Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hate to Rework?

What is your attitude toward rework? How often have you heard or said 'I already changed that! You want me to work on that again?' Rework can really demotivate you, especially when you are new to the field. You will see rework as you not getting it right the first time or reviewer not appreciating the effort you put in. Rework can also be very mechanical. You just need to add a line here, replace an image or remove word there.

When is it ok to rework several times?

a. When you are exploring a new approach: When you are trying something new, be prepared to rework. You are bound to realize that there are loose ends; things you had not thought of earlier; newer ideas that you think will work better; that old ideas do not have the necessary impact and so on.

How to tackle: Ensure that you are working in a group. Extra heads help identify the issues at an earlier stage. Have smaller milestones and frequent reviews.

b. When you have time to improve the quality: You know that your design is good but not great. The reviewer points out relevant value adds that can make your design great. Be open to this.

c. When you want to ensure you get it right: When is it important to get it 100% right? It is important to get it right when:
  • the training is in line with a primary role/skill
  • you want to being a attitudinal/behavioral change
  • you need solutions to bring about a mind shit
  • you have promised results
d. When the reviewer is adding value: It is important to allow the reviewer to add value to your work. If it can be improved, then why not? Be open to newer ideas.

When is rework frustrating?

a. When you don't see eye to eye with person giving the feedback: The person giving you feedback may be a client, an authority, a SME and so on. But, never fix something because you are being told to do so. Ensure that you are convinced that the change is a value add and will aid learning further.

How to tackle: Have long drawn discussions about why this change needs to be made. Share your concerns. Ensure you reach a consensus.

b: When there is no clarity on what the reviewer is thinking: This can be very frustratedly. If you continue blindly fixing, you will have several version before things are clear in the head of the reviewer.

How to tackle: Have detailed discussions to understand what the reviewer is trying to say. Ask the right questions to ensure that the reviewer thinks further. Do some research and share information with reviewer. Also, double check by restating what you have understood and what you are going to change.

c. When new things creep up at every round of review: This happens to most of us. Where the reviewer is pressed for time and therefore, scans through the storyboards and shares a top level feedback. This never gets over till they actually sit down and go through it.

How to tackle: If possible, arrange a meeting with the reviewer. Take them through the storyboard and fix issues in front of them.

d. When you are pressed for time: If you are pressed for time and the review cycles are just not getting over, there is a major problem. The possible reasons:
  • Time-effort allocation for this project was incorrect.
  • The reviewer has great expectations.
  • You are just not cut out for this work.

Attitude to Rework

Why did I feel the urge to blog on such a topic? This is because I used to hate rework myself. But, over the years, I would like to believe that I have checked this attitude. Two months back, I worked on a project that required extensive rework at several phases. I realized that (though I was frustrated at times) every time I reworked the product looked better. It is highly satisfying when you look at rework from this point of view.

Rework is probably as important as writing the storyboard for the first time. Be open to it. Respect the people you work with. Remember most people want to ensure that we have a good product. Your goal should also be aligned to this. It will help if you reduce obvious errors while storyboarding/fixing. The more challenging the project, the more the chances of rework. Follow this and it will help reduce rework:
  1. Ensure you understand what is required clearly before attempting to do it.
  2. Ask the right questions so that you have all the answers.
  3. Ensure that you are totally convinced about what you have done. If you are not, the reviewer is surely not going to be.
  4. Be proactive. Do some research to get a clearer understanding if you are unable to get it from the reviewer.
  5. Bounce ideas off peer if you are stuck.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Scenario Based Learning

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Speak Out Featured in eLearning Learning

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that Speak Out is now a part of eLearning Learning. For those of you who have not heard of this site, I recommend you visit it now. The tag line of this site says it all: 'A community collecting and organizing the best information on the web about eLearning'. This site acts as a huge reservoir of information. The best blogs in the field of eLearning are featured here. Tony Karrer has brought together the best blogs under one roof.

If you are a learning professional, here are the reasons why you must visit eLearning Learning:
  1. This site includes the latest posts by all the great bloggers (who you are probably already subscribed to). The difference being you can now go to one site and find all the new posts there.
  2. Search has now been made easier. If you have a query, what do you do? Go to your favorite blog and hope the author has written on it? Google it? Now, all you need to do is visit this site and search. You will find relevant posts from several blogs.
  3. Tony Karrer makes life even easier by assimilating a list of best blog posts for a particular category or month.
Quoting eLearning Learning:
The goals of eLearning Learning are:

Collect High Quality Content - The goal of a content community is to provide a high quality destination that highlights the most recent and best content from as defined by the community.

Provide an Easy to Navigate Site - End users most often are people who are not regular readers of the blogs and other sources. They come to the content community to find information on particular topics of interest to them. This links them across to the sources themselves.

Be A Jump Off Point - To be clear all content communities are only jump off points to the sources of the content.

Help Surface Content that Might Not be Found - It’s often hard to find and understand blog content that’s spread across sites. Most users are not regular subscribers to these blogs and other content sources.

Do visit it to see what this site has to offer.

Monday, September 7, 2009

7 Traits an ID Must Have

I know I have already blogged about how most people outside the industry frown on eLearning. I am ready to crib about something else now. :) Why do people think instructional design is easy?

Case 1:
Acquaintance (who happens to be a software engineer): So, what do you do?
Me: I am an instructional designer. I design learning programs for corporates.
Acquaintance: Really? I am usually free during weekends, give me some work. I would like to do something.
Me: Yeah ok.

Thinking to myself: Do you know that you need to learn how to do my work? I was trained for a whole year and am still learning about how I can work better. You think you can master this task over the weekend?

Case 2:
Acquaintance: Hi, I hear you work from home. Can you get me a job like that?
Me: I don't think so.

Thinking to myself: Do you even know what kind of work I do? How do you know whether you will like it or not? I work from home, but this is 'serious' work. (I get this very often. People think my job is a hobby and not a 'real' job.)

Case 3:
ID: I didn't realize storyboarding was so tough. I thought having good writing skills was sufficient.
Me: Well, ID is a lot more than that. (I go on to share my experiences and crib about how people think instructional design is easy.)

Coming back to my original question: why do people think being ID is easy? Is ID about throwing a few slides together? Is ID about content chunking/content development? I'd say it takes alot more than that. If you are looking to take up a job as an instructional designer, you may want to check whether you have the following traits:

a. Ability to read and grasp varied subjects: Do you read a lot? Do you read all sorts of books/blogs? An ID should be a voracious reader. He must have the ability to read anything and grasp what is being said.

You will come across diverse subjects in your career as an ID. You cannot afford to be 'comfortable' with just one domain (such as soft skills/technical). You should be able to read all kinds of subjects and understand what is being conveyed. Be it rocket science or how to dress to a prom, you should be able to read it and understand it.

b. Deconstruct theory and convert into practical examples: You should be able to look beyond the theory and search for real life examples. You can pick on the SME's brain, Google it, read books/blogs, and so on. But, get the information that will help you design learning effectively. Being an ID is not about copying information from one source and transferring to another source. What you do with this information is important. Transform it, make it learnable. (Believe me, it is easier said that done)

There are several reasons. Everyone understands a concept better when you share an example. Examples help apply knowledge. What will people do with theories? They want information that they can use. The SME may not be helpful enough to understand why theory is not sufficient or he may be too lazy to do the research for you. So, get used to it. Don't depend on others, go looking for the information yourself.

c. Understand the DLC: Instructional design is not just a part of the process, it is the process. ID is not only about identifying training needs. It is about identifying what the need is. It may not be training the way you understand it. It may mean relooking at the organization structure or the policies and procedures. Even if you are going to play a small role in this process, understand how the process works. Instructional designing is no longer (if it ever was) about storyboarding. It is a lot more. ID starts when you talk to your client, do research to understand your learners, propose the solution, design the table of content, brainstorming about the mode of delivery and implementation plan, storyboard, develop the program, do a QA, test it, and roll it out. Ensure that you know about the entire process. See how you can contribute at all times.

