Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Hopes

In a haze of happy post-Christmas cheer and relaxation, I'm hoping you've had a wonderful holiday. In fact, I hope you're still on holiday and won't read this for another week. I'm so filled with hope, I hope that you love this blog so much, you checked in to see if there was a new one today even though you don't have to return to work for another week!

I hope the roads and airways are safe for all those traveling over this holiday. I hope that it snows a lot before I go snowboarding again next week. I hope that my family loves the Christmas gifts they received, and I hope my son who's away at college didn't suffer too badly spending his first Christmas alone. I hope my 16-year-old new driver uses good sense and doesn't drive too much like a 16-year-old new driver.

I hope that you kept your job this past year or found a new one quickly, and that 2010 is a good year from your company. I hope that your workplace is safe and that your company nurtures and values a positive training culture. I hope that your boss treats training as an investment, not a cost center.

I hope GCP has a successful year: I hope we sell lots of online training at, and I hope we continue to give it away for free to those who need it at! I hope lots of our free training members post their stories and photos there, and that our GTP professional community blossoms, grows, and serves its members well.

I read Hope is Not a Strategy by Rick Page a couple years ago. An extended quote from the introduction still resonates with me. It's about sales and selling, but I think it relates to home, health, and work hopes as well:
I believe that hope, along with faith and love, are essential to life. Hope is what you do when you have no control. But a strategy is made up of actions and tactics that convert visions to results for those who can make things happen. The title of this book was chosen to accentuate the differences between positive attitudes and positive actions and the flaw of counting on on without the other.
I bet you have a lot of the same hopes I've written about here. And I hope you have taken time to make a strategy to achieve all your hopes!

Here's to a happy end of 2009, and a 2010 filled with hope.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays to all! Be safe, be smart, enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why Not Video?

People hear "training" and often assume "video." At GCPLearning, we've never included video in our online courses. It's not a mindless choice; we've considered our options thoroughly. There are technological, logistical, and pedagogical reasons for that choice.

Historically, trying to deliver video online to the typical e-learning client was just a bad idea. Existing bandwidth simply wouldn't support it. In the early 2000s, when we thought that most client companies would have at least a T-1 connection, we designed for 56kbps dial-up speeds, as we still had a significant number of clients stuck in the dial-up era. We even had a client in 2002 who still used a 28.8kbps modem in a shed to access our training when it was too rainy outside to work. (I believe they also walked barefoot in the snow to work and back home, uphill both ways, and they liked it like that!) Although high-speed connections are now entirely the norm, there are plenty of demands on a company's internet bandwidth without adding to that a lot of users pulling down video.

I mentioned logistical reasons for not using video. Regular readers of this blog know that I do tend to go on and on about AGILITY. Video is not an inherently agile medium (though it can be if you go lo-tech... topic for another day!). The content of our courses is necessarily dynamic - regulations change, best practices evolve, and the equipment pictured in the illustrations goes out of date. Besides, we provide source code with our content so that our clients can freely customize the courses they purchase from us. Video production is costly in both time and money; revising courses becomes a much more convenient, economical, and doable proposition when it amounts to rewriting sections of the storyboard, recording fresh narration, and swapping photos in the flash content files. Of course, in keeping with our key principle of agility, our Global Content Player is equally adept at wrapping Flash videos as it is our standard Flash screens, so the option to include video remains open. We are more agile without video, and so are our clients.

So that's technology and logistics, but most important of all is obviously the pedagogical principles. If it's not good instruction, it doesn't matter how easy it is to download it or edit it. Ultimately, video COULD be an engaging element in some of our courses, but the feedback we've received from countless clients and a few focus groups we've organized support our contention that a series of photographs is just as effective - or even more effective - than video. Photos capture decisive moments in time. (Henri Cartier-Bresson said about photography, "The decisive moment, it is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.") The photos zero in on decision points or the most important steps in processes, without the distraction of intervening frames that would be present in video. They allow us to meet our learning objectives through that focus.

When we balance the three reasons - technological, logistical, and pedagogical - photo series wins out over video in our media selection for our courses.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"global" and "collaboration" and "partners"

I was asked to participate in a research survey recently that included some questions about brand awareness in the area of e-learning content providers. I hadn't heard of several of the companies named in the survey, but I did come away with a sense that if we'd hired branding gurus to help us name our company, we probably wouldn't have ended up calling ourselves "Global Collaboration Partners." We'd have certainly had "learning" or "training" or "E-something" in our name. But the survey caused me to reflect that when we started GCP with stars in our eyes, the name seemed perfect, and more importantly, as we've matured as a company, it's crystallized into a mission and a set of guiding principles.


