Tag: online learning

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

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

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

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

My picks for best small business advice:

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

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Thursday, 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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Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Using Moodle for Business

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Recently, I recommended that smaller businesses forget the custom coding to integrate all their web needs and stick to one site for eLearning, one (or more) site for marketing, and use an existing online merchant (or a simple shopping cart application).  So, what functionality should they be looking for in the eLearning (LMS) application?  

I wrote an entire section in my eBook, explaining why I chose Moodle over other applications even though Moodle wasn’t (and still isn’t) built specifically for businesses.  It doesn’t have some of the features that businesses need.  And it has many that we don’t need.  But it’s so good at the learning (the L in LMS) part, it has been worth it to us to figure out ways to use it for business. 

What does a smaller business need from an LMS?

  • Payment methods.  If we can’t collect money, we can’t keep doing it.  Moodle is great for one course at a time for one stated price. It can’t handle multiple course purchases, discounts coupons, or group pricing.  Moodle Solution:  Use Meta Courses, which will solve some of the problem.  CourseMerchant is a third party application built for Moodle that should solve the rest of it. 
  •  Enrollments.  Most businesses want this to be automatic.  The only way to do this automatically in Moodle is to have the student pay for the course or enter an enrollment key. In an academic environment, students don’t generally take courses they don’t get credit for.  In business applications, it is likely that some will want to review the material just to learn (or steal) it.  Moodle Solution:  You’ll probably need something like Course Merchant as well as another database enrollment method.  I have done it manually with bulk uploads which was not automatic but not too tedious.
  • Privacy/Confidentiality.  I have to laugh at the Moodle 2.0 feature that posts the highest grades of a quiz in course, with or without names.  Can you imagine doing that in a business training course?  Can you spell lawsuit?  Not only are grades rarely published (never with names), often the course titles are kept private.  The Business Uses forums are filled with questions like “How do I keep one client from seeing the course titles of another client on the same site?”  Moodle Solution: Use Groups and Permissions.
  • Branding.  Most businesses have spent some money and thought on corporate branding, marketing, and message.  It is important that the eLearning courses support this branding.  Another common question is “How do I brand the courses for each client?”  Moodle Solution: Course themes are an inexpensive and easy way to “custom brand” each course.
  • Audience.  There are obvious differences between academic students and adults taking business training.  I’m not sure which one is more tolerant of bad content, but I am sure that the business student is less likely to take a course if it’s difficult to access or navigate.  Just because of age, people taking business courses might be less internet savvy than college-age kids; this is becoming less and less of a concern.   Moodle Solution: Moodle is as easy to access and navigate as any website I’ve used.
  • Validation of knowledge and attendance.  In my experience, certificates and some form of credit are far more important to business clients than academic students.  Perhaps in academia, this is taken for granted.   Moodle Solution: Use Certificates linked to course grades and attendance.  
  • Interaction with others.  In a business application, this is called ‘networking” and is more focused on the application of the content in one’s job than on “social networking”.  Moodle Solution: Use Forums, Wikis, and Glossaries focused on project or job applications of the content. 
  • Content.  Content has to be good, accurate, useful, timely, and interesting regardless of the purpose of the training.  It should always have great contentMoodle Solution: Creating content in Moodle requires knowledge of the topic, good instructional design, and some computer skills.  This is true, no matter what authoring tool you use.  A very small business or entrepreneur should probably hire someone to help with this. 

I hope to see you in the Moodle for Business Uses forums soon!

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Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Greening your business with eLearning

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Green Your Business with eLearningOne of my lifelong passions has been the sustainability of the planet.  Yes, LIFELONG, and I was born in 1959!  My parents subscribed to the Rodale Press publication Organic Gardening when I was a toddler.  We read food labels in the 1960s, we grew most of our own food (vegetable and animal); none of it had systemic pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, or artificial coloring.  (The one exception to this was the small jar of Maraschino cherries my mother let me hide at the back of a shelf in the pantry.  So far, I have no apparent side effects from the Red Dye #40.)  There was quite a long period of time where the dirtiest four-letter word I knew was S-A-L-T.

