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Infographics: Primer for Learning Content Designer

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What is Infographic?

Infographics are visual representation of information and most probably the oldest learning and communication content designed by human being. From Egyptian Hieroglyphics the journey of Infographics started to visually communicate a complex concept document events or telling stories.

Modern Infographics started off as visual elements such as charts, maps, or diagrams that aid comprehension of a given text-based content. Today – in learning context, I would like to include process diagrams, concept maps, visual narratives, simulations etc. under Infographics.

Elements of information graphics

The basic material of an information graphic is the data, information, or knowledge that the graphic presents. In the case of data, the creator may make use of automated tools such as graphing software to represent the data in the form of lines, boxes, arrows, and various symbols and pictograms. The information graphic might also feature a key which defines the visual elements in plain English. A scale and labels are also common.

Examples

Napoleon’s March to Russia -


Map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales.

Edward Tufte, identifies six separate variables that are captured in the map.

  • The line width continuously indicates the size of the army.
  • The line shows the latitude of the army as it moved.
  • The line shows the longitude of the army as it moved.
  • The direction that the army was traveling, are distinguished by colors, tan for advance and black for retreat.
  • The location of the army with respect to certain dates.
  • The temperature along the path of retreat

XPLANE: Peoplesoft : Show Customers how you help them to win

PeopleSoft sells software to every functional business area in nearly every industry. The number and complexity of business processes that they must understand, support and enable with their software is staggering. Salespeople must understand the value PeopleSoft provides, and be able to communicate it to prospects and customers. XPLANE works with PeopleSoft on an ongoing basis, visualizing complex business processes so they can show prospects and customers how PeopleSoft can make their businesses run better, faster and smarter.

Why Infographics for Learning Content Design?

Our brain love to think and memorize in visuals, also we imagine the relationships between objects and information in visuals, not in words. Try this – If I say Pen, Paper, Computer and Telephone – what comes to your mind first? Does alphabets (P-E-N) appears first to you? Or the actual visuals of the objects recalled from your memory. Also didn’t you just visualize your working desk? As all the objects (Pen, Paper etc) immediately made a pattern in your mind and formed a context your mind spontaneously visualized a ‘complete’ picture. That’s why infographics are very effective tools for learning content design. Infographics represent data in a visual format which is easier for brain to articulate.

Most importantly, infographics can establish relationships between different set of information which is not possible otherwise. In business world graphs and charts are used in abundant to establish context visualization (well…not always very effectively!). A classic example of an infographic that not merely illustrates the content but interprets it in a manner that was not possible otherwise, was produced by Dr. John Snow to identify the cause of cholera epidemic in Central London. By plotting the two available sets of data about number of deaths and their corresponding locations, Snow was able to pinpoint the notorious contaminated pump well.

Not only for the knowledge comprehension – infographics are great for knowledge recall by recognition of patterns. We are better at recognizing things they have previously experienced visually than recalling those things from memory. It is easier to recognize things than recall them because recognition tasks provide memory cues that facilitate searching through memory.
Recall memory is attained through learning usually involving some combination of memorizing, practice, and application. Recognition memory is also retained for longer period of time than recall.

Early computers used command-line interface, which used recall memory for hundreds of commands. GUI eliminated the need to recall the commands by presenting them in menus.

Infographics Classification
by Venhatesh Rajamanickam

Infographics classification

Details of interactive infographics classifications refer to Interactive Visual Explainers-A Simple Classification by Maish Nichani & Venkat Rajamanickam

Deconstruction of an Infographic

The Infographic discussed below is an actual project done by GetIT (my company) for Cisco Systems, Inc. All materials copyright belongs to Cisco Systems, Inc. The following Infographics is on Cisco Connected Learning infrastructure i.e. Cisco Network Infrastructure Solution for Universities – and the main objective is to provide required information to internal audience of Cisco and Customers.

