Digital Teaching Platforms: a review

Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay

A little while back I was asked if I’d like to write another review for eLearn Magazine. Here’s an extract:

“When I read the title of this book I was intrigued. Admittedly, at first I only read the main title “Digital Teaching Platforms” and as I’m always looking at learning more about how technology can help, support and advance learning, I was keen to investigate further. When I then read the sub-heading “Customizing classroom learning for each student,” I have to admit, I was thinking more corporate classrooms.

Finding ways of avoiding the “sheep-dip” approach to teaching and thereby seeking to customize learning interventions for individuals is the Holy Grail amongst learning professionals. However, customizing content for learners often proves elusive. It was once deemed expensive to have to create enough variables to cater for everyone. However with the major advances in technology of recent years this is becoming achievable.”

More…

Dream the impossible eLearning dream

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Another nail struck firmly on the head by Clive Shepherd in his post on the four Ts. So often, when keen individuals walk through our training room doors, their expectations are high. Unfortunately, equally, their expectations are also very often unrealistic. It soon becomes clear that there might not only be a lot to learn (but attainable) but a lot of time will be required to reach the appropriate skill level.

Clive explains this needs practise, and practise needs time. Those already in the learning and development field may not need skills in how adults learn in general (you’d hope) but they will need to adapt their skills to design for a different delivery medium.  This means stepping into a whole new technological world – and, oh, how much of it there is! On the other hand those who might already be tech-savvy may not have the necessary skills in what make good learning.  Therefore each of these groups need up-skilling.

It’s encouraging to witness continued enthusiasm of people on the eLearning courses I run.  Of course there are dips – usually when they realise exactly how much is involved;  there are also highs when they realise they often have more experience and aptitude than they might have thought.  When they leave, their high expectations may have been capped, but mostly they still leave enthused and keen to put their new-found knowledge into practise.

However, that’s often when we hit the biggest downer of all ….

With these skills gaps already identified by organisations, employees are signed up for training courses to achieve what’s required.  It’s great news that organisations recognise this and are investing in their employees.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction.  However, along with the investment comes unrealistic expectations of speedy implementation.  In a previous post, I discussed the likelihood of compromising quality when unrealistic goals are set when implementing an in-house eLearning project.

This isn’t just limited to the domain of eLearning design though – again as I replied to a comment from Clarke Quinn to that same post above.  Throughout the years L&D teams have been faced with unrealistic time-scales and misconceptions about how much work is involved in developing learning programmes – whether they are eLearning, formal face to face training or even e-bites of instructional ‘how-to’ support material.  The result?  A compromise on quality or working ridiculously long hours or both!

Unless a clear digital learning strategy is agreed and supported by senior executives and across all levels of the organisation, we may likely to see a slow improvement in the quality of in-house produced eLearning content.

It’s not an impossible dream – it can happen with commitment, support and understanding.

Slides that Rock!

Image by Таша Корчагина from Pixabay

SlideShare: where we can learn from others

I’ve just read an interesting article from a SlideShare subscription alert. It was interesting on a number of levels. The article ‘Slides that Rock’ describes 5 ways SlideShare has helped them ‘rock’:

1. providing a platform where they can learn
2. building a better network
3. enabling a global presence
4. providing a marketing platform
5. adding credibility

I loved viewing their accompanying SlideShare presentation too which has some excellent learning points many of us can take away. It does have a SlideShare promotional feel to it and is considering SlideShare more from a marketing tool point of view but, nonetheless, all their points are valid and I started to relate it back to eLearning (as is my tendency) and learning in general.

Presentations are a very passive way of sending a message but can play an important part in workplace learning or as part of a formal blended/eLearning solution. Reading copious amounts of text can have a detrimental effect on our levels of engagement and often visuals play a vital role in our comprehension of the material as well as motivating us to ‘stick with it’. “A picture paints a thousand words” as the saying goes is useful to bear in mind. We can learn to change that by taking ideas from these types of presentations such as ‘Slides that rock’.

Of course, we don’t have to stop at changing how our presentations look. We can apply the same principles to our eLearning tutorial slides too not to mention our classroom slides. And just think of the difference you can make to your conference presentations!

