Thursday, December 07, 2006

Comic Book Training

In my previous post, I talked about doing some aspect of our training in comic book form... inspired by this post from Brent Schlenker.

Well, I did a rough draft, and I'm pretty happy with it. It's essentially a book of common mistakes sales people need to avoid. I'm including the cover, and one of the "blunders". Click the picture below to see:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back to old habits.

We've got a new course being developed, and it's going to include 6 small-ish Flash modules.  All of it due by December 15th.
With a little time, I'm sure we could brainstorm some great interactive ways to present the material, and try to do some really engaging training.  However, with such a quick deadline, it's all come down to "glorified PowerPoints" again.  It can be disheartening, especially when I've got tons of ideas floating around in my head, and I've read such interesting things on some other E-learning blogs.
I will say that this post from Brent Schlenker gave me a fun idea for one of the sections.  While I haven't found anything as cool as Comic Life for the PC, I did buy Comic Book Creator, the Marvel edition.  It's has some of the features of Comic Life.  One of the section in one of the modules is about common mistakes sales people make, and I'm going to turn each of those mistakes into a comic book page... then each Next Button click will zoom to a different panel on the page.  At the end of the mistake, the page will turn and show a different mistake, and zoom around again.  I think it'll be kind cool.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Challenge O' the day/week/months/year: More Posting

We recently got finished with our big, corporate-wide training course.  Unfortunately, the division we were creating it for had this artificial deadline and they wouldn't budge on it (even though, most of our holdups were because they missed their deadlines).  So we sent it out with NO testing or bug-checking outside of our own,  which is a huge mistake because we've got decent computers with all the right software -- most people in the "real" world aren't so fortunate.  Needless to say, we've been inundated with support/complaint calls since it went live.
Another problem, as I've posted about before, is the idea that we're forcing people to click through long and large file-sized sections... and not everyone in the company is on a blazing T-3 connection like we are.  I really hope people will learn from this... but I'm skeptical.
On a good note, I was able to implement some Flash technologies that I never used before.  Specifically, connecting to Web Services and using XML to create a randomized quiz.  I have had a few problems with the Web Service, but that's because our little web server got really overloaded with the initial onslaught of participants, and would create errors.  Nothing big, mind you, but there are a few people whose progress wasn't totally tracked.
My next desire is to learn about Flex and ActionScript 3.  Sometimes I feel like I'm just catching up to technology that was new 5 years ago... but I've just never had the time to spend with learning all the new stuff.  I got very good at Flash 5, but have grown very slowly since then.  Now that it looks like we'll have some downtime, I want to start with the absolute LATEST technology, and be on the cutting edge.  Knowing how the real world works though, I imagine we'll have another urgent project sprung on us, and my plans will be put on hold again.   I'll be starting to learn about AS3 in 2010.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Challenge O' the Day: Does my opinion count?

I've blogged about it already, but we're in the middle of a big project that's (hopefully) nearing completion.  My honest feeling about it though, is that it's a huge waste of time.  Not only that, it's a waste of a LOT of time.
Back when I first started, I thought my role in the division was to create effective, interactive training for the intranet.  Just like the our workshop trainers will get together and figure out ways to keep the students engaged in the class, it seemed like my job was to do the same but online.  A few years ago, I realized that really wasn't my function.  Basically, I take the words that are given me, make them look "pretty", and tweak it until my bosses are happy.  Almost never do I actually think about the training's effectiveness... I'm only worried about the higher-up's contentment.
As we near the end of this current course development, I'm struggling with the fact that nothing we're doing is going to help anyone learn anything.  Again a few years ago, I had brought up similar issues with my direct supervisor, but I was told, "I understand your concern, but we need to make sure [the head person] is pleased with it first".  That is TOTALLY anti-thetical to what I know about Learning.  And it bothers me that they DON'T take that approach to the in-person training... or to put it better, it bothers me that they don't treat ONLINE learning with the same attitude as they treat in-person training.
After going to the eLearn DevCon thing a couple of months ago, I almost feel bad for complaining.  So may of those people were struggling with even having funding for online training -- and we've got a whole department.  At the same time, it should ALL be about effective learning, and not our superior's "egos".  Unfortunately, as it stands, my opinion only really matters on minute issues.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Seinfeld killed the "laugh track"