Luckily, I grew up in a very small and rural town, where everyone was odd and there was no “normal” to be compared against.  Sure, we may have been the only family around that didn’t eat Hamburger Helper or Cool Whip, but there weren’t enough of those who did to poke fun of us.  We intentionally composted our kitchen scraps, but I imagine a lot of folks threw their garbage out in the back field for the sake of convenience.  Maybe they knew way back then that landfills would become a problem…

I’ve walked the fine line between re-using and hoarding my whole life.  My mother and I still do battle over just how many cardboard boxes she should keep on hand.  She can’t stand to throw out perfectly good cardboard!  (She doesn’t actually throw it away; she burns it in the furnace that heats her house each winter).  About two years ago, we had an epiphany about our 50 years of reduce-reuse-recycle behavior:  We’re almost  mainstream! In fact, we’re cutting edge “cool”.  (Thanks to another Rodale Press publication, An Inconvenient Truth.)  We already have reusable grocery bags (for about 20 years now), we already turn off the lights (obsessively), we could go for days and weeks without driving, and we delight in catching rain water to save for a drier day.

The one thing I have done for the environment that Mom hasn’t had a chance to do is what I get more and more excited about each day: e-Learning.  In 2005 I began promoting it as “Green Learning”.  I was met with vacuous stares from my friends and colleagues.  In 2007 I created this super cool eWheel; it represents the footprint (mostly carbon) savings of eLearning over the corporate training I did for 20 years.  Now, I’m developing a website dedicated to this very topic.  It will show how I derived the values, what I learned in the process, and things that you might want to consider when implementing “green” training and travel policies for your businesses.

eLearning is not a way to reduce personal interaction or teach on the cheap.  It’s about making the world a better, cleaner, and more knowledgeable place for everyone to live.  Come on, jump on the bandwagon with me!

Earth Day 2011 update: My site dedicated to Green Training is LeaveALegacyNotAFootprint is up and running, if not totally complete.  Currently, there are several WordPress plugins dedicated to sustainable living and business practices, links to sites that will help you with your own business, and steps for calculating your own footprint.  Check it out!

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Moodle 2.0: Is it good for business?

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I’ve had the chance to evaluate the “new Moodle” for about two weeks now. I don’t know what I was expecting, but as is so often the case with new stuff (like CDs and Windows®), I’m not sure I like it. My emotional side usually lets my analytical side take over in times like these, so over the next few days I’ll be posting my analysis of each of the new (or changed) Moodle features, as they apply to business uses.

Each feature will be evaluated on how well it:

  • Solves a Moodle for business problem, as defined by various posts, questions, and my own experience.
  • Focuses on the needs of students in a business training curriculum, (which are very different than those of students in an academic institution).
  • Improves the ease with which a small to medium business can create or edit content and administer the site (enrollments, payments, registrations, roles) without a dedicated IT department or Moodle expert.

I also plan to assess what functionality is missing; modules and plug-ins that will not be upgraded, core features that are no longer available, and changes of core features that affect the functionality. I am holding my breath in hopes that those wonderful people who contribute the code for these awesome add-ons have the time and energy to upgrade them for 2.0. Some, I just can’t live without!

Stay tuned and please send me your thoughts, impressions, and questions on Moodle 2.0 for business uses.

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Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Protecting your eLearning content – Is this something to worry about?

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I get a lot of questions about how to keep eLearning content safe from being copied, stolen, and/or plagiarized. My response is always “the only way to stop people from using your ideas is to keep them to yourself“. Both copyright and patent laws protect the owners of ideas, concepts, and designs from being copied outright in their original format. But you can’t stop someone from taking your ideas and making them better or combining them with the ideas of others for yet another way to look at things. Having others build on your ideas (and even copy some of them) is a true measure of how good your ideas really are.

