The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for February, 2008

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - curious child

In your elearning design, what word trumps all others and why should you care?

I begin this post reminded of an old Jack Handy line:

“The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face.”

If you’ve ever spent time with a small child, you’re familiar with the constant bombardment of “Why?” questions.  “Why are trees green?” “Why does ice melt?” or “Why can’t I have it?”   You’d think you’re living with Detective Columbo.

As children learn, they’re in a continual process of drilling down to a root level of understanding.  They want to know why something happens and how it’s related to everything else.

In the same way children dig for understanding, we need to ask the questions that get to the root cause of an issue.  This is especially true if we want to bring real value to the elearning courses we produce.

Learn from History

I put together a little module inspired by a classic case study outlined in the book, Permission to Forget: And Nine Other Root Causes of America’s Frustration with Education.

The granite at the Jefferson Memorial was crumbling. However, none of the other memorials had the same problem.  So the question was, “Why?”

  • Why is the granite crumbling?  It is hosed off more than the other memorials.
  • Why is it hosed off more than the other memorials? It has more bird dung.
  • Why does it have more bird dung? It has more birds.
  • Why does it have more birds? There are more spiders to eat.
  • Why are there more spiders? It has more flying insects for spiders to eat.
  • Why are there more insects? The lights are turned on too soon at the Jefferson Memorial, thus attracting the insects.

Solution: The lights were turned on later and the granite stopped crumbling.


 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Jefferson Memorial Demo

Click here to view the Jefferson Memorial Case Study

The Jefferson Memorial case study is an excellent example of how it’s important to drill down to the root cause of a problem.  The initial problem and source of complaints were not easily fixed with what appeared to be the most obvious solution.  The managers had to keep drilling down to get to the right answer.

I augmented the case study by adding the elearning angle.  While it’s a little exaggerated it’s not that far off from what tends to happen in our world.  We’re presented with a problem and we immediately jump to some solutions.  And because of this, many times we either build the wrong, or even unnecessary, elearning courses.

Step Away From the Solution

Elearning is a means to accomplish the client’s goal.  It’s a solution.  The first step in the process is to step away from the solution and try to find the root cause of the problem.  You want to make sure that when the client says, “We want an elearning course,” that an elearning course is the right solution.

Looking at the Jefferson Memorial example, the initial issue appeared to be a maintenance problem.  They asked, “Why?” a few times and were able to figure out that the timing of the lights was the cause of the problem.  The solution to the problem wasn’t apparent without the extra round of questions and digging for a root cause.

You don’t want to build an elearning course that doesn’t help solve real problems.  Part of your role as the “elearning expert” is to make sure that the elearning course you deliver is a value-added product.  Learn to ask, “Why?”

Ask the Right Questions

Asking questions can be bothersome and time-consuming.  You might be tempted to cut corners and get the elearning project out the door without digging a little deeper.  However, by learning to ask the right questions you can bring real value to the organization because you’ll deliver the right type of learning (or avoid it altogether).

To clarify your customer’s needs and find the right solutions, you’re always on the right track if you stick with the standard, “Who, what, where, and why?” questions.

Here’s an example of how asking questions might go.

“Our customers are complaining about our service.  We need an elearning course to reinforce our mission statement and keep our staff focused on good service.”

Some might be tempted to satisfy the customer’s desire and create an elearning course focused on the organization’s mission to deliver quality service.  However, by asking some questions, you can narrow down the areas of focus.  It might look something like this:

  • What type of complaints are you getting?  How many have you gotten?
  • What do you think we could be doing different that would address these issues?
  • Why do you think that approach would address the issues?

These types of questions are obvious, but many times the obvious questions are ignored.  Sometimes we ignore them because we don’t want to give the appearance of not knowing.  I’ve been there before, where I’m at a meeting and didn’t know what the heck the client was talking about, and I sure wasn’t going to let him know that.  Get over it.  Better to ask clarifying questions than to make the wrong assumptions and a mess of things down the road.

