Friday, 31 July 2009

Re-inventing the E-learning Experience

I ran a webinar for the Learning and Skills Group earlier this month on re-inventing the e-learning experience. I mentioned this in a previous post, so let me know what you think of the ideas and examples presented.

How can you show that e-learning is clearly adding value to your business? Learning portals provide a focused, engaging and contextual experience for staff that more directly supports their working day. In this session Lars Hyland demonstrates how global media company Sky is revolutionising its induction programme with a pioneering media-rich portal. Drawing on experience from some of the UK's most recognised brands (Bupa, EDF, Vodafone) Lars will examine:

  • Using focused learning portals to solve key business challenges
  • Improving performance of new starters with a smart onboarding or induction programme
  • How cutting the 'time to competence' clearly establishes the value of learning
  • Making 'self-service' performance support easy to use, engaging and effective
  • Five tips for building an unbeatable business case

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Evidence on Online Education

Clive Shepherd tweeted a link to this research report: The Evidence on Online Education

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took "blended" courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all.

The US Department of Education noted that this new meta-analysis differs from previous such studies, which generally found that online education and face-to-face instruction were similarly effective on issues of learning, but didn't give an edge to online learning that may now exist.

While the new study provides a strong endorsement of online learning, it also notes findings about the relative success (or lack thereof) of various teaching techniques used in online courses. The use of video or online quizzes -- frequently encouraged for online education -- "does not appear to enhance learning," the report says.

That is something to think about - I wonder what the quality of these video and quizzes were like?

Using technology to give students "control of their interactions" has a positive effect on student learning, however. "Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online learning as individuals," the report says.

Notably, the report attributes much of the success in learning online (blended or entirely) not to technology but to time. "Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning," the report says.

That's an interesting statement - taking the time to learn is a critical factor, which is a clearly central to genuine self reflection and ensuring understanding. Having control over that time is crucial too. Many classroom situations are not conducive to this at all. So your learning environment is critical. Actual learning time in these situations may be minimal compared to the more effective time spent learning in a more concentrated, but spaced fashion (or virtually collaborating) online. This supports my own cry for less learning, more often.

Accountability and orientation

Here's a great comment on this report from "SL" who appears to be at the front line in offering students online learning opportunities and tells it like it is - give the right motivational support and guidance on online learning tools and students will respond positively:

Yes, I may have to spend a little extra time at the beginning of the term making sure my students understand how to navigate the LMS and point them to the online course resources, activities and communications tools, but they don't get the option of NOT learning how to use them, even in my F2F classes, which I would term all blended to a great er or lesser degree! In some EVERYTHING for the course is in our LMS and it is taught in a computer classroom.
The results are always the same:

1) An early steep learning curve, with a fair amount of "
I can't" and "You're making us do all the work!" whining.

2) A period of "Well yeah, maybe I can" when a lot of the tech-forward students start helping their tech-phobic classmates (with my encouragement because I am into the subject matter content phase at that point(although I will always help students one on one with tech issues outside of class) which fosters group interaction and interdependence.

3)What I like to call "the quiet time" from about three weeks into the term until near the end, when my blended courses are firing on all cylinders (meaning the students have finally accepted that I am NOT going to do this for them- it is up to THEM, individually and collectively), right through me attending meetings, "lost" class time from snow days, athletics trips (all our teams travel with a laptop), students having to go home for family or health emergencies (including one having to miss the last month of a term for major surgery), etc. My "class" is always in session, 24-7, rain or shine, internet-willing. "All" I have to do during this period is put out tech brush-fires (people suddenly locked out of their account, etc) and serve as guide on the side, spending parts of each class meeting as a "cheerleader", answering questions,doing demonstrations, reviewing 3D models (often in a "game" format), giving new topic overviews,leading (or just listening to) discussions, advising on group projects, and of course my "real job":, assessing learning (A LOT) with regular online quizzes and exams. A fair amount of classtime is "free" for them to work, alone or together, on class assignments and online learning activities. Then all I do is walk around to keep them on task and off Facebook.

