Can Authoring Tools Become Your Differentiator?

When working in a custom eLearning development company and interacting with prospects, one often faces this curious question, “What is your differentiator?”

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The answer to this is usually framed around the following points:

  1. Years of experience
  2. Design innovation
  3. Domain knowledge
  4. Instructional design capability
  5. Cost effectiveness

Development technologies, specifically authoring tools, usually don’t appear in the differentiator list. But the way authoring tools have evolved over the last couple of years, I feel they definitely deserve a place in the list. However, it is only possible if you know how to use these tools creatively and customize the output to make it unique.  Here are some quick ways of looking at it:

  1. Challenge the tool – Don’t just be happy with the basic features that the tool offers; explore the tool and discover ways to create unique solutions. Every tool has a strong developer community to help you with your discoveries.
  2. Tool limitation is just an excuse – Most of the times stating that the authoring tools have limitations is just an excuse. There could be few “not so obvious” solutions; however, there are workarounds to almost everything.
  3. Look for creativity – You cannot make the most of the tool if you are concentrating only on the tool functionalities. Look at it not just as a development tool but as a design aid as well.
  4. Select the tool wisely – Select the most appropriate tool based on your requirements; not every tool is fit for every situation.

Modern day authoring tools are not just for rapid development, but they can provide creative, unique, and cost-effective solutions. So go ahead, make them the differentiators for you.

What do you think? Share your comments.

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?

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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.

Bringing Organization Culture into Online Training

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“Think about the advantage of a place where talent wants to stay 25 years. Your turnover is lower, you don’t have as many people you have to train every year, break in every year, you don’t have as many mistakes. A seasoned workforce does a better job – and they cost you less money.”

David Rodriguez, CHRO, Marriott (Source)

Every organization has a culture that is unique to itself; this is what differentiates it from others. Organizational culture is an underlying aspect that has a significant impact on retaining key talent.

Being an eLearning development company, we create corporate training programs for many of our clients. We noticed that most companies tend to ignore organizational culture while developing online training. Since it is such an important consideration, we now attempt to capture the organization’s culture in its online training. Let me explain this with two interesting customer stories. Read on!

Online Training Module for a Restaurant Chain
A well-known restaurant chain (Name confidential) needed to frequently train new hires in multiple locations. It was a challenge for their trainers to travel to each franchise and train new hires on regular basis. There was a clear need for an online training program and hence this organization approached us. Realizing that their organizational culture was important to the company, we decided infuse the brand’s culture into the online training.

Here are few things we did that made this training program much sought after, both by the organization and its employees:

  1. We used caricatures of their key employees as mentors in the courses. The caricatures ranged from the owner of the restaurant chain to representatives from each work delivery. This included employees at the point of sale, to the ones preparing the order, to those delivering the order. This helped new employees establish a connection with the people in the organization.
  2. We used real voices of the owner and the employees instead of voices by professional artists. We also used actual photographs of the restaurant and its customers and inserted them at relevant places within the course to create a familiar look and feel.
  3. We also included real-time videos of various activities performed in the restaurant such as cooking, cleaning, customer service, etc. to help make the training more impactful.

Interesting, isn’t it? It helped us bring the complete restaurant environment right into the course. And as you must have imagined, it wasn’t even too expensive or time-consuming to make this happen. But the results were amazing!

Values Based Training Module for a Non-Profit Organization
Another example was for a non-profit organization, for the organizational values were central to their everyday work.

Diversity was an important value for the organization and by using employee photographs we were able to convey the organization’s value in our course. Employee photographs also accompanied narrations of real-life stories of how they have included the organization’s values-based culture in their work situations. This helped convey how the values can be practiced by learners on their jobs.

This course too, like the previous one, incorporated voices of employees to create a connection and lend a feel of authenticity.

Such courses tend to have a strong impact as each course is unique to the organization. It also helps bring in the feel of the organization into an online learning course and creates an engaging and rewarding experience for the learners.

An added advantage of this approach is that these courses turn out more cost-effective too

  1. Since the voices used in the course are of employees, the organization saves on professional recording cost.
  2. By using various on-site photographs of locations, real employees, in-house videos, there is no need to purchase any kind of stock images or videos.

Have you seen or come across such courses that capture the organization’s culture in interesting and cost-effective ways? I would be happy to know your thoughts on the same through comments below.

Making your eLearning Accessible

shutterstock_284549888The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”  Tim Berners-Lee.

