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How do you prototype?

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I recently read an article on Allen Interactions’ website, Four Tips to Create the Perfectly Imperfect e-Learning Prototype. The article centered on four key prototyping concepts:

  • Speed
  • Room for failure
  • Simplicity
  • Participation

Speed and simplicity are related, in that good prototypes should be developed quickly, and should omit most extraneous details about the design and the details of how things will work. Don’t overdo it.

The article also focused on leaving room for failure – welcoming it, in fact – because that allows room for lots of different ideas to surface.

Finally, participation deals with keeping your circle of approvers small, and limited to those who have been most closely involved with the project.

Prototyping can take many forms, from simple paper sketches to fairly well developed components of larger modules (and anything in between, of course). Quick, simple prototyping is something that many instructional designers struggle with. On one hand, you want to sketch and try out new ideas – but the overachiever in you feels vulnerable when sharing ideas that are experimental or not fully developed.

So what do you feel most comfortable with, and what do you do in your own practices? Does it depend on the project, or do you have a favorite approach? Let me know what you think.


What’s motivation got to do with it?

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We learning professionals spend a good deal of our energy trying to design and develop learning solutions that will effectively help people learn. Sometimes less energy is directed toward why people want to learn in the first place. In her book, Interface Design for Learning, Dorian Peters suggests that motivation should play a critical role in how we approach the design of our learning solutions. Making sure we understand what motivates learners will help us understand which approaches may work, and which may not.

Two primary types of motivation exist: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when we do something because it is inherently interesting or rewarding (like learning to play an instrument), while extrinsic motivation is when we do something because it leads to a separable outcome (like earning a degree in music). Which is better? Both types of motivation have autonomy as a central component, and Peters suggests that autonomy is the key to distinguishing helpful types of motivation from unhelpful ones. But because intrinsic motivation is inherently autonomous, it is generally considered the ideal form of motivation for learning. That said, extrinsic motivation can play a stronger role when intrinsic motivation reaches its limits; not all learning can be tied to intrinsic motivation, after all. So how do intrinsic and extrinsic motivation influence the learning solutions you develop? What are some ways that we as learning professionals can make sure we’re designing with motivation in mind?

What is “mobile learning,” anyway?

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Last week I attended an Association for Talent Development (ATD) Mobile Learning certificate program. In the past, I’ve also gone to the eLearning Guild’s mLearnCon event, where I learned that what we typically call “mobile learning” can take many forms. By definition (at least the definition that ATD uses) mobile learning is “the use of mobile technology to aid in the learning, reference, or exploration of information useful to an individual at that moment or in a specific use context.” To me, that’s a bit of a mouthful – but I think the idea is that mobile learning can really be different things.

The instructor in my recent certificate program took this idea a step further and suggested that we actually do mobile learning a disservice when we don’t distinguish between two distinctly different types of mobile learning: training and performance support.

Here’s how ATD defines the difference:

  • Training is formal instruction that enables you to learn something that you do not already know.
  • Performance support is informal learning that supports you in using existing skills or knowledge.

Using these definitions as a framework, most mobile learning would fall into one of these two categories. For example, short instructional videos that actually teach new skills would be an example of mobile training. While a mobile app that allows you to look up a product code while on the job would be an example of mobile performance support.

According to a recent ATD whitepaper, only about one third of companies are currently delivering any kind of learning to mobile devices – and of those who are, about 80 percent are primarily focusing on performance support. That means that mobile training implementations are still few and far between at this point.

Where does your organization fit in this picture? And what opportunities do you see for adding mobile performance support – and mobile training – to your overall learning mix?

The learning benefits of spaced practice

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You’re about to read something that, in all likelihood, you will forget 80 percent of by next week. If you’re interested in learning how you could change that, keep reading anyway.

In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel write about applying cognitive science to real-world learning. One of the strategies they suggest is spaced practice. Spaced practice is the act of studying information more than once and allowing considerable time in between your exposure to the new content. Why is this practice successful? The authors suggest that spaced practice engages our long-term memory instead of our short-term memory, more strongly connecting new knowledge to existing knowledge and to other recent learning.

As learners, we may feel uncomfortable when we allow a few days to pass before returning to new knowledge. We’re already a little rusty, and it can be frustrating to realize how much we’ve already forgotten. But this is exactly what makes spaced practice effective: when we have to work harder to reconstruct what we’ve learned, we are invoking our long-term memory rather than our short-term memory. The most important ideas become more salient and memorable, and over time, the new learning is cemented into “what we know.”

