Monday, July 26, 2010

What do training managers need to know in the age of e-learning?

In the e-learning and organizational development forums I frequent, we all pretty much pretend that effective integration of technology into workplace training programs is a widely-accepted given.

But the truth is, there are plenty of companies who have not yet gone beyond the "it's something we've discussed doing someday" stage. Plenty of training managers who have heard about e-learning, read up on it, maybe even suggested or proposed it to their execs. But for a variety of reasons (a tangent to be addressed in some other post), they find themselves waiting at the edge of the pool.

For those about to dive in, we salute you! Let's talk a bit about a couple key principles to guide you as you get started.

Key 1

First, quite often, trainers and some training managers approach e-learning as an either-or proposition.

But online training isn't monolithic, any more than any other of the 1000 tools in your training toolbox. No one ever said books or chalkboards or PowerPoint will replace trainers, and e-learning won't either.

It's most effective for foundational training, and perhaps the best way to get all your learners on the same page BEFORE the hands-on training starts. Imagine a classroom session where all the learners know why they're there, no one is starting clueless, and no one is spending useless time listening to you answer the questions of the clueless!

E-learning is not about putting trainers out of work or throwing out everything you do and know about training. Ray Clifford of the US Defense Language Institute said it best: "While computers will not replace teachers, teachers who use computers will eventually replace teachers who don't."

E-learning is real. There are good reasons to add it to your training program. Learning how to integrate technological tools into your training program for maximum instructional effectiveness makes you more important than ever.

Key 2

Another crucial initial principle to have in mind. "Build it, and they will..." well, they will have no clue that you built it, and it will sit there and rust until you sell it to your learners and incent them to make effective use of it.

"Anytime, anywhere" has long been a crucial slogan of e-learning: it's super available and very convenient to offer. But that's a double-edged sword. Just because it's super available does not mean it will get used!

Too many times, we've seen implementation get derailed by execs or managers who assume that their job is done when the content is online and the learners' accounts are set up in the learning management system. The two keys to making sure this doesn't happen to your budding program: executive buy-in and involvement, and internal marketing and communication.

A posting much longer than this won't get read - there are a couple other key principles we'll write about later. Meanwhile, please feel free to download Maximize your E-Learning Investment with Change Management, the comprehensive workbook we put together to help our clients with the second point above - a step-by-step strategy for getting your learners to get in and get the most out of your new online learning program.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do as I say, not as I... OOOPS!

safety first -

Zaphod Beeblebrox: Haha. How delicious would it be if the crane was putting up the banner when this happened?

(Thanks to Thomas Keeble for the photo!)

Interestingly, just yesterday, Snopes had a story on a similar 2008 accident in Sydney, Australia:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Narration, Text and Graphics - Best Mix Practices

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Tom Pendergast asked, "What does research show about the benefits/ drawbacks of having non-redundant onscreen text and narration in e-Learning where graphics/animations are not the focus?"

An important question, as it seems to be the standard that an "online learning module" will mix narration, text and graphics almost by default. Stephen Schneiter posted some very relevant research links, the gist of which is that distraction is a bad thing, and if the brain is forced to try to comprehend two streams of input, distraction will ensue.

Based on our own experimentation with focus groups as well as feedback from clients, we've "solved" this quandary for ourselves in our courseware development. (I say "solved" carefully because there are always trade-offs with any approach, and no one solution can possibly be perfect for every learner.)

What we needed to accomplish:
  • address multiple learning styles/preferences within a single product
  • address accessibility issues for learners with visual/auditory/literacy limitations
  • address the cognitive load issues mentioned above
Ted Finger wrote a succinct summary of his approach to mixing text with narration. To describe what we came up with, I'll play off some of Ted's points, in italics below:
  • Make sure the onscreen text closely summarizes the narration. (Instead, we made sure the onscreen text matches the narration exactly.)
  • Synchronize the onscreen text along with the corresponding narration as precisely as possible. (ABSOLUTELY! Also, we made sure the text animation reveals text in meaningful chunks that match how people read - i.e., revealing complete bullet points, sentences, or even short paragraphs, rather than something cute and clever like revealing each word as it's narrated. Some of our early attempts were very creative and cool, but ultimately annoying to learners! ;o)
  • Keep the onscreen text as abbreviated as possible; for example, short bullet points. (As I mentioned above, we DON'T abbreviate the text. What we found was that abbreviated text increases the cognitive load. As Stephen pointed out, if the learners see something different from what they're hearing simultaneously, it's confusing and distracting.)
  • If possible, offer an audio transcript in the interface. (CRUCIAL! We wanted to keep the screen real estate uncluttered - no overwhelming sea of text, and plenty of room for supporting graphics. So while the first piece of text may go away to make room for the next piece as narration progresses, full text is always available via a slide-out box at the bottom of the screen for those who prefer to read the whole thing at once or just want to review a particular part that may have left the screen.)
Learn more about research and decisions that guide our instructional design approach on our website.