GLOBAL works for us in multiple directions. I blogged last week about, our site where we give away 20 courses for 20 days for free, with a worldwide reach. It hasn't mattered a lick that the US regulations our courses are based upon have no authority in Ghana or Uzbekistan - the best practices that those regulations espouse help our training make people around the smarter, more efficient, and most importantly, safer in their work. GLOBAL also means that we have made our own operations more agile by tapping talents wherever they may come from. We've been fortunate to be able to flexibly enhance our team with talented programmers, media specialists, voiceover artists, and more, from across the US, Singapore, India, Argentina, Mexico, Sweden, France, Brazil, and on and on. Global network!


The quip was only half-joking when one of our senior partners opined that any member of our team would likely be unemployable solo; that only our combined talents, skills, and personal quirks added up to make one highly capable human being. That was a little extreme, and when I reread the words, doesn't paint us in the absolute most positive light, I guess. But even though it's an exaggeration, the fact is that our team collaborates exceedingly well. Using technology and a deep personal and working relationship to meld us, our team is able to develop accurate and superbly designed courseware, write insightful articles, navigate the business world and marketplace we play in, and provide value to the world around us. That's just internal workings; our clients also tell us again and again that collaborating with us to produce their custom training is easy and even fun, as we do it so well!


We've collectively been in the e-learning business long enough that we knew what part of that field we wanted to play in, and most importantly, what roles we did NOT want to play. We rock at designing and creating excellent and effective training materials. And we like that work, a lot. So that's exactly what we've narrowed our focus to. We've been involved in the other aspects of e-learning: creating software tools, hosting a learning management system and providing the associated services, nurturing a stable of programmers... adding those tasks and responsibilities distracts us from that part we are most passionate about. So globally, and collaboratively, we PARTNER with folks whose passion and talents lead them to focus on those aspects of the business.

Global Collaboration Partners: not such a bad name for our company!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Will to Train and the Will to Learn

An interesting paradox is seen in two surveys reported by Madbury, N.H.-based NFI Research.

According to Chuck Martin, NFI CEO, fully 87% of 2000 senior executives and managers surveyed responded that the top characteristic they look for in new hires is "willingness to learn." (Only half of the respondents went on to say that most of their current executives, managers and employees were willing to learn, however. )

Interestingly, two thirds of respondents to a subsequent NFI survey complained that employees are not actively participating in learning opportunities that are provided to them. "Although the level of learning provided is high in many organizations, the number of individuals taking advantage of these opportunities is lacking," Martin notes.

So... executives desire a trained workforce. The training is available. But in many cases, employees are not getting that training. Where is the disconnect?

According to Rebecca Hefter, Senior Vice President for Training at Boston-based Novations Group Inc., time is an important barrier to getting training done. Corporate trainers are under increasing pressure to limit the time employees spend off the job. "The trend is toward reduced classroom hours, more training done on-the-job and greater reliance on e-learning."

E-learning, however, can be its own "tough sell" in many organizations. Pull people off the job for a classroom session, and there they are in the classroom – a captive audience. But make training available "anytime, anywhere" via online means? Many busy learners will avail themselves of the training "sometime, somewhere" – but probably not here and now, given their overloaded schedules.

Perhaps one of the most important solutions to this problem lies in internal marketing of crucial training programs. The research that goes into an internal marketing plan is the topic for a whole other article, but at the core of the effort is the communication that is critical to getting the word out.


At GCPLearning, we have years of experience with clients who purchase our content and then need help to get their e-learning program going. We've created a 33-page workbook we call Maximize your E-Learning Investment with Change Management that spells out in detail the 10 well-documented critical steps you can implement quickly to maximize effectiveness and eliminate the costly mistakes so many organizations make in launching e-learning. We sell this workbook for $299, but I'm making it available to you, faithful readers, through the end of the year - click HERE to download it for free.

One of the key topics in the workbook is planning for communication to get your e-learning program off the ground. Here, briefly, are some of the key techniques for effective communication to get that training done, not sometime, somewhere, but here and now:

E-mail announcing the e-learning initiative – A clear and concise message showing management’s support and expectations for e-learners

Brochures, posters, payroll inserts, and articles in the company newsletter – Don’t rely exclusively on electronic communication to communicate your training themes and priorities. Also, market both the subject matter and the change in medium to e-learning.

Scrolling message on your learning center homepage – This brief message should be updated periodically.

Publicize new and revised courses – Let people know whenever your library is updated.

Develop a training calendar - Consider developing a training calendar, for example, “January is Safe Driving Month.” This is one of the best ways to maintain the momentum once your e-learning initiative has gotten off the ground.