Here’s a blog entry I found on 8 practical ways to implement spaced practice. Have you tried any of these yourself? What other ideas does this bring up for you?

Simplify your visuals – simplify learning

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A picture may be worth a thousand words – but what if you don’t need a thousand words? In her book Interface Design for Learning, Dorian Peters suggests some strategies for simplifying graphics to reduce cognitive overload. At the center of these strategies is Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Principle, which states that words and images are better than words alone for supporting learning.

Some of Peters’ simplification strategies include:

  • Stick to relevant graphics – Interesting but irrelevant graphics can actually decrease learning outcomes, while relevant graphics help learners process content and increase engagement.
  • Use thoughtful reduction in data graphics – Remove graphic detail that does not communicate data. Just be careful not to go too far, as “dramatic minimalism” can reduce readability and undermine clarity.
  • Simplify explanatory visuals – Reduce visual elements to help learners recognize and understand graphics more quickly. Simple line drawings are actually more memorable than photographs or detailed graphical representations.

In the category of simplifying explanatory visuals, Peters writes about the use of pictograms – extremely simplified graphical representations that are meant to be universally understood. In an age of increasingly spare interface design, they’ve enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Check out this article about how and when to use them. And when you’re done – tell us, what are some of your strategies for simplifying visuals?

The role of mobile performance support in online learning

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I recently read an article in Learning Solutions Magazine about the growing role of mobile technology in providing performance support after a training event. While the article does not focus only on support after an online learning event, I’d like to explore this area.

In the article, author James Rasmussen makes the case that mobile devices provide the perfect platform for performance support for five reasons:

  • Access in the moment of need (because mobile devices are virtually ubiquitous, they ensure a delivery channel whenever and wherever performance support is needed)
  • Access in real-time (the ability of the device to access information or people that can provide help)
  • Offline storage (the ability to store information on the device for use even when the device is not connected to the Internet)
  • Access to videos
  • Responsive design (the ability of software to automatically sense and adapt to the display device)

Since we know that online learners (and all learners, actually) begin to lose what they’ve learned as soon as a training “event” ends, there is an obvious need to provide ways for learners to reengage with what they’ve learned back on the job. But mobile performance support for online learning may offer unique considerations. For example, because online learning is already “online,” could mobile performance support be incorporated into the overall online learning design?

What do you think?

What role, if any, does mobile performance support already play in the online learning you develop?

Does this article spark new ideas for how you might add mobile performance support to your online learning blend?

Do you use Twitter as a professional resource?

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Last year at mLearnCon, the eLearning Guild’s mobile learning conference, I was struck by something that well known author and presenter, Allison Rossett, said. She was talking about the potential of technology and social media to transform learning, and declared that she learns more by “jumping on Twitter for 20 or 30 minutes” than just about anything else she does.

I’ve had a Twitter account for a few years (a close friend who works in social media strong-armed me into it) but I’ve rarely used it. I had an early impression that Twitter was just for following celebrities you don’t know, or self-centered narcissists who you do. And while a bit of that impression may be based in reality, ever since I heard Rossett’s intriguing declaration, I’ve been wondering whether Twitter could, indeed, be a great place to connect with other learning professionals and to accelerate my own learning.

Recently, a class assignment in my master’s program prompted me to give Twitter another look. The timing of my exploration worked out well, as a major learning conference was underway, and Twitter was all atwitter with learning tweeters! I quickly figured out the conference’s hash tag, which made it easy to scan all of the tweets originating from conference attendees. Some were very insightful; some were snarky, or even a bit rude; some pointed me to interesting articles and content I never would have encountered otherwise; and many came from a few of the same people who seemed to post every thought that crossed their minds.

But with all that said, overall I was left with a positive impression of Twitter’s potential as a professional resource. I definitely plan to continue my exploration of Twitter based on my recent experience. It’s also evident that many well known authors, respected professionals in the learning field, and even a few of my own colleagues are increasingly turning to Twitter to learn and to share their ideas. I think that a critical aspect of maximizing Twitter’s potential will be figuring out which colleagues to follow – which seems simple enough, but will probably take some time.

So what about you? Do you use Twitter professionally? If so, I’d love to hear what you think. Has it accelerated your own learning? Have you made valuable connections? Do you think Twitter is here to stay? And perhaps most importantly – who do you follow?!