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How to be an elearning visionary

January 28, 2016

by Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

Our MD recently won an Outstanding Contribution award and was named as one of the Top 10 eLearning Movers and Shakers in the UK for 2016. The award was given partly because of all the voluntary work he has done to support the elearning industry but also because he’s seen as somewhat of a thought-leader in digital learning. Here’s what I have learnt from him:Visionary

  1. Listen (and hear the things that people don’t say)

Getting to the crux of a customer’s business problem often means not taking things at face value. If you’re really going to create digital learning that really makes an impact and measurably improves the performance of the business, you need to be able to accurately define what it is that the customer wants to change. Identifying the business goal is a key tenet of action mapping – a method that is ingrained in most of the learning we produce.

  1. Ask the right questions and ask lots of them

You can never ask enough questions, particularly at the outset of a project. Really understanding the customer is vital to being able to come up with the right solution. We have a standard list of questions that we always ask and then many, many more that will come up in the course of the research phase.

  1. Don’t be afraid to be outlandish

Fighting zombies or taking off in rockets to dance with aliens might not be the right learning solutions for everyone, but don’t be afraid to put wild ideas out there. They may not be what you end up with in terms of the solution, but thinking as widely as possible will inevitably lead you to be more creative and help you to find the most memorable solution for your audience.

  1. The creative process is collaborative and social – not just an individual thing

You can certainly be a creative, ‘ideas’ person as an individual – someone who inspires – but the true power of the creative process comes from the team, including users, customer and other stakeholders as well as the vendor team, and from ensuring that all the elements of a solution fit together and work. Kaspar Tang Vangkilde wrote an interesting theses on the social process of creativity at Hugo Boss, which backs up the idea that creativity is a team effort.

  1. Put yourself out there

Share stuff, learn from others, bounce ideas off people. Take an active part in the elearning community and aim to really raise the bar – rewarding in so many ways.

  1. Make time for mindfulness

OK, so it’s a bit of a trendy thing at the moment, but it’s not just a load of ‘hippy crap’. Various studies, including those done by Harvard and University of California, have found that meditation enhances creativity and improves focus. Being in a relaxed state of mind encourages divergent thinking and makes space for those ‘eureka’ moments. Working life can be very hectic. Taking time out to do nothing – just 20 minutes every other day will do – from being bombarded by texts, emails, phone calls, Skype messages and so on has been proved to have real results.

10 lessons from Design Thinking that can be applied to digital learning

January 13, 2016

By Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

A few weeks ago I attended a fabulous workshop by Sally Spinksdesign thinking from Ideo. If you haven’t heard of them before, they are a design consultancy headquartered in California but with offices throughout the world. They use the design thinking methodology to design products, services, environments, and digital experiences. We have a bit of an organisational crush on them if we’re honest.

Here are my top 10 takeaways:

  1. Start with the human need – get into your learner’s space, put yourself in their shoes. Don’t just look at what they say and think but also what they do and feel, as these things can be quite different.
  2. Look outside – find analogous situations to inspire solutions. If you’re looking to get learners to share, think of situations where sharing happens well, for example a nursery or a group counselling meeting. Approaches from these do not have to be exactly replicated but you may find that there is some concept or methodology that can be translated to your project.
  3. Hook into what people are already doing – there may not always be a need to reinvent the wheel, it may be that small adaptations are all that’s needed to produce the desired behaviours.
  4. Prototype – this one is really important. Prototype early and at low cost to mitigate risk and to build your business case.
  5. Talk to your people as humans. Give people permission to be themselves, rather than corporate robots. You will be rewarded for it.
  6. Design not for people but with them. Engage your learners in innovation and they will become supporters.
  7. Look for patterns in behaviour or actions that will help you gain insights and spot opportunities.
  8. Brainstorming is a great tool but certain rules must apply – defer judgement, encourage wild ideas, build on the ideas of others but always stay focussed on the topic.
  9. Celebrate failure. As my husband said to my little boy when he was upset by making a mistake in his homework – ‘if everyone gave up when they failed, we would all still be living in caves’. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong as that is how we progress. Failure should be allowed and even encouraged.
  10. Evolution becomes inevitable when you use a design thinking approach.

