Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Making your courses a resource, not just a one time event.

I had a question on creating an environment for informal learning or as I like to say; making your courses a resource, not just a one time event.

Of course, there will always be informal learning that is beyond the
reach of computers, so tracking outside computers would be out of the
question. We should start by limiting the discussion to informal
learning done on a computer (or other internet-access device). In order
for the learning to be tracked, we either need to make content that
reports itself, or we have to monitor the end-user's computer (and then
try to determine if a visit to a search engine constitutes learning).
With courses that can report themselves and be tracked, there is plenty
of room for "informal learning", but the developer community has been
slow to evolve to this stage. Some definitions of "Rapid eLearning"
(where Rapid also has to do with how quickly the learner acquires the
knowledge) would overlap informal learning, except that the
implementation steps have been to frightening for a lot of the developer
community. That is, if you need to buy/install/configure an LMS, and
then learn a development tool and how to deploy a plug-in-based course
(with all the security issues associated), you are no longer in the
mood to do any "informal" development.

Next, the structure of AICC/SCORM encourages a very formal style of
training. Explanation: Suppose you have taken a course and remember that
there is a good nugget of information somewhere in the middle. When you
want to go back to that nugget ("just-in-time training") you have to go
through a login screen, a message of the day screen, a list of your
courses, a list of the chapters (because the course has been broken down
into multiple units so that they could track how you did on each
chapter's test), and the finally you get to the content you wanted.
Anyway, (where was I?) by now you've forgotten why you came there in the
first place. If you do remember about the nugget, you go and find it,
but then when you leave the course, your score has been changed because
you didn't complete the test. Your "informal" session just became
"formal" and your training transcript has been altered.
- With AICC/SCORM, one could do informal training, but most LMSs I have
worked with follow the above "formal" concepts.

If we want informal training to be tracked and be used more, here would
be my suggestions:
1. Content should be accessible through a search engine (that does not
require burdensome login)
2. Content should be structured for multi-tiered/web navigation (e.g. No
linear/PowerPoint content with narration or time requirements before
going to the next page)
3. Tracking should be unobtrusive and cumulative. That is, if I take a
test 5 times, all my scores should be tracked, but my training record
should be based on my best score.
4. Any navigation tracking (e.g. pages visited) should be cumulative and
used for information only (not evaluation)
5. All content should be accessible in 3 clicks or less.

If the above concepts are followed when course content is implemented,
they can then be used for both formal and informal training.

Vendor Disclosure: I work for ReadyGo, Inc., an authoring and tracking
tool vendor. Many of our customers have discovered that their content,
when designed as above, is re-used by the learners for "just-in-time"
training. They have gotten past the concept that training (like
PowerPoint presentation) is a one-time event. When a learner needs the
information, they can get to it quickly through a search engine without
needing to log back in.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CHALLENGE: How do you develop courses when you have a bandwidth limitation?

When bandwidth is limited or screen real estate is limited (eg. old computer, mobile phone), the best approach is to go back to basic HTML & JavaScript. These are the underlying technologies that make the web work. Most training can be done without relying on Flash, Silverlight, Video, or other plug-in based multimedia content. However, for those users who do have good connections and reasonable screen real estate, you can still offer the higher bandwidth content.
If you're looking for authoring tools to help you along, you should consider tools that output content as basic web pages. The ReadyGo Web Course Builder is one such product. The underlying files can easily be delivered with low bandwith (e.g. 9600 baud connection), but if you want to include Flash, Video, Audio, etc. these can easily be incorporated into the content at the course author's discretion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My latest rant on XML training

I recently spoke to a customer who wants everything to be XML so that they can re-use it. Regarding this rationale, it seems like the old proverb, "For someone who has a hammer, everything looks like a nail." So, I figure someone at that company knows XML (and they are the only person who knows it, therefore they want job security), and they want to require everything to be in a format they (and only they) can re-exploit. The purpose of XML is precisely to get away from this single format-based mentality. But some people are using XML to enforce a single format requirement.

From a technical perspective, yes, ReadyGo can produce output in XHTML that validates. The only reason ReadyGo decided to support XHTML is that Firefox 3.5 now supports MathML - so there is a compelling reason for XHTML. Before MathML was available, I could not find a good reason to produce XHTML (or XML) other than to satisfy the narrow requirement that "it must be XML".

