Monday, December 28, 2009

Will eLearning Work For You?

By Shelley A. Gable

Many organizations are converting pieces of their classroom training into eLearning modules. While there are a lot of advantages to eLearning - reduced delivery costs, on-demand availability regardless of time and location, consistent delivery, etc. - this delivery method might not be optimal for all of your training needs.

I've worked on a couple of projects over the past year that have involved analyzing the training needs of a particular business unit and determining which can be met with eLearning solutions. For those of you who may be working through a similar process, below are a few of the factors we considered when making this determination.

  • Is the content procedural and/or straight-forward? eLearning can be an efficient delivery method for content that is fairly black-and-white and tends to generate few clarifying questions from learners.

    If the content is complex, must be applied differently to various situations, or tends to generate a lot of clarifying questions, eLearning alone might not be the best delivery method. However, it might make sense to introduce the content's basic concepts with an eLearning lesson, and then address more advanced topics in an instructor-led environment.

    For example, a course on technical writing might benefit from this blended approach. An eLearning lesson could introduce the basic mechanics of writing style and formatting, while a facilitator-led method might be more appropriate for eliciting performance and providing detailed feedback.
  • Does the content involve interpersonal skills? Interpersonal skills (such as handling customer complaints, interviewing, public speaking, etc.) can rarely be fully developed in an eLearning environment. But as described above, a blended approach can allow an eLearning lesson to introduce a topic's basic principles, followed by a facilitator-led environment that fosters the application of those principles.
  • Where is your audience and when are they available for training? eLearning might be an ideal delivery method for audiences that are geographically dispersed or have schedules that are challenging to sync (perhaps because of time zone differences or job demands).

    For example, a customer care unit with agents who work from home might be a prime candidate for eLearning. Not only does the virtual access to training avoid travel time and expense, but also the on-demand nature of eLearning reduces the need to pull several agents off the phones at the same time to attend training.

I should point out that the organization this work was done for had the resources necessary to support eLearning. If your organization is wandering into this arena for the first time, there are basic logistical questions you should probably consider early on in the process. For instance:
  • Are your learners technologically equipped to access eLearning (i.e., Flash, multimedia, etc.)? If not, there are less complex eLearning options available, but this is important to determine early.
  • How will learners access the training (via an intranet site, a learning or content management system, etc.)?
  • How will you accurately track who has completed the training (via a learning or content management system, printed completion certificates, automatic emails to managers, etc.)?
  • Who will respond to technical issues that arise (internal technical developers, IT, external consultants, etc.)?

Obviously, neither of these question lists are exhaustive. However, if your organization is considering a transition to eLearning, hopefully these lists will be helpful to you in your decision-making process.

And remember, there are no 'stupid' questions. It's better to ask now and be confident later. Then you will know that eLearning will work for you, and the fun can begin.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Low-Tech Ways to Add Social and Collaborative Learning To Your Training Plans

By Shelley A. Gable

I think we've all heard the buzz about social and collaborative learning. Based on their research, Bersin & Associates suggests that "modern" corporate training organizations are transitioning to collaborative, talent-driven learning. A survey conducted by The MASIE Center earlier this year indicates a similar trend. Many blog posts have contemplated how Web 2.0 technologies can enhance workplace learning. In fact, a post on this blog a few months ago (Understanding Web 2.0) offers an informative crash course on the topic.

All this chatter prompts me to think about constructivism. Constructivist theory posits that people construct knowledge by making sense of their experiences. The theory also acknowledges the important role that social interaction plays in this. And really, it's these concepts that are at the core of this trend. The technologies of Web 2.0 provide us with ways to reach out to others, discuss what's on our mind, and ultimately attempt to make sense of the world around us.

If you're like the majority of organizations who responded to The MASIE Center survey, you may be intrigued by what Web 2.0 can offer, but not in a position just yet to take full advantage of it. If this is the case, consider how some of the low-tech collaborative learning options below might work for your organization.

