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. 

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