Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Strategies for Optimal SME Engagement

By Dean Hawkinson

As we all know, subject matter experts (or as we like to call them “SMEs”) are key to what we do as instructional designers or performance consultants. We rely on them to provide insight into our project and to validate what we are writing or creating. While we would like to believe that all of our SMEs are thoroughly engaged from the beginning and are responsive to our requests 100% of the time, we all have stories of when this was just not the case. When this occurs, it is very difficult to create an end product that moves the needle on performance within the time frame provided by our clients.

I recently attended a seminar at the national ISPI conference put on by Darryl Sink of Darryl L Sink & Associates titled, Subject-Matter Experts: Don’t Just Say “Now Spill the Beans.” In this seminar, Dr. Sink provided a list of barriers to optimal SME engagement, and we worked in groups to come up with some ways to respond to these barriers. Below are these barriers and some of the strategies that we came up with.

Barrier 1 – Lack of commitment/accountability

When SMEs are not committed to the success of your project or not held accountable for what they do, the project is headed for failure. To counter this, here are some thoughts:

  • Use incentives and recognition – Incentives to take on the additional responsibility of a SME can go a long way, as well as recognition among their management and peers. Remember, SMEs generally have a “day job” and their SME responsibilities are additional. Encourage their leaders or the project champion to make sure they are properly recognized.

  • Good project management – having structure for your project with clear responsibilities outlined and project milestones can also go a long way. Make sure that SMEs agree to this project plan up front and have regular meetings to ensure they are following through on their commitments.

  • Building relationships – this may seem simple, but as in anything, build relationships with your SMEs before any project is assigned to them and make sure they understand the end result.

Barrier 2 – Getting the SME’s time

  • Management buy-in – this is critical! The SMEs’ managers or management team must agree to providing the time away from their primary job to provide what you need for your project.

  • Get personal commitment from the SME – make sure you are clear about the time requirements and the required outputs, and gain written agreement on those commitments.

  • Offer recognition – this was already mentioned in Barrier #1, but it also comes into play here. Recognition can go a long way in getting the time commitment you need.

Barrier 3 – Multiple SMEs differ on their input

  • Specify the “rules” up front for handling these conflicts – have everyone agree to an intervention strategy to deal with differences of opinion among SMEs.

  • Find commonalities – find out what the SMEs DO agree on and use it!

  • Present the case and vote – sometime the democratic way is the best way if the differences of opinion are not contrary to specific procedure.

Barrier 4 – SMEs resist sharing knowledge

  • Try to understand the SME’s motivation and what is driving them to resist sharing their knowledge.

  • Address the “What’s In It For Me” for the SME – make sure they understand the benefits of participating in the project and what they will gain as a result of participation.

  • Address the “What’s In It For Me” for the SME – make sure they understand the benefits of participating in the project and what they will gain as a result of participation.

Barrier 5 – Finding the right SMEs

  • Establish criteria for your SMEs – come up with a clear “job description” for all of your SMEs so that there are clear guidelines on what will be expected of them. Treat it as if you were hiring someone for a job when looking for a SME.

  • Evaluate prior work – look over prior work completed by the SME to determine if they would be a good fit for your project, rather than just going by word of mouth.

  • Use social networks to locate SMEs – determine how they use these tools to collaborate. It might be relevant to the project you are asking them to work on.

There you have it - five barriers to a successful SME relationship and some strategies to overcome them. For more details, visit Darryl Sink’s website. You can also read Jay Lambert’s posts “When your SME goes MIA” and “Pointing to the Five Moments of Learning Need.”

Have you had any experiences with SMEs that you would like to share or any successful strategies? Feel free to share them!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Making Scenarios Realistic in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

Several posts on this blog promote the idea of using scenarios to make training as realistic and hands-on as possible.

Most of us don’t need a blog to remind us of that. But do we all know how to write scenarios realistically?

Show rather than tell.

This certainly isn’t new advice. But let’s explore what this might mean for writing scenarios for training.

Write dialog.

Many of us tend to write scenarios that describe situations rather than create them. For instance: Mr. Brock calls to cancel his flight. What should you do next?

A simple approach to making this scenario more realistic is to write dialog. What does a customer typically say when calling to cancel? Are there certain statements that could influence what the learner’s reaction should be? Writing dialog, instead of basic description, prompts the learner to not only identify the next step, but also to first recognize a trigger for that step.

