Tag: Business Training

Monday, December 20th, 2010

How to Keep Your eLearning Development On Time & On Budget

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I have a wonderful client named Kyle.  He works for a company you’ve all heard of.  He is learning Moodle as we go; since he is quite comfortable using many computer applications, he’s a quick study.

What makes Kyle so great to work with?

He has more invested in the success of his Moodle courses than I do.  This may sound like a no-brainer but I often feel as though I’m more aware of our deadlines than my clients are! Yes, I know that clients are busy doing other things, which is precisely why they hired me.  And I know I’m not alone, as this post from The eLearning Coach proves.  But in much the same way as when I hired a brick layer to build paths through my gardens, my eLearning clients must provide feedback and make decisions throughout to ensure their courses meet their expectations.  Otherwise, everything ends up looking and sounding like me!

Here are some tips to help make your foray into eLearning go faster, easier, and end up as great as you had dreamed it would be: 

  1. Create and stick to your multi-generation product plan (MGPP), covered in this post.
  2. Create and stick to a project timeline that fits with the MGPP.  A simple Gantt chart will do.  It is important to remember that the more rushed the work is, the less likely it is to be exactly what you wanted.
  3. Review it frequently.  Don’t wait until the course is finished or the week before it will go live.  The sooner you spot something you don’t like the less time will be wasted on rework.  Everyone involved in the building of a course, from the instructional designer to the graphic artist to the video editor, makes style choices.  These choices may not be your choice. 
  4. Understand it.  Kyle, my client, gave me direction on how he wanted their book translated to Moodle online.  I gave him some options and my opinion; he chose a path to take.  After awhile, he realized he might have preferred some of the other options.  This didn’t happen because Kyle is fickle, but because he’s not a Moodle expert.  We don’t expect you to become experts in authoring tools or LMS, but the more you know, the more you’ll understand your options.  Even if you don’t know combustion engines, you still know to ask about fuel economy when you consider a new car… 
  5. Plan for use, now and next year.  I covered this in My Moodle site is up and running.  Now What?  It’s so easy to be excited about the launch, but as that date approaches, fear sets into nearly every client when he realizes “I don’t know how to monitor a forum, create a user, or get a grade report”.  

Kyle and I have put together a really kick-ass site that met both budget and time requirements of his company. We have managed our project timeline so that we would have plenty of time to play with features, compare options, and obtain feedback from others.  You can have the same success with your project, by following the simple tips above.

Related posts on using eLearning for your business: 

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 3

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In the first two parts of this series on Moodle quizzes, we covered appearance and strictness.  This post discusses how much and what type of feedback we can provide to the students, with each question and for the exam as a whole. 

Part 3: Feedback Settings 

Review Options 

  • If you want to provide your students with feedback - both your comments and the right answers - check the first column “Immediately”.  If they can attempt the quiz again, obviously, they can use this feedback to get a better grade.  But if you have just one attempt, this is a great way to provide feedback while the questions - and the concepts - are still fresh in their minds. 
  • If you don’t want anyone to know the right answers until the test is closed for good, check the items in the far right column.  The quiz must have a close date for this to occur.
  • If you don’t ever want anyone to know, ever, uncheck all of the items.  

Overall Feedback 

  • Grade boundaries are the maximum and minimum grade received for each comment.  The highest (100%) and lowest (0%) are the default.  You can break that range into as many smaller categories as you wish.
  • Feedback is the text that will appear to the student when the quiz is submitted (if you have this checked in Review Options), according to his grade.  You can be as serious as you like (Excellent!), or silly (You’re so bright I need sunglasses in your presence).  Don’t be afraid to customize this feedback to match your content, both in topic and tone.  A play on words is another form of reinforcement…

The following are not part of the update quiz mode; these settings can be found in the question edit area.  What is displayed to the student is controlled by the Review Option settings. 

