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Game on? The use of gamification in e-learning.

by Sarah Sweeney, Marketing Assistant at Aurion Learning.

SQUARE imageMany HR and L&D professionals face the problem of ensuring that their training and learning programmes maintain learner engagement and motivation. Gamification has been regularly recognised as an opportunity to help solve this problem.

In this post, we consider whether gamification can enhance the learning experience. Before we consider if it is game on for gamification in learning, it is necessary to look at what gamification essentially is.

What is Gamification?

Games and game like components have been invading the learning realm for quite some time now. Although its definition differs, for the most part, gamification in learning is the use of game mechanics to ‘gamify’ content to engage and entice users by encouraging and rewarding use.

Although Nick Pelling first coined the term “gamification” in 2002, it has actually been around for some time – 40 years in fact, with many organisations already using features in their work from video games.

Indeed, it can be said that loyalty programs, target-based bonuses and employee-of-the-month schemes are all examples of how gamification as an incentive to growth has been around for a long time too.

Examples of gamification in learning include:

  • Training: technology giants, Microsoft use gamification to train users of Microsoft Office on how to use the new ribbon interface effectively.
  • Education: New York based school – Quest to Learn, advocates game-based learning to make education more engaging and relevant to children.
  • Employee productivity: Management tool Arcaris uses gamification to improve productivity in call centres.

Now that we know what gamification is and where it is being used in learning, it is necessary to see whether it actually works.

Does Gamification in learning work?

The gamification of e-learning unquestionably presents unique possibilities for learning technologists as they explore additional ways to educate and importantly engage learners.

It is widely recognised that adding interactive activities in e-learning are no longer optional extras, but essential to effective learning. However, it is important that the addition of game like elements into the e-learning programme are only applied in the context of the programme that allow the learner the opportunity to apply their retained knowledge to live situations, rather than distract and dazzle learners with wizardry from the overall learning goal.

Frequently, my social media feeds are inundated with social games, although irritating at times, there is no escaping the surge in popularity of online gaming and social media. The site, DevHub, reported an eightfold increase in the number of users completing their sites after adding gamification elements to the process. If there was any indication that the gamification was a fad, according to research from M2 it’s here not only stay, but increase in its use.

The global market for gamification apps and services will grow to $2.8 billion by 2016.”

The enthusiasm for gamification has however met with some criticism. Game designers Radoff and Robertson have criticised gamification for excluding aspects like storytelling, an important element of learning. Whilst university researcher Deterding, has argued that current approaches to gamification create an artificial sense of achievement.

What does the successful application of gamification in e-learning look like?

  1. Gamification isn’t about games, but the learners.
  2. It isn’t about knowledge but behaviour.
  3. It extracts the motivational techniques out of games and uses them for life-applicable learning.
  4. It allows quick feedback of progress and communications of goals that need to be accomplished.

Gamification is made appealing for e-learning because of our human tendencies.  On the whole, we generally enjoy actively participating engaging and competing with others. Gamification allows learners to connect and learn together with playful applications and incentives, particularly when there are engaging game design elements used.

Today’s learners are however no longer placated with trivial reward systems but rather sophisticated experiences that hold real value. Organisations embracing the gamification in learning can stand to see learners more engaged and retain more information, but only if it is applied aptly to the e-learning programme, achieving the overall core learning objectives.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates.

A Day in the Life of an Instructional Designer.

Maresa Malloy IDMaresa Molloy is an Instructional Designer at Aurion Learning. Maresa is also an avid fan of hill-walking and would love to be stuck in a lift with Andy Murray! But mainly she is an Instructional Designer who loves providing people the best learning experiences.  If you have ever wondered what an Instructional Designer is or what they do, then you are in luck! After some persuasion, Maresa has agreed to reveal all about how a typical day at Aurion Learning shapes up.


Describe your job:

My job as an Instructional Designer involves helping clients to identify the knowledge, skill and attitude gaps of its staff, and designing learning materials to help close those gaps, based on learning theories and best practices used in my field.

Sometimes the knowledge, skill and attitude gaps may seem fairly obvious. For example, a client may to provide all new staff with a staff induction programme or they may want to introduce completely new Fire Safety procedures.

For other projects, the knowledge, skills and attitude gaps are not so obvious. For example, a client may ask us to develop a leadership portal for a multi-disciplinary team – where the knowledge, skill and attitude gaps vary greatly amongst learners. For the most part – we present completely new learning content.

However, as an Instructional Designer you can’t assume to really know the gaps until a training needs analysis is completed that defines our target audience. Part of our training needs analysis involves what we call a ‘DIF analysis’, this involves sitting down with the client – and often with the learners themselves – to identify three things:

1. What is difficult for the target audience to understand?
2. What is important for the target audience to know or be able to do?
3. What questions are frequently asked about his content?

Only then can we target the areas which staff need the most help with, and design training materials that help them to perform better in their jobs.

The training materials can be delivered in a variety of online formats, but I specialise in the design of e-learning programmes.


Describe your typical working day?

A typical day usually starts off with a cup of freshly ground coffee – one of the many perks of working at Aurion and then onto our daily team ‘scrum’ where we discuss project progress, some design and programming details and release schedules. I’ll then throw on my headphones for some “work mode” music and get on with projects. Personally, I enjoy what I do, life at Aurion is fast paced, and we are usually working to tight deadlines and have several projects on the go at any one time. As part of this, I typically work with my team to produce e-learning programmes and other training materials on time. So in any one day, I could be:

  • liaising with the client and meeting Subject Matter Experts to assess project requirements, assess learner needs and discuss learning strategies
  • meeting with the learner to gauge any difficulties or challenges they may have with the subject area
  • designing and writing the content using storyboards
  • writing supplementary content such as help sheets and job aids
  • producing online training videos
  • learning new tools and techniques in Instructional Design.

For the most part I take a proper lunch break, we are actually encouraged to do so as it is really beneficial to step away from the computer. There are a good few team lunches at Aurion and we are regularly treated to the curry, pizza and sandwich houses that the Ormeau Road has to offer! Aurion also hosts monthly Lunch and Learn sessions for the team, it’s a great way to find out what’s going on in other parts of the company and find out what exciting e-learning and digital media projects that we will be working on!

My afternoons usually comprise of talking directly to clients, team meetings, discussing a project and trying to get the best solution for it. A good thing about my role is that I get to talk to the entire team about a project – there is little hierarchy or chain of command – all team members are included in the decision-making process, from how we will design a client solution, to how projects will be managed.


What qualifications or special qualities do you need for your job?

It is beneficial to have an Instructional Design related degree. I did a Masters in Technical Communication and e-learning, and learned a lot about learning theories and methodologies from this course. However, if you don’t have a degree, it is still possible to get a job in Instructional Design if you have the skills to design and write content.

I also think you need to have the ability to write creatively and to have a passion for how people learn. It also helps to have skills in technology as you get to work with various software tools.


What do you find most challenging about your job?

The most challenging aspect of my job is getting the client to agree to the creative delivery of the learning content. It is usually the case that I am given pages and pages of content that the client wants the learner to read and ‘understand’. My job involves convincing them that we only need to use the content that helps the learner to perform better. All of the other content can be placed on the Learning Management System (LMS) or sent out in an email. We then need to do something creative with the content to ensure that the learner wants and is motivated to read your material.


What aspect of your job do you enjoy most?

I love the actual writing of the content. By the time you get to this stage, you usually have all of the source material and it’s a case of taking pages of content and trying to do something creative with it. I enjoy the challenge and also the pressure to work towards deadlines.


What advice would you offer any Instructional Designers who are interested in joining the Aurion team?

At Aurion, there is a growing focus on continuous improvement and pushing the perception of what learning is and where it can happen. If you’re an Instructional Designer who is looking for a new challenge then be sure to get in touch. As a growing team, we’re always on the lookout for talented people, you can view our jobs at http://www.aurionlearning.com/who.aspx#jobs

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

Training for Success: Learning and Technology Trends

e-Learning Concept. Computer KeyboardSix out of ten learning and development managers say their training budget is one of the first to be cut when times are hard, according to a report published in Personnel Today. Now more than ever it’s vital that training is closely aligned with key business goals, that the effectiveness of training is properly evaluated and that return on investment is accurately measured.

But no one can deny that workplace training has changed. Where once the role of the training manager focused on developing classroom based programmes, scheduling events, measuring effectiveness, and reporting on attendance and performance after events, it’s now much more about harnessing the best learning technologies to provide access to information and learning content.

Training managers need to be solutions architects – capable of designing innovative ways for employees to access relevant knowledge, on-demand, no matter where they are. And they need to keep up-to-date with the latest learning developments, to guarantee success.

Here we examine some of the top trends in learning and technology that influence modern workplace training, and that we utilise to support our clients.

1. 70/20/10 Model of learning

The most effective way to facilitate workplace learning is by giving workers opportunities to develop, apply and practice new skills and behaviours on the job and in real-life situations. Many organisations have adopted the 70/20/10 learning philosophy, whereby:

  • 70% of learning & development takes place on the job, through tasks, experiences and problem-solving;
  • 20% of learning & development comes through feedback, learning and sharing with others (formal and informal); and
  • 10% of learning takes place via formal training, study and reading.

Recognition of the 70/20/10 approach means that the entire learning environment is changing from:

  • knowledge delivery to knowledge sharing and problem-solving;
  • formal and structured training to free flow of knowledge;
  • individuals to learning communities; and
  • training courses to learning environments (offline and online).

* 70/20/10 concept developed by McCall, Eichinger and Lombardo
2. Convergence of learning, performance and talent management

Businesses are beginning to seek enterprise wide solutions where they can unite the functionality of a learning management system (LMS) (e-learning, classroom training, reporting & tracking, certification & assessment) with a performance management system (performance appraisals, performance management, career & success planning, competency management) and talent management system (on-boarding, talent acquisition, compensation management, workforce planning).
3. Learning technologies are becoming social, collaborative, and virtual

Google, LinkedIn, twitter, YouTube, wikis, blogs all contribute to modern workplace learning. Live training is often virtual and facilitated via tools such as Skype, GotoTraining and WebEx.

4. The rise of mobile learning

It’s been mentioned before, but has been slow to be adapted in many organisations. Mobile or mlearning is about delivering learning content and experiences to learners when and where they need it. Typically mlearning is accessed via a mobile device such a smart phone or tablet – it’s particularly useful for performance support – checklists, quick guides, short ‘how-to’ videos.

5. The rise of DIY rapid elearning

More and more organisations want to be able to create their own e-learning to build in-house capabilities, save money and time. Demand for Aurion’s rapid eLearning training course has tripled over the last two years. Training staff want to know how to use the best rapid authoring tools to create their own e-learning and gain an understanding of e-learning theories and strategies.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

The benefits of using (#)hashtags for e-learning

facebook-hashtagBy Ciara Cunningham, Marketing Manager  

Facebook has joined the #hashtag revolution, allowing users to add the # symbol before a word and making those hashtags #clickable.

Although typically associated with Twitter, hashtags are nothing new on the social scene – Tumblr, Pinterest and other social networks already use hashtags, and Google has announced that it will add these to its Google+ service shortly.  You may have even used them on Facebook, but until now they had no functionality.

So now that Facebook has joined the hashtag revolution, what impact will they have on #elearning?

The new hashtag function is already available to about 20% of the 1 billion+ Facebook users and over the coming weeks, this will be available to everyone who has a Facebook account.

If you are a user or not of Facebook, this new functionality will benefit both the learner and the administrator of the e-learning programme as the use of hashtags will make it easier for users to search for content, and easier to find that topic in search – that is of course dependent that everyone involved in the e-learning programme agrees to append a certain hashtag about a topic!

Additional benefits include:

  • Allows better interaction on a subject.
  • Helps to generate a discussion or raise awareness of a topic.
  • Users can discover other communities discussing the same topic, providing a forum for discussion and broader learning environment.
  • Can be used for monitoring a particular topic.
  • Building a community around content.
  • Makes it easy to aggregate like-minded users under a certain category.

If you are not already using hastags for e-learning, the first thing you need to do is create a hashtag identifying your subject, project, workshop or any other topic you want to track. Before you embark on a hashtag frenzy, you need to do research what you’re about to hashtag before you actually use it.

You can use search hashtag directory services like tagdef.com and hashtags.org to see if your desired hashtag is in use. If you introduce hashtags into your e-learning early, it will also increase learner and user engagement.

Facebook has said that it would roll out additional features, including trending hashtags, in the near future, so we will see then if there are any additional benefits to the e-learning quest!

Happy clicking!

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

How do you solve a problem like content?

Successful e-learning is a combination of technology that works, great learning design and meaningful content. Content is often however the most difficult resource to obtain when developing e-learning.

In this short post, we take a look at how to source content, make the most out of existing content and ensure that the content is suitable for your e-learning programme or module.

What many organisations don’t realise is they are already sitting on a mass of existing content that can easily be replicated in to usable and effective content for their e-learning courses. Any company or organisation that is already delivering some form of training is actually ready with content.

Existing content can come in various forms:

  • employee handbook,content image
  • policy documents,
  • facilitator guides,
  • classroom training hand-outs,
  • presentations given on various subjects by senior managers at various forums.
  • company information

So what do you do with the content now that you have identified the sources?

As tempting as it may be to simply regurgitate those existing text based resources and assume that it can be deployed onto a web based progamme, you will be disappointed to hear that unfortunately it is not quite as straight forward as this. It is essential that you take a careful look at the content and determine whether it still has the same meaning in an online context. If not, you need to (re)organise it, paraphrase it and reproduce it as content plays a pivotal role in providing the structure of an e-learning programme.

The content for your eLearning programme needs to not only meet the learning needs of your organisation but also actively engage the learner, including interaction with fellow learners as without the right content, quite often learning points are missed and participants become disengaged.

When developing content for your e-learning programme, it is important to start with the basics – identify the content that is aligned with your organisational goals and developed within the context of your broader training strategy.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

Learning Mission Critical Control: Corporate Compliance

complianceAlmost every organisation has to deliver some sort of compliance training. In some companies, it may be as simple as communicating the internal rules. In others, it can be a matter of life or death.

As one of the top 10 Most Popular LMS providers, Alex Poulos CMO of NetDimensions discussed the role of learning systems in compliance training in this blog article.

