Friday, 28 February 2014

3 Ways to Investigate Technologies

After a frantic few weeks of trying out a range of new technologies for our support system at Kineo Pacific we've finally made our choice and looking to launch with the new system on Monday morning!  It's not been that easy a process actually and I've invested a lot of time and energy into it! That set my wheels in motion about the process that our clients often have in choosing their technologies; be it an LMS or a development tool.  Here's my quickie process guide on how to go about it:

  • If you know someone who is using a system doing a job similar to you and loves the system ask them to show you.  If you like it and can afford it then job done.  Get that system and start cooking.
 Okay, whilst I love the approach above, in today's world of accountability and due diligence you may have to put more into it.  Here's the approach I'd probably take next:
  • Before you trial and investigate or play start with a simple list of what you want your system to do.  Don't get caught up in the weeds here, simple 'do this' or 'do that' will be good enough to get you going.  I'd write that list as columns across the top of a spreadsheet if I wanted to get fancy about it.
  • Do some research.  Sounds easy right?  It's not that bad in the days of Google, go get yourself a list of companies and solutions and put them down as rows on your spreadsheet.
  • Get the pricing (ball-park may be good enough) for every .  I know lots of vendors want you to know how great the system is before revealing the pricing but from a buyers perspective I don't care how great your support system is (for example) if it costs a bucket of gold per staff member per day.
  • Cross off anything that's more than twice your price limit unless the entire list is blank.  If it's blank your expectations are out of kilter and you need to rethink this whole thing.
  • Do a quick check on the features of each system and match them with your list making a simple requirements and systems grid.
  • Use this grid to do nothing but narrrow down your choices to two or three systems.  Give them a try and 9 times out of 10 the answer will be clear - particularly if the support and help during trial is really good.  
So, you don't like the Medium style approach and you definitely don't want to take it too easy on yourself that only really leaves you the hard road.  Of course you may be in an organisation that insists this is the only way to do it so there you go!
  • Start a tender process.
  • Lose the will to live during the process.
  • Roll a dice at the end of the process because you've over analysed the problem. 
Okay, that was a bit tongue in cheek - I know some tenders are really well run and they tend to be a bit like the medium route if done correctly.  If you are forced to tender by organisational policy, remember to keep your requirements high level and not get sucked into the deep deep weeds; that's where the snakes hide!

In the simplest of worlds if you can get a recommend that's always best.  Of course whether you choose medium or hard routes through this - possibly the single biggest sway for you should be if you can get a good recommend from someone you know and trust... or at least respect!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Flipped Learning, Blended learning, Pervasive learning, err... Learning!

Since I've already blogged today, this is a really quick one when I've been looking around the world of learning technologies I note another recent blip in the use of blended learning and a newer buzz word 'flip learning'.  Thing is, I think it's easy to get over zealous and swept away with these and the focus as always should be on the second word and not the first.

I love learning and yes it's pervasive and in everything I do, whether it's face to face, via social media or casual conversation every day is a school day.  So why the obsession for us to focus on the first word?  Don't get me wrong as humans we love to classify and debate where things lie, but if someone is learning that's a result - the methodology or delivery mechanism behind that should always play second fiddle to the actual learning.

I love the fact at Kineo when we were looking at what we are and what we do we called ourselves a Learning Solutions company (and not a blended learning or e-learning or other such organisation).  We're about finding solutions for learning and that's it.  For organisations wanting learning maybe it's different, but maybe it shouldn't be... maybe you should be seeking learning solutions without getting too deep into whether your solution is truly blended.

Flip learning ('cos I know you don't all know) is really about making the most of learning time with the 'expert' and leaving the resource stuff out of f2f time, it's often equated to watching video lectures and problem solving with experts on hand.  You could easily equate this to pull e-learning where you don't thrust the resources and knowledge at your learners - it's not a new concept really and good e-learning designers and teachers alike know about maximising the engagement times with learners.

My whole point here is that learning is the thing, so let's focus on that.  Learning.  By all means you can have face to face training and reverse teaching, but the learning is the learning.  Or maybe I'm wrong; always ready to hear your point of view.