Buddy system – Peer support is a leading factor in the success of e-learning programs. Buddies can be assigned or self-selected. The buddy system gives e-learners someone to turn to if they encounter uncertainty while becoming accustomed to e-learning. Buddies also encourage and remind each other to complete their training on schedule.

Attend departmental meetings – Speaking at departmental meetings provides an opportunity to obtain valuable feedback, clear up any misconceptions, and recruit new e-learners.

Form a training advisory committee – By assembling an advisory committee, you’ll establish credibility, show that you value the input of all stakeholder groups, and gain perspective on future needs and trends.

Contests – When multiple groups or facilities are involved in your e-learning program, a little friendly competition might spice things up. For example, a competition could focus on course completion rates.

Find new, appealing ways to reward those who complete training on time – By rewarding users for the completion of training, you are reinforcing the value of training and providing motivation to continue.

Keep communication 2-way – Publicize the excitement and accomplishments of your e-learning (e.g., higher-than-expected enrollments, outstanding course evaluations, and student and management testimonials). But also be sure to provide opportunities for your learners to discuss both the pluses and minuses of the program. By having a voice, your employees will feel a vested ownership in the training program and will be more likely to participate actively and even enthusiastically.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

*Really* Global Training People. Dot Com.

GlobalTrainingPeople Logo
All right - it's a perfect time to write this proud posting, the week after Thanksgiving... hope you had a good one! (I was on the road and didn't get this posted earlier.)

This is an exciting development at GCP. We've had a free training program for the past several years, which we hosted at It has been a big hit - we've provided training at no cost to way more than 10,000 registered users in over 100 countries around the world. At first our thinking was that people in other countries (who would never be our clients) ought to have access to safety (and other) training, and it costs us very little to put some important courses up on our website and let those folks at it.

What we discovered was that this was an even better idea than we'd imagined. Word spread, links sprouted, and you saw the numbers above. Without doing any marketing of this site whatsoever, it's become known globally as a place to go for free training that isn't just a demo or throwaway stuff - it's actually courses that will send you home from your job with all ten fingers and both eyes intact, or will send you to a performance review armed for getting a promotion.

And not just overseas, as we'd imagined. We get people from US companies registering and taking our free training as well. We recently discovered that a large construction company in the South has a direct link to our free training from their training portal. (You know who you are... and we maintain hope that you'll become a client and get access to more of our courses as well as all the perks of owning your training content, tracking your employees' training, etc.! ;o) Meanwhile, as I said above, the important thing is that people who need this training - who might not have another source for it - are getting it.

One of the cool things about the old site was that we got letters from grateful trainees worldwide. What we should have recognized from the start was that we ought to have been giving these people access to each other rather than just corresponding with us - we had the seeds for a worldwide training and environmental health and safety community, and we weren't doing anything with it.

Thus: We've redesigned the site, gave it a new name that actually has something to do with what the site is, and built in several networking and community tools. There's a Story Wall where people can post feedback on the courses, a Photo Wall where people can personalize the site a bit, and a discussion forum where we have finally planted the seeds of that professional community we should have been building for the past couple years.

We're very interested to see what happens with one other aspect we built into the site. All our training (except for a 30-title library of safety training in Spanish) is in English. What if we gave people an opportunity to localize the training so that it would be more useful in Uganda, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and all the corners of India where our learners come from? What if we set up a way for entrepreneurs around the world to start a business spreading this training around so more people work more safely and productively? We are already getting some interesting emails from folks exploring the possibilities of partnering with us to expand this thing out into the world in a big way. I can't begin to tell you how exciting this is for us!

Please drop by! Take some training, post a photo, give some feedback, join the community, and spread the word!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Training You Can be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you're reading this at home, or somewhere over the river and through the woods, though I don't know any companies giving employees a week off for Thanksgiving (or any holiday, for that matter!) these days. Either way, I bet there's turkey in your very near future. And that's a safety issue, and thus a training issue, which is right up my alley for this blog, isn't it!

It's a safety issue because turkey is fraught with opportunities for foodborne illness from salmonella, campylobacter, and other bacterial contamination. There's danger when you buy your bird, when you store it, prep it, cook it, put the leftovers away, and get them back out for tomorrow's sandwiches and the next day's tetrazzini. It's a wonder we survive this gauntlet of doom!

OK, it's not all that bad. We can be thankful that safe practices can mitigate those risks. And we can be thankful that training can beget safe practices!

E-learning takes a lot of different forms, and this week's topic gives me a chance to expound on a quick chunk of philosophy. "Make it interactive" is Commandment #1 in the e-learning bible. At least, it is a key buzzword for sales departments in e-learning vendor teams. But like many lofty pronouncements, here's one whose vagueness leaves it open to a great deal of interpretation.

