The 4D Development Methodology for Modernization

In some recent blogs, I mentioned about the xSMART framework for modernization and its benefits. In this blog, we’ll have a look at the 4D development methodology which operationally complements the xSMART framework.

A typical modernization project could be divided into 4 distinct phases – Define, design, develop, and deliver. This 4D development methodology enables teams in managing and executing modernization projects in a controlled manner.

Let us look at all 4 phases in detail:

Define

This phase is the foundation of any modernization project and kicks in as soon as project scoping begins. It ensures that short and long term business objectives are tied with the outcomes of the project.  Some basic questions that L&D stakeholders need to answer during this phase are listed below.

  • What are the business objectives that we want to achieve at the end of this project?
  • Are we looking for as-is conversion or is there a scope for enhancements, instructionally and visually?
  • Would we require SME support during the modernization process?
  • Should the modernized courses be accessibility compliant?
  • Do we want to consider micro-learning as one of the key value propositions?
  • Is there any preference for any specific tool or technology for modernization?

There is a possibility that for some of these questions might not fetch immediate answers and that is perfectly fine. Atleast, there would no ambiguity on the knowns and unknowns as we move to the design phase. And that is a key achievement.

Design

The define phase sets us up for designing a solution which is geared towards meeting specific business needs. In this phase, we’ll look at three key areas to focus on prior to getting into the development phase.

  1. Change log format for communicating edits: Change log is a tool which helps bring in agility in the development process. It could be designed using an excel file or a word doc. Since we are not doing an overhaul of the existing course from an instructional design point of view, we need not do the entire storyboarding again. Change log can be used to communicate changes to be made at a screen level in a course.
  1. Design and development of template library: Whatever authoring mode we choose, the key is to develop a library of templates which is reusable. These templates are designed after analyzing the legacy courses to ensure best fit. At this stage, a thought might cross our mind that what is the need to analyze courses and then design a template library, couldn’t we simply develop a template library which could be used across all types of courses? Well, to answer it, yes it is possible, but it is not necessary that one size will fit all. This phase is to ensure that every design aspect is fulfilled using the best possible solution. Another important benefit that we get using this approach is that it gives us an opportunity to implement accessibility and compliance standards such as section 508 or xAPI at the template level itself.
  2. Quality checklist for various combinations: During the define phase, we generally would have shortlisted the browsers, devices, and operating systems on which modernized courses would run. We would have also decided on the accessibility standards being implemented. The design phase can ensure that we have all the performance and functionality features captured in the QA checklist. It is important to have these checks in place before production starts.

Develop

It is time to get the production wheel rolling in this phase. To start off, we need to extract all reusable assets and content from existing legacy courses. If source files are not available, then a custom automation utility can be used to extract content from existing courses. Extracted content can be stored in a way that it enables us to bring in automation into play while developing the courses. For example if we decide to go with custom HTML5-XML based course development, then extracted content could be easily populated in the XML structure using an automation utility. This would help reduce development timelines further.

While the content extraction team gets busy, the instructional design team can start churning out change logs simultaneously. They can review the existing courses screen by screen and record their recommendations in the change logs. These recommendations can be used to build new templates. Client stakeholders can review and sign off completed change logs.

Once the template library is ready, the production process literally takes off. All efforts that have gone into planning the modernization project culminate at this stage. The production team can start producing and releasing modernized courses rapidly, after successful content mapping with existing courses and quality testing.

Deliver

Once courses are developed and the first version is released, there are certain steps and processes to be accomplished before we label it as a successful delivery. The first version of the courses is delivered to review teams through specified file sharing protocols. Once reviewed,  issues are logged in a pre-defined tool or system, and then sent back to the development team for fixing, retesting, and delivering it again.

The fundamental objective of this 4D development methodology is to streamline the entire process and make it compatible with the xSMART framework. It would be wonderful to know your thoughts and any experiences you might have had with this working methodology. You can drop us a line at info@harbingerlearning.com.

Benefits That An Organization Can Reap Through Content Modernization

In my last blog, we looked at how the xSMART framework could help in driving the content modernization initiative. In this post, we’ll talk about the benefits that the key stakeholders, namely – the modern-day learner, the L&D heads, and the CXOs, can derive from the modernization initiative.

