Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are You a Performance Consultant?

By Dean Hawkinson

Let’s face it – the title “Instructional Designer” comes with a reputation that designing instruction or training is all that we do. We have been placed into a box that can be a real challenge to get out of, especially when it comes to moving into more of a performance consulting type of role. How do we break beyond the barriers that have been placed on us and convince our clients to look beyond training as the only available solution?

So…what is Performance Consulting, anyway?

Here is an illustration to help clarify the concept of performance consulting. Imagine that you have been experiencing some minor pain in your arm. You go to see the doctor and explain your symptoms. Now, imagine that after you explain your symptoms, your doctor looks at you and says, “I know exactly what you need. You need heart surgery. Let’s schedule that for you right away.”

What was wrong with the doctor’s approach? She did not take the time to really listen to you and investigate ALL of the potential factors going on before jumping to a solution. Have you been exercising muscles you have not used in a while? Did you suffer an injury? Do you have any pain anywhere else? None of those questions were asked.

Training clients can tend to do the same thing – they jump to the solution (“training”) without investigating the various other factors that might be impacting the expected performance. This provides an excellent opportunity to consult and partner with those types of clients to look at all of these environmental and motivational factors.

Gilberts Behavior Engineering Model

Thomas Gilbert (1927-1995) created a model for performance consulting known as the Behavior Engineering model (BEM). The BEM provides six categories for investigating all of the factors impacting performance. The six categories are split between two larger categories, Environmental (external factors in the environment) and Individual (internal factors to the worker). The categories are listed and explained below:

Environmental Factors

  • Data – This category is all about standards and feedback on performance. This category asks if workers truly know what is expected from their performance and if they are getting the right amount or type of feedback on performance.
  • Instruments – This category is all about the tools they use to perform their job. In this category, we ask questions about the efficiency of the systems or other types of tools they use for performing their jobs and factors in the work environment that might be impacting performance (lighting, ergonomics, etc.).
  • Incentives – In this category, we ask if the workers are provided with the right incentives to do their jobs. Remember, this may be factors beyond just how much they are paid, and keep in mind that different workers are motivated in different ways.

Individual Factors

  • Knowledge – For this category, we ask if the workers have been trained properly and if they have the knowledge needed to do the job. If the answer is no, then training may be the solution, or at least part of the solution. If they have the knowledge needed, then we would look to the other factors and intervention types to solve the issue.
  • Capacity – Capacity looks at innate ability to do the job. Here, we look at any individual physical or mental limitations that might exist in workers that would keep them from performing.
  • Motivation - In the motivation category, we look at workers’ internal motivation to perform. For instance, are individuals willing to work under the conditions provided by the organization? Do they want to do the tasks of the role they are in?

Influencing your Clients

So, how do you transition from a simple “order taker” to a true consultant? Using tools like the BEM to frame your conversations is a starter. I have used this model to frame my questions to the client to truly understand what the situation is. I went so far as to show my client the document and take notes as we covered each category. That really went a long way in pointing out the other factors that might be at play.

Another thing to do is to develop success stories. As you become successful at partnering with your clients to uncover these factors and work with them to suggest alternative solutions (which you may or may not play a role in implementing), keep in touch with them as they implement the solutions and gather these success stories to share as you try new approaches. These will go a long way in convincing clients to trust you to consult with them on factors that support their business, beyond training.

Have you tried any other consulting approaches that have worked? Feel free to share your experiences.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lectora Development Best Practices Part 1 – Optimizing Preferences

By Joseph Suarez

After using Lectora for almost five years, I’ve learned so much both from the helpful community of Lectora users and on my own. There are great resources available in printed books and blogs like this. However, I’ve never come across a collection of development “best practices” commonly found for other programs such as Photoshop. So, I decided to write one.

This series of posts is intended to show how to use Lectora in ways that avoid problems, reduce development time, and make using Lectora easier overall. To start, there are a few settings, which I consider vital, but most are not enabled by default. You can access all of the following settings by going to File > Preferences within Lectora.

Show Visibility Check Boxes
Lectora pages can quickly become crowded with objects (text boxes, images, shapes, etc.). By checking “Show visibility check boxes in Title Explorer” under the “General” preferences tab, every object in the title explorer will have a visibility icon (eye). When clicked, that object is toggled to either hide or reappear while in edit mode. This becomes extremely useful when editing objects laid on top of each other such as those controlled with show/hide actions.

Display HTML Object Names
Advanced editing sometimes requires knowing the HTML id name assigned to a Lectora object. This can be seen without having to search through the published HTML code, but only if a preference is enabled. Under the “General” tab check “Show HTML-published object names in object properties.” When enabled, every object’s properties window conveniently displays the HTML id in the corner.

Set Custom Editors
While Lectora has its own multimedia editors that have useful capabilities, such as syncing audio, they are rather limited. If you’re using a tool such as Audacity or those in the Adobe creative suite, you can have Lectora automatically edit objects in those programs by going to File > Preferences > Editors Tab.

