Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Remember Recency?

By Shelley A. Gable

If you haven’t encountered it lately, it’s possible you’ve forgotten about the recency theory of learning.

Recency is the tendency to be more likely to remember information from the end of a sequence. Cognitive theorists believe that as new information enters the working memory, earlier information is pushed out. Since the information entering at the end doesn't get pushed out as quickly, the brain has more time to process and remember the later stuff.

Why does recency matter for eLearning?

I’ve seen many eLearning lessons end with reiterating a lesson’s objectives. This seems to miss the opportunity to take advantage of the recency effect. Instead, we can end eLearning lessons in ways that prompt learners to recall important information or have a meaningful moment of insight.

How can we take advantage of the recency effect?

Consider these simple approaches to concluding lessons in a way that reinforces critical knowledge and/or prompts relevant reflection…

A fill-in-the-blank slide. A really simple approach I’ve seen is to simply end an eLearning lesson with a slide that restates some of the critical information from the training, perhaps with blanks learners must fill in to prompt them to recall (and further process) that knowledge themselves. You could ask learners to fill in blanks in a bulleted list of text. Or, you could have them fill in blanks in a diagram, table, or comparative matrix.

Reflective questions to connect concepts. Another simple approach is to create a slide with a few reflective questions about the content. The questions might challenge participants to make connections between the lesson’s content and related content from earlier in training. Or, you might pose questions that ask learners how the lesson’s content supports the organization’s values (if there is a clear set of values the organization actively promotes). You could also ask learners to list specific situations in which they will apply the lesson’s content to their jobs, or how the content will help them become more successful in their jobs.

Confidence check. You might end an eLearning lesson with a slide that prompts learners to rate their level of confidence in applying newly learned knowledge to their jobs. With this approach, you might follow up with questions that prompt them to list aspects of the content that were especially easy and/or challenging. For lower confidence scores or challenging aspects of the content, you can ask learners to identify ways they can further develop those skills to improve their confidence.

Social accountability. You could take any of the approaches described above and create a sense of social accountability for learners by asking them to share their responses using some form of social media, such as internal wikis or discussion boards. Alternatively, the training might include an expectation to discuss summative learnings and reflections with a manager or trainer within a specified timeframe.

How do you take advantage of recency?

What do you typically put on the final slide of an eLearning lesson? Do you use it to take advantage of the recency effect? If so, please share examples in the comments!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Focus Time and Effort with the 80/20 Rule

By Jonathan Shoaf

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, roughly states that 80% of the results are caused by 20% of the effort. This rule is applied commonly in business situations where for example, 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients. This principle is meant to be a rule of thumb to guide decision making.

As a software developer, I use this principle.  In many cases 80% of the user's desired outcomes can be accomplished by 20% of the application. I've always believed the development process for software applications and e-learning have a lot in common. In particular, time and cost must be balanced with functionality and results.

The Pareto Principle can be used to help focus time and effort to get the outcomes most desired. Don't have time to sit in 100% of the meetings? Identify the 20% of the meetings that cover 80% of the results and spend the most time analyzing those meetings. The subject matter expert doesn't have a lot of time to give on the project? Ask them to identify the 20% that needs to be learned to cover 80% of the outcomes.

I'm not saying to ignore the other 80% that is needed to fully cover a topic. However, I am saying there are realities that may keep you from being able to spend the time you need on a topic. Identify and invest in the 20% and your learners will be prepared for 80% of the outcomes.

Here's an example of where training often fails the 80/20 rule. A new software application is implemented at your organization. You are expected to train on the application.

The vendor provides training content and you are to convert it to training. Do you know where that content comes from? Here's the process:

Functional specifications are created for a software product. These specifications cover every thing the software is functionally able to do. What the software can do is not what the user necessarily needs to do. Following the Pareto Principle, the user may only need to use 20% of the software to accomplish 80% of the tasks.

The functional specifications are turned into help and documentation. Again, covering nearly 100% of what the software can do. What the users need to do? That's still not identified.

Next the training is produced. This is where failure often occurs. Training is created based on the documentation from the vendor. The thinking is that everything needs to be covered. Its an easy trap to fall into. Considering the Pareto Principle, training poorly on 100% of the application is not as effective as training thoroughly on the most important 20% of the application.

Therefore, focus needs to be given on the 20% of the software application the learner will use to create 80% of the outcomes.

Do you apply the 80/20 rule during the instructional design process?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Two Simple Rules for Evaluating E-Learning Project Changes

By Jonathan Shoaf

Let's face it, most requests for e-learning are vague at best. The client wants an e-learning about a particular topic, they put some PowerPoint slides together with lots of words and bullets (and no graphics!) and say "turn this into e-learning." Although the client will not admit it, they are thinking they'll figure out as the project goes along. This is why its important to have a development process.
  1. Background
  2. Project Description & Scope
  3. Storyboard
  4. Prototype
  5. E-learning
The earlier in this process you "figure it out", the less amount of work the developer needs to do and the less cost to the client. The goal is to work out the big hairy important details early. Later on in the process you want to be tweaking the details and not making major changes.

