Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Modularity and reuse

Modular content can be reused most effectively when
a) it has such fine granularity (e.g. a sentence), that it blends in
well with the other content.
b) the re-user understands it thoroughly enough, including the context
in which it was written (by this point, they might as well have written
it themselves).
c) the re-user knows it exists

From my point of view, the content management paradigm is a solution
looking for a problem, pushed by vendors of database-driven systems. I
can see the case for reusing graphics and multimedia exercises (fed from
a repository), but the current craze about reusing textual content (and
about making one-page SCOs so that they can be put into a repository)
results in "ransom notes"; especially when the database system is
responsible for assembling the reused content.

What I do see that works well is when someone reuses someone else's
document or chapter when the necessary changes are small. For example,
most law offices don't rewrite every document from scratch. It makes
sense to re-use documents like wills, contracts, etc., that have evolved
over many years. Still, reuse requires that the re-user fully
understand the implications and subtleties of the document being reused;
otherwise, they may commit the customers to terms and conditions that
are undesirable.

What about reuse by the learner - e.g. they come back to it multiple
times or they view it on their browser, PDA, printed paper, etc.?

Monday, February 25, 2008

What to think about when deploying Web 2.0 technologies

Before you "optimize eLearning" through the use of Wikis, Blogs,
PodCasts, video feeds, IMs, XML, SOAP, AJAX, and other "new"/"improved"
methods, it is really important to understand:
1. How can these "optimize eLearning"
2. How will you manage them
3. How will you measure success
4. How you will add the next "hot" technology
5. How will you prevent the system from becoming a garbage repository
that is first overwhelmed with everyone wanting to post their latest
thoughts on the lint residing in their bellies and then is ignored
because the only content it has is people's musings on belly lint?

Wikis: Will you have a librarian organizing posted content and verifying
that it is correct? How will you limit posting access so you don't get
some whacko (like me) uploading incorrect, opinionated, and possibly
insulting content?
Blogs: How will you take the word "I" out of people's postings (e.g,
"This is my first experience posting a blog, and I am really thrilled to
death about it") That is, how will you make the blog content useful as
an instructional element. If you go to the Brandon-Hall network, you'll
be amazed how many postings are of this character.
PodCasts: Will you have professional announcers recording things, or
will you subject your audience to amateur, scratchy, poorly organized
rantings? How will you ensure accessibility both in terms of iPod
ownership and ADA?
Other technologies: Do you understand the implications of these

Have you thought about just creating good content that the audience
might be interested in reading and referencing?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sco's and Print Paradigm

I just had an online conversation with an experienced trainer who told me that a new colleague fresh from his MS ISD program says that the idea of different levels of objectives is print based and
passé in the on-line world. Of course I have an opinion on this:

In my opinion, there is nothing "print-based" about having multiple levels of objectives. The SCORM/AICC specifications does not preclude this. In fact SCORM 2004 would seem to encourage this with their concept of score roll-up.

Paradigms that are print-based would include:
1. Linear navigation in a course. When printed, you read documents from start to finish. With web-based, you
should be able to jump around based on your needs as a learner.
2. Absolute positioning of graphics/text. With print, you know what size paper it is going on, so it is nice to specify that the graphic should be 5.23 inches by 6.54 inches, and placed 1.23 inches from the top. With web-based ,you have no idea what browser size the student will use, or even if it will be on a computer/PDA/cell phone. Therefore, with web-based, as the designer, you have to be open to flexible layout, and even run-time modifications of layout.
3. Modules are visited once. When you have a print-based test, once the person has filled it out, they can't fill it out again. The documentation goes on the shelf. With web-based, they should be able to return to the content whenever they want. In fact, if you place a search engine on your course, you will see more re-usability from the learner's perspective (that is, they re-visit the content for just-in-time-learning).

So, following these ideas of analysis, having multiple levels of objectives would be much more forward looking. Flat hierarchies are a print-based concept (how many web sites have you seen that consist of only one long page, or you have to read in a specific order?)

My observation about the "vogue" today is that there is great emphasis on the "look" of the course (animation, pretty pictures, links to Nike commercials, link to a social network site) rather than on the organization of the content. Course appearance is a much simpler concept to understand than instructional organization, so that is what a larger segment of the population emphasizes. However, crap dressed up in pretty finery is still crap! Well organized, usefull material, even if it doesn't use the latest in action-script will still produce good ROI.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

getting started - do you want to use Freeware?