What's "interactive" mean? If there's a button to click, and something happens as a result of that button, well, that's interactive, right? (answer: yes. But interactivity is a continuum, and at the other end would be a highly detailed, visual simulation with multiple branches allowing a learner to make choices that steer down various wrong paths to learn from mistakes.)

The importance of interactivity - and the application of its highest levels - isn't a blanket thing. It's dependent on what the learning objective is. And in the case of turkey safety, give me a clear, accessible job performance aid, and save the expensively-produced, 3D animated simulation for something like learning to land an airplane.

One of the big sources of turkey danger has to do with the size of a turkey - it's one of the biggest pieces of meat you'll ever thaw or cook. What this means is that both thawing and cooking take place from the outside in. By the time the inside of the bird has thawed at room temperature, the outside has already reached unsafe temperatures where bacteria can thrive. And when the outside of the bird has cooked long enough to kill those bacteria, the inside still has a ways to go. So timing - for both thawing and cooking - is key. And timing depends on the weight of the bird.

What's the best instructional design to put this information into my brain and affect my behavior in the kitchen? I need to know this stuff for a few minutes each year, and the rest of the year, it doesn't really matter to me. I don't need to practice and drill until I've memorized the cooking time for a 13-pound vs. a 16-pound bird at 325º vs. 350º.

The design needs to take into account that different people learn best in different ways. I need a
chart, dangit. That I can check while I'm cooking on Thanksgiving afternoon. Maybe some explanatory prose. And a meat thermometer. (I really need to set up an Amazon associates account so I can make bank off product placement like this!)

You might learn better from a video. And your neighbor might not speak English. There are
free streaming videos on King County, Washington's website in English, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Someone else might not be as experienced as you and I, and need recipes to go along with the temperature/time charts. All that information has been made available by the USDA on their website at the aptly-named

Another learner might be a rank beginner who needs to know about everything from shopping to serving, from
farm to table.

Not interactive enough? At least the USDA fakes some interactivity with a searchable FAQ: "'
Ask Karen' is a knowledge base with information for consumers about preventing foodborne illness, safe food handling and storage, and safe preparation of meat, poultry, and egg products."

I didn't find any free training on cleaning up after dinner, so... let's just watch the game. Go Broncos!

Turkey photo:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Adaptable Workers with Adaptable Tools

"Senior executives and managers say the people they work with are more adaptable today than a few years ago." CLO Magazine summarizes a study by NFI Research in a recent article entitled Recession's Silver Lining? Increased Adaptability. The article credits economic need and a new sense of frugality. According to the study's author, Chuck Martin, "Many in business today have had no choice but to become more adaptable considering the impact of economic conditions on business."

One participant in the study mentioned that "employees have become more adaptable since realizing the benefits and efficiencies that technology has brought to their work."

The relevance to training and the efficiencies technology brings to it should be obvious. The economic necessity for agility and the flexibility offered by e-learning create what should be a perfect storm for adoption of of web-based training.

E-learning is at its core flexible. The mantra has always been "anytime, anywhere." E-learning unbinds learners from the limitations of time (we don't have to shut down operations to get everyone into a class at the same time) and space (we don't have to all be in the same classroom to learn).

That's flexibility at its most basic. So why do so many consumers of e-learning speak of feeling trapped?

I talk to plenty of training and HR leaders who are feeling stuck, in three main ways. They're compromising on training quality with disputably relevant off-the-shelf content, they're forced to access courseware living on a server somewhere, and they're shackled into a subscription contract that requires them to predict how many seats in this course, how many in that course, and whoops, we're out of seats and have to buy more to get all our training done, and whoops, we hate this training but we're contracted through 2011 with this provider. (take a breath, Greg!) (OK! but how is any of that flexible??)

So what needs to happen to put training back into the realm of agility to match this newly increased adaptability of the workforce?

1) A number of e-learning content providers market their courseware as "customizable," but what that means is that clients can log into the provider's proprietary system, make minor changes to the existing course, and abandon their "custom" course when their contract with the provider ends. The only way to provide truly adaptable, agile course content is to provide source code and ownership of derivative works.

2) Via an internet connected computer is one way to access a multimedia course, but what happens when you need to train workers on site in the Congo or the depths of Siberia? What happens when your business has nothing to do with information technology, and your learning lab consists of a couple laptops in a trailer at the jobsite? What if you have 35 employees and no LMS? Courseware locked away on someone else's server isn't adaptable or agile - you need to be able to provide the same training via an LMS, company intranet, and CD-ROM or other portable media.

