Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A round and round we go

I'll go ahead and jump the gun on 2011 predictions thanks to an end the semester in my Human Performance Technology course. The professor asked us to make our industry predictions for the next 2-5 years. Below is my somewhat blustery, preachy, but also hopeful response. Feel free to chime in and set me straight.

“[HPT] and training professionals are seen as a pair of hands to implement the clients’ ideas” (Ruth Clark in Pershing, p. 874, 2006).

In answer to what I see as trends in the next two to five years, to be honest, I see things remaining relatively the same. Which is to say, HPT professionals will continue to make headway in introducing evidence-based practices, in truly partnering with clients to enact business results, and in moving from order takers to solution providers.

The quotation above, which talks about HPT professionals being order takers for mainly training solutions, is from 2006. Ten years before that, in 1996, Joe Harless wrote that his prediction for HPT professionals to advocate value-driven solutions rather than training was just being realized (Harless, 1996). So, to speak of the training department evolving, I think it’s a slow process, but one that is chugging along.

In the next two to five years, I see the same patterns emerging as the last 100. Professionals in HPT, perhaps myself included, in all the best interests of course, will continue to accept and implement fads, many of which will probably have something to do with technology, but little to do with evidence-based practices. However, more and more often (and far more often than not), we will use evidence-based practices. We’ll conduct sound analysis, we’ll put forth worthy solutions, we’ll be systematic and systemic. And our results will be noticed, by our co-workers, by our peers in the industry, by our company’s leadership. We’ll blog about our lessons learned, we’ll formally submit our results in trade publications, we’ll share our war stories with each other at conferences, we’ll tweet the backchannel. We’ll continue the cycle of learning, doing, reflecting, researching.

In doing all of this, we’ll continue in our 100-year journey. We'll be setting the stage for a new department. One not called training. One not under the arm of HR. But a new one, that has not yet been named. One where IS, HR, training, and knowledge management come together. A department where performance meets results.

Harless, Joe. Training & Development. Alexandria: Jan 1996. Vol. 50, Iss. 1; pg. 52, 2 pgs

Pershing, James A. (2006). Handbook of human performance technology (3rd Edition), Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.

Monday, October 11, 2010

FarmVille for HPT

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it! Way better than "systems thinking serious game for instructional designers and performance support practitioners."

Too bad we don’t have a FarmVille for HPT. But I digress for a moment. Today I attended a webinar hosted by Boise State University for the IPT program, and Elliot Rosenberg was the speaker. He did a fantastic job and the main tenet he spoke about was understanding the business of your client. I could really appreciate that and know that it’s an area that I could use some work.

In my current course, Human Performance Technology, I’ve read several articles in the “Handbook of HPT” that discuss why it’s important to partner with the business, speak their language, and use their measurements. The entire time Elliot was speaking, I kept going back to one particular article by Silber & Kearny called “Business Perspectives.” They present the Business Logics Model, and have to admit that I’m dying to create one for myself for my own organization.

Basically, they hone in on how to identify key elements of the business model of your client or company. Just enough so that you are versed in what’s important to them, you can converse about their business practices and opportunities, and you are using their language. What I really loved was that it addressed a popular question in the ID world: do you need an MBA as well as an ID degree to truly connect with the business world you work in. The simple answer in this article is no, you don’t need an MBA, but you do need to take a little time to become acquainted with their business.

Are you feeling tricked, now? All this talk, but what about FarmVille? Well, this webinar got me thinking about training teams in general and getting a seat at the table, so to speak. How training departments can be organized in different ways, can be connected within an organization in different ways to other departments such as OD, IS, ID, Comm, Marketing, etc. Different connections and hierarchies would achieve different results. Different skillsets connected to each other, distributed or consolidated, would lead to different environments for performance support. Which made me think, what if we made a modeling game out of it? Would we, as HPT practitioners, learn something? What would be our crops? What would be our tools? How would we lay out the farms and create a trading system with other farms? What would we list as best practices?

I’m not sure, but I want to play to find out!

Photo credit:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

SharePoint for Training Purposes

My real intent for writing this post is to get ideas from others for how they’ve used SharePoint to collaborate and manage a training project. Normally I’m a stellar Google-er, but in this case, the results are bogging me down. There’s just too much out there touting SharePoint and combined with the work training, oh my. So please, share your examples with me!

My Goals

I’m just getting started with using SharePoint with my clients, so I don’t have much to share yet. I have two goals for applying this technology for my training projects.
  1. Reduce the emails in my inbox and to save a tree or three.
  2. Make it so I can find what I’m looking for by creating a centralized location for our work.
Getting Started

By now I’m sure everyone and their mom has used SharePoint, but I’m quite new to it. I have participated in a few “large” projects using SharePoint, but those sites were created and maintained by others and my role was reactionary. Establishing a site for my own projects was quite a different perspective.

