Learning

Learning Articulate Storyline – Book Review

Learning Articulate StorylineEarlier this year I was delighted to be asked by Packt Publishing to act as a Technical Reviewer on their new book Learning Articulate Storyline. The book was recently published and not long afterwards a copy arrived by post. Even though I hadn’t done the hard work of actually writing the book, it was still exciting to see the finished product after having played a small part in its development.

I’m a big fan of the practical approach adopted in Packt’s books, and Learning Articulate Storyline is no exception. If you’ve never used Storyline before you can be confident that after working through this book you will be able to use it to develop elearning content.

There’s no unnecessary theory or explanations; after a quick introduction to Storyline you get stuck into building the first part of a course that you will continue to develop as you progress through the book. You’re introduced to new concepts at the point at which you use them, so there’s always a clear link between theory and practice.

At less than 280 pages you might think that the book is a little short, particularly when compared to typical IT books, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a testament to both to the simplicity of the tool and the practical approach of the book that it covers everything you need to get started – and I should be clear that getting started is what it’s all about.

The book is aimed squarely at novices and it meets their needs well, but this isn’t the book for you if you’re looking for advanced techniques. I can happily recommend it to anyone who is just getting started with Articulate Storyline.

Learning, Technology

Open Source LMS – Buyer Beware

In mid July the eLearning Network held an event called ‘The Open Source Revolution’ at which I spoke about my experience helping several organisations select an open source LMS and comparing it to similar experience with commercial systems. I was happy to report that all the projects had gone well and that relationships with suppliers had been mostly positive, but there was one major issue I had come up against which generated a lot of discussion during the Q&A.

Imagine that you have an open source LMS which was implemented by a supplier who specialises in supporting and hosting that particular LMS. Let’s call them a partner… The LMS has been in place for some time and after discussion with the supplier you decide to upgrade to the latest version. After the upgrade you discover that a plugin you have been using for some time has stopped working, not because of a problem with the plugin but because of a bug in the core LMS itself.

When you raise this with the partner who has implemented, hosted, supported and upgraded the LMS you are told that they are not liable for bugs in the core code, although they do of course offer to fix it at your expense.

It was the first time that I had been faced with a situation of this kind, and of course I immediately checked the support contract, and sure enough it absolved the supplier from any responsibility in this area. I was not happy, and judging from the response at the eLN event I’m not the only one who feels that way.

I appreciate that the supplier didn’t develop the software in the first place, but like many others they have built a business around supplying, supporting and hosting it. My view is that if they believe the software is fit for use, they should be willing to provide a warranty against bugs in the core code. If they aren’t willing to do that then any potential customer should be very sceptical about the suitability of the software, or the suitability of the supplier to support it.

For me there has been a simple outcome. I’ve updated my base requirements for procuring any open source solution to include an indemnity against core bugs as a non-negotiable. It will no doubt narrow down the choice of suppliers but I’ll have a great deal more faith in those who are left.

Learning, Technology

Don’t Annoy Users

If you have even a passing interest in technology and own one or more iOS devices you’ll know that last week Google released their Chrome web browser for iPhone and iPad. It’s likely that you’ll also know that if you want to use Chrome as your default browser, you’ll be disappointed; Apple doesn’t allow this. As a result, even if you choose to use Chrome, any web links from emails or other apps will still open in Safari.

This was a point of considerable frustration for me. My desktop browser of choice is Chrome, but I’d switched to Safari solely because I get some level of integration with iOS. It seemed to me that this was a compromise that I no longer had to make, as long as I could set Chrome as the default on iOS.

There is a solution, if you’re willing to jailbreak your iOS device and install BrowserChooser, which lets you set Chrome (or any other browser) as the default.

This is where the unintended consequences begin.

  1. Until now, neither my iPhone or iPad was jailbroken, as I had never seen the benefit. The opportunity to set Chrome as my default browser was enough of a push and so both devices are now jailbroken.
  2. Now that I’ve applied the jailbreak I realised that I could also install Sparrow+ and use Sparrow as my default email client (it plays better with Gmail).
  3. Which then led me to install Sparrow on my Macs in place of Apple Mail.
  4. Then I found myself thinking, if I’m going to all this trouble to get better integration with Google products, why don’t I just use an Android phone1?

