Thursday, 27 September 2012

Separated by a common language

I've launched a new blog for those not aware 'The Techo Translator Blog', but that doesn't mean I can't still talk about one of my most common topics here under the LT blog; the use of language in Learning Technologies. Whilst the new blog is intended to be a little but humorous, this one is only funny by accident, this is serious stuff you know?!

Dealing with your techos is a major linguistic challenge that I address in that other blog, but the use of language in your site and learning is something you do have control of and there are definitely some things you should aim to do and somethings you should definitely try to avoid doing. Firstly, my assumption here is that you are working in English, with my first-class English education (as far as you know) and my extensive world travel you may think I'd be talking about your language conversion abilities for multi-market platforms, but you'd be a little off the mark. Possibly another conversation for another day, this is about how you use the Queen's English or variants of that (and boy there are a few).

Before you get that far this blog today assumes you have input into the language of your site (if it's Totara or Moodle you do!) and your learning. If you don't then your first step should be to seriously consider why you are using that tool or company, language is one of the singularly most important things to elearning. Studies show that retention is improved by over 70% when the language used is completely understood by the learner. Now of course this is just as much an issue for any type of learning as elearning, but hey.. My blog is all about learning technologies so it kinda figures that's the focus... That will smoothly segue to the first tip:

Must Do

It seems almost too obvious to state (almost) but the first thing in setting up your LMS or learning objects is that you must take your audience into consideration. If you're dealing with a certain literacy level that means keeping the language as simple and clear as possible, but it's more than just avoiding those big words that most people don't understand, it's about the language of the subject too. This is a learning focused blog so it's fine for me to talk about training needs analysis and quality and expect most people to follow, but if I use an excess of technical jargon say from a different sector or focus it would be poor practice. For example, if I tell you that you that you must stay within the required parameters and only use wild-cards in search strings half of you switch off instantly. Of course we know what parameters and wild-cards are but the context doesn't match and it will quickly upset your audience and switch them off to the system.

Secondly I'm a big fan of analogies (read one of my blogs on the topic of analogical elearning) and metaphors. This isn't the best way to set your system up, but if you're training and writing guides then putting things into simple terms that your audience understands is a great way of aiding their learning. It also helps to portray things in some different way, the misplaced
pedagogical approach of simply speaking slower and louder doesn't help in elearning, try a different approach, putting your point across in an example the learners will understand. I'm also a big fan of scenario based learning, another great way to make learning relative.

Be consistent. Easy for me to say in my rambling mess of a blog, but you want learners to get used to the terms that you are using or the areas of your site. If your record of learning is called that then links and instructions should use that phrase too. A small step to 'courses completed' may seem harmless enough but it can throw those users off the trail and lead them to think there missing something. Likewise with fonts and colours just like you would for the rest of your learning, keep them consistent.

Language Killers

Don't use 20 words where a couple will do.

Don't use jargon unless you know your audience know it too.

Chuck fur spalling mistooks and typ0s

Use imagery to reinforce language and not just pretty pictures

Don't use txt spk and overly informal language (scenarios can though)

Don't use overly formal and archaic language

Avoid ambiguous statements

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Another AirNZ black plane

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Launching with Technical Difficulties

It's not the first time I've blogged from an airport and neither is it the first time I've written whilst on the plane, but this may be the first time I've blogged on the plane and at the airport. My second flight in as many days and the 'technical difficulties' here make it two for two on that count unfortunately for me and my fellow travellers. Thing is, in the learning technologies world these kind of things are (hopefully) more fatal to a launch than for an aircraft.

So your brand spanking LMS is a hot jet ready for its maiden voyage and you're ready for take off, just the final checks prior to launch.. Fully loaded with passengers all excited, lots of cool luggage.. Oh no! Something's awry somewhere, technical difficulties and the sync isn't working or the payment gateway doesn't work or.. You haven't got enough band-width, or nobody even remembered to check the firewall to make sure it would allow the LMS or content through. Whatever the technical issue you have it can be a killer to your project as your launch opportunity only really exists once, it's that first impression time and as they say you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The answer to your problems is really simple, the problem is it starts a way back before you got this far into your solution. If you have a time machine, or you haven't got this far yet you need to ensure you have a good implementation plan in place with time for testing and correcting any issues required, go back earlier whilst you're at it and remember to involve your IT department at the start and get them on board, you don't need them to fly your plane but you sure need them to clear you for takeoff and fix any issues along the way so involve them.

So what if you can't go back in time and the implementation is in full swing, how do you avoid disaster? Firstly you need to understand that this isn't a quick win situation, but it doesn't have to result in total disaster either. They key to saving your first impression is a combination of communication and planning again. Secondly our plane metaphor happily rolls on here as there's no way you would fly in a plane you thought may have fatal flaws and the same is true for your LMS. If there's a real chance of crash and burn, or even it not getting off the Tarmac then stop right now before you make a massive mistake you won't be able to undo. I was on a so called flight once that didn't happen for nearly two hours and not a word of what was going on was passed to the passengers, I had another flight once delayed for nearly 12 hours (yes, I travel a fair bit) where the staff were awesome; meal vouchers, humour and above all honest and plain communication. One of those companies I would not fly again, the other was an unacceptable delay handled very well and I simply would fly them again happily.

So the key to surviving this mess is to open up and not close down the communication lines. Start to re-plan, involve the right people, don't promise what you can't deliver and allow the time to get it right. You can recover with a re-launch once if you go about it the right way, but do it again and it looks like you don't know what you're doing and no one will have faith in a flight without a flight plan that will work. The last tip is that you need to use the gap time between failed launch and re-launch to positively reinforce everything you did (or should have done) first time round. That equates to getting champions, walking and talking the vision and above all else communicating what's going on to everyone on board.

