Rapid Roadblocks: Too-little Content

July 21, 2008

When you want to develop an elearning course relatively rapidly, having plenty of reliable, semi-stable content helps. In most cases, the SME (subject matter expert) usually has too much content. Over at the Rapid Elearning Blog, Tom Kuhlman recently wrote some excellent tips for getting rid of some of the content when your SME has too much of it.  It does seem that on most all instructional design projects, SMEs and clients usually give you a lot more content than is needed for your course. Thinning out the content takes time and reduces the rapid meter. But this is a heck of a lot better than the opposite case: not having enough content. Have you ever had that happen?

That is exactly the case with my current not-so-rapid e-learning project. When I first started, all I had for content was a single PPT slide deck and an unresponsive SME. The PPT had some good key ideas in it, but they were not hashed out in any sort of detail. A lot of the slides didn’t make much sense or seemed incomplete outside the instructor-led course that it supported. Unfortunately, there were no slide-notes, handouts, white papers, instructor guides from previous courses or anything else. And the SME was not responding to specific content questions.

So what’s an ID to do when there is too-little content?

Make it up! As an instructional designer, one of the value adds that I bring to the table is the ability to research and benchmark externally and synthesize the results into internally revel ant content for my course. If the SME isn’t responding to requests for content, I can research and literally make up content myself, send that to the SME, and hope to get a response that way. Indeed, I’ve found that this approach usually works. It’s easier for many SMEs/clients to respond to someone else’s content-creation attempt than it is for them to create original content themselves. Don’t let the lack of content stop you.

Researching, benchmarking, and writing content outside your realm of expertise takes a LOT of time and drastically cuts into the rapid meter. And that’s OK…so long as it’s OK to stretch out the time-frame. The key is to figure this out up front during the content analysis phase (assuming there is one!). If there are content challenges (too much, too little, bad content, NO content, etc) then you need to note it as a significant risk and include additional time in your project plan.

Have you encountered similar problems with too-little content on any of your training projects? How did you handle it? I would love to hear any tips and tricks you have.


There’s no “I” in “We”

July 7, 2008

Ooooo, some juicy questions at the Learning Circuits Blog this month. Let’s go…..

  • Should workplace learning professionals be leading the charge around these new work literacies?

Yes and no. I think we should be hardcore advocates for 2.0 tools and join other thought leaders in the org who might rally around the cause. But I think we should primarily limit our leadership to the realm of influencing the further evolution of a learning organization. 2.0 has implications beyond the learning function, and we need to let other groups discover and figure out for themselves how they want to use them.

  • Shouldn’t they be starting with themselves and helping to develop it throughout the organizations?

I would have to say “Yes” on this one. A big mistake made by way too many folks is to preach the good word without having gone through the transformation themselves. Web 2.0 represents a whole mind shift, not just a set of tools. It is the power of “we” not “I”. It is about people creating content together, not the lone, brave hero leading the pack. The only way to “get it” is to try it. To get the power of finding or creating your own community of practice with others who you may never have even met, you have to try it out. You have to discover a community and contribute to it. Without experiencing it for yourself, you become another old-world “leader” using all the right buzzwords and pretending to know.

  • And then shouldn’t the learning organization become a driver for the organization?

This seems similar to question #1. I think we should be thought leaders to the extent that we influence the establishment of a learning organization (including in the continuous improvement sense, not just creating a bunch of courses). An advocate or influencer, yes. Driver? Not so sure. I reckon that as organizations (and especially our own learning colleagues) get the importance of informal learning, our position as “driver” here might become especially important.

  • And like in the world of libraries don’t we need to market ourselves in this capacity?

Absolutely we need to be marketing ourselves. I see my role, and my team’s role, as having a unique set of skills that the organization needs to leverage. If I don’t market myself and/or my team, the rest of the org has no clue what they are missing. Marketing is absolutely crucial. And, unfortunately, it is a skill-set too lacking among too many learning professionals.

Improve your process with these two questions

July 7, 2008

In “The Leader’s Handbook,” Peter Scholtes suggests asking internal and external customers two questions:

What are you getting that you don’t need?

