Field of Dreams- if you build it, will they come?

Image by freestocks-photos from Pixabay

I’m sitting here in my hotel room catching up with some much neglected research via my Twitter network with half an ear on the TV (who said I couldn’t multi-task – oh yes, that was me!). The programme is Alex Polizzi’s ‘The Fixer’ where she advises waning businesses on how to improve. This week it’s the turn of The Chough Bakery in Padstow; a family business baking fresh and quality breads.

What actually pricked up my ears was a statement along the lines of “it doesn’t matter how good your product is, you have to be able to sell it”. The family had a great range of products. However, the person tasked with sales and marketing the range didn’t have the detailed product knowledge, nor the drive to proactively market them.

We can often forget how important marketing is to our eLearning programme. Or, indeed any learning programmes. But it’s especially important we know how to ‘sell’ any new product well.

Just imagine….. you and your instructional design team have spent weeks designing and developing the perfect learning solution to meet the detailed analysis which also took blood, sweat and tears to complete. You’ve meticulously project managed the development and run a very successful pilot. The solution is good to go and has been opened up to the masses. So there it sits – in your course booking system like a forgotten toy waiting for someone to remember it and take it out off the box.

Without a robust marketing strategy all that hard work, time and resources will go to waste. Unlike Kevin Kostner’s Field of Dreams, just because you built it, your learners won’t necessarily come.

If selling to external customers, it goes without saying that your sales team should be fully conversant in what your eLearning or blended solution entails; identifying the unique selling point for different customers. A sheep dip approach has the same pitfalls in sales and marketing as it has for learning. One excellent way of helping your sales staff fully explain and sell the solution to different needs is for them to experience the learning first hand. Perhaps they could take part in the pilot?

But it’s not just down to our sales team. In L&D we are all ‘Ad-men’ selling the benefits to our learners, motivating and engaging. So remember, if all that hard work is going to pay off, your project plan has to include a good marketing strategy too.

The price of perfection

Image by Robert Fotograf from Pixabay

I recently read this excellent post by Clark Quinn (@Quinnovator) despairing about the continued dire examples of eLearning continually being created. Sometimes I wonder whether eLearning designers take their profession seriously enough to continually research, read and improve.

It isn’t particularly hard to keep up with best practice especially given the ease with which we can now collaborate, share and network with peers and experts in the field. With the likes of Cathy Moore, Connie Malamad, Ruth Clark, Tom Khulman to name only a fraction who feel so strongly about improving the quality of eLearning tutorials that they give advice freely, I certainly share Clark Quinn’s frustrations. I’d like to think I play my own little part in the revolution.

However, I then have to take a step back and climb down from my high horse (mixing my metaphors). When discussing what is good eLearning (referring to the self-paced interactive tutorials) it often becomes very clear that even when people have the knowledge, skills and drive to produce quality their hands are quite tightly tied by time and resource constraints. People gasp with disbelief when I give them an indication of how many hours of development time to hours of learning it can take. Then their gasps turn to nervous laughter when contemplating what their bosses/sponsors would say if they asked for enough time to develop this level of excellence let alone get to grips with their new skills.

So I can equally empathise with Rob Stephen’s comment to Clark Quinn’s post. The problem is, in today’s climate where time and resources are scarce, something’s got to give – all too often that something is quality. So instead, perhaps we should ask ourselves “what’s the alternative” and take a more agile approach to make sure quality is maintained. After all there is more to eLearning than the self-paced (so called) interactive tutorials we often think of when faced with the term.

There is little excuse, however, if such poor examples to which Clark Quinn refers are still being produced. As ‘expert’ instructional designers they should know what good learning involves. Although, there may be various reasons why this might be so. Giving the benefit of the doubt, it may be that the sponsor, knowing little about what great eLearning looks and feels like, insists on info-dumps testing knowledge not application to tick those compliance boxes.

The culprit may be the sponsor’s limited budget and of course more complex the eLearning the longer it will take and therefore will cost more but that doesn’t mean that simple interactions needn’t be performance based, relevant and contextual. In which case the experts in instructional design surely would act as consultants to those with less knowledge in learning design. But it shouldn’t just be laid at their door. We all have a duty to work together, to make sure learning is effective no matter how it’s delivered. Are we willing to pay the price of perfection or will pursuit of efficiency be the cost of quality?

E-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer: A review

Towards the end of last year I was asked if I’d like to contribute to the online e-learning magazine ‘eLearn Magazine‘ by writing a book review. I was honoured to be asked and eagerly agreed.

I was pleased to find out that the book chosen for me to review was Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer’s third edition of ‘E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning’ to give it its full title.

Here’s an extract, hot off the press.

Transferring classroom courses to online delivery isn’t as simple as it might initially seem. In our eagerness to meet the needs of the organization, the needs of the learners are often overlooked. Even so, the trend for producing more efficient ways of delivering learning is set to continue. It also means more and more organizations are looking to produce eLearning in house. If this is the case, in order to leverage the benefits of eLearning we’ll need some guidance. And for that we do not have to look further than Clark and Mayer’s E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, now in its third edition.

Read the full article at eLearn Magazine here

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.

Out with old, in with the new

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Well the first week of a shiny new year has flown by and I thought I’d reflect on my last year’s goals. I didn’t do too badly considering…

My plan to get back into my archery unfortunately didn’t materialise which also meant my plans for a more work/life balance wasn’t quite achieved. However, considering my blogging and professional development are all done in my own time, I’m fairly happy with my achievement. OK’ I didn’t always make my plan of a weekly post but I’ve averaged 3.5 posts a month which isn’t bad.

The last three months of 2011 saw me completely drop off the social media planet. I really can’t put my finger on why. I think I just burnt myself out with the social media scene. My official professional work became more hectic than usual and seeped into my own time (probably a familiar story to others out there) that I found myself abandoning my extra curricular investigations in the world of online learning and learning technologies.

My iPhone became a tool for making calls, checking e-mails and taking photos of my beautiful new niece. My iPad started to gather dust on the coffee table. Its only outing a trip to Thailand where it was as invaluable as a Swiss army knife (but that’s another story entirely).

I start 2012 with renewed motivation. I’ve made a promise to myself to get back on track and continue with those resolutions I made last year. But in addition I’ve made a promise to myself to make time just for me. After all, as the saying goes, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. And that’s exactly how I felt when I saw out 2011.

With a new year it’s time for a new and more positive outlook professionally too . What changes would I like to see in the year ahead in my profession? I’d like to see more emphasis on how people really learn and less about counting those bums on seats – virtual or otherwise.

I’d like to see more acceptance of social tools for learning and working. I’d like to see more effort being put into what makes effective learning online. I’d like to see more asynchronous learning being the norm.

I’d like to see more use of learning and collaborating in live online environments when live discussion is considered valuable.

I’d like to see face to face interaction used efficiently and when most appropriate and I’d like to see more L&D professionals grab the virtual bull by the horns and start adding to their skills to ensure learning online is as effective as learning in well designed classroom events. Am I expecting too much? It might be easier than you think.

Here’s to a successful 2012.

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.