Posts Tagged eLearning

Learning from social learning

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been facilitating an online LAB, courtesy of the Masie Consortium , investigating social learning. We set out to investigate three key areas:

1. How is the role of social learning evolving in our organisations?
2. How is curation impacting the social learning mix?
3. What effect is gamification having on social?

To facilitate the investigation we decided to eat our own metaphorical dog food and do the whole LAB online as a social learning event. We used Curatr to seed content for discussion into a series of sequential levels. Users would need to contribute in order to earn ‘experience points’ and rise through the levels to the finish.

I was delighted with the level of participation the LAB gave to the event. We had around 50 register to take part; 35 logged on and 20 went on to really contribute meaningfully to the debate. That might at first glance appear like a poor turnout, but the fact is this was more akin to a MOOC than anything else and getting 40% of your audience engaged in a MOOC is pretty much unheard. Over the course of two weeks, working in their spare time, our LAB contributed over 25,000 words to the debate and doubled the amount of content we had curated initially.

Did we learn anything?

I hate it when you get asked immediately at the end of a session ‘what have you learned?’ For me, the learning from an experience is only proven after the event, when the connections you made start to stick and change the way you think and behave. It’s now been about a week and a half since the end of the LAB and I think I’m ready to commit a few key insights to paper.

First, I’ve been really adamant in the past about my stance on social and learning; that all learning is inherently social. We had some philosophical debates about the people reading books on deserted islands. I still think I’m right; others think I’m being pedantic. I think maybe they are right too. But perhaps I get too easily drawn into big philosophy debates about the nature of learning. Does anybody care about this stuff? Or do we just want results? I think maybe it’s the latter, despite my readiness to talk about the former.

Second, the group’s contributions on gamification mentioned the need for personal meaning time and again. For instance, one participant wrote, “my kids and I are members of the Kahn Academy, and we compete to get moon and earth badges, and what not. Do I care about the type of badge I’m getting? Not a bit! But it is socially meaningful for us to share this experience together.” I think that’s something significant; that participants in a gamified experience need to be able to select for themselves what they choose to pursue. Simply telling people that points or badges are important doesn’t make it so. Especially when they have no inherent value.

Third and finally, I got really reinforced around the concept of curating content as the basis of a learning experience. It took me less than a day to gather content from around the web to seed our conversations. Participants reported spending up to 4 or 5 hours each browsing, reading, commenting and curating around these insights. This flips the notion of eLearning design on its head; where hundreds of hours of design yield a few minutes of instructional experience. My message is simple; stop trying to make the perfect piece of content. You never will. Allow your learners to select the most relevant resources for themselves.

As a side note to this last piece, all but one of the pieces of content I gathered was social in some way – a user-generated video or a blog for example. These were all bite-sized pieces of less than 10 minutes content, most were less than 5. Just once I snuck in a PDF article taken from a book. It was about 10 pages long. Nearly everyone hated it. Not because the content was inherently bad; some participants found meaning in the message. It’s just they hated having to scroll down page after page of text.

These Gen X folks…no attention spans, I tell you…

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Learning Locker: it’s your data

Guest blogger: Dave Tosh

A new product that we are currently working on here at HT2, Learning Locker, has several important aspects at its core, one of which is data ownership.

In a nutshell, Learning Locker provides a destination where users can create a personal locker housing their learning data that they can then put to work for them. The data comes from a variety of sources including the web and any learning platform that exports Tin Can statements.

From the official Tin Can site:

“The Tin Can API (sometimes known as the Experience API) is a brand new specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has (online and offline).”

How does it work?
The initial prototype is fairly basic. Users create an account and add any email addresses which they wish to be associated with their learning locker account, similar to a Gravatar account. You might have a personal email address, a work email address and an email address you were given for night classes at a local college. Adding these addresses ensures that any TinCan statement sent containing one of your email addresses will end up in your personal locker.

