Another Boring Job Aid… Whiskey Tango Foxtrot??

I think I’m a colourful guy.  I have two twitter feeds.  One which is the “professional me” and is topics elements I think are of interest to me in my job.  The other is “personal me” and are all the things I find entertaining be it a hobby, my children, a new toy or whatever.  Quite often of course, these worlds collide and I post to both. Maybe not everyone separates their digital psyche and hosts them in juxtaposition like this, but the concept that I often am driven, professionally, to use methods that I prefer in my personal research or learning is certainly not unique.  It’s basic human nature.For my job, I am responsible to support other people’s growth.  I seek out gaps in what they know and what they need to know.  It’s not exactly dawning knowledge that as a learning practitioner, the better I know my audience and their roles/profile,the better results I will have.Now enter “The Job Aid”.A “what grinds my gears” moment always occurs when I am involved in a learning project that has an impactful design, clear and useful objectives and a well thought out execution.  Great!  Then, often tagged on are “job aids”.

In many organizations I’ve worked with, the “job aid” is defined as a printable pdf that holds information not deemed appropriate for the formal element of the learning solution.  It’s either criterion reference for concepts in the session or learning collateral, short walk-throughs of a tool or process, at-a-glance information, etc.  All perfectly acceptable content to support learners.

I find that often to suggest the delivery medium of flat, printable PDFs might create a solution that is not well connected to the rest of the learning program.

In several organizations I’ve worked in, client groups will over the course of a few years receive hundreds of these.  They become a change management nightmare, often ignored or at worst a sad, sad looking wallpapered cubicle.  It’s not how I personally learn. It’s not how I research things of interest or try to remember important things in my life.  Why would it work for my learner?There are some VERY handy guides out there to support what should be in a job aid.  Here’s oneadapted from “Effective Job Aids” by Susan Russell on the ASTD site. I don’t want to spend time talking about what goes IN a job aid, but I do want to provide some thoughts about other options than the very basic flat PDF.In a design for any learning solution, a medium should be considered based on the output of an assessment of your audience’s learning environment and capabilities.  Elements like location (remote, workstations, cubicles, etc), available tools and software (laptops, tablets, smartphones, reader software, web connections, etc) and required interactions for the content (software walkthrough, demonstrated behaviour, etc) are ideally brought to the table to determine the appropriate solution.  Job aids should be a part of that flow and decision making process.Why not deploy post learning resources in a way that fits in how a learner works and lives?  Why not leverage the approaches they use to be entertained, research items of interest or in how they use the learning on the job.Here’s a few ideas to get you kickstarted…

PDFs

Starting with the target of my ire, the PDF is actually one monster of a great format.  Although many times we cut off it’s arms and legs, push it through a heated ringer and stab it to death to mount on the wall, it has some really great possibilities if you dig abit deeper.One I really like is the fillable form. Although still relatively flat, what it DOES is strongly encourage learners to “do something”.  Ask them to submit answers, thoughts, or completion criteria (assuming you aren’t using an LMS for this of course) easily.  It also allows you to gather feedback from them on impact and use.  Try asking “where are you using this?” and they click submit at the bottom every time they use it.  It’s very cool.A PDF can be created to be fully interactive, linked, bookmarked and supports lots of rich media. (There’s even a YouTube widget to include videos within a PDF!)

Desktop Background

One I haven’t used but I think would be REALLY great for smaller organizations or for the newly hired is to create  job aids as Windows 7 desktop backgrounds.  You can even create more than one and have them rotate.  (Shift-F10, N will allow any user to switch to the next background if not the one needed).  For a new team, or for a new corporate initiative, having this pushed out by the IT Desktop team could be an interesting new approach!

