Thursday, July 27, 2006

We Need More Talented Jugglers

When we talk with organizations that are having difficulties meeting their eLearning goals, it always seems to me that they are missing a key indgredient for success: a talented juggler. By this, I mean there doesn't seem to be someone on hand who can bring all the disparate elements together - organizational goals, learning design, program development, learning technologies, IT support, budgets, project plans, evaluation plans, etc. - to make it all work. There is no eLearning management generalist, who knows a little about all aspects of eLearning, and can orchestrate people and resources toward common objectives. I call this person "the juggler" - the one who can keep all the eLearning project management "balls" in the air and ensure they all fall into place when and as needed.

We had the eLearning project juggler in mind when we designed our online Certificate in eLearning Management. Sure, individuals can, and do, take individual courses to meet specific needs, but our vision was that there would be many aspiring eLearning leaders who would complete the entire program in order to position themselves to be the overall project managers for eLearning initiatives. In completing the entire program, someone proves that they can do the 19 key competency tasks that we think are essential for any eLearning project.

Using the "5-E" framework for effective eLearning that I talked about last week, these competency tasks are as follows:

Establish Value
  • Business Needs Analysis
  • First-Order Business Case
  • Principles of eLearning Statement
  • eLearning Project Budget
  • Request for Proposal (RFP)
  • Projected Return-on-Investment (ROI)
Effect Change
  • eLearning Project Plan
Engage Stakeholders and Learners
  • Organizational Cultural Assessment
  • eLearner Profile
  • Technology Audit
  • Technology Choices Matrix
  • My ISD Team Template
  • Kickoff Project Meeting Agenda
  • eLearning Lesson Plan
  • eLearning Design Concept
  • eLearning Facilitation Best Practices Checklist
  • eLearning Application Project
Evaluate Results
  • Metrics Analysis
  • eLearning Evaluation Plan
Our courses do not merely "teach" about these competencies, participants actually do these competency tasks and receive feedback. This is in line with our belief in active learning (learning-by-doing). Whenever possible, we have learners use their own workplace situations when completing these tasks. This makes the learning real, contextual and applied.

Do you aspire to be an eLearning juggler? They are needed out there.

We have just relaunched our Certificate in eLearning Management in a new flexible and convenient open-entry, self-paced format.

To learn more, explore our Certificate competency map, our course descriptions, and our course demo.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Getting Respect

I miss Rodney Dangerfield. He was a genuinely funny guy. You have to admire the one-man comic industry he built around the phrase "I get no respect!" I hear this same phrase, and am reminded of Rodney, every time I am in a room of training managers. They are often lamenting the fact that their role is not valued in their organizations, that no one listens to them, and that their budgets are continually cut back. According to a recent study, however, the training folks may be authors of their own misfortune.

Chief Learning Officer magazine recently published a story about a study of 250 senior executives conducted by Accenture. The study was about workplace performance and found that:
  • only 14% thought that their organization's entire workforce was industry-leading;
  • only 20% thought that their employees understood their company's strategy; and,
  • a mere 10% reported being very satisfied with the performance of their HR and training functions.
This survey found a gaping disconnect between what HR and training was doing, and the central business drivers and objectives of the organization.

This is training's vicious circle in a nutshell. The training department does not often align its efforts with organizational goals, and organizational leadership rarely demands that it does so. Leadership is dissatisfied and the training folks feel that they are constantly marginalized.


What's the answer? Well, we think training managers can do a lot more to earn respect by following the "Five-E" framework:
  • Establish Value (target training at real organizational needs)
  • Effect Change (make a difference to the organization by contributing to positive change)
  • Engage Stakeholders and Learners (engage the former through understanding and responding to their needs, and the latter through active learning design)
  • Experiment (constantly try different approaches and build upon those that work)
  • Evaluate Results (measure, measure, measure)
In short, 5E = R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Vendor Lessons

We ran our webinar on creating happy vendor relationships today. Had about 15 people participate (must be into holiday season now), but had lots of great interchanges. Bottom line, not surprisingly, is that good client-vendor relationships (whether in eLearning projects or anything else) are based on:
  • scoping projects thoroughly
  • being crystal clear on expectations (both sides)
  • regular and honest communication
Here is a link to the webinar recording.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dancing With Vendors

I have written a lot lately about understanding your organization's core competencies with respect to producing eLearning, and knowing when to "contract in" needed help as necessary. Sometimes it will be necessary to bring in learning design expertise, or programming expertise, or you may have to buy or lease some learning technologies to help you meet your goals. I call this process "dancing with vendors" (with apologies to Kevin Costner).