Let’s be honest, how many of us have created some new process, program, or graphical layout that is totally from scratch? I haven’t. Everything I have ever taught, written, and/or created is a compilation of what I read in text books, what my teachers taught me, and what I’ve seen and otherwise experienced. What makes my training, coaching, and consulting valuable is ME. My training content is really an example of my skill as a teacher and subject matter expert. Yours should be, too.

Ask yourself:

  • Can anyone else do a better job teaching my content than I can?
  • Have I been able to capture everything I know on paper? Is that all there is to it?
  • Of all the text books, magazine articles, online copy, examples, etc., that I’ve ever written, read, or taught, how much of it was “stolen”? Isn’t it true that almost everything is built upon something else?

Throughout my 25 year consulting career, I watched in amazement as my training material – and that of my mentors and colleagues – showed up in the “work of others”, sometimes as part of very large training programs. Plagiarism is one thing; it’s illegal and unethical, but it’s hard to stop. When I was less wise than I am today, I was enraged by this. Then I realized that even though my chart might be in someone else’s course content, I was still the one getting the rave teacher reviews. “They were coming to see ME”.

The only thing you can do is to stay ahead of those who would steal your content to sell it as their own. While they’re peddling last month’s idea, you’re launching this month’s better idea. And you’re doing it better because you’re the one who can teach it best.

If you’re concerned about one person printing off your eLearning content and giving it to everyone else – thus cutting into your revenues, this can be easily prevented by making your online version worth spending the money on and harder than blazes to copy. Make people want the original recording…not a scratchy copy with background noise (metaphorically speaking). (Click here to read my previous post on what makes eLearning GREAT).

If you have the best jelly recipe on the planet, give away peanut butter to entice people to buy the jelly. Even better, give away the jelly recipe to prove that the real secret is the way it’s made! If you are a wonderful teacher with an effective way of teaching, let everyone know how good you are; let them know this content is yours and that if they want to learn more, they’ll have to come to YOU. Let others try to copy it! Michael Port gives away a book chapter to show people how good the book is. Williams-Sonoma gives away recipes (both in stores and online) to show how much they know about cooking (and to get you to buy the equipment). In The Martha Rules, Ms. Stewart tells readers to “Profit by giving information away”. These people are onto something…

If you want to teach something or you want to sell your ideas, you have to be willing to accept that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. [Charles Caleb Colton] However, no one is as good as the original – YOU. Spend your time, energy, and money making your content great and leave the worrying about theft to diamond dealers and fine art museums.

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Monday, April 5th, 2010

How a consultant-trainer can use eLearning to increase revenue, reach more clients, and free up time (what you do with that time is up to you!)

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It was a good model and it worked for decades:

  1. Get your foot in the door with a single training workshop.
  2. Do a really good job developing and delivering that workshop.
  3. Get rave reviews from your students, who tell their superiors you’d be the perfect contractor for the upcoming project.
  4. Exceed those expectations with excellent coaching, consulting, and additional workshops.
  5. Receive high praise, good money, and a nice testimonial.
  6. Take some time off to catch up with the family and make up for the last several months when you were home only on the weekends.
  7. Do it all over again.

Then came The Recession…or, maybe you woke up one day and said “I don’t want to travel today!”  Maybe you can’t remember which class you told your famous Ted Williams anecdote or what city you’re in.  Or, maybe you feel like your clients could benefit from a different model, costing them less without sacrificing the benefit of your expertise.  Perhaps you’d just like a little more time to pursue other things…

The new, leaner model:

