When the clearest route is best – the virtues of linear e-learning

At Willow, our design team are faced with a whole range of learning design and pedagogical challenges – specialising in complex subjects makes this the case (and frankly makes it rather fun!).  Above all, it means keeping an open mind and immersing yourself in the learning and it’s audience, rather than the tools and techniques available.  Only when you figure out the learner journey and the experiences, conversations and activities that are likely to take place on that journey can you select the formal and social learning interactions that deliver the best solution. So I particularly enjoyed Tom Kuhlmann’s post this week, entitled ‘3 Reasons Why Linear e-Learning May Be The Best Solution‘.  When you are creating a learning scaffold to assist learners in creating their journey through a subject, some structure and signposting can be extremely valuable.  In this environment, e-learning that acts as a springboard to other intensive learning interactions (such as virtual classrooms, workshops, assignments, discussions, coursework etc) can play a very useful and effective role.  Of course there are times when the ability to create interactive scenarios are a great tool, but Tom’s advice on when to deploy which method is very sound. The subject of structured versus unstructured learning in a wider senses is also hotting up, with more coverage of Higher Education establishments (such as the joint edX venture between Harvard and MIT) exploring different models of distance learning.  When recently scanning some comments from students enrolled on MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses – check out Wikipedia’s entry to find out more), one of the criticisms of the approach was the lack of structure and direction.  Now of course, there are students who will welcome the freedom to explore, but the job of sifting, validating and selecting high quality learning resources and understanding the types of online activities that work for a particular learning goal is not an easy one.  An entirely unstructured journey may also make the benefits gained from a cohort experience (i.e. sharing the learning journey with others with whom you can share and converse) much more illusive.   It is giving rise to the greater recognition of the value of great instructional design, where the focus in on the understanding and mapping of the journey, understanding the role of others in your journey and the right types of online learning experiences to support this.


A Monday morning thought provoker, courtesy of the RSA

My colleague, Debbie Lawley sent me this video over the weekend, taken from the RSA Animate series.  It gives a beautiful new twist on the pervasive debate on the perceived benefits and dangers to society of our online behaviour and the internet as a whole.  Well worth a look…

WillowDNA shortlisted for 2012 e-Learning Awards

We are delighted to announce that WillowDNA have been shortlisted for this year’s e-Learning Awards 2012 for best online distance learning programme for our work with the IPA.  As finalist in this year’s Peer Awards sponsored by The Independent already, it’s incredibly exciting for us for our work to continue to be recognised.   Next week, we’ll be publishing an article on some of the lessons learnt from the IPA Foundation certificate and more generally, how professional bodies can extend their reach with world class distance learning.

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Latest update to Storyline promises better tracking and localisation

The ability to publish e-learning in HTML5 has been a huge development for online learning, but as many designers working with tools such as Storyline and Captivate have certainly found it’s not all plain sailing.  So the announcement from Articulate that an update to Storyline will include better tracking, easier localisation and popular functions such as glossary and notes will be a popular one. Tracking is a major concern for clients – this update supports Tin Can in order to ensure completion of e-learning modules are reported.  Obviously, this raises a whole other post of the current progress of Tin Can and the impact on the way we think about LMS or the newest acronym on the block LRS (Learning Record Store) but that’s another post for another day!

New Entrants in the provision of University degrees: Education on the cheap or the biggest shake-up for higher education in our lifetimes?

The traditional route to a University degree has never been more expensive for the student with the recent rise in tuition fees to £9000 per year. This market is now seeing an unprecedented increase in different providers offering degrees. And with this rise comes new ways of delivering degrees. The recent rise in tuition fees to £9,000 per annum has opened the market to private university colleges, challenging the traditional approach to a university education. With the option to fast track degrees over a two year rather than a three year period, the attractive reduction in the cost of a degree makes considerable sense to students as well as to their parents. As a parent myself to two more potential university candidates in the coming years, I am especially interested in how this is all shaping up. I was delighted to have my company chosen as the digital partner in the provision of a new distance degree due to be launched this Autumn. We have always prided ourselves on dealing with pretty complex material for professional learners. This was a natural next step for us. But as a parent, I wonder what choices my two young sons will have available to them in the next few years. Quite a few years ago, I took my post grad. conversion to IT through the Open University. One of the striking comparisons I made at the time was the much higher quality of materials provided by the OU compared to my recent university experience. Universities have been using VLEs (Virtual learning Environments) for quite some years and the open source platform, Moodle, tends to be ubiquitously used for academic supply of learning content for students. The use of the VLE under these circumstances though, tends to be very much in the hands of the individual tutor and there is frequently little consistency across the campus. Distance learning though, is a different environment. There is no teacher in the classroom, so the materials have to speak for themselves. The OU knew this from their earliest days. With the advent of new technologies the expectation of students who have only known the PC and internet age, for whom social collaboration is norm, is very high. The University colleges of the future who can meet this challenge, plus cut the costs of a degree will be way ahead. The prospect of my two boys entering their adulthood with debts of £27,000 in tuition fees alone is not too appetising.  The educational establishment that manages to pull off lower fees with potentially fast tracked routes will be hugely attractive. And it would not have to be distance learning v. campus learning.  For the educationalist to fast track your student, you will need to be able to compliment your traditional tutoring and lecturing with online access to extra tuition time. Another variation on that theme will be the mostly distance provision with much lower attendance but far more intensive tuition. I recall all too well the relatively low number of timed lectures for my degree. Today though, the very short terms plus almost non-existent lectures for my stepson is an eye-opener in comparison. Is this the result of the cuts in higher education? The biggest challenge of all though will be with perception. Can the new entrants truly challenge Oxbridge and the Russell Group? Or will they be seen as degrees on the cheap by students and employers? I hope not. For my children’s sake I hope this is the opportunity to break into new territory and give the traditional route to a valued and valuable higher education a much needed shake-up!