Question Feedback 

  • General feedback can be left blank or include graphics, links, and formatted text, using the HTML editor.  This feedback is on the question as a whole, not dependent on the student’s response. Use it to provide more information on the topic (including links and graphics).
  • Most question types provide the option of feedback for each answer.  If you have designed your questions with plausible wrong answers, this is a great opportunity to provide additional explanation on why that answer is incorrect.  Don’t just say “sorry” or “wrong”.  There’s no value in that type of feedback. 

I encourage you to play around with these settings, doing a preview each time.  Be consistent in your settings for each type of test.  To reinforcement concepts, be “lax”.  For final exams that really matter, be “strict”. 

All you need now are some well-written questions!  For more on testing in a business environment, check out these posts:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 2

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In Part 1, we covered settings that control the appearance of the quiz.  In this post, we’ll discuss the settings that control how much information is provided to the student, and when.  These settings provide us with the opportunity to give “open book” vs. “closed book” exams, “proctor help”, and “instant grading”, all very much like we could do in person.  This gives the Moodle quiz activity tremendous versatility because it can be used as a formal certification exam, an informal pop quiz, or anything in between.

Part 2: Strictness Settings

Timing

  • If you want to force students to take a timed exam, enter the number of minutes in the time limit field.  A really cool countdown clock will appear when the exam is started.  For business training not regulated by professional licensing or other certification rules, you’ll probably want to leave this disabled. Unless you just love the clock…
  • If you allow only one attempt (discussed later), the time between is irrelevant.  If you want to use this quiz to test reliability of your test instrument, you’ll want to put an appropriate delay in here.  

Attempts

  • You can practically give away the answers while still allowing only one attempt, so don’t be disillusioned into thinking that one attempt is the strictest setting.  If you want a measure of question reliability, you’ll need at least two attempts.  If you’re just giving an exam and don’t intend to measure the test itself, keep this at one.
  • Each attempt builds on the last, when checked, shows the student the answer he gave the last time.
  • Adaptive mode, when enabled, tells the student “no, that wasn’t the right answer”, so the student can keep trying until he gets it right.  This mode can also change the question, depending upon what the student submitted as an answer. 
    • In my experience, there is no need for this complexity (and often no one has the skill to do it) in business training.  Do not use this type of quiz unless it makes sense for your content, you can make good use of the information, and you have skilled test question developers to create it.
    • If you use adaptive mode, with no penalties and no change in the question wording, plus useful feedback on each question, you can use this quiz to reinforce concepts.  The grades won’t be of any value, but it can be a good teaching tool. 

Grades

  • With only one attempt, this is irrelevant.  The choices are fairly self-explanatory and I cant think of any “typical” one to advise you to use for business training exams.
  • Applying penalties is to keep people from guessing.  If they leave it blank, they’ll get no credit; if they guess it wrong, they’ll lose points.  I don’t like this choice, ever, because it makes it really hard on me to analyze grades. If you have allowed the adaptive mode (above) you must apply penalties to prevent everyone from getting 100%!
  • The precision of the grades is up to you, but the rule with decimal places is always that one more decimal place than existing in the original data.

You should now be able to create a Moodle quiz activity with the appearance and student difficulty level you desire. To review the basic appearance settings or to learn about feedback:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 1

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One of the beautiful things about the Moodle Quiz activity is that with a few clicks, you can create a “closed book, timed, seriously strict” exam (assuming your questions are good, too); with a few other clicks, you can produce a fun, silly, interactive memory jogger.  You can use the same questions in different quizzes with different “strictness” settings, having to create each question only once.  You can provide the right answers, with serious or funny feedback, or leave the students wondering if they passed or bombed.

I’ll split this discussion into three posts, according to what the settings control:

Part 1: How it appears to the students

Part 2: How “strict” it is on the students

Part 3: How much feedback is given to the students

What you choose for each setting depends on your overall training objectives and the purpose of each Moodle quiz you create.

