Momenta Learning

A blog on topics related to Elearning, online education, and instructional design.

Friday, October 24, 2014

So, what do I need to produce those elearning modules?

In terms of course production, if you don’t have the basic tools, it would be difficult to roll out an elearning program for your association. But you don’t want to break the bank either, production software costs can run in the order of thousands of dollars. My experience has told me that, unless there are special needs for different courses, you should get one production software and stick with it. Morph your courses to accommodate the production software and not the other way around. Or it may be that you can only afford one.
The reason behind this recommendation is that, in my experience, once you get more than one production software, you always end up using one more often than the other (or others). The bad news is that you are losing money because that software is just sitting idle in your computer while you are recovering the investment on the one you prefer. This way, you will never recover the investment of that underused software.
Fortunately, you can download a free trial (most of them let you try out the software for 30 days), give it a test drive, and select the one you like the most. Of course, I am not referring to “like” as meaning “pretty” or “visually appealing” or “wow effect”, but to that one with the right tools for you and your program. There will be advantages and drawbacks of using either option, hence you decision will probably revolve around that option with the minimum required tools at the lowest cost.
Why am I recommending you buy software instead of getting a bunch of computer programmers to create your custom-made courses? Nowadays computer power is cheaper than programmer labor. You are going to spend more money custom-building courses with complex PHP, HTML5, and Javascript pages. You could accomplish the same goal with a production software that publishes objects or web pages that can be embedded or linked in your course web pages. Plus when another round of course improvements comes along, you can do it in less time with the production software, your custom-built pages could be a complicated structure difficult to update, and it may be that only the programmers know where those sections that need modifications are located in the page structure.
But the course production tool is just the main workhorse of your program. You will need support applications that help put together an elearning course. Even though most production software allow for recording of screen for presentation purposes, you may need to edit those videos later on, which is not supported in most of those production applications. Even if you buy stock images for your courses, you will need software to edit those pictures. If you are using recorded webinars as video lectures, you will need a web application tool that supports recording of live webinars. Then you will need a LMS or learning management system. The selection of the right one for you is not an easy task. There are so many options out there with so many features that it could make your head spin. Of course, the option that can support inserting your courses produced with your development tool is always a good contender.
These are only some superficial recommendations and there are many details and cases that I could not cover in a post such as this one. My hope is that this article will make you decide and spend some time researching your options, or you could just get help from others that have done this kind of job.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dude, where is my mechanical engineering online program?

This has baffled me for quite some time. There are many other majors that have been built completely online. But engineering is behind those other careers. The technology is there, it is true that it may become very expensive to produce online courses for engineering but the investment will be recovered in a medium term and the lifetime of the courses will give plenty of revenue to that institution offering the program.
There are certificate and master programs out there, that is true. But they tend to cater to professionals who do not have the time to attend a classroom or are looking for a career switch or need the certification or the diploma to climb up the ladder in their place of work.
But why is it that all those freshmen coming out of American High Schools would not want to enroll in those programs that are currently being offered (in majors that would not require a lot of lab work, more on that later)? There are certainly online programs in computer science or information technology majors, but even those do not have a lot of enrollments from recent High School graduates.
In my view, I see three reasons this is not happening right now.
  1. Parents and students do not see a degree earned online as valuable as one earned on campus. This is still true all around America. They still see a degree from a mortar and bricks university more valuable (even if that university is not even ranked in the US News Annual list) than one earned online from a highly ranked university. The perception that a degree from an online program was earned through easy courses and not-so-difficult exams has not been erased from the minds of these parents and potential students. This is changing, and rapidly. As universities feel the need to serve as many students as possible, even though the seats available in the classroom are not expanding at the rate that students graduate from High School, these institutions are creating courses that will eventually morph into complete online programs, which have the same or equivalent value that the version offered on campus. They are making sure that is the case, we have to remember that their names are still on that online degree.
  2. The fact that many engineering courses require laboratory work. This is changing as well. Many universities have asked the question of how valuable lab work really is in an engineering program. They are also looking into alternative solutions that can recreate the lab work either online or by asking the students to do the lab work at home.
  3. The complexity of many courses that are needed at the undergraduate senior level. When you reach the final year into the undergraduate program the student needs to take courses that require a higher level of thinking (such as composite materials, or fracture mechanics). These course are highly specialized subjects (in many cases they are elective courses) that may require a lot of web technology for their implementation (which translates into costly courses).
At the end of the day, you need to prove that a graduate from the online program has the same abilities and skills as a graduate from the on campus version, and that is the hardest part of this whole business. In many countries you are required to take an examination or perform original work in order to obtain the degree. This is not a common practice in the US. That might be the solution, you can create a final assessment that could measure the same variables in students that are graduating from both programs, and both programs must have global goals that map to that assessment in order to guarantee that both graduates have achieved the same level of expertise. This will give an additional value to online programs.
If we are able to overcome these difficulties, I am pretty sure I will be seeing a mechanical engineering online program that is as valuable as the one offered on campus in that higher education institution.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

So you want to do some elearning?

OK. If you are a director of training or you are in charge of any aspect of onsite courses for your association, you know your game. You have developed your skills to make the best training for your organization, and they are pretty happy with the program. It has brought revenue to the group and has become one of the main products. Not only that, you have built a reputable brand that is recognized in your professional area. That is good news to you.
But wait, during the last year you have been following a steady decrease of revenue on the training products, not only that, all the products seem to be catching the same disease, enrollments are dwindling and you are called into a meeting with the association officers to see what is going on. But you already know the answer. There are competitors out there, they have not been serious competitors to your program because they were mainly small-sized companies and their customer reach was very limited. But now they have a new weapon in their arsenal: elearning. Because the internet has democratized access to information, and effectively anyone can build an elearning program on the cheap, they are reaching more customers, many of whom were your customers in the past. A perfect storm has gathered that is threatening your program: competitors offering a more affordable elearning solution, customers making every dime count and who are cutting corners in order to save money on training (which is one of the first items in the budget to get slashed when times get tough), and the fact that your organization has been slow in getting on board with an elearning solution to compete and broaden your product base.
So you exit the meeting with the task of building an elearning program to catch up with the competition. You have years of experience designing onsite courses, this question might pop up in your head: “Am I qualified to supervise the production of elearning courses?” Chances are you feel that creating elearning is a daunting task, that there are so many technology options out there that you just don’t know which one is the best for your case. The first action you need to take is working on a plan (I talked about that in a previous post) because you need to make decisions to move forward. Should you get training on elearning? Should you hire somebody that has the experience? It clearly depends on the timeframe your directors gave you to have the program up and running.
Now, here is the last thing you should be doing: jumping in and doing it yourself, thinking that you will pick up the required skills along the way, or that you can do it after reading your first elearning book. I am sure you will be able to produce something, but I sincerely doubt it will be able to compete with what is already out there. You don't need to add to your problems the embarrassment of creating an ineffective program and dragging your association’s name into the mud, damaging the brand just because you needed something out the door as soon as possible to keep your directors happy.

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.