The smallest of sneaky peeks at Articulate Studio 12

Just as the Apple fan searches desperately for the tiniest of hints at a release date for the iPhone5 and the many bountiful smartphone gifts it may bestow, e-learning designers are eager to see how our favourite authoring tools will deliver better experiences across the many devices that support online learning. The release of Articulate Storyline and the latest iteration of Adobe Captivate have made great strides in html5 output – although still flawed, it certainly is making the job of authoring for iOS a more widely acquirable skill.  Yet for the loyal users of Articulate Studio, the end-user friendly solution to e-learning production, both Storyline and Captivate demand a different way of thinking, designing and working with e-learning that is unfamiliar and may prove to be something of a barrier. So there’s something of a buzz around the Articulate Studio 12 preview page, which suggests some of the most popular features of Storyline could be available for Studio users, such as all important HTML5 and iOS publishing, more sophisticated timeline and more flexibility in quiz creation (using the layers approach that has proven so popular and powerful in Storyline).  Just like Storyline, it looks to be utilising the Articulate Player for iPad to create a better user experience but this still leaves the SCORM reporting issue on the table. Which provides a great segway into our cliffhanger (and unforgivable pun of the day – HTML5, iOS support and more sophisticated authoring is great for designers but just when the lid be lifted on Project Tin Can…?

Script or speak? The importance of the learning voice

ImageLast week, I was at the 2012 Peer Award conference and It was fascinating to see how learning professionals had met challenges with a whole range of learning techniques and approaches.  But one topic in particular really resonated with me and that was the subject of voice. Nick Shackleton Jones, Group Head of elearning at BP shared with us their performance support system, which certainly gave a nod to their knowledge management roots.  Stories from subject matter experts feature highly and encouraging people to share how they have utilised this knowledge is a key aspect.  What was particularly interesting though was, being an organisation where learning truly is at the heart of the organisation, if high production values were regarded as important, the business case would be endorsed.  However, a flip HD camera and authentic unscripted videos are the method of choice for these video stories and a good choice it is too. A trusted voice of experience always features highly in our learning design and short videos are often used.  However in the past, clients new to online learning have been rather nervous about this more casual approach to videos and can be concerned that without a script and well polished performance, the credibility of the content could be compromised.  However, it is useful to consider the age old question of how people really learn.  When the debate on formal and informal begins between learning designers, what is at the heart of it is what learners really want to know – how do things really happen around here? There are plenty of ways to package and capture formal learning but having explore the structure, the frameworks and theories, learners then want to know how this plays out around here.  It’s about supporting people through the learning cycle and when learners are ready to try out what they have learnt , the sharing of a story from a trusted peer on how things played out, what worked and didn’t worked its best achieved in a relaxed, informal and earnest telling of a true story is incredibly valuable.  The value is in that story, not in production values – over engineer it and it loses the authenticity and also, the relevance – having a decent handheld camera available to take along to key events, conferences or even over coffee capture fresh insights in context and keep your learning up to date. So it’s time to break down another barrier to great online learning, good stories make for good learning and anyway, the hair and makeup team needed to look good on HD video is unlikely to to get signed off by procurement!

CIPD Learning Survey 2012 – Willow’s solutions to current L&D challenges

Subscribers to our newsletter have given us some great feedback on our report on this year’s learning survey from CIPD. It was a great opportunity for us to share how Willow address the challenges of online learning in context, so we thought we’d share it with you as well.

John Curran gives us a tour of Articulate Storyline

Described by reviewers as a ‘gamechanger’, this summer (well summer in principle but not reality!) saw the launch of Articulate Storyline. More powerful than studio, html5 output and greater creative freedom for designers means you’ll be seeing much more output from it hitting some e-learning near you. Our head of learning technologies, John Curran takes us on a quick tour in his blog.