Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 in Learning Technologies to the Nth Degree

2014 was an interesting year for learning technologies.  I think it's funny when you look back at the predictions a year or two ago about what was predicted to be big... especially as some of those are still on the radar.  In fact when I wrote about the technological acceleration a couple of months back one of the ironies I didn't mention was that in the learning world we seem to follow that much slower and what is predicted to occur doesn't necessarily come that quickly.  In actual fact if you think about e-learning itself, how long was it 'the next big thing' before it finally hit?

I started the year out with an old favourite topic of mine around capability building and the need to spend the time to do more than just bring in technologies but to spend the time embedding and upskilling.  In fact later in the year I got annoyed with L&D people in general around this various topic and called out to Upskill L&D (I like it because it rhymes too:).

One of the trending topics though for me were around physics.  Well no, not really, they had physics type titles but really they were about analogies and their place in learning.  The most hit of these was the theory of relativity which even had our sales manager reading it (wow, well done Zack) and I followed that up with a quick dip into quantum physics too which looked at the effect of observation on outcomes.

Of course one of the big trends that has hung around for another year is the interest in MOOCs.  I put together a few posts on the emotive subject from MOOCs v eLearning to Stepping through the MOOC minefield (for beginners) and later in the year trying to work out the Essence of a MOOC.  All in all I concluded that MOOCs, not unlike elearning, were a mixed bag and the good ones at heart had some form of interaction (again, not too dissimilar from good elearning).

Of course one of the emergence from my side over the last 12 months has been some of my own crazy ideas added to the world of learning (and everything in general).  My ideas on the power of blurting were probably underpinned by one of my most controversial ideas that knowledge is overrated and the dangers involved in overprocessing.  Lots of this has been part of my own learning picked up through #lrnchat and #pkmchat and of course chatter with other peeps.

All in all I managed to put down 42 blogs this year on Learning Technologies - up 30% from 2013 and up close to 50% in readership.  Thanks for those that have spent any time to read it and I'll try and follow up next year with more of the same :)

Happy 2014 everyone and looking forward to 2015.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Knowledge is Overrated

I think in many ways this will be my most controversial post of recent times as I often find I lose others when I don’t worship knowledge in the same way lots of experts in the learning world do.  I’ve got a stack of reasons for my bold statement; I’m going to add them below and let you argue out whether I’m right or just misguided:

1)  Knowledge is a thing.  It’s not.  Knowledge is not a tangible thing like coins that you can count up and add up in a linear fashion.  It’s not something that you can hold indefinitely or gain interest on like a bank.  Knowledge is relative, it changes, what was right then may not be right now and what is right now may be less so in the future.  You can’t store up every piece of knowledge you ever picked up and suddenly become a wise and wonderful sage.  

2)  Knowledge is static.  It’s not.  It’s a changing beast.  Once we thought the world was flat and that was knowledge, then we knew it was a globe around which everything else rotated, and that was knowledge.  Now we know our place in the universe.  Knowledge.  What will knowledge tomorrow tell us about what we know now?  I don’t know but it will tell us something at least slightly different to we already know.  Knowledge isn’t a stationary and achievable thing, it’s a moving target that you need to move with.

3)  Having knowledge is an end result.  This may be a life is a journey not a destination type argument, but it’s true.  The end result of learning isn’t knowledge (gonna lose some of you here), it’s learning.  Learning is about experiences and changing and evolving what you think.  Knowledge might be your thoughts right now, but if you’re open to evolve you will be open to allowing that to change and reform and change again.  By very definition that’s not our traditional model of knowledge but one of learning.

4)  Knowledge exists in a vacuum.  No.  My favourite expression rears its head again as we need to face up the fact that knowledge if it is changing and shaping and evolving then it needs to be connected to other things.  If you took every possible word in existence today and wrote it in a book (you could call it a dictionary if you wanted!) and then locked it in a safe for 500 years and opened it again would it contain every word in existence?  In fact if you opened it in 10 years or even 5 would it contain every word?  No, it wouldn’t, lol, because language is evolving just like our ‘knowledge’ of the world around us.

5)  Knowledge is higher learning.  No, no, no.  Knowledge based learning has been recognised for some time now in most (admittedly flawed) models as being the lower end of learning.  Testing where you’re asked to recall ‘facts’ is something a parrot could pick up with a bit of training and not the higher end of learning at all.  To move up we need to start looking at applying knowledge and forming new ideas from it and actually challenging some of the ideas of that ‘knowledge’ itself.

6)  To know you is to love you.  Actually I’m not sure about this at all but Madonna’s Austin Powers song Beautiful Stranger just popped into my head and it had the word know in it which was implying knowledge based stuff so I doubt there’s many people that you’d all love just because you knew them and I’ve gone a bit silly now so I’ll stop here...

Next time you go to use the word knowledge I’d like you to stop and think about what you really mean.  I think the vast majority of the time we use the word without really thinking and what we’re really referring to is learning.  I know learning isn’t a noun and knowledge is, but again that ties in to point one, knowledge isn’t really a thing so it shouldn’t be represented by a noun in the first place.  You’re either learning or you’ve stopped learning, and if you’ve stopped learning, well, even if knowledge didn’t fade (and it does) you’d never have any more than you have right now and that’s a shame eh?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Creativity doesn't exist in a vacuum

On of the mistakes organisations often seem to make is around communication, or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof.  Successful organisations have worked out that communicating effectively is a very important part of running a business and it really doesn’t matter what your business is.  One of my favourite expressions recently has been about trying to lead an area without the appropriate communications with other areas - ‘leadership in a vacuum’ as I coin it and it really doesn’t work.
Today we had a good #pkmchat where we started talking about creativity.  Most of us agreed that whilst there are creative people (and of course those that are less so), that creativity needed something to spark it off.  I think there are two main types of creativity here, the type where a couple or a group of people bounce ideas off each other and a spark grows and an idea is formed - kind of a communal creativity.  Sure there are some people that contribute more than others and I’m sure there’s a TED video somewhere of the leaders and followers, but the essence is that it’s the overall outcome is greater than the sum of its individual parts and collaborative.  The second type only occurs with truly creative people.  You all know the types, they’re that rare breed that actually do think in a different way to most of us knuckleheads (sorry, no insult meant to anyone beyond myself).  They see things differently and more widely and are often great inspiring people.  What they are not is an island.  Where they draw their inspiration from varies from individual to individual, but regardless of their creativity - it needs something to get it started or to act as a catalyst to bring it out.

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum because it simply can’t.  We don’t take a person with great ideas and lock them away in a room where they churn out amazing creative ideas from within.  Even if creativity is held entirely within, we need that jog to pull it out or to form it into something beyond just random thoughts.