Look for Evidence

When you ask questions, you’re trying to find evidence that supports the need for an elearning course.  The good thing is that when successful, you also have a means to measure the impact of the elearning course.

If the client says that they need to focus on customer service, you want to ask questions that help clarify what the desired level of customer service is and how they measure that.

  • Do you have some examples of poor customer service?
  • What are you doing currently? And, what changes do you think will help? Why?
  • How will you know when you’ve improved customer service?

Again, these types of questions are obvious, but it’s important to get to real evidence and away from opinions or generic statements.

Once you collect the evidence, you can build the right type of course.  You also have some tangible measurement for your course’s success.  This becomes a good way to report the value of your elearning.  Of course, if nothing’s changed just tell them how many people took the course and the completion rate.  🙂

There are some who will say that all of this is outside the scope of designing elearning courses.  That it’s the client’s job to determine their real needs and after that commission the training.  There’s some truth to that.  However, here’s my perspective.

Success isn’t only measured by your success creating an elearning course.  Ultimately, your success is measu
red by delivering valuable solutions to the organization and helping it meet its objectives.  You’re a partner in that process.  That’s why I always advocate your need to be a performance consultant so that you not only deliver elearning courses, but you deliver the right elearning courses.

Think about it this way, the authoring tools are only going to become easier to use.  Just about anybody will be able to create an elearning course.  When that happens, what value will you bring to the table?

By learning to dig for the root cause of an issue and finding the appropriate solutions, you’ll bring value to your organization because the elearning courses you develop will meet real needs.

What questions do you ask?  What do you do when your client doesn’t respect your attempts to drill down to the root cause?  Feel free to share your ideas and experiences in the comments section.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Post-It Note sample  

If you’re like me, your computer monitor and workspace is plastered with Post-it™ notes, quick reference cards, and other job aids filled with tips and reminders.

Last week, I posted on doing a simple needs analysis, Cathy Moore made an excellent point that looking at your learner’s Post-it™ notes and other self-made reference aids can help you decide what information should be included in a course.

Why do people use Post-it™ notes, cheat sheets, and other job-aids to help them do their jobs?  And, how does this relate to elearning?

Why Do We Create Cheat Sheets?

I think the widespread use of Post-it™ notes and cheat sheets reveals a lot about the way people learn and how they apply that knowledge to their jobs.

A few years ago, I worked on an IT elearning project that took months to build.  By the time we were ready to roll it out, we found that some of the machine operators had already created a bunch of "cheat sheets" and passed them out to everybody on the floor.

Sure enough, instead of our course’s "certificate of completion" beautifully framed and displayed at their workspaces, all of these people had crude looking cheat sheets taped to their monitors.  It really was quite shocking. 

Who do these people think they are?  None of these sheet cheaters knew a thing about adult learning principles and diverse learning styles.  I’m sure that they’d never heard of ADDIE or Bloom.  And to make matters worse, they used the nemesis font of all instructional designers, Comic Sans MS!

Yet, despite their obvious ignorance of things related to sound instructional design, they accomplished in a couple of hours what our team had spent months doing, albeit with much less detail.  And that, I believe, is the crux of our problem.  As instructional designers, sometimes it’s hard to step away from the detail.

Cheat sheets are a way for people to hone in on the key points that are relevant to what they do.  By creating cheat sheets, the learners are filtering a lot of the detail and bringing to focus what they find to be the most important information.  Plus, if they ever really do need more detail, they can always blow the dust off of one of their training manuals, look online, or call the training group.

How Do Cheat Sheets Relate to E-Learning?

