Tag: elearning design

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Dream eLearning: No Constraints

Listen with webreader

Earlier this week I received an inquiry about eLearning design.  This gentleman said he was interested in how I would convert his paper-based training to online training, without the constraints of any particular application.  Hmmm…. 

I thought about hanging up on this obvious crank caller.  “Everything is constrained”, I thought!  Then I remembered a video that hit the training circuit many years ago.  It documented the process used by Ideo in the design of a new style of shopping cart for stores such as Whole Foods.  Constraints were not part of that process; quite the opposite.  (Like just about everyone else who has watched that video, I think this would be the coolest place in the world to work). 

So…what would be my no-holds-barred, dream design for eLearning?  If I were approached by someone who asked me what I wanted, I would say: 

  • Interaction in meaningful ways.  I like to write, but not everyone does.  I like to joke around and get to know people, but some people can do that only in person.  I’d like to be able to communicate with them in some way that worked for all of us, even if we were continents apart. 
  • Memorable lessons.  I learn best by experience and when the topic is of interest to me.  I can remember a first-grade lesson in how to use serial commas.  The exercise used Santa’s reindeer.  What child could forget that?  Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen…  If the exercise had been about fruit – apples, pears, and bananas – I would not have been nearly as interested in getting it right. 
  • Field trips.  I like to go places and see things.  I like to put learning into context.  In grade school, we took a trip to Sturbridge Village to learn about silversmithing (among other things). There is nothing quite as convincing as seeing a silver spoon come out of a mold with only a drop of silver going in.  That lesson was so much more effective than a formula depicting the yield of pure silver. 
  • Variety.  Another lesson I remember is from ninth-grade science class.  We went outside during the afternoon – when the schoolyard was empty – to measure relative humidity.  We could have performed an experiment inside, but we did that all the time.  The mere act of walking through the quiet hallways and out those forbidden doors made the experiment memorable. 
  • Blood flow.  I know that most learning takes place between the synapses.  But my brain doesn’t fire very well if my feet and butt are still.  I like to get up, walk around, ponder, dream…

How can eLearning do all these things?

Well, it can’t completely.  At least not with old paradigms.  But it can do all those things in a new way… 

  • Every course should have multiple methods of sharing, so that every student has a chance to communicate in his own way. Include forums, chats, and if you’re using Moodle, the blocks for “online users” and “participants”; enable messaging.
  • Lessons should use examples that are meaningful to the audience.  A colleague of mine mentored young girls who saw little value in learning about math. Their interest was piqued, however, when they realized that math would enable them to get the most from their shopping dollars.  Which was a better deal: A sale offering one third off the price of one pair or a 2-for-1 special?
  • Field trips can be virtual or not.  I try to build my Moodle courses with “field trips for the mind” by including links to relevant external sites.  Whenever possible, build in actual field trips.  For a class in biology, create an assignment that takes students to a nearby lake or river, have them gather plants, take pictures or videos, and post them as their assignments along with whatever written information you’d like them to include.
  • Mix it up with videos, games, flash, and reading materials.  Add a Prezi or two. Pop in some fun quizzes or puzzles along the way.  Engage a guest speaker (live or on-demand) for some of the lessons.
  • Break up the lessons into smaller chunks so that students can get up without leaving in the middle of a topic.  At the end of each section, have a note pop up that says “time to take a break”.  This is a good place to work in your field trips (the actual kind). 

Once you’ve designed these elements into your training, find the software and experts to create them.  Don’t start with software and force your design to its abilities.  For authoring tools and ideas for using various features in your eLearning courses, check out these earlier posts: 

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Five Things to Consider for Web Accessible eLearning

Listen with webreader

In my post, Looking Ahead at Web Accessibility, I touched on the reasons why eLearning should be designed with accessibility in mind.  I’m not going to preach why we should do it.  I’m going to assume we’re all going to do it and get right to the how to go about it stuff.  (If you’re still not convinced, check out this blog by CourseAvenue.)

I’m also going to assume that everyone, regardless of disability, deserves and expects the experience of GREAT eLearning.  So, let’s start* with the Five Basic Things to consider when designing for web accessibility:

Will this add value to the students’ learning experience? Without it, many students will receive no value, so yes; web accessibility adds value for those who would otherwise not be able to take the eLearning course.  But the best part is the serendipitous nature of building for accessibility: it will likely add value for everyone.

The thought process of how each word, image, or feature you create will be taken in by this broader audience will enhance your understanding and connection with all of your students.  Many of the practices — such as careful outlining and more descriptive alternate text — will add to the experiences of all.

Do I have the skill? I think skill is less important than awareness and consideration.  Educate yourself on the issues.  Review examples of how a simple change can make a huge difference to someone with a disability.  The most comprehensive site on the subject that I have found is WebAim.org. If you feel that you still need to understand it better, they offer training in accessibility for both designers and administrators.

What are the options? The options range from free to costly, from software to hardware, and from designed-in to user-controlled.  For instance, ReadSpeaker is a plug-in for applications such as WordPress; the user has only to click “listen” to launch it.  JAWS is user-installed software that enables key stroke commands and Braille outputs. Other applications, such as captioning, require the designer to add that feature at the creation stage. 