Truth is even if I’m wrong (and yes, there’s a fair chance of it) then the propagation and the application of creativity would soon die without others involved.  Creativity without any action is like sparks when you’re cold; they have the potential to light a fire, but the sparks alone don’t make it happen.  When the bright sparks of my analogy meet with the ‘fuel’ that is the rest of us that’s when the ideas ignite and creativity blooms (or booms, I’m lost in my own running metaphors again).  That got a bit convoluted but hopefully you get the idea; creative people cause the sparks but it’s when those ideas get picked up and acted upon and spread and acted upon some more, that’s when something amazing happens… and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

If a tree in a forest falls over and no-one is around to hear it did it really fall?  Or should it be if a spark occurs and there’s nothing around to catch fire, did it really happen? In either the falling of trees or the igniting of sparks even if they still occur… does anyone care?

The good news for us ‘ordinary’ folks is that if I’m right we all have the chance to be a part of creativity.  We may not be the sparks (at least on our own) but with others or with the right approach we can fan the flames.  Here’s the essence part again, it’s not what you know (or more accurately what you think you know) or what you can do but what your approach is.  Put simply creativity doesn’t rely on knowledge - nor does it really rely on ‘skill’ in the generic sense of the word, it takes a certain ATTITUDE.  From #lrnchat we talked about intellectual humility - the idea if you will to change your mind based upon new evidence or another perspective - this is a required part of helping creativity.  If you base everything you know and everything you can do on what is already known how can you be truly creative?

As a final point remember that the most effective ‘blocker’ to more or less anything is a vacuum - an open space caused by some form of isolation.  The only way to travel through a vacuum is to radiate - and unless you know someone so creative that their ideas radiate out for others to absorb, I suggest we fill that vacuum with people and interactions between them.

I’m off to glow now and see if anyone notices :)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Dangers of Over-Processing

When it comes to food we all know that over-processing is pretty bad on the whole and that simple foods are probably better for us than their artificial alternatives.  Funny thing is though, when it comes to setting up organisational processes and even when designing learning solutions it’s all too easy to get carried away with trying to think of every eventuality and plan for it.  For that reason old-fashioned operations manuals were always crammed full of paragraph upon paragraph (upon page upon page) of heavy detail to make sure no stone was ever left unturned.  This is one of those times when taking detail to the nth degree lets in too much of the devil.

The simple reality is that in the world of organisational rules and procedures you really can’t think of everything when you go to great detail.  It’s kind of like getting older and realising that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know and that knowing everything isn’t possible.  The greater depths we go in to describe a process the more closed off our process becomes to slight changes in details.  For example, if your processes are prescriptive enough to outline 5 different types of form depending upon minute detail changes, there’s a chance that there are more than 5 discrete possibilities for use and by prescribing the 5 you cover less people than if you just had one.  Government agencies seem to be the best at this kind of over-processing forms and the like (seriously anything to do with tax and you’ll know what I’m talking about).  What we really need to do to make these type of systems work is make it much much simpler.  The old adage of keeping it simple pays massive dividends in the area of processes.  The first is by having a simple process for a function you’re far more likely for people to follow it and waste less of everyone’s time.  Think about those old ops manuals stuck on the shelf covered in dust whilst employees did what they always did - now imagine bringing in process 234.23 to replace the now defunct 234.18 and wonder why no-one really cares.
One great way to simplify processes is to remove the reliance on heavily worded processes.  Many orgs have moved to process flow diagrams and this can really help keep them simpler.  Of course, just translating into diagrams without making changes to the processes and simplifying them too just gives you horrible diagrams.  I’m a fan of using swim-lane charts which clearly show who has the responsibility for what actions and some simple traffic light colour coding can help too with colours for manual process, documentation and automated elements.  We did this recently with an organisation and I was stunned by the simple story the picture told.  We used red for paper processes, orange for electronic but manual and green for automated.  If you lived in a city with a lot of traffic lights, the picture would represent grid-lock - and that’s essentially what happens with an organisation with heavy reliance on overly detailed processes that require far too much manual and paper type processes to work effectively.

Thing is when you want to cover every eventuality there are actually two ways to go about it.  One is the afore mentioned document absolute every possible eventuality (and be prepared to add to that list as you go and find out more possibilities) and the other is to keep your processes at a more holistic level.  Take for example if you’ve got a number of processes to follow in order to send someone on a training course.  Let’s say you start with some sort of development planning between a staff member and a manager that means the need is determined to attend some training/professional development.  Using the LMS there are certain courses in there, plus the ability to request new ones.  Using the HR system there are also records of conferences and marketing events being held in each of the regions.  Added to that there’s always the ability to review something new and raise an organisational need through the line management.  This could exist as a number of processes depending upon the activity and where or whether it existed, but in essence you’ve really got just one simple process here.  You can ‘start’ with the development plan and then ask the question if this opportunity exists - if it does, they book on with relevant approval and ‘do it’.  If it doesn’t they request it.  They don’t request it in 5 different places they request it in one.  This one ideally has some automation and can simply make sure the approvals or otherwise sit with the right people.  You then just need a process if not approved and link in to the standard process if it does.  Sure there’s approvals and exceptions and blah de blah, but by making this simple for the individual they are far more likely to actually push their request into the system and take on some new learning (kinda the outcome we were hoping for?).  By making your system cyclic you don’t end up having to have a whole different bunch of outcomes for different things, they all end up in the yes or no track one way or the other and both feed back to development planning too if we’ve done it right.

Of course to achieve this we need our ‘systems’ to have the same sort of approach, that is the ability to help us organise and make decisions.  How much time do you want to waste getting people who are already in your systems to fill in a form with their name, date of birth, place of work, manager etc etc when all that information is probably already held centrally?  You’d be amazed at the number of times I’ve seen a 9 step process with 4 forms all of which requiring predominantly the same information.  These are usually paper or printed off for record keeping…argh!  That’s why modern databases were developed - they have audit trails built in.  If you LMS or learning platforms are recording approvals then they are stored in the system and can be reported upon and reviewed.

The other big pain we often find in process is the ‘now send to the next in command’ step that goes backwards and forwards prior to being able to move to step 57 of the process.  We have to put some reliance on our people being able to do what is required of them.  For example, if you want a manager to get some approval on a budgetary manner before approving his staff’s requests you can just state that without including the process.  For example something like a decision box for manager approval with a caveat that managers should ensure they have cleared approvals over their authority with the relevant channel.  Keep it simple - don’t try and include every budget holder and all eventualities, remember keep it at a higher level and empower your people to make those decisions based upon their professional ability.