Cisco CCL

Although this Infographic is single dimensional, without any step-by-step procedure and cause/effect scenario – I hope that it has achieved the purpose. We also learned a lot from the process of development.

Let me try to articulate the process we went through

  • Collection: Collection of all the raw materials for the infographics – such as PowerPoint slides, White Papers, face-to-face interviews (multiple sessions), network diagrams etc.
  • Identifying the objectives: Who are the target audience? What’s their range of technical knowledge? What are their main pain points? What we want to highlight to them? Great if you can sketch a persona.
  • Classification: Grouping the infrastructures into physical spaces – in this case into the buildings
    Blueprinting: Time to draw the each buildings individual groups (pencil sketch) with the technical details.
  • Space planning: Basically – doing a collage i.e. sticking together different A4 size papers – the photocopies of the individual groups.
  • Planning the Interrelations: Between the groups – quite self explanatory eh!
  • Go digital: time to draw the infographics in the computer; we used Freehand and Flash (!!). Any Vector graphics editor should do the job.
  • Integrate: the purpose of any infographics is to bring everyone to a same page and tell a complete story. Integration of different elements to tell a coherent story is the most vital step of creation an infographic.
  • Optimize detail: Add in the useful detail, get rid of the extras, the balance between aesthetics and usability.
  • Labeling: Copywriting and inserting the labels, tricky part – need to be specific and clear, yet short.
  • Coloring: do I need to say what that mean?

Few more Steps for Creating an Infographics
As I mentioned there are different types of infographics. For organizations another very useful format of infographic is depicting a process flow. Sometimes those are very complex – specially the multidimensional ones. There are few additional considerations for creating infographics for those types

Establishing Context, Multidimensional and interrelations of the dimensions: problem of multidimensional infographics are that they can easily loose the context by information overload and loosely established relationship of different elements. Planning out the space mapping with just pencil and paper helps.

Establishing Causality: in a non-multimedia infographics it’s the toughest part, but the soul of a process or procedure flow infographics is cause and effect.

Where we are heading towards:
As the usage of courseware for trainings in the organizations are almost useless, the content providers need to reinvent their delivery methods. And to me – one of the great tools for quickly disseminate complex knowledge in a rich and engaging format is Infographics. Apart from printed and static ones, infographics are now coming in multimedia, in Flash interactive formats.

Bibliography & References:

From Web

Information graphics – Wikipedia

InfoDesign: Understanding by Design

Xplane

Edward Tufte: Posters and Graph Paper

acrStudio Design 3 – Visual Explanations

Alberto Cairo’s
website: infographics, design and visual journalism

Nigel Holmes

John Information Graphics

NiXLOG | INFOGRAPHICS

Books

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

Designing Infographics by Eric K. Meyer

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Written by anol

August 30th, 2006 at 12:41 pm

Learning actually : Part II

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Learning actually is a social interactive event

This is the second part of ‘Learning Actually’ Series.
Read the first one – “Learning Actually is non linear

Picture this. You call a customer service hotline such as that of your mobile or cable TV service provider, only to hear the drone of the automated voice prompt – “press 1 for billing enquiry, press 2 for new promotions, press 3 for lifetime free subscription (yeah, right)…press 0 to talk to our customer service officer”. What would you do? If you were like 99% of the callers, you would press 0 to talk to a living breathing human.

That’s human nature. We love machines because there are people behind those machines. We love to do things together; we love to get positive social recognition. Social interactivity places the human race at the top of the evolutionary pyramid.

Now picture this.

You enter your office on a Monday morning, settle down in your cubicle, hook up your laptop, open your mail client and trigger send/receive – nothing happens and you get a send/receive error. What would you do first?

Option 1 – Troubleshoot using the help documentation of the mail client.
Option 2 – Call a customer hotline.
Option 3 – Pop your head into the next cubicle and ask your immediate neighbor – what’s going on?