RSS Feeds/Blogs

 One thing I think is critical to consider is how to provide the most impact for a learner with the least shift in their daily paradigm.  Having job aids posted in Blog format internally has some significant benefits. One it’s super easy to update without worrying about version control.  Secondly, it’s searchable and has all the bells and whistles you may want to apply to it (integrated twitter feed, multi-author, multi-media. searchable, printable, global distribution) and when provided as an RSS feed, suddenly your learners can view them on any device, tablet, smartphone, with their favourite news reader, and get notified as soon as a new one is available. It’s a pretty perfect solution.

The Job Aid Room

I have used this one recently.  Using a virtual classroom (I used adobe connect), you create a room that has whatever material you want to show (pdf, ppt, video, process document, software walkthrough etc) and post it with a publicly accessible URL.  Many devices (tablets, smartphones, etc) have access to these rooms via apps (webex and adobe connect do for sure) and you can provide very structured job aid support. It even allows (initially upon deployment for example) a live trainer to be on hand in the room to answer questions (Love the every Friday at noon QnA in the “Job Aid Room”!!) and content is easily changed, printed or downloaded.Have you found other innovative ways to provide post-training resources?  Feel free to share with me!
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Virtual Reality Check: Remote Learning Frustrations

I’ve been spending quite abit of time of late working both within my current role and in discussion with a few other practitioners talking about Virtual Learning.

The concept of delivering some type of upskilling or behavioural impact remotely is certainly not new. Even looking at “modern” tools like the webex’s of the world, they’ve been around long enough for a million and one white papers, books and blogs to outline some great howto’s. Continually however, I am finding organizations frustrated at the quality or impact of the Virtual Classroom.

My first foray into virtual training was in 2003. I delivered a training program through webex. The course design was sound and followed the “rules” (another blog post could come out of THAT comment…) and I was a seasoned classroom facilitator. I prepared, was comfortable with the material and logistically the session was organized.

It was ok. Not a complete disaster. But for me it was a REAL eye opener. I hadn’t anticipated how unprepared I was for the experience. The tools are significantly enhance since then and have a lot more bells and whistles, but the obstacles I came across and have fought to find ways of clearing are exactly the same as what I’m hearing now.

I think that taking style into account, there are many ways of solving the following problems, and I’m sure some of you have great methods I haven’t thought of, but I think noting the obstacle itself is an important step that many don’t seem to do (or notice).

The very first and most important challenge to note. You aren’t there.

Quite often, when I’ve worked with virtual facilitators, they recognize the value of being prepared, taking time to organize themselves, do great prep, setup the system, audio, video, cables, glass of water, guide, etc, etc.

They are serene and relaxed..Coiled to drive a focused result.

What often happens however is they have forgotten to consider what’s going on for the learner…

Chaos reigns. The session was registered weeks ago, they got an email reminder 2 days before which was quickly buried, meetings all day, milestones to hit, clients to call, teams to run… thankfully Outlook reminders saved the day and they are at the session on-time (ish).

This is the primary driver for all the other challenges below. These learners are not in a controlled environment. They are likely to be surrounded by distractions that, lets be honest, are way more important than you. Make sure you recognize it before you move on.

Keeping them engaged

Now that you recognize that you HAVE a battle to fight, how do you do it? First, you need to interact with them.. ALOT. This doesn’t mean talking AT them. Any adult learning model you follow outlines the need for adult learners to make content their own, reflect on it’s impact and do something with it. Otherwise, 90% will wash over them and become noise. (Which will encourage them to start reading email….)

The course has to have regular engagements with your learners to FORCE them to interact with you. Many tools have raised hands, checkboxes, exclamation marks, whiteboards, polls, audio etc. USE THEM… every 3 to 4 minutes. Have them do something like signal they are ready to move forward or that they have completed a task. It’s a simple way to ensure they are at least partly involved in the session.

Going deeper than that, when you design your structure, don’t fall into the “Any Questions?” trap. I’ve seen this one overused alot Everyone does it, I have. It’s easy and quick and helps keep you on time without distractions, but it NEVER keeps those NOT interested involved. I strongly suggest directed questions. Verbally select individuals to help you find the answers, or make use of knowledge tests where they have to do something. The “Any Questions?” should be used sparingly when you know folks are all waiting on bated breath to push you.

