Learning design

Less is more – it really is!

Image by Igor Link from Pixabay

In Seth Godin’s recent blog post ‘the secret of the five top‘, he explores the reasoning behind why banquet tables are set at numbers of 10.  Apparently, this number is for maximum efficiency for serving staff and for table setting.  “Bigger” he says, ” you couldn’t reach and smaller there’s no room.”  Seth points out that although this is efficient for the banquet organiser, it really isn’t conducive for social interaction.  Parties and banquets are all about social interaction yet large tables of ten places barriers in the way of social interaction.

Having attended several wedding and conference banquets in recent years, I understand the issues perfectly.  These large tables have the opposite effect.  You end up talking only to the three or four people near you whereas you feel alienated from those directly opposite (that is if you can actually see them over the ornate table centre display).

The same is true of the classroom (virtual or physical).  Let’s imagine that you have determined that classroom is the best option for at least one element of the learning solution.  It may seem more efficient to cram 12, 24 or more people in the same room.  After all, you can tell 24+ the same stuff as easily as you can tell 8 …. can’t you?  Well, yes, I guess if your classroom is a glorified lecture theater where your learners are passively awaiting the gush of information.

The thing is, we know that’s not effective.  Social interaction in the form if discussions, group activities, small group case studies, tutor facilitation, individual consolidation exercises, assessments and individual feedback is.  Why then, is all this put at risk by organisations insisting that just because there are enough chairs and the room is big enough, they’ll fill it to the rafters.

Remember this…. When we favour quantity over quality there will be consequences.  Can you afford the consequences?

Performance support, Technologies

Video – The star of performance support?

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

In my previous blog post I paid homage to video, the come-back kid. In this post I’m going to explore a few pros and cons our beloved video has.

With the popularity of YouTube, Vimeo, Slideshare and the like, it has never teen easier to sell the benefits about using video for learning and performance support. Wherever we go; on our PCs, on our laptops, on our mobile devices – video is there.

Why? Well, we are visual creatures primarily and, as the saying goes, pictures paint a thousand words. In which case, how many words would moving pictures paint, let alone ‘talkies’ (and they said it wouldn’t catch on).

Videos are a great way to engage audiences with its storytelling properties. In a formal setting we could:

  • Watch a film showing good/poor behaviour. Analyse it and add reflective notes to a forum
  • Use videos as branching scenarios where you choose the next bit in the story from selecting from given responses to each clip until the final scene which will expose the final result

Then we have the video as performance support. Videos seem to have transformed this arena. So much so that should you search for a ‘how to’ guide on practically anything, it is highly likely there will be a clip for that.

The problem with video … oh yes, there are problems with video… is that in the world where we are encouraging more learner-control, these don’t quite give them that. Yes, they can be classed as ‘on-demand’ but they are far from self-paced. You can fast-forward, stop and rewind, but you still can only listen and watch at the pace at which they were recorded.

This can cause problems. For example, the other day, my other half needed some instructions to help him install some software and searched the vendor’s website for some help. The only thing he found was a video. Now, my spouse is an experienced techy guy and only required a quick checklist or simple steps to run through as he installed the software. I’ve also experienced the same and it’s very frustrating.

It’s great to get an overview to get yourself ready before you carry out the steps. A video will set the scene and, as the visual creatures we are, we feel more prepared for the activity. Allison Rossett, in her book Job Aids & Performance Support calls this type of performance support a ‘planner’. It does what it says on the tin – it helps you plan for when you need to do it.

What he needed was a ‘sidekick’. Something quick to help him carry out the steps at that moment.

So a word of friendly advice… if you are developing a collection of on-demand videos for performance support, be sure to consider your audience, their needs and in what situation they will need that support. If you only provide ‘planners’ then you might be setting yourself up for a fall if you don’t also provide ‘sidekicks’ to help at that exact moment of need. These could be checklists, quick procedure steps or step by step diagrams. Think aeroplane safety cards – what use will a video be when you can’t remember what you saw in the video/demo at take-off?

How have you used video either to help you as an end user or to support others?

Technologies

Video: The Come-Back Kid!

No, not me – although I have been very quiet in the bloggersphere lately.

I’m talking video. Yes, Video, …. YOU are the Come-Back Kid. In the learning world that is. I’ll bet if anyone does a search on Google (other search engines are available) they’ll have you pop up at least once in the search results.