4) And lastly, what I term the celebratory "We did it!!!" phase, when the students look up, realize the term is almost over and that they have accomplished a BUTTLOAD of work and learned a great deal and that they did it (mostly) all THEMSELVES. Sometimes they do accuse me of having "tricked them into learning stuff". For that I do not apologize!? ;-) >95% excellent course evaluations ensue, students ask what other courses I teach the same way and sign up for "extra" courses in my discipline, tests of retention in later classes and our program assessments show great retention for my blended students, and the students beg other faculty to use the LMS for course materials, the calendar, etc. and sometimes even show them how to do so. Students come back and report that the class made them a better, more responsible student in other classes, regardless of delivery method.

And no, these are not upper level or grad courses (which actually turn out to be a bit more comfortable taught in a more traditional Socratic style) however in those we still use the LMS for all sorts of course material exchange and communication. Its just a great way to put everything in one place, for faculty and students alike! The courses I teach as most strongly blended are a freshman-level non-majors class and a 200-level service course.

You just have to get past that Phase 1 with a determined and positive "Yes you CAN!" attitude ...

We need more people in education like this. What a difference that would make...

Minister regrets lack of training - induction matters!

Jacqui Smith. former Home Secretary in the UK Government wished she had been better trained for the role. According to the BBC, in an interview with Total Politics magazine:

"I hope I did a good job but if I did it was more by luck than by any kind of development of those skills," she adds.

There has been criticism of the way in which ministers are parachuted into departments, often without any prior knowledge or experience of the policy area, and expected to manage huge bureaucracies and multi-billion pound budgets.

She describes the way ministers are moved from one government job to another in Cabinet reshuffles as "pretty dysfunctional in the way that it works" but adds that it is "not just this government".

She says: "I think we should have been better trained. I think there should be more induction. There's more now than when I started as a minister but it's still not enough. I think there should be more emphasis given to supporting ministers more generally in terms of developing the skills needed to lead big departments, for example."

A poor induction affects employees at all levels of an organisation, not just "leaders". Being dumped "in at the deep end" is a lottery approach (with similarly weak odds) to effective performance and long term retention of staff. Far better to start engaging them at the point of appointment and providing 24/7 support through their first 90-120 days in the role. The only way you can achieve that is through provision of online services that give immediate access to quality learning content, up to date information, and the opportunity to connect with others in similar roles. This can only benefit the individual and the organisation through faster engagement, faster time to competence. This not only saves in training costs (while also improving effectiveness) but reduces the chance of catastrophic error.

I ran a webinar just a few days ago for the Learning and Skills Group on behalf of behalf of Brightwave recently on how learning portals can give new joiners immediate support from the moment they receive their welcome letter - not only can the person immediately start getting prepared, ensuring confidence and motivation levels remain high, but the organisation benefits through less lengthy induction training that when delivered traditionally often lacks context, relevance, personalisation to the individual's needs. Sky, the satellite TV company, are doing some great things in this area, and I'll be demonstrating/speaking about this in more detail for future webinars (let me know if you want details) and in Online Educa in December.

It is astonishing to think that senior government posts are being filled by people who lack the knowledge, skills and experience to do the job effectively from the outset. Unfortunately this is reflected right the way through all organisations, both public and private. And yet effective solutions are staring us in the face.

Surely everyone should be jumping at the chance to dramatically improve their induction and onboarding experience while at the same time save significant sums of money. If ever there was a case of successfully doing more with less, this is it.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

IT training should focus on performance support

Charles Jennings great article on "How not to train" has been featured on trainingzone but I recommend you go back to his blog for a fuller version. His point is clear. Systems training delivers little value (negative value according to Jay Cross' comment) when following the traditional model of delivery. Train weeks before go live, provide little intervening support then let them loose once the system is up and (sort of) running. Might as well as not bothered, says Charles.