If you are lucky, you may get to play a part in all stages of the process. You shouldn't have to learn about this later. Believe it or not, in all my projects, I am involved right from the word go till the very end. The project is mine and I know it inside out. I believe in it and know what works for it and what doesn't. I work in a team. My work is not done when the storyboarding is done. I love how my boss (Geeta Bose) puts it: This is not an assembly line where everyone plays a small part and exits. This is so true. If you are designing a part, quit now and join a company that will allow you to design the product itself.

d. Being sensitive to people's needs: Are you intuitive? Are you observant? Are you non-judgmental? If the answer is yes, you will be a good ID. You need to understand your learners. You need to observe them at work and pick up important details that the client will not share with you. Don't judge them for being the way they are. Like Abhinava (@Abhinava) says, love your learners and they will love you.

It is important to be attached, not detached. You need to understand what your learners feel and why. How can you fill this gap? Getting these answers will help you design an effective learning program.

e. Keep your feet firmly on the ground: Every day you will read about new technology, how it is great and is going to replace all other forms of teaching. Read it. Think about it. Use it. But do not replace this information with whatever you have learnt so far.

Designing effective learning solutions is not about using the latest technology or applying the latest theory. It is about identifying the right solutions given your audience. Do not look down upon any form of teaching. Your solution may lie in ILTs, eLearning, out bound training, job aids, a book, restructuring of an organization. Keep your options open and choose wisely.

f. Visualize what you read: Do you visualize what you read? Do you have an imagination? I know there are visual designers for this job. But I firmly believe that as an ID, you need to visualize what the program is going to look like. A job of an ID does not end with content chunking and organization. It also involves visualizing how each screen or idea will unfold.

Visualization is not only about graphic elements. It is about how graphics, text, audio, and other learning elements come together to make information learnable. Visualize how the complete training program will unfold. If you are clear about this, the product will be brilliant.

g. Openness to learn: Are you open to learning yourself? It is not only about making others learn. It is equally important for you to learn. Unfortunately, several people think work pressure is a good enough reason to not learn. This only means that you are not managing your time well. Invest in learning and you will do well. Network and learn from others. Find out what others are doing, listen to what they are saying.

It is important for you to believe in 'learning' if you are going to want your learners to do it. You have to constantly learn to ensure that you have all the information and the skills required to do your job well. What you learn may not be useful immediately, but will help you in the long run.

h. Respect yourself: Are you used to voicing out your opinions? Will you fight for what is right? I know it sounds idealistic, but it really helps. IDs must questions why. Believe in what you are doing and stop blindly following orders. You respect yourself and people will automatically respect you.

It is important to know why certain things are the way they are. You may raise questions that others haven't thought of yet. Clients will appreciate that you are truly trying to design an effective program.

I am sure there are several more things that can be added to my list. But, I have to stop somewhere. Finally, do not become an ID if:

1. You think its is going to be an easy and comfortable job. No job is easy.
2. You love technology and are dying to use it. Design for learner and not because you want to try out a fancy technology.
3. You think you know a lot and can share it. Like Abhinava says, it is never about you. It is always about the learners. You may know lots or nothing. As long as you are willing to learn and read, you will do fine.

Read Instructional Designers need more skills than just writing! to really know what ID is really about (while you are there, check out the other great posts as well). If you already in the field, read 5 things an ID can think differently about!

Have you ever got the impression that people thought your job was easy? Share your experiences here. Also, if you have anything to add to my list, feel free to do so.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Characters in eLearning

I read this interesting post on Have you thought of Character Driven Stories for Your eLearning? by Rupa (@ruparajgo). I was tempted to blog about it myself (thanks for the inspiration, Rupa).

What role can a character(s) play in your eLearning porgram?

1. Expert: This is probably the most common use of a character in eLearning.
Type 1: This type takes you through the course and is a constant feature. You can design an expert who will take the learner through the course. This expert simplifies information or provides useful tips drawing from his experience.

The character takes on the role of a mentor. The character symbolizes wisdom and is always present to see the learner through tough situations. He/she could encourage and motivate the learner through the course.

Type 2: This type "pops up" when necessary. The role could be defined such that he/she makes an entry to challenge, guide, provide useful information, and so on. This character supplements the content when necessary.

2. Peer: The learner is introduced to the world of a peer. We define the environment and then ask the learner to observe the peer in action and help when the peer gets stuck.

Peer is the 'damsel-in-distress' (not necessarily a damsel). The peer depends on the learner to help him/her through a tough situation. The learner has to make the right decisions to get the situation under control.

3. Guide: The guide is a another common character in eLearning. I have seen several online courses that have an animated character on the top left corner that lip syncs the audio (Her eyes follow your cursor. It is a little freaky.) I have never understood the value these characters add to a learning program. They are neither experts, nor peers. They are the host, who accompanies you through the course.

4. Trouble maker: This could be a boss, an expert, a peer, a competitor, or an enemy. This character challenges the learner at specific instances. Their feedback is blunt, even rude at times. They reprimand the learner if he/she goes wrong and grudgingly accept if they get it right.

The relationship is that of power. The character throws a challenge: Let us see how to get past this hurdle. The learner has to make the right choices to save face or 'win'.

Like Rupa mentions, characters make the course more lively. Remember the following when creating a character:
Give them a personality: I love building a persona for the character. Give him a name, a background, prominent traits, and so on. When creating such a character, I think to myself, what impression do I want this character to make on my learners. Do I want my learners to admire him? Do I want them to empathize with the character? Do I want them to respect him?
Ensure Consistency: It is important to ensure that the character is consistent in behavior across the course. You do not want a timid character being very bold in another scenario. The learner will get confused.
Weave the storyline well: The storyline must blend in well with your theme. Do not introduce characters in an abrupt fashion. Build a simple storyline. Ensure that the storyline is in sync with the theme. Also, ensure that the storyline will flow smoothly through the complete course. Some become too forced if not thought through.
Do not use characters as decorative elements: Characters must aid to learning and the overall learning experience. These characters are not meant to be eye candies.

Sharing some great resources on this:
Learning Agents Part 1: Why Learning Agents
Learning Agents Part 2: Learning Agents Done Well
Learning Agents Part 3: Done Poorly

Monday, August 24, 2009

IDCI: LH Theory by Abhinava

Saturday, I had an opportunity to meet fellow IDCI members at Adobe, Bangalore. It was great to meet and interact with instructional designers from other companies. I was finally getting to meet the people I interact with online through Twitter, Ning, Linkedin, and blogs. Everyone was extremely friendly and the quick coffee before the session helped me catch up with everyone.

Abhinava (@Abhinava)presented on the LH theory. LH theory or the love-hate theory is a philosophy Abhinava swears by for successes in life and work. Abhinava started the session by making us think about ourselves as learners. He posed several questions such as when do you learn, what do you learn, how do you learn. Most things we learn are not necessarily through formal training. After discussing these, he summarized by saying that we learn when there is a need. He linked this need to the Maslow's theory. Abhinava asked us to reflect on the concept of Love and Hate. You can view Abhinava's presentation here.

