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Momenta Learning

A blog on topics related to E-learning, online education, and instructional design.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What to do before you conduct that webinar for elearning

With tons of resources out there on how to conduct a successful webinar it would a reasonable approach to follow those suggestions for webinars for elearning, I believe that is a mistake. See, a webinar for promotional or informative purposes does not require a lot of planning and design. Sometimes, the only thing that gets prepared is the slides being presented during the live session.
But if you want to use those recordings for other products you can sell as online courses, a regular webinar set up will not be enough. You will have to sit down and create a design plan for instruction and production, which should lead to an elearning course that will work (that is, where your learners will learn something) once the whole packaged course is finished and released (by the way, I would suggest that you give to course to a few test subjects that could give you a fast feedback for another design loop of troubleshooting and enhancement.
Some part of the design process should deal with the creation of material and curation of resources that attendees could cover before showing up to the actual webinar. This is just like the readings that college students cover before attending the actual lecture. The idea is that after reading the material, they would be more informed of the subject and whatever questions that might come up during the reading could be asked to the instructor during the lecture. But with elearning we have to go a step further. The resources do not have to be reading materials alone. Incidentally, I have many times asked myself, while conducting or hosting webinars, why is it that attendees would stay silent during the Q&A part, and not ask many questions to the presenter? There are many reasons for this, and it is my experience that one of the reasons is that they don’t know what to ask. Below are some suggestions on what other learning objects you could create to prepare your webinar attendees for the actual event so that they can ask pertinent questions during the live session,
  • Post some reading material (short articles, papers, sections of books and so on),
  • Post some link to web resources such as blogs, wikis, online papers,
  • Create a social media account for them to post their thoughts (seed the discussion with prompt questions), you could use Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or create a hashtag in Twitter, or create a discussion forum in your website, if you can,
  • Create online activities such as games, polls, interactive websites (with animations, simulations, short games, apps),
  • Post links to short videos related to the subject to be discussed.
These are some ideas but in fact there are other things you could use as a warm-up for the webinar. At Elearning in Motion we can help you in the design process of your elearning program that could cover pre-webinar learning objects that can later be integrated to the final online course, this will give context to the recorded webinar once it is published in the final elearning course.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Make those webinars elearning ready

It is widely understood that webinars are one-hour events and they will usually deal with a couple of points that are hammered over and over again. They usually feel like a sales pitch. In other cases, the sessions are informative and are avenues for sharing knowledge among professionals. In none of these two cases we can say that deep learning is occurring, mainly because the audience has not been conditioned for this purpose.

If you are thinking in converting your webinar into an elearning object, you will have to plan for that. Apart from conducting a very good webinar, you will have to conduct it in a way that serves both purposes: as a live session and as a recorded session for elearning purposes.

But how can you achieve that, if a webinar is supposed to be an engaging event that has to keep the attention of attendees for around one hour?

Below you will see some suggestions that will help you achieve the mentioned goal:

  1. Create activities in between the webinar, at regular intervals, or when you will be changing to another learning goal. These could be a simple poll, a game, or a case study.
  2. Create cues in between the webinar recording so that later editing of the video will allow to make that one hour webinar into a number of sections no more than 20 minutes long. It has been researched that short videos in elearning are more effective than one hour long recordings.
  3. Start off with clear objectives of what is going to be achieved at the end of the webinar. This will help integrate the recording with the elearning course.
  4. If you are not able to integrate activities in between the webinar, later production could integrate designed activities on top of the video lecture (using web-based technologies or rapid development tools).
  5. When you are announcing the webinar, packaged the invitation with some reading resources that can be later used for the elearning course. Many will not read this material, but your course will make sense later on to somebody taking the elearning version.

It is possible to achieve two goals with your webinar: to provide a live interaction with an instructor and to integrate the recording into an elearning course. But this requires careful planning and design. If you already have recordings that were not planned as elearning objects, it will not be conducive to learning and you will be making a potentially marketable product into another example of badly planned elearning.

At Elearning in Motion we can help you achieve those goals. We can provide the guidance and planning for your webinars and later integration into elearning courses that you can offer in your organization or association.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Train your presenters on how to properly conduct a webinar