Anyway, I'm happy it's Friday, keep learning, whatever you call it.

Training isn't enough in Learning Technologies...

You get some funky new Learning Technologies, you get the training that goes with that and bam you’re cooking right?  Unfortunately there’s a general misconception that this is true out there, but it’s often not the case.  For starters most of the training that goes with technologies is system’s training.  There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s what is generally expected after all, but system’s training is only a solution for people who already have the right background and experience - and even then it’s just the start.

To explain the last bit first, if you’ve got an experienced instructional designer (or ID)  who also has an experience in e-learning they can get systems training on a technology like Adobe Captivate and away they go right?  Yes to an extent absolutely true, but remember that pervasive learning stuff?  Learning is something we do all the time and in everything we do and the training course is just the start.  As trainers, educators and learning experts we know this stuff and we’re all familiar with that 70/20/10 type philosophy that actually the largest chunk of learning is done away from the training room - be it on the job or through other informal routes.  Same same for us!  An experienced ID with e-learning experience still needs time to ramp up to full capability just like anybody else working with something new and will learn from several sources beyond just training materials.

That’s the nirvana.  How often do you get your nice new technologies and find you’ve got the perfect person already ready to go?  I’ve been involved in numerous implementations where we’ve had completely the wrong people involved.  Sometimes we’re trying to system’s train people who simply don’t have the technical background, let alone e-learning or this particular system.  In terms of LMS I’ve written previously about the importance of having the right person as your administrator - they receive a lot of technical information and training and if they’re not ‘ready’ for that… well, the training isn’t going to be the answer on its own is it?  For an LMS you need someone with the right type of approach and some technical know-how not to mention at least an understanding of L&D or training coordination; that’s complex enough, but for someone you want to make e-learning content?  

The skill-set for a rapid e-learning designer is often completely underestimated by organisations.  If you truly want to make good e-learning in-house then you firstly want to be looking at someone with ID experience.  If not, you want to start out with some ID training and experience for them to get them to understand what good instructional design is.  From there, you need to recognise that e-learning ID and traditional ID are not exactly the same thing; sure there’s principles that are shared between them, but a good ID doesn’t necessarily translate to an instant e-learning ID.  Even if they did we haven’t got to the actual system yet and the training that goes with that… and then throw in that all of this training does not equate to full-competence, that comes with experience, coaching, support and time walking the walk.

It’s not all doom and gloom, but when you add technology to build capability you have to invest in it beyond the cost of the technology and the simple system’s training that goes with it.  Capability building is a process and you need to respect that and invest in it if you want to really reap the rewards.  In the e-learning and learning technologies world the learning curve can be long even if it isn’t steep.  The good news is that the right people will learn quicker and get more involved.  One simple recommendation for success with your learning technologies is to go for those with great communities and support so that you don’t limit yourself to the 10% end of the learning.

Finally, if you have a good rapid e-learning developer value them or (just like that LMS administrator) someone else will :)

Friday, 14 February 2014

Click Next to Continue

One of my areas of responsibility in Learning Technologies is for the tools that are often used to make e-learning; Articulate Storyline is a great example, then there's Captivate and Articulate Studio and so on and so forth.  I've written previously how these are great for capability building when combined with the right training and if you read a few of my blogs you'll find there's also a call-out for great instructional design or 'ID' in your elearning to make it effective.  Today I'm doing a quick Friday short on one of my real pet hates...

So the thing that really bugs me though is the massive over-use of click 'next' to continue... and you know it's exactly the same thing when you replace the word 'next' with an arrow pointing right eh?  If your e-learning is essentially page turning then it's no different to a Powerpoint slide or an e-book or at best a technical manual rather than a piece of learning.  Click next to continue is the scenario based equivalent of a one-lane-one-way street at rush hour - and who wants to end up on that street?

Have some imagination, present different routes through your learning, engage and drive by asking questions and carrying out tasks - even click around a 'scene' and have pop-ups appear that explain more, anything... anything to break up the monotony of that one by one approach.

