Browse Category by Online learning

Rapid authoring tools – they’re just dishwashers really!

Image by FotoRieth from Pixabay

If you haven’t already noticed (and if that’s the case, what planet are you on?), there’s vast choice of media tools out there. Increasingly in today’s climate organisations are looking at leveraging these tools’ abilities to learn and work more efficiently. In fact, organisations can see great potential with increased adoption of rapid authoring tools. These tools are helping them transfer training done in the classroom to a more flexible and efficient delivery.

I’ve certainly embraced any gadget that might make my life easier and to a quicker end result. Take the dishwasher for instance. Until I met my husband I never had one. It was a luxury for which I couldn’t justify the expenditure. Now, having had one for the past 8 yrs I can’t imagine not having one. Yes of course I could live without it but it washes my dishes so much more efficiently and on the whole does an excellent job of it too. And while it’s washing those dishes I can get on with something else or even do nothing at all.

But that dishwasher wouldn’t do such a good job without that something extra from us. To get sparkling dishes it’s important place the content correctly (and, yes, my husband regularly rearranges it after I load it). It’s important to know what is suitable content and not to over stack the content. But even then if you have done that correctly, there’s still more to consider. What temperature is needed? We could stick with the default setting but that might be the hottest. Does every load need that setting? Of course you can carry on regardless. Yes the result will be sparkling – but at a cost of wasted energy and a longer cycle.

Yet what if we we’re energy conscious and washed everything on the coolest setting? Yes some dishes will be clean but those pots and pans we cooked the Sunday lunch in didn’t come very clean at all. So what do we do? Either hand wash them or wash them again. Either way that’s extra time and energy.

And there’s still the question about the detergent! There are so many of them out there all claiming to give the best results. There are Eco friendly ones; power-ball ones; double, triple, quadruple action ones; some in packets that dissolve; some in packets you need to discard.

Fortunately, we more often than not get superb results. My parents, on the other hand, don’t. Is that the fault of the dishwasher? Well, of course there could be a problem but after some observation it was more about their stacking process; their refusal of following best practise because they ‘know best’ and the misguided thinking that cramming as much in as possible, using the coolest setting and cheapest tablets will give them good results. But no! Although if they’re happy with it, what’s the harm maybe? They might be ok with having to re-wash. It doesn’t affect anyone else. (I later discovered that, sometimes, my father merely put the thing on rinse!!!).

A dishwasher is a brilliant time-saving invention but it won’t wash the dishes without our carefully considered actions and procedures.

Similarly, although there are many rapid authoring tools out there, that’s all they are – tools. With careful consideration, you’ll choose the best for what you want but without the right input from us, without carefully considering the right content , without understanding the implications that over-stacked content has on the result (our learners’ brains); without careful consideration of your audience and making the right decision for them your time and effort may be wasted and you may be doubling (or tripling) your workload. This is definitely a case of one size doesn’t fit all.

So remember, when thinking about changing the way you deliver your training, there are lots of tools to help reach global audiences, they may help reach more people in a shorter amount of time but it takes more than just stacking content from your classroom courses.

You can’t create engaging compliance eLearning!

Image by Gustavo Ferreira Gustavo from Pixabay

Or can it?

A strong statement indeed!  However, it’s one that does seem to be held (but I hope not by the majority).

I had an interesting debate about this recently on one of my courses about designing engaging eLearning.

Actually, the conversation we had was more about whether eLearning that is designed to cover what people should do rather than what they should know would be accepted by the stakeholders requesting the eLearning.  Previously we’d had some great discussions about how scenarios and stories can help the learning come to life and simulate what learners might experience when doing their jobs.  Most people, when asked what they dislike about eLearning, usually talk about the boring, information laden, page after page of text followed by the obligatory multiple choice quiz – or as Cammy Bean recently called “read ’em and weep” eLearning.

Great eLearning focuses on performance.  Allowing learners to exercise their cognitive skills and learn through problem solving.  All learning should be focused on helping people do their jobs properly.  Classroom learning has improved by leaps and bounds packed full of case studies, role plays, realistic and work-based examples designed to replicate as closely as possible their own roles.  They’ve become sandpits where people can experience tasks, make mistakes and learn from each other with immediate, constructive feedback from the facilitator.  

The great news is that eLearning can be designed along the same lines.  It doesn’t matter whether the topic is about learning to give great customer service, identifying fraud, the importance of hand washing in patient care or introducing people to a new purchase ordering software.  In each of these examples people are needing to learn how to do something to a given standard.