Keeping them Interested

Not remotely the same thing as engaged. You can whip a clown and it will dance. (I’ve wanted to say that all day…) But to trigger some kind of value out of the content is a two fold challenge.

First, if you are finding this a challenge, ensure you have a solid objective from the Affective domain. You will then be thinking outside of just having them understand and do, you want them to find value that means something to them.

Secondly, be real. This is a style thing I suppose, but it’s my way. If I were at a party and wanted to keep everyone interested in my story, what would I do? To stand up and start talking about xyz in a monotone voice and then asking everyone their thoughts on my boring-ass lecture will get me no where. BE the show. Don’t be afraid to facilitate! Add some colourful analogies, dig into your experiences and elaborate and be funny. Virtual training is VERY hard on style. Some very funny, great facilitators I’ve seen, become vanilla when training remotely. Why? Ask a Radio DJ. It’s hard to be funny when you can’t see your audience’s reaction. They might moan, groan, cheer, clap and you have no visual stimulus to trigger the stop/continue in your brain. The fact of the matter is though, it will be interesting. Bad jokes still keep people listening. Don’t AIM for bad humour/colour/stories, and be appropriate for the audience, but don’t be afraid of it. It so completely works.

The Flow is CRITICAL.

In my top 3 for sure. I think the previous comparison to the Radio DJ is again useful. I’d almost go so far as to suggest profiling one. If you are listening to your funniest, most interesting morning radio show, and it suddenly goes silent. How long until you change the channel?

Why is your virtual training any different? If you hit a lag, technical glitch (VERY common with participant audio!), or get abit lost in content, you can basically hose the success of your session. Be prepared. Have extra stories prepped to bring to the fore, have an exercise ready that does not require a complex technical interaction for them ready in the wings, have a host on the line with you to sort out technical audio issues with a learner so you can keep the rest moving forward. There no amount of apologies that will rectify a 5 minute gap in your session. Design these into the course. EVERY time.

Ultimately, regardless of the tools/tips you use (and I’d love to hear them!!), your virtual session HAS to be engaging, interesting and move like clockwork… or they’ll turn the channel.

Webinar Platforms – Basic Must-Haves!

It’s a fantastic feeling to face a big group of interested learners.  I guess because it was the start of my career, I don’t do it nearly as often now, but being a facilitator is a bit of a rush for me. Walking around a room, marker in hand, as I go on about something or other was my version of being on stage.

Going from post-secondary to corporate however, the learner’s logistics certainly change.  New elements need to be considered. Time available, other priorities, distance to session, parking costs, etc, etc.  Add to this growing technology (plus decreasing costs!) and a greater understanding in learning for less traditional approaches, and the webinar was born.

Fast forward, add social media, mobile infrastructure and devices and a greater basic understanding of technology and you have a pretty neat opportunity.  Your avenue to getting your message out there is easier than ever!  Interactive micro learning (1 hour, 30 minute, 5 minute) sessions can be greatly impactful to direct tool usage, support a customer, pitch a product/service, warm up a relationship is powerful and cheap!

But there are a ton of tools out there?  What to look for?

I narrowed down, for my needs, the top elements that brought the most impact to the table.

Sharing:  

This one is the no brainer.  It’s the basis of pretty much any tool out there.  But for me, sharing a powerpoint is just the beginning.  A tool needs to be able to show your desktop (and select which monitor), pick specific applications, allow me to upload files (any media, not just powerpoint!) so viewers can see them and show videos clearly.

Fuze and Adobe Connect did a fantastic job of videos.  Not streamed, but uploaded the looked great.  Webex felt clunky and choppy for videos, but shared most anything, was most versatile and was my fave on app sharing.

