Tag: Instructional Design

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Oh, No! Not Another Slide Presentation!

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When I was a child, slides were what your father used to bore the socks off family and visitors alike.  They were tiny little transparencies of the family vacation, which he presented with a slide projector (a carousel that held the little devils and frequently jammed), using a sheet hung on the wall as a screen.  He topped off the experience with an equally boring narrative of each not-so-captivating picture.

No, you’re not reading into things.  I chose my words carefully in the preceding paragraph and if you’re clever enough, you’ll get my hidden meaning.  Whether you do or not, I am begging you:

Stop thinking of training design in terms of slides!

Surely, at least some readers still remember “chalkboards” and “blackboards”.  How about “whiteboards” and “flip charts”?  In my youth, slides had nothing to do with teaching; Freelance and PowerPoint were not even ideas in someone’s brilliant mind at that time.  In my professional training career, I have used them as props, not the centerpiece of my courses.  I never, ever read the bullet points from a slide to my class.  I always paraphrased, adding my stories, my examples, my own words.  I moved around the room, I made funny faces, I waved my hands and stomped my feet.  I used other props, including toy airplanes and Styrofoam packing peanuts.

The idea of the unlimited potential of eLearning being reduced to online slides, with a one-sided narrative makes me very sad.  This was a boring and ineffective way to teach in person; it is even more so electronically.

I know it’s easy.  I know it’s rapid.  But easy and rapid are rarely used to describe something that is also great.

It seems I’m not alone in this thinking:

What?  You can’t afford to choreograph and video a dance troupe?  Even if you could, it wouldn’t be the best way to teach your subject?  That’s fine, but please don’t go running back to the slide presentation!

Now, I don’t mean to be disparaging of PowerPoint.  It’s a great program.  I’ve seen some fantastically animated presentations that I could barely tell were made with PowerPoint. Unfortunately, most of us are not terribly creative or even all that good with a computer. PowerPoint provides a “blank slate” which is great for people who know what to do with a blank sheet of paper.  For everyone else, it gives the false illusion that they’ve done something “professional”.  (Seriously, I saw that claim in a recent training course!) I have a copy of Photoshop but that does not make me a graphic designer.  Trust me, it doesn’t.

Please think in 3-D!

None of the authoring tools for eLearning content – or for business presentations, family vacation videos, or any other content you might want to share – can turn you into George Lucas.  But, they can make your presentation of any content more interesting, more compelling, and less “flat”.

Take this Prezi on Moodle by Tomaz Lasic, for instance:

Take advantage of all the options. Don’t pigeon-hole your content.

Prezi, like PowerPoint and Photoshop, is a great tool but it doesn’t magically turn a person into a creative genius.  What it does do is to provide a different blank slate, a new “dimension”, and a limitless screen similar to the physical classrooms of my youth. No matter what subject you teach, who your students are, or how “non-creative” you might feel, there are so many more options than slides sized to print on letter-paper. Prezi is just one option.  Dancing graduate students are another.  If you provide your instructional designer with good content and say “Go make this GREAT“, she’ll be able to do a lot more than if you say “Convert this to SCORM”. If you can’t afford an instructional designer, you can probably afford a starving art-school student.  Or, perhaps a starving music-school student can sing some of your audio.  Don’t just think outside the box.

Think outside the slide!

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Friday, June 17th, 2011

Dream eLearning: No Constraints

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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: 

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Friday, March 25th, 2011

Web Accessibility Issues and Options for eLearning Text and Images

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image of a laptop with a megaphone speakerIn response to my post on why web accessibility for elearning is important and how even small businesses can achieve it, I received an email from ReadSpeaker, informing me of their free WordPress plugin.  They tell me they’re working on a plugin for Moodle.  If it works as well as the WordPress version, I can’t wait!

This post addresses how to make text and images accessible to the vision impaired by use of a screen reader such as ReadSpeaker.  Since I’m going to talk about web accessibility as it applies to elearning content only – not any particular LMS – what I learned with the WordPress installation will also apply to Moodle and other LMS content. Obviously, other eLearning elements (such as forms, games, and flash) will be more or less accessible than text and images, depending upon the specific disability. These will be covered in future posts (as I have a chance to check out the options.)

ReadSpeaker was the only screen reader I tested and I tested only their free version.  It took me about five minutes to install on my other blog, Bee-Learn.com.  I was both pleased and surprised at what I found.

