Thursday, May 6, 2010

Information Mapping

One of the most useful courses that I have taken as an Instructional Designer was Information Mapping.  The course taught me how to write content in such a way as to make it truly useful for my end users.  While Information Mapping isn't specific to instructional design, I find it the difference between just good written work and really excellent written work.  Here is a rather silly video that explains rather well what Information Mapping essentially is.

I use it specifically for the design of job aids. For those that don't use them, a job aid is a tool that guides learners through the steps of a particular task within their job.  Job aids are particularly useful when the job is infrequently completed in the organization. For example in a retail store, the employees may be required to count the inventory on a quarterly basis.

I use Information Mapping for the creation of job aids because the learners out in the field often only want enough information to complete these tasks.  Studies have been done that show people do not read business or training documents the same way they may read literature.  Typically users scan a document to find the information they require at that moment.  If they need to wade through countless paragraphs of information, it will make the task seem more difficult than it actually is.  Because of this steps within the task may get completed incorrectly, or skipped altogether.

The first step to Information Mapping is breaking down the content into chunks of information.  To do this you need to look at each and every sentence from your raw content.  Place all like things together and exclude items that do not have to do with each topic.  If a piece of information says essentially the same thing as another piece of information you don’t need both.  Pick the one that explains the point most succinctly and then more on.

Once you have the chunks separated from one another, you need to block this information off, each with its own label along the left hand side of the page.  Labels that all deal with the same topic is organized into what are called maps.  Think of each map as a chapter within a book, and each label its own paragraph.  This structure makes it easy for your readers to ignore what they are not looking for and zero in on what they need at that exact moment.

For more information about Information Mapping check out their web site at

Information Mapping Demo

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Text Messaging in the Classroom

When I first was exposed to corporate training, mobile phones were usually only seen on the hips of management and executives.  Typical employees didn't have or see the need to maintain constant communication with the outside world. This has obviously changed over the years as mobile phones have become more affordable. We now or will shortly be at a place where everyone simply has a mobile phone. Activation rates of mobile phones surpassed their wired counterparts years ago. Of course along with obvious voice calls, mobile phones do so much more today than what they did a few years ago.

Instead of asking learners to shut off their phones during class, have learners use them to add engagement to their learning. Text messaging is available on every mobile phone and in recent years the problems with cross carrier and international text messaging have been solved.  These text messages can contribute to your training data and can be including in your training reports. Here are a few ways this technology can be used:

Level One Evaluations - ask your learners to text in feedback either during or after training. Have them answer questions like what is working well, what is not working well and what they would like to see changed or added to training.

Knowledge Checks or Surveys - ask your students some survey questions or quiz questions to ensure they have an understanding of what you have taught. You may also just want to get your student opinions. Do this just before a break to give you time to analyze the data to share the results with your students after the break.  Check out for an affordable solution based on classroom size.

Follow-up to Training - capturing your student's mobile phone numbers gives you another way to follow up with your learners. With their prior permission of course, you could text out questions they can reply to, or simply share additional knowledge once they have returned to the workplace.

Be creative. As more and more millennial generation enter the workplace, more and more of your learners will not only embrace the use of technology in the classroom, they will expect it. Feel free to suggest your own methods for using texting in the classroom by adding your comments below.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mobile Learning

A new trend that is currently being explored is Mobile Learning or M-Learning for short.  This trend in web based training is attempting to harness two aspects of peoples lives.  First of all the likelihood that your learning audience is connected through some type of mobile device that can access robust content on the go.  The second aspect is that people have downtime in their travels throughout their busy days.  You are far more likely to get someone's attention for a few minutes a day during their train ride than during actual office hours.

