Providing services in instructional design, virtual training, and human performance improvement.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Interactive ELearning Course on a Budget

Isn’t this the dream of designers and clients alike? To build a highly interactive, engaging, and effective eLearning course on a tight budget. And by tight budget I refer to both time and resources: delivering a completed course quickly and at low cost with few needed resources.

Well, just in case the above paragraph and title of this entry has you excited, let me stop and clarify that this article will NOT provide a recipe for creating a highly interactive and effective eLearning course on a small budget.

I know – bummer, right?

I recently met with a prospective client who expressed the desire for 63 hours of completed web-based training (WBT) at a level 3 interactivity (meaning inclusion of video, audio, branching scenarios, customized feedback, and complex interactions). However the budget was only $5,000-$10,000. Even applying development metrics for a level 1 WBT, it would be extremely difficult to pull that off.

While this request may be extreme, it does highlight an important issue that arises frequently in the instructional design field. Clients want quick courses, at a cheap price, and they want them to be great. Not just great, but so great every learner magically knows everything they are supposed to know. And if you aren’t willing to produce such a course, then someone will bid lower than you to take that work.

The end result? More and more courses are created that, in my opinion, are nowhere near the caliber they could have been in terms of effectiveness and quality. More and more courses perpetuate the eLearning stereotype of glorified PowerPoints with next buttons that adhere to the mantra “let’s cram as much information as we can, throw it all at the learner in a series of slides, and hope that knowledge miraculously sticks and our performance/revenue/morale increases.”

For both the client and designer alike, it is frustrating.

So what did I do with the client who wanted a massive, interactive, effective WBT for a tiny dollar amount? We had a long, informative conversation over very good coffee during which I tried to stress a few key pieces of knowledge.

Change will likely not occur by throwing facts at learners.

bored learner at computerCan we create lengthy rows of PowerPoint slides and fill them with all the content you would ever want your employees to know? Sure. Will your employees actually learn any of what is presented in those slides? Probably not.

This is because learning involves change. And change requires motivation and engagement. A good instructional designer can advise you on the best way to motivate and engage your learners. If they suggest a series of slides with text on them, find a new designer.

Just because you can make a course doesn’t mean you should.

We are often requested to design courseware for clients who want to jazz up their compliance training. Complaints are high in an area of business ethics, equal employment opportunity, IT security, or harassment. They want us to design a WBT that will solve this. But does the organization actually know that training is the solution? Is it a lack of knowledge on their employee’s part? There are so many other potential causes of performance gaps (e.g. lack of motivation, unclear expectations, process breakdowns, poor attitudes, unproductive working beliefs). Find an instructional design team that can perform a comprehensive analysis of the situation and advise you on the best path forward to get the change you desire.

Interaction is not the same as multi-media.

While the use of graphics, audio, and video can enhance your courseware, the inclusion of multi-media does not generate automatic learner engagement. My health insurance company recently released a series of “interactive” videos that were supposed to assist me in making plan selections during open enrollment. Although the video included my name on the title screen, I was not engaged nor was it interactive.

Interactivity involves context and challenging activities. Find an instructional design team that can create meaningful interactions for your content.

five individuals gathered around a computer with shocked facial expressions
Trust your instructional designer.

Did this message come across already? If you are confident that you hired a knowledgeable and experienced instructional designer or instructional design team, then trust their advice and opinions. While you may not choose to take all of the advice, know that your designer has the best interest of your learners at heart and wants to see your company and your project to success.

Kelly Novic is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 12 years' experience designing and developing web-based, virtual, and face-to-face training for a variety of clients and settings, including higher education, non-profit, corporate, and government.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Rise of Synchronous Online Learning

Although Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT), also called online synchronous training, is rather new when compared to face-to-face instructor-led training and asynchronous web-based training, an increasing number of organizations are embracing VILT as an effective (and more cost-efficient) method of training.

At the 2014 AECT International Convention, a college professor shared how she is integrating VILT elements into her undergraduate online courses. In her presentation, she discussed what she learned from students about their experiences in their first VILT courses. Although we often design training for those already in the workforce, there are some lessons we can learn from these students.

Most participants assume virtual means self-paced. 

With an increasing number of universities and workplaces introducing self-paced web-based training modules as a part of their instruction and training, participants are increasingly equating “virtual” with “self-paced,” meaning the participant assumes the course can be completed on his or her own schedule.

With VILT, however, the participant must be aware that class sessions are synchronous. The instructor and participants meet in a common virtual classroom at the same, defined time. This information should be clearly communicated to participants up-front, prior to enrollment if possible.

Participants are greatly affected by instructor’s ability to bring cohesion and structure. 