One statement might relate to something read and shared from Gigom on a personal level:

"actor": {
"name": "Dave Tosh",
"mbox": "mailto:myemail@gmail.com",
"objectType": "Agent"
}
"verb": {
"id": "http://adlnet.gov/expapi/verbs/shared",
"display": {
"en-US": "shared",
"en-GB": "shared"
}
},
"object": {
"objectType": "Activity",
"id": "http://gigaom.com/2013/04/30/coursera-makes-first-foray-into-k-12-education-with-online-courses-for-teachers/",
"definition": {
"name": {
"en-US": "Coursera makes first foray into K-12 education with online courses for teachers",
"en-GB": "Coursera makes first foray into K-12 education with online courses for teachers"
}
},
...

Another statement could come from work training:

"actor": {
"name": "David Tosh",
"mbox": "mailto:dave.tosh@ht2.co.uk",
"objectType": "Agent"
}
"verb": {
"id": "http://adlnet.gov/expapi/verbs/experienced",
"display": {
"en-US": "experienced",
"en-GB": "experienced"
}
},
"object": {
"objectType": "Activity",
"id": "http://curatr3.com/museum/view/demo/0#!object/57",
"definition": {
"name": {
"en-US": "The Tyranny of the Next Button",
"en-GB": "The Tyranny of the Next Button"
},
"description": {
"en-GB": "Perhaps we don't need to go through the course development process in the same way. Even exceptional instructional designers struggle under the weight of information that we are often asked to convey in a normal piece of Courseware.",
"en-GB": "Perhaps we don't need to go through the course development process in the same way. Even exceptional instructional designers struggle under the weight of information that we are often asked to convey in a normal piece of Courseware."
},
"extensions": {
"http://curatr3.com/define/extension/bookmarkType": {
"bt_id": "1",
"bt_text": "Added to my knowledge"
}
}
}
},
...

How do I get my data into my personal locker?
There are a few ways to import and save your data.The first is via our bookmarklet, this makes it easy to capture experiences that occur while you are accessing resources on the web. We are also working on a ‘Learn this’ button which will work in a similar fashion to the Facebook ‘Like’ button but with extra metadata built in such as ‘This challenged my thinking’, ‘This helped me understand X’ and so on (you can see an example above under the object extension). The final method is via learning platforms you use in school, at college, at work or online. If they support Tin Can, then, you should be able to get your learning statements out and into your locker. To help support this we are working on plugins for some of the major players such as Moodle.

Export
As you would expect, with a Learning Locker account, all your data is yours and can be exported at any time. Further to this, we are developing an open source version that individuals can host if they prefer.

Approach
While a Tin Can statement appears basic at first glance, they can become complex quickly. To handle this, we are using a combination of tech. For our initial service, we parse incoming statements and abstract a couple of key components; actor, verb, object, and where available, context. This high level data allows us to offer the first phase of the learning locker, which is the storage and filtering of learning statements based on the action, source, time and reason.
To provide deeper analysis we store the full JSON object in a NoSQL database, so, over time, we can drill into the data exposing insights that we hope will lead to useful services for learners; helping predict learning paths, highlight areas of strength, topics needing addressed and so on.

What’s next?
We are currently testing an early prototype and will shortly solicit volunteers interested in providing feedback on the service. Stay tuned.

Dave Tosh is passionate about technology, in particular the web, and its potential for creating new learning opportunities for us all. Dave is a pioneer in the social learning space, co-founding Elgg. He is now working with HT2 as the product lead on a new learning service, Learning Locker and continues to experiment on a new goals based learning platform. Follow him on Twitter @davetosh.

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The future of online learning? A case study of Curatr in action…

A couple weeks ago we finished up with the facilitation of an 8 week course at the University of San Diego using Curatr, our new platform to get learners engaged in a Social Learning experience. We think the results have been pretty stunning, so I’ve put together a quick PDF case study to highlight some of the key findings. To download the PDF, please click here.

