Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Realizing the Potential of the Tin Can API

By Joseph Suarez

Each time a major eLearning authoring tool or LMS vendor announces they are (or will be) supporting the Tin Can API, the eLearning community can be heard giving a simultaneous cheer and moan. Why would the “next generation of SCORM” cause such a mixed reaction? Here's my interpretation.

In the short term, Tin Can support is perceived as a good thing because it means organizations will theoretically have the capability to migrate from SCORM to what's being promoted as a highly improved standard for recording and tracking learning experiences. With vendors adding Tin Can support to their products, it signals a quick and wide adoption of the new standard. This is a cause for celebration to some.

However, unless the promised improvements of Tin Can are also eventually realized, the future won't likely be any brighter. For years, thought leaders in the industry have been calling for radical change that moves us beyond the simple LMS completion checkmarks SCORM has become notorious for. They would argue that to adopt Tin Can only as far as to replicate SCORM’s limited functionality completely misses the point.

Without getting into the history of SCORM, it’s fair to say that how it is widely used today was only part of what was originally imagined. Julie Dirksen described the missed opportunities of SCORM with this analogy over on the official Tin Can API blog:

“Basically, it’s like someone having a $50K budget for a new car, and spending a thousand dollars on the actual car and the other forty-nine thousand on making sure we always have a parking space.”

Chicken & Egg
Remember when fuel-efficient hydrogen cars were supposed to be the next wave of the future? A major problem keeping the idea from taking off is a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. No one wants a hydrogen car if there are no refueling stations around, and no refueling stations are going to exist without a customer base of hydrogen car owners.

I see Tin Can as having a similar dilemma. If we don't eventually see and experience examples of Tin Can utilized to its full potential, how are we going to create enough market demand to pressure vendors to fully empower their tools with that ability? Yet how can the full potential of the Tin Can API become mainstream if that capability isn't within arm’s reach of developers?

It’s not an insurmountable problem by any means. It just requires some pioneering developers to enlighten the rest of us to what's possible. Fortunately, that may have already has begun through a Tin Can API prototypes page. It’s worth bookmarking and checking up on in the hopes of doing more cheering down the road.

What are your thoughts on Tin Can's potential?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Designing eLearning for Cognitive Ease

By Shelley A. Gable

I recently started reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and the chapter on cognitive ease offered all sorts of implications for eLearning design.

Promote a good mood.

The Finding: Kahnemann describes a study in which participants needed to rely on intuition to complete a task. The study found that participants in a good mood doubled their accuracy, while those in a bad mood performed poorly. This, combined with additional discussion in the book, suggests that a bad mood creates cognitive strain, and a good mood promotes cognitive ease.

Implications for eLearning: Although we may not have control over a learner’s day or personal life, perhaps there are things we can do to make learners smile from time to time. Consider a dash of appropriately placed humor, a relatable and/or inspirational story, and graphics that create a warm, positive tone.

The amount of time spent on eLearning may influence mood, too. Long lessons may leave learners wondering if they’ll ever end, while a series of short lessons can help create a sense of progress. Shorter lessons can also help prompt learners take a brief break and re-energize if they’re feeling mentally fatigued.

Ensure repeated exposure to critical content.

The Finding: I took a social psychology class several years ago and clearly remember this mantra: “familiarity breeds liking.” Kahnemann’s book explores this concept, describing studies in which participants were exposed to messages repeatedly over time. Repeated exposure seemed to increase participants’ liking and trust in the message.

This reminds me of the concept of spaced learning that Hermann Ebbinghaus – one of the earliest researchers of learning and memory – introduced in the 1800s. Spaced learning suggests that we retain newly learned knowledge longer when taught repeatedly over a period of time.

Implications for eLearning: Two simple ideas come to mind. First, we can take advantage of the flexibility eLearning offers to spread out training. Instead of conducting four hours of training within a single day, consider dividing it into one-hour sessions over four weeks, for example. Although the content will likely advance from one session to the next, this spaced approach would allow for reinforcing core components over time.

Another consideration is to ensure that core messages are repeated at every practical opportunity (this doesn’t have to mean repeating it verbatim every time). For instance, I recently worked on some customer service training where anticipating customer needs was a core principle. Although the training teaches a variety of tasks and behaviors, nearly every scenario prompts learners to pause to anticipate needs and then reinforces the impact of doing so.

Create clean visuals.

The Finding: The book describes a study in which participants were asked to solve a case study problem. For one group, the problem included a company name that was difficult to pronounce, while the other group’s version had an easy-to-pronounce company name. Everything else about the problem was identical. Interestingly, the problem-solving success rate of participants with the easier company name was significantly higher than that of the other group.

The book also describes similar studies where research participants working with low quality images or difficult-to-read fonts were also more prone to errors in completing tasks.

