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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

To video it or not to video it, that is the question.

I believe that there is great value in media, especially video. With the ability of today's smart phones and tablets to access and deliver video nearly anywhere, the opportunities to provide instruction at the convenience of the learner is staggering.

There are, as there always are, problems inherent in this method of training. Some of them are solvable, some of them not.

One problem I have witnessed is the length of video. Video that is too long will lose the interest of the learner. Too short and the lesson cannot be shared. How to solve this problem is fundamental to a successful training. In my experience 5 minutes should be the limit you set on a video, especially one designed to be viewed on its own. I am guilty of breaking this rule, but it is a good one.

If you cannot deliver the information in less time than that, chunking is a great option. Breaking the video into digestible amounts. This also allows the learner to skip to a part that they find more useful. If you cannot chunk it, reconsider the video option.

Another problem with video as instruction is the understanding of the student. Complicated material can be difficult to understand if the pacing of the video is too fast. On the other hand, too slow and the learner will, again lose interest. To complicate this problem every learner has different needs and what one sees as too slow another sees as too fast.

The solution? That depends, smaller chunks with replay might work. I have often used a pause with questions in classrooms and WBTs. This is not the solution for stand alone videos however.

Video has a great potential to help the student see how something is done, to illustrate how to interact with clients and customers, but it needs to be part of a larger training solution.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What makes an effective blended learning solution?

What makes an effective blended learning solution? How do we meet the needs of all the learners and the business needs? These are tough questions instructional designers and trainers are faced with when someone says "use technology."

The first question, as it should be, is: "what is this going to cost?" In other words, can I get the same result using a low tech solution? Can I save my client money on this solution? Often the added benefits of the media do add to the value. In my experience though, I  have seen times when the low tech version is just as effective.

The second question that needs to be asked is: "is this sustainable?" There are times when trainings will need to be constantly changed and updated, but more often the client wants something that they can use for a long time, or that they can maintain themselves. They need a professional to design it, but don't or can't afford a full time relationship. Is the blended approach one that meets this need? Can it stay relevant? If not is the traditional ILT the correct path to take?

If yes was answered to the first two questions, you are on the right path. But there is a third question: "is the learner going to be able to access this?" A blended solution where the technology and the teacher are in the same room with the learner is a yes answer. But what if the blended solution requires user access outside of the classroom? Does the employee in the field have access to a computer on their work day? Are they accessing this on their own? If the solution uses Flash, does the learner have a computer that can read it?

Part of this also leads to the issue of support. I have worked at schools where the teachers had little support for technology integration, even if they had the interest. I have worked with instructors and teachers who have no interest in learning new technologies. If there is no instructor buy in then the blended solution will fall apart after the designer is done with it.

These are large considerations when beginning planning for a blended learning solution. but a little thought before beginning development can save time and money in the long run.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gameification works... if you can spare the time.

Gameification seems to be the great buzz word these days. The concept, for those unfamiliar with it, is the inclusion of games and game theory in instructional design and other areas. I find it to be an interesting idea, partly because I have always been a great fan of games.

Games, at least the role playing games and board games I love, are by their nature social. They challenge us to think differently. Sit down and talk about gaming with a gamer and you will hear stories from past games. Solutions to problems that stuck out in their minds, and continue to stick out. As I write this I cannot help but think of the time one of my games groups solved a problem of how to cross a desert with 1000 lbs of coins. ( a story for a different Blog). My point being that from that game experience, now almost 20 years in the past, I have clear memories, and a learned experience.

The same goal can be achieved with games in the classroom. Students learn more, and remember better the lessons being taught. When I was teaching history to junior high, I used a game to each the frustration with taxation without representation. I chose a student and made not of his or her hair length/color, shoes, shirt style, etc. Every student was given a small cup of Skittles. Then one student was chosen as king, two as parliament, two as tax collectors. The king would draw a card and hand it to a member or parliament who would read it. Then the tax collectors would walk around collecting the right number of Skittles from each student. The skittles collected would be split, 50% to the king, the remaining would be split in thirds, on third to each parliament member and the last third split between the tax collectors ( they got at least on skittle each). The other students learned the frustration that the Americans felt under the British.

What does this mean for corporations? How can you bring games into the training classroom? I recently worked with a person who was a master at doing just that. He was able to come up with fun games that the adults in the room really got into. Another member of the team, the eLearning specialist, was able to build learning games that the class loved. These games take longer to develop (we had to go to 4 different thrift stores to get the parts for one of the games), and they take more time in class. All the games that I mentioned above took at least 45 minutes, where just reading a sentence showing the same thing would take 5 minutes. But in exchange for time, the students learn so much more.

