eLearning Effectiveness Enhanced Through Social Learning

I was recently reviewing some eLearning conferences planned for 2011; Learning Technologies, ASTD International, Masie’s Learning, Learning Solutions Conference & Expo and a few others, and the one thing that kept popping out at me was “Social Learning”. There were several tracks in each conference that addressed the “What, Why, How, Who” of social learning.

It looks like social learning has been claimed to be one of the two top focuses of learning today (the other being mobile learning, which I’ll cover in another blog).

So let’s look at learning in general and the three main modalities through which it can be imparted. There’s the traditional classroom training, online elearning and now social learning. We all know the advantages of elearning over classroom training, but most students of elearning courses find that even with the best courses, there is a missing element that could have further enhanced the learning effectiveness. What they miss in elearning courses is social interaction with other students and the teacher. Hence the key to enhancing learning effectiveness is to blend social interaction with elearning.

From eLearning to social interaction enabled elearning
Enhancing eLearning Effectivess Through Social Interaction

And now, with the latest technologies, social interaction within elearning courseware is easily achievable. Elearning can now include online discussions, polls and debates through blogs and other online forums. The Course Administrator can use Twitter feeds for course updates. The course itself can have links to various podcasts, videos and even online multiplayer games to enhance learning. However, like with elearning in general, the key rule for creating meaningful social interaction within a course is setting the learning “context”. Without the context being set, it is difficult to keep the interaction focused on the topic. Some other tips to keep in mind when integrating social interaction with elearning are:

  1. Ensure that the social interaction is moderated – The role of the Course Administrator is critical so that the interactions are supplemented with more information, answers and clarifications.
  2. Keep debates and discussion simple and don’t link them with further learning topics in your elearning course.
  3. Encourage blogs, comments on blogs, RSS feeds from the blog.
  4. Keep the instructor’s blog posts short and ask students to comment on them.
  5. Link to podcasts, videos, articles or other online reading material from the blog post as well as from the course.
  6. Avoid integrating chat with social interaction – like I said, social learning can be effective only when it is in context with the learning material and online chats will only take learners away from the context and thus away from learning.
  7. Try to use only free social interaction tools – Blogs, networking sites and other forums where learners don’t have to “download” or “install” anything. They can just log on and start interacting!

So go ahead, fill in the missing element in your elearning courses and tell me what your learners say!

The Customizable Product Training Framework

I spoke about this framework in my earlier blog and thought I would detail it out at this point.

A quick recap – Training people about any product and its features is an integral part of the product life cycle, be it at product development stage, its introduction in the market or its growth. At each phase of the product life cycle, there are various people to train – sales and marketing, technical support staff, customer support staff, the consumers, resellers, solution consultants, to name a few. You also need to update the courseware with every product update and upgrade.
All this training can be quite expensive!
With our many years of experience in product training design and development for customers all over the world, we at Harbinger have formulated a unique solution that gives a rare blend of easy customizability, production expertise and a templatized approach that helps crunch the training cost!
We call this the Customizable Product Training Framework and devised it in three steps.

Step 1: The Product Training Taxonomy

Product Training Taxonomy - Extract
Product Training Taxonomy - Extract

We studied and put together the integral requirements for product training which

  • identifies various training audiences
  • describes the training objective for each
  • lists what the training should cover
  • identifies the effective training modality for the content

We call this the “Product Training Taxonomy” and an excerpt from the complete taxonomy is given here.

Step 2: The Product Training Courseware Model

Product Training Units
Product Training Units

We then detailed the content coverage that will meet each course objective for each audience and broke this down by audience type and content to be covered. An excerpt of this “Product training courseware model” is given here.

Step 3: The Product Training Courseware Templates
We then studied and identified the types of screens, interactivities, exercises and assessment question types which would be typically used in product training programs and built the various screen templates that could be used to teach these content units. The templates were built using the universally accepted and easy-to-update Flash-XML architecture. In this, we have put in all the “variable” elements of a course, like graphics, audio, on-screen text etc, in XML, which can be easily updated using simple XML editors like Notepad. The “constant” elements like the user interface have been designed in Flash.

