Learning Curve

Training No Comments

This is a link to a BBC Radio programme on eLearning and its increasing use in corporate training and development. It includes several interesting interviews and examples of the use of different types of eLearning to support the work and development of people in the workplace. Here is the introduction from the BBC website:

A 21st-century corporation needs a different kind of organisational structure from the old command and control mechanisms that built the world’s biggest companies. Peter Day finds out how people can create learning organisations without commanding and controlling.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lszhn

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As the world sees us?

Portfolios No Comments

An article in the May edition of “Chief Learning Officer” looks at the use of portfolios as a learning and development tool to address some of the challenges faced by learning professionals, such as developing and retaining staff, linking learning to job performance and measuring learning and performance. Employees can include within the portfolio items such as a  C.V., references, performance evaluations and examples of their work. Portfolios have been used for some time by education professionals as an important staff development tool and their use is beginning to become more widespread in other sectors.

A portfolio is often defined as a selection of work demonstrating progress or achievement over time and the focus is usually on the selection of material in the portfolio to provide evidence of this progress or achievement. Something that is often overlooked in the use of portfolios for workplace learning and development is reflection. Encouraging learners to reflect enables them to become more self-aware and honest about themselves, making them more open to feedback and criticism from peers and management and better able to develop their ability to contribute effectively within the organisation.

The process of reflection encourages deep learning through returning to the experience, connection with feelings, both helpful and obstuctive, and evaluation of the experience. In addition, reflecting on an experience leads naturally to the identification of further learning requirements. There is some useful information on reflection at infed.org. The value of the portfolio as a learning and development tool will be greatly enhanced by a focus on reflection, using the other items within the portfolio as material for the reflective process.

But why is it free?

Open source No Comments

The idea of open-source software is something that baffles a lot of people. They just can’t understand why so many talented developers would spend so much time producing and supporting something that is often made available for anyone to use free of charge. There is also an assumption among some people that since it is free of charge it must be sub-standard in some way. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since there is such an active user and developer community for open-source applications new features are constantly being introduced and bugs and other problems are identified and fixed very quickly. Some examples of excellent open source applications used in elearning are Moodle, a learning management system, and eXe, an authoring tool for producing elearning resources.

Something that is perhaps not so well known, but is in the spirit of open-source is open-courseware. These open educational resources are, according to the Open Courseware Consortium (OCW), “a free and open digitial publication of high quality education material organised as courses”. The OCW website has links to a wide range of open education resources made available by several providers. Also, in addition to providing open learning resources, the Open University (OU) has a course at its Open Learn website (open course-ware of course) on creating open educational resources. If you are interested in exploring open courseware further, this OU course has plenty of theoretical and practical  information to get you under way. Just register for a free account and away you go.

What about teacher?

Instructors No Comments

When developing elearning resources the focus is usually on the learners, which is considered essential if the materials are to be successful in facilitating effective learning. However, one of the biggest barriers to effective use of elearning is in the difficulty that instructors experience in using the the systems and applications to facilitate effective learning.

Instructors need to be able to see how a particular technology is going to help them do their job, and ideally, more easily and effectively. Several authors have written about how “teacher centering” is often neglected when designing elearning tools. A recent article on this topic in higher education notes that a more teacher-centered approach could improve the quality of the learning experience. Acknowledging that instructors are just as diverse in their abilities and areas of expertise as learners and by identifying those strengths and weaknesses and building our teaching around the qualities will improve the student learning environment, particularly now that teaching methods are becoming increasing varied, and especially where a blended approach incorporating elearning approaches is employed.

It’s not about the bike

Outcomes No Comments

Sorry, did I say ‘bike’? I meant technology.

Whenever you put “e” in front of something people often automatically try to make it all about technology. Examples from the online world abound – ecommerce, ebusiness, eprocurement, etc. Part of what when wrong in the dot bomb bust was that people forgot that it was actually about commerce, business and procurement and that things really weren’t “different this time”. It’s the same with elearning – many people are trying to make it about technology – Flash, rapid development tools, learning managment systems, repositories, learning objects – but it’s really still about the learning. In the past I’m sure people weren’t trying to make it all about the chalk, or all about the overhead projector (or were they?). So we need to return to the principles and objectives we are trying to achieve. It has taken a good number of years for confidence to return in many online business systems, and if we’re not careful unrealistic expectations could cause problems in utilising elearning systems and a similar bust could result.

People overestimate the impact of technology (even though I said it’s not about that) in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. We need to be using technology to support what we are trying to achieve rather than trying to fit our aims into some technlogy. Remember, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

With apologies to Lance Armstrong (my legal friends tell me you can’t copyright a title anyway).

Homer Simpson had it right

Training No Comments

Probably the most common way of providing staff training is to put on a course – maybe over one day, two days or more. The reasons for this are many, but it often comes down to cost and convenience. It costs a lot to provide training, so it is most cost effective to get everyone in a room at the same time, and for the least amount of time, so they are not away from their jobs for too long. Often it appears that the factor least considered is effectiveness in terms of the employees actually learning something.

