Thursday, 19 December 2013

Our obsession with reporting

There’s a great deal of importance in getting the right information to the right people at the right time and effective reporting is vital in successful modern businesses… but why do we generally do it so badly?  For example, we market tools that offer real-time and accurate reporting in an instant yet for the most part we still insist on our senior leaders and managers producing weekly, monthly, annual, hell even daily reports on this information.  When you print or export your report form whatever data source it comes the report instantly becomes dead data.  What this means is that the moment it becomes a ‘report’ it is out of date.  If something happens in the instant between printing it and reading it - or often the hours, days etc - then the report is inaccurate as it doesn’t include the latest data.

What’s perhaps even more daft than our obsession with reports on dead data is the effort required to produce it.  The madness is that we usually get our senior management types to spend their time compiling these weighty documents whilst actually adding very little to the data.  This usually means they need to constantly badger members of their teams to get the up-to-date information that is already expired.  We get a roll-up effect with junior managers producing out of date information for senior managers who add their own expired information to the increasingly inaccurate information from their staff to the leadership team who make decisions based upon the ‘quality’ of the expired report or present further reports to the board/owners.  When you put it like that doesn’t it sound like madness?

Fortunately there is a solution and believe it or not it’s really simple.  The solution is in the systems we use and the way we run our meetings and decision making processes.  Whilst our leaders and senior managers may claim they don’t have time to access our systems (or often we make that assumption for them) we should actually be making sure that this is where they get their data from.  That means if you’re discussing the impact of training or the numbers being put through a certain programme you should in that meeting pull up the live data.  Anyone requesting a written copy should be shot on the spot.  Okay, that’s too extreme, but rather than shooting them give them the access to the systems to see of themselves not just right now, but any time they want the latest figures.  This is empowering our leaders to make leadership decisions with the live data (the only way you should be making decisions).  With the right type of systems you can show trends and compare to historical data of course, but in the pace of world we live in today, the data should always be live not dead.

If you have a vast number of systems (such as LMS, performance management, HRIS etc) then a wise investment may be a tool that can take feeds from each of those sources directly (yes, live) and present this information into some form of balanced scorecard or dashboard that gives instant access to the information required.  The advantages to this are pretty obvious, real data right now and any time you want it; a perfect enabler for making the right decisions.

Of course that means a lot less wasted effort for your senior people and managers in general - but it also means working significantly smarter.  The success of such a system now lies in the upkeep of the data in all the live systems.  That means your managers jobs are about managing their people and the data they are responsible for - in other words keeping up-to-date on their people and their outputs, and that’s kind of where you want your managers spending their time isn’t it?

In short, I know this simplifies the whole data and reporting thing a little and there is often a need for dead or historical data in the decision making process; but being informed should be about knowing what is really live data and what is not and making decisions based upon that.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Running the Metaphor

You can pretty much teach anything to anyone if you can find a way to put it into terms that they understand.  I've talked in a previous blog about analogical e-learning, or in simple terms, making learning relevant to your learners, but here I want to look a little deeper at running a theme or metaphor through a piece of e-learning.  Why?  The reasons are two-fold; firstly I believe that teaching by relevance may be the single most important factor in learning and secondly it helps to immerse your learners in what they're doing.  Think of it like being in a simulator, if that simulator keeps turning on and off you would lose the experience and then you're just playing a game or doing an activity and you're not fully immersed and engaged.

I mentioned theme and this is really important for us.  Let's take an example of producing a learning piece for a company selling sports fitness equipment.  Their learning piece is intended to show staff how to use their equipment so they can demo it effectively to customers and potential customers.  Your start out menu could be a simple corporate type brand with a menu of equipment, or it could be the inside of a gym with the equipment in it that you select from.  The gym would be cool - particularly if the equipment animated on hover or selection (again, don't get too carried away with the animations etc - read my previous blog on "Smoke and Mirrors" for more on this!).  But then if you did this and then the weights bench and weights section was just logo with standard 'next' type buttons and boring screens you've wasted the 'environment' you created before.  What would be cool is if your weights bench was beneath you and you now had things to do with your weights - I don't know, put them on the bar or reach for a towel or whatever.  If nothing else your buttons could be gym type buttons rather than the arrows ">" or such.

I joked recently whilst doing our Kineo Christmas function of paintball that it was difficult to know what to do with the gun as nowhere there was a 'next' button or arrow to click, but it's true and it's stagnant and boring.  In this case I want to pull the trigger or load or something.  As an aside is 'click next to learn more' one of the best examples of overestimation or just plainly inaccurate?  I digress and get back to the gym to continue.  Next buttons aside, the whole immersive experience relies on consistency throughout.  So if I'm giving an example of a customer needing gym equipment, then I want to run with that customer having a certain type of question and consistency; if they're asking questions that show a certain level of existing knowledge then I need to keep that user at or around that knowledge base or it doesn't ring true - and if it doesn't ring true it can't be immersive.  For example, Karen asks to show how additional weights are added to the bar and the staff (learner) picks the options to show her, she then wants to be shown how to perform the most basic of exercises on the machine.  All good.  Now she asks if the tension bands are calibrated to x degrees and made from the latest poylcarbonate do-dah and what their relative psi is at 60% expansion.  Not good, how did she go from not knowing anything to knowing in-depth stuff that no-body but super-advanced users would now?  It doesn't ring true because it isn't true and so Karen isn't real.  Karen is a rank amateur and needs to stay that way to be Karen.  If you want to scenario those type of questions bring in a different character.

So using this great scenario approach is great but their are pitfalls.  Just like writing a book (yeah, 'cos I've clearly written plenty so I'm qualified to give out advice on this), base your characters on experiences or even people you know.  I hate really super smiley characters who ask really difficult questions, because in my experiences on this planet, that's not the way that people who ask difficult bloody questions look.  Karen, could be smiley (hey, they say ignorance is bliss) because she asks really easy questions and is non-threatening.  What would be great is if your learning could shape the way your character behaves (without changing the very nature of your character of course).  So after Karen comes Geoff.  He asks the sort of questions some customers like to ask to make it sound like they know plenty and make you feel small.  He's very critical and a little blunt.  If one path through your learning involves you matching his style what would you expect Geoff to do?  He'd probably get mad and walk out or show his displeasure at being ill-treated in some other similar fashion.  So if you're correctly running your scenario and you allow the user to treat Geoff this way then make Geoff respond the way you would expect.  Again it's all about making that metaphor believable.  You can get a great result where Geoff is actually happy with your answers, but don't expect Geoff to turn into mister smiley nicey at the end, because that's not who Geoff is.

I mentioned a little earlier around the graphical use on your learning, but the same goes for backgrounds, controls and overall look and feel.  Think of it a little like the early days of Powerpoint and Clipart.  Clipart can be really useful, but when it's used with different colours, characters and completely non-releavant stuff on slides it does more than just not help, it detracts.  Same here, don't chuck in random background images or stuff that's nearly right.  For example if my gym and characters are photo type, then I don't suddenly bring in a cartoon type character or vice versa.  Sounding somewhat like a broken record it's a consistency thing and you're trying to create an environment that the user can relate to, and that goes right down to the imagery and colour schemes used.

So armed with some great metaphors and characters in mind, it's time to take your metaphors and run with them; hey what else would you expect characters to do in a gym than run?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Smoke and Mirrors in e-Learning

What if you've got a bad piece of original classroom training that you want to convert into a great piece of e-learning?  Do you rewrite it, or get it properly designed with proper learning design or do you just hand it over to an e-learning company (along with a sizeable cheque) and get it super-charged?  Unfortunately, the latter is often true and companies hand over poor material and limited guidance to e-learning or even graphic design type companies to take and make great looking pieces of 'learning'.  This is the smoke and mirrors approach - stuff that ends up looking the part but has no heart and soul - or in e-learning terms no real learning in it.  I've said many times that e-learning is 90% learning, well, that's what good e-learning is at any point.  If you've created a great looking piece of learning that is actually just a great demo of how to make things look good, your e-learning is actually not that great.