In a previous post I argued that associations can add to their sources of revenue by converting previously recorded webinars to elearning courses. One of the first items, in a list I presented on (very general) steps that these associations could take to achieve that goal, proposed the training of presenters in how to conduct a webinar for elearning purposes. This is quite different from conducting successful webinars for live interaction, where the ultimate goal is not the monetization of the recorded session.
The difference lies on how the webinar is actually conducted. The final format is less than a sales pitch or an informative session and closer to a lecture, where the information being delivered has more depth than what is covered in a webinar. First off, a webinar usually covers one or two objectives, and those two ideas are hammered over and over. For a webinar to work as an elearning lecture, the session needs to have the following characteristics:
  1. The objectives to the session need to contain measurable outcomes, the session has to push the learners towards acquiring new knowledge, modifying their current knowledge, or gaining news skills.
  2. The session should naturally lead to other learning objects that the learners should engage with after interacting with the recorded session. The session should not be self-contained, the learner needs to feel that previous and later sections of the course fit together with the recorded session.
  3. If the available technology permits, add learning objects to the webinar while it is being recorded, and measure the outcomes from these activities.
But all these characteristics will not be in a webinar unless the presenter designs the session with them in mind. You can help them by supervising the process of content creation: from the slides to the activities to the measures that will be established when the course is released. Along with this production process, you should design a training program that should include at least the following:
  • The use of all the technology tools: sharing a screen in a webinar, handling online questions, proper use of webcam, microphone, web browser plugins to handle the webinar platform, etc.
  • Creating slides for elearning that should include the appropriate amount of media, text, and learning objects. This should also include the appropriate layout of the content for elearning courses.
  • Pacing yourself during the presentation. Your training program should include time for practicing sessions before the actual session is conducted. This will also help on familiarizing the presenter with the host (which could be yourself).
  • How to handle questions from the audience, which will be responded during the session (this adds content to the recorded session).
Of course, the above is not an all-inclusive list and other issues might come up due to the nature of the course being delivered, the association type, the presenter characteristics, the type of audience, and so on. At Elearning in Motion we can help you achieve your goal of using webinars for elearning programs you can market as additional services from your association to your members and others who might be interested in your courses.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More sources of revenue for associations

Conferences are still the main source of revenue to associations. It is during this time of the year when they offer, their members and non-members, access to other resources not available during the rest of the year. These resources are in the form of courses, private sessions, training, and the opportunity to meet other professionals so that they can expand their network.
Another source of revenue is the fee they charge to exhibitors, sponsors, vendors, and others who want a chance to access that desired database of attendees, for marketing purposes.
The conference will likely produce an attendance similar to the size, influence and scope of the organizing association. Some associations resort to bringing popular speakers within the community, or they will offer courses not found elsewhere outside of the conference timeframe (other perks might be included).
The price of attendance is becoming increasingly high for many organizations looking to send their members for training, networking, or promotional purposes. They not only have to pay the conference fee and additional items, there are other expenses: lodging, meals, transportation, etc. If the conference fails to live up to the expectation, many of those attendees will not come back, and that is lost revenue.
A new trend that has gathered momentum is the offering of sessions that can be accessed online through some kind of webinar platform. In these selected sessions (associations will not be moving whole conferences online any time soon), attendees pay a fee smaller to the conference fee, and they don’t need to travel to the conference venue to access some valuable content. This has become another source of revenue for associations.
If you want your association to offer this product for members and non-members, there a few things you need to do, beyond contracting a webinar service.
  1. You need to train your presenters on how to properly conduct a webinar. This is critical because you only have one chance to make a good impression on your audience, and afterwards you can sell the recorded webinar as a different product (I’ll explain in another post what I mean by a different product),
  2. Make sure the internet connection in your venue will be able to handle the video stream to the internet,
  3. Make sure your platform can handle the connection of multiple members and non members attending,
  4. Make sure you have a good ecommerce solution so that whoever wants to attend a webinar can pay immediately and have access to it,
  5. You may have to hire a video recording crew, if you want to offer plenary session video stream, otherwise a quiet room for the presenter to conduct the webinar will suffice,
  6. Evaluate the content that will be delivered by the presenter and make suggestions to improve it, I cannot stress how important it is that the sessions be informative and interactive, this will guarantee that your attendees will come back for more,
  7. If the presenter does not have any interactive content, help them create some, this is very important, I cannot stress it more,
  8. Make sure there is follow up on customer satisfaction and overall impression of the session. This will help improve your products for future deliveries.
I hope this post will help you in your process of extending your conference online with new products not available in the live conference, which will make it valuable to those who cannot attend. Here at Elearning in Motion can help you achieve this goal, and a little more. Contact us for an initial evaluation.

