Create engaging elearning with honesty

“Why can’t we just take an existing product, and put a clock in it or something?”

Create engaging elearning with honesty
One of my favourite Simpsons episodes has a moment where Homer offers the quote above as his response, when confronted with a complex blueprint for a revolutionary new product that he just can’t get his head around.

What’s this got to do with e-learning? Well, to me it comes to mind when you look at how some training providers propose games as a radical new solution to engage learners – and then come up with a bolt-on game-playing experience that combines racing cars, multiple choice questions and a third-rate set of character designs to teach learners about the Data Protection Act.

Now, this isn’t knocking games as a learning device. Properly targeted and carefully crafted, they can produce effective learning experiences ranging from simulations and skills-practice through to powerful prompts to reflection.

But I think that their popularity sometimes reflects a failure to engage with a much more fundamental, underlying issue in online learning – one of narrative credibility.

All too often, online training can suffer from the same kind of ‘narrative delusion’ that insular politicians do. ‘If we only explain what we’re proposing clearly enough, surely everyone sensible will then agree with us’ – whilst failing to genuinely acknowledge different perspectives; dissent; the fact that very serious challenges may exist and that many endeavours, initiatives and processes are – at least initially – unpopular (especially when change is involved).

Now, clearly learning providers have to present content in a positive way that helps organisations achieve their training aims. But often, when e-learning claims that it treats learners as adults/presents content from a ‘What’s In It For Me?’ perspective and acknowledges real-world complexity – it doesn’t , not really – and learners smell a rat right from the start, which undermines engagement (and whatever the narrative is) on a fundamental level. 

Similarly, if the content isn’t demonstrably useful, easy to navigate and oriented towards supporting performance rather than covering an arbitrary curriculum – people will often start looking at their watches and clicking Next.

And at that stage, all of the gimmicks in the world won’t be much use.

One answer? Radical honesty. This could present itself in any number of ways – open acknowledgement of past organisational failures; the pressures of tough targets; challenges to motivation; competitors’ strengths; or personal stress. Same basic content – different paradigm.

And then, having started off from a solid position – by telling a powerful truth to learners that resonates with the real world they live in – narratives (whether through case studies, scenarios, or – indeed – games) are in a much better place to succeed.

Here, ‘honest’ learning content can use the weight of (implicit) negative expectation to its advantage, subverting expectations and generating surprise, engagement and buy-in. ‘Oh, another corporate e-learning course – yawn…hey, wait – what did they just say?!? I think I’d better pay attention to this!’

Alternatively, you could just go with the racing cars… 

Instructional Designer D Whiston

Many thanks to guest blogger, Daniel Whiston, Award Winning Instructional Designer & Scriptwriter 

Performance is more than support – Communities count

Community Often the subjects that are most critical to business performance are either complex, very specialised or specific to an organisation or profession. This can be referred to as domain knowledge and it is essentially what makes that organisation what it is. It’s this intrinsic link with the context and culture of the organisation that make a formal learning approach to skills acquisition in these environments so challenging: it’s difficult to make this knowledge explicit and capture it in a way that doesn’t lose that all important context. This is one of the main reasons why learning and development functions who do not operate at a partnership/internal consultant level are today bypassed as irrelevant.  Accessing information and a wealth of resources is not the issue; understanding how to readily and effectively apply or adapt it to my context and understand if it has positively impacted performance for the business is the key.  This is where communities step to the fore. Quickly returning to my quest for tennis mastery (well, tennis basic proficiency), a plethora of YouTube videos, apps, books and articles exist to help develop my knowledge of technique.  So to help frame the issue, formal assets are very helpful – there are some elements of the sport that can be captured as explicit knowledge.  However, I am a 40-year-old, fairly active but novice tennis player with pretty good co-ordination, a bit of a dodgy shoulder and a tendency to overthink.  This is not a search term that yields many results, but augmenting my research with a chat with Nigel, qualified coach support and this core knowledge starts to make more sense and gather more immediacy.  From this experience, friends who wish to return to the sport ask for advice, with many of us sharing some common traits.  So the input flow can be applied, adapted and shared with others to continue this process. Communities impact performance at so many levels and yet their value is often overlooked.  They deliver more than creating effective environments for learning, fostering good working relationships and sharing knowledge.  If learning professionals take an active interest in the facilitation and evaluation of community activity, they can shape strategy through providing deep insight into process efficiency, competitor performance, customer perceptions, opportunities for innovation.  But to fulfil this arguably limitless potential, they need to be supported. Communities, where there is real engagement and intensity of dialogue, deliver value to its participants even if the organisation doesn’t actually take much interest.  Where learning teams do take an interest and augment them with better technology to improve access to people and knowledge, measure their value to secure future investment and bring in new participants to provoke new direction and ideas, yield significant business results.