For the Mr. Brock scenario, a simple alternative might be: Mr. Brock says, “Hi. I’ve had something come up and I need to cancel my flight for this weekend. What are my options?” What should you do next?

Or: Mr. Brock says, “Hi. My father-in-law recently passed away, so I need to cancel my flight for this weekend. Can you refund that to my card?” What should you do next?

Describe consequences.

When writing feedback for eLearning activities, we can do more than tell learners whether their response was correct or incorrect. We can also describe the consequences of their response. What happens if they select an incorrect option on a form? Or attempt to sell a product the customer doesn’t qualify for? How does that inconvenience the customer? Does it create rework for the learner or other colleagues?

Describing consequences helps learners understand the bigger picture and can help their decisions in training feel more real (and perhaps more memorable).

Provide images.

eLearning lessons teaching computer systems often include knowledge check questions that ask learners to identify which button they must click to start a particular workflow.

Sometimes these knowledge checks are in the form of a multiple choice question, where the stem sentence provides the name of the system screen and the options are the names of buttons. But is this realistic? Do learners have to recognize screen and button names to perform correctly?

A more realistic approach is to provide a screen image with a hotspot interaction. Or, even better, an interactive simulation of the entire workflow. Reinforce visual recognition and the actual behavior.

How can we confirm realism?

Hopefully subject matter experts (SMEs) can help. Ask open-ended questions about what customers usually say in a situation or what the consequences are for a particular action. A conversation can often solicit what you need more effectively than hoping a SME will make those suggestions during a review of your drafted materials.

Observing experienced employees in action can provide a goldmine of ideas. Jot down quotes and behaviors. Ask questions. Try to observe a mix of top and middle-of-the-road performers. If you can’t be on location to observe, explore virtual options such as web conferencing, recordings, or transcripts. Of course, if you’re designing training for something brand new, observation might not be an option.

What do you suggest?

What touches do you add to scenarios to make them more realistic? And how do you verify their realism?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What does an mLearning participant look like?

by Dean Hawkinson

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around Mobile Learning, or mLearning for short, and how it is changing the face of learning in organizations. You can read more about this exciting trend in Jay Lambert’s post, More on Mobile Learning Trends.

Being a telecommunications guy, I like to keep up on the latest mobile devices available to consumers. It is really fun to watch all the latest smartphones, tablets and other devices try to out-do each other with new technologies to provide convenience to consumers and businesses alike. The possibilities for learning are endless, given the right environment.

My paradigm in regard to mLearning, however, was shifted recently as I attended an eLearning Guild event that challenged my thinking about this new trend. I had always understood the word “mobile” in this context to refer to the device on which the learning was delivered. The speaker, however, changed our thinking to look at “mobile” to mean the learner, not the device.

I began to think about mLearning in a different way. Just because there is a device available that can support this method of training delivery, does that mean that the learner is a good candidate for this type of learning? Remember, we need to consider our audience and our instructional goals before we consider the technology for delivery. You can read more about this in my post on how technology supports learning.

Here are some thoughts about what an mLearning participant might look like:

  • Traveling Sales Force - Mobile learners are, well, mobile! This may seem like it is simplifying the issue, but consider individuals that are part of a national sales force that are never in an office. How do you communicate updates with them when they don’t always have access to wi-fi networks or convenient locations to set up their laptop? As mentioned in Jay’s post on mLearning trends, short, nugget-sized modules with something like video are the best candidates for this method of delivery. A sales force that travels and has the tools to receive the training “on the go” are great candidates for mLearning.

  • Sales staff in a retail store environment – This is another great opportunity for mLearning. These sales associates and managers are in a fast-paced environment and don’t always have the luxury of sitting down at a computer terminal to receive training or communication. If they are in a retail environment that uses mobile technology such as smartphones or tablets, why not provide them with these quick learning nuggets between customer interactions on their company -issued devices? This would allow them to remain on the sales floor and receive the training “on demand.”

  • Telecommuters – Research shows that more and more employers are allowing employees to work from a location other than the office. There are always technology challenges with this when trying to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or accessing a closed firewall from outside the office. Using a smartphone or tablet device to deliver the content via a downloadable application or via a web-enabled device would alleviate a lot of these firewall issues.