Just to be clear here what I'm not saying is that good e-learning has to look bad.  Good e-learning will always be visually appealing and I definitely want to see plenty of interaction (lots of doing - like any good learning piece) and graphical niceties, but there's a point when it gets too much.  Compare it to the early days of Powerpoint.  There were always the presenters that liked to show off how clever they could get with it - sweeping in animations and great sound effects - all of which often detracted from the presentation that they were trying to give.  The exact same is true of e-learning with swishing and moving that is actually detracting rather than adding to what you're trying to teach.  You also need to remember that good e-learning is not a presentation… it's an interactive learning experience that needs to involve the learner not just show them stuff.

Lots of e-learning now seems to come with things drifting by in the background… but I don't really get it or what it adds.  Sure there are times you want to immerse your learners in a scenario that is realistic, but too often the background is moving essentially for no reason other than you can make it do that and tome that's the same as that 'whoosh' sound in Powerpoint!  I think there' s plenty of nice animations that can add to an e-learning piece like pulling a lever sometimes rather than just clicking next if it's relevant; for example in an industry or task that requires you to pull levers.

In fact here comes the punchline from the title.  A lot of this distraction is really just smoke and mirrors to disguise 'click next to continue' e-learning that still makes up the vast majority of e-learning in the corporate space.  I understand that an increased usage in rapid tools often means that there's a lot of slide based learning, but with modern tools like Storyline that doesn't have to be the case and if I had to give one simple trick to avoid this it would be to plan multiple paths through your learning.  If you do this alone it will force you into a different mindset away from the linear (and the 'next' button!).

Of course if you don't have any instructional design (or ID) capability then maybe you can fool everyone with smoke and mirrors… it's about now that a few ducks will probably soar past the screen and someone somewhere will probably go ooh! ;)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?

You better close your ears if you work in IT because you probably won't like this concept; I'm all for taking the complexity out of what we do.  If you're a fan of the knowledge is power school of thought then move on, this won't work for you.  Working in Learning Technologies does not actually give you an immediate right to ramp up the complexity to make others feel they don't belong, further there's actually a responsibility to do quite the reverse.

Once upon a time anything remotely IT needed to be fiercely guarded as a secret.  We can relate to this in the training and L&D fields because the traditional 'teacher' role was somewhat like this.  The teacher was the holder of knowledge and generously shared little bits of this with students who then became enlightened gradually over time.  If you rebelled at all against the teacher then the knowledge was withheld and you were left behind.  Teachers were very much the owners of their own world and the knowledge was the key to the power, after all how could you teach when students could know what you know?  Or perish the thought what if they actually knew more about certain things?

The funny thing is, the evolution of the internet (to web and then cloud perhaps?) has followed a similar way.  Once upon a time you went on to the internet to find something out from a certified expert who was never wrong.  It really was a one way push of information, the only revolution was the size and scale of the environment.  My first 'wow' moment came on the internet when talking in a teaching chat room in the early 90s (yes it was around then); it was the 'interaction' between myself and someone thousands of miles (yes, pre-kilometer days) away and sharing of ideas that really showed the potential of the internet.  Later, we grasped this concept with the birth of web 2.0 - just a nice way of saying that the internet was no longer a one-way street to learning.  The internet is now less of an information store (although of course it stores more than ever before) it's now somewhere we can all contribute because no one person knows everything and everyone brings something to the table.  That's the same with learning all-round of course, no single person can hold all the knowledge or have had all the experiences that others can learn from.  Good teachers don't have one-way conversations with their students, good e-learning isn't just clicking and reading; it's all about the collaboration and sharing.

So if it's all about the collaboration and sharing then we all need to be able to communicate in both directions.  That means removing as many barriers as we can and language is one of those.  Yes, you can chat with users from other non-English speaking countries (hey, you can even translate my blog if you want to) through the web and tools that exist, but it's more than just the strict use of language, it's the nuances and the abbreviations that are often used to keep a layer of mystique or to separate those that know from those that don't.  Sound familiar?  I'm ex-Navy, I remember before I joined the Navy hearing Navy people speak to each other was entertaining - the words were familiar but they made little sense in what is colloquially known as "Jack Speak".  Of course you throw in to the mix a record number of TLAs (three letter abbreviations of course!) and you have a new language.  The danger of course is that when you speak with non-Navy folk that they simply don't get what you're trying to say or the message you're putting across (or perhaps more dangerously, they think they do but get the wrong meaning).  In the world of technologies this means keeping things at a level of simplicity that most trainers and L&D folks are comfortable with.

Learning Technologies combines both elements of the technical - IT and learning.  So it's doubly important that we talk in language that makes sense to both those not in the learning world, those not in the IT world and those on a totally different world altogether (oh yes, there are a fair few of those too).  What I'm trying to encourage here is that if you work in learning technologies, then try and talk to people in way they can grasp.  There's an old adage that states if you can't explain something in simple terms you don't understand it well enough.  Maybe that's the key, understand your own world in the simplest terms and then you'll probably find your understanding is actually increased. 

Finally if you want to talk to someone who understands you, then speak in a language that others understand.  Of course if you want to hold the knowledge, then do as you will, but don't be surprised if it turns out you don't know as much as those that wanted to learn from you in the earn.

Friday, 8 November 2013

What is Pervasive Learning?

Steve Rayson the General Manager for City and Guilds Kineo (Kineo Pacific is part of the group) was in Wellington today delivering an interesting and engaging presentation breakfast on emerging trends in e-learning, luckily for me I was able to attend and get some learning insights from the session (of course it would have been even luckier if I hadn't had to get up at 4.30am in order to make it there!).  There was some really good and interesting points around the way social learning was taking us and how we could leverage that in our work with learners, but the phrase that really stuck with me was pervasive learning.  So now I'm sitting on my flight back to the big smoke and thinking about how that connects to our learning and what we do.

Whilst giving credit to Charles Jenning's 70/20/10 rule and the more recent 33/33/33 rule, it's clear if nothing else that pervasive learning is probably a better way of putting it.  There's no really easy way to measure how much of learning is truly informal as most informal learning is so informal that most of it goes unmeasured, I'll probably get sued for saying this but I suspect 70% is more a gut feel than anything scientific, but the key point is that whether it's 33% (yes, I wondered where the 1% went too) or 70% of learning that's informal, learning goes beyond what we learn in the classroom or on our online module; it's pervasive - it's everywhere and we simply never stop learning.  If I wanted to define Pervasive Learning in its simplest way I would say it's that learning is in everything we do.  An old colleague of mine in the Navy used to say 'everyday is a school day' as a twist on 'you learn something new everyday'; maybe it's more like you are a learning machine and you learn constantly whether you want to or not - constant learning maybe.

I know lots of people out there hate the term 'learners' and prefer to think of staff or users, after all learning is something of a misnomer in many ways and what people learn or don't learn can be difficult to measure and account for at the best of times, but perhaps if learning is pervasive so are learners.  That doesn't mean that you're suddenly not safe from your learners showing up in the middle of the night at your door (disclaimer: you may not be, I don't know who've you upset, I was talking generally) but that essentially we are all learners in just about everything we do.  Once you start thinking like that, it means that rather than limiting your opportunity to deliver learning in the 10% world you just gained immediate access to the larger share.

So given there's a lot of potential to this extra learning opportunity, the obvious question is how do we go about delivering in this space?  Since pervasive learning is about the way we learn beyond the formal learning, we need to embrace a solution that goes beyond the formal environment traditionally used in training.  One of the biggest keys to succeeding in this space is being able to provide the environment for learners to learn beyond what the formal training has delivered.  Think of this if you will as the university of life.  I went to university (hard to believe I know) and learned a lot, but I learned a lot about life, relationships, learning itself, beer and some physics and computing thrown in for luck (yes, I studied some geeky stuff back then).  Even younger education and high school, the children learn all about key subjects like sciences, language and mathematics, but they also learn far more about society, conformity and humanity.  Good schools and universities provide the right environment for this to occur.  I've taught in some good schools and some that weren't so good and the key difference wasn't actually the pupils or the teachers, it was the environment.  You need to accept that social learning isn't a gimmicky thing that we do on computers, it's the way we actually learn - it's just learning from and with others and why wouldn't you want that to occur?

