training technology

Questions about the learning innovations that are shaping 2015?  Blueline has the answers. 

New technologies are making it possible to create incredibly immersive learning solutions at a price point that wasn’t imaginable just a few years ago. For example, a Fortune 100 wireless carrier needed an immersive simulation with integrated social media to onboard and encourage networking among new Sales Representatives. Because retail and wireless change so often and so fast, the solution needed to be easy and cost effective to update and maintain. Learn how Blueline partnered with our client to design a 3D “Level 4” simulation that could influence your learning organization’s vision for the future.

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Onboarding Sales Professionals with Online Simulation

In a previous blog, I described how we created an award winning onboarding experience for the legendary consulting firm: Booz Allen Hamilton. And in the one prior to that, I outlined our secret recipe. (If you missed that blog you may want to take a look now, because I’m going to showcase new ways to provide context, create a strong first impression, ensure engagement and fun, and reflect the client’s culture.)

Today I’d like to tell you about an ambitious “Level 4” simulation we developed. That is, it uses a gaming engine with rules and probabilities, as well as deeply pathed scenarios that mimic real-life customer interactions.

We built it for a retail client who was looking for an immersive, updatable experience for their Sales Representatives in an accurate store setting. And given the fast-paced nature of this retail space, our team’s goal was to build an experience that could be easily updated.

We developed a solution that uses a “mashup”of several technologies. It’s broken into several components which all work together to speed learner development: the Overview, the Virtual Store and the ASK System.

The Overview of the course is a 3D model of a typical retail store.  It showcases all of the devices that can be found in the stores and provides links with detailed information and videos. Facets of the store, such as the demonstration area, use green screen video of a narrator in front of rendered virtual elements to instruct on its use. Because change is constant in a retail environment, all of the devices can be easily updated or changed, and the information provided in many of the links often points to materials that exist elsewhere to simplify maintenance.

After exploring the Overview, learners are invited to navigate the Virtual Store and interact with customers. They “walk” through the environment by panning with the mouse or using the arrow keys. As they encounter customers in the store, they can click on them to begin a sales interaction. There are dozens of scenarios, each representing a different sales conversation with multiple endpoints. They focus on a range of relevant sales concepts: either a service, a detailed portion of the sales process, or the features and functions of a new product. As they interact with each customer, the learner can experience a range of up to nine animated emotional states.

Learners are evaluated on sales and customer satisfaction. Relative success in one scenario can cause other “virtual” customers in the store to be angry or happy, which affects subsequent interactions. Feedback is typically provided at the end of the interaction.

In the ASK System, we filmed and indexed approximately 100 videos of our client’s associates to support best practices, tips, and advice on selling. The videos serve as a virtual coach and can be accessed at any time via search or in response to frequently asked questions. Using tagging and scoring, the videos (and associated FAQs) intelligently arrange themselves based on rating and “relatedness” to the video that is currently being viewed.

Together, the Overview, the Virtual Store and the ASK System provide new learners with a comprehensive, risk free learning environment in which they can hone their skills. And because the content is kept up to date, learners are encouraged to return often to use it as reference and to learn about new devices and sales techniques as they are introduced.

It’s another great example of how virtual tools are creating incredibly robust learning solutions at a price point that wasn’t possible even five years ago. The world of learning is changing fast. At Blueline Simulations, we’re committed to staying on top of it, and bringing you the very latest and best technologies.

We’ve got a few more learning tricks up our sleeves. We’d love to show you, and then help you imagine the incredible levels of efficiency, engagement, retention and organizational change that are available to organizations like yours.

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.

Author Moves us Closer to the Promise of the iPad

When the iPad was introduced three years ago many in the community wrote about its potential use in corporate training, including me. Since then, many organizations have begun to take advantage of the iPad’s portability, constant connection through WiFi or cellular networks and engaging interactivity to create custom training solutions for their workforce. Unfortunately, the tools to really tap the potential of the iPad were not readily available or accessible to most designers. Training solutions on the iPad meant creating custom apps and that meant hiring programmers to bring the module to life.

