DevLearn conference Day 1: a hectic day

The actual start of the conference and what a day it turned out to be. It began early at 02.00. I woke up after just two hours of sleep (the jet lag hit me) and I was wide awake. At three I decided to go down to the casino with $100 in my pocket and I played black jack for half an hour. And it paid off.

I’m not a gambler at all. It is my second time in Vegas and it was my second time in a casino. The previous time I won $1200, so it is Las Vegas 0 – Kasper 1700! I went back to my room and did some work, at five I discovered that my colleague Chris was awake to. We went for some coffee and went to the gym.

Then I went to my first session of the day. At Guild conferences you have so-called Morning buzz sessions, they start at 07.15. Crazy initiative, but it works. I went to the session of Charles Jennings in the management track. It was about governance, how do you connect your learning department to the business. His main point was that you should have a sort of board who makes decisions about the ‘What’ of the learning. He told about his experience as a CLO at Reuters where they had a board with business leaders, HR and Learning. He told that he did some research and found that about 50% of the companies have boards like that, but only 12,5% of all companies had business stakeholders in that board. His point is that you should have them. We discussed about the experiences of other attendees and every interesting point was made by Jay Cross. He said that you have to do a performance analysis instead of a training need analysis. That way you can tie the learning better to the business. Sounds logical to me.

Then it was time for the opening and the keynote by Michio Kaku, I had really high expectations because the keynotes I attended at the guild conference in Orlando where of an exceptional high level. He disappointed me. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and basically he told us that computers would become so small in 20 years time and so cheap that they would be everywhere (but invisible) and completely change our live. Instead of computers you will have contact lenses that will connect you to the internet and project relevant information into the real world (augmented reality). His talk didn’t bring me any new insights. Clarck Quin made a mindmap of this presentation, so you can check that out.

After the keynote the expo opened and we where flooded by people who wanted to know more about easygenerator. This interest continued until the expo closed (at 7.00), we worked our stand with the four of us and it was hectic. We got great responses and great interest in easygenerator. Hopefully this will lead to loads of new customers.

At 9.30 Bill Brandon published his article about  easygenerator in the Learning Solutions Magazine, great stuff. I will let him interview me any time he wants.

At 12.00 we had a product presentation at the big stage in the expo. It was supposed to be presented by my colleague Chris and Dan Richards (of our US partner Advantage Interactive). But yesterday evening Dan became ill and had to go home. We decided that we would improvise and I got on stage and did a demo of easygenerator. I think it worked out OK.

At 2.45 I had my session on Outcome Learning, there where about 35 people in the audience and I really enjoyed sharing my ideas. It was the first time I presented about this in public and I got good responses. All sessions are evaluated by the audience, it will be interesting to see how I actually did in their eyes. I tried to embed the Prezi, but I didn’t succeed. So here is the link to it.

It was so busy at the stand that I completely missed the second keynote of the day by Tom Koulopoulos. The title was Living and Learning in the cloud. I’m sorry that I missed it. Clarck made another mind map of the presentation. What I understand from the mind map that he focuses on the effect of the cloud on behavior and not on the technique. Sounds interesting enough. I will buy his book and tell you later what his story is.

At the end of the day I was invited to an informal dinner with some interesting people. I enjoyed a good dinner and dito conversation. I was back in my room at 23.00 and dived straight into bed. I woke up at 04.00 and wrote this post. The gym will open at 05.30 I will go there and have a good start of day 2.

DevLearn day 0; an energizing day

The pre conference day is almost over. Great day. This morning I registered for the conference and I got to meet some people from the guild that I worked with over the past few months, but never met in real live. And I received the conference  bag with our logo on it, it looks great. After that I had an interview with Bill Brandon. He is the Managing Editor of the Learning Solutions e-Magazine at the eLearning Guild. He will publish his article in the magazine tomorrow. I saw his concept and he does say very nice things about easygenerator. Some quotes are:

“The new version adds content reuse features, workflow management, version control, and great functionality that applies some of the latest and best information we have about learning, in a way that will redefine the usage of learning objectives.”

“The result of this philosophy is a set of innovative features and functionalities, such as the objective dashboard, which sets up the connection between learning objectives and the content of the eLearning. easygenerator separates content from presentation in a way that facilitates re-use and supports localization and translation to other languages.”

You can read the whole article tomorrow in the Learning Solutions e-Magazine.

Next was a meeting with Cheri Bruno with whom I made arrangements for our participation in the Learning Solution conference in Orlando. Then we build up our booth at the expo and after that we went for a quick shopping streak in an outlet followed by some ordinary work (mail and phone calls).

