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Focus on sustainment

September 16, 2013

It’s been a really busy year for Spark + Co this year. We had our website redone, welcomed six new clients and worked on many projects, ranging from developing management training for a North American restaurant chain (face-to-face training), to self-paced e-learning modules for a national sales team and all points in between.

For each of these projects, we’ve noticed how these solutions almost always include a “manager’s guide”. Whether it’s a short email that we craft for the client to send from their own senior team providing key messages to the manager/coach to support the key activities of the training program, or a full-blown manager’s guide that accompanies the program, it’s a part of learning design that’s essential. Sadly, it’s an often overlooked element.

When you think you are “done” designing and devleoping – stop and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Do the managers of this training audience know what to do to support and further the learning for their direct reports?
  • Can I clarify the learning activities for them?
  • Can I suggest a schedule of events that support the program after it’s been launched?
  • Do I have a communication plan?
  • Can I develop “management practices” that’ll help them habitualize their support?
  • Am I prepared to create “trigger” emails or alerts to nudge them?

Real behavior change comes after you’ve mapped a behavior chain and can honestly say: “I’ve done my best to sustain this training”.

Book Review: Learning Articulate Storyline

September 13, 2013

I recently read the book Learning Articulate Storyline by Stephanie Harnett.

I’ve always admired Stephanie’s work and was excited to see how she approached her book. You can see Stephanie’s work at her website (all built in Storyline) and in her super-informative Screenrs.

Articulate Storyline.As an avid Articulate Storyline developer, I wanted to find a resource that I could use with my contractors and even clients to get them up to speed on how to use the software. Since there is no official “user manual”, this book offers a really nice self-directed learning resource to learning the product, with some bonuses:

  • Stephanie’s deep understanding from an instructional authoring perspective. While I know Stephanie is a talented instructional designer, it really shines through in her approach to the book. She gives advice that is both feature rich, but more importantly, it’s written from the perspective of “why should I do this”.
  • Her “voice” shines through – everything she explains reads exactly like she was sitting beside me talking me through things.
  • Samples and examples she points to at the beginning of Chapter 4: Adding Characters and Audio, and the additional resources/links in the summary of Chapter 7 are like instructional design gold!

There are exercises to follow along step by step with the flow of the book, which was nice. Since I have experience with the software it’s hard for me to know how a complete novice would find the structure of these exercises, but they were logical and easy to follow for me .

Minor things I’d like to see in future editions:

  • I would have liked to have seen some of the tips in the chapter: Rapid Development show up in the beginning of the book, as she raises some great points about setting up for re-purposing which might affect how you approach a project from the beginning.
  • I would have also liked there to be a bit more visual distinction in the “follow along” sections, just to make them pop (I was working with an epub version), but that’s a personal preference. Additional icons would enhance the navigation of the book.
  • I would have loved to seen the types of examples provided in Chapter 4 for other chapters: Quizzing, States and Layers, Variables and Adding Visual Media.

Overall, this is a great book to help someone get up to speed quickly on Storyline and even a seasoned user will pick up a tip or two.

You can hear Stephanie talk about her book in a recent eLearnChat episode and host @rickzanotti’s written a review of this book as well.

If you want to win your own copy, check out Articulate’s review of it:

Even if you don’t win a copy, you should consider adding this to your bookshelf!

Struggle Means Learning: Implications for Organizations

January 22, 2013

I read this article a couple of months ago, and it really struck a chord with me: Struggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures | MindShift. The basic premise of the article (although I suggest you read it, it’s not long)  is summed up here:

“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

This is an interesting contrast. I don’t know if it’s true. Seems plausible. But the fundamental comparison is between ability and effort. If it was true and “Western” culture did value ability more than effort, it would pose a number of challenges for organizations:

  • Younger employees have been educated in a culture where ability is more valued than effort. This might result in an entitlement attitude and potentially arrogance when it comes to learning at work
  • A dislike of organizational learning, which by its very nature, you’d have to “go to” or “take” training because you lack ability
  • Pressure on learning departments or instructional designers to create learning solutions that are easy, to allow for maximum demonstration of ability. Those that don’t make learning solutions that are easy find themselves organizational pariahs
  • Lack of problem-solving skills
  • A workforce that may be deficient in tenacity, who lack resilience in the face of challenge or change.

It made me wonder. Does organizational learning have a culture that echoes this?

Do we value ability over effort? Does organizational learning perpetuate this through learning solutions that do not challenge anyone? Do those of us in the organizational learning field feel pressured to make it easy all the time? Are there places where learning shouldn’t be easy in a corporate setting?