Enable Rulers, Guides, and Snapping
Aligning objects by hand with pixel perfect precision is time consuming, but becomes much easier after adjusting some settings in the “Grid/Guides” tab. First, you can enable rulers to display on the left and top of the editing window. These allow you to see exactly where you’re placing or moving page objects. Plus, rulers give you the ability to add guide lines.

By clicking a ruler and dragging onto the page, you can add guide lines. Visible only in edit mode, guides are great for establishing page margins. To move an existing guideline, hold the ctrl key and drag the line. Dragging them all the way back to the ruler removes them.

Finally, there is the helpful ability to “Snap to” guides and gridlines. Snapping acts like an invisible magnet. When you drag an object near a guide with “Snap to guides” enabled it automatically snaps into place. This is perfect for ensuring every text begins at exactly the same spot on every page.

Use Hotkeys
Learning and using Lectora hotkeys (keyboard combination shortcuts) can help to reduce development time. There are many hotkeys unique to Lectora as well as those common to most Windows programs such as undo (ctrl+z). Through the “Hotkeys” preference tab you can view all the preset Lectora hotkeys and even customize your own.

It may not seem like much of a time saver, especially at first, but once you get in the habit of using hotkeys, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start using them sooner. One hotkey that often comes in handy in Lectora is ctrl+shift+v to paste unformatted text. This pastes copied text without any additional formatting carried over from a program like Microsoft Word, which can cause problems in Lectora.

With these simple preferences enabled, development becomes easier. Please share any additional ways you have optimized preferences, and stay tuned for more Lectora development best practices. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Workplace Trends from 2004…Still Trending

By Shelley A. Gable

I cleaned my bookshelf the other day, which included moving out stacks of old magazines. One dusty cover that caught my eye was the January 2004 issue of Training + Development Magazine from ASTD, with this headline: 8 Trends You Need to Know NOW.

I immediately thought, “I wonder if those trends are still relevant...”

So I took a break from my periodical purge party to skim through the article by Karen Colteryahn and Patty Davis. Here’s a peek at the eight trends from 2004...

--1-- Drastic times, drastic measures. Organizations are increasingly finding themselves with limited resources, prompting them to focus even more on improving efficiency and quality.

--2-- Blurred lines – life or work? Organizational structures are becoming flatter and more people are working at home.

--3-- Small world and shrinking. Globalization is making our workforces increasingly interconnected, with a rise in offshoring many business functions.

--4-- New faces, new expectations. Diversity is increasing in the workforce, especially when it comes to ethnic and generational diversity.

--5-- Work be nimble, work be quick. The rate of change in organizations is accelerating, businesses are reducing cycle times on their processes, and an adaptable workforce is needed.

--6-- Security alert! Concerns about national security prompt people to desire more security in their personal lives and in the workplace. Workers want safer work environments.

--7-- Life and work in the e-lane. Technology is advancing, which affects where and how work is done, as well as “how, when, and where learning occurs.”

--8-- A higher ethical bar. Employees are focusing more on corporate responsibility and scrutinizing the integrity of management and leadership teams.

This article could’ve been published today, and most of the comments would have seemed just as applicable.

So what does this mean for those of us in the field of training and performance improvement?

Even the advice for practitioners still rings true. Let’s take a look...

Know the business, grow the business. The article emphasizes the need for us to develop business acumen and follow business trends, so that we can ensure learning strategy aligns with organizational strategy. I still see plenty of articles in print and online publications about this, so I guess it’s safe to say that this is still a relevant need...and perhaps something many of us could stand to improve upon.

Show them the value. This portion of the article spoke to the need to evaluate the effectiveness of training, so we can show how it contributes to organizational results and produces a return on investment. Once again, something we still ought to do...and could generally try to do better.

The high road starts here. This section suggests that we’re in a unique position to help organizations develop a culture of integrity that helps build employee trust. With so many organizations including integrity among their strategic values, training that aligns with organizational initiatives all the way to the top really can help employees see how day-to-day tasks further this priority.

Be tech savvy, or be sorry. Oh yeah, this is still true. The article focuses on blended learning, primarily in terms of finding the optimal balance of web-based training and classroom instruction. I think it’s safe to say that many organizations are still figuring out how to find that balance, while also exploring how social media, mLearning, and more can fit into the equation.

Weaving a world-wise web. This section suggests developing skills related to intercultural communication and technologies that support remote workforces for the sake of creating training for globally dispersed workforces. Yet another line of advice that’s just as relevant today as it was then.

Talent purveyor: scout, agent, coach, champion. The message here is the need for us to be able to attract and retain talent in our organizations by addressing hiring needs, hiring strategies, and workforce development. Seems like this has always been – and probably always will be – among the central focuses of our field.

So overall...

It seems like the workplace trends and advice for practioners from ASTD’s 2004 article still apply. What’s your take? Do you see any new trends that aren’t addressed at all here? Or do you feel that anything here is outdated?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Effective Storyboarding

By Dean Hawkinson

Storyboarding for an eLearning course can be a very effective way to lay out the overall look and feel of your course, as evidenced by this post by Donna Bryant. Storyboarding can serve a couple of different purposes:

  • It can be an easy way for your subject matter experts (SMEs) to review content during the development stage
  • It can serve as instruction for a developer when the actual development of the course is not done by the designer of the course
I recently attended a webinar presented by Trivantis, the company that owns the eLearning development software Lectora, on effective storyboarding. In this article, I intend to share some of the highlights of that webinar.

