Monthly Archives: August 2014

What Should You Look for When Commissioning an Instructional Designer?

By | eLearning Solutions | 2 Comments

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As manager of the technical writing department, you’ve been tasked with producing your company’s first eLearning effort. Your team spends hours writing regulatory drivel such as “do not iron clothing while wearing it” or “don’t place beverages in CD player,” so they enthusiastically tackle the assignment with crisp scripts. Unfortunately, they fall short in producing quality graphics and video. Tasking people with projects that far exceed their current skill set produces predictable results—disastrous.

Past deadline and in a panic, you consider commissioning the first instructional designer you can find with free time. That’s not a plan; that’s an emergency gone even further awry, so you reconsider. Follow along as we explore three important considerations to help you find the right designer.

Thinking Outside the Box

You can’t know what designer or team is best for your eLearning project until a reputable vendor analyzes your goals within the constraints of your time frame, budget, in-house resources, etc. The analysis determines the best format for presenting and measuring the effectiveness of your eLearning system and the proper avenue for aftercare. Thinking outside the box often provides unlikely but effective solutions. That’s what seasoned instructional designers routinely provide.

The Best Fit for You

Look for vendors who employ designers and developers across a range of disciplines and learning management systems who can develop a course within the framework of ADDIE or SAM as well as produce mLearning for on-the-go training or real-time answers while performing a task. No one designer can deliver it all, so it’s important to have an expert field from which to choose. In addition to the proper skill set, you want a designer with a familiarity with your field who can remain true to your brand and corporate culture.

Onshoring Rediscovered

Offshoring was all the rage in communication and documentation—back in the last century. Today’s forward-looking businesses realize the distinct advantages of onshoring. It’s difficult to manage a team halfway round the world that works while you sleep. Quality control is even more difficult to control. The initial savings sounds good, but the cost of tweaking after-the-fact often exceed the savings.

Amateur designers can’t deliver the creative solutions today’s workplace demands. Until you can cultivate and nurture your own team of experts with a rich skill set, look to trusted vendors to fill your needs with quality designers.

Elements of Cost: What to Expect When Investing in eLearning

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Custom eLearning means tailoring solutions to fit your organization’s needs exactly. But it also means that knowing exactly what to budget for those needs can be tricky to predict. Because the final cost is so dependent on eLearning elements, interactivity and organizational materials, you’ll need to reconcile your costs with the investment in your company’s training and development going forward. In the end, well-produced, engaging and effective eLearning is worth every penny. Here are some factors to consider when setting your eLearning budget.

eLearning Project Scope

A good instructional designer knows that every project is unique and requires individual attention to detail. The scope of your eLearning project will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Current content that can be used for scripts.
  • Assets, such as photos, scripts and voice-overs.
  • Whether or not your organization has a designated SME on hand.
  • Media considerations.
  • What type of learning your organization needs: Are you going for a blended approach? Will you require custom gamification?

Working with an instructional designer, you can narrow your project scope and better understand which elements are investments in your organization’s L&D. If your organization already has media, information and experts on hand, the cost will be lower than if you’re starting from scratch.

Interacting with Interactivity

Another factor to consider when budgeting for eLearning is the desired level of interactivity. It’s no secret that a more interactive module is a more effective module, but those features will ultimately add to your overall cost.

Your best bet? Matching topics with their necessary level of interactivity to make sure you make the most of every dollar. Not ever end user or topic requires a game, quiz or media set, so focus your interactivity budget where it’ll make the biggest difference in terms of user engagement.  In the end, swapping a longer, budget-busting module with a shorter, younger and more interactive module might be a better use of investment.

Making the Investment

Don’t think of your eLearning budget as just another cost. Instead, it’s a vital investment necessary to bring your training, leadership and development to the next level. Better training leads to better prepared employees, improved onboarding solutions and employees who are motivated and satisfied by their level of training and development at work. Ultimately, increasing your investment in training pays you back in spades in some of the most valuable currency: Motivated leaders.