The LAS blog is now available at www.las-hq.com/blog

6 ways to convince your organisation to embrace digital learning

December 10, 2015

by Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

The latest Towards Maturity benchmark report makes rather depressing reading. Despite being consistently able to show that those organisations who embrace learning technologies perform better, be it through increasing revenue, improving productivity or job performance,Convince blog the overall situation remains relatively static in terms of budget committed to digital learning or the range of technology used.

So how can you convince your organisation that investing digital learning is a good thing?

  1. Embed the learning in your wider organisational strategy. What is the business problem you are trying to solve and what effect will this have on your organisation’s mission as a whole? Learning should not take place in a silo, it should be clearly linked to the organisation’s success.
  2. Measure the potential impact of the learning – this might be in terms of money saved if you were to do the training face-to-face, performance improvements, strengthening of in-house skills and reduction of reliance on external consultants, increases in sales – choose whatever measures are relevant to your organisation’s strategy as a whole.
  3. Don’t allow your organisation to stick to an outdated view of elearning. Make sure you are well-versed in the latest thinking – join a professional association (eLearning Network, ATD etc..), visit industry conferences and exhibitions, subscribe to the blogs of those who are at the fore-front of digital learning thinking, attend webinars (LSG ones are great) or join LinkedIn groups. Learning from each other and sharing best practice is key to moving digital learning on from dull click-next-to-continue stuff to really impactful, engaging interventions.
  4. Today’s technology makes digital learning more agile, relevant and immediate than ever before. With huge improvements in mobile technology, job aids can be delivered into your learner’s pockets. Social and collaborative learning is also attracting a lot of interest, if not yet being actually translated much into the work environment. In our private lives we learn socially – through Facebook, YouTube, TripAdvisor etc… If your organisation is reluctant to try these new things – pilot them, produce prototypes – allow them to see and experience the benefits before committing funding.
  5. If cost is an issue, often your existing technology can be adapted to accommodate new ways of learning. Always start with what you already have – it may surprise you.
  6. Check out award winners’ projects for inspiration and ammunition, they are often profiled online following awards ceremonies. Awards criteria usually stipulate that a project must show considerable impact – this can be in a number of ways, not just financial. If you can go to your organisation with concrete proof of the way digital learning can have a substantially positive effect on overall business performance, that’s a very powerful argument.

This blog is now also available at www.las-hq.com/blog

A Decade in eLearning – Then, Now and Next

November 13, 2015

As LAS celebrate 10 years in business I find myself thinking back to what has changed over that Birthday Candlestime, what hasn’t, and what the future may hold. When I started LearningAge Solutions, it was as a jobbing contractor, working for a number of elearning development houses. Over time I started building content myself and soon needed to hire another developer. Now we have a globe-spanning team of about 20 people, a pretty stellar customer list and a good few awards under our belt.

So what’s changed?

  • Learning has gone mobile. Increasingly users and customers expect the content we produce to work cross-device.
  • Flash is dead. Back when we could author in Adobe Flash it was possible to create all kinds of cool interactive content. As long as the user had the Flash player, the content would work. Now HTML5 is the preferred form, however, it’s a step backwards in terms of what we can easily create.
  • Learning has become playful. As the gamers of my generation have moved into positions of influence, more game-like learning experiences are becoming accepted. We even have a new word ‘gamification’ – like it or loathe it; it’s this season’s buzzword (see below).
  • Learning is social. Because of the way we use social networks in our home lives, there is an increasing expectation that learning should be collaborative and social too. The trouble is, often organisations don’t have the best tools in place, or if they do, they’re not being well used.
  • Learning experiences have gotten shorter. Partly in response to mobile learning and partly because of the pace of change; learning interventions are now much more bite-sized, often down to five minutes or less.

What’s the same?

  • Our brains and how we form memories. The underlying structure of our brain is the same and it’s still just as hard to get anyone to remember anything. At least now a few more people are aware of this fact.
  • We still love our fads and buzzwords. It was ‘social’ a couple of years ago, it’s ‘gamification’ today. The buzzwords come and go, but our appetite for the ‘next big thing’ that will solve all our problems doesn’t wane.
  • Today for many people the course still is king. These tend to be those who have come from a traditional training background and who struggle to break free from the paradigm of ‘courses’.
  • We still love video. Because of increasing access speeds video is very popular, but then again – it always was – we can just consume it more easily.

What’s next?