Not specifically eLearning-related, but it's on my mind right now.  If I tried, I could make a connection between audience/student perceptions, and the efforts of content creators to force a specific response... with disregard for an audience's/student's open and honest reaction. 
Anyway, I used to be an avid TV watcher.  From the time I got home to the time I went to bed, I was watching something -- anything.  Since I've been domesticated, my TV watching has dwindled to a few shows I make a point to Tivo.  Probably the first show I "got into", after marriage and kids, was Arrested Development... and a perennial favorite has always been The Daily Show.  Currently, I'm watching The Office and My Name is Earl, plus Sunday night's Adult Swim. I'm on-and-off with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and while it was (briefly) on, I loved the show Sons and Daughters. I'll also add that the whole family enjoys Whose Line is it Anyway? which airs a whole lot on ABC Family.
Looking through that list, I realized they all have one thing in common:  no laugh track.  Sure, The Daily Show and Whose Line have live audiences but, with the exception of Whose Line's first US season, the audience reaction is not coaxed.  If a joke fails... no one laughs.  And very often, the personality's response to the failure is the most funny thing of all.  The other shows in my list are all situational comedies,  but they don't insist, "Hey, we just made a joke. Let's make the laugh track laugh, so other people know it, too."  It becomes the TV watcher's prerogative as to whether something is funny or not.
Looking back to my youth, I used to LOVE watching "I Love Lucy" reruns.  They were/are still very funny, and since they were performed live-to-tape, the studio audience's reactions were honest... and they laughed because it was really funny.  Somewhere along the line, the TV execs decided that it wasn't enough to make the scripts ACTUALLY humorous -- they needed to inject the audience's response at every joke, whether it was funny or not.  For some reason, I want to blame "Three's Company"... while it had many funny situations, it seemed the stupid parts were eliciting the same reaction that the honestly funny parts were.  Very disingenuous.   Though, even earlier, "The Flintstones" decided that a cartoon needed a laugh track -- but I kind of appreciate the strangeness of that idea.
Throughout the 80's and 90's, the sit-com was very formulaic.  There were buddy comedies, family comedies, and ensemble comedies.  Some were really good, most were not.  But they all used the studio audience, and the laugh track, to broadcast exactly where the joke was supposed to be.  M*A*S*H was an enigma -- it started out as a fairly straight sit-com, but evolved into a deeper show... and the "audience" of the later years seemed to serve the function of just setting the tone.  Then came Seinfeld.
Seinfeld, on it's face, was straight-up, ensemble sit-com.  But somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd seasons, it become this twisted, original show... that just happened to have a laugh track.  After it ended, laugh tracks just seemed to be totally incapable of making an unfunny show funny... it really just made them pathetic.
Now, I've tried to watch some of the new sit-coms that have come out... but anytime the laughs kick in, it really irritates me.  I almost feel like the producers are taking me for an idiot, because without the laughs, I wouldn't know that a joke just occurred.  The Office doesn't do that... they play out the situations, and YOU get to decide if it works or not.
I guess I could tie it back to the recent interest in eLearning/ Learning 2.0 , or Web 2.0... the idea of a collaborative effort that doesn't FORCE the person into one direction.  Has the term "TV 2.0" been coined yet?  Or specifically "Sit-Com 2.0"?  Actually, it would be more like "1.5", since the viewer isn't actually creating the content... though, the success of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" may be an indication that a true "2.0" is coming.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Challenge o' the day:  making our modules/web apps "foolproof".
A couple of salient quotes:
"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."
      ---Douglas Adams
"His priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even... knowledge, was foolproof."
      ---- JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Specifically, I'm working on a registration/ login page in a Flash environment.  I think two input boxes, one labeled 'email' and the other labeled 'password', is quite sufficient and self-explanatory.  I've got a little blurb that says something like "if this is your first time here, the password you enter will become the password needed on any future visits"... and there's even a "forgot your password?" link.  There's also a "submit" button.   Sure, there will be some people that think, "but I don't have a password" or " I can't remember my password" or something, but those will be few... and a necessary evil.
However, in an effort to make the thing "foolproof", I'm now having to put two buttons on the front page, one buttons "Click here if this is your first time visiting this page"... which then takes you to a new frame that says "Enter your corporate Email address in the box that's labeled 'email'... then choose a password and enter that into the box labeled 'password'.  The password you type will be obscured for your safety, so please write it down before you enter it"  Please forget the fact that writing it down on a piece of paper completely forgoes the reason it's obscured in the first place.... but anyway....
The other button on the front page says "Click here if you've already registered and want to login".   Then you go to a page that says most of the same stuff, except for "Enter the password you chose during registration in the box labeled 'password'".
THEN... after you log in, there's a screen that says "You've successfully logged in, click here to continue".
So basically, two form fields and a short sentence on a single page turned into four pages, with paragraphs on each.  All in the name of "foolproofing".
From experience, I can tell you I'll be getting about 10 calls a day for the next 3 weeks, with people having problems logging on.