We’ve still got work to do to make the platform everyone we want it to be, that much we know. But the bottom line is that we’re already enabling learners to be really social and to significantly contribute back to the learning experience. With just a couple days work we were able to put together an experience that got the audience hooked for an average of 18 hours each. That’s an enormous return on investment, given the typical figures we see for development hours versus learning time.

Not only that, but our next course will be so much richer for the contributions of our first cohort. We’ve now got a curated base of knowledge which is some 3 times larger than when we started, all thanks to the contributions of our learners. Our learners were slowly but surely becoming teachers as they found new content, shared it with others and commented on each others findings.

I’m convinced this sort of approach is the future of online learning. It requires a minimal investment in the development of new content (of which there is plenty in the world already!) and maximises the social learning opportunities that exist for participants. Curatr is just one of the tools you could use to facilitate this approach, but its the only one I know that is both free and made by me :)

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The 4 pillars of Gamification

I’m often challenged on what qualifies as a ‘game’. My favourite definition of a game comes from game design guru Jesse Schell who said that “a game is a problem solving activity, approached with a playful attitude”. That’s a pretty broad brush, but I don’t think you can actually get one much finer. If you start to define a game any further, you tend to run into problems when someone brings you an example of a game that doesn’t fit.

You might be inclined to think that your E-learning probably qualifies as a game by this definition. Dig a little deeper though and you realise that it’s probably not the case. Often, I would suggest, E-learning is presented as ‘we’ve got the solution, now read all about it’, rather than a ‘problem to be solved’. Cathy Moore builds on this area with her brilliant Action Mapping technique, so if you follow her sage advice, you might be getting somewhere.

How often is our E-learning approached with a playful attitude? This doesn’t involve sticking a quirky piece of clip art at the top of the screen. What it does involve is evoking a sense of playfulness in your learners; an ability to try things out, to experiment and to fail safely. Often our E-learning is so linear and so push in nature that there is very little scope to ‘play’ with it – it is to be worked through, not played with.

So if we’re a little bit away from meeting the definition in most of our current E-learning offerings, what can we do to change this? How can we gamify our E-learning? Building further on Jesse Schell’s work, there are four key areas to a games design. Schell calls them Aesthetics, Story, Mechanics and Technology.

Adapted from Jesse Schell; The Art of Game Design

Adapted from Jesse Schell; The Art of Game Design

Aesthetics:

A game is only a game because it looks like a game, right? Wrong!

Games come in many different forms. What they do is to make use of the aesthetics in unique and interesting ways. For instance, Call of Duty is noted for its ultra-realistic graphics and it’s a best-selling franchise. But Mafia Wars is one of the most popular games of recent times and its browser based – mostly text. You don’t have to build a 3D world to make a game, you just have to make use of aesthetics that suit the style of gameplay you want to facilitate. Mafia Wars is all about information and the best way to display that is with a text interface.

Sure, you could take your induction programme and put it into Second Life. That would make it look like a computer game, but it wouldn’t be enough to meet our definition of a game. More often than not, Aesthetics help to encourage playfulness, if for no other reason than to make something ‘look like a game’. But they aren’t enough to make something a game in and of itself. Taking this further, it is important to realise that aesthetics aren’t just about visual appearance. We’re talking about engaging all of the sense here; think sound, think touch.

In short, aesthetics will influence a sense of playfulness, but you don’t have to make a 3D virtual world to make a game.

Story

For me, one of the most oft overlooked areas of gamification is the story. Games allow us to take part in stories and influence the outcome. The story is the making or the breaking of the game and allows you to answer the question, would you want to play this game? If not, you’ve got a problem.

Typically we would expect a games story to have something of the Epic in its nature. Games give us the opportunity to do something which we couldn’t normally do in real-life. This doesn’t need to go into the world of complete fantasy (although it often does). Increasingly games are becoming more appealing because of their links into real-life – think of Facebook’s social games where you compete against your real-life friends.

