What Is The Keys to Engaging Virtual Classroom Training? Planning, Design—and Channeling Oprah


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When Cindy Huggett envisions a great online training facilitator, she’s thinking about Oprah.

A key skill is “building rapport with an audience that you don’t have visual contact with. People do this all the time. Think of a television personality like Oprah. She’s the master of creating that connection. And how many of us have ever met her in person? But we feel like we know her. She just draws us in,” said Huggett, a virtual training consultant and a dynamic, experienced presenter.

But being a great presenter is only a starting point; online training is very different from presenting information, Huggett emphasized. In training, facilitators—instructors in the virtual classroom—should engage with learners every few minutes.

That’s a far cry from a lot of learners’ virtual classroom experiences, where a facilitator drones on … and on, and on, maybe grudgingly squeezing in a poll question or two.

In a recent conversation, Huggett emphasized the need for frequent, varied interactions—every three or four minutes. She gets pushback from instructors on this; people say they don’t have time to do that much interaction, or they ask a question and get no response.

Huggett’s response is to tell facilitators to look at the design of their virtual class session. “ A presentation is not the same thing. It’s not the same thing in person, and it is not the same thing online,” she said.

“If you have a design or you have a facilitator or delivery person who goes 15 minutes of lecturing and then asks a question—of course they [learners] are not going to respond,” Huggett said. “You are thinking of it as, ‘I need to fit this into my presentation.’ But really, it’s about engaging them from the start.”

Set expectations for learners up front

When designing training, Huggett emphasizes that facilitators have to let learners know that they are expected to participate—even before they enter the virtual classroom.

“It’s a little bit of an art, when you think about how to sculpt a class or design an online class so that the interaction is natural and it feels like a collaboration, instead of feeling forced. A lot of it goes back to setting the expectation that this is going to be interactive,” she said. “It’s learning—it’s not a meeting, it’s not ‘Let’s hop online for a conference call.’”

Jhana Offers Targeted Coaching for First-Level Managers


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It can be difficult for first-level managers to find their way. They might excel at specific job skills, but if they’ve never led a team or project before, they’re likely to have a lot of questions about managing others. An enormous industry provides management research and advice, but it primarily targets executives and corporate leaders. The managers in the trenches, forming that middle layer between the rank-and-file employees and the executives, are often left out in the cold.

Particularly when newly promoted, managers need a source for objective, in-depth advice and coaching.The innovative San Francisco company offers just-in-time eLearning for first-level managers. The lack of useful, practical advice geared toward first-level managers inspired co-founders Rob Cahill, the current CEO, and John Howard to create Jhana. Believing that “first-level managers are the real key to organizational health,” Jhana delivers microlearning nuggets via a weekly email, providing performance support, coaching, and curated content to these crucial ambassadors.

“We see that first-level manager as a real linchpin of the organization,” said Loren Mooney, Jhana’s vice president of product. “If they’re successful, you’ll have engaged individual contributors; people are engaged at the employee level. You have company changes successfully implemented, so a much healthier organization overall.”

It is essential to train , of course, and some companies run or send new managers to seminars. But training tends to be concentrated—a managers’ retreat or a multi-module, in-depth eLearning course. A team leader can attend training, engage in the group bonding and morale-building exercises, and return to work with fresh enthusiasm and great ideas. But none of that will help several weeks down the line when she’s struggling to set the agenda for a meeting or broach a difficult conversation with a direct report.

Here’s where performance support comes in. The weekly message from Jhana includes tips, new content, and links to previously published articles and curated content. In addition, the growing library of topics on the Jhana website, always available to subscribers, is likely to have content that meets managers’ needs. It includes:

Templates and checklists
Suggestions for starting or navigating tough conversations—with direct reports and with higher-level managers
Webinars
Resources, organized by topic, listing books and further web-based reading
Video interviews with managers

Professor lawsuits University Forced Him To Teach Maths Only Because ‘Asians Are Good At Maths’


A Korean-American professor filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois at Chicago last week, claiming that officials in his department “systematically harassed” him because of his ethnicity and forced him to teach a math class because he was Asian.

Seung-Whan Choi, a professor of international relations, says that UIC’s political science department denied him fair raises, according to a lawsuit filed last week and obtained by The Huffington Posttreated him unfairly and forced him to teach classes that he wasn’t qualified to teach.