Compliance requirements for employees and organisations place new demands on learning systems that more traditional, developmental requirements do not. Our industry nowadays seems flooded with learning and talent management systems. But for such systems to succeed in a compliance-related role, they must be able to readily adapt to changing needs, operate at enterprise software level, and offer the requisite functionality around auditing, reporting, and security.

It is important that L&D and HR departments are up-to-date with the compliance requirements specific to their business. Here are a few suggestions to make this easier:

  1. Talk to your legal team and to your compliance officer to better understand who in the organisation is responsible for what.
  2. Define clear requirements and objectives for training and the technology implementation.
  3. Question your vendor and demand a software validation for the learning or talent management system. For the technical parts, don’t be afraid to ask your IT team to participate.
  4. Make compliance an on-going part of your business via well-defined workflows, checks and balances, and actionable reporting.
  5. When it comes to training, reinforce formal compliance learning with recurring programs. These initiatives may include informal collaborations (such as forums to discuss on-going compliance issues), on-the-job assessments (to better evaluate the effectiveness of the compliance training), and performance support (to provide easy access to compliance-related materials at the point of need).

This blog is an abstract from Learning & Compliance: Friends or Foes? – You can read the full article here.  You can find more blogs from Alex at the Work, Learn, Play blogs.

If your organisation struggling to meet government regulations, standards set by professional bodies, or obtaining and maintaining qualifications such as ISO 9000 or Sarbanes-Oxley?

You can downloadCompliance and your LMS – A Practical Guide to Make Compliance Easy by NetDimensions.

Aurion Learning is Ireland’s only accredited reseller of NetDimensions’ Talent Management Suite. For further information on its learning management system solutions, visit our website

To read more about the 20 Most Popular LMS study and how the results were obtained, visit the Capterra website.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

Get Learners to Truly Learn Through Spaced Practice

Spaced PracticeBy Maresa Malloy, Instructional Designer.

In this blog article, Maresa takes a look at how spaced practice can be applied to learning and discusses the benefits of this approach.

The idea of ‘spaced practice’ is not a new phenomenon in learning. Hermann Ebbinghaus, the German psychologist who first described terms such as the ‘learning curve’ and the ‘forgetting curve’, studied the effectiveness of spaced practice as far back as 1885. It has, to some extent, been applied to teaching and training curricula ever since then. So why then write a blog about it?

Spaced practice is often forgotten about or simply left out of training curricula, despite its effectiveness. Many people don’t understand in what way it is beneficial to learning or how they might apply it to their teaching. In this blog, I will explore how Learning Designers can embed reminders and staged practice activities post programme completion to help embed learning.

What is Spaced Practice?

According to Dr. Will Thalheimer’s, “spaced practice occurs when we present learners with a concept to learn, wait some amount of time, and then present the same concept again”.

(Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says: 2006)

There are two ways to integrate spaced practice into learning materials:

(1) Put a delay between two or more repetitions, or

(2) Present other learning material between two or more repetitions.

1.       Putting a delay between two or more repetitions

The table below shows how you can put a delay between two or more repetitions of a learning concept:

Spaced Practice:
Insert a delay between repetitions
Scenario on Topic A
Wait
Scenario on Topic A
Wait
Scenario on Topic A

In this example, a delay is placed between three repetitions of scenarios on Topic A (the learning concept). The scenarios do not have to be the same, but they must teach the same concept (Topic A).

2.       Present other learning material between two or more repetitions

The table below shows how you can present other learning material between two or more repetitions of a learning concept:

Spaced Practice:
Insert other topics between repetitions
Scenario on Topic A
(Scenario on Topic B)
Scenario on Topic A
organize (Scenario on Topic C)
Scenario on Topic A

In this example, scenarios on other topics are placed between two or more repetitions of Topic A (the learning concept).

Just like the growing trend in eating habits, little and often learning works as it gives the brain time to translate and organise memories, as well as reinforcing those retentions over time.


What are the benefits of Spaced Practice?
Repeating learning concepts supports and reinforces learning. Repeating learning concepts

over time produces more learning and better long-term retention than repetitions that are not spaced. The spacing out of practice seems to avoid fatigue effects and consolidates memory.

Dr. Will Thalheimer’s research suggests that longer spacings tend to produce more long-term retention than shorter spacings (up to a point where even longer spacings are sometimes counterproductive).

How can you apply Spaced Practice post programme completion?
There are various methods whereby you can embed reminders and staged practice activities post programme completion to help embed learning. I’ve listed some of them below:

Break your programme up into chunks
Instead of creating one 1 hour course, break it up into four 15-minute chunks. Prioritise the chunks and schedule them so that the most important and most easily forgotten points are provided more often throughout the chunks. Schedule your learners to take each chunk one or two weeks apart.

Provide short refresher courses
Provide short refresher eLearning programmes with the key learning points from the initial eLearning programme. Prompt your learners to make decisions based on learning points you want to reinforce. Deliver these at intervals throughout the year or when performance is low.

Provide practice exercises
Provide practice exercises which give learners an opportunity to apply what they have learned to their jobs. Reinforce key learning points via role-plays, discussions and scenario-based questions.

Send emails with key points
Send emails with key points at various intervals after the learner has taken the programme to reinforce learning.

Use other tools
Use other tools to keep the topic alive. For example, create a discussion forum, add a Twitter feed, write various articles in your newsletter, put up posters, give learners access to related articles, and provide live support.

Support learners on the job
Provide learners with Job Aids and resources which help them to retrieve information when they need it.

Encourage managers to follow-up afterwards
Get managers to talk with learners about key learning points. This not only encourages learners, but it helps you to discover what they may need to reinforce their learning.


These are just some of the methods you can use. Has anyone any other suggestions that have worked for them?
Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this


Follow us on twitter 
@aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

How Practice Development Hubs are helping to create social learning in HSELanD.ie

Practice Development Hubs HSELanD.ieIn this post, we look how at how Practice Development Hubs on HSELanD.ie are helping the Health Service Executive (HSE) to create social learning through organisational learning and development, whilst positively impacting on practice.

HSELanD.ie is an online learning portal configured and implemented in partnership with Aurion Learning to provide high quality online learning to HSE employees, health care organisations and voluntary sector organisations.

The portal enables the national rollout of learning and organisational initiatives, using a combination of self-authored content from HSE subject matter experts and programmes built by Aurion Learning. The learning portfolio is underpinned by the NetDimensions Learning Management System, to track and monitor the learning interventions.

The online learning portal also includes collaborative practice development hubs which allow non-technical staff within hospitals and units or divisions throughout the HSE and beyond to setup and maintain their own specialist communities that integrate and deliver their own learning materials and broader HSELanD materials to their targeted audiences.

The hubs also feature social learning resources including forums, wikis, blogs, internal messaging, user profiles and videos to:

  • enable health workers to broaden their skills and knowledge,
  • support health workers in managing and applying mental health legislation,
  • promote inter-professional learning and allow employees to share      ideas and resources, and collaborate with other users,
  • assist employees in managing their own personal development,
  • promote life-long learning amongst healthcare professionals and
  • make it easier to roll-out mandatory training to staff.

Outcome of Practice Development Hubs:

HSELanD.ie is recognised as the platform of choice for the rollout of training programmes that are readily available to healthcare workers in the HSE. It has revolutionised learning and development provision within the HSE and for the healthcare and voluntary sectors within Ireland. There are now almost 70,000 registered users on HSELanD.ie and in the past year, the user base and usage has increased by 27%.

The Practice Development Hubs have also created an environment where 30,000 health care workers can access interactive online learning programmes, share resources and collaborate with colleagues online on initiatives and projects within a selected discipline area.

In addition:

  • A comprehensive range of eLearning programmes is now available,
  • training is accessible 24/7, and from any internet connected location over secure network,
  • training that otherwise would have to be delivered in the classroom, necessitating staff being away from the ward of clinic, is now delivered online, and where there has to be classroom based training, this is now significantly more efficient. This is because much of the theory base can be learned online in advance of attendance at training,
  • over the past year, health care workers have begun to make use of our collaboration tools through the hubs. Change Leaders throughout the organisation are using to Change Hub to inform themselves about the HSE Approach to Managing Change, and also to seek and give help to colleagues. This has the advantage of helping to standardise the approach to change across the sector. It also means that lessons learned in one area are identified and shared across the organisation whilst having a positive impact on practice.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. To find out how Aurion Learning can help transform learning and development in your organisation, please get in contact.

Checklist for choosing an e-learning vendor

By Glynn Jung

Glynn Jung

Glynn Jung

Whichever product or service you seek, an organised, comprehensive selection process is required – perusing websites of e-learning companies just doesn’t work. The selection process for a suitable e-learning vendor should be  guided by whether they are supplying:

  • technology,
  • off the shelf e-learning titles or
  • design and development services.

It helps if you develop a checklist, (indeed most purchasing departments demand this) so that you are consistent in comparisons. We recommend listing all the attributes of a perfect-fit vendor and deciding which features are must-haves, whether these are immediate needs or future growth and finally how important each feature is (“points”).

We also recommend that organisations adopt the “MoSCoW” method for determining their needs. This is based on agreeing:

  • ‘must-have’
  • ‘should have’
  • ‘could have’ and
  • ‘would be nice to have’ – most organisations concentrate exclusively on “must have”.

Below is a sample checklist that you might consider as a starting point for your own selection of a technology vendor.

In any e-learning vendor selection process there are generally a number of important criteria, such as pricing, technology, quality, service and so on. With regard to technology, ensure your vendors know what they will be dealing with in your organisation.

Attribute Must Have Now or Future Points
Vendor Qualifications
Does the vendor serve organisations similar to yours?
What do current customers similar to yourselves say
Is the vendor’s customer base sizeable enough to ensure continued operation?
Are customer references available?
Does the vendor support customer implementations with training and support?
Can the vendor assure you of a successful implementation?
Does the vendor have a proven plan for implementation of its system?
How long has the vendor been operating in the e-learning market?
Pricing
Is pricing in line with similar offerings?
Does the vendor rely primarily on revenue from its commercial system or is customization a large part of its income?
Does the vendor offer a base price that scales with volume?
Does the price include everything you will require to get started?
Can you see a relationship between cost and quality?
Quality
Does the vendor guarantee successful operation?
Is there a stated quality policy?
Are “bugs” resolved quickly or do they wait for a future release?
How easy is the system to use: How much training is required?
Does the system require minimal resources for administration?
How reliable is the system: How often and for how long does it go down?
Technology
Do the technical qualifications reflect our technology
Is the system’s technology up to date? State-of-the-art?
Does the vendor rely on outside support for its basic services?
Is the system capable of delivering current types of media?
Does the vendor provide multiple solutions for your needs?
Can the system support with various authoring tools?
Does the system support the browsers we need supporting?
Does the system support mobile devices?
Does the system support our compliance requirements?
Support
Are maintenance fees readily available?
Does the vendor require the purchase of periodic updates?
Does the vendor provide 24/7customer support?
Does the system support multiple languages?
Does the system support the accessibility we require?
Can the software be placed in Escrow?

Bespoke e-learning development

If the need is for bespoke course development or off-the-shelf titles many of the same technical considerations still apply. You need to ensure that any course content can be accessed and viewed using devices which your staff will be using. You further need samples of their work to compare but before you do this we recommend you identify:

  • who will be using the courses,
  • where they’ll be using them and
  • what you consider to be fit-for-purpose regarding design of content.

For example if your IT people operate a “no download, no plugins” policy that the course material requires no extra software, will operate properly on your LMS (if you use one) or as a web-playable course and on any special devices your learners may use.

Location of learning is significant – if it’s in a retail store, warehouse or factory audio is rendered virtually useless.

Your list may be modified as you start talking to potential vendors: the critical thing is to keep your absolute priorities and needs in front of you at all times and not be swayed by sophisticated marketing or sales.

Project planning and management.

Ensure the vendor provides a clear project approach which is logical and understandable – they’re the experts so they should be able to keep to plan, warn of any pitfalls and deliver on time, within budget and to agreed benchmarks.

Working relationships

The final thing I want to talk about is working relationships. Working with willing, supportive, responsive and flexible vendors can quickly develop into a true partnership: if you really solely on numerical weighting systems you run the risk of attempting to work with people who don’t fit your organisation’s or people’s style and culture.

Demand three personal referees similar to yourselves in their client base. Talk to these referees; don’t use a pro forma reference form: find out what they’re like to work with and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Also find out who will actually be working on your project: assess them as people when you come to interview your shortlisted companies – have a get-out clause ready in case the sales time disappears after they’ve closed the business and there’s no-one to talk to in the vendor organisation who understand your needs.

What checklist do you use when selecting a vendor? Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this checklist.

ABOUT THE AUTHORGlynn Jung

Glynn Jung is Non-Executive Director at Aurion Leanring. He has over 25 years’ experience delivering innovative and cost-effective learning and process improvement strategies for a wide range of public, private and third sector organisations.

Why adding interactive activities is important for e-learning.

By Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer at Aurion Learning.

At Aurion Learning, our experience tells us that one of the best ways to guarantee learner interest and retention is through the appropriate and frequent use of interactivity.

This short article identifies the top five benefits of adding interactive activities to your online learning resources.Engagement

  1. Changes learner behaviour – Interactive activities such as, scenario-based exercises, behaviour modelling and guided practice prompt learners to review the lesson against their own work-place practices which is an ideal approach to affect positive behaviour change amongst staff.
  2. Ensures the message is understood – formative assessments, questioning and assessed role-plays provide learners with instant feedback, offering appropriate affirmation or explanation depending on whether the learner has answered correctly or incorrectly.
  3. Connects with the workplace – printable job aid exercises, such as checklists and action plans, prompt learners to focus on the application of the course material to their particular role.
  4. Engages all learning styles – variety of presentation, practice and assessments support high levels of user interactivity and engagement. Rich task-based multi-media and audio immerse learners by providing realistic practice in the subject areas being taught.
  5. Promotes a positive learning experience the use of appropriate interactivity encourages learners to return to refresh their learning as well recommend the resource to their colleagues as material for group or individual learning.

As a quick rule of thumb, we feel that the definition provided by American Instructional Technology guru, Brandon-Hall encapsulates the spirit of good interactivity:

“An interaction is an engagement of the mind……. not the finger!”

LMS – CU Learn shortlisted for National Training Award

by Ciara Cunningham, Marketing Manager Aurion Learning 

Aurion Learning and Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) are delighted to announce that their online learning system – CU Learn has been named as a finalist for an IITD National Training Award.CU Learn

ILCU in partnership with Aurion Learning configured and implemented a new learning management system – CU Learn in 2012, to manage and deliver online training, accredited programmes, record classroom training attendance and provide leanring and development information in one central area for the 485 affiliated credit unions, 4,500 staff and 9,500 volunteers across Ireland.