The story is your games reason for being, your problem to be solved. Your problem needs to be big enough to warrant a story and it needs to appeal to people’s curiosity. Take Health & Safety for example. Previously your H&S course might have been somewhat dull; a preachy, common sense, information dump. Throw that idea in the trash and start with a new, gamified premise: the quest to save a life. Now that’s interesting.

Mechanics

Mechanics are the bits and pieces that most people would consider the tools they need to “gamify” an experience. Game Mechanics refer to the mechanisms by which the game itself works, be that points, levels, cash, badges or whatever. They are also the measure by which we ‘win’. Of course, these are important, but they are not the be all and end all of a game.

There abounds a level of confusion about mechanics and their presence as an intrinsic or extrinsic motivator. When they are tied implicitly into a game and hold only an endogenic value, they can be seen as a part of the intrinsic motivation mechanism. When I say ‘endogenic value’, what I’m referring to is something which holds great value inside the game, but none outside it. Monopoly money is the classic example. When you are playing the game, Monopoly money is vital. When you aren’t playing Monopoly you couldn’t care less about it.

Achieving badges within a game is an intrinsic mechanic, so long as there remains an endogenic value for them. If the badges are of no significance within the game and are solely used as a basis to reward behaviour outside of the game, then they have become an extrinsic motivator and have no real place in your gamified learning. Now people are playing the game to reach some external goal, they are going to start losing interest in the game itself.

Be careful with your mechanics and don’t let anyone use them as a basis to extrinsically reward behaviour. Mechanics help a player to evaluate their competence within the game environment. Don’t be tricked into using the same measures to evaluate their competence in real-life.

Technology

All games have a foundation in technology, they just use it differently. Some games require no more technology than a pencil and paper. Others require innovative and new technology to be implemented. How you use technology will play into both the ability of your players to “solve” problems and also the attitude with which they approach the experience.

Deploying your solution on an X-Box is an obvious path to getting people thinking about the experience in a playful attitude – it is on a games console, therefore it is a game. Apps for smartphones are a nice middle ground for this; less formal than the LMS, but more flexible than a games console. But it might be that a pencil and paper is enough technology for your game to work.

What is important is that your technology allows for sufficient participation for players to influence the outcome. If players can’t interact with either the system or other players, then your technology is going to fail you. Social Learning platforms have a big role to play here as both systems of consumption and contribution.

Games come in many forms

Often, people are quick to judge what qualifies as a game based on just one of these pillars. But the pillars in isolation are really never enough to qualify as a game. It is the combination that brings the true game experience.

Whilst we lack a grand unified theory of ‘games’, gamification will be a difficult concept to get your head around. However, it is safe to assume that gamification requires an appreciation of all 4 pillars. Without this appreciation, it seems likely that your new gamified learning experience won’t be as well received as it might be.

Use endogenic mechanics, a compelling storyline, suitable aesthetics and the most appropriate technology to gamify your learning and you’ll be off to a good start. Slapping a badge on it and calling it a game simply will not suffice!

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Learning in 2010… from 1972

This picture is from a 1972 book by Geoffrey Hoyle called “2010: Living in the future”. In the book Hoyle gave his predictions for what the world might look like 38 years in the future – no easy task! See what you make of his take on modern day learning would look like…

2010: Living in the Future

2010: Living in the Future

Read the whole book here…

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How should vendors sell to you?

Community halls are cold places at the best of times. The hard, hollow flooring, bordered by dull, white-washed walls. The strip lighting, harsh with the occasional flicker, bathing the room in a sickly yellow hue. These are cold places for cold people, those with problems. Those people with a confession to make.

The refreshment table was laden with extra bitter coffee, like it alone could cleanse the souls of those within its reach. The biscuit tray lay beaten, already pummelled into submission by the gaggle of desperate looking zombies who filed into the room slowly, sullenly. The chairs creaked and squeaked against the hard floor as people took their seats in the circle. It was time. I rose to my feet, hesitant, but expectant as to the relief that would follow my confession.