“They don’t like Korean-Americans,” Choi, a retired Army officer who was born in South Korea, told The Chicago Tribune. “I’m supposed to be very submissive to the department head, who is white-American.”

The lawsuit claims that department officials forced Choi to teach a statistics class because, as it quotes one department head as saying, “Asians, especially Koreans, are very good” at math. Similarly, Choi claims that the department pressured him into teaching a class in Korean politics, even though he has had no formal training in that field of study.

The lawsuit also claims that Dennis Judd, who was head of the political science department in 2015, changed one of Choi’s student’s grades without first telling Choi. When confronted about the grade change, the lawsuit says, Judd told Choi that, “as a foreigner,” he “has to keep in mind who he is dealing with and what he is wishing for” and that Koreans “are stubborn and do not understand American culture of compromise.”

The professor also claims that his colleagues have wrongfully accused him of lacking in academic contributions, though a copy of Choi’s curriculum vitae posted on UIC’s website shows that Choi authored two books in 2016 and has had 35 scholarly articles published.

Choi believes that some of the mistreatment stems from his decision to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010, after he was fired for an undisclosed reason. As a result of Choi’s 2010 complaint, the university settled with the professor through a mediator and reinstated Choi with a promotion in 2011.

The lawsuit says that Choi’s colleagues resented him and retaliated by isolating Choi from the rest of the department and treating him unfairly.

The professor filed a second complaint with the EEOC in October 2016, accusing the department of relatiation and continued discrimination, according to court documents obtained by HuffPost. Days later, Choi received a “right to sue” notice.

The harassment has humiliated Choi, causing him physical illnesses, severe anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, the lawsuit claims.

“It’s frustrating and sometimes I just don’t want to go to work because of … the bad and dirty politics within the department,” Choi told the Tribune.

UIC’s department of political science did not immediately return The Huffington Post’s request for comment.

Be worthy to the employees learning?


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US companies invest a significant amount of money, time, and resources into training their employees. A new approach to learning and training should be at the top of employers’ to-do list.As the matter of fact, Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost US businesses up to $550 billion annually in lost productivity. Yet many companies are still using stale, one-size-fits-all materials that do little to inspire retention or performance.

It’s often hard to know how much of that information is actually being effectively retained and put to use. You may have insight into training compliance, but there are few means of measuring absorption. And according to a host of new data, if companies want to identify the source of profitability bleeding, it lies with lack of retention.

Cutting through the clutter

Training methods need to evolve with the times in order to keep personnel productive, engaged, confident in their knowledge, and adamant in their pursuit of learning. Businesses must understand that with their employees, they’re up against fragmented content consumption, increasing distractions, and greater control by the consumer. Training and learning materials are struggling to cut through the clutter, and employees ultimately are disregarding them.

This results in a disengaged and disenchanted workforce, decreased loyalty, lost productivity, and, in the end, lower profitability.

The “training problem”

By their nature, trends like these should be encouraging employers to rethink training for new hires; yet Rapt Media’s recent survey data on the American workplace shows that employees are disengaged and disappointed with training techniques used by their employers and are not actually absorbing the information required to perform.

The survey shows that the majority of employees (65 percent) feel their company could have done a better job of onboarding them. In fact, three out of four employees (74 percent) said they’d forgotten some or all of the last mandatory training they attended, while more than half (57 percent) completed the training only because they had to.

This data highlights the difference between compliance and absorption in the workplace and, when deconstructed, pinpoints effectiveness, growth, and engagement of employees as a key indicator of success. It is increasingly difficult to present information in ways that capture attention and stimulate learning, but investing in effective training has proved to be essential to success.

Writing a Good RFP


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We’ve all heard the phrase caveat emptor (buyer beware), but too often we ignore it when selecting an eLearning vendor. One way to protect yourself is to write a solid request for proposal (RFP). An RFP is an invitation to the vendor to propose work according to criteria youset. Most RFPs contain three sections: 1) boilerplate (all the legal jargon, such as proprietary information protection, project termination, payment processes, and warrantees); 2) procedures (what potential vendors must do to submit an acceptable RFP); and 3) statement of work (the details of the work they are being asked to perform).

Since the boilerplate is usually written by lawyers, purchasing, and procurement specialists, we’ll leave that out for now and focus on procedures and statement of work.

