Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to make tea?

Add 2 spoons of tea leaves to water and wait for it to boil. Add two spoons of sugar and 1/4th cup milk. Bring it to boil. Strain the tea into a cup.


Step 1: Add 2 spoons tea leaves to water and wait for it to boil.
Step 2: Add two spoons of sugar and 1/4
th cup milk.
Step 3: Bring it to boil.
Step 4: Strain the tea into a cup.




Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gagne's Nine Events as I see it

Gagne's nine events:
  • Gain Attention
  • State the objective
  • Ensure recall of prior learning
  • Present stimuli
  • Provide learning guidance
  • Elicit performance
  • Provide feedback
  • Assess performance
  • Enhance retention and transfer
Lets us see whether these nine events still hold good in today's learning environment.

Gain Attention
I am a huge fan of this strategy. Begin with a bang. The first few minutes of a training program is the most crucial as the learner judges what is yet to come based on what is presented. You need to ensure that you grab the learner's interest and make the learner curious to see what may come ahead.

State Objective
I do not believe in stating the objectives as "At the end of the module, you will be able to blah, blah, blah". I think the gain attention also plays the role of helping the learner understand what the goal of the course is. It need not be stated overtly as long as the learner can see the relevance. If you have to state the objectives, do so differently. Read Michael Allen's book Guide to elearning to understand better. He has written this section beautifully.

Another interesting way to look at this would be... list the objectives depending on your learner. If they are the no nonsense types who like to see things upfront or if they are firm believers of traditional elearning, show it to them.

Ensure Recall of Prior Learning
This step also helps check where the learners are. However, learner analysis will tell you best where they are. So I rephrase to say it is a good opportunity to let the learner judge for him/herself where he or she stands.

Present Stimuli
I always thought this was interestingly phrased. This doesn't mean just display content. This means provide the learner with information that will make him/her think. Use the most effective strategy to ensure that the learner thinks, not reads or sees.

Provide Learning Guidance
This suits a classroom training better or may also be applicable for programs in which learner has access to trainers or instructors. You don't need to provide extra guidance if your strategy is good. But this again depends on your learners. If they require extra guidance, you must ensure that your learning solution provides this.

Elicit Performance
Provide challenging exercises to ensure that the learner gets an opportunity to check what he/she has learned.

Provide Feedback
Provide effective feedback to ensure that the learning outcomes are met.

Assess Performance
Gagne probably meant this to be the final examinations or assessments. As I see it, this would be performance in the real environment. This is monitored and checked.

Enhance Retention and Transfer
Performance assessment helps in retention and transfer of learning.

The only issue with Gagne's nine events is that it is unidirectional. The best solution would be to make it more iterative. Tests or practices and feedback sharing need not happen at the end of the program.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Quality Assurance Checks

Today, I was pulling out older bug reports to share formats for QA of a new course. This had me reminiscing. QA is a vital process before final roll out. Why is QA important? It helps identify the bug and errors in the course. It also helps check consistency, content misses, errors introduced during development, animation sequence, audio flow, and so on. QA helps us check the course on the whole whereas ID reviews, edit review, and graphic reviews check each aspect individually. When the course is developed, we get to finally see it function. Now, it is not rare to have one or two bugs in the application. It is important to identify these before the learner takes the course.

How do we conduct QA? We use an xls format to document slide numbers, the issue, the type of issue and so on. We put the course itself under the microscope and dissect it to see whether things are in place. We try out all options available to ensure that the course is behaving the way it should. Areas to be addressed during QA are:
  • Functionality
    • Are all buttons on the interface working properly?
    • Are all the screens linked logically?
    • Are all the tabs and click to know text working as they should?
    • Are the exercises functioning normally?
    • Is the navigation free of bugs?
  • Audio
    • Is the VO in sync with the OST?
    • Is the audio audible, crisp, clear?
    • Has any part of the audio got chopped off during integration?
  • Alignment
    • Are all elements aligned to the grid?
    • Are feedback boxes popping up in the right area?
    • Are the text boxes popping up in the right area?
    • Are the graphics positioned appropriately?
    • Has the white space been used appropriately?
  • Graphics
    • Are the graphics clear?
    • Are they in sync with what was visualized in the storyboard? (Though this should be ideally taken care of during graphic reviews)
    • Do the graphics seem to belong to the same family?
    • Are they adequately sized and positioned on the screen?
    • Do they follow the color scheme?
  • Consistency and standardization
    • Is the instruction text standard across the screens?
    • Are the feedback boxes standard across the exercises?
    • Are the tabs and click to know text consistent across the course?
    • Is the font (color and size) consistent across the course?
  • Content accuracy
    • Are there any content misses?
    • Are the screens too text heavy?
    • Are there any new errors introduced in the course?
    • Are there any edit issues in the content?
From prior experience, I know how crucial his stage. I have witnessed how this round can check bugs and ensure an error free course before learner testing. If work is not systematic, errors will come up with every round of QA. This can be very frustrating. Ensure that you always conduct at least two rounds of QA to ensure that your course meets the quality standards.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why, What, Where, When, How?

