No Shame in the Game: The Power (and Precautions) of Play in eLearning

By | eLearning Solutions | One Comment

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All work and no play might make Johnny a dull boy, but gaming is about a lot more than spicing up a lackluster eLearning program. While it’s true that game-based learning and corporate gamification can help increase user motivation and engagement, using either improperly (or interchangeably) can seriously limit their effectiveness in eLearning. Both gamification and game-based learning have specific applications, so understanding the difference and when each are appropriate allows you to better plan your work and play, and avoid unnecessary risks.

Gamification 101

Gamification is, in essence, applying traditional components of game design to your existing edTech. These components are used throughout the module to engage learners, like a quick quiz or a simulated environment in which learners must predict the right action.

What sets gamification apart is that typically, the emphasis is on personal achievement, rather than “winning.” Instead, game elements might be required to go onto another chapter or to earn a certain badge to present to other learners. Gamification turns the process into a game-like state, which may or may not include winning as the ultimate goal.

Gamification works well within the actual eLearning module rather than a standalone experience. It’s a great way to get learners to practice knowledge- and skills-based concepts before moving onto another chapter.

What About Game-Based Learning?

Learners, come on down! Don’t make the mistake of assuming gamification and game-based learning are the same thing. While gamification puts gaming characteristics onto existing learning processes, game- or play-based learning offers standalone gaming experiences, usually as a supplement to existing L&D measures.

Game-based learning can be anything from a friendly game of Sales Jeopardy to a round of Who Wants to be a Compliance Training Whiz. It’s utilizing actual games (some ideas taken from common game shows and board games, and some of your own design) to help learners brush up on skills and knowledge.

Game- or play-based learning inspired motivation because it offers a heavy emphasis on winning the game. Unlike gamification, which focuses on personal achievement, game-based learning utilizes team or individual competition to get learners excited to participate. Prizes, leaderboards and other rewards are fairly common as a way to improve participation from learners.

Putting Play to Practice

Gamification at work is a great way to beef up a module that requires more than just clicking through. It offers learners a chance to show off their skills through choosing the right path in simulation, or getting points after answering trivia questions correctly. Game-based play, however, is a standalone method of learning and doesn’t necessarily need to be attached to a specific module. A little silly and inventive, games are meant to ignite competition between learners and works best for knowledge-based applications.

Both gamification and learning games add new depth to your learner experience, creating a competitive atmosphere where learner competes against himself – and others. While it might sound like child’s play and perhaps a risky addition to a corporate environment, adding gaming to your eLearning strategy is actually a sophisticated way to engage, motivate and excite learners.

3 Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes When Deploying an LMS

By | eLearning Solutions | One Comment

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Sure, it sounds like a match made in eLearning heaven: A system by which you can deploy, administer, track and assess your efforts with learners. What could be simpler? But while using an LMS can make your job easier and more effective, making huge mistakes during deployment could cause your LMS to go off the rails before it ever leaves the station. Proper eLearning project management can be accomplished by knowing what it really takes to deploy an LMS, and subsequently watching for common missteps, all go a long way to ensure that you have realistic expectations and eventually, real results.. (Check this resource post if you’re wondering what is a learning management system.)

  1. Planning a Too-Tight Schedule

The process of deploying a new learning management system from start to finish is going to take some time, but too often organizations don’t budget enough for the work that goes into the task. From choosing and setting up the LMS, to creating administrative roles, uploading curriculum structure and working on user profiles, deploying an LMS takes time: Around an average of four months.

Be realistic when planning a deployment timeline. Being generous with your schedule means you have the space, time and manpower to deploy it right the first time and only when you’re ready.

  1. Overbuilding the LMS

Think about an LMS as choosing a car off of the showroom floor: If you wanted, you could load it up with all the bells and whistles, but if you’re just looking for a commuter car, do you need them all? Seeing all of the features that come along with your chosen LMS can get you excited, but it can also leave you with way more work and technical components than you really need.

Remember that the more features you add to your LMS, the more prone you are to technical difficulties and slow deployment. Instead, flip the switch on the features that you need right now and leave the other bells and whistles until you really need them.

  1. Deploying without Testing

Even the most advanced LMS is going to have some bugs. Whether it’s sketchy audio, device incompatibility or interactive components that won’t interact, your LMS might be a little fussy at first. Deploying your new LMS to the masses without a few test runs only means headache for you in the future. Users will come to you with their questions, tech support issues and concerns, so it’s vital that you test, retest – and then test again.

Get a beta testing group together, made up of users who will interact with the LMS much like your eventual learner, but who are technologically savvy enough to understand why they’re experiencing errors. Log those errors and utilize that beta testing to make your LMS perfect. While it might seem like an unnecessary step, taking the time to test means fewer tech-related issues going forward. It also gives you a better chance to really get to know your LMS and what it can (and can’t) do.

We get it: Deploying an LMS is pretty exciting in the world of L&D. But don’t let the excitement of a new system cause you to deploy without the proper prep. Instead, take your time and work out the bugs so that deployment is smooth, simple and seamless.