Getting rid of your heritage solutions for something fresher, newer and more interactive means employees are more engaged, resulting in more bang for your budgeted buck. While it can be difficult to predict the costs associated with a custom eLearning design, working with an experienced designer should help you understand how to put your budget to work for the most effective and engaging program possible.

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Standards Wars: SCORM vs. Tin Can API (xAPI)

By | eLearning Solutions | 2 Comments

Tin Can API (aka Experience API or xAPI), the new kid on the block in eLearning specifications and standards, is built on the concepts of the older Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). SCORM has been around for a decade, and Tin Can is still in its infancy with version 1.0 released April 2013.

SCORM ushered in universal standards for educational content. Today, most learning content is SCORM or Tin Can compliant. Both standards make content widely available to eLearners and track their progress through statements. SCORM uses metadata, and Tin Can uses an Actor:Verb:Object-style statement written in simple code.

SCORM Blazed the Trail

SCORM ensures learning content compatibility among a wide range of tools, browsers, content sources, and Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Each of the above needs to be SCORM compliant for everything to work seamlessly, but most everything developers and learners use is compliant.

SCORM created freedom for eLearning instructional designers and developers as well as course administrators by enabling them to include web-based content from many sources. A company can ditch vendors, tools and LMSs at will. eLearning programs can no longer be held hostage by anyone. As long as everything is SCORM compliant, the beat goes on.

SCORM’s major drawback didn’t matter at first, and it might not matter to you. Its tracking capabilities are limited to web-based content and events. In other words, it handles book smarts, not street smarts (experiences).

Tin Can – One Step Further

Tin Can works a bit differently. Instead of communicating with the LMS, it communicates with a Learning Records Store (LRS). This isn’t just a change in acronyms. The LRS can reside within an LMS, or it can run as a standalone program.

xAPI doesn’t stop with architecture. It extends to learning and offers greater flexibility than SCORM. You’ve no doubt stumbled upon the fact that some of the richest learning takes place outside of the classroom, whether it’s the traditional or virtual classroom. In addition to recording and tracking events, Tin Can records and tracks real-world experiences that take place outside of the classroom as long as they are defined with an event name and a verb. For example, John Smith:Toured: Louvre Museum. Experiencing an event doesn’t imply completion.

There is a conversion route from SCORM to xAPI, but before you make the investment in time and resources, let a professional help you assess your needs.

How to Improve Learner Experience Through Custom eLearning Solutions

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If the idea of training has your learners yawning, it might be time for a radical change in the way your organization addresses learning and development. More than just a way to use up budget money and kill a few afternoons, L&D gives you the opportunity to mold the right type of employee, identify leaders and even keep your best assets in-house and satisfied with growth opportunities.

Custom eLearning solutions reform training and development so learners feel like it’s worth their time and effort. By tailoring modules to suit your organization’s needs exactly, you offer on-point training with maximum results.

Preliminary Considerations

When first meeting with an instructional designer, you have the unique opportunity to dial into exactly what you need and the best way to accomplish your training and development goals. Come ready with a list of questions and suggestions, including:

  • What past efforts have you tried?
  • Were they successful?
  • Do you have a particular style guide in place?
  • What is the ultimate goal you need to achieve through training?
  • Who is your target learner?

Discussing these preliminary considerations with an instructional designer can help you better uncover exactly why custom eLearning is a necessity. As you hone in on exactly what you want, you’ll realize that traditional methods just won’t cut it anymore.

Custom Learning a la Carte

Once you’ve defined your needs, you’re now free to create a custom program that combines any number of elements of eLearning. For some, that might mean a short-and-sweet interactive program. For others, it might mean a blended or flipped classroom method for the best-rounded experience. That’s the main benefit of a custom eLearning solution: You get to add everything that works for your needs without all of the extras that you don’t.

Much of the “how” of eLearning will depend upon factors like subject matter, learner engagement and training goals. Luckily, a qualified and experienced instructional designer can walk you through your options and offer suggestions for which type of custom learning works best for your organization’s unique needs.

