Mobile Accesible eLearning

Coaching Still Just as Important, But Harder Now

Research by Mary Broad and John Newstrom, as reported in their book, Transfer of Training, establishes how critical the manager’s role is to newly trained skills actually being used on the job. The authors assert that what the manager does before and after training occurs is even more important than what the training designer or the facilitator does.

One of the most critical roles the manager plays is reinforcing new skills through coaching. Just like developing new habits, becoming proficient at new skills takes place over time. Good coaching provides not only necessary feedback, but keeps the skills in focus long enough for new habits and patterns to become established.

However, there are a number of trends in the 21st century work force that make good coaching opportunities difficult to find. For most, gone are the days when everyone worked in the same office and you had small spans of control. How do you coach people in new skills when you have few interactions with them and rarely if ever see them live to evaluate their use of a new skill?

Fortunately, the same technologies that have made possible the shifts to a more virtual workforce also provide potential solutions to this coaching need.  For example, we are able to build avatar coaches right into our elearning training programs. And these same virtual coaches can be programmed to provide timed reminders to learners after the training to review material, answer questions about a key skill, or take an “on the spot” assessment to keep the learners focused on a new skill long enough for new patterns to become established.

A growing number of our programs have asynchronous coaching options in which the learner can use video or audio to capture their skill practice session – and share it with their manager for review and feedback. While this may not have the same spontaneity of a manager walking up and observing in real-time, there are new benefits.  In fact, we have found that most learners will practice a skill several times to get it right before sending the sample to their manager for review. So what it lacks in immediacy, it makes up in practice repetition and ultimately, mastery.

In the past we were often asked to create a “How to Coach” program to accompany new training. In today’s world, learning designers have to assume more of the coaching responsibility by providing the learner and the manager with the tools and opportunities for good coaching to occur.

Have questions or want to brainstorm potential strategies for putting these exciting new coaching strategies to work  in your organization? Blueline is here to help!

Gamification: is it Edu-tainment or a Genuine Opportunity to Engage Learners?

You are invited to join us for what I am confident will be an interesting and informative webinar hosted by my friend and business partner: Brian Knudson. Brian is the Founder of NogginLabs and knows a thing or two about achieving learning transfer through gamification – and has 7 Brandon Hall gaming awards to prove it.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge budget or complex programming to design eLearning that’s as addictive as Angry Birds. If motivating your learners is a challenge, join us on Wednesday, December 12th from 12:00 to 12:30 pm EST, for this free webinar. Learn the basic principles of gamification, and how best to apply them to your eLearning initiatives.

This webinar is free to training professionals with a valid company email address; please complete your RSVP by Monday, December 10th and we will provide you with a meeting invite and access information.

I hope you can join us to see how gamification can take your organization’s eLearning to the next level.

Coaching Still Just as Important, But Harder Now

Research by Mary Broad and John Newstrom, as reported in their book, Transfer of Training, establishes how critical the manager’s role is to newly trained skills actually being used on the job. The authors assert that what the manager does before and after training occurs is even more important than what the training designer or the facilitator does.

One of the most critical roles the manager plays is reinforcing new skills through coaching. Just like developing new habits, becoming proficient at new skills takes place over time. Good coaching provides not only necessary feedback, but keeps the skills in focus long enough for new habits and patterns to become established.

However, there are a number of trends in the 21st century work force that make good coaching opportunities difficult to find. For most, gone are the days when everyone worked in the same office and you had small spans of control. How do you coach people in new skills when you have few interactions with them and rarely if ever see them live to evaluate their use of a new skill?

Fortunately, the same technologies that have made possible the shifts to a more virtual workforce also provide potential solutions to this coaching need.  For example, we are able to build avatar coaches right into our elearning training programs. And these same virtual coaches can be programmed to provide timed reminders to learners after the training to review material, answer questions about a key skill, or take an “on the spot” assessment to keep the learners focused on a new skill long enough for new patterns to become established.

A growing number of our programs have asynchronous coaching options in which the learner can use video or audio to capture their skill practice session – and share it with their manager for review and feedback. While this may not have the same spontaneity of a manager walking up and observing in real-time, there are new benefits. In fact, we have found that most learners will practice a skill several times to get it right before sending the sample to their manager for review. So what it lacks in immediacy, it makes up in practice repetition and ultimately, mastery.

In the past we were often asked to create a “How to Coach” program to accompany new training. In today’s world, learning designers have to assume more of the coaching responsibility by providing the learner and the manager with the tools and opportunities for good coaching to occur.

Have questions or want to brainstorm potential strategies for putting these exciting new coaching strategies to work  in your organization? Blueline is here to help!

Mobile is a Different Medium

A number of tech writers have said that with its introduction of the iPhone, Apple didn’t create a smartphone but a pocket computer that can operate as a phone. Given everything that people do with their smartphones now I think they are right. The function I use the least on my iPhone is making phone calls.

So, if today’s smartphones are really computers, and are nearly as powerful as laptops of just a few years ago, it should be easy to just move your Computer Based Training over to them, right? Not really. Learning on a smartphone is very different from learning on a computer. Mobile learning is really a new medium. One that has advantages and limitations, just like any other medium.

The main advantage is pretty obvious; people have their phones with them almost all of the time. So they can access training at any time and nearly anywhere making it ever more convenient to access elearning when and where it is most needed.

