Rapid e-Learning Challenge: Day 1

June 25, 2008

One designer. One course. 48 hours.

Status: On target

Total time: 8 hours

I’m off to a pretty good start. My goal for these first few days is to consolidate my research notes and random ideas into a content outline and begin the storyboarding process. Today I reached a semi-final state of the content outline.

In the past I used MS Word to develop content outlines. This time around I decided to try out a mind mapping tool for developing the outline. Tom Kuhlman suggested a similar approach (different tool) in a comment last week, and he wrote about how he uses mind mapping here. And Michael Hanley describes using FreeMind for instructional design. I’m using the free tool at Mind Meister for now, but am open to better tools, especially if they’re free 🙂

What’s this course about, anyway?

The course is about writing my company’s version of A3 problem solving reports. An A3 is a tool that Toyota uses to propose and report on solutions to problems. The idea is to present all the essential information about a focused subject on a single 11″ x 17″ (A3 size) piece of paper. The report is divided into sections that follow specific data-driven problem-solving steps. This reporting approach forces clear, focused communication, and allows the reader to view a lot of information at a glance. It’s a brilliant process and forces clear, focused communication. I’ll write more about the A3 report and process and implications for instructional design in a separate post.

Here is a snapshot of my mind map/content outline.

Mind map and content outline for A3 Report Writing course.

This gives an idea of the high-level topics. I’m not showing the details due to internal privacy issues, but when I drill down into sub-topics, I also have initial screen treatment and activity ideas. I am able to insert notes, icons, links and even attachments. Links and attachments will be especially helpful by (hopefully) making it easier to locate source documents, web sites, etc.  So in a way it is a mini knowledge management system. A

But is it rapid?  Although I am early in the design and development process, I think the mind mapping approach is a great alternative to using Word to outline and document ideas. It looks like it will be a big time saver from my past way of flipping around, forgetting, and searching for those notes about my last great idea. The slow-down, of course, is that it takes at least a little time to install, learn, and integrate a new tool into your work. This slowed down the Rapid e-Learning Meter for now, but in future projects, I suspect a quicker start. 


My 48 Hour Rapid e-Learning Challenge

June 19, 2008

One person. One course. 48 hours.

Time to put rapid e-learning to the test. I recently got an assignment to create an e-learning course and it needs to be done fairly quickly. I need to get it done in a few weeks and I don’t want to spend more than 6 hours a day on it. On the downside, the course goals are a little fuzzy, there isn’t much existing content, and I am writing the content and developing the course on my own. On the positive side, I have a lot of autonomy to design what I want.

Here’s the plan:

I will use the Articulate suite to build the course (a tool I have used for one previous course). Because of the tight timeline, I will rely mostly on relatively simple approaches but (hopefully) engaging instructional strategies that a single, non-programmer/action scripter can do alone. To that end, I’m drawing a lot of inspiration lately from blogs like Cathy Moore (e.g. how to add emotional impact ; dump the drone), Tom Kuhmlan’s Rapid E-Learning Blog, and Jane Bozart (especially her Better Than PPT book).

Goal: A fully functioning course in 21 days (and no more than 48 hours). By “fully functioning” I mean ready for beta testing, not necessarily final release.

  • Days 1-5: content outline, design/strategy, storyboard in PPT, document my processes.
  • Days 6-10: finalize storyboard, write screen content and script, identify graphic/media
  • Days 11 – 15: Build all course screens and interactions
  • Days 16 – 20: Record audio, test, release beta for review
  • Day 21: Kaizen (improvement) – Review process for what worked, what didn’t. Look for areas of waste and inefficiencies, Improve and document process for next project.

Along the way:

In addition to developing the course, there are a few other things I will do:

  • Document lessons learned and best practices.
  • Track metrics and track data to help with future improvement projects.
  • Develop project management and process documents that can be replicated.
  • Update this blog minimum three days per week: include discoveries, general experience, review of software, etc.
  • Search out other blogs, product support site for help, and post questions as needed.

That’s it….ready, set…..

Do you have any ideas for getting set up and started on a WBT rapidly? War stories, best practices or things to avoid….any comments are appreciated. Comment here or e-mail me.

Who Has Time for a Second Life?

June 14, 2008

This month’s Big Question at Learning Circuits is really three different questions around virtual world sensation Second Life.

I really couldn’t get past the first question: “In what situations, do you believe it makes sense to develop a learning experience that will be delivered within Second Life?”

My own knee jerk response to this is: “Second Life?  Hell, I barely have time and money for first life learning!” Sure, there are some interesting possibilities for SL, especially along the lines of the Plymouth example Tony Karrer describes. While SL has some awesome potential and applications, it is too time-consuming to figure how to design for it, and even more challenging for technically unsavvy audiences like the one I design for.

When I evaluate the right tool for e-learning, I think about where it fits in with a model similar to the one Clive Shepard recently posted about. He describes a model for delivering e-learning in three tiers, develped by Nick Shackleton-Jones.