Creating the right environment for learning is actually not just a nice to have, it's essential if you want your learning to be pervasive.  Just how do you go about achieving this?  Well, the answer is in the total environment of course, that means learning spaces that are conducive to good learning, but from an 'e' perspective you can achieve this through the use of social media tools and opening up your system somewhat.  If you're organisation has a block on LinkedIn, YouTube, Google +, Twitter and Facebook then you may have to look at other ways of achieving this.  Your LMS may have social learning tools built in, start thinking more about those tools as setting your environment - forums don't necessarily have to be strictly controlled or assessable - they can work very nicely as a social sharing environment.  You could also look beyond your LMS and consider a social learning platform like the excellent Mahara (Open Source) that plugs nicely into Totara LMS I might add!  Whereas an LMS tends to be organisation centric, a social learning platform is more learner centred and that's pretty much the key to pervasive learning.  If your system tends to allow the sites I mentioned above through then rather than trying to discourage their use you could provide a gateway to them with suggested areas of interest.  In fact you could use your forums to discuss good areas and that in itself will open up for others to make suggestions too.

How will we track this more pervasive form of learning?  Another blog and another time but analytics are going to play a part :)

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Losing and Winning with Technology

In my role a bit of travel is necessary and often that means a quick trip across the Tasman like last Friday where I was working with the excellent people at Toll Group on their Totara LMS upgrade and launch.  The day started early - a 6.30am flight usually means a 3.30am get up and that may not be the strongest point of my day!  Anyway, when you get to the airport and find out the 'computer's down' it's usually a bad sign and Friday was no different.  I was there early and skipped through (the advantage of frequent flyers) without too much hassle but the queue was already backing up and needless to say the flight got delayed two hours.

A great meeting (albeit with a slightly delayed start) was derailed slightly (another mixing of transport metaphors) upon leaving the taxi.  I left the taxi but my iPhone 5 did not.  Instead it decided to continue to circle around Melbourne before going permanently into a state of hiding that I have little hope it will come out of.  Amazingly I still managed to check in and (after another delay of course) got my flight and eventually got home a mere 22 hours or so after I started.  The reliance on technology for both airlines and business users has become immense - but even in the face of delays and frustrations I have to ask is this a bad thing?

Firstly, the 'manual way' of checking every passenger on to a flight is extremely time consuming and this was clearly proved on Friday for me.  To get everyone through in the same amount of time as normal would have taken about three times as many staff.  In this sense the technology to achieve this wins hands down, but it does emphasise one of the ways in which we win or lose in technology; have a backup.  This isn't just for technology of course, but in the learning technology world it pays to plan for the worst and hope for the best and not just rely on lady luck.  For example, if I'm giving a keynote or presenting I'll have more than one delivery method raring to go - so perhaps your learning has the same type of fall back.  One way we achieve this with an LMS is to make sure that we only host with top notch providers like Catalyst IT or Andragogic - their systems 'go down' like everyone elses but they always have backups, redundancy and the type of 'up-time' that doesn't leave you stranded.

My phone was a different kind of loss though.  My initial reaction was one of panic that I suggest most modern smartphone users can relate to - we have come to rely on them so heavily for everything from my Air New Zealand mPass ap (no the flight out was with another airline I'll not mention... although you'd think it was their first time) to my calendar, email, Skype and even notes.  The great news was that I sat down and opened my MacBook Air (yes, bit of an Apple fan, you can substitute some Android and even Windows type thing if it works for you) and went online and things started to get better.  I click on the 'find my iphone' ap and I'm already registering it lost with the appropriate notifications if someone's daft enough to try and use it.  I make phone calls through Skype to the police, taxi company and boss!  I can even send text messages on the phone that is no longer in my possession (iMessage).  I tell Telecom to bar my phone (although the security on it should do that anyway) and I'm already feeling a bit more in control.

The next day I grab a new sim card for the paltry sum of $5 and slip it into my old iPhone 4 (yeah, that hurt a bit) and connect to my computer and restore what my phone was like give or take a faster processor and a bit more screen size!  Okay two more phone calls to Telecom to help them understand their own un-barring process and here I am fully back up and running and waiting for the okay to buy the latest model to replace the one I gifted someone else.

The point?  Again it's not just the initial reliance on technology at play here, but the technology that I lost as easily as I could have lost any personal organiser (remember the Filofax?) was essentially replaced almost immediately.  Again it's a backup plan - don't put all your eggs in one technological basket and risk a scrambled mess.  Ideally you'll have other forms of communication that will allow you to overcome loss of your phone and notify people, but what about system issues or learning objects that won't work?  I like the way in Totara I can let people in 'courses' know what's going on, backup and restore data and even get time machine working (another technological error earlier in the year) on the database to bring me back to where I was.

Don't underestimate the usefulness of Cloud based computing either.  Once upon a time if your computer crashed or your floppy drive (yay, remember them!) corrupted you felt damn near suicidal - now there's almost no excuses for relying on the hardware in your office/home.  I use Cloud based back-ups and sync to make sure that the notes I was making in Friday's meeting on both computer and phone could be retrieved not only from them, but any internet ready machine with the passwords.  One of my personal favourite tools is the ever-so-simple Evernote - but I also like simple cloud based storage like Box or Dropbox.  I use Box (the company says so) with a background sync - what that means in simple terms is I save everything locally and then it saves it in the cloud for me.  That way I get the best of both worlds in a system that has everything immediately at hand and doesn't rely on internet connection when I'm out and about, but keeps everything safe and up-to-date.

Bringing this all back to learning and the advantages of having your LMS cloud based are obvious.  Client-end LMS's are hopefully fairly well done for as they simply place too much reliance on physically being in a certain place (and that's kind of against what an LMS is for isn't it?).  But saying your LMS is cloud based is only half the story - your content should be too - and if your servers have redundancy built in you'll be able to access learning even when the worst occurs.

Now... at least I see the 5s is out now :)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

You get what you give

The old adage that you get what you give holds pretty well true for your learning management system (LMS) and e-learning in general.  I hear pretty often that your LMS is just a tool - but it's actually a bit more than that - it's a system (obviously, it's in the acronym).  A tool implies something simpler, you may have to calibrate a tool, but the skill is then all in the user of said tool.  A system is different and the setup can be extensive; in fact if you want to really get the most out of your learning you need to invest a lot in your system (no, I'm not talking financially here - time, effort and sometimes blood, sweat and tears).

I've touched on this before around configuring your system.  You can use it fully out the box and go do your task but that only really works if you want an 'out the box' look and feel and default functionality.  Of course if you're using a simple Cloud-based LMS that is really just a launch and track platform then it won't take much set up initially... I could say more here, but I'll let you be the judge of how good your current system is!  In Totara LMS I like to spend the best part of a day setting up the system to run the way our clients want - that usually means we have to have key stakeholders and interested parties on-board too and I like to run something we call the configuration workshop to pull that together.  Believe it or not the configuration of an LMS is a big deal; you should set the hierarchical structures, the roles and definitions, the workflows, the templates, the menus, the reporting, the language, permissions, menus, blocks, theme (colours, fonts, design etc), learning structures etc etc.

The same is true when you set up your e-learning course.  Maybe you write your course in a third-party rapid platform like Captivate or Articulate Storyline, or maybe someone makes it for you, but when you bring it in to your LMS you can just have it as the 'course' and leave it as is... or you can use your LMS to actually get more out of it.  In the same way as configuring your system before you get going is necessary and sets the tone for the learning the setup of the course itself can have a huge impact - in fact if you want to get beyond the 10 of the 70, 20, 10 model you need to realise that it's actually essential.  Yes have your learning objects and your super-swish wow pieces, but don't forget simple things like setting up a course forum, feedback and even simple choices so the course starts to become interactive.  If you set your course up this way the interactions don't require you the trainer to be across them all or to be the fountain of all knowledge.  Try posing a question and let the learners answer it collaboratively.  Most MOOCs are not about the awesome content but about the interactions, this is tapping into informal learning, even if your organisation is very formal and regulated.

