisions over the years, the awards have retained their international prestige for well over a century.

In honour of the event, I have created a simple learning object that showcases the Nobel Laureates from my own country:

Australia's Nobel Laureates

Australia’s Nobel Laureates

Launch the learning object

Download the files

This object was relatively easy to produce, and it surprises me that there isn’t more of this kind of thing in the education space.

To remedy the situation, I would like to share with you the 3 steps I took to create my learning object, and in doing so demonstrate the fact that just about anyone can do it.

My caveat is that I am neither a multimedia developer nor a graphic designer – though my role often involves wearing those hats. There are probably better of ways of doing this, but the following worked for me…

Step 1: Create a bunch of image files

My learning object accommodates 10 Nobel Laureates, so I created 10 images in PaintShop Pro, plus a landing image.

On each one I placed the title and subtitle, the mugshots, plus the content that was unique to each laureate (year, name, prize and motivation).

I’m a big fan of layers. You may have noticed I put a background image on the base layer, then overlayed that with a semi-transparent blue floodfill, over which I laid an image of the Nobel medal, over which I laid another a semi-transparent blue floodfill.

Of course you don’t need to go to all that trouble; you can use a plain background. However I think the layering effect adds an aesthetic richness.

Once I got the first image right, I copied it and edited the unique content for the next image. That way I didn’t have to re-do the titling and background.

Step 2: Import into Captivate

After I got all my images in order, I inserted each one onto its own slide in Adobe Captivate 3, ensuring the canvas size was exactly the same as the image dimensions (in this case, 1024 x 768).

Then I added a transparent button to each slide to execute a pause, inserted a click box over each mugshot, then pointed the click boxes to their respective target slides.

Note: I tried incorporating rollovers, but residual effects were screwing it up. My friend and Captivate guru, Marnie Bristow, tells me this glitch has been fixed in the latest version of the software.

Step 3: Publish it

I could have done Step 2 in PowerPoint. If you prefer it and it works for your audience, go for it. However, there are some good reasons to shell out the extra cash and go with Captivate:

• You can publish in swf format, which is really small to download;
• You can add SCORM, if you are that way inclined; and
• You can also record system simulations, which is what it’s designed for!

When I published my learning object in Captivate, the software produced a swf file, an accompanying skin, an html host, and a javascript source. All four need to travel together, so I uploaded them to a folder in Dropbox, then linked to the html file.

My learning object files on Dropbox

You should be able to do something similar on your own web server, intranet, LMS or VLE.

By the way, I realised I stuffed up by making the learning object so big. While most monitors have a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 or greater, I forgot about toolbars and the like that compete for real estate. Luckily I had a couple of “get out jail free” cards up my sleeve:

1. Resize the project in Captivate; or
2. Edit the dimensions of the object in the coding of the html file.

I decided to go with the latter because, if someone wants to use the bigger object, I might as well let them.

Done.

So there you have it: How to create an interactive learning object in 3 steps.

Hopefully you are brimming with ideas about your own learning objects that you will make.

And if an Australian wins a Nobel Prize next week, I won’t mind updating mine. In fact, I have my fingers crossed!

The 4 S’s of mobile design

12 April 2011

Given that smartphone sales are estimated to exceed PC sales by the end of this year, and mobile Internet users are expected to exceed desktop Internet users soon after, I have finally concluded that the time is ripe for mobile learning.

Heeding the advice of start small and fail quick, I have dipped my toe into the m-learning space by converting an existing online course into a smartphone-friendly format.

While I am no m-learning expert, I thought I’d share with you several tips that I have collected on my journey so far. I call them the 4 S’s of mobile design.

Businessman looking at his PDA

1. Slim

Smartphones have a finite screen width. The going rate seems to be 320 pixels, so making your course canvas that wide would be a good start.

I would also suggest maintaining a small margin on either side of the text to improve legibility.

2. Simple

While show/hide interactions and other bells and whistles arguably improve learner engagement in an online course, they are downright confusing on a mobile device.

I suggest ripping the text and images out of them and running with that instead. I know it sounds boring, but as Tom Kuhlmann said recently:

Learners won’t complain about the lack of interactivity
if the content is relevant.

I believe the primary benefit of m-learning is the very fact that it is mobile. To me, bells and whistles run a distant second to finding out what I need to know when I need to know it.

Besides, if you are relying on bells and whistles to engage your audience, there are deeper problems you need to address.

3. Swfless

Yes I know Android sales exceeded iPhone sales last year, but the fact remains many of my colleagues own iPhones. That means I need to account for Flash compatibility.

Given the iPhone can’t play swf files, I have to make sure I either don’t use them or I use an alternative format – potentially HTML5.

Who knows… maybe Apple will do a backflip and start playing swf’s after all? And they might have to, given they are no longer top dog.

Other formats that should be considered in terms of cross-platform compatibility include audio (which I suggest is best delivered as mp3) and video (which I suggest is best delivered as mp4).

