Thursday, August 20, 2015

Creating Effective Job Aids – Common Mistakes to avoid

Creating Effective Job Aids – Common Mistakes to avoid
As corporate training and eLearning is turning shorter and practical, the importance of job aids to supplement learning is getting highlighted. L & D teams are now emphasizing on creating a coherent learning environment for their employees, by using job aids to complement the courses. Job aid, as the name suggests, aids the users in completing the job effectively and successfully.

It comes handy for the users as it makes the right information available, in the right medium, right at their desks or fingertips, just when they need it. However poorly designed job aid would defeat its purpose and is likely to end up getting dumped into the stack of unused documents. Here are a few common mistakes that can, and should be avoided when creating job aids.


1. Lengthy and verbose – Users get frustrated if job aid provides too much theoretical, unnecessary and ‘nice to know’ information. Job aid is for quick reference and hence should be concise, to-the-point and quickly getting to the crux of its objective. It should ideally be not more than one or two pages.

2. Complicated layout  Unformatted or complex layout makes it difficult for users to find information quickly. Job aid should be designed in an easy-to-follow format, contingent on the type of task it supports.

3. Don’t map to users’ needs – Job aid written without keeping in mind the target users’ entry level knowledge, needs and experience often fails to achieve its objectives.

4. Content dumping – Just copying the entire step-list or flowchart from a training or process into the job aid is another common mistake. Job aid requires careful content curation, editing and reworking as opposed to content dumping.

5. No visuals – Job aid with only verbal description takes a lot of time to read and may drop user’s interest. Using images, drawings and symbols to describe information guarantee retention and makes it lot easier for users to follow. But visuals must aid the learning process and not just decorate the document.

6. Lack of context – Job aids, many times, do not set the context for using them. Job aid should have a brief linkage to the context, being standalone learning material by itself. Context would help users understand, retain and process information better.

7. Difficult to access – The purpose of having a job aid gets defeated if it is not easily accessible to users. For example, job aids are merged into a single bank of online documents without sorting or giving a search option. Be it a print or digital, job aids should be easily accessible whenever users need it.

8. Complex language Users tend to avoid referring a job aid if it has unfamiliar words, technical terms and industry jargon.  Job aid should use simple language so that the user doesn’t struggle with its meaning. Jargons should be avoided unless appropriate to the task and the user.

A well-crafted job aid can be a great reference tool for learners to apply their learning on the job and retain knowledge. However it should be designed and developed carefully to yield its results.  Have you come across any such mistakes in job aids you have referred or reviewed? What are your tips for creating user-friendly job aids?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Instructional Designers and Product Managers – Traversing The Common Trail

I have been working as a Product Manager with Raptivity for the last 5 years. It has been an amazing journey till now. My favourite moments of this journey have been whenever I have talked to any of our customers and seen how they used Raptivity, how they visualized the product to be used, how they mapped hundreds of Raptivity interactions into various phases of eLearning course development and so on.

As I think about thousands of these conversations that I have had over the years with instructional designers and course creators, I thought I could easily map some similarities between a product manager’s job profile and an instructional designer or even a course creator’s job profile. Here are a few things I could recommend to every budding instructional designer that they could learn from a product manager or vice versa.

1)    Have a long term vision
A product manager constantly focuses on the product’s core ideology and the direction in which it has to be developed. A product cannot be built with one feature. Neither can Product Managers  focus on only the features being developed at that moment and get busy with it.

Similarly, an ID should focus on the long term learning goal rather than just one course or module. Behaviour of learners cannot be changed in just one course. It takes consistent efforts and the vision to get the desired behaviour changes in a learner. If an ID has that vision in mind as he/she develops courses, the vision will be a reality

2)    Product idea itself should solve some problem for the customer
Before getting into product development, a product manager’s key responsibility is to verify if the product idea is just a cool innovative idea or if it really solves a problem. Understanding the problem being solved creates a huge positive difference in later stages of product development, product marketing, and sales.

Similarly, an ID needs to understand the problem that a particular course would solve. Understanding the pain points of learners assists in designing the right course material and helps in attracting the learners to the course; as the course addresses a key problem they are facing.

3)    Understand your customers
A question: “Who is your Customer?” is the most commonly asked question to a product manager. Unless you know whom are you addressing, you cannot design a product. Not only who, but also “Where is your customer” helps in designing the product. Answers to these questions are critical as one starts converting a product idea into reality.

Similarly, an ID should know which learners are they targeting and where are they located. This helps in connecting at an emotional level with the learners. The age group they belong to, the lingo they use, the images they prefer, the accent they understand, and many more course design elements can be thought through before even beginning with the course development.

4)    Product design makes a huge difference
A product manager always starts with product design first before getting into developing the product. Product visualization and how it functions is the key not only in faster development with minimum reworks, but designing a user friendly product.

Similarly, an ID with a visualization of the course, the interactions it would have, the experience a learner would have while interacting with the course, is the key for  successful course development. An ID should have a clear visualization of every small thing like the labels to use, font size and style, color combinations to use, places where help would be needed, etc. In addition, if mLearning is being considered, then the devices the learners would use to take the course would be key design considerations before getting into the actual course development.

5)    Innovative ways to engage your customer
If a product manager is successful in designing a product that engages the users, s(he) has won the battle of keeping customers engaged. For example, updating product tutorials, sharing product key updates, access to blogs and community, tips and tricks, etc. from the product are the key elements to engage the customers’ right at the place where they need it.
             