Obviously, there is a lot to consider when evaluating mLearning as an alternative delivery method for your organization. This can include tracking, communication with an internal Learning Management System (LMS) and other technology-related issues. However, before we tackle any of those, we need to first consider if mLearning is the right fit for our audiences.

Do you have any other ideas as to what types of learners would benefit from mLearning, or do you have any experience using mLearning in your organization? Feel free to share your experiences!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Manager Engagement in eLearning Transfer to the Job

By Shelley A. Gable

Most instructional design models (and several posts on this blog) state the need for on-the-job reinforcement of newly learned skills from training.

Examples of reinforcement include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Partnering with managers to set goals and coach
  • Holding people accountable for stated expectations for using new skills
  • Celebrating and recognizing successes
  • Sharing success stories
  • Incorporating key skills into monitoring processes and performance measures

Let’s use this post to take a closer look at making the first one – partnering with managers – work.

Why doesn’t it happen?

If the purpose of an eLearning course was to meet a specific business need – something that would increase revenue, save money, or protect the organization from risk – it makes sense that a learner’s manager would be accountable for goal-setting and coaching for new skills after training is complete.

After all, wouldn’t the organization ultimately hold that manager accountable for ensuring that the new behaviors that increase revenue, save money, or reduce risk actually occur?

The logic makes sense, but it doesn’t always work that way.

One reason for the disconnect may be that the manager doesn’t buy into the purpose of the training; and therefore, chooses not to reinforce it. Organizations should address challenges like this as part of a larger change management effort.

In my own experience, the more common issue is a lack of time or know-how. Managers at all levels are incredibly busy. If they perceive goal-setting and coaching as time-consuming, it may be harder for them to make time for it.

And if they’re not sure quite how to approach it, that means that they have to set aside even more time just to figure that out. If competing priorities appear more straight-forward, reinforcing training may continuously loose footing on the “to do” list.

While we probably aren’t in a position to take responsibilities off of a manager’s plate, we can attempt to make training reinforcement as easy as possible.

So how do we make it easy for them?

Think meeting-in-a-box.

Just as you design expectations and coaching into an eLearning course, create something similar for a manager to facilitate.

A meeting-in-a-box to reinforce training might include:

  • Talking points for the manager to start a conversation with the employee
  • Instructions for setting training-related goals, including possible examples
  • Suggestions for measuring, tracking, and discussing goal progress
  • Suggested coaching approaches for common or anticipated challenges (perhaps as an appendix or supplemental material)
  • Someone the manager can contact for questions and advice, if needed

By mapping this out, managers don’t have to set time aside to figure out how to best reinforce training or discuss it productively with employees. They can simply spend a few minutes skimming instructions and then dive in.

Don’t get me wrong...I’m not blindly optimistic. I realize that this won’t effectively cure all situations. But aren’t you much more likely to tackle something extra that seems straight-forward and easy? I know I am...especially if I perceive it to be something extra I’m tasked with beyond my usual responsibilities.

Have you tried something like this?

If so, please share your experience in the Comments. Or, if you have other ideas, please share those as well!

Make Learning Supportive and Available Everywhere

Thoughts on Elliot Masie's Lectora User Conference Keynote

By Jay Lambert

This year's 2011 Lectora user conference provided my first opportunity to hear learning futurist Elliot Masie (of The Masie Center) speak live; he didn't disappoint. We were treated to both his keynote and a follow-up conversation on his view of the learning industry's present and future. I was excited to see that so many of us are on the same page. As Masie said, we are at an age of incredible learning development opportunity.

One thing that struck me was how often Masie recommended that just-in-time electronic performance support would often meet an organization's needs instead of traditional training. Maybe he didn't come right out and make that statement, but that was my takeaway. And I think it ties in well to our industry's current trend to make Learning short, impactful, and available everywhere.

Here's a photo of what is on his learning radar as eLearning's next evolution.

And here are a few points he made with some of my thoughts attached.

Learning is changing. Learning is going to happen at the Moment of Need.

There are a few things driving this, but primarily it's the speed at which we need (and are accustomed to receiving) information and also that smartphones and tablets, high bandwidth, and an explosion of blogs and other knowledge bases are putting that information right in our hands. Today's workforce is not waiting to get the learning they need. If it is not readily available, they'll seek it on their own via Google or some other search mechanism. Instead of the old 'hey, Joe, how do you do this?' approach, we're switching to 'hey, Google...'