There are a lot of options, as well as limitations in what you can do. And some features (hello, lists!) are more complex than figuring out how many miles your food has traveled to your plate. This is especially where I’m hoping to get a few comments from you with ideas.

As I mentioned, the documentation out there is quite frustrating. So a lot of what I’ve been doing is trial and error.

One Example – Project Site

The first site that I made was for a one-time training project. I proposed it as an alternative to email and let me client know that we could abandon ship if needed. We’re still working on the project, and so far using SharePoint has been successful.

Two of the features we use the most include:
  • Shared Documents – I use this to store archival material as well as meeting minutes and agendas.
  • Wikis – As a collaborative space for task lists, objectives, hashing out job aids, etc.
Features that haven’t taken hold yet:

  • Calendar – I set up a calendar, but it’s actually clunky to get it to sync with my Outlook calendar (probably because of versioning). Hopefully this gets fixed in an upcoming upgrade.
  • Announcements – I make announcements, but I’m not sure that they’re read and my clients don’t add any, so it feels very one way.
  • To Do lists – I hope that we’ll use these more, but it feels more as if I’m assigning work than tracking who is doing what. I think I need a better way to manager this part.
  • Discussion board – This is still the beginning of the project, so we’re still having in-person meetings. Even so, I’m sensing it might be difficult to transition from meetings to the discussion board. I guess we’ll see.
Unexpected benefits that are really cool:
  • Transparency – There’s no hiding out on my behalf with the status of the project. My progress is visible and I like that.
  • Organization – I was hoping for a way to keep track of things and not lose decisions in buried emails. But I had no idea how clean it would be. I don’t even have a file folder for this project. It’s all on the site! And my email file is super tiny.
  • Bugs/usability – Sometimes I just can’t figure things out. In my Shared Docs, I found that it’s difficult to move a document once in a folder, so I had to redo the entire thing to use “categories” instead. I’ve run into a few similar things where it’s the interface that makes it hard.
Another Example – Team Site

Another project that I haven’t got off the ground yet is to find a way for a team of people with training-related functions to collaborate and communicate. When I went to set up the site I realized the “project” based site wouldn’t fit the need. This situation was different because it doesn’t have a start and an end – or phases along the way. I still haven’t figured out exactly how to achieve all of my goals.

I want to be able to:
  • Track tasks for different people – But I can’t decide if this should be done per person, by type of work, or all in one big list.
  • Make a single place to document upcoming training sessions – This I think I may have figured out. For each new training session, I’ll create a wiki where we can document things like dates and times, location, student names, facilitator names. This should be great. One big challenge right now is that this information changes to the last second, so having one place to go will really help.
  • Make a place to document decisions about various training programs and courses.
  • Make it so that if I or other people leave their roles, the site will continue on without disruption.
I can post more as I get the site set up. Definitely send ideas if you have them. I’m sure I’m not the first to cross this bridge.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Change in Graduation Plans

An Unexpected Delay
Last week I was dealt a devastating blow – I learned I’ll graduate a semester later than I thought. Instead of this December, I won’t toss my cap until next May. Seems the graduation process is a little more involved than I thought and my advisor recommended giving it the commitment it deserves. I’ll write up 3 case studies of past projects, present them in a short speech, and then take 45 minutes of Q&A from two of my past professors.

Reflecting on What I Learned
Actually, it sounds like fun. A chance to marinate in metacognition. I’ll relook at a lot of what I learned in the past three or four years with the goal of spotting patterns and connections among models and theories. It’ll also give me a chance to clean up my 10 stuffed binders of old class material and find things I forgot about. I plan to convert all the goodies to some type of digital personal library of references and job aids. I’m giddy just thinking about it. Really.

A Lifelong Learner
The downside is that I got ahead of myself. I was already making reading lists and planning little classes I could join like gardening or knitting. I even had thoughts of what I could learn next in the ISD field. I’m a big believer in having a solid base. I’m not the sort to just jump in. So, for me, learning instructional design and performance engineering meant knowing the basics and the history and the theories – which is where my Master’s program comes in. I also believe that a base is not the end. It’s just the beginning.

The fun begins when you can build off of the base and explore from there. I started foraging a while back, but not properly, just getting my toes wet. So, I’m disappointed that I’ll have to postpone it even longer. In my next post, I’ll toss out my ideas for transitioning from a cultivated ISD garden to a wild ISD garden, dynamic, bountiful, and full of unexpected treasures.