Last Thursday, we had an interesting session at Kern. It was called 'Tell me why?' and was conducted by Geeta. The main objective was to make us understand what kind of questions yield the desired results. Geeta, first, asked us to list the types of questions (interrogative, probing, inquiry, permission seeking, and so on). She, then, divided us into groups and gave us three situations: a learning situation, research situation, and a coaching situation. She gave us three goals and asked us to write down 5-10 questions that we would ask to reach these goals.

What was challenging about this activity was that these set of questions that come more easily or shall we say unconsciously when working on a live project, refused to enlighten us when we were consciously putting our mind to it. The session was very interesting as all groups got totally confused and struggled to come up with a set of questions. The discussion after this activity yielded more interesting insights.

This had me thinking... Whenever a project is assigned to me, during the project kickoff, we shoot a list of questions to ensure that we are fully armed with all the information we need to begin a project. These lists of questions are extremely important as they remove any element of doubt from our minds. Asking the right questions results good work. There are no rules, you can ask anything and everything to ensure that you are on the right track. No point thinking later that I was not informed regarding this. Information is not served in a platter. You need to dig it out. This is not because people who have the information do not want to share it. We tend to believe that we have stated things explicitly, but there may be certain things that we have taken for granted or labeled as common sense information.

Why, what, where, when, how are the most useful words that will help you perform better. Don't be shy, ASK!

eLearning or Classroom Training?

This has been an ongoing debate among learning professionals. What is your take on it? Do you think elearning is a more effective solution to teach? Or do you believe that nothing works better than a classroom session? What's my take on the whole thing? Hmmm...

What I am wondering is which rule book states that it has to be this or that? Why can it not be a combination of learning solutions? Wondering what I mean? Read this article, Learning Solutions Demystified on Kern blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Word Clouds

I tried Wordle for the first time today. I could not think of any words, therefore, I submitted my blog link and this is what was generated.

This was also inspired by ashim. Go ahead, try it out!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Humor: Handle with Care

Humor is a very effective tool to teach. Who doesn't like to enjoy a humorous situation? Why is humor not used popularly across training programs? Because it is risky, you may end up:
  • Offending the learner
  • Not getting through to the learner as it my go over his/her head (no offense meant to the learner)
  • Not making the learner laugh as he/she doesn't think it is funny
Another reason is that stakeholders typically think humor will make take the seriousness away from learning. They are worried that humor will dilute the issue. My take on this is as long as learning happens any strategy that best suits the learner can be used.

How can humor be used? Humor can be displayed using characters with funny characteristics, funny situations or funny portrayals of situations, comic strips, and so on. You need to keep the following in mind when using humor.
  1. Know thy learners: First, understand your learners. Identify whether they would appreciate humor. Think about whether humor is the best strategy to get through to the learners.
  2. Culture issue: When using humor, ensure you know your learners well enough to avoid offending the learner by mocking a culturally sensitive issue. Do not use blonde jokes, sexist jokes, sarcasm, and so on.
  3. Personal values: Ensure that the humor does not offend the learner's personal values and belief systems.
  4. Generalizations: Avoid making generalizations about a particular group. You are most likely to alienate your learners. It make more sense to introduce a stereotype character than taint an entire group.
  5. Real life: Learner should be able to relate to it. The humor should be in sync with the work environment. It should reflect situations/characters around the learner.
What kind of humor can we use? Subtle humor, in-face-kind of humor (Mr. Bean), comic strips, situational humor, and so on. I have still not managed to design a course that has humor as the core strategy. Guess we have not come across the right audience. We have used humor as an introduction to a particular concept. More like a gain attention screen that displays humorous situations to capture the learner's interest. This works well too. It helps lighten the mood before taking the learner to some actual learning.

If you have come across courses with humor used well, do share!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Feedback - A Powerful Learning Tool

Feedback as a teaching tool is majorly underestimated. Several courses include feedback as "That's correct!" or "That's incorrect!" How useful is this to the learner? Feedback should include a rationale. The learner should be made aware of why he/she got it right or wrong. Feedbacks plays a key role in:

  • Reinforcing learning
  • Motivating the learner
  • Checking an incorrect association of concepts or misinterpretation
  • Informing the learners about their strengths and focus areas
  • Making the learner think about the rationale
The error-correcting action of feedback is effective when it follows a response that the learner selected. Feedback must be immediate. This kind of feedback registers in the minds of the learners. It is an effective teaching tool. Feedback should be positive and encouraging. Challenging exercises are not created to ensure that the learner gets it wrong. Therefore, the feedback should not sound like aha-I-got-you. It should not be harsh and derogatory. We are not trying to make the learner feel small and inefficient. I remember this incident from my childhood. When in 3rd (Greenfield's School, Delhi), I was asked to come forward and identify where the pancreas is located. My answer was incorrect and as feedback my teacher poked into my tummy and said "Is this where your pancreas is located?" Now, this incident had terrible impact on me as a child. I was petrified of answering in class. No feedback is probably better than offensive feedback.

