Between Minds – A Creative Approach to Building Stories

 How often have you experienced a challenging situation or dilemma where you were thinking hard and eventually just wanted to bang your head against the wall? How did you deal with the situation?

Maybe you brainstormed, without even realizing it. Brainstorming is a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving that promotes lateral thinking. We, at Harbinger, run a program called ‘Between Minds’ based on the brainstorming approach. This is a cross-functional meeting that brings together the Instructional and Graphics Design teams with the core objective of promoting design thinking. Random cross-functional groups are formed for each session, and every time a session is conducted, we get to deal with a unique challenge and come out with a new perspective of looking at things.

In a recent Between Minds session, each group was given a phrase and the expectation was to build a story in the next thirty minutes. Colors and papers were provided, and all the teams used drawing as their tool for weaving their stories. The ultimate objective of this activity was to get the team members work on a critical timeline and come up with a solution, by using their lateral thinking and problem-solving capabilities, along with acknowledging difference of opinions.

Listed below are some stories that the groups came up with:

  • Phrase: Dr. Spark Invents Time Machine

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This is the story of a scientist who invents the time machine post which he assumes any invention would be a cake walk for him. Hence, he further embarks on a journey of inventing telephone. Unfortunately, that turns out to be the biggest mistake of his life as he lands into an era where telephone was invented but not electricity. Thus, there is no power source to which he could connect his time machine and come back to the present. This strengthened the fact that we must keep things simple rather than complicating our journeys. The story also emphasizes on the importance of paying attention to details.

  •  Phrase: Age is Just a Number

age

Another interesting story that came from one team was about an old man and his little grandson. The grandfather, despite being old, is no less than the grandson when it comes to being mischievous and having fun. Both steal ice-cream, fight for the video-game, and love to play scrabble. This story highlighted the fact that if you are willing to do something, then age is just a number. It also beautified how two people separated by a huge age difference were so alike. This story had a sense of simplicity and an essence of nostalgia which took the audience back into the memory lanes of their childhood. It also taught us how simple things could make a big impact at times.

  • Phrase: A Dark and Stormy Night

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Another interesting story was about a dark stormy night when a group of friends lose their way into the woods. They are wet and homeless, and upon finding a shelter, they enter it only to be confronted with spooky sounds. They hear the crying of a cat, squeaks of a baby and some smoke emerging from another room. Flashbacks of all the ghost stories read at leisure strike back indicating a definite possibility of a similar encounter. With a heavy heart and the possibility of coming across an evil spirit, they enter the other room to see a lady cooking food, in a corner of the room. Her baby is playing in the crib and a pet cat is crying in another corner. The story teaches us a lesson of not giving up on situations, and building presumptions about them, until you encounter them.

This session encouraged the teams to come up with the thoughts that, at first, seemed a bit crazy and quirky, but were then developed to build a story that went on to be appreciated by all present. The objective was not to reward or criticize ideas, as judgment stunts lateral thinking and also limits creativity. In a nutshell, it was a rejuvenating activity that pulled everyone out of their daily routine, and yet gave us some good problem-solving lessons, and a deeper insight into collaborating and working as a team to accomplish a common goal.

Do you also participate in any such sessions or activities? What are your favorite approaches to problem-solving? We would love to know your thoughts. Leave your comments below.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 – A Checklist to Get Started

Web Content Accesibility - Concept Image

Web accessibility indicates websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed in a way that people with disabilities can use them. The most recent guidelines for web accessibility are specified in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0[1]. US federal government had set a conformance deadline to WCAG as January 1, 2018. Accessible content is now no longer optional; it is a must-have.

Making content accessible usually requires taking care of some basic guidelines related to the navigation mechanism, and fixing some issues in the underlying code (which commonly don’t even count as issues on the regular visual screens). The basics of accessibility are fairly easy to implement. But if you are new to accessibility, it might take some time and effort to learn about them. Most mistakes related to implementing the accessibility guidelines have to do with a failure to understand what constitutes accessible content.

Based on our experience of developing multiple WCAG 2.0 compliant projects, here is a list of the most common issues that could make your content non-accessible, and a checklist to help you avoid them.

Common Issues Checklist to Avoid the Issues on The Left

1.  Too low contrast

2.  Color-driven instructions

3. Background colors that don’t contrast images against text

· Provide sufficient color contrast. Color contrast can be checked with help of free tools like Webaim-color contrast checker.

· The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.

· Ensure that information conveyed by color differences is also available in text.

4.  Lack of keyboard accessibility

5.  Lack of “skip to main content” or “skip navigation” Links

6. Complex or difficult interactivities

· Make each page navigable by keyboard alone.