Should All Learning Professionals be Blogging?

A new feature from the Learning Circuits Blog -- The Big Question: Should all learning professionals be blogging?

My answer: Maybe.

Thank you, and good night.

But seriously, the question itself is (intentionally?) nebulous. Because "blogging" is a nebulous concept. People blog for various reasons, and in various forms. I'm doing this simply as a matter of emotional release for the challenges I face throughout the day. That way, my wife doesn't have to hear me complain when I get home. However, most of the eLearning blogs I read, like eLearning Technology (thanks for the "shout out", btw) tend to be more of an information clearinghouse and tips, for lack of a better word. Harold Jarche has a lot of theory. Brent Schlenker focuses on a lot of new products and the future of eLearning. It's different strokes, for different folks.

I think a great justification for all Learning Pros to be blogging is as a matter of communication with students and co-workers. In my company, specifically, I think it would be great to have an internal blog about new courses we're rolling out... things we're considering... and feedback from all of our current courses. It could even be useful for new ideas and theories about "selling" that we may come across, and want to get out there... but don't have the time to make a new course or add it to a previous course. And don't think I haven't raised the issue before...

As with anything, people respond differently to different challeneges. And honestly, I know some people that would get nothing out of blogging, and may even be distracted by it. So again, should everyone be blogging? Maybe.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Who controls the content?

My big issue right now: content control.
I was hired to create/maintain the online elements of our training.  But in reality, I just take what my bosses want, and put it into Flash.  Like my previous post, when there was an opportunity to create some wonderful eLearning, I was overruled and forced to do something less effective.  It also happened a couple of weeks ago, when I had a "cool" idea about adding some interactions to a new training module we were working on -- but, because it would've added a few days onto the completion date, I was told to scrap it.  It's a bit disheartening at times, but I really don't control any of the content.
I've had years of training experience... and I've seen first-hand what works.  So when I approach a job, my first thought is, "What's the best way to get the student to learn?" I think I may be only person that actually approaches the online training in that way.  When they talk about the in-person training workshops, it's ALL about student interactions... and keeping people engaged.  However, "online" is relegated to "just get the information out there".
I guess it's like my internal voice keeps saying, "baby steps"....