  • The new Tin Can standards have started to become more widely adopted. This in combination with social learning can start to generate ‘big data’. Once we have a lot of data to play with we can start doing clever things with recommendations, like modifying learning paths and providing performance support.
  • Collective intelligence is the natural step after social learning. Now that more work and more learning is done socially the logical next step is to start harnessing the collective intelligence within organisations for specific business purposes. Innovation or problem-solving for example.
  • Entertainment and then learning will go immersive. The new batch of virtual reality headsets become available very soon. 360-degree camera rigs already exist. You can turn your phone into a VR headset with a bit of folded cardboard and an app. I see immersive films being the next big thing in entertainment and I hope it makes it as far as learning too.
  • Badges will become the new form of certification. With LinkedIn getting on board with Open Badges and huge amounts of content being made available online for little or no cost, badges will become widely accepted as a form of accreditation.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the job is still varied, diverse and challenging and that keeps it interesting. Technology is starting to take account of human behaviour and this enhances communications, ways of working and how we access learning. There is an explosion in tools, technologies and approaches to better working and forward-thinking organisations still need help negotiating and making the best creative use of them. That’s what we plan to spend the next 10 years and beyond doing.

The LAS blog is now also available at www.las-hq.com/blog

The Advantages of Building Curiosity into Learning and 7 Ways to Do It.

October 14, 2015

by Tess Robinson, Director LAScuriosity

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” — Albert Einstein

Our youngest son (7) is the very definition of curious. Every day is a barrage of questions: “Can anything happen in a nanosecond?” “What would happen if we just breathed carbon dioxide?” “Does the toothpaste come out like that (red, white and blue) because it’s French?” His mind is a constant whirr as he tries to make sense of the world. I love that he is like this; that he makes fantastic and creative connections, and tries seemingly impossible things with no fear of failure (and often proves me wrong by succeeding).

Curiosity often gets overlooked in organisational learning but it is being talked about more and more. For example, Julian Stodd’s research on social leadership, gives the first tenet of this new leadership style as to ‘be curious’. He emphasises the importance of not doing something ‘as we have always done it’ but to question and challenge the status quo. But why is curiosity so important in learning? This is why…

This article on lifehack.org, sums it up nicely:

  1. Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive
  2. It makes your mind observant of new ideas
  3. It opens up new worlds and possibilities
  4. It brings excitement into your life

Wow!

It’s really difficult to study curiosity, as it is such an individual phenomenon, so consequently there hasn’t been much research on the subject. However, a recent University of California study sought to discover what happened in the brain when people felt curious and what impact this had on their learning.

They asked participants to rate how curious they were to learn the answers to more than 100 trivia questions. During the study MRI scans were carried out to observe what happened in the brain when a participant felt particularly curious about one of the answers.

Charan Ranganath, a neuroscientist involved in the research said that curiosity seemed to be piqued when people had some knowledge of a subject but were then faced with a gap in their understanding. He describes curiosity as the drive to fill that gap – ‘like an itch you just have to scratch’. This chimes with George Loewenstein’s earlier research on the Psychology of Curiosity which also identified that curiosity arises from an information gap.

The scientists involved in the University of California study found that people are better at learning information they are curious about. Interestingly, curiosity also appears to prepare the brain for learning – once curiosity has been piqued, participants were not only better at learning the information they were curious about, but also at remembering unrelated information that had been presented to them in their ‘curious state’.

The MRI scans taken during the study showed that curiosity triggered increased activity in the hippocampus – the region of the brain involved in the creation of memories and that is also related to reward and pleasure. Igniting curiosity releases dopamine and gives us a ‘high’.

So curiosity makes learning more effective and also more pleasurable. Sounds fantastic, but how do we weave this into learning interventions? Undoubtedly it’s a tricky thing to do, as people are curious about different things, although there are some basic lessons we can draw on:

  1. Expose the knowledge gap and give learners the opportunity to fill it. This might be through a scenario-based pre-test where learners apply their knowledge in a situation and get feedback on the gaps.
  2. Use an engaging storyline that unfolds as the learners progress. Include characters leaners can relate to and want to help. Use cliff-hangers at the end of a section to make them want to continue.
  3. Use a guided discovery or exploratory format for the learning, so the learners must seek out the answers themselves. Don’t spoon-feed them – treat them like adults.
  4. Allow learners to ask questions – of each other, of experts. Create an environment where learners are safe to challenge and be challenged. This might be through social learning systems or networks.
  5. Introduce games into your learning. Play naturally builds interest and curiosity and makes learning active, rather than passive. Who doesn’t like to have a bit of fun whilst they’re learning?
  6. Include an element of surprise – uncertainty can engender curiosity and give us a thrill as we wait to discover ‘what happens next’.
  7. Curiosity and creativity are inextricably linked. If you want your learners to come up with creative solutions to problems build in things that will grab their interest and make them want to know more

Curiosity is the brains way of encouraging us to expand our knowledge, understanding and skills – so stay curious and help your learners do the same.

