Tag: Instructional Design

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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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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Monday, June 7th, 2010

As it turns out, you can have too many tarps.

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Last month, my husband and I took our two (very large) dogs camping.  Not just camping, but tent camping on the beach in the Florida Keys.  I had no idea what to expect (other than the obvious mosquitoes, no-see-ums, sand, intense humidity, and blistering heat).  I carefully planned for months what to take.  Living in a hurricane zone, we have plenty of emergency supplies that would be good for camping – such as tarps.  At the last minute, I tossed a pile of tarps in the car, saying “you can’t have too many tarps”.

When we broke camp, it was pouring rain.  It was one of those Florida spring rains that are accompanied by gusting wind and lightning.  Needless to say, we didn’t pack the car as tightly as we did at the beginning of our journey, so things weren’t fitting as nicely as they had.  Plus, they were wet and covered with sand.  As it turns out, a pile of tarps takes up a lot of space!

Even though one tarp is highly valuable if you need emergency shelter from rain, several tarps have diminishing returns.  At some point, they become a liability rather than an asset.

As always, I see analogies between life and learning and on the long (rainy) ride home, I got to thinking about how information is like a tarp.  And how too much stuff – in training – can become a liability, just like too many tarps.  Just like with camping, too much stuff can detract from the experience.  So this brings us full circle (at least the way my mind works) to earlier posts:

  • Who is our audience and what do they want out of this experience?  The camping audience was two people and two dogs.  What we wanted was to relax and spend time together.  We did get plenty of the latter… In an eLearning course, the audience most likely wants to learn something.  They don’t want to be subjected to overload.  One tarp is good; five is too many.
  • Why are we doing this?  What do we want to get out of it?  If we’re planning a camping trip or an eLearning curriculum, our goals are similar:  we want the campers – or the students – to have a positive experience worth remembering.
  • What can we reasonably accomplish without undo risk or hardship?  What are our constraints?  Is it possible to have a really fun camping trip with just one tarp as a back-up?  Yes.  Is it possible to deliver a really great eLearning course without including every imaginable detail, idea, point of view, or feature?  Yes.

If you need help in deciding how many tarps to bring or how to design your eLearning so that it is a good balance of features and content for your situation, hire a course designer.  It will be worth it when you’re standing in the rain, wondering how you’re going to fit it all in.

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