It’s this last point that should be most troubling for Apple.

Jay Harrier suggested that an iPhone user wanting greater integration with Google services is Apple’s worst nightmare, to which John Gruber responded:

No, Apple’s worst nightmare is someone buying an Android phone instead of an iPhone. If you buy an iPhone, Apple wins, that’s all there is to it. Every iOS user who chooses to use a third-party app as their preferred client for web browsing, email, calendaring, etc. is annoyed every single time they click a web/email/event URL and are taken to an iOS system app that they don’t want to use.

“Don’t annoy users” is a good rule of thumb, and the inability to specify third-party apps as default handlers for these things is annoying.

Remember that. Don’t annoy users. It seems to me that we should all keep those three words in mind, no matter what we’re working on lest we bring about our own set of unintended consequences.


  1. Which would not be difficult to do as I have a Nexus S for development and testing. 

Learning

This Is Not Showbusiness

In his recent post Market failure? Blame it on the dog food, Clive Shepherd suggests that the reason that elearning content often has high production values but superficial learning design, is down to a market failure; that elearning vendors are selling to the employer, not the learner.

I agree, but how did this situation come to exist? Based on my own experience as an elearning manager within a corporate, and more recently as a consultant, I have some thoughts about why the relationship often works this way.

In his post, Clive touches on the first one:

When employers purchase an e-learning product or engage with a developer, they choose on the basis of production values rather than learning design, because they have neither the time nor the inclination to test out materials with real learners.

I’ve seen many examples of this, but it’s a problem that existed long before elearning. The same can happen when commissioning external providers of face to face training. The focus is on the delivery and collateral rather than the learning and business outcomes. Trainers are often selected, quite literally, on the basis of style over substance.

This is closely related to the second problem. When I was getting started with elearning, I was given all sorts of advice, but one of the more frequent suggestions was to produce “high profile content”; that is, content that people would talk about because it had the “wow factor”. The trouble is, that ends up being “wow those graphics were amazing”, or “wow I think 3D models are cool” when it should be “wow I’ve learned so much by doing that!”.

Who are we trying to impress with this high profile, “wow” content? It’s usually stakeholders and senior managers, because we want their buy in as way to ensure that we can do more of this.

The trouble is, once we’ve opened this box, it’s almost impossible to put thing back in again. We establish a situation where elearning is perceived as something that must have high production values, and anything else is considered to be sub-standard.

This also relates to the problem of procurement models and IT involvement. In the past, it was not unusual to see the commissioning of a piece of elearning treated as a software purchase, and for some organisations that’s still true today.

There are two problems with this;

First of all, a software purchase is usually sourced based on factors such as integration with existing systems, and the availability of support. Effective learning outcomes will not be high on the list. IT then end up making decisions about the choice of vendor; something which should be the domain L&D.

The second issue is how these things are paid for. A software purchase is usually treated as capital expenditure, and in many organisations something can only be a capital expense if it is above a certain cost (perhaps £30-£40,000). So what do you do? You make your elearning content more media rich in order to push up the cost, because you couldn’t get the budget if you wanted to spend less. Sounds crazy, but I’ve got plenty of experience of this!

How do we overcome this? Like Clive, I’m not completely sure, but I do know that it involves L&D keeping their focus on being business people rather than show people.

Learning, Technology

#SLCONF 2012

I’ll be leading a track at the first Social Learning Conference in London on 8th March. Come join me!

#SLCONF 2012 is a 1-day engaging unconference that explores the growing impact of Social Collaborative platforms in Learning & Development. The day will be highly collaborative and informal to allow delegates to ask plenty of questions and get advice from our track leaders their peers about the best practices for developing and running Social Learning and development programs. Register here.

The event will combine a mixture of Case Study presentations from Accenture and BP as well as interactive discussions, with some of the most innovative experts in social learning, including:

  • Jon Ingham, Executive Consultant, Social Advantage
  • Nick Shackleton Jones, Group Head of eLearning, BP
  • Priyadarshini Banati, Collaboration Strategy Lead, Social Learning Team, Accenture
  • Clare Norman, Talent Development Ambassador, Accenture
  • Tim Drewitt, E-learning Specialist, Eversheds LLP
  • Barry Sampson, Director & Co-founder, Onlignment
  • Ben Betts, CEO, HT2
  • Ollie Gardener, CEO, NoddlePod
  • Stephen Gardner, CTO, NoddlePod

For those are directly involved in their organisation’s Learning & Development efforts, e-Learning and Learning 2.0 projects, this Social Learning Event is a must-attend.