Part 1: Appearance Settings

General 

  • The name you give it will appear in the course outline, so give it a meaningful name.
  • In the HTML editor you can create whatever you want your students to see.  I try to put a nicely formatted description in all quizzes, like this:  [click here for an example]
  • Timing 
  • If you have an ongoing, self-paced course, disable both the open and close dates this section.  If your course has a start and end date, your quiz available dates should correspond to the timeline of your syllabus.  

Display 

  • Everything I have read about this says “5″ is the best number of questions per page.  This is to reduce the load on the server. 
  • Shuffling is good if you think someone has this in his sleeve: 1.a, 2.b, 3.e, 4.c, 5.f…  It’s also useful if you’re doing a study where you’re trying to randomize the effect of the question order.  For most business applications, shuffling of questions or answers is not necessary.  

Common module settings 

  • The Group mode is the same as with all other Moodle activities.  If you don’t have groups set up in your course or if you want everyone to take the same quiz, regardless of group, leave this at no groups.
  • Visible is obvious.  If you want students to see it, you need to show it.
  • Grade categories are methods of aggregation (average, total, worst, highest) of the individual grades.  Frankly, I never use this.  I dump it all into Excel® and from there I do simple calculations and graphs; if I want more serious analysis (which I often do), I export it to Minitab®
  • If you set the ID number to something, you’ll have that as an extra field in your data file. 

Security 

  • Browser security is an attempt to stop cheating, but as the help file indicates, it isn’t simple.  I never, ever check this.
  • I’ve never quite seen the need for a password in the quiz, since the user has to have logged in to take it. 
  • The last option in this section is used only if you want to restrict where your students can log in from when they take the quiz.  If you want them to be at their desks, not in their living rooms, you’ll want to enter your company IP addresses here.  This is especially useful if there might be classified or sensitive information in the quiz. 

At this point, you have enough information to set up a Moodle quiz, using the defaults on the other settings.  You will, of course, have to upload or enter questions. That is not covered in this post. 

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

How Do You Know What Your Students Want? Voice of the Customer for Business Clients of eLearning

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As a Six Sigma Quality consultant, I coached many teams in new product (or process) design.  One of the very first tasks of any design project was to find out: 

What do customers really want? 

This is not to be confused with what I want, what I think they want, or what I have to sell and am hoping they’ll buy.  In my role as a consultant my most frequent question was “where is the data to back that up”.  As a Moodle content creator, I find myself asking that impertinent question with even greater emphasis.  This is because… 

If you don’t know what your students really want and what they really need, you can not design training for them. 

Most small business owners lack the resources to perform market research in the form of focus groups, large-scale studies, or small market trials.  Yet, getting the product right the first time is more critical for a small business than for a large one because of that very same thing; a lack of resources.   

How do you know what your students want before you build your eLearning?   

This is a question that plagues every design team creating a new product.  You can’t ask them because they aren’t students yet, unless you are converting from a different LMS (in which case, I hope you collected their concerns and are addressing them with your new solution).  What you can do is what everyone in New Product Development does: 

  • Observe current usage on other, similar products (web browsing, for instance).  My litmus test for whether something is tricky or not is to compare it to Facebook, Amazon, YouTube.  If young and old alike can buy a book or a toaster, view a surfing dog video, and figure out how to “like” my recommendation for an article on information overload, they can navigate Moodle, recover a lost password, and submit a comment without any trouble. 
  • Locate studies of usage on similar products for customers similar to yours.  If your students will be middle-aged managers, observing web usage of college kids won’t do you much good.  But the way people are browsing the Internet in an airport travelers lounge might be very informative. 
  • Locate past surveys of eLearning and face-to-face training with students similar to yours.  Many professional organizations maintain such statistics for their membership.
  • If you have the resources, conduct your own study or survey.  Alway, always, always hire experts to do this.  Bad data is worse than no data.