· Add “skip to content” links to allow a user to jump directly to main content rather than navigating through all the controls.

·  Avoid complex interactivity design by chunking complex modules into simpler and smaller activities with required user instructions.

·  Provide keyboard operation for all the functionality of the page. When all functionality of content can be operated through a keyboard or keyboard interface, it can be operated by those with no vision as well as by those who use alternate keyboards or input devices.

7.  Missing or improper headings

8.  Flexibility with different text sizes

·  Use heading tags (H1, H2,…), table headings and lists (UL, LI).

·  Add a meaningful page title.

·  Ensure that content can be scaled uniformly by using a web technology (the browser’s zoom functionality for instance). At the same time ensure that, the zoom function preserves all spatial relationships on the page and that all functionality continues to be available.

9. Screens or parts of screens that change unexpectedly

10. Links that open unexpectedly in new windows

·  Avoid pop-up windows.

·  Allow pausing of animations.

·  User indication should be given when the focus is changing to the new window.

11.  Too many links or navigation items

12.   Links or buttons that do not make sense

·  Avoid “click here” link text. Describe the purpose of a link in the link text itself, instead of just saying “Click here”. For example, content that says, “Open the website www.harbingerlearning.com” instead of “click here.”

· Keep navigation consistent across all pages.

13. Inappropriate Alt attributes

14. Images with missing or improper descriptions (alt text)

·  Add alt text to images which describe the image. For example, an image showing a United States map with its population should have alt text as “Map of the United States showing population density in various states” instead of “an image” or “US Map” as alt text.

·  Add labels to form elements like buttons, links etc.

·  Use CSS for visual presentation of text. CSS benefits accessibility primarily by separating the document structure from presentation. By separating style from markup, developers can simplify and clean up the markup in their content, making it accessible at the same time.

Most organizations across the United States are now legally required to meet accessibility standards. But even if your organization doesn’t fall into that category, it’s still a good idea to make your digital content accessible, because it makes good business sense. It can help improve user experience and hence make your web content more effective.

If you are interested to know more about accessibility or if you have more points that can be added to the list above, feel free to write to us at info@harbingerlearning.com.

[1] https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

 

Five Crucial Aspects to Address While Repurposing Your Legacy Courses

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Modernizing legacy courses is the need of the hour for organizations that have been into the course development business since long. While making the decision to repurpose legacy content, what are some aspects one should consider? It is not about simply converting Flash or old technology courses to HTML5 but meeting the current and future business needs as well. We, at team Harbinger, have been involved with various organizations to help them repurpose their legacy courses.  Based on our experience of working with these organizations, here are top five aspects people look into, while defining their modernization strategy:

1. Impact on Customer Experience

Since some; or all your legacy courses are still part of your course catalog, and learners are subscribing to it, modernizing would have an impact your current customer experience. Learners would need to spend quite some time figuring out aspects like which browser to use, how to enable flash player in a browser, and go back and forth with the support desks hoping to start viewing the course. This means that the number of support tickets at your service desk will be on the rise and there is every possibility that your support teams will be overworked in order to improve the customer satisfaction score.

2. Strategic Alignment of Goals

Aligning the repurposed legacy courses to the business strategy is crucial. For e.g. if your business is dependent on millennial learners, then micro-learning enabled courses would be an important consideration during redesign. If you are looking to comply with federal government laws, then WCAG compliance would be significant, or if you are thinking of white-labeling courses for your customers then having that kind of flexibility at design level would take precedence over other factors.

3. Future-Ready Enhancements

Another important aspect is to ensure that you are thinking ahead of time and making these courses future-ready. Since you are investing so much time and efforts today to fall in-line with the latest technology and trends, it shouldn’t be the case that several years down the line, you are forced to think about making more changes to them, which means, more investment.

Features like metadata tagging, content chunking into logical micro-nuggets, make the content easily reusable and give you the flexibility for easy updates.

4. Resource Management

As leaders of the content development team, you could also be in a dilemma about managing the whole spectrum of your resources for this specific spike in volume. This would be a tricky situation as you might need to ramp up your content development team size for very specific periods to meet the volume demands and the go-to-market strategies.

5. Weighing all pros and cons against the bottom line

Eventually when it is time to take a decision, you will have to weigh the pros and cons on what will be the impact on your bottom line. If you have a huge catalog of courses, instead of a blanket implementation, you could bucket the courses and select a different approach for each bucket. For example, for top performing courses, you could do a complete revamp. For courses which are not being sold or used a lot, may be a simple cost-effective solution with small fixes to ensure they work on latest browsers could do the job.

