Thursday, January 25, 2007

Networks Leverage Learning

"Experience is what you get just after you need it."

Isn't that the truth? I have learned so many lessons the hard way, by jumping in blindly, screwing up, making note of what went wrong, and vowing never to do that again. While this method of learning is tried and true (and may be the only way we really learn life's personal lessons), in the business world it means lost time, lost opportunities, and extra expense. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get experience just BEFORE we need it? That is the idea behind a new initiative being planned by my colleagues Mike Grant and Jon-Anthony Lui.

Mike and Jon are building the eLearn Campus Peer Network, which will have membership from a fairly small number of organizations from a number of different sectors who face similar challenges in designing, producing, managing and evaluating eLearning. Their vision is to connect eLearning professionals from these organizations in an on-going community of practice wherein everyone can benefit from everyone else's knowledge and experience.

Mike and Jon feel that a lot of current professional development opportunities in the eLearning field, such as the myriad of conferences that are held each year, are missing the mark because these are:
  • Not practical, often focusing on what the top 5% of organizations may be doing in eLearning;
  • Not timely, often held much before or well after someone actually requires assistance with a particular eLearning challenge;
  • Not tailored to individual needs, a one-size-fits-all approach;
  • Not collaborative and interactive, you sit and listen.
My own experience bears this out. I no longer attend many eLearning conferences, and I have written previously why I am staying home. For the most part, these are big, impersonal events where people are herded about in huge numbers and talked at for three days straight. There is no real meaningful interaction or collaboration. I just don't have the patience for this any more (nor does my butt).

Mike led a webinar "discovery" session this week for prospective members and outlined four key elements of the Peer Network.
  • Monthly online synchronous workshops on topics chosen by members, and a monthly online Network newsletter;
  • An online asynchronous community of practice for on-going discussions, resource sharing, collaborative brainstorming, and problem solving;
  • Access to eLearn Campus' online Certificate in eLearning Management courses;
  • Annual in-person, hands-on, experiential workshops on key eLearning challenges.
We had a lively discussion during this session and participants were keen on a new model for professional development in the eLearning field. Some see it as a way to generally shorten their learning curves, manage information overload, keep up with new developments (especially in technology), and sort out the hype from the reality. Others have very specific concerns around issues such as learning technologies, development tools, rapid eLearning design, measuring value, etc. However, from whatever angle they are approaching the topic, they all see the benefit of a Peer Network wherein members set the agenda and leverage the collective wisdom of the group.

If you are looking for a new model of professional development, and this idea appeals to you, contact Jon-Anthony (jon@eLearnCampus.com). He can fill you in on the details.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dealing with eLearning Objections

I just heard that an eLearning project that we had hoped to bid upon is on hold because of "internal resistance." It got me to thinking about the various objections to eLearning that I have heard over the course of my ten years in this field. Here are some of my favourites, and my responses to each.

eLearning is Not as Good as Face-to-Face

Well, I have slept through enough lectures and in-person training sessions / presentations to know that not all face-to-face education and training is all that it is cracked up to be. When will we realize that there can be good and bad approaches in both forms? When an education or training experience is bad, there are usually a host of reasons why this is so (e.g. ill-defined objectives, poor design, lack of interaction and feedback, poor facilitation, etc.) that have nothing to with whether it takes place in a real or virtual learning environment.

I remember hearing one senior representative of a major Canadian university declaring that they would not be offering online courses. They saw this decision as a way of differentiating themselves from the competition. She actually said that they were in the "classroom business." That struck me as a rather odd comment. I thought that they were in the education business. It would be like an airline saying that they are in the 737 business as opposed to the transportation business.

Our People Are Not Ready for eLearning

How do you know? Most people saying this haven't any hard evidence that would justify such a blanket statement. They are often patronizing the target learners. I advocate a little research to determine if your people are ready for eLearning. If you discover that they are using email regularly, doing web searches, using common office software, paying bills online, playing computer games, etc., they can probably handle online learning.

We Don't Have the Technologies or Competencies Necessary to do eLearning

As I have said on many other occasions, there is no need to go out and spend a fortune on a learning management system when just starting out with eLearning. There are a host of free, or nearly free, technologies that one can use in order to find your feet. Also, there are all kinds of options for leasing necessary software and having this hosted externally. And hardly anyone has all the internal competencies (e.g. instructional design, programming, graphic design, technical abilities, etc.) to do eLearning well right out of the gate. You can contract in the needed talent as you learn your way.

eLearning Costs too Much

Compared to what? It is rare to find organizations who have truly costed out exactly what all their face-to-face training efforts cost, especially if far-flung. If they did this I think they would look favourably upon the economics of eLearning, whose higher up-front development costs can be recouped over time via much lower delivery costs.

Also, not many organizations understand the value chain of training (face-to-face or eLearning), and therefore find it difficult to determine its value. Before you can judge if something costs too much, you have to determine the value it produces.

Our Trainers Are Used to the Classroom

Many trainers are uncomfortable with the idea of eLearning. They feel that it is a threat to their job security. However, if done well and integrated well into an organization's training mix, eLearning can provide new and innovative ways for trainers to engage their trainees and can allow them the luxury of devoting precious face-to-face time to the types of learning that are crucial to be done in person (e.g. hands-on training, role playing, human interaction skills development, etc.).

