Friday, February 29, 2008

5 Sure Shot Ways to Muck Up your Training Design

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Making mistakes, failing, and then reflecting on my failures has helped me learn for life.

Here are some of the mistakes that I have made and learned from when creating a design.

  1. Somewhere along the design process, forget the learner and his needs.
  2. Let the Subject Matter Expert (SME) lead the design.
  3. Don’t consider the implementability of the design given the learner’s work environment.
  4. Don’t onboard the training holders and understand their expectations.
  5. Don’t enable the development team to realize the design.

Making Content Engaging - Tips from Cathy Moore

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Cathy Moore comes with her timely tips on making linear navigation more interesting. She provides useful tips to make content more engaging, even when it is not interactive.



Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TV Channel on CBSE Curriculum

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Greycells 18 has launched a TV channel for teaching the CBSE curriculum. The channel is available on Dish and Tata Sky. I need to get the channel activated to view it. I visited their web site http://www.topperlearning.com/ today.

The site allows students to view schedules for classes and repeat telecasts, form a student community and interact with others, post queries to experts on subjects, review study material and take objective or subjective quiz on the class, chapter or entire course etc.

Last year I worked on a proposal for the Indian Ministry planning to run a similar portal where students from different state boards could access course material, online tests, links or reference materials and collaborate with teachers and mentors. The portal is up now http://portal.sakshat.gov.in/wps/portal.

The Greycells 18 initiative is similar but with scheduled classes aired on a TV channel. The only sore point is the treatment of the study material posted to supplement the classes on TV. The material currently is nothing but a web-version of the book. From my experience of the work with MHRD, I was expecting a more interesting and simpler version of the content covered to help the students understand it without having to run to a coaching center or their teachers. The textbook type material is anyways available to the students. Maybe, once the paid version starts post April'08 - the quality of the material would improve as well.

Overall - If run well with features, like instant reply to questions, help desk, mentors, more interactive and illustrative presentation of content, question bank, this may give the coaching centers a run for their money.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Top 50 Web 2.0 Tools

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e-Learning Reloaded: Top 50 Web 2.0 Tools for Info Junkies, Researchers & Students | OEDb


Published on sdMonday 18th of February, 2008
By Jessica Hupp

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Working Efficiently with the SME

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What does it take to clap? Just two hands, right? Think again. Try clapping by using one of your hands and one hand of a friend. Even if you succeed a few times, sustaining it is very difficult. You need perfect coordination and timing. Course development is no different--in some ways at least. It takes an equal contribution from a subject matter expert (SME) and a learning designer (LD) to create effective learning material.

So what’s the contribution of each? The simplest answer to this question is “what” and “how.” The SME decides what is to be taught and the LD decides how to teach it. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. For most SMEs, making courses is not a full time profession. For most LDs, it is. Therefore, SMEs availability, responsiveness, understanding of the process, understanding of the role of an LD, and similar issues become showstoppers and often lead to delays, deterioration of quality, and frustration.

In such situations, the LD needs to synergize with the SME by following specific strategies. A LD works closely with the SME for at least two and a half months. In most cases, having a professional yet friendly relationship works better than a dry transaction-based association. Since it’s rare to meet the SME in person, making friends with them is challenging. Here are some tips for LDs to have a good professional relationship with SMEs:

  • Know your SME/CW: Collect as much information as you can about the CW— their likes and dislikes, preferred time slots, mode of communication, family, beliefs, etc. Use Internet, their CV, and be attentive in the calls to collect this information. However, don’t ask direct questions to collect personal information—some of them will not be comfortable in sharing the same.
    Document and use this information smartly during the course development. For example, if your CW does not work on Tuesdays and Wednesday, you could expect faster turnaround from them on those days as compared to Mondays.
  • Always keep commitments: If you have committed to send a document on a date, meet that. In rare cases, when you can’t, tell them in advance so that they could adjust their time accordingly. You will notice that they will start keeping commitments when you will do the same.
  • Speak like an expert: Most SMEs don’t understand the value an instructional designer adds to the course development. They feel that the LD is there to do language checks and formatting for them. Therefore, when it comes to presentation of content, you should take the charge. Feel free to suggest new teaching strategy to the CW. For example, an interactive game in the classroom is a better strategy than a boring lecture. However, you should never advice a CW on a technical aspect in the course. If something feels illogical, ask a polite question.
  • Care for their feelings: After you write each e-mail to the SME, think about how the person will feel after reading the e-mail considering his personality and circumstances (which you would know if you follow point# 1). Then, rewrite or rephrase portions of the email so that all negative feelings generative elements are avoided. Also explain the workaround to them, which clarifies the adjustment you have made to accommodate their schedule (or any other limitation.) The bottom line is to make them feel part of the team and synergize with them.
  • Watch your tone: Since the primary mode of communication between you and the SME will be e-mail, you need to be very careful with the tone. Consider the following example:

