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!