Tag: Business Training

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Using Moodle for Business: Moot Presentation

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Here is the presentation I gave at the Midwest Moodle Moot. You can view it online as a flip book (click the image below) and download the PDF from there or from the link at the bottom of this post.

Using Moodle for Business

PDF version only

Using Moodle for Business 6 steps - a printable tip sheetIf you’d like a summary tip sheet of the Six Steps, send me your snail mail address. Or, you can print your own from this PDF.

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Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Competency Frameworks: A First Step

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I’ve been seeing the phrase “competency frameworks” a lot lately.  I’m glad.  I’ve long been concerned about the disconnect between training content and job performance.  In a quarter decade of business training, I have rarely felt much attention was given to the question: “What do these people need to know to do better in their jobs?”  I often felt that training was designed from the starting point of “here’s what I know so that’s what I’ll teach”.

So, what is a competency framework and how will it improve the effectiveness of training?

Ratings of Exceptional, Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, etc.The HR Dictionary defines competency framework as “the set of duties or tasks performed as part of a job with the standards which should be achieved in these duties”.

OK, so for every training course we design, we need to know:

  • What job are we training for?  In other words, what duties or tasks are we teaching someone how to do?
  • What are the standards that we will measure against?  How will we know if our students have learned enough of the right things to perform those duties?  How will we know our training accomplished this?

In my mind, competencies for education are fairly well-defined and adhered to by a very strict accreditation system.  It is relatively easy to accurately measure students’ understanding of geometry, grammar, or DaVinci’s work.  Education provides foundational knowledge; training is the application of that knowledge in a specific situation.  My brother-in-law (a math whiz) was always amazed at how his grandfather used calculus in his machine working job.  But Granddad didn’t actually know calculus; he knew some rules for machining.  My brother-in-law, with his foundational knowledge, can apply what he knows about math to just about any situation.

The difficulty with business training is that job descriptions (and their related competencies) change frequently.  People in those jobs come from varying backgrounds.  Often, people have to adapt to new job requirements because that’s the best thing for the company.  An example would be that of typists.  There’s no such thing as a typing pool any more.  For awhile, typists were converted to word processors (using machines of the same name).  That transition required an entirely new competency: using a computer.

Businesses try to fill the gap between “knowledge/skill” of workers (old, young, new, tenured) and what they need at that moment, with training.  Not only is it difficult to determine what training is required for that gap, it is even harder to measure if the training is effective.  Sadly, it is even more difficult because often the very people in charge of these efforts are not competent in training design or testing!  I’m hoping that with increased emphasis on it from a software view, there will be some attention to the concept itself.

Much the same as when mapping a process, the people who do the job should be involved in the determination of the necessary competencies.  Mind Tools™ has posted an excellent article on the subject, which includes a step by step guide to get it done.  As they say, it will take a lot of effort; effort by the people who actually know the positions.

The US Army is very good at defining job duties and training to them. Every job, at every classification, has defined skills within the MOS system. (Note: this term varies by branch of service, but the structure is very similar.)  Here is an example for a US Army Corp of Engineers Diver for five skill levels.  Notice how this also includes required scores on fitness and written tests, as well as other requirements.  Those developing the training would start with these requirements, not with what they felt like teaching!

I encourage you to read as much as you can about the concept of competency frameworks (start with this Wikipedia article), browse through the Army’s MOS listings (for ideas on how to structure yours), and do your own Internet searches.  To read more on how competency frameworks are critical to the success of your business, visit my blog for earlier posts (such as this one) on testing in a business environment and this one on Purpose-Objectives-Goals for business training.  Future posts are planned for how Moodle supports competency frameworks through grades, scales, and outcomes.

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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Moodle 2.0: Completion Status for Resources and Activities

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A checkmark in the box indicates complete!In my previous post on availability settings for Moodle resources and activities, I stated that one of the triggers of availability is the completion status of another.  Not only is completion status one of the conditions for availability of additional material, but it provides an excellent way to engage students, track their progress, and allow them to keep on a project schedule.  

