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The gLearning Challenge January 31, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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The eLearning Guild has announced an interesting challenge for their upcoming Annual Gathering conference in Orlando. It’s called The gLearning Challenge and the concept is to create a learning solution using ONLY Google products. Here’s a more thorough description, from their web site:

The gLearning Challenge is your chance to use the slew of free and easy-to-use Google tools to showcase your e-Learning design chops. Your entry must use any, or many, of these free Google tools to create a course, a module, or even some informal learning. Get Creative! Win Prizes! Be crowned the Master of gLearning!

The suggested list of tools includes:

Submissions will be accepted until Friday, March 6, 2009.

Read more about The gLearning Challenge.


How NOT to Design eLearning January 24, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.

Mark Simon wrote a great article in the January 2009 edition of T+D Magazine titled, "E-Learning NO How: 7 disastrous decisions sure to sink any e-learning implementation." The article begins like this…

You finally did it.

After researching and selecting all the e-learning development tools that you needed to author your first lesson, you’ve rolled up your sleeves and produced an excellent, captivating e-learning course. It really looks great, and, more importantly, it includes all of the fundamental learning methods that you discussed in your instructional design training. You know that learners will absorb the learning concepts you’ve given them, as they sail through the module.

What could possibly go wrong?

Mark goes on to list "seven of the most common reasons for e-learning failure" and then discusses ways to avoid making the mistakes. I’ve summarized the seven common reasons for eLearning failure here, and I’ve added a few tips for avoiding failure.

Reasons for eLearning failure:

  1. Fire and forget
    After you’ve created an eLearning course, you can’t just send it out and assume everyone will take it. Follow up with email reminders, internal marketing, and communication from management.
  2. Don’t worry about assessments
    Don’t assume the learner mastered the material. Assessments are necessary!
  3. Ignore the working environment
    Consider providing links to job aids and other performance support tools for the learners. Remember, they will return to their work environment after the course.
  4. Forget about the LMS
    Make sure your course works seamlessly with your LMS. Don’t just assume your part is done after you’ve built the course.
  5. Don’t worry about teaching the e-learning interface
    Provide support materials to make sure your learners know how to navigate your eLearning interface.
  6. Make it difficult to access the course
    Automatically enroll users in your course or make sure the course can be found easily in the LMS.
  7. Ignore workstation configurations
    Do some research with help from your IT department. Your users may not have the right browser, plugins, etc. Figure out how to handle upgrades and prepare documentation for learners if they need to make changes to their systems.

A common theme that I saw on Mark’s list is: Don’t assume anything. Do your research, know your audience well, and be as prepared as possible. Read Mark’s full article here.

Building a Learning Portal January 17, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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We implemented a learning portal at work several months back, and it has turned out to be one of the best things I could recommend to an organization for improving access to learning materials. In the past, I’ve worked at organizations where we would tell learners, “Look in the LMS” to find materials and information. I’ve realized that a learning portal creates a self-service environment for users that can’t be beat. They can go, search, find what they need, and move on. It’s a Google-like experience, for what has generally become an information-on-demand culture. Let’s take a closer look at learning portals…

What is a learning portal?

A learning portal is a web site that contains links to all different types of learning and training materials for employees at an organization. It may display upcoming classes, online courses, job aids, programs, links to web sites, etc. It may also include search functionality, a rating system, bookmarking ability, and more. The content displayed on the portal may be general to all employees at an organization, or it may be customized for that individual and the role they play. In a perfect world, the learning portal would be able to analyze the person’s department, role, and previous training history. It would then automagically determine learning resources that may be most valuable to that person. It may take a little while, but we’ll get there.

How to build a learning portal (in a nutshell)

First, analyze your users. Interview power-users and find out what resources they access on a regular basis for learning and looking up information. Find out what information is most important to them and find out how you can aggregate it in a way that is simple, clean, and useful. Look at your HR/training systems (ex. your LMS). Find out what key information should be displayed in the portal. You may want to show the learner information on their upcoming classes (if they have already signed up). You may also want to show them all upcoming classes that could be relevant to them based on their job role or specialty. Contact vendors or systems specialists at your organization to find out if this information can be extracted and displayed on a web site, such as a learning portal. (Beware that vendors may charge you for this extra work.)

