Learning Technology

I’ve had several discussions lately about online “training.”  This is a highly specialized form of delivery that requires unique skills, planning, and management.  These discussions got me thinking about the responsibilities and personnel required to create online courses.  Much of the information below is from of my good friend Rich Dunn.

Please note the responsibilities listed appear to imply a specific person is required.  In some cases that is the case but for the most part, the responsibilities can be contracted out.  If it is decided to sub-contract some of the work a strong and experienced project manager is key to the success of the project.

–          Project management

–          Instructional design

–          Writing and editing

–          Graphic arts

–          Technical (includes programming)

–          Media

–          Quality Assurance

Some of these are often combined into single roles (e.g., PM is often combined with instructional design and writing) and many are contracted out in small environments (e.g., editing and media).  I’ve seen some job listings advertise for a PM/ID/GA/Programmer all wrapped in one…usually under the title of “Instructional Technologist w/ experience in creating X.”  My guess is these companies are getting started with multimedia in-house and don’t have the benefit of experience and are shy about allocating resources.   High level tools, like Captivate, make it tempting to leave everything up to one person but my opinion is it is rare, if not impossible, to find a single person who can do everything and produce a quality course.  These domains need to be understood and separated to encourage more than mediocre training development, increase acceptance, and above all to avoid costly mistakes.  I would also be very concerned about an all-in-one employee experiencing burn out.

Here’s how I’d break these down further to include your responsibilities and some others I’ve added.

Project Management

  • Manage timeline, budget, communication with stakeholders
  • Manage sub contractors
  • Gather and manage content

Instructional Design

  • Identify learning outcome(s), goals and objectives
  • Design interactivity/Create interactions
  • Write scripts or storyboards for development team
  • Oversee editing of scripts

Note: I’ve gone ahead and combined the writing and editing tasks under ID assuming you’d do the same.  Someone would need to establish styles and conventions in this area, of course, especially when working with multiple people and projects.

Graphic arts

  • Create a user interface design appropriate to the project
  • Create a look and feel for the project
  • Create media assets (Given assumptions mainly graphics to start)

Note: There are different types of artists.  Ideally, you want someone who can handle all three responsibilities listed above and handle them well.  However, this is often difficult to find and as companies grow the roles tend to split into art director and production artist.


  • Analysis identifying technical infrastructure requirements and solutions.  This would include LMS or LCMS selection, use of standards like SCORM, technologies and tools used for development, etc..
  • Software system design for the first task but also for setting up a core skeleton used and reused on course projects.
  • Programming
  • Testing
  • Maintenance tasks such as documentation, backing up assets, and revision control
  • LMS administration

Note: this is a tough one to address because it depends on the outcome of the initial analysis.  One possible solution would be to look for a company that would lease space on an existing LMS and as a result potentially relieve your team from taking on the associated administration task, which can easily become a role by itself.  Another possibility, is to integrate everything into existing HR systems or make the LMS into the main HR system.  The administration task would then fall to an HR person, hopefully.  Programming will vary depending on the tasks that need to be done.  If an LMS needs to be altered, you’re looking for one of many different programming language and platform skills.  Programming skills will be different for developing in tools like FLASH.

 Media composition and editing

  • Plan media production efforts  (shot lists, scripts, prop lists, location selection and setup, etc.)
  • Produce video and audio media assets
  • Post-production editing and composition

Note:  You said to assume graphics only but I couldn’t resist putting in just a few things here.  As you know, this is an area that can get expensive quickly depending on expectations.  Stock media and low production quality can still be effective in some cases.  Does your company have a unit that does video already for marketing and training?  What about producing and publishing of movie products for your stores or is all of that done by other companies/producers?


  • Establish a QA procedure
  • Content testing and verification
  • Functionality testing
  • User acceptance

The design of a performance improvement solution resembles traditional instructional design.  You must articulate goals and objectives and any unique conditions that apply to the performance.  It must be clear how the goals and objectives will close the performance gap.   Where human performance technology differs from instructional design is in the nature of the solution.  An instructional designer designs and implements learning solutions.  A human performance specialist can be responsible for redesigning work processes, individual and organizational development, and developing training.  Below I will summarize two projects I have worked on to illustrate these points.