When people on my eLearning design workshops fear they haven’t the creative skills to produce dynamic and appealing slides I point them to two of the names mentioned in this article, Nancy Duarte (her Slideology book) and Garr Reynolds (particularly his Presentation Zen Design book).

Two further publication I always recommend are (i) ‘The non-designer’s design book‘ by Robin Williams (covers in layman’s terms the basic principles of graphic design – contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity) and (ii) ‘Visual Language for Designers‘ by Connie Malamed. I’m looking forward to checking out the work of David Crandall and Jesse Desjarnins to whom the article refers.

We could also do well to remember as learning designers though is that we too are marketeers. When we produce a piece of learning, whether it’s designed to be a formal course or ad-hoc, just in time chunks to help with workplace learning, we are producing a product to ‘sell’. The visual design ideas we see here could also be transferred to our marketing material such as posters and leaflets.

On a final note…. the main points that stuck with me from this article however were that SlideShare gave them a platform from where they could learn and it allowed them to build a better network.

We learn from sharing and collaborating with others. We just sometimes need a little help in knowing where to look which is where the role of trainers becoming curators and consultants comes in.

The problem with learning objectives….

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay edited by LLJ

…is the confusion over what they really are.

The debate over the importance of learning objectives continues. I enjoyed reading a recent post by Clive Shepherd and more particularly the responses it generated. I like to think I have a fairly open mind and welcome reading debates around various doctrines in the L&D arena.

It’s healthy to question and to see the other point of view. But before we can really decide whether learning objectives should or shouldn’t be used, surely it’s important to first establish what exactly a learning objective is before we condemn?

 

Why do they have such bad press?

Might objectives have such a bad press because of their misuse and poor construction? I’ve often seen lists of key learning points posted at the beginning of a lesson or course. These are not learning objectives and certainly, if faced with a whole list of key learning points that early on, would probably send the best of us running to the hills.

When someone sees a list as long as your arm, of all the topics they are going to be taught at the very start of a course, session or module it is certainly understandable that their hearts will sink. Any motivation and buy-in that may have already been established is likely to be lost and all they hear inside is “I’m never going to take all that in!” or “it’s going to be a long day”.

Then of course you have a poorly constructed learning objectives. An example of a poorly constructed learning objective could be “you will understand the interview process”. At least it is succinct. But it could do with being more specific and measurable (how do you prove understanding?).

Even if you do have well constructed learning objectives, it’s best to only offer the overall learning objective at the start of the course. When it comes to listing all of lesson objectives at the beginning of the course/programme/module this should be avoided for the same reasons as highlighted above.

 

So what is a well-written learning objective?

A good learning objective is a succinct, clear description of the task that proves learning has taken place.

Clive’s post gives us pros and cons of learning objectives. I agree with the pros as you might expect and to a great extent I agree with some of the cons but would like to explore these and some of the responses a little further.

Yes, learning objectives are usually seen as directed from top-down. They give the organisation and the learners progress markers in their development which can be measured. They are certainly required from a development point of view to help the instructional designers construct learning that is logical, specific and relevant.

In Nick Shackleton-Jones’s response to Clive’s post, he recommends learning objectives should appear only in the catalogue and not the course. Certainly, when looking to register for a learning programme, we all need to know what’s in it for us – what we’re signing up for. But learning objectives (specific, well constructed and valid learning objectives) are also important progress markers for the learner within the course. They help us, as the learner, measure our achievements along the way and we can see how our skills are building. They help us, as learners, build confidence in our abilities.

Although I loved his film analogy “I can’t imagine a movie opening with the title ‘in this film you will learn that good eventually triumphs over evil, though this may require car chases and romantic interludes”, what Nick is referring to here isn’t what I would call a learning objective at all. It’s the aim or the message of the film. And, agreed, in the credits we wouldn’t see an overview of what the film was about to tell us. Besides which, who wants to hear spoilers (what will happen in the end) in a movie?

This message appears in the marketing of the film, voice-overs in the trailers and film reviews which would help you decide whether or not you wish to see the film. But these are still not learning objectives. If we were to write a learning objective for the film, first we’d need to establish a task for the viewer to do to prove they understood the message. Perhaps something like “using a your choice of media, submit a critique of [the film] citing at least 2 scenes where good overcame evil”.

