Thursday, May 31, 2007

My Job Description

Note: I wrote this post back in 2007 and have since changed companies and jobs. So view this as a historical slice in time...(CB: August 2011)

I work at a small e-Learning company, which means I play lots of different roles. My job title is Manager of Instructional Design. And yet, on a day to day basis (at least lately) I do very little of that.

The focus here the last few months has been less on creating custom courses for clients and more on building Templates and Learning Portals (think LMS-lite).

I think a lot about instructional design, but I don't really practice it. Haven't written a course script in a long time here. Haven't designed an interactive exercise in ages. Haven't written an assessment question in months.

So, what do I do if I'm not doing that?

Marketing: I write the fact sheets. The website copy. I work on the demos. The content, not the graphics.

Sales Presentations:
My CEO leads the demo. I schmooze. I talk instructional design. I ask questions. I use words like "cognitive load theory" or "working memory".

Proposal Writing: When the sales demo goes well, I write the proposal. Put it all together. I craft the approach we would take for this particular project, for this particular customer.

Solution Design: Design from a functional perspective, not the look and feel. How does their Learning Portal need to work? What should their Templates be able to do?

Project Management: Just that. Manage the project. Check in with the development team. See how we're doing on the schedule. Communicate with our clients. Write all the design documents, project plans, change orders, etc.

Client Relations: This mostly falls under Project Management. Build and nurture the client relationship. Answer questions. Handle issues.

QA Testing: And then we have to test the products that we build. I'm not such an anal person, so this isn't my favorite thing in the world.

Product Vision:
This is a key area where blogging has really helped me lately. And by blogging, I mean both the reading and the writing thereof.

Through blogs I can feel the pulse of the industry; stay on top of trends; read what other people are doing. I learn what books I need to read, what research I need to track down. I learn what technologies are being pushed, what people are embracing. In my work, this translates into figuring out what we can add to our products and what I should be writing/saying about them.
  • How can we improve our templates?
  • How can I help our clients better use our tools?
  • What strategies are helping other vendors succeed?
  • What additional training and services should we be offering our clients?
  • What would be really cool for us to do?
  • What do we need to do to stay current? To provide what the market is asking for?
  • What is the market asking for?

e-Learning Strategy Consulting:
This is a new area for me. Untested waters. And I'm really excited about the project I'm working on. We've got a gig to help an organization with a large membership craft an e-Learning strategy. Such an opportunity! I'll write more about this as things unfold -- so far it's really fun.

Did I say instructional design?

Hmmm....Maybe I need a different job title. Suggestions?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Blogging is the new Graduate School

I'm not the only one getting an informal master's degree out here.

In a guest post on the Brazen Careerist, Ryan Healy writes, "maybe blogging is the new graduate school."

Twentysomething: Blogging is the new Graduate School

It’s ironic, though, because blogging is a way to deal with the biggest problem at the beginning of one’s career: No expertise. If you offer intelligent opinions or advice on a credible blog, then you are an expert. This is why more young people should blog. If you have a focused blog, then you can jump from job to job and learn many skills, but the constant will be that you are an expert in whatever area you choose to research and write about.

Now I'm not at the beginning of my career and I'd like to think that I have some expertise...if but a little. But I do see my knowledge growing along with my expertise the more I partake of this beautiful blogging world.

Dan Roddy has gone off on a cognitive load theory research stint lately. It feels like some of us are moving in the same streams. Or perhaps that a pebble thrown in one place produces ripples in lots of ponds. Knowledge is viral.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Brain Plasticity & Cognitive Abilities

I've just read Richard Nantel's post The Ultimate Pretest in which he talks about his interest in brain plasticity.

Scientists are finding ways to change the brain through intellectual exercises. People with poor auditory memory, for instance, can benefit greatly by memorizing poetry. People who are socially clumsy can be given exercises that improve their brain’s ability to read nonverbal clues.

I'm a believer in this stuff. It gives me hope that me get smarter some day. Haven't yet read that brain plasticity book, but it's on my list.

So I have no expertise in this area -- and perhaps this is really just a note to self to look into this topic more -- but I'm just wondering how brain plasticity relates to the recent NIH study out that claims that cognitive ability is mostly developed by adolescence (found via Jay Cross).

