Sunday, January 30, 2011

Social Media vs. Social Learning

By Dean Hawkinson

Most of us have Facebook accounts and collaborate with friends, family and colleagues through this media. We also use tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media.

In a lot of cases, we are using internal corporate social media tools to collaborate.

However, how many of us have considered using these types of tools for collaboration in a training environment?

As a learning professional, I have been pondering this question a lot. This has included reading some books, attending some webinars, and talking with other learning professionals about how they are making social media work in a learning environment.

Out of all of this, one thing speaks perfectly clear: You have to understand your end goal before selecting the tool to be used.

For the sake of this post, I want to focus on an end goal of collaboration among learners experiencing a learning event together.

Here are a few things that have come to mind as I think about applying social media to my development for the purpose of collaboration:

--1-- Encourage collaboration among learners who are geographically separated, but experiencing the same training. Let’s say you have one group of learners in one region going through a four-week new hire program, but you also have another group going through the same four-week program in another region at the same time. What a great way for those learners going through the same training to connect region-to-region and share their learnings with each other.

--2-- Share “real world” learnings with each other after the training is complete. The four-week session has ended, and the learners have now started their assignments. What a great way for them to collaborate and discuss the informal learning that is taking place on the job. Another suggestion is to have an instructor, a supervisor, or other mentor create a blog with a daily or weekly question to be posed to them.

--3-- Create an Alumni group. Implement an online collaboration site for anyone who has gone through the learning event to share their experiences. This would gather both new and seasoned employees to share their tacit knowledge with each other.

All of this can apply to either instructor-led or online training. So why not plan for social collaboration within your instructional design?

--4-- Consider a collaboration site for anyone going through an eLearning course to discuss the learning. Releasing an eLearning course in conjunction with a collaboration site would be a great opportunity for subject matter experts to share information with learners going through the course and for participants to share how they will apply what they have learned to their job.

Something to consider – what tools can you use for this collaboration?

Many companies block external sites such as Twitter and Facebook, but a lot of them are deploying their own internal social media sites or corporate-friendly tools such as Yammer. Many are using Microsoft SharePoint, which includes discussion threads, wikis, and blogs, or using other similar collaboration tools. Check with your IT department to see what tools and guidelines may already be available to you for collaboration within your firewall.

Also, make sure you are familiar with any internal social media posting policies that your company may have, and make those available to your participants. You might even consider low-tech collaboration options to achieve a similar end.

Remember to make sure the tool is easy to access and use; you may want to include some instructions within your formal training.

How are you using social media with training in your organization?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Emphasizing the “Doing” in the Nine Events of Instruction

By Shelley A. Gable

We know that Robert Gagne’s nine events of instruction is a helpful guide for designing engaging eLearning.

But are you applying the model to design active training?

At a glance, it may seem as though the first five events are telling-oriented, or invoke passive learning tactics. That we must spend a lot of time presenting information before skills practice occurs. And then the grand finale of hands-on activities begins at the sixth event.

This would be consistent with what we often experience in training – lots of presentation followed by bursts of activity.

(For a quick overview of the nine events, click here.)

If we’re clever about our design, every event can actively engage learners. Let’s take a look at how this can work...

(1) Gain Attention + (3) Stimulate Recall
Though most articles list these as the first and third events, respectfully, I frequently combine them at or toward the beginning of an eLearning lesson.

For instance, you might present a workplace problem that learners can partially solve with existing knowledge. This prompts them to practice what they already know, while drawing their attention to what they must learn to complete the resolution.

It also establishes the relevance of the eLearning lesson’s content without having to explicitly state it.

(2) Inform Learners of Objectives
An incomplete resolution is an effective segue to this event. At this point, you might ask learners what they need to learn to finish solving the opening scenario. You might also ask them what resources they already know are available to help them (e.g., an EPSS or other knowledge management resource they’ve already been introduced to).

Though in fairness, you should probably clearly state the lesson’s objectives at some point, so that learners know explicitly what is expected of them.

(4) Present Content
While “telling” activities may make the most sense in some instances, we can often guide learners to learn through doing.

For instance, you might guide learners through a scenario, giving them just enough information along the way (or pointing them to available resources) to help them figure out how to progress through the steps.

You can use feedback to bring in additional information. When learners respond to a step correctly, you might use the feedback to explain how that logic applies to similar situations. Or, you might warn of exceptions to the rule. When learners answer incorrectly, use the feedback to offer hints to help them figure out the correct response.