    “Please submit the deliverable positively by Monday.” Although this sentence starts with a ‘please’, it has an authoritative tone. However, changing one or two words here and there would not change the tone. For example, even when you remove the word “positively” or make it into a question form (Could you please submit the deliverable by Monday?), the implied tone is still authoritative.

    Now consider the following sentences:

    “Since, Wednesday is our drop-dead date for the client submission, having the deliverable from your side on or before Monday will ensure that we will do our internal checks and meet Wednesday’s deadline. I don’t like making you work on the weekend . So please share if you have any thoughts of avoiding it and still meeting the deadline.”

    You would have noticed that a lot of information has been added in the improved example. Most of the times, sharing the big picture and giving a rationale for an expected date helps. This may not be necessary for a SME who does not want to know.
  • Stay in touch: Some SMEs complain that they are not contacted for a long period and all of a sudden they are expected to submit a deliverable with an unreasonable turn around time. Therefore, it’s a good idea to stay in touch with them.

    It is suggested that a 10 min status call is conducted every week, in which the SME is informed about the development and the concerns are addressed. Make sure that the time and day of the call is decided beforehand and the call does not get longer than 10 minutes, unless the SME want it to go longer.
  • Avoid multiple touch points: With a number of people working on the project, it becomes difficult for SMEs to remember each one’s role. Therefore, only the LD should interact with the SME on a regular basis while the rest should work in the background. However, escalation routes should be told to the SME so that they can complain to the relevant people if and when required.

To summarize, it does take two hands to clap. But when one hand is LD's and the other one belongs to the SME, it is the LD who needs to put in extra effort and synchronize with SME. This extra effort results in creation of effective learning material--something that looks good, sounds good, and acheives the learning outcomes.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Generation Gap and E-learning

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Last Sunday, I was watching the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Littl Champs TV show; I was simply amazed at these little kids ability to sing like seasoned pros, at an age when some of them are not even expected to be talk properly! Just shows how fast the new generation learns!

Somewhere down the line, doesn't the same apply to all learners? Isn’t there a considerable difference in the way people of different generations learn? Doesn't a 10th grader of today learn much faster than how a 10th grader used to learn about 10 years back?

Therefore, doesn't it mean that while creating training materials, we need to keep in mind this generation gap? A small example: The amount of content we ideally cover in a single WBT page is still based on research conducted at least a decade back. However, in this one decade, hasn’t there been a sea change in the processing power and attention span of human brain?

Although e-learning has gained tremendous acceptance in the overall training arena, there still is a vast majority of higher-ed students who can be lured into learning electronically; And for that to happen, it’s important to recognize that these learners indeed learn very differently, and much faster.

The BUZZ thing

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Anamika Biswas in her blog writes about creating the BUZZ thing in our products. Two things that caught my eye in what she wrote. One we need to be able to create a buzz in our products that leads to customer delight. The objective is to come up with valuable ideas in design of the product that has the customer talking about it. The second is the fact that we should not let side shows distract us from creating a good design. As TOI defines it, side shows are competitive rivalry, market one up-man-ship, and readership claims etc. The nature of instructional design projects is such that many practices collaborate in developing a product. It is important that we do not get distracted by side shows and stay focused on creating the buzz thing in our products.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Training Budgets and Technology Companies

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As per the Bersin & Associates' just-published 2008 Corporate Learning Facebook- Training directed towards top-level employees is a high priority. 21% of training budget - the maximum chunk - is spent on Management/Supervisory and Leadership Development training. (Some thoughts on leadership http://tarunagoel.blogspot.com/).

Also, specific industries invest more in specific employee audiences.

  • Telecommunications >> 23% of training budget is spent on customer service training
  • Technology Companies >> 29% of training budget is spent on sales training
  • Pharmaceuticals >> 25% of training budget is spent on compliance/mandatory training

Interesting bit for our studios at ELS. Calls for strategizing both at the presales stage and when defining the overall instructional approach and design.