What does it mean to design using love?
Designing using love means:
  • Giving the learners positive motivations to meet a need or help them gain something
  • Design a 'feel good' learning program
  • Providing a source to love such as the company itself, the narrator of the course, and so on
  • Taking your time to provide continuous, ongoing reinforcements to ensure that learning occurs
  • Ensuring that you have the learner's buy in every step of the way by providing logical reasons/explanations
  • In other words, ensure that the learner understands the consequences of learning
  • Works well for motivated learners and those with high EQ
Designing using hate means:
  • Giving the learners negative motivations to force them to protect an existing need or to avoid some kind of loss
  • Forcing your hand to ensure that they learn to avoid repercussions
  • Ensuring that you remove the source of hate as soon as the objective is met to ensure that learning is sustained
  • Providing quick, useful information that the learner needs
  • Ensuring that the learner understands the consequences of NOT learning
  • Works well with learners with 'I do not care' attitudes
Remember the following points:
  1. Use both love and hate wisely. Too much of hate is detrimental to learning. Too much love is wasted if there is no need.
  2. Do not try and trick the learner. Be honest and transparent.
  3. Design for the learners and not for the content.
  4. Ensure that the source of love is available always and the source of hate is removed as soon as its objective is met.
  5. It is not about IDs or the content. It is always about the learner.
  6. Love your learner always and they will love you back.
Abhinava also touched upon another very interesting aspect. I have been thinking about this for very long. What does Instructional Design encompass? Just the content? Just designing strategies for the course? Well, no! It involves a lot more than that. So, let us see what it involves:
  1. Identifying the problem: What is the current gap that the organization is trying to fill? How can this problem be solved? Training may not be solution. You may realize that the organization needs to relook at their structure or processes. Training may also not be the sole solution. You may need a combination of changes to make it an effective solution.
  2. Understanding the learner: Identify need: How is filling this gap (if through training) going to cater to the learner's need? How will they benefit? Identify motivations: What are their internal motivations? What are their attitudes? Will they want to take this course? Why or why not? Understand learning environment: Where will they take this course? How much time can they take out from their daily work? Are there any disturbances? Are there any factors that will hinder learning?
  3. Understanding the content and identifying the ID strategy: ID is not about page level strategies only. It is about the macro strategy that will bind your learning program together. It is about effectively connecting the different learning solutions together.
  4. Delivery medium: Identifying the most effective medium/media to delivery learning.
  5. Implementation plan: Ensure a successful implementation plan to ensure retention and application of knowledge.
On the whole, the session was highly interactive and informative. Looking forward to many more! (For IDCI members: If I have missed anything or misunderstood something, feel free to add/correct me!)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

8 Tips for the Training Department

Given below are two views on training:

Jaya: I have a list of courses that I am supposed to take. Most of them are irrelevant as I know most of what is covered. These elearning courses are updated regularly. But this typically means that that they change the names in the scenarios and then ask us to take the course all over again. There are a few courses that we are required to take every year because of some rules set by the U.S Government. It seems pointless to go over the same course over and over again.

Ravi: I attending a classroom training when I joined. This session was on product knowledge. I found it very useful as it helped me understand the products we were dealing with. I am sure I will benefit from any other training my organization wishes me to attend. I would like training on communication skills.

Here, we have two individuals with completely differing viewpoints on training. Interesting, isn't it? The first individual works for a big software company and the other works as a shop floor marketing personnel. Most software professionals will give you a similar response. Why are the viewpoints so different? Jaya hates training, while Ravi is open to it.

Let us look at the reasons why Jaya is against training.

1. Learn About Everything Under the Sun
The training/HR department has about 200 courses on their LMS. A huge list of courses is shared with an employee and they are asked to take it in their own pace. This is mandatory. A person will check if employees are completing the course. Therefore, Jaya clicks next on most of the courses and therefore, manages to finish her list of courses. Does the training department do any research at all? Do they know they know how their employees feel about training? Do they have any clue as to what their employees need and what they don't? Do they consider the employees motivations? Employee says: Why do I have to learn about communication skills? I don't interact with clients anyway! Having employees take courses that are not relevant does not help the cause. It does more harm actually.

2. I have enough work, Thanks!
Most employees (and not necessarily software professionals) will tell you this when you ask them whether they have time for training. This is because:
a. They do not see value in training. They do not feel the need to invest time in training as they are sure they know all there is to know.
b. They do have lots of work. They have pressing deadlines, but the training department insists that they complete specific courses within a given period of time. They are distracted as they are more concerned about a deadline looming over their heads.

3. It is just sooo boring...yawn!
Most software employees will tell you how boring the eLearning sessions are and how they click them away! The course do not interest them and therefore, they do not give it a moment's thought. An hour long course is over in a matter of minutes. What is worse is that they would have done extremely well in assessment section. Therefore, they feel confident that they know everything.

Let us look at the reasons why Ravi is pro training.

1. I benefited from it last time!
Simple! Ravi has a positive attitude towards training because he very clearly benefited from it the last time. He feels confident that any training that his management suggests will help him work better.

2. Thirst for Knowledge
Ravi feels he will benefit from a course on communication skills. He obviously realizes that he has lots to learn in this area and that a training program may be a great idea.

I have already blogged about How to tackle a demotivated learner? So, now I am going to share a few tips for the training department.

STOP churning out courses because you have to!
The training department has a budget allotted for training. That's great! But, please do not churn out unnecessary courses! Stop trying to fill in your employees' calenders just because you HAVE to! Most employees in the corporate world are over exposed to training. Remember Ravi? Another reason he likes training was because it was new to him. Try newer ways of teaching. Avoid stuffing eLearning/ILTs down the employees throats! Avoid packing their days with unnecessary training.

START investing time in research
The training department (especially of software companies) has no excuse for not trying to understand their employee's needs. Do some research. Understand the skills sets required for a particular role, map the competencies of employees, and suggest courses. Understand what your learner's motivation and attitudes are. Use this valuable information to design a powerful course that will make a difference.

PLAN well for training
Ensure that your employees do not feel the need to balance work and learning. Ensure that you have their deadlines, schedules, and time in mind when you plan training. This way neither work nor learning gets affected. DO NOT make them choose between the two. The employee will always choose work. If it is a core skill, give them time off work to take it. Ensure that you make their training as smooth as your possibly can.

DESIGN a powerful course
How? The learner is taking an hour or so from his/her work to learn. Give them something that excites them and makes them think. After a full day's work, it is extremely tiring to go through boring training. Give them a breath of fresh air. Make their learning experience a memorable one. Ensure that they do not feel like they are putting in extra effort to take and finish the course. Do not make them regret the time they have invested in this.

STOP ruining it for others
There are so may demotivated learners and the main reason for this is lack of respect for learners. Value their time and treat them with respect. Please do not hold a gun to their heads and say LEARN! Encourage a climate of knowledge sharing. Make them want to learn. Bad training programs poisons the employee's mind against learning itself. A job of a trainer/ID is tough as it. The job is made twice as hard with bad experiences with training.

START exploring newer ways of teaching
See what works for your employees. Avoid resorting to tried and tested modes of delivering learning. Try newer ways of teaching things. Explore how you can encourage social learning at your workplace. How can you get people to learn from each other? Use effective combination of solutions to deploy learning.

DO NOT insist on employees taking the same course over and over
The learner should have the option of revisiting a course if he/she wishes to do so. Do not impose this on them. If you have a rule saying certain courses have to be taken every year, use different ways of refreshing their memories. This could be in the form of handouts, discussion, quick games/scenario-based checks, and so on.

CUSTOMIZE your courses
Most training departments buy off-the-shelf products for soft skills and for technical training, they arrange classroom sessions. If soft skill such as communication is a core skill, then no off-the-shelf is going to cater to the needs of your learner. If soft skill is not a core skill but a concern, no off-the-shelf is going to help! Why? If your employee does not communicate with client face-to-face but only over emails and audio conference, the scenarios in off-the-shelf course may be very general and may not cover these. You need a course that will include scenarios that the learners face in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, off-the-shelf is anyway a bad idea. If you are buying a ready made course, ensure that you have it customized for your needs. Technical training, on the other hand, can be very dull. Ensure that you decide a mode of delivery that will allow active participation. Also, ensure that it is not theoretical and you give information that the employees can actually use.

Think about the effect your courses are having on the learner's psyche. If it is a negative one, stop what you are doing immediately and rethink your approach. Please do not ruin it for other who are trying to do their jobs right. If it is positive, pat yourself on your back and continue to change lives for the better.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Social learning without Web 2.0 tools?

Many companies are reluctant to invest in social learning using the Web 2.0 tools. You can try and convince your clients about its power and usefulness. But this may not be the only thing stopping IDs from using Web 2.0 tools. In India, Internet and Web 2.0 tools are accessible to very small percentage of learners. Most learners:
  1. Do not have access to Internet. We have learners who work in villages/districts to learners who are foot-on-street sales executives to learners who have access to just one computer.
  2. Are still very much lurkers. Learnability testing has shown us that people are very reluctant to voice out their thoughts in a public forum.
I use tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and so on for my own self-development. But these tools are very specific to a learner profile and therefore, not the only learning solution. If the learners do not have access to or are not inclined to use Web 2.0 tools, what can we do to ensure social learning takes place? Social/informal learning has been around for ages and is not a new phenomenon. People exchange notes in class, outside class. Employees discuss training at work and outside work. So, how can you encourage people to talk about what they have learnt during and outside the training?