Just a few more tickets are available, and you can register now via http://www.crexia.com/conferences/social-learning

Learning

The Best Collaboration Tool You’ve Never Heard Of

A little while back I had the opportunity to get a sneak preview of Noddlepod, a platform with a unique take on co-working and collaboration. They’ve just released a cool new promotional animation, and that reminded me that I hadn’t mentioned them for a while.

Just to be clear; I don’t have any connection with them, I just think it’s a great tool. I was so impressed with what I saw, that I gave them a nice big endorsement to go on the front page of their site.

One of the problems with online collaboration platforms, is that they often give you a very narrow and isolated view of your contribution. One of the things I most like about Noddlepod is that it gives you a clear sense of how what you’re doing fits in with the wider project. When you want to focus, you can also drill down to just the things you’re working on.

It also uses what are called ‘pinned items’ to add a structure that is visible to everyone in the project, ensuring that the activity always has a context.

If you’ve never seen it before (which as the title of this post suggests, I doubt you have) take the tour, visit their blog and why not give the free trial a go?

It would be great to know what you think of it.

Learning, Technology

Are Mobile Devices Distracting?


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Craig Taylor has written an interesting post about his experiences at a recent eLN event. It seems that many attendees agreed with the suggestion that “people can’t possibly be learning effectively if they are tapping away on mobile devices”. I thought it merited a longer response than Craig’s chosen comment system would allow, so here are my thoughts;

First of all, I think that the “tapping away on mobile devices” part is irrelevant. There are plenty of times where I’ve very effectively failed to learn anything at all, without the assistance of any technology!

In answer to Craig’s questions:

Is it reasonable to expect us and our learners to use technology to aid our/their productivity in areas and in situations that have traditionally used pen and paper? – That depends on what you mean by ‘expect’. We certainly shouldn’t be *surprised* that people are using tablets and smartphones for things such as note taking. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to impose those tools on people if they don’t want to use them. I’m usually well ahead of the curve in my personal adoption of technology, but there are still things that I choose to do on paper; and let’s not forget, pen and paper is technology, it’s just more established than some of the alternatives.

Should we maintain traditional practices for meetings but attempt to push forward with new practices when the output has an overt ‘learning’ tag attached to it? – No. Learning is most effective when it builds on what people already do elsewhere, so trying to introduce new practices at the same time as something that is ‘overt learning’ (or training, as it should be called) just makes both activities more difficult. If you want to introduce new practices (e.g. making notes on a tablet) then introduce that as something that people perceive as being part of, not separate to, their work.

Of course, the act of note taking on a tablet has little or no value in itself; what people need to understand first is the benefit they get from doing this (easy to store, search, reference, find and reuse those notes) and then the benefits to others (ability to share, collaborate) and finally the benefits to the organisation (knowledge management, dissemination of information).

Do you use technology to aid your personal productivity or not? – I use technology for pretty much everything, but at the same time I’m not naive enough to think that technology = productivity. For example; when I first started using Twitter I attempted to ‘live tweet’ every event I attended, but quickly found that I was getting a worse experience because I couldn’t focus on the event and the tweeting.

Are you encouraging/discouraging of others to do so? – I’m keen to share the opportunities that technology can bring, in all areas, including productivity. However, on a personal level I’m not an evangelist. Just because something works for me, or someone I know, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. It won’t be a surprise that I do encourage people to adopt technology at an organisational level – e.g. virtual meetings instead of face to face.

Whether face to face or online, I think the type of event makes a difference to the expected behaviour.

For example, when I’ve presented at eLN events I’ve been happy if two thirds of the people are paying attention and the remaining third aren’t distracting them. After all, there are a number of speakers at each event and it’s unlikely that every attendee will be interested in every speaker? I feel the same way about webinars (by which I mean ‘presentation style’ online events); the barriers to attendance are so low that some of the attendees are bound to only have a passing interest. As a presenter I should be focussing on those people who do want to take part.

