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Too Hot for eLearning July 19, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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3 comments

eLW Moved to elwmag.comBy the time school let out each summer, I was already done learning. Sure, classes were wrapping up and testing was done, but I was intellectually checked-out because it was too hot for learning.

Right now, in the midwest especially, the heat and humidity are collaborating to ruin everyone’s days. The dew point is so high that windows and glasses are sweating. Everyone is so sticky in the muggy air that nothing seems like a good idea. Except maybe a thunderstorm.

Does the misery make elearning difficult? I think so.

Are there better times during the year to schedule elearning? Can designers and developers control the environments in which our learners launch elearning? These questions always make me think about flight simulators. In a flight simulator, you can control the environment — make it shake or even make it hot! So, I imagine the ideal Personal Learning Environment (PLE) — a utopic  arrangement of computer, desk, mouse, beverage, snack, window, lamp, and whatever else at whatever temperature at whatever time, wherever suits the learner best. Perhaps with soft classical music wafting in the background.
photo thermometer 100 degrees
I like the list Prometheus Training uses to prep learners for optimal elearning — is anyone else using such tips? Is anyone else melting? Are your screens dripping with dew?

Photo Credit: greggoconnell

See the new site! eLWmag.com

No More eLearning Software May 13, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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9 comments

I cursed myself in a current post (What I Like About eLearning) when I included a semi-sarcastic comment about having umpteen programs open on my computer every day in order to get my elearning work done.

Since then I have articulated at least one non-HR-approved word in reaction to slow computer action or even crashes. I need more memory. I need dedicated video memory. I need software that doesn’t take so much of my computer’s resources! (I love you Adobe.)

Or maybe I need to just get all the software and even the operating system off my machine all together! Can it work for elearning professionals?

Can it work for you?

What I Like About eLearning March 22, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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4 comments

I was never really good in art class growing up. I’d immerse myself in the project of the day and be proud of what I’d made, only to look up at the end and discover that everyone else had glued their macaroni or painted their plate just a little better than I.

I particularly liked collages, I think, because they offered the less talented more room for error — mistakes just look like creativity in a collage. Maybe elearning is like a collage. Some text here, a photo there. Some images I cut and paste along the edge.

And then maybe I move everything around and try another lay-out.

I like that. I like strategy and learning by experience. So mapping out a template and building it 14 ways definitely floats my boat. Rapid-prototyping was practically invented for the strategist and activator (StrengthsFinder) in me.

And I like a lot of other things about elearning:

  • Likable elearningHaving all these programs, and multiple instances of some, open at once: Captivate, Photoshop, PowerPoint, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Word, TweetDeck, Handbrake, Dropbox, Excel, and Project.
  • The Rapid eLearning Blog and tips like how to make a PowerPoint template.
  • Cathy Moore’s dedication to language.
  • That elearning people are into Twitter and Facebook (community from Cali to London to Austrailia).
  • Creative elearning people coming up with cool logos like the awesome little Litmos monster and the ninja photo of the eLearning Brothers.
  • Cammy Bean.
  • The beautiful, sleek, amazing app machine known as the iPad.
  • Screenr.
  • Saying, “How about a hover over?”
  • The writers I’ve read the most: B.J. Schone, Jane Hart, Tom Kuhlmann, and Clive Shepherd.
  • Nudging assets on the screen.
  • Tahoma, Verdana, and Kristen ITC.
  • Articulate — the authoring tools, the company, the blogs, and the online presence.
  • Drop shadows.
  • PNG files.
  • Editing the Captivate files being discussed during the conference call.
  • Putting secret doors throughout my elearning modules, mainly so I can jump around quickly, but also the occasional surprise room I hope some learner finds.
  • Absorb, the best LMS on earth.

Top 5 eLearning Skills for 2011 – A Follow-Up March 7, 2011

Posted by kevinthorn in eLearning, Theory.
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26 comments

eLearning Weekly welcomes our newest contributor, Kevin Thorn.

Following up on last week’s post titled, “Top 5 Skills for eLearning in 2011,” I’d like to explore this at a different angle. We could go two ways with this: Brand new to the eLearning industry, or a seasoned veteran honing their skills. The comments generated from the original post focused a lot on why Instructional Design was not included in the top 5, so let’s start there with three key points:

  1. Instructional Design is not eLearning Design. Whether you are formally trained in Instructional Design or you have spent a number of years in the industry practicing the craft, ID is not a specific skill rather a conglomerate of methods, models, practices, theories, and techniques.
  2. Instructional Design is the “design” of “instruction.” This profession has been around long before eLearning arrived and Instructional Design encompasses everything from classroom instruction to a job aide, while eLearning falls somewhere in the middle.
  3. Instructional Design is not a single skill but a varying degree of many perishable skills. The eLearning skills you need for 2011 may be directly influenced by the industry in which you work, and therefore some are more prevalent than others.

