3D Printing at Work: New Developments in Training Tech  

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3d print nice

To be honest, 3D printing isn’t anything new: The technology has existed for more than 30 years. What makes the idea of being able to “print” 3D objects, however, has become more exciting as it becomes more accessible. In recent years, plummeting costs and better availability has made 3D printing more of a reality for organizations and individuals alike. But what does it mean for eLearning and training? You might be surprised at how 3D printing can make for more effective learning and development.

What 3D Printing Can (and Can’t) Do

There’s been a little confusion surrounding 3D printing and what it can actually accomplish. Yes, it can effectively print 3D objects based on files created by the user. No, it’s not a machine that can make bacon anytime you want.

In order to be effective, a file first has to be created that effectively tells the printer how to make each paper-thin layer of the desired object, which means files must be painstakingly modeled first in a program like SketchUp and AutoDesk. There are file-sharing sites like Thingiverse, which allow you to choose pre-designed files for 3D printers.

3D Printing at Work

If and when you have the capacity to design your own 3D print models, 3D printing can have a number of different applications in a workplace training or L&D setting. Consider the following scenarios and how they could be used in your own eLearning programs:

  • The prototype for a new product is “printed,” so learners can experience the way it looks and feels during a training session.
  • A hands-on learning activity is enhanced by the availability of a printed model, such as medical board learning about a new procedure using a cross-section of a heart.
  • A central file is created for all eLearning applications. On their own time, learners print out the model of a product and can examine the way it works in a hands-on environment.
  • A 3D model is blended with other types of learning – think classroom-based training combined with a take-home module – to further enhance eLearning.
  • Learners are challenged to create a better version of the wheel, using 3D printing as a way to brainstorm or work as a group to come up with a prototype or object that solves a certain problem.

Naturally, the way 3D printing is applied depends heavily upon the organization. And, without sounding like an 80’s after-school special, the possibilities are endless.

Why is 3D printing only hitting its stride now, when it’s been available for decades? The cost of ownership, paired with availability and layman’s technology means 3D printing is infinitely more accessible than it was in past years. Pair that with the development of applications specifically designed with 3D printing in mind, and 3D printing has become less of a futuristic feature and more of a modern must-have.

It’s true that we’re still just scratching the surface with 3D printing. New software and materials can make the technology even more applicable to eLearning, so long as professionals are willing to think outside of the inkjet and put 3D printing to work.

Could Amazon Echo be the Next Big Thing in eLearning?

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amazon echo

As eLearning professionals, we’re always eager to see how new technology can be assimilated for training purposes. And when Amazon announced their newest gadget, Echo, we wondered how it would impact eLearning at large. For the smooth price of $199, Amazon Echo promises to bring you Alexa, a voice-activated robot who can answer all (most) of your questions. But upon deeper inspection, it appears that while Alexa might be helpful to a certain clientele, it might not be as revolutionary to eLearning as we’d hoped.

Echo Applications

We have to admit that some of Alexa’s capabilities are pretty cool. Completely voice activated (but not wireless), Alexa can hear your questions and comments, and can sync with your other devices to complete simple jobs and reminders, such as:

  • Giving you a weather report.
  • Adding an event to your calendar.
  • Looking up info on the fly (“Alexa, when did the Civil War end?”)
  • Setting timers.
  • Making music playlists.

In the Echo commercials, the device is advertised as a multitasker for the family: Different members ask her to do a wide range of tasks, proving that Amazon Echo is a must-have for any busy family. But what about the busy eLearner?

Echo for eLearning

Creative chief learning officers might see a place for Amazon Echo in the training room, but we found that the device is better suited to a more traditional K-12 learning application. Still, Alexa is not without her applications for training, since she can:

  • Remind the trainer to address a certain topic at a later time (“Alexa, remind me to cover dress code when we talk about the office code of ethics.”)
  • Set timers for quizzes in the classroom.
  • Grab quick in-the-moment info, like the size of a certain product or the background of a competing organization (“Alexa, how long has ABC Corporation been in business?”)

Amazon Echo’s strongest point is that it’s always on and Alexa is always listening, so you don’t need to fumble with other devices or take too much time setting up tech for a training session.

Better Devices?

The main argument against Amazon Echo? It’s the fact that you likely already have devices that can complete similar tasks –if they need to be completed at all. If you use an iPhone, Siri can find information, set timers and create reminders easily. And, if you need more than a Wikipedia-based description, more in-depth research on your computer is probably more appropriate.