I will be reviewing these options — and many more — in upcoming posts on specific features.  The first will be on web accessibility as it applies to text and images. 

How much functionality do you need from this tool? If this were a game show and you were asked to name the disabilities that could restrict access to web content, you’d probably shout out “visual impairment” without any thought.  But did you realize that color blindness is also a visual impairment?  What would your second answer be?  Many people think that because the web is written, deafness isn’t a problem.  In my previous post, I mentioned that many people are including voice that explains their content; without it, the content is meaningless.  WebAim.org gathers data on how many informational sites bury their content in videos.  Don’t make the same mistake with your eLearning. 

The answer to how much functionality is needed:  You should consider whether your eLearning audience will include those who have any form of vision impairment, have difficulty hearing, have limited motor skills, as well as the possibility of cognitive disabilities or the chance of seizures triggered by your cool fireworks flash.  Designing with these disabilities in mind will improve the quality of your content for everyone; even those of us without clinically diagnosed memory disorders appreciate intuitive content and navigation.

Will this tool work within my LMS?  Your LMS itself should be web accessible, so your concern is with making your content web accessible. An organized, well-designed layout will work anywhere.  Plugins, such as ReadSpeaker, will work in specified applications only.  Still others will have nothing to do with your LMS because the applications will be on the user-end (you’ll still have to design your content so it works with those applications.)

*Stay tuned for the next posts in this series on how web accessibility applies to the Features of GREAT eLearning:

  1. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Text and Images
  2. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Forms and Navigation
  3. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Links and Documents
  4. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Audio, Video, Flash, and Games
Share

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Beyond the Course Outline: Making Your Courses Invaluable

Listen with webreader

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.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Getting to the moon in manageable phases: Using an MGPP for eLearning development.

Listen with webreader

Yes!  You want the greatest eLearning courses ever!  Every feature for every type of learner!  Your clients come first and you want them to be happy! You will launch this fantastic site in three months, maybe six.  But soon.           

OK, come down to Earth            

Realistically, can you afford all that?  Do you know enough about eLearning to work with someone to create the greatest design ever? Do you know enough about your elearning clients’ needs to build something they will think is the greatest ever?  Can you really eat that elephant all at once?            

Probably not.            

Does that mean you should hang it up and forget the idea altogether?           

Of course not!            

One step at a time, with the moon in mind        

Click for PDF

Here’s a handy tool that new product developers use to help them manage successful launches.  It’s the same technique used by NASA to get to the moon and back “by the end of the decade”.   It is called a multi-generation product (or process) plan.   

It will help you to stay focused and within scope.  It allows you to have a lofty goal while still accomplishing important milestones along the way.          

There are many fables emphasizing the wisdom of this approach, but the proverbial phrase haste makes waste says it all.            
    

Creating and using an MGPP           

  1. List all of the areas in which you’ll have to make choices for your project.  This example is for elearning; if it were for building a house the list might include Usage (year round, vacation), Location, Size (if you plan for additions, the final product will look better), outbuildings, landscaping, recreational features.   
  2. For each item above, write down your ultimate dream (to the far right) and the minimum you can do soon to make it worthwhile (to the far left).  You may know only one end of each spectrum; for instance, you may have no idea what technology will be the “ultimate” 10 years from now.   
  3. Critically review your soon and ultimate ideas in each category.  What milestones, upgrades, and external factors would be needed to go from soon to ultimate?  Examples: number of students on your site, annual revenue, number of employees, 10 GB speed on mobile phones, you become a Moodle master…If you try to reach the ultimate now, it will likely take you so long that by the time you achieve it, it won’t be the ultimate any longer. 
  4. Take a good guess at how many of those steps you’ll need; these become the generations.  For NASA, the three generations were Mercury (unmanned space flight), Gemini (manned space flight), and Apollo (manned flight with a layover on the moon).  The greater the difference between what you can accomplish soon and the ultimate goal, the greater the number of generations you’ll have or the bigger the leap from one generation to another.  Warning:  big leaps carry bigger risks.
  5. Fill in what you can in the matrix.  Stick to it for at least one generation at a time.  If you find that it just isn’t working, reevaluate it.  Don’t try to force it, but don’t abandon it, either.  Remember, it’s a guidance document; as the world changes, so will your MGPP. 

The format of the MGPP can be anything you want it to be; anything that works for you. It really does work!

Share

Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

What eLearning is NOT

Listen with webreader

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.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

  • LinkedIn LinkedIn Facebook LinkedIn newsletters
  • Archived Posts
  • Archived Newsletters
  • Sign up for Albany Analytical Newsletters
    * = required field
    I would like to receive the following newsletters:


  • Test

    Testing Sidebar 2

© 2010, All rights reserved, Albany Analytical, Inc.

Blossom Theme by RoseCityGardens.com

/***Google Analytics Code ***/ /***End of Google Analytics Code ***/