Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Here Comes 2010 and There Goes 2009

Instead of writing a coherent end-of-year wrap up, I’m going to cram every meme in here and run through a gamut of topics from training to life to music to TV. I’ll go from light to heavy, so you can drop out before the going gets tough.

2009 Things That I’m Proud Of
  • I’m a proud mother of a beautiful baby boy.
  • I finally blogged!
  • I made it through several graduate classes – while pregnant and dead tired.
  • I was promoted to instructional designer.
  • I joined in the #lrnchat and LearnTrends fun.
  • I drove a car.
  • I joined a gym. (Only went three times, but no matter, it counts as something.
2009 Picks
  • The Deadweather
  • Method cleaning products, especially the cherry scented wood cleanser
  • Glee
  • The True Blood, Hung, Entourage line up on Sundays
  • Twitter
  • Lionheart washpod, large swaddling blankets from Target, Similac instant bottles, Aveeno lotion
  • Boswell Books, Freckle Face, Franklin Chocolate, Sparrow
  • South Shore Farmer’s Market
  • Café Central, Honeypie, Mai Thai
  • Sahara Café (now Yum Yum)
2009 Yucks
  • Chocolate coated bacon on a stick (whowouldathunkit)
  • Bulleted lists in Word
  • Yum Yum (formerly Sahara Café)
  • Service at Christie’s Pub & Grill (wouldn’t know how the food tastes)
  • Awful ending of Twilight series (not that the books were good, either)
  • iPhone/AT&T rates
  • The word “meme”
2010 Instructional Designer Goals

If I could forecast a path for myself – like the green line path from the Fidelity commercial* – where would my green path lead me? What distractions will try to lead me astray? How will I stay on the path?
As my first year as a full-fledged instructional designer (no matter that my title says “trainer” as it’s not likely I’ll find myself in front of a class of students) and instructional/multimedia developer, I want to give myself some mantras.

I, Jade Kazmierski, instructional designer extraordinaire, vow to:
  • Keep it simple. – Don’t train if it’s not needed. Don’t write a course if one is not needed. Don’t create a job aid if one is not needed. Go small.
  • Make results matter. Make people matter. – It’s not about content. It’s not about technology. It’s not about tools. It’s not about training. It’s about what works and the people involved. It’s about performance.
Also, to get the most from my year, I will do my best to balance the following:
  • Structure – I will organize the madness, plan my days, work diligently, set and achieve goals, and move forward.
  • Inspiration – I will seek out and permit randomness, chaos, craziness, and fun. I will meet new people, listen, learn, read, write, reflect, and enjoy.
Okay, so things got a bit lofty and heady there. I apologize. Sincerely. As for concreteness, here are some areas of focus for 2010:
  • Experimenting with instructional graphics
  • Dipping my toes in Adobe Flash & ActionScript
  • Graduating from my Master’s program (Boise State, MS Instructional & Performance Technology)
  • Designing after-the-fact and before-the-fact practice and follow ups for classes 
*Fun fact: The Fidelity green-line commercials were directed by James Mangold – also known for directing 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line, and Girl Interrupted.

2010 Predictions for Learning

I’m pretty cloistered where I work, so much out there doesn’t apply to me. From that perspective, here’s my stab at next year’s big happenings.
  • Majority of inhouse training areas continue to be DIYers, with low budgets, and limited tools, cordoned off by IT.
  • Social remains a dirty word, a fad, and a relevant strategy.
Oops, none of those are actually predictions. Let me try again.
  • Learning theory triumphs and major-breakthroughs are had via evidence-based practices and workplace studies.
Oops, that’s just a wish. One more time.
  • Learning professionals unite socially and share what they know and like. Great times are had by all.
Oops, that’s what happened in 2009. Really, this time I’ll do it. It’s tough though since gaming, virtual, social, mobile, micro, distributed and open source are all past years’ predictions. What could possibly be new this year? Perhaps I’d better cheat and borrow from other industries and experts.
  • Augmented reality: While only the top echelon will attempt or have the means to experiment with this from a training perspective, ideas will begin to trickle out. While social media platforms finally become a viable option for many learning professionals, augmented reality tools will be the new envy.
  • Neuroimaging: While still considered bubblegum science, learning professionals will continue to eat up the new studies that have learning implications. However, like all good fads, there is real benefit in the science and a few tidbits will be gleaned that will help us improve our field of study.
Coined Phrases

I’m not sure what these mean, but I like how they sound and I’m tossing them out there in the hopes that I’ll actually coin my own big phrase for the year. Also, who knows – they could be actual predictions.
  • Learning locavores - Not sure what this really means, but it’s alliterate and it combines the big 2010 locavore movement that will replace the green hype. It will have something to do with location-based services and just-in-time learning.
  • Indexed moments – See twitter discussion. Experiences in virtual worlds indexed by search engines.
What I Learned in 2009 About Learning

