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Momenta Learning

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

Thursday, October 2, 2014

So you have the business plan. Now what?

If you have your elearning business plan, congratulations, you are one step closer to your goal of managing that elearning program. But now what? What do I do with this plan? How can I use it? Like I said in my previous post, the whole purpose of working out this plan was to create a full picture of where you want your program to be in the short and middle terms. In order to get there, one of your first tasks should be finding out where you are standing right now in terms of your current resources, and what you can realistically acquire to complement what you currently have.
Take a look around. What is it that you already have at your disposal? Your business plan should have included a list of your current assets. You need to know what you have and what you may need. I have seen many cases where a whole set of resources are thrown away just because the new manager doesn’t like that kind of software, or the brand of computer, or the furniture, or even the elements in the team (layoffs). This is a waste of resources. A manager is not somebody with a license to clean up a whole department (unless the hiring was done with that objective).
You need to adapt to what you currently have. You also need to figure out what you will require in order to achieve your goals. Below I am outlining a few things to consider while you are working out your resource inventory and the wish list that you will eventually present to your boss(es) when you present that report on the current state of your elearning program.
  1. Would you need to make new hires? Take a look at the resumes or CVs of your team. Do they have the skills required to achieve your elearning goals? Is training a viable solution, instead of hiring?
  2. Would you need to purchase new equipment? Maybe another department has what you need and they are not using it, or they might be willing to share it with your department. Will your current technology help you achieve the elearning goals? How old is the technology you found when you took over? Can you repurpose some of the technology available for new tasks?
  3. Would you need to purchase new software licenses? Can you rely on freeware? Will your team learn to use new software in a reasonably span of time? How old is the software currently available? Do you currently have reliable tech support?
  4. Do we have an LMS for course delivery? How old is it? Is there a cheaper solution? Would it impact the program switching to a different LMS? How strong is the web programming team?
  5. What office space do you have available? Would you need more? Would you need to move to a larger site? Can you create spaces for specific course production tasks (like video or sound recording, training, brainstorming sessions, media production, and so on.
By going through this process you will save time and resources, reduce waste, and create a clear plan of future development for your elearning program, based on what you found out during your analysis of requirements and current state of the program.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Shoot! Do I really need that Business Plan?

Let’s say you are the newly minted elearning director, manager, or whatever position they created for you in that association that wants to explore the idea of creating, and packaging, online courses to market to members and other professionals. Well, they are going to ask you: how much will it cost? When will we have our investment back? Will we see any profits? What technology will we be using? And so on.
Have you panicked yet? If this is your first managerial position, you are very concerned. If it is not, maybe not so much. The latter crowd will tell you that they have written reports, summaries, and plans that outline the answer to those questions. In that case, don’t read this post, you are not the main focus of this article. This is meant for first-time managers, recently promoted managers, professional entrepreneurs or freelancers that need some kind of direction to get where they want. In order to answer the questions above, you need a business plan.
Don’t buy that business plan software just yet. If you are a one-man (or woman) show, you don’t need that kind of workhorse. You just need Google Docs or a plain spreadsheet and a word processor. A business plan does not need to be a long document with pretty pie charts and spreadsheets with numbers for the next five years. But it needs to have the information of what you are planning for your enterprise for at least the next year. You need to outline the goals you expect to attain, and they need to be measurable, for example:
  • number of contracts you expect to secure,
  • number of customers you expect to serve and how much revenue will bring in,
  • number of billable hours you would expect to invoice,
  • number of students you expect to enroll in your online courses,
  • and so on.
This also applies for your plan for your association, although in this case you would need a more detailed plan than the freelancer needs. In both cases it is important to lay out what your business will do, what your market is, how are you planning on marketing your services, and other details that will help your company achieve those goals.
One important detail that you need to lay out in this plan is exactly what you are selling. Is it a product? Is it a service? You just cannot say that you are selling elearning, that is a very broad term. But you could say that you are selling an online course on time management, or that you are offering weekly paid webinars on three technical subjects such as energy savings, green buildings, and waste management.
If the market changes, you can change the plan (and maybe what you offer), but you need to have it ready, you never know when that venture funding could show up. Plus it will help your bosses at that association see the vision you have for the task they entrusted you with.

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.