CU Learn has also supported ILCU to fulfill its obligations with regard to new regulatory requirements by placing a renewed emphasis on the training and education of its members.

The Irish Institute of Training & Development (IITD) National Awards celebrates excellence in learning and development and CU Learn has been revealed as a finalist for the Networks and Group award which recognises the unique co-operation that is now taking place between organisations who are working together in networks and groups around the country to develop training solutions to meet the demands of their industry.

Speaking about the announcement, Suzanne Ryan, Head of CU Learning & Development at ILCU, commented:

“CULearn.ie has been central in supporting our focus to facilitate the efficient administration of training and education amongst our affiliated credit unions, particularly at a time when there is a renewed emphasis on developmental support, tailored training and Continued Personal Development, in the credit union movement.

She added:

The system has already added value to ILCU and has proven good learner outcome. CU Learn is available for free to all credit unions and we encourage those not already registered to logon to www.culearn.ie and start reaping the benefits.”

Dr. Maureen Murphy, Managing Director at Aurion Learning said:

“CU Learn has been an exemplary partnership and we are very proud that it has been shortlisted for the prestigious IITD National Training Awards. We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with the learning and development team in ILCU as they continue to transform their learning and development services to Credit Unions throughout the country.”

Learning Management
CU Learn is powered by the NetDimensions’ Talent Suite. Aurion Learning is a certified reseller for NetDimension’s award-winning learning & talent management products in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The winners of the IITD awards will be revealed on Friday, 22nd March, 2013 at Killashee House Hotel, Naas.

Get the picture: adding the right images to your e-learning content

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by Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer at Aurion Learning

If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then it is important to ensure that you add the right pictures and images to improve your e-learning rather than distract from it. Simple – right? Well, actually yes.

This article contains tips and advice to ensure that you get the picture to maximise your e-learning environment.

Knowing your photos from your icons

There are three main types of images:

  1. Icons –They are multi-use clip-art type images such as, Important, Test Question, Review Point, or Key Fact. iconfinder has a good free range of icons to use.
  2. Graphics – a graphic is a designed image and are very specific. Graphics can be charts or graphs; they can be illustrations or word art.
  3. Photographs – Finding the right photo that portrays everything that you want and are trying to represent can be a powerful tool, however, these images can be hard to find, particularly if you are not a professional photographer! We have listed below an assortment of both paid for and free images that you can use:

Finding your images:

Firstly it is important to clarify that you can’t copy and upload images from google. If you don’t have a bank of images, you can find images on commercial sites such as shutterstock or iStockphoto.

If you would like to find free images, you can use the Creative Commons area on Flickr or stock.xchng. You can also use Compfight to help you search for photos that you can use. Remember to read the guidelines on proper attribution!

If you want to add your own text to the photo to illustrate a point you can use an online editing tool like PicMonkey or iPiccy.

Now that you have you images, it is important to remember the following:

Don’t over egg the pudding.

After you have spent hours pulling together the content for your e-learning environment, the last thing you want to do is to clutter the page with images. Equally, images should not be there to take up space. Take a moment before adding an image and ask ‘What is the purpose of this image? Ensure that it has relevance and reinforces what it is you are trying to get across.

Continuity

It is important that your images work with the content of your e-learning programme making it easier for participants to focus and don’t serve as a distraction. It is also worth noting that the images also need to work with each other.

Classic ROI for learning

by Glynn Jung

In this second instalment of learning analytics, Glynn discusses the classic approach to return on investment (ROI) for learning.

If you take the accountants’ approach to ROI for learning analysis there are five important points to note;

  1. The assumptions made before conducting the analysis are important and you must document them.
  2. It takes more than one ROI model to establish value, and not all ROI models will be valid for a given case.
  3. Collaboration with customers and senior management in identifying Learning benefits is critical; ROI determination is not a one-sided exercise.
  4. It is too easy to fall prey to the temptation to just “play with the numbers” until an acceptable result appears.
  5. Calculators can only “do numbers” – they can’t compute the value of the intangibles.

There are a number of classic approaches to show the financial impact that a given investment (your e-learning project) will have on a business.

Payback

The issue here is “How long will it take to get all the investment back?” Payback analysis results are expressed in months or years. This is calculated as the net investment amount divided by the average annual cash flow from the investment. The payback analysis is easy to use and easy to understand. However, it does not take into account the time value of money (which is addressed by another model, Net Present Value, or NPV). Payback also does not consider the financial performance of the investment after break-even   Payback is best used to establish relative priority between potential projects.

Accounting Rate of Return (ARR)

This is another “simple” method for calculating the return on a major project. It gives a quick estimate of a project’s payback, supports comparisons between projects Calculating return on investment and it also considers returns for the entire life of the project.

Net Present Value (NPV)

Net Present Value is best used for long-term projects. It considers the time value of money- it expresses future cash flows in terms of their value today. While this is the strength of NPV, it also means that this method is not appropriate for projects that do not have clearly defined cash flows, or when the benefits of the project are not financial. NPV can be tricky!

Internal Rate of Return (IRR)

IRR is not as easy for non-accountants to understand or to calculate as NPV. I don’t even understand the terminology let alone the techniques.

Full business impact: the Balanced Scorecard

Many human performance interventions have complex effects on business results. In recent years, the best known method of impact assessment has probably been the balanced scorecard.

The balanced scorecard looks at the effect of a project in four areas:

  1. financial,
  2. customers,
  3. learning and
  4. internal processes.

It is holistic and long-term, and it is forward-looking. Financial results are still an important area considered, but they are not the only element.

If your organisation uses balanced scorecards it may be useful to relate the benefits of your Learning project to each of the four areas of the scorecard. Show how the program objectives relate to the objectives and important questions in each area. The emphasis is on process, not on metrics.

ROI for learning (in times of rapid change)

Measuring return on investment by Glynn Jung

Measurement and accountability have long been the order of the day in most organisations. Those infamous three little words; return on investment (ROI) analysis has been a standard tool in a manager’s kit and deployed when needed. There are however a few challenges however with ROI:

  1. there’s a number of techniques or methods to learn and use;
  2. these techniques and methods sit more easily with accountants than learning and development specialists and
  3. determining ROI can be a long and ponderous process when often operating units within the organisation need us to address their needs very quickly.

So is there a rapid approach for an impatient world? Well yes, there are in fact two such approaches that I’ve been using: Critical Mistakes Analysis (CMA) and Fast-track Proficiencies.

But firstly “traditional ROI”: ROI is not a tool that you can use to prove the value of ALL Learning – it’s just a tactical tool, not a strategic weapon. We see it often used to justify a move from traditional training to self-directed eLearning but this is only really valid in regulatory training e.g. iterative Aviation Cabin Crew training for certification purposes. This is training which has to be done and proven to have been done. In this context we can reasonably claim to offer a return on investment via shortened time to competence and reduced or eliminated indirect costs such as shift rota cover, travel or machine / simulator time, expert support and tuition time.

Apart from those situations, I suggest that many organisations struggle to develop precise and meaningful ROI based on classic accountants’ techniques because:

  • they rarely calculate the cost and value of people’s time and efforts;
  • they rarely have precise targets for focusing the training  – i.e. what it is that needs to change or improve and what are the benchmarks for this and
  • there is little evidence of a direct relationship between training / learning and improved competence in the workplace.

We’ve struggled with this for decades. Way back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I worked with IBM on their methodologies, (SATD and SATE) for demonstrating the value of training to the organisation. Like Kirkpatrick’s Level Four  – improved organisational performance – it proved increasingly frustrating to prove the link or outcome.

Even when you have done your due diligence and used the appropriate method to calculate the expected return, getting decision-makers to accept your analysis requires presentation, negotiation, collaboration, compromise, and persuasion. Think of it as a consensus-based process. It’s certainly rarely a quick fix for a problem. Additionally some people, like me, struggle to work like an accountant.

So are there any ways of ensuring that targeted learning or training can really deliver benefits, and do so rapidly? Well, there are two approaches that I’ve been using for a number of years which can be proved to deliver a return on investment (training time, expert time, learner time et al). These two approaches are:

  1. Critical Mistakes Analysis” and  
  2. “Fast-track proficiencies”.

Critical Mistakes Analysis

CMA is a proprietary methodology offered by Cognitive Arts, a subsidiary of NIIT. CMA derived from a US Government initiative to determine if it could ever be possible to guarantee a return on investment for training. By analysing the data gathered from major Six Sigma (no, don’t switch off) projects they found that a small number of very common mistakes caused most of the damage in an organisation. This was in every sector imaginable – manufacturing, logistics, health care, education, research, pharmaceuticals etc.

They were even able to put a cost against these common mistakes and so define the value of fixing them. The multi-year research project upheld the 80/20 rule and also spawned a commercial organisation with proprietary methodology. The thing is – all organisations have loads of data, of anecdotal evidence to point to where we should focus our attention for fixing mistakes; even the IT Help Desk records  – we don’t really need Six Sigma to find out what to fix. What typically is delivered as an intervention, by the way, is a 4 to 7 minute online tutorial and assessment for each fix, supported by simple online reference materials.

Fast-track Proficiencies

A CMA type approach will help reduce or eliminate the most damaging problems. Fast-Track Proficiencies on the other hand will help you deliver the key proficiencies essential to each different role. The approach came out of work done by Steve Rosenbaum and Jim Williams which resulted in a new, simple-to-implement set of techniques to help get employees up to speed in record time. It is all documented in their book: “Learning Paths: Increase profits by reducing the time it takes to get employees up-to-speed” (Pfeiffer and ASTD Press 2004), which includes a CD with templates and procedures for identifying key proficiencies. I was able to implement the techniques with a client immediately after reading the book.  It even includes a rapid approach called 30/30 Learning Paths for tackling just a handful of proficiencies in a role, (not least to prove to yourselves that it really works). Again, what is typically delivered is a blend of short tutorials and online workplace support information. For more information visit http://www.learningpathsinternational.com, check out the contents of the book via the “look inside” facility on Amazon or just buy the book.

Glynn will continue to discuss the classic approach to ROI in our next blog edition. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

The eLearning forecast for 2013

Here we take stock and reflect upon the main predictions and trends shared at, what is probably Europe’s most exciting show for eLearning – Learning Technologies. Apps, videos, HTML 5, learning analytics and curation were just a few of the common eLearning trends that will be recurring throughout 2013.

mLearning and Apps

With so much talk about mobile learning in 2012, it looked set to make a real impact in the way that eLearning was delivered, but many organisations have been slow to uptake mobile learning on a large-scale. Having said that, mlearning is starting to come into its own and will inevitably increase as more people pursue to use personal devices to learn.

According to ABI Research, 36 billion apps were downloaded in 2012, and 136 billion will be downloaded by 2017.  This will certainly give some food for thought amongst L&D professionals.

Gavin Woods and Barry Kelly from Aurion Learning at Learning Technologies 2013 exhibition, Olympia 2 London.

Gavin Woods and Barry Kelly from Aurion Learning at Learning Technologies 2013 exhibition, Olympia 2 London.

HTML 5

As eLearning takes an advanced move into the mobile scene, it is likely that HTML5 will be on the forefront of eLearning. L&D professionals will be looking for easy to use templates that create efficiency and compliment the classroom based learning activities.

Video

It is estimated that eight hours of new video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Visually persuasive and easily consumed, video was making waves in 2012 and looks set to continue throughout the year. It is likely that we will be seeing a surge in video usage as organisations embed their learning content into web courses, You Tube and learning databases.

Learning analytics

Measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners will be high on the agenda of L&D professionals this year. Effectively gathering data on usage on what learners are doing will make learning more usable and demonstrate learning efficiency and success easier.

Curation

The amount of digital information available is said to double every 18 to 24 months. As a result, of this “digital noise”, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the right information and apply this to the needs of learners. Not necessarily a new revolutionary concept, curation will however have an increased role this year as it will help learners cut through the noise to get the information they need. Curation will enable providers to respond quicker to learning needs by creating new programmes with existing resource.

Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting

By Maresa Molloy

Many e-learning programmes today are built for compliance training, which more often than not means that learners are faced with boring and tedious ‘page-turner’ programmes.

E-learning guru and author Michael Allen has spent years fighting this trend for monotonous
e-learning. In his book, Designing Successful e-Learning: Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting, Allen proposes alternative ways of designing e-learning to ensure it’s interesting and engaging for learners. Although published 5 years ago Allen’s book, which is aimed at experienced instructional designers, is still included on many university reading lists and is worthy of review.

So what is Allen’s main proposal in the book?

Designing Successful e-Learning: Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting is divided into three parts:

Part 1 – ‘Scenarios’ presents a selection of e-learning scenarios and asks the reader what they would do in these situations. This questions the readers’ current approach to designing e-learning programmes and opens their mind to the possibility of designing programmes differently.

Part 2 – ‘The Art and Science of Instructional Design’ provides a critique of how instructional design is practiced today. It introduces readers to the ‘Success Based Design’ practiced by the author, which he believes encompasses the best elements of current instructional design theories.

Part 3 – ‘Designing Successful e-Learning’ explains how readers can apply a Success Based Design to their own e-learning programmes. Allen suggests that instructional designers provide learners with meaningful, memorable and motivational experiences, which he says you can do by:

  • setting the programme in the context of the learner’s real-life environment;
  • by providing the learner with a challenge they are likely to encounter in this environment;
  • by providing the learner with activities that help them to solve the challenge; and
  • by providing them with intrinsic feedback – based on their performance of the activity.

The e-learning programme is meant to provide learners with a safe environment in which they can try out different options and solutions, and make informed decisions based on their mistakes and successful attempts. The success of the programme is then measured by how well they do in the real environment.

Allen’s approach contrasts with traditional e-learning which provides learners with pages of content, followed by an assessment to see if learners can remember the content. Instead of just focusing on the content, Allen places emphasis on whether or not learners can apply their knowledge in a real-life task.

Is the Success Based Design a better approach than the traditional approach?
In my opinion, the Success Based Design is clearly a better approach to take. It facilitates production of
a more interesting and engaging programme and encourages learners to gain a deeper understanding of the learning content, and how to apply that learning in real-life contexts.