Let’s begin with talking about the consumer of content – the modern-day learners. For them, the biggest benefit that modernization brings along is that they can be in-charge of their learning. They can consume content at the time and pace which best suits their needs. For example, they can consume content through their mobile-devices when they are commuting, and when in office, they could switch to their laptops or desktops. Since modernized content could be made available in various formats, sizes, and shapes, it could meet varied learning needs and preferences of individuals. 

For L&D heads, there are multifold benefits that arise out of this initiative. It helps them to align the modernized content to competencies rather than just being driven by learning objectives. Couple this with detailed analytics and it gives us a recipe for a faster and efficient way to close on the skills gap. The other key benefit they can derive out of this is culture transformation – moving from a culture of training to a culture of learning. Modernized content developed once can be deployed in multiple scenarios. For example, content which is broken down into micro-learning nuggets could be SCORM packaged and made available through the LMS or it could even be made available and searchable on a mobile-app through metadata-tagging.

For CXOs, the biggest benefit that the modernization initiative brings on the table is the broad-scale opportunity to align their learning, talent development, and performance management strategies with business goals. The other key benefit is that it gives them an opportunity to future-proof content against any technology disruptions and increase its shelf life. For example, if an organization wants to enable AI-based learning solutions, then implementing a modernization initiative could become an overhead. It will be better to have such aspects addressed during the initial modernization exercise itself. Modernization gives us this opportunity and benefit.

Many more benefits could be derived from the modernization initiative. Not necessarily all of them are covered in this blog post. We are all ears to know your thoughts on the same. Reach out to us at info@harbingerlearning.com.

xSMART – The Framework to Drive Your Content Modernization Initiative

In my last blog, I touched upon how organizations are looking at modernizing their existing learning material to adapt to technology disruptions and meet the modern-day learners’ demands. Modernization is being used as a transformational strategy to deliver business results by creating unique experiences for learners. Harbinger has built a framework to aid modernization. This framework, known as xSMART, is a solution accelerator designed for teams to successfully implement and execute a content modernization strategy. This framework is an enabler to handle large scale modernization projects. Let’s take a deep dive into the specifics of this framework and uncover the value that it brings on the table.

The x Factor

This is the first layer of the modernization framework in picture. The x factor here is for the automation this framework brings along to handle volume work. The faster we are able to figure out the role this x can play, easier the modernization journey would be. Automation will ensure that the modernization strategy is executed in a rapid and cost-effective manner. At times, this could even be the deciding factor in terms of the modernization initiative taking off the ground or not. To put things in better perspective, several steps are described in detail below where automation is bound to play a crucial role.

Extraction of reusable assets from legacy courses

Consider the following scenario: An organization is sitting with hundreds of hours of legacy digital content developed using a variety of legacy authoring tools including Flash. Now, content wise, these courses are still relevant, however the source files are missing.

To ensure that the modernization process is rapid and cost effective, we need to figure out which content is reusable and the ways to  extract it. This step is important to ensure that we do not end up developing digital learning material from scratch. For instance, images, video, and audio components used in legacy courses could qualify for reusability.

As part of the xSMART framework, Harbinger has built custom automation utilities which can extract content at a page level for all the courses, even if the source files are missing.

Template driven production to achieve scalability

In the typical eLearning development process, storyboarding is done first and then screens are developed. Nothing is wrong with this approach, but when we are talking about migrating hundreds of hours of learning material, then it might not be the best option.

At Harbinger we have flipped this approach for modernization, we analyze legacy courses and based on the results, we create a template library. This template library is the guiding factor for modernization of courses. Our instructional designers propose replacing screens within a legacy course based on the new templates that have been developed. And once we have the templates ready and identified for each screen, then automation comes into play to populate the extracted content into these templates. This innovative approach helps us modernize large volume of courses.

SMART

The second layer of the framework talks about the design of modernized content. This also gives us an opportunity to align strategy with actual development. Let’s take a deep dive into this level.

Searchable:We all have been hearing about how learning needs to happen in the flow of work, at the point of need. To make this possible, a key aspect is to ensure that content is easily searchable. Today, we might be designing our content to be delivered through a LMS but what if we have to deliver it through a mobile application. Does it mean we need to go through the process of designing the content again? The answer is no, if we are using the xSMART framework as a guiding tool. Modernization is an opportunity for us to make our content easily searchable. It could be achieved in two simple steps, instructionally identifying key learning objectives and metadata tagging of content with relevant keywords.