(5) Provide Learning Guidance
I often combine this step with the previous one. Pointing learners to available resources to work their way through a scenario is a form of learning guidance. Prompting them to work through additional scenarios that illustrate varied examples and non-examples of the objective is another form of guidance.

Though again, I don’t necessarily want to discourage “telling” completely. Including an illustrative story can be impactful here (especially when presented with audio and/or video, so learners benefit from vocal and non-verbal expression as well). And offering simple analogies can work wonders for understanding concepts.

(6) Elicit Performance + (7) Provide Feedback
I think the “doing” element in these events is obvious. As long as the practice simulates the work environment as closely as possible, avoids “fluff” activities, and includes immediate and specific feedback, you’re probably in good shape.

(8) Assess Performance
A simulation-type of skill assessment is ideal here. Scenario-based knowledge assessments can be effective too.

(9) Enhance Retention and Transfer to the Job
If you’ve acquainted learners with on-the-job resources, ensured that they’ll immediately apply new skills on the job, and confirmed that they will receive support and coaching from their managers, you’re probably in good shape.

What do you do?
How do you design training to be as active as possible? Do you have other ways of combining these nine events?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Instructional Designers Should Be Familiar with Flash

by Donna Bryant
Why should we instructional designers become familiar with development programs such as Flash? After all, most development is not done by writers or designers--it is usually done by technical developers. Here are some reasons to consider:
  • Helps you to gauge time to create interactions so that you can provide better overall time estimates for a given project
  • Helps you to decide whether to include an interaction--just because you can do it doesn't mean you should
  • Helps you to know what is possible to do with the program so that you are inspired as you write and design content
  • It could enhance your resume if you are able to "talk" development with knowledge and skill
  • You won't ever take development for granted!
If you're not able to actually take a Flash class, you can still learn enough from online resources to educate yourself. Here are some example links you can bookmark that can help you to find out about Flash and what is possible without having to take a full-blown class:

Flash Drawing - A readable tutorial that describes basic drawing tools available in Flash.

Collected Flash Tutorials - Flash tutorials, covering various topics.

Adobe TV - Flash (and other Adobe products) how-to tutorials.

If you Google "Flash Tutorials" you'll find even more. Some of the tutorials are readable step-by-steps, and some can be viewed as videos. You can also Google specific topics like "Create Buttons in Flash" and view how to create certain pieces. This type of information can be handy if you are considering how to approach something specific you are working with. You can also learn about development topics you may not be familiar with, such as "tweening" (a term for moving shapes from one point to another over a set time) or "masking" (which you can use to hide part of a layer so that you can see through to the layer below).

How can you apply your knowledge of Flash as you organize and lay out your content for a typical eLearning lesson?

Let's say that you are creating an eLearning lesson that covers the latest company marketing slogan. You'd like to highlight the slogan in a memorable way so that learners see it visually in their minds as they read it. You know that Flash can do such effects as blink the slogan, stretch the slogan, or make it come onto the screen and disappear. You aren't sure which approach would achieve the most memorable results, without being too obnoxious for the learner. You also don't want your developer to have to spend a lot of time creating the effect.

You Google "Text Effects in Flash". After searching through some links (WARNING--you may have to put up with ads or bikini-clad ladies) you find an interesting effect:

Flying Text Banner

You find step-by-step instructions you can share with your developer, and you find an example of how the flying text banner effect looks when done. When you show the examples to your developer, he or she might have variations that could be even more effective for your application. You will have opened a fun, interactive dialog with your developer that will result in an even better eLearning lesson. Isn't that what it's all about?

There are many tutorials and examples on the web for Flash. Once you know more about what is possible, you can give your eLearning lessons just the right punch.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A New Year’s Resolution: Remove the Fluff from eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

Think about the elements you included in your last eLearning project. The content you included. The types of activities you designed.

If you had to offer business justification for each slide and activity in your eLearning lesson to your client, could you consistently make a compelling case?

Word searches, crossword puzzles, hang man – I see these games in eLearning from time to time. While some may use them to review terminology, I can’t think of an example of when these activities would be the best way to reinforce that knowledge.

Learning theories suggest that we ought to introduce and review new knowledge in ways that:
  • Relate to what we already know (which is why Gagne’s model prompts us to stimulate recall early in a lesson), for the sake of making the information meaningful and easier to recall later

  • Include the context of when learners will apply it on the job, so that real-life triggers will help learners recall the knowledge when it’s needed

Generally speaking, I’m not sure that word searches, crossword puzzles, or hang man are reliable methods for accomplishing the bullets above.