It triggers bad memories for me of lectures (hard to believe I am actually educated to some degree (excusing the pun - the nth of course)) where the old fella would bring in a huge case of slides and my will to live slowly ebbed away as they progressed through them one by one.

It circles all the way to push v pull learning again too, if someone gets it why show them every slide you have?  Maybe it's just out of a sadistic sense of purpose or a 'I had to make all these so I'm going to show all these' or maybe it's just because that's the way you learned.  But did you really learn much in those type of lectures? 

We learn far quicker from doing than we ever do from listening or watching.  Clicking next to continue isn't doing, it's just loading up the next slide on the OHP and that's not fun for anyone is it?

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Somewhere to call home

After nearly ten years calling New Zealand home, last night I got to call New Zealand my country too.  Gaining citizenship is no small step and not something you enter into lightly.  Whilst some people may suggest that you’ll never be a true Kiwi if you weren’t born here, I think most of us realise that’s just not the way the modern world goes.  It’s a bit like adopting a child or being a step-parent; they may not biologically be yours but you have taken them in as if they were - in fact since you’ve actually made a choice about them in some ways it’s more significant.  Same goes with nationality; we have no control over where we’re born but we choose to live in a certain place and beyond that there’s the ultimate choice to truly belong, as a citizen.

So where am I going with all of this?  It strikes me much the same is true in learning technologies; we get our technologies in a similar fashion.  Some we review, carefully consider and choose, others we inherit or have just grown up with.  The important thing is not necessarily where the technology came from (or blaming who chose it) but what you can do with it.  I’m reading the interesting book by Nigel Larra ‘The Modern Family Survival Guide’, I can’t help thinking a similar guide would be useful for us in the L&D and Training Manager world.  Learning Technologies Survival Guide?  I’m not sure, but one of the great things in the book is the disposal of the myth of the ‘perfect family’ and advice about accepting what you have and making the best of it.  So it is with an LMS; for example, there’s no such thing as the perfect LMS (shock, horror) or the perfect authoring tool (but…) or even the perfect web-browser.  It’s a fallacy and knowing that alone is a massive first step towards making the most of your system.

I still haven’t really explained my direction have I?  Well, it’s clear there’s no such thing as the perfect family and aspiring towards something that doesn’t exist with the components that could never be that way is crazy.  Same as with country.  I accept New Zealand fully as my country with all its flaws and annoying bits (shock, horror again) and hope that both my family and country accept me the same way with all my flaws (this time there’s a distinct lack of the shock and horror and almost certainly a longer list).  So it should be with your learning technologies.  Either accept what you have and make the most of it; or relocate yourself or get a divorce (again I speak of experience of both).  Seriously, if your Moodle instance is not perfect but you can work with it and find a way to make it work then embrace it and call it home.  If you’re stuck with Captivate but lust after Lectora then either make do with Captivate and start really unlocking the power it holds, or really do something about it.  But remember Lectora isn’t perfect and Sum Total isn’t good (sorry, that was mean, I meant perfect either).  The other man’s grass may look greener but you have to spend time over there before you can be sure… and don’t expect Captivate to understand while you have an ongoing affair with Lectora!

If you know realise that you can live with your current system that’s great, you’ve found a home and start making it your own.  If not, then you need to start working up a strategy for change based upon reality not some fantasy of what life with Lectora really entails.  My dad said to me when I first emigrated here that although it was a great place, to remember you still have to work, there will still be hard times and some people won’t like you.  He’s right (wow, he’d love to hear that), that new system you make crave will still take a lot of work, will still have annoying bits that you can’t change and some people will dislike it.  We’re all a bit like that though aren’t we?  Both in ourselves and our families and even in the country we live in.

Perhaps Dolly Parton said it best… “if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with”  or maybe it’s a case of asking not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country… or maybe it’s just time I stopped with the cliches and just worked with what I have the best I can?  Whatever you’re dealing with, it’s likely to go better if you put yourself into it fully.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Capability Building with Learning Technologies

At Kineo Pacific today we had a leadership team meeting around our main streams (design, consultancy and technologies) and some of the crossover work such as capability building which often fits between consultancy and technologies.  Whilst the conversation wasn’t strictly relevant to my blog it did throw to light one of the most important motivators for buying learning technologies beyond the obvious cost savings associated with e-learning; capability building.

