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 - / CC BY 2.0
  • Wildflowers - / 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.