Typically, open-source/freeware contains about 80% of what one needs (the easy 80%). The other 20% of what one needs typically takes 90% of the development work. So, if a vendor offers the consulting service, and you sign up for it, you will be their customer for a long, long time (and they will make lots of money off your generosity). Unfortunately, I have even seen many commercial packages (e.g LMSs, LCMSs) that also fall into this category.

My suggestion is to start with a basic web site. I wouldn't look for a
single source solution. The market is evolving too quickly. However,
when you do choose components, make sure that you will be able to export
your content in a format that can be edited/manipulated outside the
particular Wiki/authoring system/blog that you have used. Otherwise,
you'll be trapped. The technologies are generally so modular that you
can add/remove them from your site without concern about breaking the
rest of the site.

I would concentrate first of all on how you will create content that
will be accessed (and desirable) to the community. Next, figure out
what learner interactions you wish to track. From here, you will get a
good idea of how to proceed next. If you put a search engine on your
web site, you suddenly have a knowledge management system (as long as
the content you created is searchable). Add a bulletin board, and you
can have threaded discussions. Add a chat room software package and you
can have "office hours". If you take a look at
you can get a good idea of how to structure content so that it is
accessible/searchable, etc.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Community Based eLearning

I believe that Community Based eLearning is a positive addition to a training environment.  I think that when instituting community based eLearning.  It is important that someone should ensure that the content has instructional value. If
someone posted an advertisement about cars in a newsgroup, the
moderator could (and should) prevent it from being widely broadcast. If I received hundreds of inappropriate e-mails from a newsgroup, I would apply my own level of censorship, and un-subscribe myself. That is precisely why I recommend some
filtering - so that the eLearning site does not become repulsive to its

A properly set up site that allows unfiltered posting should have a blog
area for first timers, and this should not be the principal area of the
site. Frankly, I no longer read the main general discussion area on the
BH network site because it is so unfiltered, and it takes too much
effort to find the useful opinions from among the "I'm thrilled to do
this..." postings.

I have already signed up as a volunteer for several discussion groups
about Rapid eLearning and Practical eLearning. Wouldn't it make
more sense for your B-H experts who wrote the reports on the new
technologies (and seem to advocate adoption) be in a better position to
guide these discussions (and could simultaneously recommend purchase of
their reports)?

I much prefer a newsgroup style of discussion simply because
responses are pushed to my desktop via e-mail. I can read them when I
want, and respond in near-real time if I can. It is a more
"event-driven" system. I don't use a newsgroup if they require that I periodically log
in and review the entire site to find out what is new. I don't have any interest in reading "this is really great" or "thanks for this information" type additions.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Synchronous vs Asynchronous training

The big difficulty I see is the concept of taking a face-to-face
presentation approach, and just delivering it over the web. That is,
turning your in-class delivery into an over-the-internet approach. You
can indeed keep your presentations "synchronous", but you could also consider expanding them for "asynchronous" delivery.

Synchronous delivery does work effectively if:
1. Everyone has a good network/audio connection
2. Everyone is NOT at their own desk. That is, you can ensure that the
audience is not multitasking and answering their e-mails
3. Everyone speaks your language at the same proficiency level,
including slangs and idioms
4. Everyone can allocate the 1-20 hours for which you will be presenting

I believe the real power of eLearning (as with the real power of Google
search) is that the material can be available whenever the learner is
available (asynchronous), rather than only when the instructor is
available. If you restructure your content (giving multiple
presentations of the same material using different approaches), give
good nonlinear navigation (so the audience can go where they want rather
than where you want), make the material light (so it delivers quickly,
and does not require special computer reconfigurations), and several
other modifications, you'll be able to reach a larger audience not
constrained by time schedules, not overwhelmed by prerequisites that
aren't possessed, bored by material that is already possessed.

If you plan to continue giving synchronous training only, my suggestions
1. Give the training to several people sitting in the next room, and
every hour or so, find out what they like/don't like.
2. Have one of those people give the training - you need to be the
audience too, in order to experience what the audience sees.
3. Try checking your e-mail, answering your cell phone, talk to your
boss, etc. while you are an audience member. How easy is it to
re-engage with the presenter?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

a few things to think about for Synchronous training

The main point I want to advocate is that when your audience is at a
distance, you will get much less nonverbal feedback, even if you use
audio. This is where a good presenter can shine by asking the leading
questions. With chat you can still do this, and you can reduce the
effects of accent and idiomatic differences. Also, chat requires much
less bandwidth, so now you can include a larger audience.

My experience is that requirements for live audio and live video usually
exclude about 40% of the potential audience. When I have tried live
audio, there is usually one participant that will require 45 minutes of
individual support to get their computer working.