Again, if you are like most of us, you will go for option 3. She might be able to tell you about the new exchange server you need to setup. She might also walk you though the steps to reconfigure your mail account.

Both examples above represent ‘just-in-time’ or on-demand, task-based information exchange through social interaction. Simplistic perhaps, but the idea holds true in a complex knowledge exchange scenario within an organization.

That’s how we learn most of the time – 80% of the learning happens informally, in different social interactive instances.

George Siemens mentioned in his ‘Connectivism’ theory –

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

And

Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.

Not only do we learn through listening to diverse opinions, all innovations too arise from such diversity, from different nodes of social networks and finally form a shape and change the world in some way or other. People organize themselves into a network based on their preferences and learn from each other, not through proven facts and figures, rather through opinions. In an organizational environment especially, where tacit knowledge is a primary success factor, the process of creating and disseminating knowledge through diverse opinions and co-related ‘just-in-time’ hypothesis is very important. The organizational differentiation factor depends on opinion-based knowledge pool creation and dissemination rate outside classrooms or even content driven e-Learning infrastructures.

Unfortunately in the case of most organizational e-Learning initiatives, when we think of online learning, we typically think of a pre-packaged courseware or instructional programs. This is not to undermine the courseware/ content-based approach. There is obviously a place for that, primarily in structured information presentation, but not in-depth learning. Ideally, structured information should be presented solely as raw or base material to help learners understand the business contexts of the cases or to disseminate the ‘explicit’ knowledge, not as the primary learning vehicle. The courseware or content based approach can be used as first step of the cognitive ladder where learners gathers the required explicit knowledge and base materials before entering the opinion driven co-creation of knowledge, where they engage in meaningful learning in shared contexts.

George Por in his post The emergence of CI, an online experiment asked – How can a group of individual intelligences become truly collective intelligence? How can they escape into a more complex and capable collective intelligence, without sacrificing their autonomy?

“Collective intelligence is a distributed capacity of communities to evolve towards higher order integration and performance through collaboration and innovation.”

If this concept is so crystal clear and obvious, then why do most organizations not embrace social interactivity in their learning initiatives? Well there are some roadblocks, both in organizational level as well as in the personal level.

First: organizations where ‘Darwinian’ culture is promoted, i.e., where the management supports hierarchy-based “divide and rule” policy. In such organizations, the fear of becoming dispensable is associated with sharing knowledge (this becomes more and more relevant when we talk about core tacit organizational knowledge). In the middle of ego and turf-battles, social interactivity is unimaginable. Where conversations are not connected and instead hindered by personal or group ‘silo-based’ agendas, emergent learning and innovation can’t take place and the complete knowledge ecosystem is useless – no matter whatever technology base you try to install.

Rigidity of training departments is another major obstacle I have encountered so far. Social interactivity is a complex phenomenon. Social learning is opinion-based and treats learning as a networked structure (rather structure-less) -based continuous process, not as a hierarchy driven event. Complexity brings uncertainty. Uncertainty undermines the teacher-as-ultimate-authority model. Training departments feel threatened, and they oppose the movement or change.

What can leaders do to improve the situation? How can the organizational knowledge ecosystem be integrated to foster innovation and productivity? Well, the question is not simple and we don’t expect the answer to be either. Let’s look at some basics.

Social feedback – the power of positive reinforcement system

Everyone wants positive social feedback both from the organizational level as well as the group/personal level. A constant social feedback system (positive /negative) creates positive psychological consequences for participants, which produces an atmosphere of shared rich common knowledge, the ability to organize teams modularly, extraordinary motivation, and high levels of trust. Organizations should encourage and facilitate the free and open sharing of knowledge as well as implement an organized or moderated ‘chaos’ to foster a dynamic, innovative and learning environment.

Shared performance metrics and learning agenda

Modularity is the key to developing social learning networks in organizations. Modularity should be based on common business objectives and learning and knowledge -sharing goals. At the same time, measures should be taken to prevent those modular groups from becoming silos. Social interactive modules should be flexible, trust-driven and inter-connected.