  1. Provide a discussion forum for learners to post their insights from training. A simple discussion board can easily be set up on a Microsoft SharePoint site or on other types of intranet sites. Consider directing learners to post "ah ha" learnings, plans for applying what they've just learned, and/or unanswered questions from training. Asking learners to post their thoughts at key points during training not only prompts reflection, but also allows them to learn from others' insights. Requiring learners to use the discussion forum multiple times during the training and/or at suggested intervals after the training can help deepen the dialogue and enhance its interactivity.

  2. Assign learners to a partner or group to discuss the training via email. This medium can be used in a way similar to the discussion forum described above.

  3. Design a structured conversation for the learner to have with a manager about the training. In order for the lessons learned from training to transfer to the job, they must be reinforced by the learners' managers. Providing structure for a learner to discuss the training with a manager can be an effective way to encourage this. Such a conversation could take place at a specified point during or after the training, and it could aim to accomplish the type of reflection described in #1 above.

If you're among those who are interested in dabbling in collaborative learning, consider easing into it with one of these low-tech approaches. And if you do, be sure to use Web 2.0 (blog comments, Twitter, whatever your tool of choice) to tell the rest of us how it worked out.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

ADDIE should have been DADDIE all along

By Jay Lambert

Being in the realm of performance improvement, we are always searching for ways to improve our own processes. So it was an “aha” moment when I read Gerry Wasiluk’s post about the DADDIE model on the Articulate Forum. Basically, his former group borrowed from Six Sigma and added the ‘Define’ step to the beginning of the learning industry-standard ADDIE model. (As a reminder, ADDIE stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.)

What constitutes Define? Things we are all already doing anyway really. Tasks such as creating a team charter, gaining a high-level understanding of the issue being addressed, creating a project plan, kicking off the project, etc. Define encompasses the logical first steps of a project.

Yet, I truly like the D being called out because these first steps are so critical to later success. I can think of times where we moved too quickly into a fast-paced project only to hit major bumps. The root cause? We had skipped over a key Define task and all of our ducks, so to speak, were not in a row.

By switching to the DADDIE model, the risk of this becomes much less likely. Charter documents and such are no longer an item to complete before starting a project, they are a called out and integral part of the project. Adjusting the model emphasizes their importance.

Give me a D all the way. Truly, ADDIE should have been DADDIE all along.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Do Your eLearning Lessons Appeal to a Variety of Learning Styles?

By Shelley A. Gable

I took a course on learning styles a few years ago. The instructor pointed out that training practitioners tend to design instruction that caters to their own dominant learning styles. Although this may be the most comfortable approach for the one designing the training, it may result in some learners being left behind.

The point? Avoid the pitfall of designing to your own preferences - make sure you've incorporated instructional methods that appeal to a wide variety of learning styles.

Learning styles have to do with how people perceive and process new information. Since everyone's brains are wired differently (which explains the great variety of personality types among those we know), training must appeal to a variety of learning styles in order to be effective for varied audiences.

While writing this post, I opted to google "learning styles," and the first result on the list took me to a page that describes sensory modalities (i.e., visual, auditory, kinesthetic). Much research has been conducted about the role of those modalities in learning, and this seems to be one of the most widely familiar learning style models among training practitioners. In the table below, I've defined each of the modalities and suggested how each can be incorporated into an eLearning lesson.

Learning Modality + Definition

Use in eLearning

Visual = learning by observation and seeing information

Text, informative images, video demonstrations

Auditory = learning by listening to information or saying information aloud

Audio, discussion assignment in which the learner is required to discuss information with a manager or peer

Kinesthetic = learning by engaging in hands-on activities

Simulations, on-the-job task assignments

While the role of modalities in learning is important to consider, other learning style models can offer additional insights. A model that I'm partial to is the one developed by Anthony Gregorc, which explains how people perceive and organize information.