3) Whoever came up with the learner seat subscription model was a sadist, a masochist, or both. It's torture for clients - predicting how many employees need these seven courses, which subset need these other two courses, which population needs those five other courses... and in times of high turnover, those predictions go out the window, don't they. It's also no walk in the park for the hosting vendor - they've got to service all those changing needs, and assist in juggling someone else's learner seats. Painful all around! For max adaptability, a perpetual license for unlimited access to training content (especially when it's source code in the client's hands) is the only truly agile option.

If we don't capitalize on the adaptability of our people by giving them the most adaptable tools available, we don't win the economic battles we're fighting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

EITHER Agility OR Agility!

Last week I wrote about making a dilemma or controversy out of something where both sides were right, and I have more to rant about this week.

Folks weighed in with their own strong opinions about the burning controversy. Someone even questioned why there would be text in an e-learning course at all. (Hmmm...)

But again I find myself asking, why the "either-or" here? Wouldn't the training you create be more agile if you made both available to your learners? Modern multimedia tools (in the case of GCPLearning, mostly Adobe Flash) give us the ability to be extremely flexible. We can very conveniently show and hide any feature and offer alternative means of access as a set of options in a multimedia course delivered online, so why in the world wouldn't we make BOTH forms of text presentation available to learners? ("make both available... make both available... make both available..." Repeating myself is sure sign of a passionate rant!)

We've been evolving our design along these lines ever since our self-proclaimed "3G Design Revolution" of 2002. Maybe we should have bragged about it more in the intervening seven years!

Here's our thinking on the topic. Adult learners come to training with a wide range of educational levels, life experiences, and reading and language abilities. They also bring the usual variety of learning styles to the table. So being able to choose the learning style - the form of access to information - that works best for them makes a big difference in their success.

In the e-learning courses we develop, we started calling it "user-controlled narration," though now I'm thinking perhaps we should call it "user-controlled access." In a nutshell, our learners can see and/or hear the course in whatever way works best for them.

Full text display is an option; the default is on-screen text synced with audio. This leaves more screen real estate - room in the frame - for instructive graphics and interactivity.

Similarly, since the learners can also control the audio narration, they can turn it up, turn it down, or turn it off to best suit their learning styles and personal preference.

These key features also make our courses accessible to sight- and hearing-impaired learners and those who don't have or want to use audio capabilities on their computers.

Built-in flexibility seems so basic, such a given to us, that we made "agile" part of our tagline and a big part of our e-learning entire vision. Agility is the cornerstone of our content, our delivery system, and our business model. It's beyond me why anyone gets so set on one way being right when the world demands us to be flexible.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Whole Lot of Either/Or Noise

Two discussions inspired my posting this week, both about being all diametrical-like in approaches to facets of e-learning. Why is there an instinct to ricochet between the horns of a dilemma rather than just riding comfortably on the dang thing's head? (Look at that head: doesn't it look all soft and comfy? What in the world is your attraction to those horns!?) Does everything have to be a controversy; is everything either/or? or can we teach ourselves to make looking for the utility of two different approaches our default way of thinking?

Let's focus on the first one, a well-posed question by Bob Little on eLearn: Rapid e-Learning Polarizes Opinion. Bob says:

Much to the disgruntlement of instructional designers and other e-learning specialists, rapid e-learning tools are offering in-house subject matter experts excellent opportunities to produce e-learning materials relatively quickly and cost-effectively...The e-learning experts complain that rapid development tools are helping e-learning amateurs to turn out low-quality and poorly-designed materials that merely pay lip service to the ideals of instructional design.

The same issue is being discussed in different flavors in a couple different LinkedIn forums. I'll cut to the chase and tell you my opinion on the matter: SMEs with no ID experience can create one kind of excellent instruction, and PhD-level Instructional Designers can make another kind of excellent instruction. And we should look for perfect applications for both types of training, and be proud of ourselves for making efficient use of the resources at our disposal.

How about an example: my dad taught me to ski by being a great skier, and my mom taught me to fold fitted sheets because she knew a really cool trick for it. (OK, not a fair example - they were both teachers! But your parents taught you things too, without having ever heard of Don Kirkpatrick or Benjamin Bloom or Robert Gagne.) Point is, our parents were subject matter experts, and they didn't take a research-based approach to designing a learning event for us; they just showed us how to do it, watched us try, corrected our errors, and made sure we knew how to do it. Voila, learning.

Another example: Bill Preston was one of my high school English teachers, and because he was a thoughtful and deliberate designer of instruction, using a diligently planned approach, he managed to enable all manner of 16-year-old idiots to not just wade through McBeth, but to savor the intricacies of Shakespeare's games with language and actually get that play. Voila, learning!

