Friday, 24 October 2014

That Flipping LMS

I spend a fair bit of time (read too much) working with learning management systems (or LMS) and it's amazing how often people moan about their LMS.  Often there's good cause to moan with some of them being fairly awful (no naming and shaming here though) but sometimes it's because of the way people approach and use the LMS.  I work predominantly with open source LMS like Moodle and Totara and they're very flexible tools, but there's definitely a right and wrong way to do things with them.  Problem is most people see red and moan about the flipping LMS.

Not that I'm averse to original thought, but during a #lrnchat session I heard some great words of wisdom from Adam Weisblatt (a learning technologist a bit like me but more intelligement and all that) and checked his blog.  Well worth a read and he introduced a concept called the Flipped LMS... and that's where were at here; instead of moaning about the flipping LMS let's consider Flipping the LMS.

Hopefully some of you are aware of the Flipped Classroom approach which has really revitalised a lot of (desperately in need of a revamp) boring old lectures.  In a nutshell, the approach is that instead of trying to cram a lecture full of knowledge based learning and then give out assignments, the students get all the knowledge based stuff as pre-reading or research, then during the 'lecture' time they spend the time working on 'assignments' or problems.  If you think about it we reflect a lot of that in our good elearning these days with 'pull' elearning where you aren't force fed the knowledge part and you have to go and get what you need to know.

Well the flipped LMS is much the same principle.  The first idea is to recognise that there is knowledge beyond yours out there so we don't have to try and cram our LMS full of every piece of knowledge there is.  Let the learners go elsewhere to find the information and then come back.  Then your LMS is the focus of the assessments (the bits that are easy to track) and communication so that you can track what needs to be tracked.  It's a far less restrictive way of doing things and allows the learners much more freedom in their 'learning' and they can then use the LMS to prove what they have learned rather than trying to learn everything in the LMS.  It also fits much better into a pervasive learning model.  If you subscribe to 70/20/10 or a variant of such, it means that your assessment sits in that small piece of the pie - great for your LMS and great for your learners.

Thing is, calling it a flipped LMS is a bit of a misnomer.  The LMS is a tool that can be used in a variety of ways; some creative like this and others as a potential store of all the information.  It's not actually turning the LMS completely on its head, it's just about approaching it slightly differently.  Thing is, most learning is going to lie outside of your LMS whether you like it or not, so finding ways to embrace and maximise the opportunities should be your aim.

In short, flipping an LMS is like flipping a classroom; it's about maximising the effect of limited time or space with learners and recognising that the 'knowledge' piece is only part of the puzzle.

Thanks again to Adam and apologies if I've trashed your perfectly good ideas on the subject :)

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Time to Upskill L&D

I’ve just spent the last few days in Melbourne with L&D peeps at LearnX and OzLearn chat and there’s a clear theme that I’ve picked up on through the time here; L&D people need to upskill to meet the demands of the modern environment.  This is in no way a knock on the skills or attitudes of the many good people who work in learning and development or people and performance or any other name for assisting with the learning function of organisations, but it should act to serve as notice that in order to effectively lead and manage learning functions in today’s world our L&D managers need to embrace learning technologies like never before.

Now you’d think this was maybe just me speaking as a clear advocate for learning technologies and, well, yes in someways it is, but the fact remains that there are still severe shortages in the workplace of those with an understanding of what’s out there and how it can benefit their people.  You wouldn’t catch it any other part of learning would you?  Can you imagine an L&D type person saying ‘I don’t do evaluations, I just don’t believe in it’ or ‘putting objectives on things just ruins it’ or how about ‘I don’t believe in face to face sessions’?  Of course not, our job in L&D is to make use of the right tool for the job, make sure we engage with sound instructional design and use everything in our toolset to help people learn and develop.  So if you don’t do learning technologies, or you don’t want to get involved in elearning let alone social learning or heaven’s forbid a MOOC (whatever that may be); then you’re probably not offering the best you can to your people in L&D.

