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Perfecting the Art of Learning Objectives January 26, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I really enjoyed Cammy Bean‘s latest post, Writing Less Objectionable Learning Objectives. Cammy throws open the door for people to discuss how they communicate learning objectives when dealing with a typical (e)learning experience. It’s good to see several different opinions from some respected people in our field – and it made me sit and reflect on how I communicate learning objectives. I hate to say it, but I think this is one of those areas where it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. I don’t know if we’ll ever get everybody to agree on a best practice, but I think it’s healthy that there’s always a discussion about it; this will help all of us move in the right direction over time.

So, how do I communicate learning objectives? I’m glad you asked. 🙂 I admit that many of my eLearning courses simply show a list of objectives to the learner on the second page of the course. For example, the first page presents a description of the course (in paragraph form), and then the objectives would be shown on the next page in the “Upon completion of this course, the learner will be able to…” format. Pretty boring, huh? We’re in the process of migrating to a new course model where the learner will be presented with a mission at the start of the course. They will be assigned tasks that they need to carry out in order to successfully complete their mission. We’re also introducing a secret agent character with our new course model to guide the learner through the experience. (We need to be careful and use the character sparingly; we don’t want the learner to develop a hatred for an annoying character similar to Clippy). I think this will make our courses seem less academic and more…game-like. Again, we may have not achieved the best possible way to communicate learning objectives, but we’re trying different options. And that’s better than staying in a rut, right?

(Make sure to take a look at the comments on Cammy’s post; there’s good stuff there, too.)

How do you build eLearning courses? January 17, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I ran into an interesting situation this week. We brought in two eLearning contractors at work to help us with a large project. Upon giving them a tour of our LMS and our existing eLearning courses, the contractors were both stunned to see that I have built our courses using a custom template created using HTML and JavaScript. They couldn’t believe I wasn’t using Lectora or another similar authoring product. They stressed that my courses would be difficult to maintain over time (in case I leave the company). My point of view was a little different: I chose this method because I have greater ability to customize courses as I please, and I can control every little detail of the course. I can easily embed Captivate movies, Flash movies, and anything else I please. I have a background in web development, so it was very easy for me to lean in this direction, too. And I think it’ll be just as easy to find somebody with HTML and JavaScript experience compared to Lectora or other authoring tools. But that’s just my opinion – I could be wrong.

So, here’s my question: How do you build your eLearning courses? Do you build them from scratch (ex. HTML, JavaScript, etc.)? Do you use an authoring tool for the whole course structure? I’m anxious to hear your response!

A Practical Example of an Instructional Alternate Reality Game (iARG) January 12, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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When you go to an industry conference, it’s fun to get excited and re-energized about your field. You often learn about new technologies, see great examples, and hear fresh ideas. The unfortunate reality is that you may only get to implement a very small percentage of this new stuff when you get back to work after the conference. At DevLearn 2007, I became really excited at the idea of instructional alternate reality games (iARGs). These games seem to take engagement to the next level; people live the experience, rather than just taking part in a mundane training activity. After DevLearn, I went back to work and tried for weeks to figure out ways to use iARGs. I just couldn’t think of a realistic scenario where they could work for us. Fortunately, the light bulb turned on this week.

I’ve written before about our upcoming PeopleSoft upgrade at work. It’s coming in the next few months, and it’s going to be a BIG project; we’re essentially upgrading the entire software platform for our whole organization. Our training department has been brainstorming ways to tackle this project. We came up with a new concept this week to draw in our users and keep their excitement level up, and holy cow, I think we may have stumbled upon our first instructional alternate reality game!

Here’s what we’ve got so far: We know we will be creating a large number of self-paced eLearning courses to deliver the material to the learners. Each of these courses will take approximately 30 minutes and will consist mainly of Captivate (and maybe Assima) simulations that show the learner how to complete a task, allow them to try the task, and then assess their ability to complete the task (show me, let me try, test me). Now, here’s the fun part: It looks like we’re going to wrap a contest/game around the whole experience. It’ll be called Crack the Code, and we’ll market this internally to our employees. We’re presenting them with a challenge: Once training begins, we will leave clues throughout our eLearning courses that the learners must track. We’ll come up with a standard icon that represents a clue (for now, let’s just says it’s a gold star). Whenever they see a gold star during training, they’ll know that they should investigate it to find a clue. (Of course, this clue could directly be linked to a learning objective or a key point in the learning.) We will build a companion web site where learners can go and "store" their clues. Each clue may be a single word, a phrase, or a number (we haven’t quite figured out the exact specifics of this part). On the companion web site, we will have a large image that slowly reveals itself to users based on the number of clues they find over a series of weeks; the ultimate objective of the game will be to figure out this image and crack the code. For example, the final image may be a simple cipher message or word scramble that must be solved. The first person to solve the puzzle will receive a big prize, perhaps $500 or $1000. We will also have weekly or monthly raffles for anybody who has recovered a gold star – so it’s a good incentive for them to stay on their toes throughout the training. We will probably keep a leader board that shows all top-ranked employees and how many clues they’ve recovered, too.

So far, what I’ve described is online-only, which wouldn’t qualify as an ARG. Here’s where it gets fun: Our company has hundreds of offices across the United States. We’ve discussed the idea of making gold star clues (ex. print a clue on gold construction paper and then laminate it) and then sending the clues to our office managers across the country. The managers would plant these clues throughout their offices where employees would stumble upon them. Employees would then go to the companion web site and enter their newly-found gold star clue. We’ve also talked about hiding gold stars throughout our company’s intranet site, and I’m sure we’ll come up with more ideas along these lines

Sure, this may not be as truly immersive as some high-end ARGs, but I believe this is a good start. Our employees will be on the lookout for clues, they’ll be more motivated to complete their training, and their attention-level should be heightened. And they may have a little fun along the way, too.

The eLearning Guild Annual Gathering 2008 January 4, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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The eLearning Guild has announced that registration is now open for The eLearning Guild Annual Gathering 2008. (Or you can be hip and call it AG|08.) The conference is in Orlando, FL, April 14-17. I’m as excited as ever; last year’s conference in Boston was excellent. You can grab a copy of the conference information brochure here (PDF).

I will be presenting a session at AG|08 titled "Working Harmoniously with your IT Department (Yes, it can happen!)" The idea for this session stems from plenty of personal experience. In eLearning, you often depend heavily on your IT department and working with them can sometimes be a handful. They may not be as cooperative and responsive as you would hope, and they may push back on your projects for unknown reasons. Over the past few years, I’ve figured out ways to work well with IT and keep projects moving along smoothly. (I have an IT background and this has helped me figure out their ways.) I’m hoping to share my experiences and provide ideas for you to take back and use. Drop by the session if this sounds helpful!