SMEs with a will to teach can create richly applicable training materials. And expert learning designers with a will to learn the subject matter can create elegant and efficient training materials. Smart people (like GCPLearning, of course!) will utilize both approaches.

What's the controversy?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

E-learning and Telecommuting - Inequally Evil?

Telecommuters will invariably end up ripping someone off - someone ALWAYS gets shortchanged.

Either their company, or the teleworkers themselves and their families.

At least, that was the declaration of a former boss when I proposed working from home at least a few days a week. When teleworkers slack off, with no one to supervise them, he said, they're stealing from their employer. Conversely, when they have a strong work ethic, they feel compelled to prove (to themselves as well as their boss and colleagues) that they're not slacking off, and end up spending more hours at their desk than they should.

Of course, you're a better teleworker than that - I know I am! Right? You and I are always responsible and mature in our use of the gift of flexibility that our telecommuting situation provides, right?

Well... knowledge work - for the chronically curious, the compulsive reader, the ADD-inflicted - is like a distillery job for an alcoholic. The web is a million constant temptations, and each one links to a zillion more. I admit that I sometimes have to "work" 16 hours in a day in order to get 8 hours of tasks completed.

But in general, I am indeed a better teleworker than that. It's incredibly productive to walk downstairs rather than having to drive for an hour and a half, to set my own schedule, to work in the comfort of my home office dressed comfortably, to not be around an officeful of interesting people interrupting me (and I them) all day long. I get a LOT done, and more happily and healthily than when I drove to work.

John McDermott posted an interesting question on LinkedIn's Learning, Education and Training Professionals Group: "Remote learning is great, but no remote workers, please!" Why are employers willing to allow e-learning but not e-work? Is this a fear of employees slacking off, or a devaluation of the training/learning function?

Most likely both, I say. The lack of trust employers have for telecommuting demonstrates a strong acknowledgment of the value of teamwork but lack of recognition of the utility of online collaboration tools to facilitate that teamwork despite lack of physical proximity.

And the apparently contradictory acceptance of e-learning acknowledges the ability of trainees to take responsibility for their own learning tasks, while failing to recognize the social aspects of learning.

A crucial aspect of all of this is the fact that some of both our work and our learning tasks are best tackled in quiet solitude with singular attention, while others are enhanced (or even made possible at all) by nature of interaction with one or more teammates. None of us at GCPLearning ever tell an HR, training, or environmental health and safety manager that our training was designed to replace trainers, the classroom, or any other tool they're currently using.

E-learning - like teleworking - is one arrow in the employer's quiver, to be applied thoughtfully and deliberately where it will do the most good. Employers would do well to recognize - no, embrace - this key fact and make business decisions, related to both task and training functions, accordingly.

Photo courtesy of slworking

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Training Tools in the Untrained Hands of Non-trainers?

I may have steered an important discussion off topic this past week. Ramasamy Subash started the thread in LinkedIn's (E-)learning network with an important question: What attributes to look for in selecting an E-learning content development tool?

Some very thoughtful answers were provided; especially thorough was Sven Ove Sjølyst's reply. He listed a number of well-stated attributes of the ideal content development tool, but what caught my eye most was his first item: "easily used by novice users (typically internal resources like subject matter experts) but flexible and powerful enough to also allow for development of professional quality interactive solutions."

That one struck my eye, because in my experience "easy for novices" and "flexible and powerful" are mutually exclusive attributes. "Easy enough for novices to use" generally means wizard-driven. That is, there are built-in tools that allow you to click a button or select from a few menus to configure preset bits of functionality (or cosmetics). Key word: preset. Your instructional creativity is only limited by... the limitations of the designers of the tool you've chosen (or been saddled with).

"Flexible and powerful," on the other hand, hints at something highly programmable. Novices aren't programmers. Non-programmers, for that matter, aren't programmers.

Here's where I think I steered the thread off-topic: I commented that I wondered whether in most companies, subject matter experts and other "non-media people" have the time - and the inclination - to use development tools to make training content? Or are their time and talents more efficiently used in collaboration with media developers?

Thomas Garrod then chimed in with an even stronger statement: do employees whose expertise is not in training and training development have any business developing training media at all? A short quote: "I restrict design and development to those with demonstrated understanding of the rudiments of efficient presentation, information mapping, expression, and learning strategy."

That's one to tackle in another post. I know of companies where circumstances force subject matter experts who (gasp!) don't have their PhD in instructional design to dive in and design, develop, and deliver training anyway. Not ideal, but real.

My experience says that SMEs tend to barely have time in their busy schedules to even collaborate with media developers, let alone jump into the development tasks themselves. The folks I've talked to who did attempt a complete DIY scenario found that they could produce no more than one or two courses in a year's time. Hardly efficient! (shameless plug: this scenario has led to several purchases of our Ultimate Edition license - ask me about it.)