If I was facilitating a workshop, presumably for a much smaller group of people, then I might expect different behaviour. If we assume that I’m doing my bit by running a good session, then it’s reasonable to expect the participants to do their bit by taking part. Most importantly, I would expect their focus to be on working with the others in the room (physical or virtual), and whether or not they use technology to do that is irrelevant. In this situation I would direct people to avoid distracting activities, whether that’s switching their phone to silent or closing email (which is not the same as saying – switch off the technology).

Learning, Technology

The Threat of New Technology

I’m taking the liberty of reposting Norman Lamont’s superb slideshare presentation on the use of new technology in the workplace.

I do so a) because it’s probably the one piece of content I’ve recommended to more people than any other, b) because it gets the message across more powerfully than any academic treatise on the subject and c) because it should be required reading for anyone responsible for learning and communication in the workplace.

Learning

Learning in 3D – Chapter 7 Summary

I am taking part in a virtual reading group organised by Hans de Zwart, and we are each taking it in turn to summarise a chapter of the book. This week it is my turn, and I have been asked to summarise Chapter 7 – Overcoming Being Addled by Addie. You can find out more about the reading group here.

This chapter proposes that whilst the instructional design process for a 3DLE differs to that for more traditional learning interventions, it is a modification and extension of existing models rather than a replacement. It explores how the Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE) model can be used.

It attempts to contrast the differences by providing a narrative about two different design processes; one for a 2D synchronous environment and one for a 3D synchronous environment. It highlights that in a 3DLE you are required to create the context and environment as well as the content and activities. Whilst the 2D scenario was the work of one instructional designer in a matter of hours, the 3D scenario was developed by a multi-disciplinary team over a period of weeks.

It lists some key design points:

  • Create the right context – the context may change during the session but it should always foster collaboration, help achieve specific learning goals, foster peer to peer interaction and provide the right context for learning to occur.
  • Create specific objectives, but don’t tell the learner – Instead of spelling out the objectives, let the learners explore and discover them themselves.
  • Provide minimal guidelines – Provide just enough guidance to achieve the learning goal.
  • Encourage collaboration – If required, create a context where collaboration is necessary.
  • Allow opportunities to demonstrate learning – Provide the opportunity for safe practice as well as instructor and peer review.
  • Build in incentives – Use tokens to incentivise learners, but avoid making it appear to game like.

It goes on to explain how the ADDIE model can be used to ensure that what is created in the 3DLE is instructionally valid. The key elements to be considered are grouped under the ADDIE headings.

  • Analysis – as with any learning intervention, we start with analysis.
    • Task, concept or skill – can the task, concept or skills be appropriately taught in the 3DLE?
    • Environment – In what environment should the learning occur? Realistic or stylised? Does the environment need a level of stress to be introduced?
    • Technical considerations – Ensure that the available infrastructure can support the desired environment.
    • Learners – Ensure that learners are ready and prepared to use the 3DLE. provide pre-training if required.
  • Design – Apply appropriate instructional strategies.
    • Synchronous or Asynchronous – Should the environment be synchronous and instructor led or asynchronous and self paced?
    • Sequence and instructional elements – Define the specific learning activities and their ordering.
    • Environment and structures – Design appropriate structures within your environment.
    • Design outside of reality – Using scenarios that are impossible in the real world can create a sense of excitement and fun, and enhance the learning.
    • Consider the debriefing – The debriefing is important for reflection. Decide who will run tis, and the manner in which it will take place.
    • Storyboard – Create storyboards and ‘walk though’ the scenarios before committing to development.
  • Develop – Create the environment; this may be custom developed, configured or purchased.
  • Implement – Roll out the 3DLE to the organisation.
  • Evaluation – Evaluate throughout the process, and measure learning and as well as the quality of the 3DLE.

This chapter also provides guidance for working with a third party virtual world vendor, and lists five key points:

  1. Tie your request to a business need – the vendor should understand the business requirement or academic need
  2. Know what to expect – Inform yourself about the vendor landscape
  3. Be specific about your requirements – Be clear about what you need
  4. Do your homework – Research the vendor
  5. Visit the virtual space yourself – Test driving the virtual environment is essential. Viewing a recorded example is not enough to be able to make an informed decision.