I guess my rant is on IT departments that create requirements that meet no business or technical needs.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tracking video's

One question that should be asked is what or why the videos need to be tracked. If you are looking to simply deliver the videos so that they can be viewed, a SCORM or AICC wrapper is not necessary. If, however, the course creator is interested in tracking who has viewed the content (or simply who has launched it), or, better, how much people understood from the content, then a SCORM or AICC will be useful. One suggestion with video is that the video segments be broken up in to portions that are between around two minutes long. We have done studies and have found that people will remember 10 two minute videos better then one 20 minute video. A good way to reinforce video is to ask a test question at the end of each two minute video. The ReadyGo Web Course Builder ($499/developer) can be used to assemble the videos so that they can be tracked by SCORM.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My thoughts on course size

When creating web courses the content should be chunked into the smallest coherent units that still make sense based on the content, rather than on the clock. When users are doing self-paced training, they will be easily distracted. Creating a "6 hour" or a "3 hour" or even a "1 hour" module means that the users will have to chain themselves to the content for that time period and avoid any interruption. I doubt that they will be able to do that. Instead, content should be structured as little "pills" of knowledge that can be swallowed quickly or slowly, as the end-user wishes to do. One good option is to have a summary page with links to various presentations of the same material, and a few test questions on that material. This would constitute one "pill" of information. The user can take this, step away, come back, and proceed to the next "pill".

A level up from this would be the "courselet". A courselet is a small piece of content (perhaps a chapter or small course) that can be taken in a 15-20 minute period (for the typical user). If the user needs just-in-time training, a 15-20 minute period is about the most that can be expected for an uninterrupted experience.

Any videos or sound files should be kept 2 minutes or shorter. Otherwise, because watching a video or listening to audio are such passive experiences, the learner will focus instead on their e-mail or on playing a computer game while the content is being served to them.

Creating mobile content

Beyond the change in experience simply because of the size of the screen, it is important to consider that Flash does not yet run on most mobile devices, that creating a "mobile app" for each platform is a very expensive way to approach training, and that connectivity for mobile devices will change over the next few years.

I believe that mobile devices will soon have the "always-on" connectivity that desktop computers currently have. As soon as enough providers start offering flat-rate plans, you'll see all carriers do so, just as nationwide long-distance is now a standard feature of cell phones. How does this affect the employee? It means that the content does not need to be downloaded ahead of time (like an app). The student will be able to take it just as they would with their desktop browser. Then comes the interesting part of how to create the content. If you stick to web standards, the browsers will be able to provide the optimal display for the specific device. Content built as HTML content (as opposed to text-in-pictures or video movies) can be rearranged by the browser to provide maximum display, and minimum scrolling requirements. Many of the new mobile browsers do a pretty good job of supporting style sheets, so there are a lot of layout options that can be applied.
The ReadyGo Web Course Builder ($499/developer) builds content that is based primarily on HTML and style sheets. The tool includes several templates designed for mobile browsers, and provides a preview of how the course looks in the different display sizes. So, the author can load a mobile template, generate and post the course (see how it looks on mobile devices), and then reload a desktop template, generate and post the course to a different web page (see how it looks on desktop machines), and students can now choose if they want to see the mobile version or the desktop version of the course. The tool can also be used to carry out tests and surveys using the mobile platform. Tracking can be done using the ReadyGo Server Side Testing module ($1499/server). The pricing allows unlimited creation and tracking of courses.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting the behavior you want, saving the data you need

Most LMSs are designed with a specific set of behaviors as imagined by the LMS designers. Similarly, the course content may produce behaviors beyond those expected by the LMS. How do I change behaviors in ReadyGo WCB?

That is why we have LMS-packs. By using different LMS-packs you can change the course’s behaviors. Hopefully, one or several of the LMS-packs will give the course the desired behavior when it is served from the LMS.

What if I have a customer who needs specific reporting and my LMS does not save this information. Do I have any options?

One solution ReadyGo developed was for the courses to send information to both the LMS and to ReadyGo SST. If the LMS does not provide the detailed information, SST will store it, and SST reports can provide a history of every time the test was taken with every answer provided by the student. This augments the LMS, so that the LMS can concentrate on its portal functions rather than on the tracking functions.