The Result
The result of this extensive thought process was a framework that allows you to do all of the following – rapidly and cost effectively:
1. Build a single product training course for multiple audiences – from sales force to consumers
2. Build multiple courses for different products based on the first product training course
3. Update the courses with each product upgrade
4. Localize the courses into multiple languages for a global reach

Write to us at producttraining@contentservices.harbingergroup.com for more details!

Avatars in eLearning

Okay, I’m not just trying to capitalize on James Cameron’s blockbuster being released in theatres once again with 9 minutes of earlier-unseen-footage! One question regarding the “use of Avatars in eLearning” that has reared its head often during discussions within the instructional design team at Harbinger is: How exactly do we define Avatars? So, what I’m trying to do is put forth our own conclusions here.

As instructional designers, we’ve often come across clients who’ve heard the latest buzz word, “Avatars”, in eLearning and obviously want courses developed using this concept. Avatars make learning fun and enable learners to get more out of their learning by really immersing themselves in the content. Our clients’ understanding of Avatars, however, seems to differ! Some would take the cute looking sales girl who pops up onscreen at regular intervals in a course and talks a learner through the content to be an Avatar. Others think she’s just an animated graphic whose main purpose in the course is to be a mentor! Confused?

In James Cameron’s film, Sam Worthington plays a former Marine who infiltrates the Na’vi population by controlling a genetically modified Avatar via mental link. In other words, he finds himself–quite enviably, in my opinion–immersed in the body of another being, able to control its actions, see things and react the way the other being would! Similarly, games that are truly immersive enjoy this distinction because they allow the player to ‘be someone else’ through the Avatar they control in the game. In my opinion, that’s what differentiates an Avatar from an animated character in an eLearning course as well.

In an eLearning context, Avatars should represent you, the learner, in an online learning environment. Now if you found yourself a new body in an online learning environment, you wouldn’t want content just fed to you, would you? No, you’d want to move around, explore, interact, get to the content that you want, make decisions and face consequences and, in the process, achieve your learning objectives! So, the extent to which you can immerse yourself in the role you are playing in the course is what defines the effective use of an Avatar. If you’re not doing that, chances are you’re just looking at an animated graphic of a character with moving lips and eyes, thanks to clever programming, talking you through content while you listen passively!

6 Product Training Courses – At The Cost and Speed of One!

You see new products being launched in the market everyday – mobile phones, drugs, insurance policies or new service offerings. Have you ever wondered what determines a product’s success? Is it the market research that went into identifying the right product? Its top of the class features, design, packaging, branding or effective selling? It’s probably the right mix of all these! But there is one more crucial factor – ensuring that the right information about these products is available to the right people at the right time. In other words – effective training!

To ensure product success, you need to ensure that your sales force, customer support and marketing teams, resellers, technical support teams and even your prospective and existing customers are well trained on the product throughout its lifecycle. However, design and development of courseware can be expensive, especially if you have to keep updating it with product updates and upgrades! So how do you get product training that’s cost effective, can be rapidly developed and made to reach a wide audience in a short time frame?

With our vast experience in building product training courseware over the past several years, our instructional designers and technical architects have put together a “framework” that:

  1. identifies the training objectives for each audience type
  2. details the course coverage to meet those objectives and
  3. identifies the training modality that would work most effectively for each

We then built a customizable course architecture and a set of templates that will be typically used to teach and present content in a product training course. These have been designed to show product features, product installation and configuration, product USPs and such information that you’d want to teach about your product.

So with your design all laid out and ready to use, your development becomes quicker, more cost effective and easier to manage – thus reducing your costs!

Sounds like what you wanted? Get in touch with us to know how we can make this framework work for you!