  • Are brains plastic in some ways/areas of thinking, but not others?
  • Is cognitive ability plastic? And what is cognitive ability, really?
  • They say cognitive ability is mostly developed by adolescence -- so is that stuff no longer plastic and it's just all the rest that remains plastic?
  • Or does cognitive ability actually have nothing whatsoever to do with brain plasticity -- we can form better neural pathways to better remember things, but perhaps that's not cognitive ability at all. That's just remembering stuff.
Me brain feels very, very small.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Whee! We got Wii!

My son just turned 4. He is blessed with an indulgent grandmother. Because he seems to like gaming, she got him a Wii for his birthday. (Don't ask me how -- and I don't even want to know how much she paid for it.)

My son "games" by watching us grownups play. He's not coordinated enough yet to work the controls, but he seems to have the basic strategy down and tells us where to go.

I've written about my gaming experience before. It's rather limited.

So last night I stayed up until 1:00 playing Zelda: The Twilight Princess. I had to force myself to stop.

The graphics are amazing. The controller is so fluid and much more intuitive than the Nintendo 64. I'm definitely hooked -- you might say, "immersed" or "addicted".

And now that I've been reading about games via the blog-o-sphere, I've got a different appreciation for them. I just played in the first village last night. This is basic training mode for the novice. You solve a few simple puzzles. You learn how to use your slingshot, ride a horse, wield your sword, go fishing.

I was learning and I hardly even noticed.


Kineo Rapid e-Learning Podcast with Gabe Anderson

Another good podcast from the folks at Kineo: an interview with Stephen Walsh (Kineo) and Gabe Anderson (Articulate).

Part 1 is a nice definition and description of rapid e-Learning. Good for beginners.

If you don't have tons o' time, just listen to part 2. I thought it had more useful nuggets:

  • Who should be developing rapid e-Learning? Always a good discussion topic -- SMEs, IDs, some combination?
  • Next generation of Articulate tools -- and where rapid e-learning tools are going (less linear, more interactivity, more branching, integrated quizzes, more 'human element' with characters, more flexibility in general to help folks think "outside of the PowerPoint box").
  • Some discussion on moving to more collaborative, online tools. At this point, Gabe sees no plans to move away from a desktop authoring tool -- in his view, there are too many limitations.
Big challenges ahead:
  • It's all about design
  • Integrating content with Learning Management Systems. Even though Articulate products are SCORM/AICC compliant, LMS are not created the same way so there always has to be tweaking. This is why they brought Articulate Online onto the market.
But why don't you just go ahead and listen yourself?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Adobe/Bersin Overview of the eLearning Industry

I listened in this afternoon to the Adobe seminar: Overview of the eLearning Industry. Nothing shocking, but some interesting tidbits. My notes here....

Overview of the eLearning Industry

The evolving state of the industry

Host: Ellen Wagner, Adobe
Guest Speaker: Chris Howard, Principal Analyst at Bersin Associates (research and advisory firm in corporate training and performance management)

Research done by Bersin in the last several months. Collaborated with Adobe to identify trends in elearning industry re: content creation and trends in development.

This session will provide big picture of trends in the industry.
  1. Study Methodology: Studied Adobe customer base -- how using the product and how they might like to be using it.
  2. E-learning Market Overview
  3. Key findings
  4. Industry Data
Corporate Training Market is BIG -- almost $56 billion in the U.S.
Technology = $1 billion of this total

Corporate training trends:
  • blended learning (can't do it all online)
  • on-demand (smaller chunks)
  • rapid tools (get training out quickly)
  • shared services (orgs setting up centrally managed training tech groups)
  • talent management (hiring, development, performance management, succession planning)
  • technology adoption (LMS is maturing in large companies -- 80% of large companies have at least 1 LMS)
  • shifting of spending (more $ on outsourcing and technology)
E-Learning Segment Definitions
  • Off-the-shelf content
  • Custom content
  • Services
  • Technology
Key Finding #1: Informal content is growing.
  • Provide support for SME online, resources, rapid e-learning chunks. Can take a lot of resources, but even small companies can do this with right expertise.
  • 72% of training content is used informally. This is expected to increase.
  • Podcasting, rapid e-learning, short videos, mobile delivery

Content Maturity Model
  • Started with Traditional Content -- modeled after instructor led. Content is hand-crafted (Dreamweaver, Flash)
  • Rapid
  • Collaborative (development efficiency)
  • Enterprise (share info across depts)
  • On-demand -- focus is on target audience -- better access to content.
Most orgs have a blend of these models.