Micro:Today a lot of focus is on making content available as bite-sized nuggets. But at the same time, let’s acknowledge that not every online course needs to be delivered as a micro-learning nugget. For example, a certification program might be best delivered as a two-hour course. So how do we solve this dilemma, whether to go micro or macro? The beauty of the xSMART framework is that it enables you to address both these concerns in one go. While modernizing the two hour long course, we are able to identify key learning objectives and pull them out as standalone SCORM packages to be made available at the time of need. In continuation to our example of a certification program, the micro-learning nuggets could be pushed as a reinforcement tool. This feature enables us to address our current as well as future learning needs.

Accessible: Accessibility is all about inclusiveness, a way to ensure that no one is excluded. The xSMART framework ensures that modernized content is available for everyone. Whether it is Section 508, or WCAG 2.0, or any other geography-specific accessibility standard, it is recommended to implement them at template level. For a particular modernization initiative, we generally use a set of pre-developed templates. And implementing compliance standards at a template level ensures that for every screen we do not have to perform the same set of activities. This improvisation is yet another contributor to the rapid development process. 

Responsive: For most of us it would be difficult to imagine a day without our mobile phone. Mobile devices have become an integral part of our lives. Apart from communication and entertainment, they also are a source of lot of new learning these days. And this is what compels us to contemplate responsive design as an important part of our modernization strategy. Responsive eLearning design is all about giving an optimal user experience, especially at times when your users are experiencing stuff like NetFlix. There is a lot that goes into creating optimal user experience for learners consuming content on mobile devices. The xSMART framework enables us to get things right, the first time itself. Some examples being, implementing the best practices for audio syncing, ensuring that assets load on the course screen in an optimal manner, usage of right type of rich media elements, using device specific features like swap for content interaction, and more.

Trackable: The good old SCORM has been around for a long time and would probably continue being there for a longer time. But at times, there is only so much insights that a SCORM package can bring. Stakeholders are looking for more flexibility and deeper analytics on learner behavior and performance, and very rightly so. These additional insights can help us in continuous improvement of our digital learning strategy. xSMART enables you to think beyond SCORM and implement additional tracking capabilities to generate detailed analytics and insights which help in making informed decisions. One such example is xAPI. Of-course, this has to be supported by relevant technology infrastructure such as a Learning Record Store (LRS) or a custom application with a robust backend to capture detailed analytics. But imagine a scenario, where this advanced track ability can help us get insights on how is the learner progressing towards achieving their goals or how is their performance graph moving for a certain competency. xSMART enables you to take this plunge and generate powerful analytics.

In the next blog in the series, we would peel one layer further. We would take a look at the benefits that key stakeholders can get out of this framework. And it won’t be a spoiler if we reveal who our key stakeholders are; it’s the modern day learner, learning and development heads, and CXOs. Till then if you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to drop us a line at info@harbinegrlearning.com.

Micro-Learning: The Interactive Way

What is the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘micro-learning’? More than 90% people would respond, “videos”. Over a period, videos have become synonymous with micro-learning. Interesting videos with the right story-line, engaging graphics, and optimal speed, can be a great micro-learning aid. Even though videos come with a lot of benefits, they are really hard to maintain or update in-line with changing content. In that case, is there a different approach we can look at for developing micro-learning?

Personally, I learn really well through Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Short questions and precise answers can make learning really effective. Owing to rapid technology advancement, we can now create chatbots to consume nuggets of information in question and answer format. A learner can ask a question and get a quick short answer at the point-of-need. It not only acts as a short learning nugget, but also an interesting way to engage learners. Not only can these bots answer queries, but also log analytics of the questions being asked and questions which remain answered. Bots can also be updated easily for frequently changing content and changes can be displayed to learners immediately. These bots can be created using a variety of technologies such as Microsoft Q&A maker, Google Dialogflow, and Amazon Lex.

Have you tried creating micro-learning using chatbots? How has your experience been?

Interested in seeing a demo of FAQ bots? Reach out to us at info@harbingerlearning.com.

Why Do We Need a Content Modernization Strategy Now More than Ever Before?