Some places to start learning about your customers and their eLearning needs:

  • The eLearning Coach – a great blog by Connie Malamed on instructional design  (She also wrote a book)
  • American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) – webcasts, publications, study results, etc.
  • Professional societies that your students might belong to, such as IEEE for engineers or the American Nurses Association, for instance.
  • StudentInsights, a market research firm focused on higher education.  Although their target clientele are universities, their findings for adult learners could still be useful for a small business delivering training to those same students. 

Don’t make assumptions about what others are thinking.  Ask around, listen, and watch.  

Watch for future posts on how to gather Voice of the Customer (VOC) data for your eLearning offerings, how to organize and analyze that data, how to prioritize it to fit your budget and other resources, and how to turn what customers want into what you build for them.

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Thursday, October 14th, 2010

What eLearning is NOT

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You don’t have to do any Moodle content creation. My course is already in Word so you can just upload it“.  These are 21 of my least favorite words when strung together. It makes me sad because it just isn’t what e-Learning should be! So, I take a deep breath and say:

“Great!  You have already written your course text, so all I have to do is convert it to the HTML that is displayed by Moodle, add some links, pictures, and multi-media, along with quizzes, assignments, and other LMS features, right?”

I go on to explain (as I am explaining here), why eLearning – Moodle or otherwise – is not a series of Office® (or Office-like) documents that are to be opened and read online.

  • There are so many versions of Microsoft Office (2003, 2007, 2010, Mac, readers only…), not to mention Open Office and other similar applications built for both PCs and Macs, that no matter how nicely formatted your document is, it is unlikely to look that way when the user opens the file.
  • We all have different fonts installed.  Most computers have Arial and Times New Roman.  But even fonts that were installed at the factory differ from one computer to another, so if I use Corbel in a Word document, my friend who uses a Mac will see something entirely different.  Forget any fonts that I purchased; they will be replaced by something else when that person opens the file.
  • It’s easy to save a copy, edit, pass around, and even claim ownership of such documents.
  • Security and confidentiality go out the window (no pun intended) when information is presented in downloadable documents.
  • Many file types can not be opened at all by mobile devices or on public computers that don’t have those applications installed, which undermines one of the benefits of eLearning – it’s available from any computer.

Using PDF documents will solve most of these issues.  But what a PDF makes up for in security and formatting, it loses in usability.

  • Live links in PDFs are possible, but not often implemented by the creators.  You have to have an add-on application to include links.  Even at that, it can be tedious.
  • While it is possible to create forms out of a PDF document, they can’t be used as templates the way a spreadsheet can.

Regardless of what type of document you link online, if it can be downloaded and saved, you lose control of it.  Even if all you want to do is correct a typo or change your contact information, you have no guarantee that those changes will be universal.  Most of the people who already downloaded the document that you changed will never know you changed it.  At the very least, they’ll keep both versions.

The advantages of eLearning are many: 24/7 worldwide access, always up to date, social interaction, interesting and varied, participation can be tracked…none of these advantages are possible when the content is nothing but linked documents.  Use linked documents that can be edited only when you want to provide your students with templates for their own use. Use linked PDFs only for eBooks, white papers, and other types of documents that you want students to keep for reference.

To learn what makes eLearning GREAT, read this post.

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Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Where in the world is the Internet? Can a small business with global clients still use Moodle?

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Last week I was asked if I could burn a CD with a Moodle course on it, because there was concern that people in Asia-Pacific wouldn’t have reliable internet access.  

Uh, no”, I said.  

For a brief time, I was speechless, which is a rare condition for me.  There are two huge misconceptions embedded in this question, which I absolutely must write about! 

  1. Anything online can be copied onto a CD or DVD because “electronic is electronic”.
  2. Internet access is available only in the US and Canada; maybe England.   

Electronic media is a broad category, not a single characteristic.  The “power of the Internet” requires the Internet.