Example: On-Demand architecture
create content in smaller chunks
leverage it across delivery formats
chats, PDF, etc.
This doesn't have to be a big investment

Key Finding #2: The Rise in ASP Models ("externally hosted" or "software as a service" -- SAAS)
  • taking desktop metaphor and putting into a browser
  • trend towards companies giving other people the headaches of dealing with the backend solutions
  • great for small organizations
  • Saba,, Adobe Connect, Articulate, etc.
  • Virtual Classroom is the most popular application of ASP solutions
  • Adobe looking at/is partnering with Verizon and Qualcomm

Key Finding #3: Mobile Content starting to take off (still a niche)
  • Ipods, blackberry, cell phone.
  • Huge market
  • Experimentation going on in this area
  • People starting to use it and it's going to get bigger (although it won't replace other media)
  • Good for specific applications: folks in the field, product training, reference material to support a course, sales
  • Assessment uses in mobile technology (drill and practice)
  • In the participant poll, 1 person said "we are now using mobile devices"; 39% said "we are researching mobile"; 24% "no interest in mobile"; the rest not sure...
Key Finding #4: Gaming has potential, but growth likely slow
  • Expense prevents people from using them
  • "Games" has negative connotation in corporate environment
  • Serious gaming -- still not quite the best game
  • Chris Howard calls them "advanced simulations"
  • Trend towards collaborative gaming platforms (SecondLife) -- simulate a real life environment
  • Emergence of gaming engines that make building games easier -- this is starting to emerge
  • Leadership & Management Training
  • Rapid response applications (agencies that provide emergency help to give people a feel for emergency situatiosn)
  • Military
  • IBM
  • Will become easier to build -- and collaborative aspect will make them attractive
  • Forterra Systems, Linden Labs, Visual Purple, Proton Media)
Key Finding #5: Open Source Tools
  • 33% of responders said they are currently using Open Source tools (software available for free and you can get the underlying code and reprogram yourself)
  • Typically used in conjunction with other tools
  • People looking for extensibility and flexibility
  • Typically used for advanced users -- because the tools may need to be debugged
  • Most popular ones were audio (Audicity) and video tools. Investment in use of tools is low, so if it doesn't work, you're ok. Whereas if higher risk (development of entire course), people more likely to use non-open source tools.
Industry Data
  • Adobe and Microsoft most widely used for course development tools
  • Online Meetings (20% don't use, 28% WebEx; 19% LiveMeeting, Adobe Connect (6.5%)
  • Trend of these companies partnering with LMS systems (e.g., Saba and Centra)
  • WebEx is partnering with an LMS provider as will Adobe
Rapid Development Trend
  • How do you expect the % of informal usage to change over 2 years?" 52% of respondants said there will be an increase.
  • Informal content development where info is developed and accessed quickly -- not in context of formal training
  • Compliance -- get user to read something and take a basic assessment -- capture info and show that they "learned" it
  • About half of this content is being configured to fit in with an LMS (if your company has an LMS, then generally yes). Adobe, Articulate building little back-end server technologies that enable you to build straightforward courses, install in LMS and track results.
  • People have an expectation to produce content more quickly -- this drives productivity.
  • Rapid content may get put out there quickly, then later it gets folded back into a more traditionally designed program.
  • This may be a way of getting SMEs more involved in initial content creation -- then professional content developers (IDs) can take it to the next step.
  • A lot of these rapid tools ARE being used by folks without training backgrounds. They may consider it more "information transfer" than formal training.
  • Content Development/Training dept builds templates -- then gives to SMEs -- so that SME can think about key points, objectives, assessment questions -- then template given back to ISDs to organize it better, rephrase it.
  • Lots of folks saying they have no plans to use these (about 50%)
  • The forward-thinking folks are going to use these tools
  • Get users in touch with SMEs and each other -- share info with each other.
  • Have someone to monitor this type of content to make sure it's appropriate.
  • Chris Howard: wants people to rethink this and see the real potential in wikis and blogs -- training managers -- if you don't do this as the training manager, it will happen on its own and bypass you. This may be good or bad. Better off if we can incorporate training material into the wikis and blogs.
  • Ellen: Training community needs to get on the bus or out of the way regarding blogs and wikis.
  • LMS -- manage training transactions and student date
  • LCMS more with content creating (moving more to on-demand)
  • Training Platform/Suite -- brings these together. typically ASP.
To create good e-learning:
1) Know your audience. How are they learning now? How will the applications be used?
2) Understand the business problem that you're trying to solve. Does it need to be solved quickly?
3) Don't let the technology get in the way of what you're trying to do.