The afternoon ended with a session with Joe Ganci. I showed him the latest version of easygenerator. Joe will review easygenerator this month and we will hopefully improve easygenerator further based on his remarks. I’m looking forward to that.

The day ended with my first meeting with our US colleague Steve Harz, who joined easygenerator last week. Despite a shared jet lag (3 hours for him, 8 for us) we had a great dinner. Steve will introduce himself in a blog on our corporate website later this week. I look forward working with Steve, I have great expectations.

Picture of the day: Steve Harz

Easygenerator is growing rapidly. Next to Steve we had three new people joining us from the first of November. Beatrijs van de Griendt as senior instructional designer, Martin Boon as User Interface designer and Kseniya Kobryn as our new scrum master. I’m proud that I can call them colleagues now. The fact that we can attract great people must mean that we are moving in the right direction.

Tomorrow day 1 of the conference, with two presentations to give, a booth to man, interesting sessions to attend and a lot of interesting people to meet. Now I will review the presentations of tomorrow and put the dots on the I’s and then I hope to have a good night sleep.

Devlearn conference and expo Las Vegas

Tomorrow I’m leaving for the DevLearn conference in Las Vegas. It will be a very important week for easygenerator. We have been working towards this event for the last 10 months; it will be our official US market launch, a big and important step for us.

We finished easygenerator version 8 last week and we believe that we now have a unique authoring environment that really stands out from our competitors. Next week we will find out if our potential customers feel the same. The (or a) moment of truth. I’m really looking forward to it. I will be blogging and tweeting about this event the coming week so you can follow the adventure.

We will do three presentations at DevLearn, a product presentation, a presentation about adaptive (individual) learning (together with our friends of A New Spring) and I will present on Outcome Learning. I hope to finish these presentations in the plane, at the moment they are still work in progress. If you are visiting DevLearn you are more than welcome to these presentations or you can visit us at booth #421.

Meeting people
These conferences are always a great place to network and to meet people. This time it’s special. I will meet my new colleague Steven Harz for the first time. He will be responsible for our US sales. We only spoke through Skype and Gotomeeting, so it will be our first live meeting. I’m also looking forward to meet Ron Wincek and Dan Richards from Interactive Advantage. They are our US partner and will be joining us at Devlearn, another first meeting in the real world. I’m also looking forward to meetings with Eric Berg (from our partner Lingos) and Joe Ganci and hopefully many other people.

DevLearn app
There is an app with all the conference information. I really liked the app the Guild used at the Learning solutions conference. This time I don’t know yet. It looks great and has interesting information but for the crucial parts you have to ‘log in’ and so far I haven’t been able to. I get an annoying error message each time I try. Hopefully it will be solved before the conference.

I will keep you posted through more DevLearn post next week.

Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (6): the vendors perspective

I started working on the Outcome learning idea to give direction to the product development of easygenerator. And it did generate a whole bunch of new features, but the impact was different than expected. We always considered the e-Learning author and the subject matter expert (SME) as our target audience. But now we added features that had an impact on the learner and for the first time we had to develop features for them. This proved to be a big change. I will try to explain this impact in this post.

We started to develop based on this concept in the beginning of the year. First we created all kind of features that would enable SME’s to play a bigger role in development process. So we created a role based system, workflow facilities and more features like that. To bring learning closer to the workplace we added mobile publications, a QTI export and a facility to reuse content in a smart way. These are all features that were ‘close to home’ for us. But in the version that we are developing at this moment that has changed.

The key functionality of the next release will be learning objectives. We have defined three goals we wanted to achieve:

  1. Support the course design based on learning objectives
  2. Make it possible to assess knowledge and progress based on these objectives
  3. Make it possible to create courses that really adapt to the learner and put the learner in control of his individual learning.

The first two goals led to functionality that affects the author. We created to possibility to define learning objectives, developed a dashboard to support course design based on these objectives, made it possible to connect questions and assessments to the objectives and an option to create a study advice based on the outcome of these assessments. They are all features that we are really proud of, but they are still aimed at the author.

This changed when we started to think on how to bring these new features to the learner. We needed to create an option to present a study advice based on the results of assessments and connected to the learning objectives. The goal was after all to create adaptive courses with true individual learning paths. Easygenerator works with so-called master pages; they define the look and feel of a course and the functionality of the course. And before we realized it we were developing master pages with all kind of extra features for the learner. We created a smart table of contents and a study advice control. We started to realize that our output is not a system to create e-Learning courses, but the courses and the learning experience they offer. Up till now you could not really tell that a course was created with easygenerator or another tool, but now you can. The course itself has unique features and they really impact the way a learner will work with these courses.