No, you can not burn a CD of Moodle! The explanation will have to wait for another day.  But even if you could, here’s why you would not want to: 

  • A CD can not be updated, edited, or controlled.  Once it is delivered into the hands of the user, it is what it is.  If an error is discovered, a change in policy or technology occurs, or any other reason to change the content comes along, the content of that CD can not be changed.
  • You can’t track the usage.  A CD running on a device isn’t traceable.  As the teacher or administrator, you have no idea if the content was viewed, where it was viewed from, or by whom.  You have at least some ability to obtain this information within an LMS.
  • There is no feedback.  Even if you have a fancy CD that is “interactive”, only the program interacts with the user.  The teacher (consultant or trainer) does not interact with anyone.  There are no chats or forums.  Students do not interact, and therefore, don’t learn from each other.
  • There is no other advantage that an LMS has to offer. There’s no “My Moodle” or other customization at the user’s end.   

In my opinion, a printed book is better than a CD.  It’s a little bit larger, but doesn’t require a computer to run, and I can sit under a tree with it. 

OK, so those are just a few of the advantages of online learning.  Not only is online better, there’s no excuse not to have it.  Internet access is ubiquitous. Perhaps we need to revamp Where In the World is Carmen Dandiego to… 

…Where in the world is the Internet?  

When I was an employee at Time Warner Communications in the mid 1990s, all the buzz was about broadband, a wild, new concept.  The vision of our company was to bundle cable TV, phone, and Internet access into one service. There was even talk of a “library of movies that a user could just watch whenever desired”.  Revolutionary!  Almost as far-fetched as indoor plumbing!  Of course, these ideas are very much reality 15 years later.  

What was also reality then – and still plagues us today – is the very difficult  task of dealing with legacy systems – not just computer programs, but with the infrastructure itself.  In parts of the world where reliable phone networks had never been put in place, it was easier to install fiber optics and cell phone towers than it was to replace the old for the new in many parts of the US.  Cell towers are often a source of community disdain because they ruin the view.  Back then, cellular phones were as common in parts of Africa as in Colorado.  

That was a lifetime ago (in technology years), so I did some quick Googling and came up with some interesting statistics on 2010 Internet usage: 

  • Three-quarters of a billion people use the Internet in Asia, according to Internet World Stats.  I don’t know how fast their service is, but it doesn’t take much bandwidth to run Moodle.   
  • Chinese is the second most spoken language on the internet, according to this Wikipedia article.  
  • Another Wikipedia article states: Singapore, as a small densely populated island nation and a pioneer, continues to be one of the few countries in the World in which broadband Internet access is readily available to just about any would-be user anywhere in the country, with connectivity of over 99%.  
  • The Agoda hotel in Thailand has an internet café. I’m willing to bet that there at least as many hotels in Thailand with internet access as in many North American locales.   
  • With XMGlobal, you can host your own hot spot just about anywhere in the world. So if you’re not lucky enough to be in Singapore, you can still Moodle! 
  • Registered Moodle sites exist all over the world.  Presumably, those places have Internet access reliable enough to use their Moodle sites. 
  • My favorite myth-dispeller from WebsiteOptimization.com:  Japan and Korea are way ahead of the pack in percentage of subscribers who have fiber (faster and more reliable than the wire that hangs in the air along my street).  The US is 11th in fiber penetration and 22nd in broadband speed.  

In my post about how small businesses (including authors, consultants, trainers, and other entrepreneurs) can expand their client base by using eLearning, it was implicit that this expansion was limited only by the size of your imagination and the value of your services to people worldwide.  A lack of access to the Internet should not be a concern!   

Last year, I built and hosted a Moodle course for a cruise line.  We trained 2000 employees, while they were onboard ships that were sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the open Atlantic.  Not one person had an issue with the accessibility of the Moodle site.  Not one.  

So, if you are being held back by the notion that Moodle won’t work for your business because your clients are “around the world”, let go of that idea.  Moodle is available everywhere…

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Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Moodle Hosting: Why every business using Moodle needs a Moodle Partner

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This summer I have been on my soapbox, helping my clients (both current and prospective) convince their clients of the soundness of hosting their Moodle sites with a certified Partner/Moodle host.  I am not a Moodle Partner, nor do I want to become one, so I have nothing invested in my recommendation except doing a good deed.  And, of course, I don’t want to create content on sites that are not hosted by Moodle Partners

Why? 