What I found with ReadSpeaker, which gives me a really good idea of how my content would be read by any screen reader:

How it treats text

  • In a post on the Lean 5S, the speaker read “fives”; it never occurred to me that it could be interpreted as a plural term.  I will make a point of putting a space in terms like that so that they will be read as “five ess”, which is how it is intended.
  • Slashes are read, which is ok because we would often say it.
  • It pauses at commas, periods, and line breaks.
  • Ellipses are not read, but do result in a pause.  I suppose that’s good because I wouldn’t want it to read “dot dot dot”, but a little meaning is lost… I am not sure how to compensate for this but at least I’m aware of it now.
  • “Cool” is read Coool. Cool!
  • mmmm… is read as Em Em Em Em Not good, but ReadSpeaker has a process for submitting mispronounced words.  Although eLearning is typically more formal than emails, blogs, and text messages, I can see enormous value in adding colloquialisms and acronyms to the screen reader’s vocabulary.
  • I know that acronyms and sounds can be added to the vocabulary because it correctly reads WYSIWYG.  That’s awesome!
  • The title of the page was never spoken.  Presumably this is because it is a different element of the page, although to a sighted person, it appears as part of the same page (by design).

How it treats images

  • The title of the image is read by the screen reader.  This is the stuff that pops up when you run your mouse over the image.  (Note: In WordPress this is typically the name/title of the image file; in Moodle it is the alternate text.  Most articles on this refer to the alternate text.  Test it out on your site, just to make sure you’ve got your description in the right place to be read.)  Because the screen reader can detect it, you can improve the experience for the vision impaired by creating alternate text that is descriptive of the photo.  For example:
    • In this post on the new Moodle navigation button, I originally had titled the image “beelearncoursehome”.  I changed it to “This image represents the original home navigation button on BeeLearn.com, from 2006”, which is read by ReadSpeaker.
    • In this post on Lean 5 S, I changed the title of the image of the desk to read “shown here is an antique roll top desk, piled high with a number of unrelated items.  There are flooring samples, shorts, shirts, books, baskets… It is a mess!”
  • Image captions are also read, so make sure they say something useful – and different – than the alternate text. In the above desk example, the title is read, then the caption; this is a huge improvement over my original version which had titled the image “desk5s”.
  • Since the screen reader doesn’t distinguish image alternate text from the rest of the text, I will make it a point to begin each title with something like “this photo shows…”

Writing carefully and appropriately describing images are things we should all do anyway.  They are also not the only things we can do to make our content richer for the vision impaired.  The good news is that for the most part, good instructional design principles are also good web accessibility design principles. Some advice to improve your content for everyone:

Avoid:

  • Content embedded in images, such as those produced by saving a PowerPoint file as jpegs and simply uploading them.  The individual elements (text, for instance) are not linkable and difficult to edit.  As far as a screen reader is concerned, an image is an image; there is no text on it.
  • Content residing in desktop applications (non-HTML) such as PowerPoint, Word, or PDF.  These documents have many drawbacks as online content ; they also have their own set of accessibility issues.  This will be covered in much more detail in a future post.
  • Long, scrolling pages of nothing but text.  This makes it difficult to follow, even for the most focused student without disabilities.
  • Low content to background junk ratio.  I’ve recently seen some examples of courses written in various LMS, where less than 25% of the screen was dedicated to learning content.  The rest was for navigation, warnings, frames, and even ads!  This sends a message to everyone that your content takes a backseat and it can make it difficult for a disabled student to focus on the real content.
  • Overriding CSS formatting.  Read this post on how theme and content are two separate elements.  Then read this Moodle tip on how simple copy/paste from a web page or a file can mess up your HTML formatting and override your CSS formats.

Do:

  • Build each course with all learning styles and disabilities in mind.  Even a person without a hearing disability may prefer to read about a concept than to listen to you talk about it.
  • Lay out each course and each page with those outlining skills you learned in school.  Headings make your content more sensible for everyone.  (Note: I always add a page title to the top of each Moodle page.  Moodle 2.0 will have this as an option, eliminating the need to retype the page name.)
  • Go ahead and use pictures, graphs, and even cartoons.  Keep your content rich.  Sure, there will be some elements that someone won’t be able to access.  But if you provide that content in more than one format, you’ll reach everyone.  For instance, use the alternate text option in photos to describe the photo, rather than just giving it a name.
  • Go ahead and use color.  But don’t rely on color to get your point across.  Color is highly effective for those who can see it; it is worthless for those who can’t.  Use color and at least one other distinguishing characteristic.