For small businesses offering Moodle courses in any topic, for any reason, this new functionality is huge.  In at least half of the conversations I have with potential clients, there is a functional requirement to be able to mark items as complete, track completed items, and/or limit access to material based on the completion of other material.  In previous versions of Moodle, this was possible, but not practical for a small organization with limited resources (time to do it manually or money to custom code it). 

This post addresses how to determine completion status; to learn about how both student and teacher can monitor that status, stay tuned.

So, what defines “complete” in Moodle 2.0? 

In all cases, it is possible to choose from “don’t mark as complete”, “the student may mark as complete manually”, or “conditions must be met”.  The conditional settings vary for each activity, because not all settings make sense for everything. My suggestion is to create your content first, then go back and add conditions where it makes sense; don’t do it just to do it.

For non-graded activities such as Web Pages, Wikis, and Chats, there is on option for conditions:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)

For Quizzes and Assignments, completion options are:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)
  • Student must get a grade (or not).  This grade will be determined by other settings which haven’t changed from 1.9.  To learn more about the other settings in Quizzes and Assignments, and how to best use them in business training, follow the links to applicable posts by clicking here.

For Glossaries, the completion options are:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)
  • Student must get a grade (or not)
  • Student must create (enter #) entries*

Forums have the most options for determining completion status:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)
  • Student must get a grade (or not)
  • Student must post (enter #) discussions*
  • Student must create (enter #) discussions*
  • Student must reply to (enter #) discussions*

When choosing to mark an activity as complete when it has been viewed, do so with caution.  For longer courses and for students who are genuinely interested in learning the material, viewed is a great bookmark for where the student left off during the last visit. 

However, I think it is folly to believe that if you require students to view every page, you are guaranteeing that learning has taken place.  It isn’t too hard to hit “next” without comprehending, reading, or even looking at the monitor!  If you really want to ensure competency, use well-written quizzes and assignments and require participation in collaborative activities.

*For ideas on how to engage students by requiring participation in forums, glossaries, and other collaborative activities, read “Jazzing Up Your Moodle Courses with Collaborative Features“.

I’d like to thank the creators of the Mt. Orange School demo site for providing a place for me to learn about these features; if you’d like to play around with Moodle 2.0 yourself, check it out!

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Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Five Things to Consider When Choosing Game Creation Applications

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Using games to enhance learning has been a widely-accepted tool for many years and has gained ground in this past decade*.  Most business training workshops include at least a few team activities and “simulations”.  They serve to get people up and moving about andworking together as a team, in addition to applying concepts in a “real world” scenario.

Accepting games as a necessary part of GREAT eLearning, let’s look at them in terms of the Five Basic Things:

Will games add value to the students’ learning experience? Pilots have long been taught to fly using flight simulators. Video and computer games allow more people to “experience” more than they could in real-life or even in a mocked up scenario.

Studies have consistently shown that games can improve both memory and retention of concepts taught. As you decide the type and number of games to include in your eLearning, focus on games that teach your concept.  I have been involved in workshops (not online) where the games were more like recess than lessons. Don’t just add games; add serious games with a learning objective.

Do I have the skill? This is the million dollar question.  I have been playing around with programs to build or customize games.  If your game is based on an already designed concept, such as Tic Tac Toe, find your way out of the maze, or Jeopardy, it will be a little easier.  To design a new concept would take imagination way beyond anything I possess.  Then there’s the skill to find or build the graphical elements.  Putting the concept and the elements together will, in most cases, require some very good computer skills.

What are the options? The options are much fewer in number than in other eLearning features I have written about. For a review of just a few of the current applications available to build or customize games, check out this post.  For the elements to put into them, you can start with the options I suggested in Five Things…Graphics.  One option is to find a student programmer (at a local university) who will put your ideas into motion.

