Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Unlocking the Power of Lectora Variables, Part 1

By Jay Lambert

As we network with newer Lectora developers, we are often asked to clarify the use of variables in the tool. As a reminder, variables within Lectora hold key pieces of information that you can later refer to and act upon.

My next few posts will attempt to provide a primer on using Lectora variables to accomplish a few basic tasks. Once you begin using them, all sorts of possible uses will emerge.

Note that the actions I’ll mention are included as part of the normal Action dialog box drop-down list.

And once you add a new custom variable to a course, it also becomes available for you to select in an Action dialog box drop-down list.

So once you get the hang of it, you are really just selecting things rather than having to structure the code yourself (like you would in JavaScript). Once your initial variable and actions are set up, this saves you a lot of time.

For our first example, let’s manipulate a variable to enable navigation within a course. In another post, we will look at testing against an answered question and then later at using a learner’s name within text in a course.

Navigation example

Suppose that you have three photos on a page and you want the learner to click on each to reveal some hidden text. The text is important so you don’t want the learner to be able to leave the page without clicking each of the three photos. You can create a variable to help with this.

1. In this scenario, first disinherit the next button from the page. Add a copy of the same Next button back to the page and make the On Click setting of that button (on the On Click tab) ‘None’ (meaning it won’t advance until you add another action to it).

2. Next, add an action to each of the three photos. The action would be On Click, Modify variable _gonext (or whatever you want to name it, but I recommend using the underscore at the beginning of the name because it will make it list at the top of the variables list so you can easily find it).

3. Then select ‘Add to variable.’ For one of the photos, enter the letter a (‘a’), for the second b, and for the third c. Some developers will simply add the number ‘1’ to the variable each time a photo is clicked, resulting in the value equaling ‘3’ once all three photos have been clicked. That will work too; however, Lectora won’t know if the learner simply clicked the same photo three times in a row, resulting in the variable = 3, rather than knowing that the three separate photos were clicked. Using letters gives you a lot more control.

(Note that I also recommend manipulating a single variable as much as possible rather than creating a unique variable for each photo; the fewer variables you have to track and test against later, the simpler your coding becomes.)

For example, the action on the second photo would look like this.

So now, once the learner clicks all three photos, the _gonext variable will equal some combination of “abc” depending upon which order the photos were clicked (if they clicked them in opposite order, the variable will equal “cba”).

4. At this point, add an action to the Next button (that you just added to the page) that instructs On Click, Go to Next Page.

5. And here is where the variable comes in. Go to the conditions tab of the action and add three conditions:
  • If _gonext Contains a
  • If _gonext Contains b
  • If _gonext Contains c

It’s important that you use three separate conditions because you don’t know in which order “abc” will appear. By setting your conditions this way, it doesn’t matter which photo the learner clicks first and you won't have to test against all the possible options. It only matters that they do indeed click each photo.

It’s also important that you select‘All of the Following.’ This instructs Lectora to only perform the action if all of the criteria is met. The default setting is ‘Any of the Following’ which means that your learner could advance after clicking only one of the photos.

Now that you’ve done all this, the Next button won’t work unless the learner clicks all three photos and at least sees whatever you intended.

6. As a best practice, you might also have a hidden text box on the page that says “You must click each photo before continuing.” or something similar. This way the learner will know why they can’t advance to the next page if they click the Next button before completing the criteria you established.

If you want to add this functionality, go to the Else tab of the Action you just created on the Next button and instruct it to show this text box.

Now the text box will show if the learner clicked the Next button but all three photos had not been clicked (in other words, the condition we just set failed).

Hopefully this post is helpful to those of you exploring Lectora variables for the first time. I’ll provide another example in my next post.

And, as always, if you have any questions, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Systems Training: Choose Your Own Adventure

By Shelley A. Gable

What does ideal systems training look like?

Much of the systems training I've encountered tends to follow this basic formula:
  • Overview the computer program (e.g., uses, primary functions, etc.)
  • Introduce basic navigation and main windows (with demonstration + practice)
  • Perform specific tasks or procedures (with demonstration + practice)

I used to teach computer workshops. Every class had at least a few learners who liked to explore a program on their own. They'd stray from the activity I was trying to facilitate and play with all the program's functions independently. Eventually, they'd either get stuck or decide to jump back into the class activity.

Each class also had a few learners who seemed afraid they might break the program if they did something incorrectly. They wanted me to walk them through every step and provide play-by-play assistance when it was time to complete a practice activity.

As a facilitator in a classroom setting, I could adapt to these two learning preferences with relative ease. But what's the best approach in an eLearning environment?

How about offering both approaches and letting learners choose their own adventure?

Training like this might start by introducing the intended purpose of the system and some of its major functions.

After an introduction, present learners with a choice for learning about navigation before going on to perform specific tasks. Choices for the navigational introduction might be:
  1. Self-guided exploration
  2. Guided tour

Both options could prompt learners to watch for certain screens, fields, and functions. And both could include features that call learners' attention to certain elements.

Would learning theory approve of offering both approaches?

I think Jerome Bruner, who studied discovery learning, would say yes.
Bruner suggested that discovery learning can be a highly effective approach when learners have some prior knowledge and a basic level of comfort with what they must learn. However, learners without this would likely experience frustration and failure.