This program will be available through the Adobe archive at

Don't Be a Tyrant!

A post from the Eide Neurolearning Blog from 2005.

The Tyranny of Thinking Styles

When some people hear the word "dog", they picture an image of a dog, while others see the printed word "d-o-g".

"It's worth our while to think more about the tyranny of our individual thinking styles, and the bias that can result if we don't consider how differently our students may think from us."

Thinking styles -- learning styles -- the point is, we all approach content differently. As teachers and instructional designers, what matters is that we keep this in mind and don't apply our own preferences as the sole method of presentation.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Learning Styles as Fortune Telling

My research into understanding the role of learning styles in e-Learning continues. I'm struck by why I find this topic so interesting. As a practical person, I tend to avoid theory. But in my quest for an informal M.Ed, I've got to get into theory a bit, right? Somehow this is an easy starting point. And it's kind of controversial, which makes it fun.

I was pointed in the direction of a good article on learning styles from Harold Stolovich via Guy Wallace.

Steven Stahl, Different Strokes for Different Folks? A Critique of Learning Styles American Educator (Fall 1999) American Federation of Teachers.

"The reason researchers roll their eyes at learning styles is the utter failure to find that assessing children's learning and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning."

Rather than segregating learners by different styles where they will receive "one-dimensional instruction", we should instead create "multidimensional instruction" using a variety of activities and presentation modes.

Learning Styles and Fortune Telling: We like learning styles because we get a flash of recognition
; we see ourself as a pattern. It's like reading our daily horoscope.

Reliability of learning styles test is generally pretty low. A 1.0 rating is 100% reliable. The author cited two learning styles tests which came in at .60 and .70. This is consistent with my own experience taking learning styles tests. My answers were influenced by my mood, how I wanted to be perceived (by others, by myself), my fatigue level.

"The other possibility is that learning styles may change from month to month, or even week to week."
I would also add that learning styles may change from topic to topic and level of expertise.

"Rather than different methods being appropriate for different children, we ought to think about different methods being appropriate for children at different stages in their development."

From the perspective of the adult learner, I think it's appropriate to think of skill level in these terms: a novice might have a different "learning style" from an expert. So when designing e-Learning courses, think about the skill level of your audience and present to their "current abilities and the demands of the task they have to master next."

Clark & Mayer address this a bit in e-Learning and the Science of Instruction when talking about closed navigation vs. learner control. Novices should be given less control, while experts should have more options and open navigation. "Program control gave better results during initial learning, while learner control was more effective at alter stages." (p. 236) Navigation isn't really about "learning styles" per se, but it is clearly about program design.

Harold Stolovich's take on the subject of learning styles, is that, yes, we all have different styles and approaches, but that these aren't the main thing we should be focusing on as designers of learning.
"Best to apply universally sound methods to enhance learning. Vary activities to maintain interest and attention. Provide support and control mechanisms to help learners "stick with it." This way, you address all learning styles."

The EduTech Wiki also has a good overview on learning style theory.

And on that note, I think I'm pretty much done now with my learning styles assignment. For the moment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I'm getting emotional about e-Learning!

Are you emotional about your e-Learning? Do you understand what tapping into that emotional component means? When thinking about training SMEs to create decent e-Learning, we need be clear about what getting emotional means.

There's a difference between creating a tear-jerker of a program that reinforces all the wrong learning points, and creating those emotional hooks that motivate and engage the learner in your content in order to ensure knowledge transfer and retention.

Here's some good stuff on that.

I came across another good article by Clark Quinn, Making It Matter to the Learner: e-Motional e-Learning from 2006. He explores why it's imoportant to factor emotion into the design of an e-Learning program. "When we help learners emotionally, viscerally, understand why this coming experience is important to them, and maintain that interest through the learning experience, the outcomes are superior. If people care, they learn better." (p. 1)
In Quinn's view, "instructional design today is essentially completely focused on the cognitive. We are now beginning to talk about supporting learning styles (on the basis of very questionable models), but we do not systematically engage motivation, address anxiety, [and] really inspire learning." (p. 3)

[Clark, I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts on learning styles as you alluded to them here].

When we create good learning experiences, Quinn says "you'll want to engage learners emotionally as well as cognitively." (p. 6)

We motivate by showing the user why this content matters: the What's In It For Me. We address the user's anxiety by setting the appropriate expectations: "this part of the course will be kind of dry and the next part will be pretty hard..." We inspire learning by creating a compelling experience.

