Tag: tips

How to become an eLearning Professional

That’s the title of a free e-book to which I was flattered to be invited to contribute a chapter.

The book is introduced by the editor, Christopher Pappas, as such:

This is not your average looking, cliché reproducing, metaphysical, theory-loving free eLearning eBook. Do not expect to read any speculations, rhetorical questions, and abstractions related to eLearning. This is merely a powerful weapon in the hands of those who are truly interested in becoming the field’s Top eLearning Professionals. Make no mistake however. It’s addressed only to those with a passion for eLearning, eagerness to evolve, desperate to reach their potential, hungry for uniqueness, and ambitious enough people that want to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Cover art for How to become an eLearning Professional

The free “How to Become an eLearning Professional” eBook is filled with the knowledge, wisdom, experience and inspiration of carefully selected eLearning professionals, with long-standing, successful eLearning careers, innovative projects up their sleeves, impressive eLearning portfolios and even more impressive CVs. All of them create a highly influential eLearning team of experts, but each one has his or her own distinctive path, skills and know-how, leading to the creation of a multidimensional, and highly helpful for those who want to advance their eLearning careers, professional mosaic.

This can only mean one thing. What you are about to read is not some generic eLearning advice you could easily find in any “eLearning for Dummies” manual. This free eLearning eBook contains hot eLearning tips, secret concepts, specific steps and insider information that will help you become a top-notch eLearning professional.

No pressure then!

But in all seriousness, I stand by the advice that I offer in the book, and I appreciate the insights shared by my eminent peers.

I recommend How to become an eLearning Professional for newbies and veterans alike.

Boiling the backchannel

I enjoy attending conferences.

Unfortunately I don’t attend as many as I’d like because so many of them are prohibitively expensive, are beyond my travel budget, or demand too much time out of the office.

Whenever I do attend, however, I enjoy hearing and seeing what other people have to say and show, because they validate my own ideas, introduce new ideas, and spark tangential ideas. I also like meeting new people in the industry and re-connecting with those whom I already know.

Another aspect of conferences that I enjoy is the real-time chat on Twitter – aka the “backchannel”. When I’m not at the conference, the backchannel clues me in to the key learnings; when I am at the conference, I can peruse the observations of my fellow audience members and share my own. It’s also a great way of putting a face to a name to facilitate the aforementioned networking.

Of course, healthy backchannel activity is in the interests of the conference organiser too. While it may seem counterintuitive, loads of attendees sharing their observations with the Twittersphere for free won’t discourage other people from attending (as the backchannel is inevitably an inferior substitute for the real thing). On the contrary, the backchannel is a vehicle for precious WOM that can raise awareness of the event among the Twitterati and – if it sounds appealing enough – encourage them to attend next time.

So I see heating up the backchannel as a critical aspect of the conference organiser’s role. Here are my suggestions for getting it to boil…

A pot on a gas stovetop.

1. Inform everyone of the official hashtag.

If you don’t, your audience will splinter and they will use various permutations of acronyms and digits which will then dilute the conversation.

So tell everyone up front what the official hashtag is. Even better, include it on your marketing material to get the conversation going before Day 1.

2. Explicitly invite the audience to tweet.

Not only does this give many in the audience the moral authority they seek, but it also reminds those who might otherwise have forgotten.

3. Provide free Wi-Fi.

I realise this might be pricey, but if you want your audience to use the Internet, this is a big juicy carrot.

And if you do offer free Wi-Fi, for crying out loud inform everyone of the access details.

4. Host a charging kiosk.

Even the most ardent of tweeters can’t do much with a dead device.

5. Inform the audience of the presenter’s handle.

Tweeters like quoting the presenter, but they’re less likely to do so if he or she isn’t on Twitter. Even if they are on Twitter, the search function is so awful that it can be difficult to find them.

Putting the presenter’s handle on the last slide is comically late. Put it on the first slide instead, and in the official program too.

6. Resist dressing mutton up as lamb.

I’m constantly amazed by the number of presenters who try to pass off a product flog as a pedagogical exposition. I’m not so much amazed by the fact that they try it on, but that they think we’re dumb enough to fall for it.

Conference organisers need to know that any self-respecting Tweeter will withhold social mention of this imposture in protest.

So change its title to reflect what it really is: a product demonstration. Plenty of people will want to see that, and they’ll tweet about it in kind.

7. Join in.

The conference organiser should actively participate in the backchannel too.

Favouriting and re-tweeting others is a nice way of acknowledging their contributions (and motivating them to continue), while tweeting your own observations keeps the activity humming during flat periods.

Adding extra hashtags (eg #edtech, #gamification, #mobile) will also extend your reach.