At the top is high-end content that, due to it’s complexity, is expensive and often sponsored by top management (due to its expense and development time). At the bottom is user-generated content, social learning stuff. In the middle is the typical e-learning projects like tutorial, software sims, e-presentations, and the like.

So, in this model, it seems that SL kinda fits in at all three levels, depending on the design. But it’s complexity and steep learning curve (i.e., expensive!) puts it at smack at the top (I think). I don’t see how to reconcile this. I work for a huge company with a small learning group, and an even smaller e-learning team: ME!!!! I have to think hard about finding a big bang for my limited buck.

Right now, I am spending most of my time creating middle-tier e-learning. I’d like to move toward more user generated content. I can vision a much greater return on selling the power of blogs and wikis than I can virtual world tools like Second Life. Someday, maybe. Not today.

For now, I’m putting Second LIfe on hold and getting back to Real Life: A cold brew has my name on it at my favorite Seattle brew pub, where I will plan my next real life NW hike here:

Sign on Dungeness Spit, Olympic Peninsula, WA

Genchi Genbutsu for Instructional Designers

June 12, 2008

Genchi genbutsu is a key concept in the Toyota Production System and means “go and see for yourself.”  The idea is that instead of simply reading a report about a problem or talking about it in a conference room, you should actually go to the place where the problem is occurring and observe the situation for yourself. Practicing genchi genbutsu is the best way to truly understand a problem. 

A No-Brainer for Instructional Designers?  Well, I’m not so sure. A lot of times, we first hear about performance problems in a meeting of some sort, or perhaps by reading a proposal or report that describes why a particular training solution is necessary. Once the project starts, we might review existing training or other documentation, and maybe conduct a few expert interviews. In other words, we pretty much rely on other people describing the problem. Then we design training to “fix” the problem, although we are really quite removed from it.  Sound familiar?

Well, in lean thinking, that’s not kosher. Problem-solvers are encouraged to go to the gemba, the Japanese word for “actual place.” What if instructional designers practiced genchi genbutsu as a routine part of doing our work. Instead of just taking the word of client stakeholders and company data, we need to go to the gemba and observe the situation ourselves. This will result in better and more authentic training.

Several years ago, I was involved with developing e-learning on kitchen safety for a retail restaurant client. The instructional design team relied on company documentation and SME interviews. But it would have been better to actually go and watch a typical kitchen where the reported problems were occurring. It would have been even better to go and do the same job in the same location.

This doesn’t mean we have to do a bunch of research to validate previous research. The point is that by directly observing, you learn in a holistic way than by learning about a problem second hand. Sometimes you don’t even have to open your mouth. Just open your eyes and look.

  • Designing a customer service skills course for call center employees? Go to the call center: watch them at work and listen in on their calls.
  • Wondering how to improve machine worker skills? Don’t rely on a manager’s report. Go to the shop floor and watch. 


Here’s the bottom line for workplace learning folks: Practicing genchi genbutsu will not only help you garner keener insights, it will also help you connect to your end users (the real customer) at their level, in their language. In turn, you will develop more relevant and effective training.

1-2-3-4 we don’t want your….LMS?

June 5, 2008

I was away on vaction last week, a million mental miles away from the blogosphere. And now: EduPunks everywhere. Whaaaaat happened? Never heard of the word before, and now it is the buzzword of the week in my Google reader. 

So what’s with all the bruhaha and elephant talk? A wikipedia entry is already posted and summarizes it pretty well. Seems that there are two basic points of rage behind the edupunk idea:

A.      EduPunkers don’t like idea that the Man might take control away from the learners and teachers and

B.      Big companies taking 2.0 and other do it yourself (DIY) technologies, bundling them up, and profiting off of them. 

I’m not sure I really care about point B. Sure, it is annoying to see corporate machines taking cool ideas that others came up with, packaging them up, adding their spin, and re-selling it to consumers as if it was their idea to begin with. But I am fine with that. As David Warlick says, we all have to make a living. And besides, if we were really serious about not allowing profit with DIY capabilities, we’d all be baking our own bread and roasting our own coffee.

Point A is a more valid protest. Educational/learning control should stay in the hands of professional educators and learners not 3rd party sales directors, IT departments, and so on. My fear is that empire-builders and internal control freaks will succeed in telling trainers, teachers, designers, and learners how and when tools should be used. That defeats the whole point….and it ain’t cool at all.

As learning professionals, we should be focused on establishing an infrastructure that enables learners to discover their own learning path, create their own content, and have conversations in ways that work for them. We need to give them the tools…and get out of their way.  Does that make me an edupunk? I dunno……

I do know that having a “screw you” attitude doesn’t help. We in the workplace learning world need to work together to empower our learning communities as best we can. I don’t care who is making a profit off of whatever. I do care that I now have tools at my disposal that let me strategically design conversations, discovery, and construction right into my courses. And that is REALLY cool.

And when politics gets in our way of that, that is where we work diplomatically to make change. Not extend fingers.