A How to Guide on the Principles of the #elearningmanifesto: 3. Tie Learning to Performance Goals


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“We will couple the skills we are developing to the goals of organizations, individuals, or both.”

This principle is an important requirement when building eLearning courses.  If learning doesn’t support  the goals of the organization, what is its value  from a business perspective? Now the question is how to do it?

Get integrated into the business
In the first two posts I wrote about the importance learning integrating with  the business and day-to-day business processes, which is the best way to live up to this principle. In the short term,  I  imagine  this goal is beyond your reach. However,  this should  be your main goal for the next few years. To help you in achieving this, I’ll recommend again reading Tara Elkeles’ book: The Chief Learning Officer: Driving Value within a Changing Organization through Learning and Development.

How to connect to the business: Cathy More – Action Mapping
One way to  connect learning to business goals, is to familiarize yourself with Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping. Basically there are four steps in her approach, see her presentation and blog.

action-mapping

The four steps are:

  1. Identify the business goal
  2. Identify what people need to do (instead of need to know), translate them into actions
  3. Design a (real world) activity for each action that help people practice each behavior
  4. Identify what people really (really?) need to know, add that information

I really like this approach. It connects learning to business goals and it helps create eLearning based on real situations. It puts the learning experience before the knowledge transfer.

The third principle also talks about connecting learning to learners’ performance goals. I think this can be accomplished with learning objectives. If you combine action mapping with learning objective development, the following steps guide your development

  1. Identify business goals
    Identify the business goals and determine what needs to change ( behaviorally) in order to reach them.
  2. Create learning objectives based on identified business goals (in terms of what people need to do)
    First, you need to complete a baseline needs assessment to determine the gap between what people are required and expected to do (that is, identify individual performance expectations) and what they actually can do. This will help determine the types of learning interventions and activities to include in the eLearning course. Then, based on the business goals and gap analysis, you can define the learning objectives. They will describe what people need to be able to do (differently) in order to achieve business goals by successfully meeting personal performance goals.
  3. Translate the learning objectives into activities
    A specific learning experience typically d has targeted learning objectives, and translating them into activities can be challenging. What will help you to develop these, is to understand the needs of the business. Also, working with subject matter experts who are embedded in the business process will help you in creating realistic situations.
  4. Define learning activities around these activities
    You have to come up with learning activities (or interventions) that will help the learner to reach his objectives. Please note it says ‘Learning activities’ so it can be any form of learning (including eLearning).
  5. Measure progress based on questions; ; keep the knowledge to a minimum
    Come up with questions or an assessment that will measure the learners progress. Only add the knowledge (information)  the learner really needs!
    It is important learning objectives are visible to the learner in an eLearning course.
  6. Report on the learning objectives.
    If your LMS is not capable to report on the learning objectives, check out TinCan it can do that and much more!
  7. Evaluate the learning objectives in relation to the business goals
    It is time to evaluate and come up with improvement for the next round. It is crucial that you are able to do this with the people from the business side that are responsible for achieving the business goals.

It is obvious the quality of learning objectives will determine the quality of your learning. If you need some tips on the basics of how to create learning objectives, you can read an article  I recently wrote.

How to convince your boss/client
As we discussed in the previous post on the first two principles, the first step is to start the conversation. I’m confident the business side or your client will be very interested in this conversation, because ultimately this is what it is all about for them.

Jay Cross and the internet time alliance
Jay Cross, is one of the oldest and most respected thought leaders in our industry, who is credited with being the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. Now however, he has completely moved away from the term, using instead “Working smarter’. He does this together with a formidable group called the Internet Time alliance: Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings and again Clark Quinn. They have published ‘The working Smarter fieldbook’ in 2009 It covers Working smarter, Informal learning, social learning, a whole bunch of consequences for instructional design and examples. But in this context most relevant is the chapter on “The business case”. It covers over 50 pages, so it is hard to make a resume you should read the book, although it is mostly about informal learning there are enough lessons to be learned for all of us.