Don’t get me wrong here, there’s a time and a place and I’m not suggesting that elearning replaces everything for your or any organisation (unless it really is the best tool), but you can’t ignore it all together.  Anyone who thinks that elearning is just a phase and is going away is as deluded as anyone who believes that face to face training is finished.  Sometimes nothing will do but having a facilitator, trainer or educator actually there with a group of people to enable the learning, but sometimes that’s not only unnecessary but the wrong thing altogether.  eLearning often makes its way into organisations because of the efficiencies it can present.  That doesn’t mean its not the most effective tool either, these are not mutually exclusive events.

I also don’t think that if you’re an L&D manager or advisor you must automatically be the world’s greatest elearning provider or technical guru.  I don’t think it’s realistic for everyone to go from no skill in the area to being a guru overnight, but you should be taking an interest in the area and gaining some experience along the way.  The Australian market is more mature than the New Zealand market (but both are immature compared to the UK and much of Europe, let alone the US) but in both those countries I’ve come across numerous L&D people who know as little about elearning as they do about nuclear physics (yeah, those of you who’ve read some of my earlier blogs now know about my past…).  I can understand an organisation still not having any elearning - it’s expensive business to get into and you have to look closely at the benefits and ROI before embarking in that direction; particularly if you’re a small organisation.  But for the L&D function to not even have looked at the options and what’s available is far harder to understand.

Not only is this a challenge to those in that boat (if they’ve read this far) but it’s also an offer to help.  I’m going to put some resources together for everyone to look at and also start bring in other areas off the web so that there can be no excuses moving forward.  On top of that contact me directly and I promise I’ll help where I can.  You can contact me via my LinkedIn profile (see the about me) or Twitter handle or email if you need more or engage me on any of the social media tools that form part of my daily work. 

We’re coming in to land now (yes, in flight blog again) so I’ve got to pack away the computer, but without wanting to sound too corny, it’s time for your  learning to  really take-off and make the most of the technologically accelerating world that we’re living in.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Games, Games, Games - Gamification and Learning

In the last few years much has been made of games playing and its connection to learning.  In fact gamification is as hot a topic as you get in the learning tech world and it’s been that way for the last couple of years.  The thing is, we need to understand that there’s a huge range of computer games ranging from the simple to the incredibly media rich and complex (not necessarily the same thing).  Some modern games look more live TV than they do computer generated and with the technological acceleration that we’re a part of it won’t be long before you won’t be able to tell the difference I’m sure (let alone true 3D).  The first computer game I had was tennis.  It didn’t resemble much in the way of tennis if I’m honest, it was more like two long thin rectangles (the racquets) on either side of the screen, a vertical line in the middle as the net and a little square s the ‘ball’; some ‘gamification’ used in learning hasn’t really moved past that - and I’m not suggesting that’s a problem, but we just need to be aware of gamification really means.

If your idea of gaming is Grand Theft Auto or commanding armies and building clans then elearning on the whole just won’t satisfy you.  This isn’t saying that you can’t have learning in games; I love to mess around on word type aps on my iPhone with a Scrabble or Scramble type base - sure I’m learning by potentially expanding my vocabulary - but here’s the important thing; what’s the intended take-away from playing Scramble?  If it’s to try to expand my knowledge of words then maybe it’s a great example of elearning.  If it’s to entertain me, then it’s not really elearning is it?  I mean, I may get some learning out of it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it elearning?  Or does it?  Play some first person shooters and they probably won’t prepare you to fire an automatic rifle or use a high-powered sniper rifle  - but they give you some understanding about military communications or basic tactics (and yes, these type of games definitely have a military application, particularly when paired with actual rifles).  Again, the difference between elearning and accidental learning maybe about intent - but again, does that matter?