Isn’t it great how accessible learning is nowadays? If you want to make a gingerbread house for Christmas (not that my gingerbread ended up as a house – more like stars. I ran out of patience) or fit a new car radio you had as a gift; from tuning your new bow to get the best grouping arrows to clipping your West Highland Terrier – you can bet your bottom dollar, you’ll be there, video; somewhere on YouTube, Vimeo or on a product site to name but three.

You’re there for those who just downloaded a new piece of software, to help show them the way to use it; to give a helping hand; to provide support; to help them learn something new. You’re there to engage us emotionally with content that would otherwise send us screaming for the exits or dribbling into our morning coffee. You’re like our favourite movies, making emotional connections; allowing us to consider from different perspectives; to put ourselves in others’ shoes.

Oh but, video, you’ve been around for a long time now and brought us some of the finest British comedy talent into our dull little corporate lives. Some of us will remember, fondly, how you brought subjects like, ‘how to run meetings’, ‘dealing with challenging behaviour’, ‘customer care’ to life in glorious technicolour. How many of these faces are now ‘national treasures’ here in Britain and fondly thought of elsewhere.

Now you bring us a plethora of video content. No longer on reel-to-reel, nor on VCR; but moreover on DVD and the Internet. From desktop to mobile. According to the following delightfully engaging piece, we can expect 90% of all Internet traffic to be video by 2014. Its content is not specifically about using you for learning purposes, video, but as we do with so many other things, we can learn from it.

BoT: What’s a VIDEO worth? from BoT Videos on Vimeo.

Everyone who is anyone seems to want to create another you, video. Including me. You have become so accessible that armed with just a reasonable digital camera and a affordable video editing software or a screen-capture program such as Camtasia, we can easily get started. And, if you are canny enough and follow some best practice guidelines, and make use of a number of freely available screen-capture or video editing software. Even with the basics, we’ll have great results.

Yes, video … you rock! But just hold on to your horses there a moment, Come-Back Kid, before you get yourself all carried away … and us with you … like we did with your predecessor the eLearning tutorial! There’s a time and a place for everything. And, although you are now the A-lister again, you still need to consider which will be your best roles, versatile though you are?

We’ll ponder that for a while and find out at a later date…

Online learning

Stories and analogies

Image by Полина Андреева from Pixabay

Now don’t faint – I’m just writing a short post – promise!

I recently came across a new blog.  Nowadays I’m awash with information from my social media sources and I do find it easy to just skim through my e-mail subscriptions hitting the delete key as I go or skip down my Twitter stream looking for something interesting to catch my eye (yes, I know you all post interesting posts and I do try to keep up to date).  Therefore the catchier the ‘headline’ the more likely I am to take a closer peak.

And that’s exactly what happened with this post from Ethan Edwards of Allen Interactions “e-learning… as easy as pie“.

It just goes to confirm how powerful stories and analogies are in helping people understand often complicated or bewildering information.

Read and enjoy!

Blended Learning

Why we shouldn’t call it blended learning!

Image by Полина Андреева from Pixabay

Those who know me will certainly be taken aback. After all, I admit, I must sound like a broken record; I’m always banging on about how blended learning is the foundation on which successful learning solutions is built on.

So why am I advocating a change of name?  Because there is still a lot of confusion around what the term ‘blended learning’ describes.

What do some people think it is?

  • eLearning tutorial+classroom+eLearning tutorial (what I call the classroom sandwich)
  • A classroom course with some computer work included within it
  • Has to include a classroom element with virtual classroom and or online tasks
  • A mix of different learning methods
  • Has to include some computer-based or online activity
  • A collection of diverse resources to dip into when you need some on-demand help

Well, it may surprise you to hear that none of the above are true – and yet – all are true to a greater or lesser extent.  How can this be?

We are in a time where digital has become our first means of communication.  The world COVID crisis has removed the option of any (or mostly) face-to-face learning delivery.  Our default has become digital – it had to.  But an effective digital learning solution is a blended one. And no, blended learning doesn’t necessarily mean there is any classroom in sight.

So what IS blended learning? 

Well, it depends.

“Depends on what?” you might ask…

It depends on the situation and because there are too many variables in any given situation, there is no one right blend template. The only right blend is the one that has been carefully designed for a particular set of circumstances. Every blend should be as unique as the situation it addresses. 

How can we get the right blend?

We can only do this if we investigate thoroughly before making any decisions.