From the outside this might seem as a logical step, but for us it is a big change. We are changing from a company that develops software for e-Learning into a ‘learning company’ that develops an authoring platform. Software is not the goal, but it has  become a means to create and change e-Learning. Our complete focus is shifting. As a consequence of this we just hired our first e-Learning consultant and more changes will follow. The funny thing is that this is something I wrote down in our mission statement, but without actually steering in that direction this change just took place. So we as a company have to adept in order to create adaptive learning. This is part of the reasons we chose a chameleon as part of our corporate image, they can adept as no one else.

The only thing might be that we chose the wrong image, it is very possible that it is a Lizard. But we really got used to our green friend, so we will stick with him, being a Chameleon or as a Lizard portraying to be one.

This post is part of a series of post on this subject:

  1. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning
  2. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (2)
  3. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (3): The managers perspective
  4. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (4): The developers perspective
  5. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (5): The learners perspective
  6. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (6): The vendors perspective

Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (5): the learners perspective

One of the most valuable things that internet, e-learning and social media have brought us, is that you can learn what you want, how you want, where you want and with whom you want. Learning has shifted from push to pull. Not the teacher or the developer is in control but the learner is. I my view the (e)Learning community is still adapting to this new paradigm.

Plan economy versus market economy

The learner has shifted quickly from a planned economy (company plans all training programs) to a market economy (the learner decides). For him it’s easy, there are all kinds of new learning and information resources available through internet and social media. For the e-learning department this is much more difficult, most systems focus on planning and reporting and making the shift from collective learning resources to learning opportunities is a difficult task.

Eastern Europe
It’s a bit like Eastern Europe at the time of the ‘fall of the wall’. I have visited eastern Europe before 1989 quit a few times. You had supermarkets, but they had a very limited assortment. There would be one type of product for a certain need (one brand of sugar, one brand of water) and for a lot of needs they wouldn’t have a product at all. If you had enough (foreign) money you could buy almost anything at dollar shops or import it from abroad. You could compare this with the old centralized approach for learning. There is only one solution for a learning need and if we planned for it there is no solution add all.

In the period that followed the fall of the wall shops where quit empty. Internal production halted and they didn’t have enough foreign currency to import goods. People where already used to growing their own food, but that became even more important during this period.

It’s a bit like the situation we know have in the land of learning. We offer courses and training but learners are finding their own recourses, internet and the social media make that very easy. There is an increasing mismatch between supply and demand.

Conflict of interest
There is a growing conflict of interest between the learner and the learning departments. Form a corporations point of view planning and control are important, from a learner’s point of view it isn’t. They want to learn when, how, what en where they want. You can’t plan that.

The solution lies again in an approach where you don’t steer on input (courses) but on output (learning outcome). It doesn’t matter how they learn as long as it is effective and they can do their job.

We need to switch more to a demand driven learning environment. We don’t need more Learning management systems, but more Learning management systems. I do believe that this is one of the reasons behind the success of tools like Moodle; they offer a learning environment, not an environment to manage learning. Therefore we need to change our ‘learning landscape’. But that is the easy part. The difficult part is that we need to change the way we work and think. Not the planned transfer of knowledge is leading, but the individual learners need. At the same time we need to find ways to manage this and the answer is again by applying Outcome learning. Managers should steer on out the results of learning, not on the amounts of courses we create.

While writing this I realize that this would have been a good first post of this series, well that’s a disadvantage of learning by doing. Originally I had planned that this would be my last post in this series. But I will add one more with the vendors perspective.

This post is part of a series of post on this subject:

  1. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning
  2. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (2)
  3. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (3): The managers perspective
  4. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (4): The developers perspective
  5. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (5): The learners perspective
  6. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (6): The vendors perspective

Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (4): the developers perspective

The developer plays a central role in the process of creating (e)Learning. It’s a difficult position to be in. You need to work based on the directions and within the requirements of the management and you need to deliver learning opportunities for people who most of the times know more about the matter than you. I think that e-Learning developers are a special kind of person: they want to deliver high quality work and they are (most of the time) very modest. Above all they have didactical skills and knowledge they want to apply in their work. But as a developer you have to work in a commercial environment (an e-Learning company or an e-Learning department of a company). I noticed that developers often have trouble managing that environment. They don’t claim enough ‘space’ for themselves and they end up compromising.