Perpetuating Positive Engagement

If the need for custom eLearning could be summed up in just one word, it would be “engagement.” The purpose of designing custom solutions is to make sure that learners feel engaged, respected and educated all through the same module or program. Unfortunately, heritage programs aren’t always designed with the learner in mind. Therefore, when the learner perceives that the program is of low value, he or she disengages from the material.

Custom solutions create a connection between the learner and the material: Suddenly, what they’re reading, hearing and experiencing has professional (and sometimes even personal) value. With user engagement on the line, you simply can’t afford to rest on the merits of an old-school system. Instead, a custom training module engages learners to make the most of every minute.

3 Secret Benefits of Custom eLearning Course Development

By | eLearning Solutions | 6 Comments

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You already know the facts: Custom eLearning is superior because it increases user engagement and offers the most control and creativity when it comes to content. But while those are definitely vital and worthy goals, there might be a few hidden benefits of custom eLearning that you’ve never considered. Besides the obvious increase in training and development efficacy, you might be surprised at benefits like brand alignment and reusable assets. The bottom line? Custom eLearning is the gift that keeps on giving.

1.  Reusable Assets

Reduce, recycle and reuse: It’s the chant used by the environmentally conscious. But it could become the new motto for eLearning development, too. It’s true that most of your eLearning investment will come at the start of the project, but assets, templates and media can be used again and again, reducing your overall training costs.

Whether it’s a new template used for various training topics, or a stock photo library pulled together from your organization’s databases, custom eLearning lays the groundwork for a more automated, inexpensive process in the future. Unlike traditional courses, which require live teachers and near-constant restructuring, your custom eLearning templates and lessons can be used again and again to cut costs and create a smooth and constant experience for learners.

2. Renewed Interest

Some organizations believe that if it isn’t broken, you shouldn’t fix it. This attitude is applied to eLearning, resulting in heritage training programs being used for years with little more than quick updates. But what these organizations don’t understand is that while the subject matter and delivery system might be solid, it’s their user engagement levels that are broken.

When the same training modules are used repeatedly for years, it creates a disconnect between learners – particularly those who have experienced the material before. Instead of engaging with the module, they click through without really absorbing the information. When presented with better-designed and more engaging eLearning, learners are apt to sit up and take notice, increasing their absorption and renew their interest in the subject matter.

3. Brand Alignment

Consider a glossy fashion brand: The marketing team goes to great lengths to present the brand as high-end, polished and trend-forward. Advertisements and social networking reflect that image. But somehow, when creating training materials, the same high-gloss fashion brand offers a lackluster PowerPoint presentation for their learners. The brand and the eLearning don’t add up.

Custom eLearning means the ability to ensure that your outward- and inward-facing reputations align. With a more tailored experience, your internal training matches your external investment to protect your brand integrity and create a seamless transition from marketing materials to training and development throughout the organization.

Custom eLearning means the ability to address your organization’s unique needs. Unfortunately, heritage or one-size-fits-all solutions don’t always give you the control over user experience, brand alignment and media that you could have with custom eLearning. An investment well worth your time, you’ll be surprised at just how far custom solutions can reach.

Honey, I Shrunk the eLearning to BYOD mLearning!

By | eLearning Solutions | 6 Comments

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“Honey, I shrunk the eLearning!” Is that your strategy for designing eLearning for mobile devices—shrinking eLearning to mLearning? Before you design a mobile eLearning module, consider the following cultural influences:

  • TED talks vs. 45-minute presentations
  • Infographics condense reams of statistics and make them understandable to mere mortals
  • Text messaging and Twitter as forms of conversation

What can we infer from these observations? We have a miniscule attention span. On the plus side, learning-on-the-go, when executed properly, can be more effective than “traditional” butt-in-seat eLearning that drags on forever. In addition, it can be cost effective.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)—Tablet vs. Smartphone

Cicso’s BYOD 2013 Insights reported that 90 percent of Americans use their smartphone for work. On-the-go mLearning implies a smartphone. Few people carry a tablet in their back pockets, but no one leaves home without a smartphone. When you design for the smartphone you reach the tablet audience, but the converse doesn’t necessarily apply.