I think that the trade off is worth it. What are your thoughts? What would you do to encourage learning in your courses?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What is the best rapid development model? This question has come up in the last few weeks for me. I have seen the ADDIE model succeed in a short term process. Short courses developed in just a few months using this model are possible, I have done it. It requires the buy in of the everyone involved. SMEs, sponsors, developers must agree to focus and complete the reviews in very short order.

I was recently told a little about the Agile development method. I don't know much about it, though I will soon and I will probably revisit this topic then. Is this a faster method. Is it possible to develop long courses in shorted times?

What is the best possible method? what do we trade off in favor of speed, and when we do so, can we live with those choices? What are the ramifications of those choices over the long term? Is it fair to say that we will fix the mistakes later?

Working at a corporation in their training department that is a fair assumption. However, can a small development company, or an individual consultant, make those promises? What will the client do?

I guess here I have more questions than solid opinions. What is the right answer? My personal thought is that, as in most things, the answer probably lies somewhere between the two choices.

Monday, July 29, 2013

What is wrong with Today's Youth? (or how an old dude can relate)

In my years as a teacher there was a constant strain felt between the students and the staff. Not the kind that you may be thinking about, though the traditional strain will always be there. This strain was between the youth, the Millennials as some call them, and the teachers of the Boomer generation, even some from the generation before that. The strain was with technology.

As some of you may know, I was part of the technology guidance committee for the schools I worked at, and this strain was present even there. I would be able to retire if I had a $10 every time I heard a technology teacher say they did not want their students using spell check. There were teachers who could not understand email. There were those who required only books on research reports.

You might ask yourself, why is this important, what is wrong with the old ways? There is an interesting article on the Future of Talent Institute's blog about the learning of generation Y. In short this generation has always been connected. Spell check and Wikipedia are a natural part of their lives. They will find the answer to any question they are given. Today it is not necessary to know everything off the top of your head, the skill lies in finding the true answer among a sea of noise.

As I write this my children are watching "Elmo's World." Elmo wants to know more about cameras. So what does he do first? He goes online and watches a video on the history of the camera. Only after learning all he can online and realizing he wants to know more does he find an expert (in this case it was a talking camera). This is the essence of the new learning landscape.

The challenge then is how to bring this into the business world. At a presentation given by Kevin Wheeler from Future of Talent he mentioned that in the current training environment we encounter all three generations, Baby Boomer, Generation X and Generation Y. We need to meet the needs of all of them. How best to do this?

My belief is that blended learning, of a sort is the answer. Generation Y, and to a certain extent Generation X (my generation) value options in learning. By presenting the information in a way that can be done in a classroom or online, or both, the learner can choose. There are of course exceptions, you cannot teach how to use a tool except to use the tool.

Options and choice, within limits, are the best way to provide meaningful training. This is not the cheapest option, WBTs are expensive, and repeating effort for both ILT and WBT can run up the bill quickly. But, on the whole, the end result can be effective.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Meeting the needs of the client

A couple of months ago I was given a problem by a line of business client. There was a new tool that had been purchased and the people in the field needed training fast. How could we meet the client's training needs and at the same time their budget needs?

That was quite the problem. The tool is very simple to use, the tool can be learned by a competent person in about an hour, but the purpose of the tool is so important the employees had to use it correctly. My first instinct, as it often is, was for a web based training. This solution would create a controlled learning environment. Every person would be able to learn the same thing the same way. 

There were two problems though. 

1) When training a person to use a tool, it is best to give them that tool. A video or a simulation are only so useful. 

2) WBT development is expensive. The Technology department gave an estimate of 200 hours for their part. Way too much money.

My solution? I wrote a video script that we produced in only a couple of weeks. I then wrote a training that the supervisors could present that was centered on this video and was followed by a hands on practice and assessment. Great.

The next problem was unexpected. We had saved employees having to leave their busy schedules to drive hours to the central training facility for a one hour training. Now the supervisors had to. 

My solution was to go back to the beginning. I quickly created a web based supervisor training (quick being two weeks or so) that allows the supervisors around the state to have the same train the trainer experience on their own time. They can then train their crews on their own schedule, and everybody get the training they need, when they need it.

So far, in the last month this solution has met with a great, positive response. 

What do you think?