If we wanted to, we could start all of our elearning at Genesis 1:1 and then move on from there.  However, we recognize that that level of detail is more than necessary.  So we decide to reel it in and instead start at the history of whatever it is we are teaching.  Let me give you an example how this might look.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - how will these regulations help

I’ve done a lot of elearning courses for financial institutions.  As you can imagine, they are heavily regulated and require a lot of training.  The employee needs to learn how to fill out a document.  If she asked her co-worker for help she’d get a quick walk-through of the process.  She’d make some notes and then paste them on her monitor.  This could be done in a few minutes.

On the other hand, an elearning course will start by teaching her the history of the lending profession and how the nation of Yap used stone money.  However, since we use paper and not stone, we need various regulations to manage our industry.  Then she gets to learn about every detail of the regulations: what instigated them, what year they were created, and how her organization is responding to the regulations. 

Somewhere near the end of this process, she’ll eventually see the form she needs to complete as part of her job.  The entire course will take 60 minutes to teach what her co-worker could have taught her in about five.  To make matters worse, she’ll be forced to play a Jeopardy-style game to reinforce her ability to answers questions about this or that lending regulation and yet never be assessed on her ability to actually complete the form.

While some of this is slightly exaggerated, the main point is that a lot of elearning tends to have more information than is necessary to learn the task.  As Cathy suggests in her comment, there’s something to be learned by reviewing the notes that the learners create for themselves.  And it is this information we can apply to how we design our courses.

Do You Want to Win at Trivial Pursuit or Do Your Job Well?

The ultimate goal of elearning is to change behaviors.  So, to be successful, focus on the behaviors you need to change.  Consider my example above.  I’m not saying that the regulations and contextual information isn’t important.  Instead, what I’m suggesting is that perhaps it isn’t important to be covered in the elearning course itself.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - I'm glad I know how to fill out this form

Learners filter out a lot of the detail because it’s not critical to them getting the job done.  Take a close look at what the learner is writing on her notes.  Is she listing all of the "What do I need to know" information?  Or, is it more like, "What do I need to do?"  My guess is that the learner is making notes based on what has to be done rather than what needs to be known. 

In the same respect, you need to do this when designing your elearning courses.  As you go through the reams of paper and subject matter expertise, you’re job is to:

  • Determine the objectives
  • Select the information that will help meet them
  • Organize it in a manner that makes sense to the learner
  • Create a learning experience for the learner to practice using it
  • Provide feedback to the learner

Where does the contextual detail fit into that list?  An old mentor of mine used to say, "Imagine you only get one piece of paper for your course content.  Carefully decide what makes it on that page and still lets you meet your goals." 

This wasn’t a steadfast rule, but as an exercise, it forced us to carefully go through the information and think about how to present it in our elearning courses.  We learned to weed out the excess. 

The good thing with rapid elearning tools is that you can have the best of both worlds.  You can create elearning courses that are concise, media rich, and to the point while still adding links or attachments to more detailed information.  And, if you create job aids or "cheat sheets" for your courses, you can include those as well.

What do you do to create practical, relevant courses and avoid making them just information dumps?  Feel free to share in the comments section.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Needs Analysis Paralysis

We all know that doing a needs analysis is a good idea.  The problem is that we can become so focused on the analysis that we never get anything done.

I’ve worked on projects where I spent more time analyzing and filling out project forms than I did on actually creating courses.  On the other hand, I’ve also worked on projects where we did no analysis at all.  You can waste time and money using either approach.  So, where’s the balance?

Keep this goal in mind: create courses where the content is real to the learners.  That is the essence of all of the analysis.

If you have the resources, I’m sure that you can go through a very structured process to collect data and then put together some nice charts to show your client a bunch of bell curves and talk about statistical standard deviations.

What about those who don’t have time or money to do an exhaustive analysis?  Today, I’m going to give you some quick tips on how to collect the information you need to create relevant elearning courses.

Leave your cubicle.

I’m sure you work a lot of hours and you’re under pressure to get your work done.  Because of this, you get stuck at your desk and lose sight of the world around you.  This is especially true if you design elearning away from the world of your learners.

