Clearer Courses

The key to making better online courses is to test, revise, and test again.

My love for The New Yankee Workshop has nothing to do with cabinetmaking skills. It has more to do with the process summed up by Norm Abram’s maxim: “Measure twice, cut once.”

That phrase embodies how careful he is and how much attention he gives his projects. His carpentry skills aren’t slap-dash, second-nature. They’re methodical. He demonstrates on every show that a perfect product comes from careful planning, measuring and testing (and really good tools).

It’s not so different from creating finely crafted computer-based courses. A resonant course that keeps employees excited and helps them learn skills they’ll remember isn’t thrown together. It’s built carefully, methodically and tested.

Pilot Testing

In education terms, this means setting up pilot testing. It’s a process that’s known to software designers and product designers. Before releasing a new product to the masses, it’s first tested it with a controlled group. A small-scale trial helps to weed out problems, identify errors and solicit recommendations that make for a better wide release.

It’s exactly what you should do before creating a new course, but is a step curiously left out of many curriculum development projects. I think it’s because many courses are developed by subject matter experts who know the material inside and out. But what they don’t know is how the course will be received in a real world situation.

As soon as we plan development of a new course, we factor in pilot testing, evaluation and revisions. When possible, we re-test the new version so we can make more updates. Only through a field test can we really know if the course is going to accomplish what we intend.

Who To Include

Whether you’re creating a curriculum from scratch or using one that’s ready-made, plan for a pilot. You never know how even a tested course will perform with your learners.

Recruit carefully. Invite a mixture of subject pros and a representation of the intended audience. You want to make sure you’re testing the material with the people who would actually be taking it.

Gathering Data

Spy, if possible. Sit somewhere near the pilot participants and taking notes is invaluable. You’ll be able to pick up on frowns and smiles, frustrated noises or confused computer movements if you’re watching. Just make sure you’re not interfering with the test.

In any event, create a questionnaire that will be sent to all participants, and keep reminding them to complete it. The questionnaire should be focused on gaps, problem areas and nice-to-have features.

If it’s the first time you’ve run a pilot, you’ll quickly see the value of a test. The quality of information and level of insight will without a doubt be beyond what you could guess. Me methodical, revise when necessary, and your learners will benefit.

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Excellent Video That Explains Patient Navigators

It can be difficult to explain what patient navigators do. It’s one of those times that showing is better than telling.

The video Changing Outcomes from the Massachusetts Department of Public Heath’s Patient Navigation Training program has a new video that shows what navigators do beautifully. It’s an excellent health education tool.

View, and share, whenever you need some assistance describing how public health workers operate.

Changing Outcomes from micah on Vimeo.

Ways to Increase E-learning Participation

Beginning any new training program can be an exercise in anxiety. Testing, piloting and review are essential steps that lead to a more successful program, but the true test of the effectiveness of a program is when your participants succeed.

Engagement varies widely, depending on the course and who’s taking it. And there’s no one way to make sure that your participants are actively involved. However, there are a few guidelines you can follow that will help make your training stick.

Ask early and often what participants think.

A survey at the end of the course is good. Asking them throughout the course how the material relates to their work is even better. Learners will often forget details by the end of a course.

How: Check in with polls that ask how relevant they think information is or how long it took them to complete a module. Also create a forum designed for general thoughts, and ask your instructor to get in the habit of asking for feedback.

Get buy-in from supervisors.

Participants’ supervisors need to be included from the beginning. A supervisor can make sure employees participate and also help answer any questions that arise in the course and can also make time in the schedule for learning.

How: Consider enlisting superiors as coaches for the best results. Create a related companion course that supervisors are also required to follow.

Set benchmarks.

If your course is skills-based, first take measurements of where staff skills are. Tell your employees why their skills are being measured. Then upon completion, measure progress against your benchmark.

How: One idea is to assess ability with one task during performance appraisals. Employees will also equate the course with an overall job requirement.

Offer rewards.

There’s a reason so many coffee shops offer punch cards: rewards work. Think about what reward will motivate your participants to keep engaged. Make sure to focus on rewards rather than penalties. Here are some other ideas for motivating the biggest slackers.

How: Successful rewards we’ve seen are completion certificates, new equipment for use on the job, and additional training opportunities. End-of-course lunches for successful participants also work.

Make it relevant.

Participation will drop like a stone if a course doesn’t make sense to the people taking it. Unfortunately, many courses are too general or not addressed to the right group.

How: Develop courses from scratch and after carefully surveying your audience. Off-the-shelf courses can also be customized on screen, or they can also be complimented by instruction in the field.

Give help.

Technology scares some people. Be prepared to make it easy to succeed in an online course. Read some more tips about making your course accessible for people who have visual or physical limitations.

How: Set up a demonstration before the course begins. Appoint coaches in the workplace who can offer assistance. Give a computer-literacy assessment before the course begins so you have a better idea of who will need additional help.

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Why Should You Choose E-Learning?

When I reflect on our most successful online training projects, I see patterns. The same reasons for shifting from live training to e-learning appear again and again. I’ve never formally made a list, but it turns out someone else has.

In the 2013-14 Towards Maturity Benchmark report based on their annual benchmarking survey, the “key business drivers for implementation of learning technologies” line up almost exactly with the reasons for setting up an online training project.

If you need a good reason for investing in computer-based training to share with your employees or fellow administrators, here are 10 of them.

  1. Increase access and flexibility in providing staff training
  2. Increase the ongoing sharing of good practice
  3. Improve staff satisfaction to aid retention and motivation
  4. Speed up and improve the application of learning back in workplace
  5. Reduce time to competency
  6. Provide a faster response to changing business conditions
  7. Increase productivity
  8. Improve induction process
  9. Improved talent management
  10. Increase ability to adapt program to individual need/context

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