1. Include activities. This works well regardless of whether it is during or after training. Ensure that you make these activities fun and challenging. Ask them to do some research and share with the team.

How: Include this as your implementation plan and get the buy in of the management. Encourage learners to take an hour from their work. Let them come together in an informal setting (such as a cafeteria, outside in the lawn).

For example, for a sales executive, you could have impromptu role plays on selling skills. Divide people into groups of two and have them enact different situations.

2. Induce competition. This especially works for highly motivated learners and if the learning objective is a skill based one.

How: Include this in your implementation plan. Ask the management to send an informal mail or put an informal notice for all to see. Make it fun and do not enforce it on employees. Involve internal managers and ask them to observe the behavior and decide the winners. Put the names of the winners on the notice board or send an email out to everyone appreciating them. Basically, give them due recognition.

For example: We had to provide grooming skills for shop floor executives. We suggested that the management announce 'The Best Groomed Employee' at the end of every week. The employee was required to apply what was learnt to achieve this. The store chief helped identify the best groomed employee in his store.

3. Use learning aids. Put up interesting posters, catchy motto/lines, distribute flash cards.

How: Design eye catchy posters/handouts. Keep this very informal. Use bright colors and interesting illustrations. make the learners laugh if you can (comic strips should do the trick). Remember to share only the key points. Things that will help reinforce the most important concepts. Keep these in places where it will catch the learners eye.

For example: To help customer service associates touch up their make up, we suggested posters be put up in the washrooms. Visual description of the steps guide them and reinforces learning.

4. Design a great course. The biggest drawback about eLearning is that it is self paced (I know this has been discussed as a boon and I completely agree). People take courses and then forget about them as soon as they click exit. Designing the course right helps a big deal. If a course that inspires learners or makes them think, they will talk about it. Think about it. When you read an exciting book or watch a great movie, what do you do? Discuss with your friends? Share your thoughts on how the piece moved you or inspired you.

How: Understand your learners. Find out what makes them tick. Identify what motivates them and how they think. Understand their attitudes. Why will they like your course? Find the answer to this.

For all the above, avoid having too many. Focus only on the key learning points and stick to these. Informal/social learning is about people connecting with one another to learn. Try these and social learning will take place even if your learners do not have access to Web 2.0 tools. The key is to keep it informal. Give people the freedom to participate. Involve people from within the organization to take responsibility for these.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bringing About a Change

Dave Ferguson raises a valid point in my previous post "Are you ready to change?" I have made an attempt to respond to Dave's concern. Please feel free to add your thoughts.

This is a bit tangential to your question, but I saw cell-phone use while driving as a behavior that's widespread among early adopters and change agents.

These are often the people trying to get others to change. What's more, my hunch is that they see their behavior as skilled multitasking, and dismiss evidence suggesting that talking while driving is on a par with driving after two or three drinks.

So: how comfortable, convenient, effective would they find it to make their own change? To do what the bumper sticker puts gently as "hang up and drive!"

One story I see in this is that if you don't want to change, or don't care to change, then change is hard, even if it's rearranging your desk or trying new outfits. All the more difficult if we're talking about significant changes to the way you work (or prefer to work).

I'm not defending people who don't change. On the other hand, I think some people who constantl push change might balk at what they'd see as changing back.


I am reminded of the post by Geetha Krishnan on Changing Behavior. As Dave suggests, most of us know using the cell phone while driving is hazardous but we still do it. Similarly, there are several other things that we continue doing though we know we shouldn't be. Dave discusses an interesting point: "What's more, my hunch is that they see their behavior as skilled multitasking..." Many believe that multitasking in reality reduces efficiency and that at any point in time you are actually focusing on one task before you switch to another. (Change Blindness; you cannot be aware of everything) The concern that Dave voices is that early adopters and change agents themselves refuse to change. Like Dave mentioned, people take drinking and driving more seriously than talking and driving. Why?
  • People do not seriously believe that talking while driving can cause any serious harm. This is especially true in the case of early adopters and change agents.
  • Most people spend several hours commuting from home to their place of work and back. Busy as life is, they take this time to catch up with others. Cell phones are also important links between home and work. I will probably not ignore a call from home because I may consider it urgent. (Though I strictly do not use cell phones when I drive. I prefer to stop the car and then attend to any urgent calls. But, that could be because I am sure I can not concentrate on driving and talking.)
  • Curiosity may be a strong reason why people take calls. When they see a name flashing, they wonder 'What could he/she want?" This question has to be answered and therefore, they take the call.
  • Sometimes you just have to take the call. It could be a client, your boss, wife/husband, or a person you have been trying to get in touch with for ages.
  • People genuinely think they call keep the call short (while waiting at the traffic signal) but are unable to do so.
When do people 'change'?
  1. When it suits them: It is as simple as that. People change when it suits them. I have seen people answer the cell and say I am driving right now and make their excuses. The same people have chatted on other occasions. Therefore, people 'change' when it suits them. This is along the same lines of people 'learn' things that confirm their own ideas or thoughts (read it somewhere on Twitter and agreed this made sense).
  2. When people experience a negative experience: Negative experiences impact behavior. It could be a near-death experience, a traumatic experience, a humiliating experience, or an emotional experience. These have huge impact on an individual's psyche. People change to ensure that this kind of experience never happens to them again.
  3. When they see a HUGE benefit: I say huge (in caps) because it has to really big from people to change their behavior. What is beneficial for one person may not be the same for another. People may change to set an example and earn a good name. People may change to acquire a goal they have set their minds to.
What can we do to ensure a change to encourage a desired behavior? I know most people claim that bringing about a behavioral change is close to impossible through training. I think it depends on what kind of behavioral change you are trying to bring about. If it is a deep routed value/belief/habit that you are trying to change, it is bound to be extremely difficult. In other cases, what are the things that you can do to ensure a change is brought about:
  • Monitor behavior: If it is a workplace behavior (which it is most of the time), ensure that you have monitoring in place immediately after training is delivered. This may seem school-like, but if you are required to bring about a change, the management must show that they are serious about it.
  • Provide positive reinforcements: This again may seem school-like. But it works brilliantly. We had to teach sales executives at a retail store about grooming skills. In the form of positive reinforcement, we had suggested internal competition with announcement of Best Groomed Employee. This worked wonders. The learners were highly motivated after taking the tutorial and we all geared to display the newly acquired knowledge to win the title.
  • Make it a habit: Through monitoring and positive reinforcements, you can ensure that the behavior becomes a habit. For example: people buckle in their seat belts (not in India thought) as soon as they are in their vehicle due to a habit and not because its a rule.
  • Show consequences: In some cases, it becomes necessary to show a cause and effect relationship. It is important for the learner to see the consequence of their actions to understand how the decision they have made it going to effect them.
  • Show them, rather than tell them: Rather than telling them how they should be doing it. Ensure that you show them scenarios in which they get to see the plot unfold. Let the learners arrive at their own conclusions. Ensure that your case it a strong one, else learners will find excuses. For example: Recently, we designed a course for programmers. During the learner testing, we realized that the learners were making excuses for applications by passing the blame on to the users. Therefore, we realized that the impact had to be higher and we had to ensure that all loose ends were tied.
I am sure they are still doubts as to whether external factors can change an individual and I think the external factors could play an important role. Rest is upto the individual. If the person does not want to change, nothing you say or do will bring about a change. I don't necessarily agree that people who push for a change may not want to change themselves. I think it depends on what aspect they need to change. Again, if it is an internal belief which they feel strongly about (say religion), change may be impossible. But, if it suits them, most early adopters and change agents will change. I think it is a matter of making sure that it also suits them.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Are you ready to change?

I was reading Dave Ferguson's post, Resisting change: a phone-y example. This had me thinking. How do people in the training/learning field resist change? (These are only generalizations.)