You have a computer at your desk, but your learners might share a computer in a lab.  Or, some of them don’t have sound cards or fast network connections.  You use a computer every day, but some of your learners don’t even know how to use a mouse, let alone click a “next” button.

Schedule some time to investigate the physical environment of those who’ll take your elearning course.  It’ll help put the course in the proper context.

Meet your learners.

In the same way you want to know the learner’s world, you also want to know the learner.  Who are the people that are taking your course?  Why do they need that information?  How will they use it?

Sit with your learners and get a feel for the work they do and how they’d apply the course content to their work.  The better you know your learners, the more relevant you can make the course.  If you’re pressed for time, only meet with two people.  Sometimes, just spending a couple of hours watching them work can be enough.

Assemble a pilot team.

If you don’t have the luxury of scheduling time to meet learners or visiting their work locations, a good alternative is to assemble a pilot team of people who represent your learners.  In fact, I’d assemble a pilot team either way.

These are people who can help you navigate the content and give you insight into how to make it relevant.  While you want experience and expertise on the team, make sure you don’t get stuck with the “know-it-all” expert.  Some of your best insight will come from recent learners.

Rapid prototype your courses.

I’ve worked on projects where we followed formal ADDIE steps and it would take months to roll out the courses.  Not anymore.  Why wait for it to be “perfect” if it means a delay in getting critical content to the right people?  With today’s tools, you can quickly build a course, test it out, get feedback, and then make adjustments.

While the tools let you build the course structure rapidly, a nice way to get the right context for the course is to get your users or pilot group to brainstorm scenarios where’d they use the content.  You get the benefit of learning more about their jobs and you get to rapidly prototype scenarios for use in your courses.

Create a survey.

So you work at one location and you don’t have access to your learners.  You won’t get to meet them.  In that case, create a survey.  It’s not as dynamic as spending real time with people, but you can still collect good information.  In addition, you can probably touch more people with a survey than you can with face-to-face contact.

There are a lot of good survey tools.  If you’re an Articulate user, you can leverage the surveys in Quizmaker.  If not, try one of the services like Zoomerang or Survey Monkey.  The trick with the survey is to collect the right information and to avoid collecting so much that you can’t process it.

Don’t bother doing an analysis.

Sometimes you don’t need an analysis.  There’s a good chance that your customer can give you what you need or you’re resourceful enough to trust your intuition.

I know I’ll get some flack for this advice, but from my experience that’s what’s happening anyway.  The last three organizations that I’ve worked for have been multibillion dollar companies with tens of thousands of employees.  At one, we actually were named the #1 training company.  I can tell you now, that doing any sort of analysis was in the minority.  And it wasn’t just at those companies.  It’s been that way everywhere I’ve worked.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t do an analysis.  There are just some projects that don’t require a lot.  Collect the information you need and do what you think is best.  Worst case, you learn what projects to spend time analyzing.

The goal in all of this isn’t to avoid doing a proper analysis of your course and determining how to best meet your objectives.  Instead, it’s to find the right balance between collecting the relevant information and getting your courses delivered in a timely manner.

I know that the blog readers come from diverse industries and what’s true from a corporate perspective might not be for those who design curriculum for the academic world or K12.  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and tips on quickly doing a needs analysis. Feel free to share them with us in the comments section.



Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

compliance training

Last week we looked at some of the issues with compliance-based elearning and how taking a different approach to its design can save your organization time and money.  And of course an additional benefit is that it makes your employees happier.  There are a number of good comments to the post and some ideas that you can explore.

Many times, how we approach building our compliance training is based on hearsay or regulatory urban legends.  So we end up with bloated and time consuming courses that only serve the purposes of sleep-deprived insomniacs.

One of the key points of last week’s post was to contact your legal department and find out what are the real requirements for your organization.  Then build your training around them rather than what you think the regulations say.

The ideal is to meet your compliance needs and at the same time identify legitimate gaps in understanding.  This allows you to address those gaps and provide the type of intervention that gets people up to the desired skill and performance level.