I started this series of blogs about ‘Outcome learning’ to combine all sort of thoughts and ideas into one comprehensive story. I haven’t worked it out before writing these posts; I’m trying to develop it as I write them. Before starting on this post I reread my first three post and they are okay but they lack a central point. When I wrote the first paragraph of this post, I realized what that central message is simple. When creating e-Learning you need to apply basic didactical rules and you never should compromise on them: There are just four of them:

  1. The basis of every learning opportunity are learning objectives.
  2. You need to asses before and afterwards what the scores on these objectives are.
  3. You need to translate these objectives to content and assessments that connect the business need for knowledge and skills with the individual learning need of a learner.
  4. Don’t think for the learner, facilitate his thinking. Offer him opportunities instead of directions.

The great thing about giving the learning objectives a central role is that they will help you manage your environment. You can use them to manage expectations from your managers and they give you a way to report to them in a way both parties understand.

They will also help you to communicate with the learners, managing their expectations too. Learning objectives make clear what an e-Learning course is about and they help the learner to select the proper course. Pre-assessments based on these objectives will tell the learner his ‘learning gap’ and post assessments will tell him the result end the progress he has made.

Managing your environment
You will probably notice that it is very difficult to create the learning objectives for certain courses. If you can’t define the objectives, don’t develop the course, it is probably not solving a real business issue. This is a simple example how they can help you manage the environment. Your standard procedure for developing a course after you receive an assignment is to create the ‘learning objectives’ and have them signed off by the principal. This way it is clear for both parties what the learning outcome should be, or in managers words what business problem they will solve.

To make it possible to work with learning objectives it is obvious that your e-learning software (especially your authoring environment and your LMS) need to support working with learning objectives. You need to connect assessments to this objectives and it should be possible to inform the learner about them and to measure and show his learning progress in relation to them.

Facilitate and advice: don’t direct
As a teacher your biggest risk is that you think that you must make all decisions, that you must be in control. That in fact is a real ‘old school’ approach. With e-Learning the learner is in the lead, you are not. All you need to do is to inform and guide him the best way you can. Don’t use your branching facilities to link them to the correct chapter or next step in your scenario, give them a study advice and let them decide. It is their responsibility not yours.

Subject matter experts (SME’s)
The last issues remaining are how to create content that the learner can relate to and how to create a course on a subject that is not your expertise. The answer is simple: involve SME’s in your process. Use them to deliver the knowledge, content and insights you need and use them to determine if the course appeals to your audience. You will do the design, didactics and the editing, you are responsible for the creation process, use SME’s for all the rest.

This post is part of a series of post on this subject:

  1. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning
  2. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (2)
  3. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (3): The managers perspective
  4. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (4): The developers perspective (this post)
  5. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (5): The learners perspective
  6. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (6): The vendors perspective

two more post will follow.

Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (3). The managers perspective

I’m a manager myself for over 20 years now and I know from first-hand experience how difficult it is make decisions about learning and training. A training or a formal education (like an MBA) for an individual employee is often considered as a reward for that employee. From a business perspective it is often very difficult to judge what your return on investment will be.

When you have to decide on whether or not to train a group of people this becomes even more difficult, most of the times you just don’t know. How do you decide on the validity of your investment and how to measure the outcome? As a manager this is an uncomfortable position to be in. Therefore the question is: can we resolve this? I think we can.

Skill management and competence based learning
The basis for the solution lies in skill management (be careful not to lose the ‘s’). You need to know what your employees need to be able to do and to know to make them competent.

Determining the gap
You have to assess your employees. You can do this on the job, having them assessed by their manager, or you can have a formal assessment. When you know what the competency is of your employees you can determine the gap with your ideal competent employee. You need to bridge this gap by creating learning opportunities.

Sometimes the gap is clear. You introduce a new software system or a set of rules everybody needs to be trained in. Sometimes you will find gap’s that are quite common, justifying a group approach. Sometimes you will find ‘individual’ gaps that you have to solve on an individual basis.

Setting the goals and preconditions
You need to set clear measurable goals for the learning outcome for the coming period. On a corporate level these goals will translate in improved scores on specific learning objectives (the learning outcome). You have to set preconditions (time, money, expected delivery dates, et cetera) per learning objective or group of learning objectives. Besides this corporate plan you will need budget for individual learning opportunities. You must demand that an individual learner will be assessed before he will get a learning opportunity and that the outcome will show what progress he has made.

Report and evaluate
Make sure that you get regular reports on the progress of the learning activities. They should give you insight in the progress you made on the goals you have set and on the return on investment you get.

Make e-learning work
For the rest you need to focus on facilitating the learning process.

