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

time machine

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

stormy night (2)

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/

 

You need a partner not a vendor

 

Values

One of the core values that we have at Harbinger is working with our customers as a partner rather than a vendor. All our actions and attributes are directed towards this value and we as a team constantly try and practice them.

Well, you can question, that since at the end of the day everyone is executing projects for their customers and in return is getting compensated for a mutually agreed amount, then how can one differentiate between a vendor and a partner? Well, I will not try to answer this question right away, but instead highlight some values that we as a team bring on the table for our customers. That would definitely bring out the key aspects of being a partner.
So here are the core values which define our working style:

Agility: It is the ability to quickly adapt to specific needs which can help fulfil mission critical objectives for our customers. For instance, agility is displayed in our ability to ramp-up the team size on a short notice to meet a specific go-to-market plan, or our willingness to quickly learn a new technology to give a differentiated solution to a customer.

Accountability: We believe in being accountable throughout, and showing it consistently. For example, if a deliverable has been promised on a certain date, then take the responsibility delivering it on time. Not only do we understand the specifications of a particular project, but we also try to understand the business impact it can have and we hold ourselves accountable to ensure that all desired goals are met.

Transparency: This is a key factor in developing effective relationships as partners. We give a complete and transparent view of various activities to the stakeholders and have constant and open communication to mitigate risks well ahead of time.

Quality: A customer generally finds it annoying to invest time in testing, finding bugs and then sending the final product back for fixes. To avoid this, our dedicated quality assurance team ensures that every deliverable that goes out of the window is tested for the quality standards and there is nothing left for chance.

Culture of learning and innovation: Last but not the least; we thrive on a culture of learning and innovation. It is embedded within all our team members. It helps our customers in tackling the ever changing technology needs. One of our customers had once mentioned ‘It is great that we have a development partner who believes in learning and innovation because we do not get time to learn in our day to day activities.’

These values make us what we are and we are proud of them.

It will be wonderful to hear your thoughts and experiences on the values and attributes through which you have been able to differentiate your suppliers as partners. Share your comments below or write to us at info@harbingerlearning.com with your thoughts.

7 Things to Keep in Mind While Designing Digital Learning for Millennials

For eLearning course designers, learners have always been the central focus. In the recent times, it has been felt that the way learners learn and consume eLearning has been changing and one of the primary reasons is the emergence of the millennial learner on the stage.

So, who’s the millennial, and what’s so different about their learning style?

shutterstock_478542340

Millennials are the digital generation of today (mainly, the people born in the 1980s or 1990s) who are married to technology to an extent that it’s almost an extension of their own selves. Research indicates that they:

  • Are global citizens
  • Have an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Come from diverse backgrounds
  • Have a limited attention span

So how do you align your development strategy to meet the specific learning needs of millennials?

  1. Make it platform and device agnostic: Do not bind the learner to a specific device or environment; make the digital learning available anywhere, anytime. Preferably, adopt a ‘mobile first’ approach.
  1. Keep it short: Keep the eLearning bite-sized and make it available in micro-learning formats to suit the diversified visual, auditory, and kinetic learning needs. A rigid framework might put off the learner.
  2. Learning goal should be visible: Make the end goal visible to the learner to tie the learning to their work life. This will bring in their active participation and will also encourage them to use the learning in real-world scenarios. This serves their need to be practical and result-oriented.
  3. Make it challenging and fun: Millennials would prefer to solve challenges, so create scenarios close to their day-to-day work and throw in some gamification elements to make it a challenging and fun experience at the same time.
  4. Enable the learner: Keep the design fluid, and enable them to be in control, to take risks, and to multitask. For example, teach a sales call through a branching scenario where learners select the choices they will make while talking to a prospective customer that could result into a successful closure or lost opportunity.
  5. Make it social: Bring in the social and collaborative learning components such as discussion forums, chats, badges, etc. Millennials prefer collaborative experiences and tend to share anything they like. This allows them to enhance their learning experience and also helps the learner community.
  6. Keep it diverse: Various research studies show that millennials are the most diverse of the lot. They consider themselves global citizens. Aim to capture this element in your design for an enhanced learning experience. This could be achieved by using ethnically diverse photographs, globally applicable examples, and using “youth speak.”