Managing Quality Control by Harnessing Systems

By | eLearning Solutions | One Comment

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“Time is on my side…,” or so the song goes? Actually, time is never on your side when you’re responsible for the quality control of an eLearning project. Chances are you’re working on a rapid eLearning development project, in which case there is little time to waste. When “push the training out” is the corporate mantra, it can mean quality control takes the hit. It can mean additional, after-the-fact development time or a project that doesn’t meet the stated goals.

As a project manager, planning time throughout your project cycle for quality control and making corrections earlier rather than later can save you time, money, resources and aggravation while enabling you to meet your training goals. Sure, it would help to have an eLearning company running the show, but for those in-house project managers running the eLearning development cycle, it is important to keep a few things in mind. We’ll examine three tips for managing the quality-control process through applying systems.

System 1: Build in Time

The eLearning development cycle is similar to the software development cycle. Would software companies release untested software full of bugs, AKA features? They shouldn’t, and that’s why you receive frequent updates. Wouldn’t it make better sense to plan for contingencies and to build in time for quality control throughout the project cycle instead of leaving it until the end? Do whatever it takes to convince the project manager to build in time for quality assurance.

System 2: Templates to the Rescue

Templates serve as the foundation or the bones of most eLearning projects. “Create once, use many” has the added feature of working out the bugs once and building on a bug-free foundation. Just as the template saves the developers and writers hours of work, the quality assurance (QA) is conducted once, not every time the company creates a new eLearning project based on the template.

System 3: Keeping Records

How boring, right? But, can you spell productive? Some people spell it “Excel.” Others have proprietary methods. Whatever your method, keeping records of problems and fixes (notes, dates, whatever else you want to note) can actually save you time. Document your QA efforts for a few programs, and you’ll begin to detect a pattern. Certain writers and developers tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Through your record-keeping, you’ll determine who falls short when validating data, who requires grammatical cleanup and who consistently sends you broken interactions and gamification.

Even on a short timeline, quality assurance doesn’t have to suffer. The trick to turning good QA into great QA is more than building in time at the beginning of the production cycle—it’s trading time for systems—whatever systems work best for you.

What to Expect: 5 Components of the eLearning Project Management Cycle

By | eLearning Solutions | 3 Comments

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Planning an eLearning project? By the time you meet with the instructional designer, the project is already your baby: You’ve probably had to negotiate the budget with management and have a rough idea of what you really need. The next step is to take your rough ideas to someone qualified and creative enough to turn them into something polished, engaging and on-brand. By knowing what to expect throughout the eLearning project management cycle, you’re better prepped for what your designer will need from you in the process.

  1. Initial Kickoff

When you’ve made the decision to work with a particular eLearning company or designer, it’s time to gather up all of your materials and content: A kickoff call or meeting is in order. During your first project-specific interaction, you’ll be asked to supply all of the necessary media, content and graphics that you already have prepped for your eLearning project. Not only does the designer require those materials to input them into your program, but they also help form a more well-rounded idea of how you want your eLearning module to look and feel.

You’ll also have a chance to talk about delivery style: Are you going for a classic module, or do you have particular platforms and accessibility needs to address?

  1. Development Schedule

You’ve probably already been working on your eLearning initiative, but it’s time to set a schedule for project management. From the initial kickoff call to handing over the completed module, a good eLearning design and management team collaborates with the organization to receive input and ideas. Therefore, regularly scheduled calls and chick-ins are a must and create a well-rounded development schedule.

  1. Look and Feel Draft

The look and feel draft is an integral part of getting it right: Before getting into the nitty gritty of the module design, the instructional designer gives you a chance to look at a rough draft and make changes. The look and feel draft is heavier on branding and interactivity than it is content, so you’ll have the opportunity to make sure the way the module looks aligns with your organizational experience.

  1. The Alpha

It sounds important because it is: The alpha draft is a completely finished eLearning module without the audio. By interacting with the audio, you can see exactly what your learners will see when they use the program. You’ll need to sign off on the alpha before the module is completely finished, so now is a great time to voice any concerns you have about functionality. 

  1. Approval

Finally, audio is added to the final draft of your module, completing your project. Naturally this only occurs when you’re fully satisfied with the alpha. Once approval is given and the module is completed, it’s then delivered to you and is ready for learner delivery. You’ll have officially seen the project through from start to finish.

While it might seem exhaustive, nailing out all of the details ahead of design work ultimately results in a more efficient module that aligns perfectly with your brand goals. Know what to expect from the process so you and your instructional designer can use that vision to create something truly amazing. For more info, check out this post on the 3 phases of conversation required for any successful eLearning project management.

We Need to Talk: 3 Must-Have Conversations for Better eLearning Project Management

By | eLearning Solutions | 7 Comments

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eLearning projects are like any solid relationship: Communication is key. Without the right channels of information at the right time, your relationship with your eLearning company or designer could be more frustrating than fruitful. By making sure you’re constantly in the know and collaborating together, you’re better able to manage your eLearning project based on accurate scheduling, content sharing and a harmonious interpretation of what you need. Here are three must-have conversations to create the right foundation for your eLearning project.