In another use of "emotion", Ruth Clark & Richard Mayer in e-Learning and the Science of Instruction recommend making "a distinction between emotional interest and cognitive interest." They say that, "emotional interest occurs when a multimedia experience evokes an emotional response in a learner, such as reading a story about a life-threatening event or seeing a graphic video. There is little evidence that emotion-grabbing adjuncts -- which have been called seductive details -- promote deep learning..." (p. 128)

R. Clark and J. Mayer go on by saying that we shouldn't attempt to "force excitement" with seductive, emotional details; instead "promote cognitive interest rather than emotional interest."

I think Clark Quinn and Ruth Clark (so many Clarks, so little time) are using "emotion" differently. Emotional/Seductive vs. Emotional/Motivate. Is there a better word to use than emotional? What do you think?

Debunking the Learning Styles Myth

As you may know, I've been on a focused mission to better understand so-called learning styles and their place -- or not -- in e-Learning. Over the past week, I've been seriously reviewing my own outdated assumptions (go here and here for more on that).

Came across this post on Guy Wallace's Pursing Performance Blog, Debunking the Myth -- There Is No Such Thing as "Learning Styles". I take it that Guy is not a fan of learning styles.

Guy includes the text of a 2001 article by Sigmund Tobias of Fordham University. Tobias states:

Some adaptations to learning styles may lead instructional developers to teach concepts using multiple illustrations. In such practices, the instructional material may illustrate concepts, presumably the complex ones, in different ways, leading learners to form multiple representations. The designer may assume that the multiple illustrations work because learners choose the representation that is most congruent to their learning styles. It is probably more accurate that such instruction is effective because the multiple illustrations induce learners to devote more time to these concepts.

There's an important distinction to make between "learning style" and "instructional method."

Thoughts? Comments? Talk amongst yourselves....

If you're interested in learning more about learning styles, check out these posts: Learning Styles as Fortune Telling and Don't Be a Tyrant!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Can we throw away e-Learning?

Check out this guest post by Ryan Healy just in at the Brazen Careerist's blog: "Twentysomething: Throw away e-Learning".

Here's one end-user's take on e-Learning as a boring waste of time; a choice made by companies who really don't value their employees. Says Healy, "Without discussion or one-on-one teaching e-learning is cheap, ineffective and gives the impression that a company does not care enough to invest time or money into training."

Here's what Healy says would work better:
If an e-learning tool can somehow be coupled with actual face-to-face learning
or mentoring then I am all for it. Just don’t use it as a replacement for real
teaching. I crave the personal connections that come with one-on-one or
classroom teaching, even if the rest of my life is spent online.

So. The reality of poor design. A challenge to do better. A call for more blended solutions. Will including more games do the trick? Should we just return to the classroom? Can we throw away e-Learning? I think we're in way too deep for that to happen....the benefits are there, the potential for good design and good solutions is there....

What do you think?

UPDATE: Be sure to read the comments. Some very interesting perspectives from actual e-Learning users.

UPDATE #2: Fixed the link! (Note to self - QA my own work before publishing....) Thanks, Dan.

5 Myths About Rapid E-Learning

An excellent post on the Articulate blog by Tom Kuhlmann: 5 Myths About Rapid E-Learning.

Nice synthesis of many of the conversations that have been floating around about the role of SMEs and all these great content creation tools that empower non-programmers to create e-Learning, including this one here which had a good comment thread.

Clive's 30-Minute Masters Wiki got a nice plug -- "Create a way to help your SME learn more about building effective e-learning courses. " Clive's wiki is really evolving nicely. It's great to see all of the input and collaboration from folks like Cathy Moore, Clark Quinn and Dan Roddy.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Learning Styles

In 1996, when I first started working as an "instructional designer", I was taught about learning styles. In the context of e-Learning (back then it was just plain old CBT), this meant you had audio/video on the screen with timed text bullets. The learner could listen to the audio if her preferred style was auditory, OR read the text if her preferred style was visual. That's about all I knew of it. But it seemed to make sense. Give the learner a variety of ways to access the content -- on the same screen.

When I was in trade school a few years ago, all of us student were brought through a three-day class session on learning styles. The thinking being, that if you understood your own learning style, then you could maximize your strengths and preferences for better study techniques, notetaking, and, ultimately, better learning. We each took a survey, the results of which showed what type of learner you were. I came out as a VKA (Visual, Kinesthetic, Auditory). This means that I learn best through my visual channel, next kinesthetic, with audio being my weakest channel.