Procedures

Here, you want to focus on what the vendor is to do in order to successfully submit an RFP to you. Eight important items you want to include, and look for in their responses, are:

  1. Background information. Ask the vendor to tell you their story, something beyond the information on their website. It is not as important to ask for references, since, hopefully, you did that before you sent out the RFP.
  2. Specific dates, milestones, and deadlines of the RFP process. You can tell the vendors when to submit their proposal and when you will get back to them with a decision.
  3. Proposal judging criteria. Some people think you should keep this a secret, but informing vendors how they will be judged can help them write a better proposal, more to your specifications and requirements.
  4. What should be included, or not. You might require vendors to send along specific samples and demos, or you can leave it as an option. You can also tell vendors what you will not accept. Perhaps you don’t want to be inundated with ancillary materials; it’s OK to restrict what you want them to send you.
  5. Format. You can specify how the proposal is formatted, as well as the length of the proposal and even the software it is written and delivered in. This will help your team review the proposals more efficiently. You can require print or electronic delivery, or both, and you can specify how many copies you need.
  6. Vendor behavior. You will want to tell vendors what they can and cannot do during the process, including how they will submit questions and seek clarification. You can set restrictions on any other contact with your organization, and, if necessary, you can use a third party to make the whole process anonymous.
  7. Subcontractor information. If the vendor might use subcontractors, you can establish rules for their use in the project, and require disclosure and approval of all subcontractors.
  8. Pricing. Of course, pricing information will be key. Talk with your purchasing and procurement people about the best ways to ask for this information so that you can compare “apples to apples.” Keep in mind that the more specific you get here, the more insight you will have into the costs for the project. However, don’t get so deep that you drown in the numbers.

In all of these cases, you can tell vendors what the consequences will be if they violate the procedures, which could include elimination from consideration.

The Iterative Design and Development


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“No eLearning application is perfect.” This bold statement forms one of the three “fundamental thoughts” underlying Michael Allen’s Successive Approximation Model of eLearning design and development, SAM, presented in the second edition of Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning. A strength of iterative processes like SAM is: “We will never get to perfection, but this process will ensure that each step we take will get us significantly closer,” Allen writes.

The iterative design process

Iterative design—successive approximation, rapid prototyping, agile software development, whatever jargon-ey name you give it—puts a version of an actual eLearning product in front of actual learners. Multiple versions, in fact, as eLearning development progresses. This illustrates the other two “fundamental thoughts”: 1) A functional prototype is better than a specification document or a storyboard for user testing, and 2) “disposable, quick, and dirty prototypes are beautiful,” Allen writes.

Actual learners who will use the finished eLearning product test each prototype and provide feedback, thus preventing the costly error of carefully designing and developing and polishing a single “perfect” release—only to have it fail spectacularly when it is handed over to the learners.

Iterative design vs. incremental development

Iterative design and development is closely related to incremental development, where a team builds a product in small increments. Each incremental release is tested by users; their feedback guides the next design and development cycle. But each incremental piece—user interface, search function, learners’ selection and design of game avatars—is regarded as complete when it is given to users for testing. The pieces will ultimately be assembled into a working whole.

While an incremental development process releases pieces of a complete product, in an iterative model, each incremental release is an iteration or “complete” working prototype. That is, rather than asking users to test the user interface before giving them the first level of an eLearning game to try, an initial prototype will actually be a working game. The graphics might not be complete or polished, search or leveling-up abilities might be very limited, and only a small part of the content will be there, but testers will be able to play the game. Enough of the final functionality will be present that learners can critique it and provide meaningful feedback that allows significant changes, if needed, in the design—before the final product is developed.

The agile approach: Feedback early and often

Early and continuous feedback is a hallmark of agile software development, which is often used in eLearning design and which can be both iterative and incremental. Agile developers expect that requirements will change as users are exposed to working prototypes, and they are prepared to make changes in the design during development.

The challenge of dealing with perfection

A drawback to iterative design is that it can be hard for developers to know when they are done. Remember Allen’s fundamental: The eLearning will never be perfect. Therefore, a development team can always create “just one more”—better—iteration. Each iteration is a complete product. Complete but imperfect. In contrast, an incremental product is done when all of the pieces, created separately, are hammered together into a unified product.