There are lots of ideas about and definitions of what learning actually is, but it is widely accepted that learning is some change in capability or enhanced knowledge or understanding. It is questionable then, whether getting a group of employees into a room and giving them information verbally, by powerpoint and handout, and even with an assessment at the end, is going to lead to the desired change in capability or enhanced knowledge or understanding. Several things make learning by this means difficult, including lack of opportunity for reflection or to practise with the information.

The problem is if you don’t use it it you lose it. Our brains are bombarded with information all day every day, and they are programmed to let the information fade away if it does not occur again soon in some context where its relevance is clear and a reason for long term storage provided. Homer Simpson was on the right track when he said, “every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain”. However, the old stuff isn’t information already stored for the long term, it’s the stuff that has just gone in and our brains are trying to decide whether to keep it or not. If you don’t start to use the new information pretty quickly your brain will dump it as the even newer stuff comes in.

This is an area where an eLearning or blended learning approach can help. Obviously, if we just provide employees with an online slide show, animated and narrated or not, which they view once, with a quiz at the end, we will have the same problem. eLearning can go much further, providing an opportunity over time to work with the information being learned; to view worked examples, try exercises and learn more thoroughly. Having the learning materials available online means that the inconvenience (from the employers’ point of view) of having employees away from their jobs for long periods is avoided. In addition, employees can learn when they find it convenient and training professionals can provide ongoing support to the learners as e-moderators.

If you train them they will leave (or will they?)

Training No Comments

It is generally accepted that proper training is required to enable staff to work effectively, and investment in training is recouped via increased productivity. Indeed lack of training can increase the time taken by staff to perform tasks and may even cause them to avoid undertaking the tasks at all. However, one of the major fears experienced by employers where training provision is concerned is that they may not be the main beneficiaries of the investment. They fear their more highly-skilled employees will take their skills elsewhere and other companies (in particular their competitors) will reap the benefits instead. Recent studies by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) suggests that these fears are unjustified and in fact the reverse may be true.

Rather than encouraging staff to leave, effective training improves employee job satisfaction and retention. One example cited highlights this effect, with staff turnover falling from 42% to just 2% after implementing a staff training programme. Staff retention was found to be just one of the benefits, with motiviation, productivity and safety awareness enhancements also noted.

Considering all the government assistance available for business training it is surprising that businesses don’t make more use of it; with a third of firms employing fewer than 50 people not investing in any training at all. UKCES Statistics also indicate that the failure rate among companies that provided no staff training was 2.5 times higher than for those that did, suggesting that many companies that went out of business could have survived if they had invested more in staff training.

Why are you doing that?

Outcomes No Comments

One of the biggest problems when developing a learning programme, whether it’s a course, a course unit or module, or an individual learning object is in identifying what it is you want the learners to be able to do on successful completion. If we don’t know what it is we are trying to achieve then it’s very difficult to tell whether it has been achieved.

Aims or objectives are often expressed as learning outcomes and should not be confused with the material to be learned, or the tasks to be completed. The outcome is what we want to achieve, the tasks are what we have to do to achieve it. Therefore the focus when designing the programme (and throughout it’s delivery, assessment and evaluation) should be on the desired outcomes. All the theories of instructional design and elearning delivery are for nothing if this issue is not adressed properly.

William Horton suggests starting by identifiying your underlying goal in terms of what really matters. He suggests answering the following question in three words or less: “What is the single most important measure of success?” This approach would work within his original context of “what matters to your organisation” as well as most other settings, whether business or academically focused. Once this question has been answered, further questions can be asked about how the elearning you design will contribute to that goal.

This approach is consistent with Steven Covey’s second habit of highly effective people, which is to begin with the end in mind. If this principle is not adhered to then it is all too easy to start focusing on content and its delivery and not the reason you are developing and delivering the content in the first place.

Learn to use the tools you’ve already got

PowerPoint No Comments

There’s a tendency to think that particular tools are necessary to carry out a job and that without those tools the job is too difficult and can’t be done. Usually we are already in possession of tools that might be of some use but we ignore them. Often this is because we won’t take the time to learn how to use them properly, and if we did we would find that they are more than adequate for the job.

In elearning PowerPoint is one such tool. The use of PowerPoint is often confined to projected presentations in front of which the presenter stands either reading out lists of bullet points, adding little value, or discussing the contents of the slides with the audience, a more value-added way of doing things. Either way, the opportunities for using PowerPoint as a stand-alone presentation medium are often left unexplored, other than providing printed hand-outs for the audience.

For example, PowerPoint is capable of producing highly effective animations which, combined with effective recorded narration, can produce powerful learning materials. This is much less expensive that using Flash to produce the animations and many people have the necessary tools available as part of Microsoft Office. The difficult part for many people comes with setting aside the time to learn how to use PowerPoint properly. However, as with many tools, once you are using the tool to complete the project, rather than using the tools being the project, work progresses more quickly and effectively and excellent results are achieved.

So, instead of looking longingly at expensive rapid elearning tools or trying to obtain the budget required for custom Flash animation, look at utilising the potential withing the PowerPoint toolbox and see how far that will take you.