See the overview article for other published posts of this series.

learning objectives: you need feed back to make them work


If you read my blog on a frequent basis you will know that I believe that Learning Objectives and learning are two sides of the same medal. I want to share a story with you that gave me an insight yesterday.

Some time ago I wanted to improve my bathroom and in a moment of insanity I decided that I would do that myself. It worked out sort of OK, but every now and then the bathroom would leak. Because it is situated on the second floor, I have a problem on the first floor as well. This was not a part of my master plan. So I needed to have a contractor that could fix that for me. I hired Albert, a local contractor, that did some fine work for us a while ago. So last week he was in my house for a few days fixing the problem. I work 3 days a week from home, so he saw me sitting in my office; mailing, conferencing, calling (over VOIP) and all the other stuff you do when you work. He was really amazed that all this was possible. He told me that he has a website (made by a local guy) and that that guy also installed a PC with internet connection and mail in his home three years ago. He never touched it since, because he hasn’t got a clue what to do with it.

Later on he decided that I would need a new shower base (if that is the proper word for it; anyway I mean the thing you stand in while taking a shower), and he told me that it would cost me between 350 and 400 Euro. I surfed the web and found the perfect one in 5 minutes for 130 euro, I ordered it and paid for it on-line. He was in awe and understood that it would be profitable for his business if he would be able do that as well. I offered him to teach this. So we set out to define the learning objectives for this, they became (with the action mapping rules in mind):

  1. Albert is able to send and answer mail from his own PC
  2. Albert is able to search ‘Marktplaats’ (a Dutch eBay) and buy things from it

They looked simple enough. Yesterday evening I went over to his house and we started. It turned out he did really know nothing about computers at all. I had to explain that you don’t only have to place your mouse on the desired position, but that you have to do a left mouse click as well. When he typed a few words he asked me ‘How can I get a gap between the words?’ and I had to explain the function of space bar to him.

spacebar 3

Based on his feed back I had to adapt our learning objectives. They became:

  1. Albert knows how to operate the main function of his PC
  2. Albert understands the difference between mail and internet
  3. Albert is able to sent and answer mail from his own PC

We went on from there and decided that we would need several session to reach the original objectives. For me this was a learning moment. We changed not only the learning content but the learning objectives as well. With easygenerator we are proud on our adaptive courses that will advise a learner on an individual basis; but only on a content level. I now realize we have to offer facilities on the level of learning objectives as well. Another two hours well spent.

Returning to the didactical roots: innovation in eLearning?


Earlier this month I presented at DevLearn on connecting learning to the business and this week I did a webinar and a seminar on adaptive learning. During these sessions I noticed that our basic approach (Determine learning objectives, Figure out how to assess and then create only the content that is really needed) is far from standard.  Most people create content, create an assessment and that is it. But the funny thing is that this ‘old school’ approach is the foundation of innovation at easygenerator.

Originally I’m a teacher in social studies and economics. They taught me that for every lesson you want to create you need to figure out your goal first and that you need to find a way to asses if that goal is reached in the end. Only then you could start creating your lessons. I did apply this approach through my working live: with teaching, with writing books (on bookkeeping – how boring can you get?-), when I create eLearning and even when I manage a company. I know it is not common practice, but I still believe that this is the way to go.

Old school didactics
Let’s first take a look at this old school approach.

 

As said you start out with your learning objectives. Creating sound and useful objectives is an art in its own right. I will not go in too much detail here but I’m a fan of the action mapping approach from Cathy Moore. The essence of this approach is that learning is not about obtaining knowledge but to (learn) to be able to perform a task. Cathy doesn’t link this to learning objectives, but if you do, they should state what the learner needs to be able to do.

The second step in the development process is the assessment: how do you prove that the learner is able to do the task? You can do this by asking questions, presenting cases, really anything that will measure the performance and comes up with a score. By the way thanks to our new emerging standard (‘Tincan API’ aka ‘the experience API’) we will be able to measure this in real live and use the outcome in an eLearning course). When you create good cases (or scenario’s) this assessment will be the learning experience by itself.