Then of course the question has to be how we might assess the learning more appropriately?  How else can we prove we are complying with legal or organisational policies and guidelines than to show we can apply critical thinking to a given situation in which we might be faced with during our day to day job.  Reading pages of dos and don’ts, whys and wherefores and then testing how well we remember them doesn’t prove we can apply a particular piece of legislation to an unexpected situation at work.  The only way we can do that is put people in the situation.  Of course this can still include using multiple choice questions but not the type we are most familiar with.  We just need to be more creative with them by using mini-scenario questions or case studies so we’re testing actions rather than recall.

Is it really impossible?  If you put such a solution forward to address compliance training in eLearning would you be laughed out of the boardroom?  Would your stakeholders just summarily dismiss the idea as unworkable?  My argument is that its more than possible, compliance is crying out for it but you’ll have to sell the benefits carefully.  Will you just assume your stakeholders won’t buy-into it or will you be prepared to spend time and effort in producing something you know will engage and produce real results instead of ticking the attendance boxes?





Image by scott payne from Pixabay

Why is there such resistance by some organisations to producing quality eLearning.  Why are we still faced with this situation where the goal is just to get as many people through the sheep dip as quickly as possible, so they all come out the other end with a stamp to say ‘done’ rather than ‘can do’. In Craig Taylor’s comment to an earlier blog post ‘How do we ensure competency’, he has been faced with the same brick wall.

Perhaps our stakeholders need more persuading.  Perhaps they aren’t aware how compromising the quality of the learning actually has a negative impact on efficiency.  If the learning is poor then organisations will still see costly legal procedures continue, mistakes may still be made and productivity may still be down.  Retraining may be required but if the learning is poor, the whole cycle starts again.

Perhaps organisations are under pressure from their governing bodies to meet ever more demanding targets in shorter time scales that it’s become more about counting virtual bums on virtual seats than making sure staff are fully equipped with the skills to do their jobs.

Perhaps instead of saying how high and jump to the orders from those who really have little experience in producing quality learning solutions, we should change our strategies from being order takers to becoming the consultants we really are.  Supporting learning and performance is everyone’s responsibility, not just the L&D but the line managers, the senior managers and those doing the learning they just could do with a little help.

Only when we know we have tried our best; only when we have put forward all arguments; only when we’ve provided a taster, a working example based on scientific and evidence based practise; only when we’ve managed to pilot and collated feedback; only when we have measured both the efficacy and the efficiency of the solution (like Craig Taylor)can we honestly admit defeat.  At least we can say we’ve done all we can to persuade the skeptics.

If, after all that effort, our conscience is still in turmoil and “if you can’t beat them, join them” is not an option for you, there is only one thing left to do …..

My advice?  Keep chipping away.  Even though your head might bleed from hitting it against that proverbial brick wall, keep going.  As Confucius said “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. Before long you’ll have supporters walking along side and one day the rewards will be great.

The Power of the Architect – Part 1

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

Designing environments that work

The other Monday evening, I was flicking through the channels of the hotel tiny TV looking for something easy and not too brain taxing to watch, when I landed on a programme all about the secret life of buildings and how they way they are designed can have a fundamental and often quite scary effect on our behaviour, health and well-being. I thought it would do until the second episode of Corrie came on (I told you I needed something inane and not too taxing to relax didn’t I?).

Here’s what the Chanel 4’s introduction for the programme says on its website ” Architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff explores the impact the design of buildings can have on us – on our identity and self-esteem, and on relationships, our chances at school, and even our weight and immune system”

Well, I was only watching a couple of minutes when I was hooked. This programme was fascinating. So much so I started writing notes (so much for relaxing then!). This was the second of three in the series. Unfortunately I’d missed the first one which was the designs of our homes. I’m going to catch that one on On-Demand.


Architecture’s influence on our behaviour

This episode concentrated on how architecture can change the way we feel and behave. It looked at how it can even change our brains. Wow – really?

Tom Dyckhoff visited several different buildings throughout the programme. Some of these have achieved iconic status such as The Gerkin designed Norman Foster. The Gerkin, which got it’s name from the its shape which looked like a giant gerkin, is a magnificent building but when you entered inside it became bland, soulless, uninspiring. The only thing going for it was the view. This was very different to Foster’s other iconic building in Ipswich.

The Willis building was iconic back in 1975 because it was one of the first truely open plan office buildings in the UK. It was column-free with reflective surfaces to reflect light back into the office space and a large rooftop restaurant which catered for all staff bringing levels together. There was even a swimming pool (later covered over to provide more offices). This structure was unique also in that it said there was more to people than work. It was very popular with the workforce.

