Thursday, 26 April 2012

Analogical E-learning

For those of you who read my last blog (and I'm sure someone must have at least skipped through - thanks mum) I mentioned learning through analogies and how as it was my greatest teaching tool (although back then I think I called keeping it relevant as I didn't have the outrageously good command of the English language I now is possessing!).  The question here is whether you can create e-learning with the same type of theory.  I always taught some subjects that others would say were less exciting, but even I thought they were dull I never let that on to a class - ever heard 'now this bit's a bit dry..' and felt your heart sink?  I think there's interest in everything; you just need to find the relevance.
So analogical e-learning (copyright me) is in simple terms just making your e-learning relevant and interesting to the audience.  So here's what's true and often missed in e-learning for starters; how often would you try and teach a class without knowing something about them?  That brings us to the first tip for analogical e-learning:

Know your audience.  Why would you think writing an e-learning course would be any different but you'd be amazed at how many e-learning courses are written without the slightest consideration of the audience.  If you're writing for young people then use young people language in your course, not to mention other areas of content we'll come to.

Unlock the power of scenarios.  Scenario based e-learning (thanks Articulate, we love Storyline already) is rightfully at the forefront of e-learning as it puts things in context for the learner, but just making a scenario which is as clinical as the facts you're trying to get across is a bit of a miss in my opinion.  Stretch the scenario and make it more real; not just "Bill has left his classified file on the desk while he goes to talk to a co-worker" but try and create a character for Bill that would make him real.

Create empathy for your characters.  So this is just like a movie; I like a good action movie as much as the next guy with too much adrenaline and addicted to caffeine but the truth is good movies always have great characters that the audience (at least some of them) can empathise with or understand at least.  I watched a movie the other day and I hated all the characters and it got under my skin so I turned it off.  If you're using superficial characters you may have the same effect.  I know this isn't always possible, but when that girl with the swishy hair pops up in your next design, just question what she adds.  (obviously if you're just creating for guys, no need with personality just make them good looking - yes, that was sarcasm).

Run your metaphors.  You come up with a great scenario early on and use cool characters, but then they're gone and so has the whole scenario thrusting the learner into a new area just when they were relating to your story; shame.  I love running metaphors, not only because I think they're cool in my geeky way, but because they're immersive.  Remember when computer adventure games were text based?  (No, me neither, I'm too young obviously but..)  There were some great examples before cheap graphics changed and eventually ruined the genre.. 

Be funny.  Okay this is not straight forward for everyone.  Obviously I'm a funny guy.. no really, I am, and it's far and away the greatest tool a presenter or teacher has in their bag.  Why?  Because it causes an immediate rapport with the audience.  If they laugh with (rather than at) you, they are with you and that's half the battle won.  A little humour goes a long way even in an e-learning course, it's about fun and successful learning should always have a little of that sprinkled in.

Everything is a learning experience.  An old friend of mine used to say 'every day is a school day'.  He was clearly wrong as I never went at the weekend, but I get the point and he's right in that there's learning in everything.  I've seen some great e-learning with an old-school type assessment at the end.  Your assessments should carry the same flavour as your learning; why not make them fun and engaging and challenging and humerous (too many ands?).  If your e-learning is relevant and funky then make your assessment the same way and remember it's still a learning event and you can learn as much (and usually more) from getting things wrong along the way.

Create a safe-fail environment.  This one's less about the relevance of learning to learners but certainly helps create that relaxed informal learning feel.  Try and make it okay to experience all of your learning package; not just the one direct right path you had in mind if you were answering the questions.  Everything you do is about making sure the learner gets it, no matter which path they take - they should all be safe.

As ever thanks for reading and feel free to disagree or comment (I reserve the right to change my opinion at short notice though).  Hit me back at @NigelKineo on Twitter or for comments or place one on the blog.  Don't forget to follow me, unless you're the stalker type then please follow someone else as I've got enough issues of my own :)

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Loving and Letting Go of Your LMS

