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Do We Still Know Our Audience? July 24, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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This article is a guest post by Steve Pena, Instructional Designer and Implementation Consultant, SyberWorks, Inc. Thanks, Steve!

We’re all fond of saying “Know your audience.” But how many of us track our audiences’ rapidly changing demographics? If you’re like me, it’s not a daily action item. But I just received a reminder of how much the audience for my work (and perhaps yours too) may change in the coming decade.

Every year since 1998, Beloit College has published its entertaining and revealing “Mindset List,” ® which “…is an effort to identify the experiences that have shaped the lives-and formed the mindset-of students starting their post-secondary education this fall.” And Beloit has dubbed the latest class (of 2009-2012) the first “Net Generation.” In only four years, these students will join our work force, and according to Beloit’s mindset list:

  • Drink electronic media like water, and breathe broadband communications like air.
  • They may have been given a Nintendo Game Boy to play with in the crib.
  • GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.
  • Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
  • Caller ID has always been available on phones.
  • The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.
  • IBM has never made typewriters.

To these, I’d add:

  • AT&T has never enjoyed a telephone monopoly.
  • They do much of their phoning for free over the Web.
  • The Web has always existed.

As each college year begins, this list is a good reminder of how dramatically and rapidly our future e-Learning audiences are changing. And as Beloit reminds us about this year’s group:

“The class of 2012 has grown up in an era where computers and rapid communication are the norm… These students will hardly recognize the availability of telephones in their rooms since they have seldom utilized landlines during their adolescence. They will continue to live on their cell phones and communicate via texting. Roommates, few of whom have ever shared a bedroom, have already checked out each other on Facebook where they have shared their most personal thoughts with the whole world.”

This means a lot for the e-Learning community. The class of 2012 may not be the first to habitually seek much of its information from Web blogs, Wikis, Google, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. And it won’t be the last.

This doesn’t mean that we must immediately revamp the way we create and deliver e-Learning (or as some are now calling it: “Emerging Learning”). But it does remind us that:

  • New electronic channels and Web media are opening every year for our products, services, and promotional information.
  • The world’s next “movers and shakers” will increasingly expect us to deliver content over these new channels, and will seek out our content and services there.
  • They won’t allow themselves to remain bored for long by e-Learning materials that don’t grab and hold their interest.

And these are things we all should keep in mind, regardless of how we do things today!

About the Author:
Steve Pena is a Senior Instructional Designer and Implementation Consultant at SyberWorks, Inc., Waltham, Mass.

Interested in writing for eLearning Weekly?


LMS Customer Support Expectations July 17, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I know a few people who have run into major customer support problems with an LMS vendor over the past few months. The vendor has not provided competent support, communication has been difficult, and the project is taking months longer than what was originally expected. I’ve worked with several LMS vendors in my day (both good and bad), and this one is taking the prize. It makes me ask this question: What level of customer support should you expect to receive from your LMS vendor?

Here’s my take:

  • Customer support should be available via phone and email during regular business hours.
  • All inquiries should be recognized and responded to within 24 hours (auto-response emails don’t count!). A solution isn’t necessary within 24 hours; just let me know that you’re working on the issue.
  • Urgent issues should be recognized and responded to within 2 hours (or sooner).
  • An online ticketing system should be used to track all open requests, issues, fixes, etc., and this system should be visible to the customer.
  • An account representative should stay in touch with you every month or so to check in and make sure everything is running well.
  • Finally, on a more technical level: If I need to troubleshoot a complex SCORM issue, I would like to send the SCO to the LMS vendor to get their input. If the problem lies within the SCO, I should have to fix it. If the problem lies within the LMS, the vendor should address it.

Keep these points in mind when working with LMS vendors. If you’re about to purchase an LMS, carefully review the support details in the contract and request changes if necessary.

Can you think of any other expectations for LMS vendor customer support?

(By the way, the eLearning Guild has a great research report (Learning Management Systems 2008) that provides a ton of detail around features, demographics, satisfaction, costs, implementation timelines, and much more. Be sure to check it out if you’re in the hunt for an LMS.)

28 Web Conference Training Tips July 10, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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This article is a guest post by Mary Polley-Berte, Director of Customer Support & Training, SyberWorks, Inc. Thanks, Mary!

Companies and organizations today use web conferencing in many aspects of their organizations-to conduct meetings, collaborate on projects, demonstrate products and services, and more. Learning to use web conferencing technology is pretty easy, but there is a lot more to training via web conference than just putting on a headset, dialing up an audio-conferencing bridge, and logging onto the application.