What’s the solution? When using an iterative process, developers and designers should stipulate at the outset how many iterations they will create. Allen suggests three: an alpha, a beta, and a “gold” or final release. Teams may choose another number, but the trick is to limit the number of iterations and plan for staged development. An alternative is to fix a timeline with a firm release date. The number of iterations in the time available can vary or be undefined, so long as the team progresses steadily toward a complete product that will be ready on the release date.

The Short Videos Can Animate eLearning


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Pairing pithy videos—the epitome of hip modernity—with the ancient art of storytelling can invigorate otherwise ordinary eLearning.

Storytelling is among the best ways to communicate, share experience, and teach; a good story stays with the audience for a long time. Video storytelling might be a relative newcomer, but it has surged to supremacy. Reading a story or listening to a great storyteller can activate the imagination and lead learners to visualize a sequence of events, but a video can take them there and re-create the feeling of being part of the event. Newer technologies, like 360-degree video and augmented or virtual reality, promise to immerse learners even more realistically in stories.

Video is a natural medium for storytelling

The Internet is highly visual; according to Gigaom, a technology research firm, consumers and businesses are increasingly turning to video to tell stories. eLearning designers should take a page from their book—or would that be a frame from their video? The shift to video is, in part, due to the ease of creating and editing video with smartphones and apps. As short videos and video ads dominate social media and other mobile spaces, video is literally being reshaped and reimagined. (The age-old taboo on vertical shooting is fading as companies specifically design video to fit vertical smartphone screens.)

Animations, clever filters, and the instant ability for anyone to star in a video have fueled an explosion of creativity. Videos are becoming shorter and faster-paced, vital to holding the attention of time-starved, multitasking learners.

For eLearning designers, this points to a need to integrate compact, engaging videos intomicrolearning and eLearning modules. Even very brief stories require the essential components of a great narrative:

  • Tight focus—a central idea that you can capture in a single word
  • Appeal to viewers’ values or emotions
  • A character who is interesting and whom learners will care about
  • A tension point—a challenge, a problem to solve, a conflict
  • Actions, consequences, and resolution—a character’s journey

Nick Floro on eLearning Design


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This article is a continuation of my interview with Nick Floro; the first part of the interviewappeared in Learning Solutions Magazine on October 6, 2016. In case you missed that part, Nick is the president of Sealworks Interactive Studios. The eLearning Guild recognized him as a Guild Master at FocusOn Learning 2016 Conference & Expo.

In this part of the interview, I asked Nick to give his thoughts about what new eLearning designers and developers should focus on the value of iterative designnd and development. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Pamela S. Hogle: Many of our members and readers are relative newcomers to eLearning—new eLearning designers or developers or even people with little experience in either of those areas. What suggestions or advice can you offer them for launching an eLearning initiative in their companies or organizations and for creating engaging content, often on a tight budget?

Nick Floro: Welcome to an amazing world of learning! I believe one of the biggest hurdles to overcome and understand is that there are so many amazing ways to create learning today that you need to focus on what is best for your audience, what’s possible in your timeline, and what tools you have. I would highly recommend adopting a model that is flexible and lets you test, gather feedback, launch, gather feedback—and that allows you to change and adapt to your audience’s needs with each iteration. Too often, we select a technology, a workflow, or a technique, and we forget to look up as we create a factory to push out the “learning.”

You also need to constantly look outside at what others are doing; the Guild offers an amazing resource at each event’s DemoFest and an online library where you can see hundreds of examples, along with insight into the challenges and techniques, as well as the benefits, of each project. This is such a great way to learn what worked and what didn’t, and to quickly build a library of ideas and examples of what is possible. If you launched a project this year, submit it for DemoFest and share what worked, what didn’t, and how your project helped improve learning with your audience.

I had the opportunity to participate in and attend the Hyperdrive event last year at DevLearn [2015], and it was another great way to see, hear, and learn about what is possible in learning. One particular presenter, Ravi Singh, presented a great example—Mobile Performance Support System—which won.

In this learning project, they combined a mobile device with QR codes to provide just-in-time learning. It was a great example of how a simple solution can equal big results. They ended up reducing costs dramatically by training staff on site. If there were, say, seven pieces of equipment, if the red lights were on the third area, they’d just scan that code and the video would go right to telling you what to do to correct the problem; instead of looking through a 200-page manual or asking someone or calling for training, they were able to get the information instantly. It was just so simple; it was a beautiful solution. It was so simple and cost-effective, and it provided support and training exactly when they needed it, based on what QR code they scanned at each step of the actual process. Hyperdrive will be back at DevLearn 2016, so it’s another great reason to attend the conference.