Let’s begin by suggesting you are either formally trained in ID or you have extensive experience applying the methods surrounding it. From there, what eLearning skills do you need for 2011 – the remaining ten months?

While I don’t necessarily disagree with this first list as each have their merit, but I’m not quite sure these fit as the top 5 skills needed for 2011 as opposed to the next 5-10 years. Let’s look at these 5 again from broader approach and discuss a few more I’ve thrown in.

  • Video Production – As Eric pointed out, the cost of producing your own video and the editing software available today is very accessible. However, unless your company is doing an entire video series there really is no reason to spend time learning video production specific skills – this year. Additionally, there are many organizations today that don’t have the proper infrastructure to support video in eLearning. Although any video editing does require patience, it’s not anything a novice can pick up fairly quickly. An affordable HD video cam, Movie Maker (Windows) or iMovie (Mac) can produce quality videos without much effort.
  • Social Media – As we all know social media is no longer a trend and is becoming the main stream of communicating. I don’t think SoMe is a skill so much as it is a practice. You gain knowledge of how SoMe works by the mere fact of being embedded in it. Similar to video production where many organizations are not set up to handle that type of media, even more organizations have not incorporated SoMe into their business. Just because there are several really great case studies using SoMe in training, doesn’t mean your organization has a business value to implement it. In preparation for the years to come though, I would encourage everyone to get a Twitter account, join LinkedIn groups, and engage in Facebook Groups, etc. to stay plugged in.
  • Mobile Development – I will echo the same thing here…many organizations are not set up to deliver anything mobile let alone mobile learning. Several predictions and forecasting models show mobile (smart phones, tablets, etc.) will be mainstream by 2020 and the keyboard and mouse that we so affectionately love today will be archaic devices. As for gaining skills for mobile development, many eLearning designers & developers do not “code” their courses anymore and use one of the popular authoring tools today. I’ve not hand-coded a course in over 5 years and my guess is we will see tools in the near future that will output mobile designs similar to how authoring tools do today with eLearning.
  • Graphic Design – Eric points out here that it’s not so much the skill of becoming a graphic designer, but rather where to find them when you need them as well as making your own. Researching images can be a daunting task, but having relevant research skills along with actually knowing where to go to find them should be foundational. Coming from a graphic design background, I’ve often made the decision to buy (or through CC usage) rather than create myself. In the end, the time it finally took me to search the appropriate images I could have built my own library!
  • Rapid Development – First, Rapid Development is NOT a replacement for Rapid Design. The design process must still occur instructionally and visually before any development begins. Every project dictates, but by entering each project with that plan, rapid development is VERY efficient and shaves off hours of work. Two very important considerations need to be addressed here as well: 1) Rapid development is not the cause of poor design, and 2) Rapid Development is authoring tool independent.

More skills:

  • Project Management – Consider the entire process from start to finish. You begin with an initial meeting to determine the overall performance outcome. From there you begin your analysis and agree eLearning is the best solution. In the end you have a course/module published on your web or LMS. That entire process is a project. I’ve seen more times than I care to admit where an Instructional Designer is in the middle of an eLearning project and has hit a snag with no clear idea how they got there or how to get out of it. I’m not suggesting run out and earn your PMI certificate, but having fundamental skills in project management methodology is essential.
  • Writing – This industry did not exist as a career path when I started. Many people today who work as Instructional Designers earned their ISD or IDT degree. Others came to this industry through circumstance with an English, Journalism, or Technical Writing degree, while others may or may not have any ID or writing background at all. Yet, I suggested that ID is assumed for purposes of this post, one cannot effectively develop eLearning if they do not know how to write content, scripts, or storyboards.
  • Storyboarding – Think of the storyboard as the project plan. There is no standard around the exact way to storyboard an eLearning project as each situation dictates. Most I see are sparse and not very useful if someone had to pick up the project on a whim. Think of storyboarding as a project workbook with all documentation supporting the eLearning project.
  • Rapid Prototyping – Not to be confused with Rapid Development, this widely unused phase is invaluable. Rapid Prototyping can occur early on in the process and be reviewed for instructional flow and usability. Other aspects such as writing scripts, asset collection, etc. are happening simultaneously.