“My name is Ben” my voice trembled. “And I’m a Vendor”…

——————————————-

It’s not easy to admit it, but give me a chance and I will sell you something. Whilst I am also an academic researcher, my job first and foremost is in the retail of E-learning products and services.

One of the toughest aspects of my job is working up decent sales leads. I myself loath cold callers. I hate advertising. Networking is painful. Events are boring. But come what may, it’s still got to happen somehow.

Today I’ve seen loads of tweets passing my eyes on the subject of social learning software and how to be weary of vendors selling you snake oil (see Harold Jarche, Jane Hart and Jay Cross). There’s a similar theme elsewhere too.

The bottom line is, vendors talk a lot of shit and generally screw up a good idea.

I can’t disagree, it’s true.

But vendors still need to appeal to consumers in ways that differentiate themselves from the competition. If I tell you that my social learning software is great, but it won’t create a culture of informal learning without a massive behavioural change effort and that, at best, you’ve got maybe a 25% chance of seeing a return, I’m not going to be in business long. So how can I get noticed without the hyperbole, without the empty promises?

We’re in the midst of developing a new piece of software which we are all quite excited about. It’s not going to “formalise informal learning” or anything like that. It certainly won’t transform your workforce into a legion of web 2.0 advocates, blogging their way into profits. But it will look to abandon the old “E-learning Course” structure, encourage users to connect concepts together and add new learning objects to create a unique learning environment. Engage, Connect, Contribute. That’s our tag line for it. Catchy eh!?

But we’re already following down the same path as those vendors which went before us. So how can we do it differently?

• Cold calling doesn’t work for this sort of thing; no one has a clue what you are talking about and the number of “shots on goal” you have to make before you score is absurd.
• Advertising is expensive and poorly targeted.
• Expensive networking events are generally snake oil in and of themselves.
• Exhibitor events are full of vendors shouting about their informal, formal, social wiki, learning enterprise platform.

So what’s left? Where do I submit my software for independent, transparent review which can be trusted? And how could I get the PR required to get my software reviewed without resorting to hyperbole?

The bottom line is this: Given that there is an outside chance that my products could significantly alter your organisation for the better, how should vendors, like me, sell to buyers (or potential buyers), like you?

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Harnessing the Tipping Point to embed E-Learning in your organisation

Embedding E-learning into your organisation is not just a technical problem, far from it. At its heart it’s a process of change; specifically a behavioural change in the way employees train and learn. Changing the behaviour of workers in your organisation is a notoriously difficult task. But it is a challenge you must be willing to take on if you really wish to evolve your company into one which embraces an E-learning culture.

My MBA dissertation centred on the concept of the Tipping Point and behavioural change. Organisations with experience of behavioural change often report that it takes a long period of time to try and change people’s actions. The Tipping Point, as described by Malcolm Gladwell, offers a theory of enacting rapid change. Gladwell’s book is more about hindsight than method and as such we looked at identifying a usable method to try and create a “Tipping Point” in a process of organisational behavioural change. We identified a series of five levers which could be used to enact behavioural change:

• Walking the Talk
• Influencing the Influencers
• Sticking the Message
• Rewarding the Behaviour
• Embedding the Understanding

None of these are groundbreaking on their own, but what we did develop was a piece of academic research (derived from over 700 respondents to a questionnaire) that showed these levers to be direct influencers on exactly how much an employee adopts a new behaviour or practice. Allow me to elaborate…

Walking the Talk: An oldie but a goodie. If you want to embed E-learning in your organisation, leaders have to embrace it first. You need to be the first person through it and you need to make sure others know that. It is often said that employees will copy your worst trait as a leader. You cannot tell your employees how important E-learning is whilst you ignore it. They won’t change and perhaps more importantly, they’ll think you’re a bit of an idiot.