Thing is, the games that are intentionally for elearning are often a lot more basic than these.  I’ve seen a good example of customer services software where the scenario plays out and your responses can change the responses of the customer in an entertaining way that could be classed as a game.  As a piece of elearning it was pretty successful.  It was engaging (certainly more so than ‘click next to continue’ learning), with some well-thought out scenarios and responses that realistic enough to make you want to play.  There’s  a good reason that gaming in learning is often limited to this type of scenario project rather than GTA style mega 3D graphics.  Money.  The games business is a huge multi-billion dollar industry.  People pay a lot of money to get their hands on the latest games, not to mention paying for the latest and best hardware to play it on and high-speed internet necessary to connect them to other like-minded individuals.  The elearning industry at the cutting edge end is big-business; but not for the likes of small and medium sized businesses and investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the build of learning games has not been seen outside of simulators. 

That means that if you’re going to use gamification then you’re going to have to either take a step back or work for a company with a ridiculous budget for producing a game with true learning.  But taking a step back isn’t necessary a bad thing either.  The early days of gaming in some way were the most exciting; sure there were huge limitations with graphics and memory (16kB RAM pack anyone?) - now if that doesn’t sound like an elearning dilemma that we can relate to then I don’t know what does.  My favourite games in the early days were not the Jet Packs or the Manic Miners (yes, I’m really that old), they were the simplest of all games, the adventure games.  For those of you that can cast your minds back that far, the most addictive type of games I knew were text adventure games - for those not in the know they were called text, because there was absolutely no graphics (and then later the odd screenshot).  They felt like there was no ‘plot’ obviously there for you, you had to explore your surroundings and work out what to do, solve the puzzles and achieve whatever the subject of the game was.  Then there was the simple theme type platform game that was so simple and without the greatest graphics, but again it keyed into our basic desire of wanting to achieve something to get to the next level or get the highest score.

So if we’re talking gamification in elearning we’re probably going to have to be creative because we have to generate something in our learners similar to the type of feeling that those early games gave us.  Even some of the most recent successful games have been simple; whether your birds are angry or flappy the key is that they are addictive - that’s the whole point, you want to play them.  They’re like the cleverest type of objectives because they generate in the player a huge desire to keep playing.  If you could tap into that so that your learner just ‘had’ to keep learning, just imagine the potential!  Our aim as instructional designers is often focussed like a modern game on the way things look and how impressive they are and we sometimes overlook the simple addictiveness or learner needs.  Sure great looking graphics are a necessary part of design, but if your learning looks great but is really uninteresting it will be as unsatisfying as a bad game.  The worst game I remember from the arcades when I was growing up was one that used laser disks (big DVDs without the ability to store much).  It was beautiful with full TV type quality action that kept pausing and you had to do something.  In essence you could either move one way or the other by moving your joystick or leaning (if you had the simulator version) and then depending on what you did something would happen.  Take that back to our text adventure game and that’s the equivalent of you having to either say ‘move left’ or ‘move right’ and that’s it.  Boring.

The other thing about games that’s similar to learning is finding the right level of difficulty.  If a game is too easy there’s no competition and it needs to be really long to work (and your elearning budget may not stretch to really long), it needs to be enough of a challenge to make it worth completing - same is true of learning if you really want to test someone properly then it should be a challenge of doing (rather than just knowledge recollection or obvious choices).  I can’t help liking games where there’s a leaderboard so you can test out your abilities.  Would be quite cool if your elearning could do that too.  Imagine that passing was one thing but you devised a skill based trainer where there was a leaderboard for completing with both 100% accuracy and a time?  That would be cool.  Or an Angry Birds type game scoring where you needed to complete but got so many stars on each part - you could complete the whole learning with one-star in each part but you may want to go back and get three stars in each part.

Last thing I want to bring in is the idea of trial and error.  I know lots of you may not like the idea of trying something to see if it works and failing, then trying again, but growing up that’s one of the very important ways we learn things.  My old text based adventure games were built around that idea, you had to be innovative and not be afraid to fail - when you got it right and unlocked another area it felt real good.  In elearning that could be not front-loading your learning but starting with the game, letting people find out funny things that can go wrong and even try and improve their performance without totally knowing what they’re doing.  The sound design is obviously necessary to make sure that somewhere somehow we’re not only getting some success but learning about what we’ve done to get there.  I’d love to see more imagination in our elearning games, more challenging, more allowing for learners to get it wrong and still find a way to succeed in the end.