Friday, June 6, 2014

My recently found interest in elearning improvement using data analysis

I have recently devoted a lot of time learning about data in education. It is a nascent field and ripe for new researchers and professionals that would like to contribute to the improvement of education through data analysis. There are opinions against using this approach for improving elearning, especially from the instructional designer, psychometry, psychology, education, and other communities.
But data science has proven its worth in other fields, if used correctly. Clark and Meyer, in their well-known book “Elearning and the Science of Instruction”, talk about how they came to their conclusions by running many controlled experiments. Evidently, they used data to back up the guidelines they offer throughout the book. The important thing to remember in this case is that they designed and ran experiments to get that data.
There is another approach in data for education improvement where the researcher just collects data for later analysis, without running controlled experiments. In this approach, the conclusions are tied up to the case being studied, and one can, with great difficulty, make an inference based on those results. But I believe this position is hard to sustain because there is no controlled group to test against the given hypothesis. Data mining has all these problems, but that doesn’t mean that the method is useless.
Many researchers devoted a long time and effort in finding techniques that can help work around this obstacle. It does require that one plunges into the field to learn more about them. It is expensive and time consuming to design and conduct experiments in elearning. Data mining is now offering an alternative that does require the data to be treated and handled in a systematic way to avoid bias and wrong conclusions. I do believe that the future lies ahead in this area, and those who can master it will make the most progress in elearning.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Conducting successful webinars

I have conducted my fair share of webinars and I would like to share some of the things I have learned and picked up along the way, with the aim of providing some useful nuggets on how to make it into a successful event.
  1. Prepare, prepare (and have a moderator)
    Yes, and get a moderator for your webinar. You need to prepare slides and materials, check that you have the software and hardware required, and you need to set up a time for practice. Having a moderator will reduce the amount of work for you and will let you concentrate on your task: delivering an engaging webinar. It will be helpful if you could get somebody well known to be the moderator or the speaker (then you can be the moderator). This will draw a good audience to your webinar.

    You need to be ready for the webinar, don’t try to wing it because you think it looks easy to do, believe me, it is not easy at all. Don’t think that because you have given countless of live presentations in front of audiences, a webinar will be easy pie. It is not, believe me. It doesn’t matter if you are a good speaker in a room, a webinar is a totally different animal. Having said that, it is helpful that you are a good speaker but the second key component is that you prepare a powerful slide presentation to show to your audience. Just you speaking with a blank page (or even just one slide) will put them to sleep, many will bolt out in a minute. It is important that you work in this presentation so that it has a visual impact, which has second importance next to the core of the content. Adding meaningful images, cartoons, or short phrases does help in conveying your message. Remember that they only have two things to assess how good your webinar is: your slides and your voice (although some presenters like to show on webcams, I find this distracting).
  2. Practice with the moderator
    One day before the webinar run a small test with the moderator and maybe a couple of volunteers as audience members. Technology does fail sometimes and you have to be prepared for any eventuality. Make sure that you are in a room free of interruptions and external noise. Make one run to make sure you do not go overtime, it is OK to make mistakes but take notes of them. Your slides might need tweaking, this is the best time to make note of them. Create a short bio that your moderator can use to introduce you. This is the perfect opportunity for the moderator to practice your introduction, you both can make adjustments to come to an agreement that satisfies both of you.
  3. Check your hardware
    Invest in a good headset and microphone, if you use the integrated microphone in your computer, bring it as close as you can to your mouth and test your volume by recording your voice.
  4. Stop, breathe
    In between the webinar you should make some time to stop and breath. Is the audience engaged? Has the audience grown since the webinar started (by paying attention to the attendance record), are people bolting out the doors? Have you had questions so far? While you ponder these questions, you could create a two minute recess by asking your audience to answer a short question related to the webinar content and why it is important to them. Maybe you create a short game mechanism that engages your audience in thinking about a topic. They will also appreciate the break to move around and do something to recharge batteries. This works if your webinar is actually an hour long or more.
  5. Make it interactive
    If you are planning on talking for an hour non-stop, think again. You need to make your webinar interactive. Ask questions to the audience. If you systems allows it, prose the question on the screen so that they can answer immediately. If not, pose the question on a slide and watch the chat system for the answers from the audience. Do this at the beginning of your session, some time in the middle, and maybe one at the end. Of course, you have to pause when somebody asks questions. Unless the subject is short, don’t take questions yet (but make your audience aware of this) until the end, otherwise, tackle questions during the presentation.

    Present a slide with some kind of inside joke (any profession has one) that conveys a message related to your presentation. This will make them smile and be more attentive to what you are saying.

    Don’t try to show videos, the time delay (because you are sharing your screen) and connection issues will derail your effort. Instead, provide the link to the video and let them watch it later on.

    Take a quick poll on some issue to calibrate on which side your audience is leaning on. Or maybe you would like to know what is their line of work, their occupation, their position, their college degree (if applicable) and so on.
  6. Field questions
    Be on the look out for questions. Most webinar systems will have some kind of chat feature that will allow attendees to type a question, if you don’t pay attention to the feed you might miss those questions, your audience will be frustrated by your lack of attention. Some other systems allow attendees that have microphone and camera to speak. I don’t recommend that, unless your moderator (it comes handy at this time) is willing to grant the microphone to any in your attendance. The webinar will have distracting background noise if you let everybody with the microphone open.