  • The most difficult is to create a learning culture in your company, if you have that already than you are half way.
  • You need to facilitate the employees by offering them a learning framework that supports learning based on skills and learning objectives (especially your skills management/learning management and authoring software are important for this).
  • Bring learning closer to the workplace; integrate it with performance support and task support. Use social media and memory retention tools, make learning easy and effective. I wrote about this in more detail in my earlier post on (Bringing e-Learning to the workplace)

Outcome learning – saving time!
I call this approach outcome learning because it focuses on the result of the learning for your business. By organizing the learning better you want to improve productivity and quality at the end of the day. The use of learning objectives makes this measurable and it will improve the quality of the learning.

But from a managers perspective there is an even more concrete outcome (or ROI if you want). When you base your e-learning on learning objectives, your employees will learn more in less time. They will be able to select the correct course for their learning need. And when you use the objectives in a smart way they will guide the employee to those parts of the course they need to learn. Skipping parts they don’t need by giving them an exact study advice. This will save valuable time. Learning objectives form the heart of adaptive, individual and effective (e)-Learning.

This post is part of a series of post on this subject:

  1. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning
  2. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (2)
  3. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (3): The managers perspective (this post)
  4. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (4): The developers perspective
  5. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (5): The learners perspective
  6. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (6): The vendors perspective

Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (2)

Before looking at outcome learning from the perspective of the manager, the developer and the employee in the next posts, I need to clarify some of the elements I use in this approach.

Meaningful learning objectives
The first step in ‘making e-Learning work’ is to create meaningful objectives. Far too often progress and completion of e-Learning courses are measured based on the percentage of the pages you have viewed. This is not only meaningless from the perspective of the learner, it is time-consuming and it will not give any useful feedback to the e-Learning developer or the manager. Therefore we need to turn away from ‘course progress and completion based on page views’.

The alternative needs application on the whole field of corporate learning: external courses or studies, instructor led training, social learning, e-Learning, et cetera. And these goals should have meaning for the manager, the developer and the employee/learner. My alternative for page counting is progress and completion based on Learning Objectives.

When you want or need to learn something you need to will have learning objectives. Progress is the extent to which you have reached your objective(s), completion is when you have reached your learning objectives the ‘Learning outcome’ is the score you have reached on your objectives.

Learning objectives will do a lot more than just offer a mean of meaningful progress measurement. They can play a central role in the whole e-Learning process; they are the glue that links all elements together. Learning objectives are used to translate a manager’s policy into clear directions for e-learning developers. It will give E-learning developers clear targets what learning opportunities to create. For an employee it will function as a filter to select appropriate learning opportunities and learning objectives will make an e-Learning course truly adaptive. Furthermore Learning objectives will be used to report on the learning outcome (through a LMS) and for the developer to evaluate the courses and finally it will offer the developers a way to report to their managers and for the managers to have a better understanding what their ROI on learning activities is.

Let go!

The second point is to let go (as a manager or an e-Learning developer: leave responsibilities where they should be.

I’m a manager myself and I believe very much in the theory of Filip vandenDriessche. The basis of his theory is that as a manager you have to be firm on goals and criteria but you don’t interfere with solutions. The people that work for you are far better in finding the solutions; it is their job. There is a great lesson there for all managers (see my blog on his theory), but this goes for e-Learning professionals to. In the e-Learning field we make a lot of decisions for the learner instead of facilitating them. I recently even read a blog on how to formalize informal learning, this is nonsense. An e-Learning developer shouldn’t want to control the learning process instead he should facilitate the learner in as many ways as we can; it’s the learners responsibility if and how he uses this. I have to say that my own company easygenerator made the same mistake. We created an option to navigate based on learning outcomes; unfortunately the navigation is a link to a specific page, directing the learning automatically to that page. We now are working very hard to chance that link into an open study advice.

Learning framework and learning culture
As a company you need to have a clear vision on education, training and HR in general, but that is not enough. This vision needs to be translated into a ‘learning culture’ and a ‘learning landscape’ that supports this. This is partly about tools and platforms that you need to have to facilitate the learning process, but mostly about how you as a company value learning. If you have a ‘learning culture’ people will start to use (or demand that you facilitate) all kind of tools. Creating a learning culture is far more difficult than getting a learning framework. In a company without a learning framework but with a culture that values learning and encourage it, people will be focused on learning. In a company with a brilliant learning framework, but without a learning culture the learning outcome will be far less.

This post is part of a series of post on this subject:

  1. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning
  2. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (2) (This post)
  3. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (3): The managers perspective
  4. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (4): The developers perspective
  5. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (5): The learners perspective
  6. Make e-Learning work: Outcome learning (6): The vendors perspective

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