Support for conversational interaction between people or groups

For instance, instant messaging and conversations in collaborative virtual spaces amongst nodes. This process is both technological as well as cultural. Support should be provided for both synchronous (IM, Skype, Virtual meeting places) as well as asynchronous (forums, blogs) collaboration. When synchronous and asynchronous collaboration are combined with a formal/informal expert management system, organizations are guaranteed to reap great results. At the same time, this two-way communication will continually give birth to ‘new new’ things. Proper recognition (morally and economically) should also be provided to contributors to the knowledge pool.

It’s not an easy process. Or rather obliquely, the technology is easy, but the politics are not. Moreover, it requires change in the organizational culture, and changes in performance review patterns. But organizations can reap great benefits in agility, innovation and dynamism through social interactivity.

George Siemens said:

Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation. Diverse teams of varying viewpoints are a critical structure for completely exploring ideas. Innovation is also an additional challenge. Most of the revolutionary ideas of today at one time existed as a fringe element. An organizations ability to foster, nurture, and synthesize the impacts of varying views of information is critical to knowledge economy survival. Speed of “idea to implementation” is also improved in a systems view of learning.

And according to Jon Udell –

If individuals agree to work transparently, they (and their employers) can know more, do more, and sell more.

Written by anol

August 31st, 2005 at 9:49 am

Learning Actually

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This is the first part of my ‘Learning Actually’ series. Although the core of the series is technology-aided learning, the main theme is organizational learning using a holistic approach. Whenever I am trying to design a solution for organizational learning, be it theoretically or practically in my professional life, I face roadblocks arising from the faulty core of the traditional learning culture, clichéd training methodologies and more intensely, the disability to distinguish between training and learning. After all, with a faulty learning strategy, your problems are not going to get solved by adding an ‘e’.

Hence ‘Learning Actually’.
Please share your comments, agreements and disagreements to make the series more complete.

Learning Actually…
is non linear

Like problem solving in the real world, learning is non-linear. The problem starts when we try to carry our habit of ‘first learn then work’ from our schools to work organizations. In the real world, there is no such thing as the linear method.

Why? Because the real world is complex, not just complicated. The learning needs of knowledge workers are also complex, networked and asymmetrical. Think about a hi-technology sales person. Will in-depth knowledge of the product’s features, functionalities and benefits alone make him successful? Apart from explicit knowledge (which can be gathered through linear learning) he needs to know the competitive advantages of his product. He requires the skill of listening to his clients and promptly designing solutions, which fit their needs. And throughout his sales cycle he needs to be in a learning curve. This can’t be achieved through a linear classroom-based model.
The metamorphosis of data into information, information into knowledge and knowledge into intelligence is complex and non-linear. The knowledge worker needs the knowledge inflow when he requires it. An excellent example of this can be found in an original paper published in Touchstone, written by E. Jeffrey Conklin & William Weil.

A study at the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) examined how people solve problems.
A number of designers participated in an experiment. Each was asked to design an elevator control system for an office building. All the participants were experienced, expert designers, but none had worked on elevator systems. Participants were asked to think out loud while they worked on the problem. The sessions were videotaped and then analyzed.

Traditional thinking, cognitive studies, and existing design methods all predicted that the best way to work on a problem like this was to follow an orderly and linear process, working from the problem to the solution. You begin by understanding the problem, which can include gathering and analyzing data. Once you have specified the problem and analyzed the data, you are ready to formulate-and then implement-a solution.


Traditional wisdom for solving complex problems-the “waterfall”

This is the pattern of thinking that we all assume we follow when faced with a problem. The conventional wisdom is that the more complex the problem, the more important it is to follow this orderly flow. If you work in a large organization, you have probably seen the waterfall model of problem solving enshrined in policy manuals, textbooks, internal standards for the design process, and the most advanced organizational tools and methods.