    Don’t go over more than two minutes in answering a question. Be succinct, if the answer is actually long, make the promise to answer by e-mail to all attendees and take a note of it. But be sure to at least give some nuggets they can take with them, then expand on it in your email. Don’t just say you will respond by email.
  7. Some Web-etiquette
    You have to be at least 15 minutes in advance to the the scheduled start of the event. Do not come late to your own webinar, even if you are the presenter and somebody else is the moderator. It is disrespectful to your attendees to show 10 minutes after the supposed scheduled time of the webinar. Make sure you answer all questions that they may ask during the webinar, encourage them to ask questions at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the webinar. Encourage them to send you questions by e-mail later on if you run out of time. Likewise, if time runs short and you still have questions to answer, send an email with your answers immediately after the seminar has ended. Do not wait till next day to complete this task. Be courteous all the time, treat your audience with familiarity and make them feel welcome by thanking them for attending the webinar, it also helps if you share something personal with them (like a picture of your pet, your children, your house, your office, and so on).
  8. Follow up, recording
    The very next day (or even a few hours after the webinar) make sure to send out a follow-up e-mail to all of those that register to the webinar (even if they did not attend but registered anyway), thanking them for their attendance, inviting them to the next event, and maybe promoting that the visit your website to watch the recorded session. If you slides are valuable to your attendees, share them, it won’t hurt.

    If you have an editing software, you may want to convert the video to a universal file type such as MP4, if you don’t have any copyright or other restrictions, upload the video to a sharing service (such as YouTube), and share the link. Embed the video in your blog or website so that they come back to your site, this will drive traffic to your site.
These are some of the recommendations that I offer to you from my experience conducting and hosting webinars. If you have more tips and recommendations, please share them with us. I hope you find this post useful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is Wikipedia an appropriate source content these days?

In my work as instructional designer I have come across content that had links to Wikipedia entries on many different subjects. I just didn’t think that much of it because I use that source myself when I need a quick and down definition to something I don’t know. But is Wikipedia an appropriate source for e-learning content?
If you were asking me this question in 2005, I would have said no at the drop of a hat. In those days, you could hear rumors and chatter about false entries, biased entries that helped support an agenda, or simple pulpits for somebody’s rants. I have never posted anything on Wikipedia, or helped shape a post already there, so I cannot talk about the whole process. But you can go to Wikipedia and open an account for free (you don’t even need to provide an e-mail), and you can start helping by editing entries, they even claim that you do not have to be an expert in the field because you can help catch grammar or style missteps.
Wikipedia has come a long way, especially in subjects related to science, engineering and technology. Many of these entries have references included in the post that can be checked for accuracy or review. Some of the subjects are developed beyond to what a regular textbook would offer. This has happened thanks to the collaboration of thousands of people around the World who have volunteered their time and patience in editing entries in Wikipedia. This link provides the current statistics on Wikipedia. As time has passed, and as more people has participated in the process, Wikipedia has improved a lot. But even after all I have explained here, still many instructors are reluctant to using this source for their class content. I have bad news for them: most likely your students are using that content anyways, for good or for bad, so why not help them see if that content is good for them to use? The process of reviewing these entries requires critical thinking. You can start by reviewing the content in a particular post and point out where the flaws lie so that your students can form an idea of how reliable those sources are. I don’t think is good practice that you just tell them not to use those sources, and then they will turn around and use them behind your back anyways.
For some historic facts, things might get trickier. Nevertheless, I have seen many entries (like the Gettysburg address) that have references included. But I guess that would be open to debate. Many of these entries have images that help understand what the entry is about (I don’t know if copyright releases are in place before posting). Along the post and text there are other links included to other Wikipedia entries, videos, external pages, and so on. Even historical figures have entries in Wikipedia, from the past and the present. Highly publicized murderers, politicians, scientists, public figures, artists, singers, etc. have Wikipedia entries. It is rumored that many of them have people going into their entries to modify things they don’t like in it.
So if you have doubts about using Wikipedia for your course content, this should help you make up your mind: if Wikipedia was printed into a book the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica, it will contain more than a million pages (and somebody is trying to do that). Many of the contributors in Wikipedia are actually experts volunteering their time for the project. There are references that you can check (which are not other Wikipedia entries). And of course, you can always go in and make the modifications yourself, if you find that the post is biased, incomplete, or inaccurate. At the end of the day, resisting to the use of Wikipedia is futile, your students are using it a lot, professionals are using it too. The argument that is not a reliable source of content is not accurate anymore.