When change comes you will need to manage it and keep it from sabotaging the project. Handle all of the changes and the expense goes up leaving the client unhappy.  If you do not handle enough of the changes the client feels like they are losing control of the project to the developer.

I have found two rules to follow for prioritizing change in a project.  You can apply these when you see too much change coming and you need to sort out what changes to implement first.

1. If the client says it is important, the change should be at the top of the list.

You're not the client. You don't know why its important but the client does. The client will not be adament about something unless they have reason to be. If they are being a stickler about a change, ignore at your own peril. The reasons for the change can range from past mistakes made, past feedback given, company culture, or a better understanding of the learners. These are things the client knows but you don't.

If the client says it is important, then make the change. It can go a long way to building a relationship of trust between the developer and client.

2. If you think it is important, the change should be the next item on the list.

The client is relying on you to be the e-learning expert. They are not. You may know why a change is important, but the client does not. The reason it is important to you may include your understanding of how learners interact with e-learning, your understanding of bandwidth issues, your understanding of how the change impacts the clients most important requirements, your experience with iPads versus desktop computer, and more. Trust yourself. The client will learn to trust you.

The rest of the changes are less important. Trust me. What seemed important at a review, may seem less important over time if it doesn't fit these two criteria. I often purposely ignore changes that are not critical to the client and not critical to me to see if opinions will soften over time. It saves work and expense.

How do you prioritize change?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Adobe Captivate 7 - Now or Later?

By Jonathan Shoaf

I've always been a software junkie. I'm happy to spend some money on a software product when I know it will save me hours of effort over the course of the next year. So when new software comes out, I'm like a kid at Christmas opening up the gift to see if I got what I wanted.

These days, Adobe is the software vendor I'm using the most. I use the Adobe Master Suite and Adobe Captivate for many of my projects. So when Adobe Captivate 7 was released, I was eager to unwrap the gift. While I still need to use it for a few projects to give it a full review, I'd like to share some of my initial thoughts. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of the new features...just enough to answer the question:

Do I upgrade now or later?

The new release is the same Adobe Captivate you already know. If you are familiar with Captivate 5 and 6, it will be an easy transition to Captivate 7. There are new features and improved functionality, but don't expect an overhaul on the user interface.

Adobe is continuing to strongly support Microsoft PowerPoint. Many of the instructional designers I work with love this feature. It allows them to use a tool they are familiar with to lay out content and simply import it into Captivate. Once in Captivate, they can provide the additional functionality they need or pass it to a developer for advanced interactivity.

I'm careful about adding pre-built interactions to my projects. That said, Adobe has added some new interactions to its library. While the YouTube video streaming is not really an option for me (and my company), the new learning notes, and in-course web browsing could be useful. There is also some new features for creating drag and drop interactions.

New with version 7 is support for Tin Can. While I'm excited about this, I imagine it will be a long while before I have an LMS that will support this. If I did, this would be a good reason to upgrade.

The Adobe Captivate app packager is another reason I would consider upgrading...except that I mostly support Windows 7 computers using IE8 or IE9. (blah, I know!) That said, many folks will appreciate this if they need to support a variety of mobile platforms.

There is a new shared advanced actions feature that I'm looking forward to fully evaluating. I use advanced actions a lot. In fact, I keep wishing Adobe would update the user interface to advanced actions. In this release they've added the ability to reuse advanced actions more easily through templates.

There are some other new features that may be useful such as additional question types for HTML5, support of GIFT format for question banks, enhanced accessibility features, improved audio recording and editing, an equation editor, and a Twitter widget.

I've peeked under the wrapping paper...and, I'm glad to see something I know and love improved. So...do I upgrade now or later?

I don't have the urge to upgrade to it this very moment. There are no major time savers for me in this release. However, this may not be true for you. For example, there are certainly time saving features for supporting mobile platforms and HTML5 users.

Are you an Adobe Captivate user? Will you upgrade to Captivate 7 now or later?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Let Learners Make Mistakes in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

A few years ago, I was a co-researcher on a study that investigated the factors that influence informal workplace learning. The literature on the subject frequently references learning from mistakes as a typical form of informal learning.

So how can we leverage this natural way of learning in eLearning lessons?

Nudge learners to assess their responses. I recently saw this in an eLearning lesson a colleague created. The lesson prompted learners to answer a scenario-based question. After submitting the answer, an initial round of feedback suggested a couple of factors learners should have considered when responding and asked them to assess whether their responses were on the right track. Learners then had an opportunity to modify their responses or continue. This seemed like a clever way to prompt learners to reflect on their learning and potentially recognize mistakes themselves.

Show the consequences of decisions. Suppose an eLearning lesson teaches sales skills, and a scenario-based question challenges learners to present a product’s benefits to a customer. Instead of simply telling learners whether they presented the benefits correctly or incorrectly, follow their response with how the customer replies (perhaps with a customer who expresses interest, or a reluctant no, or a stern no, for example). Then, you might ask learners to assess why the customer reacted the way he did, and/or challenge learners to use a better response to attempt to recover the situation (which is similar to what someone might think through in this type of situation in real life).