I was going to go off a bit more on learning and over-processed learning, but I think I’ll save it for another day as we’re landing soon (as usual on the aircraft and blogging) - but the theory is pretty much the same - keep it simple and don’t try to ‘teach’ every possible outcome.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Essence of a MOOC

So here am I self-confessed 'free-thinker' and hater of daft boundaries and... well... models and then during another excellent #pkmchat last week when discussing MOOCs I get the idea that I can put the essence of a MOOC into a mathematical formula of sorts!  Now I ask you, for someone who believes we tend to over-pigeon-hole things and make them into models so that we can give them cool acronyms my theorising shouldn't have been what's the formula for a MOOC, but actually what can we boil a MOOC down to - what's the essence of a MOOC.

In my moment of madness and conformity I came up with the idea that the cMOOCs or connectivity style of MOOCs - the ones where you actually interact with others on the 'course' weren't just limited to Udemy style courses that you enter but that anything involving modern media, something like this:

Twitter + Wikipedia + Google = MOOC

Of course this is actually far from correct because it's not in any way mathematical and putting it into a mathematical formula is dumb.  Thanks also to Bruno Winck @brunowinck for his subtle increase of the formula to add in the word 'people' (I kind of implied that in my mind) and we're almost there.  Except we're not.  It's not mathematical at all, but what we're trying to achieve is work out what the essence of a MOOC is.

For me for a MOOC to be successful it's all about engagement and collaboration.  So rather than reduce that to a formula let me say that the MOOC is essentially about learning through and with others.  In that sense a MOOC is really just about self-paced and, to varying extents, self-directed learning combined with the engagement and contributions with others.

So what that really means is that for many of us, we are already participating in MOOCs of a sort even if we didn't think we are.  I'm interested in learning and I do it at my own pace and entirely self-directed by engaging with others and contributing (hopefully).  What that means is that the MOOC may not actually a thing at all?  My take is that the essence of a MOOC isn't a thing; it's a state of mind or an attitude at least.  Yes, a MOOC is an attitude to learning using the tools in my equation and interacting with people.  Maybe one day it will be represented in common lexicon the way Google now is - "I'll google it" if you will.  What will people say in place of I'm interested in that and I want to learn more about it by looking it up and talking with others and combining and sharing my opinions on it... is "I'm MOOC'ing about that".  Or maybe they'll just say I'm learning about that - and you'll have to press them to find out the way they're learning is in a less formal way using the cloud.

I guess I've just missed one ingredient out in my essence of MOOC.  All of this is fine in theory but it seems that in order for action to take place something has to kick it off - for me learning has to have some sort of driver or need; the motivator if you will.  Some learning clearly states these are the learning objectives; by the end of this course you will be able to... But if we're still stuck in the world where the only way to learn is to have formalised objectives I think we may be a bit off the mark.  For me the motivator is the driver.  MOOCs need to have something to motivate you to learn in the same way as my own learning has to have something to drive it.  Again, I think if we boil this to just objectives it implies the outcome is just the end result - I like to think of learning more about the way we do things - the journey if you will rather than just the destination (is there even a destination?).  But even a journey has a motivator - why do you want to go on this journey.  Yes, it's the 'why'.

Anyway, since this is part of my MOOC I think I'm done for now; please feel free to add to my discussion or disagree if you think I've got it wrong!

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Power of Blurting

I was in a very lively and enjoyable #pkmchat this week on Twitter and a new sort of theory formed itself (at least momentarily) in my grey matter - or rather it took shape from what I was discussing with others and took a more distinguished shape.  There were two distinctive lines of thought around blogging and the sharing of thoughts, ideas and information.  One was along the lines that if you want your shared information to be useful it needs to be well thought out, accurate and well-written - which you have to say sounds very reasonable and professional.  It’s just that it leaves me kind of cold.  I’m all for factual information when you need it - things like legal settings and black and white rules and regs are often only approachable in this way, but even when the subject matter is highly factual our thought process doesn’t need to be constrained that way.  I’ve approached my blogs in a different way as those of you who actually read them will undoubtedly know.  I don’t go out of my way to write stuff that is incorrect either in knowledge base or grammar (although of the latter I’m surely at fault on a regular occasion), but I don’t focus on it as the single most important thing either.  For me writing and sharing isn’t about Nigel knows best (nor do I usually write about myself in the third person so apologies there too!), but moreover ‘hey, this is what I think’ or maybe ‘what about this?’.  It’s about the challenge, the thought itself, the idea of challenging what ‘knowledge’ alone will get you.  It’s about blurting.

I don’t proof read what I write which is probably self-evident with the typos and spelling mistakes that are sure to litter my posts.  I don’t care if I read someone else’s posts and they have minor errors that don’t detract from the message they’re trying to put out there.  I don’t care because to me it’s not important.  This leads me to my main point I guess, that the old ideal that ‘Knowledge is Power' is… well… it’s wrong.  I know that there are some people who focus life-long learning on the pursuit of knowledge, but I can’t help thinking this is misdirected.  If learning was just about amassing knowledge then science, technology and progress would be stuck with what we have.  The best learners don’t really seek to know everything or understand everything, the seek to make sense of things - yes, this can come from knowledge but only if you remember that knowledge itself isn’t a permanent thing - and that’s a good thing not a bad thing.  Also remember if we take the majority of learning theories that knowledge is actually the lowest form of learning.  Being able to simply recall information does not equate to high-level learning - let alone power.  The old theory of holding on to that knowledge and not sharing it so that you have something others don’t have is predicated on the amazing value of knowledge alone.  Once we dispel that myth we can then start to share without fear - that’s when we actually start to empower both ourselves and others and knowledge put into action starts to gain some strength.

My theory of Evolve I’ve shared recently is that we are not designed to be knowledge storing machines we’re designed to evolve.  It’s in our nature to seek improvements and adjustments that will improve things and that’s where we can tap into to amplify learning.  If we put too much value on the purity of knowledge we have to make sure what we’re sharing is correct - in the purest of science that may seem right but our very theories are evolving - that’s how science moves on.  Same with language.  Some words we scoff at today will be common place tomorrow, language is evolving and so should we with it.  It’s also the most natural thing to do.

So the power of blurting you could call the power of sharing.  Or maybe the power of sharing your ideas with others.  My take is that by sharing what you think more than what you know you’re actually sharing something far more useful to the growth of those around you.  By sharing and seeing responses we also evolve our own theories (I’ve definitely been known to change my mind even on theories I started!).