Although VILT allows for greater flexibility and spontaneity than self-paced web-based training, the virtual environment means that there must be some degree of structure. There is a constant tension between structure and flexibility. Because different screen layouts and small group breakout rooms need to be designed and created in advance, the basic structure of the course must be determined prior to the course. There is a sense of flexibility, though, in that the instructor can respond to participant questions and needs within the already created layouts and content.

Participants have often had extensive experience with face-to-face classrooms, so an instructor in this type of course doesn’t have to provide as much of an introduction to the physical instructional space. Since the virtual environment can be a new experience for participants, however, the instructor must introduce the instructional space and program tools at the beginning of the course, prior to introducing content. Ground rules and expectations must also be established.

Participants consciously develop their online identity.

Just as participants develop an online identify on social media that may be different from their real life identity, participants in a VILT course consciously develop an online identity in their training. With VILT courses bringing together participants from all over the country and, in some cases, the world, participants most likely will not know anyone in the course prior to the first session.

Participants must, then, decide how to present themselves within the virtual environment. What and how much should they share? How much should they participate? Should they take the lead in a group or sit back and let someone else take that role? As instructional designers, we should provide opportunities for participants to establish this identity, perhaps through something as simple as a quick opening ice breaker.

What other tips have you learned from participating in or delivering VILT?

Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Succeed in Instructional Design Interviews

In a previous post, we talked about how to land an instructional design position. Since interviews are crucial to earning the position, it is worth spending more time on this important aspect of the hiring process.

Many companies, Victor 12 included, use more than one interview to get a feel for candidates. We will often conduct phone interviews then webcam and/or in person interviews for an open position. We do this to narrow down the applicant field and to make sure we find the best person for the position and company.

As a candidate, you should make the most out of these interviews. Use this time to determine if the position’s responsibilities and expectations are a match with your own skills and interests, and if the company culture is one that you can fit into for the long term. While some candidates may only think of their next job in the short term, you should view a position with at least a five year mindset. Can you see yourself growing with the company for the next five years or more?

Here are some helpful pointers for common interview types.

The Phone Interview

We use phone interviews to narrow down large applicant pools and to save time over in person interviews. We ask each applicant about four or five standard questions, in addition to any unique questions that may arise from their resume. Phone interviews are usually brief, so it is essential to make the best impression during that time.
  • Speak with the interviewer in a quiet area.
Do not take the call outside or in an area with distractions. You won’t come across well if it sounds like you are in a wind tunnel, if you are putting away dishes, or if you have dogs barking or kids screaming in the background. If you do the interview in your home while others are present, close yourself in a room alone and put a sign on the door to prevent disruption or outside noises.
  • Sit down, smile, and speak calmly.
The interviewer cannot see you during a phone interview, so if you are pacing or gesturing wildly with excitement all they will hear is your panting breath. You need to convey a sense of professionalism using just your voice and words. To accomplish this, sit up straight in your quiet area, speak with a smile (you can detect a smile in someone’s voice), and enunciate.
  • Practice.
Enlist the help of a friend to practice your phone interview skills. Call your friend using the same phone you will use for the interview and speak in the same room you’ll use. Practice introducing yourself and answering a few technical questions. Your friend should provide feedback on if it is easy to understand you and if there is any static or distracting background noises.

The Webcam Interview

Virtual interviews are becoming more common, especially with remote positions. They can be used to interview a candidate who has yet to relocate or who will be working from an off-site location. Or they can be used to conduct additional interviews if phone screening did not adequately narrow down the candidate pool.
  • Speak with the interviewer in a quiet area.
Just as with a phone interview, pay careful attention to your background and room selection for a webcam interview. Pick a quiet place free of distractions. As with the phone interview, if you do the interview in your home while others are present, close yourself in a room alone and put up a sign to prevent disruption. If possible, unplug your phones or turn them off to avoid potential ringing in the background. The portion of the room that will be visible from the webcam should be clean and professional (e.g., an empty wall or a bookcase).
  • Test your webcam.
Do not wait until the last minute to purchase a webcam or learn how to use one. You should know how to operate your webcam and ensure that it works correctly.
Before the interview, turn on your webcam and adjust it so that the view presents your face and upper torso. You should be well-groomed and dressed in professional attire. Once you have a good shot, you should stay relatively still during the interview. It is very distracting for a candidate to lean forwards and backwards while talking, effectively shrinking and growing in size on the monitor.
Do NOT have other individuals in the shot. To share a “webcam interview gone wrong” story, I once interviewed a candidate via Skype and we lost connection during our interview. About four or five minutes later, the connection was re-established and her webcam turned back on. When it did, I got to watch her re-adjust her clothing while a boyfriend or husband snuck out behind her in his underwear. I did not hire her.
  • Make eye contact.
This may take some practice. Adjust your webcam so that it focuses on your face in such a way that, when you look at your monitor and the view of the interviewer, it should appear as though you are making eye contact with them. If your webcam is off to the side and you are looking in front of you at the monitor it will appear as though you are looking sideways.

