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  What this means is that the moment it becomes a ‘report’ it is out of date.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  We get a roll-up effect with junior managers producing out of date information for senior managers who add their own expired information to the increasingly inaccurate information from their staff to the leadership team who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! ;)