Quick case study: At France Telecom, global product managers were invited to participate in community skills development programmes to encourage these global leaders to adopt a more facilitative rather than commend and control approach to product management.

In just one case, the voicemail community reported that thanks to the adoption of this approach, over €10m of additional revenue was generated simply by that manager acting as the facilitator between sharing of practice in implementation of voicemail menu services between two European countries. 

These communities were supported with collaboration technology and a representative from the global learning and knowledge team who provided mentoring services to community facilitators and would measure community value against defined qualitative and quantitative measures.

All communities thrive on a clear purpose so in our next instalment, we’ll be focussing on the importance of goal setting.

Performance is more than support – Creating the conditions

So leading on from last week’s post, lets start exploring the first step in creating a performance culture – creating the optimal conditions Future performance infographic Conditions This is where culture, skills, career planning, reward and management skills come together to cultivate a performance mind-set, at both a micro level (individuals and teams) and macro level (organisations and society).  The issue here is that often these types of considerations are regarded as softer measures rather than at the hard and fast business results end of the scale. In a well cited paper from 2013 titled ‘ The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne from the University of Oxford, concluded that 47% of job categories are open to automation within the next twenty years.  Now this may be a rather worrying figure, however the paper also recognises that some jobs—especially those currently associated with high levels of education and high wages—will survive.  Although what’s more interesting is to reflect on the skills that will become the most valuable. It is research such as that conducted by the New World Of Work board (the results you can see in the box to the right) that has led to models such as Harold Jarche’s Network Era Competences for Learning and Working, where ‘personal knowledge mastery’ is a way to describe the ways in which we find the right information, people and knowledge to develop skills and drive performance.  In this environment, the most valuable skills become those that make us deft at navigating and disseminating information rapidly, contributing effectively and efficiently and skilled at bringing information and people together to deliver objectives. Through the commitment of learning professionals and business leaders, these competencies are nurtured by creating the most conducive learning environment, leaving people free to add their talents and imaginations to finding new solutions, efficiencies, products and services.  In the rise of automation (described by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, professors at MIT, as “The Second Machine Age”) its these skills that will become increasingly more valuable. A quick search on skills for the 21st century will yield page after page of articles, publications, research projects and comment, but most share common themes that support Jarche’s network era competencies.  They also often highlight why this is so important as we move through the information age into the imagination age, typifies by this quote from Michael Jung, a senior consultant at McKinsey and Company.

“Our old idea is that work is defined by employers and that employees have to do whatever the employer wants . . . but actually, you would like him to come up with an interpretation that you like — he’s adding something personal — a creative element.”

There’s also another great reason for investing in creating the right conditions – in his most recent book, More Than Blended Learning, Clive Shepherd emphasises that in today’s working world ‘an analysis is not for ever’.  His advice here is worth taking to heart:

‘Be prepared to revisit your analysis because situations are always changing and new information comes available all the time.  Design is – and should be – an iterative process as you strive to ever more closely meet the needs’.

Taking Clive’s point on board, this makes the conditions all the more important; anchoring your organisation to one particular approach is simply not tenable or relevant.    Once we accept this it really can be rather liberating!  No longer are we continually chasing the next big thing and committed to making that one big investment a success.  We are better informed and able to take opportunities as they arise because they are aligned to our particular performance needs. Once we’ve established the appropriate conditions for performance, it’s time to build a network or community to nurture and foster performance.  That’s what we’ll be focussing on in our next instalment.

Forget New Years Resolutions – summer is a great time to do the big thinking

Not sure its the same for you, but New Year is not the time to make any new work based P1060367resolutions – Q4 is traditionally a crazy time where budgets are being agreed, work signed up for the next year then just as you catch your breath, you hit the ground running after the christmas break (which for us also means frantic preparations for exhibitions like Learning Technologies!) However the summer can be a great opportunity to take advantage of the quieter moments in the office to take a coffee with colleagues around the business and listen to whats happening.  Its these types of conversations that can prove invaluable in uncovering the true learning needs in an organisation. By the time the formal development need passes your desk, its almost too late.   Taking a real interest in what’s happening on a day to day basis is when you uncover the SMEs you didn’t know your business had, the communities of practice already working together and collaborating, the outside influencers people turn to for help, the curated content colleagues are sharing with each other. So if you’ve already had your drizzly week in Devon and are back at work, take the time not just to debate whether the clotted cream or jam go first onto the scone but to follow your natural curiosity and find out how your organisation really learns.