For Technology companies, I can relate to this figure based on my experience working in the Tech studio at ELS. While the training is product/service-centered and involves complex technologies, the audience comprises of sales and support staff specifically Sales Engineers and Sales Technicians.

In Technology companies that are innovating fast and releasing new products into the market, it becomes critical to sell the product/service by explaining what it can do/do better for the end user. And technical sales is an important aspect of making or breaking the product. Some characteristics:

  • They way I look at it, the sales process here is quite complex and competitive. Because technology is integrated well into the business, the decisions are made by senior management that is struggling with information overload.
  • While the sales staff needs to be aware of the strengths and limitations of their own product/service; they may also be trying to sell against an established competitor and therefore need to understand the technical aspects of competing products. They are expected to respond to technical queries around product/service benefits.
  • There may also be situations where there are no direct competitors and the sales staff needs to create the 'need' for the product/service in the customer's current business.
  • Unlike the typical feature/benefit focus of sales, these folks typically maintain a 'consulting' focus - trying to understand the customer's problem.
  • Besides, technical sales team members are required to liaison across the customer organization with members of various departments. This requires an ability to understand the need for the product/service from various perspectives and a combination of many other skills.
  • The job is to solve the customer's problem and that may not be possible by plug-and-play. At times, there may be complex tweaking required in the product/service before it is accepted and effective. All these tasks are led and supported by technical sales team.
  • Finally, the sales process is not closed after selling the product. Infact, continuous education and support are important aspects of the post sales service expected by technology customers. Customer loyalty towards a technology is critical to build long-term relationships.

Therefore, to train a team to sell, engage with, and be responsive to customer needs becomes a critical aspect of sales training in technology companies. Any dollar spent here is dollar earned in the long-term!

-Taruna Goel

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Re-learning Learning Design

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A bit of an Aha! experience happened to me as I read Patrick Dunn's presentation on re-learning learning design. I would recommend that we go through this and redefine our understanding and process of rapid prototyping. Patrick's post on what is a learning designer also makes interesting reading. Add his blog to your PLE.

Monday, February 11, 2008

An Effective Design Walkthrough: A Step towards Delivering the Best Design

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In this collaborative learning Environment, I would like to Engage all of you in a discussion around 'Effective Design Walkthroughs'. I Encourage you to Explore this area with me further.

Let's identify ways and means to implement and use one of the most powerful quality tools available to instructional designers. Let's share the guidelines and best practices for planning, conducting, and participating in an effective design walkthrough.

The following are my views on this topic.

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A design walkthrough is a quality practice that allows designers to obtain an early validation of design decisions related to the development and treatment of content, design of the graphical user interface, and the elements of product functionality. Design walkthroughs provide designers with a way to identify and assess early on whether the proposed design meets the requirements and addresses the project’s goal.

For a design walkthrough to be effective, it needs to include specific components. The following guidelines highlight these key components. Use these guidelines to plan, conduct, and participate in design walkthroughs and increase their effectiveness.

  • Plan for a design walkthrough - A design walkthrough should be scheduled when detailing the micro-level tasks of a project. Time and effort of every participant should be built into the project plan so that participants can schedule their personal work plans accordingly. The plan should include time for individual preparation, the design walkthrough (meeting), and the likely rework.

  • Get the right participants- It is important to invite the right participants to a design walkthrough. The reviewers/experts should have the appropriate skills and knowledge to make the walkthrough meaningful for all. It is imperative that participants add quality and value to the product and not simply ‘add to their learning.’

  • Understand key roles and responsibilities - All participants in the design walkthrough should clearly understand their role and responsibilities so that they can consistently practice effective and efficient reviews.

  • Prepare for a design walkthrough - Besides planning, all participants need to prepare for the design walkthrough. One cannot possibly find all high-impact mistakes in a work product that they have looked at only 10 minutes before the meeting. If all participants are adequately prepared as per their responsibilities, the design walkthrough is likely to be more effective.

  • Use a well-structured process - A design walkthrough should follow a well-structured, documented process. This process should help define the key purpose of the walkthrough and should provide systematic practices and rules of conduct that can help participants collaborate with one another and add value to the review.

  • Review and critique the product, not the designer - The design walkthrough should be used as a means to review and critique the product—not the person who created the design. Use the collective wisdom to improve the quality of the product, add value to the interactions, and encourage participants to submit their products for a design walkthrough.