For example, a Success Based e-learning programme that helps nurses diagnose specific sinus problems with their patients would present the learner (the nurse) with typical scenarios. In each scenario, the learner asks the patient (or programme) questions about their symptoms and they observe the patient for physical symptoms. From this information, they can then submit their diagnosis and the programme will give them feedback. The scenario is reflective of a real-life task and challenge the nurse is likely to face at work.

The main limitation with Allen’s approach is that learners do not have to read all of the content. They can choose which scenarios they want to do and they can skip those scenarios that they think they know well. Traditional e-learning programmes, on the other hand, tend to be compliance-based which means that learners are forced to read all of the pages of content.

Nevertheless, the Success Based Approach focuses more on improving the understanding of learners and focuses less on compliance. Focusing on learners’ needs should always be a priority.


How well does the author deliver the content?
Allen describes the Success Based Approach very thoroughly in his book and provides useful diagrams and tables to explain his methods. He can be somewhat repetitive at times, for example, he repeats much of the same information about context, challenge, activity and feedback across several different chapters on designing instruction.

He also falls short of providing a step-by-step guide on designing e-learning programmes using this approach, and in providing practical examples of how it would look in an e-learning programme. For example, he does not show how the layout of the navigation and menus would look like. This would help give a clearer understanding of how he proposes to move away from the traditional layout and design.

Are there any limitations with his approach?
The Success Based Design is an excellent approach. However, I feel that because e-learning is a component of the overall training strategy of an organisation, many organisations would need to
re-evaluate their current training strategies before implementing a Success Based e-Learning programme. For example, many organisations today are still providing learners with endless amounts of PowerPoint slides in a training room, instead of providing them with interactive, scenario-based activities which are much more meaningful. If organisations update their overall training strategy, then a Success Based e-Learning programme would suit the organisation’s training culture and norms.


How well does the book rate in relation to other books on Instructional Design?
Designing Successful e-Learning is still a popular book on the market. Allen uses a friendly and informal tone to deliver some very useful advice on how to design successful e-learning. He breaks away from some of the traditional books which are heavily laden in theory and jargon, and speaks to the reader on a level they can understand. I would therefore recommend this book to any Instructional Designer who wants to improve their current approach to designing e-learning.

Are there further resources available from the author?
Michael Allen has a useful website where you can access information about his other books and other e-learning resources:

http://www.alleninteractions.com/michael-allens-books

Book information:

Designing Successful e-Learning: Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting – Michael Allen’s Online Learning Library

Publication Date: 12 Jun 2007 | ISBN-10: 0787982997 | ISBN-13: 978-0787982997

E-Learning Market Review Part II: Mergers and Acquisitions in 2012

By Glynn Jung

Back at the start of 2012 I attempted to make sense of the jumble of mergers and acquisitions across the digital learning market.

At that time I commented on the convergence of education and corporate sectors using Bluedrop and Serebra as illustrations. This trend continues including, for example, the high volume of Moodle implementations in the public and private sectors – away from their education sector heartland. This is helped no doubt by the emergence of commercial wrap-around  solutions but there is also the factor that Open Source is now trusted by major organisations (and ISVs including Microsoft) as well as interfaces and plug-ins for .NET technologies. We are also seeing IWB specialists SMART and Promethean increasingly penetrating the corporate market.

The social media sector similarly continues to show an appetite for growth, demonstrated by the recent acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft.

I also commented previously on the inexorable growth of big organisations in the Talent Management market by acquisition of niche players. In January the wedding of Kenexa and Outstart (respectively Talent Management and LCMS giants) was announced. Since then the resulting combined organisation has been bought by IBM. The earlier acquisition of Plateau Systems LMS by SuccessFactors, to contribute SuccessFactors Learning to the whole Talent Management Suite, was followed at the end of 2011 by SuccessFactors themselves being swallowed up by SAP … with the whole integration process still under way it seems.

So what we are witnessing is the continuing battle between Oracle (with their PeopleSoft and Taleo acquisitions), IBM and SAP for the Enterprise Software market including HCMS and Talent Management.

On the plus side it seems as though every major acquisition (there are few genuine “partnerships between equals”) leaves doors wide open and rooms empty for niche players to step into. The LMS market, for example, continues to witness mergers and acquisitions across all sectors but to stay steady at the 250 – 280 suppliers level. Why so many? Well possibly it’s to do with increasing digitisation of learning, training and assessment, with increased volumes and complexity of different regulatory and compliance systems and, particularly, the variety and sophistication of Open Source communities and their work.

Across the road in classroom world, the traditional classroom model has been successfully disrupted as commented upon by Clayton Christensen in “Disrupting Class”, which in 2008 was seen as somewhat heretical or hysterical. Nowadays the digital campus and classroom are a reality, as are Open Content and services such as the phenomenal Khan Academy. I am currently working on networked digital classrooms for manufacturing and assembly workers … an unimagined concept until very recently.

Consulting and classroom training companies continue to acquire what they see as eLearning companies but they are frequently disappointed and frustrated by the difficulties presented by moving into product markets, by the sales cycles and most tellingly by the price pressure driving down margins.

And so it goes … and will probably continue…

Push or Pull E-learning – Which is Better?

by Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer 

I recently came across an article by Tom Kuhlmann of the Rapid E-learning blog entitled “Are Your E-Learning Courses Pushed or Pulled?” Although a few years old it got me thinking, because the issue is still completely relevant today. Is it better to push content onto learners or is it better to let learners decide what learning content they want or need to learn? And isn’t there an inherent risk in letting the learner make such an important decision?

The push approach to e-learning

The push approach to e-learning is very traditional. Like a school curriculum which is laid out module by module, traditional push e-learning programmes follow a similar cycle:

Learners work through each module in sequence and take the assessment at the end to test their knowledge. Each module is compulsory and while learners might encounter knowledge checks as they work through the content, the final assessment tests their learning on the entire programme.

A push type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages Disadvantages
It’s a traditional style of learning which most learners are familiar with. Learners must complete all modules, despite the fact that they may already be familiar with some of the learning content.
You can ensure that your learners have at least seen the entire programme. It assumes your learners approach the programme with the same amount of prerequisite knowledge and need to acquire the same amount of new knowledge.
It can enlighten learners to new information they would not have otherwise read. Learners may not be motivated to learn all of the content, especially if they feel they already know it.

The pull approach to e-learning

The pull approach to e-learning is based on what the learner wants to learn. It recognises that some learners don’t need to take the entire programme and that different learners enter the e-learning programme with different levels of knowledge.

As with the push approach to e-learning, you provide learners with all the learning content, but you arrange it in a way that the learner gets to choose which modules they want to take in order to fill in their knowledge gaps.

You also create a reason to use the content (objectives). For example you could present learners with a real-life task or question they would typically encounter in their work or role, and allow them to choose which modules they want to take to be able to complete that task or answer that question.

For example, a pull type e-learning programme on improving the Customer Service skills of Waiting Staff would typically begin with the following question:

“It’s a busy Friday night at the restaurant, how would you serve your customers to ensure that they have a pleasant and satisfactory experience?”

You then provide the learner with modules on Customer Service such as Communication Skills; Preparing and Serving Food; and Etiquette and Complaints Handling.

The learner accesses the modules that they  believe will help them to answer the question satisfactorily and skips the learning content that they already know.  At the end of the programme, they take an assessment which allows them to answer the original question on how they would serve customers satisfactorily.

This type of e-learning programme is illustrated below:

A pull type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages Disadvantages
Learning is interactive and engaging. Learners skip modules which may enhance their knowledge.
Learning is set in context, i.e. it replicates real-world scenarios. The non-traditional format may not appeal to all learners.
Learners have autonomy over their learning and are more motivated to learn. Some learners may need more guidance in their learning.

Push or pull?

So which approach should you use in your e-learning – Push or Pull?

Push type e-learning programmes are more suited to delivering compliance-based programmes and when you want to ensure that your learners have at least viewed all of the learning content.

On the other hand, pull type e-learning programmes offer instructional designers more of a challenge but at the same time more flexibility. They’re more suitable for when you want to give learners real-life scenario-based challenges to complete, opportunities to improve their performance, and autonomy over their own learning. They are ideal for non-compliance training and just-in-time learning.

Knowing which approach to use requires an understanding of your learners and what will best serve their needs.

7 Questions You Must Ask Before Purchasing an LMS

by Gavin Woods, Client Account & Sales Manager 

The right learning management system (LMS) can be a powerful tool that empowers your learners and your learning team, and brings real tangible benefits to your organisation. But it’s essential you buy the right solution for your organisation.

In this presentation, Gavin Woods outlines 7 key questions you must ask before purchasing a learning management system (LMS).


What is Succession Planning?

In the last of our guest blog posts on talent management, Steve Curtis, EMEA Channel Director at NetDimensions talks about performance appraisals and PDPs.

Two people passing a baton

First of all a statement on Succession Planning; this statement might not be true, but it is my firm belief after many years of working with businesses all around Europe. It is this…

Succession Planning is the single most important and critical piece of functionality in the Talent Management suite – however it is:

1) the last one that you should implement, and
2) possibly the hardest piece of functionality to get right.

Sorry if this is in bold – I would probably put it in flashing lights as well if I could…

Consider this – how many times have you seen companies lose their way and quickly lose market share, profits and shareholder value when the wrong person is appointed into a critical position? How many times have you read about the time it has taken to appoint someone else into a critical position, and seen the impact that this delay has had on all the above, and on the other side of the coin, how many times has success of a business been linked directly to the critical talent that is the driving force or forces behind the company.

Often this is the CEO or Managing Director of the group, but just as often it is the Chief Financial Officer or the technical boffins in the company that are the financial and the creative brains and therefore just as critical to the performance of the company.

Succession Planning is therefore about one major thing – making the right decisions about who inside the company is able to step into the critical positions at the right time. The right time might be an emergency – what happens is the CEO falls ill? What happens if a critical technical person decides to resign to pursue something different? There are many circumstances that will lead to businesses losing people that are fundamentally critical to the business, and in a large company there could be hundreds of critical positions.

Another what happens if the business doesn’t have a replacement, capable of stepping into a critical position? The business will have to go outside to the market to recruit the right person, and this will have several large negative impacts:

Immediate Financial Cost
Critical roles will almost certainly have a large salary and benefits package attached to them, and therefore head-hunter and associated costs will be high. Most head-hunters charge companies based on the value of the employee, and often they will charge the equivalent of between 6 months and 1 full year of the person’s salary that they are recruiting – so if headhunting a new critical person, the immediate impact is likely to be a 6 figure sum disappearing off the bottom line revenue of the company. Large businesses with more than 25,000 people use head-hunters many times in a year, but used correctly, Succession Planning could reduce this significantly by better identifying and preparing worthy successors from inside the business. It has a potentially massive immediate impact on the profitability of the company.

Time to recruit
Recruiting the right person is likely to take months, and while this happens the business will have issues of various kinds, with the most obvious one being drift – without the business or technical lead in place the business will not perform as it should, and this could have a high cost over the months that the business is lacking it’s leader(s).

Time to train
People who are recruited from outside – even though they might be very skilled – still need time to get up to speed with the way the company operates. This will have a negative impact and the business will struggle while the new head takes time to start to add value.

Dissatisfaction in the existing workforce
If the company does not promote from within whenever it can, then it can cause deep unrest and dissatisfaction and can often lead to other critical members of the workforce leaving the business.

So to summarise on these points – there is a real and valuable business case for the management of succession planning – and therefore it is often seen as the most strategic and valuable part of the Talent Management suite by senior people in the business.

Succession Planning is also about doing planning for the 1 year, 2 year, and more replacement of critical talent. Planning worthy successors from inside the business takes time – so if the business starts to look at potential successors for critical senior positions what types of information do they want to have available and therefore analyse?

  1. Competencies – if a potential successor is there, how many gaps does he or she have in their competencies when you evaluate their scores on these against the competency requirements for the critical job position?
  2. Performance appraisal ratings – What have the recent performance appraisal rating been, and therefore is the potential successor a hi-po (High Performer)?
  3. Career expectations – does the person want to make the next move and take on this extra responsibility? Some people for outside reasons may have the skills but may not want the extra burden.

This is why Succession Planning and Succession Management has to be one of the last components of Talent Management to be implemented – it is useless without the metrics gained from time spent using the other components. Without this there will be insufficient data to do the analysis and then groom the identified successors.


How does a business use Succession Planning to prepare the right individuals?

The first and most critical step in Succession Planning is to identify competency gaps and appropriate training that will allow potential successors to close gaps in their competencies relative to their job position.

This will allow the business to get the internal workforce ready to take on those critical positions quicker. Communicate opportunities to the people concerned, and make sure that they are comfortable to move up if and when needed.

Succession Planning is a vital part of Talent Management and should be a very easy sell to senior people such as the HR Director and the CEO.

Performance Appraisals & PDPs

Continuing his series of guest blog posts on talent management, Steve Curtis, EMEA Channel Director at NetDimensions talks about performance appraisals and PDPs.

Person sitting on a correct tickPerformance Appraisals
So onto Performance Appraisals – I don’t know about you, but I think a lot of managers don’t really enjoy performance appraisals. In my humble experience managers in some larger organisations will complete a performance appraisal because HR tell them that they have to, but they will put as little effort into the thing as possible and in reality their views in the appraisal will be far too subjective. If they like the person, then the appraisee will get a good rating, and if they don’t it’s highly unlikely that that person will do well, irrespective of their ability to do the job.

So this then is the conundrum of HR – most HR managers understand this, and so want to achieve two things:

  • Remove subjectivity and replace it with objectivity.
  • Make the process as easy as possible for all concerned.

Every company I have worked for in the software world has used a different form for performance appraisals, and since I have worked for a number of companies for more than 5 years, I have seen performance appraisal forms change inside a company a few times as well. This is the challenge for the software business that wants to supply this functionality to clients – they will have one way of doing it, and often they will want you to replicate this in software – which is difficult to do without customisation.

Constituents of a Performance Appraisal
I’m not going to tell you in this blog what a performance appraisal is – I’d actually be quite worried if you don’t know this….however let’s for a minute consider the type of things that different companies might (or might not) want inside a performance appraisal.

  • A review of the past period – often 6 months or more often 12 months – including a competency review – has the appraisee got better in the competencies related to his or her job during the period?
  • A review of objectives and progress – most HR groups want their employees to be set objectives at the start of the period and then the performance appraisal is the formal assessment of progress against those objectives. Objectives can be personal in nature, or can be linked to department, business unit, or company objectives.
  • A review of the next period – setting and agreeing some objectives for the next period. These again can be supplemented during the period if needed.
  • An overall rating – some organisations want an overall rating for the appraisee.
  • A skills review – what skills does the appraisee have that do not directly tie to their current role?