Software simulation tutorials

We've got an online application that needs to be explained.  My thought is "great, we can build a mock app. in Flash and have the student 'try it out' ".  They'll be prompted to click on specific links, enter specific information... and it'll be a great interactive demo.  Then again, maybe not....
We're now doing a straight, instructional module... with no interactions.  As far as instructional modules go, it's really not that bad.  But I know it could be SO much better if it were an actual simulation.  "Experiential" learning is the BEST way to teach ANYTHING.  That's a fact that it seems everyone knows.  So then, why do people insist on doing non-experiential modules, especially when there's this much potential on this particular topic?  Mind-boggling....


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Critics of Gagne's

Brent Schlenker points to this post  from Donald Clark about how Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction need to be rethought.  My initial reaction after reading that was "right on"... especially considering the current project I'm working on.  We're basically doing everything that Clark is criticizing.
However, after re-reading it, it seems like his criticisms aren't of Gagne's Events -- he's really criticizing how "typical" e-learning has applied those events.  Even Kruse's explanation seems to fall into that same pattern, though after hearing him speak at the ELearn DevCon, I'm sure he's NOT in favor of the "standard" ways of e-learning.
In a perfect world, of course, every student would have learning interactions tailored specifically to his/her style of learning.  And the whole eLearning 2.0 thing seems to move in that direction.  However, there are quite a few people who learn most effectively by having pages and pages of text put in front of them, and then taking a test at the end.  When we've done some more interactive stuff in our training, I've actually heard criticisms because they found it to be too distracting and they just wanted to read.  Admittedly, that was only a few people... but we shouldn't totally ignore them in the effort to be more interactive.
Anyway... I think Gagne's is great tool/ guide.  It's by no means the way to teach, and neither is Bloom's or Mager's or Glaser's or anyone's.  But they are great "roadmaps" and help me, at least, to develop an understanding of the theories behind a successful e-Learning program.  Sadly, they're completely irrelevant in my current situation... but I'm making small (VERY small) steps towards that goal.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Crazy day

I was really hoping to update this page more often... but as it happens, the moment I started, we got a huge project.  The project could actually be great fodder for MANY posts.  Here's the situation:
One of our departments is rolling out a LOT of new products, and they need to the sales folk to be trained on those products.  So the solution is - create a 60 minute long "module" that goes over every product in depth.  Not only that... they have to go through the entire module at one sitting, or else they have to start over again.
One of the most recent "disagreements"  I've had with the boss is the inclusion of a bunch of Flash videos that demonstrate the products.  Some of the videos are a few minutes in length, and most of the information is actually covered by prior frames... so I had the "next" button pop up when the video starts. The boss said they only wanted the buttons to come on after the ENTIRE demo is done.  I've timed out the whole module, and if they don't even read any of the text and just click "next" all the way through -- it'll take about 40 minutes.  Now imagine if you're actually reading some of the text.  I'm thinking this could take an hour-and-a-half out of these poor sales people's lives.
This is one of those projects that I believe would be PERFECT for a wiki-style interaction.  Sure, cover the big points in a 10 minutes Flash movie... but put the depth on pages where they can choose to go.  If people just don't have any interest in selling a particular product, why force them to learn everything about it?

Friday, September 08, 2006

who spends 2 nonstop hours on a single course?

My challege: convince the "higher-ups" that a module that takes 2 hours to go through is a REALLY bad idea. Especially when you deal with sales people who really don't want to spend 10 minutes on training. Also, why are we forcing them go through information they may not care about? Do we want these people to actually learn something, or do the SVPs just want to flex their muscle and feel satisfied that they forced people to look at their work?

Now, our SVPs are NOT bad people. In fact, quite the opposite. But, there comes a point when you're a manager that a touch of the "power trip" kicks in. You've got a bunch of things you want to tell people... and you're going to force them to hear it. Of course, once you're done, they forget everything and move on.... but at least you have the satisfaction that your thoughts are out there. It's NOT a good teaching method though.