For more detail on designing for web accessibility, view this page at WebAIM.org.  On their site you will also find updated information on screen readers, research on web accessibility, discussions of various disabilities and how they are affected by technology.

Another great resource I found is this page from the University of Wisconsin.

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Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Five Things to Consider for Web Accessible eLearning

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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
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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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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 9th, 2010

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

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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!

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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Moodle Assignments – Which one should I use?

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There are four assignment types that come with a standard Moodle installation.  They appear very much the same to the student, but they have very different applications, especially for business training.  Knowing which one to use for your needs is important before you begin building your content, because assignment types can not be switched with the click of a mouse.  Each is its own entity; if you want to change type, you’ll have to completely redo the activity

The four types are:

  • Online Text
  • Offline assignment
  • Upload a single file
  • Advanced uploading of files

In order to determine which assignment type you want to use, you must first ask yourself what you want to achieve with this activity and how much of yourself you want to give to it.  It wouldn’t hurt to start with Purpose-Objectives-Goals for the course; this will help you determine your objective for each activity.

Online Text

This is great for short answers when you don’t care to save a copy of the file on your local drive.  It allows the student to enter an answer, using just about any type of computer (because the text is typed directly into the browser, not using any type of software like Word®).  As the instructor, you can grade and comment on this text, or you can simply use it to gather comments and ideas from your students.

Offline Assignment

I use this type frequently for my business courses.  Although grading is still an option with this assignment type, the uploading of files is not.  My rationale for using the Offline type in asynchronous, non-coached courses is that when a student does upload a file, he expects someone to read it!  If the instructor wants only to tell the student “this is an exercise to reinforce your understanding”, grading isn’t necessary.  Unless you (the instructor) are prepared to review and comment on submissions, I would stick with this type. 

One suggestion is to use the offline assignment type for your basic level courses; consider using the next two for your “premium” courses where fees include some personal coaching from you.

Upload a Single File

This assignment type performs up to its name.  Students submit their assignments as one file, in any format requested by the instructor.  When that file is submitted, it may be graded.  There is an option to allow the student to resubmit an assignment, which I think could get tricky if it happened all the time.  Use this assignment type if you plan to read, review, and comment on your students’ work. 

Advanced uploading of files

This is similar to the previous assignment type, but with some important functional additions:

  • Students may upload as many files as you allow in the settings (from 1 to 20)
  • They may delete uploaded files and add more (up to the limit)
  • These files are not submitted for grading when they are uploaded; an additional step for the student is to “submit for marking”
  • Notes may be added by the student, which are similar in feel to the Online Text assignment

This assignment type is perfect for project work, where there may be many files, of several types, completed over a period of time.  This assignment type allows the student to upload each file as it is ready, and send it to the instructor for grading when all are complete.  The ability to add notes only enhances the activity.

There are other assignment types in the Moodle contributed code.  Some look very promising, especially the ones for team (group) submissions.  I plan to play around with them this winter; I’ll let you know what I find out!

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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Form or Function: What do people really want in eLearning?

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I’ve long envied those women (mostly fictional) who float effortlessly amongst their dinner guests, all of whom are sipping drinks, laughing, and having the perfect time.  Perhaps it’s just the way these things are displayed on TV and in food magazines, but it seems as though the mix of guests, the quality of the food and the comfort of the seating matter more than the exact shade of the flowers or whether the tea cups match. 

Could it be that what makes a good party also makes a good learning experience? 

As I look back on the best class I ever took, and several others that I really enjoyed (despite being in subjects such as thermodynamics), I can see several analogies between the perfect class and the perfect dinner party: 

  • The host (teacher) really likes her guests (students)
  • The host really likes giving dinner parties (teaching)
  • She trusts her guests to choose their own seating and food (view the content in a manner the student finds conducive to learning)
  • She trusts her guests not to break or steal anything (make the course interesting and students will be more likely to do their assignments than cheat)
  • She cares more about the food (function) than the flower arrangements (form)
  • Her # 1 priority is making sure her guests have a good time (learn something); nice place settings (lots of whiz-bang stuff) is nice if it doesn’t get in the way of having a good time. 

When you’re designing your e-Learning – whether it’s for adults in business training or kids in school – ask yourself what type of host (teacher) you’d rather be.  Do you want to be Ina Garten or the one who serves the salmon mousse?

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