***

So if you’re a conference organiser, I hope my suggestions help you improve the experience for your attendees and promote your event to potential newcomers.

And if you have a free ticket to give away, I’ll tweet up a storm!

10 hot tips for moocers

Now that I have participated in a mooc, I am naturally qualified to dispense expert advice about them. Lol!

Seriously though, one aspect of moocs that I think requires urgent attention is the sense that many participants feel of being overwhelmed. This was certainly the case for some in the EDCMOOC, and I fear I was too dismissive of the issue in my previous blog post.

Upon further reflection, I appreciate that what gave me an edge in this mooc was my experience in studying at postgraduate level. By that I don’t mean so much the knowledge acquired from the instructors, but (on the contrary) the skills developed in learning how to learn for myself.

You see, in postgrad you are left very much to your own devices. You are given a tonne of readings, and the most instruction you can hope to extract from the professors is “read this”. The theory is that the students will collaborate with one another, share their diverse experiences, and contribute to robust conversations. Too bad most of them are straight out of undergrad, inexperienced, and don’t have a collaborative bone in their body.

So if you actually want to learn something rather than skate through each subject, it’s up to you to do your prescribed readings, seek more from blogs and journals to enhance your understanding, reach out to your network to ask questions and gather feedback, and generally drive your own education.

The successful postgraduate student is highly motivated, autodidactic, connected, and participatory. I suggest the successful mooc participant shares these same qualities.

So what I’m really trying to say is: I’ve been there, done that. If you trust me, you may find the following tips useful as you embark on your own mooc voyage…

Tiny ship of order in a vast sea of chaos

Tip 1

Before doing anything, ask yourself three fundamental questions.

Firstly: “Why a mooc?” It may very well be the right mode of study for you, but of course there are many others to consider. Compare the advantages and disadvantages of this mode in light of your personal circumstances.

Secondly: “Why this mooc?” There are plenty of them around, pitched at different levels and targeting different audiences. Analyse the pre-information of your chosen mooc to ensure it will give you what you need.

Thirdly: “What do I want to get out of it?” Be very clear in your own mind about the WIIFM, then doggedly pursue that during the mooc.

Having said that, remain open to new ideas that foster other lines of inquiry. Your goals may change. That’s fine; it’s called learning.

Tip 2

Follow the sequence of the curriculum as arranged by the mooc coordinators. It may be tempting to jump ahead or even lag behind, but it’s wiser to pace yourself week by week.

Tip 3

Read the mooc’s instructions! I’ve added the exclamation point in case you think words on screen are merely decorative. Sometimes they’re informative, so take notice.

Tip 4

Prioritise the core videos and readings. At the very least, all these should be watched and read. The other stuff is a bonus if you get around to it.

Tip 5

Participate actively in the discussion forum. This is your opportunity to share your understanding of the key concepts with your peers and receive valuable feedback from them.Don’t just talk at your peers, but rather engage with them. Reply to their posts, build upon their ideas and suggest alternative thoughts. Challenge them (politely) to clarify their position if they appear to be waffling.

Tip 6

Blog. More specifically, use your blog to articulate your learnings from the mooc. Focus on the practical applications that you have drawn from the academic concepts.I found it helpful to use the discussion forum to post preliminary drafts of my ideas, refine them, then blog them.

Tip 7

Concentrate your discussion activity on only one or two threads each week. You’ll go mad trying to keep up with all of them, so narrow your field of vision to what really matters to you.At the end of the week, abandon those threads. Again, this is about pacing yourself. While the conversation may be rich and rewarding, you can’t afford to go down any rabbit warrens.If you’re super keen, you can always continue the conversation with your new-found friends after the mooc has ended.

Tip 8

Pick a social media platform to support your progress. I made the mistake of bouncing between Twitter, Google+ and Facebook in case I missed out on anything, but all that did was waste my time. Next time I’ll pick my favourite platform and stick with it.

Tip 9

Do something daily. Whether it’s watching a video, reading an article, discussing an idea, writing a blog, liking something on Facebook, or mulling over a thought in your mind, it’s important to keep the momentum going.

Tip 10

Think of moocing as informal learning. If you remember your WIIFM, it will ease the pressure that you put on yourself. You don’t have to finish the course. In fact, you don’t have to do anything. Assume control of your own actions, and become the master of your destiny.

In other words, be the tiny ship of order in the vast sea of chaos.

Psst…! 15 inside tips for sales reps

In my role, I get contacted by sales representatives all the time.

They flog rapid authoring tools, simulation software, learning management systems, mobile platforms, content libraries, courseware development, project management… the list goes on.

I’m not complaining. I appreciate everyone needs to put food on the table. And besides, many of my friends and family are (or have been) sales reps. I myself have been in a sales support role. It’s a tough gig and I know it.