And only then you start creating the content. But in the spirit of Cathy Moore only the content that is really, really needed to (learn to) do the task. When in doubt leave it away, ‘less is better’ and much cheaper!

Innovation
We have applied this principle in the authoring platform of easygenerator and it has become the foundation underneath the innovations we have created and will create in the future. I will explain.

In easygenerator we created a dashboard to create and manage your learning objectives. You can’t create a course without a learning objective (if there no goal there is no point in creating a course after all) in easygenerator.

After creating the course you need to set how to measure the progress in the course. You do that by connecting the Learning objectives to questions and cases. In fact you are determining how to assess the objectives. Finally you connect these questions to related information pages.

And this simple approach will change and enable a lot:

  1. It will change your design process and with that the kind of course you create.
  2. The learner is able to see the objectives and his progress on the objectives during the course.
  3. The course is able to present a personal study advice to the learner.
  4. You will be able to report the outcome per learner per learning objective, giving you meaningful data to evaluate you course and your contribution to the companies goals.

These are only the first developments we did based on this approach, a lot more will follow. This video shows you how this works for the learner and for the author.

Based on these very basic dialectical principles we will continue the innovation of eLearning courses and the creation process. Some of the things on our road map are:

  • Create non-hierarchical metaphors and interfaces for eLearning courses (no book metaphor).
  • Create better support for designing eLearning courses in our authoring environment.
  • Implement TinCan
  • Create learning maps, where the learner can navigate through on his journey to reaching his learning objective
  • Create better support for case based and scenario based eLearning in the authoring environment

And there will be much more. But the bottom-line is that this idea is independent of a tool, it is how you organize your development process. You can do this on paper if you want, but I believe eLearning developers should do this much more, regardless of the tool they are using.

Devlearn conference day one: an exhilarating day


So we are off to an excellent start with DevLearn. As always at the first day of a guild conference it was an exhilarating day. I was able to attend some sessions and keynotes and talked to lot’s of people. Here is my wrap-up.

Trends?
I try to spot the emerging trends at conferences like this, for this conference there are two. One is SaaS or cloud based solutions, the other is the future of the Learning Management Systems. Acceptance for cloud based solutions is definitely growing, almost all the vendors have plans in that direction.

TinCan and IACC
The other trend is that the LMS market is changing rapidly. The big thing here is TinCan. I wrote about it before. Yesterday it became even bigger. Before the second keynote there was an extra unplanned presentation by Aron ‘TinCan’ Silver. He showed a video where AICC announced that they will adopt TinCan. I don’t think that the entire audience grasped the meaning of this announcement. We have two main standards in our industry SCORM and IACC, both of them enable us to track and trace results, both of them confine eLearning within the borders of the LMS. TinCan will free us from this, it allows you to track and trace any learning experience, anywhere. I don’t know what the adoption will actually mean but it sounded like TinCan will be the next version of IACC. This leaves us with one standard and but more importantly it ‘frees’ eLearning from the boundaries of the LMS. This really is a big thing and it will affect the way we use any LMS and in the long run it will change the market completely. We will see how this develops, but I’m exited.

Way to reinforce learning
A morning buzz session I attended, presented by Art Kohm. It was about how to improve memory retention.

His story was along the lines of the keynote of last year by John Medina at the Learning Solution conference. The brain filters information (to prevent information overload), in principle you forget the most information that you encounter, you need to reactivate the facts in order to really store them in your brain. He refers to research by Rodigger. His solution is Booster training. Two days after the learning event you have to trigger the information by asking (multiple choice questions). It forces you to retrieve the information and that will enhance the retention. After two weeks you have to do that again. The interesting here is that in this phase he will ask open questions, that not only require retrieval but also processing of the information. I believe that memory retention is a sort of blank area in eLearning, there are some tools but the notion isn’t widely spread. Ans it is important it determines the effectiveness of your Learning experiences.

Brent Schenkler
Brent opened the first session. He is the driving force behind DevLearn, but he has accepted another job. So this conference is his last one. It will be interesting to how this affects future conference. He spoke briefly about all the elements of the conference.