So, how does a "schmoe" like me convey that idea to bosses?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

the death of the website and the web designer

I was taking a brief break from work and was scanning through SharpReader to catch up on news, politics, tech stuff, etc. I ran across this post from the RSS godfather about his water company having an RSS feed.  My first thought was "hmm.... that's interesting",  but my second thought was "hmm... I haven't been to the Scripting News website in forever."  And why would I?  He's got a great, full-feed RSS... and even the comments come into the aggregator.  So really, the actual page offers me almost NOTHING.
As a designer, the prospect of my web design being irrelevant is disheartening, to say the least.  But honestly,  it seems like the only thing a blog needs is a page with an "RSS" button on it.  Heck, you might as well just redirect to the Feedburner page, because that's already presentable.  I realize that the days of aggregator-only "surfing" are still WAY in the future... but as I've gotten more into SharpReader, I find that Firefox is being used less-and-less. I wonder if there are any RSS-only blogs out there?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Time to take your e-Learning

We deal with a lot of sales people here, so 75% of our online training is centered on Sales topics.  While I've never worked in sales, I've known quite a few sales people and talk to them everyday through the job (they call me with their tech problems).  The one thing I've noticed is that almost all of them would rather be selling than going through training. 
At an in-class training sessions I visited, whenever there was a break, EVERY SINGLE cellphone or Blackberry would be pulled out.  And that's understandable, because... they're Sales People.  To be successful you have to A.B.C.  -- Always Be Celling.  I know it should be A.B.S., but ABC is so Alec Baldwin. 
Anyway, asking these people to spend a day in a "classroom" is a feat.  But on top of that, we're asking them to spend 30 minutes on each module (across 7 or 8 modules) even BEFORE they come to class.  I just don't see how this is effective training.  An idea that I had was to cut the modules WAY down, and only put in the absolute most important stuff... then put all the specific info into a Wiki style HTML page.  That way, if they want to learn more, they can.  But if they don't, we don't force them.
Of course, getting totally away from the module system would be best... but baby steps.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

History - pt. 2

So anyway, I get this cool job playing with Flash all day, and trying to come up with interesting ways to train people.  The biggest problem we've had is that our bosses don't understand how much time it takes to complete a module (at least, a somewhat decent one).  Our second problem is that we create modules.  Basically, the student logs-in... hits the "Next" button on a 20 minutes Flash modules... takes a test... moves one.  Some of the modules are pretty cool, but I doubt anyone spends more time with them than needed.
Our training division as a whole has developed from a "we need it now" philosophy, and that has trickled down to the Online team as well.  Instead of spending a few weeks planning out how to most effectively implement a new training topic,  we get told that a module needs to be complete in 5 days.  It really doesn't leave a lot of room of experimenting and trying out new things.
When I first got the position, I must say I didn't really know any better.  I had this feeling that what we were doing wouldn't be as effective as it could be,  but I didn't know enough to question it.  A few years have past, and I've since discovered some great blogs and even attended my first E-Learning Conference a few weeks ago.  While the Conference didn't live up to my expectations, at least I'm better aware of some of the other ideas out there.
even more to come....


A Brief History - Pt. 1

My name isn't really Howard Cronin, but I'm not sure about my company's policy on blogging about work. I don't plan on giving out trade secrets or anything... I just want to use this place as a repository for various challenges and information I encounter at work.

A quick history of me: My first introduction to formalized, non-classroom-based training was during the many summers I spent working at a youth camp. The last few summers I worked there, I was actually part of the team that came up with the "curriculum" for the training, and we would present it at the start of the summer -- during a staff training week.

From there, I went more into multimedia/web development, and didn't do much in the way of training. Then a few years back, I saw that a position was available that integrated multimedia (Flash) with corporate training. I was completly unaware that there was a formal "thing" called e-learning... and that people actually had jobs and made money doing the two things I loved most: Educating and making fun, interactive movies. So, that's where I am now.

more later...

First Post

First Post.


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