While we’re excited to see innovation and technology make their way into the eLearning sphere, it’s important to avoid getting swept up in the excitement of something new. Sure, Amazon Echo is a cool gadget that might have a useful application for families or K-12 classrooms, but for eLearning design and development, Echo might just end up being extra noise.


Is Your eLearning 508-Compliant?

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It’s a dilemma many instructional designers face: sacrifice interactivity or 508 compliance. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, even if budgets and timelines dictate rapid development. Instructional designers must find a way to substitute eyes and ears for those with vision, hearing and mobility disabilities. You can design and develop one set of courseware for use by those who need accessibility features and those who don’t.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Lack of Keyboard Navigation – Every move a learner can make with a mouse must have an equivalent keyboard action. The Tab key enables learners to move from field to field, so order your interactive eLearning elements in way that makes sense to those who must tab. The more keyboard shortcuts you build into the courseware, the more you improve the learning experience. It’s easy to overlook media controls, button and checkbox controls and menu controls, all of which should be accessible from the keyboard.
  • Empty Metadata Fields – Oh, those pesky <alt> tags! Are your <alt> tags descriptive, or have you taken the easy way out? In addition to images, add tags to objects, text boxes, links and captions.
  • Bad Timing – Have you given all learners time to respond? You might need to slow down response time. Read aloud slowly all the text and all the choices in a quiz. Then leave enough time to formulate and answer the question.
  • Consistent Navigation – Consistent navigation is even more important to disabled learners than it is to those without disabilities.
  • Test with Accessibility Features Turned On – Enable your computer’s accessibility features when you test for 508 compliance.

Walk a Mile in Your Learners’ Shoes

In most instances, any custom e-Learning module needs to be accessible to learners who are visually or hearing impaired and/or challenged with mobility, and that includes interactivity. Testing is the most important tool in your arsenal; test from the perspective of each of the above disabilities by putting yourself in the place of the learner or recruiting learners with disabilities to test the courseware. Relying solely on authoring software to indicate compliance (think back-of-the-box marketing hype) is not a winning strategy.

If your company is dipping a toe into the 508-compliant waters for the first time, consider working with a qualified consultant who has experience in 508 compliance as a way to ensure rapid and accessible eLearning development.

Developing an eLearning Strategy for Corporate Compliance Training

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Call it corporate culture or adhering to the corporate brand. Call it whatever you like; it boils down to compliance with corporate standards, and training plays a significant role in communicating the standards. Without corporate standards, you can expect corporate anarchy, fraud, waste and/or abuse. It takes little to destroy a brand value that businesses have spent a lifetime to build. Let’s explore issues that every Chief Learning Officer (CLO) must consider when developing an eLearning strategy for corporate compliance training.

Training Must Survive Other Cutbacks

One word: Sony. They’re not alone. They join a growing list of corporate luminaries that have experienced security breaches. Could a drop in security training policies during times of economic hardship be to blame? Who knows, but if that’s the case, the lesson is that the corporate compliance training strategy must remain intact regardless of economic conditions.

Scope of Corporate Compliance Training

Corporate compliance training addresses corporate policy and procedures, and sometimes it encompasses regulatory requirements and ethics. Your eLearning strategy begins with an orientation to corporate policies and procedures that apply to all employees followed by departmental policies and procedures to include compliance specific to each department.

The Role of Risk

Risk assessment plays a role in whether to devote resources to an elaborate eLearning module or whether a simple email reminder is enough. It plays a role in whether to train before or after an incident. For example, the owner of a fire remediation company needs to ensure that each employee clearly understands and strictly follows company procedures. But does a company with a zero-tolerance policy toward theft really need a full-blowing eLearning module on the subject? Sometimes, it’s a matter of clarifying and simplifying rules.

The Role of Social Learning in Corporate Compliance Training

Today, businesses are also concerned with its employees fitting the corporate mold. Businesses such as Southwest Airlines, Microsoft and Google each have a corporate culture that requires employees to “fit in” if they want to advance. A strong social learning component allows employees to give and receive help and set up their own personal learning networks, which can instill the corporate culture.

If there is no corporate compliance training already in place, consider working with a qualified consultant to help you determine your needs and goals, develop your plan and set up your initial training calendar.

Hail to the Chief: Why the CCO Needs eLearning (and Vice Versa)

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Chief Learning Officier

If a company is evolved enough to even have a chief culture officer in the first place, that organization already sets itself apart as one that is sensitive to work environment, tone and morale within the company. Basically, it’s a step in a highly sensitive direction.