It may not be the biggest and sexiest new catch phrase in the learning domain, but perhaps it should be and it’s particularly relevant with ever shrinking budgets and ever increasing expectations upon L&D teams.   The simple fact is that with more and more having to be done “in house” you need to expand the capabilities of your teams (or all-too regularly yourself!) to achieve this.

What technologies give you additional capability?  Fair question and in isolation the answer would be little or even none and we’ll come back to this later; for now let’s talk about the tools that have the potential to add some capability to what you do.  Here are my favourites:

  1. Your LMS.  If your LMS doesn’t come with a massive uplift in capabilities then you either don’t have one or you have the wrong one.  Even simpler systems like Moodle come with a host of tools that can enable you to make content and engage learners in two way activities.  Better systems like the award winning and my personal favourite Totara LMS give you more tools than you can shake a stick at from competency and performance management to synchronous learning activities, resource management and development planning.  In short your LMS is not just a system to launch and track e-learning that was built somewhere else and again if it is you need to seriously review your LMS or look at third party tools to enhance it (see below!).
  2. Webinar tools.  If you don’t have a great webinar tool in your LMS (and not many do) then one of your most important tools should be something to expand your synchronous activities and a web-training tool (webinar if you prefer) is a really important tool for dispersed workforces.  One of the reasons it’s so important is that it doesn’t take someone to turn all your learning into e-learning for you - or force your experts in training to stop training.  The tools that come with these can also be substantial with things like polling, whiteboarding and interaction between attendees beyond the obvious audio-visual.  If your organisation still delivers a large amount of face to face training this is well worth looking in to with a great ROI.
  3. Rapid Development Tools.  If your LMS isn’t great for authoring (or doesn’t do it at all) or you want content you can move between systems then a rapid development tool is probably high on your wish list.  Right now there’s some great packages such as my favourite Articulate Storyline, and others like Captivate and Articulate Studio that have quick learning curves and are great for producing some high quality e-learning if you know what you’re doing.
  4. Social Learning Tools.  If your LMS doesn’t have a suite of social tools built in you may want to look in this area - come to think of it even if it does there’s a high chance it stops well short of a social learning platform.  I would thoroughly recommend Mahara as a portfolio based tool that gives Facebook type sharing of pages and control over to the individual.  In New Zealand we use this to great effect with My Portfolio adopted by hundreds of our schools and academic institutions at higher levels.  Your LMS is about your organisation, but your social learning tool should be about individuals and if you don’t have it then you’re missing some of that 70 part that organisations are falling over themselves for nowadays.  Mahara is also great as it’s an open source platform and the code is free to download.
  5. Finally, there’s your partner.  If you’re working with a learning technologies partner you ought to be able to speak regularly with them about how you can work together to improve your capabilities in-house.  If they can’t do that then perhaps you need to rewind to one of my earliest articles; choosing your partner carefully or drop me a line.  So before you rush off and buy some of these try and remember the earlier point that these tools alone add little or no additional capability to your internal teams.  The reason for this is really simple and I’ve put together an equation (of sorts) to demonstrate.

Capability = Tools + Knowing how to use them properly

It may sound simple, but if your team gets Storyline or Totara and hasn’t received training or coaching in the best way to actually use the tool then you’re not adding capability; just technology.  Learning technologies are great but they become useful when you know how to get the most from them.  We’re on-sellers for Articulate for example, but our services around Articulate extend well beyond licensing of the software and include a range of training, support and template options to truly add capability to your internal teams.  You can purchase Captivate tomorrow and get a few screen shots and save a “SCORM” package, but if you truly want to produce captivating learning you need to know how to use it and how to unlock some of the less-obvious features. 

Whichever technology you opt for, you should look to get the most out of it by getting the support services that you really need to take it beyond just technology - give me a buzz if you need help with that!