On-the-go mLearning usually takes place as an independent learning moment, not a learning moment that coincides with a performance moment.

Design Do’s and Don’ts for On-the-Go mLearning

You can’t just “shrink” your eLearning and call it mLearning. If your goal is effective learning, you have to design for the device. If you’re an experienced PowerPoint creator, chunk the content per screen down a little further, and you’ve got the idea. Keep the following in mind when designing for mLearning:

  • Short and sweet – On-the-go implies “hurry up and wait,” lines, doctors’ offices, etc. Keep your mLearning to 10-15 minutes.
  • Design for cross compatibility.
  • Use relative pixel size rather than defined dimensions.
  • Scrap scrolling – It’s difficult on smartphones.
  • Design mostly for landscape view, except…
  • Infographics usually require portrait view. Late-model smartphones use a G-sensor to accommodate for changes in orientation. Simplify infographics for smartphone use.
  • Place interactive text fields near the top of the screen.
  • Audio and video – compress, optimize and keep it short. Avoid Flash.
  • Use bold, simple graphics without text and png format for best color and lossless compression.
  • Use bright, bold buttons and interactive features. Size hotspots for easy selection with fingers. Subtleties used for larger presentation get lost on the smartphone screen.
  • Keep quiz selections to three choices.
  • When including gamification, use quiz-style games instead of complex games.
  • Optimize file size.

And, finally: test, test and test some more. Put yourself in your learners’ shoes to remove annoying factors that don’t translate well from eLearning to mLearning.

Case Study: 5 Reasons You Need an LMS

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If you already have a heritage training system in place, you might not see the value in bringing a new Learning Management System on board. Hey, they mostly accomplish the same task, right? Well, chances are that even if you have a current training system in place, it can’t do what an LMS can for your organization.

Take a cue from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America – they replaced their heritage system with an LMS to wildly successful results, which help illustrate the reasons why an LMS makes a huge difference in training and development.

Big Brothers Big Sisters – Big Problem

While the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization had a training system in place, there were a few major holes. First, the organization has over 360 agencies in the United States alone, which meant all training had to be done on a massive scale. Second, training for volunteers had to be incredibly specific to create a constant experience across all agencies. Unfortunately, the heritage system couldn’t track and certify new volunteers, so training was more or less left up to each agency.

Understanding there was an issue, the organization implemented Impact U; an LMS-based training program that brought the same training experience to all agencies. Impact U could be accessed anytime and anywhere, which meant volunteers could prep themselves before getting started with the organization.

An LMS-Based Training Program

Some other features Impact U offers:

  • A daily messaging system for quick information.
  • Performance tracking.
  • Standardized certification across all agencies.
  • Best practices library.
  • Forums for inter-organizational sharing and support.

When seeing the success of the program, it’s clear that a simple training module or video series can’t do what an LMS can in terms of training and consistency for larger organization.

Why You Need an LMS

The world of training and development is changing, and your organization needs to change too. Gone are the days when instructor-led, conference room training was enough. The globalization of organizations, paired with the market competition means companies need to work harder than ever to stay at the front of the pack.

Like the Big Brothers Big Sisters experience, an LMS can completely streamline and revolutionize training. Even if your heritage system is working OK, take note of the reasons to make a switch:

  1. An LMS introduces tracking capabilities, which means seeing when and where employees are accessing training materials, as well as their progress and understanding.
  2. An LMS automates the training process while still allowing autonomy. All users have access to the same information, but can choose how and when they interact.
  3. Implementing an LMS means introducing core competencies across all of your locations. Information is no longer interpreted by the individual, creating a more constant experience.
  4. An LMS allows the administrators to quickly customize and add, which means quickly swapping in new information so learners have up-to-date data and training in the moment.
  5. Your LMS offers tools line in-system messaging, social networking and forums, creating a more collaborative learning environment regardless of geographical location.

