Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Canned Courses

I've seen many times when a company spend a large sum on canned courses and there is almost no usage. A statistic one of our customers gave us was it cost them $150 per module completed. Each course they purchased consisted of many modules, meaning that they got very poor return on investment.

I believe the problem is that many canned courses purchased as a block of courses are not pertinent to the employees. As an analogy, how many purchased PowerPoint presentations are you using? Why not? My answer would be that the benefit of PowerPoint based training is that you deliver content that is specific to your organization or outlook. Canned content cannot necessarily do that. This also applies to web based content.

If management continues to view employees as (using the Air Force term) "Line Replaceable Units" or "LRUs", they will get what they pay for.

Regarding "extracurricular" activities, it is an interesting irony that people are so interested in using video and podcasts for training but yet want to block youtube and iTunes using the corporate firewall. If the content is interesting, or the employee feels some gain from doing it, they will take the courses (or watch the videos). If management and trainers have to push it on the workers, the knowledge retention will be much lower. Likewise, any impediment to taking the training (e.g. having to go through 3 login screens, having trouble getting the plug-in to work, annoying coworkers with audio) further reduces the chances of course usage.

By making the courses available at off-hours, but simultaneously offering the employee more flexible schedules, you can raise total productivity. If we treat employees as LRU's (or another term I like: "chimp-erators") the employees will remain that way. I have experienced that in most companies there is a breakdown as follows:
20% of the workers are high achievers who do 80% of the work.
60% of the workers treat it as a "job" - they keep their head down hoping they won't be noticed or fired. This group accomplishes 20% of the work.
20% of the employees are either completely useless or spend all their time playing politics to move up the corporate ladder.

eLearning will be most effective on the top 20% since they are self-motivated, and they pull most of the load. I don't have the answer for the other 80%.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Moving from training to performance support

Course characteristics you can deploy to switch from "Training" to "Performance Support" might only entail:
1. Course design that invites the worker to jump into the middle of the
content (e.g. get away from linear presentation-style structure). Provide tables of contents so the user can get to any content in 3 clicks or less.

2. Content that is searchable (e.g. built in HTML/XML) rather than
Flash/Video. Put a search engine on your repository of course content,
and you now have a basic knowledge management system.
3. Testing throughout the content rather than just a final exam at the
end of a linear sequence.
4. Chunking the content into self-contained pieces (e.g a page with
sub-pages). Narration becomes somewhat less useful in this scenario.
5. Presentation of same content in different contexts (narrative, bullet
points, step-by-step printable procedure, video/animated procedure,
quiz, test, exercise).
6. Easy access: Move away from the LMS operations concept (Log in, take
a course, take a test, log out) to a web operations concept (Go to
company home page, search keyword, find/read page from course, possibly
take a test, read neighboring pages to get related information).
7. Move towards "courselets" or "Knowledge Pills" - courses should have
15 minutes of information rather than 15 hours.
8. Include a "what's new" section in any required course so that
experienced workers can skip the material they already know.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Who should have access to online training?

Arguments that people should not have access to knowledge outside their
field seem ironic in an "education" or "training" discussion arena. One
great feature of eLearning is that it is so cheap to provide this
access, especially once the content is created. Making excuses like "they
don't have the time" or "they don't have the mental abilities" is
insulting, short-sighted, and could be viewed as illegal. But then
again, perhaps CEOs of companies should be exempted from sexual
harassment rules (and code of conduct policies) because they don't have
the time to take training courses.

Often, the truck driver is the only face-to-face interaction the
customer has with the vendor. If the truck driver wants to maintain
his/her job, and potentially earn a tip, knowledge of good sales
techniques and an understanding of the product he/she is delivering is
essential. Likewise, the salesperson should understand the restrictions
the truck-driver is under in order to not make promises the company
cannot meet. The same holds for engineers with respect to marketing,
etc., etc., etc. I have experienced an untrained truck driver
delivering a product. The photographic paper he delivered was tossed
around during delivery. This didn't cause visible damage to the outside
of the product, but photographic paper is pressure-sensitive, and the
damage did not become apparent until pictures were developed. This cost
both the vendor and the customer lots of time and money.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What's really in the SCORM spec!

There is nothing in the SCORM spec that requires a FINAL assessment, or
any other kind of assessment. A course only needs to Initialize and
Finalize the session. It doesn't need to even report anything else.
That is why you will see tools that claim to be SCORM conformant, but
you author from Word, PowerPoint, Notepad, or MS-Paint.

Most authoring tools only have the concept of a FINAL assessment,
whereas you can actually have multiple assessments, surveys, etc. in
your course, and SCORM allows this. Many LMSs only store the minimum
SCORM data (score, status, time), so the authoring tools don't feel
compelled to push beyond. These LMSs tend to report even less about
each student. "Beyond" means including what the correct answer is, what
the student answered on every question, how long they took, how many
times they answered it, what they answered each time, etc.; information
that is useful for the course developer to know if they wrote good
questions. This probably explains why these tools only produce SCORM
packages if (and only if) you include a final assessment (and nothing else).

ReadyGo WCB will produce the SCORM package whether you include zero, one, or five hundred assessments.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What is Intuitive?

More and more I am learning that the term "intuitive" is very loose.
What is intuitive to one person may be completely strange and unfamiliar
to another. This is especially true when instructional design and
software meet.