  1. Get your foot in the door (which, these days, requires steel-toed shoes)
  2. Save your client money and lost productivity (yours and theirs) by offering the fundamentals – or basics of what you teach – online.  Make that online training full of audio recordings (you, telling stories and giving examples, like you always did), videos (of you or better yet, others whom you could never have had in a face to face workshop), charts, tables, graphics, schematics, and cartoons (just like the ones you drew on the white board or showed on the overhead projector), assignments (to be handed in for you to review), group activities (online meetings, chats, using collaborative technology), downloadable templates, and an electronic (not printed)  manual.  Make it an online version of those great workshops you’ve always delivered!
  3. Schedule “office hours” with your students; set times each day, week, or month to chat online or have a web meeting.  This can be as big or as small, as structured or as loose, as you want it to be.  And you can do it from home.
  4. Travel to the client location already knowing something about the people, the business, the things they want to work on…Coach and consult like you always have.
  5. While you’re coaching and consulting with this client, another client is taking the online training…you just doubled the number of clients without diluting your attention to either of them.  And, you had time to attend your kid’s Little League game on a Wednesday night!

I did it the “old fashioned way” for 20 years. I never thought it work online because I made the training!  But, I proved myself wrong.  It is possible to capture the stories, the humor, the personal dynamics – all those things that make great training – in an online format.  I did it and was amazed at how much more time I could dedicate to coaching and follow-up.  Not to mention the reduction in travel time, nights spent in hotels, and bad road food.

Contact me to take advantage of our $1000 start up offer, which includes everything you need to get your book or training workshop into eLearning format.

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Thursday, March 25th, 2010

eLearning Tests and Surveys – What Tools Do You Need?

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Sometimes, you just get lucky.  I could not figure out how to write this post in fewer than 5000 words, many of which would be red, bold, and in uppercase letters.  Then I came across this post by Connie Malamed at  The eLearning Coach.  So, now I don’t have to write about how to write a good question!  Everyone should heed her advice before even considering what tool to build the questions in.  All the beautiful technology in the world won’t matter if the questions suck.  And, unlike an ugly graphic or a boring video, a bad test question can harm the learner.  A poor test that is used to judge an employee’s job-worthiness is never going to be a good thing.

So, I’ll assume you have some great assessment questions – for quizzes, tests, and surveys – that are reliable and valid and that you want to use them in your elearning courses.  Let’s look at them in terms of the Five Basic Things to consider about authoring tools:

Will assessments add value to my training design? Yes. Every eLearning course needs some assessment method.  At a minimum, you’ll want to know if your students perceived that they got something out of it.  That’s a feedback survey, not a test, but the question development and delivery are the same.  You’ll also probably want to know if the students learned anything and/or demonstrate some level of competency.  This tells you not only just that – what they learned – but also how good your course was at teaching them. 

Do I have the skill? This is a two-parter.  The skill to write questions is one thing.  It’s the main thing. The skill to build questions in an online application is another.  Luckily, the latter is remarkably simple because of some of the fantastic options available. 

 What are the options?  I build all of my tests in Moodle so I don’t use many of the available tools.  But, I also use Engage as a “pop-quiz” maker. If I don’t care what the answers are and I just want to reinforce a concept, I think this is a better option than a “flat test”.  Moodle has a Choice activity that captures the data but doesn’t look as snazzy.  Articulate also offers QuizMaker, which is about twice the price of Engage and does quite a bit more.  Joomla QuizForce is similar to QuizMaker and comes with the LMS.  At a hefty $800, Adobe Captivate does many things, including flash-based quizzes. If you don’t have a good assessment feature in your LMS or you want something customized that is in HTML and not flash, try Drupal Webform.  I have an example here.  Or, you can code one from scratch! (Yeah, right). Be creative.  You can use a quiz as a survey and vice versa. 

How much functionality do you need from this tool? The answer to this depends on what your objective is.  If you want to wake up your students with a flash presentation in full color and sound, you’ll want to opt for one of the flash applications.  If you want some serious data collection that dumps to a file that you can do statistical analysis on, pay more attention to the results than the delivery methods.  That usually means not using flash.  If you need to prove competency or that the student took the test herself, you’ll need to make sure that you can verify log in and track time spent, as well as grades.

