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