The days of the workforce training departments with Instructional Designers, Graphic Artists, Developers, etc. is of the past. Today, teams and even individual contributors are the one-all-be-all Training Project Coordinators. This is not an official role, but the title fits more of what the real world is experiencing. One person is responsible for the entire eLearning project from cradle to grave. To be competitive, and more importantly create meaningful and memorable eLearning, one must learn multiple skills.

Top 6 Skills for eLearning 2011 - Pie ChartThere are a multitude of industries deploying eLearning. However, the corporate workforce seems to be where the most attention is needed in getting the right skills in place. With eLearning Weekly’s permission, let’s shake the list up a bit. From the perspective I shared above, two of the original and four additional skills make a new list of the Top 6 eLearning Skills for 2011:

  1. Project Management
  2. Writing
  3. Storyboarding
  4. Rapid Prototyping
  5. Graphics (design or researching skills)
  6. Rapid Development

What do you think? Are there more/less specific skills for eLearning that we can impress on people to learn or hone this year? Are there timeless skills needed no matter which direction the industry moves this year?

The Luxury of Instructional Design March 2, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in Theory.
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6 comments

It’s better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. – James Thurber

You hear about the next training project you and your team have to manage. What questions come to mind? After questions about the main content, you’ll probably have questions about time, people and money.

  • Question Marks PicHow long do you have to prep the course?
  • How long should the course be?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What’s the budget?

These and other logistical questions help frame your strategy for making the course. They are crucial questions, even part of many trainers’ tool kit for analysis–the ‘A’ in ADDIE. ADDIE is widely used and tauted, but following ADDIE often leads to a fatalistic unanticipated side-effect: focusing on performance outcomes and writing learning objectives to get there means working backwards from the end, and the end causes worry. Side-effect: anxiety.

  • Will we get done in time?
  • Will everything we plan actually work?
  • Should we just use the same materials as last time?

Wondering whether or not you can put it all together can stop you from putting it all together. Or, it makes you focus less on design and more on implementation. With deadlines and resource constraints, you need to get some ducks in a row:

  • Can you really afford the luxury of instructional design?

No way. Not this time. We need to have a course ready for when the class shows up or logs on. We’ll look like idiots if we don’t look prepared or if our elearning doesn’t work.

Does this happen?

How about this: someone thinks about the learners and the learning they need. Someone takes a moment to imagine a learner after training, out on the front lines of life, where they need to know those vital nuggets of their training, and where success and sales either happen or do not. If you are someone who thinks of that, then maybe you have asked this question:

  • Can you afford to forget about instructional design?

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Seuss

Thurber quote: Answers.com
Seuss quote: Thinkexist.com

The Thin Mints of eLearning February 21, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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2 comments

eLW Moved to elwmag.comDing-dong. Girls. Girls’ club. An organization for young girls, young women, powerful women. And it’s for the kids!

Delicious cookies.

(It teaches them about business. About selling. Money. Honesty.)

I’d like to sell to you, for $3.50, a box of thin chocolaty-minty learning cookies. Learning that you would enjoy. Binge on. Freeze for later. And even share with friends and family.

(I am talking about elearning.)

I start to wrap up the tower of cookies and put it back in the box with its twin, when it occurs to me that these individual Thin Mints are really very thin.  Super thin. Like, they’re barely even a whole cookie.  In fact, it would probably take three Thin Mints to equal one regular-sized cookie.  Which means if I eat two more, I’m really only finishing up one cookie, right?

Thin Mint of eLearning
That’s the truth according to the Didactic Pirate.

The truth about elearning: The experience of elearning needs to be so thin that it leaves learners wanting more.

That’s all folks. A thin mint this.

The eLearning Security Leak November 11, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
Tags: , , , , ,
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Words and images spread fast online. Internet 2.0 offers many tools for sharing a status update or image with a network, which can then share with a larger network, and when something goes viral, it seems that everybody knows.

In elearning, we are in the business of putting images together to train employees and clients. eLearning images make great screenshots for an elearner to leak to the ever disseminating web.

Now That's a Screenshot!

Engadget ran a piece with a screenshot from VZLearn, the LMS of Verizon Wireless. The training, for employees, revealed what the public did not yet know: that Palm Pre 2 training would only be assigned if Verizon intended to roll that out soon. Now, you can Google “screen shot leak” and see blog post after blog post about Windows 8 or or the next iPhone. For all we know, those screenshots are “leaked” on purpose for publicity.

But what potential leaks could happen at your company? Could a disgruntled employee post screenshots of your internal only or proprietary data?