  • Review, do not solve problems - A design walkthrough has only one purpose—to find defects. There may, however, be times when participants drift from the main purpose. A moderator needs to prevent this from happening and ensure that the walkthrough focuses on the defects or weaknesses rather than identifying fixes or resolutions.

In addition to these guidelines, there are a few best practices that can help you work towards effective design walkthroughs:

  • The document or work product for the design walkthrough should be complete from all respects including all the necessary reviews/filters.
  • Plan for a design walkthrough in a time-box mode. A session should be scheduled for a minimum of one hour and should not stretch beyond two and a half hours—when walkthroughs last more than three hours, the effectiveness of the design walkthrough and the review process decreases dramatically.
  • It is best to work with 5–10 participants to add different perspectives to the design walkthrough. However, with more than 15 participants, the process becomes slow and each participant may not be able to contribute to their full capacity.
  • Design walkthroughs planned for morning sessions work better than afternoon sessions.
  • A design walkthrough should definitely include the instructional designers, graphic artists, course architects, and any other roles that have been instrumental in creating the design. You may also want to invite designers from other projects to add a fresh and independent perspective to the review process.
  • Involving senior management or business decision makers in a design walkthrough may not always be a good idea as it can intimidate the designers and they may feel that the senior management is judging their competencies in design. With senior management in the room, other participants and reviewers may also be hesitant in sharing problems with the design.
  • Effective design walkthroughs rely on a ‘moderator’ who is a strong Lead Reviewer and is in charge of the review process. It is critical that the group remains focused on the task at hand. The Lead Reviewer can help in this process by curbing unnecessary discussions and lead the group in the right direction.
  • Design walkthroughs are more effective if the reviewers use specific checklists for reviewing various aspects of the work product.
  • It is a good practice to involve the potential end users in the design walkthrough. However, in most situations it is difficult to get access to the end users. Therefore, you may request reviewer(s) to take on the role of the end user and review the product from the end-user perspective. These reviewers may be Subject Matter Experts or practitioners in the same field/industry who have an understanding of the audience profile for the product.
  • The effectiveness of a design walkthrough depends on what happens after the defects have been identified in the meeting and how the defects are addressed and closed in the work product. The team needs to prioritize the defects based on their impact and assign responsibility for closing the defects.

Design walkthroughs, if done correctly, provide immediate short-term benefits, like early defect detection and correction within the current project and offer important long-term returns. From a long-term perspective, design walkthroughs help designers identify their mistakes and learn from them, therefore moving towards continuous improvement. During the process, designers are also able to unravel the basic principles of design and the key mistakes that violate these principles. By participating in walkthroughs, reviewers are able to create a mental ‘ catalogue of mistakes’ that are likely to happen and are therefore more equipped to detect these early in any product. By analyzing the kind of defects made by designers, over time, reviewers can use this information to support root-cause analysis and participate in organization-wide improvement initiatives.

Effective design walkthroughs are one of the most powerful quality tools that can be leveraged by designers to detect defects early and promote steps towards continuous improvement.

By
Taruna Goel

ELearning 2.0

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Here's an interesting presentation on elearning 2.0 by Tony Karrer. Slides 14 and 15 provide his insights into comparison between elearning 1.0/1.3 and elearning 2.0. From our perspective, we are still making standard "courses". For technology clients, elearning 2.0 is probably being used for building the developer communities. For employee training however are elearning 2.0 techniques being used by training departments? We have done an odd podcasting project for one of our clients. In your discussions with clients, what are you hearing about their elearning 2.0 strategies or initiatives? Are clients using blogs and wikis to training their employees?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Creating a Collaborative Learning Environment

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Having bloged on my own for a while, I am now starting an experiment of using the Web 2.0 tools to create a Collaborative Learning Environment. I will admit, this is not new and I have found many examples of such environments, many of which I will be talking about in posts to follow. I am hoping that a collaborative learning environment will combine the best of many personal learning environments in the team.

Our experiment of constructivism learning started with a small group of 7 instructional designers and 1 project manager in the physical world, i.e. a meeting room in our office. The intent of taking this online is to include many more in our learning experience. The idea is to Engage people by Encouraging them to Explore new Environments and Experiment with the them. We settled on 3 Es to finalize on this eCube community.

As we experiment with our logo, here are the initial ideas. Let's see how the logo finally turns out.




I expect the 1% rule will probably be applicable in this blog too but I am hoping that since the audience for this one is more targetted and defined, perhaps we will have more than 1% contributors and 10% commenters.

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