  • Avoid trying news modes of delivering training.
  • Refuse to understand that a learning program that is fun, can also be serious.
  • Spend money on things they have been spending money on for so many years.
  • Being part of the brainstorming session which will help them contribute and stay in the loop.
  • Refuse to treat their learners as responsible adults and are always suspicious of their intentions.
  • Refuse to let go. They have to have the power and control. (Read Jane Bozarth's post)
  • Resist innovative ways of teaching.
  • Insist on sticking to the content centric outlook.
  • Think they know what is best for the learners.
  • Hate to say 'I don't know.'
Instructional Designers:
  • Stick to Gagne's nine events without trying anything new.
  • Include assessment questions right at the end of the course.
  • Overuse right image-left text templates.
  • Think they know what is best for the learners.
  • Design for themselves rather than for the learners.
  • Have an irresistible itch to design even before they have the information.
  • Do not do enough research to identify interesting videos, example, and case studies.
  • Do not network and prefer to interact through e-mails only.
  • Do not wish to stay in touch with news and events.
  • Think it is not necessary to learn about new technology.
  • Refuse to treat ID's as experts and learners as adults.
  • Refuse to make learning interesting.
  • Refuse to take responsibility for their role.
  • Do not play a more pro active role in the design phase. IDs have to haunt them to get something out of them.
  • They only validate, but add no value to the program.
  • Continue to have a content centric outlook.
People, being people, resist change. All of us do. What makes us change is a powerful, positive or negative experience. Keep the following in mind:
  • If you wish to change someone else's life through training, remember to make it a high impact, powerful learning experience.
  • And, keep your mind open.
  • Look for opportunities to try something different.
  • Do not stick to things you are comfortable doing.
  • Read a lot and form your own opinions!
  • Network, you will learn a lot from others.
  • Always remember that you can always do things better.
Easier said than done! But, let us give it a shot.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting Information Gathering Right

Have you noticed that most clients hate the information gathering stage? You may want to do detailed research and have answers to all your queries before you propose a solution, but several clients wonder "Why are they over doing it?" Have you experienced this? What could be the reasons for this?
  1. The information we ask is common sense to them and therefore, they wonder why you haven't figured it out yourself.
  2. They wonder how certain information is going to help you design the training program and therefore, they feel that you are asking way too many irrelevant questions.
  3. They have sent you all the documents but they feel you have not read them and that you continue to ask the same questions.
  4. My previous vendor did not bother me with a third degree. Why are these people wasting my time?
Why is information gathering important?
  • Anyone can design a training program based on documents shared by the client, but getting the right information will help you design a training program that will make a difference. You are expected to deliver an effective training program. How are you going to do so without understanding the organization and its employees?
  • This stage also plays a crucial role in building credibility, trust, and rapport with the client. This is the instance where your team gets to interact and make an impression with the client.
  • It helps clearly understand the reality. All misconception, ambiguity is discarded right at the beginning.
On some accounts the client are right. What can you do to ensure that information gathering stage is effective.
  1. Ensure that you keep it short. If this stage takes too long to close, it is bound to test the client's patience. They want to see solutions and results. The faster you propose a solution the better. Avoid long breaks between meetings. Ensure that you get the information you need over a short span of time. Also, ensure that you make good use of the time allotted to you by the client.
  2. Fix an agenda for the meeting. Ensure that the client knows in advance what the goal of the meeting is. This will give them time to prepare for the meeting. They will be able to answer your queries immediately.
  3. Ask the right questions. Do not have a standard list of questions and ask all your clients the same questions. Each project is different. You need to modify your questions as per the need. Remove the irrelevant questions and stick to the ones that will provide you valuable information to move ahead.
  4. Ensure that you read all the documents shared by the client. It is a bad idea to think that you can get the information directly from the client and therefore, avoid reading the documents. Clients will be offended if they realize that you have not read the information they shared.
  5. Do not ask the same questions over and over again. Get your question right and record the answer.
  6. Do not introduce new team members halfway through the information gathering stage. If you do, ensure that they are briefed well. Else, they are going to ask the same questions and it may be difficult for them to catch up.
  7. Explain the rationale for the questions. This will help clients understand why you need this information. It will help them see that you are not over doing it but just doing your job right.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pecha Kucha and Learning

Each Kernite gets an opportunity to present on a topic of their interest on Tuesdays and Fridays. This has not become a ritual at Kern. It was my turn to present and I was looking for a topic to present on. This was when I came across the term Pecha Kucha. I read more about this and was quickly fascinated. I presented on Using Pecha Kucha in Learning. This session was meant to be interactive where we all pooled in our thoughts to understand how and whether Pecha Kucha would be a useful tool in training. Given below is a brief introduction to the concept and then thoughts by Kernites.

Pecha Kucha (pronounced as peh-chak-cha) is a Japanese term for chatter or chit chat. In 2003, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham designed with presentation format to ensure that young designers got an opportunity to share their work. The idea was the keep each presentation really short and concise to ensure that the audience stayed focused. This also allowed multiple presenters to present at one event. The most fascinating aspect about pecha kucha is that the environment has to be informal. Pecha kucha is not about being locked indoors with a presenter going on and on and the audience sleeping with their eyes open. Check out the pictures in Pecha Kucha's official website to get an idea of what informal means

A typical pecha kucha night has 8-14 presenters. Each presenter is allotted 6 minutes and 40 seconds. They can show 20 images for 20 seconds each. Pecha kucha must be highly visual. Presentations do not have text and bullets. Instead, they have eye catching images/photographs that supplement what is being said by the presenter. Let us look at a popular example of pecha kucha.

This presentation format is widely used in the field of design, architecture, photography, art, education, and business. In the corporate world, employees are opting for this format for internal presentations to:
  • check the length of the presentation
  • ensure that the presenter zeroes in on the message
  • avoid interruptions
  • avoid horrible poorly designed PPT presentations
The essence is to keep the presentation crisp and short. During a pecha kucha presentation, the slide automatically moves to the next one as the presenter talks. The presenter must practice to ensure that he/she says what he/she has to say in the span of 20 seconds.

Can pecha kucha be an effective learning tool? I think so! Why?
  1. It is bound to grab the audience's attention (especially Gen Y).
  2. The presentation is crisp and to the point. All unnecessary information is filtered out leaving behing the real message.
  3. It may help bring people out of their shell. Since the setting is informal, people may be more comfortable.
  4. It is energy packed and highly dynamic.
Pecha kucha as an instructional tool
A trainer can teach a concept using this presentation format. But, we Kernites were not too kicked about this idea. Why? Pecha kucha is supposed to involve several presenters. The fun may be lost if it is restricted to just one. Also, 6 minutes and 20 seconds may not be suitable for all learners and topics. The learner may feel that the lesson was rushed. Another disadvantage is that the Q&A happens at the end of the session.

However, it may be an effective tool to recap what has already been taught or prior knowledge. It may also be useful to summarize a particular topic using pecha kucha. How? Allot one topic to each group in the audience. Ask them to design a pecha kucha presentation summarizing the topic assigned to them. From each team, have a presenter present their topic. This will ensure high involvement and motivation. This will also encourage healthy discussions and in turn, informal learning among learners. If your learners are spread across the globe, you could conduct pecha kucha online. This may not be as effective as conducting the event in a physical location but it is good enough.

Pecha Kucha as an Assessment Tool
How can pecha kucha be used as an assessment tool?
  • Problem Solving: Give a case study to your learners. Ask them to arrive at a solution(s) based on what they have learnt. Ask them to present this to other learners using the pecha kucha format.
  • Analysis/Critique/Reflection: Pose a question or a statement and ask the learner to analyze, critique, or reflect on it using the pecha kucha format.
Pecha kucha is a great collaboration tool. It not only brings learners together, it also encourages informal learning. One concern that Vaishnavi, a Kernite, raised was that not all will be comfortable with the presentation format. She personally feels that she would feel under pressure if she was asked to stick to 20 seconds per slide. The environment must be informal and dynamic. It must encourage participation. Presenters must also ensure that time has been kept aside for Q&A.