In the MCC study, however, the designers did not follow the waterfall model. They would start by trying to understand the problem, but would immediately jump to formulating potential solutions. Then they would go back to refining their understanding of the problem. Rather than being orderly and linear, the line plotting the course of their thinking looked more like a seismograph for a major earthquake, as illustrated in the diagram. We call this pattern both chaotic, for obvious reasons, and opportunity-driven, because in each moment the designers are seeking the best opportunity to progress toward a solution.


Actual pattern of problem solving – the “seismograph”

This non-linear process is not a defect, not a sign of stupidity or lack of training, but rather the mark of a natural learning process. It suggests that humans are oriented more toward learning (a process that leaves us changed) than toward problem solving (a process focused on changing our surroundings).

Of course, linear processes are quite appropriate for solving many problems, such as computing the square root of 1239 or choosing the shortest route to the new mall. But within organizations-such as corporations, institutions, and government-where lots of people work on complex issues, people are encountering a new class of much more difficult problems. We call these wicked problems because of the dynamic and evolving nature of the problem and the solution during the problem-solving process. It is these problems that the techniques described in this book are especially useful for solving.

Let me give a simplistic and personal example. I bought a Nikon D70 Digital SLR recently that came with a 400-page manual. The manufacturers would hope that I read the manual completely before operating the camera. Naturally, I did not. And I am positive most of you wouldn’t. I started using the camera straight out-of-the-box. Got stuck at some point, referred to the manual and moved forward. Again, I got stuck on something else, picked up the manual, and the cycle continues. I am still in the learning curve, but hey, it works. I am confident you would have done it the same way.

Classroom-based learning in organisations doesn’t always work because it follows a linear pattern. Sequester a bunch of people in a room for 3 days and teach them about the product you are going to launch next quarter. What happens next? Where is the continuity? What if I get stuck? Where is my cheat sheet? How can I obtain the tacit knowledge such as my advantage over the product of a competitor that I am going against in a bid next week? All these questions remain unanswered.

Written by anol

June 14th, 2005 at 11:05 am

(My) 7 guidelines for effective corporate e Learning

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1. The business world is not about learning, it’s about doing business.
So before doing training needs analysis – please, do go through a business needs analysis. It may not be the same as the strategic direction or vision statement of the company; it’s more complex. We are dealing with different goals and perspectives. What needs to be learnt varies from the point of view of the CXO, training manager, product manager/department head and the learner. Catering to all viewpoints is a daunting task, but, believe me, it’s the first and foremost task to do. Any shortcut is a pathway to doom’s loop. We can use 3 converging circles (inspired by Jim Collins) to formulate the business context analysis of learning needs.

2. First collaboration, then learning
Learning is a social event, and collective intelligence is the key for any organizational success. The #1 problem of corporate e Learning today is overemphasized focus on content. Content is scattered all over the organization in many forms and formats – slides, white papers, e-mails (!) etc. These may be not in most articulated or engaging format, and can obviously be improved drastically with rich media, but at least the content is there! What’s totally lacking in most organizations is collaboration, interaction and systematic process of capturing tacit knowledge scattered throughout the organization.

Since we were little, communicating has been about responding to one another. I say to my little daughter ‘Daddy’. She says ‘Dada’. And we go on for a while. That’s how she learns. A response calls forth another response, and a theme develops. It’s how we all learn – until we join organizations. Then we sit down and watch people give presentations; or worse – we put a voiceover on the slides, upload them to an LMS and name the process e Learning!