The In Person Interview
  • Dress to the part (or slightly higher).
Professional attire is a must. If you are uncertain exactly what to wear, aim slightly higher than what you feel the position calls for. Better to overdress than underdress.
  • Avoid distracting habits.
Do not be the candidate that clicks their pen incessantly. Or the one that taps their foot against the table over and over. I once had a candidate who answered every question while literally clawing across the top of the conference table with his fingers. It was so distracting and unprofessional that I could not concentrate on his responses.
  • Do not share inappropriate details about yourself or the interviewer.
Try to limit the amount of personal details you share during interviews. There may be times when it feels appropriate to mention that you have children or that you enjoy vacationing in Barbados, but oftentimes you should stick to information relevant to the position.
Likewise, do not bring up any personal information you discovered about the interviewer. It is always smart to research the company prior to interviewing. You want to know about the position and all relevant information to help you determine if this is where you want to work. It may even be appropriate to share this knowledge during your interview, but stick to relevant and professional information.
For example, I am a competitive triathlete in my free time. This is not relevant to an interview. However, I once had an applicant locate a picture of me racing and, at the end of her interview, asked if I was “one of those strange people who wore spandex cycling shorts.” The question was inappropriate, unprofessional, and reflected very poorly on her.

As a final tip, remember to thank the interviewer. Regardless of what type of interview, this is always a good practice. When possible, follow your verbal thank you with a brief written one via email.

Good luck and happy job hunting!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Recommendations for Deploying VILT

Our previous entries have covered designing and developing Virtual Instructor-led Training (VILT). This post will review the preparations needed to ensure a smooth deployment of a VILT course. These tips were originally presented by Kelley Rogers, a Victor 12 instructional designer, at the 2014 for Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) International Convention in Jacksonville, FL.

Choose the right instructors and hosts.
Probably the most important decision you will make before delivering VILT is who you select for the instructor and host. These two people will make or break your course.

Look for instructors with these qualities:
  • Content expert
  • Build and maintain rapport with participants
  • Flexible
  • Team player

Look for hosts with these qualities:
  • Tech savvy
  • Knowledgeable about technology and course structure
  • Multi-tasker
  • Calm in a crisis

While VILT is delivered virtually, instructors with face-to-face teaching experience often have the most success. VILT is most effective when the instructor is able to build rapport with the participants and confidently facilitate the session. While we provide basic training for instructors on how to navigate around the VILT platform, providing training on how to be a good teacher is usually outside the scope of VILT deployment. For this reason, we like to hire instructors with traditional ILT experience that can be flexible and adjust to the needs of participants.

In our deployment model, we have a Victor 12 host who manages the technology for the course, leaving the instructor free to teach. The best hosts are both tech-savvy and calm in a (technological) “crisis”, should one occur. A good host remains in the background supporting the instructor and providing a seamless instructional experience for the participants.

Rehearse before and debrief after.

Rehearsal is key. Unlike a face-to-face class, which allows for significant flexibility and requires minimal coordination, VILT is a partnership between the instructor and the host. Sessions should be rehearsed prior to the live course to ensure that everything will run smoothly. The instructor and host can work through the class, interacting with simulated participants and practicing their coordination.

After each live session, conduct a short internal debrief to review what went well and what could be improved. This may be especially important after the first session. By conducting debriefs immediately following a live session, memories are clearer and any critical issues can be addressed before the next session. If there are any changes identified for curriculum, such as timing, instructions, or activities, they can be recorded for future life cycle maintenance.

  Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recommendations for Developing VILT

In a previous entry, we posted recommendations for designing Virtual Instructor-led Training (VILT) courses. This post will tackle recommendations for developing VILT courses once the design is complete. These tips were originally presented by Kelley Rogers, a Victor 12 instructional designer, at the 2014 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) International Convention in Jacksonville, FL.

Deliverables for a VILT course combine elements from both instructor-led training (ILT) and web-based training (WBT). Like ILT, we deliver a facilitator guide and participant guide. Like WBT, we also create the content that will be uploaded to the web conferencing software as well as the classroom environment itself.

Keeping this in mind, here are some recommendations for developing VILT courses.

Run through each lesson.

It is important to run through the session(s) with designers acting as the facilitator, host, and participant. This step, often skipped when in a time crunch, is vital to ensuring that the course runs correctly and smoothly. 

During the run through:
  • Check to make sure the instructor guide is accurate.
  • Check the timing of all activities.
  • Time the course as a whole to make sure that it is not significantly shorter or longer than designed.
Design estimates are just that—estimates. You never really know how long an activity will take until you test it. We design courses with significant participant interaction, which can mean that our host may be very busy manipulating the learning environment, setting up breakout rooms, and so forth. During initial run-throughs, we can spot areas where the host needs more time to set up activities or where activity/multimedia coordination should be smoothed. With this information, we revise the facilitator guide to ensure that instructions are practical and give both host and facilitator time to complete their tasks.