How would we design learning that encouraged effort (struggle)? Are these examples?

  • Branching scenarios with no right answer, just some that lead you to different paths
  • Simulations that don’t give you extraneous feedback
  • Immersive solutions – like Augmented Reality or Role playing games

I’d be curious to hear what others think about this.

The nature of e-learning in Australia

January 18, 2013

This post is written by Ryan Tracey

The young nation of Australia has a rich history in e-learning. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and so in 1951 the School of the Air was launched to educate children dispersed across the outback. From Kalgoorlie in the west to the aptly named Longreach in the east, school students in remote communities received their instruction over the radio.

Fast forward to today, and our love affair with communication technology continues unabated. According to the latest Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index, a whopping 76% of Australians own a smartphone. Furthermore, 38% own a tablet, and another 33% are planning to purchase a tablet within the next 12 months.

Our love for our devices may be matched by our infatuation with social media. According to the 2012 Yellow Social Media Report, 62% of Australian internet users visit social networking sites (36% do so daily), while 79% of large businesses have a social media presence.

The implication of these statistics is clear: the future of e-learning in Australia will be social and mobile.

The latter part of that prediction is supported by The New Media Consortium’s Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2012-2017, which identified the following emerging technologies as having a time-to-adoption horizon in this region of one year or less:

  • Cloud computing
  • Learning analytics
  • Mobile apps
  • Tablet computing

In order to complement these findings and add a corporate perspective, I recently invited 20 e-learning practitioners based in Australia, from both the higher education and corporate sectors, to identify the ideas and technologies that their respective organisation’s e-learning strategy will incorporate this year.

In the list I included the four imminent technologies identified by The New Media Consortium, plus others that I considered timely or likely. I also allowed free-form comments to enable the respondents to add any other technologies that weren’t on the list.

The results are summarised by the following graph.

As you can see online courses will remain a popular component of e-learning strategies in Australian organisations in 2013. My interpretation of this result is that in this country, industries such as financial services are heavily regulated by legislation and government oversight. From the company’s point of view, the most efficient way of deploying the necessary training to its employees (particularly in large organisations) is via online modules hosted by the Learning Management System. Critically important for compliance purposes, the LMS records each employee’s performance in each module; which no doubt explains why online assessment is similarly popular.The popularity of online courses and online assessment does not necessarily mean that Australians will be subjected to boring page turners. The strong showings of both audio and video in the results suggests that online training is becoming more multimedia rich, and hopefully more engaging and authentic. The prevalence of webinars also suggests that much of the training done online will be live.

The next most popular responses —  intranetknowledge bases and job aids — represent a win for informal learning in this region. At my own workplace I have witnessed a tectonic shift from the traditional, classroom-based transmission of knowledge towards a more constructivist, self-paced approach involving the searching, exploring and discovery of knowledge by the learner on-the-job and just-in-time.

Given the increasing importance of cloud computing in this region according to The New Media Consortium, its relatively poor showing in this survey was surprising. My interpretation of this result is that the security of cloud-based solutions remains a concern for Australian IT departments, over which e-learning professionals have very little influence. The persistence of legacy systems may also be hampering growth in this direction.

Similarly, the relatively poor showings both of the social elements — wikis, blogging, microblogging, social networks and social intranets  — and of the mobile elements — smartphones, tablets and mobile apps — were a surprise. However, another way of translating these results is to recognise that each will be a component of at least 1 in 5 e-learning strategies this year, which probably represents growth over previous years.

The same may be said for learning analytics (another of The New Media Consortium’s imminent technologies for this region). From an anecdotal perspective, I can honestly say that I don’t know anyone who does evaluation well! In the rat race that is Australian business, the jobs that are yet to be done take precedence over those that have already been and gone. The observation that learning analytics will be a component of at least 1 in 5 e-learning strategies this year may be a long-overdue sign that the mindset is beginning to change.

The most disappointing result in my opinion is that of  MOOCs. Buzzword or not, MOOCs provide an unprecedented opportunity to source high-quality content from some of the world’s most respected institutions. However, I must temper my disappointment with the realisation that most MOOCs currently target school and college students. As more MOOCs are launched covering topics immediately relevant to the corporate sector, I expect they will become more popular.

Of course, I must also remember that my survey is hardly scientific. The sample size is too small to make statistically significant observations, which is most obviously demonstrated by the zero result for virtual worlds. I know for a fact they are being used by Australian organisations such as the Sydney School of Medicine.

Nonetheless, I submit that this simple survey sufficiently describes the nature of e-learning in Australia as we head into 2013. While online courses and webinars continue to dominate our strategy, informal learning is making headway. To a lesser extent, social and mobile elements are also making an appearance. But for such a social and mobile nation, the message is clear: there is scope for so much more.