Some organisations might have more than this, but some will have less. Some will separate the objective setting for the following year, and want to put this into a separate area and time. Evaluating a person’s performance in a given year may sound easy, but with management changes happening quite often in large organisations, and changes of role, these can make performance appraisals a complex area to try and handle in the real world, and to try and automate this in software can be even harder.


Benefits of Automating Performance Appraisal Management
For Talent Management what is the implication of a good process here – what are the benefits of automating this area?

  1. Automatic storage of a person’s potential improvement over time.
    Paper records in HR are an administration overhead and time consuming to manage.
  2. Automated management of the workflow process.
    Who does the appraisal or part of the appraisal need to go to and when?
  3. Conformance with regulatory requirements.
    Managing performance appraisals in this way means that the business can much easier conform with any government regulations in the area.
  4. An ability to look wider across the business and report on the critical talent much easier.
    Having this data across the business often means that it is much easier for the business to select talent pools – groups of people who can be accelerated and become the future leaders.
  5. An increase in objectivity.
    Software should allow other people to be involved in the appraisal process for more critical or senior people. This gives the business the ability to have a 360 degree view at appraisal time. Think about these things when you go to companies and talk to them about this.


The PDP and its Relationship with the Performance Appraisal
So now you understand what a performance appraisal is, what is a PDP? A PDP is a Personal Development Plan. At the start of a period (this may be for instance when the performance appraisal for the last year has just been completed), the business will want each user to know what he or she needs to accomplish in the next period. This goals setting can include goals that the individual wants to achieve (personal goals), department goals, business unit goals etc. Goals should be capable of being pushed down through the organisation hierarchy to the individual.

So why would an individual want or need a personal goal? Perhaps they want a promotion or want to move roles into a more senior position. It might be that some of the competencies required to be in this position are ones that the person needs to have training in order to improve his or her rating. Personal goals always need agreement from management but are often a critical element of the PDP.  The PDP is a living breathing and evolving document during the period, and the goals from the PDP then drop into the Performance Appraisal at the end of the period, and the user is formally rated against those goals at that time.

Does this Have an Effect on Compensation?
A pretty obvious question, but one you need to be aware of in software terms. Compensation is often directly or indirectly tied to ratings and scores from performance appraisals. Objectives set for the period often have bonus pay linked to them, and so if you remember the Gartner diagram from my second blog in this series (Talent Management 2: Competencies, Ratings, Scales & Pitfalls) compensation management is a part of Talent Management, and you will sometimes get request from businesses to link the performance appraisal process through into a compensation product.

There is a lot more to Performance Management but that will do for now. A lot to think about – but think of it from the viewpoint of the person who is wanting to buy – what the HR director wants will be different to the CEO, and different to the business unit manager. We’ll discuss that a little more next week.

Talent Management: Terms & 9 Box Reporting

Continuing his series of guest blog posts on talent management, Steve Curtis, EMEA Channel Director at NetDimensions talks terms and 9 box reporting. Confused? Read on.

Terms and 9 Box Reporting
This week I’ve decided to write up a bit on Talent Management terminology as a lighter bite for the week. I’ve gone into some functional depth in the last few weeks and so thought it would be good to maybe lighten things for a week.

Hippos and Hippies
I’ll start to drill into Performance Management in the next few weeks, but before I do I’d like to look at the terms so that when I then talk about them everyone is not confused…

Hippos (actually Hi-Po’s) are High Potentials. High Potentials are people in the business who have been recognised as being possible leaders of the business in the future. I actually found a pretty funny website here http://www.highpotentialssociety.org/Society/society.html for people who want to classify themselves as high potentials – but the reality is that in business it is important to be able to identify those people who have the potential in the future to really drive the business forward. To understand who is a high potential, and to understand more just google the term – you’ll find loads of data about this term.

Hippies (actually Hi-Pe’s) are High Performers. High Performers are people in the business who in their current role are performing very well, and are good at what they do. They will normally be very competent in their job role, and will be getting high scores in their performance appraisals.

9 Box Reporting
It makes sense that a person who is a high performer could also be a high potential – but a high performer might not be a high potential for a number of reasons. Maybe the person is happy where they are and does not want the extra responsibility that comes with a more senior position. Maybe the person is in a deeply technical role where there is no value to the business in moving them further up the organisation.

HR Directors have therefore found a diagrammatic way of dropping people into boxes in a graphical report commonly called a 9 box report. It is a matrix where one axis rates people based on their high potential score and the other axis rates them on their high performance score. I like this diagrammatic view.

9 Box Reporting

As you can see, if you put people into the various spaces in the grid, then you know a bit more what you should do with them. Software systems give the business the ability to rate people as Hippos, Hippies, or both – however I would always remember that the system is just a tool – companies still have to rely on the abilities of their managers to rate individuals – a bad rating because of lack of knowledge can still drop an individual in the wrong box…and this can be detrimental to the business and to the individual.

Businesses try their hardest to retain people in most quadrants, and will try to have their churn (rate at which people leave and join) be of people in the bottom left quadrant.

By the way – two interesting things:

1. There is also a 16 box – where the scales are 4 by 4. However the more boxes the harder the management becomes.

2. I once met a senior HR manager at a UK event who presented on this subject. She spent a lot of her time producing a set of 9 box reports for her 100,000 person organisation. She was very proud of the myriad of excel spreadsheets she maintained…a lot of hard work that modern Talent Management systems should now support.

Talent Pools
I would love to define this this week but I’ve come to the end of this week’s chapter – so let’s talk through Talent Pools next week, and then we’ll move into Performance Management after that.


Talent Management & Competency Assessments

Continuing his series of guest blog posts on talent management, Steve Curtis, EMEA Channel Director at NetDimensions talks about competencies and assessments.

360 Assessment
Competencies and Assessments

Many of us think of assessments as things that are used in learning to assess a user’s understanding of a set of education. Assessments in the Talent Management world are a different beast altogether, and the purpose of this week’s blog is to review assessments in the world of Talent Management.

Last week I talked a bit about competencies – leadership and technical. The critical talent in a business can be the people who are identified as the future potential leaders of that business, but can also be the deep techies, who we can all love to hate, but who at the same time are sometimes the more critical talent of the business. People with the ability to lead effectively are in demand, but some technical abilities can be truly unique and therefore quite often it is the people with technical competencies that can be the critical talent for the business.

At some point each year (and for some businesses and roles at multiple points during the year), the business will want to have a person’s competencies assessed formally. Assessments of this kind normally are not something that you can do via a test – it is not an assessment that we, with our learning backgrounds think of – it is normally more of a subjective measure of the abilities of an individual, and this is where there can be a challenge for the business and for HR.

The 360 degree Assessment

Let’s give a real example of this in action. Fred is a call centre manager, and at a personal level his manager doesn’t really like him much. However he is good at the job, is liked by the people who report into him, and has a good reputation with the customers. In a normal organisation with a pyramid organisational structure, and in a pressured business environment, it might only be his manager that will formally score him against his competencies, and this might cause an issue since his manager doesn’t really like him. More and more businesses and HR are therefore trying to move to a 360 degree assessment model, where Fred is assessed by his manager, by the people who report into him, and by other people, including maybe even the customers who work with him, and the people who work alongside him.

This is called a 360 degree competency assessment, and there is software out there that will do this automatically. The benefit of this approach is that the ratings become more objective and less subjective if the business involves all the right people in the rating of his ability to do the job. Some software will allow the business to weight the scores, so that maybe the manager’s rating counts for 50% of the score, the subordinates total 30% etc….

There is always a negative to this and the gotcha here is that the more people you involve, the more time it takes, and the more admin it needs – paralysis by analysis again can easily rear its ugly head.

Things to think through with assessments

Competency assessments can be as complex an area as the business wants it to be – consider these questions:

1. Should a rater be named on the assessment, or be anonymous? If someone rates you with a poor score would the business want the person being rated to know who it was that gave him that low score. The ability to set a rater as anonymous is sometimes asked for, but both ways can have positives and negatives – anonymous ratings with comments are often constructively more useful as the rater feels more able to be honestly constructive about the rating. However anonymous ratings may not give the person being rated the ability to ask the rater why a rating was given or how they could improve. So there is not a right answer here.

2. How many people should be involved? – the more the better, but too many and you get paralysis through analysis.

3. Should you have different setups for different jobs? – for instance if you have a retail organisation with high turnover and you set the assessment so that everyone is assessed in a 360 degree way, is it right to have a shelf stacker rated in the same way as a senior manager – of course not – so you need to have a flexible approach where 360 degree assessments may only be used for areas of the business and people where it will benefit the organisation.

4. Do you want comments at all, or just ratings? – comments can help but again take longer to put into the system.

5. Should you even involve the extended enterprise? – customers and suppliers – should they be involved at all in rating your people? Their opinion will count for customer and supplier facing people, but do you want to expose them to your internal appraisal systems.

Trends and my thoughts

There are lots of considerations here, and there is no right answer, but to finish off this week with some high level trends and thoughts:

1. There is a movement away from subjectivity towards objectivity.

2. Some organisation wrap the competency assessment into the performance appraisal – but the 360 degree assessment can be done at any time of the year, and often businesses will isolate one from the other.

3. When linking competencies to learning the last thing most organisations want is to have the rating of a person move upwards automatically after the person involved has attended training related to a competency. Businesses are much more interested in seeing that the training has allowed the person to be more effective in that aspect of their job, and so while we often want to link competencies to training so that the business can allocate suitable training based on competency gaps, the business will want to have a period of time then after the training before the 360 assessment to see how the training has affected the competency of their workforce. Some systems allow the business to visualise the uplift in competencies and link this to delivered training and this is one of the “nirvanas” for the L&D department….

Enough for this week….next week I’ll move on to Performance Appraisals – a subject we should all know well.

Talent Management 2: Competencies, Ratings, Scales & Pitfalls

Continuing his series of guest blog posts on talent management, Steve Curtis, EMEA Channel Director at NetDimensions talks about competencies, ratings, scales and pitfalls. 

Another week gone; I can focus back on one of my areas of interest – competencies and use of competency frameworks.

Again – like most of the Talent Management space – the use of competencies by clients will vary, but generally competencies fall into two main categories – technical and functional/leadership.

Fundamental Building Blocks
Understanding competencies in a business means that first you need to understand where and how competencies might be used. They are the glue that joins learning to the other areas of Talent Management and they are a fundamental building block if a business is to have success in this area.

When I say a fundamental building block, if you compare a Talent Management strategy to a large house, then competencies are the foundation bricks that allow you to then construct the rest of the house. Think about it this way…if you assume that Learning is not there purely to put a tick in the box for compliance, and you think about the broader business drivers for a business wanting to deploy learning, then you have to start to think about the business being able to quickly get it’s people well trained at the jobs they do. People in the business who are already well trained (and competent) will want to use training as one of the components to enable them to move upwards in the business. The business will want to use training to fill any gaps in knowledge where they are possibly considering a person for a senior and critical position for the business (this is part of succession planning).
All of these situations first of all require the business to have a defined set of competencies, and without them none of these activities will work.


Gartner’s View of Talent Management
At this point it’s probably worth going back to my blog last week – I said then that there was a fairly simple diagram that I liked about Talent Management – and this is it:

Gartners View of Talent Management

This is Gartner’s view of  Talent Management – and the reason why it’s good to bring it out now is that you can see two things from this: Competencies go across the entire strategy & learning is only one of 7 pillars.

So moving from Learning into Talent is a big step.

Implementing Frameworks
The next questions to think through are:

1. How long does it take to define a competency framework?

2. Who needs to be involved?

3. Do companies sell frameworks?

Unfortunately the answers to the first two are not easy….I spent a full day at Disney in Orlando a couple of years ago sitting in a room in one of their hotels defining and mapping the competencies for 2 fictional jobs that we used for an exercise with about 10 clients. Defining

competencies can take a long time, and you typically need to involve the business leads – the people who know what is needed to do the job well. Therefore there is time and cost involved in defining the framework.
One interesting aspect to question 3 – you will tend to find that a lot of companies sell leadership based frameworks as Leadership is fairly well understood and the competencies of a leader therefore tend to be fairly well defined. However technical competencies are often specific to the business, and often therefore take more time to define – as the business needs to do this from scratch normally.

Paralysis through analysis
HR Directors can be quite critical of competency frameworks – some of them have already gone through one round of trying to implement them and if you’re not careful implementing a framework too deeply can cause paralysis through analysis – the business takes so long defining, and then measuring scores for individuals relative to their job/role that it costs the business too much money and things grind slowly to a halt.

Focus on strengths
Not many systems out there allow businesses to focus on strengths – most systems look at competency gaps – and this tends to make businesses focus on weaknesses and not strengths – I got a lot of feedback in my time from HR Directors who when selecting key Talent wanted to focus on strengths – often the most Talented people can actually be quite annoying people, and they often have some real weaknesses – but this is outweighed by their strengths. So don’t think that competencies and using them is the panacea for everything Talent related….

Competency rating scales
To be most effective each competency has to have an associated rating scale. This then let’s a business rate their people on that scale. Person A might have a rating of 1 out of 5, and person B has a rating of 4 out of 5. Training requirements will differ for person A than person B.

Next week
Next week I’ll talk about ratings for competencies and how these can be done. This will bring us onto 360 degree assessments and performance appraisals.

Information Overload: Why Your Knowledge Dump E-learning Will FAIL

By Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer

Man at computer surrounded by filesWe love when clients come to us full of enthusiasm for a new e-learning programme but comments like: “Our staff need to know our policies – let’s put them online into an e-learning programme,” or “We need to make sure they’ve read all the material – an e-learning programme is perfect!” can set the alarm bells ringing.

Educating staff on new information, and identifying whether or not they’ve read and understood the material, are perfectly good reasons for developing an e-learning programme. Bombarding your staff with everything you know about the information and making sure they can recite it word perfect is not.

Imagine trying to educate your staff on Health & Safety and providing them with pages and pages of policies and procedures on Health & Safety and then expecting them to list these verbatim. This is clearly not a good idea – they’ll never remember all of the material and they’ll get bored fairly quickly.

Now imagine providing your staff with a course which teaches them the key information on these policies and procedures and showing them how to apply these in their work. This is clearly more effective.