Will this tool work within my LMS? To be assured that it will work, use the one that is built into your LMS (Moodle, Joomla, Blackboard, etc.)  That will ensure that you can track all the vital student statistics.  Check to make sure that your LMS will accept flash applications and/or allow you to open external websites before using those tools.

I believe that all instructors should want feedback on their courses and use tests to judge themselves as well as students in a constant effort to improve.  But, it if you own a business that offers eLearning to clients or employees, there is a financial reason to have good test and survey questions.  Knowing what level of competency your employees have, which training works and which doesn’t, and having the ability to get feedback on the experience is critical to long term success.  Remember, what matters most is that you start with good questions.  Good information, good questions, lots of variety…GREAT eLearning.

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Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Five Things to Consider When Choosing eLearning Authoring Tools

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If you have read my previous posts, you’ve figured out that I am fairly insistent that eLearning is a combination of many media, delivered (distributed) in a variety of formats.  That would imply that there could be many types of authoring tools, each with its own strength.  In this post, I want to share some of the things to consider when choosing the authoring tools to create those features.

First of all, you might want to know what an authoring tool is!  In the purest sense, it could be a pencil and a piece of paper.  Or, a knife and a tree large enough to carve something in the trunk.  An eLearning authoring tool is software that allows us to create and publish our material in electronic format.  Wikipedia says: “An authoring tool is a software package which developers use to create and package content deliverable to end users.”  It goes on further to discuss the distribution of that content.  I want to expand the definition of “authoring tool” for our discussion to include any and all applications that create or distribute content for e-Learning purposes.

 These are my Five Basic Things to consider when deciding which authoring tools to buy or use:

  1. Based on the training design for my audience, what features and functionality (see list below) do I need?  Which are nice to have?  Which are not relevant?
  2. What can I (or my employees) do and what should we contract out to others?  Do we have the skill to do it or the time to learn it?  Is this how we should be spending our time? 
  3. What are my options?  What applications are out there and what are the trade-offs regarding price, ease of use, and capability? Which is better:  Open Source or proprietary software?
  4. What do I need the application for?  To create, to edit, to view, all of that?  What will my students want it for and what is best for them?  What applications are highly specific and which are “multi-taskers” that I can get more value from?
  5. How will these applications work together in my eLearning environment?

The list of features that GREAT eLearning requires is ever-changing.  As I’ve said before, the eLearning features that you might need authoring (creation and/or editing) tools for includes: Graphics (pictures, illustrations, tables, etc.), Audio, Video, Flash animation, Screen captures, Assessments (quizzes, tests, surveys), News (forums, RSS, streaming), File sharing (students and teachers; uploading and downloading), Collaborative efforts (web meetings, chats, wikis), Student “records” (grades, participation, profiles), HTML (text, links, etc.) content, and of course, some way to package it all up together and deliver it to the students.

For each feature we use, we are going to need an “authoring tool” if we do it ourselves.  This could rapidly become very expensive, for software, training, and equipment.  It could consume all of our resources (time and energy) and cause us to lose focus on the real output: Good Information.  So, before we go out and buy lots of software tools, rent a recording studio, or hire a platoon of experts, let’s ask a few questions. 

For each of the above features, we need to determine:

  • Do I need to include it in my eLearning? Does it support my learning objectives or is it just “cool”?
  • What value does it bring to the lesson, the course, the student’s experience?
  • What quality level do my students expect or need? 
  • Where does it fall in my overall learning design?  Is it the most important, the least important – or somewhere in between - of all the features I could spend time and money on?
  • Do I currently have the skill, knowledge, and/or tools for it?  What is the gap between what I can do now and what I need to do?
  • How will I discover and test my options?