Last year, we did a similar exercise at the school -- although this time, I was a teacher taking the test. We used a different approach: The Playground Theory of Learning developed by Shelly Loewen. Loewen's TIPP system is for "helping learners maximize their learning efforts and helping instructors address the learning differences of individuals and groups with ease." See my earlier posting for more on that experience: TIPP . Loewen's system classifies learners into Traditional, Playful, Personal, and Ideational with a visual, audiotory or kinesthetic preference. This time, I scored stronger on auditory than visual. Imagine my confusion.

I've been looking into the learning styles theory a bit the last few days, after having a humble learning moment.

I found some great articles/old posts on learning styles, thanks to Cathy Moore who pointed me to her reading list. Thanks, Cathy -- great stuff!

1) Learning Styles, ha, ha, ha
Jay Cross December 2005
The comment thread is really great.

2) Brian Alger -- Experience Designers Network
Learning Styles: Whose Styles Are These And Why Should They Matter To Me?

Theories do not help us to expand our awareness and understanding of learning; they serve to reduce and confine it.

3) Brian Alger -- Experience Designers Network
Learning Styles: Whose styles are these and what are they for?

The idea of learning styles commonly refers to some notion for a preferred way of learning. It implies that each of us has a natural inclination toward learning of some kind, and that if that natural inclination can be identified then teaching experiences
can be provided that facilitate our learning. Obviously, there is diversity in learning. However, to identify a generic set of abstract categories, label people according to these categories, and then provide experiences designed to help people in that category learn contains a variety of assumptions that need to be examined more closely...
Brian makes this important distinction:

Perhaps part of the solution is to separate, to some degree, the idea of being educated from the idea of learning. We might then explore the notion of "educating" styles - which seems like a term more appropriate to what is being described as learning styles. This would help to unhinge the assumptions that learning and education are intimately connected.

4) Jean Marrapodi just pointed me to Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT approach. Her slide "People Learn Differently" looks very similar to Loewen's Playground Theory.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cognitive Flexibility Theory & Multiple Representations

After reading Clark's comment on my posting from yesterday, I've been looking into Cognitive Flexibility Theory (Spiro), trying to better understand the notion of "multiple representations." (You can read more about CFT here and here and here, or just Google it like I did and see what you find....)

I had been thinking of multiple representations as meaning you show the graph on one screen with audio, then on the next screen have a video of someone talking about that concept. Use multiple representations to provide the learner with multiple ways of accessing the information: visual or auditory. Not quite.

From the CFT vantage, multiple representations is not about providing the same information in a different format (the learning styles approach), but rather presenting different perspectives on that information. Provide a variety of examples or case studies that get to the concept in different ways. This allows the learner to be more flexible in her understanding of the material, so that she can effectively apply it to concepts in the real world (knowledge transfer).

Got it. Makes sense. Provide lots of examples as a way of beating that path through the woods; helping the learner make connections to ensure successful transfer of knowledge to a real-world situation.

Getting an Informal M.Ed

For various reasons, I'm not going to go back to school to get a Masters Degree in instructional design. At least not formally.

But I firmly believe that this journey I'm on is giving me the experience and educational equivalent (if not better) than a formal M.Ed.

The benefits: It's free! It's available whenever I want it to be! I get to learn what I want to learn! I never have to graduate! I already have a job doing it!

Even though I've been doing this ("instructional design") for over ten years, I'm starting over. I'm putting my beginner's mind back on; I've realized how much I don't know about this stuff.

I'm the over-eager kid in the front row, asking the dumb questions. The 1st year grad student.

You are my professors.

You are my classmates.

You are my students.

This blog is my notebook. Comments are encouraged, especially when I get something wrong.

My work-related projects are my laboratory, my assignments, my assessments -- to be "graded" by my clients.

I don't have a formal curriculum. I am starting right where I am.

I am compiling some reading lists and resources that I have found useful. See also the "Instructional Design Resources" section in my sidebar, which I just added this morning.

Be sure to check out Essential Reading for Instructional Designers with a link to Dr. John Curry's post How to Get An Instructional Design Education Without Paying Tuition.

I welcome your suggestions, your feedback, your guidance.

Thanks for helping.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Humble Learning Moment

File this one under the challenging of outdated theories and assumptions.