Influencing the Influencers: Leaders aren’t the only source of influence within an organisation, far from it. Others within your organisation will wield the power to influence others, regardless of the presence of any legitimate power. They might be the loudest person, the oldest person, the youngest person, the coolest person. Whatever, when they talk, people listen. You will know who these people are. These are the people you need to be your evangelists for change. In some organisations there exists a culture that acts like an opposite force to management direction; whatever you say, they do the opposite. It is these influential’s who hold the key. Identify them and put them in a pilot group, you need them on board.

Sticking the Message: Again, this is simple. Your change needs an identity and its sticky message will be it. Your change initiative will need a name and an elevator pitch. Think Martin Luther King Jr – “I Have a Dream“. That was one hell of a sticky message. Come up with the message and then make sure it is everywhere – notice boards, walls, emails, mugs, mouse pads, whatever. When you’re enacting behavioural change you need to make sure that no-one can blag that they “haven’t heard about it”. If you can’t see a poster with your changes name and tag line on from wherever you’re sitting the job isn’t done yet.

Rewarding the Behaviour: This can be a tricky issue, mostly because people think it involves money. It doesn’t. When an employee starts to show a new behaviour you need to be quick on the draw with the reward. If they go so far as to actually do what you want, they need praise heaped upon them from a great height. In these circumstances, emotional reward is more important than monetary reward. For all but the most menial of tasks, money is not a motivator. Remember that. Little touches will reward behaviour suitably. If you send an email out to your team requesting they complete a piece of learning, or use a new tool for capturing learning you need to follow it up. The first person who does as you wish needs to be identified and then praised publicly. Follow up your first email with a group email that says “Big thanks to John for being the first person to use our new tool, a great example for others to follow”. Equally important here is the issue of medals. Everyone likes a medal. Make sure that completion of any formal course of E-learning comes with a certificate – a printable one. And make sure that any record of informal or social type learning is captured and look to reward suitably, consider Whuffie for example. There could be financial rewards here and do reinforce these where they appear (think pay rises dependant on a good Personal Development Review), but money is not sustainable or effective as the cornerstone of your reward package.

Embedding the Understanding: Knowing the tag line of a change process is not enough. For it to really embed within the organisation over the long-term, workers must understand why the change is better than the current situation and what the change really means for them. Take John Lewis (a major UK retailer) for example. Their sticky message is “Never Knowingly Undersold”. Ok, so I know the tagline, but what behaviours does this drive? As an employee, what is my reaction when a customer comes to me with a lower price from a competitor? This is more often than not a case of formally training employees. Assuming that people will “figure it out” isn’t enough – so what if they can use the features of a tool, they need to know how and why this is better and why it improves their life. Understanding the need for change is the single most important driver of embedding a behavioural change. Don’t leave it at an intuitive interface; people need to know how it is going to improve their lives!

Using these levers it is possible to influence the rate of change within an organisation. You need to lean on them all, but in doing-so it could be possible to enact change more rapidly than otherwise thought possible. Perhaps the most important lesson here is to realise the significance of using E-learning within your company. It’s not a nice little initiative that’s going away. It’s going to be a major part of working practice for decades to come. So do the groundwork now and you might find your people are much more open to innovation and new technology in the years to come…

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Working Towards a Shared View of Quality

One major issue that faces the E-Learning industry as we look to grow and consolidate is the issue of Quality. Ask two E-learning professionals for what amounts to “Quality” E-learning and you will probably get two very different responses.

Broadly speaking, there are two views on Quality. The first is pedagogical. If a piece of E-Learning is pedagogically sound then some would argue the presentation of this information, so long as it’s usable, is largely irrelevant to the measure of Quality.

This is a view largely taken by higher education institutions; I’ve spoken to rather a lot of them and all of the internal E-learning departments at universities appear to share this view. Of course they would, it is at the heart of any universities core competence to know pedagogy. This approach is not limited to a specific media (say PowerPoint, or HTML) and can be used in more social learning frameworks, but never-the-less, presentation is barely a part of the Quality measure. Here it is more of an order qualifier; is it usable? Yes, tick, done.