I would also recommend taking advantage of the amazing Guild community and all the opportunities to connect, whether on LinkedIn or via Twitter or a webinar, to learn, explore, and share with your team what’s possible and test some new ideas with your audience.

PH: Can you share any words of wisdom on estimating time and cost for an eLearning project?

NF: Estimating time is an art, like design or coding, where the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. I’ve been producing projects for over 22 years, and every time we launch a new project, we always ask: What did we learn? What can we improve? What would we want to improve?

You also consider looking at what works best for your organization and work flow, and I would encourage you to launch quickly, gather feedback, and change and evolve each offering when possible. Look at building in audience feedback: Talk to a set of users and ask them what they thought, what helped, and what you can improve.

As you gain experience, you will get better and better at estimating. One big piece of advice: It’s never as simple as you think or as it seems, so if you are estimating a day, always [double] to allow for time to test, review, and evolve a concept. That is hard in most organizations, to get buy-in, but when you see improved results, it becomes easier to grow the concept.

Improving Employee Learning Experience


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As a senior manager of learning and development (L&D) at Lending Club, Joe Deegan is responsible for developing and executing new learning strategies for Lending Club’s fast-growing workforce.

Figure 1: Joe Deegan, senior manager of L&D at Lending Club

We connected with Joe to learn about Lending Club’s use of technology and video in its learning and development strategies, and upcoming trends around data that could change the L&D space. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Doreen Lorenzo: Give us a little background for those people who don’t know what Lending Club is. 

Joe Deegan: Lending Club is an online credit marketplace connecting borrowers and investors. Because we are online and place a heavy emphasis on technology, we operate at a lower cost than traditional bank lending programs and pass the savings on to borrowers in the form of lower rates and to investors in the form of solid returns.

DL: That’s a new way of doing things. How does your instruction keep pace with that? 

JD: Yes, pace is a great term to use, because that is something that is definitely a challenge for us. As a company we are growing quickly, which requires that we place a heavy emphasis on onboarding new hires. Week after week we’re bringing on a new group of employees who need to learn processes, procedures, and systems as quickly and effectively as possible. We’re also helping the company navigate a high rate of change as we implement new internal procedures, technology, and programs that help us to be more effective as a company. On top of onboarding and change management, we are also working hard to build scalable L&D programs and implement new technology that helps us to be more effective as an L&D team. When we are working so hard to keep up with the pace of the company, it can be difficult but necessary to prioritize building the long-term L&D strategy.

Six Tips to Make The Visual Design Support Your Content


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It’s important to understand the relationship between content and design. Content, whether good or bad, paves the way for design, and a graphic designer’s job is to understand and respond to the content given to them. They need to be able to see the patterns within the materials and find a way to create a bridge to the audience.

A while back, Patti Shank wrote a very good series on the four overarching principles of visual designcontrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (CRAP). Beyond those principles, here are six more guidelines you should consider when creating your next design, whether it is for the small screen on a phone or tablet, a big screen on a desktop monitor, or a stand-alone image such as an infographic:

  • Hierarchy
  • Focal point
  • Simplicity
  • Balance
  • White space
  • Unity

Hierarchy

Organization helps the users understand the priorities of the information and ideas you present to them. Bullets on a PowerPoint slide do that, but they’re boring and so old-fashioned (see the bullet list above). You can do much better than that! Create a hierarchy by arranging your content points from the most important to the least important. If everything is important, then nothing is important. Hierarchy determines movement through design. By guiding the eye through the information in a specific order, you make the content easier to scan and digest. In smaller screens, hierarchy may be more difficult to convey, as these screens can display only small portions of content at any given time. Taking a content-first approach in your organization will bring your designs closer to being mobile-friendly.

Ways to achieve hierarchy:

  • Organize the elements from the most important to the least important
  • Consider the placement, size, style, and order of the information on the screen
  • Use color, weight, and scale to help emphasize the important elements
  • Avoid having more than three levels of hierarchy in a single page, as it leads to confusion

Figure 1 illustrates all of these ways.