Photo credit:
  • Car tire - http://www.flickr.com/photos/anijdam/ / CC BY 2.0
  • Wildflowers - http://www.flickr.com/photos/drachenspinne/ / CC BY 2.0

Monday, March 15, 2010

Slashing sloth in elearning

According to a wikipedia entry without citation, “sloth can also indicate a wasting due to lack of use, concerning a person, place, thing, skill, or intangible ideal that would require maintenance, refinement, or support to continue to exist.” It also mentions that sloth can be equated with inactivity and being idle.

That sets a couple red –alert sirens off in my head. Can you guess what the most likely things are to be ignored with elearning? Say it with me: evaluation, assessments, and user testing. Those are so big that we should say it again. Evaluation. Assessments. User Testing. Let’s call them the Big Three.
Why Me?
In my experience, sloth doesn’t always begin with the elearning designer or developer. But it sets in eventually, after time and time again, a million reasons come up for not doing the Big Three. Oh, there’s a manager who says there aren’t the resources…this time. Or the client who says they aren’t necessary and, futhermore, they haven’t the time to implement them. Or IT who says, sorry, we can’t use that survey tool. Or this or that. I’m sure you’ve heard them, too.
So, eventually, what happens? You don’t even think about them anymore. It would take too much work. Why bother if it’s been working as it is? Introduce Mr. Sloth Creep.He’s a slimy fella who lives in dark places.

Starting from Scratch
Now that we’ve identified the problem, what can we do about it? That’s tough. First, I think we need to channel our old unjaded fresh-faced self. The one who could conquer the elearning world, the one who eats programming languages for lunch, destroys Next buttons in a single blow, and can wrestle LMS’s to their death. That’s right, we need to forget every obstacle we’ve faced and every excuse we’ve used. We need to begin anew.

Small Steps
Then what? I think then we need to take a deep breath and humble ourselves. Yes, we are mighty elearning heros, but heros can be made by making a hundred small wins just as well as one big one. What I mean is that we need to set our sights smaller, be realistic, and give up the idea of perfection. (Not forever!) The pursuit of perfection can make mountains seem higher than they are. Small goals. Small forays. Begin forging the path for the Big Three and before you know it, you have standards, precendents, habits. And you can build on those.

Where to Go
What does that look like in an elearning world? Here are some ideas to chew on:

Evaluation: By evaluation, I’m referring to the process and pursuit of showing that your elearning project has merit and value to its sponsors and students. I just happen to be studying this right now, so I can pull out some big fancy stuff. Seriously, though, the class has opened my eyes to reasonable methods for collecting proof and showing causation. Instead of ROI getting you down, try my favorite: the Success Case Method. While it’s not specific to elearning, it is specific to training. Basically, the author reasons that there’s a percentage of people who are going to use your training for great things. Find them and get their stories. They will be able to pinpoint ways to improve training. They will also indicate the potential value of your training and prove how meaningful it is. The book I’m reading on the topic is Telling Training’s Story: Evaluation Made Simple, Credible, and Effective.

Assessment: If you’re feeling a little queasy from the repetive cycle of lesson, multiple choice quiz, lesson, multiple choice quiz, go wild instead. Case studies and braching scenarios are two of my favorites. Present a challenge, an actual challenge – as in something hard to do and set the student on figuring it out using resources that you provide them. They might answer multiple choice tests to do so, but so what. The point is that you’re not asking retention-based questions, you’re pushing them to the doing and thinking stages. Another way is to ditch the elearning altogether and break into a blended mode. Pause after a lesson or two and send them on an activity presented by a coach or mentor or manager in their work area. If it’s software, Captivate is an obvious answer. Ditch the quiz altogether and put them in the software and give them an actual task to complete. This one takes a little practice and inspiration to break out of the mold. One of my favorite places to get inspiration for thinking outside the box is the dy/dan blog. Just look at his work for digital storytelling and assessment.

User testing: Don’t wait until you have an entire user interface created along with color palette and icon set. Oh no. Take the Yahoo approach and go for incremental change. Today make a new button and ask a few people what they think. Put it in context and see if 5 co-workers use it correctly. Then experiement with a new drag and drop exercise. Watch a few people use it. Then try a new menu bar and see how people react to it. Tackling bits is much easier to get clear feedback on and to fix. Some great ideas and resources can be found on UIE’s site.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Elearning Without Envy

Here we are again. Another week, another Deadly Sin to cleanse from our elearning. This week we’re going to check the green-eyed monster called Envy. Mr. Envy is like the Hulk. He’s a normal, sweet guy, but once provoked he’s a seething pit moshing psycho on a mission. Lest that be us, here’s some ways to quell the jealousy.

Just to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing, let’s start with the Wikipedia definition:

Envy (also called invidiousness) may be defined as an emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it."
What Is Elearning Envy?

