Saturday, May 23, 2009

Promoting Social Learning

You've got the cool new informal or social learning tool up and ready to go now you're ready for the masses to arrive and start using it. Then comes the harsh reality that it is hard work promoting the use of informal or social media tools within an organization. Not everyone is as quick to jump on the bandwagon as many tech savvy instructional designers are. So, what are some ways to encourage the use of social media tools that are obviously beneficial to the workforce?

I come across so much information conveying how effective social media/web 2.0/informal learning is the wave of the future in instructional design. Well, I am having a hard time riding that wave. I recently implemented a Wiki and discussion forums for different uses. The Wiki is used to retrieve process and procedural information while the discussion forums are used to share best practices much like LinkedIn forums. Now that I have these resources implemented I am attempting to get past the more challenging hurdle of getting the workforce to use them.

While I still have a long way to go, I have had marginal success promoting these social media resources by providing Formal Learning opportunities where the workforce is directed to use these resources for a specific activity. The end goal is to create Informal Learning opportunities where the workforce is seeking out these resources and pulling out information on their own but I have come to learn that this does not just happen, at first learners need to be directed and guided through social media resources. Here is what I have tried so far in my pursuit to reach the tipping point.
  • Formal Training - Including social learning tools in formal training courses early in the employees career helps to ingrain the use of the tools into the organizations culture. For example, if you are rolling out new software and these social media tools contain instructions for the software, it is crucial that the social media resources are covered in the formal training for the software rollout. The learner is going to see more benefits in the resource while they are still struggling to learn the software. If they experience a few "wins" by solving issues using these resources then they are likely to continue to use the resources in the future.
  • Assignments - One of the most difficult challenges in promoting social learning is providing opportunities for the learner to have a positive experience with the resource. A great way to do this is to design a formal learning assignment or activity that helps the learner to experience the benefits of the resource. This goes against the end goal of having the learners pull the information on their own rather than being directed but I have found that a formal learning solution can help jump start informal learning. Once the user has become familiar with the resource and seen the benefits through an assignment such as a scavenger hunt, or a structured online discussion, they are more likely to go back on their own.
  • Contests - Another form of a formal learning activity that can help promote the use of social learning tools is to create some kind of a contest. This can be a little more difficult to design but adding a little competition into the activity adds motivation for the learners. Examples for contests could be the greatest contribution made to a wiki or something like the most questions answered in a discussion forum.
It all comes down to motivating the workforce to make the effort to use the informal or social learning tool you have developed. Explaining the benefits is not enough, learners need to experience the benefits on their own. A great way to help them experience "wins" or positive experiences with informal or social learning tools is through formal learning activities such as assignments, fun activities, or contests.

I'm sure that I am not the only instructional designer struggling with social or informal learning tools. If you have experienced any "wins" or "losses" in promoting social learning please leave a comment and let us know what has and has not worked for you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's in a name?

I ran into a strange problem using an html file produced in Camtasia by TechSmith and delivered through Moodle that must be common amongst Camtasia and Moodle users. Hopefully this post will prevent others from making the same easy mistake.

I uploaded all of the necessary files produced by Camtasia to Moodle then created a link on the course site to the html file but received a strange error when opening the link. I had no clue what was causing the problem because I wasn't doing anything different so I did a quick search and found this post on the Moodle forums that helped me solve the issue. After reading this post I realized there was something different about this file, I left a space in the title. Apparently Moodle doesn't like any spaces or special characters in the file name because Camtasia uses windows naming conventions while Moodle uses Linux. It was the stupid space that I had in the title causing the error!

Quick Fix:
The quick fix for this is to rename the Camtasia project without spaces or special characters, reproduce it, then upload the new files to Moodle. Create a link to the new html file without spaces or special characters and voila!