Don’t despair if you can’t find just the right game to teach your concept.  In 1984 I played with a software flight simulator on a Compaq Portable; I didn’t learn to fly but I did internalize the difference between altitude and distance above the ground.  Perhaps you can find existing games that you can use to meet your learning objectives even if they weren’t designed for that purpose.

How much functionality do you need from this tool? This really depends on your audience.  A stand-alone TicTacToe game may wow your audience; or, you may have a technically sophisticated group of students who expect Wii type games even in their training.  As the options for creating and customizing games increase, so will the expectations.  What is acceptable today is likely to be “lame” in a year or two.

Will this tool work within my LMS? As always, you have to consider whether the application you choose will run on the web, how much bandwidth it requires, and if your students will be able to access it from anywhere.  As far as I know, no LMS has built-in game blocks, so all options will have to be tested for compatibility.  Most importantly, you’ll need to work with your IT department or web hosts to make sure that your server can handle users playing games.  If you use applications such as the Engage, this isn’t going to be a problem.  But if you go all out and have sound effects, videos, complex algorithms, and students playing simultaneously in an online game, you could experience problems.

*There is so much material on this topic that it is impossible to list everything here.  These are a good place to start for both background and ideas for using games in your eLearning courses:

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Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Game Building Applications for Business eLearning

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Last year my husband started a new job.  As part of his orientation, he took several hours of online training.  He had a large bruise on his forehead from hitting it on the desk when he passed out from boredom.  There was one course, however, that really held his interest.  He said it was more like a video game than a course.

I’ve been on the hunt ever since for open source and/or other affordable applications that smaller business (non-programmers) can use to create game-like content for eLearning courses. Despite the plethora of sites that offer ready-made games for grammar, math, and other subjects for school children, I am not finding many options that allow me to create or customize (with my own content) a game, especially one that runs on a web browser.

Below are a few options that you can start using today to add variety to your eLearning content. Before choosing, read my post on Five Things to Consider When Choosing Game Creation Applications.

Tic Tac Toe built in Engage

Tic Tac Toe community interaction for Articulate Engage.  This is a real game, it runs on a web browser, it is very easy to create, and it is very professional in appearance.  It is limited, though, to concepts that lend themselves to True/False, nine at a time.  Click here for an example. There are other Engage formats that, while not really games, they might fill your needs.  Articulate offers an SDK (software developer kit) to encourage more community developed interactions like this one.  My 2011 Wish List includes more game-like Engage interactions.

PowerPoint game templates.  A web search produces a number of these for grade school children.  I have seen them in business training and they were fun for the group, but I don’t think they are up to par for online courses.  I saved one as a show (instead of a presentation), uploaded it to Moodle and played it.  One potential issue is that it downloads to the local computer’s temp folder; security settings on many computers won’t allow that.  Leaving it as a presentation won’t do for a number of reasons, which I detailed in this post.  If you want to go this route, Internet4Classrooms has a nice selection.

My first game!

Game Magic by YoYoGames.  This was recommended by a friend.  The free version works great and comes with one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen.  I created a silly little game with apples and bananas flying around the screen reminiscent of the WPIX call-in game, circa 1980.  I uploaded it to both Moodle and WordPress.  I played it on both a desktop with DSL and an old netbook with a wireless connection.  It works in all cases, but it takes a few seconds to load.  This also requires a download to the local computer’s temp file, which might not be allowed. The biggest drawback is that while Game Magic doesn’t require any programming, the creator must have a library of objects for his topic and a talent for putting them together, both for logic flow and aesthetic appeal.

Alice.  I was all tickled about this until I realized it was for the purposes of teaching programming to college students.  (According to the site, enrollment in such coursework is down as much as 80%.  No wonder I can’t find any programs that do exactly what I want! If you have kids, tell them to major in computer science…or become baseball catchers.  Both are in short supply.)  I did not give this a test drive because the download is 281 MB.  I don’t think this will work for your average small business, but if you have a computer geek in your midst, you should definitely give this a try. It is free.