Seeing as I’m currently a “learning” student and a “learning” professional, I better have learned something.
  • From classes/coursework
    • Instructional Design – Having informally studied ADDIE and been immersed in it at work, I thought this would be a no-brainer. Thankfully it wasn’t. I studied Merrill’s instructional model and his First Principles, which is a problem-based approach to training. Aside from the model, which really hones the training into need-to-have material and proficiency at doing, the focus was on alignment. All phases of the approach, all materials, all strategies had to be aligned. One step this or that way, and everything else had to be shifted.
    • Job Aids & Electronic Performance Support – So, I got a bit of a shock in this class. I thought it would be about creating job aids. Nope. My bad. It was really about EPSSs and “job performance aids” and how job aids are merely a small portion of that and only become meaningful when served up as part of a system, with a focus on performance. The job aid cannot simply be a bandaid to a system glitch. Or a checklist of steps. It must be a system complete with measurements It was a bizarre foray into EPSSs indeed with a very “nutty” professor. Some of the readings were so tough I had to read them 10 times and they still went over my head. Sometimes it’s nice to be so startled and out of it.
    • Instructional Strategies – Worked examples, case based learning, concept mapping, self-questioning, summarizing, advance organizers, adjunct questions, problem solving, feedback, reciprocal teaching, cognitive apprenticeships. Learning strategies abound. While they may seem intuitive, they go much deeper than being just a bag of tricks. First, it’s hard to apply a strategy that you don’t know exists. Second, like many learning myths, strategies are not always what they seem. Intuition can lead you astray. I was often surprised at what the studies revealed – what seems like it should work does not – or only with particular conditions.
  • On the job
    • Standards – Ugh. Having toiled in creating standards all year long, I can attest that they verge on being a bane and banal. But if more than one person is working on something, they sure do come in handy. My lesson is to start them early, rather than later. To document. To keep things simple. To work towards a common goal and from a shared perspective. Producing quality training materials should not be a every-man-for-himself event. While there needs to be room for creativity and innovation, standards focus on quality and time savings. Standards matter.
  • In life
    • Life does not come with an LMS – If O want to remember what I learned, I have to purposely reflect, organize, track, and evaluate my progress. While I learn a lot informally, I’m not sure how much is retained. I know informal learning is a hot topic and may be considered an elevated view of training, but when it comes down to it – what can I remember and what can I do proficiently? On my own, I tend to rake in a lot of bits, but usually not enough to be proficient. To reach that, I have to take a more formal approach as a self-directed, autonomous learner. I need a plan, I need accountability. But, like informal learning, I need the desire or the need.
  • As a student
    • Group projects – Are these made solely to torture students? Maybe. But I must acknowledge the fact that they definitely mirror life. Project management is the “other” side of work. The same concepts apply to school as they do on the job. While I sometimes feel that I have project management coming out of my ears, I have to admit that I could always use more.
    • Ambivalent assignments – While they pose a challenge, they also equal freedom. I struggled with an ill-defined project. I didn’t know where to start, what was expected, what was the point. And I never did find out. But at the end, I had completed a great concept project and actually enjoyed my work.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More Than "The End" - Ideas on Ending an Elearning Course

Saying "The End" to a student completing an elearning course isn't always enough.

Especially when asychronous, the challenge is how to make the ending more interactive or blended by breaking out of the content-dump mode. Rushing through the ending of a course is one of the pitfalls of the content-dump mode. This means providing something more than a summary and restatement of the course objectives. Or a long exam. It's good to do those things, but it's not enough by themselves.

One way to break past that mindset is to use the "Integration" concept from David Merrill's First Principles (pdf), which also includes Activation, Demonstration, and Application.

As I discovered when completing a school assignment based on the First Principles of learning, integration grounds the learning in the worker's world and includes activities based on the ideas of "watch me," "reflection," and "creation."

Here are some of my brainstormed ideas on how to wrap up an elearning course. Some fall into the pure asychronous category, other's assume more blended methods that rely on mentor, subject matter expert, or manager involvment.
  • Questions - Ask the student to write down three questions for a SME. Make sure that formal time is set aside in a timely manner following the training course for discussing the questions. (As the instructional designer, make sure to get these questions as well, as a form of formative evaluation.)
  • Tips - One week following the class (so they have had some time to apply the training to their jobs), ask students to write down three tips. With the help of a SME, document the tips and provide them as a tipsheet to the students. Or, depending on the job or task, post the tips where they will be used. Also consider creating a job aid to be used in future classes from the tip sheet, possibly refining after each subsequent class.
  • Journaling - Ask students to "journal" their learning experience and takeaways in whatever manner they are comfortable with or technology allows. This could mean pen and paper, Word, Twitter, blogs, discussion boards, wikis, podcasts, or video casts.
  • Mind maps - Rather than a test (especially if it's only multiple choice), ask the student to concept map the course (or lesson). This also can be paper-based or online using one of the many free softwares for mindmapping. Allow the student to review the course while doing the map and provide a page in the course with a menu to all main sections of the course. Let the student know if it's for their own use or whether it will be reviewed by someone such as a subject matter expert or manager.
  • Next steps - Point the student to additional or related materials or ask the students to seek out next steps. This could also include creating a plan for what they want to learn next about the topic and how they will learn it.
  • Experiences - Conduct a classroom follow up, email discussion, or online chat (Skype, Second Life, discussion board, Tweetchat, WebEx) to talk about lessons learned. An example might be doing a session one-week after the class and asking each student to share how they've encountered the what they learned that week and how it went, good or bad, and why.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Self-Paced Elearning: How long is just right?