Implications for eLearning: The study about the difficult company name immediately prompted me to think about the names I assign to characters in the stories and scenarios I write. This reinforces the importance of keeping those names simple.

It also reinforces the need to include crystal clear images in training. Occasionally, I encounter an eLearning lesson that has an image (often of a system screen) that is either too small to read easily or a bit unclear. While most of us can probably intuitively agree that this type of thing is annoying, the evidence in Kahneman’s book suggests that it directly impairs learning. In fact, one of the studies described would even suggest that problematic images continue to negatively affect learning, even after learners have moved past the image and it is no longer the focal point.

Did you notice other implications?

If you’ve also read Thinking, Fast and Slow, do you recall any “ah ha” moments you encountered while reading the book? And did any of those learnings affect your eLearning design? If so, please share!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Learning Lessons from Black Ops 2

by Jonathan Shoaf

As a boy growing up in a neighborhood full of kids, I understood the importance of a challenge. A challenge is where you put all your skills to use to beat an opponent. The challenge pushes you beyond your current skill level. It is something to prepare for and something to learn from. In my days the challenges involved things like throwing rocks, wrestling, and bicycle racing. Today, multiplayer video games are a more likely place to find millions engaged in a challenge against their fellow man.

“to boost my performance and become more valuable to my team”
Recently while playing one of these multiplayer video games it occurred to me that I learn the game for the same reasons I learn at work--to boost my performance and become more valuable to my team. I started to think about how I learn in the game. I quickly realized that there are many similarities between learning to excel at a multiplayer video game and learning to excel on the job. There are lessons here.

For a point of comparison, I've chosen the game Black Ops 2. This is a first person military battle game that is the latest iteration of the acclaimed Call of Duty franchise. The Call of Duty games have been the top selling video games for the past few years. For those unfamiliar with the multiplayer game, it's basically a game where you try get a higher score than the opposing team. You do this by gaining points every time you defeat an enemy player. Player ability and teamwork both come in play in order to win the game.

Here are some of the lessons that can be taken from Black Ops 2.

People don't have time for learning

In Black Ops 2 you are given a weapon and a countdown and suddenly you are in the midst of a fight. Stop to figure things out and you'll quickly be defeated. When the match is over, you have about one minute to lick your wounds and consider how you would do it differently next time. But the next match brings a different challenge and a different competitor. You don't have time to practice what you just learned.

The same is true on the job. Most people get thrown into a job and are asked to start performing. Even if an employee goes through some amount of formal training, they are still not completely prepared when they get started. An instructional designer may prescribe job aids or electronic performance support systems to those with limited time for formal learning.

Leverage mistakes as teachable moments

With so little time, how do you learn in Black Ops 2? The answer is real world teachable moments. The Call of Duty franchise has provided a simple moment of learning that every player is exposed to. It's called the Kill Cam. Each time you are defeated you get to see a replay of how the enemy defeated you. You learn their technique and can use it against other opponents. Skip the Kill Cam and you miss a potentially valuable lesson.

Well, most of us don't have the equivalent of a Kill Cam on the job. The closest learning tool to that may be to use coaching. A supervisor can bring in an employee after making a mistake and coach them on what do differently next time. Learning from our mistakes is what all of us animal-types do. Do you have a plan to leverage mistakes as teachable moments?

Talking to people makes a difference

On most gaming systems Black Ops 2 players have the ability to communicate with each other through voice chat. You can learn a lot from more experienced players. For example, you can share strategy for a particular situation against an enemy. Players can teach each other the best places to defend and score points against an enemy. You can also ask questions to other players who are often very forthcoming with their knowledge. Why won't my Dragon Fly deploy? The other player may know the answer.

Talking to people makes a difference on the job too. Just like in a game, some people are afraid to speak up and ask questions. As learning professionals, we should help setup environments for sharing. Examples of this may include apprentice/master relationships or social media and other knowledge sharing opportunities. Coach supervisors to set expectations that their employees should communicate and learn from each other.

There are some things that only experience can teach

You can understand all the weapons, all the support packages, and the rules of the game; but, when you step on the battlefield its not always apparent what to do next. Playing Black Ops 2 means you have to learn to adjust to unpredictable playing styles and situations that only experience will teach you how to handle. It's one thing to walk through a jungle with teammates with no signs of opponents. It's a completely different experience to walk through when you've heard a sniper up in the trees and you see another opponent coming down the path in front of you and you realize no teammates are there to support you. Another thing experience will teach you is to not stay in the same spot too long. Remember that Kill Cam? Opponents learn too.

Learning from experience is true on the job as well. An employee may know all the facts, but until they've handled a variety of situations over time, they'll still be lagging in performance to more experienced employees. Having newer employees partner with more experienced employees is one way to share some of the experience. However, there's not an easy substitute for true individual experience.