Once you get past the initial set-up of the course you can let it run and run and reap the rewards you invested in set-up... or you can continue to invest and continually get higher return on investment.  To me this is the difference between being a competent teacher and a great teacher.  Good teachers spend time setting and planning their lessons, great teachers do this but realise the need to constantly update and stay on the pulse of what their students are doing.  This doesn't mean a constant rewrite or churn of material, but asking the right questions and posing challenges along the way.  When something new comes up, why wouldn't you bring it to the attention of your learners and provoke debate about it.  I used to use the news, articles and even what was happening in pop music and soap operas when I was a teacher - the most powerful tool you can have is relevance (and it sure helps to stay up to date).

The last part of your investment comes in the way you conclude 'stuff'.  In an LMS this means getting the closure correct for reporting and automated updates to things like competencies, certificates and badges (Open Badges anyone?).  For your learning that means the follow up with things like getting feedback and making sure learners get the 'well done' messages/badges they have earned and are properly recognised in their learning plans etc.

The thing is you don't have to do any of that.  You can just buy a bit of e-learning and stick it on your simplistic launch and track LMS.  You'll still be able to track compliance... just don't expect a huge return on that type of investment.  If you really want to succeed though you have to be prepared to put in some work - the rewards will be worth it.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

5 Ways to Have an Epic Fail in e-Learning

If something's worth doing badly it's worth doing really badly.  You don't just want to create a so-so piece of e-learning and regret the missed opportunity of creating something truly awful - with a lack of thought and by ploughing good money after bad you can probably aim lower still.  Here's the way to make sure it's a resounding failure:

Squeeze the budget to the Nth Degree
So there's an old adage that get what you pay for.  I like to modify this slightly and add the words 'at best' to that statement, because if you're lucky (or you picked the right vendor) you'll get the e-learning you planned for (and may even be pleasantly surprised by the outcomes).  But one sure way to make it fail is to take the original quote from the provider and then trim it violently.  Most vendors will have some options that they can cut out, in my previous post on the 'cost of e-learning' you'll see there's various gold, silver, bronze type options that they can cut.  By cutting budget you'll likely see a drop in interaction (more page turning, less doing), less content in total (less screens), less animation/graphical niceties or worse still a drop out of any instructional design so you get a pretty but empty display piece.  This is bad enough if you're doing a bulk of modules, but if this is a single piece or your impact piece you've blown it if you've squeezed too much.  Cutting the budget in half is a pretty big cut down but as an e-learning provider I can understand that sometimes the budget is what the budget is, but cutting it down to 25% or less is a sure fire way of failing with style.

Don't provide access to anyone in your organisation
Make sure that your e-learning vendor (or even internal designer) doesn't get to speak to the SMEs (subject matter experts).  Give them some documentation or better still an old and inaccurate Powerpoint presentation to work off and let them get on with it.  You'll get something at the end for sure, only it won't be or feel like the end, instead it will feel like the beginning of it as you repeatedly have to make changes to the content and design to match what is actually required.  There are jobs that work well in a vacuum but frankly, e-learning design isn't one of them.  If you can't manage complete isolation, try giving them and SME then taking that one away and providing a different one (preferably from a different part of the organisation with different knowledge) to keep them on their toes.  If you can create a string of wrong people it can be even more devastating and disruptive than no-one at all.

Do it all in-house without the right tools or personnel
All this newfangled e-learning nonsense is actually really simple right?  You don't need to pay a vendor tens of thousands of dollars to sort out what your internal team can do for free!  Particularly when they are experienced in the subject matter and one of them used to even do some training once - or perhaps you have trainers, surely they can make e-learning?  It's hard enough even if you have a team and have purchased one of the excellent tools for rapid e-learning development like Articulate Storyline (read my article on Rapid or Rabid e-learning), but without these it's just not really going to fly.  Add in the fact that the people you get to do this probably have other 'real' jobs to do as well and your e-learning piece is likely to be a real dog's breakfast if it gets completed at all.  Better still get one inadequate under tooled person and just like in the example above make sure they hand the project over half-way through to do something more important (particularly if you discover by some lucky way that the first is any good), remember we're aiming for epic on the fail side of things.

Make all the key decisions without advice
e-Learning is a pretty specialised area of the training, education and learning fields, but don't let that discourage you.  If you truly want to make a hash of it you can avoid all the advice proffered by the e-learning vendor and your internal trainers and even SMEs to get something that fits your needs exactly.  The other people that are definitely worth ignoring are IT - if you can find a way to make the object almost entirely incompatible with your internal systems you can notch the failure up another level.  Remember there's a good deal of difference in getting what you want and getting what you need, make sure you are fully hands on at every design stage, every decision right down to the colours, graphics and even layout of every item on the screen.  Your team and the vendor will love the big screwdriver approach as micromanagement has always been incredibly popular with the minions.  Of course you reserve the right to be totally disappointed with the outputs that have your dirty fingerprints all over it, no point in having double standards and not using both of them!

Make no decisions at all
At the opposite end of the spectrum but equally as destructive is the complete hands-off approach.  It's not just about providing no decision making to keep the vendor/designer on their toes, but also provide no initial guidance, no help at the scoping stage, no input on anything throughout the entire design and build.  Just like too much control, none at all will confuse the team as they're going to be working in the dark throughout.  Again, just like above you reserve the right to turn from not interested to highly critical at the end - who was leading this mess of an output?  Why why why?  Perfectly reasonable when designing really bad e-learning.

Finally, it should be noted that actually there are a gazillion ways to really mess this sort of thing up and I've only touched on a few; I'm sure there are others that can cause some pretty catastrophic outcomes too - perhaps pouring money in without any clue can be as dangerous as cutting the budget, but I guess it would probably at least look pretty.  Of course, you shouldn't actually take this as a challenge to produce the worst possible e-learning you can!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Everything begins with an e

I remember many years ago running an e-learning centre for the Navy and having vendors come in and show their wares.  Sometimes these were large international organisations from America or Europe coming all the way to New Zealand for a demonstration of their World leading modules, systems or simulators.  I can remember being amazed that despite the high-level learning technologies these organisations were selling that they invariably delivered stilted presentations using Powerpoint at best.  It further amazed me that often they didn't even know their own product particularly well and certainly not from a true user perspective.  Then again, I've been to e-learning conferences and software simulation centres and seen the same thing - it's weird but why in the world of learning technologies do we regularly see the 'talk' but rarely the walk that should accompany it.

I work remotely and not out of a CBD office.  There's a reason for this; principally because it suits me to do so, but actually it's far more efficient for both myself and my company.  It's also a good example of walking the walk; we preach about systems that allow learning, communication and management remotely - about how you can access 24/7 and link up with communities, share resources, collaborate and learn without the requirement of physical proximity provided by an old-fashioned office environment.  I have a car and a motorbike too so I can get to the CBD when needed, but the dog likes it when I stay at home too :)

I've had it with paper and dedicated my office to be paper free other than a single doodle pad that sits by the computer.  I could claim this was trying to save the trees or some noble pursuit but the truth is simply that I lose bits of paper - all that filing and whatnot is not my strong point.  I take notes via a cool and free little tool called Evernote (hey, I even draft this blog in Evernote) which I can access off my laptop, phone and pad anywhere and share with others if I choose to.  It automatically files everything for me which is good as I just noted I wasn't so good at this.  I switched my clunky old widescreen laptop to a Macbook Air not just because it looked sexy (though it does) but because I wanted to be portable and instant enough to show up at meetings and take notes, share stuff that I've got to and give demonstrations when necessary.  I use cloud based storage like Box and Dropbox to share stuff, Totara LMS for learning and the like, a wiki site to share things with my team (yes emailing attachments is not the way).  