A search of SourceForge.net yields a dizzying number (~20,000) of results, most of which have descriptions that tell me I couldn’t use it if I tried. I will save a review of those options for a future post…

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Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Beyond the Course Outline: Making Your Courses Invaluable

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A few months ago I wrote a post on how to put together a course outline.  Since then, I have seen several courses - some still in outline format - that I would classify into two categories: The Abridged Google Search and The Project Calendar.  Even though both styles have fairly good outlines, they leave me (the student) thinking “I could’ve figured this out myself”.

“The Abridged Google Search” course design

These courses are similar in nature to those websites that are nothing more than a series of links to other sites.  A course that is nothing but a series of links to other sites on the subject is more like a bibliography than a course; it is simply a list of additional reading sources.  

Courses put together in this manner suffer from disjointed material; content written by several different people with different writing styles, audiences, and objectives.  It is next to impossible for the student to know what the teacher intended to be the salient points.  There is no natural progression from one page (web link) to another and no transition between them. 

“The Project Schedule” course design

This type of course probably teaches better than the “Abridged Google Search” because at least the core content was designed for instruction.  These courses go something like this:

  1. Week/Topic 1: 
    1. Read chapters 1-3 (or watch video #1)
    2. Hand in Assignment #1 (or take Quiz #1)
  2. Week/Topic 2:
    1. Read chapters 4 & 5 (or watch Video #2)
    2. Hand in Assignment #2 (or take Quiz #2)
  3. etc.

So, after I read all of this material, on my own, take a test, and spend a couple of hours on an assignment, the instructor will get back to me on whether I got it right or not?  I might as well just get the book and read it! 

Add Value to Your Content

I believe that learning takes place in all sorts of ways; never myopically.  It is a must to include references and external links as often as possible. But I also believe that a teacher should be more than a traffic cop.  Directing people to look here and look there isn’t really what a teacher does.  Here are some ways you can teach, while still using a book, a series of videos, and external web links: 

  • Paraphrase and Summarize – Rather than linking to all those external sites, create your course content as though it is a thesis or book report.  Write your own content, referencing those external sources.  Add your own graphics or even audio, video, etc.
  • Combine ideas – If you really are an expert, you must have thought of “a better way to do this”.   Tell your students how you would do it, not how everyone else does it.  Adding tips and tricks is a good way to do this even if your subject matter doesn’t allow too much variation in method.
  • Compare ideas – There are as many versions of the truth as there are people speaking it.  This is truer with some subjects than others.  Even with a topic as based in fact as physics, there are opposing view points.  Offer your students a comparison of each of the major ideas, with the merits and pitfalls of each.
  • Tell a story, real or not, that puts it all together – A picture is worth 1000 words and an example is worth even more.  Even if you can’t write a fable that illustrates your point, provide an example or two that will give some life to your content.  Stories are easier to remember than lists of unrelated concepts.

Last year I wrote about copyrighting content and that I feel that the real value is in the teaching, not the words on the page.  You can not be copyrighted and you can not be copied.  Adding value to your content makes your courses invaluable, just as it makes you invaluable.  As a consultant, a trainer, or a business whose product success depends on excellent training, you can’t afford to be anything less.

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Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Creating Customized Moodle Functionality

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I have a client who put this on his Moodle wish list last fall: some way for the participants to keep track of where they are in the course.  You see, this client (a big company) has a few hundred students in a completely self-paced course.  These are working adults, involved in a training program designed to span weeks or months.  There are no graded assignments, but there are dozens of tasks to be completed.  There are a number of pages to read and videos to watch.  It’s easy to lose one’s place. 

I found a couple of modules in the list of third-party contributed code that might fit the bill.   The client’s Moodle site is hosted and supported by ClassroomRevolution, so I asked Thom Caswell for a “background check” on these modules.  One, called Checklist, came up “clean”.  We decided to give it a try.  