Activate incorrect paths in system simulations. I’ve encountered two main types of system simulations. One type is immersive, allowing learners to click around and explore in a simulated re-creation of a software application (or a portion of it). Another type consists of a linear path through a specific series of steps.

When creating the latter, consider easing up on the linear aspect of it. Instead, you might activate a limited number of incorrect paths that branch from the intended path. To control the cost and time required to create a branching simulation, you can opt to only allow learners to stray a few steps away from the correct path. If a learner doesn’t self-correct before reaching the end of what you opt to allow, you might display feedback that helps learners recognize what they’ve done incorrectly and/or identify the misunderstanding that may have led them astray.

With an approach like this, learners benefit from learning from their mistakes through branching, and you can still control the cost and time required to build the simulation by limiting the extent of the branching allowed.

Do you give learners opportunities to make mistakes?

If so, how did you identify what types of mistakes to allow? And how did you design those opportunities into the training? Please share!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Engage Learners Emotionally in eLearning Experiences

By Shelley A. Gable

What was the last book you couldn’t put down? The last movie you couldn’t stop talking about? The last song you found yourself playing repeatedly?

While you may feel drawn to each of these for different reasons, chances are, you have emotional connections to them all. Perhaps you found one of them profoundly relatable. Maybe one was uplifting. Maybe another surged your adrenaline. Regardless of the nature of that connection, you likely felt engaged and the experience with it was memorable.

How can we create these emotionally engaging experiences in eLearning?

Inspiring engagement doesn’t require an investment in high-end video production. Rather, a simple yet compelling story can help emotionally engage learners with the content, creating a motivational and memorable learning experience. These stories can also create a challenge that permeates an entire course or lesson. Consider some of the suggestions below.

Create a story with good guys and bad guys.

I recently reviewed training a colleague created on a security-related topic. The training opened with a short story about a thief. It conveyed what the thief intended to steal, how, and the likely consequences for the victims. The learner was then challenged to use the skills learned in training to protect the victims by preventing the theft from occurring.

The rest of the training built on the opening story by applauding learners when their correct choices improved security and protected the would-be victims. Similarly, feedback for incorrect choices illustrated how the suboptimal action helped the thief by making the potential victims vulnerable.

This good guy versus bad guy type of story could apply to a variety of skill and knowledge topics. And, the “bad guy” doesn’t always have to be another person. The “bad guy” could be more conceptual, such as difficult environmental conditions, confusing processes, or day-to-day inconveniences.

Teach exemplar behaviors through employee recognition.

Imagine starting a lesson with an actual story of a customer service representative – let’s call her Janie – who received a rave review from a customer who provided feedback on a particular interaction. The lesson might start with the customer’s kind words and how Janie felt about receiving the recognition. The lesson could then challenge learners to earn the high praise Janie received by following her stellar example. The rest of the lesson might provide performance guidance and feedback in Janie’s voice, offering insight into how experienced, high-performing peers approach – and even think about – the tasks taught in the lesson.

Provide testimonials that boost the content’s credibility.

A few years ago, I briefly contributed to a project that involved redesigning instructor-led training on coaching skills for self-paced, eLearning delivery. Coaching, like many soft skills, is one of those topics that have a lot of models and “how to” books in the marketplace. Many of the approaches out there seem like common sense. Thus, I can understand why experienced supervisors may not feel eager to embrace the behaviors taught in training, especially if the organization hasn’t communicated a compelling reason for them to do so.

In this project, we created a series of eLearning lessons, with a short lesson (i.e., 30 minutes or less) dedicated to each major coaching skill in the coaching model. At the beginning of each lesson, we included a short video testimonial of someone describing their success with that lesson’s skill. We asked the storytellers to describe a specific situation where they used the new skill successfully and to predict how the situation may have ended differently if they hadn’t applied the new skill. The intent was to ensure that the testimonials felt realistic and actionable, in hopes of building credibility and interest for the content that followed.

How do you engage learners emotionally in eLearning experiences?

The examples above are just a few approaches I’ve encountered for engaging learners emotionally in eLearning experiences. What approaches have you designed?


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Do you know your E-learning Buckets?

By Jonathan Shoaf

I've discovered recently I don't like the term e-learning. This is because I recently had to go through the process of understanding what salary you pay someone who is an e-learning developer. It turns out that it varies dramatically depending on who you ask. This is because everyone has a different idea of what e-learning is and what it takes to develop it.

So if you tell me you are an e-learning expert, it means nothing to me. You could be a beginning Captivate user creating a self-paced page turner, you could be a Flash developer melding ActionScript and Javascript to communicate with an LMS, or you could be an instructor maxing out whiteboards and breakout rooms in Adobe Connect to synchronously engage learners. The term e-learning covers a wide swath of teaching and learning using digital media.

