Friday, April 25, 2008

Thinking...website design

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I have very often heard this statement… “The Customer is Always Right”. This statement has been interpreted in different ways by different people. But I must say that this statement has always triggered me to provide the most suitable solution to the customer in the given circumstances.
I recall one such instance where we were working on designing a website for a leading humanitarian organization that is dedicated to fighting poverty and social injustice. The goal of designing this website was to offer newly-hired staff with a more streamlined and consistent on-boarding experience.
Through this blog, I want to share how the design-related challenges that we, as a team, faced and the way we came up with an appropriate solution. The final solution not only delighted the clients but also gave us repeat business.
One of the first challenges was to design and develop this website in-house without vendor support within a limited budget. Second challenge was that this organization had been supporting more than 1,000 poverty-fighting projects in 71 countries to reach more than 65 million people. Most staff members (who were also the SMEs) were very keen to share their valuable experiences with the new employees through this website. So NIIT was instructed to accommodate all these experiences, thoughts and ideas into this website.
The team got together to understand and explore how best to accommodate all essential information into the website. The points listed below provide a quick recap of the design elements we integrated into the Web site. I am sure all of us are quite familiar with most of these elements. However, they will help you evaluate how these design elements were accommodated into the end product (once you actually look at the end product shared as a link at the end).
1. Easy Navigation: This website was designed in such a way that the main links were placed at the top of the page, drop down menus were created along with “bread crumbs” to ensure smooth navigation. This way the end user would not have to click on one page in order to find a link to navigator to another page. The layout used was very similar to the New York University website.
2. Quick Downloads: We know the end users do not want to wait to get to the right information. Use of high quality graphics and rich interactive media makes the site look attractive but slows the load time of web pages. So the graphics were constructed only for those instances where they added maximum value to the website's information. This way we achieved faster loading time for the web pages.

3. Attractive Color Scheme: This is an important and underrated area in web design. Use of bright backgrounds like red, yellow and green draws much attention from the users but also distracts them from what is important on the website. The users want to feel comfortable and relaxed while going through this website. Thus, the team used warm, attractive, earth colors that complimented well with each other.

4. Page Layout: Layout of web pages was consistent ensuring navigation took place from the same location. All important information was prioritized and located in different headings and sub headings in a manner that was easy to find. These pages had a common theme throughout the site.
5. Avoid Sideways Scrolling: We know that websites with horizontal scrolling is not user friendly. It is very likely that the users will not scroll and may miss valuable information. So all vital information like the important contact IDs, site addresses, information of their Country Offices, talks about the successful projects/achievements, etc were included as a separate link.
The biggest constraint was to accommodate 16 pages of content received from SMEs all over the world. We could neither disappoint the SMEs nor single out any one of them. They were all very enthusiastic to share their thoughts and ideas with the new joinees.

That is when the team’s creativity and “out of the box” thinking came to work. We introduced the Perspectives column in the Home page of all main links, included the photographs of the SMEs and wrote their ideas in form of two links- “ What I wish…” and "One tip to help you…” This was a major breakthrough. We not only delighted the SMEs by adding their photos (that gave a personal touch) but also included most of the contents provided by then. In fact NIIT team received a special appreciation in the Credit link of this website.

I have added the Perspectives column in the beginning of this post to help you visualize its layout and functionality. Please feel free to access the link below to visit the website:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Working/Learning Blog Carnival - April 2008

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Dave Ferguson kicked off the first Working/Learning blog carnival (a collection of posts around one topic) on his blog. Blog carnivals are a kind of anthology-on-the-fly, a collection of posts from several blogs. For each issue of a carnival, participants post on their own blogs, and a host posts links to all the participating posts.The theme of the blog carnival is "Work at Learning/Learning at Work" primarily aimed at people who work in the training/learning area (that is, non-academics) e.g., how training/learning professionals go about their own learning, or how learning happens in the workplace. In the first carnival, there were contributions from Michele Martin, Cathy Moore, Harold Jarche, Janet Clarey, and Dave Ferguson.

The response to the second carnival edition has been, well overwhelming. A special thanks to all the contributors.