Learning Ecosystems – a Vlog for OzLearn

You can always rely on Con Sotidis to be keeping a watchful eye on the latest from L&D, his twitter account @learnkotch is an essential on anyone’s top L&D lists.  So I was absolutely delighted to be asked to take part in the next OzLearn chat, happening this Tuesday (14th April) at 10am GMT.La Clusaz to Mont Blanc As many of you will know, Learning Ecosystems are a core part of our work here at WillowDNA so this Tuesday, I would love to find out how Ecosystems are playing a part of your learning strategy for 2015.  They have significant implications for the way we conduct needs analysis, define learning objectives, define the roles and responsibilities of the L&D teams and how we make best use of technology. To set the scene, I recorded a vlog for Con and the OzLearn team whilst on a little break to the French Alps with my family.  Being a fairly novice skier and also encouraging my daughter as she develops her skills as a junior shredder (snowboarder to you and me!), it was interesting to reflect on the different inputs and tools we used to maximise our opportunity to develop. There are a number of parallels (no ski pun intended!) with learning in organisations and in fact for any purpose.  I hope you enjoy it and really looking forward to connecting on Tuesday. Learning Ecosystems Vlog for OzLearn    

The new learning universe – what it means for learning designers

The New Learning Universe Part 3 by Emily Cox, Specialist Instructional Designer, WillowDNA Right now there never has been a better time to design learning. The days of lengthy, dull, flat e-learning modules are well and truly behind us! The new learning universe means that we can provide delegates with a media rich learning environment filled with a range of technology based delivery solutions.iStock_000008882593XSmall As a learning designer the new learning universe means choice. We now have a whole raft of technologies available for us to use for the delivery of online training programs. Historically using a range of technologies had such cost implications that it would be deemed an unfeasible solution. Now technology is both more accessible and affordable. As a learning designer the process of selecting which technology solutions are going to feature in a learning program is one of the first considerations at the project initiation and learning design stage of the development cycle. I believe selecting the right blend of technology is as important as the source material. It is worth noting that this choice of technology is accompanied by its own set of responsibilities. In order to find the right blend of technology for a learning program we need to get much closer to the end users. We need to understand how and when they use technology in their jobs and how we can develop content that will both facilitate and support the knowledge transfer process. Well-designed blended training solutions should not only upskill and inform the end users but should be able to support them to apply their new skills in their day to day roles. In reality this means as learning designers we need to facilitate the knowledge transfer process and encourage proficiency by providing end users realistic simulations, relevant mobile content, informative videos and useful downloads. My motivation for using a range of different technologies is to make the learning journey relevant and provide the end user with genuine context. When a learning journey is designed well the life span of the training is extended, the content will end up being used beyond the level of proficiency and should act as a on the job support aid. The new learning universe also means that we can now develop learning communities. This is a powerful concept because it means that learners are not restricted to participating in the program in isolation. From a learning design perspective we can now encourage end users to participate in group based tasks and share their experiences with the rest of the community. Not only is the opportunity to collaborate across their peer group motivating but it also allows end users to share their experiences and understanding of the training programme. Content can also be derived from these collaboration pieces, in mature learning communities, to provide user generated content. Personally the new learning universe means that I have the tools at my disposal to develop a truly engaging, relevant, scalable and rich mixed media learning programs. It means that online learning is equipped and capable of tackling really complex subjects and provide end users with a really innovative and effective learning journey.