I've been reading e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (2003) by Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer. I'd say this is a must-read for learning/experience/ instructional designers, or whatever you may call yourself. For a great summary of the book, head over to Clive's blog.

When I got to chapter 6, "Applying the Redundancy Principle", I started to get that squirmy, oh-crap feeling. The realization that I've been working off some really outdated recently as this week.

The old theory:

Up until now, I've gone along with that concept of learning styles, which the book's authors tell me is based on the information delivery theory. This is the notion that we all have a preferred channels for learning: visual or auditory. (I've always included kinesthetic on the list as well.)

So when designing a program with different learning styles in mind, one presents information in multiple formats: both as onscreen text and audio along with an illustrative graphic. The idea being if you're more visual, you'll read...if you're more auditory you'll listen. You present the content in multiple ways so that the user can access the information in their preferred way.

So here's this program I've been working on: lots of animated graphics, audio narration, and timed text bullets (a full transcript of the audio does not appear on the screen -- just key points to underscore the audio).

Apparently , this is considered a Bad Move. Overwhelms the learner's visual channel. OK -- duh. Now it seems painfully obvious to me that this is what's going on, and explains why I so easily tune out with these types of presentations.

The new theory -- the Redundancy Principle:

The Redundancy Principle is based on the cognitive theory of multimedia learning. The notion is that people process verbal and visual information in separate channels. It's not one preferred style over another. Each channel can only process and handle so much information at once. So, if you present an animated graphic, the learner must look at the graphic in order to absorb the information. If you're also presenting onscreen text, you're overwhelming the learner. They don't know where to look and the visual channel gets overloaded.

The best presentation method is to show an animation/important graphic with narrated audio only -- no text. Don't include redundant on-screen text.

If you're not displaying a graphic or animation or other visual illustration, then text with audio is fine. (Be sure to read the book for more detailed information, research evidence, and examples of when it is ok to use redundant onscreen text).

I suppose if you still go for the learning styles approach, then you're best to opt for multiple representations of the content. Present the content in a variety of ways over a couple of pages. Clark Quinn is an advocate of this approach. In the session I took with him at the eLearning Guild event, he talked about multiple representations as a way to forge stronger pathways of memory in the brain. Cut a trail through the virgin forest; beat a path through the woods; create better connections in the brain by providing more opportunities for the learner to connect with the content.

A humble learning moment for this instructional designer.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rapid e-Learning, Templates, & SMEs

There's been a lot of good talk lately about rapid e-learning tools and templates and the roles of SMEs vs. instructional designers. I think about this topic a lot. One of our main products is creating customized templates for our clients; "empowering non-programmers to build e-learning." Our tools still require the user to work in the Flash environment, but you really don't need to know Flash.

Up until recently , I've been thinking it's instructional designers who will be using our tools. Perhaps. But as I look around at who is actually doing instructional design out there (and look at me) I realize more and more that 'instructional designer' is an over-used title and does not necessarily mean that one knows a thing about it; perhaps it's just a role that someone evolved into. It certainly doesn't mean that the individual has a background in 'experience design' (to borrow from Patrick Dunn) or even in e-Learning. Instructional designers are often SMEs who have evolved into trainers. And then e-Learning fell onto their plate.

The folks at Kineo wrote a piece on the future of rapid e-learning tools, summarizing "our view is to give potential authors [SMEs] some easy to use but well structured templates which will give instructional integrity to how they develop their learning."

Barry Sampson responds,
[This approach] presupposes that the templates are instructionally sound in the first place: In reality I doubt that any templated approach is likely to be instructionally sound. For me this is is one of the key failings of traditional elearning content: fitting your learning need to pre-existing templates, whether that's SME built rapid content or something produced by an elearning provider. Templates are about keeping costs down, not standards up.

My response to Barry, hmmm....well I suppose I agree that a template, in and of itself, can not be instructionally sound. But what is a template? It's really a mental model. We all work from templates. Even when you've got a blank page in front of you and you start writing: paragraphs, commas, periods. We have some pre-existing notion in our heads of the structure we might want to follow.

From a rapid e-Learning perspective -- or just e-Learning in general -- templates and tools provide a starting point. They provide a mental model. They can save time; create a more efficient process. And hopefully, they are flexible enough that they can be altered as needed in order to create an effective learning experience.