Have you used Pecha Kucha for training? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Also read:,9171,501060724-1214999,00.html

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Testing eLearning Products

A presentation by Kern Learning Solutions.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Issues with Second Life

Virtual worlds (VWs) must take user experience seriously. Are these VWs usable? Let us look at Second Life. This is based on my experience and are only thoughts (not expert opinions). I wish Second life would relook at the following:
  • Navigation: Why does the user have to spend time learning how to use the controls? Why isn't the navigation intuitive enough? Why is the Search option so confusing? As a new user, what do I search for? How do I decide where I would like to go? How do I know how big the VW is?
  • Editing Appearance:
  1. Privacy: What is the first thing a user does? Most users edit their appearance. Why is this visible to the rest? I can see another user editing the appearance. The stance is weird and the appearance and disappearance of clothing items is downright funny! Can't the user have the privacy to change their appearance?
  2. Filtering: Like other social networks, I wish SL provided the option to view a user's profile. This helps understand more about the person. This may help avoid awkward conversations and situations.
  3. Usability: The slider widgets used to readjust length of clothing are not efficient. Removing a part of clothing is tricky. I had trouble getting rid of a skirt my avatar had on on top of her jeans. I have also seen my friends struggle to with hair, clothing, shoes, and so on.
  • Conversation: Why should avatar's type as you type on your keyboard? Let's admit it looks very funny. Is there no other intuitive way of letting another user know that you are typing?
  • Actions: It is hilarious to watch a user master the art of sitting at SL. Most times, they face away from us or just run around the place. :) This is a usability issue. A user need not have to practice several times to sit to get it right.
In terms of SL for learning, I like the thought of letting the learner create something. But, most objects in SL (atleast those I have come across in my brief time there) are PPTs. SL also has virtual classrooms. When we avoid making the learner read lengthy notes and sit through lectures, why use it in SL? When the fancy of the VW wears off (as it did with me), learner motivation is bound to dwindle. What then? Is there no other interesting format? Check these posts by Karl Kapp on how VWs effectively.
Examples of usaing virtual world 3d spaces learning
Virtual Hospitals Protocol
Three Virtual World Learning Best Practices

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quauntifying Time Spent on Web 2.0 Tools

Is this a trick question? ;) My response to this month's Big Question:

How much time do you spend and how did you find time for all the relatively newer things like reading blogs, twitter, social networks, etc.?

I use TweetDeck and receive tweet notifications. If I am working on something that requires high concentration, I close this application. Else, I logically close a thought and quickly check what others are saying. If the tweet inspires me, I tweet back immediately. If it is an interesting link and a longish blog, I keep it open and read it during my next break. I blog has to be either really compelling or really short for me to read it immediately. I check Facebook only once or twice a day as I use it only for personal networking. Without a doubt, Web 2.0 makes us more effcient. Everyone values time. When a blogger blogs, he/she tries to keep it crisp. I scan through a blog before i decide if I want to invest time. Twitter is popular because writing/reading short tweets does not take time. Coming back to the question, I will not be able to say exactly how much time I spend networking/learning. It various as per project deliverables, my moods, blog updates, and twitter traffic.

What are you doing less of today than you were 3-5 years ago?

  • I used to take longish walks to breath in some fresh air when I was at office. Now, that I work from home, I tweet or read blogs. I don't go through my Google reader as most bloggers I follow share links on Twitter.
  • Earlier, I used to surf the Internet for hours together to find information that interests me. Today, I go looking for information only when my research is very specific to something. Most times, information comes to me (courtesy web 2.0). This surely means my search is more effective and productivity high as I spend lesser time surfing the Internet for information.
  • I also hardly spend time text messaging and talking over the phone (several relatives, including my sister, complains of this).
  • I am also a member of ASTD, Social Issues and Serious Games fourms. These discussions happen over mail and therefore, I don't read these anymore. Today, I prefer real time discussions.
  • Finally, do I neglect my work? No, I manage time better than I did 3-5 years back.

Do you have less of a life with all of these new things?

No, I still shut my computer down by max 7. I don't tweet or read blogs over weekends. My weekends are reserved for my family and myself. Anyway, I don't think people who are online all the time, don't have a life. (Unless ofcourse if you are recluse and unsocial, but who am I to judge ;)) I also think my life is 'more happening' now as I 'know' more people than I did before these new things were introduced.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Expert Usability Evaluation and Learning Audit of an Online Course

You do not have access to learners or you are really short of time. However, you want to find out if your online course is easy to use and learn. What do you do? You can conduct an expert usability evaluation and expert learning audit. Both these evaluation techniques have their roots in usability inspection. Before I proceed further, these techniques have evolved from usability, but have been modified to suit the requirements of the learning field. If you use some other techniques, please do share. We are always eager to learn more effective ways of doing things.

How are these evaluations conducted?
An expert (usability/learning) judges the effectiveness of the course. The expert will go through the course and try everything a learner would if he/she were to take the course. They look for obstacles, ambiguity, functionality, and several other issues that hinder progress. Detailed reports are generated at the end of the evaluation.

What is an expert usability evaluation?
Using this technique, you evaluate the usability of an online course. An expert lists the parameters based on which the evaluation will take place. These could include:
  1. Navigation: What is the primary form of navigation? Is this intuitive enough? This would ideally mean that we do not include 'Click Next to proceed' kind of instructions. The learner should intuitively know what the primary navigation is.
  2. Visual hierarchy: Is the information organization in a logical manner? Eye movement is typically from left to right and from top to bottom. Are all elements positioned keeping this in mind? Will the learner know where the information starts and where it ends?
  3. Accessibility of information: Are important elements placed upfront? Will the learner be able to access the most important information easily.
  4. Affordance: Do buttons have the affordance of a click? Will the learner know when a click is required? Will he/she know what is expected on an interactive screen? During learner testing, I have seen learners click images that are not clickable or miss buttons that need to be clicked. This is because the element does not have the affordance of a click. Therefore, it is important to identify such issues.
  5. Fonts and font sizes: Will the learner be able to read the text easily? Do font colors hinder readability? Are these fonts and font sizes consistent across?
What is the difference between a QA and an expert usability evaluation?
  • A QA checks whether the online course maps to the signed off storyboard/wireframe. It also checks functionality, consistency, and whether the course has any bugs.
  • Expert usability evaluation, on the other hand, checks whether the elements in the course are usable. It also takes into account user experience. Does the eLearning application cater to the five principles of usability - learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, and satisfaction?
A QA is more content-centric while an expert usability evaluation is more user-centric. This is the main and the most crucial difference.

What is an expert learning audit?
Using this technique, you can evaluate the learning effectiveness of a course. An expert lists the parameters based on which the evaluation will take place. These could include:
  • Learning objectives - content mapping: Are the learning outcomes addressed? Can the content be directly mapped to the learning objectives? Is there more information than is stated in the learning objective?
  • Learner-content mapping: Is the content specific to the learner profile? Is it relevant? Will it help the learner meet the learning outcomes?
  • Learner motivation: Is the course motivating enough for the learner? Why will he/she complete the course? Will they find it interesting? Will he/she be motivated to take an exercise?
  • Vizualization: Do the visual elements aid learning? Are they similar in look and feel across the course?
  • Language: Will the learner understand what is written? Is there any ambiguity?
What is the difference between an ID review and learning audit?
By the time the course is developed, several ID reviews have already been done. The learning audit is conducted by a third person who has not been a part of the design phase. Therefore, the course is looked at by a fresh eye and this makes a world of difference. The expert looks at the course without considering the constraints. I believe this is a good thing because several times we compromise on learning because of we are thinking about the constraints. He/she looks to identify the obstacles that will hinder learnability. An expert can help us identify where we have compromised.