Systems rollouts are a specific case of the "elephant in the room" - training delivered by the wrong people, to the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. This equates to no learning, and no valued added to individual nor organisation.

Even a good training delivery by the right people to the right people (this is where most training measurement settles for fantastic feedback on happy sheets) if delivered at the wrong time in the wrong way, yields no learning in the long term and no added value.

One point though to consider - if you can design e-learning (in the form of simulations) for delivery prior to go live - accepting that it does not mimic the live system exactly (80/20 rule applies) - you can achieve a great deal in terms of confidence building and familiarity with the underlying business processes the system embodies. This e-learning can then be quickly updated (using the right tools and resources) and used as performance support and ongoing induction for new staff. EPSS can then take the weight going forward.

Of course, nothing beats making a system intuitive to use in the first place. But then I'm now clearly asking too much of the world...

Friday, 3 July 2009

Move aside CPD, UPS is here...

This article originally appeared in Training Journal in June 2009 (PDF). In it I coin the term Ubiquitous Performance Support (UPS) as a better description of how workplace place learning will develop in the future. Comments welcome.


Lars Hyland investigates how Continuous Professional Development is being transformed by digital connectivity and challenges how we assess competence and performance in the workplace.

The worst recession since the Second World War is having a profound effect on the workplace. Jobs are being lost in almost every sector, some being hit harder than others. Nearly half of the UK workforce plans a career change, by choice or otherwise. So, having relevant, marketable skills and experience is more important than ever and a priority for those wanting to stay in work or search for new work.

Training professionals are in the same position and must also remain skilled, as was recently demonstrated by the CIPD who responded to the changing economic conditions with its own set of redundancies in April. More significantly, perhaps, is the CIPD's own attempt to update its professional development programme and help build the skills of the HR community.

The new ‘HR Profession Map’ replaces the current CIPD Professional Standards and is a result of detailed consultation with HR directors across the main economic sectors, as well as senior professionals and academics. The map describes key HR knowledge areas, associated behaviours and sets out four bands of competence. This is designed to be more relevant to today's HR organisational landscape and deliver "sustainable capability".

Now, this could be said to be the goal for all workers no matter what their discipline, be they engineers or accountants. How do you stay relevant in a highly interconnected, global marketplace? Where does the responsibility lie for learning and development? Is it with the organisation you work for, or with you, the individual?

Personal brand challenges professional qualification as sign of quality

We all have anecdotes about our educational experiences, about how little we remember and how what we do remember has little practical value to the activities and jobs we do. Clearly, education strives to provide a platform for transferable skills, to give us adaptability and resilience to apply what we know in new and constructive ways.

Once in a job, continuous professional development intends to keep skills fresh and relevant, building on our real world experience. But does it? Too often qualifications misrepresent the value and capabilities of the person holding the certificate. All too frequently the curricula fail to keep up with the highly bespoke and rapidly changing realities of the workplace.

In today's digitally connected society, the value of a qualification is in danger of being superseded by a highly public individual record of activity and achievements - the personal brand.

Marshall McLuhan famously wrote in 1964 that: “The medium is the message”, recognising how new technologies impact our social and professional lives. The technology available today, from internet-enabled personal blogging to social networks such as Linkedin, enables the individual to provide the message personally and truly gives rise to the individual as the medium. This is a seismic shift in the flow of communication and information.

A controlled hierarchy has been replaced by a multi-nodal, interconnected network where each one of us control what we send, receive and participate in. The internet works this model efficiently and cost-effectively. The commercial world is now realising the shift in consumer attention with exponential growth in online advertising and marketing. We have always liked connecting, sharing and creating with others, but we now have the tools to do so easily. Television, news and print media are struggling to redefine their roles in the aftermath.

Education and training will follow this shift, as individuals realise they can consciously control their own learning and development. Crucially it doesn't have to look and feel like the classroom and lecture halls of old – although this remains a revelation to most adult learners.