That’s why I’m prepared to share with you some inside tips.

Please don’t think of this as me mocking you or having a dig. On the contrary, I hope it gives you valuable insight into your customer’s expectations – which of course you can use to your advantage.

Obviously I have my own reasons for doing this too, so let’s call it a “win-win” situation! :0)

Woman with hand to ear, listening.

1. I am busy.

No, I’m not just saying that to sound important. I am seriously busy. The legacy of the GFC is less people in the company expected to do more than ever before. You want to meet me for an hour, but I can only really spare 20 minutes. So you need to get to the point.

2. We are not a giant ATM.

Yes, I work for a big corporation, but one that strictly manages its costs. We have an internal chargeback model with budgets and cost centres. Other companies might splash their cash around like it’s lolly water. We don’t.

3. We already have preferred providers.

We’ve been doing what we do for a long time without you. To be brutally honest, that means we don’t need you.

4. You don’t offer me anything different.

You may think your products or services are special, and I’m not sure if you genuinely believe that or you’re just trying to pull the wool over my eyes, but I can rattle off a bunch of other providers who offer more-or-less the same thing. So you need to clarify your point of difference. By the way, everyone picks glorious customer service, so pick something else.

5. I don’t want to organise a litepro for you.

If you need one, bring it yourself. In fact, why not just show me on your tablet.

6. Pay for the coffee.

Remember, you wanted to see me, not vice versa. To be fair, this one rarely happens, but it does happen. A sales rep who doesn’t pay for the coffee won’t hear from me ever again.

7. Answer the phone.

It’s OK if you’re not available at the moment I call, but don’t ever let the phone run dead. Either have a secretary take a message or buy a machine. And return my call soon.

8. Put your contact details in your email signature.

The number of sales reps who sign off emails with merely their first name astounds me. If you think I’m going to ferret through my burgeoning pile of business cards to find your phone number, you’re dreaming.

9. Flag your emails as urgent only when they are urgent.

You might be bursting with excitement about what you’re sending me, but that doesn’t mean it’s urgent. Have you read Aesop’s fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf…? I know how to use mail rules in Outlook – don’t make me use them.

10. Ask me if I’m available.

When you call me, odds are you’ll disturb me from something I was concentrating on. So from the get-go you’re not my favourite person right now. The least you can do is ask me if I have a few minutes to spare. You telling me that you’ll only be a few minutes doesn’t count.

11. I know the difference between mutton and lamb.

When I am a current customer, don’t insult my intelligence by offering me quarterly “support” calls. You just want to make sure I keep pushing your product so that we don’t can it. You know it, I know it, so quit the charade.

12. Embrace CRM.

If you’re going to cold call, keep track of who you’re doing it to. I kid you not, there is this one vendor who calls me every quarter without fail. It’s someone different every time, and it’s obvious they have no idea that numerous of their colleagues have been down this road before. I will never buy anything from these clowns.

13. My name is Ryan, not Tracey.

And Tracey has an “e” in it. I usually don’t mind, but if you can’t get the little things right, how can I trust you with the big things?

14. If I decline to meet you, don’t take it personally.

Maybe it’s not the right time, or we simply don’t need what you’re offering. That’s not your fault, it’s just the way it is. I’d rather you spend your time and effort on someone who is genuinely interested.

15. Sales is a long ball game.

Sure, I know you have monthly sales targets and a manager breathing down your neck, but that won’t change anything at my end. If we don’t need what you’re offering right now, we’re not going to buy it.

But if I like you and you’re professional, you never know… times change.

Theory-informed instructional design tips

In my previous article, I proposed a Taxonomy of Learning Theories to organise a few of the myriad of theories into some semblance of order, and to assist instructional designers in using theory to inform their work.

In this article, I go one step further by listing specific, practical instructional design tips that are informed by those theories.

But beware… You will find empirical evidence reported in the academic literature that supports these tips, and no doubt you can find just as much evidence that refutes them. I don’t purport them to be Gospel, and I certainly consider them highly dependent on context.

Having said that, however, I do vouch for my tips in terms of my own experience in the workplace, where I’ve applied them in various combinations to real-world cases.

I hope you find my list useful too – not so much as a checklist to incorporate every theory into your work – but rather to ensure that you have at least considered what they have to offer.

If you have your own theory-informed design tips, I’d love you to share them with me!

People around a table working with sticky notes.

Behaviourist design

Behaviourist learning theories inform us that stimuli elicit responses, and that one stimulus can be associated with another.

