Thursday, May 13, 2010

Linking to External Content in e-Learning

The Internet is filled with free and easy resources for you to link to within your e-Learning.  It's tempting to reuse much of this material rather than recreating it for your on-line learning.  In fact in these busy times, it makes sense to do so.  One of the steps that is considered an accepted part of the design and development process is to determine if training already exists elsewhere.  The notion of not reinventing the wheel is of course an an axiom.  That said linking to an external source of content creates much risk, and I caution any one considering this.  Below are some of the risks to this practice for you to consider before making your own decision.

Dead Links
An obvious issue is the risk of links that go nowhere.  Everyday, thousands of web pages come and go.  Just because you may have found a particular page of content to be beneficial, doesn't mean the original author or their service provider  will maintain it for you.  In theory you could monitor all your links on a daily basis to ensure the integrity of your e-Learning, however most Instructional Designers just don't have the time.  While linking to outside sources of information may save some time initially, may cost you additional time later when you have to repair your course for it's possible dead links.

Learner Compliance
Many organizations can still be challenged to get their learners to log in and take training in the first place.  Adding links to external resourced may distract their learners and discourage the learner from returning and completing their online modules.  As an Instructional Designer, it makes more sense to absorb the knowledge yourself and then incorporate it into your course. If you find a really stable and useful site you wish to share with your learners, put the links at the end of training as an additional or optional learning.

Author's Permission
Although linking to a site is considered the best and most ethical way to reference another's work, it doesn't mean the original author will agree to its use for your training purposes. There may also be bandwidth restrictions put in place by the author's service provider.  Adding your 10,000 learners from your organization may exceed the expected bandwidth and cause problems for the original author.  Others just may not agree with the organization you are apart of and therefore would not want their material to contribute to your learner's development.  Whatever the reason, this may become an issue for you and subsequently the original author.  Consider this before using their work.

Quality Control
This is the one area where I got burned and inspired me to change my mind about external linking.  Ironically I was only linking to my own organization's web site.  I thought I was very clever in that if anything changed about the content, my training would be updated by default.  Unfortunately there was a spelling mistake on the page I was linking to.  Even though I was not responsible for the spelling mistake on the corporate site, it did affect the quality of my training and therefore I had to shoulder some of the blame.  I was lucky it was only a spelling mistake though.  The web is outside your control and very colaborative through the use of forums and comment pages.  You may end up linking to a page promoting a belief that is against the values of your organization or maybe even something worse.

Now I will break my own rule here and provide you a link to the Rapid eLearning Blog  that has a great related article on the 10 Things to Consider Before Your E-Learning Goes Live.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Writing Proper Learning Objectives

At the beginning of a course you should be introduced to the Learning Objective.  The advantage of a properly written Learning Objective is that you can hold your learners to it.  That said, the learners can also hold you to it as well.  If you designed a course which stated the following Learning Objective;  

"By the end of this course you will know how to sell the company's products and services",

you would likely run into trouble as some students would not be able to sell the products and services.  In addition, how would you prove such a Learning Objective in a classroom environment.  I have seen and even written a few poorly constructed training objectives in my time.  Through experience and training I have learned what needs to go into a properly constructed Learning Objective.

The first thing you need to identify is the method of learner evaluation.  This will need to be a skill or knowledge that can be demonstrated within the classroom or online setting.  If your learners are going to write a multiple choice test at the end of a course, then selecting the correct answer during the test will be that performance, not how they might use that knowledge later on.

You will also need to include any conditions for this learning objective.  For example if there are specific tools needed to perform the skill or knowledge you will need to include them as part of your objective as well.  For example if they need a PC to log into a computer system you will need to state that.  It may seem obvious to us as trainers, however you would be surprised how something as obvious as a PC may be overlooked.

You also need to establish the standard that the learners will need to live up to.  This should be established by those who are requesting the training.  If they have not provided the standard then you will need to establish this before moving forward.  For example if learners need to be 100% accurate, or they need to perform the skill every day, or within a certain time frame, then this needs to be stated in the Learning Objective.

Here is a simple formula that you can use to help you write Learning Objectives of your own:

Given conditions>, the learner will be able to performance>, with standards>.

For example;

"Given a calculator, the learner will be able to calculate gross profit margin, with 100% accuracy."
"Given a spare tire, jack, and tire iron, the learner will be able to change a tire properly, within 15 minutes."

There are of course some variations on the wording that you can play around with, however this will generally work for all situations.  I also sometimes write "By the end of this training, the learner will..."  Somehow that rolls better off the tongue for me, but that's just my personal preference.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Designing Usable Job Aids

As Instructional Designers we do not always have the time to develop extensive training for the field.  Sometimes we need a just in time approach to training and the traditional job aid that we produce for addressing infrequently performed tasks fits the bill. 

This No Parking sign is an example of a good yet simple job aid.  The city council could ensure that every citizen memorize all the parking by-laws of the city, however it's easier to just provide some simple instructions in the form of a sign. As a job aid, the sign helps everyone obey the law.  Of course people who break the law are not paying attention to the sign and that becomes a compliance issue rather than a training issue.

A job aid in the work place should do exactly the same thing.  It instructs the worker on just what they need to know to correctly performing their job.  Unfortunately many job aids don't do this.  Often job aids are created for other purposes entirely.  As training professionals it up to us to ensure that a job aid accomplishes it's goal of providing instruction on how to perform a job related task and that it be easy to use.  The following is a simple template that I use to help me produce a job aid for a set of action steps.

Job Aid Title goes here
Introduction A single statement or two that explains the purpose of this document.  If someone is reading my job aid thinking it serves a different purpose, I don't want to waste their time reading the entire document to find this out.  An example of an introduction statement might look like:

This job aid will instruct you on the steps to complete the online order form for ordering supplies for your location.

WIIFM This section is optional, however with much of your audience you may need to answer the "What's in it for me".  It's purpose is to address the issue of compliance, expecially if the task being trained on is not the path of
least resistance.  Showing your audience why performing these skills is so beneficial to them is crucial in getting their buy-in.

part 1
Here is where you provide the specific instructions for the tasks that need to be completed.  It is recommended to use a Step/Action chart to make it easy for your learners to understand and follow.  For example:

1.   Instructions for step one
2.   Instructions for step two and so on.

part 2
When the instructions exceed around eight or so steps you may want to consider further breaking down the procedures by having a second set of instructions with sub steps as I have made space for here.  Again it's far easier for you audience to follow and more likely that they will remember procedures that have no more than about 7 steps or so.

Of course there are thousands of variables that may force me to change or expand on this, however this is where I typically start from.  I may also fancy it up a little by being creative with my use of fonts and graphics to match the branding of an organization, however the beginning is always the same.  I add additional sections as needed depending on the performance gap that I am attempting to fill.  Again it's all about creating a tool that will truly help your people in the field perform there jobs correctly and comfortably.