The reasons your business should host its Moodle site with a certified Moodle Partner: 

  • They know Moodle and everything in the Moodle universe.
  • Partners not only know how to run cron jobs and back-up the database, but they do it.  I am told that these tasks, with any web application, can be tricky, time-consuming, and dangerous.  Luckily, I’ll never have to worry about them.
  • Partners provide the proper bandwidth and storage (although these do vary amongst the Partners) to run Moodle.  A $7.95/month hosting plan at HappyMamaHost.com isn’t going to be sufficient.
  • Partners know Moodle; what it can do, what it can’t do, and what it might do in the future.
  • Partners know what third-party modules are out there, what problems they solve, and how to install them so they’ll work on your site.  You won’t have to spend dozens of hours searching for a solution that might not exist or might be well-known in the community. 
  • Using Moodle for business usually requires a little extra support, such as single sign-on capability, e-commerce functionality, and perhaps a greater level of security for privacy reasons.  No one will be able to integrate these applications better or faster (which is usually cheaper) than a Partner.
  • HappyMamaHost.com doesn’t help you with any of the above, at least not for free. 

A few examples of why this Moodle knowledge, expertise, and technical support matters: 

  • Last winter, Moodle sites around the globe were upgraded for security reasons.  All admins were required to create new passwords, with some serious specifications.  If your site is hosted by a Partner, chances are this upgrade was done for you.  If your site is hosted at HappyMamaHost.com, chances are you weren’t even aware of the security risk.  It’s guaranteed that they didn’t do the upgrade for you. 
  • If you have a WordPress site, you’ll notice that annoying little button that says “Version 3.01 is available; please upgrade now”.  You probably also know that upgrading without first backing things up can be very risky.  Not all of your plug-ins will work.  Some content might be lost.  The same is true for Moodle, but HappyMamaHost.com will surely have that same little button this winter on Moodle installations “Moodle 2.0 is available; please upgrade now”.  That will be disastrous if you don’t know how to do a major upgrade!   
  • I spoke of impossibly slow load times due to bandwidth issues in Getting Started with Moodle.  Storage requirements (for your actual course content) can become quite large, too, if you have more than a course or two.  By the time you upgrade to greater bandwidth and more GB of storage with HappyMamaHost.com, you might exceed the cost of hosting with a Partner. 
  • I have one client who must have web meeting functionality in his Moodle courses.  I have many others who are considering it.  I poked around and compared prices, options, and Moodle integration ability.  I was still not sure, so I asked my Partners.  They gave me the real run-down on which applications required coding and which installed as easy as 1-2-3.  We settled on DimDim.  All I had to do was ask “hey, can you install some sort of web meeting application on the site?” 

If you’re still not convinced that it is penny wise, pound foolish to not host with a Partner, what else can I do to change your mind?  I am willing to jump up and down…

One caveat: I would like to say that I worked with one web host (in Eastern Europe) who didn’t know Moodle at all, wasn’t a Partner, but still maintained a well-run Moodle site.  I’m sure there are others like him around the world, and I don’t want to be disparaging of their service or efforts.  I’m also sure that they are not the mass-sellers of discounted hosting plans, which is really what I want you to steer clear of.

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Friday, August 20th, 2010

Measuring Up – How does Moodle Compare to Other LMS?

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measuring upI would love to do a comparison of several different LMS by features, just like you might do when considering a new refrigerator at Sears.  The problem I’m having – and the problem I’ve had for years – is that it is just about impossible to get an unguided, leave-me-alone and let-me-think demonstration of many of these LMS. 