Something is "intuitive" if we have experience with something else that
is similar. If something is not "intuitive" then there is a real need
to have additional material to help it become "intuitive" to people.
The English language is very non-intuitive, but yet, native speakers
consider it completely intuitive. (For example, "gooder" would be the
natural extension of "good", but we use "better".)

Context-sensitive help is what I call a "Reference Manual" - you look up
details on a specific task. A tutorial is more of a "User's Manual" in
that it should offer procedural descriptions of the software's overall
functionality and approach. The "searchability" requirement can quickly
turn a well structured User's Manual into both a "User's Manual" and a
"Reference Manual". I find highly linear content like Video and Audio
distracting and uninformative, but then that is my learning style.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Training the Engineer

Engineers are trained to learn from visual content (primarily math and physics with lots of equations). "We (engineers) are accustomed to both quick learning (by looking up a formula) and in-depth learning (understanding how the formula was derived). A video can provide an example of the concept, but will generally not provide fundamental engineering concepts."

True interactivity involves changing behaviors based on the student's response. The simple form of this is to provide the learner with multiple expositions of the same material accessed through links on a page. These expositions could include a step-by-step table, a link to a journal article, a formula derivation, a practical example of the implications of the formula, a quiz, or a tracked test.

In addition every graphic, audio, video, hot-zone, or other non-text element should be carefully scrutinized and justified. "Does it convey new information? Does the student's action relate to the content, or is the student's action simply a display control?"

My recommendation? A good book layout will be most effective for training engineers. An instructionally sound book approach is more than a series of linked slides with a table of contents on the sidebar. Each page of content should include links to sub-pages with different expositions of the same material, since each learner will gain differently from each presentation. The material should be easily accessible, meaning that at any time when the employee is doing his job, he can use the 'course' as reference material to look up the procedure or formula.

If the course is designed as a one-time, linear set of content, you lose this possibility. But if you can put a search engine on your site, and the content is properly searchable, you will create a reusable resource that the engineers will quickly adopt as part of their "library" of knowledge.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Why I think eLearning is sterile

eLearning is currently sterile because a large percentage of the
practitioners and the "gurus"/analysts consider f2f (Face2Face) techniques as the
core for web instructional design. That is, if you can just bottle your
f2f presentation, and put it on the web (convert your PPT to Flash, add
narration, dancing pigs and flying bullets), you are now doing
"eLearning". It will take some time before the analysts stop looking in
the rear-view mirror when developing the advice they give their customers.

Trainers will need to see more examples of web based instruction (using
web techniques, rather than pre-Web methods) to start synthesizing what
will be successful for them.

Perhaps prototyping is a step in this direction. I recall having to
prototype presentation slides so that I could hand them to the graphics
department for creation. Is that the stage we're in for eLearning?
What changed the field for f2f presentations was that PowerPoint (such
as it is) was bundled into MS-Office 4.0, and now a large number of
office workers had this for free on their desktops. Unfortunately, as
the analysts have reported, MS has 85% (approx) of the eLearning market
simply through PPT, so they have no motivation to include a true
eLearning tool in their office suite. (I'd be happy to sell them
licensing for ReadyGo, so they can open up this field!)

So, until there is a major re-think of the "Office Suite" that also
includes web-site (and I don't mean "web-page") builders, and people
consider web training a subset of web-sites, eLearning will remain
stagnant, and will move in fits and starts. As it is now, the "graphic
designers" are responsible for implementation of web training (like it
was in the pre-Office 4.0 days for presentations), rather than the subject matter experts.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thinkings on web delivery

I believe that infrastructure is of interest to the course creator. 90% of the LMSs I have dealt with impose their own limitations/constraints on the user experience. That is, they have their own instructional design assumptions (e.g. once a student "completes" a course, they are locked out from revisiting it), and these assumptions impede learning. The course creator is going to be straight-jacketed by the LMS implementation (often involving the student having to open 5 or 6 browser windows just to get to their content), and it is essential that they understand the experience.

The current thinking seems to be that first you buy an LMS (at costs of US$50K-$1M), and then you start developing courses. This is like building a railroad system before you have a single locomotive. When you think about it LMSs are a subset of web servers. I'm talking to more and more people who are now starting to host their courses OUTSIDE an LMS because it affords them so much more flexibility. Gee, what a concept! Just use a basic web server (that you can get for free) to host your content. Now, your learners will get much more of a web-experience rather than a f2f presentation shoe-horned into web delivery technology.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Why I have issues with audio

I have recived a number of comments on my postings about audio. I would like to make my postin clear. I am not against audio if used appropriately. My issue is with how many course authors use audio. I break the issue with audio into two groups 1) accessibility 2) instructional design

Issue #1 Accessibility:
1. Audio does not make a course accessible to blind readers. Blind people like their audio to be about 3 x faster then we speak.
2. Are your learners in cubes? If so, do they have speakers, do they have head phones - many employees can not listen to courses

My accessibilities issue is that many times audio makes a course less accessible

Issues #2 Instructional design
1. Because you give a good classroom course/presentation does not mean that voice annotating the same presentation will make it good.
2. In a classroom people are socially compelled to look like they are paying attention; at their desk they are not and may dive into their in basket if you play audio
3. Does the audio make the course boring? People only retain 10% of what they learn from audio.

Audio is fine in a course, but you need to defend why you have audio. If you put audio into a course because it will take less time to record audio then create a compelling eLearning course, you really should reconsider creating eLearning. Why should learners waist their time on a course you are too lazy to make compelling.