Momenta Learning

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Is Really Chunking?

I have seen many posts on the “so and so numbers of things that instructional designers or elearning professionals must do”, and many include the “chunking of information”. But what do they really mean by that? Displaying on the course lesson page a maximum number of words out of the total? Displaying a whole section? Making short videos? Short audio bites? Or just as many word as you can pack on the page? It can get confusing (at least to me) as to what really chunking means.
It has been proven for a long time that we can retain in working memory a number of “items”, which really mean concepts. In order to learn a new concept, it is important to first see the big picture of what we are learning (top-down), and not to worry about the details at that point. Then we can learn the interconnected concepts (the chunks) that serve as the foundation for what we want to learn so that, at the end of our study session, we are able to put the pieces together for the big-picture chunk of information (bottom-up). The point where these small chunks meet with the big picture idea is called the context where we are learning. Every time we need to remember that particular concept, we will recall this whole chunk of information, including the details, so that we would not have to use rote memory to remember all this information.
In terms of content for elearning, the above explanation applies to both text and media. A long video erodes attention the same way a long page with text does. We can only concentrate (focus our attention) for a few number of minutes (it varies but it could be between 15 - 25 min), then it becomes difficult to maintain concentration on the content. And this is the way I conduct my course design: presenting one idea as a chunk belonging to a bigger picture in the form of one lesson, section, page or whatever you want to call it, then as the learner move across the course where more chunks are being covered, this learner will arrive to the point where the context is presented and the learning of this new concept then takes place.
My favorite example is an online class in statics (because I am an engineer) where you want to cover the big picture subject of static equilibrium. Of course, the large picture is statics, the mechanics of bodies at rest or in constant velocity, but the subject of interest is static equilibrium. Within this subject you need to cover the static equilibrium of particles, then of rigid bodies, and within these two subjects there are a multitude of other subjects that need to be covered in order to understand how to analyze bodies in static equilibrium. The course must provide the context where all these chunks meet so that the learner can understand when to analyze a body as a rigid body or as a particle, when to use a vector approach or when to use a graphical approach to solve for forces acting on a body, and son.
The important point is this: don’t present your learners with two different concepts that they need to understand, present those concepts gradually so that they can master one before moving on to the next one. Also, I would recommend immediate assessment after they have covered the subject so that reinforcement occurs, and add a walk-through example so that they can understand how this concept is applied. In order to provide this context, another walk-through example (or case scenario) can be pertinent and a little more assessment to finally reinforce the material learned.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blended Learning for Associations

It is true, and has been said over and over, that not all subjects can be integrated for elearning delivery. This is mostly related to the nature of the subject and not limitations on technology or resources (although sometimes, it is). When you manage an elearning program for an association, you need to consider the nature of the training or education being offered.
Most associations currently have a heavy load of onsite courses for training of their members for CEUs or other types of certification. This means that a lot of logistics go into the organization of these training courses. Many have content that is related to hands-on or equipment training, which forces the course to be offered as onsite only. In other cases, the subject matter expert (SME) has taught this course for such a long time that there is some resistance at the idea of making their course elearning available.
Another situation is that the manager just doesn’t know how to conduct an onsite to elearning conversion. It is often the case that elearning managers for associations were placed in that position just because of their managerial skills and not so much for their elearning or instructional design expertise.
The above cases are very good candidates for blended learning implementation. The concept of blended learning has been around for quite some time and has been mostly used in K-12 and higher education settings. The idea is to have learners undertake series of activities, assessments, and content review using both onsite and online tools (not necessarily in equal proportions). For associations, the best solution is the use of online tools to deliver assessments and activities as well as some content in the form of video, audio, or text and images. Then learners take on other parts of the course in a designated site. Hands-on training, equipment features and functionality can be set up in this way. If the certification assessment requires proctoring, then the learner can take this final step at a designated testing site. The same goes for certification that requires the learner to show the mastering of some skill in front of an expert that is grading the performance.
Striking the balance, between what goes online and what is being implemented on site, is the issue with blended learning. As the saying goes, you don’t want to use a lot of either one, but 50-50 is not the answer either. And it is not only due to pedagogical issues what decides what part of the course goes online, it might be economical ones that finally decide that some part of the program is offered on site. For example, creating demonstration videos of equipment, or technical procedures depicted using animations require a large initial investment. Of course, once this investment is made, you will probably have two years worth of content, at which point you will probably need to reshoot the whole thing. If the investment is recovered before the end of the shelf life of that course, then you might want to consider making this investment, otherwise you will be better off making this an onsite requirement.
Ultimately, the analysis of what content to put online and which one goes onsite is one that you cannot make alone. You do need to consult your SMEs, other parties interested, and maybe you could conduct a survey to test membership preferences. What is definitely important is that you consider designing some of your courses in a blended mode, this will not only reduce costs but will make sure the course becomes more affordable to members, since it is the usual case that onsite courses run at a larger tag price than fully online courses or blended courses.

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.

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

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