Tag Archive | Elearning

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. 

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. 

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!”

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. 

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)

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.

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

What is MLearning?

by Noleen Turner, Marketing Manager

Mobile devices

We’ve all heard the buzz-word Mlearning but no one seems to agree on exactly what mobile learning is, and how it differs from elearning.

Mobile Learning Consultants Float Learning define Mlearning as: “Mlearning is the use of mobile technology to aid in the learning, reference or exploration of information useful to an individual at that moment or in a specific use context.”

Meanwhile the eLearning Guild describe Mlearning as: “Any activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating information, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on a regular basis, has reliable connectivity, and fits in a pocket or purse.”

From my perspective, Mlearning is about:

Delivering learning content and experiences to learners when and where they need it. It is learning that can be accessed at any time and any place to support performance. Typically Mlearning is accessed via a mobile device that facilitates just-in-time learning and on-demand learning. Mlearning can be formal or informal, structured or unstructured. It is flexible, self-paced and self-directed. Mlearning is driven by the learner, rather than the technology learners use to access it.

Many people are trying to predict the technology winners of the future – in other words which platforms will become favoured for Mlearning delivery. Instead, we should be focusing on developing Mlearning that is platform independent. Have a look at the 22 joint-nation Mobile Learning Environment (MoLE) project currently working to create a platform independent set of tools aimed at learning collaboration and information sharing on mobile devices.

So what kind of technology does Mlearning involve?
Mobile learning is supported by a variety mobile devices and technologies that facilitate the delivery of documents, presentations, multimedia, notifications, news, assignments, quizzes and educational courseware that can all contribute to Mlearning. These include:

  • Smart phones eg. iPhone
  • Laptops
  • Tablets eg. iPad
  • PDA (personal digital assistant)
  • Kindle
  • Ipod
  • Personal media players eg. iPod
  • Gaming devices eg. xBox 360.

While certainly due careful consideration, Mlearning should not focus on the technology it runs on – rather the single most important aspect of Mlearning is the learner – it’s a combination of how, when, where they access the learning content and what they do with that learning content that really matters.

So is Mlearning just Elearning on a mobile device?
It’s a BIG mistake to think that Mlearning is simply Elearning on a mobile device, and an even bigger mistake (and often costly one) to assume you can simply transport existing Elearning to make it work on mobile devices.

Mlearning requires a different pedagogical approach to Elearning for a number of reasons:

  • Access: the way learners access Mlearning is different to how they access Elearning (e.g. mobile phone and PDA screens can limit the amount and type of information that can be displayed versus office-based desk-top computer).
  • Short courses: Mlearning is also best suited to short bite-sized learning courses, theory, information relay rather than long or very practical based courses. No one wants to complete an hour long learning course via a mobile phone or PDA.
  • Less structured/less formal: Mlearning is often less structured than traditional Elearning which often sets out specific learning objectives.
  • On-demand: Mlearning is more about just-in-time and on-demand learning at the moment it is needed (think a repair worker out on a job who can access a quick check-list of ‘to-dos’ when they are actually on the job or the Bloom Liverpool Project – a fantastic example of delivering mobile learning to taxi drivers) whereas traditional Elearning is more about comprehension and retention. With Elearning, learners are expected to learn information and retain it for a later time when they will actually apply it on the job.
  • Assessment: Mlearning requires a whole new strategy for assessment. Traditional Elearning often includes a final knowledge check / assessment with the initial results recorded on an LMS but given that there is often a time delay before the learner is actually meant to put the learning into action, it can be difficult to measure and evaluate long-term behaviour change and the effects on the business. The time between Mlearning taking place and the learner putting what they have learned into action is relatively short, so it can be easier to measure behaviour change and impact on the business.

What makes good Mlearning?

  • Bite-sized short chunks of learning
  • “Just-in-time” “just-enough” or even “just-for me” learning
  • Easy to use
  • Practical and contextual
  • NOT elearning delivered on a mobile device
  • Informal – on the go learning
  • Interactive (including appropriate opportunities to share knowledge)
  • Knowledge distribution rather than knowledge presentation
  • Portable – can be accessed anywhere the learner goes with their device
  • Platform independent (however this is still somewhat aspirational).

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.

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