To adapt to technology disruptions and meet the modern-day learners’ demands, many organizations are looking at modernizing their existing learning material. But sometimes, modernization could be mistaken purely as a transformation from Flash to HTML5 and in an oversight; the bigger underlying opportunity could be overlooked. A broader definition of modernization and a bigger picture could help prevent this. Modernization should ideally be looked at as a transformational strategy to deliver business results by creating unique experiences for learners. It provides an opportunity for business leaders to align strategic objectives. L&D heads could use modernization to transition from a culture of training to a culture of learning and upskilling. And the modern-day learner could get required information in the flow of work.

Modernization can come with its fair share of challenges. A robust and proven modernization framework would help us sail towards successful implementation and logical conclusion of this initiative. We’ll talk about the framework in detail in an upcoming blog, for now, we’ll focus on the key factors which are driving the need for modernization in the modern-day workplace.

Technology Disruptions

In 1991, a web legend named Sir Tim Berners-Lee created HTML5. The WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) continued evolving it. One of the key objectives of developing HTML5 was to have a better alternative to Flash. More than two and a half decades, a plethora of devices, operating systems, and multiple browser combinations later, we have actually come to a point wherein Adobe is officially closing curtains on Flash. By December 2020, Adobe will stop supporting Flash; In fact, browsers like Chrome and Firefox have announced that they would stop supporting Flash from as early as July 2019.

This is just one example of technology disruption, there are multiple happening around us. The modernization strategy to counter this needs to be two fold; firstly, come abreast with major disruptions that have happened till now and secondly, have a mechanism to future-proof content. Today we live in the era of HTML5; a lot is being built around it. But tomorrow when HTML6 comes out, it shouldn’t call for a distinct modernization initiative. The strategy right now should account for future-proofing.

Skills Gap

The ‘skills gap’ across the globe, including the United States, is pretty serious. As per McKinsey’s reports, almost 40 percent of American employers say they cannot find people with the skills they need, even for entry-level jobs. As L&D stakeholders, we are tasked with the responsibility of making learning available for the modern-day learner to close on the skills gap and in turn, help our organization and employees grow together.

We also have to account for things which were not in our list till late. Owing to the new generation of learners and needs of modern-day workplace, new skill areas are popping up regularly. Diversity and inclusivity as soft-skills or block chain as a technical skill are appropriate examples of such new learning areas. The modernization strategy needs to account for all such needs. Closing on the skills gap and enabling employee growth should be one of the strategic themes of the modernization initiative.

The Modern-Day Learner

There is so much that has been written about the modern-day learner. Without being overly critical about their learning habits, let’s acknowledge the fact that the evolution of the modern-day learner is happening because society, workplace, and technology, almost everything is evolving. The modern-day learner is just trying to keep pace with the ever increasing demands. We know their attention spans have reduced, they get distracted, and overwhelmed easily. They want learning to be made available in a timely manner, and in a format which is easy for them to consume. But the good news is that they have made their expectations loud and clear. It makes it so much easier for us to plan and deliver accordingly.

While we talk about the modern-day learner, we need to be mindful of the fact that while the modernization initiative should account for the needs of the modern-day learner, it should not be limited just to millennials and Gen Z. It should be more holistic, starting right from the baby boomers.

Maintenance

Brian Marick once quoted, ‘Development is maintenance’. This sounds so apt in our discussion for the need of a modernization strategy. As content owners, one of the key things is to ensure that we are able to maintain content that we are developing. For instance, a pharma company has to ensure that the content is updated as per latest FDA regulations.

The other aspect of maintenance is the variety of technology infrastructure that is being used to deliver content. Today you might have a SCORM LMS in place and you design and develop content for it, but tomorrow, if an xAPI compliant LMS comes into picture, the requirement would be to pass data into the Learning Record Store (LRS) of the LMS. The modernization strategy should account for such technology changes and make content available in a format which could be easily transitioned.

Business Re-Alignment

Enterprises are going through digital transformation. The manufacturing industry is talking about Industrial revolution 4.0. L&D stakeholders want to transform from a culture of training to a culture of learning. All this will eventually culminate into a new ecosystem. And a key component of that ecosystem would be the way people are learning or consuming content. It seems improbable that Boyle’s Law would get replaced but the way people would want to know about Boyle’s Law is definitely going to change.

Have you come across any other factors which might be driving the need for content modernization? You can write to us at info@harbingerlearning.com and we would be happy to have a conversation.