The limitation that people mention first when discussing elearning development for a smartphone is the phone’s small screen. While I agree that your mobile learning design needs to take the smaller screen into consideration, I don’t think that is the most significant limit of smartphones. The real limitation in moving your existing elearning course to a mobile platform is how people use and interact with their phone. To be effective, your mobile learning program needs to build on the natural habits that people have developed for using their mobile device.

A number of studies show that people spend quite a bit of time throughout the day interacting with their smartphones. Most of that interaction though, is in short bursts, rather than over sustained periods. They read and respond to a text message, check their email, look up some information on Google, or post to a social service. All of these are tasks that they spend only a few minutes on at a time. For mobile learning designers that means we need to think in terms of much smaller modules.

Smartphones may be powerful, but they are not good platforms for completing a typical 45-minute elearning course. They work better for delivering small, focused amounts of training that the learner can easily access in short bursts, and preferably just when they are most interested in the material. Think about a sales representative practicing critical elements of a customer dialogue in a simulation on their phone the night before a meeting with a critical customer. Then reviewing the simulation again the next morning in the parking lot just prior to going in to meet with the customer. From a learning and retention standpoint this is a good thing. Smaller amounts of material that are accessed and reviewed over time increases retention.

What is an appropriate amount of material? How long is the ideal mobile learning module? We can gain some insights by looking at popular media that is accessed on smartphones – YouTube videos and blog posts. The top 25 YouTube videos run on average less than four minutes. The readers of one social media blog report “getting antsy” if a video runs more than five minutes, even if it is “an entertaining” video. Statistics from other popular blogs indicate that people will only spend 3-4 minutes reading a blog post before clicking away, even if they haven’t completely finished it. If we use these findings as a guide, our mobile learning modules should be less than five minutes long.

So, how do you deliver extensive training or complex information in five-minute chunks? I’d suggest that the real power of mobile learning in most cases is as part of a blended learning solution. Computer based training or classroom sessions should be used for delivering the overall framework, and then mobile is used to reinforce or provide practice for specific bite-size elements. For example, a good onboarding program delivered virtually or in a class will provide new employees with a strong grounding in an organization’s culture, structure, and key processes. Then a mobile solution can provide new employees with rapid access to information on a particular policy they need to reference or provide practice in handling challenging tasks or interactions. By using a well-designed blended solution you can take advantage of the strengths of each medium rather than being overly constrained by their limitations.

Smartphones do offer exciting possibilities for effective training delivery – even engaging simulations, but they are just another medium in the designer’s palette. Like any other medium, it should be matched to the need, the audience and the content to be used most effectively.

Blueline is Celebrating our 10th Birthday. And I am a Bit Speechless.

Yes we had big dreams when we founded Blueline. But we never imagined the success and the many accolades that we have enjoyed in our first decade.  Blueline’s award-winning training solutions have been recognized by ASTD, Brandon Hall and Bersin’s Learning Leaders. Thank you to all of our clients for believing in our vision and for trusting us with the “tough” projects — the projects that weren’t simply about building a training program but were about solving a business problem.

And thank you to all of the Blueline associates who have contributed directly and indirectly to our client’s successes. I plan to dream really big about the next 10 years because now I know how capable you are.

On the occasion of this milestone, I’ve been reflecting about our business — where it has been and (even more exciting) where it is going.

Welcome to the Age of Simulation

Recently, I participated in a discussion about learning strategies with some very senior leaders from Xerox, AT&T, UPS, and Intercontinental Hotel Corporation. And it was interesting because though they weren’t able to agree on everything, there was one thing that they quickly came to consensus on: “in this environment we need to teach learners more, and faster than ever before.”

Consider that 47% of employees are going to be under the age of 35 by the end of 2013. Let’s think about that for a second. This is a brand new generation of learners with a whole different set of expectations. These folks grew up with Xbox, and they grew up with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. They grew up with Zynga and other social games on Facebook.

What’s the common theme? This group of learners expects to be entertained.

In 25 years in the learning space, if I’ve learned anything it’s that the fastest way to engage learners is through simulation. Period. And now we have this huge demographic that will not only benefit from simulation but is demanding it, because they want to be entertained, and they expect to be put in the middle of the experience.

Games, E-sims, and Beyond

Ten years ago, when I founded Blueline, we pushed the envelope by designing Blueline Blueprint Learning Visuals and classroom based simulations, many of which looked and felt like board games. These innovations speed learning and increase retention and continue to bring unique value in response to business problems that demand face-to-face interactions between learners.

About seven years ago, “branching esimulations” went mainstream in response to traditional elearning solutions that were dull and failed to engage and energize the learner. In a typical branching esimulation, the learner is faced with a challenge — often in the form of dialog with a customer or an employee — and is asked to respond by selecting from one of three alternatives. Their choice leads to another challenge and more choices, “and so on and so on” just like the old Clairol commercials. The problem has been that these simulations are hard coded, and for large scale immersive applications, expensive to build, and all but impossible to maintain and update.

Today technology has made it possible for us to do so much more, and to deliver so much more value. We are developing branching simulations based on gaming engines with thousands of nodes guided by easily updated rules and probabilities. Close your eyes and imagine a scenario in which you are interacting with a video-based character using your voice… and that you can interact with that character for hours on end in an almost life-like free flowing dialog.

Think for a minute about the potential that brings. Now, open your eyes because that’s a reality today.

Imagine what I will be writing about ten years from today!