Learners who tend to be eager to explore a new computer program likely have the level of computer savvy needed to explore confidently, even if they've never seen that specific program before. Therefore, these learners are ideal candidates for self-guided exploration. Especially since a group like this might end up bored and disengaged in a guided tour.

Learners who are afraid of "breaking the program" may lack that basic level of computer savvy, perhaps finding themselves too distracted by their insecurity and confusion to learn anything along the way. This group would likely benefit from, and appreciate, the guided tour prior to a hand-on exercise.

Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of ways to approach systems training beyond the basic formula mentioned above. If you've tried other approaches, please share!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rethink Refresher Training

By Shelley A. Gable

How often do you receive requests for refresher training? And how do you handle those requests?

When I first started working in training, I'd usually ask the client exactly what skills and knowledge needed to be refreshed. Then I'd dig for existing training materials that could meet the stated need.

I've wised up since then.

First of all, I've learned to identify an actual performance gap. Instead of simply asking what skills to refresh, I now know to determine the client's broader goals and where the current state is relative to that.

Secondly, I've learned to look for causes of the performance gap. While there are a lot of great researchers and authors who have shed some light on cause analysis, it was the Analyzing Performance Problems book that first cautioned me against assuming that poor performance must be a cry for training (thank you Mager and Pipe).

One of the most poignant points from the book:
If their lives depended on it, would they still not be able to perform?

Here's a recent case in point...

I worked with a client last year on training to support a new software application. Months after the initial training, the client requested refresher training. He explained that work errors were unacceptably high, and he observed employees working procedures incorrectly.

This time, instead of simply asking what skills to refresh, I marched down the path of gap and cause analysis. It turned out that when asked directly, employees were generally able to demonstrate procedures correctly. But since oodles of bugs made the software unreliable, employees were using their own (often not quite right) workarounds.

So what do you do?

In my example, we worked with the client to identify bugs, take steps to fix those bugs, and communicate temporary workarounds.

But let's look at this from another angle too.
  • What if the problem was caused by performers forgetting how to conduct a task they don't do very often?
  • What if performers know how to conduct core tasks, but struggle to remember what to do when things go wrong?
While these are skill and knowledge gaps, refresher training still might not have a lasting impact. After all, if performers rarely conduct a certain task, who's to say they'll remember anything from the refresher training when the time comes to work that task again?

This is where job aids and other forms of performance support come in handy. A previous post on this blog (Pointing to the Five Moments of Learning Need) discusses this in more detail.

The moral of this story?

Avoid being a training order-taker, especially when it comes to requests for refresher training. Ever since I wised up, I've found very few problems that refresher training could resolve. Ask questions. Identify causes.

Do you have similar stories to share?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are eLearning Standards Necessary?

By Jay Lambert

This question pops up now and again, particularly with those just starting to offer eLearning courses to their associates. As with most anything, arguments can potentially be made either way. But I typically argue that eLearning standards are necessary. Even the most cutting edge eLearning out there follows a standard, even if it's a totally new one.

By standard I mean a common template and/or a compliance specification such as SCORM or AICC.

Standards provide a logical framework for the learner.

But even though standards are often simply accepted as being necessary, asking the question is still a good exercise to follow during the Analysis phase of any new eLearning initiative (for more on phases, see the post ADDIE should have been DADDIE all along on this blog). You can gleam information that will prove useful as you develop your program.

As an example, the responses below are from a potential client that's just starting to explore eLearning.

Questions to ask

1. Do you need to control learner access to courseware, track learner progress, or monitor the effectiveness of your eLearning content?
'Yes. The company wants access to each topic limited to those who need to know it. Also, they want certain content available to everyone (employees and contractors) and other content available to one group or the other. The company does want the ability to track course completion and assessment scores.'
2. Do you want to be able to control the learner's path through the content in some way?
'Yes. The company doesn't want a learner to be able to quickly page through the course without taking all the learning paths available. Also, some topics will build upon others and these must be viewed sequentially.'  

3. Do you plan to develop content in house and also purchase content from one or more third-party content vendors?
'Minimal content will be developed in-house. Most will be outsourced for development. Some generic content can be purchased from vendors.'      

4. Do you plan to use the content for multiple new audiences in the future?
'Yes. The content will be used for new hires, contractors, and people moving into new roles. In addition, there is a good possibility that the content will be translated into additional languages.'      

5. Do you plan to reuse parts of the content in future courses?
'Yes, as much as possible. Some introductory materials in particular would be reusable.'      

6. Are you planning to redistribute or sell the content to another organization?
'No. The company plans to keep the content internal.'    

Their conclusion

Based on these reponses, what do you think the company should do?

I'd suggest that they define and follow eLearning standards for the following reasons:
  • Trackability of course completion and scoring
  • Ability to assign or not assign certain learning objects depending upon person's position
  • Consistent look and feel for wide audiences
  • Consistent design practice of making learners view contents on a page before advancing
  • Translation effort will be simpler because some objects will be translated only once and then reused in other courses
  • Standardization assists reusability of content

When are eLearning standards not necessary?

All of the above said, you might not need a standard if you are rolling out single courses that don't need to match a curriculum or be tracked. Perhaps you are creating more of a 'nice to know' learning initiative that will be launched from a website, not a learning management system or similar portal.

In your own initiatives, how do you determine if standards are necessary?

[Note: The six questions above are from Yonnie Chyung's eLearning Standards class in the Boise State Master's of Instructional and Performance Technology program.]