I am not an eLearning fanatic. I do not advocate that all education and training can or should be experienced via eLearning. However, it does have a key role to play in a balanced blended learning approach. Many of the outright objections to introducing it into the mix are the product of ignorance, fear, or the age-old "change is bad" mentality. It's time to take on the myths surrounding eLearning and to manage by fact. Start small, set goals, assess results, adjust, and try again. Scale up only when you have found the eLearning approaches that work for your organization.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Tailor Your eLearning for Better Adoption


Your adoption rate - the percentage of your targeted learners who actually complete the eLearning that you have prepared for them - is a key statistic in determining the overall success of an eLearning intervention. Assuming that there are measurable benefits to be realized from every person who completes the eLearning (e.g. they know more, can produce more, sell more, waste less, serve clients better, etc.), the more people completing the program, the greater the overall benefits to the organization. Unfortunately, however, many organizations do not do enough to manage adoption to ensure maximum benefit.

My colleague Mike Grant led a webinar session on this topic this week. His main point was that you should manage adoption right from the outset of an eLearning project - before it is designed and developed - and not try to do so after the fact. The focus should be on tailoring eLearning to best meet the needs and nature of the targeted learning audience.

When we asked the 78 webinar participants what were the biggest barriers to eLearning adoption that they faced, the responses were very similar and grouped around the following themes:

Lack of Motivation: Learners fail to see value of eLearning intervention / there is no "what's in it for me" proposition / there is little relevance or direct applicability to their job

Lack of Resources: Learners do not have the time (or quietude) to do the eLearning / there are too many competing priorities for attention

Lack of Support: Lack of managerial or organizational support to do eLearning (e.g. granting time or proper location for eLearning) / supervisors not holding staff to account for completing eLearning / management not providing learning and technical support to ease transition to eLearning format

Bad Experiences: Learners have experienced bad eLearning before and are now "gun shy"

Old Habits Die Hard: Attachment to the classroom model for training / reluctance to embrace change

All of these factors noted above, and the fact that it is so easy to put off doing eLearning (unlike, say, showing up for a scheduled classroom session), conspire to keep eLearning adoption rates low. In the webinar, Mike showed how you can improve adoption rates by getting a number of questions answered before you begin your eLearning project. These questions are centred around the 4 A's, namely: what Accessibilty do the target learners have to technology / time / and proper space; what are their Abilities in using information and communication technologies; what are their Attitudes to change and innovation; and how Approriate is eLearning given their learning styles and the nature of the content and learning objectives that need to be addressed?

If you let the answers to questions about the 4 A's drive your decisions around your learning mix (what should be done classroom vs. online), and also have it drive your eLearning design and roll-out strategy, your training generally and your eLearning specifically will be tailored to the realities of your target audience and will be a better fit. And being a better fit, your eLearning adoption rates will go up.

For those of you who missed it, here is a recording of Driving Higher Adoption for Your eLearning Through a "Four A" Approach.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Score an "A" in eLearning (X4)

There are many ways that even the best eLearning training interventions can be kiboshed, but I see the following two come up again and again. Firstly, many really good eLearning ideas do not even get off the ground because key stakeholders or gatekeepers in the organization have pre-determined that their people "are not ready for eLearning" or that "they cannot" or "do not wish to learn this way." Secondly, even if you get past such objections, you may develop a very good eLearning program, but there is poor adoption of this because it was designed without a solid understanding of the targeted learners.

You can avoid these pitfalls by taking more of a marketing approach towards eLearning development. By this, I mean starting with the learners, understanding their realities, and letting this knowledge drive the design process. This is much the same way any good marketer would build a product or service based on the wants and needs of the targeted customer.

We take a "4A" approach to building from the learner out. Doing so, we answer the following key questions.

1. Accessibility: How easy is it for the target learners to access and use technology?
2. Attitudes: What level of comfort do the target learners have with technology that would position them to learn through technology?
3. Ability: How competent are people with technology and with learning through technology?
4. Appropriateness: Do people have a preference for accessing learning through technology?

The first "A" is rather obvious. It is getting to know to what extent the targeted learners have access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the nature of these technologies (processing power, peripherals, browser versions, bandwidth, etc.). The last three "A's" get at the ways and the extent to which the targeted learners are using these technologies in their everyday lives at work and/or at home. For example, do they use word processing and spreadsheets regularly, do they send and receive email, do they do online banking or shopping, do they use search engines regularly to research information? Because few have experienced eLearning directly, it makes more sense to examine other ways that they are using ICTs in their daily lives. This will provide an indication of their likelihood of adapting well to online learning.

When we conduct such research, there are many questions asked under each "A." If the answers paint a picture of a target group that is using ICTs on a daily basis it is easy to address those fears noted above by management that "our people are not ready for eLearning." Also, details revealed in the answers mean that eLearning interventions can be designed that mesh well with the available technology, as well as the learners' existing level of comfort and abilities in using ICTs. Doing such research up front ensures that the eLearning developed will be the right fit and will more likely be adopted and used by the targeted learners.

We will be exploring the "4A" approach in more detail in a webinar this week. My colleague Michael Grant will be leading a session on January 11th titled Driving Higher Adoption for Your eLearning Through a "Four A" Approach.