Similarly, an ID needs to constantly think of finding new and different ways to engage the learners. Presenting content in the old fashioned page turner style with a next-previous button would not motivate the learners to take the course. If one can use different ways of presenting content like games, 3D worlds, character based simulations, case studies, etc., they would engage learners and want them to come back for more.

6)    User validation at early stages
A product manager runs a beta user group where certain selected customers get access to the product being developed at regular stages. These customers try and test the product and share feedback with the product manager. It helps in designing the product correctly for the entire user community before it is released publicly.

If an ID could get the course tested with some selected learners to get their inputs, it would make a huge difference on what the final course would look like. These could be the same people whom the ID interviewed to understand their pain points (step #4). Involving learners in the course design could be an innovative step an ID can take and see the changes in the end result. These learners could also champion those courses making the entire initiative a success.

These are some co-relations I could suggest as a product manager. Do you have any other thoughts? Please feel free to share those in the comments below.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Developing Learning Objects in a Team


Developing Learning Objects in a Team


A lot of instructional designers work in a team, but many of them also work independently. They receive a subject, choose images, videos, audio and develop all the objects of their storyboard(s) all by themselves. When you are a lone wolf, the process is usually faster than working in a group. There's no debate about which colors, fonts, images to use. You make all decisions yourself. Unless you have a double personality, you usually will not disagree with yourself, right? 

I used to work in an editorial team where we developed learning objects with help of multiple authoring tools. There was a subject matter expert to develop the content, an editor to revise grammatical mistakes, an artist dedicated to design graphics, and some managers to help us with customer's details, business model, etc. 

With so many people involved, the process to create a simple learning object generally took a lot of time.One would think that the result would always be fantastic. Well, to be honest, No! Most of the times we had to re-do everything, because at some point or the other, we got into developing what we wanted and missed the customer's requisition.

So we decided to create some processes to reduce the re-work:
  • Forms with multiple questions about the customer and the project, i.e. colors,preferences, website, budget, size, content details, etc.
  • Preparation of a color concept and wire-frame to make it more visual.
  • Pre-closure meeting with the customer to answer all their pending queries.
  • Preparation of a Contextual Report, Pedagogical definitions and Course/Learning Object Structure.
Another consideration while working with a team is use of some good project management tools. As a thumb-rule, when there are more than 3 people involved, tools like Jira (Atlassian) or Quickbase (Intuit), come really handy for the revision/approval processes. 

The most important factor in the whole process is patience. With a lot of people sharing and sometimes, even dictating their opinion and point of views, it is very easy to get into arguments. So practice being patient and slowly work your way through understanding and implementing what the client wants and what the team members want.

Hope these tips come in handy for anyone involved in developing content in a team.

Good Luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Harness the Power of Videos in Interactions

It goes without saying that eLearning courses can be made more engaging using a range of techniques, and using videos can be an effective one. Why effective? Well, who doesn’t like watching videos? In fact, people are consuming videos more than ever due to widespread use of laptops, smartphones and internet availability. Let’s look at some interesting stats about videos and see what makes them so engrossing: 
  • Forrester Research estimates that one minute of online video equates to approximately 1.8 million written words.
  • 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.
  • People retain 95% of the message in a video compared to 10% in text and 65% in images.
 All of these research statistics point to the fact that visual education aids like videos can enhance learning results and increase the rate at which we retain information. However, it becomes equally important for instructional designers and course creators to present these videos in unique exciting ways. A plain video would only end up being a one-way communication and make learners temporarily passive. There are various ways to use videos and make them interactive and more engaging for learners. Raptivity, for example, has a range of interaction models which help present videos in a variety of interesting ways. Here are some samples for you to have a quick look at.


An example of video with key points being summarized at regular intervals. (Check Section 3 - Why eLearning?)

An example of video with knowledge check questions at logical sections within the video.


An example of video being used in an eBook to create a unique eBook experience.

An example of video with additional text at appropriate intervals within the video.


Have you ever used videos in your eLearning? How have you made them interactive? Share your stories and samples in the comments below.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mini-Lessons – How to Begin

The learner needs to understand and grasp the subject, and to satisfy themselves or others that they know the intention of the lesson – and, in the case of mini-lessons, achieve all this really quickly. 
The first thing to determine is the outcome – ask yourself, What do I want the learner to learn?
  • Just one outcome is ideal.
  • With mini-lessons, refinement is the key.  Drill to the essential essence of your defined outcome – finding the ‘kernel’ of the piece of knowledge is one way to express this focus.
  • This is the most important, and sometimes the most difficult, aspect of developing the mini-lesson.  However, without this refinement it is difficult to develop clear steps to provide easy and fast learning.
Once the expected outcome is clear, then either the knowledge or the learning activities to achieve this can be tackled. 
  • Essentially, the knowledge gives the learner the information to provide the answer to the expected outcome. 
  • Learning activity provides the practice or revision of that knowledge.
This approach may seem back to front.  But it works!  Starting with the end, or the outcome, and knowing your goal means you can more easily construct the mini-lesson to achieve that goal.

About the Author:
Anne Mills
Director/Developer, Learning Solutions


Anne is a graphic designer whose skills have enabled her to produce appealing learning objects and engaging online learning experiences. Through her collaboration with Caryl Oliver, and Raptivity, she has created a range of learning and training courses for clients as small as a hospitality college in India to industry giants like the Linfox Group in Australia.

Currently Anne is contracted to Achievement for All in the UK producing material that supports the charity in its work with vulnerable children. With its reach into 2000 schools, the task to transform their main programme from face-to-face training of school personnel to predominantly online learning is a challenge for them as well as for Anne.