But how do you split the wheat from the chaff?

At Aurion Learning, we believe that the key to designing a successful, performance based e-learning programme is to identify current performance gaps. To do this, we use what we call our ‘DIF analysis’:

  • What tasks do your learners find Difficult?
  • What tasks do they find Important to their jobs?
  • What tasks do they do Frequently?

Once you know these tasks, you can design a course which targets what they really need to learn, and furthermore, you can spend more time and resources focusing on making this content more interactive and enjoyable.

Don’t Do
Assume that your goal is to increase their knowledge. Identify what they need to do differently.
Provide all of the information you have on the subject. Provide only the information that can help them do something differently.
Ensure that they know all of the information. Ensure that they can use the information.

(Source material Cathy Moore)

TEDxBelfast – Maureen Murphy & The Curse of Knowledge

TEDxBelfast Dr. Maureen Murphy

Aurion Learning’s Managing Director, Dr. Maureen Murphy, was a speaker at recent the TEDxBelfast event which took place in Belfast’s iconic Titanic Building on June 6th, 2012

Joined by a range of speakers from Belfast, Vancouver, Kenya and Dublin the rather fitting theme of the night was ‘Titanic Ideas’.

Maureen’s TEDxTalk was entitled ‘The Curse of Knowledge‘ and focused on the search for better models of learning. Maureen said that 70% of traditional work-based training is a waste of money and suggested better ways of making learning stick, including better use of story-based and social approaches, and noting being afraid to raise emotions.

You can view the full talk here: TEDxBelfast – Maureen Murphy – The Curse of Knowledge

About TEDx

TEDx was created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading.” The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.

At TEDx events, a screening of TEDTalks videos — or a combination of live presenters and TEDTalks videos — sparks deep conversation and connections. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.

GRAPHENE vs Microchips – Your Days are Numbered

by Glynn Jung 

Grapene carbon monolayer.

Grapene carbon monolayer. The discovery of graphene results in a Nobel prize for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov in 20

Now here’s an admission: when I joined IBM’s Research Labs back in the autumn of 1969 we were designing the next generation of computers on valve computers the size of a Town Hall. Some of the machines I worked on had 10 printers, each the size of a Ford Ka. At an astonishing pace we exploited each latest machine to design the next technology, ever smaller ever faster and typically designed to do things that people didn’t know they wanted to do.

Smaller, lighter, faster … at the heart of this was chip technology, firstly silicon chips, then by 2005 carbon nanotube technology (silicon proving too expensive and generating dangerous levels of heat.

We regularly see startling results of chip technology on News programmes, not just computers, cameras, iPhones and iPads, car computers, airplane systems etc., etc…..  implants to help people operate prosthetic limbs, to help the blind see (currently blurry) images, to operate in hospitals with micro-surgery and non-invasive techniques.

So it’s pretty startling to find that in 10 years’ time the use of chips may start to decline, along with the technology currently used in touch-screen devices – INDIUM.

Here’s the story … Indium stocks will run out within 10 years and there’s manufacturing limits for chip technology. Imagine if you can, a material, 2 molecules thick, which can conduct thermal energy, contain the same logic and electronic functions as chips, is very strong, lets light through it (so can be used in windows, spectacles – whatever. Picture if you can this material being so versatile it can be embedded into both the finest and the most rugged of clothing.

This stuff (that’s the technical word) exists and it is called GRAPHENE.

In a special research facility, with the catchy name of “Centre for Graphene Science”, the combined knowledge of the Universities of Exeter and Bath have stirred up the scientific community with the release of their technology “GraphExeter”. Maybe they could use some help with branding?

Here’s what people have been saying:

http://www.globalscientia.com/article/united-kingdom/nano-materials-technology/new-graphene-based-material-could-revolutionize

http://www.gizmag.com/graphexeter-ito-alternative/22344/

http://www.ecouterre.com/graphene-based-conductive-material-could-revolutionize-wearable-tech/

http://www.computescotland.com/silicene-and-graphexeter-5243.php

Now, despite all the hyperbole about interactive books, mobile learning, ePub, Augmented Reality, Virtual worlds the way people learn hasn’t changed a great deal over the past 50 years.

Some of the techniques used in digital classrooms – High Definition IWBs with student polling, with visualisers and 3D modelling (e.g.  Virtalis and AutoDesk) – are gradually being looked at by corporate trainers (adopted is too strong a statement) but there are infrastructure issues, portability and cost concerns. If we can imagine a fully interactive version of an IWB that you could roll up or fold, which could be made from multi-layer Graphene (essentially reconstructed graphite …. the stuff in pencils) it could change the scene of learning. Having just seen how Google hope to use Augmented Reality in their “Project Glass”, I wonder about the ability to provide Graphene- coated glasses (or clip-on lenses) for training or enhanced safety in dangerous environments… using Augmented Reality and QR codes.

What about diagnostic manuals and study guides made of paper with Graphene sheets, so you could have interactive tutorials, links to resources like the ones you’ll find in the Khan Academy, tutor hotlines etc…..

So I’ll leave you with one final news item:

http://www.psfk.com/2012/05/wearable-electronics.html

Podcast: Strategies for Competency Modelling

Dr. Maureen Murphy Dr. Maureen Murphy, Managing Director of  Aurion Learning recently spoke to Learning Stories: Podcasting Real World Stories from The Field about strategies for competency modelling.

Maureen holds a PhD in Knowledge Based Technology Transfer and has over 20 years’ experience of developing technology-based learning tools, technologies, and strategies for organisations across the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In this podcast, you will learn:

  • How competencies are used in organisations today.
  • What considerations you may face when implementing a competency model in your organisation.
  • The technological challenges of integrating a competency model with HR and talent management processes.
  • The metrics and business impact of competency modelling.

Listen to the podcast here

Sticky Messages: Developing Learning Content that Sticks

by Glynn Jung
Don't Forget Post-it-note

It ain’t what you do……it’s the way that you do it. So goes the old song and in my mind this includes getting your message across so that it sticks in people’s minds.  Broadcasters, coaches, teachers and trainers, business leaders, politicians, line managers … everyone can benefit from simple improvements to the way they communicate so that what they say is “sticky”.

The recent visit to London of Dan Heath prompted me to pick up a remarkable book by Dan and his brother Chip: yes, the names give it away they are American – it doesn’t make them bad people. Oh and no, this isn’t about NLP or Emotional Intelligence… it’s the result of years research and interviews into why we remember some things so easily and forget others so quickly. The book is ‘Made to Stick’ and it’s been on my desk for four years now.

Here’s the main thrust of this brilliant and entertaining book.

By ‘sticky’ they mean: understandable, memorable and effective in changing thought or behaviour.

The keys to stickiness are: SIMPLE – UNEXPECTED – CONCEPT – CREDIBLE – EMOTIONAL –  STORIES.

And the villain is …the curse of knowledge. The more you know about something the less likely it is that you can get the core message across in a way that sticks. This has big implications in the use of experts for training.
Experts can take a long time to get to the key, compelling bit of information. Journalists call this “Burying the message”.

  1. Simple. To be simple, determine the single most important thing.  Link it to what’s already in the recipients’ memory.
  2. Unexpected.  Like a bus conductor or railway guard making an intercom announcement grab our attention so we’re actively involved rather than hearing passively. Then hold our attention…maybe create a mystery ,use the theory of curiosity.
  3. Concrete. Avoid abstractions.  The Velcro theory of memory is that the more “hooks” in your idea, the better . Find common ground at a shared level of understanding (really tough that one) and set common goals in tangible terms.
  4. Credible. Not just authoritative sources but convincing details. Use INTERNAL CREDIBILITY – make statistics accessible, put them in a human context and use testable credentials “Try before you buy” rather than wear people down with force of argument.
  5. Emotional. Make People Care. Use the power of association and appeal to best self-interest. But don’t assume that others care at the same level as you.
  6. Stories. Get people to take action with stories. Inspirational stories give people the energy  to act – learn how to spot inspirational stories and how to use them.

So what does this mean for the world of learning?

Well let’s just look at a couple of the Heath Brothers’ research findings… starting with the ‘Gap Theory’. George Loewenstein, a behavioural economist, says that curiosity arises when we feel a gap in our knowledge. Loewenstein argues that gaps cause pain. When we want to know something but don’t, it’s like having an itch we need to scratch. To take away the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap. We sit patiently through bad movies, even though they may be painful to watch, because it’s too painful not to know how they end.

One important implication of the ‘Gap Theory’ is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell students the facts. First, though, they must realize they need them.

One trick for convincing students they need our message, according to Loewenstein, is to first highlight some specific knowledge they are missing. You can pose a question or puzzle that confronts them with a gap in their knowledge: One recent book had a curiosity gap as its title: “Why do men have nipples?” A science teacher in Colorado asked his students: “Have you ever noticed that, in the winter, your car tyres look a little flat? So where did the air go?” The book Freakonomics makes brilliant use of curios­ity gaps: “Why do so many drug dealers live with their moms?”

I’ll leave it there for the moment but at the very least it’s worthwhile visiting the Heath Brothers website www.heathbrothers.com/  … maybe sign up to their free resources.

Is Articulate Storyline Any Good?

A Review of Articulate Storyline, by Lee Reilly

Storyline is the new and highly anticipated authoring tool from Articulate. It promises to offer its customers something different from Studio ’09, which contained Presenter, Engage and Quizmaker.Articulate Storyline logo

The first, and in my humble opinion, best enhancement to Storyline compared to Studio ’09 is that Storyline is not a plugin for PowerPoint, it is a standalone application. That in itself is worth re-stating – it is a standalone application. While creating a quick demonstration of a Storyline interaction for this review I found that Storyline didn’t crash once. It didn’t slow down, bug out, shut down or corrupt anything – it simply worked (and worked well I might add). For anyone who uses Studio ’09 on a daily basis you will know just how much project time you have wasted on enduring the numerous issues with Studio ’09 stability. These have thankfully not transferred over to Storyline.

If Storyline did nothing other than offer better stability and PowerPoint independence I would rate it highly. It does, however, offer much more than that.

Storyline provides users with:

Ease of Use:
This cannot be understated. Although Storyline is a standalone application, it inherits much of the PowerPoint interface look and feel. Everything is logically located and the more advanced features are intuitively set out and labelled.

Scenes, Layers and Triggers:
Now that Storyline does not rely on PowerPoint it has expanded how slides interact with each other. This is done using the “Story View”, a way of visually determining the order and branching of your content. This is very intuitive to use and set up. The inclusion of layers is a huge improvement too. No longer does content need split between slides and brought in piece by piece over a set. Now content can be assigned to layers, which can in turn be made visible with mouse gestures or timed events. This demonstration is all created in one slide. All interaction is done by showing/hiding layers and assigning simple triggers. Much more efficient!

Screen Recording:
I’m a big fan of Adobe Captivate, it works very well for product simulation (and for creating full e-learning courses). Having screen recording built directly in to Storyline, however, is great because it keeps everything within the same application. It also allows for captioning. Captions are based on mouse gestures during the recording.

States:
One of my biggest bugbears with Studio ’09 was the inability to create simple rollovers. Small things like rollover effects can greatly improve the overall user experience within a course and I am very happy to say that Storyline allows for them. You can now apply hover, down, disabled, selected and drag states on to assets. This allows for the creation of proper button sets and navigation schemes.

Mobile Ready:
You can now publish to HTML5, iOS and traditional flash formats, giving Storyline-created courses a much broader range of end-user platforms.

Overall Articulate Storyline is a big leap forward for authoring tools. It has managed to inject many interesting and useful additions while maintaining ease of use. It is definitely an authoring tool we will be using for upcoming projects.

Effective User Interface Design for Mobile Learning

by Noleen Turner

Sample mobile learning user interface developed by AurionWith the explosion of mobile learning many of us are now in the position of creating brand new mobile e-learning programmes or transforming existing e-learning content to mobile.

*A friendly word of warning to those involved in ‘conversion’ projects – mobile is different to traditional web – and your mobile learning programme won’t work if it’s just a regurgitated experience. Mobile learning is micro-learning, designed for short bursts of activity – your learners are likely to access it while on the job, performing a task, or in between other activities. And learners need to be able to access it via a range of mobile learning technologies which are likely to include smartphones and tablets.

But I digress…and to get back to the original point how do you design an effective user interface for mobile learning? And how do you manage navigation, usability, and aesthetics ensuring that the transition between screens feels natural and that users know where they are at all times during the programme?

LearningSolutions Magazine recently published an article entitled “From e-learning to ipad – how to adjust the user interface”. In the article they consider how the user interface design contributes to
the success of a learning mobile app – one in which the user interface enhances and eases the learning process.

According to LearningSolutions, the layout you build for your mobile learning app must enable users to answer these five questions:

  • Where am I?
  • How did I get here?
  • How can I return to where I once was? 
  • How far have I gone?
  • Where else can I go?

In response to these questions I’ve tried to come up with my own tips for optimising the mobile learning interface:

  How to improve the experience
Where am I?
  • Don’t overload functionality, features or content – just focus on what is necessary to get the job done.
  • Simple functionality will enable you to create a straightforward and easy to follow user interface.
  • Structure information so it can be easily accessed – learners expect to get the information they need with just a few taps.
  • Group similar topics together. The Learning Coach has a useful blog post on visual grouping.
  • Keep the screen uncluttered and use clear screen titles so learners won’t misinterpret visual cues.
  • Emphasise menu items already clicked (change colour or attach bookmarks).
  • Design for a low error rate – remember that selection errors on mobile phones are higher than desktops so surround selection areas with white space so that a learner can easily tap them and invoke the correct action.
How did I get here?
  • Create a visual trail as learners move through the content. For example, highlight a section already clicked on or use a “breadcrumb trail” so learners can track their progress through the programme.
How can I return to where I once was? 
  • Use navigation buttons to allow movement between learning units.
  • Ensure some navigation menus are visible throughout the entire course.
  • Provide Back buttons or Menu buttons to return to a map of choices.
How far have I gone?
  • Include a screen ID such as “Screen 2 of 24” to inform users of how far they have progressed through a lesson and how much there is left to do.
  • Use the word “screen” rather than “page”.
  • Group similar content and create intense learning nuggets rather that one long course – nobody wants to see “Screen 3 of 60”.
Where else can I go?
  • Use clearly labelled navigation buttons to help learners orient themselves.
  • Make sure navigation buttons are easy to find.
  • Stick to simple touch tap or swipe commands to manage navigation between screens (for now). Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use all the interface features of their smartphone / tablet – e.g. pinch open gesture to magnify text.  According to Josh Clark, author of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps, most people don’t know about the more obscure gestures that work on some mobile phones.