Your personal brand - or in other words your social capital - could be described as a product of your academic, professional and life achievements and your network of contacts. Online media tools such as social networks (for example, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Xing) and content sharing (blogs, wikis, Youtube, Flickr, Twitter again) make it easy for individuals to control their own personal learning and sphere of influence.

This social capital cuts right across normal organisational boundaries and structures. The speed with which contacts can be made and expertise shared renders many traditional learning experiences achingly slow by comparison and frustratingly one-dimensional. It is this movement which has significant implications for the design of CPD support.

Impact of informal learning on CPD

Jay Cross, an active proponent of informal learning in the USA recently commented:

"As networks continue to subvert hierarchy, successful organizations will embrace respect for the individual, flexibility and adaptation, openness and transparency, sharing and collaboration, honesty and authenticity, and immediacy. Training is obsolete because it deals with a past that won’t be repeated. Learning will be redefined as problem-solving, achieving fit with one’s environment and having the connections to deal with novel situations."

Disappointingly, this world-view has yet to establish itself in any widespread reality. Much workplace learning is primarily formal in its delivery, using methods that at best make cursory use of the technology available to support and nurture a more effective and lasting learning experience.

Slowly, this is changing. Various market research surveys and studies in the past 6-12 months reveal a transformation towards a more blended learning experience. There is also an increasing use of e-learning and online collaborative exercises amongst geographically distributed groups of peers and mentors.

Brightwave's E-learning Trends Survey 2009 demonstrated this transformation by polling learning and development specialists within large UK organisations (5,000 plus employees). The survey revealed that while 80 per cent of total training budgets are likely to be cut or stay the same, half of the organisations are expecting their e-learning spend to rise.

This shift is being driven by the learners themselves, rather than HR it seems. An independent study commissioned earlier this year by the training provider, Cegos found that: "Half of employees across Europe want more e-learning and blended learning during the next three years, while only about 40 per cent of HR professionals plan to develop more programmes using these techniques.

“Learners are also keener to embrace collaborative tools like blogs, forums and wikis – 44 per cent of employees want to see these techniques developed, compared to just 32 per cent of HR professionals. Face-to-face learning is more popular among HR, with 42 per cent of respondents wanting to see more classroom learning compared to 38 per cent of employees."

With time and cost pressures growing, there is a real appetite for more flexible forms of learning. The same study found that over 80 per cent of employees were pleased with their e-learning and blending learning experiences. Employees were even calling for more work-based scenarios, self-assessment and tutor/peer support, rather than a return to traditionally exclusive classroom formats. This implies that HR professionals need to understand how to leverage technology to avoid being completely bypassed in the future, as predicted by Cross.

CPD in real time - Ubiquitous Performance Support

With the advent of real time, anywhere access to learning opportunities, it is now possible to offer what might be termed Ubiquitous Performance Support (UPS). Using a flexible, integrated set of tools that centre on your internet connected mobile phone, you can instantly query your professional and personal network of contacts to provide advice and guidance at the point and time of need.

At the same time, you can access your own personalised repository of knowledge, learning tutorials and other relevant content. The outcomes of how you perform in each situation can thus be recorded and self (and peer) assessed to help you improve your performance the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

Just think of the power this environment has to support individual learning and performance. Instead of the inherently "just in case" model of CPD, which is subject to problems of updates and relevancy, UPS offers a "just in time" model that delivers actionable learning and accelerates the acquisition of practical experience. E-learning is crucial in underpinning this whole process from pre-induction (getting new starters up-to-speed) to ongoing performance support.

This thinking also extends the concept of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). Using Wikipedia (the reference resource of choice for the digital learner), PLEs are defined as:

"Systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to:

  • set their own learning goals
  • manage their learning; managing both content and process
  • communicate with others in the process of learning

and thereby achieve learning goals."

Continuous Professional Development will need to find ways to accommodate this model of learning, providing a higher degree of flexibility and adaptability than ever before. This is more than likely to create some tensions. As the learning experience becomes more bespoke, it will increasingly challenge the concept of standards and levels of competency that are often used for comparison and assessment purposes.