In my teaching days I was of the belief that there wasn't anything that couldn't be taught using a good analogy or metahpor (roaming or even rambling usually in my case).  This theory was that if you could put something as complex as physics (yes, I know but you can't always judge a book by its cover) into something as ordinary as everyday life for a teenager then it really isn't difficult.  I've carried my firm belief in anological (that surely must be a real word, but my spell checker says 'no') learning (can I coin that phrase, I like it and I'm going to write a subsequent blog on it).  What this means is that I'm always on the lookout for anything that makes this business a little easier to understand - and if it's at all humerous then all the merrier (that's kind of obvious).
Finally getting to the point, I was walking the dog on this fine Anzac afternoon when a number of things occurred to me.  Firstly, that Milo was a daft name to call your black dog, but secondly and more importantly there comes a time in a young dog's life when you have to give him some freedom and see what he does with it.  Now Milo is a 6-month old Bitsa (no, that's not a breed recognised by the Kennel Club but you know what I mean and if you're from the UK you'd probably call him a Heinz).  He's a good dog but he's kinda daft and follows his nose sometimes to the extent that other dogs and kids are pretty much impossible to resist.  That means letting him off the leash can be a trial and error thing; usually really good, sometimes not so.  I've been training and working with him to the point now I can let him go and I'm 90% confident he'll come flying back with a gentle call and a rustle of the bag of treats as necessary.  This I think is a good analogy of implementing an LMS (sorry if your LMS is a dog; change to Totara).
Milo the Bitsa
So with an LMS you face the same challenges as buying a puppy.  Picking the right one at the right price (we bought ours from the SPCA of course - that's the Open Source of the dog world!) is just the start, then there's the bedding in process, the training, the culture shock, the control issues etc.  In both cases if you get it wrong there's normally plenty of pain and suffering not to mention an excess of poo in the wrong places.  Selecting an LMS is about finding the right fit for you; one that doesn't leap up at you aggresively, shy away or won't play with any of the other stakeholders.  Your dog is a lifelong (at least theirs) partner and as I've said previously 'choose your partner carefully'.  But this whole life thing is a bit slow so I'll speed it up for the sake of this blog and focus on the adolescent puppy years; for our purposes that's around 6 months in.
Obviously over the last six months there was going to be some change and there's one thing that is always true about changing anything in any system or group; change is always easier when people understand exactly what it is, what it isn't and are actually involved in some communication (damn it, just given away all that consultancy black magic for free).  So everybody should know all there is to know about your LMS and the way it works now, but hold on because adolescence is here now and that changes everything!  This means firstly you must understand how things are going to change for your puppy and that in order to grow your puppy now needs more than just you to raise it - unless you want it always to remain in a puppy state.  You can have your puppy beautifully trained when working just with you, but what about with others or when there are distractions?

Here's a few tips to help you:
Familiarise your puppy
Without others involved at this stage you're going to find that your puppy acts differently with different people and has unpredictable behaviour based upon their approach.  Easiest away round this is to subject it to different people and set out the expectations for others and the beast itself.

Don't stop communicating
Your work is only just beginning.  Get out there and spread the word so that people know what's coming.  Walk with him everyday and get anyone else you can to talk about and even walk with you or for you.

 Celebrate any and every success

Don't focus on what goes wrong, and don't sweat the little stuff (from the wisest woman I know) just make sure when something happens that is right everyone knows about it :)

Get the right accessories
Think about what compliments the puppy and what areas can benefit too.  If you can find something that both will win out of (those glorious win-win situations) then you're going to find your teenager is so much easier to control and be loved.

Let it go.
Shock and horror.  The whole point of my waffle today comes down to this the most difficult of subjects.  It's time to loosen the leash my friends and allow the dog to grow.  Sure you want to maintain that control, but you have to do it from a distance, you can't do this on your own any more.  You want people to bring content in, then you have to let them.  You want people to sell your concept and ideas, then you have to give them something back.  Your champions have been biting at the bit (okay, wrong metaphoric animal) or pulling at the leash (better) to stake some claim in the beast and now's their chance.  The age-old adage is that if you love someone you have to let them go and this is the critical point in your LMS's lifecycle that this truly becomes the case.

..but don't forget it..
This is the footnote to the above.  Let it go yes, but don't say my job's done and leave it at that.  If anything you become more involved now in the people and systems around that are now there to help you; continue to chase success wherever you find it - and if you've truly let go then you'll see it in places you never expected!

In all seriousness, probably the early success of an LMS depends upon the tight control and good communication from an individual or small group.  The ongoing success is down to the widening of that group and that means exactly what's described above via Milo; you have to let it go to allow it to mature.  Jump back in when you need to but just like when your puppy was little, you have to let others make some mistakes too whilst their growing.

Ah well.. remember that after all this..