In the U.S, most federal agencies and institutions are required to be 508 Compliant and across the world, courses and web pages need to adhere to WCAG requirements.  Both these requirements are geared to make web content accessible to all learners including those who are differently-abled.

Though accessibility, on the surface, seems to be a straightforward requirement, to make an eLearning course truly accessible to all learners is a challenge. You need to first understand the requirements of differently-able learners and the solutions to address these.

Five User Profiles

Knowing the various user profiles that you need to address is crucial in ensuring that the courses are accessible. There are five user profiles to keep in mind while designing for accessibility. You may not be required to cover all the user profiles in your learning solution.

 1. Individuals with visual disabilities

Individuals with visual disabilities have challenges using eLearning courses since these rely on visuals for teaching. The possible solutions for the challenges faced by these individuals are as follows:

  • Provide text descriptions in the alt attribute since they are unable to see images, photos, graphics
  • Allow the users to skip items that might be difficult or tedious to listen to by adding links.
  • Avoid asking the learner to use the mouse extensively, if this cannot be avoided, suggest keyboard alternatives.
  • Avoid relying on color alone to convey meaning
  • Offer audio descriptions of elements in videos that are not covered in audio alone. For example, if there are actions that a character does in the video, describe these in the audio.
  • Individuals with color blindness may require additional considerations such as ensuring there is sufficient contrast in the colors used for a course.

2. Individuals with hearing loss

There are varying degrees of hearing loss, from mild hearing loss to profound hearing loss. For these users, you will need to provide transcripts for audio clips and provide synchronous captioning for video clips.

3. Individuals with deaf-blindness

Deaf-blindness is a condition when the individual is both deaf and blind. When accessing web content, they generally use a Braille device that enables them to access the text content of a web page and provides alternative text for images.

4. Individuals with motor disabilities

Users with motor disabilities include those who have spinal cord injuries or the loss or damage of limb(s). The challenges faced by these users and the possible solutions are as follows:

  • Ensure that all functions are accessible by using the keyboard. These users may rely on voice-activated software. This software cannot duplicate mouse movement as successfully as the keyboard can.
  • Ensure that your pages are ‘error-tolerant’. For example, if the user deletes something, display the message asking them if they are sure they want to delete the file.

5. Individuals with cognitive disabilities

Individuals with learning or cognitive disabilities may be able to function adequately even with the disability. For these users, simplify the layout as much as possible. You can also organize information in manageable chunks and use minimal text.

How are you ensuring accessibility in your learning designs? What are some of the solutions that you have used to make eLearning accessible? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Why does eLearning fail?

As an eLearning professional for the last 10 years, I have been a part of many successful eLearning courseware development projects. However, there have been many occasions when the eLearning solution does not live up to the expectations.

Undoubtedly, eLearning as a medium is very powerful. Then why do the eLearning initiatives fail? There can be numerous reasons why an eLearning project fails. Here are some reasons I have commonly seen.

 

  1. Ignored end users – When the idea, requirements and approach is driven by only the sponsors and not the end users of eLearning, there is a RED FLAG right at the start. You cannot ignore the end users. Here are some guidelines to refer to understand the end user requirement:
    1. What do the consumers want?
    2. What is their comfort zone?
    3. How do they enjoy learning?
    4. What motivates them?
    5. How can eLearning add value to their learning experience?
  1. When design takes over content – Not every eLearning course needs to be highly interactive or requires a lot of graphics and imagery. Sometimes content effectiveness is lost in the efforts of making the eLearning design heavy and visually attractive. Content is the KING and it should always get the first priority. Content presented in a simple style, properly chunked and with the right design can also make a great impact.
  1. Not creating a marketing buzz – Most of the time focus is on the development of the courseware, which is where it should be; however, similar efforts should go into creating a buzz around the release. It is important to attract the consumers and get them excited about the new courseware. Just putting the course on the LMS doesn’t help. It’s almost like releasing a new motion picture. Just a good story, some gripping acting and scenic locales is not enough. The audience needs to feel compelled to go to cinema halls. The release plan must include:
    1. Plan to create a buzz and attract consumers
    2. Plan to provide technical support during and after the release for a smooth experience
    3. Plan to update the content
    4. Plan to capture consumers’ feedback

There could be many more reasons for eLearning implementation failures like quality of content, technical limitation of the delivery environment, lack of alignment of content with the business goal.

Have you ever experienced such a situation of eLearning failure? How did you resolve it?

Please share your thoughts below.