This ties in with thoughts lately that a good bit of online training might better be presented as electronic performance support organized in context. Make information focused, memorable, collaborative and easily obtainable at the Moment of Need. The training exercise for this type information would be on how to find it when you need it. Otherwise, it's irrelevant.

As Masie suggested, we're now outsourcing our memories to devices (Evernote, anyone?); we want to remember as little as possible. Learning professionals need to adapt to this change. By thinking of ourselves as 'learning and knowledge designers' instead of 'instructional designers,' we can focus on putting content into people's hands when they need it, not when it's scheduled on a calendar.

Learning is at the core of a business and making it successful.

Masie said that the number one concern of CEOs he meets with is that they will not have the talent available in their organization to meet business demand; this is kind of ironic considering the last few years of slashed training budgets that we've seen. But going forward, how can we nurture that talent? By making sure that actionable information is readily available to them.

Masie commented that today's top performers in an organization are both seekers of learning and avid networkers. They know how to find the information they need when they need it; as learning professionals, we should have a hand in creating, or at least pointing to, that information. Again, this is driving towards online performance support.

By the way, Masie recommended that this support should be digital with bigger type, be visually appealing, and searchable.

eLearning does not have to be high tech; it just has to increase expertise and change behavior.

Different learning objectives and/or needs call for different approaches. Masie recommended that we make the decision for each bit of content whether the learner is there to check the box or there to change their behavior; there is a time and place, he says, for both.

Masie told us that eLearning should stand for everyone, everywhere gaining expertise. Depending on the topic, you can often achieve this with even the simplest learning designs. Think of some of the most useful online learning you've seen; was it all high-end or did some of it simply present the information in an easily digestible format and provide plans for action? One of the most effective scenario-based learning courses I've seen was comprised of simply static images, a little text on screen, and engaging audio narration that moved the story along; it was inexpensive and easy to build and also highly effective.

Masie added that there is a growing importance of Moment of Need checklists in learning. Perhaps all your learners need to know is what to do when. Would a checklist approach meet your needs? We should all be our own learning labs; experiment in your organization and see what works.

Mobile devices are becoming the first screens for their users, not secondary screens.

Mobile is rapidly overtaking desktops and even laptops as the way we receive information. This is blowing up the lockdown IT departments have long had on corporate environments, but that can be a good thing. Masie suggested that there is no way anyone can control this; therefore, we might as well embrace it. As mentioned above, put the learning and information into people's hands. Design for mobile and make it easily findable.

One caveat -- since today's workforce is more empowered and helping themselves, this means that the information they are finding had better be accurate. Ideally, we have a hand in building it rather than trusting employees will find exactly what we want them to.

My wife experienced the use of mobile performance support recently to a good outcome; she was in a large home improvement retailer and had a question. The sales associate didn't know the answer, but pulled out his Android and looked up the product on a home improvement blog he follows. Her answer was right there. This was truly learning at the Moment of Need. The blog he referenced happened to be an independent site, but could easily have been sponsored by the retailer.

Second caveat -- if you start such a site, make sure it is maintained. Nothing frustrates more than a reference site with little useful information on it. If your learners are seeking help at the Moment of Need, then they need the information.

Also, the biggest complication I see with mobile delivery is screen resolution. We can't simply push our typical eLearning to mobile delivery. But think short nuggets of information; less on the screen is better. And allow for easy navigation and cross-linking of content.

Video is a learning game changer.

Video gives us the ability to easily build a collection of learning stories. Masie advised that stories are at the heart of learning and video is the great enabler of this. And it truly is; video gives us the ability to watch and react to stories from leaders, best performers, non-examples, etc. Learners are put in the moment.
YouTube has made using real, raw video acceptable in most situations. Video no longer has to be perfect, but can simply be  'good enough.' What it does have to be, though, is helpful and easily viewable.

As mentioned in More on Mobile Learning Trends, video also works really well on mobile devices. We live in a wonderful time where learning theory and technology capability are converging.

In Summary

The key theme among today's learning thought leaders, such as Elliot Masie, is that we should make Learning short, impactful, and available everywhere. Some topics will require application practice and a higher level of Bloom's Taxonomy. Others will require only information access in the Moment of Need. But video and low-tech eLearning can help us accomplish either.

We need to be addressing business needs (nothing new there) and putting learning content into people's hands wherever they might be (a.k.a. mobile). And the content they find needs to be useful and have contextual meaning.