4. Short

I’ve been reading quite a bit recently about the need to keep m-learning short. The general argument is that smartphone owners are a busy bunch who will accept only tiny snippets of information while they’re on the go.

I don’t buy it.

Sure, the mobile device is perfect for on-the-job, just-in-time knowledge and sporadic concept reinforcement – but that doesn’t mean it’s not convenient for longer content too.

For example, I wouldn’t mind working my way through a 30 minute course over two or three sessions on the ferry, especially when my boss lets me go home early to do so.

I rarely enjoy a clear half hour at my desk anyway, with the constant distractions of the office environment demanding my attention. So I might as well take advantage of downtime.

In any case, all e-learning content should be concise. Whether it’s mobile or not is a moot point.

Group of business people with smartphones

So according to yours truly, m-learning should be slim, simple, swfless and short.

Do you have any tips of your own? Any that you care to share would be gratefully received – even if they don’t begin with an S!
 

Online courses must die!

7 July 2010

A touch dramatic, isn’t it?

Now that I have your attention, please bear with me.

There’s method in my madness…

The myth of rapid authoring

The proliferation of so-called rapid authoring tools over the last few years has coincided with an explosion in the number of online courses developed in-house.

In the bad old days, technically challenged L&D professionals had to pay exorbitant fees to development houses to produce simple modules. These days, however, everyone seems to be creating their own online courses and distributing them via an LMS.

In tandem with this trend, though, has been the increasingly familiar cry of “It’s not interactive!”. Critics rail against boring page turners – and rightly so.

Bored at the computer

But you know what? Even when L&D professionals consciously integrate interactivity into their online courseware, I usually don’t think it’s all that engaging anyway. Increasing the number of clicks required to view the content does not make it more interactive. It just makes it annoying, especially for time-poor employees in the corporate sector.

Yes, I know you can embed real interactivity into courseware via games, branched simulations, virtual worlds etc, but hardly anyone does that. It requires time – which you don’t have because you’re too busy building the online course – or dollars – which defeats the purpose of developing it in-house!

So what’s the alternative?

Frankly, there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. Think about it: PDFs display structured text and pretty pictures. Just like a typical online course, without the fancy software or specialist skills.

Businessman typing on keyboardAnyone (and I mean just about anyone) can create and update a PDF. Suddenly SMEs are back in the game…

Write up a Word doc and convert it? Easy.

Update the Word doc and re-convert it? Easy.

Now that’s what I call rapid.

The best of both worlds

If we dispense with online courses in favour of PDFs, how can we incorporate interactivity into the learning experience?

Enter the Informal Learning Environment (ILE).

Occupying a place on the continuum somewhere between a VLE and a PLE, an ILE is an informal learning environment that a facilitator manages on behalf of a group of learners.

Essentially, an ILE is a space (like a website or intranet site) that centralises relevant learning resources in a particular domain. The site may host some of those resources and point to others that exist elsewhere.

So your PDFs can go in there, but so too can your audio clips, videos, puzzles, games, quizzes and simulations. Don’t forget podcasts, RSS feeds, slideshows, infographics, animations, articles and real-life case studies. Not to mention blogs, wikis, discussion forums and social bookmarks.

Man working on computer

Unlike a VLE, an ILE is strictly informal. The learners can explore its resources at their own pace and at their own discretion. No forced navigation, no completion status. In this sense, the pedagogy is constructivist.

Unlike a PLE, an ILE is communal. It exists to support a community of practice, whose members can (or more accurately, should) incorporate it into their own respective PLEs. In this sense, the pedagogy is connectivist.

But that’s not to say that the pedagogy of an ILE can’t be instructivist either. The facilitator should provide a learning plan for novice learners which defines a sequence of study, identifying specific resources among the potentially overwhelming array of options.

The sky’s the limit

An ILE is a scalable and flexible learning environment. If we view each resource within that environment as a learning object, we can appreciate how easy it is to add new content, update old content, and remove obsolete content.

Marbles

It’s incredibly inefficient to use up the precious time of an L&D professional to build, publish, test and upload an online course, only to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload it later, just because a few words need to be changed and a graph replaced. Instead, the SME can create and update the object via Word.

If you are keen on creating interactive tutorials, games or virtual worlds, now you can go for it! You have more time, and new tools are coming out that are making these kinds of thing easier to do. The finished product can be added to the ILE as another learning object. Again, if it needs to be updated later, there’s no need to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload a whole course – just that object.

If you commission an external developer to build a smokin’ hot immersive scenario, guess what: you add it to the ILE as another learning object. When it needs to be updated, you pay the developer to work on that object and that object only.

In this age of iPhones and Flip cameras, why not encourage your learners to generate their own content too? It’s another rich source of objects to add to the mix.

All these examples illustrate my central premise: when content is managed in the form of independent learning objects, it remains open and flexible, which means you can keep it current, relevant and organic.