Over the next few posts, I’ll share with you my thoughts and experiences on how to answer these questions for each feature, starting with Graphics.  I will in no way do a “software review”; not only have I not tried many applications, but there are plenty of other places to find that information.  I will, however, share with you how a small business owner can afford GREAT eLearning with a little bit of planning and prioritizing.   See ya’ soon, Penny

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Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Features of GREAT e-Learning

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In my last post I said that elearning should be an electronic version of the best class you ever took.  To make that happen, you have to start with good information as your key ingredient, and add the right amount of spice… 

So, what makes great e-Learning?  Two things:  Good information and variety.

Good information.  All the spice in the world can’t overcome the bad taste of poor information (or liver, ick).  You don’t have to have breakthrough research or the perfect mouse trap to provide value to your students; you just have to have something they want or need to know.  Your core information needs to be:

  • Focused on the student’s needs.  It’s ok to teach algebra to an 8th grader.  It’s not ok to teach programming to a 30-year old small business owner who just wants a website.  Don’t use jargon that is over the head of your student. 
  • Timely.  Again, an 8th grader might not need algebra at that time, but it is a foundation class and those algebra lessons will be recalled years later.  On the other hand, an adult learner, who has a lot on her mind, isn’t likely to remember today’s lesson if it isn’t applied by tomorrow.
  • Unique.  What do you have to say – or how do you say it – that sets your lessons apart from everyone else?
  • Accurate.  This is not the most critical feature in keeping your audience interested, as wild Internet rumors have proven.  But, I think it goes without saying that it is the most important thing if you care at all about what you do.

Variety…no elearning course should be all text or all video or all anythingEvery course should include at least some of every one of these things:

  • Webpage text
  • Graphics, illustrations, photos, or other simple visual media
  • Video and/or flash animations
  • Audio (separate or part of the video/flash)
  • Field trips for the mind…in the form of RSS feeds, simple web links, linked documents
  • Tests of understanding and competence…quizzes, assignments, and/or projects
  • Interaction with others…chats, forums, wikis and glossaries that are collective works
  • Choice of pace…instructor-led, self-paced, due dates or open-ended assignments
  • Offline and personal time…reflection, individual assignment and projects
  • Tools to further explain and support the concepts…downloadable templates, book lists

To stand on this soap box just a little longer, I’m going to say that it’s not enough to have all of these elements in a course; they must be blended together in a meaningful way.  All too often, I see courses that have several elements, but they appear separate and unconnected.  I am frequently given course outlines that have one video, followed by one downloadable file (a PowerPoint slide deck), followed by a quiz, possibly with a page of text thrown in somewhere.  Aaarrgghh!  We want to create a deliciously rich and complex sauce, not a three-layer Jello® mold!

I think almost every page should have a mixture of media.  When I design a course, my outline goes to the page level, where each page is dedicated to a topic, a concept, or an important point. 

  • Each page has at least some text, an offsite link or two, and some “eye candy” (graphic, picture, audio, flash, and/or video).
  • Every section (week or topic) has several pages (of mixed media) and usually an activity of some sort (quiz, assignment, chat).
  • Every course has collaborative media (wikis, glossaries, forums), tests of understanding and reinforcement (quizzes, assignments), and resources (web links, RSS feeds, documents to save or print). 
  • Every course starts with a POG (Purpose-Objectives-Goals) and ends with a Summary.  (If a course is long, there will be POGs and Summaries for sub-sections as well).

Features of GREAT e-Learning

It is imperative to design the learning before creating it, which means not only deciding what you’re going to include, but how.  There are a great number of software tools to create a range of multi-media, and to distribute that media to your audience.  These are generally referred to as authoring tools; they range in price and complexity from “free and easy” to “a fortune and very difficult”.  Large corporations can spend $100,000 on applications that don’t work, but we small business owners can’t!  Not only don’t we have the money to throw away, but we can’t afford to waste the time, either.  In my next post, I’ll talk about how to choose authoring tools for e-Learning that are affordable, flexible, and worth the investment.

See you next time!  Penny

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