Keep the following in mind if you are evaluating:
  • Ensure that there are no distractions. This requires a lot of concentration, else you may miss a crucial issue.
  • Try everything. What is the learner were to click this? What would happen if I go here instead of there?
  • Use screen grabs to highlight issues. This is helpful as the reader will not have to shuffle between a report (xls, word) and the course.
  • Include suggestions wherever possible. Provide two or three alternatives if possible. It would be very effective to show a suggestion visually.
  • Ensure that you mark the repetitive issues as a global comment. But, it is also important to identify all those screens in which the issue is present. This will help save time when the reader is fixing the issues.
  • If you have set parameters, you could check each screen for each parameter in a logical manner rather than just scan a screen. This way you will not miss anything.
  • It can become very tedious, tiring, and repetitive. So, be prepared.
The reports generated from both the expert usability evaluation and the learning audit is valuable source of feedback. You will be able to identify the things that can be worked on based on the suggestions provided by the expert. Use these techniques to evaluate your online course. Try it once and see how much of a difference it actually makes. But, remember, this is still no match for direct feedback from the learner.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Informal Learning

Ever since I joined Twitter, my account has been bombarded with tweets on informal/social learning. If you don't know or you need a quick refresher on what informal learning is read What is Social Learning? Is this a new type of learning? The answer is a sure no. Informal learning has been around for ages, even before formal training came into the picture. People have always been exchanging notes to perform better.

Read more about this on my latest post at Learnability Matters: Informal Learning - 7 reasons why organizations must promote it

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How important is the SME?

You would have interacted with several SMEs. I have attempted to classify the SME. Five prominent personae emerged. (These are based on my experiences. Please feel free to add your thoughts.)

1. Temperamental SME: This SME loves to throw her weight around. She demands that things be done her way, else she will not cooperate. She dons the role of the boss and tells you when she expects things. She expects you to work only on her project and on nothing else. She throws a tantrum every time she thinks she has been let down.

2. Easy Go Lucky SME: This SME agrees to everything you say. His typical response to a query is 'Sure! Go ahead.' You wonder whether he has actually heard what you asked him. He typically falls in with the process but expects you to keep reminding him to give you time. When he does, he signs off storyboards rapidly which leaves you wondering whether he really went through them.

3. Absentee SME: This SME is never around to share his thoughts. Whenever you call him, he is busy. He needs a call from a 'higher up' to ensure that he spares time for you. Eventually, when he is forced to spend time with you, he passes on his resentment of the situation onto you.

4. Doing Your Job SME: This SME thinks being an ID is no big deal. She thinks she knows the best way to teach and present things. She typically focuses more on how content can be presented rather than on the accuracy of content. This storyboard is her baby, you change anything and she freaks. You are only to make those changes that she suggests. She tries to design your course for you and you end up feeling like an assistant.

5. The Perfect SME: This SME respects timelines, works with you as a team, takes the learner's motivations and needs seriously, and gives valuable feedback. He researches and pulls out the best stuff to help you understand and transfer the thoughts to the SB. He encourages you to call anytime you get stuck.

In every ID's blog, you will find at least one post on interacting with the SME. Most of these posts cover in detail the problems they face with SME. In every discussion forum, you will find SME interaction listed as an important skill that any ID must master. Why is the SME so important?
  1. SME is a library of information. He/she is an expert in the domain and has the knowledge that will make your training program effective for the learner.
  2. SME can ensure that your course is relevant to your learner. In most situations, the SME is in the best position to share the learner's real life situations and happenings.
  3. When the content is highly technical or unfamiliar, the SME becomes your walking stick. You have to interact with him/her to get comfortable with the content.
  4. SME will always ensure content accuracy. This is really important. You might as well not teach covering something incorrectly.
  5. From a sea of information, the SME helps decide what is absolutely necessary. SME can help prioritize topics and concepts.
Regardless of the SME's persona, you need to ensure that you have a process in place. Remember to keep these in mind:
  • Share the schedule with the SME. Let them know a day in advance that you are going to send them something. They can plan their reviews accordingly.
  • If you are send them two or three things, clearly let them know which ones you expect to receive first.
  • Most first time SME are not sure of what they need to do. Define their role clearly. If you send then a content dump, let them know what you expect from them. Let them know that they need to provide or validate examples.
  • It is important to explain the concept of a sign off. Ensure that they understand that if the TOC is signed off, revisiting it at a later stage would mean a scope change.
  • Build a rapport with them. You can going interact them for a long period of time. Ensure that this time is pleasant and fruitful for both.
  • Seek their opinion. Treat them like an expert.
  • If you do not agree with a feedback, discuss. Share your thoughts and concerns and hear them out. Never fix anything just because you have been told to do so.
  • Ensure that the SME also always keeps the learner in mind. Ask questions like 'Will the learner understand this?', 'Will the learner find this interesting?', 'Will the learner need this information?'

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Exercises that help reflect on gray areas

Think about this:
  1. The objective is to get your learners to design better forms. The exercise shows a form in which the user wants to change his password. The learner can add/modify elements in the form to ensure that the errors are minimized.
  2. The objective is to let the learners know that consumers are loyal to particular brands for specific reasons. The exercises makes the learners reflect on their own brand preferences and their reasons for it.
  3. The objective is to let the learners understand their personality style and their traits. The exercise requires them to respond to particular situations. Their personality traits are displayed based on their responses.
Can these kind of exercises have one correct answer? The answer is no. In most instances, the answers are bound to be subjective and/or there are several correct answers. So, do you avoid these completely? No. These exercises are extremely powerful. They make the learner think, reflect, and respond based on their experiences and knowledge.

How may times have you been told by a SME or a client that all exercises must have the right and wrong answer? I have heard this often. Why is it so important to tell the learner, 'That's correct/That's incorrect.' Everything cannot be classified under black or white. As in most cases, there is a lot of gray area. Why do we get scared of designing exercises for this area? I had an interesting discussion on twitter with @thoughts and @manishmo.
@rnarchana: All exercises must have RIGHT answers. Why this mindset? There are times when there are no right/wrong answers. The aim to make them think!
@thoughts: @rnarchana Exercises without correct answers can be an activity; perhaps not an assessment.
@rnarchana: @thoughts 1. exercises that teach/reinforce 2. exercises that assess the understanding. With quesns that have no rite ans, u cannot assess.... Just elaborated on your thought I guess. What I am trying to say is 'Activity' is a powerful learning tool too
@manishmo: @rnarchana So what do you want the learners to think (exercises w/o rite answers)? There's always a direction you are trying to push toward
@rnarchana: @manishmo Yes. Ex: Exercise that reinforces that we form perceptions based on material things (cars/clothes) is subjective; no right ans
@manishmo: @rnarchana But even in this case we want to move learners to the direction of "don't form perceptions".
@rnarchana: @manishmo Actually no. This exercise was only meant to make the learner conscious of the perceptions they make unconsciously.

This discussion encouraged me to blog this to get my thoughts on the matter together (Thanks Manish and Geetha). Further, I had this interesting discussion with Geeta (my boss and mentor). I was explaining how the SME had requested that we insert a right/wrong answer feedback even though there were none.
Me: Why does everyone assume that learners have absolutely no prior knowledge and experience that they can use to make an approriate reponse? Why do we not encourage them to think and reflect?
Geeta: This is because most SMEs and IDs still promote the educational system followed in schools. The learner is not allowed to think. They treat adult learners as K12

Why is it so important to control everything? We should start letting the learner take responsibility for his/her own learning. This does not go to say that we should avoid exercises that provide correct answers. Exercises can play one of the following roles:
  1. Exercises to teach, reinforce, and reflect on a concept
  2. Exercise that check the learner's understanding
Use a healthy mix of these in your training program. As Geeta rightly suggested, we should look at opening the learner's minds to new possibilities rather than restricting them to what we suggest is the right answer. When using exercises without right/wrong answers, remember:
  • The aim is to make the learners reflect on a concept based on their experience and knowledge. Their answer is bound to be very subjective.
  • Do not use this assuming that that will come up with the right answer that you have in mind. This may not be necessarily true.
  • Use these are teasers. The learner may get curious and conduct their own search online to get their thoughts in order or even better discuss with a peer.
  • Provide all the information that the learner may require to make an informed decision.
I am working on a really challenging project. We have included several instances where we leave the learner to come up with the answer. We encourage them to share their answers, thoughts, and responses with their peers and experts in a social networking forum.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Can Online Learning Environment Kill Motivation?

Ros Aini posed a question in my previous post, "Online learning environment can demotivate online learners. What do you think are the aspects that contribute to this matter?"

I am going to try an attempt answering this question based on my experience and what I have read/heard. If you think you disagree, please help me learn more by sharing your thoughts. If you agree and would like to add and give more clarity, please feel free to do so.