What's the drive for all this 'e' stuff.  It's not just because of the fact it's electronic; we're talking about higher efficiency and effectiveness I strongly believe.  The reason why I'm sharing this in The Nth Degree blog today is that it struck me that this is similar to e-learning.  The e is the mechanism but it's not actually the driving force for why e-learning is what it is; we're talking about higher efficiency and effectiveness I strongly believe.  If you read some of my previous entries (please, somebody read them!) you'll see that I'm not just about good looking e-learning, I believe in the collaborative and interactive nature of good e-learning.  I also believe in a blend where the right tool gets used for the right job and I believe in continuous improvement and always searching for new and better ways to do things.

Back to my original point, there's nothing wrong with Powerpoint (or Prezi which I prefer) or any other tools that you use to present; but there's something wrong if your presentation doesn't capture the very essence of what you're presenting.  Presentations should be enthusiastically delivered and supported with showing what you have and demonstrating its capability.

Finally whilst everything begins with an e, so does e-learning, but you should note that neither ends with an e or consists of only e's.  It's the nature and the environment, e-learning should always be primarily about learning (and the same could arguably be said about everything else!).

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The cost of e-learning?

So the most often asked question (even if not audibly asked) when it comes to your e-learning solution is 'how much will it cost?'.  It's like the baby elephant in the room at the start of your first exploratory discussions between L&D people and the e-learning service provider that grows to a full-scale mammoth by the time you've scoped out the project and need to know just what your solutions are likely to set you back.

The answer from most vendors is usually a 'it depends' or my personal favourite 'it's like asking how long is a piece of string'.  Fair enough, e-learning can be exactly like that, you can have short and simple pieces or long and complicated, highly interactive 3D widgets with virtual reality. 

In the learning technologies world, I've been able to put together a price-guide document because, well, the technologies are a wee bit simpler when it comes to pricing.  In our case we usually work with open source technologies so there's no per-user licensing on your LMS, but there are hosting costs and some integration type costs if you want to go down that road and they have standard-ish costs depending on what is being integrated or set-up.  The training, the consultancy etc come in packages around time and materials and they're pretty standard.  It means I can offer up clients a total Totara LMS solution for anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000 (and more!) but it's usually pretty visible and people generally 'get it'.

The solutions or 'content' is more complex because essentially the vast majority of what we're talking about here is a bespoke solution.  That means the e-learning you get at the end of it is designed solely for you rather than being purchased off the shelf (anyone remember the phrase COTS - commercially off the shelf?).  There are a gazillion variables that go into producing e-learning from the cost and quality of your graphic design, to your animations, video work, themes and overall design, platforms, technologies, interactions etc.  The one that is probably most important is often missed from a lot of vendors and buyers - the instructional design or ID work that goes into the end product; maybe it's just taken as a given (but hey, I'd want to talk about it and not assume...).

So I know there's big studies in the US around what e-learning should cost; here's my mini-guide on what I think (note this is Nigel, I not Kineo official pricing please!) you should be looking to spend depending on your needs and wants.  All are based on a single piece of e-learning of average length (let's call that half an hour of e-learning for the sake of arguement).

Cheap Solution; so we do it all in-house the cost is just time.  Oh and any stock images.  And perhaps quality.  Really this depends on who you have working for you and what they can do and how long it takes them (and their salary of course!).  Chances are you may not have the insider you want here and need to go outside - and whether this is the cheapest option or not is highly debatable - but it often looks that way to organisations!

Light Solution; I call it light because that's essentially what we're talking about here; often light on ID, light on graphical design or originality and certainly a light interactive approach.  Your asking someone to convert your Powerpoint or take your docs and make them e-learning on a very tight budget you'll get this type solution.  It's going to cost you very little in the big scheme of things, bring your little wallet and expect to pay $1,000 to $5,000 for a piece here.  For those of you already baulking that we went into the thousands at the lightest end you best not read on, it's important to realise that e-learning is not super cheap (but it does provide excellent ROI).

Bronze Solution; So if you want to move up and get a serious piece of e-learning this is where we hit the higher quality solutions (and the smart amongst you will have already noted that bronze is the cheaper metal!).  In this case we're talking actual e-learning with a higher degree of 'swish' about it generally than the light in.  I would expect a decent bronze solution to still have plenty of ID work going in to it (yes.. storyboards...) and expect decent graphical schemes, some interactions and things for the learner to do (not just watch or click next).  It may even contain some minor animations but probably more likely short video snippets and static graphics.  Some providers will do this in a 'rapid' way and keep your costs down - sometimes this can still spiral into the expensive regions.  I would expect to pay from around $5,000 to $20,000 for something that fits this description.  I know it's quite a range but the $5k end is for a swish and more learning-filled version of the light solution, but even if you have well-done page turning with custom graphics and good design you're probably not far off the higher end of the scale.

Silver Solution; For me the next level of solution is all about the interaction of the material.  Bronze is generally still fairly simplistic in design but as we move up we've now got a greater ID input and more things to do in the learning.  Problem is that more to do means more cost because it's the interactions that really take the time to put together.  The graphics again could notch up to the degree that your own characters better represent your organisation, there are far more likely to be some animated pieces into the solution and/or professional video.  The cost for a silver solution expect to open up your cheque book a little more to the tune of $10,000 to $30,000 per piece.  Yes I know it overlaps the last, but this is far from an exact science you know - I'm just trying to get the picture across for you!

Gold Solutions; So before you started reading this is what you thought you wanted right?  Highly interactive custom design, high-end ID work that you can show off and people go 'wow' as well as hitting all the learning marks and actually having an impact on the way your organisation does its business.  This is the type of solution that meets the aims, tracks everything you need done and is fun too (please make your solutions fun people).  What will it set you back?  I'm guessing you'll pay $30,000 to $50,000 for it and if you have the sort of budgets that allow for that you won't regret it either if it's done the way it should be.

Diamond Solutions; Gold may be rare but it's also soft - if you need something hard invest in diamonds!  I'm just being a bit silly but there's plenty of room to wiggle here - there really are higher end solutions than gold - often they're not about the interaction, the ID or the graphics but about some other aim you have.  If your work is 3D for example or requires extensive gamification or some alternate type VR world then forget about the previous costs and trade in elusive gems.  Once upon a time it looked like 3D was a big player in the e-learning world but the costs are generally so high for true 3D that most are steered away from it beyond engineering type applications.  It's also harder to find 3D vendors of educational materials as it's a hard skill-set to have on-board.  I remember once when I was running the Navy e-learning centre that we did a full 3D walkthrough familiarisation training piece of a Navy warship.  It was awesome and if we had been external would have cost a fortune in development - we were approached by someone in the Royal Navy in the UK about doing something similar for their new warships and if I remember rightly we were talking in the hundreds of thousands (sterling!).  There is almost no upper limit on your spending here depending on what you want and are prepared to pay for.

Economies of scale; yes good news guys is that it gets cheaper the more you have done from most suppliers!  A single piece may cost you $30,000 but 10 pieces may cost you only $15,000 if you are using some re-usable bits and pieces like graphic or design screens.  It's not unreasonable that you get some significant savings this way due to the way the e-learning producer is able to re-use things along the way.  If you're looking above 2 or 3 pieces expect to see discounts that grow the more you have done - but get that sorted before you start out or you could end up being each piece one at a time at premium costs.

In summary I've attempted to answer the piece of string question; somewhere between a few thousand and hundreds of them is your answer - when you ask for your e-learning the key is to have some understanding of why it costs that much and how they justify the costs involved.  As a final final here you need to be very careful when getting work done and specifying what is to be done - if not it's entirely possible to pay for gold and end up coming up 'light'!

Wanna talk content... drop me a line by finding me on the 'about me' bit at the top :)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Rapid e-Learning; Tortoises, Hares and Rabids!