My last point is that evolution doesn’t have to involve the creator.  No, not touching on religion here, but if you were the one who came up with a concept and others take it in different directions… that’s okay.  No, it’s better than okay it’s great.  The chances are that if you continue to contribute past a point you’re anchoring your own views and not letting the theories go where they go. 

So next time you want to blog on something I say blog.  If you don’t know much about it that’s okay too - if you have an idea share it and see what happens.  Share. Blurt. Learn (but don't bother over checking) :)

Thursday, 20 November 2014

From ADDIE to SAM to Evolve in Learning Technologies

I recently heard someone wanting to roll back to a nine step or even eleven step process for producing learning materials - it wasn’t elearning, but actually that shouldn’t really make a huge difference should it as elearning is 90% learning (give or take a letter).  I was actually fairly shocked by this, as an agile proponent I’m always amazed by how failing and struggling organisations blame process and try to solve their issues by adding more process and more complexity to already overly complex situations.  The problem with being very process driven is that you can’t actually have a process that encompasses every possible situation at the most minute detail; what you in fact end up with is the old operations manuals that end up stuck on shelves gathering dust whilst relying on individuals and people doing things the way they always have.  Now I’m not saying that you should ditch all processes (although the anarchist in me would sometimes like to see it) but you need to reduce down your process and reduce the steps required to get things done if you want to make a more efficient and more flow.

A few years back the ADDIE process was considered the king of instructional design.  It was a no-nonsense common-sense approach to designing learning where we started by Analysing the problem, then Designed and Developed the learning before Implementing and then Evaluating it.  It really does make a lot of sense to have this sort of ideal behind making training - I mean can you imagine the outcome if you didn’t ever analyse or evaluate?  Yes, it was pretty much all training 20 years ago (and I bet a fair bit of it still around today) it was called ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ training without anyone questioning the why, let alone the need for it.  The thing is though, that ADDIE is still a bit of a cumbersome beast with many hand-off stages that can cause issues.  If you apply the process in the way it is here the iterations take a long time to come about.  It’s great that you’re analysing the problem, but just like front-loading training, if you front-load your analysis things can get missed and forgotten - not to mention the likelihood that things actually change whilst your going through the process.  For example, you could be analysing some legislative piece that you need to include in training, have that all set, finish the design and start the development and the legislation changes (as legislations like to do).  What do you do know?  According to the model you continue through and this will get picked up in the evaluation - but that’s no good if we want to deliver effective training that complies with the new legislation.  Alternatively we groan and go back to the start of the project - or what often happens in reality is we do a bit of reverse engineering, chuck in the new changes and go from there.  Whatever we do, the process isn’t going to work as well as we’d like in an ideal world.  And that’s where the problem with ADDIE type processes lie for me; they rely on an ideal which seldom matches the reality of the modern world.  I’ve talked about the technological acceleration we’re currently living under, but there’s always a constant change in any business in any organisation that we need to be aware of and to tap in to.

That brings us to a more modern and agile form of instructional design SAM.  SAM isn’t just a more modern and friendly sounding buddy, but it’s a streamlined process for our ID that is a bit more responsive.  SAM stands for Successive Approximation Model which as the name suggests means that rather than design the perfect fit in the ideal world we hit it running and then we continually improve what we’ve done to get it right.  If ADDIE is a linear approach with a single cycle, SAM is an iterative approach that relies on as many iterations as necessary to achieve your aim.

My problem with SAM is two-fold, firstly it’s a model and all models are inherently relying on ideal situations to work and secondly it’s focus is heavily on the iterations and in reality two many iterations cause many projects to fail and run out of budget.  I’m not anti-SAM, I just believe that rather than having discrete iterations we should concentrate on a more analogue approach of evolving what we’re doing. For me rather than cycling around a model or working in a linear fashion we’re still working in a pre-formed solution type environment. 

All that sounds great but this blog isn’t called the Nth Degree just because my name starts with N (although… yeah… partly) it’s because we take things a little further (and sometimes a little too far!).  For me SAM ideals are great, but its still based around ideals and essentially I think we can boil that down to a single thing; evolving.  I’ve been discussing this model a little with like-minded individuals around the world (yes the beauty of Twitter) and I’m still not convinced if my own model is a great idea or if I’m just a bit more lazy when it comes to ID (… and project management and work as a whole).  Anyway, let me test it out on you and I’m grateful for any comments.  The theory for Evolve is this; you don’t waste inordinate amounts of time in complex design and analysis phases that always seem out of date by the time you complete them.  You don’t write reams of documentation about the design or indeed about much of anything.  At the same time forget about making a solution up that you have to keep going backwards and forwards over in a gazillion iterations.  Forget complex storyboarding and design docs, forget days and hours of formal training needs analysis and interviewing every man and his dog before you get going or going through complex evaluation scripts or numerous re-designs.  Instead you work together.  Collaboratively.  If it sounds a bit like SAM it is, but there’s a limit to it.  In SAM the stakeholder kind of knows what they want and then you keep doing it till you get it right in a process that is akin to trial and error and your ultimate success is measured by the stakeholder.  In Evolve the very aims are developed collaboratively so the success is shared and you reach that point together.  In my theory that means less iterations and more about minor tweaks as you work towards the goal.  It’s not just developing a storyboard together like you might in ADDIE but actually taking it back to the very essence of the story and coming up with it together.

  Yeah I know, now that I read my own stuff it comes out a bit hammy.  Maybe it’s just SAM without the catchy name, but I think it has principles of both ADDIE and SAM rolled in there - it’s not really the model that matters so much but the way we apply and work together.  If people are truly invested in a project then they have a greater interest in its outcomes - if they actually feel they’re responsible for the concept and idea then you’re already half way there.  I’ve worked in a creative team where we’ve come up with an idea together and it’s always been accepted and successful with the team involved; if you can include your ‘clients’ in that team then buy-in is a given and the iterations will reduce regardless of how you define the ‘project’.

Of course there’s a big flaw in trying to make all learning technologies projects evolve; simply put some people just don’t want to work that way with you.  Some clients like you to go away and do the work they think their money should be paying for and that their job is purely to evaluate what you do.  With those type of clients you’re probably best with the ADDIE style.  If they’re really keen to put more into the project look at SAM and if they’re really invested and want to work with you then I think Evolve is the model-less model that could really pay dividends.  Of course you can apply an Evolve mindset to an ADDIE or SAM project too - as always it’s about knowing who you’re working with and adjusting your style to match.