This course will take approximately _____ minutes to complete.
How many minutes, hours, days do you think should be entered in the blank above. If you were sitting at your desk, how much of your day would you like to spend taking an online training course?

How Much Time?
This is a question that the elearning team I work on tried to answer and, to be honest, I'm not quite sure we've figured it out yet.

Like many before us and many after us - our first elearning courses were very long. Like over 3 hours long. Overkill. There's only so much you can take in while staring at a screen. Most recently, we decided that no course would be more than 20 minutes. Which was a nice try, but not quite realistic. To accomodate more content/practice we decided to "string together" 20 minute courses by having a main hub for a course. Which works in theory, yet due to technology and tracking course completion, it only caused a distracting mess for the student when finishing a "sub" course and beginning a new one. Which brings us to our current understanding: courses can be longer than 20 minutes, but 2 hours is too much. Very flexible.

Timing Considerations
Here are some of my thoughts on determining how long a course should last. Some are hard-earned practical considerations I've learned, others are more textbook repeats.

Also, please note that I'm not saying that you pass a decree that all courses should be a specific length. It's more about making sure that students aren't spending too much or too little time on a single course.
  • Audience - It may be obvious, but you might ask the potential students how long they would like to spend on the topic.
  • Managers - This can swing either way. If the manager believes it to be an important topic, they might think it requires a long training session. But in our whirlwind time and push to produce and work like crazy, the manager might put strict limits on the time they can afford their staff to be away.
  • Spaced Learning - This is one of my favorites and not one that I've successfully built on yet. But I really like the idea of giving students small chunks on a regular basis until proficiency is achieved. For example, 20 minute course/activities every Monday for three months.
  • Real Time - Not real time as in synchronous all-togther learning, but analyzing how much time workers (aka students) really have. If they only have 30 minutes, then work with that, otherwise they will do the dreaded "multitasking" (which we know is synonmous with "not really paying attention") while taking the course.
  • Practice & Content & Testing - Do you plan to have all three? Following ADDIE helps ensure retention and means that you should usually have all three, but it also means that you will be battling bulging course times.
  • Extras - Balance is key here. Extras can include job aids, manuals, video clips, even graphics. The more you load into the course, the more you load on the student (i.e., cognitive load) and the more you load on to the time to complete the course. Beware of text dumps. Beware of glam. 
  • Single Courses vs Multiple Courses - This builds on some of the things above. Does everyone in the audience need the same thing? Maybe smaller courses can hold things that aren't in common across the board. Does the worker need everything today in order to do the job tomorrow? Maybe give them the basics today and "advanced" or additional information later. 
I'm sure there's a lot more, but these are some things to think about when analyzing a future or existing elearning course and deciding if it beats the clock.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Elearning Standards and Styleguides

Dream Team

Compared with where I started, and where I know many elearning DIYers are right now, I'm extremely lucky to work with a team of people that skills span many disciplines. I'd even say it's a DIY dream team. There is a wealth of knowledge and skills including Flash development (programming and animations), illustration and graphics, video production, technical writing, seo - not to mention years of experience with the whole gamut of software and project management.

A Big Mess

This team didn't happen overnight - it grew over years, and with each new person came new ways of doing things. So we found ourselves in a mire of standards and preferences. You could look at a course and tell who did it.


That's when we decided to create some standards. Holy moly. A year later and we're still not done. But we're nearly there and we've all learned a lot along the way. In future postings I'll try to present some of our Ah Ha's, decisions, and findings. If you have any questions, feel free to use the Comments to ask.

Some of the things we've tackled include defining course types, uses for our software, templates, and best practices for interactivity and UI.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reflection & Meta-Cognition

My meta-cognition practices have definitely been lagging, as evidenced by this neglected blog. Oh, I was still deliberately learning and being mindful of how I learned - but I wasn't reflecting all that much.

My college days were filled with self-assessments - one for each assignment, each paper, each project, each test (anyone from Alverno can speak to this). I never wanted to write another self-assessment. What else could I say about myself? Meta cognition is about purposeful self-assessment, learning from successes and failures, what worked and what didn't.

Today, a presenter at LearnTrends 2009, summed up meta cognition as learning how to learn and being aware of learning. And reflecting on what you are learning - formally and informally is part of that. And, a blog, of course, is a perfect place to do that.

Now, while I haven't been doing this well, there's no time like the present. My maternity leave has rejuvenated me. Time off work, time off school - nothing but me and the baby and a silent house. It has given me time to think, make some new goals, and rekindle old ones.

Soon I'll be back in the whirlwind: a new promotion at work as an instructional designer, a new class starting on Evaluation, plus blog readings, twitter, and #lrnchats - so I should have plenty to reflect on.