Ask workers where they learned how to do their jobs, and 80 percent of the time the answer is “at work.” Most learning takes place on the job, outside the purview of formal learning. When we do conduct formal training, 80 percent of it is wasted effort. – Jay Cross (Workflow Learning Gets Real)

Now for the million-dollar question: how do we establish a culture of knowledge sharing and a collaborative learning-working environment in an organization? The technology is here – both for synchronous (virtual classroom/meeting-room, virtual workplace) and asynchronous (blog, wiki, forum, folksonomy tools etc.). Collaborative knowledge sharing environments are a reality now, at least technically. But the hurdle is not technological; it’s mainly political and cultural. Our years of ranking and certification-based education has lent our outlook towards learning a ‘Darwinian’ perspective. And the same learning culture is carried forward by people into organizations after “warming the seat in the classroom”-type learning for 16+ years.

3. Off-the Shelf content is so yesterday, Courseware is dead.
In the movie “The Matrix,” there is a scene where Trinity and Neo, need to take over a military helicopter. When asked if she can fly it, Trinity immediately makes a call from her cell phone to obtain the necessary pilot training program. Moment’s later, all necessary information is implanted into her brain, and the she takes off with Neo.

Although this is fictional, successful organizational knowledge dissemination should follow the same path as in Matrix. Today’s knowledge workers don’t have time to sit through a 2-day workshop or 5 hours of e-Learning courseware. Think about the immense opportunity cost, or the ‘forget curve’ of knowledge before the theories get implemented in day-to-day work. Today’s knowledge workers need information-knowledge-intelligence quickly and at the precise time. The days of courseware are over. Period!

Also, by now, almost every sane organization has realized that off-the-shelf courseware is only effective in providing training on ‘workplace sexual harassment’ – type of subjects, and not for conducting core business training. For the same reason that you can’t buy your organizational strategy off-the-shelf, you can’t use off-the-shelf courseware to implement core training of the organization.

Moreover, the first-learn-then-work paradigm is out. We just don’t have enough time. We learn mostly when we work, and we work while we are still learning. Honestly – what do you do when you are trying out a new software? Do you search for a manual? Call 24/7 Helpdesk support? Or would you press F1 for help?

In adult learning, cognitive goals are always application oriented’ we don’t have any 3- hour exam to sit for – real life is our examination hall! We need both explicit and tacit knowledge when we need it – on demand.

4. It’s not about Technology – it’s about effectiveness and culture
During the first era of e Learning, we made an egregious mistake of treating e Learning in the same way as CRM, ERP or any other enterprise technology. We forgot that e Learning is about LEARNING and not about the ‘e’. It is about learning to be more effective in today’s complex knowledge economy – an ecosystem that is continuously changing and evolving. Learning is not a system, which can be installed be done with. The primary aims of learning organizations should be -

  1. Making explicit knowledge visible and accessible – on demand. The computer’s memory is much more efficient than ours. They, not us, should handle complicated explicit knowledge.
    Not convinced? Try this -
    13 x 21=?
    Reaching out for your calculator – aren’t you? Well that’s what I meant. Memorization is what you do in primary school, not in business.
  2. Capturing the complex changes of the business context as soon as possible. Tacit knowledge is hard to gather; there is no single magic trick, which can perform the task. My experience tells me that blended formal and informal tacit knowledge gathering works best.
  3. Disseminating the knowledge seamlessly. It’s not to make every bit of information available to all. Please don’t throw the drowning man another wave of information. Make relevant knowledge readily accessible for knowledge workers, knowledge that directly or indirectly affects their functional priorities.
  4. Implementing a culture of knowledge sharing and an atmosphere of continuous learning Admittedly the most important and daunting task of all.
    According to Senge: At the heart of a learning organization is a shift of mind –from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to connected to the world, from seeing problems as caused by someone or something ‘out there’ to seeing how our own actions create the problems we experience. A learning organization is a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality. And how they can change it.

There is a lot of discussion about the importance of creating a learning organization. We recognize the importance in personal development of counting to engage in what Stephen Covey refers to as “sharpening the saw”. But in the application of those ideas to our business and personal lives, we often fail to make a distinction about two kinds of learning.

The first kind of learning, which is far more common and more easily achieved, is to deepen our knowledge within an existing mental model or discipline.