A CCO is typically tasked with boosting morale and setting the tone for a work environment, but without the use of e-Learning, the CCO might not be working with a full arsenal of tools. In fact, the CLO and CCO should be working hand-in-hand in a highly symbiotic relationship that helps them both achieve their roles efficiently – and with panache.

The Chief Culture Officer at Work 

A CCO’s role may vary from organization to organization, and may actually be fulfilled by a CEO if a CCO isn’t already in place. At his core, the CCO is the champion of all that is good in an organization. Whether it’s philanthropy efforts, a commitment to high ethical standards, community outreach and even sustainability programs, the CCO creates a workplace of which employees can be proud. By promoting causes and working to improve an organization’s image, the CCO propels the employees themselves to a higher standard as a way to improve work environment for everyone.

Of course, the CCO’s efforts only work if employees are just as engaged as he is. It’s fairly impossible to improve community outreach when employees aren’t all that interested in reaching out. That’s where eLearning and the CLO come into play. The culture and the education for an organization are so closely related that the CLO and the CCO should be working closely together to improve both of their initiatives.

Creating an eLearning Culture

Think about it: Who better to improve employee engagement than the person most responsible for grabbing employee attention during training? The CLO is a valuable partner to the CCO, helping to create interactive materials, events and setting the general tone for communication between the CCO and the employees. Add that to the CLO’s unique ability to ensure presentations are on point and prioritized correctly. And, who better than the CCO to ramp up interest for an upcoming training conference? By utilizing eLearning tools and programs, the chief culture officer educates about new programs and improves the tone of workplace communication.

The CCO and the CLO work together to create a work culture that centers around improvement, whether it means a program to create a greener workplace or voluntary leadership succession courses. By supporting each other, both the CCO and CLO create a stronger case for their roles within an organization.

Whether you have a dedicated CCO or the CEO is fulfilling the role, it’s clear that the role becomes more effective when done in tandem with a CLO’s learning and training initiatives. Using eLearning and the CLO as part of a well-rounded arsenal means a CCO’s goals are even more effective in creating a conscious, kind and driven workplace.

The Single Best Way to Use eLearning for Sales Training

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It was the cosmetic sales queen Mary Kay Ash who said “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, “Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales; you will succeed in life.” At first glance, sales training may not always seem like a natural fit for eLearning; how can you effectively teach natural sales instincts using Powerpoint?

The real answer: You can’t. While you might be able to use presentation software to teach sales protocol or compliancy, true salesmanship comes from knowing how to act and react in sales situations. What happens if a client asks about a product? How do you make a less-interested party into a lifelong customer?

By swapping out traditional training for simulation-based learning scenarios, you offer sales training that gives employees a chance to sharpen their skills and hone their natural sales instincts to create a sales team that is seriously a force to be reckoned with.

Simulating Sales

Sure, some of the best salesmen were born that way, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be taught. By creating eLearning modules that allow your sales team to practice pitches and answer questions in a low-stress environment, you prep them for the real world of sales.

Take a typical sales cycle: First, it starts with learning more about the potential customer. The would-be salesperson can do some research on the customer or organization, gather general intel or check out the latest news. When ready to move onto the customer outreach or meeting, a simulation allows trainees to practice common questions and even learn to read verbal and physical cues, all while receiving real-time feedback from trainers and instructors.

Simulations offer the best of both worlds for those hoping to learn to be one of the greats: The ability to practice in realistic situations without the high stakes of actually working with a customer. Once that confidence is gained, your newly minted sales force is ready and willing – but most importantly, able – to work in actual sales situations.

High to Low

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that elearning simulation automatically require a huge eLearning budget. You can choose practice scenarios that are as high or low tech as your budget allows. Working with a shoestring budget? Call-outs for various role-playing scenarios can help get your sales team’s feet wet. And, with a larger budget, you can actually use 3D simulation tools that read body and verbal language while issuing feedback for a more confident and informed sales force.

The best salespeople might be born, but with the right training, they can be forged in the conference room, too. By harnessing the power of simulations, you can ditch the boring training and give your sales team something they can really sink their teeth into.

Sticky Situations: Increasing Simulation Retention in Learners 

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What do you get when you combine an international luxury goods manufacturer and a workforce made up of employees who have various levels of compliancy training? In typical scenarios, the same training is applied to all employees; after all, no one is exempt from workplace ethics. But, when using simulation-based training, forcing all employees to experience the same module would be a huge mistake.