M-Learning is not limited to what we typically imagine as web-based training.  Consider the use of a podcast as a form of M-Learning.  Sure you can listen to the MP3 on your PC as well, but why not listen to a podcast while you drive to the office each day.  I have been attempting to learn Spanish this way through a podcast available from a U.K. company that offers language learning through iTunes.  I listen and repeat the Spanish words and phrases while I drive.  If you are interested you can find out more at

In a previous organization that I worked for, we included mini quizzes built into job aids that could be submitted through text message (SMS).  Prizes were awarded for a randomly selected correct answer.  Thousands of people within the organization participated and it certainly was a way of showing the return on investment.

Giving learners the flexibility of taking training when they want has always been an advantage of web based training, however with M-Learning you add the component of where they want as well.  Your learners are far more likely to take training if it's during time that is normally wasted for them.  An example might be their daily commute, or waiting in a long queue at the market..  During such times It's not always convenient to open up a laptop and log into an LMS.  Mobile learning can be as simple as pulling a smartphone out of their pocket and launching a course, or listening to a podcast on their iPod.

It isn't an ideal method of training large quantities of knowledge.  I believe there is a direct correlation between screen size and the length of time a visual presentation can capture your attention.  That said you are far more likely to capture someone's attention during 5 or 10 minutes of their down time each day, than to compress that content into a 30 minute session once per week.

Here are some additional ideas about M-Learning from the folks at Tribal, that may inspire you to come up with more ways that M-Learning can be implemented into your organization.

Some additional resources are available at

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Training Across the Generations

The advances in technology in the last 60 years have consistently been accelerating.  I once heard a quote (which is already out of date) that stated that technological growth in a single year in the 1990s is equivalent to all the technological growth in the entire decade of the 1970s.  I believe it!  When I consider what I already take for granted today as an adult, I’m amazed.  Of course one of the challenges this creates is the differences between multiple generations.  In my experience as a trainer of adults I have had the opportunity to teach across a total of three (possibly four) generations.  Of course one hundred years ago, the difference between someone’s learning style that was born in 1900 versus someone born in 1910 may not have been so discernible.  Today however, those ten years may mean a completely different experience with learning.

As older generations stay in the workplace longer, you may find yourself faced with a classroom containing any number from the following groups:
  • Veterans
  • Baby Boomers
  • Generation X
  • Generation Y
The Veteran’s generation refers specifically to those who were born before the end of World War II.  Some of the older members of this generation may in fact have served in the war and thus the name of the generation.  This group will generally value fiscal responsibility as they grew up during the depression and later World War II.  They are generally conservative.  When training this group of learners, consider the fact that they want to be valued for their experience and recognized as a useful member of the group.  Calling on them to share their experience can be useful when collaborating as a group. 

Baby Boomers are a generation that grew up challenging the status quo.  They did this in when protesting the Vietnam War, and then later as adults when entering the corporate world.  It’s because of this that the paradigms of corporate culture have changed over the years.  When teaching new or unusual approaches with Baby Boomers, be prepared to offer strong evidence that supports the new material.  Baby Boomers will not accept “Just because” as an answer, and they will welcome debate over changing ideas.

Generation X is a group that will work well independently.  They are often the product of parents who were both working and trying to get ahead, and sometimes single parents who worked as well.  Because of this Generation X was a generation that needed to be more self-sufficient as children and teens.  Often referred to as latch key kids, as they were usually the first to arrive home at the end of the day.  Children of this generation also had greater access to technology than previous generations and will usually understand technology well.

Generation Y or the Millennial generation are those who are just entering the workforce now.  These adults are still young and much of their adult identity is still unknown.  This generation grew up always knowing technology.  Many of this generation cannot remember a time where there wasn’t an Internet or World Wide Web.  They are not only comfortable with technology they will expect it.  They are peer oriented so using social media is a great way to engage this group.  Unfortunately some members of this generation may have been overly nurtured as children and often have an inflated sense of entitlement because of this.  This can be challenging to deal with, however setting clear expectations at the beginning of any training can usually overcome this challenge.

With all generations, foster conversation about the differences between the generations.  Each will discover that they can learn from one another and also work well together back on the job.