What does this have to do with elearning? I’m thinking it’s like the time I went to an elearning demo put on by Big Name Training Company. Man, did they ever have great stuff. Their training simulations were so slick, so cool, so…what I wanted, nay, needed, to have. Immediately I wanted to rush back to my workbench and start chiseling, hammering, gouging and whatever else it took or cost to craft something like that. Wouldn’t it look nice on my resume. Wouldn’t it be so shiny and pretty. Everyone would love me. My life would be complete and I’d be lauded for time ever more.

Sound familiar, even a teensy weensy less-dramatic bit?

Basically, I sum up elearning envy as wanting the Bling for Bling’s sake. Who doesn’t want their elearning to be pretty and do cool things and make people stop and say Wow? Who doesn’t want to play with all the new technology and tools? But having a reason to get your elearning all gussied up is another matter. And then there’s also the whole worth thing. Sure there might be a reason to buy a fancy, new car – but is it worth it?

Stop the Elearning Envy Train

Consider what performance the Bling would effect. Is that performance worthwhile? Take a look at Thomas Gilbert’s notion of worth at Dave’s Whiteboard. No effect, no dice. No worth, no deal. Take a look at Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping to help hone in on what should be in the training.

Recognize what you have. Get creative with your tools. All you have is PowerPoint? Then get yourself a copy of Powerful PowerPoint for Educators. http://www.loyola.edu/edudept/PowerfulPowerPoint/ You can do quizzes, calculate results, branching, all sorts of things expensive tools do. No pretty graphics? Use the Microsoft Gallery, which is free as long as you own Office. Need other media, check the Creative Commons site for all sorts of great *free* media.

Learn a programming language. Okay, I hear the groans already. But sometimes, bypassing tools and being able to do it yourself unlocks your potential. I don’t do it often anymore, but when necessary, using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS can let you churn out some great stuff. Without needing software tools that cost thousands of dollars.

Take into account cognitive load. Do you really want to use video, animation, voiceover, avatars, podcasts, and flying monkeys? Instead of spending hundreds of hours building all of that, spend 3 hours reading up on some Ruth Clark articles. From the library or the Internet. For free. You might save yourself a lot of hassle.

Fall back on the real basics. Great analogies. Simple, but clear drawings. Stories that illustrate. Job aids that they’ll use. A place to take notes. The ARCS model, which focuses on attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.

The lesson here is that Bling is not an indication of true value. All the Bling in the world won’t make your students learn. It won’t even make them give high marks on a smile sheet. Students want to know that their needs are met, that they are learning what they need to, and that they can use the skills/knowledge from the training. They’ll put up with crappy media. They’ll put up with shoddy materials. But they won’t put up with crappy results and content. Give them what matters.

For fun, tell me your elearning envy story. Or, share your tricks for keeping the right things in focus. I hope I'm not alone in this!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lose the Wrath in Elearning

Good e-learning doesn’t just happen and great e-learning takes a lot of thought. But bad elearning, well, that’s easy. How do I count the ways in which elearning can veer off the Happy Road and do a spectacular gut-wrenching dive towards death? Using the Seven Deadly Sins of course---it’s only fitting. I’ll cover each of the seven sins separately, and I’ll begin with Wrath.

Wikipedia: also known as anger or "rage", may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. These feelings can manifest as vehement denial of the truth, both to others and in the form of self-denial, impatience with the procedure of law, and the desire to seek revenge outside of the workings of the justice system (such as engaging in vigilantism) and generally wishing to do evil or harm to others.
Applied to training, I interpret avoiding wrath to mean, “Don’t hate on the student.”

Fundamental to teaching adults (or andragogy) is the principle that adults have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Whether classroom or elearning or m or s or whatever type of learning, it helps to know that your students are intelligent, have relevant experience to share, and want to excel.

How can this be applied to elearning?
Let the student have as much control of the course as is possible. Let the student skip pages or questions,  provide multiple paths through the course, let the student move forward as well as backward, encourage the student to cheat during tests, and provide choices.
Make things difficult.
Do not design for the “lowest common denominator.” Design for experts and experts you shall have. (And what happens if you do the opposite? Design for dummies and….) If using branching scenarios, make the options tough and ambiguous. When writing, go ahead and use big words, heck, use big thoughts. Do whatever you can to challenge your learners. Don’t let them settle in to the course for a rest. Keep them active and thinking. Make them feel their synapses firing.
Don’t get up on your high horse.
Keep in mind that you’re one adult speaking to another adult. So, while I said to go ahead and use big words, that doesn’t mean to get all proper about it. Conversational is better. And, don’t be all “you should” and “I’m telling you.” Lead the way, but unless absolutely necessary, show the way instead of telling the way.

Well, that covers Wrath. Love thy student. Do you have other instances of how not to hate on the student? Add ‘em below. More deadly sins will be coming soon.