Keynote: John Landau

John is the producer of many movies, the most famous ones are Titanic and Avatar. Great presentation. His message is that the story precede the technique. The technique to shoot the scripts of these movies wasn’t there when the scripts were written. They just developed the techniques they needed. According to him the same goes for eLearning. Make the learning experience leading and then just make it work. Great keynote.

Easygenerator Free edition launch
After the keynote I presented the launch of easygenerators free edition. I had a good turnout and great responses. It is great to see how the story about better eLearning courses catches on. More info at our website, you can register and start working within minutes.

Xtranormal scenarios
I joined this session because I am a scenario based learning fan, but this turned out to be a session about the posibilities of a product that let’s you create animated video’s with Lego images and text to speech voices. Looked ok, but is really not my thing.

Learning objectives concurrent session
My second presentation of the day about learning objectives and how you can use the in many ways, but most importantly how to use them to connect learning to your business goals. I really enjoyed giving this presentation. Good crowd, good responses.

Organizational Learning with agility
A session by Jenet Clarey of Bersin. I was triggered by the term agility. It turned out to be something very different. She was talking about trends in the LMS market. She says that the trend is that it is changing rapidly. The core function of LMS was track and trace and course management. In the ‘Agile LMS’ it is just one of the functions. It grows to become a broad talent management system or even a corporate portal where learning is just a part of. I have two photo’s of interesting slides. I think they tell a large part of the story, again a story about the changing LMS market.

Brian Bushwood, how to scam your way to the top.
This was interesting. He is a ‘sort’ of a magician. But his story turned out to be a marketing story, he told us how he build his internet brand. He is hugely succesfull with his ‘Scam school’ he had great stories how created fake Ibooks and made them top-ten hits in Itunes and his Scam school is very successful. Some of his lessons:

Identify one niche and own it, be first at least in your category or in the minds op people. His niche was internet magician and it is great to hear and see how he made it to the top of his market.
And he is funny:

More to come tomorrow. Make sure you check out the curated backchannel of Devlearn by David Kelly.

Connect learning to the business: Learning objectives and action mapping


I’m preparing my presentation for my concurrent session at DevLearn, Las Vegas. I will present about: Supporting business objectives with better learning objectives. Since only a small part of you will be present there (and even a smaller part will attend), I decided to give you a heads-up.

There is a lot of discussion on the relevance of formal eLearning. The trend is in the direction of workplace learning, social learning, mobile learning, just in time learning and performance support. The role of the formal eLearning courses in these developments is often seen as minimal or is not present at all. I do agree with the trend that wants to connect learning to the workplace. I disagree with the conclusion that eLearning courses shouldn’t be a part of that. Formal learning is an important instrument in changing and developing. There is more to learning than just solving your day-to-day problems. Real change requires insight and training and eLearning courses can and should be a part of this. In order to keep eLearning relevant we need to create better courses, we need to connect these courses to the business goals and we need to prove our added value to the business. That’s what this post and my presentation are about.

Action Mapping
When you are talking about connecting learning to business goals, you are talking about Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping. Basically there are four steps in her approach, see her blog for more details:

  1. Identify the business goal
  2. Identify what people need to do (instead of need to know), translate them into actions
  3. Design a (real world) activity for each action that help people practice each behavior
  4. Identify what people really (really?) need to know, add that information

I really like this. It connects learning to the business goals and it helps you to create eLearning that is based on real situations. It puts the learning experience before the knowledge transfer. And this is all good. What I would like to add is the connection with learning objectives. That is important because:

  • Learning objectives will help you design the course
  • Learning objectives inform the learner on  his goals and progress
  • Learning objectives can make your course and your curriculum adaptive
  • Learning objectives are an ideal way to report results
  • Learning objectives will help you measure and evaluate.

What I propose is action mapping combined with the use of learning objectives.