Here’s the second edition of the Blog Carnival:

  1. Rupa Rajagoplan in her post talks about how different learners learn and provides her suggestions on what companies can do to encourage learning at work
  2. Viplav Baxi explores the challenges that we face in moving our organizations to the new 2.0 world.
  3. Dave Ferguson in his post takes one of John Medina's brain rules, "remember to repeat," and talks about how we move information into long-term memory, how we get it out again, and what impact those things can have on how we manage learning at work.
  4. Harold Jarche shares his post on Skills 2.0 for learning professionals who may want to know why it’s important to understand the Web for training and development.
  5. Geetha Krishnan talks about three informal ways in which he learns at the workplace.
  6. How often do you ask yourself the basic question “What Have I Learned at Work?” And if and when you do ask it, how satisfied are you with the answers? In this post, Jeff Cobb considers how we might get more out of workplace learning and issues a simple challenge.
  7. Sonali Malik shares her learning sources in her post on the eCube team blog.
  8. Ken Carroll in his post Constructionism works looks at learning in social networks and online communities and feel Sociology can provide insights in the way the web is creating new social structures that pertain to learning and their dynamics.
  9. Clive Shepherd in his post shares we may learn to do something, whether that's proactively, because we want to develop our knowledge and skills to meet future commitments, or reactively, because we need new knowledge and skills to carry out a current task. But a great deal of learning, probably the majority, is incidental.
  10. Cathy Moore resurrects an old post where she points out that elearning is more efficient and powerful if we focus on what learners need to do, not what they need to know.
  11. Michele Martin provides an interesting primer on Pecha Kucha presentation style for learning.
  12. Dr. Karl Kapp talks in his post about the mistake that most people make in thinking that learning should be easy, simple and straightforward when to the contrary it hard and a continuous process.
  13. Janet Clarey talks about how social learning technologies are changing the way we learn at work.
  14. And my own contribution talks about leadership impact on workplace learning.
  15. A last minute contribution by Cammy Bean just came in. It is something I really can related to and I couldn't resist updating this blog even after it's been published. She talks about how she builds learning into work -- when you just don't feel like you have the time?

The first carnival was organized via email. For the second carnival, in addition to email, I experimented with using Facebook for organizing the event hosted on the eCube Facebook group. The group is open and is my experiment to create a collaborative learning environment, a forum to Engage people by Encouraging them to Explore new Environments and Experiment with the them.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thinking About Thinking

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A full day session with Edward de Bono was an interesting experience. The session was aimed at “Thinking about thinking”- that is how I would like to put it. The session was divided into two sub sessions: Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking*.
The first session was directing our thinking on a well defined path by using ‘Six Thinking Hats’. It is a powerful technique that helps to look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. It opens up the opportunity for creativity within Decision Making. It helps to make better decisions by pushing you to move outside habitual ways of thinking. It helps to understand the full complexity of the decision, and spot issues and opportunities to which one might otherwise be blind.It allows necessary emotion and skepticism to be brought into what would otherwise be a purely rational decision.The technique also helps persistently pessimistic people to be positive and creative.

While interacting with other attendees during the session brakes, I received a mixed reaction to the Six Thinking Hats tool. A large number of people agreed upon the use and success of the tool; at the same time few insisted that everyone uses the same technique while making a decision. The difference is that here the path is defined and well planned.

Here, I would like to pose two inter- related questions:
  1. How many of us were making decisions (personal/ organisational) by taking in account (consciously/ sub-consciously) the factors described in Six Thinking hats?
  2. How ‘the Six Thinking Hats’ technique is going to impact our decision making in future?

I did collect certain amount of data on the same day, I will share it once I get more opinions on the same.
So wear your Thinking Hats and express it...


Note *- I will discuss the second session- Lateral Thinking in my next blog.

Work at Learning/Learning at Work

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We have all heard this quote “The growth of an organization is the derivative of growth of each individual”. So, how do you think individuals grow in an organization? Individuals grow when they learn on the job; get trained on new aspects of their work. In this process, they gain experience that helps them grow.

In that sense, there is some amount of learning that comes naturally to everyone in working in an organization. This learning comes out of working day-in and day-out on various projects, dealing with difficult work situations, working under pressure, communicating with peers and other teams and so on. However, do you think individuals require more than this to learn?