  • When it comes to perception, styles are categorized as either concrete or abstract. Someone with a concrete style relies most on physical senses for perceiving the world, while an abstract style tends to perceive through the less tangible means of emotion and intuition.
  • For organization, the categories are sequential and random. Those who are sequential tend to organize information in a linear way, whereas a random individual tends to organize information in a way that may appear to jump around more.

In Gregorc's model, a learning style consists of a perception-organization combination. Examining the characteristics of these styles not only helps you to better understand the varying ways in which people learn, but it can also aid in brainstorming instructional elements that cater to a variety of style types. In the table below, I've listed some of the characteristics of each combination and suggested instructional elements that can be used to appeal to each in an eLearning lesson.

Style Type + Characterization

Appealing eLearning Elements

Concrete Sequential = naturally structured, detail-oriented, precise, perfectionist tendencies

Simulations, clear step-by-step instructions, concrete examples

Abstract Sequential = logical, scientific, intellectual, curious

Links to additional “nice to know” information, quotes/examples from experts or positions of authority, open-ended questions

Abstract Random = relationship-oriented, subjective, imaginative, conceptual

Branching (i.e., allow learners to choose their own path through the eLearning lesson), social media, humor

Concrete Random = intuitive, impulsive, optimistic, innovative

Branching, problem-solving exercises, non-linear simulations

Admittedly, the summary provided here of Gregorc's model is oversimplified. However, it should give you a sense of the type of insight it provides into how people learn differently from one another.

What's the point of all this? To ensure that an eLearning lesson appeals to a broad audience, avoid the pitfall of designing to your own preferences - make sure you've incorporated instructional methods that appeal to a wide variety of learning styles.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Are You Doing to Motivate Learning?

by Shelley A. Gable

We all know that attitudes toward training vary greatly in the workplace. Some people seize every professional development opportunity possible and are always eager to learn something new. Many are less enthusiastic.

Why are some people less enthusiastic? The reasons are numerous...and even those of us who work in the training field have probably felt less than enthusiastic about some training we've had to complete (I know I have!). Common gripes I've heard include:
  • Disinterest in the topic
  • Boredom with the presentation
  • Feeling that the training isn't as important as the work they should be doing during that time
  • Not seeing how the training will help them in their job

Of course, we also know that if people don't feel confident in their ability to master the training content, a common reaction is to be resistant to the training.

Clearly, we should do something to overcome these gripes and motivate people to learn. But how do you motivate people to learn? John Keller answers this question in several articles he has written about his ARCS model. ARCS is an acronym that represents four components of motivation in training: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction. Each of these components is briefly defined below.
  • Attention: Capturing and maintaining learners' curiosity and interest
  • Relevance: Meeting learners' individual needs and goals
  • Confidence: Helping learners feel that they can be successful
  • Satisfaction: Reinforcing learners' accomplishments

So now what? How can these motivators be designed into an eLearning module? Fortunately, some of these things are simple touches that can easily be worked into the training. Below are a few techniques I've seen in my organization. You can click on the table below to enlarge it.

After I've storyboarded an eLearning module, I'll often go back through to identify places where I could work in something motivational. Considering how effective these basic motivational tactics can be, the extra step seems to be time well spent.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Using Captivate 4's System Variables

One of the new features of Captivate 4 is the ability to access and use system variables. I recently was able to explore how these might be used to turn on and off the navigation bar within the skin of my Captivate lesson.

Many designers include assessments within their Captivate lessons. During the informational and practice portions of the lesson, the students can use the navigation bar included with the Captivate skin to proceed through the lesson. However, when they reach the assessment, it's often desirable to disable navigation back to the course content so that the assessment is a true test of what the student can recall. Upon arriving on the scoring and results page, the navigation bar would be turned back on and the student would be able to review the lesson and retake the assessment if necessary.

Now that I've covered why we might want to access these system variables, without further ado, below are the steps I took to accomplish this.

