Archives for July 2011

How Much Narration in E-Learning? Our Lessons Learned

How much audio narration should we use in our eLearning courses? Are we using the right narrators? How good does the quality have to be? Do we have the right equipment?

These are questions our three-person, internal eLearning team recently asked ourselves. We want to share our findings.

When our company first began using asynchronous eLearning about seven years ago, we used text and graphics only, no narration. Then we used audio sparingly, only enough to give a personal “voice” to characters in a workplace harassment prevention course.

Then about four years ago we received a mandate to develop a substantial amount of online compliance training. This would have been no problem, except that we had to ensure each employee met a prescribed minimum contact time. The only way we knew how to do this at the time was by using fully narrated screens, combined with deactivating each screen’s next button until “audio complete.”

This was not an ideal learning method, and full narration presented other challenges. We couldn’t afford paid talent, so we used employees. This added more challenges, such as finding suitable speakers, getting on their calendars, and matching audio quality of updates.

So recently we stepped back to examine how we wanted to use narration going forward.

How much narration?

We started by doing some informal research with industry cohorts and employees. How much narration should be used? Several eLearning gurus said they use little to no narration unless there is a bona fide instructional reason to do so such as augmenting online transaction processing with narration.

We found that providers of audio services and equipment favored a much higher use of audio than did our instructional design counterparts.

We wanted to know the preferences of our employees so we conducted a survey. They almost unanimously said that 1) they do not want the entire course to be narrated, 2) they do not want text on the screen read to them word for word, and 3) about two-thirds of the employees want to be able to turn the narration on or off.

Who should narrate?

Our industry sources all say that, if there is a narrator, the higher the quality of the narrator’s voice the better. We took this as a strong preference for professional voice talent.

However, our employees had a different view. Only 12% said they prefer professional voice talent. A full 85% said the voice only needs to sound good enough to get the point across without having to strain to understand it. Nearly 60% of our employees said “no preference” as long as the voice isn’t irritating to listen to. 40% prefer that the narrator be someone they recognize (i.e., a well-known manager, process owner, or SME).

A surprising 9% said the narration could be computer-generated as long as it didn’t sound too robot-like. (We will report on our text-to-speech findings in our next article.)

How good does it need to be?

In addition to the narrators’ voice quality, what about the quality of the audio output itself? We considered upgrading the quality as much as we could. We looked at better microphones and became acquainted with Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs.

But then we realized that the cost and learning curve of these devices was not warranted because the audio will get compressed anyway, and because of feedback from our employees. We ended up simply getting a better microphone (about $150) and controlling the recording environment more.

Our new guidelines

Here are the guidelines we have adopted as a result of this study:

1. [How much?] We will use audio only when instructionally necessary.

2. [Control] We will make sure students have the ability to turn the sound on and off, and that they know how to do so.

3. [Who?] We will continue to use in-house talent, but other than credits at the end, we will not identify the narrator unless his or her name or title is pertinent for the instruction, e.g., having the Compliance Officer introduce a compliance course. This will prevent having to re-narrate when someone changes position or leaves the company. We may audition to get more suitable voices.

4. [Quality] We only need slightly a higher quality microphone along with a pop filter to raise our technical quality to the practical limit. We also identified a storage room that will double as our sound studio with the use of inexpensive draperies. This location should improve our ability to splice in updates without sounding noticeably different from the original.

5. We will continue to have learners evaluate the use and quality of our narration and make adjustments accordingly.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

How Can Social Learning Scale Massively? Lessons from World of Warcraft

If people work in groups separate from each other, how can we mitigate the silo effect and ensure we capture learning on a collective basis? The answer may be in massively multiplayer online role playing games.

Much fuss is made of class-size effects in schools, but I often get blank stares when I talk about the dangers of putting 10,000 people together in an online learning environment where we are trying to foster social learning.

Increasingly, organizations are requesting that some form of social learning be part of online learning initiatives. And it’s quite right to do so; there is plenty of evidence linking social context and long-term learning retention. Indeed, we know how important social comparison is to our personal lives. We also can see opportunities for using Web 2.0 tools to create both a push and pull of knowledge throughout our organizations. But we have vast numbers of people to include in these processes if we are to make social learning a full part of our workplaces.

Social learning vs. crowdsourcing

A chief concern about the implementation of social learning within the enterprise is how to scale the benefits of social learning to meet the large numbers of employees that make up its audience. For me, there is a mix-up between the power of social learning and the power of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing suggests that the more people we throw at a problem, the easier that problem is to solve. Social learning is more concerned with the meaningful relationships we build with others and how they help provide the context for learning. Social media is a tool that sits at the confluence of these two ideas; articulate your ideas using social media and they have the power to not only influence your close followers, but also the wider world.