I'm hoping for some good discussion here - comments and replies to this thread are most welcome! Are you a SME who ends up doing training development? How do you handle it?

Monday, October 12, 2009

GCPLearning Website Review Needed


Someone's getting another brand new iPod nano for in exchange for a chunk of thoughtful feedback! It worked so well the first time, we're doing it again.

Kent Pennybaker of River City Engineering was the happy recipient of a sweet 8GB iPod in our last drawing. (We'd share a picture of him, but he's keeping the big win on the hush-hush so his kids don't confiscate it from him - seriously.)

In our last round, you gave us feedback almost exclusively on our GCPWorld website - most of you didn't review GCPLearning. We can't tell you what a difference your feedback made on our GCPWorld website - we learned several key things that were missing or easily misunderstood. Check it out again - - and see the revisions we made.

But we'd love to get that level of feedback on, which is our most important site for selling our products. So once again, we're contacting people whose opinions we trust - friends, family, clients, partners, and some folks we've talked with in the past and would like to get to know better - to tell us straight out about the impressions our new website makes. We're asking you to look through our revamped and answer some questions that will let us know if we have succeeded in telling the GCP story.

Your thoughts and impressions will have a big impact for us moving forward. So to show our appreciation, everyone who sends us a review will have their name in the hat for another lovely new 8GB iPod nano.

Here's how to play:
- Answer the questions below - thoughtfully and helpfully.
- And with brutal honesty - we're counting on your insights.
- No, really, we can take it! If something bugs you - we want to know about it!
- Send us your review to no later than October 16.
- Forward this page to as many friends as you like, the more, the merrier
- Names in the hat the evening of the 16th - iPod in the mail on the 20th!

Here's what we want to know:

1) What's the impact of the GCPLearning homepage - does it clearly answer the who, what, when, where, why and how of GCP?

2) Does the "flow" of the website work - do you feel a logic to the movement from category to category and detail to detail in the site's design?
3) What's your impression of the video testimonials? How do they make you feel about GCP?

4) Imagine you're shopping for workplace training - does the website answer all the questions you'd need to answer to decide to talk with us further?

5) Are the calls to action clear and enticing? Is it easy to know what GCP wants you as a visitor to *do* as a result of coming to the site?

6) And do you feel enticed to make that next step?

7) What's confusing? What important information did we NOT provide?

8) What's too much? What parts did we drone on and on unnecessarily about?

9) Any other thoughts or advice for us?

10) Bonus question (your name goes in the hat TWICE for taking time to answer this one) Check out our "follow us" links. What do these links add to the effect of our site? Do you feel that our blog, our twitter, our Facebook and LinkedIn pages add something of value to your understanding of GCP?

Please send us your review to no later than October 16.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The AGILE in Agile, Accurate Training

Our Holy Grail in this e-learning business is to have an extensive library of agile, accurate training content. That's why we chose those adjectives as a tagline for GCPLearning's marketing purposes.

"Accurate" is pretty obvious and easy to understand - we develop courses that are based on regulations and focused on keeping people safe and companies within the law, so they'd better be right - correct and up-to-date in terms of the regulations, realistic in terms of the world in which our learners work.

But we get a few questions about the "agile" part. Isn't agile like nimble, the characteristic of Jack that allowed him to jump over a candlestick?

Yup, that's pretty much what the dictionary says:

  1. quick and easy of movement; deft and active
  2. keen and lively

We strive for agility on a number of fronts: in our business practices, in our effect on our customers' businesses, and as reflected in our tagline, in our product itself.

As for business agility, Google points to 4,290,000 instances of the phrase agile business - the general theme being the ability to react quickly and flexibly as situations arise.

Product agility - wind me up and watch me talk! I love this aspect of what we've created. We measure the agility of our courses five main ways:

  • Are they portable? Can you easily move them from LMS to LMS (Learning Management System)?
  • Are they flexible for training administrators? Can you play them in an LMS, straight off the web or desktop, off a CD-ROM?
  • Are they customizable? Can you add and subtract elements like pre-tests, post-tests, certificates, etc.?
  • Are they flexible for learners? Can you choose a path through the content, learn at your own pace, preview what's to come and review what you already looked at?
  • Are they editable? Can you make changes to the content without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Videos are a hallmark of training media - done right, videos are entertaining, portable, reproducible, and instructive. But they're far from agile when it comes time to revise or update them. Generally speaking, when a regulation or industry best practice changes, you throw away your videos and buy a new set.

That's not agile. That's ponderous. That makes staying accurate a slow and expensive proposition.