Tools for storyboarding

A lot of people use Microsoft PowerPoint for storyboarding for several reasons:

  • PowerPoint tends to be standard software on most corporate computers, so your SMEs should have access to create notes and update information directly on the document
  • You can easily use a corporate template and show a visual layout of your content using PowerPoint
  • PowerPoint provides a notes section to place any notes for your developer or SMEs so you can include instructions on elements such as multimedia and navigation
However, if you want to build your storyboard or your course directly in Lectora, you can use the Notes function to place notes on each page. These notes will only be viewable by you or another developer. You can even access a master list of your notes within the document. These notes will not be shown to the end user.

If you have the Lectora Professional addition, you can also use a web service provided by Trivantis known as ReviewLink. With this service, you can place your published material on the server for your SMEs to review with full functionality and provide feedback.

Elements in your storyboard

Your storyboard should include the following elements:

  • List of consistent design elements - this will include any multimedia elements such as video, images and interactive exercises
  • Graphical User Interface (GUI) and navigation - your GUI is the look and feel of your course, whether using one of the built-in Lectora templates or a template designed by your company or client. This would include all the navigation buttons and other consistent elements throughout your course
  • Course outline and map - using sound instructional design principles, make sure you include an overview or course map for your course, so your SMEs or developer can get a "big picture" of the entire course
  • Knowledge checks and assessments - include all of your knowledge check questions and assessments with answers
  • 508 Compliance requirements - include any special requirements for handicap access, i.e. audio or other assistance

Notes about multimedia elements

A few things to keep in mind when selecting multimedia elements in your storyboard/course:

  • The selected media should always support the learning objectives of the course – if it doesn’t support what you are trying to teach, don’t use it
  • The media should have a clear purpose – don’t just use the latest cool media just for the sake of using it; there needs to be a purpose in choosing a particular type of media
  • Keep any technology limitations in mind – remember your audience and make sure that the computers they are using will support the media (do they have audio or can they support video?)
  • If you are using videos for an eLearning course, a good rule of thumb is to keep them short – 3-5 minutes each

Any other thoughts/experiences with storyboarding that you would like to share?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Give Tests a Test Run

By Shelley A. Gable

After drafting an assessment for training, what steps do you take to validate that it is realistic and accurate?

Many of us probably have assessments reviewed by subject matter experts (SMEs). But have you considered administering the assessment to a group of experts as well?

First, let’s look at what makes for a quality training assessment...

Just to be clear, this post focuses on assessments that take place while the initial training event is in progress (i.e., Level 2 assessment). Some of what I’m suggesting here may or may not work well for on-the-job assessments designed to continue ensuring transfer to the job after the initial training (i.e., Level 3).

At a high level, a quality assessment should:
  • Align with the agreed-upon performance objectives
  • Challenge learners to solve realistic (and relevant) workplace scenarios
  • Consist of questions or tasks with a clear success measure (e.g., one right answer to a question, an objective rubric for evaluating performance on a task, etc.)
  • In the case of multiple choice questions, offer reasonable distracters that represent common mistakes and misunderstandings
Okay, I’m sure there are other important principles I haven’t mentioned...but I wanted to highlight this handful, because they relate to other ideas in this post.

Now let’s think about the SME review...

How do your SMEs typically review assessments? Do you email them with a request to validate that the assessment is accurate? Do you discuss the assessment together in a collaborative review session?

Personally, I find that if I email a SME something for review, most reviewers skim for accuracy and call out any errors. However, I’m not sure that they’re on the lookout for omissions and realism. Granted, it’s my job to ensure quality on those fronts, but I need their help to do it.

So, whether I’m in a collaborative review session or in an email exchange, I like to ask the following about each assessment item:
  • Is the scenario realistic? If not, what details do I need to change or add so it feels real?
  • Does the correct answer represent what you would coach an employee to do in the given situation?
  • Do any of the distracters seem like feasible options someone could make a compelling argument for (in the case of multiple choice questions, this helps ensure there is a single best answer)?
  • Do the distracters represent mistakes you’ve seen people make?
And how about doing a test run of the test?

After putting the knowledge assessment through your review process, consider administering it to a group of SMEs to see how they do. This might help reveal any shortcomings prior to using the assessment with actual learners. Watch for items with low success rates and any distracters that were frequently selected. You might even follow up with testers to find out what prompted them to respond to certain items incorrectly.

This can work especially well if you are attempting to close a performance gap, and you have a group of exemplar performers to test with. Whether you have the ability to use a large group of exemplars or you only have access to a couple, this extra test run can be well worth the effort.

Do you have other methods?

How do you ensure that your assessments are realistic and accurate? Do you use any of the tactics above? Do you have other approaches? Please share!