Evolve.  A wry grin at myself for defining a way of removing process and a more free and productive environment without having to do the boring bits of work!  Somebody is bound to shoot this down - maybe I will on one of my more process heavy days :)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Assessments and your Learning Technologies

Recently I've been on a flipping mission to get people to flip learning and talked about the flipped LMS in detail.  What that really means is that we need to concentrate heavily on the LMS as a tool for assessing learning (rather than holding all the knowledge and learning).  If you're going to achieve that it stands to reason that your assessments need to be well-designed if that's going to work.  The good news is your learning system is pretty much made to achieve this - tracking stuff is what it's good at after all.

If you're going to properly assess learning it really does help to have a good understanding of learning levels. There are for sure a few models out there, but if we start by looking at Bloom's Taxonomy (or classification of learning) it gives us a simple starting point.  The thing here to notice is that knowledge sits at the lowest level.  What that means in simple terms is that if we set the regurgitation of knowledge as our assessments we're really limiting what our assessment actually tests to the lowest levels.  Think about tests you've done where the only outcome is to recall basic facts.  The big issue is that this doesn't really test beyond that, do you know what that really means or how to apply that knowledge?

'Knowledge is power' is a misdirection in my opinion.  It's not absolutely wrong because it's a contributing factor for sure (and the base of the power pyramid perhaps), but actually just knowing 'stuff' probably isn't going to get the job done on its own.  An electrician for example can hold all the technical knowledge, legislation and standards, but if they can't actually do the work required such as stripping wire and operating the tools of the trade they are entirely limited in their abilities - then you'd have some 'power' issues!  So knowing is at the bottom closely followed by comprehension or understanding.  Again, great that you understand but until you really apply your knowledge its not going to hit the higher notes.  Application is the real turning point in assessments - it shows the ability to take what's been learned and start to demonstrate an improvement in abilities.  After all that's what we're really after in learning solutions isn't it?  At least at some level we're capability building and that relies on at least some level of application.

From here there's a number of higher levels of learning - from being able to analyse more complex issues to synthesis and evaluation.  Good news is that these fit very neatly into piece on scenarios many moons ago and most of that holds true.  By setting a decent scenario you can certainly get learners to analyse information and by taking it further they can evaluate the effectiveness too.  There are also plenty of tools out there to achieve this like the Storyline series and Captivate - but even using LMS built in tools like the excellent Quiz tool in Moodle and Totara you can create engaging scenarios.  One thing to realise is that a multi-choice test doesn't have to mean a simple knowledge check.  If you write your scenarios well there's actually nothing wrong with presenting the options as choices - you can then get learners to analyse the situation and select an appropriate course of action.  I love the use of getting them to reflect and evaluate their choices later too.
types of assessment that we can put together and track in our LMS.  First up let's think about scenarios as they hold the key to lots of good assessments.  I wrote a

Another good type of assessment to use is the synthesis path.  For an LMS this is harder to put into a standard quiz type assessment, but most learning systems will allow you to add uploads for assessment.  I've seen this most effectively used when asking learners to develop a plan or course of action.  One good example you may have seen is the 'Fire Plan' one where you work through a fire plan with your children in the case of a fire - escape routes etc.  It's a good example of synthesis in that you put together the plan based upon your learnings and pulling on all the important 'stuff' that is required.  The disadvantage is that this requires manual grading; but at times a meaningful assessment requires this.  Of course you can flip this around and have a forum type assessment where you can actually get other learners to evaluate each others' plans.  You're then hitting all the high notes with synthesis and evaluation displayed.  I've also seen this work really well using groups and a wiki type approach - that is where the group puts together a plan and modifies it before submitting.  Again using social learning type techniques peer review is another valuable tool (and less emphasis on the trainer again).

Another important area it's easy to forget is that all learning doesn't have to be demonstrated through an exam, quiz or assignment type activity.  One of the best ways to evaluate the effectiveness of training is through on job assessment.  Use your learning system to track how someone is performing on the job by having assessments that are completed by a supervisor.  I've seen this work really well where the assessments have been completed on an tablet and straight into the LMS.

Finally assessments are a really important part of the learning process - it's important to recognise that assessments aren't just knowledge checks and that they can actually be a part of the learning itself.  Those of you that have read some of my older posts will know that I'm actually a big fan of pull type learning and the assessment can be used to drive the learning rather than just measure it...

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Flipped Classroom, Flipped LMS, Flipped Conference... Flipped Motivation?

So if you've followed any of my recent blogs you'll know I'm a fan of improving learning by looking at the techniques we use - flipping is one of those.  When we flip things like the classroom it's about us really getting the most out of the facilitators rather than just using them to dump knowledge - the face to face time is used to apply rather than just regurgitate.  With Flipping the LMS I talked about how we can't expect the LMS to hold all the knowledge either and that our real focus there should be on the assessments. 

A recent conversation with +Ryan Tracey led us to stumble upon a great idea.. the flipped conference.   The simple concept was that with less presentation and more interaction both in the sessions and not just in the breaks.  It's really just the flipped classroom idea I guess, but if the theory is good enough for classrooms and 'lecture' theaters then it applies equally well to conferences.  It's again about sharing and collective knowledge and experiences rather than us continuing along the all-knowledgeable teacher and no-nothing student model which should be put as far behind us as possible.

So now another new; Flipped Motivation.  This came from another discussion (yes, walking the walk of learning means I usually get ideas from others!) this time with +Kari Scrimshaw at the end of the #NZATD conference.  I was commenting on the old idea of learning motivation and what over the years has been termed WIFM (what's in it for me).  It's the idea that if you want people to be motivated to do your learning then you have to show them something that they gain from it; promotion, pay rise, stick and carrot ideas.  We then moved to the more healthy ideas of altruism and doing things for others rather than yourself.  Funny thing is if you flip ME you get WE; flipping motivation should we be asking what's in it for we instead of me?
Call me an optimist but I think that most people actually do want to do something that benefits others.  Isn't this a lot of the theory behind social learning; you comment on wikis or contribute to discussion boards or twitter chats not for your own sounding board or to broadcast but to try and raise knowledge for others as well as yourself.  It's all about the interactions so focusing on and helping others is perhaps the greatest way to achieve the biggest gains out of social learning.

I'm really against the ideas that knowledge is power and you get that by hoarding the knowledge and keeping it to yourself.  Knowledge only has power when it's shared and applied, and if it can be shared and applied for the greater good then even better. 

Friday, 24 October 2014

That Flipping LMS

I spend a fair bit of time (read too much) working with learning management systems (or LMS) and it's amazing how often people moan about their LMS.  Often there's good cause to moan with some of them being fairly awful (no naming and shaming here though) but sometimes it's because of the way people approach and use the LMS.  I work predominantly with open source LMS like Moodle and Totara and they're very flexible tools, but there's definitely a right and wrong way to do things with them.  Problem is most people see red and moan about the flipping LMS.

