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).

Make e-Learning work (bringing e-Learning to the workplace)

Recently I have written a series of post on how to bring E-learning to the workplace. This week I was the keynote speaker at a seminar for companies that are considering to start with e-Learning or do more with e-Learning. I used this opportunity to bring these separate steps together in one comprehensive story. I include the part of my presentation in this post that explains the what and how:

In my LCBQ post of this month I raged against courses as sole e-Learning solution. As you can see in the presentation I do think that courses are a valuable part of an e-Learning solution if they are part of a bigger solution.

The complete solution I have described, can be created with easygenerator. All publications (except the Memotrainer) can be run in any LMS or intranet (like) solution. We work closely together with a Dutch firm (ANewSpring) who has a great adaptive LMS and they have created the Memotrainer which prompts learners with questions via mail. SpacedEd is a similar solution you could use, but we are not able to push questions from easygenerator into SpacedEd as we can do with the Memotrainer. We have have repeatedly approached SpacedEd to make this possible, but they never even responded. This is really a pity because they have a great product, but this is apparently not matched by their communication skills.

Context, Context, Context will make e-Learning work! #LCBQ May

The question at the Learning circuits blog in May is:

How do we need to change in what we do in order to address learning/performance needs that are on-demand?

My answer is context, context, context!

I think that we as e-Learning professionals should change our game drastically. Our innovation lacks behind if we compare it to the development of the internet. Internet 1.0 was about publishing content (online brochures), 2.0 is about interaction (social media), 3.0 will be about context (pushing information to you based on a profile). E-Learning 1.0 was about creating courses (now wrapped in Scorm), 2.0 is collaborative learning (Moodle, Wiki’s, Fora), 3.0 must be about context.

I know that a lot of e-Learning professionals are dedicated to innovation. But the majority of the content is still a PowerPoint like page turner, made more attractive by the use of video, interaction and flash animations. But in fact they are still very 1.0, still a course. I see some 2.0 solutions and hardly any 3.0 initiatives.

It’s not that courses have completely lost their value, but they can only have value as a part of an effective e-Learning solution. We need to create 2.0 and 3.0 solutions where a course might play a role instead of creating just courses. In the Netherlands a lot of e-Learning content companies are going through difficult times and I believe that the focus on courses is the main reason and I believe that context is the solution.

Context when working
A LMS is the electronic counterpart of a class room. As in a class room the worker is locked-in, and so is the content. It’s an artificial environment that in certain cases will serve it’s purpose, but in most cases it won’t. The LMS is our (learning professionals) context, it’s not the context of the learner. The learners context is his workplace. We need to give him the information in that context. Connect to on-line help systems, task support systems, intranet solutions. Plug-in to your internal corporate social media, play an active role in them, seed and harvest information through them. We need to offer the worker a service in his working context, not just courses in a LMS.

Context when publishing
The facilities to deliver information on demand are growing rapidly. By building profiles of your users and monitoring their context (what are they doing and where are they doing that) you will be able to present relevant information on demand (or even push it to them without demand). We need to give context to our e-learning content in order to make it smart so it knows when, how and where to present itself.

Context when creating e-Learning
The context of an e-Learning author when creating e-Learning is often the knowledge or skills he needs to transfer. And that’s wrong. Knowledge and skills are means not goals, the goal is to support the worker and make him more productive. We need to learn the context the workers are operating in and we must ask ourselfs how we can support them, then and there. Not only do we need to involve SME’s in the learning development but also SMN’s (subject matter newbees) to understand what they need. We need to cross the save borders of learning and cross over to other fields like EPSS and even change management. Just as a course might be a part of an e-learning solution, e-Learning is a part of the solution to support the worker. We are part of a bigger context.

I believe that this is the time to grab new opportunities, leave our comfort zone and get out there. We need to make e-Learning more effective and we need to make e-Learning work!

Bringing learning to the workplace, step 3: People

One of the most effective ways of workplace learning is support offered by colleagues. When you have a question or problem, you find a colleague who knows the answer, you apply what you have learned and you go on with your job. Nothing new here, we all do this all the time. But there are two issues with this kind of support: Finding the colleague and the fact that it is always ‘one on one’. The knowledge transfer is limited to the two participants.

As any type of informal learning you can’t organize this, but you can facilitate this. You can make this support more effective by making it easier for people to find a colleague with the desired expertise or knowledge. And you can capture this knowledge and present it to other workers.

If you had a way to ask questions to a selected group of colleagues this would help a lot. You can of course sent emails to all your colleagues, but you can probably see the disadvantages of that. A tool that could support you in this is Yammer. It is a Twitter-like tool where you can post tweets, but there are some differences with Twitter. The most important is that you can control who has access to your Yammer, based on email address or invitation. You can have longer messages than Twitter and include files and links. And very important you can make groups within Yammer, you can use this to create virtual expertise centers. Offering you a way to ask a specific question to a specific group of colleagues. Using certain hash-tags (#) would make searching even easier. It’s a very powerful and easy way to facilitate this process. You can use Yammer for free, it is a hosted web solution and you can use desktop and mobile apps. Starting it up is a question of minutes. There is also a paid option, offering you extra security.

There are tools where you can do more. You can use social network sites where people create a profile of themselves. Instead of hobbies like you do in Facebook, you can describe your expertise in your profile. People can search on it ans ask questions. These kind of tools offer way more facilities. You can set up your private corporate network with tools like ELGG. Because of the extra possibilities it is more work to get them to work and maintain them. I would only look at tools like ELGG if you have a use for all the other options tools like this offer.

Formalizing the knowledge
What about the learning department, do they play a role? Yes they should. Monitoring the information will give you loads of valuable information. You can apply these in your regular courses, but even better would be to create a Frequently Asked Question list or emerging practices. If you formalize the information in this way and make it available you would be adding value. You will create a knowledge goldmine!

This is the third post on bringing learning to the workplace, other post are on learning nuggets and  SpacedEd

Bringing learning to the workplace: Step 2 SpacedEd

At the learning solutions conference the opening keynote was delivered by John Medina with his presentation ‘Brain rules for learning’. The key note of his keynote is that it’s not about remembering, but more about not forgetting. If you have to learn facts, they must be repeated, or else you will forget. Therefore it is important to repeat new information regularly. This meade me think of a course I subscribed to in SpacedEd, it did just that.

SpacedEd is a service where you can create and follow courses. They consist only of questions and answers. If you enlist in a course you will get these questions in your mailbox. You will receive them in small amounts (typically 1 or 2 a day) on a regular schedule. They can be accessed through a PC or mobile device. After answering you will get an explanation on the question.

Spaceded course learning obout learning from Jay Cross

The questions you get will adapt based on your answers you gave. To improve retention, they will be repeated several times. If you answer a question wrong it will be repeated sooner. If you get it right one or more times in a row it will be retired from the course. Retire all questions and you have completed the course. The author of the course sets the spacing and repetition schema of the questions, as a learner you can adjust these settings to your liking.

I like this concept because it actually brings learning to the workplace, it’s adaptive and the repetition will improve retention. You can create and follow courses for free, but they also have a paid option. You should try it out. A course I can recommend is ‘Learning about Learning’ by Jay Cross.

This is my second post on bringing learning to the workplace. The first one was about Learning nuggets.


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