We had a fascinating insight into how architecture can have a detrimental effect on us when Dyckhoff then took us to Deloitte’s offices in London. Apparently, when the staff moved into their current building, morale took a nose dive. Team work and productivity fell dramatically. Guy Battle, partner in Deloitte even said his “heart fell” when he walked into the building. From the organisation’s point of view, the space was very efficient but it just didn’t inspire people. It was, again, soulless. When asked what she would have like to change, one member of staff said “additional facilities for staff” and somewhere where all the other tenants could “congregate and mingle”.

It seems that because these structures were built to house many different tenants they needed to have a broader appeal and therefore a less interesting look and feel. Rab Bennett, architect of the Deloitte building acknowledged the direction office spaces need to go in should be better and “if architects were more like craftsmen again, making things properly with good responsible work” people would still buy that although still maintained that buildings would still have to have a broad appeal. Norman Foster also agreed that perhaps the internal space could be better and had even tried to influence his clients. “at some point” he said “you have to let go”.

So how did the programme prove that the way our environments are designed can affect our brain development? Enter Fred Gage, Neuroscientist at San Diego’s Salk Institute. Gage had carried out experiments on mice (apparently mice have a similar brain structure to humans). It seems that, contrary to the belief that we are all born with all the brain cells we need, we can actually grow new brain cells. Our brains cells can grow and mature by as much as 15% in a month. It appears that external environments do have a significant influence on our brain development.

As long as we are continually developing and we are moving within different spaces especially when those spaces are of different qualities and stimuli, our brains will constantly change and shift. Gage stated that “architects are impacting the structure of our brains by the spaces they are making but they’re not taking into consideration how”. He advised that both neuroscientists and architects need to work together because “we should be highly motivated to optimise our understanding so we can optimise our own performance and abilities”.


What has this got to do with learning?

Remember at the beginning of this post I said I’d settled down to relax and watch some mind numbing TV. This was so I could help my brain switch off. No such luck. With this fascinating programme, my brain kicked into to gear and revved right up. Well that’s all very interesting, you might say, but what has this got to do with learning, blended learning and eLearning? I say it has everything to do with it.

What I saw was all these wonderfully shiny new buildings, cleverly constructed and award winning in design. They were rich in texture, unusual in shape, flashy and looked very expensive. All the time and energy seemed to had been spent on how good they looked. How impressive they were on the outside. Applauded how clever and innovative the artist/designer/architect was who came up with these plans.

They are, indeed, things of wonder and (not always) beauty. But the one big flaw is that they were built for efficiency. They weren’t built with the people in mind. There was little thought in how people behave. There was no thought in how people feel. We’re people, not machines. We need social interaction, we need stimulation, we need challenge, we need emotional connections, we need to feel comfortable not constrained.

Have we fallen into the same trap when designing our digital learning solutions? Have we spent our energies on designing shiny new online/virtual learning environments full of ‘bling’. On the outside they look like they will deliver. They look expensive. They look clever and flash. They mesmerise and astound us with programming panache. Do they tantalise and entice us with wondrous award winning exteriors yet lifeless and cold on the inside with uninspiring information laden drudgery? Of course the look is important but once you’re through that fancy door, are they devoid of challenge, social interaction and emotional connection? Can you choose your own path or are you constrained and shackled at every step? Are they designed with people in mind? As architects for our learning environments, do we really consider our audience and their needs?

Do we really understand the serious impact we can have when we build learning environments? Fred Gage, the neuroscientist mentioned above, advised that architects and neuroscientists should work together. Very true. I say the architects of our learning environments should heed the same advice.

In my next post I’m going to explore a little more of this fascinating programme and how we can make parallels in our learning designs.

And for those of you who would like to see the programme here it is on YouTube or On-Demand on Channel 4

How do we ensure competency?

Is training really the answer?

I’ve just watched Craig Taylor’s excellent Pecha Kucha ‘Using technology to enhance an assess-train-assess approach’ in which he shares examples of how assessing competency levels before automatically mandating everyone attend the same annual refresher has had a positive impact on business.

When I hear people talking about the need to design a course here may be some reasoning behind it:

a) there is an update
b) compliance -staff are required to attend refresher training every year whether they need it or not
c) there’s some new approaches to working practise

However, before you automatically go through the usual motions and go down the ‘we’ve got to design a new course’ why not ask yourself the following questions:

How much do they know already?

How often would they carry out that work?

and the biggie…. What REALLY tells you whether they are competent or not?

Why do we insist on putting everyone, no matter how experienced they are in the subject, through a course before establishing whether they actually need it? Even when the instructional design is top notch including relevant task based interactive activities, it’s a waste of resources and staff time if they already know the subject matter and are applying successfully. Of course we need to maintain quality and adhere to legal requirements but is herding us all through one-size-fits-all courses the most efficient or, indeed, effective way of doing this?