Not that I'm averse to original thought, but during a #lrnchat session I heard some great words of wisdom from Adam Weisblatt (a learning technologist a bit like me but more intelligement and all that) and checked his blog.  Well worth a read and he introduced a concept called the Flipped LMS... and that's where were at here; instead of moaning about the flipping LMS let's consider Flipping the LMS.

Hopefully some of you are aware of the Flipped Classroom approach which has really revitalised a lot of (desperately in need of a revamp) boring old lectures.  In a nutshell, the approach is that instead of trying to cram a lecture full of knowledge based learning and then give out assignments, the students get all the knowledge based stuff as pre-reading or research, then during the 'lecture' time they spend the time working on 'assignments' or problems.  If you think about it we reflect a lot of that in our good elearning these days with 'pull' elearning where you aren't force fed the knowledge part and you have to go and get what you need to know.

Well the flipped LMS is much the same principle.  The first idea is to recognise that there is knowledge beyond yours out there so we don't have to try and cram our LMS full of every piece of knowledge there is.  Let the learners go elsewhere to find the information and then come back.  Then your LMS is the focus of the assessments (the bits that are easy to track) and communication so that you can track what needs to be tracked.  It's a far less restrictive way of doing things and allows the learners much more freedom in their 'learning' and they can then use the LMS to prove what they have learned rather than trying to learn everything in the LMS.  It also fits much better into a pervasive learning model.  If you subscribe to 70/20/10 or a variant of such, it means that your assessment sits in that small piece of the pie - great for your LMS and great for your learners.

Thing is, calling it a flipped LMS is a bit of a misnomer.  The LMS is a tool that can be used in a variety of ways; some creative like this and others as a potential store of all the information.  It's not actually turning the LMS completely on its head, it's just about approaching it slightly differently.  Thing is, most learning is going to lie outside of your LMS whether you like it or not, so finding ways to embrace and maximise the opportunities should be your aim.

In short, flipping an LMS is like flipping a classroom; it's about maximising the effect of limited time or space with learners and recognising that the 'knowledge' piece is only part of the puzzle.

Thanks again to Adam and apologies if I've trashed your perfectly good ideas on the subject :)

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Time to Upskill L&D

I’ve just spent the last few days in Melbourne with L&D peeps at LearnX and OzLearn chat and there’s a clear theme that I’ve picked up on through the time here; L&D people need to upskill to meet the demands of the modern environment.  This is in no way a knock on the skills or attitudes of the many good people who work in learning and development or people and performance or any other name for assisting with the learning function of organisations, but it should act to serve as notice that in order to effectively lead and manage learning functions in today’s world our L&D managers need to embrace learning technologies like never before.

Now you’d think this was maybe just me speaking as a clear advocate for learning technologies and, well, yes in someways it is, but the fact remains that there are still severe shortages in the workplace of those with an understanding of what’s out there and how it can benefit their people.  You wouldn’t catch it any other part of learning would you?  Can you imagine an L&D type person saying ‘I don’t do evaluations, I just don’t believe in it’ or ‘putting objectives on things just ruins it’ or how about ‘I don’t believe in face to face sessions’?  Of course not, our job in L&D is to make use of the right tool for the job, make sure we engage with sound instructional design and use everything in our toolset to help people learn and develop.  So if you don’t do learning technologies, or you don’t want to get involved in elearning let alone social learning or heaven’s forbid a MOOC (whatever that may be); then you’re probably not offering the best you can to your people in L&D.

Don’t get me wrong here, there’s a time and a place and I’m not suggesting that elearning replaces everything for your or any organisation (unless it really is the best tool), but you can’t ignore it all together.  Anyone who thinks that elearning is just a phase and is going away is as deluded as anyone who believes that face to face training is finished.  Sometimes nothing will do but having a facilitator, trainer or educator actually there with a group of people to enable the learning, but sometimes that’s not only unnecessary but the wrong thing altogether.  eLearning often makes its way into organisations because of the efficiencies it can present.  That doesn’t mean its not the most effective tool either, these are not mutually exclusive events.

I also don’t think that if you’re an L&D manager or advisor you must automatically be the world’s greatest elearning provider or technical guru.  I don’t think it’s realistic for everyone to go from no skill in the area to being a guru overnight, but you should be taking an interest in the area and gaining some experience along the way.  The Australian market is more mature than the New Zealand market (but both are immature compared to the UK and much of Europe, let alone the US) but in both those countries I’ve come across numerous L&D people who know as little about elearning as they do about nuclear physics (yeah, those of you who’ve read some of my earlier blogs now know about my past…).  I can understand an organisation still not having any elearning - it’s expensive business to get into and you have to look closely at the benefits and ROI before embarking in that direction; particularly if you’re a small organisation.  But for the L&D function to not even have looked at the options and what’s available is far harder to understand.

Not only is this a challenge to those in that boat (if they’ve read this far) but it’s also an offer to help.  I’m going to put some resources together for everyone to look at and also start bring in other areas off the web so that there can be no excuses moving forward.  On top of that contact me directly and I promise I’ll help where I can.  You can contact me via my LinkedIn profile (see the about me) or Twitter handle or email if you need more or engage me on any of the social media tools that form part of my daily work. 

We’re coming in to land now (yes, in flight blog again) so I’ve got to pack away the computer, but without wanting to sound too corny, it’s time for your  learning to  really take-off and make the most of the technologically accelerating world that we’re living in.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Games, Games, Games - Gamification and Learning

In the last few years much has been made of games playing and its connection to learning.  In fact gamification is as hot a topic as you get in the learning tech world and it’s been that way for the last couple of years.  The thing is, we need to understand that there’s a huge range of computer games ranging from the simple to the incredibly media rich and complex (not necessarily the same thing).  Some modern games look more live TV than they do computer generated and with the technological acceleration that we’re a part of it won’t be long before you won’t be able to tell the difference I’m sure (let alone true 3D).  The first computer game I had was tennis.  It didn’t resemble much in the way of tennis if I’m honest, it was more like two long thin rectangles (the racquets) on either side of the screen, a vertical line in the middle as the net and a little square s the ‘ball’; some ‘gamification’ used in learning hasn’t really moved past that - and I’m not suggesting that’s a problem, but we just need to be aware of gamification really means.