Rockin’ role

Under the ILE model, the role of the L&D professional finally evolves.

Happy professionalThe SME is empowered to produce content, which frees you up to apply your own expertise: instructional design. This may involve a greater focus on engagement and interactivity.

The responsibility of learning is assigned back to the learners, which frees you up to guide, scaffold, encourage, discuss, prompt, probe, challenge and clarify. In other words, facilitate learning.

Your value in the organisation goes through the roof!

Take the ass out of assessment

I claimed earlier that there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. I glaringly omitted assessment. Please note I left it out on purpose.

There are just some things that the company must know that you know. You get no argument from me on that.

However, how we assess that knowledge is bizarrely old fashioned.

Ass

While it’s convenient to wrap up some content and a quiz into a single package, I just don’t see the point from an instructional design perspective. Forcing someone to register into a course, just to pass a dinky quiz at the end, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

It is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal. From exploring an ILE to chatting around the water cooler, there is a myriad of ways that people learn stuff. Assessment should represent the sum of that learning.

This is where the LMS comes in. In my view it should manage assessment, not content. More specifically, it should deliver, track and record standalone tests that are linked to particular competencies.

When the LMS is used in this way, the L&D model aligns more closely with the learning process. The employees learn informally all over the place, using an ILE as their central support resource, then (if necessary) they record their competence. The focus of measurement shifts from activity to outcome.

This unorthodox approach makes many people nervous. Their primary concern is that someone can jump straight onto the test and pass it immediately, without ever “doing the course”. In response, I make these three points:

  1. You can jump straight to the assessment in most online courses anyway.

  2. If someone bluffs their way through the assessment and passes, clearly it wasn’t robust enough. That’s your fault.

  3. Conversely, if someone passes the assessment because they already have the knowledge, what’s the problem? You are recording competence, not making people’s lives difficult.

Of course, this kind of nervousness isn’t confined to the corporate sector nor to e-learning. For example, many universities have a minimum 80% attendance policy for face-to-face lectures. I don’t see the point of turning up just to fall asleep with my eyes open, but that’s another story!

The method in my madness

Online courses must die because they are unsustainable in the modern workplace. They aren’t rapid, flexible or scalable, and they usually don’t take full advantage of their medium anyway.

So unlock your content and manage it in the form of individual learning objects in an ILE.

Shift the bulk of the content to PDF. In the age of e-readers, no one will notice much difference.

By all means invest in authoring tools, but only in ones that will help you create interactive and engaging objects – easily.

Exploit Web 2.0.

Use standalone tests to record competence on your LMS. They cover all sources of knowledge.

Informalise learning. Formalise assessment.

Everything big started small

1 July 2009

Last week, AMP hosted its biannual innovation and thought leadership festival, which this year was billed AMPLIFY09: Convergence and Emergence.

AMPLIFY09: Convergence and Emergence

I was lucky enough to attend many of the speaking sessions, and even live blog some of them.

Dr BJ FoggWhile the topics were diverse, one of the principles in particular that resonated with me was “Everything big started small”, which was workshopped by Dr BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University.

Starting small

In his session The New World of Persuasive Technology, BJ noted that, when you consider the history of successful consumer Internet services, a striking similarity emerges: each one started in a small, focused way.

Tree seedling, courtesy of Fire Engine Red, Flickr, under Creative Commons.

BJ offered Google as an example, which started as a search engine developed by a couple of college students.

Other high profile examples I can think of include Dell, which stemmed from its eponymous founder building computers in his dorm room, and of course Microsoft, which stemmed from Bill Gates and Paul Allen developing a BASIC interpreter for a microcomputer.

BJ’s point is that as small offerings succeed, they can expand. Sure, growth is slower than a big bang, but it’s steady.

Floresta Amazonica, courtesy of leoffreitas, Flickr, under Creative Commons.

And perhaps most importantly: when small offerings fail, the impact is small – so the remedy and recovery can be quick.

Compare that to those complex, ambitious offerings that try to offer everything to everyone. They require huge amounts of time, effort and money to design and implement. If they succeed, great; but if they fail, there is so much more to lose.

Tall trees, courtesy of inajeep, Flickr, under Creative Commons.

The bigger they are, they harder they fall.

Implications for e-learning

In terms of e-learning, the principle of “Everything big started small” can apply to introducing a new technology (eg blogs, wikis) or pedagogy (eg m‑learning, virtual classes).

Businessman, courtesy of surely, stock.xchng.comAt my workplace, I will be mindful of introducing a new initiative on a small scale. Probably the most appropriate means of doing this would be to select a pilot team to trial it.

If the initiative is successful for the pilot team, I can add more teams into the program and perhaps evolve the offering. Further successes will, in turn, drive further expansion.

If the initiative happens to fail for the pilot team, I can fix the problem quickly and re-deploy the updated offering.

If the initiative fails spectacularly, I can simply pull the pin – without inconveniencing the broader organisation or wasting our shareholders’ money.