The client was very happy with our initial testing of Checklist, but it still wasn’t quite what he wanted.  I said I’d see if the developer was willing to do some customizations. It couldn’t hurt to ask! 

I sent Davo Smith (the contributor of Checklist) a message through Moodle; I heard back from him within a few hours.  A few emails back and forth were all it took to explain what additional functionality we wanted and for him to begin working on it.  He had the first iteration to me in about a week.  With each iteration, ClassroomRevolution installed the module (which required some code knowledge), the client and I tested it, and Davo made the necessary tweaks. 

Despite the time of year (holiday season), it took only six weeks to have a fully functional Checklist installed on the live Moodle site.  It automatically brings in all resources and activities in the course, automatically checks off those resources and activities that the student has viewed, displays a list and a progress bar to both student and teacher, and gives the student control over several features.  Very cool.

To make a great story have an even better ending, this customization was not exclusive to the client.  It is available to the Moodle community, in versions compatible to Moodle 1.9x and 2.0.

I encourage all small businesses (and big ones, too) using Moodle to take this approach to customization.  It is a much faster and cost-effective way to add functionality than to hire a programmer to start from scratch to make something that is one-of-a-kind and proprietary.  (Unless selling software is your business, there’s no competitive advantage in having secret Moodle code all for yourself).  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Search through the third party modules. If you can’t find exactly what you want, find something close. If you have engaged a Moodle Partner and/or a Moodle expert course designer, you can ask for help in the search.  Very often, they’ll already know about something that does whatever and you won’t have to search at all. 
  2. Read the reviews and comments made by other Moodlers.  I avoid the ones where users have posted comments such as “I installed this and now my pages are blank”. Yikes!  If you’re going this alone, make sure you are able to install the module yourself.  Some require code tweaking.
  3. Even if you are a brave soul and can install a module on your own, if you took my advice on hosting, ask for help.  Most Partners offer services that include installation of third party modules and other integrations.  They make sure you have compatible versions and that the installation is done properly (it works and doesn’t break your site!)
  4. Work with the module developer to modify it to your needs if necessary.  Don’t let time zone differences scare you but don’t expect overnight results, either. Many (most?) of these people have “day jobs” so consider that when setting expectations for turn-around time.   
  5. Be collaborative.  Allow the developer to post the modified version back to the third party contributed code.   

For a relatively small amount of money, you’ll have all the functionality you ever dreamed of and you can give back to the Moodle community by contributing that modification.  Everyone benefits!

If you’d like to contact Davo, his email address is moodle@davosmith.co.uk.  To learn more about Moodle hosting and support, visit ClassroomRevolution.com.

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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – Using eLearning and Moodle in a Small Business

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The needs of a small business are different from that of a big business, and different still from those of a university.  Unlike accounting and human resources, eLearning functionality has not been used in small business applications for very long.  Consequently, service providers, advice, and options are much harder to come by.  Even understanding how eLearning can work in your business might be difficult to envision.  

These posts from 2010 offer some ideas on how to use eLearning in general and Moodle specifically, in your small business.  They also provide some guidance on what to look for and what to avoid. 

My picks for best small business advice:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – eLearning and Instructional Design for Business Training

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I have spent two and a half decades designing and delivering training in a corporate environment.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best in the field.  (Thanks to all of you, wherever life has taken you). The following posts from 2010 are my thoughts on how a small business can accomplish big business training goals, without a big business staff or budget. 

My favorite blog on eLearning and Instructional Design:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – Moodle Tips for Everyone, especially Small Businesses

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In the first year of Penny For Your Thoughts, I shared many of my “ah hah!” moments about Moodle.  The following posts share tips and advice on using some of Moodle’s many features.  Hopefully, they clear up some common points of head-scratching with Moodle.  Watch for more in 2011! 

My favorite source for Moodle happenings:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

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