This article offers some helpful tips specifically targeted to web conference training:

  1. Even though you are using web conferencing to deliver training, the training content itself must still be planned and crafted just as carefully as if it were for a traditional classroom session or e-Learning course.
  2. When developing PowerPoint slides to use in web conference training follow these guidelines:
    • Simplify content.
    • Use a large, bold, simple font like Arial.
    • Have no more than 6 to 8 lines of text per page (fewer are better).
    • Make no more than 4 to 5 training points per page (fewer are better).
    • Use plain backgrounds that contrast well with the text without clashing.
    • If possible, avoid complex animations (i.e. no spinning text, etc.).
  3. Establish one person as the point of contact, (POC) for communicating with their group of attendees. Provide all information to this one person and let them communicate it to their own people.
  4. Provide an outline of objectives for attendees prior to the conference.
  5. Test all aspects of your presentation ahead of time. (Enlist the help of an online facilitator or a student for these tests.):
    • Check your phone lines and headset, and replace weak batteries with full new sets.
    • Though most web conference technologies automatically run a short program to install and test your machine, open your own test conference and run your presentation. Confirm that your machine won’t freeze up because of low PC memory or connection speed.
    • Check any online exercises, tests, or polling questions you have planned for the session.
    • Run through the presentation twice, to both check its timing and leave ample time for questions and answers.
  6. If student answers are being stored in a database or a learning management system (LMS), determine how they will be scored, saved, and accessed later.
  7. Are you using an electronic whiteboard? Check to see how its images will be stored. Will your students need them later? How can they access this material? Is it something you can post in a reference area on your training LMS?
  8. If you are going to demonstrate with examples, try to keep them relevant to the audience. It’s easier for people to learn when material is presented through examples that make sense to them.
  9. Check how much background noise your system produces. Stage the actual conference in a quiet place, where you can control any heating or air conditioning noise. Be careful about rustling papers. And never eat anything or chew gum during the conference.
  10. Will a host introduce you or will you have a guest presenter during the web conference? If so, you’ll need to run through all of things discussed in item 5 with the other participant.
  11. Do you or your guest tend to run long? If so, you may want to use cue cards. Or use a second computer (or laptop) as a time clock, to signal when someone is running long.
  12. Limit each session to 60 – 90 minutes. Longer sessions are not productive.
  13. Limit your audience. When possible, keep the number of people attending small. (No more than six people are best.)
  14. You might want to ask your technical people to set up a dual monitor configuration on your PC (or laptops) for you, so that your presentation appears on one display (as others are seeing it), while your delivery screens and notes appear on the other.
  15. If appropriate, check time zones before scheduling the web conference. You’d be amazed how often even experienced trainers forget to do this.and end up opening a conference at the wrong time.
  16. Related to item 15, check in advance to make sure that dates and times appear correctly in all meeting listings and notification messages. Confirm that the dates and times you define are communicated consistently to all participants.
  17. Check ahead of time that all online links through which students can join the web conference will work… whether they are delivered to learners in an LMS message, via email, or on a web page.
  18. If any learners are located in other organizations, try a test connect into their facilities well before the actual conference. Though rare, their IT departments may need to change some firewall settings before you’ll be able to communicate in.
  19. Have more than one Web Conference option ready to use. Then, if some participants can’t connect, you can create a new conference on the spot, with different conference tools.
  20. Generally, you do not want people to join a web conference until it is actually open for business. Depending on the system you use, you may be able to enforce this with a student display that says: "Cannot join until…"
  21. Before starting, ask your POC if everyone is present and if it’s OK to begin.
  22. During the actual conference, check in periodically by asking questions of the attendees. For example: "Does that make sense. Are there any questions so far? Can you think if an example where you might use this __________." This helps to ensure the attendees are attentive, and to see if they have any questions. Silence is a sign that the information is not being understood.
  23. Try to stay "on course" but allow for flexibility. Often questions asked will take you to another topic area and may require more explanation than allowed in the allotted time. Try to answer all questions and offer to follow up with more information offline, or in another conference, when time is limited.
  24. When you get close to the end, if you feel like you might run over or need a few extra minutes to finish up, stop and check with all participants. Be considerate of others’ schedules.
  25. Provide training exercises on the topics discussed.
  26. Plan ahead for how you will close the session. Thank everyone for their time and attention, leave time for any closing comments or information, discuss next steps (if any), and review how you can be contacted (if needed).
  27. Follow up with your learners after their web-conference training. This could be by email or perhaps even through a test to gauge their understanding of the material.
  28. Keep a log of all training and notes. It can help improve your future training.

About the Author:
Mary Polley-Berte is Director of Customer Support & Training at SyberWorks, Inc., in Waltham, Massachusetts. Mary is a graduate of Boston University and resides with her family in New Hampshire.

Interested in writing for eLearning Weekly?

Want to write for eLearning Weekly? July 4, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Up to this point, I’ve used eLearning Weekly as my own personal blog to talk about my experiences with learning and technology. I’d like to open up the format for others to contribute so we can all benefit from different perspectives. If you are interested in writing for eLearning Weekly, please email me at . I’m open to most topics related to learning and technology. I will allow vendors and consultants to contribute if and only if they contribute new ideas and perspectives. I will not allow people or companies to push products or services to my readers.

eLearning Weekly is read by thousands of people each month. This could be a great opportunity for you to get visibility and engage in dialog with peers around the world. I look forward to your contributions!

Email me at if you have questions or to submit ideas. Thanks!

P.S. – I will continue to write for eLearning Weekly, too. I’m not leaving. 🙂