The answer is obviously, yes! Individuals get into an organization and start working; however, over a period of time, it is essential that they hone their skills further, know newer and better ways of how they work, learn newer things, improve their productivity, and so on.

The question is how do individuals go about this kind of learning?

Part answer to this question is “Training” – Training is something that is a part of most organizations employee development path. There is a ‘Training Calendar’ that the organization rolls out based on its employee’s needs and requirement for the training. The employees who attend such trainings learn something new in the process. Whether or not the training brings in the desired impact remains a question most of the time. Organizations struggle to find the ROI for a lot of trainings that they conduct. In addition, there is a limit to which an organization will invest in training. In this ever changing world, there are still things newer things to know, to learn, and understand better.

So, how does one learn?

There are a few questions that come to my mind when I think of learning: Do organizations promote learning? Are the individuals themselves inclined to learn apart from the training they get? Do they get sufficient time from their work schedules to learn new things?

I would try and answer what I know from my experience in the industry so far.

I don’t think that any organization discourages the environment for learning. Yes, there may not be a formal way that the organization has introduced to encourage learning, but most of us find out ways to learn because as individuals we all want to learn and grow – that’s our innate desire. If we talk about time and work pressure, I would say, however busy we may remain, we still get a percent of time we really can invest on our own learning rather than idling away our time.

There is so much around the environment we stay in, that there is a bleak chance that we miss out on the learning sources that inherently exist around us. Some of these that I use or think can be used include:
  1. The Internet: Yes, the Internet could serve as a wonderful source of information and learning if used correctly.
  2. Peer-to-Peer Connection: Talking to peers really does help – sharing project experiences, finding out solutions to the common problems most people face, discussing about new things members of a team may have come across - there could be much more than this.
  3. Organization’s Knowledgebase: I think this is one of the least used and underrated source of learning. But, if you look at an organization’s knowledgebase (in our case – Tecknowpark) you would find there is ample of things to learn from – be it white papers, work related documents, presentations – there is umpteen material there that an individual can learn from.
  4. Repository of Existing Courses/Products: This is yet another way to learn from what people in other projects have done - what are the different ways in which courses have been designed, what new instructional strategies have been used, etc. It is always a delight to see and learn from – the courses that the other project teams in your own organization have created.
  5. Online Trainings: So, if want to learn some specific skill such as communicating better within teams or learning a new skill, for which an online course exist (in our case – eseed), why don’t you simply register yourself online and get started? Another good source of learning!
  6. Blogs: This is the latest entry to my list. Since the time I have started accessing our blog site, ecube, I think I have learnt something new every time I visited it – be it from the blog posts of other people, comments that the people left, suggested reading, or the blog roles of other colleagues – all of them made an interesting read and something I could learn from.

I think individuals should exploit such learning sources (and/or others) more and more in order learn and grow!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What would you like to do better as a Learning Professional?

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I think the Learning Circuit’s Big Question for this month will make each of us introspect quite a bit! At least, I read the question 2-3 times and tried to really ponder on what are the things I personally want to do better as a learning professional.

There are various entities you come across while in a working environment that you think “constrain” or “limit” you to perform your best or perform the way you want to. Some of these entities include the work deadlines, inability to convince the customer on certain aspects of the project, lack of time to learn or induct a new team in the middle of the project, cost, other technology related constraints, and so on. At such times, you wish if you could have things your way, the overall quality of the product you are creating would be much better than what you are currently doing. So, in a nutshell, you have the potential to do it better but you are limited by one or the other so called constraints.

I personally would want to stretch my potential as far as possible and try to do better - especially in the following areas:


  • Understanding my end user better – either by directly talking to them (where possible) or understanding their needs through the customer I am interacting with, so I can add better value in the product I am creating

  • Spend time in “designing” the product well (and not just have a “design” phase in the DLC) and having a design walkthrough

  • Finding out newer ways (by research or interactions) to make the content more engaging and interactive for the learner

  • And most important, to be able to find out (through a feedback survey or similar means) how much impact did the training have on the end user so I can improvise in subsequent work

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