E-learning needs to be categorized in different buckets depending on what the needs of the learner are. When I evaluate learning needs in my organization, here are some of the e-learning buckets I think about.

Self-Paced Learning
Self-paced learning content is typically consumed by learners at their own pace and time. It is a great way to get learning out to a large audience and can save time and money over traditional face-to-face learning. It is often the bane of the learning community because everyone has experienced a bad disengaging page turner that puts them to sleep. But when done right it can be a very good option for the learner.

Online Classroom
An online classroom offers many of the same benefits as face-to-face learning but it can be done remotely for a geographically dispersed group. In my experience this is one of the cheapest and quickest e-learning options.

Performance Support Systems
Electronic performance support systems provide just-in-time knowledge to learners who either don't have the time for other learning options. Also known as an EPSS, this type of system is great to house knowledge that is only used in rare cases.

Simulations are a great way to introduce learners to a real work environment where they can learn and experiment without fear of adverse consequences. Simulations can also be used as an EPSS when a learner needs to know something about the system but doesn't have access to a real system to test.

Knowledge Management Systems
Knowledge management is a collection of information for employees to learn from. In the past I've used systems like wikis, Lotus Notes, and SharePoint to serve as knowledge management systems. These systems contain documents or other multimedia that learners can access any time as needed.

Social and Collaborative Learning
Social learning environments are great ways for employees or experts to collaborate with each other and share experiences. Social environments I used a lot include Linked In and Twitter. I have found that organizations have been very slow to adopt these environment internally. I think this is an opportunity for the future.

Multimedia is a critical area for e-learning. It spans over every other bucket. Videos, animations, graphics, and audio can convey knowledge in ways that learners can grasp. In fact, videos can almost stand on their own as an e-learning option for a lot of projects.

What would you add to the e-learning bucket list?

Monday, March 25, 2013

QR Codes – Short-Lived Fad or Long Term Solution?

By Dean Hawkinson

It seems like only yesterday that we began to see websites being posted for the first time on advertisements as the internet became more and more popular among advertisers and consumers. It got to the point that you were hard pressed to find advertising without a website associated with it.

Jump several years into the future to today where we now carry the mobile internet in our pockets with our smartphones and tablets, and are never without the internet at our fingertips. Now, I sit down to enjoy my large coke at my favorite fast food establishment and low and behold, there is this strange looking image on my cup that allows me to pull out my smartphone, use the AT&T Code Scanner app (or other scanner app) to “grab” that code and go directly to a website where I can enter a code to win a free order of fries or simply browse their web page. This technology is known as a QR (Quick Response) code.

Go ahead and try it out for yourself! Below is a QR code that you can scan to jump directly to the Integrated Learnings website. You will need to download an app that can read QR codes – there are several free apps available for all the major cell phone operating systems (iOS, Android and Windows). The AT&T Code Scanner is available free of charge for all three.

QR Codes and Learning

So, what do these QR codes have to do with learning? There are numerous ways that Instructional Designers and Trainers can take advantage of QR codes to enhance learning. It is as simple as creating the QR code (more on that in a bit) and downloading it as an image to be added to documents.

Let’s take a look at a few ways QR codes can enhance learning:

  • Instructor-led TrainingPicture a classroom without paper – not too much of a stretch in today’s learning environment – where your participants are using tablets for their interactive participant guides. QR codes can be imbedded into your PowerPoint presentation for instructor-led training and projected via the overhead projector. Using the tablet’s camera and downloadable scanner app, participants can obtain those participant guides and any other resources/job aids stored on a shared site or to be directed to a particular website to support the concepts being learned.
  • Virtual Training – Same principles as Instructor Led training, but you will present the QR code via your Microsoft Live Meeting, Adobe Connect or other virtual classroom. It truly adds an element of interactivity to your virtual training.
  • eLearning – In a web-based course, QR codes can be presented on your pages for easy scanning to access websites via a smartphone or tablet, or to obtain documents stored on a server. You can obviously link directly to websites with a link for the computer, but the QR code would be available for purposes when the document or site needs to be accessed via a mobile device.
  • mLearning – QR codes would not be as widely used in an mLearning course as your learner would already be using a mobile device to access the training, so it would just be a matter of placing links in your material to go directly to the website or document. However, you would be able to use a QR code on the computer or printed material for that mobile device to scan and access the mLearning course itself.

Creating a QR Code

There are many different websites that allow you to build QR codes, and most of them are free. One such site is Kaywa.com. This site will allow you to create QR codes by simply entering the website address into a field and then downloading the code as an image file. You will need to establish a free account to use the site. However, performing an internet search for QR code generator will find many different websites that allow you to do the same thing.

Once you download the image, it is simply a matter of adding the image to your documents for scanning.

QR Codes are Here to Stay (at least for now)

It seems to me that with the simplicity of creating and using QR code technology in learning that this technology is here to stay for the long-term. As we begin to move more into the area of paperless training and using technologies such as tablets and smartphones for use in partnership with training, QR codes will be a very beneficial solution to use.