I’ve worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Federal Reserve Bank. These companies have serious needs to protect information and reputations. The elearning we made was scrubbed and re-scrubbed to eliminate any potentially damaging information. Still, if an elearner had it out for a company like those, or  yours, they could print screen and leak in a 2.0 minute.

I don’t know if elearning designers and developers can spend too much time planning for the potential threat of a screenshot leak. But maybe that is a key part of the projects. And what about the LMS systems that house the elearning–are they safe?

If someone were hungry enough for a story or had a big enough grudge, they just might hack into an LMS to get more than a screenshot: the whole module. Is elearning a hot spot for internet security and corporate privacy?

What’s Your eLearning Class Size? October 13, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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4 comments

Can you make elearning that successfully serves 100 students?

When I think about my experience in college classrooms and, as a parent, about my children’s classrooms, ideal class size has never been 100.  My daughter’s elementary school averages 18 students per teacher according to Trulia. Although, that ratio, 18:1, might mean that a class with two teachers could have 36 students. With elearning–self-paced, web-based training–there is no teacher, so the ratio is imaginary and moot. But is class size insignificant?

Seth Godin Blog Getting Smart Dreyfus ModelThis week, Seth Godin’s blog referred to the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. The Dreyfus model shows how learners acquire skills from various training. It reminded me that the more students you aim at, the more vast their skill levels. And with elearning, the skill can be with three elements:

  1. the learner’s skill with the content of the training
  2. the learner’s skill with the computer on which they view the elearning
  3. the learner’s skill navigating the elearning itself

When elearning is developed for 100 or more, how can it serve all the different skill levels of the learners? Does such elearning even cover a significant percentage of learners? Can we call elearning a success if it serves only 70% of the learners? How about 60%, 50%, or 40%?

More and more, I think elearning must suit its audience. So, I get a little freaked out when I’m told that elearning is needed for a team of 200, or even just 100 people.

Perhaps no elearning should ever be made for as many as 100 people.

When elearning is developed for large audiences, it seems to end up as two things: generalized for most and annoying for most. When elearning is that generalized, washed out,  or otherwise watered down, it might be better just to send a long email. Perhaps with a couple of links or job aids.

What do you think?

The Terrible Speed of eLearning September 28, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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7 comments

Sales reps should appreciate this post. This post has been ruminating around in my head ever since an executive suggested turning some classroom training into podcasts back in 2005. But this is not a rant–a long time in the making. It’s a turning point piece, toward a fresh era of elearning. The executive’s reasoning for podcasts was simple: so sales reps out on the road could listen to the training in their free time between sales calls.  

Really? Free time?  

Mobile Learning Classrooms

Traffic from eLearning

Even if there was such free time, who wants to spend it digesting elearning while driving? And what would happen to traffic conditions if every car became a mobile classroom?   

What was really bothering me, though, was the sub-text. eLearning is supposed to get squeezed into everybody’s busy schedule. The same elearning that saves money on travel and that allows for self-paced learning is also supposed to get tacked on to everyone’s day like a wretched after thought.   

It reminds me of when a meeting gets tacked on to lunch, creating a lunch meeting. What you get is a bad meeting and a bad lunch.   

Much early elearning has been catch-up material like a recorded webinar or a copy of a PowerPoint presentation. These are rudimentary forms of elearning, perhaps better described by the more generic “distance learning.” Still, these examples and others like podcasts of lectures, unless packaged well, are just partial versions of the original, and learners chomp at the bit to fast forward to the nitty-gritty content.   

It’s 2010, and elearning is expected to move at fast forward to the nitty-gritty pace.   

And woe unto you if the elearning you make or deliver has a hiccup. You will have 47 emails and 36 voicemails in a heartbeat if your elearning module has even one sterile button. Yes, elearning must be fast-paced and perfect, for the audience for elearning is ravenous and rowdy.   

Trigger Happy Mouse Clicker

Ready for eLearning

What if elearning wasn’t an after thought? What if your elearning wasn’t squeezed into a day? How would it be to have learners look forward to their next elearning module? If they did, what would that look like?   

I have seen students in a college library spread out and sink into some learning, in a cozy corner with open books surrounding a pad of paper and a cup of coffee. It’s romantic to picture. Can that be the case for elearning? Can you picture an e-learner like that?   

What I see now is e-learners coming to their computers with a twitchy, click-happy finger. Learners’ eyes dart across the screen for key content and that next button as if they are all in some cosmic race to spend the least amount of time on the elearning module. The e-learners of today need an e-methodone of sorts to ease their approach and to slow down the terrible speed of elearning.