The second kind of learning is focused on new mental models and on shifting from one to another. It does not deepen knowledge in a specific model but rather looks at the world outside the model and adopts new models to make sense of this broader world. Sometimes we don’t need to merely “sharpen” the saw; we need to throw it out to pick up a power tool. If we only focused on sharpening, then we might not see the opportunity to apply new technology that can radically change the way we approach the task.

5. LMS / big rollouts are out – embrace small pieces loosely coupled
During the first era of e Learning, when a company decided to go into e Learning path, first thing they did was to select an LMS! Think about the working process of any (well…most of the) ‘early adopters’ of e Learning.

First, a decision-making subcommittee is formed, evaluation criteria are decided, 100 pages of RFP’s are released and the tender called.

Then the fun begins. People sit together in meeting rooms, munching donuts and sipping coffee, to interview LMS vendors. The process made them feel important. After that hoola-hoop, when the LMS was finally implemented (e Learning rollout – drum roll please!), there was nothing inside it. So they filled it up with off-the-shelf courseware and uploaded all the junk PowerPoint presentations, PDF and Word documents. Finally when they realized nothing is going according to their expectations (god only knows what those were!) – they jumped to the conclusion – e Learning doesn’t work!

Time has changed. After the bubble burst, companies are more careful and pragmatic to try out something new. My earnest request to you – don’t play with stakeholders’ money. Forget big rollouts; embrace small trial and error method. Try lots of things, with low risk factors, and keep what’s working. It is usually best to get them quickly into the new flow, and plan to course-correct going forward. This is a white water rafting strategy. When you pick, you pick hard.

Find out a visionary department, and try something new. If that works – use them as ‘headpin’ to enter other pragmatic areas. But whatever it is, make it fast.
Also remember - the best things in life are free. If you need to try out things on a small scale and no enterprise integration issues are involved – why not try out free and open source technologies? Use a multi-authored Wordpress blog to share knowledge within a department. Really need a CMS/LMS? Try out Drupal or Moodle. Use Wink to capture a software demonstration and publish that in the intranet. You can think about 1001 ways to use FOSS to implement low-risk e Learning initiatives. If you are successful – plan for the ‘big fish’.

6. e Learning is not only for internal learning
It’s a common misconception that e Learning is a ‘tool’ to train only the insiders of an organization. The truth is that for the last couple of years at least 70% of e learning projects I have worked on, are either for channel partners or end users of a product. The easy explanation would be – In partner or end user training, the funds come directly from the product group or the marketing department, and not from the training department (which is always the poorest). But that’s not the whole picture.. The internal staff of an organization will have to support, sell and market their product or solution anyway – whether they receive effective training or not. But channel partners and more importantly end users have no obligation to learn on their own if you don’t provide them useful information and knowledge on time.

On the other hand, your channel partner will sell your product better than your competitors’ if they are more knowledgeable about your product than other products.

7. Measure what really matters
Be careful what you measure. You might get the result and it might kill you. (Michael Hammer, The Agenda)

Imagine a situation – You are the product manager of a new product of your organization. You arranged an e Learning program to train your sales force. Every user/learner really liked the program (at least they said so in the smiley sheet!). Tracking systems of the LMS show excellent results and so does student evaluation. Just one problem though – after 6 months of launching the product you haven’t attained even 10% of the sales target! Well there may be many other factors at work here, but the point remains- without proving business results, any other measurement of the success or failure of a learning initiative is useless.

For all e Learning initiatives, measure what really matters to your business. For instance, please do not include ‘travel cost saved’ in the infamous ROI section of the learning initiative document. Think about opportunity cost, cost of ignorance and 2nd hand knowledge transfer. How to? First in a pre-heated oven put your pizza crust…oops! Sorry wrong blog and wrong post. Ok, seriously? The number one rule is that there is no specific rule or checklist. Always think within the business context – that’s all I can suggest. If you want to dig deeper, please read Metrics by Jay Cross.