Long Fix:
If you are like me and no longer have access to Camtasia or just feel like doing a little extra work you will need to go with the long fix. Because I don't have Camtasia anymore and can't reproduce the project, I had to go into the html and XML files to manually edit the file names. It's really not that difficult but is a little more tedious. After renaming the files, open the html and xml files in an editor (I used Dreamweaver) and run a "find and replace" for every file name that you changed. It's not just the flash file that you need to change the name of, you also need to change the names of the javascript and XML files. Once you have changed all of the names you can upload the edited files to Moodle, then create a link to the html file and you are in business.

It was an annoying issue but easy to resolve with the help of the Moodle community and it always feels good to solve a problem. Now that I have this bit of knowledge I'll make sure to avoid spaces in any files I use that will be going on Moodle just to avoid the trouble.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Continuous Learning Experience

Through experience I am learning that training should never be a one time event, it should be a continuous learning experience. As a corporate trainer it can be all too easy to facilitate the class (off or online), collect your smiley sheets, and check the class off the list as done forever. It feels great to mark the task off the list but it can also be a recipe for disaster. This raises the question, "What are the best "Continuous Learning" solutions?" This post highlights some of the wins and losses I have had in creating continuous learning experiences.

I have recently been working on a lot of technical training projects for a recent software implementation. The learners completed a series of eLearning tutorials and a day long instructor led training class but that was not enough to help learners retain the knowledge needed to use the software fluently. In an effort to provide a continuous learning experience I implemented a Wiki using MediaWiki. Myself and a few others filled the Wiki with detailed instructions covering every procedure the software is used for. It is now a great resource for quickly finding answers especially in the first couple of weeks after the software implementation. The instructions in the Wiki served as a great reminder of what they learned in the eLearning and instructor led courses to get them through the tough times.

However, the Wiki did not fulfill all of the learners needs. Many learners had a difficult time fully understanding the in's and outs of unique situations by reading instructions on the Wiki. They needed to interact with somebody who could answer their questions and provide perspective unique to the situation they are dealing with. The problem with this is that the technical support staff was too busy to provide the one on one coaching that many people needed. To address this issue I implemented a help forum on the organizations Moodle LMS where learners could go and post their non urgent questions. At first I thought it would mainly be the tech support staff answering questions in the forum but it turned out to be other tech savvy learners who caught on to the software quickly that were able to lend a helping hand to their colleagues by answering questions. The great thing about this is that the quick learners who were answering questions were learning more by answering questions. The forum turned out to not only be a great tool for reducing tech support calls, but it was also a great tool for both novices and experts to learn about the software.

The wiki and help forum turned out to be great resources but this was not until I could overcome the major hurdle of getting people to use these resources. In any organization, it can be difficult to attract participation for tools like this even if the information is valuable. I still don't have the participation I would like but as I continue to advertise within the organization, I'm gaining more and more visitors in each of these resources. The bullet points below highlight some of the advertising successes I have had:
  • Cover Resources in Formal Training Courses - I made sure to include training on using the Wiki and help forum in the formal eLearning and Instructor Led courses as a form of advertising and to set expectations of when to use these resources. In the past, employees of the organization have had a tendency to quickly call the tech support staff when they didn't know how to do something so we needed to break this habit.
  • Advertise anywhere and everywhere - The more chatter there is about the resources the better. I had success by advertising in the company newsletter and the internal company intranet. Employees refer to the newsletter and intranet for the latest news so these were ideal places to advertise the successes people were having using these resources.
  • Get the power users involved - I mentioned that there was a tendency in the organization to rely on the tech support staff when you have a software question. To break this habit we needed to change the habits of both the employees and the tech support staff. Rather than firing off the answer to the question I encouraged the tech support staff to coach the employee on how to find the answer to their question using the Wiki and Forum. Once employees realized that if they call tech support, they are going to be coached on using the Wiki and Forum the calls start dwindling and participation in the resources increases.
After a lot of hard work the Wiki and Help Forum turned out to be great resources for creating a continuous learning experience. I am still learning more about Wikis and Forums and will be exploring other ways to continue the learning experience after the formal training is complete. What have you done that worked well? Please share your experience by posting a comment.