How is your organization responding?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Conveying Tacit Knowledge in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

Tacit knowledge can be challenging to teach in formal training, but it's not impossible. So how can we convey tacit knowledge in eLearning?

Ikujiro Nonaka has been researching knowledge creation in organizations for over 15 years, which includes trying to understand the nature of tacit knowledge. Nonaka characterizes tacit knowledge as concepts we understand intuitively, but struggle to explicitly explain or describe in writing.

If you’ve ever stumped subject matter experts by asking how they made certain decisions, you may have stumbled upon tacit knowledge. When you get vague responses like “I just know,” or “I just caught on from experience,” you may be entering the realm of tacit knowledge.

Can you clearly explain how to maintain balance when riding a bicycle? In a May-June 2009 article printed in Organization Science, Nonaka suggests knowledge of wine tasting or crafting a violin as other examples of tacit knowledge.

So, back to our original question:

How can we convey tacit knowledge in eLearning?

Storytelling is an excellent approach to tacit knowledge. Think about it – fairy tales often convey a lesson without explicitly stating what the lesson was. Details about context, circumstances, challenges, actions, and consequences allow an audience to infer an understanding that might be hard to articulate, but is understood nonetheless.

You can include stories in eLearning via text, audio, and/or video.

Social interactions can also help. You might achieve this through a live, instructor-led session (in a classroom or via web conferencing) or by using social media. Even if a concept is not easily outlined through step-by-step instructions or basic recall, various learners may manage to articulate pieces of implicit rules of thumb, creating “ah ha” moments for others and a broader shared understanding.

Scenarios with consequences can help learners practice and test their tacit understanding of concepts and decision making. Such scenarios would likely need to be more elaborate than a few sentences followed by a multiple choice question.

Think multipart, branching scenarios that prompt learners to make several decisions, and where the next step of the scenario is dependent upon how the learner responded in the previous step.

Finally, a curriculum heavy with tacit knowledge especially benefits from level 3 evaluation (i.e., are learners performing as expected on the job?). If time constraints on training limit the variety of scenarios learners can practice with, it may be difficult to objectively assess whether they “get it.” Observing outcomes on the job and debriefing decision making can help cement their practical use of tacit knowledge, and may even help make some of it more explicit.

What examples can you think of?

What are other examples of tacit knowledge that come to mind? And do you have certain methods you use to convey these implicit concepts, especially in an eLearning environment?

Monday, May 2, 2011

More on Mobile Learning Trends

By Jay Lambert

Clay Duda, an ILS contributor, recently posted an article to our other blog, Shared Learning, covering the Technology Association of Georgia's Workplace Learning event last week on mLearning. 

You can read his article on the highlights here, 'What Does Mobile Learning Mean to You?' Clay is also planning a follow-up post with more information from the event.

It was a great and informative evening, particularly Margaret Martin's demo of Merlin Mobility's augmented reality app that is just astounding; below are a few other items that stood out to me.
  1. Jason Cohen of Element K made a sensible point about mLearning design and development. He recommended that we all think about the five W's (who, why, what, when, where) before the how. Determine if mobile is the answer, then determine how to make it happen.
  2. Cohen also recommended using video in mobile learning, stating that it 'works fantastically well.'
  3. Readers of this blog know that we are great fans of Conrad Gottfredson's Five Moments of Learning Need.  So apparently is Robert Gadd, President of OnPoint Digital. He suggested that mLearning "is great for the Five Moments of Learning Need." Moments 3 through 5 state that we should put occasional need-to-know or just-in-time information into an accessible electronic performance support system. What is more accessible than the mobile device right in your hand?
  4. Gadd also commented that the trend in learning development right now is to design for mobile delivery. This means developing shorter, nugget-oriented modules at a smaller resolution; if it will work on a mobile device, then it will also play on a desktop or laptop. Single source development is a great idea. But truly, shorter modules are the trend throughout eLearning no matter what delivery medium you are using. Mobile is likely helping drive that, but so is sound instructional design.
  5. As you know, a major obstacle for mobile learning is that you currently have to develop multiple versions to accommodate the different devices - Blackberry, Android, and iPhone / iPad. Gadd predicted that up to 12 vendors could come out with cross-platform mobile authoring tools within the next 12 months. That will be huge for mLearning's expansion.
Mobile is our current industry frontier. It's going to be exciting to see what develops next.