Talk #1: Initial Input

You and your instructional designer are not on separate teams. Instead, you’re working together to achieve your eLearning development goals. That’s why there should be open lines of communication surrounding your vision for the project, along with existing materials and media to be included in the project. Offering your initial input should help you better define your eLearning goals and brainstorm delivery methods that best suit your needs.

A good instructional design team wants your input as the manager who will ultimately sign off on the final draft of the module. The initial conversation sets the tone for the rest of your experience working together, so it should be collaborative and open. Set a timeline and work together to come up with a rough sketch of what your module will entail.

Talk #2: Regular Check-In

You shouldn’t have to beg for your instructional design team to keep you in the know: The best designers know that keeping a project manager in the loop means clear expectations. Frequent check-ins ensure that your eLearning project is on the right path, has the materials you want, and will be delivered in the best way possible. You should also be able to compare the design timeline to the one created during the initial input phase of your project.

Keeping the project on-time and on-budget with regular check-ins also keep management happy, so it’s vital to your role as eLearning project manager.

Talk #3: The Follow-up

Finally, it’s vital to have follow-up conversations and emails to further clarify your opinions and requirements for a finished module. When so many are involved in one eLearning project, it’s vital that every member of the team have the same interpretation of conversations and materials. Sending a quick, bulleted list to reiterate a weekly check-in, or fortifying a module change via a conference call keeps all the members of the team – both organizational and instructional – on the same page as to what a successful project looks like.

Don’t skip follow-up communication because you think you got it the first time. If your instructional design team seems to discourage regular check-ins, follow-ups and communication, it might act as a red flag.

eLearning Project Management 

As a project manager, it’s up to you to make sure the eLearning process runs smoothly from start to finish. By keeping your entire team in the loop, communication acts as the anchor to help you (and your project) stay on track. For more articles on thought leadership within the eLearning sphere, be sure to check out more from our eLearning blog.

Responsive VS Adaptive Design: Creating a Personal Learning Environment

By | eLearning Solutions | 2 Comments

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Most people are accustomed to getting things just the way they like them. From ordering a burger – hold the onions – to queuing up a list of saved TV shows on their DVR, preferences essentially predict the outcome for choice after choice each day. And then, something happens with training: All learners are forced to experience the exact same module, regardless of their preferences. The lack of individualization creates an immediate disconnect between learner and material.

Of course, if you really want to capture your learner’s attention, you create the most personalized experience possible: A personal learning environment. Every eLearning company knows that when you combine both responsive and adaptive design, your learner gets to dictate how, when and where he learns. Though the two are ideal when combined, it is important to note some differences between the two:

Responsive vs. Adaptive Design

Don’t make the mistake of using the terms “responsive” and “adaptive” interchangeably. While both can be used to create personalized learning, their applications make all the difference.

Responsive design is device-based, meaning it causes the eLearning module to respond according to the type of device being used by the learner. Whether it’s pulling up the course on a computer screen or opening an application on a tablet, responsive design responds to stuff like screen size and bandwidth to create a seamless experience across all devices.

While it’s true that you could create a separate program from each device, the process is expensive and results in tracking and metrics difficulties as you struggle to gather data from several different applications. Instead, if you know your learners will be accessing the course via different types of devices, it makes sense to build responsive design components from day one.

Adaptive design is learner-driven. Instead of responding to the device, adaptive eLearning design receives learner information, from geographical location to language, startup preferences and even learning behaviors to create a more personal experience for each learner.

Consider a pharmaceutical sales rep: She travels from doctor’s office to doctor’s office and needs quick access to information. Good adaptive technology could utilize her location services to detect which office she’s visiting and switch out her mobile phone library based on a specific field, doctor or hospital. Similarly, an adaptive course could detect that a learner tends to scroll through modules, offering a bullet-point page or the ability to test out of familiar subject matters. Both scenarios allow for an individual to dictate preferences and enjoy a learning experienced tailored to fit exactly. (For more info on this topic, check out our post on mobile learning).

Principles of Responsive and Adaptive Design

When implementing both responsive and adaptive design to personalize the learning experience (or trying to improve your current efforts), remember these two key tips:

  1. Focus on the Learner. Being learner-centric gives you the ability to view your module in the same way a learner would. Where would personalized components be the most appreciated? Success relies on how learners perceive the program, so think like a learner and adjust accordingly.
  2. Be content-specific. Responsive and adaptive learning isn’t ideal for every topic. If a certain topic requires a long-form explanation, a watered-down mobile version may be inappropriate. Before diving headlong into responsive design, ensure that the content can be manipulated while essentially still being absorbed the same among different learners and learning experiences.

Whether you want extra cheese on your burger or just for your eLearning module to remember you tend to login with your smartphone, responsive and adaptive design are about having it your way. By offering options for learners to tailor their experience, you create personalization options that truly engage and optimize.