In effect, the learning objective is a succinct description of the task that proves learning has taken place. When we have established that these are learning objectives, then including these within the course makes more sense. Throughout a course, whether it’s a classroom course, an eLearning course or a blended course, the programme will very likely consist of a series of progress checks (preferably skills checks not just quiz checks but that’s a whole different topic). Comparing films with training courses is like comparing oranges with sky-scrapers (not even another fruit).

For example, if a session in a ‘presentation skills’ course culminates in a progress check task where the learner has to apply the visual design elements covered in the session to a number of PowerPoint slides’ then it’s only right that the learner knows at the beginning of that session that they will be undertaking that task. Telling them at the beginning of the session is in the form of their learning objective e.g. “apply the 5 key design elements correctly to at least 1 of your PowerPoint slides”.

Now it can become very boring, even though it’s what we all expect, to see a slide titled ‘Learning Objective’ followed by “by the end of the session/module you will be able to….” at the beginning of every session/module (yawn!) Yes – even I get bored of that. Especially when considering an eLearning course. As long as everyone is clear of the task that’s expected of them why not break out from the mold and try saying it slightly differently “Your mission is to apply …. etc”

 

Are learning objectives confined to formal top-down?

As we’ve heard, learning objectives are more often than not driven from the top. However, even from a personal learning point of view, without individually establishing a goal – an end result i.e. a learning objective, how would we as individuals be able to measure how well we have achieved our own personal learning goals? I’ve done more self-learning in my adult life than have undergone formal training courses. Of course a lot of my development has been serendipitous but where I have made a conscious decision to do something I have, in effect given myself a learning objective.

Recently, I’ve been interested in creating and editing video in my spare time. It’s a minefield and in order to establish where to start I had to give myself a specific performance objective. I decided on a task which was “to create and edit a piece to camera about tips for writing book reviews”. This was my learning objective. It wasn’t a top-down initiative. It was a personal learning goal but a learning objective nonetheless. I’ve been doing this with the help of the eLearning Network’s mentoring scheme (slowly because of work commitments but am pleased with my progress so far – and if my mentor is reading this, I haven’t forgotten).

I certainly agree with Clive’s suggestion that where “participation in an intervention is determined by employees themselves, then their goals should surely over-ride any objectives set by the designer/instructor – at very least they should be negotiated”. This becomes more important in today’s climate where change happens at such a fast pace and the way we deliver learning needs to adapt. Enabling employees to have more of a say in their learning and negotiating their own personal learning goals is more achievable when applying more of a flexible and blended approach to learning. Nevertheless, negotiating and agreeing a real, learning objective which is task based is still as important as ever.

 

What can we do?

As instructional designers we can do a lot more to improve the delivery of our learning objectives which will have a positive impact so they engage our audiences instead of switch them off. Not only can they then be listed in the catalogue (“by the end of the course you will be able to….”) but with a little creative re-writing, the same goals can appear in the course (“your mission for this morning is to apply the 5 design elements correctly to your PowerPoint slides before a run through with your colleague”). They are still the same learning objective but one is from the instructional designer’s perspective, the other for the learner.

I guess the debate will continue – what are your views?

Pre-work! – Is it work or isn’t it?

Pre-work! Argh! There’s no such thing. 

Pre-work! – what exactly do we mean by this? Work is either work or it’s not.  And if it’s not ‘work’ what is it?  Is it reading?  If so, reading is something you do therefore it’s work!  Is it watching (a video)?  If so, it’s still doing – ergo – work.  There’s nothing ‘pre’ about it.  Are you getting the drift?

Of course, to make any sort of sense, it’s got to stand for ‘pre-course work’ but even that’s equally confusing.  Let’s explore.

The reason for this little rant is that my pet-hate of a phrase (as if you haven’t yet guessed) has been rearing its ugly head quite a lot lately.  I’ve read a few blog posts, articles and had conversations with people where these terms are being handed out without any thought about their implications.  

It’s always baffled me when people use this term.  I mean… really!  Even when traditional classroom training was the default delivery, we were very often given ‘pre-course work’ to do.  The term indicates that it some sort of activity (usually reading) that needs to be done before attending the course.  Students are usually provided with details of this as part of their joining instructions or booking confirmation.  And what do they do?  Well, the don’t do they?  This ‘pre-course work’ is often (to be fair not always) forgotten.  