Have you had experiences with using QR codes in your training design & development? Feel free to share your experiences.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Are You Really Serious About Effective E-learning?

By Jonathan Shoaf

I recently came across an infographic about determining the costs of a custom e-learning course. From my years of experience doing e-learning, I think the graphic is dead on. To summarize, it lists three important factors that determine the cost of an e-learning course:
  1. Graphics and multimedia
  2. Level of interactivity
  3. Instructional design time
I'm not going to go into the details now. Just know that the more complex each of these are, the more costly the project will be.

Out of curiosity, I took a poll at my organization to determine the level of complexity of each area used in our projects. The consensus I found is that instructional design is often the most complex. My area of the organization deals with a lot of technical information so this is not surprising. However, I would venture to say that most e-learning projects are instructional design heavy when it comes to cost.

So why would I say this? Instructional designers are the foot soldiers when it comes to creating learning. They are often asked to wear many hats but their expertise is instructional design and that is where most of their time goes.

Wearing many hats is so common that organizations often don't hire the expertise they need for the other two areas that effect the cost of e-learning: graphics and multimedia and level of interactivity. That is why most e-learning is weak in that area. It's not because instructional designers don't think about these things that they get omitted, it's because they often don't have the time or required expertise to achieve them.

Graphics and multimedia often requires a graphic designer or expert in video production. Creating interactivity often requires the use of Flash or other skills that a web developer would have. Organizations often don't hire the required skill sets to excel in these areas. They either don't budget for it or don't know how to find the skills needed. I personally think the skill set required is an emerging field in the workplace.

This gap leaves well designed e-learning without the support of informative graphics and other multimedia. Instead, stock graphics or poorly produced video ends up being used. Sometimes multimedia is "repurposed" for the e-learning but it ends up not being the ideal presentation to the learner.

Interactivity that engages the learner is left out. Learning through discovery is not provided. The e-learning often becomes a page turner with lots of reading or voice overs that drown the learner in words and voice. "When can I click the next button again?" they ask.

So I have to ask:
  • Are you really serious about effective e-learning?
  • Why put all the instructional design resources into a project but then leave it lackluster and disengaging?
I know, I know...it's cost.  It's all about costs.  Well not always. It's also because of a lack of in-house skill sets.

I think those are valid reasons e-learning often comes up short. However, I think there is something else. Most organizations have not fully committed to e-learning. They understand the cost savings aspects of it. But they have found it difficult to make it even close to as engaging as face-to-face training because of a lack of initiative.

Most learning and development organizations know how to win at face-to-face. But e-learning? Are we really doing what it takes to win?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Draft a Branching Scenario in 6 Steps

By Shelley A. Gable

How often have you encountered eLearning packed with information, yet lacks an outlet to apply that new knowledge in a meaningful way?

Designing eLearning around problems that learners encounter on the job can help avoid this pitfall. Scenario-based training prompts learners to solve problems they will encounter on the job, helping to ensure we prepare them to perform their jobs successfully.

Branching scenarios can simulate many workplace problems especially well. In a branching scenario, an eLearning slide might only provide the start of a situation. Perhaps the first segment of a conversation or an initial glimpse into a problem. Based on the information available, learners choose their next step from a few options provided. And instead of giving them feedback like “correct” or “incorrect,” their choice takes them to a slide that describes the next segment of the scenario...a segment that’s a direct consequence of the option they chose. The scenario continues like this, over a series of a few slides, until learners reach an outcome.

Here’s how I approach drafting a branching scenario…

--1-- Identify a scenario.

This step likely seems obvious; however, depending on the scope of your training, it warrants some thought. Of the array of situations your training needs to prepare learners for, do a few seem especially worthy of developing into branching scenarios? Perhaps it makes sense to focus on situations that learners will encounter most frequently. Or, situations that tend to challenge newbies the most.

Additionally, I’m most likely to use branching scenarios for situations that require a series of judgment-based decisions and where the consequences of a decision are immediately evident.

--2-- Identify outcomes.

On the job, what range of outcomes is typical for the situation?

For instance, a sales scenario might have three typical outcomes: the customer accepts the sale (successful outcome), the customer decides to “think about it” (partially successful), or the customer declines the offer (unsuccessful).

Alternatively, depending on the business result you are targeting, a sales scenario might have typical outcomes more like this: the customer buys the deluxe package (successful outcome), the customer buys the basic package (partially successful), or the customer declines the offer (unsuccessful).

--3-- Flowchart the steps and decisions that lead to the most successful outcome, based on observed behavior of exemplary performers.

To identify the decisions that lead to the successful outcome, I like to ask clients to walk me through the steps and decisions they’ve observed in their best employees. This usually results in a linear set of steps from the scenario’s starting point to the successful outcome.

--4-- Flowchart the decision points and decisions that most directly lead to an unsuccessful outcome, based on common mistakes of novices.