What do you need that you aren’t getting?

Several years ago, I asked similar questions of team members on an e-learning project that I managed. One of the things that the team clearly did not want was a detailed work breakdown report. Instead, they wanted an individualized report that indicated how much time each team member was allowed for each task in the upcoming week. As a result, I quit wasting time on reports that were not being read, and instead focused on a more useful tool that helped the team budget time spent on their tasks.

Try it yourself. Pick any ID or other process you are working on this week or, better yet, today! Now figure out who the customer is. Customers can be the team member that you hand your part of the process off to (such as when you hand a storyboard off to a programmer) or the final users of the product. They might be your manager, or your direct report. Whoever it is, ask them Sholtes’ two questions.

If you ask sincerely, you may be surprised at just how readily an answer comes. The hard part is to actually do something about it.

Rapid E-Learning Challenge Day 4: Analog Storyboarding

July 3, 2008

Today I needed a brain dump. As happens frequently on training projects, I received new information from the project sponsor/SME that added significant content (a recommended book) to the course and may potentially alter my strategy and storyboard. Since I had already begun the storyboarding process, I found myself just spinning my ID wheels when I looked at my outline/storyboard in PPT. It was hard to see outside my existing plan.

So I decided to step away from my PC and try a non-digital approach. 1) Sketch out and brainstorm ideas on paper and a whiteboard. And then 2) storyboard on paper using sticky notes or print outs of blank PPT slide notes. Garr Reynolds (“Presentation Zen”) and others advocate this approach as a way to enhance right-brain activity and help get outside your box. 


my white board brainstorm

my white board brainstorm

I used to protest that storyboarding and brainstorming in a non-computer way added extra steps by having to then re-create it digitally. But sure enough, it helped dump the junk in my brain that made me feel stuck, and helped me to see the big picture in a way that is difficult in PPT or even a mind-mapping tool. I also found it easier to jump around, erase, scribble, doodle, start over, and whatever else I need to do. Sometimes technology is just too cumbersome.

My lesson of the day is that it seems that working on paper may be more efficient for hashing out ideas and screen flow. And move it to digital only after you have a good sense of direction.

 So while my rapid project ain’t so rapid right now, I am improving my processes which should help the next project take off more quickly. Now, if only I could get the SME to get all the relevant content to me BEFORE storyboarding begins!

Rapid e-Learning Challenge: Day 3

July 2, 2008

Since my introduction to lean management began over the past year, I have come to realize how dreadfully lacking in documented standards and procedures most training and e-learning groups are (and most all administrative functions!). I’m trying to change that for my immediate work environment by establishing not just some best practices around e-learning, but also baseline processes and a structure for kaizen (continuous improvement). I have a lot of learning (and unlearning) to do.

In his book “Workplace Managment,” Taiichi Ohno, co-founder of the Toyota Production System, wrote: “…it will be difficult to establish a standard if you are trying to achieve ‘the best way.’ This is a big mistake. Document exactly what you are doing now.”

It’s easy to state the ideal way, the way it is “supposed” to be done, and call that “our process.” Think ADDIE, fellow designers. But the reality is we don’t always follow it. We usually add all sorts of other non-value-added steps. Or we do the steps out of order, which causes another kind of waste. By following the TPS way, we instead start with listing the actual steps. Then we can more accurately observe waste and work toward improvement.

My storyboarding process was supposed to look something like this:

  1. Storyboard each screen on a slide in PPT
  2. Find graphics
  3. Develop screens

Instead, it looked more like this:

  1. Storyboard a few screens
  2. Look for cool graphics on-line
  3. Put cool graphics on screen to see how they look
  4. Change graphic to gray scale and see if it looks better
  5. Storyboard another screen
  6. Etc.

Can you see the extra steps there? These out-of-order, extra steps add to the time line and the cost. If I had been doing this for a client on a fixed fee basis, it would have reduced my profit margin. And if I were charging per-hour, I should be asking, “Is the customer willing to pay for this?” But that’s another post.