Some of them have “demos” which are really sales pitch videos.  I want to click on things myself.  How will I ever know how “easy” or “powerful” it is if I can’t put fingers to keyboard?  Others have free trial downloads that work for a short time.  All of them (except Moodle) require me to enter so much information about myself that even my mother would blush.  And as soon as I do that, I am “on the list”.  I get phone calls and endless emails, none of which I want. 

Yesterday I canceled the download of a “free trial” of one LMS authoring tool (because it was 22 GIGAbytes!) and still received three unsolicited emails within two hours.  

So, while I had envisioned an organized comparison chart of features, I’ve settled on something else.  How about a comprehensive list of what you should know about this product before you sink your fortune and reputation into it, and ways to go about gaining that knowledge? 

What to look for: 

  • Number of options that are built in to the application.  These should be easily turned on and off, and not require hours of code modification.  Compile a list that is specific about what features and functions are built in to this LMS and how many require customization.  Then, rate those features according to how important they are to your business.
  • Scalability.  This means that while you have only a dozen students right now, you should be able to easily upgrade to hundreds.  It can also indicate your ability to go from two courses to fifty without having to rewrite the LMS itself.  Ask about upgrades in hosting bandwidth and LMS capacity.
  • Ability to upgrade.  Let’s face it.  In the technology world, “old” is five years.  Could you even imagine the functionality of an iPad 10 years ago?  A decade ago we thought hand-held PDAs were “the future”.  It is folly to assume that a state of the art LMS today will be anything other than a beta-max a few years from now.  Your LMS needs to be robust.  Find out how easy it is to upgrade this LMS, how long it will take, and what it will cost.
  • Integrations with social media.  Every day I see reputable articles on the important role of social media in learning; e-Learning is way more than old training material converted to run on the Internet.  These integrations should be built in to the LMS and be turned on or off with a few clicks.
  • Integrations with common applications such as PayPal, DimDim, and single sign on authentication.  You could add YouTube and many other sites to this list.  These integrations should be built in to the LMS and be turned on or off with a few clicks. 
  • Ease of use.  This isn’t just how easy it is for you to get reports.  It’s how easy it is for teachers or trainers to add content, monitor courses, interact with students, and do what teachers do.  It’s also about how easily the students – adults in business settings – are able to gain access to the content, navigate about, share their experiences, and still do their “regular jobs”.  Will you and your employees be able to add or edit content, change features, and generate reports – or will you be forever in the clutches of the software developer? 

Ways to find the above information and to avoid the sales pitches: 

  • Real demos, where you can see actual examples of content and features that work. Search “[lms name] demo”.
  • Sandboxes and/or trial versions where you can create (and break) things as a student, a teacher, and an administrator.  Search “[lms name] sandbox”.
  • Real user reviews, preferably from a community forum for that LMS application where issues, fixes, bugs, and wish lists are posted.  You can learn a lot by reading these forums.  If you can’t find a direct link to the community forums from the LMS commercial website, try typing a question into your search engine such as “Does Moodle accept credit cards”.
  • Visible Pricing, either bottom line or ballpark (for the more creative stuff).  Obtain quick quotes for the base application, hosting, development, and user support.  Then compare your options based on your total price.  Remember to get pricing for scalability, upgrades, and integrations with other applications. Ask about SDKs and free plug-ins.  What does it cost to install those free applications? 

While custom homes and custom-made suits are usually nice things, in the software world “custom” can be a euphemism for “we don’t actually have anything written; you’re going to pay for all of our trial and error”.  Custom software is not the same thing as software that has many options. Custom software is rarely scalable, rarely upgradeable.  What you want is an LMS with many options that will offer you flexibility and autonomy for a long time to come.

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Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Creating Purpose-Objectives-Goals for a Business Training Course

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In my post on creating course outlines, I wrote that two pages in any course should be the Purpose-Objectives-Goals (POG) page and the Summary page. That sounds simple enough, right? Well, maybe not…

What is the POG for a business training course? Is it the same as it would be for a university course? Does it come from the business case for delivering the training? Is it related to the mission of the business?