While there are many ways to design your elearning courses, today’s post features three simple strategies that will help you meet your certification needs and get your people back to work.

1. Create a Pre-Assessment

Put the certification test at the beginning of your course.  Make it a very comprehensive assessment so that you can truly identify their knowledge and skill level.  If the user passes the test, he jumps to the end and is certified.  If the user doesn’t pass, then you direct him to the course where he can get remedial training and additional assistance.

Keep in mind that even though it’s an assessment doesn’t mean it has to be a standard multiple choice or true/false quiz.  You can do an assessment as a series of case studies or scenarios, as well as a traditional quiz.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - preassess your learners

How you design the assessment and course is up to you.  You can use a simple linear approach, or create a dynamic scenario-based process.  It really doesn’t matter.  The point is that even if you use a simple structure like this, you can make the assessment more than a click-and-read process and, instead, make it as engaging as you want.

2. Empower the User

The first idea is to create the assessment up front and then direct the user based on the assessment result.  While it is a simple approach and easy to design, this can be intimidating for some users.  Here’s a way to soften it up and empower them at the same time.

Instead of just starting with the assessment, give the user a choice.  Tell them that they can go through the course and at any time they like, attempt to take the assessment.  Then unlock the course so the user can navigate it and see what’s covered.

Think of it this way.  You go to a book store and look through the pages of a good book on elearning.  Most likely, you’ll look at the table of contents, and then perhaps go to the index and look for specific areas of interest.  If you’re visual, you’ll flip through the pages to see what type of illustrations and examples are in the book.  It’s your way of assessing the book’s value and relevance.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - would you like to take the assessment now?

In a similar sense, when it comes to elearning courses, many people like to skim through the course content to get a sense of what’s in it.  Once they see the content and how it’s laid out, they get a sense of what they know and can determine if they need the course or not to help them pass the assessment.  This is why it’s important to unlock the course and give the learners room to explore.

Remember, these are courses for people who most likely already know the content and just need to demonstrate it and be certified.  It’s kind of like an experienced driver getting a new license.  The driver doesn’t need to take a driving class.  Instead, she takes a driver’s test.  If she passes, she gets a license.  If she can’t pass the test, she takes a class and practices until she can.

Using this approach lets the user see what’s required and mentally assess what he does or doesn’t know.  He can jump into a few sections to test his knowledge and comfort level and then take the assessment at any time.  In addition, odds are that he will self-assess and identify the area where he needs to know more and then review those sections.

3. Break the Content into Sections

Even if you can create courses with pre-tests, I’ve found that some organizations still won’t do it.  They’ll still request a formal “course.”  I’ve had customers tell me that even if people already know the information, it doesn’t hurt them to go through the course anyway.  I assume they think the information is going to stick to the learners like a static cling sock right out of the dryer.

In addition, some customers just aren’t comfortable with this type of approach where the user can self-navigate and choose when to take the assessment.  They don’t like the fact that people can test out.  Instead, they want them exposed to something that resembles a course.

While some customers shy away from a pre-test and still want a formal course, I’ve found that many are flexible enough to embrace the following approach.

Break the course content into distinct sections.  At the beginning of each section, give the user a choice to assess or go through the content.  At the end of all of the sections, do a final assessment.

You can still capture some time savings because a knowledgeable person can go through each section and test out quickly.  However, by breaking it into sections you can be more specific in the assessment process and catch areas where people might not be as fluent.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - review and assess each section

For example, if you only had one assessment for a course, a person might pass at 80% and be certified.  However, what happens if the 20% she didn’t get correct was all from the same area?  That could be a potential problem.

The advice in this post probably doesn’t work for courses where you’re trying to teach new skills.  However, if you do a lot of certification or annual refresher training, these three approaches should come in handy.

If you do something different or have an approach that you’d like to share with the community, feel free to do so.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.