If your idea of gaming is Grand Theft Auto or commanding armies and building clans then elearning on the whole just won’t satisfy you.  This isn’t saying that you can’t have learning in games; I love to mess around on word type aps on my iPhone with a Scrabble or Scramble type base - sure I’m learning by potentially expanding my vocabulary - but here’s the important thing; what’s the intended take-away from playing Scramble?  If it’s to try to expand my knowledge of words then maybe it’s a great example of elearning.  If it’s to entertain me, then it’s not really elearning is it?  I mean, I may get some learning out of it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it elearning?  Or does it?  Play some first person shooters and they probably won’t prepare you to fire an automatic rifle or use a high-powered sniper rifle  - but they give you some understanding about military communications or basic tactics (and yes, these type of games definitely have a military application, particularly when paired with actual rifles).  Again, the difference between elearning and accidental learning maybe about intent - but again, does that matter?

Thing is, the games that are intentionally for elearning are often a lot more basic than these.  I’ve seen a good example of customer services software where the scenario plays out and your responses can change the responses of the customer in an entertaining way that could be classed as a game.  As a piece of elearning it was pretty successful.  It was engaging (certainly more so than ‘click next to continue’ learning), with some well-thought out scenarios and responses that realistic enough to make you want to play.  There’s  a good reason that gaming in learning is often limited to this type of scenario project rather than GTA style mega 3D graphics.  Money.  The games business is a huge multi-billion dollar industry.  People pay a lot of money to get their hands on the latest games, not to mention paying for the latest and best hardware to play it on and high-speed internet necessary to connect them to other like-minded individuals.  The elearning industry at the cutting edge end is big-business; but not for the likes of small and medium sized businesses and investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the build of learning games has not been seen outside of simulators. 

That means that if you’re going to use gamification then you’re going to have to either take a step back or work for a company with a ridiculous budget for producing a game with true learning.  But taking a step back isn’t necessary a bad thing either.  The early days of gaming in some way were the most exciting; sure there were huge limitations with graphics and memory (16kB RAM pack anyone?) - now if that doesn’t sound like an elearning dilemma that we can relate to then I don’t know what does.  My favourite games in the early days were not the Jet Packs or the Manic Miners (yes, I’m really that old), they were the simplest of all games, the adventure games.  For those of you that can cast your minds back that far, the most addictive type of games I knew were text adventure games - for those not in the know they were called text, because there was absolutely no graphics (and then later the odd screenshot).  They felt like there was no ‘plot’ obviously there for you, you had to explore your surroundings and work out what to do, solve the puzzles and achieve whatever the subject of the game was.  Then there was the simple theme type platform game that was so simple and without the greatest graphics, but again it keyed into our basic desire of wanting to achieve something to get to the next level or get the highest score.

So if we’re talking gamification in elearning we’re probably going to have to be creative because we have to generate something in our learners similar to the type of feeling that those early games gave us.  Even some of the most recent successful games have been simple; whether your birds are angry or flappy the key is that they are addictive - that’s the whole point, you want to play them.  They’re like the cleverest type of objectives because they generate in the player a huge desire to keep playing.  If you could tap into that so that your learner just ‘had’ to keep learning, just imagine the potential!  Our aim as instructional designers is often focussed like a modern game on the way things look and how impressive they are and we sometimes overlook the simple addictiveness or learner needs.  Sure great looking graphics are a necessary part of design, but if your learning looks great but is really uninteresting it will be as unsatisfying as a bad game.  The worst game I remember from the arcades when I was growing up was one that used laser disks (big DVDs without the ability to store much).  It was beautiful with full TV type quality action that kept pausing and you had to do something.  In essence you could either move one way or the other by moving your joystick or leaning (if you had the simulator version) and then depending on what you did something would happen.  Take that back to our text adventure game and that’s the equivalent of you having to either say ‘move left’ or ‘move right’ and that’s it.  Boring.

The other thing about games that’s similar to learning is finding the right level of difficulty.  If a game is too easy there’s no competition and it needs to be really long to work (and your elearning budget may not stretch to really long), it needs to be enough of a challenge to make it worth completing - same is true of learning if you really want to test someone properly then it should be a challenge of doing (rather than just knowledge recollection or obvious choices).  I can’t help liking games where there’s a leaderboard so you can test out your abilities.  Would be quite cool if your elearning could do that too.  Imagine that passing was one thing but you devised a skill based trainer where there was a leaderboard for completing with both 100% accuracy and a time?  That would be cool.  Or an Angry Birds type game scoring where you needed to complete but got so many stars on each part - you could complete the whole learning with one-star in each part but you may want to go back and get three stars in each part.

Last thing I want to bring in is the idea of trial and error.  I know lots of you may not like the idea of trying something to see if it works and failing, then trying again, but growing up that’s one of the very important ways we learn things.  My old text based adventure games were built around that idea, you had to be innovative and not be afraid to fail - when you got it right and unlocked another area it felt real good.  In elearning that could be not front-loading your learning but starting with the game, letting people find out funny things that can go wrong and even try and improve their performance without totally knowing what they’re doing.  The sound design is obviously necessary to make sure that somewhere somehow we’re not only getting some success but learning about what we’ve done to get there.  I’d love to see more imagination in our elearning games, more challenging, more allowing for learners to get it wrong and still find a way to succeed in the end.

Okay, very very last thing (this is quite a long flight to LearnX in Melbourne if you’re asking).  Time.  Time may be the single most limiting factor when producing gamification in elearning.  Plants v Zombies the biology class version probably won’t be available next week, so again you’ll need to innovate - if you come out with something really cool, please let me know and if I like it I’ll chuck it up on my blog or website for others to see.

Happy Gaming :)

Monday, 6 October 2014

7 Steps to Stop Being a Control Freak

One of the worst things in the work place is a micro-manager.  Anyone who’s ever worked for one (and yes we all have at some point it seems) will tell you that taking away a person’s autonomy is a quick way to take the initiative and fun out of the work place.  Micromanaging is an example of controlling behaviour, a ‘control freak’ is exhausting in every respect and this includes your learning environment and learning itself.

So here’s a few simple steps to help you stop being a learning control freak:

1. Put yourself in the learner’s shoes  If you really want to ensure you don’t design your learning in a way that micromanages your learners then try it from their perspective.  If the learning feels constrained and limited then you’ve probably fallen into the trap of making it too restrictive.  Chances are if you don’t like doing it, no-one else is likely to either.  Go further and run your design through some neutral others.

2. Reduce the push  A very early blog of mine was on the concept of pull learning rather than simply pushing information to learners.  If you want them to have some feeling of control whilst doing the learning stop forcing everything upon them (push) and start allowing them to decide when they need more help and resources.  One of the frequent errors that designers make on elearning in particular is that they spend a lot of time putting together a resource and then decide because of the effort that went in to producing it then it should be the mandatory for the learner.  Regardless of how nifty your animation is or how long you spent creating a drag-and-drop example, if they don’t need it to reach the level then don’t force it on them.