Let’s start with some assumptions:

  • Business training differs from academic education (note the different uses of “training” and “education”).
  • Academic education seeks to impart not just information to students, but to equip them to think about new scenarios, to integrate ideas, and to build upon their education as they experience life. This is done through a foundation of knowledge. We don’t simply learn that “2+2=4”, but why it’s so.
  • Business training, while sometimes is for the sole enrichment of employees, is usually targeted to improve a business metric. Or, it is intended to be.

A while back, I wrote a post on assessing the effectiveness of business training. I have observed a huge gap between the intended or desired outcome of business training and what it actually delivers. My “hypothesis” (which I have empirical evidence to support) is that this gap exists because of three things:

  • The lack of proper evaluation of training effectiveness
  • The failure to align training objectives with business objectives
  • The failure to create and deliver training to the objectives, if they had been aligned in the first place

The first item is discussed in the post; the third item is a deeper subject known as instructional design. This post addresses the second item, aligning training objectives with those of the business.

So, how do you align training goals and objectives with the goals and objectives of your business?

  1. First, understand your business goals and objectives. Where are your “problem areas”? What do you want to improve? Where do you want to reduce risk? Some likely business examples:
    • prevent accidents
    • reduce errors
    • improve customer service
    • improve efficiency
    • reduce waste
    • improve communication
    • reduce time to market
    • leverage knowledge
    • protect intellectual property
    • improve work environment (physical)
    • improve quality of work (emotional)
    • increase promotion opportunities
    • increase market share
    • reduce redundancy/confusion from department to department
  2. Second, understand to at least some degree, who in the organization can affect these goals. Your delivery driver might have a strong influence on several goals, but she isn’t going to have anything to do with reducing the time to market of a new product. A RACI chart would be a useful tool for this.
  3. Based on the RACI chart, decide what level of training should be provided to each position in topics aimed at achieving each goal. Bloom’s rose would be a great reference for this.
  4. Determine what those topics, tools, and methods are. You will need to seek the assistance of subject matter experts to accomplish this.
  5. Create a curriculum (map out all of the training).
  6. Write a POG for each course in that curriculum. Please note that the terminology can be highly variable.. I’ve seen many instances where Goals were defined as more general than Objectives. Still others use them interchangeably or use completely different terminology. It doesn’t matter. The important things are that you use the terminology consistently, in a manner that your students understand, and that these three words combine to define the scope of the course.

Purpose (a.k.a. Aim): These statements should be formulated with phrases similar to these: “to provide an overview of…”, “to provide the framework for…”, “an in-depth discussion of…”, “to advance the knowledge from Course 101”, “to apply knowledge to field examples in…”.

While Control Charts have a solid history of use in manufacturing, they are excellent tools for use in monitoring and controlling transactional processes as well. This course demonstrates the construction and use of control charts, providing both scenarios and corresponding example control charts.

(Learning) Objectives: These are essentially from Bloom’s categories (Cognitive domain) and more specific than the purpose of the course. There are usually a few objectives.

1. Explain the purpose and proper use of control charts.
2. Introduce the six basic types of control charts.
3. Provide examples of how control charts can help stop trends and identify potential problems in the processes.

Goals (a.k.a. Learning outcomes): SMART goals directly related to the objectives.

It is important that you leave this course knowing:
1. Which type of control chart is best suited to different situations.
2. How to construct and use a control chart.
3. How control charts fit into larger quality initiatives.

These examples are taken from the SPC 101 course at BeeLearn.com. They are not perfect. Yours probably won’t be, either. But, they are “good enough” to define the scope of the course, set expectations, and to build content around.

The Summary page of every course should tie back to the POG. The course exams and activities should be built in support of the POG. The content should be built to the POG. If you do this, you’ll have created a course that serves a purpose; to make your business stronger by providing training that is aligned with and effective at meeting your goals and objectives.

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