Next, I ask clients to walk me through the steps and less optimal decisions they’ve observed in less experienced employees. This usually results in a separate set of steps from the scenario’s starting point to the unsuccessful outcome.

An important tip here is to specifically prompt clients to recall the less optimal decisions they’ve actually observed. In other words, I’m not asking them to think of possible incorrect decisions someone might make…I’m asking for the incorrect decisions people actually have made. This helps keep the scenarios realistic. And hopefully, learners who slip into common mistakes during training will remember the consequences presented in the scenario, helping them to remember how to avoid those mistakes on the job.

--5-- Review the flowchart and identify realistic opportunities where a learner may be able to recover from a bad decision to get back on the “successful” path (or move from an “unsuccessful” path to the “partially successful” path).

In most situations in life, an initial bad decision doesn’t doom you to be unsuccessful in an endeavor. In real life, when the consequence of a decision shows you that you’ve made the wrong choice, you may be able to correct the situation with better decisions and still succeed. This is what I try to tackle next when outlining a branching scenario – where these crossovers can occur between the various paths.

--6-- If a middle outcome exists (e.g., “partially successful” or something similar), flowchart the path to that.

Often, I find that creating the “partially successful” path doesn’t require adding decision points to a scenario. Sometimes, it simply results from a different path among the steps charted previously.

What’s your approach?

If you’ve designed branching scenarios for eLearning, how did you figure out the branching paths?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Simple Anatomy of SCORM-based E-Learning

By Jonathan Shoaf

I remember the first time I heard the term SCORM. I was a software developer working on a quizzing product that needed to export data to a variety of e-learning systems. It was suggested we should support SCORM. So I researched but quickly got lost in the minutia of details and acronyms -- AICC, CMI, SCO, XML, ECMAScript, manifest, packaging, and API. On top of that, I found out about the ADL initiative and the Department of Defense involvement in the specification. Woah! Wait a minute. What are we talking about here? I just want to get my content to my customer in a form that they can use it!

It turns out I had to know most of that stuff for my job. But most people producing e-learning content can rest assured that they don't need to know these details. You just need to know that e-learning content sometimes needs to be exported to SCORM so that it can be used in an LMS. Here's everything you need to know about the anatomy of a SCORM module. The version of SCORM doesn't matter for this simple explanation.

A SCORM module consists of three basic pieces:

1.  Learning Content
2.  SCORM Run-Time
3.  SCORM Package

And here's the best news...with today's e-learning development tools, you only need to be concerned about one of these pieces!

Learning Content

If you are an instructional designer or developer of e-learning content, chances are, you'll only need to worry about the Learning Content piece. This is what the learner sees. It is based on an instructional design or storyboard. This piece contains all the images, audio, video, and text that learners will need to consume. Many times the learning content contains a quiz as well. Ideally, this is where you will spend all of your time developing the course.

SCORM Run-Time

The next piece is the SCORM Run-Time code. E-Learning development tools like Adobe Captivate, Lectora, or Articulate do all of this for you. So don't sweat it.

But for those curious, this is the "language" the e-learning module uses to communicate with the LMS. The run-time code is used to send messages to the LMS like "the course was started", "the learner scored 80% on the quiz", and "the learner has mastered this material". And vice-versa, the LMS can use the run-time language to tell the e-learning module information like the learner's name or a bookmark that tells the e-learning module where the learner stopped previously.

SCORM Package

The last piece of the simple anatomy is the SCORM Package. As before, if you use an e-learning development tool, this is often taken care of for you. There are a couple of things worth mentioning about the package. The package is simply a compressed (aka zipped) folder of files. There is a magical file included called the imsmanifest.xml file that instructs the LMS on how to use the files in the package. There are rare times where you may need to tinker with this package.  For example, to add a referenced file like a PDF or video.

How does your understanding of the SCORM anatomy differ from this? What about SCORM has been a challenge for you?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Using iPads to Support Training Delivery

By Dean Hawkinson

Recently, I had the opportunity to design my first paperless classroom course, which used iPads to support its delivery. The purpose of using the iPads was to replace paper-based workbooks and job aids, and provide learners with easy access to training resources. As a designer, it stretched me into areas of project management that I had never experienced before. In addition, some of the feedback that we received from instructors was that it stretched the instructor in many new directions as well.

In this post, I will make some suggestions based on the successes and challenges that go along with this method of delivering classroom-based training. Let’s start with what I have experienced as important requirements.

Important Requirements

From the experience that I had, there are several things we needed to include when developing instructor-led training for iPad delivery.

  • An interactive workbook for taking notes – We wrote a storyboard for what should be in the participant workbook, including places for participant note-taking. You can use tools such as Adobe InDesign and Adobe Acrobat to create direct links to online sites and places to take notes. Participants can then use Adobe Reader on the iPad to view the workbook which provides several options for viewing and sharing the document.
  • Create a way to save the document with notes – Adobe Acrobat allowed participants to save their document with the notes they entered. They either e-mailed it to their own e-mail addresses or moved it over to an app such as Evernote to e-mail, if their own e-mail is not available on the iPad.
  • Use new technologies to obtain documents – We placed documents such as the workbook and other job aids on an online server and used a free QR code generator to create a QR code. Placing the QR code on the PowerPoint in the classroom allows participants to use the iPad camera and code scanner app to scan the QR code and obtain the documents.