This is definitely not a secret sauce or the only seven things which need to be considered while creating a digital learning experience for millennials; but something basic, yet important.

I would like to hear both from eLearning designers and millennial learners about their experiences and views on this.

Interactive Mini-Modules—An Interesting Approach to Micro-Learning

If you are connected to eLearning in any way, you probably have heard a lot about micro-learning. There is a lot being discussed in conferences, blogs, online forums and webinars on how to create effective micro-learning to meet millennials’ learning requirements.

When talking about micro-learning, most of us often think of videos, podcasts or simple text and image slide shows. How about creating an interactive micro-learning module? Well, it may sound like a huge task to infuse interactivity into a micro-learning burst. But it’s not as difficult and time-consuming as it sounds. I recently created an interactive mini-module and would like to share the experience with you.

One of my colleagues, Sonia, had written an interesting blog on “Why Stories Matter” to make learning more impactful and engaging. It inspired me to create a mini-module on how storytelling can be used as an effective instructional strategy. The objective of this module is to help an instructional designer/trainer/educator to get started with using storytelling in their instructions. To keep the module simple and brief, I planned to include an introduction to storytelling, a brief on how to create stories and some tips for effective storytelling.

After creating and chunking the content based on the learning objective, I turned to Raptivity, a rapid interactivity building tool, for the actual development of the module. I chose five interaction templates from Raptivity that suited the content. Then, I gathered the relevant images for each interaction and started customizing the interactions in Raptivity.

Interaction 1 - eBook

For introduction, I chose the eBook/flip book template and started with a short story to grab attention and then went on to explain what storytelling is.

 

 

 

Interaction 2 - Lesson

I created the second interaction using flash/flip cards template. It explained essential elements of the story, since learners could view the element names and relevant images on front side of the cards and their description on the flip side.

 

 

Interaction 3 - Buildup and Rollover

After knowing the story elements, the next step is to create a story comprising of those elements. The story mountain helps you plot stories in a proper format. I presented the story mountain in the third interaction using a build-up animation template. Learners can click on each part of the mountain to learn more about it.

 

Interaction 4 - Lesson

In the next interaction, I included some tips to create stories and use storytelling effectively. Here, I chose a lesson template, where tips appear with relevant images as an animation. Learners can revisit any tip by clicking on the number buttons.

 

 

Interaction 5 - Drag and Drop

Lastly, I wanted to include some knowledge check for learners to reinforce their learning. I chose a drag and drop template, where some dos and don’ts for effective storytelling are listed and learners need to classify them correctly. Learners get immediate feedback on dropping a phrase under a wrong category.

 

Interactive Mini-module - Linker course

Once the text and images were ready, it took me a couple of hours to develop each interaction. To put these interactions together as a module, I used the Raptivity Linker tool. Stringing these interactions together was just a matter of minutes and my mini-module on Storytelling was ready!

You can go through this mini-module here.

Using Raptivity and Raptivity Linker, I was able to develop this entire module, including the base content creation, in less than three days. The broad steps that I followed were:

  1. Decide on the learning objective and create a topic outline.
  2. Create and chunk the text into small information bursts.
  3. Choose interaction templates that best suit the text chunks.
  4. Gather/create relevant media assets according to chosen templates.
  5. Customize interaction templates using the text and media assets.
  6. String the interactions together. Alternatively, these interactions can also be used as standalone learning nuggets.

This approach could be a good way to quickly create micro-learning that offers streamlined, short bits of information along with interactivity and engagement. Have you created micro-learning? What approach did you follow and how easy or difficult it was to create it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.