Rapid e-learning a couple of years ago caused quite a stir.  It wasn't so much that it was a new thing, but more that it was finally better supported with tools, had a recognisable 'name' and finally this e-learning thing that some of us have been around in for years was finally starting to happen at last.  The tipping point for e-learning didn't happen quite as early or dramatically as some of us may have predicted, but e-learning is now big business and is likely only going to grow from here as the advantages of using learning technologies are better understood and it becomes more common place in what we do.  Rapid means fast right?  I mean if you pull out your thesaurus (does anyone still have those?) and look up rapid you'll have fast and other such synonyms in there, but in the world of learning technologies prepare yourself for what rapid really means.

The Tortoise and the Hare; Once there were only Flash or HTML developers to produce elearning, they were very slow and methodical but always got to the finish line, although often even later than expected and at even greater cost.  They were purists and specialists and were more akin to computer programmers than L&D professionals.  Not only that, but they often were highly focused on the e and not much on the learning (remember my 90/10 rule!).  Usually these courses were highly graphical, very very pretty and highly variable in learning content.  As e-learning has matured so have e-learning developers, sometimes they're more agile (although we're certainly not talking rapid here) and the good ones either have a strong learning focus or they work with Instructional Developers (or IDs) to achieve a learning focused outcome.  They get there.  Eventually.  Particularly if they have a highly iterative process that involves lots of QC/checking and back and forth to reach the overall goal of a beautifully crafted, interactive (sometimes and hopefully) piece of learning that you will proudly show off to any and every one that visits your organisation.  They are the tortoise, they are rare, expensive and slow and often worth both the time and money.  Then there is the other end of the spectrum, the hares if you will.  Rapid e-learning developers who use the tools that the market place has now to offer like Articulate, Storyline, Captivate and the like.  What you get isn't necessary lower quality either, some rapid developers are so good that they can literally emulate and even exceed the developers out there (or at least the poor ones!).  This seems pretty easy now right?  The hares must win the race right?  Sometimes.  The hares come with their own issues, sometimes what you get at the end isn't a win; what if it is nothing like you originally envisaged?  What if it's unappealing, just page turning, Powerpoint in a mildly different way, completely lacking any interaction or just plain cheap and nasty?  Then you either live with a result you know is never really finishing the race, or you run laps until you finally get what you're after.  That's the pitfall and that's when we actually have a hare.  What we often have is a tortoise with long ears, fluffy tails and a slant towards root vegetables; not rapid e-learning just masquerading as such - I refer to this as Rabid e-Learning (another one I should copyright).

Rapid v Rabid;  Rapid is quick Rabid just makes you foam at the mouth and get angry, but what's the distinguishable difference?  It's certainly not the tools involved, what you sometimes find is that Storyline or Captivate users are convinced that what they do is rapid e-learning because they use these tools.  If e-learning production runs past days and a week or two then how rapid is it?  When it runs past weeks and moves to months there's no way you can class this as rapid.  It might be good, it might be bad, it may even be cheap, but it isn't rapid.  Rapid e-learning often involves using stock or a bank of images and leverages off things like templates so that the more e-learning modules or courses you put together the cheaper it gets.  One or two rapid modules in isolation may not be that cheap but a bunch should be getting cheaper by the module... so should the relative production rate of them.  If you engage someone to produce 10 e-learning modules and the cost is 10x that of producing one then they're not being done rapidly.  Ditto the time, if making 10 modules takes 10 times as long that's not rapid either.  One of the key's to rapid e-learning is about engagement and particularly about getting that engagement in early on in the project and when it's being developed.  One of the big problems with e-learning is that often the outputs really don't match what we expected, then there are lots of processes and iterations to get the expectations and outputs to align - this is where a huge amount of time is wasted.

There's one thing for sure here when it comes to e-learning; there are two main types and these are good and bad.  That's more important than any other major classification, good e-learning can be rapid or it can be produced slower using specialists - the chances are greater that you'll get a better learning product if the skillset of those producing the e-learning consists of a balance of both tools skills and ID knowledge.  If you have tools or developer people that don't think learning is part of what they do then the product will always be hollow; the focus as always should be on the learning not the e, hey it's 90% (roughly, see the title block) of what we do.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Who is your MVP for your LMS?

In the concept of team sports the MVP (or most valuable player) is pretty straight forward, it may not be your most skilled or highest scorer, but it's the person who makes everything work on the field/court/pitch.  For an LMS (learning management system) it's also a team game when we want things to work the best they can and just like a sports team there's a piece of the puzzle that's vital and makes everything together work.  Just like a sports team it isn't necessarily from a set position, but it will come from one of these three key roles:

Your LMS Administrator; the most important piece of the puzzle for an LMS is often the administrator (or sys admin).  What's perverse about this is that typically they are lower-paid and less-well selected than most other roles in your organisation, but you must not underestimate their importance overall.  A decent sys admin will literally be worth their weight in gold for your L&D department and hence your organisation as a whole.  If you have someone here who is computer literate, enthused about what they do and shares a passion for learning then you are on to a winner.  A word of advice here though, truly value them or they will leave!  Who is your admin person for the LMS?  Typically it's often a training or L&D coordinator, but I've filled this role as a manager in my past and the key is more about the individual than the role it comes under.  If you take one thing away from this blog remember this is the pivotal role in the success of an LMS; value your sys admin if you have the right one!

Your LMS 'Owner'; mistake number two is usually a lack of ownership or giving ownership to the wrong person.  If you are the owner then you are potentially the biggest influence on how it all turns out.  If your owner is motivated, learning focused and has great vision for the LMS then it will rarely fail.  If you are the owner then good on you for reading this, because as the LMS owner you should believe in life long learning and really care about the success of your system.  Your owner is normally the L&D lead, but it often ends up in the camp of HR general or even IT.  If no-one wants it and you are passionate about it, then wrestle it away from them and take ownership yourself.  If you own it but don't care about it then delegate the ownership to someone who has the vision and drive to make it succeed.  Lastly if you are the owner and possess all the good stuff above, just remember that you have to share your vision and some of the responsibility with others (remember loving and letting go of your LMS in an earlier blog?!).

Your CEO/GM/Big Boss; if the first shout-out is for the admin at the bottom of the organisational hierarchy then the last is for the top!  If your CEO actually gives a damn about L&D and is a champion for what you do and it can do then you have found your MVP.  Don't try and take control and feel protective of your 'baby', use their power and influence to drive forward the system and follow the leader.  If you have a really passionate chief then you just need to match that yourself and there is literally nothing you can't do with the learning for your organisation.  If your CEO is like this, stay in your current job 'cos it doesn't get any better than this!

As a sort of afterthought I guess that there's always the X-factor out there (no, not that TV thing...) that you can't rule out.  A key stakeholder, a trainer that makes fantastic content and really support or even someone in IT who's really for what you're trying to do (they do exist honest!) - I guess your MVP can pop up anywhere, but ask yourself 'what role do I fill?' and see how easy it would be to move up a notch and be the MVP for your LMS.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

All Support is not created equal

When I first started consulting in learning technologies my role seemed focussed entirely on implementing Learning Management Systems (LMSs) for organisations.  The aim was always for a smooth change management piece that brought in a new piece of vital learning technology into the organisation and the target was always to get the project 'across the line'.  Over the last couple of years, I've noticed a shift that means that whilst the line is still there, the focus needs to shift well beyond that line.  In short, ongoing support now accounts for the vast majority of what we do in the learning technologies space.

The issue is that if I call it 'support' what does that actually mean?  Support obviously comes in a variety of shapes and sizes (not to mention costs!), from a very low-level forum type support to tier 1 support where any user in your organisation can speak directly to the supporting organisation and even strategic consulting and high-level support. From a customer perspective what can you expect from your supporting organisation and what are these type of support?