Speaking of which, the engineers have now signed off my flight so we're off in a second and I have to turn off the blog here. With a bit of luck I'll see you in the skies!

Chocks away!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 7 September 2012

Who's driving your learning?

I think for a forward looking organisation that's looking at or using a blended learning framework a key question needs to be asked about who's driving it?  Who is the organisation looking to for guidance and leadership, and who should they involve (or not involve) to make it go smoothly?

Firstly it seems obvious if you're looking at bringing in, upgrading or changing your LMS that the answer lies in the question.  It's a learning management system.  You'd think it would be fairly obvious that whoever is the driving force behind it has some vested interest in learning (and hopefully has some management responsibility to boot).  The issue I sometimes see though is an organisation where the LMS implementation is driven exclusively as any other software development or IT project.  The issue here is that even if you consult and bring in your L&D people at some stage, the drive has to come from the people looking to utilise the end result.  An LMS is about providing the services for learning, that means your principal aims are all around learning so this is your key driver.  It doesn't mean you have to have a project manager who comes from L&D (if you have a PM in L&D it really kind of does), but L&D/HR or your training department need to have the biggest influence in your end result.

But it is an IT system essentially right?  Could be (although if you've opted for an externally hosted system that's cloud based with no integration it's no more IT than any other portal or web system) but you have to look at the key aims.  Would you install a financial institution without engaging and listening to your financial department (you know you have no choice there as they won't pay for it otherwise!)?  For me, seeing IT leading an LMS installation is a sure fire way to get the wrong system installed, or at very least, get the right system with the wrong set up in place.

That brings me swiftly to the next point.  If you are in L&D leading an LMS change/integration or installation then you MUST and as early as possible involve IT.  This is not at any way in contradiction to the piece above, I'm just saying it's learning so lead it out of learning, but it's an IT system and you need to have them engaged and early.  Don't wait until you're about to launch before checking that IT is all good with what you've done.  Same could be said of a few other departments too, if you have a marketing and/or communication department you need to engage with them as early as possible to make for the most successful of projects.

So if all that seems pretty obvious there's one last point to consider when choosing who to work with to help install your systems... and it goes right back to my first point, it's all about learning.  If you want to buy (!) or install (Open Source) an LMS then look for a partner/distributor that's all about Learning and has its focus firmly in that area rather than an IT or simply an onseller.  It makes sense of course, but you want to match the expertise of your team with that of the team you're linking with.  No-one will doubt there's a different language when IT people speak to each other, but don't underestimate the language of L&D people too, when you talk about performance, development and competencies surely you need the key contacts in the LMS provider to be thinking along the same lines.  It also means that when you get trained on the system it will be geared at getting the most out of the system rather than which buttons do which, big difference eh?

In conclusion, the old adage is true about making sure the dog wags the tail and not the other way round, that's both for your team and the team you're engaging with.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Emerging Learning Technologies; An Open Source Approach

Well, back from Learn X since Saturday morning and it seems like I've almost caught up to where I was before I embarked upon the Learn X journey!

If all you wanted was my Prezi link it's here.. Emerging Technologies; An Open Source Approach

I've seen some interesting points of view about what was learned (or not) and who was interesting (or not) and sales pitches (did I fall into that category?), and as usual I partially agree and partially disagree. One of the key trends I see is that people were a little disappointed at two things; the knowledge of many 'peers' and the amount of advertising.

Taking things in reverse order to be funky, I can't help but think it's a little naive that we want a sponsored event but we don't want to see the sponsors or hear what they say? I heard one suggestion that we should essentially segregate them off from the participants, now for any event organiser that would just about be the nail in the coffin. Sure, you need to vet your speakers and make sure people have something beyond a simple sales pitch, but surely most people are smart enough to pick through and disregard that. The alternative may be that people don't sponsor the event, but keynotes will probably be even more commercially focused then as it may be the only way to get something back financially. I actually like the stands and speaking to people; I think it's great to follow up on people who have spoken or are giving sessions and often more interesting than talking to some of the peers you came with. I very quickly work out who is worth talking to and who is.. well, those that don't do anything for me.

On the second one it's quite ironic in a way. If you want to be a leader in your field it's part of the necessity of that to out-grow your peers and forge on ahead. Perhaps, one should take it as a compliment that you know more about things than some others, perhaps it's a great opportunity to share what you know and perhaps you just spoke to the wrong people.  I like to seek out people who challenge my thinking, and that sometimes is hard to find, but it's always about the people and that's even more important when you work in elearning.  Then again it was probably easier for me than most as I mostly work out of my home office and just plain don't get out that much (yes, I know it shows).

On giving my keynote, that was good fun on the whole. I know it was probably a bit vanilla for a deep expert in Open Source, but with the number of people there I felt it necessary to pitch it somewhere that the majority of people could follow easily.

I continue to hear a great amount of criticism leveled at Moodle (and it's distributions) but I think Moodle is the ultimate clay system. The prettier LMSs always seem so very simple but limiting, and I think Totara is way ahead of most other offerings I've seen and used. Lastly on that, there were questions about branding your Totara/Moodle. I even saw one comment that suggested you needed a team of graphic artists and designers to make it work properly! Totara 2 has a pretty adequate self-design mode, and many Totara themes are put in place for around $3k and can look pretty slick. Sure you can spend more, but that's what Open Source is all about - choice as to how you spend your money! Finally, here's the link to the Prezi I used for the keynote.. hope it's of use to you!