When using simulation-based training, you’re not guaranteed success. Sure, simulation training can be effective, engaging, and positive for training ROI, but if it’s not adaptive, it can also be a huge turn-off for more experienced learners. Find out how we addressed the issue of different levels of experience and how you can make your simulations stickier for your learners, too.

Been There, Done That

When building a new compliance training module for the brand, simulations were a must. Ethics and compliancy can come along with a lot of gray area. Contextual cues, body language and “what would you do?” scenarios are especially effective for learners who need to put their knowledge into action.

But when there’s a large range of knowledge among the learners, it’s not fair to apply the same experience to everyone. If you cater to lower-level learners, you risk losing those who already enjoy a firm grasp on the material. Cater only to high-level learners, and those who haven’t caught up could feel left out.

Adapting to Learners 

Adaptive simulations are always the best bet for better retention. When moving through the module, those learners who continually experience the simulations and are able to correctly choose the answer can speed through the course and skip to new, possibly unfamiliar chapters. Those learners who struggle with choosing the right answers may experience the simulation again, or experience the same type of simulations until they have a better grasp on the concept.

Adaptive simulations work because they – above all – respect the learner as an individual. When an organization has a huge range of understanding, from brand-new employees to those who’ve been there for years, it’s nearly impossible to apply the exact same training across the board. Creating intelligent training modules that adapt to a learner’s level of understanding and expertise makes simulations more applicable – and stickier.

How did it go for our luxury goods client? Exactly as described. By creating training that utilized simulations and adapted to the individual learner, they were able to clarify much of the gray area that was giving employees pause. By putting those with higher levels of understanding on a “pro-track” to new information, they stayed engaged and the simulations were more impactful. And, catering to those who needed extra time finally received the attention they needed.

Adaption is what makes the difference between yet another case study and an engaging and interactive scenario. By treating learners like individuals, they get exactly what they need from the module – understanding that really sticks.

Ms. CEO, Don’t Take My eLearning Away

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Whenever there’s a change in the organizational chart, training budgets come under fire. A change at the very top finds people rushing to save their individual jobs rather than attempting to save their jobs by making a business case for their department and its function. So, let’s make the business case for eLearning because no business can afford to let its eLearning program go the way of Kodachrome (with apologies to Paul Simon).

Game, Thy Name is Competition

“We must remain competitive,” says the CEO at her first pep rally. An elastic eLearning budget torpedoes the competitive edge. One year you’re at the top of the skills and capability curve, and the next year, you’re behind the curve—on your way to creating a skills gap and reduced productivity. Inconsistency spells “unreliability” to your customers and “unrest” and “anxiety” to workers.

Elusive ROI

When Ms. Newly-Minted CEO cuts the eLearning budget because she doesn’t see an acceptable ROI, chances are she cut the “frills,” the frills and follow-up support that boost the ROI. While eLearning can present five times the material of a classroom training, the material needs reinforcement, and it’s the frills like gamification, social learning and the opportunity to set up a personal learning network (PLN) that make the difference between a lackluster ROI and a significant ROI. The devil is in the details, and those are the first to receive the axe.

On the flip side, needlessly increasing the budget leads to waste, reduced ROI and excessive head count that’s ripe for the chopping block when the next CEO strolls through the C-suite door. On the bright side, it’s the perfect time to upgrade your learning management system (LMS).

Starve a Budget, Feed the Beast

What’s the purpose of a speed trap? Revenue enhancement for state or local government. Your CEO is likely to see the massive amount of new regulations that sprout wings each year as revenue enhancement for .gov. A well-trained and conscientious workforce is the only way to avoid the fines that accompany lack of compliance, and those fines can add up quickly—far exceeding the entire budget of the eLearning cost center.

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

Dismantling a successful eLearning program means higher costs in the future to reinvigorate a failing corpse of a program. It’s a law in search of a name. Minus a consistent (or moderately increasing) annual budget, you won’t get consistent results, but you will get unintended consequences.

The Art of Chunking: How Content Organization Affects Learner Comprehension

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In our society, chunky can have both positive and negative connotations. Chunky babies and peanut butter: Great. Feeling chunky after the holiday season: Not so great. But when it comes to eLearning content, chunking won’t leave you feeling guilty and scrabbling for a diet. Instead, it’s an excellent way to group together information for the best chance at comprehension.

