Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stories as Teaching Tools

There is power and value in stories as teaching tools. It is one of the oldest means of transferring knowledge from one generation to the next. This is the essence and power of Web-based learning. The problem is that most Web-based learning is too long.

I would contend that Web-based learning should not be longer than 10 minutes, and preferably around 5 minutes. In the corporate world, Web-based learning is being held hostage by the old one-day training seminar. Those sessions were typically one-day because the participant would have to leave his primary work environment and travel to a central learning location for the training.

With the advent of computer- and Web-based training systems the training could come to the participant and one- and two-hour training modules seemed like an acceptable time savings. Yet anyone who has had to sit through one of these knows, it can seem like an eternity.

These sessions, if properly developed, can be broken into individual, shortened units. The key lies with the learning objectives. A properly vetted course should have, or should have the ability to create, learning objectives at the page level.

It's the long forgotten role of SCORM to break down learning to the granular level so that the objects could be reused in any combination of elements. Unfortunately, like many complex concepts, its implementation was watered down to the point that its original purpose was rendered unworkable.

Stories need to be told, but they need to be told with focus. The whole story, which may require two or more hours for the telling, may be told, but tell it in granular bits. If you need to test, test in granular bits. There's no holy writ that mandates a 10-question final exam. But that's a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Writing Voiceover Scripts

A short while ago, ATD (the Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD) posted an article by Jennie Ruby, titled Voiceover Scripts that Engage Learners. Jennie's main point is that most voiceover scripts, what we call narration, for eLearning is too long, too boring, and it turns off the student. Our attention span is short and most eLearning pages consist of a static screen. The solution is to factor both proportionality and conversational tone into the development of voice-over narration:


Basically, don't spend a lot of time voicing over a static screen. She suggests the amount of time spent on the screen may differ based on the content. A software demonstration should not linger on a static screen for more than maybe seven seconds, but compliance training can have more extensive voiceover descriptions even if the learner doesn't like it.

Consider aiming to have something move on the screen, illustrate the point, or change in some way about every two sentences. You can achieve the right proportions by either adding visual elements or shortening the voiceover script.


The narration should be short using plain-language and active voice. This is where I think we run into trouble relying on subject matter experts. They know their topic well, but are accustomed to talking with like-minded, experienced co-workers. We can try to write "plainly" but when they review it, they edit the narration as if they are writing to an experienced co-worker. We have to learn to be willing to pushback to get them to make the writing more conversational. I recommend reading the whole thing.

Monday, April 14, 2014

More Than Just “Click Forward”

The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) is sponsoring another webinar that, on its face, holds a lot of promise. This Thursday – April 17 – ASTD, in conjunction with UL Workplace Health and Safety, is hosting More Than Just "Click Next": Creating Innovative and Interactive E-Learning. It’s description seems hopeful.

Rapid e-learning development tools changed all this. Now a single instructional designer can take on a project from start to finish. While these tools reduce costs and trim timelines, it can sometimes come at a cost to the final product. Using templates instead of graphic designers can lead to e-learning that looks generic or ugly. Using pre-rendered interactions instead of developers can lead to a habit of forcing the content into a handful of stock interactions rather than fitting the interaction to the content.

When the tools aren’t pushed beyond the basics of what they can do, we often end up with the dull “Click Next” e-learning that people dread taking. So does this mean that rapid e-learning tools can’t create memorable learning experiences? Not at all. It just means we need to use these tools differently for them to be effective.

We’ve all experienced this, but the solutions are off times difficult to find. There are various reasons for our inability to rise above the hum drum including development software limitations, developer limitations, time limitations, and client resistance to breaking from the mold.

Yes, just as there are many who still believe instructor led training involves the teacher lecturing to the classroom, so many believe your web-based training needs to be 50 minutes of page-turning lecture followed by 10 assessment questions to validate that the student has learned something.

So I’ll be interested to see what this presentation shows us and what development tools the presenters will be talking about. For those interested, ASTD says the presentation will:

  • Describe what makes an e-learning experience engaging and interactive in the first place.
  • Present new ways to design innovative learning experiences with e-learning tools.
  • Show which e-learning features you should (and shouldn’t) use to increase interactivity.
  • Discuss when e-learning isn’t the right tool for the job.

The last bullet is the most intriguing to me, and with that I leave you with this suggested video to watch: The Big Mistake in Elearning.

Monday, March 24, 2014

SharePoint and Performance Support

ASTD is offering an interesting one-hour webinar, titled Using SharePoint to Support Training, on how to leverage SharePoint to support formal training. The registration site describes it thus:

In a business environment where training professionals are asked to do more with less, leveraging an option like SharePoint can be an effective way to minimize costs while providing the technology to facilitate engaging learning experiences. In this session, we’ll discuss some examples of using SharePoint to support training and development in organizations.

Learn how SharePoint can be used for:

  • employee onboarding/orientation programs
  • training and development project management
  • community management and blogging
  • knowledge management/employee resource center
  • managing an action learning curriculum

Join Anne Scott and Mark Britz as they walk you through some practical examples based on business problems, solutions, results, limitations, workarounds, and lessons learned. 

I plan to attend this webinar because it may prove useful for our my group, which is widely distributed geographically. It might provide some guidance on how to encourage ongoing learning and sharing of knowledge.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Importance of Archiving

So I had a couple of incidents occur to me recently that reinforced to me the importance of implementing and practicing archiving practices in this digital age. Each was a mystery in that it involved a bit of sleuthing, nothing that rose to the level of Sherlock Holmes, but the smaller types of mysteries that impact us all in some manner, shape, and form (like where did I leave my car keys) in the information-rich world we now live in.