  1. Identify business goals
  2. Create learning objectives based on these business goals (in terms what people need to do)
  3. Translate the learning objectives into activities
  4. Design your eLearning around these objectives and activities
  5. Inform the learner on his goal and progress
  6. Make courses and curriculum adaptive
  7. Report on the learning objectives
  8. Evaluate the learning objectives in relation to the business goals.

Use the objectives to:

You can write books about each of these steps. I will limit myself to some observations and comments for each step.

Identify business goals
If you start with this step, you might run into a major problem of eLearning development. Very often it is not a problem to identify the business goals, but it is a problem to connect to the people who set these goals. The Learning department is very often not connected to the business or not connected to the right level in the business. You need to solve this if you want a real chance of connecting learning to the business.

Create learning objectives based on these business goals (in terms what people need to do)
Once you have your connection to the business and your business goals you can define your learning objectives. They will describe what people need to be able to do in order to achieve the business goals. In the ideal situation you are part of the process of setting these business goals and you can translate them into your (departments) contribution for a longer period. Separate learning objectives will become different learning experiences. Do a baseline assessment to determine the gap between what people need to be able to do and what they actually can do. This will help you determine what kind of learning intervention you have to create.

Translate the learning objectives into activities
A specific learning experience will most of the times have a limited amount of learning objectives. Translating them into activities is often a challenge; again you need to be connected to the business side of your organization. You probably need to have subject matter experts that are embedded in the business process to help you create these situations.

Create eLearning around these activities; keep the knowledge to a minimum
Activities can be small, just a single activity the learner needs to be able to do. But very often it will be more complex; you will have a scenario that people have to go through in order to experience the ‘real life’ situation. It is important that you select an authoring tool that let you connect these scenario’s and activities to the learning objectives, so you can measure the progress and can report on them.

Inform the learner on his goal and progress
It is important that the learning objectives are visible to the learner in the eLearning course. He needs to know what you expect of him. Equally important is to report progress on these objectives during the learning process. It will be a big help and motivating factor for the learner.

Make courses and curriculum adaptive
If you use learning objectives in a smart way you can create a course that will adapt to the learner. You can offer an individual study advice to either improve knowledge on a weak point or to skip areas that already assess at the desired level. See this link for an example how this is done in easygenerator.

Make sure that your course can report on learning objectives to your LMS. In some adaptive learning management systems you can even create an adaptive curriculum. Based on the outcome of a course the learner will be directed to a relevant next course. This is for example possible when you use a course created in easygenerator in a Learning management system like ANewSpring.

Report on the learning objectives
Through SCORM it is possible to report on the outcome per learner per objective. It is important that your LMS is capable of generating a report on the combined outcome of all the learners and all the objectives. This way you are able to show the effect eLearning has on these objectives and on the business goals. If you did a baseline at the beginning of this reporting period, you will even have a stronger case to really prove the return on investment in eLearning.

Evaluate the learning objectives in relation to the business goals
And then it is time to evaluate.  It is crucial that you are able to do this with the people from the business side that are responsible for achieving the business goals.

I hope to meet a lot of you at DevLearn. This presentation will be concurrent session 204, October 31, 1:15 PM. You can also find me at our booth at the expo (number 241).

How to keep formal e-Learning relevant


We all know that e-learning is changing, we all know that our learners have changed. The rise of the internet, social media and mobile devices have changed our world. It turned out that it is much easier for a learner to adapt to these changes than for a e-Learning manager or developer. Over the past 16 months I have written all kind of post researching this change. I was recently asked to present on this subject in a webinar. In my preparation I went through all the posts and was for the first time able to merge them in a coherent way. I wanted to share this presentation with you.

Additional information on a lot of the subjects that are in the presentation I wrote about earlier. These post contain a lot of links to other resources on the internet on these subjects:

•Output management
•Agile development for Software, and for e-Learning
•Learning metaphors, learning maps
•Outcome learning (series of posts)

You can attend the webinar if you like (Wednesday February 15th 2012 10.00 am and 2.00 pm EST). See for details the site of Interactive Advantage.

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.

Conditions
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
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