Going Global series: Exploring “Oz” with Ryan Tracey

January 18, 2013

One of the things that is really compelling in today’s environment is connecting with peers around the world. I reached out to some of my twitter network to explore the idea of doing some guest posts with those outside North America.  I was delighted when Ryan Tracey accepted my request.

He has written some of my favorite e-learning posts, such as:

Who is Ryan?

Ryan Tracey is an e-learning manager in the Australian financial services industry, an Advisory Board Member for eLearn Magazine, and a Review Panellist for the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT). His work focuses on adult learning in the workplace, and he maintains a particular interest in blended delivery, informal learning and social media. Ryan has worked in corporate e-learning for over a decade, following several years in the higher education market. He holds a master’s degree in Learning Sciences and Technology from the University of Sydney, is a regular contributor to various industry magazines, and has won several training awards in the Asia-Pacific region. He blogs as the E-Learning Provocateur and can be found on Twitter @ryantracey.

In the next post, Ryan will share his perspective on the nature of elearning in Australia.

Thanks to Ryan for writing such an interesting post. Make sure you check out his blog and if you are on twitter, follow him there. He shares great insights.

Canada’s learning technologies are HOT!

January 7, 2013

Most of what I see around learning and technology (especially as it relates to Canada) is focused on MOOCs (for lots of news and commentary, Stephen Downes is a must read). But, there seems to be less coverage on learning technologies or products/services focused on the corporate markets.  Maybe it’s a bit more fragmented as a market.

I’m not an analyst, so these are simply my observations. Here are some interesting new companies in the learning/technology industry and kind of chuffed that they are Canadian!

LMS’s are still part of the landscape…

  • Learndot – a Learning Management System that calls itself a platform for customer, partner and team training. While the LMS market is crowded, there’s not many that focus on extended enterprise and it looks great too.
  • Absorb - by Blatant Media out of Calgary,  Alberta based (hey, move west!), this organization has another one of the best LMS solutions for smaller enterprises.

Tools to develop training/instruction, especially those that are mobile, collaborative or unique are needed!

  • dominKnow has Claro – which is an authoring platform for elearning developers
  • Ngrain (OK, not new, but still cool and have new freebie – you can download the personal learning version of Producer on their site) – since the majority of their customers are likely niche industries, this organization doesn’t get as much press coverage as it should. I mean, 3D is cool.
  • Kera – this is an interesting product – they offer the ability to push instructional elements to the website, like a more sophisticated online help (we’d call it performance support in the world of instructional design/learning). It’s an elegant way to provide end user training.

Games and Gamification are definitely trends

  • Axonify – the gamification trend is red-hot and these guys have baked it into their custom products. I like that they’ve built it on spaced repetition as a core concept. That tells me they understand how learning works and aren’t just on the gamification bangwagon.
  • Ayogo – interesting game maker, while their games are not focused on the organizational market, there’s certainly lots to like and learn from their approach.

There’s a market for content, too…

  • Thinkific – this organization is offering online training for professional in a video format, and has a bright future if the media is right.
  • Marketplaces for education are a model that has been tried a few times. I’d love to know of others that are working…

What other interesting learning technologies have you seen that are Canadian based?

Networked Learning in BC…

November 29, 2012

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted the L&D community in BC to be a dynamic sharing group of progressive professionals. Associations, special interest groups and like-minded people have taken many a run at it over the years.  Groups still exist, but are more general training interest groups. I’m trying again for another round (either an eternal optimist or a masochist!) to find a tribe who is keen on less traditional methods of learning, or at least sees learning as a continuum that includes traditional, but extends beyond as well.

Through the wonders of social media, I met James Tyer through the Twitter, and after a face-to-face coffee we decided we’d take a shot at developing an in person and online community. This community isn’t for traditional training types though, it’s for those who see the value in networked/social/informal learning as a real path for learning.  If you are someone who is interested in organizational learning, social learning, social business or informal learning, consider joining us for a meetup.

We’re going to be meeting on December 4th at 6 pm at 900 West in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (or for those of us long time Vancouverites, the lobby lounge at the Hotel Vancouver). There’s no agenda, just some like-minded individuals who are keen to talk learning, share perspective and brainstorm about what a group might look like and how we could move it forward.

Feel free to use our hashtag: #networkedlearningbc and let @sparkandco or @jimbotyer know if you’d like to come along physically (as in attend the meetup) or metaphysically (as in you are of like mind, but can’t make the event)!



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