Receiving Certification
Receiving product shipments correctly in stores is critical to ensure correct accounting and to optimize sales.  While this is a critical function, it does not need to be performed by management.  Associates can follow the steps to scan merchandise into the store’s inventory and coordinate with the manager to resolve any problems.  To be successful, an associate must be able to demonstrate competency with the receiving processes and pass a test on specific policy issues.
The solution was to create training materials based on receiving processes and to develop a test covering important policy issues.  Store managers were provided with the training materials and instructors for using them.  The test included references to the policy manual to ensure they provided the correct information to associates if they missed a test question.  To ensure accountability, a checklist was created for manager’s to sign and date when an associate completed each part of the certification.  This enabled supervisory staff to review compliance easily and quickly.

Search Warrant Writing
Writing a search warrant is intimidating and requires specialized writing.  It is intimidating because a police officer will have to present their warrant to a judge for approval.  Most officers do not have any idea what to expect that to be like.  It is common practice for an officer to ask his or her colleagues for an example when they have to write their first warrant.  This can be helpful to get started but it can also perpetuate mistakes.
The solution to this performance issue was to create a tool similar to TurboTax to help officers write their warrant.  The goal was to provide court-tested language for specific parts of the search warrant (certain parts of the warrant are case-specific and can’t be provided).  We also created training to demystify the process of preparing and getting a warrant signed by a judge.  We taught officers what to gather and how to prepare the information for their warrant.  We also walked them through the process of presenting the warrant to a judge and what to do at the court house.
Both of these were made available online through a secure website to facilitate access.

Cognitive Interviewing
The gap in this project dealt with interviewing victims and witnesses of violent or traumatic events.  Ideally officers would be able to gather detailed information from victims and witnesses in these circumstances.  However, the affects of the event interferes with a victim or witness’s ability to recall the event accurately.
We determined that the performance problem was process related.  Officers were using traditional interviewing techniques when a more advanced technique was required.  We convened interviewing experts to determine the best technique to teach and to design training that would equip officers.  Our design provided background on how the brain stores information and specific methods for retrieving memories.

Michael Hyatt makes some interesting points in his recent post on the positive impact of social media.  Since I can’t improve on it, I encourage y0u to read it yourself.

We must love lists because we are constantly bombarded with them in our culture.  I am as guilty as anyone.  Accepting that lists can be a harmless, funny, and sometimes helpful, when it comes to trends any list should be viewed with caution.  This is particularly important when it comes to training trends.  For example, in the late 90s e-learning was just getting started and many companies invested heavily in it without any evidence that it would meet their needs.  It wasn’t long before they began to ask if they were getting enough bang for their buck (that’s training speak for ROI).

So before you read the list below, let me offer a few tips when deciding which solution is right for your organization.

  1. What problem or opportunity are you addressing?
  2. Who will be affected, directly or indirectly, by your decision?
  3. What constraints will affect your decision?
  4. Have we addressed this situation before?  If so, how?  Is it working?  Why or why not?

Answering these questions should give you a good start on deciding what approach will meet your needs, the needs of your learners, and the needs of your organization.  When you feel you have answered the questions to the best of your ability, visit your training department.  They will be impressed with your work and will be happy to help you.

If you want to go beyond what I have provided above or don’t have a training department, I recommend purchasing Analyzing Performance Problems by Robert Mager and Peter Pipe.  It may not answer all your questions but it will help you ask the right ones.

So here are 6 training trends for 2010 according to Bottom Line Performance.

The 6 trends

  1. The need/demand to compress time.
  2. The shift from “training” to “learning.”
  3. The shift from F2F to online classroom.
  4. Rapid authoring (and we aren’t talking about Articulate here!)
  5. The new blend – formal and informal.
  6. Mobile and web delivery.