Context is King

It’s a phrase I use in almost every presentation I have given on online learning (so apologies if contectyou were in the audience!) but for me, context is the biggest gift learning professionals can give any programme.  In the drive to get more and more content online, we often forget that there are some simple things we can do that create highly effective programmes without high production costs.  This month, we’ll be exploring how to make the most of subject matter experts and I wanted to start by sharing some examples that I believe work very well indeed, starting with video. In a time poor, fast moving environment, sharing subject matter expertise rapidly in a medium that is quick to create and easy to swap out is vital.  This was the driver for many major knowledge management initiatives in large organisations back in the early 2000s when significant investment was made in intranets and microsites to store lessons learnt and project reviews.  Although it was a significant step in helping extend the reach of subject matter experts, it wasn’t especially engaging and trying to disseminate tacit knowledge into written content loses some of its impact and immediacy.  However video at that time was regarded as expensive and bandwidth draining, still limited predominantly to corporate videos with a crew and flattering lighting!  However in recent years, video has been more widely embraced, from performance support space where quick videos provide on demand instruction through to online lectures. But overall, to my mind, it’s still not reaching its potential.  When short, focussed videos are included as part of an overall learning scaffold, you instantly elevate the content and contextualise what may have been regarded as too theoretical.  Try turning the development of online material on it’s head: where should you invest?  In the development of bespoke e-learning content modules or could you reuse existing materials and blend with interviews and lessons learnt from subject matter experts?  I’ve seen incredible online academies developed with the judicious blend of newly commissioned content, reuse and repositioning of existing materials, instantly updated and refreshed with some great SME interviews. Essentially it’s about developing an overall scaffold for the subject and understanding where subject matter insight will have maximum impact.  Think about following a scene setting piece of e-learning that lays out core concepts with a view from the frontline video – this is a simple way to accelerate the transfer of knowledge into action and by breaking it down in this was rather than embed it into formal content, these videos can be quickly swapped in and out as required.  There’s a nice concise article from JISC on effective use of video that acts a simple litmus test for the video you may already use or plan to use.  However, from my experience, there are some simple lessons to make video more effective:

  • Plan – speak with the SME beforehand and explore what you’ll cover.
  • Authentic – However, although others will disagree, some of the most effective video I have seen is then not tightly scripted.  Knowing what you’ll cover and the key points you want to make facilitates the smooth running of the video take, but our most popular videos are those delivered authentically and conversationally.  There is a time and place to professional shot and scripted video, but to share tacit experience, a simply shot video delivered by someone who may occasionally hesitate or pause for thought is no bad thing.
  • Short – keep it brief!  As we’ve discussed previously, a recorded lecture does not equal an effective online course.  That’s not to say you can’t use a recorded workshop, but how can you break it down and blend with effective calls to learning action?

Next week, I’ll look at the role of SMEs as facilitators.

Do we have the appetite for massive courses?

CrowdMOOCs are e-learning programmes typically delivered, like the best these days, via online platforms with social media components. So there’s no inherent reason why they shouldn’t provide engaging learning experiences, encouraging the lively exchanges with peers that are so valuable in constructing ideas. As with all learning interventions, the key to success is in great design based on sound pedagogy, in carefully crafting authentic activities geared to the needs of learner and organisation. The MOOC format should be able to accommodate all of this, shouldn’t it? Well, yes and it’s the quality that counts of course but, somehow, the very word ‘Massive’ conjures up a monster to me; something that’s surely too big to be friendly. How do you engage with a cohort of thousands? Who do you turn to if you just don’t get it? Perhaps the trustees of the ‘Serious eLearning Manifesto’ had MOOCs in mind when stating their belief that: “current trends evoke a future of only negligible improvement in elearning design—unless something radical is done to bend the curve.” How could a MOOC adapt to learner needs (principle number 9 of 22), or provide support for post-training follow-through (13)? I may be proved wrong, but I’d rather sign up to an OOC than a MOOC. For more on the Serious eLearning Manifesto, see:

Our preview of this year’s Learning Live conference and exhibition

leanring liveAs we get banners packed, leaflets stacked and ourselves transported to London, we wanted to share with you some of the things we’re looking forward to at this year’s LPI Learning Live event. Video has always been a major feature of our programmes and this year, we are extending our capability with some exciting partnerships powering in the coming weeks.  So we’ll certainly be listening to this year’s keynote speaker with great interest. BBC presenter Spencer Kelly, who is described as a pioneer for new forms of interactive broadcasting, will be exploring the latest in learning technologies and their impact in the workplace will include LiveChats with “celebrities” streamed across the web. As Willow’s roots (excuse the pun) are firmly in knowledge sharing and collaboration, the ‘International Thinktank’, sponsored by our friends at Cisco, promises to be a great opportunity for the learning community to share insights and lessons.  At such a vibrant and exciting time for L&D, these networking opportunities are becoming even more critical in ensuring the profession continues to meet and exceed learner expectations.  Really hoping plenty of people take part and for those of you based in the South West, Willow and Cisco are supporting free networking events for CLOs through our CLONetwork SouthWest initiative.  So come and find us at stand 26 if you want to find out more.