Audio Conference:

They all did it.  But with a tremendous variant of approaches.  They all could do the traditional VOIP using speaker/microphone or headset.  I didn’t see a tremendous difference between them, most of the issues/successes were on my side with quality of equipment, connection, etc.

Toll free, some like Webex and Fuze has it integrated, but with a wide difference in cost (Webex was .15/person/minute, Fuze was .06).  Adobe connect didn’t have it in the barebones package (you had to add another provider).  This one isn’t a huge issue due to VOIP, but it’s dependant on connection/equipment quality.  Fuze has an AMAZING feature where they’ve integrated Skype.  You can dial in from anywhere using skype to their skype line which will connect you.  Very neat.

Camera:

Nowadays, since it’s so cheap and everyone is getting a webcam or has a device with a camera, it’s a no brainer.  Give your learners the chance to see you (and you them!).  It makes it more personal, and helps keep them engaged.

Most of these tools did this.  Fuze has full HD capability (GoToMeeting has this in a beta).  HD is cool, but for me, alot of folks won’t have a super fast connection, so I wasn’t too concerned.  They all allowed multiple feeds.

Recording:

If you are going to the trouble of hosting a session, for the love of god record and keep it.  Why wouldn’t you? You have everything to gain (reuse, provide offline/intranet, refreshers, learn from errors/issues, IP, etc) and nothing to lose.

One IMPORTANT question to ask.  Can you download the file locally.  Some tools this is not an option (Fuze for example, you own the files, but they won’t provide to you.  They host and provide links only).  With Webex, you get the file as soon as you close the meeting, but you need their proprietary free viewer to watch it.  Adobe Connect Pro, you can now (yay!) get your file, but you need to actually re-watch the whole damn seminar across the net, and their tool will record it for you locally in flash format (not while the session is going on??)  I think it’s a crazy waste of my time.

Polls:

There are tons of great learning tools in many of these services, but this one is of of the biggest ROIs. Poll at the start on the topics to be presented allows you to gauge how deep to go, Polls allow you to engage a large group, without dealing with voice/chat conflict or floods, Polls allow you to gather information on each respondent (name, answer, etc) to get market info on them.  Most had it, Fuze did not.

Mobile Access:

1999 is gone.  Don’t force your learners to sit in their boring cubes, to find an internet cafe (are these even still around??) or have to lock their dogs in the bathroom.  A participant should have full capability to watch, listen and participate in a webinar from a laptop, tablet (Android, PlayBook, iPad) or smartphone (BlackBerry, iPhone, Android).

Webex did a passable job, nice integration of voice, great experience for camera feeds and navigation.  Terrible on streamed videos (movies, clips etc).  Tablets show video, smartphones, just presentations and voice.

Fuze has a beautiful video/camera experience.  I really liked it.  No polling (obviously).

Adobe Connect Pro – Pain in the butt to access the meeting (had to type in the URL, not meeting number or something easy),  hard time getting camera to stream to it, many presentation files not recognized.

InstantPresenter, not yet, coming.

Elluminate, only mobile access is to play back recordings after the fact.


Cost:

Webex was the best value, 25 people, full features for 49/month for unlimited usage.
Fuze was pricey, 70/month, if you wanted video and full features, but those features were limited.
Adobe Connect  about the same as webex at 49/month.
GotoWebinar was pricey at 100/month, but you got gotomeeting as a bonus (15 people max)

 

Personally, for features and value, I went with WebEx.  It has the best all around feature support.  Some of the others were sexy and slick, or optimized in one area or another, but there was a loss of some functionality that I liked.

Interestingly, there is a service called AnyMeeting, which is absolutely free but includes ads.  Up to 200 people, video, sharing, recording, voip, polling, and lots more.  How can you beat that?  Not for profits, you have no excuse!

 

With the features above, you can put together a great, dynamic learning OR a really robust remote meeting in a snap!