At Kineo Pacific we offer 3 standard levels of support Gold, Silver and Bronze - but actually that alone tells you nothing except there are 'levels' and Gold will be the top one!  Instead let me describe quickly what the real things that distinguish levels of support (you can work out which of our levels they fall under for yourself if you want to - just ask me for our documentation!).

Below are some types of support.  These are neither exhaustive or exclusive and most good support packages will have elements of more than one of these.

Community Support.  It would be easy to write off community support as an ineffective and long-winded way of getting help (and sometimes it's exactly that too), but a product that has an established user base can sometimes offer some really great help.  A couple of examples spring to mind here; Moodle is one as it has a very well established user base (Moodle actually accounts for about a quarter of ALL LMS implementations globally) and there are lots of willing people sharing about it.  The problem comes in that it's a bit like searching on Google… it's really easy to search for something if you know what you're looking for.  The other issue is that a large number of enthusiastic amateurs can really send you off down some uncomfortable rabbit holes.  Another good example of community support is the Articulate community; this is a different type of support group with more support from Articulate than just users, but they have clearly invested in it and it does provide useful sources of information for users.  The problem with community support of course is that it relies on the community and often as not leaves you feeling pretty frustrated for anything beyond obvious issues.

Tier 1 Support.  This is the 'help desk' support where your own users don't turn to you as the expert but use third party support from your supplier instead.  We do this with some organisations that want to offer their LMS for external users and simply don't have the administrators or expertise to look after all the potential issues external users may have.  This type of support is great if you don't have any in-house expertise or time and although it's usually quite expensive it's often cost-effective when compared with the costs of employing a full or even part-time administrator to do the job.  We tend to call this administration rather than support, but the reality is it is still a form of support - just more direct.  Typically this type of support is accessed in a ticketed manner either by call, email or web interface.

Tier 2 Support.  The bulk of support plans fall into this category; it's about the supplier being there to help your organisation by supporting your key people rather than the whole organisation.  For an LMS this usually means getting support for your Systems Administrator, L&D personnel or trainers and system owner.  Ideally this will be ticketed or system controlled so you can find out what is going on!  A tip for the top is to limit the number of people able to access the support as most of these type packages are usually measured by 'hours' of contact and you don't want to find that some 'enthusiasts' have used up all your support whilst your key staff are left needing more for the actual vital areas of the business.

Real-time, Rapid, Standard, Slow… Okay, these may not be the actual labels given by the supplier, but there are varying levels of support response you can expect.  Real-time essentially means you can pick up the phone at any time and get help.  Not a recording or a logging but instantly.  Whilst this sounds great the actual reality is that you will pay a lot of additional money for something that usually isn't that necessary.  Don't get me wrong if we're talking technical support and keeping your LMS up and running then that's pretty much what you'd expect (99% plus uptime), but for the support of using an LMS then that's a different matter again.  "Quick it's a learning emergency, is there a teacher in the room!" is not something you'll likely hear to often.  All jokes to one side there shouldn't be too many emergencies in the administration of your LMS or much training on it (again, except those of a technical nature) so the need for real-time support is generally quite low.  You could reasonably expect some level of same-day support though as this can prevent having to continually wait days to get anything done.  Our 'normal' support sits around half-day and rapid around two hours - but generally it's much quicker.  The other good thing to note is that support is always instantaneous then the supporting organisation is not working with other clients or you have a dedicated support just for your organisation; that means that they may not be spending much time working with clients on their problems and therefore upskilling themselves and staying up-to-date on the system.

Local Support.  Is it essential to have support in the same city, country or hemisphere?  Certainly language barriers can prove an issue to support, but whether or not you need your supporting organisation in the same country depends on several factors.  I've worked and trained with clients from Australia, UK, US and here in New Zealand.  The only difference between any for me has been the ability to go 'on-site' and face-to-face.  For a couple of the organisations that really wasn't necessary with the modern tools at our fingertips but if you as an organisation need local support then you should clearly opt with an organisation as close to you as possible - at least with a presence in your market and general area.  You'll find the time zones can make a big difference too of course!

High-level Support/Consultancy.  So getting support for your administrator is one thing, but who is there to support you if you're the higher level manager?  Support doesn't necessary mean 'how do I do this?' and in fact the higher level support goes much further to look strategically at how we handle updates, changes and even internal issues that may affect the learning across the organisation.  If this seems like a consultancy piece it absolutely is, and I believe that consultancy is an important part of consultancy that can make an enormous difference to an organisation and yet is often completely overlooked.

Escalating Support.  I think it's vital in any relationship that there's some clearly defined roles.  Whilst the relationship between the support individual or team and the organisation's team or administrator, there's also higher levels of relationship that need to exist - even if they're not really involved beyond existing.  I think it's vitally important that if you're engaging support that there's someone you can turn to above the individual that you normally engage for support.  Our structure has three basic levels that usually cover our needs; from day-to-day support staff to consultants and a level above - whether you refer to that as the relationship manager or simply the manager of the consultants is probably semantics, but it's great that managers in the organisations we support can find someone to talk to when they're not getting the support or even the answers they need.

Feedback.  Okay, this isn't strictly part of the support, but it is part of the support agreement.  As a customer you could reasonably expect a level of feedback from the supporting organisation; how much support have you used and got remaining as a minimum, who is asking the questions and even a full breakdown of how time is spent.  It's also reasonable that a supporting agency would ask the question 'how are we doing?' - after all you'd expect that from anyone involved in learning right?

All in all a great support relationship is dependent on many things; ultimately a successful support arrangement is one you and your teams feel confident that you can do the tasks you need to and when you can't; well, there's someone there for you to help that you can rely on.  If not, best give me a buzz...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

LMS for smaller organisations?

It's fine if you're a big corporate or a government agency or part of a global organisation to assume that a Learning Management System (LMS) is something you should have if you don't already have one.  But an LMS has typically been the tool for managing learning for mid-large organisations; what about organisations with less than 500 people, or even less than a 100?  Are there options or even needs for them?

The daft thing is that managing learning is less about the raw numbers of users on the system and more about your complexity, range and use of L&D, education and training in your organisation.  If your job functions require a diverse and involved degree of training or learning then managing via an LMS is a perfect addition to your organisation.  The problem often comes around the costs involved for small scale LMSs because of the initial start-up costs.

Cloud-based LMSs or multi-tenanting sites may just be your solution.  If you can pay and subscribe small numbers they are usually considerably cheaper than their full-blown counterparts.  The trick is finding a cloud based LMS that offers you the functionality that you need as many vendors give you a cut-down version that essentially is used for launching and tracking e-learning rather than a fully functional system.  As many (is there many of you?) of you know I work predominantly with Open Source LMSs Totara and Moodle, believe it or not both of these make good choices for small organisations but for different reasons and circumstances - as this blog is about LMS in general if you want to know more about those drop me a line...

The real key for me is about the management of learning (hey just look at the acronym) so if you want to make the most out of your LMS it needs to allow you to properly manage so choose something with a blended approach to also allow you to manage classroom bookings and off-site activities.  I also want some development planning, ability to bring in old stuff, upload 'things' such as old certs, run reports that I can have some input in to and ideally have it all still look like I paid more for it than I did.  Bonus features include the ability to stretch you such as competency based management, badges and full hierarchical controls, graphical outputs and a customisable menu are also desirable in your LMS.

...but actually if I had to put what makes a good LMS for small orgs in a simple sentence it would be; great looking, easy to use and packed full of functionality and reporting.  If you don't think you can afford that, you may just be looking in the wrong place.
Totara Cloud :)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Following the Pilot...

Okay this is simple in the case of flying (like I am now) but less straight forward in the world of elearning and particularly your Learning Management System or LMS.  When you fly you go where the pilot takes you and that makes plenty of sense (ever been in a plane without one?).  But when it comes to learning technologies your pilot may go ahead, but that doesn't mean you have to fly the same way.  You may have had a successful launch on a small scale but does that mean you fire straight up the runway into a full launch?