What is the common denominator?  Do more with less. Everyone is feeling the pressure to produce results.  Under these circumstances there is a premium on having access to reliable information that meets your immediate need.  That flies in the face of traditional event-based training.  However, simply providing access to more information will not automatically result in better performance.  Employees need access to the right information and need to know what to do with it.  That is where the learning professional comes in.  Supervisors need to partner with training departments to identify and resolve the performance issues facing their team.

For more perspective from Bottom Line Performance, you can view a slide show about the trends here.  In it you will see models of alternative delivery modes and recommendations for adapting to new ways to meet the performance needs of your employees.

I just read an interesting article about the appeal of the Nintendo Wii.  The author’s point is that the Wii engages the user on a deeper level because it involves the entire body to play as opposed to traditional game systems that only require hand movements.  Greater physical involvement leads to an emotional component to play, which no other game system provides.

There is a lesson for learning here.  Actively involving learners will engage them more deeply than simply lecturing to them.  How often have you attended a training session and felt like the instructor was there to fill your head with knowledge with little or no concern for your needs or interests?

My experience is that the fictional example above is closer to reality than most professional trainers would like to admit.  It is the rare instructor who adapts a presentation to the needs of the attendees.  In the traditional teacher-centered approach the attendee is a passive receiver of information.  Do you feel motivated to attend training like this?  Neither do I.

The alternative to this approach is learner-centered instruction.  Simply stated, learner-centered instruction takes into account the individual needs and expectations of the attendees.  Click here to read a comparison of teacher vs learner centered instruction.  While a learner-centered approach can appear intimidating and labor-intensive, the benefits far outweigh the perceived drawbacks.  The video below is a good primer on learner-centered instruction.

Does this look like the stereotypical high school classroom?

Would you want to attend training like this?  What do you notice about the atmosphere in the classroom?

It is true that a learner-centered approach requires more planning and preparation.  However, this is offset by the reduced workload at the actual event and better results.  During the instruction the center of attention shifts away from the teacher to the student.  This allows the instructor to focus his or her energy on the actual needs of the students.  By responding to specific questions and providing constructive feedback the instructor has greater confidence that the attendees are getting the information they need and is able to correct any misunderstandings that exist.  In a teacher-centered approach there is no way of knowing if a misunderstanding exists or if learning is actually taking place.

I started reading The Fifth Discipline last week.  The author identifies “component technologies” required to become a learning organization.  They are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.  I’m reading a first edition released in 1990 so some of the examples seem outdated.  Additionally, what may have seemed advanced 20 years ago is commonplace today.  Despite the effect of time there are some insights that are worth consideration.

I want to address the idea of developing expertise, what the author refers to as personal mastery.  Everybody has interests that extend beyond their daily work responsibilities.  As a learning professional I am responsible for developing learning interventions (frequently referred to as training) to address performance gaps in my organization.  In any given week I might have 2-3 short-term projects to complete and several larger scope projects.  My training and experience enables me to apply a systematic approach to these projects that will ensure we achieve the desired result.

Although I am always staying current on learning trends, I am also interested in user-centered software design.  This is frequently referred to as usability.  User centered design includes end users in the design process to ensure the final product meets their needs.  I am by no means a usability expert.  However, in my organization I might have more expertise than anyone else.  For that reason, I add value above and beyond my regular duties.  However, I can only add value if people know about my expertise.

How can you use your interests to add value to your organization?  First, you must invest in your interest area.  To be viewed as an expert, you must strive to be an expert.  What do you read?  What web sites do you visit?  Who are the significant thought leaders in your interest area?  You don’t have to have all the answers.  Sometimes it is enough to be able to provide resources to others.  One definition of expertise is knowing more than the person asking the question.

The second way to become an expert is to refine your skills.  Look for opportunities to apply what you know.  It is not enough to be well-read.  If you are going to add value you must be able to apply your skills.  This does not mean you have to be assigned a project.  That won’t always be possible.  However, in any given week you will have opportunities to improve your skill set.  Take advantage of them.