Convinced yet? Just because your current training and development protocol is working fine doesn’t mean it’s fulfilling its purpose. By introducing an LMS, your organization could achieve the success enjoyed by Big Brothers Big Sisters – making training easier, more accessible and ultimately, more effective.

 

Cost or Investment? Measuring the Impact of Your LMS

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In a world of constant budget cuts and an ever-slimming bottom line, training isn’t always seen as a solid investment. Of course, unless you shadow your employees for a few months, it’s hard to tell exactly how the training affects their thoughts and behavior.

To truly assess the ROI of an LMS, organizations need to decide whether training is a cost – or an investment. Adding up the cost savings when compared to other training methods helps, but the true ROI is found in the significant revenue benefits.

Cost Savings of LMS

It’s no secret that an LMS is cheaper to administer than traditional training. Without the necessity of travel, paying instructors and renting facilities, eLearning modules can be experienced again and again for a relatively low cost. After the initial cost for development, your LMS should run like a well-oiled machine, which means less time facilitating the training and more time experiencing the benefits.

But it’s the revenue benefits that are the real star of the ROI show – and the area most leadership will be concerned about. It’s difficult to predict exact numbers for your organization, but analysis by the American Society of Training and Development found that when compared to organizations that spent a mere $125 per employee on training, those that invested $1,500 per employee experienced 218 percent higher income per employee. Those that invested more also enjoyed 24 percent higher gross profit margins.

Why the increase? There are a few different theories. An LMS system promotes just-in-time learning, which creates better-informed, more proficient employees that don’t need to wait for a training session to increase their knowledge base. What’s more, a well-built LMS reduces time to market, which means trained employees are the first to offer products and services that other organizations are still learning about them. Better-trained employees are also happier employees, so organizations willing to invest in development are likely to experience lower employee turnover, which also saves money.

Maxing Out ROI

Convinced that an LMS is the way to go? That’s just half the battle. The next step is to work on increasing the impact of your LMS to make sure every invested dollar is working to its full capacity. Here are some ways to make your LMS go to work for a higher ROI:

  • Create an organic introduction. Don’t force an LMS on employees. Instead, find organic ways to introduce and use an LMS as part of their regular day. Looking up a new product in a knowledge base, for example, shows employees how beneficial the LMS without coercing them during a formal training session.
  • Focus on user experience. Try navigating the LMS with your “employee” hat on. Is it simple and intuitive? Does it offer value? Do you want to use it, or would another method be easier? Make sure that you’re offering employees value and simplicity or the LMS could go unused.
  • Install reporting and analytics. Any good LMS should feature methods for user analysis, whether it’s through discussion questions or user feedback. Gather up the reports and use them to help calculate your unique ROI and continue to improve and adjust your LMS accordingly.

When implemented properly, your LMS will always be a solid investment, even if the initial costs might be more than traditional, face-to-face learning. By seeing the potential an LMS offers your organization, seeing the positive benefits, cost savings and even revenue benefits makes eLearning an easy sell.

 

 

The Right Stuff: 5 Features Your LMS Needs

By | eLearning Solutions | 4 Comments

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Approaching eLearning and training without a Learning Management System (LMS) in place could mean that you’re making your job harder than it has to be. While it’s possible to administer eLearning on your own, an LMS helps automate the process for custom accessibility and simple analytics. Of course, not all management systems are created equally. Whether you’re going for a custom approach or you’re using SaaS, make sure it’s a match made in eLearning heaven by looking for the right features based on your organization’s needs.

eLearning Customization Tools

One of the first questions you should ask when vetting an LMS should be “How easy is it to customize?” No two companies have the same learning needs, so if you need to contact tech support every time you need to upload a new module or check your reports, you’ll waste time and resources. A good LMS is fully customizable by the administrator, and offers simple-to-use tools for making changes, uploading and downloading analytics.