When you are cleared to launch:
  • The first of these is easy, when your pilot was such a rip-roaring success of perfection personified it would be kind of crazy to not follow it as soon as you can with a full launch.
  • When you never make any mistakes of any kind and can be damned sure that you don't need to worry too much about the pilot because you'll get it right when you go live anyway.
  • You have the world's biggest elearning budget so if it's not right you just fix it up along the way flicking open your bottomless cheque book and signing away at will.
  • When you've completed your pilot and it has gone really well without any major issues.  You've conducted a review and it seems your first guess was right and you're ready to move straight on.
  • You were only using the term pilot to push it past the powers that be, you were always launching anyway and this was just a phase along the way of a staggered launch.
When you should carry out plenty of pre-flight checks:
  • The pilot was very small scale with only a few all-too-eager participants that were hand-chosen for the positive attitude - the business as a whole knows very little about this private little study in excellence.
  • The review of the pilot was okay but there was lots of negative feedback.
  • The budget is smaller for the main launch than the pilot.
  • You never really reviewed the effectiveness of the pilot.
Catch a different flight or take your pilot back to training:
  • When the pilot was a disaster of epic proportions, nothing worked, nobody achieved what they were supposed to and you, but you're still determined to make this idea fly.
  • When the key people from the pilot have all changed and the only records you have is that take up was pretty poor and who owns the plane anyway?
  • When you struggled with the vendor or the LMS 'experts'.
Choose a different airline:
  • The vendor was either not present, knew nothing of the system or customer service was completely non-existent.
  • The LMS really fell a looooong way short of expectations and the vendor isn't about to address issues.
  • Your feedback from the pilot is clearly pointing away from your choices that led you to the system you chose!
You were never meant to fly, cancel any further ideas of this notion:
  • You have zero interest in learning or learning technologies and nor does your business.
  • The pilot finished but it didn't matter because no one did anything and no-one is going to ever do anything.
  • IT won't let you do anything ever.  Like, ev-er!
The conclusion is a simple one, if you're sitting in the departure lounge about to get on a plane that's taking you somewhere you don't want to go, or the plane doesn't look like it's capable of getting you there, you should seriously think twice before following the pilot down the runway.  Remember the purpose of a pilot in your LMS is to get you knowing where you want to go and how to get there, whereas once you're on the plane the pilot goes and you follow or else!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Collaboration in Learning Technologies

It seems to me that we get pretty carried away sometimes with what we loosely call 'content' and we forget about those all important tools that make the difference between the worldwide web as it was and Web 2.0 as it is.  For those of you not in the know the real difference between the early days of the web, cloud or internet (yes, pretty much the same thing depending on how old/trendy you are) and the cloud we now know and love is the collaboration - or at least the ability to.

Once upon a time there existed something called the world wide web that we colloquially called the internet.  It was a place of worship where we went to find all the answers to the universe.  Where the smart people went and put information so the rest of us could go and get it.  Nowadays that all seems pretty daft, who would want a cloud system where everything was one-way, where you couldn't leave an opinion, contribute or simply host your own site (not to mention prattle on in a blog like this)?  But ironically enough it reminds me of the old-school methodology of education and training, in that the teacher was the god-like form and fountain of all knowledge with the students attending like a dial-up modem to get information from the all-knowing virtual Deity.

So the strange thing is we've come a long way haven't we?  We now know that learning is not a one way (or even two-way) street but a multi-connection where everyone can contribute.  Modern education features far more student-centric learning, we design 'pull' elearning rather than force-feeding hours of video (and if you don't please drop me a line) and in face to face classes we encourage interaction and group work so that learners can learn from each other.  Great.  So how come when I see elearning courses all the money, design and thought seems to go into the module type activity and so little seems channeled into the collaborative tools that define good learning, good teaching, good course design and ultimately good use of the web?

The daft thing is that good elearning design with more interaction between learners is as easy to achieve and less hard-work than single source of knowledge based learning. This is true of classroom based learning too if you think about it; back when I was a teacher (wow.. good memory) I loved getting the class to work together on tasks and dropping into that facilitator role.  It's the same with elearning design; it's very difficult to design a course that is all things to all people, but by adding those collaborative tools you take the pressure off.

So what are these collaborative tools?  They're really simple and most LMSs will have them; start with the single most important one; forums.  Don't sigh, this may be the best weapon in your tool-kit to get learners actively working with each other.  You just have to put a little thought in beyond the 'News' or 'General Discussion' to take it to the next level.  Try posing questions that will draw a controversial discussion or question and answers forums where learners can not only ask the questions but respond and give the answers too - and then sit back and feel the weight lift :)  I like tools as simple as voting, or using feedback tools in a way that shows the consensus of opinion and then use that as a starting discussion.  If there's a tough part of the course, how about rather than trying to make a complex widget to do it you set up a synchronous session, a webinar or even a simple chat.  Record it and attach a forum to answer questions from those not there or expansion on what was asked and answered.

Want to know more?  In New Zealand we're running the eLearning Essentials Programme and the next webinar (13 Aug 13) is on Collaboration in elearning.  Ira from the Kineo Pacific team will be going into details on these and more!  If you want to subscribe to it go here: or pitch me an email at

Thursday, 11 July 2013

What's bigger than a MOOC?

If you've not been caught up in the trending world of MOOC (technically standing for Massive Open Online Course - nope it's Online Open excuse me) then you may be falling behind the curve.  MOOCs in human terms mean big courses that anyone can go and take part in.  Great concept and some really good stuff out there… but we're here today to take it further (some would say too much so)...

What's bigger than massive - well… bigger of course!  Let me introduce to the next big think in learning… the BOOC - it stands for Bigger Open Offline Course and pronounced "book".  

The sharp amongst you may notice the letter O is used twice, the first O is for Open; this is necessary as a closed BOOC is generally useless and unreadable.  The second O is for Offline and distinguishes MOOCs and BOOCs, BOOCs are a notable improvement not only by being bigger but also by being physical (rather than virtual) so really they're much bigger (MBOOC?).  Writing a BOOC takes quite a skill-set (not that this dissuades everyone).  Many lower level BOOCs are largely illustrated for younger audiences, but more serious learning is usually covered in a text-based BOOC or Txt-BOOC as it's commonly known.  The subject matter can vary greatly, some are even being published on the subject of MOOCs or a MOOCBOOC.  There's also a recent trend in Learning in BOOCs that's giving rise to an underground movement of BOLOCs.  You can now read BOLOCs on almost every subject.

How do you make a BOOC?  Whilst a MOOC regularly seems to be made using tools which are little more than an HTML editor and largely online text editors, BOOCs rely on existing technology making them incredibly easy to start up.  The most common form is to use a word-processor to print out a manuscript that gets send to a publishing house, but some stand by the true and trusted art of typography using type-of-writers or typewriters for short.  P&P is also an option but opinions vary on which P is which.

Yes, okay you got me… BOOCs are just books and I don't have breaking news here and I'm just being a bit silly.  It may be a bit tongue in cheek but there are so many MOOCs that really are just reading materials they might as well be called BOOC or books because they're really just plenty of pages of information.  The worry here is that the market will swamp full of MOOCs (if this hasn't already happened).  That doesn't concern me so much, but if the MOOCs are more like BOOCs then all we succeed in doing is swamping the market with more paper (albeit virtually) and suddenly separating the valuable learning from the resource becomes as much of a chore as across the internet itself (next thing you know they'll let anyone blog…).

So converting books to BOOCs to MOOCs may be the latest trend we see but it certainly would be a step back in learning if we don't put more into the learning design process.  It definitely reminds me of many early Moodle courses which were resources and a forum (I say early…).  I'm not even saying there's not a place for that, just it's not the solution that fits every need.

As an afterthought (generally the only type of thought I have) I should be keen to note I'm still a big fan of books (although I'm a fan of fiction in my paper); in fact whenever I take off or land on a  plane I reach for the comforting paperback - of course if the airlines ever finally admit that a Kindle can't bring down your Airbus I guess even that may fade out).