Develop with Life Cycle Maintenance in mind.

Manage the course materials and assets in a way that allows future designers and developers to easily update content for life cycle maintenance (LCM). As VILT involves uploading content to a web conferencing platform, it is critical to have a plan in place for managing this content.

It may be helpful to ask yourself these questions when creating a method for content management:
  • How will you ensure that the correct and most current content is uploaded to the meeting room?
  • What is the plan when there are multiple versions of the same course running simultaneously? Will they all pull from the same content or have copies of content?
  • How will you manage content revisions?
  • What process will you use for archiving old content?

As with all LCM, regardless of course type, it is important to implement and follow strict versioning and naming conventions. This allows everyone on the team to locate the most current and correct content. We recommend that you address these questions and conventions in the design phase in order to save significant time during development and deployment, as well as while the course ages and changes are requested.

Finally, no matter which platform you choose for your virtual classroom, there will likely be software upgrades. Sometimes these upgrades are small, but if there is an upgrade that impacts the look or functionality of courseware, these changes should be incorporated into the relevant facilitator and participant materials.

Coming up next:
In a future post we will share recommendations for deploying VILT courses.

  Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Recommendations for Designing Virtual Instructor-Led Training

This past week, Kelley Rogers, an instructional designer with Victor 12, presented at the 2014 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) International Convention in Jacksonville, FL. She presented on Victor 12’s experiences and recommendations for designing virtual instructor-led training (VILT) courses, which is one of our core services. Over the next several weeks, we will post excerpts from her presentation as well as information shared in other sessions.

This post focuses on recommendations for designing a VILT course. Some elements should be treated similar to a face-to-face instructor-led training (ILT) course while others should be approached from a web-based training (WBT) perspective.

Use modified face-to-face strategies.

Although VILT is taught virtually, face-to-face instructional strategies that are modified as needed, based on the technology capabilities and limitations, increase participant engagement and learning.

Just as an instructor for a face-to-face class must organize his or her classroom to decrease participant distraction and increase content retention, the virtual environment must also be organized to maximize participant engagement and learning. In a virtual environment, ensure that commonly used items, such as a chat pod, are in the same location on every screen to provide consistency. For chat pods, this is especially important so that participants can easily ask questions at any time.

Keep in mind that virtual real estate is valuable. Everything on the screen should have a purpose, so do not, for example, add images just for aesthetics. Less is more. We want participants focused on the content, not lost in a sea of information.

Look for ways to increase participant engagement. Consider the challenges of keeping a participant’s attention when they have all the distractions of a face-to-face classroom plus the entire internet at their disposal. We mitigate this concern by limiting direct instruction to small time increments and include frequent interactive elements throughout, such as polls, class discussions, and small group activities. While we do include multimedia elements, such as videos, we use them when they directly relate to the activity and keep them to under 2 minutes.

Storyboard like web-based training.

Although face-to-face instructional strategies work best when designing course presentations, we take our storyboarding cues from web-based training design.

When storyboarding for VILT, especially if the designer and developer are two different people, storyboards must be extremely detailed and well thought-out. While fairly effective ILTs can be taught using lesson plans that allow for significant instructor improvisation, VILT doesn’t work this way. This is especially true for our Victor 12 courses, as we have a virtual host who handles the technical end, allowing the instructor to teach without worrying about technology or platform concerns. The course design and storyboards must support this level of structure and coordination.

Below are some elements worth including in a VILT storyboard:
  • Screen layouts
  • Presentation slides
  • Instructor script
  • Technical directions
  • Participant activity instructions
  • Multimedia scripts
Storyboards must include all participant activities, presentations, and multimedia that will eventually be uploaded into the web conferencing tool. Additionally, you must decide where this content will appear on screen within the virtual environment.

Plan for participants with disabilities.

Finally, when designing a VILT course, you need to consider participants with disabilities. Make sure that your conferencing software is compatible with screen reading software and provide keyboard shortcuts for participants unable to use a mouse. Not all VILT software is created equal in these regards.

Also, make sure to include captioning for all multimedia and for the course itself. There are several companies that provide live captioning services. Captioners sit in the course and provide real-time captioning to the participants. If using breakout rooms, ensure that all participants who require captioning are placed in the same breakout room with the captioner. 

Victor 12 chooses to have captioning visible on all multimedia for all participants. We do this not only for participants requiring captioning but also to account for participants who may have bandwidth issues. If multimedia audio doesn’t play correctly due to internet limitations, they can still read text on screen.

Coming up next:
Our next post will contain recommendations for developing VILT courses.

  Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.