Below are some of the successes we observed that can go along with using iPads for training delivery.

  • Saving on printing costs and logistics – Using the iPads for delivery cut printing costs and the logistics of printing.
  • Taking advantage of linking directly to the internet for research – Using the iPads for delivery allowed us to write some great activities that involved researching on the internet and directly linking to websites right from the iPad workbook.
  • Using the technology for hands on activities – If you are training job-related skills that use the iPad, you can take advantage of some great hands-on activities to learn these skills. Instructors can even invest around $25 in a VGA cable to project the iPad in front of the class to demonstrate these skills.
  • Reducing the need to have PCs in the classrooms – Since trainers can travel with iPads, you can purchase a set of iPads for each instructor for which they will be responsible. There is therefore no need for PCs in the classroom.


Here are some of the challenges you may run into with using iPads for training.

  • Cost – A budget needs to be allocated to purchase the iPads for the classroom. Of course, if you are doing a lot of training, this cost will be offset by the savings in print material costs.
  • Logistics of ordering, provisioning and preparing iPads for class – Depending on what you are teaching, there is a lot of preparation that goes along with iPad delivery. The instructors need to take care of loading required apps and setting them up for use in the classroom. If the iPads are Wi-Fi only, they need to ensure that their classroom has Wi-Fi available and that there are no issues. If they are 3G or 4G, ensuring that the sim cards work can get a signal is important. Most of this functionality only has to be done once, however, in preparation for using them.
  • Traveling with the iPads – Traveling with the iPads can be a challenge, presenting issues with airport security and taking responsibility for them during travel. There are special cases available for purchase to travel with the iPads, which can help with this.

Feedback from Participants in Pilot Courses

Feedback from participants and instructors on this delivery approach, from my experience with a pilot course , was postive. Participants like being able to use Adobe Reader to take notes directly in an electronic workbook and e-mail it to their personal e-mail accounts. Instructors like not having to deal with paper workbooks. In both cases, the apps allow note-taking and highlighting just as they do in a paper workbook.

For instructors, they have to really pay attention to where the participants are in their workbook as they facilitate, even more than in a normal paper-based class. Designers can help with this by ensuring workbook page numbers are in the instructor guide and also on the PowerPoint slides.

Have you had experience with using iPads in instructor-led training? Feel free to share your experiences.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lectora Resource Roundup

By Joseph Suarez

We use Lectora a good bit for eLearning development. As with any tool, it’s always helpful to see tips and tricks from others that you can add to your own projects. If you're working with Lectora and need some assistance, here’s a list of helpful resources available online.

Official Resources from Trivantis
  • Lectora University: Trivantis’s own collection of helpful resources including recordings of all past “Inspiration Wednesdays” webinars and downloadable course examples.
  • Lectora Community Forum: A great place to ask questions and find answers to Lectora related questions.
  • Official Lectora LinkedIn User Group: Another good place for Lectora questions and also networking with other Lectora users.
Resources from E-Learning Uncovered
Integrated Learning Services Blog Posts - Our own collection of Lectora related blog posts
Have you found other Lectora how-to sites that were useful?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Conquer These Evil E-Learning Temptations

by Jonathan Shoaf

There are common temptations that instructional designers and e-learning developers succumb to. Resist these and your learners will thank you. Let's look at a few of the more common temptations lurking out there to torment those who partake in e-learning courses.

Temptation #1: Using a PowerPoint Mindset

The first temptation that leads to bad e-learning is using a PowerPoint presentation mindset and applying it to the e-learning world. Its tempting because the mindset is familiar, requires little thought, and takes less time. And unfortunately all those reasons are things that your manager may support. However, it stinks for your learners and results in less knowledge transfer when all is said and done.

Which do you enjoy more in a face-to-face classroom setting?

Watching a lecture with cute PowerPoint
slides while sitting in your seat.
Performing activities that lead to discovery
of knowledge through practice.

Consider that e-learning is usually taken by the same people that would be in a face-to-face classroom. Take a moment to empathize with these folks by asking the same question for an e-learning course.

When you convert PowerPoint slides directly into e-learning slides, you are simply keeping your learners bored and disengaged.

Temptation #2: Ignoring the Visuals

This temptation is difficult because words are easy but multimedia is hard. After all, we have keyboards for words. All the letters are nicely laid out and we know how to find them. Graphics, on the other hand, are hard. Many require hours of hard work or require being on site with a camera. But resist the temptation to avoid them. Remember the old adage "a picture speaks a thousand words."

Photos and graphics are very important to learners. They can set the mood for the course. They can create memories and associations for learners. Besides, learners get barraged with enough words already through corporate email, HR and IT notices, job aids, and memos.