First let me clarify, online learning environment can demotivate online learners is a generalization. What aspects of online learning environment kill learner motivation?

1. Choosing the wrong learning environment for your learner
Your research should help you identify which is the most suitable learning environment in which your learner will learn. A virtual world such as second life may not be suitable for all online learners. You may realize that your learner prefers to read/write than actually 'be' in an environment where they can explore.
Tip: Always arrive at a solution (whether online or otherwise) based on research. You will be closer to getting it right.

2. When the learner control is zero
When you opt for a learning environment, ensure that it is designed such that the learner can decide their own learning path. Most online learners prefer to decide what they learn and how they learn. Avoid forcing your learners down a structured learning path. Several clients insist that the Next button be disabled till they attempt a practice. Give them the choice. If the practice is challenging enough, they are going to want to take it.
Tip: Give them several options such read, listen, do, experiment, share, and so on to learn.

3. When navigation is poor
Navigation plays an important role. Think about this, you have used a virtual world (VW) to teach. Your learner spends ages learning how to navigate within this VW and is not comfortable with the controls. Finally, he gives up frustrated about the fact that he is not getting it right. Poor navigation makes the learners feel dumb. And, no one enjoys this feeling. Navigation can kill motivation even if the training material is really good.
Tip: Ensure navigation is intuitive. The learner should spend minimum or no time learning how to navigate in the learning environment.

4. When system specifications are not shared upfront
Imagine this. You have provided several hyperlinks to blogs and wikis. The organization in which your learner works provides restricted Internet access. The learner tries to click on the link, but gets a 404 error. How frustrating would this be for the learner?
Tip: Always state the system and bandwidth requirements. Or design keeping the learner's bandwidth in mind.

Other than these, what else could demotivate an online learner?
- A know-it-all-peer who makes the learner feel very small, thereby making him reluctant to share his thoughts online again
- The learner may constantly doubt the authenticity of content and feel confused about what to internalize
- No access or an opportunity to interact with 'true' experts
- A learner may feel overwhelmed with the amount of information that is out there

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How to tackle a demotivated learner?

A demotivated learner is any IDs nightmare. Don't we love it when learners are highly motivated, thirsty for knowledge, and realize the 'what is in it for me' even before the course begins?

Symptoms of a demotivated learner:
  • During interviews, they frown over the concept that you are going to teach.
  • They do not appreciate the fact that HAVE to take the course. (I can't blame them.)
  • They try to convince you that they know everything they need to about the concept (you know otherwise through research).
  • They tell you that this course is not going to be useful for them as this concept will not help hone their core skill.
  • They are against the mode of delivery (elearning, ILT, or plain training) because of bad experience in the past.
The situation is very, very dangerous if you spot all the five symptoms in your learner profile. How do you tackle a demotivated learner? Find answers for the following:
  1. What can I do to ensure that the learner takes the concept seriously? How can I make it interesting for them?
  2. How can I show them that they do not know everything they need to know about the concept?
  3. How can I show them that this concept if mastered is going to help them work better?
  4. How can I change their bias against the mode of delivery?
To answer all these questions, I would first recommend that you have a nice long chat with your SME. This is important because my suggestions are going to require the SME's approval.

Suggestion 1: Challenge the learner
The learner thinks he/she knows all there is to know about the concept. Well, challenge him/her then. Design a very hands on course. The intention is to make the learner perform tasks designed keeping the theories of the concepts in mind. We want the learner to realize for themselves, 'Oh! I did not know that' or 'This is probably more effective than how I have been going about it'.

Suggestion 2: Do not bore them with theory
Please do not tell the learner blah blah blah. You will lose the learner even before the end of the screen. They do not want to hear the theory. Stick to pure application. It is definitely easier to describe a theory. Try teaching a theory with absolutely no words. Use tasks and examples. This is incredibly challenging for the ID and SME. But, trust me, the experience is absolutely worth it.

Suggestion 3: Ensure that your course is visual
This learner profile is not going to read anything more than two lines. Avoid content. Make it visual by displaying images/animations of examples. I avoid content heavy screens by using a bigger fonts. Try it sometime.

Suggestion 4: Encourage social learning
Introduce videos from YouTube, share blog links, create or encourage learners to join discussion forums. Do all that you have to and bring them in contact with other people. Encourage them to share their ideas with peers and experts. I do not have to stress the important of social learning.

Suggestion 5: Design challenging knowledge checks
Design the tasks keeping in mind the learner's reality. Make them curious about things. Ensure you grab their attention. Ensure that the answers are not obvious. Design assignment that have no correct answers. Encourage them to post reports or assignments on blogs/forums. Allow them to discuss their ideas and answers with others.

These are my list of suggestions. If you think there are other suggestions that help tackle a demotivated learner, please share them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Audio - A Gamble?

Audio is a crucial aspect of an elearning application. There are lots of courses that do not have audio. These courses can still be good if the learner hates audio. But audio can play an important role in learning. Audio:
  • Sets the tone for your course. If the audio is formal, the theme of your course will be formal. If the audio is humorous, the theme of your course is light and humorous.
  • Adds a personal touch by giving your course a personality. This does not apply for robot-like audio.
  • Captures learner's attention.
  • Completes the learning experience.
  • Reinforces learning by supplementing visuals and content.
Using audio in your course can be a gamble. If you do not play your cards right, you may end up ruining your course even if the ID strategy and theme is great. You need to keep in mind the following:

1. How much audio do I include in the course?
This is the most important and the most difficult question. Further questions that arise:
  • Do I have the audio artists read everything from the screen? Please don't have the audio artist read everything (especially if your screens are content heavy). It is very distracting and unnecessary. Kern conducts learner testing to check the effectiveness of a course before its roll out. We have seen learners look for audio mute/off button several times. They are thinking, I can read the content, thank you very much. We have also seen occasions on which audio is different from the OST and this troubles the learner. He/she feels that there is a variation in what is being said in the audio and what is written on screen.
  • Do I just include the main gist of what is being covered in the screen? You can do this. However, ensure that your audio captures the most crucial information and does not sound abrupt. Sometimes, you just wait for the audio to continue but it doesn't.
  • Do I include audio for just the important screens? Please don't do this. Imagine the learner listening to a para long audio on a screen. He moves to the next screen and meets silence. It can be very awkward. I have seen this during learner testing. You can see the learners anticipating, waiting for the audio to start. I am almost tempted to lean over and say You can move on now.
  • Do I include separate audio for the characters? Your could do this depending on your budget. But it can be a nightmare to get the tone and the pitch right for multiple audio artists.
2. Should the audio supplement content or vice versa?
Actually, it depends on the ID strategy you use for the course. If your course is highly visual, the audio will play a crucial role as it may act as a link between the screens. There are course in which the audio drones on and on, while nothing happens on the screen. This can hinder learning. The learner may switch off after sometime. Either reduce the audio, split the screens, or add animation to supplement the audio. Can you imagine staring at a screen waiting for the audio to get over? On the other hand, do not make a text heavy course, audio heavy. Like I already mentioned, it can be quite irritating for the learner. Find the right balance between audio and visuals.

3. Does the audio have the desired impact?
Yes! You have identified how much audio you want to use. You have also found the right balance between audio and visuals. Now, what else can go wrong?
  • An unprofessional audio artist can ruin your course. If the tone and pitch is not right, the course will sound bad.
  • If the audio is too fast or too slow, it could kill learner motivation.
  • If the audio is not in sync with what is happening on screen, it will confuse the learner.
  • If the audio is not edited well, it will ruin the course even if your audio artist is really good.
4. How can audio add value?
Audio in terms of background music can increase the imapct of the gain attention screen. Audio can also play a crucial role when used to indicate correct and incorrect feedback. This may be the best way to avoid 'That's correct' and 'That's incorrect' feedback. Audio plays an important role in games. It increases the thrill and increases the learner's curiosity.

There is no standard rule or guideline to say you can use this much audio in your course. Use audio wisely. Ensure that it has the desired impact. Use it to aid learning and make learning experience more pleasureable.