Tough topic learning projects – Being a N00b

It’s nice when a learning project comes in and you have plenty of expertise with the topics at hand. For more corporately agnostic topics many organizations will hire that expertise in a learning practitioner. Things move along quicker, you have a wider breadth of experience to balance the content against and you sound more intelligent speaking with SMEs.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t in a role where you live in a certain program or catalog and know you are likely to have foreknowledge of project content, you just never know what you are going to get.

Personally, for me this is half the fun of the job! I love that feeling in the initial discussions where the client builds you a picture of their world and you get to be a part of it. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in a myriad of projects and built an interesting collage of topics. In my brain is a mix of network administration, financial sales, radiology and orthopaedic tools, unreleased smartphones, leadership programs, corporate objective setting, martial arts and web design. Whew!

A strong learning team will have a good workflow in place to deal with all projects regardless of topics.

When the rubber hits the road however, it can be daunting to face a completely foreign knowledge area. One of my favourite projects over the years was the orthopaedic tools project. It was probably one of my most successful outputs and arguably the one that was the steepest learning curve for me. I was not an integration specialist, was new to the world of medical imaging altogether, and knew nothing of orthopaedics. I definitely felt like a newbie (n00b).

Process aside, there were a few keys that turned that project, and me, from n00b to performing.

Going into the jungle? Find a guide. Using coffee as an open bribe, start making friends. Someone who knows and can introduce you to others, knows the terminology, or has history, you can very quickly hit the ground running.  This person can also be a great co-facilitator for a session with very knowledgeable learners.

Get in the learner’s trenches. If you don’t know your learner, how can you possibly build something that will help them? The world of the learner, regardless of team, shifts just like yours. What was the approach, alignments, tools or resources one day, can be very different the next. If you can’t paint a clear picture of who they are and what they do every day, you are going to miss something.

Teach yourself first. The bigger the learning team, it seems the less individual learning practitioners think they need to know about project as a whole. Once you have an army of SMEs, Consultants, IDesigners, IDevelopers and so on, it can become unclear who knows the final collateral best. Make it you. Always know the content + 50% more. (start reading) You will be credible, able to be more involved in SME discussions, and have great discussions with your client.

Be there. If you support IDs and they can’t get content? Be there, find it. If you are an ID and a facilitator has a rough session, Be there, give them an evening of one to one on the content. A learner group hits a major hiccup in a webinar, Be there, solve the problem, rerun the session and offer the next as gratis. The more you are involved, the better the project result. Guaranteed.

It’s not always easy. When you start to pile up many projects with brand new knowledge areas, it can be tough to be as involved in each separately. Know your limits and when to draw the line. No matter how good you are, there is a threshold you can easily cross where outputs cease to be great.

For me, this is what the job is all about. Finding something new and intriguing to dig your teeth into and seeing it through.

The Perfect Learning Solution

I am a perfectionist.

Generally I would take it as a compliment.  It means I care about the little things.  I spend alot of time in the Master sheet of a powerpoint, I keep an organized desk and I thoroughly enjoy QA of sites or learning module navigation.  The downside, is I struggle with the idea of “good enough”.  I think this is a concept that is labelled with ideals of laziness or lack of proficiency. 

The reality is that when working on any project where learning scope is properly gathered, it rarely is articulated as “All instructor notes must be sexy and wordsmithed a dozen times”.

Proper learning scope should be focused around hitting a business measurement, impacting a behaviour in a learner, or targetting a knowledge or attitude gap.  To meet these needs in an economical way, it’s important to know when to back off.  Delivering an impactful, quality work to the client a little bit early will go a much longer way towards future success than getting too mired in the minutiae.

There is a concept in SCRUM project management where for each milestone or sprint you “define done”.  If you target the behaviours you are looking to change, take the time for each scope item and define what “done” is and communicate it clearly to the project team you are guaranteed to see a difference in velocity.
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