Sometimes the dance is a beautifully choreographed piece wherein each partner (client and vendor) knows their steps and move effortlessly as one. More often, however, the dance partners are clumsily trying to figure out the dance and make many missteps along the way, at the cost of a few broken toes and many embarrassed apologies. We clearly get the impression from the many clients and vendors we speak to that the latter kind of dance is more prevalent than the former.When looking at this dance, both clients and vendors can be blamed, at different points, for missteps and bruised feet.

Charlene Douglas has a unique perspective on client-vendor relationships. She has been on both sides of the dance - as a client with the University of Wisconsin, and now as a vendor with Desire2Learn, a learning technology provider. Charlene is also a learner in our online Certificate in eLearning Management. I had the opportunity recently to ask Charlene for her pithy perspectives on dancing with vendors. Here are my questions, and her to-do lists.

RN: What does a vendor need in a Request for Proposal (RFP) to really understand and be able to respond to a client's needs?

CD: In preparing an RFP, the client should be:
  • Succint (many ramble on about things of no interest to the vendor)
  • Clear (in wording, and about requirements, size of project, timing, key contact(s), and terms and conditions)
  • Transparent about how proposals will be evaluated
  • Thorough about submission requirements
RN: What kinds of things make the vendor-client relationship often go off the rails?

CD: The most common culprits are:
  • Lack of Communication!!!
  • Unreasonable expectations (from both sides of the equation)!!!
  • A confusion in terms of the vendor-client relationship (i.e., a client attempting to set the roadmap for a vendor in order to fulfill their future needs)
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Wishy-washy contract
  • No flexibility
RN: What are the key components of an excellent vendor-client relationship?

CD: Here's what is needed:
  • Honesty
  • Cooperation and openness (partnership type of attitude)
  • Solid and continuous communication
  • Reasonable expectations
  • Trust
  • Commitment
  • Flexibility
  • Solid contract with well thought out Statement of Work and a workable Change Management procedure
RN: Thanks Charlene. It looks like the elements of good vendor-client management are the same as those for a solid marriage (some dances do lead eventually in that direction!).

Note: Charlene will be joining us as a special guest in our next webinar, titled How to Create Happy Vendor Relationships, to be held at 12:00 Eastern on Thursday, July 20th.

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's All About Engagement

We had 34 participants from across North America attend our webinar yesterday titled "How to Keep Your Online Learners Engaged." Although they represented a wide cross-section of sectors (e.g. financial services, business services, health, education, government, etc.), they had remarkably similar perspectives on what is necessary to engage learners.

We focused on two case study examples: an online sales training challenge, and an online workplace harassment training challenge. Participants were asked to brainstorm ways of transforming traditional "tell-and-test" approaches to these two challenges into training interventions that would build and sustain learner interest, and that would lead to actual changes in behaviour.

The ideas generated for improving on the tell-and-test approach included: simulations, scenarios, stories, games, role playing, and sharing experiences. The common theme among all these ideas was the need to bring learning to life, to lift it up from the one-dimensional, static presentation and recitation of information. In other words, how can we make the training approximate, as closely as possible, the real work environment and immerse learners in this by having them react to situations and see immediate feedback on their decisions?

By "making it real," learners can see the relevance of the training to their situation, and are much more likely to be fully engaged in the experience. And by practicing realistic decision-making in a safe environment where they are free to make mistakes, they are more likely to internalize the key points and apply the lessons learned on the job.

Learner engagement is a huge challenge in all training, but especially so in eLearning as you do not have a captive audience (they can leave with one click). This is less likely to happen if you can immerse them in realistic situations where they make decisions and get immediate feedback.

Doing this requires a different approach to learning design. Instead of the traditional model of present information / test on it, you have learners making decisions and drawing on relevant content as needed to help make decisions (or in providing corrective feedback). The difference in the latter approach is that the content is being understood and applied in context. This is a huge difference, as learners will not only be more engaged, they will internalize the learning as it is no longer something abstract and without context.