How to become a top quartile learning and development team

towards-maturityDebbie Lawley, Managing Director of WillowDNA, gold winners of the Online Distance Learning Award 2012 reviews the Towards Maturity benchmarking report on learning technologies, published November 2012 There are gaps in our expectations of what learning technologies will deliver and the benefits that most achieve. So says the recent Towards Maturity benchmarking report. The study cites workflow and learning integration as a particular concern. What are those gaps and what can be done to address the integration of work with learning? 95% seek to improve the sharing of good practice, 25% on average achieve this The report cites under half using 3rd party social media or video clips of good practice. This compares with top performers more than 3x likely to be using simple tools such as Skype for instant sharing. Most of the options here are not costly ticket items. The phrases in the section that stand out the most relate to a lack of active encouragement. That can be hard to picture but it need not be. Establishing organisational habits is usually best achieved virally. Picking the movers and shakers out who have influence and supporting their adoption of better practice is a great start. Then ensuring the formal learning experiences provided by the organisation are seeded with sharing good practice sets a clear expectation and a good example of how to do this day to day. Very practical examples of getting habits established in sharing good practice include:

  1. Managers asking teams to connect with others to find out ways in which similar issues have been tackled.
  2. Prominent individuals taking time to identify great performance and making time to share that practice with other interested parties.
  3. Making a habit of videoing subject matter experts and sharing short vignettes of approaches.
  4. Skyping, not meeting, so that physical presence no longer becomes the constraint to the flow of knowledge and decision-making.

For us at WillowDNA, the design of our Pathway hosted platform enables sharing of templates, case studies and video snapshots from seasoned players. And it is not all about how to get it right, these videos often talk about personal learning journeys and development. Coupling formal learning closely with discussion forums is a centre-piece in many of our programmes. 94% seek to speed up the application of learning back into the workplace but only 23% achieve this. One of the most insightful facts in the report is that high performing learning organisations are 7x more likely to encourage and provide time for reflection. Given that this involves no technology, no clever investment this is an extraordinary figure. Many would feel that this is where delivering courses via technology has its downfall but that absolutely need not be the case. In constructing our learning paths, Lisa Minogue-White, Head of Learning Solutions and her team, use many techniques to encourage reflection. In fact, the longer elapsed time with online courses is actually an enabler in this respect. The opportunity to learn, work, reflect and learn again, as part of the time to mastery, is an essential aspect of the learning path approach. The structured approach to the learning journey becomes inextricably linked to informal learning. Formal learning should never be divorced from context but is part of the larger system of learning and working. 92% seek to respond faster to business change: only 25% achieve this There is much written and much research on the topic of business and leadership agility. There has been a huge increase in numbers looking to achieve this from 2011 to 2012 – from 70% to a whopping 92%! But very few achieve this. Here is an interesting fact – high performing learning organisations are 3x more likely to analyse the business problem before implementing a solution. The extraordinary point here is the obvious implied one – that many learning organisations are failing to analyse business problems before implementing a learning solution! It really is time for all learning organisations focus on the business and especially what the business is striving to achieve. The learning path design puts the business objective at the heart. Agility when it comes to learning can mean honing down the content and creating the vital scaffold from which learners can make their own meaning to apply in their context.  Creating links through to the working context and the challenges there is one of the ways in which to ensure business agility is architected into the learning experience. 91% seek to improve talent/performance management: only 20% achieve this The report highlights substantial differences between top performers and the bottom quartile. Figures abound such as top quartile teams are 27x more likely to encourage their learners to develop their own learning strategy and13x more likely to integrate learning technologies for development into the way they performance manage and appraise their staff. Many of our customers build learning programmes that go way beyond induction and H&S compliance. Learning is seen as a vital for all whether as a novice, moving into new roles, becoming expert or becoming a subject matter expert. Gaming it is not but there is a sense of progression and contribution whatever your experience. Creating a learning strategy for all is core to creating an expectation of learning for everyone. We all have a role to play in this and a key part of the learning strategists approach is mobilizing talent and knowledge for the benefit of the individual and the organisation. We work all the time with our customers to create that overall learning strategy whether the learners are internal to a company or organisation, whether our customer is providing learning to members or students. The same applies. I warmly recommend this report as s a valuable tool for anyone responsible for delivering learning. The combination of current trends, insights from contributors plus the longitudinal statistics creates a comprehensive resource.