  • What’s the performance required: What’s happening that shouldn’t or not happening that should? What impact does this have on business performance? Where do we need to get to?
  • Who are the people: what are their needs, gaps, experience, motivation?
  • What are the practicalities: what do we have available, what can’t we get, what are the limitations, what are the strengths etc

Our investigations will help us establish whether formal training is the solution (or part of) and where it fits. It will help us identify where less formal approaches such as coaching, just in time resources, and an ‘in at the deep end’ will play a part.

Once we’ve established the need, we will use the data gathered to help us outline the most appropriate learning approach, structure, and effective combination of activities.

We will be able to decide on how we can deliver these activities that makes the best use of the resources we have and that will work well for the particular learning activities we’ve chosen. 

The model below, illustrates how a (blended) learning framework leverages all contexts in which people learn, from formal training (live virtual classroom, self-paced online content, classroom, elearning tutorial), formal learning facilitation (live virtual classroom and self-paced tasks) performance facilitation (coaching and mentoring), supporting continued learning and performance and on-demand resources.

On top of this sits ‘support in the workplace’ whether this is from the learning and development team, line managers or peers). Blended Learning Infographic showing the blended learning framework as the base foundation bar and support in the workplace as the top bar. In between there is shown a range of 6 learning method examples. Group 1 is designing live online and self-paced learning and the facilitation of both. Group 2 is classroom design and facilitation. Group 3 is elearning tutorial design. Group 4 is coaching and mentoring. Group 5 is on-demand media content and group 6 is learning on the job in the workplace.

Remember, each situation is unique so each blend will be unique that may use a mix of some or all methods below. A blended learning approach is a whole workplace learning approach. 

But if not ‘Blended Learning’, what should we call it?

Learning design, Online learning

Wonderful eLearning

Happy Day by Peter IsmagilovLast week I attended yet another excellent event run by the eLearning Network. I always enjoy spending time in the company of like minded people all with one goal in mind – better quality eLearning. If you weren’t able to make it, then there was an active back channel in Twitter so check out #elnevent to catch up.

First up was Bill Miller of Wonderful Learning. Well, it was certainly a wonderful session and a great way to kick the whole day off which was all about attaining ‘truly effective eLearning’.

Why? Because Bill took us back to considering what is THE most important element of successful eLearning – how our learners feel!

If we consider for just a moment, how many of us are unable to think straight whenever we feel anxiety or stress; how we go blank when taking exams. Bill’s session took us through a highly engaging and entertaining trip through the thinking of Carl Rogers and his setting of the emotional climate; introduced us to the neurobiologist Antonio Damasio and his thoughts on the effect emotions have on our decision-making; and a little insight into recent brain research.

With the introduction of MRI scanning, we’ve been able to find out amazing things about how our brains react to different stimuli. Connie Malamed in her blog The eLearning Coach shared a great piece about Emotions and Learning

Without going into the science bit… you can look that up for yourselves… let’s consider the following-

For some years now, as classroom facilitators we’ve begun to realise how important it is to ‘settle’ our learners so their learning environment is comfortable. We understand about removing barriers that may ‘get in the way’ of their openness to learn. We are what some may call ‘people’ people. We know it’s important to build a trusting relationship between us and our learners and to foster the same among them. Becoming increasingly aware of how our own actions will help or hinder has transformed the physical classroom environment into a positive and enjoyable experience.

Why, then, do we often forget this when introducing learning in an ‘e’ environment?

If you imagine that you have been taken out of this familiar, comfortable, setting surrounded by others in the same situation who you can confide in, draw on for support, and where there is someone who can give guidance and advice… then you are plunged into this strange and isolating world of technology, where the only voice seems to be your own, where the tools you have been given are unfamiliar and it seems you are cut off from humanity? How do you feel?

It seems when our learners are thrown into the unknown, the unfamiliar, we remove from them that which helps overcome their feelings of anxiety. If anything, as instructional designers and facilitators of eLearning, we should work even harder to incorporate the research of Carl Rogers, Antonio Damasio and what we are increasingly learning about that little almond shaped part of our limbic system, the amygdala and its influence on our decision-making.

Becoming more self-aware in our design of learning (‘e’ or otherwise, or rather, more aware of our learners’ needs, experiences and emotions, we can design for THEM.

Taking you back to Bill’s session here are some of his thoughts to leave you with:

  • There are more neural pathways to the pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of our brain) than going back
  • The rational thought processes have been emotionally tagged because they pass through the limbic system (our emotional part of the brain)
  • Emotions need to be at the forefront of learning

The session that followed Bill’s linked superbly by looking at the importance of user interface design from Richard Hyde of Mind Click but more of that another day.