Drill down to the finest detail of our course design, and you'll find agility as the defining principle. The courses are highly modular, made up of chapters, chapters made up of screens. Each screen is a short, discrete chunk of learning content. How short? Under 80 words - about 30 seconds of narration. That gives the learner agility - reviewing a 30-second screen is easy and quick.

And when a regulation changes, it's usually some small detail that shifts. So 90% or more of the course is still completely accurate and needs no changes. Bringing the course up-to-date entails rewriting the text, re-recording the narration, and updating the Flash content - but only for the 1-3 screens affected by the change. Drop the revised files back into the content folder of the course, and it's an accurate, up-to-date offering.

That's agile!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Training That's Good Enough to be Great

I recently read an article that resonated so well with me, on a bunch of different fronts. The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine by Robert Capps appears in the September issue of Wired Magazine.

The basic premise: our tastes and evaluations have evolved; "quality" often no longer means the fastest and shiniest and techiest offering. QUALITY means the thing that is convenient, flexible, and cheap. The article gives a bunch of excellent examples, starting in with the
Flip camcorder, and going on to illustrate how "...companies that focus on traditional measures of quality—fidelity, resolution, features—can become myopic and fail to address other, now essential attributes like convenience and shareability." Capps cites the growing adoption of Skype vs. traditional phones, Hulu vs. television, cheap netbooks over fancier computers, and several more. "As the worst recession in 75 years rolls on, it's the light and nimble products that are having all the impact—exactly the type of thing that lean startups and small-scale enterprises are best at."

Our needs themselves have evolved. Or a better way to look at it, I think, is that our recognition of our true needs has evolved. As we shop, we're seeing more clearly what's most important to us in our real lives.

"The attributes that now matter most all fall under the rubric of accessibility. Thanks to the speed and connectivity of the digital age, we've stopped fussing over pixel counts, sample rates, and feature lists. Instead, we're now focused on three things: ease of use, continuous availability, and low price."

An example for me personally is cameras. I love to take photos. I love to look at photos. I can't seem to stop myself from taking photos. (Just ask my annoyed wife and sons!) I've got a beloved old Nikon 35mm I get out once in a... OK, come to think of it, it's been at least 5 years since I had it out. (I wonder what's on the roll of film that's still in there??) And I have dSLR ambitions, but most of the photos I take are with the
crappy camera in my phone, or at best, with my waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof pocket camera. Why? Because the quality most important to me is, what camera can I have with me all the time? What's convenient and flexible? (The third quality comes into play too – cheap. My pocket cam was under $300, and in effect, I didn't pay for my phonecam... I bought the phone, and the camera's just an assumed part of it. And hey, in any given month, I don't seem to have a thousand bucks laying around after bills get paid – so no D90 for me, so far.)

Funny thing is, an evolution in taste has occurred - a cause or an effect of this revolution? I don't know. But there are those who actually appreciate this lower-resolution aesthetic in photography. Search Flickr groups for "phonecam" and find
691 different groups devoted to folks who love this or that aspect of the photos they get from their cellies. (example: PhoneCam Expressions is "...for all those who love to use their phone cameras, but with a sense of taste and beauty." And DBOLRL ("DBOLRL: a playground for a Drunken Bunch of Low Res Lovers") has a brutally light-hearted (light-heartedly brutal?) voting game that's been running for nearly 4 years, reveling in the wonder of chunky, noisy photos from cheap cameras.

So anyway... this is supposed to be my
e-learning business blog, and I need to show why I'm babbling about all of this.

I propose that there is an elegance possible in a simpler e-learning solution for corporate training. I would like to suggest that there are bells and whistles in the more expensive "end-to-end, enterprise solutions" a lot of vendors push, that most training organizations simply do not need. I assert that if the training content itself is excellent, there are plenty of delivery features that upon examination, you might discover aren't as necessary as you may have thought when they were described to you in the sales process.

So I'm submitting for your discussion, that e-learning consumers need to ask themselves Capps' three questions as part of their evaluation: "Is it simple to get what we want out of the technology? Is it available everywhere, all the time — or as close to that ideal as possible? And is it so cheap that we don't have to think about price?"

If you have a staff of thousands, in multiple locations, by all means, you need to think Cadillac in selecting a tracking and scheduling and reporting system. But if you're training 20 people, or 50, is it really all that difficult to collect printed completion certificates from trainees, and manage your records by hand in a spreadsheet? Does your skill gap analysis really require the use of an elaborate database? Doesn't it make good business sense (especially in cash-tight times like these) to buy only the lean and nimble access to training that you need, rather than paying more for fat that isn’t adding any benefit to your training?

I'd loved to get feedback on these thoughts. For e-learning in your organization, what's
good enough?