First you need to set up Advanced Actions to turn on and off the navigation bar.

1. Select Project > Actions from the menu and click the Advanced Actions tab.
2. In the Edit / Create Action drop-down, select "Create a new action." Result: A "New action name" field appears

3. Enter a simple and descriptive name for the action.
4. Click Save.
5. Double click on the "Add Statement" text that now appears and double-click again to see a drop-down list.

6. Select Assignment. Result: the system variables will replace the current drop-down options.

7. Select cpCmndShowPlaybar. The variable will display now with an equal sign to the right of it. To the right of the equal sign, a drop-down appears with the options of Variable or Value.

8. Select Value. A text entry prompt will appear.

9. Enter the value of 1 to turn on the Nav Bar. (Enter a value of 0 to turn off the Nav Bar.)

10. Click Save.
11. Repeat the steps above to create an action to turn the navigation bar off.

Now, here is how we used these actions within the Captivate lesson itself.

1. On the assessment introduction slide, add a start button with the setting "Go to next slide" when students click the button. (This is obviously important as the student will have no other means to navigate once the navigation bar is turned off! You could choose to place this action where-ever it makes sense in your own course.)
2. Select Slide> Properties from the menu.
3. Change the "On slide enter" value to "Execute advanced action." A second drop-down will appear with the actions you set up.
4. Select the action to turn the navigation bar off.
5. Select the slide where you would like to turn the navigation bar back on and repeat steps 2 and 3, this time selecting the action to turn the navigation bar on.

Test your results! NOTE: I have not tested all different publishing options with this setting, so it may help you to know that I published this to Flash Player 9 and ActionScript 3.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pointing to the Five Moments of Learning Need

By Jay Lambert

I can remember a project a few years ago where the subject matter expert (SME) fought and fought to include his 20-step process (complete with details and charts) in the course we were developing. He eventually persuaded his boss and won out, so we built the process into the course. Feedback from the learners was not positive and ranged from comments like "what is this and why in the world would I need to know it" on down to, shall we say, less positive remarks.

Obviously a better needs analysis should have been conducted.

And so upon further investigation, the truth of the matter finally came out. Only a small percentage of people really needed to know the full details of the process; most just needed to know that it existed. The course should have simply provided a brief introduction and a link to where to find more information on the company's intranet if necessary. But the SME was so enamored with what he had created that he wanted to share his joy with the rest of the world.

I'm sure that most of you have encountered the same SME.

There are two purposes to this story. The first is to highlight again how important it is to understand what content really needs to make its way into an eLearning course and what is just extra "nice to know." The second purpose is to ask ourselves what should become of that "nice to know" content.

This is where Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson’s great research on their
Performance Support Blog comes in. They've identified 'Five Moments of Learning Need' and matched these needs to their most effective delivery method. Not surprisingly, only two of the five needs call for training development.
Gottfredson’s 'Five Moments of Learning Need'
Note that only Needs 1 and 2 ("when learning for the first time" and "when learning more") require training. The rest is simply information that people need to know at a specific time -- the "what if this happens" scenario. Deeper dive information, such as in-depth details of a process, certainly falls into Need 3 ("when remembering and/or applying what's been learned"). This content can be presented as job aids, as part of an electronic performance support system (EPSS), or simply housed on the company intranet somewhere as long as people know where to find it when they need to do so.

The Moments of Learning Need came in handy recently when we encountered the same SME (different person, but same approach).

After determining that the eLearning course's objective was to provide a reasonable overview and then knowledge of where to go for more information as learners need it, we pulled out the Moments of Learning Need as part of our discussion/intervention with the SME. And he accepted it (people like documented research). The extra details were put on to the company intranet where they could easily be maintained and referenced. And a nice targeted course was developed that included an activity of how to find the extra details when necessary. This is all the learners needed and thankfully all they received.

We'll definitely be keeping the Moments of Learning Need document close by.