Okay, very very last thing (this is quite a long flight to LearnX in Melbourne if you’re asking).  Time.  Time may be the single most limiting factor when producing gamification in elearning.  Plants v Zombies the biology class version probably won’t be available next week, so again you’ll need to innovate - if you come out with something really cool, please let me know and if I like it I’ll chuck it up on my blog or website for others to see.

Happy Gaming :)

Monday, 6 October 2014

7 Steps to Stop Being a Control Freak

One of the worst things in the work place is a micro-manager.  Anyone who’s ever worked for one (and yes we all have at some point it seems) will tell you that taking away a person’s autonomy is a quick way to take the initiative and fun out of the work place.  Micromanaging is an example of controlling behaviour, a ‘control freak’ is exhausting in every respect and this includes your learning environment and learning itself.

So here’s a few simple steps to help you stop being a learning control freak:

1. Put yourself in the learner’s shoes  If you really want to ensure you don’t design your learning in a way that micromanages your learners then try it from their perspective.  If the learning feels constrained and limited then you’ve probably fallen into the trap of making it too restrictive.  Chances are if you don’t like doing it, no-one else is likely to either.  Go further and run your design through some neutral others.

2. Reduce the push  A very early blog of mine was on the concept of pull learning rather than simply pushing information to learners.  If you want them to have some feeling of control whilst doing the learning stop forcing everything upon them (push) and start allowing them to decide when they need more help and resources.  One of the frequent errors that designers make on elearning in particular is that they spend a lot of time putting together a resource and then decide because of the effort that went in to producing it then it should be the mandatory for the learner.  Regardless of how nifty your animation is or how long you spent creating a drag-and-drop example, if they don’t need it to reach the level then don’t force it on them.

3. Make it easy to start There may be nothing worse than learning that seems to require a Krypton Factor type problem solving ability to launch.  Try to reduce seventeen required clicks just to get it going and if you can find ways to easily drop out and rejoin then you’re definitely going to improve the experience.  Lots of learning systems and learning has too many steps to get going; this makes the learner feel like they have to jump through hoops for the sake of it and can really but a dampener on the whole affair.

4. Don’t make assessments too easy  It may not seem like an over-bearing idea to have easy assessments, but if you make someone jump through a bunch of hoops and at the end of it they have to answer true or false to incredibly simple questions (or multiple choice where three of the four are stupid answers) then you’ve confirmed their belief that you were simply wasting their time so that they could perform mundane tricks for you.

5. Don’t punish learners  I know it’s tempting to really want to hammer those damned learners when they get it wrong - but remain focussed on what your aim is here.  If you have set aims (if not, this is probably another simple step) then, like a good classroom teacher, remain calm and help them achieve the aim through another path.  For example, if you allow them to take the test at the start of the course, if they fail to achieve all the learning objectives that doesn’t mean you have to plunge them directly through all the media you’ve created just to make sure they get it.  I like multi-pathway learning where you try to provide a path to get to the end from wherever you are and remembering that learning is the path rather than the destination (sounds like a deep quote about life itself almost).

6. Allow learning outside of your learning  These days very few learning experiences are limited to what you’re taught simply in the classroom or elearning module.  Learning is pervasive and we need to allow for the learning to go beyond what has initially been designed; whether that’s allowing for assessments on the job, or further study or self-reflection or just some links and the ability to blog.

7. Make it fun One thing that can get forgotten in all of this is that learning is supposed to be fun (so is work if it’s done right after all).  Make your learning fun whenever possible, give people things to do and don’t forget that people will show more interest in things that they enjoy doing.

If all that fails you can just shout at them and tell them they must learn it :)