It seems we often pay more attention to recording ‘bums on seats’ – virtual or otherwise instead of establishing the quality of work performance. So our workforce are all too often taken off their important jobs and attend compulsory training where there is limited flexibility in what they can choose to do. There is a simple, logical and very effective solution – assessments not courses.

As I said in a comment to Ryan Tracy’s blog post ‘online courses must die‘ “why force individuals to go through the same mandatory content year after year when all they may need is a yearly, skills based assessment. If that assessment highlight skills gaps then a more flexible learning programme will make sure individuals learn only what they need not what they don’t”

Now I’m not saying that we’ll never need formal courses ever again. This would be ridiculous and untrue. Besides, I’d be talking my way out of a job if I do that. There are many reasons why someone will need formal courses. But before we decide, we do need to be more analytical before designing how to facilitate our workforce’s learning paths. Yes, it may mean more hard work gathering all the information you’ll need. Yes, it will mean we would need to encourage ownership of learning more to the individuals themselves and help them develop their meta-cognitive skills. And yes, it will mean L&D professionals would then become more cultivators of learning.

When reflecting on why this ‘herding’ approach occurs so frequently, I was reminded of a conversation I had recently around the reluctance in considering just assessing staff to prove competence before deciding whether anyone needed more formal training. It appears it all boiled down to the quality of the assessment – or rather the poor quality of the assessment. This meant that everyone had to be forced to attend the same training course to make sure the content was covered (not I didn’t say learned) and which could be tracked for statistical purposes and to prove attendance.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong but the whole point of an assessment is to test whether a person is competent in the subject matter.

If you spend the valuable time and effort in creating great learning programmes, whether they are formal courses or a collection of learning nuggets on-demand, the only way learning can be confirmed is by completing an assessed activity.  If that assessment can easily be ‘guessed’, then the learner doesn’t have to use any problem solving techniques to analyse and apply.  If you honestly have little confidence in the assessment at the end of a learning programme, of course you won’t want to put it out there on its own.  It will about as much use as a chocolate  teapot!

We’ve often discussed what makes good learning, ‘e’ or otherwise. What now begs the question is “what is good assessment?”

Choose your words well!

Image by narciso1 from Pixabay

Have you ever struggled with writing the text for engaging eLearning? All too often the detached self study tutorials are full of what Cathy Moore calls ‘corporate drone‘ and because we have become used to writing what we think the organisation wants, we can find it tricky to look beyond the business gobbledygook and write what our learners need to hear/read.

Now there are lots of things we can do to help our eLearning become more engaging but the one important thing that’s often missing is the human touch. Somehow when writing for these self study tutorials we forget there is a human being on the other end of the computer. We write business-speak – formal. The last thing to help people feel at ease is formality.

When I was young and being taught English Grammar in school, all my essays had to be grammatically correct. I was taught never to shorten words. I was told always to write ‘it is’ not ‘it’s’ or ‘cannot’ not ‘can’t’. This may still be the case if you’re writing novels. It’s challenging to unlearn these things (and if my Father ever read what I write these days, he’d be appalled).

Here’s my advice…. “imagine you are sitting right next to the person. What would you actually say to them?”. Because, the thing is, even though the tutorial may reach hundreds or thousands of people, there’s only one person sitting on the other end of that PC. It’s an intimate experience. You are talking only to them not the masses. You are connecting only with that one person. Allow them to feel you really exist as a human being not a corporate clone.

I like to think that writing for eLearning tutorials is a little like writing a stage play script or a movie script. Write the conversations you will have with that individual. If creating scenarios, write the script for the scene and create realistic characters to ‘speak’ and ‘act’ out the conversations and emotions. Use natural language. Use visuals to depict emotion or thought bubbles to allow us to understand what the character might be thinking. Avoid all those lovely descriptive adjectives we would see in great novels we’re not writing novels, we’re writing scenes so learners can imagine themselves right there.

Make their online learning experience just that – an experience…and one to remember.

Online courses must die!

I just love Twitter even though it’s sucking the life-blood out of that work/life balance of mine (what work/life balance? my husband says). Anyway, last night I was catching up on the stream peering through my blurry eyes when I came across this super blog post by the e-Learning Provocateur (@ryantracey). The title is alone ‘Online courses must die‘ warrants a read. It’s an old post (in social media terms anyway – going back to July last year) but no less topical for that. It certainly lives up to the title of the blog – provocative.

It’s full of very thought provoking stuff and matches my own ideals one of which is using authoring tools for the right job. So often they’re the proverbial hammers cracking nuts with equal devastation.

I’ve popped a reply on Ryan’s post but it has piqued my interest that I may well explore some of those points further.

Read and enjoy!