Finally, share you expertise.  Get the word out through any channel at your disposal.  One of the purposes of this blog is to share perspectives I have regarding workplace performance.  I include the URL at the bottom of my email messages to encourage others to read and join the conversation.  The more I people read the more they know about me and my expertise.  As the site develops I plan to add links to other sites I visit to stay current on my regular job duties and other areas of interest.  This will help people be more efficient at finding answers since they won’t have to ask me directly to get answers.

I just listened to a Harvard Business Review interview with Alexandra Samuel.  She is an expert on the use of social media. You can listen to it here.  If you are interested in using social media to share your expertise she provides excellent insights on selecting the proper social media outlet for you message.  She also notes that social media is best at connecting people, as opposed to establishing a corporate identity.  She also notes that the effective use of social media requires a person to be authentic and transparent.  For me that requires me to share what I know and acknowledge what I don’t know, which is a lot.  It is important for me to accept input from others.  I have not mastered the art of social networking but through this blog I hope to learn as much as I help others learn.

Please share your thoughts on expertise and how you develop yours.

With all the buzz about the iPad I find myself thinking about the implications of the device even though I hate myself for it.  I think one reason everyone is so focused on the iPad is because it hits a sweet spot in the marketplace.  The iPhone and iPad are productivity tools.  The difference is the type of productivity you are trying to achieve.  I believe the iPad is much more innovative from a productivity standpoint than the iPhone.  For that reason, I believe the impact of the iPad will be greater than the iPhone.

In my mind the iPhone was a gadget when it was first released.  Albeit a very cool gadget.  Even though users could access the Web with the iPhone they still had to adjust to the limits of the device.  Apps have increased its versatility; However, its main limits, size and connectivity, remain.  The iPad overcomes those limits.  Having more viewing area increases the number of things that can be done with it.  While the iPhone enables you to access the Web and has useful apps, it is not can never replace a desktop or laptop computer.  The iPad can’t either but it does offer improved access to online resources and the potential for more robust productivity tools.

Apple deserves credit for recognizing the potential impact cloud computing.  One of the overlooked benefits of cloud computing the iPad could exploit is customization.  Currently there are very few options when you buy a computer.  You can customize some features but most of what you purchase is standard.  The iPad challenges that assumption.  If most of what you publish and consume is online through social media you don’t need as much internal processing power.  You don’t need terabytes of internal memory because your pictures, movies, and music are all stored on a server.  You don’t need the full Office suite when most of what you publish is online.  How many people in your organization really need or use the processing power of their computer?  How would a workplace change if we could access all our data and tools online?

Both the iPhone and the iPad are ideal for informal learning interventions.  Instead of making large investments in event-driven learning or e-learning, organizations can create immersive learning experiences that are accessible at the point of need.  Blending social media with highly focused productivity apps create rich opportunities for informal learning and mentoring.  One of the challenges that confront traditional forms of learning is the gap between the learning and work environment.

Leveraging existing social networking tools and creating targeted learning interventions greatly reduces the need for formal training and can improve learning outcomes.  Lightweight development tools such as Flip cameras enable content to be created and made available faster than ever before.  Embedding learning objects such as videos or blog posts via social networking tools provides a great opportunities to improve performance.

Another way the iPad is unique is its flexibility and portability.  I tried using a tablet PC several years ago.  After a short time, I reverted to using it as a plain laptop because it was so cumbersome and heavy.  It also suffered because it did not have programs that utilized the design.  The iPad is lightweight and Apple has created a culture where developers create apps that take advantage of its unique design.

A frequent topic in learning circles has been enhancing learning through games.  I have explored the possibility of using gaming conventions to improve the learning experience and outcomes.  Some of the most popular apps for the iPhone are games.  I expect this will also be the case with the iPad.  A challenge for learning professionals is to create games that are fun and achieve a learning outcome.

I believe the iPad has the potential for creating new opportunities for learning and productivity.  By its very existence users can be more productive.  With thoughtful consideration, learning professionals can take advantage of the flexibility of the device to improve performance.  If this is possible with the first generation, imagine what will happen when when the next generation is released or a competitor enters the market.