Find and use multimedia. Here are a few things you can do to get in the habit of using more graphics:
  • Buy graphics! Stop being cheap and subscribe to a multimedia library like ShutterStock.com. You learners will thank you!
  • Use PowerPoint or other simple tools to create simple graphics and visuals.
  • Don't be afraid of the camera. Start snapping. Make a library of photos you can use in all projects. Make a special trip to take photos for individual projects.

Temptation #3: Getting Approval from the Wrong "Right" Person

You are dependent on the subject matter expert.  But the SME you are assigned to work with may not understand how learning works, the importance of the project, or the fact that you know nothing about their area of expertise. Frankly, the person may not even care about the final outcome of the project. The temptation may be to get approval from this person because they are assigned to your project. However, your learners will thank you if you find someone who really has their best interest in mind.

Trust your intuition and experience to tell you whether or not you are getting the feedback you need. Try the following techniques to make sure you get the appropriate person to look at your project:
  • The SME tends to agree with everything - then engage them further to see if they really have looked at it. Trust but verify that they are doing their part. You don't want any surprises at the end of the project.
  • The SME seems disinterested - you will have to be extra persistent. If they simply aren't giving you the time you need ask them who would be good to delegate the task to.
  • Talk to some of the managers of your target learners - What do they think is important to cover? Do they agree with the SME? If not, arrange a quick group meeting to get everyone on the same page.

Temptation #4: Assuming the e-Learning will work Perfectly

Most e-learning development tools you'll use will have several ways to "play" the content.  Let's take Adobe Captivate as an example. You can play a page right in the editing tool, you can test several pages at a time, or you can test the whole project. Plus, you can publish the project to test. Over time you'll find that the project may not work the same in all of those scenarios. Ultimately, you want to test a fully published project independent of the development tool.  Even better, test the project directly in the LMS to verify the scoring, completion, and any advanced tinkering you've done works.

Resist the temptation to assume if it works for you, it works for everyone else. Here are some things in particular you should test for each project:
  • The Learner's Navigation - If the learner takes a course but can't complete it, you've got a major problem. Test the navigation to make sure the learner can get to where they need to go. This includes any next and previous buttons, home buttons, and access to the quiz or survey.
  • Quizzing - The learner needs to get the score they earn and it needs to be reported correctly to the LMS. In particular, test to make sure the course completion is set correctly depending on the quiz results.
  • Animations and Audio Syncing - The animations should match the audio. Avoid the temptation to skip through the audio. Listen to it and verify the animations take place. Make sure animations are not inadvertently paused by other elements on the page like buttons waiting for a click event (Captivate users know what I'm talking about).
  • Links and Attached Files - Don't disappoint the learner with a broken link. Links may not work like you expect them once a project is published or put on the LMS. Who among us hasn't accidentally linked to a file on your computer? Make sure the URLs are accurate and open up in a NEW window if required. Make sure attached files are included in the imsmanifest and SCORM package being uploaded to the LMS.
What bad habits tempt you?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Resolve to Try Something New in eLearning in 2013

By Shelley A. Gable

In perusing the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook at the turn of the new year, I noticed several expressions of relief that the world has not ended and resolutions to make 2013 the best year yet. For many, this includes trying new things.

The posts from this blog in 2012 offered advice for trying out new eLearning authoring tools and other technologies as well as advice for trying out various instructional approaches. If you're interested in trying something new with your eLearning projects this year, take a look at how the past year of posts from this blog might help...

Want to explore Tin Can API?

Training practitioners have been abuzz about the possibilities Tin Can API might hold. Check out Building the Next Generation of SCORM for an introduction to Tin Can, or review Realizing the Potential of the Tin Can API to participate in a discussion about its potential pros and cons.

Want to develop your technical skills?

Lectora has been one of the most frequently recurring topics on the blog this year. To sharpen your Lectora skills, take a peek at the posts linked below.

Of course, Lectora isn’t the only tool out there. Those looking to further their Captivate skills can benefit from these posts:

Or maybe you’d like to acquaint yourself with some different tools...

Anticipate dabbling in audio and video? Perhaps the posts below can help you get started.

Want to take steps to make eLearning easier to use?

While a fluency in authoring tools can go a long way, making eLearning user-friendly is just as important. Help ensure that your eLearning doesn’t distract from learning with the help of the posts below.

Want to renew your focus on instructional design?

Instructional design is at the heart of learning. While an attractive visual design and eye-catching interactions can help create a positive first impression of a lesson, its ability to teach learners to perform is what matters most.

The following posts can help you brush up on principles of learning psychology:

If you’re thinking about tinkering in a gaming approach to instruction, the posts below might help.

To help you assess learning through eLearning interactivity and/or knowledge assessments, take a peek at these posts:

What are your professional development goals for 2013?

If there’s something you intend to focus on that isn’t mentioned here, please tell us about it! (If you do, we just might write about it.) For more resources, you could also take a peek at the year in review posts for 2011 and 2010.

Happy new year!