At the other end of the scale are those with little to no interest when it comes to pedagogy in E-Learning. Here it is all about style over content; making sure it wows the audience and captivates the imagination with little thought as to the learning framework itself. Sometimes this doesn’t matter; a bite-size piece of learning which is tightly focussed and lasts 10 minutes is quite likely to hit the nail on the head without any in-depth analysis as to the pedagogical nature of the learning. Sometimes it doesn’t. I saw a great looking E-learning demo the other day, nice dashboard layout, hand-drawn images to complement the content and lots of interactivity. The questions were awful, they had little consistency in the approach and the feedback was completely nonsensical. The E-learning looked great, but I would have soon resorted to just hitting the “next” button to get through things as reading it was largely pointless.

It’s worth pointing out at this stage that rapid authoring tools often miss both of these measures of Quality. As these two views stand you either look good, or read good (forgive the expression). So unless you are a designer flexing their muscles into the world of E-learning, or a teacher who knows their online teaching techniques, you aren’t likely to create a piece of Quality piece of E-learning. This assumes that you have the ability to manipulate these rapid and easy authoring tools at all. Whilst the tools are increasingly easy to use for someone like me (you know the type, the one that always fixes the TV/DVD/VCR for the extended family) they remain fairly complex for those whose software experience is largely limited to the Office family of products. But that’s another story.

It would be easy to think that these two views on Quality, whilst fundamentally different, are easily reconcilable. Let’s just make a piece of E-learning that has pedagogical foundations that would make Oxford proud and then get 2Advanced studios to knock it together. Your first issue here is that those ingredients alone aren’t enough to make a great piece of E-learning; both parties need to know something of the others world. But your bigger issue, expense aside, is that the proponents of these two views on Quality often believe they are not reconcilable at all.

The arguments are thus:

“Pretty pictures take away from the real purpose of the product and actually detract from the learning experience”.

“Pedagogical frameworks are out of date, hugely restrictive and make any piece of E-learning long-winded and largely dull”.

Solving this issue will take movement from both sides. Pedagogy will need to evolve (it is, see Connectivism) to take into account the ways in which people are now learning online. Its proponents will also have to step outside of their core competence and realise that creating a piece of E-learning with engaging looks and increasingly complex interactions will only add to the value of the end product, if done correctly.

Equally designers need to be much more than their job titles suggest. They need to develop an understanding of teaching online and to realise that style does not trump substance, it merely augments it.

Developing a shared view on Quality will help the E-learning industry to evolve its next-generation of content and learning. At the moment these two polar opposite views don’t sit well together and present a confusing front to end-users. You might not dare to question the authority of an austere institution telling you that their learning experts will ensure quality learning transfer, but how many words will it take to explain that to your boss, who thinks the end product looks awful?

The corporate E-learning world is a little different to the world of higher education. When you attend a university you are there to learn. When you go to work, sitting through a training course is not at the front of your mind. It’s a job to be done, probably a monotonous one. E-learning needs to reach out more to this audience, to appeal, to make the user want more. Or perhaps less ambitiously, just to avoid pissing people off.

Both sides have good arguments. We need to move to a situation where people realise they can and should have it both ways. Anything less is failing to make Quality E-learning content.

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E-Learning Sucks by Red Magma

These guys really hit things on the head with this excellent little presentation. A company after my own heart – great presentation skills coupled with an opinion which matches my own. AND they referenced Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. We thought we were the only ones…

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Put the Hammer down: The bottom line on why you should leave E-learning to the experts.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many years tick by in this industry, by far and away the most common phone call I get is from companies looking to run E-learning pilots, or prototypes, or anything else in the “just getting started” framework.

It’s not a criticism of the clients, far from it; I’m delighted to be the person who helps to mould the minds of newcomers to the E-learning genre, call me anytime! But doesn’t it strike you as odd, in an industry that’s now 15 years old, that everyone else is still getting started?