Going further, how do you measure and certify completion? A common measure is contact time or hours learning. When using online tools, environments and peer networks, the learning becomes interwoven with normal daily activity - making it harder to quantify than attending a half-day course. Interestingly, the interwoven nature of the interaction is more effective in transferring the new learning experience into real performance improvement on the job.

Professional associations managing CPD credit schemes will need to work out viable and meaningful ways of measuring this learning activity when their target audience drifts away from more traditional learning. The International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET - is the caretaker of the CEU - Continuing Education Unit.

The IACET define the CEU as ten contact hours of participation in an organized continuing education experience under responsible sponsorship, capable direction, and qualified instruction. IACET CEUs may be: "Awarded by a college, association, company or any other organization willing and able to meet each of the ANSI/IACET 1-2007 Standard. Awarding IACET CEUs requires that a permanent record be established for each individual to whom IACET CEUs are awarded, and a transcript of that record must be made available upon request."

When learning activity is interwoven with other activities, how does this get meaningfully calculated? This is no doubt an interesting challenge, especially where learner activity records are spread out over many sites, services and personal interactions.

As I write this there is a significant amount of online discussion about the vagaries of measurement, including comments from the popular bloggers Tony Karrer and Harold Jarche. A serendipitous "Tweet" through Twitter pointed me to an amusing anecdote from Gloria Gery ( Gloria is a pioneer in the field of performance support systems and seeks real measures for learning effectiveness, she says:

“At a meeting one day, I suggested a new measurement criterion.

‘Why don't we weigh the students and report on a cost per pound?’

A deep quiet overcame the meeting. It was finally broken by a softly spoken question.


I guess I was being given a chance to reconsider, but I didn't take it.

‘Why don't we install a scale in the entry way,’ I said, ‘like the one they use for cattle. We can have each student stand on the scale before entering class each day. We can then calculate the return on our investment by volume.’

Needless to say, this attitude was a subject for much discussion both on that day and on my annual appraisal. While I wasn't exactly serious, the idea didn't seem any more irrelevant than some of the success indicators I was reporting on monthly.

None of the measurements I was supposed to take asked if anyone learned anything or if our interventions changed their performance.”

Measures that matter

As Gery rightly points out, traditional training measures (including hours spent "learning") demonstrate the separated nature of much training activity, which is divorced from the actual work context. Measures that matter - reducing errors, increasing productivity, reducing costs, increasing revenues are actually easier to track when learning is woven into the workplace environment.

CPD in its current form does contribute meaningfully towards this goal, but we really need to go further. We need to inject similar real time support across the board, just like my example above.

Looking forward

In lean times there is a tendency for organisations to cut back on overall training spend – although this short-term measure can in fact cause more long-term damage as it means you won’t be in good shape for the inevitable economic upturn and you risk losing the best talent.

In fact, there is an increasing importance of CPD during a recession, as re-skilling becomes more important for professional development with staff taking on new responsibilities if head count is cut. Furthermore, those that do take responsibility for their CPD are likely to be less impacted by the recession, and will come out with more skills.

Simply cutting training budgets is a mistake, because without effective investment in people and performance support when the economy picks up, opportunities will be missed. Indeed, many newly redundant people will discover that they can work productively in new ways outside the corporate structures they have left behind - and they may not return.

Instead of cutting budgets, organisations should instead focus their training attention on the business critical activities of the organisation. Thankfully, a new CiPD survey shows that despite the recession, 70 per cent of the HR community feels training will remain a high priority and CPD remains top of the agenda.

Social capital will inevitably grow in importance and the increased control we demand over our use of media - whether it be on-demand television or interactive shopping - will drive a wider thirst to be in control of our own learning and development. E-learning will continue to offer the most flexible learning opportunities and with mobile broadband internet access becoming more practical, my vision of ubiquitous performance support should become a reality for us all, not just the early adopters.