This blog is now available at www.las-hq.com/blog

How does responsive design impact learning culture?

October 13, 2015

responsive designBy Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

Lately I have been spending a lot of time on Webflow, a responsive site builder, redesigning our company website. As the number of devices, platforms and screen sizes grows it’s becoming more important to be able to provide an optimal viewing experience in terms of reading and navigation’ whatever the screen size. Responsive design allows you to build sites which can adapt their layout according to screen size, platform and orientation by using fluid grids, flexible images and media queries and means that you don’t need to develop different sites for every gadget.

If you google responsive web design you will get plenty of results talking about how it is not just about adjustable screen sizes and images that automatically resize but that it also represents a whole new way of thinking about design. If you want to get into the nitty gritty, Smashing Magazine has a great blog post on it (Responsive Web Design: What it is and How to Use it).

Whilst this is certainly true, it also represents a much deeper shift in the culture of learning. When a client asks us to create a responsive site for them, for example, a job aid or a resources hub, they are not simply asking for a well-designed product that will look nice wherever it is accessed, they are asking us to help them embed learning more thoroughly into workflow and into the everyday life of the organisation.

You no longer have to wait for a training course or have to be at your desk to learn, you can do it via your phone or tablet on-the-go. You can undertake your learning on the job, on the train, whilst waiting for your kids to finish at a club, even when in the bath if you so wish (though we’d recommend a waterproof cover for your device!). Although there are limitations in content, responsive design allows you the flexibility to undertake your learning when and how you want to on a number of different devices, by having appropriately formatted content and resources at your fingertips. Thus making it easier and more cost-effective for learning to be continuous, flexible and up-to-date.

It’s really interesting to see how the ability to design responsive learning influences learning culture within an organisation; particularly what learning looks like, what its purpose is and how and when it is delivered. We’re firm believers in learning and resources being accessible when and where they’re needed. Responsive design is one great way of doing this.

This blog can now be found at www.las-hq.com/blog

How interactive should your elearning be?

October 12, 2015

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by Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

These days it’s widely accepted that learners don’t really learn much from just sitting passively in front of a screen. It’s all too easy to switch off whilst you’re supposed to be concentrating on what’s in front of you if you’re not required to be an active participant, I’m certainly guilty of popping off to make a cup of tea or feed the cat in the middle of a webinar.

But what if there is a need to just impart information, with compliance issues for example? Is there a place for click-to-continue elearning? Maybe; if you really need to use it, stick to the essential messages and keep it short – let’s face it, no one wants to sit and be lectured at for an hour. Consider using videos and animations and mixing delivery up a bit. This can be more impactful and interesting for the learner than straight text and audio but still needs to be used shrewdly and kept short. Design in repetition and reinforcement of key facts and always keep in mind that most people can hold between one and five pieces of information in their working memory at a time. How many pieces of information are in your module?

But what about the nitty gritty that you won’t have time to cover? Well you could create a resources hub or section and provide the detail as documents that learners can access in their own time and at the point of need.

We often find it useful to think in terms of a suite of interventions with varying levels of interactivity. You have your short information-giving piece, your resources, your way of practicing what you’re learning through scenarios or goal-based real-world tasks, and a way of keeping that knowledge accessible and fresh, for example through a job aid that can be accessed on a mobile phone to help people put their learning into practice. All this needs to be balanced against the budget that you have available. Looking at what you want people to do, the behaviours that you want to influence and change and the characteristics of your audience – when and how they will access the learning, how technically competent they are etc.. – will help you narrow down the best approach.

We’re fans of giving the learner autonomy over their learning through an active learning experience. If they feel more in control, they’ll invest more in it. After all, it’s usually more important that learners know how to put their learning into practice than just ‘knowing stuff’.

This blog is now available at www.las-hq.com/blog

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