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Momenta Learning

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

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.

Common Core & Ed Tech: Top Nine Posts for March 2014

Common Core & Ed Tech: Top Nine Posts for March 2014

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 5 personal relationship levels any ID needs to develop

I have to confess that when I started working as an instructional designer (by pure coincidence), I thought my job basically involved making HTML pages, making objects using Javascript, and maybe some graphic design. Somebody else would pass the content over to me and I would just insert that content into the pages. In fact, there was a time when I thought most of my work will take place in my cubicle, in front of my two huge computer screens, just moving to get coffee, going to a team meeting, or having the casual conversation about work with my colleagues.
But instructional design requires the ability to work with and for others. Building relationships in the workplace, and outside of it, is as important as the basic course design needed to develop the courses. In my experience, I have found that there are four levels of relationship that an instructional designer needs to cultivate and grow:
  1. With your supervisors
  2. With your colleagues
  3. With support teams
  4. With outside vendors
  5. With your customers
Here is how I break it down, please realize that this is not a model for all environments. The corporate world is more complex than the university setting (where I operate).
  1. Your relationship with your supervisors
    I don’t mean to be a suck-up, you will have to disagree with them when you believe you are right. Do not bend over backwards to please your bosses, it will not serve both sides in the end. You also have to respect the position they are in, after all, they are there for some reason. You have to consider their vision of the section or team, the direction they want to take, it is their job to trace the way to go, it is your job to support those goals and do what you can to achieve them, even if you do not agree with them. But you have to voice your concerns if things are not working the way it was planned, this way, your boss can rectify the direction before it is too late.
  2. Your relationship with your colleagues
    They are not your drinking buddies, but you may have a beer with them from time to time. You will be with them in the trenches, at this level your relationships become a little less formal because you will be spending most of the time with them, so the casual sharing of personal information is more common, which allows for a more comfortable interaction. It is important to be a team member, ready to help when any of your colleagues asks for it but able to decline when you have other priorities, do not drop everything you are doing to help a colleague, unless your boss asks you, or if you certainly do not have any looming deadlines (that is rarely the case), or if the project involves the whole team for delivery. Clashes of character and lack of affinity will sometimes be unavoidable, nevertheless you should keep things at the professional level, do not let your emotions cloud your judgement, do not let your aversion to a co-worker influence your opinion about an issue at work. This a fertile area where I could add other issues related to how you handle your work relationships (and personal) with your colleagues, for the sake of space, I will deal with this on a later post.
  3. Your relationship with your support teams
    They are not your lackeys, do not demean those around you that provide a service or a support role to your team. Do not look down on them because you have the big college degree and they do not. Treat them with respect, respect the work they do. Ask as you would ask a colleague for help, they are an essential part of the organization as well. In some cases, some of these relationships will develop beyond the workplace. Show genuine interest in who they are, what they do in the organization, observe how they do their daily work, you might learn something new.
  4. Your relationship with outside vendors
    This includes instructors, since many times they are hired to deliver content. This is one of the most demanding relationships in your circle. They will be the professionals you will be in touch the most. You have to keep up with production, your schedule, and with demands from your supervisors and the organization. Sometimes, this is the area where projects get delayed, the subject-matter expert (SME) would not cooperate with you or they will not work at your same speed. This is a very tricky situation because you are not their boss, certainly they are not your boss, your are the liaison, the glue that keeps the course production in schedule and on budget. You need to know your SMEs well, how they work, their styles, how they respond to your requests, and so on. There are also outside vendors. Unless you are the guy that makes the decision to purchase a product for the organization, they will bug you that much. But you need to have their number and information handy when you need it for technical or product support.
  5. Your relationship with your customers
    Your customers are the population that will be learning in your courses. In many cases, when debugging is needed, the buck stops with you. Many organizations have student support and your intervention might not be needed. But you have to be ready to deal with students that do reach your help desk. You need to have the course and organization policies regarding refunding, assessments, deadlines, and accessibility.
I created this classification from my own experiences dealing with relationships in my workplace, as an instructional designer in a university setting. In the corporate world, things might be a little different. If you can help me reshaping this classification for a more general workplace (both academic and corporate), or if you have a different idea, please let me know. I am always looking for new learning experiences regarding my relationships to others around me.