Feedback should be given for both correct and incorrect answers. If the answer is incorrect, provide the learner with another opportunity to rethink his/her answer. If the learner fails to answer correctly after two attempts, provide the correct answer and the logic for the incorrect options.

Came across an interesting article on The Importance of Feedback in Human Behavior. Check it out.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Enviornment: Key to Identifying Learning Solutions?

Learning environment plays a vital role in a training program. Before designing the training, you need to understand the learner's environment or more specifically, the environment in which learning will take place.

Why the fuss?

Imagine this scenario. Your learner is a shop floor manager who will take the course on the computer which is positioned at the reception. He is basically in the middle of the shop floor. He is surrounded by his executives. He may be interrupted every now and then to attend to a customer.

If you design a course that is one hour long, he may not be able to take it at one go. This scenario shows how your design solution should consider all these points. When you analyze the learning environment, you find out the following:
  1. What kind of technology is accessible to my learner?
  2. What factors in the learning environment may distract my learner during the training?
  3. How much time in a day can he/she devote to the training?
  4. Can any factors be used to our advantage during training?
  5. What activities fill my learner's day? Which of these are linked to the training?
  6. Will a mentor (if required) be available at the learning environment?
  7. Is there scope for group-based learning?

If the learning environment is really noisy, it may be a better idea to have a course with little or no audio. If the learner is interrupted every ten to twenty minutes, the design solution can involve either learning nuggets for 5-10 minute duration or a workshop can be conducted in a controlled learning environment.

Pros and Cons of conducting training in the leaner's actual work environment:

  • The learner may be able to relate to the training better when it is in his/her work environment.
  • The learner will have full control over learning. He/she has to take the responsibility of completing the training.
  • Learners may be more comfortable in their own turf.
  • If the course is not designed well, the learner may not finish the course because of work pressures and distractions.
  • It is left to the learner to balance work and learning.
Pros and Cons of conducting training in a controlled learning environment:

  • The learner's attention is focused on the training. He/she has no other option but to learn.
  • The baggage of work is left behind. Mind is free of all work-related worries.
  • Out of sight, Out of mind syndrome: There is a big chance that learner will see this as a 'vacation' from work. Attend session and forget about it.
  • It may seem like we are keeping a gun to their heads and saying LEARN!
  • Learners may be uncomfortable with an alien learning environment.
  • When the learner is sent somewhere (even if it is the conference room) to learn, they may question 'Why?, I am fine where I am.' They may get on the defensive.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Evaluating a Course

What factors must you check while evaluating a course?

  • Are the learning objectives obvious?
  • Are the learning tasks clearly defined?
  • Visual:
    • Is the interface intuitive? Does it facilitate learning?
    • Is the visual layout and hierarchy neat and logical?
    • Are the icons and graphics used appropriate? Does it facilitate learning?
  • Audio
    • Is the audio sufficient, too much, or too little?
    • Is it appropriately paced, too fast, or too slow?
    • Does it have life or would it put the learner to sleep?
  • Text
    • Is the text on screen too much, too little or just right?
    • Is the instructional flow maintained?
    • Has the information been chunked and presented effectively?
    • Are the instructional strategies challenging for the learner? Does it help meet the learning outcome?
    • Does the strategy ensure high instructional interactivity?
    • Do the exercises reinforce leaning?
    • Are the exercises introduced at the right junctures?
    • Is there an exercise to check each learning objective?
    • Are the exercises forced or they motivating?
This is, however, only a surface level evaluation. A detailed evaluation will check the 'learnability of a course.' For detailed evaluation read article on Learability Testing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Blogging to be famous?

A post by Ripul had me thinking on the reasons I blog. I decided to jot them down. I blog because:
  • This is a platform where I reinforce my learning. When I pen it down, I am forced to recollect.
  • I like a space where I can think out loud.
  • I want to share what I have learnt. I used to and still do read several blogs to learn more and more about ID and elearning. I hope my experiences and thoughts are useful to someone else.
  • It provides clarity of thought and a logical flow or chunking of ideas.
  • It makes me feel more confident about myself as it sheds any inhibitions I may have and makes me surer of my work.
  • I enjoy the reading I do to write up an article/post.