Apple recently changed all that. With the introduction of Author and iBooks 2, Apple has opened the door for instructional designers and developers to create rich, engaging, interactive training without the need to learn programming skills or hire a programmer. While Author and iBooks 2 were introduced as Apple’s answer to expensive, heavy, out-of-date-by-the-time-they-ship textbooks for K-12, it can be used for much more.

In case you missed the announcement, Author is a new Mac program for creating highly interactive books and is available for free on the Mac App Store. With a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get interface it allows creators to just drag and drop elements of a book onto the creation screen. Take a Word file of text, add images, movies, Keynote presentations, even interactive 3D animations and Author will automatically create a layout ready for the iPad. It has built in testing features, and makes full use of the iPad’s gestures for zooming, tapping to expand or launch a movie, etc.

It’s easy to imagine a number of elearning modules being adapted for deployment as an iBook 2, which means greater portability, easy reference at the point of need and personalization. In the new iBook format you can easy highlight information and then review it. Imagine a Human Resource Representative, who highlighted key passages of new policies or governmental regulations, being able to quickly and easily reference those noted areas weeks or even months later when a relevant need arises.

I also imagine that sales organizations will be developing product training that can also be used for doing demonstrations for customers.  As new product information is reviewed, the salesperson can highlight those sections most applicable to their particular customers’ needs. Then when on a sales call, just pull up the noted section and tap on the accompanying video to demo it for the customer.

When it was introduced, the iPad was a revolutionary product that eliminated much of the complexity and learning curve involved with using a computer. I believe in time we will see Author and iBooks 2 as the next stage in that revolution that brings the creation of compelling, interactive content to a wide population. And this is just version 1.0. Apple’s history suggests that they have many other capabilities and features in mind that we will see over the next couple of years.

Over 20 years ago desktop publishing software provided affordable tools that allowed almost anyone to create a brochure or newsletter, but that did not do away with the importance of good design skills. Now Apple has introduced tools to allow almost anyone to create an interactive training in the form of an iBook 2, but that won’t do away with the need for good training design skills. Though the tools just became more accessible, effective and engaging training will still rely on great design. Let the award-winning designers at Blueline Simulations help you explore how you might deploy interactive iBooks to meet your organization’s objectives.

Take Your Instructor-Led Training. Take Your Virtual Learning. Now Put Them Both Together, And…

We feel your pain, because we’ve been there, too.

We love our face-to-face classroom training, but in the age of tight budgets and geographically dispersed workforces, it’s fast becoming a thing of the past.  It was fun while it lasted.

I know it’s easy to dis on e-learning and e-simulation. And while there is still a plague of shallow point-and-click programs out there, a lot of folks are savvy enough to build in richer methods of engagement. But I frequently bump up against the limitations of online interaction. Don’t you? There is almost always content that requires the benefit of interaction with other learners and a live facilitator.

If only there was a way to create a hybrid that delivers the best of classroom and e-learning.

Enter virtual instructor-led training, or VILT.

Okay, don’t tune me out yet. Plenty of us have had lame experiences with new technologies like Acrobat Connect, Live Meeting, GoToMeeting, and others, which have simply become another medium for slogging through PowerPoint with a little bit of Q&A thrown in. (And if we are being honest, no one wants to look stupid by asking a question that they fear might have been answered while they were instant messaging a friend, or catching up on the latest web news.)

VILT took a good concept – less time and money – to its logical conclusion. Along the way, it lost sight of how people really learn.

But all is not lost.

We have discovered that VILT can be engaging, interactive and built on solid adult learning principles, while still saving time and money. Blueline designers and developers are pushing the envelope of this new medium with a broad range of proven immersive teaching methods including story lines and passports, online team assignments and collaboration, and rich interactive debriefs.

Imagine highly engaging team-based activities including Socratic discussions, remote synchronous role-plays, networking, and competitive team challenges.  And individual exercises that create “whole brain” learning through visual templates, use of competition and interactive quizzes.

Yes, it can be done. And when it all comes together, it is a thing of beauty.

Do you have existing instructor-led content that needs to be transformed into high-impact, engaging, VILT?  We’d love to tell you about some of the methods that we have implemented in organizations all around the world. Call the training experts at Blueline Simulations today.