Usually, it’s down to their perception that this pre-course work is optional.  After all, if it was necessary, it would be actually part of the course… wouldn’t it? It’s often provided with no clear guidelines about what they should do with it or how it’s going to be used when they arrive at the classroom.  There’s no real deadline apart from the date of the classroom course and more often than not there’s no tutor support or facilitation.

This all tells the student that if the tutors/facilitators can’t be bothered to put that effort in then why should they?  OK, I might be being a little unfair but it gets my point across.

Now us learning designers know that isn’t the case.  We’ve toiled for hours carefully creating this material and determining its importance in the course design.  I too have thrown my hands up in the air, looked skywards and silently screamed when set work hasn’t been carried out.  So why, if we have determined that this work is a necessary part of the course do we insist on calling it ‘pre-course’?  We’re not helping ourselves here.

In today’s multi-media rich world has opened the opportunities of the course to be more than classroom.  There is a wider adoption of blended solutions where different elements of the course are delivered via a range of different media channels.  Some don’t have a classroom element at all.  Strangely enough, those blended solutions where all elements are delivered remotely using a variety of media options are less likely to have ‘pre-course’ work included as it is easier to see it as part of that (likely) online delivery.

But where we do see these blended solutions having a significant classroom delivery element, any set activities outside of the classroom element are still being referred to as ‘pre-course’ or ‘post-course’.  Is it any wonder then, that we still hear concerns from learning solution designers that their learners are unlikely to carry that work out?  Using the phrase ‘pre-course’ perpetuates the misconception that the classroom is still the only place where the real learning happens.  Anything else is less important.  And, sadly, there are designers, trainers and facilitators who still think that themselves.

Over the past 5 years I tried to do my bit to persuade people to think differently about using the term ‘pre-course’ work and to consider using terms such as ‘part 1, part 2 or stage 1, stage 2.  It will also help when we no long consider the bulk of the learning/training to take place in the classroom and concentrate on the course being the content not the classroom.

So, come on folks, no more ‘pre-course work’ – please!

An Olympic Online Opportunity

Photo by Simon Connellan on Unsplash

At 12:49 on Wednesday 6 July 2005, I was travelling in Staffordshire to a training venue listening for the imminent announcement of who was going to ‘win’ the Olympic Games for 2012.  Now, I’m not a big sports fanatic but I couldn’t help but join in very excitedly with a big ‘WHOOP WHOOP!’ as Jacque Rogge made the announcement ….. LONDON!

Seven years later and it’s nearly here and Olympic fever has begun.  But along with the kudos comes chaos.  Now we’re hearing about all the disruption the Games are going to create.  It’s already started with Olympic organisers creating an Olympic route network meaning roadworks.

With the disruption to day to day business with journeys to work affected, higher than usual annual leave requests, pressures on transport systems and road networks, the advice given in the ‘preparing your business for the games‘ LOC publication to businesses is:

Millions of additional trips are expected on public transport and the road network in London and the UK … This could potentially disrupt your employees’ journeys, business travel, deliveries/collections, and the operations of suppliers, other contractors and freight.  To keep your businesses running, you should aim to reduce the need to travel and make essential journeys at less busy times or by using different modes or routes.

Over the past few months several delegates on my courses have talked about their organisations being encouraged to allow staff to work from home where they’re not needed to be in the office/building.

Of course, this doesn’t just mean problems for day to day working but also day to day training/learning.  Fortunately, if key people in these organisations are on the ball, they will see there is a way around some of this disruption.  Where live conversations are needed to take place, whether it’s to discuss on ongoing project or as part of a planned training course, we have the technology.  We’ve been communicating via e-mail for years.  

The concept of collaborating remotely is not new but we’ve yet to embrace the live online environment.  Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown.  Perhaps it’s bad experiences of them in the past.  But now – and I mean now and not in a few months time as an afterthought – is the time to make the most of the technology at our fingertips and start working (and learning) smarter.  If we start investigating as soon as possible how best to engage our live online participants (audience is too passive a word), we’ll be on the winning team by a long shot.

We certainly do have an Olympic opportunity.