CAUTION: The above 7 guidelines are not a checklist or anything of the sort. Every business is different and so are their knowledge needs. There is no one-size-fits-all formula.

Written by anol

March 7th, 2005 at 11:26 am

Interactivity and knowledge retrieval

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This smallish article I wrote 2 years back, things changed – my ideas evolved, but till date I strongly believe in some portions of this article.

Interactivity and knowledge retrieval
From the pedagogical ivory tower the oracle has announced – LEARNING OBJECTS SHOULD BE INTERACTIVE. Use 3D games to teach how to write effective business letter, use virtual environment-based role-play to teach table manners! That’s interactive – cool, learnable and sexy. Did we mention costly too?

The key is to understand the human cognitive system and how it contributes to on-the-job performance. Memory retrieval is facilitated when cues are laid out in perform on-the-job performance situations. Every situation invokes a different type of memory retrieval.

Interactivity is undoubtedly important. Interactivity is a requisite for sustaining learner attention. However, undue focus on interactivity for the sake of attentiveness can jeopardize the whole learning outcome. Incorporating frivolous drag-and-drop animation and games, and MCQ or True-false evaluation modules for the sake of enforcing creativity but without any clear learning objectives (what the learner needs to retrieve and apply) and focus on instructional design might not be a good idea. All the more so when we aim to achieve upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. The focus on authentic learning activities is absolutely essential, especially in corporate and tertiary learning, where the primary objective is synthesis of complex knowledge at the application level.

The target of good learning design is the retrieval of appropriate knowledge from memory. For instance, while using Microsoft Word, learning cues on-screen should initiate the retrieval of knowledge on how to cut and paste, insert tables, and access the header and footer menus.

Consider a non-example – a learning object that teaches how to insert a signature in Outlook. A few screen-capture sequences, the learner attempts an MCQ like this:
The Insert Signature option is under menu option:

1. Edit
2. View
3. Insert
4. Tools

How does the “interactivity” element above contribute to performance improvement of the learner as opposed to learning outcomes? How does this “learning activity” help the learner’s memory retrieval process when he seeks to apply his newly acquired knowledge in an actual performance environment (in this case working with Outlook)?

[ Recognition Over Recall from Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler

People are better at recognizing things they have previously experienced than recalling those things from memory. It is easier to recognize things than recall them because recognition tasks provide memory cues that facilitate searching through memory.

Recognition memory is much easier to develop than recall memory. Recognition memory is attained through exposure, and does not necessarily involve any memory about origin, context or relevance. It is simply memory that something (sight, smell, touch) has been experienced before. Recall memory is attained through learning usually involving some combination of memorizing, practice, and application. Recognition memory is also retained for longer period of time than recall.

Early computers used command-line interface, which used recall memory for hundreds of commands. GUI eliminated the need to recall the commands by presenting them in menus.]

That is not to undermine MCQs, True/False questions, etc. These are effective for evaluation, articulation and even knowledge retrieval when used properly within the proper context.

The ideal way to ensure retrieval of learned information from memory in an on-the-job situation is to prompt learners to practice retrieving that information during the learning event. It is not the interactivity that facilitates learning – it is the retrieval practice.

This explains why questions about non-essential information actually hinder learning. They provide practice for retrieving the wrong information!

By putting the emphasis on proper retrieval practice, we can correct the dangers of utilizing interactivity just for the sake of it. We can stop asking trivial questions on meaningless material. We can avoid detracting the attention of our learners from the central concepts. We can end the practice of creating frivolous games that divert the learner’s focus from key learning points.

By not focusing on interactivity, we can create meaningful interactions that will carry over to the learners’ real-world performance contexts. We can focus our simulations on situations that have realistic analogy, thus creating authentic instruction.

Written by anol

October 11th, 2004 at 11:23 pm