When working with an SME, you’ll probably find that TMI is the name of the game. After all, your expert has a ton of knowledge that she wants to share with the learner. But all of that information can be completely overwhelming, especially when presented in a stream-of-consciousness format. The concept of chunking allows you to logically group chunks of information together so learners can better experience, absorb and remember. Here’s how.

Why Chunk?

Not only does chunking information result in better comprehension, it also offers some pretty unique organizational benefits, particularly for an instructional designer.

First, let’s face it: The information you get from your SME might need to go on a diet. When there’s simply too much, the most important parts can become drowned out in white noise. Setting up your module or program in chunks helps you and your SME identify the most important information as it pertains to your specific learning objectives.

Second, chunking is a comprehensive way to identify gaps in learning information. Say your SME wants to chunk a concept using three key points. She has a ton of information, media and insight on the first two points, but doesn’t really have enough evidence to support her final opinion. Chunking gives you a chance to identify those learning gaps and either find enough supporting material – or scrap the section altogether.

Chunking also makes for a vital evaluation tool: When information is logically grouped together, you can automatically identify which sections are fulfilling their objective and which ones are completely falling flat for your learners.

The Chunking Matrix

Convinced that chunking is the way to go? Start by implementing a matrix during the design portion of your custom eLearning program. That’s where you can most effectively see which groups of content play well together and where you could use some supporting information.

Here’s a quick and dirty way to chunk your content: Put all of your learning goals and objectives together and then start sifting through your information. Begin grouping chapters or sections together and label each chunk with the goal or objective that it fulfills. By the end, you should have clearly matched the right information with a section and an objective.

Bulking up your eLearning modules with a chunking strategy streamlines your strategy and helps organize total information overload. By putting the SME’s thoughts, media and material in comprehensive sections, your training makes more sense to the learning brain – and helps you better match objectives to each chunky chapter.

The Fine Line Between Fun & Flippancy in eLearning Efforts

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You’ve heard it again and again: eLearning needs to be fun to be engaging. But before you build a quiz show around harassment training, you might need to take a breath and think about injecting too much lightheartedness into your program. Hey, it’s all fun and games until someone stops taking your subject matter seriously.

eLearning Should Be Fun…To a Point

There’s a pretty fine line between making eLearning fun and engaging, and making eLearning a joke. To avoid making your training into a punch line, you’ll need to use elements like humor, games and fun judiciously – and in the right places. Use these guidelines to avoid learners who are all “funned” out.

When Fun Doesn’t Work

A good instructional designer knows that while fun elements such as gamification at work and other activities can be engaging, they can also distract from the original message. When your bid for fun and games makes it harder for learners to understand the subject matter, it’s time to do a little sobering up. Avoid human, fun and games when:

  • It’s distracting. Don’t let your brand-centric version of Monopoly derail learners’ understanding. When fun is distracting and takes away from the original objective of the module, it might be too much of a good thing.
  • It’s annoying. Respect your learners’ time. While you might think a five-minute spoof video is hilarious, your time-pressed learners might not be laughing. Don’t waste time trying to squeeze fun in when your learners just want to get it, finish the module and get out.
  • It’s forced. Some topics just aren’t funny. Don’t try and force fun and games into something that doesn’t really lend itself well to a lighthearted approach. When you’re covering serious material, it should receive the respect and decorum necessary for learners to understand the breadth and seriousness as well.

Knowing when to hold back on the humor means you create the right learning atmosphere for your learners. It’s vital that you match the level of seriousness with the topic at hand and avoid too many bells and slide whistles.

Walking the Line

Of course, just because a topic is serious doesn’t mean it must automatically be boring, too. By walking the line between mature humor and obscene silliness, you can still get encourage user engagement without diminishing the tone of the message.

When developing a course, knowing how and where to gauge just how funny you can go may be best left to soft launches, pilot programs and focus groups. You could spend weeks working on a fun game show format, only to find that learners are dropping out halfway through the game because it’s simply too time-consuming.

Before you release a “fun and games” version of your module, whether it fits within the realm of corporate gamification or just an engaging overall strategy, test it on those who will actually be experiencing and completing to program. When the humor becomes distracting white noise compared to the module message, it might be time to head back to the drawing board to tone it down – just a little.

If you’re just exploring e-Learning for the first time, make sure to check out our e-Learning blog for more articles on eLearning strategy and thought leadership.