I’m not alone in my sentiments, just this morning I retweeted a link from Clive Shepherd – “What every learning and development professional needs to know about e-learning”. Indeed, there are two burning questions that all clients (both new and old) want to know when I speak to them; how much is it going to cost and why shouldn’t I do it myself?

My contemporary, Karl Kapp, actually beat me to the punch on this one with his post “How much for that E-learning in the Window”, but I’ll let him off as he referenced me so nicely. He referenced a few other places but most telling was his link to Intellum, a state-side competitor to HT2. They have a great bit on their website which gives you a ballpark figure on what your E-learning will cost which I strongly suggest you check out as I feel its quite representative of the market place.

A recent study by Defelice & the aforementioned Mr Kapp, (brought to my attention care of Michael Hanley and Brandon Hall), showed a new set of figures for how long it currently takes to develop 1 hour of E-learning content. Keep this table of figures in your mind, as I’m going to use it over the rest of this post.

The metric of “1 hour of E-learning content” is important to us in the E-learning industry so you might want it in your arsenal of questions to ask an E-learning developer when you phone them. Most companies will give you a ball park figure on how much 1 hour of E-learning content development is. This figure will range widely but typically I’d be expecting to hear anything from £5,000 per hour up to £40,000 per hour plus.

This is quite a range. And unfortunately we hit the same sort of stumbling blocks as we did with LMS pricing – not all E-learning is born equal! However, if we dig into the figures a little, we start to get an idea of where these numbers come from.

An experienced and professional E-Learning development company, like HT2, who specialise in bespoke content development will probably use software like Articulate or straight Adobe Flash to create their content. So if we take the mean average time it takes to develop 1 hour of E-learning, with limited interactivity and no animations using this sort of software and we multiply that by a typical “daily rate” figure, we can estimate how much an 1 hour of this sort of content should cost.

So:

(94.5 [hrs mean development time] / 7.5 [working hours in a day]) x 400 [typical daily rate] = £5,400 for 1 hours basic E-learning content.

This about tally’s up with the bottom end of my earlier estimate.

Now let’s look at the option of not hiring a bespoke content development company and doing it yourself. You probably won’t be using the move advanced tools like Flash and Articulate, so we’ll look at the figures for easier tools, such as Captivate. I’m also going to estimate that the internal cost of a days development is half that of the external company, £200. I’m also not adding in the cost of training individuals, which will probably run to a few thousand.

(241.5 [hrs mean development time] / 7.5 [working hours in a day]) x 200 [typical daily rate] = £6,440 for 1 hours basic E-learning content.

What we’re saying here is that, even at the bottom end of the scale in terms of complexity, it’s worth your money to hire in the experts. Not only could it be cheaper; it will also take less time – half in this case.

It’s not so useful to measure up the scale of interactivity/animation in this manner as it becomes less likely your internal functions could produce the graphics, sounds and animations that accompany more complex E-learning. Here you really will need to call in the experts to get the job done.

I realise I still haven’t told you come how you will get quotes in the £20k plus range. Well let’s look at the other end of the scale, a fully interactive Simulation:

(525.5 [hrs mean development time] / 7.5 [working hours in a day]) x 400 [typical daily rate] = £28,024 for a 1 hour Simulation on “Softskills”.

Again this is a big estimate – as your learning becomes more complex, it requires more specialist development skills. And the more people are involved, the more difficult it is to project manage. The rise in cost of truly high-spec E-learning development is almost exponential.

There is a pitfall in my cost saving argument for using the experts to develop your E-learning and that is this:

Experts almost certainly won’t recommend an hours worth of E-learning with limited interactivity and no animations.

In our experience this sort of material will not hold the learners attention in a corporate environment. It might work in a Higher Education setting, where your whole motivation is based around learning, but where your learners have a day job that isn’t learning, you need to engage them on a whole new level.

In the end using experts might not be cheaper than doing it internally, but it is certainly comparable and you will get a lot more for your money. Not to mention the fact that your learners will potentially take a lot more away from the experience, which is kind of the point in the first place!

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