And finally…don’t forget to test your user interface
Once you design an interface, make sure you test it with a sample group of learners, checking how long it takes to complete the learning, how easily they can navigate the learning, how many navigational errors they make etc.

Useful resources for designing mobile learning
iOS Human Interface Guidelines
http://thatcoolguy.github.com/gridless-boilerplate/  guidelines on HTML5 & CSS3 topics
W3C
10 Tips For Designing mLearning And Support Apps
From e-learning to ipad – how to adjust the user interface
Ten things to think about when designing your iPad App

Is Microsoft Opening up to the World of Blended Learning?

by Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director

microsoft cloud imageIt amazes me to think how Microsoft has almost invisibly developed a role for itself in the cost-sensitive and occasionally technophobic world of learning, including collaborating with open source communities.

It first really clicked with me last year when I started counting the number of times that Sharepoint was included in Invitations to Tender (ITTs) and Statements of Requirements, often with open source attachments such as Liferay and SLK. And this was before SP2010 had become established with all its improvements over SP2007 and its Groove technology.

Just as sneakily the open source CMS application Umbraco (as used by Aurion Learning for portals and hubs) has become number 4 in the UK’s list of most popular .NET tools. Sharepoint is number 1.

The proprietary world is still prevalent of course with products such as SharePointLMS from ElearningForce serving the corporate market but there’s been a growing enthusiasm amongst open source suppliers and within Microsoft to make it easier for buyers to move on from the old thinking that “it’s either Microsoft or it’s open”.

So we see X-Box technology opening up to the e-learning community to experiment with developing training simulations based around body sensor technology and Sharepoint moving from being arguably the most derided Microsoft product to its most heartily championed … and all with the support of the open source and boutique development communities.

For the generic e-learning suppliers who’ve long believed MS Office End User e-learning to be their commercial bedrock Microsoft’s release of Office 365 must be a bit of a mixed blessing. CLOUD hosting means that once again VANILLA software is real world, justifying their catalogues of End User titles.

Unfortunately Microsoft’s offering destroys the financial case for buying libraries of materials based on total cost of ownership per end-user (including software licenses and IT overheads such as server farms and technical support teams).

For those who don’t know, Microsoft’s CLOUD offer for organisations with less than 25 staff costs around £4.00 per user per month. This includes webmail, IMS, Voice & Video Conferencing, WORD, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note and a Sharepoint 2010 Intranet. Meanwhile Microsoft’s enterprise offer includes Private CLOUD App-V, WORD, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Publisher, Access, One Note, LYNC, InfoPath & SP workspace. It also includes Active Directory Integration. Price? – approximately £16.00 per user. It also includes access to a load of training & study materials.

With Windows 8 to be released in the near future we see the realisation of at least version 1 of Microsoft’s vision of a common MS platform across the “three screens”, i.e. PC/Laptop etc., smartphone/smartpad and digital TV, all integrated by LYNC.

So in some ways while the technical press is shouting about Apple versus the world, about patent infringement and misappropriation of IP and about winners and losers in the technology market, Microsoft is quietly doing what we always hoped they would and deliver technology to make things easier.

Training Smarter in the Recession

by Dr. Maureen Murphy, Aurion Learning

Learn BlackboardResearch published last year from the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), at the Institute of Education, University of London, and researchers at the University of Cardiff shows that, despite predictions to the contrary, the recession has not deterred most UK companies from training their staff in new skills. Yes – training expenditure is down….but not by as much as expected (the report* quotes a 5% decrease in training expenditure in England between 2007 and 2009). In fact, the research shows that rather than putting the brakes on skills training, the recession has simply forced most companies to train smarter.

Easier said than done? Here are my top tips for training in the recession:

  • Shift training focus to key business areas – an obvious one but the best place to start. Align training with key business strategy – so if you want to improve sales, deliver meaningful sales training. If you want to develop stronger leaders, deliver powerful leadership training.
  • Embrace technology – increasing your use of e-learning, mobile learning (mlearning) and virtual learning environments will seriously cut time out of office as well as travel costs while giving staff access to on-demand and just-in-time learning.
  • Organise more in-house training – by developing staff competencies you can use internal staff to deliver training and manage communities of learning.
  • Share, share, share – encourage knowledge sharing, collaboration, coaching and peer mentoring. Make the most of the existing knowledge pool in your company.
  • Cut course length – make your learning short, sharp and strong!
  • Evaluate the learning – ask your staff about how they have put the learning into practice and improved performance. Evaluate the learning and measure return on investment.

*Source: The Impact of the 2008-9 Recession on the Extent, Form and Patterns of Training at Work LLAKES, Institute of Education, University of London

What is SCORM?

In this blog post, Alan Boyd, Web Applications Programmer provides a quick guide to SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) standards and specifications for web-based e-learning.

2012 E-Learning Market Review: Mergers and Acquisitions in Early 2012

By Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director

The constant mergers and acquisitions activity that we commented on at start of the year continues.

Four moves in particular interest me as illustrating current trends:

• Bluedrop & Serebra – the convergence of education & corporate sectors;
• Twitter & Summify – personalising social media;
• Kenexa & Outstart – feeling the pressure and hoping the grass is greener;
• Assima & Kaplan Technologies – consolidation and expansion.

Bluedrop and Serebra – the convergence of Education and Corporate sectors
In a surprise reverse buyout Bluedrop Performance Learning acquired Serebra Learning in January. At first glance the core one-stop SaaS offerings from these Canadian companies (CoursePark from Bluedrop and Campus from Serebra) would appear to be mutually incompatible but on closer examination there are sufficient differences between the two companies to make merger attractive.

Serebra has become a major player in Higher Education and Further Education and its functionality, course content and customer base reflect this education provenance. Bluedrop has carved a similar niche for itself in Defence, Aerospace, Energy and Health but with added expertise in low-cost simulations. The combined expertise of these two companies, sort of niche versions of Lumesse, should put them in a position to exploit the growing cross-fertilisation of Industry and Education as well as the increasing commercialisation of the education sector globally.

Twitter and Summify – personalising social media
Summify is particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly it’s proof of the increasing innovation coming from Romania technologists (though the company has been physically located in Canada).

Secondly it’s one of the first of a new breed of “content curation” companies collecting news stories that are being shared on your social networks and putting them into a daily summary. The short-lived Summify service has made a name for itself by aggregating the most important news items from your Twitter and Facebook accounts and displaying them in easily digestible portions.

Twitter was the original “follower and followed” service but it’s not made the same progress as Summify so the acquisition and integration of the two offerings are wholly understandable.

Kenexa and Outstart – feeling the pressure and hoping the grass is greener
Two industry giants, Kenexa in HCMS and Talent Management and Outstart in LCMS and Learning Systems, have confirmed they’ll be tying the knot very shortly, mirroring the takeover in February by Oracle of Taleo. The Kenexa statement read “With the addition of OutStart’s capabilities, Kenexa will be able to offer customers an award-winning suite of SaaS learning solutions plus learning expertise and a great team with more than a decade of experience in learning management.” Commentators suggest that the learning & accreditation markets are suffering serious disruption at the moment and OutStart’s particular emphasis on knowledge sharing within organisations is ripe for innovation, something the combined expertise could deliver. As ever – the question is whether the two tribes can co-exist in a single corporation and at what point will clients feel the impact of the takeover.

Finally: Assima and Kaplan Technologies
My personal view is that Kaplan’s entry into the technologies market was ill-advised and a costly mistake. Both STT and Atlantic Link were always an odd addition to Kaplan’s Education, Academic and Professional Academies businesses … you rarely, if ever, see such a mixture succeed any more than that created when publishing companies buy eLearning generic eLearning companies.

Assima on the other hand is an organisation steeped in technologies and the sale of product-based services: like STT it was spawned from the SAP and ERP industry, (where it was originally known as DACG), and it understands how to use technology in learning and performance support on a major scale. Assima previously shunned the “conventional” eLearning market due to its core focus on Software implementation and exploitation, particularly using sophisticated EPSS, Simulators and Context-sensitive learning. But it makes sense to broaden the offering to its established international corporate clients by moving into eLearning.

M-Learning & The Evolution of HTML

by Lee Reilly, Senior Web Designer

HTML5 logo

My first real foray into the realm of coding over a decade ago pertained to making a text box on my page a solid colour, positioning it to the right and making the text white. After much musing (by which I mean searching around the internet) I fumbled a solution and had inadvertently coded something! In this case it was a <div> container to hold my text, which was aligned right and coloured accordingly. The beginnings of my first HTML site, though perhaps not as grand as I might have liked.

Over the years my HTML and CSS skills have improved, as has my understanding of the underlying processes involved. With the upcoming publication of the highly anticipated HTML 5 specification I find myself feeling like I did over a decade ago; is the difference between HTML 4 and 5 so great that I must start creating little text boxes on a page again in order to understand this new version?

The answer, mercifully, is no. HTML 5, in its simplest form, is a revised version of HTML 4. Sure, it has the ability to be so much more, but it does not have to be. I could take the latest project I am working on, amend line 1 to <!DOCTYPE html> and I would have an HTML 5 project. I would obviously not do that as it would be cheating and not advisable for compatibility of content within that project.

The real power of HTML5
The real power of HTML 5 (and CSS 3) comes from the improvements within. HTML 5 is created to improve the interoperability of HTML based documents. This means it is designed to work across multiple platforms and software setups. Numerous elements have been added such as <article>, <header>, <footer> and <section> to make the lives of developers easier. If nothing else these new elements reduce the quantity of <div> elements required for layout. These and other elements have been created to help add meaning to the content within. An example of this would be creating a news article:

In HTML 4 I might create something like:

<div class=”newsarticle”>
<h2>Why am I making this site in HTML4?!</h2>
<p class=”newsdate”>09-12-11</p>
</div>

In HTML 5 this could be created as:

<article>
<h2>HTML 5: That’s the ticket!</h2>
<date>09-12-11</date>
</article>

The benefits to creating this in HTML 5 are two-fold. First, there is less coding involved. Second, and more importantly, the elements used are created for the purposes illustrated; <article> is used for independent, self-contained content and <date> is used for defining dates and times. The freedom that HTML 5 allows in creating element names might at first make it appear to be less structured and potentially more prone to variation between developers. What this flexibility does, when combined with new elements and attributes, is allow for greater control of structure.

Can it make a difference?
Everything mentioned above give HTML 5 the potential to improve the way websites and web apps are built. The real power of  HTML 5, however, comes from its integrated Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs. They have been designed to make developing web apps easier across multiple platforms. These include new APIs for audio and video, which will act to provide a uniform (and non-flash based) approach to getting rich media easily on to the web. Great in theory but these are still a long way off being perfect. In its current incarnation, HTML 5 has no full cross-browser support for video file formats. This means if you were to use the <video> element in a project today you would need to encode your video as both mp4 and ogg file formats to ensure all modern browsers would play them; a large overhead to say the least.

M-Learning
When evaluating how good HTML 5 is we must consider that it is still only a draft specification and elements and attributes are still subject to change. That said, it has the potential to deliver on numerous fronts and the thought of a fully interoperable web app or website across numerous platforms, complete with rich media and animation without the need for user-installed plugins makes its success all the more appealing. So much so that we have already begun project work using HTML 5. These E-learning projects have been designed to work cross-platform, from the traditional desktop E-learning to tablets and smartphones (so called M-learning or mobile learning). The benefit of using HTML 5 as the backbone is that the same pages are served up to each platform, the only difference being how they are styled. This technique of catering for different platforms using the same pages is called responsive design.

In future blog posts we will look at responsive design as well as the hugely anticipated <canvas> element in HTML 5 and its potential for usurping flash for cross-platform animation. We will also look at what new features CSS 3 brings to the party.

Top Tips for Hosting Webinars

by Noleen Turner, Marketing Manager

Choosing the right tools
There are lots of webinar tools out there – each with their own benefits and drawbacks – but bear in mind – none is 100% reliable. Most offer a free trial before you buy, so find one that’s easy to use; works with a variety of operating systems and your in-house technology; and is scalable.

Some of my favourite webinar tools are gotomeeting, gotowebinar, webex, Adobe Connect –and anymeeting(which is FREE!). Online Meeting Tools Review have a list of webinar tools with peer reviews.
Preparing for the webinar

  • Get familiar with the technology. Make sure you know how to use the webinar tools inside out before the live event. This will eliminate nerves and the chance of any problems occurring.
  • Choose the right topic and deliver what you promise: Make sure your webinar topic is interesting and of genuine value to your potential clients – and stick to it. If you promise your audience A (genuine value webinar) – and deliver B (sales pitch) – they have a right to be angry and disappointed.
  • Have a co-presenter – invite an industry expert, customer or partner to co-present. This will generate more interest and could even double your attendance. It also takes the pressure off you when you’re trying to answer questions, conduct polls or fix technology hiccups.
  • Write a script/outline and use this to structure the learning content. Don’t cram too much into the webinar – it’s better to have a small amount of really high quality content than a large amount of poor quality content.
  • Practice: do a couple of dry runs, record it and play it back to hear how you sound.  If possible, practice with co-presenters.  Time yourself so you know if you are going to be able to cover all the content within the time slot. Don’t rush through – take your time and cover points fully.

Timing:

  • Start promoting the webinar at least five weeks in advance.
  • Choose the time and date of your webinar carefully. Avoid Mondays and Fridays as these are peak conferencing days, meeting days and annual leave days and attendance can be lower. Consider where your audience is based – and what time it is most suitable for their region. Start at 15 minutes past the hour rather than on the hour. Give attendees time to move between meetings and join the webinar.
  • Send two reminders only — 1 week and 1 day before the webinar.
  • Leave at least 15 minutes at the end of the webinar for a Question & Answer session.