I call the first mystery, The Case of the Absent-minded Artist and the second is The Case of the Misplaced Log-in. I will describe each in a moment and how they pertain to information archiving, but first, a little background on archiving itself.

  My go-to source for information on archiving is the Library of Congress’ Digital Preservation group, which is a clearing house for information on archiving digital records. The Library supports National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) that is developing standards for digital preservation. The table to the right is from the NDSA’s The NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation: An Explanation and Uses. The element I want to talk to is the Level 1 cell for the first row, Storage and Geographic Location.

first-boxThis recommendation is straightforward; maintain at least two copies of all important digital records on separate devices. Basically, this recommendation harkens back to the old adage, Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you store all of your information in one location, say your computer’s hard drive then you are running the real risk of losing it all if that hard drive fails. Save it to some external drive, or, in the case of the second point in the chart, if the data is on external storage device then you should save it to a second storage site, such as your hard drive or the external drive that you dedicate to archiving. This is a process I have been trying to make a habit of, but I’ve been getting there in fits and bounds.

So back to my mysteries…

In The Case of the Absent-minded Artist, I was the instructional designer for a media-rich online course. During the initial courseware review, the clients asked that two images be replaced. At the time I was extremely busy so, rather than select the images myself which is my wont, I asked the artist, whom I trusted implicitly, to make the selections for me. And fine selections they were; the clients were pleased with the selections and production continued forward. About a month later, the client asked to know the sources of the images, including the source image’s file name, so that they could validate that they could be used in their courseware.

Unfortunately, the artist was on vacation and was unavailable to ask for the information. But was i deterred, no sir. I knew we store all of our production files on a secure external server that we all have access to, and so I went there to look for them. That’s when I discovered that in the rush to make deadlines on the various projects the artist was assigned to, the source images were never uploaded there. They must have slipped the artist’s mind. All ended well, though, because the client followed up their original request with a new note saying it was unnecessary to have the detailed information after all. And when the artist came back from vacation the pictures were placed up on our server so that I could update the storyboards with the information.

My second mystery was one of a self-inflicted issue. The Case of the Misplaced Log-in involved my ability to access the internet while on the road using my personal internet provider. In this day and age of increased number and security protocols for accessing various web-sites it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep them all without writing them down. I know, IT security recommends against writing down passwords, but who can keep them all in memory for easy retrieval? Which is what I started doing with the passwords that I don’t use regularly. Over the course of a number of years I have tried a number of ways to manage my passwords, unfortunately, like a butterfly, I would flit from one solution to another and as a result my passwords are scattered over several applications and a couple of devices.

So, when I was on travel I was staying in a hotel that did not provide free Internet access, but it did offer an option for ATT customers to log-in using their personal ATT login information. It was either that or pay the Hotel for access, and being a good employee I wanted to save my company a little bit of money. I know it was not much, but as my mama would say “every little bit helps.” I don’t use this log-in very often, in fact I have probably only used it three times in the past 12 months so its not committed to memory. In fact, the first time I used it I had to call my wife to get the ATT log-in information.

Sherlock_Holmes Recognizing that I wouldn’t be using it frequently I wrote it down, but when the incident I am writing about occurred I became aware that I could not remember where I wrote it down. I first searched the normal locations on my laptop to no avail. Perhaps, if I had saved it in more than one location I might have found it sooner. I had a rough idea of what the login was and I spent several minutes typing in various permutations before I finally remembered where I had stored it. Once I remembered its storage location it was a matter of a few seconds and I was on the internet checking my email and completing my time card.

Now you might say i only a deficit of a few minutes between when I set out to access the Internet and when I actually was on the Information Highway, but those few minutes can add up. And if you were to multiply that by the uncounted number of times this occurs in a corporation because appropriate archiving practices are not applied and productivity is lost while searching for the information needed to perform a particular task then the lost time becomes massive.

We need to commit ourselves to engaging in sound archiving practices so we don’t all have to be a Sherlock Holmes in trying to find the information we need to do our jobs.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Conference Call Hell

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece on Surviving a Conference Call that covers the bad habits anyone who has attended a conference call has exhibited from time to time and suggests means to escape them. Sue Shellenbarger, the author, recommends the following to improve the productivity of these meetings.

  • PJ-BT474A_WORKF_G_20140225234514[1]Establish a clear and explicit set of goals and agenda for the meeting. “’You need to script them more tightly’ to keep people’s attention from wandering, says Daniel Mittleman, an associate professor in computing and digital media at DePaul University.”
  • Build relationships. When attendees introduce themselves, have them explain their roles and what they want out of the meeting.
  • Conference leaders should prepare in advance questions to ask participants and use a form to record responses.
  • Conference leaders should make sure everyone is contributing and have not “checked out” by posing questions, especially to those people who are not actively participating.
  • A volunteer/moderator can be charged with keeping people on-topic and sticking to time limits.

The author also speaks about  the future of video conferencing and the challenges associated with it. And before leaving, if you go and read the actual Wall Street Journal article, here’s the YouTube video it references. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Post-training Blues

The eLearning Guild posted a tremendous article by Marc Rosenberg about the value of performance support after a training event. His point is neatly summed up by thisparagraph.

Training no longer works in isolation. The transition from classroom (or an online experience) to the workplace must be seamless. This adds design decisions that transcend instruction. What will learners do after training? How will their new knowledge and skill be supported on the job? No training program should be developed without also answering questions like these.

His point is that for training to work it must be “reinforced and supported in the workplace.” This support he says can take the form of coaching, knowledge bases, and actual redesign of either work to align with “the processes and practices taught in training” or the training to align with how work is actually performed.

Marc My Words: The Training to Competence Myth