Another offender is knowledge checks that quiz basic recall.

Does this formula sound familiar? A few slides that present content, followed by a couple quiz-like knowledge check questions…a few more slides that present content, followed by a couple quiz-like knowledge check questions…and then some more slides that present content, followed by a couple of those quiz-like knowledge check questions…you get the idea.

And if you felt a little bored reading that last paragraph, we can probably assume that learners feel similarly when completing that type of eLearning lesson.

Not only is it potentially boring, but this type of structure often lacks on-the-job context.

A simple alternative is to plug in a scenario.

A lesson might begin with a situation or problem that occurs on the job. The lesson can walk through the scenario, pointing out how various facts and procedures contribute to the resolution. If learners have enough knowledge on the subject prior to completing the lesson, we might prompt them to predict next steps or use their resources (e.g., manual, electronic performance support, etc.) to discover the information needed to resolve the situation.

After working through a basic scenario, we might pose “what if” questions to explore variations of the situation and introduce additional information to aid in problem solving.

Then, instead of asking knowledge check questions that prompt learners to recall facts, we can pose scenario-based questions that require learners to apply knowledge in order to resolve the situation appropriately. Incorrect responses can result in feedback that explains realistic on-the-job consequences and hints at the correct resolution.

And if we can allow them to practice variations of the scenario, that’s even better.

If every slide and activity in an eLearning lesson includes a portion of a realistic workplace situation that is critical to learners’ jobs, making that compelling case consistently should be relatively easy.

What else needs to go?

Are there other elements of eLearning that you view as “fluff?” What are they? And what should we do instead?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Practical Storyboarding – Not Just for Developers

By Donna Bryant

We designers work in the world of business needs as well as learner instructional needs. Pulling these two diverse needs together into one excellent eLearning product is a challenge we face with every design. Researching and piecing together content tailored for the audience is quite a task by itself. But what about added business specifications?

For example:
  • Suppose the specifications state that you must incorporate the company’s visual branding standards into a lesson?

  • What if the specifications state that you must ensure that company’s core values are represented within a lesson?

  • Or, suppose your specifications state that you must include the latest sales pitch to clients?

Ensuring that content points and specifications are cared for within the lesson’s design can be challenging, but it need not be daunting.

Many designers use storyboarding to communicate content and interaction to developers for eLearning lessons. This is a great application for storyboarding, but there are also other very practical uses for storyboarding that designers might consider.

A good storyboard provides:
  • A simple visual layout you can easily use to check against the content points and specifications.

  • A simple visual editing method you can use to see how the specifications can be woven into the content, and the overall flow of the lesson within its timeframe.

  • A vehicle to use to talk your clients through the lesson point by point showing directly how you addressed the specifications, allowing for easy editing.

  • A method to try out process and content flow prior to development, allowing the content and specifications to be molded as necessary to create an excellent final product your clients will love.

If you are already using a storyboard template of some sort, it should provide the layout for your navigation, any special page formatting your company may have, legal pages, etc. Here are some other design uses for storyboarding:

--1-- Outline your page flow. Identify how the content and specifications can be arranged in a logical lesson outline. This includes identifying where you want interactions and how you want the learner to be able to navigate through the pages (other than what might be in a template). Create placeholder pages for known content.

--2-- Organize your content points and specifications. Match the storyboard points to the content and specification points to ensure that all areas are covered. The beauty of a storyboard is that you not only visually see the layout of each page, but you can also use it to ensure that all points are covered.

--3-- Use the storyboard as you develop the project to keep you organized and on track.

So how could this work? Here’s one way:

Let’s say you’re writing a short eLearning lesson about Sales Compliance. You’ve provided background information about the topic in the content of the lesson.

Your business specifications add the following:

  • Add visual branding standards

  • Address company core values

You fret because this is only a five minute part in an overall lesson. Looking at the storyboard page where you laid out your content, you can easily see some ways to possibly add the company core values, and tie those values directly with the content. You decide to add a pop up question that connects the content to the company core values, and requires the learner to click a button to reveal the answer. As you lay out this interaction on the page, you realize that if you write it just right, you can also include the branding standards within the visual presentation of the pop up question.

Using the storyboard as your visual layout/editor can help you to see possibilities and help you to solve development and design problems before investing hours into development. Try it for yourself!