This perspective adopts a “black box” approach to instructional design:

  • Link paired concepts. For example, rolling the mouse over Italy on a map can display “Rome”, while rolling the mouse over Spain can display “Madrid”. Strengthen the association with a short burst of Italian and Spanish music respectively.
  • Incorporate matching pairs into an interactive game that facilitates repetition.
  • Use consistent navigation, symbols and visual design.
  • Provide plenty of questions for practice.
  • Reward correct responses to questions with a visual/verbal reward (eg a big green tick and the message “Well done!”) and perhaps a brief sound (eg a pleasant bing).
  • Flag incorrect responses to questions with a visual/verbal message (eg a small red x and the modest message “Oops, that’s not right”) and perhaps a brief sound (eg a buzz).
  • Avoid exposing the correct answer upon an incorrect response. Instead, allow the learner to re-try (unless of course the assessment is summative).
  • Remember that rote learning is no substitute for deep understanding.

Cognitivist design

Cognitivist learning theories inform us that hierarchically (or otherwise logically) arranged content aligns with the existing network of knowledge in the learner’s mind.

This perspective demands a structured approach to instructional design:

  • Structure your content logically.
  • Start with the learning outcome and work backwards to connect it to prior knowledge. Fill in the gap. If the gap is extensive, consider multiple smaller courses rather than one big one.
  • Use advance organizers to put the upcoming content into context and to pre-organise it. In other words, assist the learner to link the new knowledge to the relevant point in their existing cognitive structure, and to construct high-level cognitive branches within which to fill the detail.
  • Organise your content in increasing order of complexity. Provide an epitome of the domain initially, then elaborate.
  • Apply a minimalist design to reduce extraneous cognitive load.
  • Use plenty of white space.
  • Bold key terms.
  • Modularise some of the text (enclose it in a box) to make it easier to digest.
  • Wrap multiple paragraphs into a single interactive show/hide object.
  • Migrate extensive text into a downloadable document or onto a wiki.
  • Use an infographic to arrange key concepts in a framework.
  • Place the text in the infographic as close as possible to the corresponding point in the picture. Consider an audio overlay.
  • Avoid bright decorations and looped animations that compete with the substantive content for the learner’s attention.
  • Allow the learner to control multimedia and to press “Play” when they’re good and ready, to avoid inducing mild panic.
  • Use consistent navigation, symbols and visual design (as per behaviourism, but according to a different rationale).
  • Include activities that require sequencing and categorisation.
  • Employ real-world examples and scenarios.
  • Summarise the key concepts.
  • Include a formative assessment to enable the learner to test their knowledge, and to modify it or fill in gaps if necessary.
  • Ask higher order questions to confirm deep understanding.
  • Provide rich feedback.
  • Allow time for reflection.
  • Employ a mostly instructivist approach for novices. Reserve problem-based learning (PBL) for experts.

Constructivist design

Constructivist learning theories inform us that the prior knowledge of each learner is different, and thus they have unique needs, goals and contexts.

This perspective demands a learner-centred approach to instructional design:

  • Explain up-front why the learner should bother. What specific problem will it solve?
  • Allow the learner to co-create the learning objectives.
  • Cut to the chase. Content should be relevant, meaningful and practical. Supportive (but unnecessary) content should be made available elsewhere.
  • Avoid forced navigation: instead, allow the learner to explore the content at their discretion. A default linear navigation, however, will assist novices.
  • Ensure the navigation menu is always accessible from anywhere in the course.
  • Would a wiki be a more effective (self-directed) mode of delivery?
  • Avoid using an end-point in the bulk of the course to mark completion: instead, use a summative assessment.
  • If your assessment is robust enough, those who understand the content will pass, while those who don’t will fail.
  • Ask a colleague to bluff their way through your assessment. If they pass, it’s obviously too weak.
  • Ensure the assessment is authentic.
  • Where possible, enable the learner to undertake the learning at their place of practice.
  • Use real photos rather than cartoons or illustrations.
  • Encourage discovery learning.
  • Provide your learners with a forum to ask questions and to learn from one another. The forum may be synchronous or asynchronous, or both.
  • Encourage continual communication among the learners and their colleagues in the wider workplace. Consider a regular “community of practice” meeting if the conversation does not naturally emerge.

Connectivist design

Connectivist learning theory informs us that the learner can’t possibly take in all knowledge, and it changes too quickly anyway.

This perspective demands a realistic approach to instructional design that doesn’t rely on memory:

  • Supplement your content with further learning resources, not only to assist the learner to broaden and deepen their knowledge, but also to keep it up to date.
  • Avoid merely listing hyperlinks: instead, provide explanations to help the learner recognise meaningful patterns among them.
  • Create a social bookmarking account.
  • Encourage social networking (both online and face-to-face).
  • Develop an ILE to centralise all the resources.
  • Encourage the learner to integrate the ILE into a broader PLE.

Do you have any instructional design tips to share?