Learning Paths

Forcing your learners into the same mold with your LMS is bound to breed boredom and disengagement. Instead, your LMS should acknowledge the individual by offering a number of available learning paths so learners can take control of their own training. Even though all paths will lead to the same destination – training and development – offering choices makes for happier, more engaged learners.

Web-Based and Mobile Accessibility

Your LMS is only as good as its access points, and if your learner has to be parked at his desk to access the material, it’s less than ideal. A modern LMS should offer a couple of different choices when it comes to accessibility, offering not only a Web-based option, but mobile accessibility as well. The easier your learners can access the LMS, the better chance that they’ll take the initiative and learn on their own time.

Collaboration and Interaction

They say that no man is an island: Therefore, a lack of collaboration tools can make your learners feel completely stranded. Choose an LMS that offers options for synchronous and asynchronous communication, like instant messaging, forum access and offline messaging for learners and administrators. This keeps learners engaged and part of the group.

Reporting and Assessment

What’s an LMS without analytics? A solid LMS offers fast and easy access to assessment tools, like quiz results and usage logs. British company Tesco recently updated their LMS for all 400,000 employees, making sure that reporting was an integral part of the update. It acts as a vital way to streamline the training of so many employees, while making sure the experience is both constant and effective for those who utilize the LMS for eLearning and training.

Your LMS can either revolutionize the way you train – for better or for worse. By taking your time and properly vetting a number of different systems and software, you’ll choose one that works best for your organization’s unique needs.

Clone Wars: Cultivating New Leaders Through Interactive eLearning

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As a manager, you can't clone yourself, but you can cultivate new leaders through interactive eLearning. Find out how!

Most managers know the feeling all too well: After another night of burning the midnight oil, looking around and wishing that there was simply more of yourself to go around. But perhaps the problem isn’t time, but leadership skills. By investing in leadership training for managers and upwardly-mobile employees, you can help create a stronger circle of leaders in your organization. Hey, cloning is still a few years away. For now, follow the example of top organizations to increase the potential of non-manager employees so there’s more of you to go around.

Expanding the Skills Circle

Managers can sometimes hold their leadership skills a little close: They want to remain in-demand and in-control. But the best leaders understand that passing on those skills to other employees doesn’t put their jobs in jeopardy, but makes them easier. An organization teeming with strong leaders is an organization with clear vision and effective employees.

Giving your employees a chance to lead can also help increase succession efforts to help the best employees stay put. When colleagues feel as though they are being primed for new roles and responsibilities, their job satisfaction increases immensely – all while making your job significantly easier as you train those you trust the most.

Whirlpool’s Blended Learning Program

Appliance giant Whirlpool saw the need for more leaders within the company, so it turned training on its head by introducing a new eLearning program. Previously a strictly face-to-face training facility, the Whirlpool University campus began implementing blended learning as a method to prime leaders for new training and development opportunities.

Now, those employees invited to undergo leadership training first experience a series of online modules, which essentially prep them for live courses. Once the online portion has been completed, they’re invited to the campus for more instructor-led training. The result is the ability to weed out the true leaders from among the general population, while ensuring that those chosen are ready to learn. All in all, the process lasts about a year, proving that Whirlpool is serious about building leadership skills in existing employees.

Holiday Inn’s Management Training Module

Holiday Inn Express had an issue: While most general managers are hired from the general employee population, the job is usually their first leadership role. To better prepare employees to take on those roles, Holiday Inn Express introduced a new series of training modules.

The modules, which are completely online and accessible again and again, lead the employees through a number of scenarios which mimic customer service and leadership conflicts employees could experience as general managers. The employees can choose the outcome and replay the simulations again and again. The module helps gear up potential leaders in the event that they’re promoted to a general management position.

The best organizations know that managers aren’t the only ones whose leadership skills should be cultivated. By identifying key employees and utilizing eLearning as a viable and accessible training tools, you won’t have to clone yourself: Instead, you’ll have an entire organization of leaders.