3. Make it easy to start There may be nothing worse than learning that seems to require a Krypton Factor type problem solving ability to launch.  Try to reduce seventeen required clicks just to get it going and if you can find ways to easily drop out and rejoin then you’re definitely going to improve the experience.  Lots of learning systems and learning has too many steps to get going; this makes the learner feel like they have to jump through hoops for the sake of it and can really but a dampener on the whole affair.

4. Don’t make assessments too easy  It may not seem like an over-bearing idea to have easy assessments, but if you make someone jump through a bunch of hoops and at the end of it they have to answer true or false to incredibly simple questions (or multiple choice where three of the four are stupid answers) then you’ve confirmed their belief that you were simply wasting their time so that they could perform mundane tricks for you.

5. Don’t punish learners  I know it’s tempting to really want to hammer those damned learners when they get it wrong - but remain focussed on what your aim is here.  If you have set aims (if not, this is probably another simple step) then, like a good classroom teacher, remain calm and help them achieve the aim through another path.  For example, if you allow them to take the test at the start of the course, if they fail to achieve all the learning objectives that doesn’t mean you have to plunge them directly through all the media you’ve created just to make sure they get it.  I like multi-pathway learning where you try to provide a path to get to the end from wherever you are and remembering that learning is the path rather than the destination (sounds like a deep quote about life itself almost).

6. Allow learning outside of your learning  These days very few learning experiences are limited to what you’re taught simply in the classroom or elearning module.  Learning is pervasive and we need to allow for the learning to go beyond what has initially been designed; whether that’s allowing for assessments on the job, or further study or self-reflection or just some links and the ability to blog.

7. Make it fun One thing that can get forgotten in all of this is that learning is supposed to be fun (so is work if it’s done right after all).  Make your learning fun whenever possible, give people things to do and don’t forget that people will show more interest in things that they enjoy doing.

If all that fails you can just shout at them and tell them they must learn it :)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Erring on the human side and 7 steps to avoid it

I've notched up another year on the age scale today so forgive me if I'm in a fairly reflective mood.  As usual my blog is less about a planned and insightful look into the world of learning technologies and more random stuff as a result of a trigger that occurred through my work and/or life.  Today's inspiration comes from a stuff up that I made yesterday, but it contains a lesson that I thought was particularly relevant in technologies.

Anyway yesterday I made the not-so-subtle stuff up of including someone on the distribution list for a fairly sensitive email who the email was about rather than to. This type of error I fortunately don't make too often, but the outcomes can be really damaging to relationships and when you work in a relatively small market area (yes, we classify New Zealand that way).  This made me think a little on our communications and the way we do things as humans.  I knew who the email was about and wanted to include the relationship owner in the email.  Somehow I managed to not only include the relationship manager but also the individual... sigh.

The issue here isn't that uncommon and I'm sure at some point in our lives we've made the mistake of putting the wrong people down on communications and sometimes that can have massive consequences in the business world.  Why does it go wrong?  Well, largely it's because of the way our minds work - now I'm no psychologist, but we associate things and make patterns in our head that seem reasonable and we sort of go on auto-pilot - we do things without thinking in other words.  This strikes me as one of the most important reasons to spend time early in a technologies implementation to minimise the human processes.  The old expression goes that to err is human; effectively making mistakes is part of our make up (some of us even make it an art form), the argument here is that if we want to make less stuff ups we need to take 'us' out of the equation as much as possible and in particular the parts where we slide onto auto-pilot.

The simple rule is that whenever we can take humans out of the simple automation parts we do, because we are the ones more likely to make the mistakes.  It doesn't mean that humans don't make decisions because that's still a likely part of your learning and a great way to involve people in decisions that have the big impact, it just means that we take the monotonous tasks (where errors are most likely to creep in) out of the equation.  So if you're looking to reduce human error here's a list of my favourite ways of doing just that:
  1. Bring in your data from a single source of truth. Rubbish in = rubbish out.  If the information in the system is wrong you're starting in a precarious place.  So rather than manually put this information in, we look for ways to sync this information via a single source of truth (like an HR system or HRIS or Payroll system etc)
  2. Remove multiple sign-ins to systems. If possible rather than risk the wrong information when logging on we utilise single-sign-on (SSO) so that the user is automatically and seamlessly transferred from one system to another without getting the chance to get it wrong and sign-in as the wrong person or have to turn to support or helpdesk.
  3. Where decisions are automatic without need for subjectivity then automate them.  When we're setting up someone's learning environment I'm always on the lookout for things that we can set to happen on a rule based or logic type assignment.  For example in Totara when I'm looking at setting up audiences I like to look at what rule sets can be used to dynamically set up people so that they receive the right training, end up on the right courses and even see the right information in the system.  The reasoning here is simple, that I can still make mistakes, but by testing and running through those rules that set my audience up, I end up with an automated system that will logically and consistently apply the rules to make sure the right people are in the right places.
  4. Use dynamic rules.  Rules based on simple logic are great - even better if they are dynamic; that means that the rules get reapplied continually to change the way things are setup as the data changes.  This is the best way to have up to the second data in your reports and the right people in the right learning.
  5. Use dynamic links If we're linking and providing other information we look to set those links up in a dynamic way that change with the content rather than breaking.  There's almost no experience worse in the modern technology based world than a broken-link and you'll lose your target audience quicker than something that goes really quickly (sorry, slight loss of a decent metaphor).
  6. Invest in thorough testing.  Don't forget to never underestimate the ingenuity of fools when claiming something to be fool-proof. We sometimes work with clients who don't want to invest in thorough UAT (user acceptance testing), but this is a really important part before launching anything.  A 'Titanic' type failure on your launch is something you can't recover from so investing a decent amount of time for your own testing is really a must.
  7. KISS.  A great modern acronym for keeping it simple (there are a variety of ones for the final S if you find Stupid offensive).  Keep your systems as simple as possible, Boolean algebra is like any other kind of algebra in that it can often be simplified down.  It can be really hard to follow if you've not tried to do this or used a convoluted way around the problem.  Again working with someone else and explaining what you've done is a good check.

As a final note, I managed to right the email issue yesterday by immediately spotting what I'd done and owning the error.  Immediately I sent out an email to those on the list saying 'sorry' - I also spoke to the person who shouldn't have been on the list and did the same.  The most important thing when erring is to remember that it's what we do as humans; how we deal with the after-effects are what defines us as people.  When you get it wrong (there's really no 'if' about it) own the error.  I've said so many times before but in learning technologies as in life, it's all about ownership.