Silke Fleischer of Adobe Captivate fame, in her post Update on eLearning Guild Conference , talks about the rapid e-learning panel of which she was a part, and the subject of SMEs and IDs:
Some instructional designers want SMEs to use rapid tools to create rapid eLearning, some would not want them near an authoring tool. For me it seems less a discussion between rapid eLearning that SMEs develop content or not, it's rather rapid eLearning developed by IDs (Instructional Designer) with the SMEs (SMEs start by capturing the knowledge, IDs add the ID) versus the informal learning SMEs like most of my coworkers produce using rapid eLearning tools - they don't call what they do "rapid development" nor "rapid eLearning".

I think this is a good vision. In fact, one of the sessions I attended at the Guild Event gave me a taste for this approach. In Rapid Project Management Techniques for e-Learning presented by Coates & Hill of Deloitte, they outlined their approach to creating a big enterprise-wide training program in an extremely aggressive timeframe. The project management stuff from the session was really basic, but the main point I took away was embedded into the program about 40 minutes in.

They described their War Room. The got the key SMEs together in a room with the instructional designers. The SMEs had to create the storyboards. Once the storyboard was created, the lead instructional designer reviewed it, fine-tuning things to create an "instructionally sound" experience. This approach saved them a ton of time, and resulted in an effective training program.

But before they even set the SMEs loose on the storyboarding process, they gave them a training in the basics of e-Learning and instructional design! Nothing long, nothing too deep, just the basics. And this was the seed that led to a conversation with Clive Shepherd that led to the 30-minute masters.

So we give SMEs access to these tools: because this is the wave of the future/the now, this IS what is required. We create templates and tools that provide some instructional approach. Perhaps we build wizards and guidance right into the tools themselves. We provide flexibility in the tools so that they are seen as a starting point.

More importantly, we educate the SMEs upfront. We provide mentoring and partnering between SMEs and instructional designers. If we set the SMEs -- AND the instructional designers -- loose with these tools, let's set them up for success.

New Rapid e-Learning Tool from Epic

Another new rapid e-Learning tool, this from Epic (UK).

Epic launches new tool for accessible rapid e-learning

Product features to include:
  • A wizard that guides users through course creation
  • An in-built art direction library, allowing users to choose from a range of predefined 'look-and-feel' templates
  • The ability to insert media of the user's choice (graphics, video and audio)
  • Automatic 'one-click' SCORM packaging

It's not clear to me from the press release what type of authoring environment is used (is it Microsoft Word?) or what format the output is in.

From the press release:
'It's important to remember, however, that as with any tool, you only get out what you put in. To makes sure that clients get the most out of Rapid Create, or from any other authoring tool they may select, Epic also provides training and capability building to ensure internal teams are skilled-up in creating effective e-learning.'

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Please PLEs Me

I've just been dying to use that title.

Anyway, who of you Google users noticed today that your homepage is now iGoogle?
I did about two hours ago...but I thought it was just a cute Google thing, the way they make the logo all green and earthy for earth day. It's not that, it's actually the Race to Personalize the Web. PLEs here we come.

(I just listened to Stephen Downe's PLE presentation, so the topic is fresh on the brain).

Beginning Instructional Designer's Toolkit

I want to incorporate a reading list for the next level of the 30-minute masters (taking a crash course in Instructional Design). This would be for those who want to take their own learning to the next level. A list of important books, key terminology, basic theory.

Because it's true -- you can impress your clients and peers by working "cognitive load" into a sentence. And, more importantly, you can improve your design when you understand the theory.

(I'm not a big theory person. I'm much more into practical application. This is probably why I have never gone for that master's degree...)

These are terms that I have learned (some relatively recently) and thought, why didn't I know this ten years ago if it's so important? I'm not saying that these theories are right or wrong -- but they get tossed about and referred to with great relish by some in the industry. And I have learned a lot by looking into each of them.

This is just a starting point and doesn't provide links. Perhaps we just include this in the wiki and the informal learners can go off and do their own research (because we learn best by doing, right?).

Please add your own essentials.

My list begins as such:

Important Theories and Terms:
Gagne's 9 Events
Kirkpatrick Levels
Cognitive Load Theory
ARCS (John Keller)

Ruth Clark: e-Learning and the Science of Instruction
Malcom S. Knowles, et al: The Adult Learner

Other Good Resources:
Clark Quinn The Seven Step Program for e-Learning Improvement (PDF whitepaper)
Will Thalheimer Learning Show: Don't Forget Forgetting
Will Thalheimer Learning Research Quiz