Do these aspects sound familiar, have they popped up during your strategy meetings too? If you have been working around some of these, we would happy to hear from you and share our thoughts.

 

Wondering What To Do With Your Legacy Courses?

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It’s that time of the year when we look at the year gone by and put together the charter for the coming year. One of the questions that would have consistently popped up in our minds throughout this year would have been – what should be done with the legacy courses? But, like every year, some other (read ‘more significant’) business need would have taken priority and legacy courses would have gone on the back burner.

In the past few months a couple of announcements are making organizations rethink their decisions and redefine some of their priorities for the upcoming year in terms of handling legacy courses. The first one is the Flash sunset announcement for 2020 and the other one is the United States deadline for conformance to worldwide WCAG 2.0 guidelines. With both these advancements, the only feasible solutions seems to be repurposing legacy courses to make them relevant and appropriate in today’s context.

Here are 5 more reasons on why repurposing needs to be considered sooner than later:

1. The content is still relevant and instructionally sound but with the advent of new devices and browsers, these courses might not just work going forward.
2. The learner profile is changing considerably. Forget about millennials, Gen Z seems to be getting into the workforce as well, and the way these two target audiences would want to learn is different – bite sized, mobile and just-in-time.
3. Repurposing enhances your learners’ user experience and reduces the stress on your support teams and troubleshooting staff.
4. It helps strengthen your course catalog portfolio.
5. It could positively impact your bottom line.

We’ll let these thoughts sink in till we come up with the next blog in this series. In case you would like to have a discussion on this, write to us at info@harbingerlearning.com .
With this note here’s wishing you a very happy and spirited holiday season.

eLearning Trends to Watch Out For in 2018

2018

I recently participated in two significant eLearning conferences – Learning 2017 and DevLearn. The key purpose of my participation in these conferences was of course to bring Harbinger’s offerings to the forefront. But apart from that, I wanted to network with like minded professionals and also get some insights into the current and forthcoming eLearning trends. Based on my interactions and experiences, I decided to pen down some interesting trends and technologies that were discussed the most. It will be interesting to look out for them in the year 2018.

1. Course Modernization of Legacy Courses

The Flash sunset has been announced for 2020, and with that, it has become crucial for catalog companies to convert legacy Flash courses to HTML5. This entails a huge volume of work to be handled rapidly while following latest design styles, maintaining quality and learner demands. It is critical for every CLO and content director to strategize the successful enablement of this transition while satisfying the customer too.

Talking about Harbinger’s readiness in this regard, we are fully prepared to work with catalog companies to meet their needs of course modernization – HTML5 support on mobile, micro-learning, latest design styles, accessibility support – and all this, regardless of the availability of legacy content source files.

2. User Experience Design as a Part of the Standard Process

Learners expect the same experience while taking up an eLearning courses as they have with their intuitive day to day applications – engaging, gamified and search friendly. eLearning courses are now expected to be designed considering these parameters, to make the overall experience smoother and relevant. The development teams need to focus not just on the project stake holders; but also on learners.

Harbinger’s ideology and approach has always been learner centric. Our user experience design aims to make the learner’s experience engaging, smoother, and impactful.

3. Long Term Vision while Designing Current Courses

CLOs and content directors are looking for solutions which can not only address their current needs but future requirements as well. Activities like addition of analytics to understand user preferences and usage pattern; are becoming significant. Solutions addressing easy course maintenance, flexible upgrade to new technology are being considered and embraced by one and all.

eLearning partners who can provide such end-to-end solutions and also understand backend technology to generate analytics and relevant reports; are the ones you should look out for.

4. Augmented reality (AR)

With iPhone supporting augmented reality, organizations are moving towards embedding AR based eLearning programs in their curriculum for on-boarding modules, value based training, mechanical training, safety training etc. It would be interesting to see how eLearning companies use this technology, which is now available for masses.

Harbinger has also forayed into the implementation of this technology and our highly innovative learning experiences based on Augmented Reality can give a new dimension to your learning and training.

5. Artificial intelligence (AI)

Using Artificial intelligence for improving the eLearning experience would be something interesting to watch out in 2018. This could involve the usage of chatbots where the system learns and responds based on user actions.

Harbinger has also been working on a solution to make the eLearning development process better and faster using AI. We got a chance to showcase this solution at DemoFest 2017, which garnered lot of interest from various product managers and L&D heads. If not mainstream, I am sure we would see lot of progress on companies trying to play their hands with this technology.

Those were my top 5 picks for 2018. What are yours?