During the event

  • Begin the session at least 15 minutes early to test the video and audio connections of all the presenters and panellists.
  • Join your meeting early and check that all links and presentations are working. Share a ‘welcome’ slide to let attendees know that the webinar will be starting soon. Provide attendees with an overview of how to use key webinar features – such as chat, raise hand, questions and answers etc. Provide an overview of what the webinar will cover and how it will be structured. Introduce all speakers. Remember to mute all lines until the question and answer session begins.
  • Use more than just PowerPoint to keep your audience engaged. Include multimedia such as animation, flash, photos, web-demos and video.
  • Don’t just talk at your audience – invite them to join in the conversation. Conduct polls at regular intervals and host a question and answer session at the end.
  • If things go wrong – stay calm. Take a minute and try to fix it, but if you can’t, apologise and move on.
  • Leave lots of time for questions and answers.
  • Record your webinar and make it available on your website or blog afterwards.

Afterwards

  • Conduct a survey at the end of the webinar to get feedback from the attendees.
  • Follow up with all registrants one week after the event – both attendees and non-attendees. Include relevant links such as a recording of the webinar, case studies, white papers, survey results, feedback etc. Invite people to your next event.
  • Pass details of all registrants to your sales team for detailed follow up.
  • Review all feedback and work on lessons learned to make sure your next webinar is even better.

And finally, don’t be afraid of the technology and good luck!

2011 E-learning Market Review: Mergers and Acquisitions

By Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director 

The big-scale version of training outsourcing – LBPO (Learning Business Process Outsourcing) – continues to grow as a financially attractive option for employers with large and distributed workforces. Chats with some employers suggest there may be a gap for new mid-range LBPO suppliers who not only manage the contracts and services from a number of suppliers to an organisation, but also offer platforms, systems and rapid content development services.Well, acquisition and consolidation in the e-Learning market have been hotting up through 2011, (as in fact has happened during previous recessions), as investors look to exploit opportunities in new tools, technologies and sectors for workforce skilling, as major suppliers look to extend market reach and as niche suppliers find development funds being switched off.

In terms of mergers, strategic investments & consolidations in 2011 we witnessed upheaval in all sectors and territories.

These included Lumesse acquiring Edvantage, SkillSoft acquiring Element K from former owners NIIT and BB acquiring both Elluminate & Wimba.

Taleo acquired learn.com and SuccessFactors acquired Plateau Systems, subsequently themselves being taken over in December by SAP.

Kaplan never seem far from their next purchase and LBPOs such as GP (formerly GenPhysics), KnowledgePool and Demos are no slouches in the consolidations markets; GP in fact acquired R.W.D. Technology’s consulting business earlier in 2011.

EPM and BPM giant OpenText picked up Operitel for its e-Learning management expertise that will be bolted into OpenText products in the future. Operitel’s LearnFlex includes social and mobile learning management fully integrated into SharePoint.

Trivantis also announced the official acquisition of its partner, Flypaper Studio. The deal couples Lectora authoring software with Flypaper, a full-featured Flash interactions builder and digital signage platform.

Investment Group acquisitions included UfI Ltd. and learndirect by LDC, GlobalKnowledge by MidOcean and with BB itself being acquired by Providence Equity.

Earlier hopes of SkillSoft’s intentions in terms of protecting and integrating the best of E-K’s products into their own portfolio now seem to have been a tad optimistic … anecdotally what I’m hearing is that all E-K products, including the third-party products, will be taken off the market as soon as practical and that SkillSoft are energetically pursuing a campaign of converting E-K clients to the SkillSoft services.

As the number of large generic catalogue suppliers continues to diminish I’ve increasingly received questions from my clients about their future supplier strategies and seeking my thoughts on how I see the market shaping up.

My first observation is that new portal suppliers will enter the mid-size catalogue sector, offering a limited number of value-for-money suppliers’ products.

I further suggest that clients will either return to contracting directly with preferred niche suppliers such as Happy, CrossKnowledge, ILX, Flow or Cegos, (those are just top-of-my-head examples), or will sign up with a new breed of smaller scale LBO partners. Certainly the issue of same look and feel for all materials seems to be largely irrelevant these days and increasingly people are weighing the pain of managing multiple suppliers against the value of getting exactly what they want. I’d like to hope that this will ultimately deliver smaller content libraries targeting real needs in an organisation rather than “just-in-case”.

Finally I suggest that there’s always room for new suppliers, both in existing generic sectors and to exploit the convergence of Higher Education,CommercialColleges,BusinessSchools, Business and Industry. Some of the most exciting innovations in blended learning are taking place in the public and education sectors where we see new commercial spin-offs or partnerships delivering much needed revenues.

In this I anticipate the emergence of generic content reflecting particular industry sectors or jobs, with scenarios, vocabularies and graphics relevant to these sectors and roles. Many of us had anticipated that this could be a spin-off from National Skills Academies but that didn’t really happen.

Finding the Right Content Management System for Education

Umbraco – a CMS to bring designers and developers together – by Andrew McCaughan, Web Developer

NES Palliative Care PortalLike a lot of young developers, my misspent youth involved learning to program and build websites.  Once I heard of the concept of the Content Management System (CMS) I knew that I could bring these skills together and that I would make my fortune.

Alas, this was not meant to be.  Of course I made the CMS.  It was really good. You could add new pages, write blogs, add photos and you could even define the meta tags on each page.  Many incarnations of my personal website were powered by that wonderful little CMS but the time to develop it into a product was something that I did not have, or more accurately, I just didn’t want to spend the time developing it.  So, looking back at the subversion repository my last commit was 31st August 2007 at 3:40am.  It hasn’t been touched since.

Some people, though, had the intention to develop their CMS further.  In the world of .NET, there have been a number of successful CMS projects.  The bigger names come to mind – DotNetNuke (DNN) and Kentico.  These projects have been praised for their power but both projects have their drawbacks.

DotNetNuke has been praised for its power, its wealth of add-ons and the community that supports it are some of the smartest in the business but the experience for a web designer in DotNetNuke leaves a lot to be desired.

Kentico also has the power, the add-ons and the really talented people behind it.  It even bridges the gap between designer and developer but it can cost anything between £1299 and £9700.  They do have small business licence options if you call them and request a quote.

Since joining Aurion Learning, I have been challenged with finding the best CMS to deliver online learning and development.

For me, the best all round CMS built on .NET is Umbraco [http://www.umbraco.com].  Umbraco is the simplest, most powerful .NET CMS I have come across.  It’s also open source which means no additional licence costs other than the Windows Server it will run on.  One downside of course is the lack of support structure that you get from DNN and Kentico, however, the community that uses Umbraco is all you will ever need.  The developers are active in the community and there are plenty of local user groups starting to pop up all around the world.

Designers have the freedom to define their templates the way they want to.  They are not restricted by content areas defined by Umbraco, but can define the content area themselves.   CSS and images can be easily uploaded and managed within the CMS admin.  Our designers have remarked that Umbraco is as easy to use as WordPress but is more powerful.  Even non-technical staff, can maintain and update content easily.

Umbraco is highly extensible.  It comes with an API that allows you to develop your own features.  Before you decide to do this however, check the add-ons section on the ‘Our Umbraco’ community site [http://our.umbraco.org/projects].  There’s everything from blog modules to form generation plug-ins.

The results of building a website in Umbraco can be seen across the web.  Wired UK, Peugeot and Microsoft all rely on Umbraco for delivering content.  Aurion Learning have used it for our own website and for our customers. This past year we have developed two learning portals for the NHS Education for Scotland using Umbraco; Palliative Care in Practice  and Advanced Anticipatory Care and we have a few more in the pipeline for other customers.  We are also using it for our new Intranet and so far, it’s looking good.

In short, I definitely recommend considering  Umbraco for websites and particularly for delivering educational content.   If you need some more convincing, take a look at this useful whitepaper:  http://umbraco.com/media/197460/umbraco%20convince%20your%20boss.pdf

In future blog posts, we will look at Umbraco further and provide some useful tips in how to get the best out of  this fantastic CMS, particularly for e-learning.

Do We Need SCORM?

By Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director

Tracking E-learning

At a recent CEdMA Europe I was asked “what use is SCORM going to be in the future?”

Now, as this was in a discussion group composed entirely of the commercial Training Services divisions of the top IT hardware & software companies in Europe with a historically important revenue stream from Certification products, the question was pretty loaded.

I’d been reporting on trends amongst my clients who have recently been questioning the automatic assumption that all e-learning content must be (a) SCORM compliant, ensuring tracking and reporting and (b) delivered on an learning management system (LMS) of one sort or another.

We’ve been seeing a new philosophy developing, one which suggests that not all learning needs to be tracked: certainly personal development programmes falling out of performance reviews should be recorded and reported, as should continuing professional development (CPD) and certification or accreditation status. But with the certified/accredited status… effectively “license to operate” stuff, there’s a growing consensus that it’s the official assessment that matters and that SCORM hinders the design of engaging, effective learning programmes.

We know that those brilliant people at Rustici (www.scorm.com) are forging ahead with “Project Tin Can”, (essentially research of the ADL Consortium into next generation SCORM, including “Is there a need for a new SCORM?”) and that they regularly post new information on research and development, but they’ve recently launched their cloud version of IMS BLTI. BLTI provides a simple way for LMS users to incorporate remote tools into their system.

SCORM is underutilised in the education market. This is partly because the tracking that SCORM provides hasn’t always been valued in academic circles the way it is in corporate circles.

While it’s unlikely that Rustici will drop out of the world of SCORM, it’s clear also that IMS – including the MTI guidelines – and AICC are coming back into the picture as organisations choose to separate eLearning from mastery assessment and concentrate on assessment and learning as separate design activities.

In my own clients I am further seeing the use of pre-test or test-prep versions of the assessment, which includes feedback to the learner, whilst the master assessment simply posts either a Pass or Fail (or final marking) to SCORM.

Finally some of my clients involved in commercial certification and accreditation services are now discussing whether or not to make the e-learning content free-to-download or use online, whilst concentrating on enhancing the design and value of the assessments, which will then become as the principle revenue earning products.

 

Health Sector Focus: Identifying the Biggest Challenges in Delivering Learning

by Noleen Turner, Marketing Manager

In summer 2011, Aurion Learning hosted an e-learning masterclass in Dublin. Delegates came from the Irish Health Services Executive (national health service), health agencies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies from across Ireland, and included human resources, IT and training professionals. They all had one thing in common – responsibility for delivering learning and development across their organisations. Several delegates were already experienced in delivering e-learning and blended learning projects, while others hadn’t yet started the journey of online learning.

During the event, we wanted to get a better understanding of the challenges learning and development professionals in the health sector are facing today and so we carried out some market research with our delegates.

Here are our findings:

What is the biggest learning & development challenge facing your organisation today?

Management Issues

  • Lack of funding /resources/manpower
  • Lack of time to develop training
  • Securing management commitment
  • Learners not being given enough time to actually participate in training
  • Lack of structured training / continuing professional development

Developing Training

  • Identify what we want to do and can do – moving from strategy to implementation
  • Responding to learning needs with small training budgets
  • Achieving relevance
  • Adopting a coherent coordinated approach across a large organisation – multiple departments & contacting trainees.
  • Speed of delivery
  • Lack of confidence/competence in use of e-learning

Getting others on-board / Culture change

  • Changing the organisational culture into a learning culture
  • Securing buy-in from management & staff to blended and e-learning programmes
  • Low staff motivation
  • Resistance to change (moving from traditional face-to-face model to e-learning)

IT Issues

  • Knowing which technology to choose to support learning (learning management systems, e-learning authoring tools, learning portals etc.)
  • IT support
  • Staff access to IT systems and technologies (restriction to many educational websites/firewalls)
  • Administration support & maintenance of any systems developed.

Top Tips: Marketing Your E-learning Programme

E-learning successIt doesn’t matter how great your e-learning programme is, if you don’t market it to the right people, get buy-in and get people to actually complete it, it will be a complete waste of time and money (two commodities that are in short enough supply today!)

So assuming you’ve got educationally sound content and your online delivery is engaging, how do you market your e-learning programmes, particularly when it isn’t mandatory or compliance based?

In my mind there are five key points to remember: start early; get support from the top; secure buy-in from your managers; get buy-in from your learners; and don’t stop.


1.    Start early

Don’t wait until you have a shiny new e-learning package ready to roll-out across the organisation. The marketing communications plan should start at the same time as project implementation. Inform people that the project is under way, highlight project milestones and tell them when it’s due to be delivered. Most importantly – explain why you are investing in e-learning in the first place and sell the benefits of this mode of learning. Use internal communications campaigns such as staff magazine, intranet, staff briefings, posters etc. to inform staff. Use external communications campaigns such as website, posters, leaflets etc. to inform external stakeholders, if necessary.

2.    Get support from the top

Get support from whoever is in charge of your organisation, for example your Chief Executive or Managing Director.  Make sure they know why you are doing the training in the first place – for example what changes or improvements to behaviour you are going to achieve as a result of the e-learning. Get them to lead by example by being the first to complete the e-learning programme, and show everyone that this is something the company is seriously committed to.

3.    Secure buy-in from your managers

Inform and involve your managers and team leaders about the e-learning programme from the very beginning. Sell the benefits of the training and of e-learning as this will help you get early buy-in and support from the people who work closest to front line staff.

 4.     Get buy-in from your learners

No-one likes being the last to know what’s going on. If you start raising awareness from the very start of the project, you’re more likely to get support from your learners. Tell them what’s going on and why. Use internal communications such as staff briefings, posters, staff magazine etc. to inform staff that the project is underway, and let them know when it will be rolled out across the company. Give regular progress updates.

 5.     Don’t stop

Remember – the marketing communications campaign doesn’t come to a stop when you roll-out the e-learning. It’s important to have sustained communications to remind everyone of why and when they should complete the training – and to chase up late completers. Some organisations publish completion statistics on a departmental basis – to encourage late completers to finish the training. Provide real feedback on how the training has been received by individuals in the organisation. This will convince others of the benefits of the learning. Most importantly of all – make sure you inform everyone of success stories – improved competence, cost savings, change in behaviour, return in investment etc.

Welcome to the Aurion Learning Blog

Hello and welcome the Aurion Learning Blog.

Aurion Learning is an award winning online learning solutions company, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We design, develop and deliver custom e-learning programmes, off-the-shelf e-learning catalogues, learning management systems, learning portals and continuing professional development (CPD) tools.

We’ve been around since 2000 but our staff have been designing and developing online learning solutions and software for many years.

In this blog we’ll be sharing some of our experiences (both good and bad) of designing, developing, project managing and marketing e-learning projects to help organisations bring about culture change, behaviour change, deliver compliance-based training, standardise training and improve performance.

We’ll bring you regular updates from our instructional designers, web designers, developers and project managers. We’ll also feature guest bloggers time to time.

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