Build it. Test it. Improve it.

Start small with the first version of your learning portal. Aggregate some useful resources and slowly add features and functionality based on users’ feedback. Interview users and put a poll on the portal. Get as much feedback as you can. It will improve naturally over time if you listen and respond.

More portals are coming

Some LMS vendors are introducing portals of their own, so keep an eye out. Your LMS vendor may have one coming out soon. These may be rigid at first, but I’m sure they’ll get better with time. I’d recommend you analyze the needs of your users, and then determine if it’s best to build your own or use a vendor solution. Either way, it will probably be an extremely helpful resource for your learners.

Basic mLearning with BlackBerries January 10, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve spent the past few weeks figuring out how to design and deploy content that can be accessed on BlackBerry phones. I’ve run into some obstacles, but overall it’s been a good experience. I thought I’d share my adventures here and talk about some of the speed bumps I encountered (to hopefully save you some time and frustration).

I’ll assume you…

  • Have done up-front analysis and determined your organization has a need that can be addressed by mobile learning (mLearning)
  • Have an audience that primarily uses BlackBerry phones
  • Have a basic level of technical knowledge, including the ability to write HTML (or use an editor like Dreamweaver)

Heads up, Mac users

The BlackBerry tools and simulators are for Windows only. The only way to run them on a Mac would be to use a PC emulator like VMWare Fusion or Parallels.

Download a BlackBerry simulator

If your entire audience is using the same model of BlackBerry, you’re in great shape. If they’re using a variety of models, you’ll have a little more work to do. Start by downloading and installing the BlackBerry simulator(s) matching the model(s) of your users. Go to the BlackBerry Development Tools and Downloads page and click Download the BlackBerry Device Simulators. Fair warning, you may have to update your Java (JDK) version; the installer will prompt you if the update is required. Once you install the simulator, go ahead and open it and take a look around.

Here’s a screenshot of the BlackBerry Storm simulator:

BlackBerry Storm simulator

Browsing the web using the BlackBerry simulator

In order to browse the web using your BlackBerry simulator, you’ll need to download and install the BlackBerry MDS Simulator. Go back to the BlackBerry Development Tools and Downloads page and click Download the BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulator Package. Install the software, and again, you may have to update your Java JDK.

Once you have the MDS Simulator installed, you should be able to follow these steps to browse web content on your BlackBerry simulator:

  1. Start the MDS service by going to Start -> Programs -> Research in Motion -> BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulators 4.x.x -> MDS
  2. Open the BlackBerry simulator by going to Start – Programs -> Research in Motion -> (Your model number)

Troubleshooting the MDS Simulator

The MDS Simulator caused tons of headaches for me. Here was the biggest issue: I would start the MDS Simulator and a command window would quickly open and then close. After tons of research, I found that it was throwing an error (due to a Java issue) and then immediately exiting. The device simulator would start fine, but I was unable to use the web browser to browse web sites (ex. CNN.com or local content). It was very frustrating. After much research, our team figured out how to fix the issue. In case you run into the same problem, give this a shot:

  1. Open this file: C:\Program Files\Research In Motion\BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulators 4.x.x\MDS\run.bat
  2. At the beginning of the file, after the call setBMDSEnv line, add this code: set JAVA_HOME=”C:\progra~1\Java\jdk1.6.0_11″. Make sure this path matches your version of Java on your machine.
  3. (Re)start the MDS Simulator.
  4. Open the device simulator.
  5. Try browsing a web site – you should be in good shape.

Now that you’re up and running…

You can browse web sites now, so you’re ready to start developing content. I highly recommend using a tool like Dreamweaver to develop your content. It’ll help you write clean code that is more likely to display well on a mobile device like a BlackBerry. Once you’ve built a few HTML pages, upload them to a server and then browse to the pages using the BlackBerry simulator. At this point, you’re in great shape! Make modifications to your content, design, code, etc., and then refresh the page in the simulator. Repeat until you’re happy with the results – and then begin testing on real devices to make sure everything still looks good. Finally, email the link to your users so they can access the content.

That’s it!

I’m curious to hear about your experience. Let me know if you give this a shot, and please ask questions, share problems, etc.