Robin Dunbar theorized Dunbar’s number, which contends that there is a limit to the number of other people with whom one can maintain a relationship. The number is said to be 150, give or take a few. Dunbar based his findings not on observations of daily lives, but on an evolutionary perspective to account for the optimal number of relationships an individual should have in order to thrive.

Other studies, like those conducted by McCarty et al., have sought to estimate network size empirically. These methods have yielded higher numbers than Dunbar’s; a mean of 291 was found in the McCarty study. However, even these measurements have their flaws. Most notably, the McCarty study relied on people to estimate their own network size.

Facebook is rapidly becoming a better measure in the opinions of many, including myself. According to Facebook, 130 would be the average number of ‘friend’ relationships a person has on the platform. It would be fair to say this number is conservative at the moment; not everyone is on Facebook and many people keep a separation of their friends, family, and co-workers, which means their complete network is not accounted for by a number.

However, this number is also likely to be skewed by the number of “nonfriend” friends we tend to have on Facebook; mostly old school acquaintances, who we might like to spy on for social comparison reasons, but wouldn’t otherwise count as friends.

Of course, the real answer here is that there is no single number to succinctly articulate how big a social network can be; the number will be slightly different according to our behaviors and situation. But, whatever that number is, it is probably in the low hundreds.

It is important to remember that we already have a number of relationships before we set foot in a social learning environment. Our capacity to make more meaningful relationships is going to be limited by the number of these relationships that already exist. In other words, we probably only have a few slots left open. So when you are faced with a room of 10,000 people, where will you start focusing your effort in order to start building these few new meaningful relationships without wasting your time?

The answer is that you probably won’t. Most people don’t. Less than 1 in 5000 visitors to Wikipedia actually makes an edit each month. Similarly, if we ask a small cohort of people to contribute to a larger platform the social interaction flows readily. But it is impossible to do this on a grander scale while fostering true relationships. Sure, people contribute to large news websites with comments, but that’s more about expressing opinions than about building relationships.

Modeling game relationships

So, what can we do to address this issue? Certainly, just adding a social media facility to your learning platform and expecting relationships to flourish isn’t going to work. I often say that there is nothing sadder than an empty forum—and I’ve seen enough of them in the various back alleys of company intranets and LMS’s to last a lifetime.

The answer, for me, lies in breaking down the whole population into smaller parts on an autonomous basis. We can model these sorts of relationships on massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft (WoW).

WoW has millions of players entering its “world” every day. Players choose a realm to play within when they enter the game. Each realm is an individual copy of the game, perhaps characterized by running in a different language (French realms instead of English, for example). Within each realm is a series of playable areas that take the form of continents; these can be explored autonomously and alone, with players taking on challenges that exist within them as they go.

However, many of the more complex challenges that exist within each realm require a team effort to complete. This is where things get interesting. Small groups of players, banded together autonomously as “guilds” form to take on the bigger challenges.

Of course, you don’t want to form a guild to take on a challenge and find some other group already in the dungeon (how often does that happen at work), so each challenge has the ability to provide a unique instance of itself for your group. This instance is a copy of the same challenge others can take, but only your group has access to it. This way many groups can take on the same challenge at the same time.

Each person within the guild needs to be engaged in order to tackle the challenge. There is rarely room for freeloaders as the challenges are often limited in terms of the number of players who can be in the group. Everyone contributes.

Guilds are often fairly tight-knit groups. Some of the more serious ones go on to meet each in real life, and many guild participants would readily accept that some of their relationship slots are occupied by those which they play games online with. In addition, there has emerged a huge community of guilds talking with each other; sometimes on friendly terms, sometimes more competitively. But the ability to showcase skill and discuss tactics with other guilds is one of the biggest drivers of online communities outside of the actual game environment.

Transferring to social learning

This model can help to overcome the scalability issues that social learning often faces. Asking people to make an impact on the world as a whole is difficult, but it’s easy to be influential within your group. Hiding in the big wide world is easy, but it is difficult within a smaller group. Making meaningful relationships with everyone in your organization is beyond the realm of possibility, but you can select a few people from which to learn within a smaller group.

In short, the answer lies in breaking down the enormous mass of your workforce into smaller groups, working together to improve both themselves and the organization. The limitation in this approach is in the crowdsourcing approach to problem solving. If people work in groups separate from each other, how can we mitigate the silo effect and make sure we capture all of the learning on a collective basis?

• I would suggest that silo effects can be countered by simple measures to ensure the groups are diverse in nature; only a certain number of people per department in each group for instance.

• I wouldn’t stop anyone from being members of different groups for different topics, allowing insights to spread virally between groups.

• I would look to the groups to curate the best content to be pooled into a single, enterprise-wide access area. Instead of trying to aggregate everyone together on every topic, have groups nominate their best insights to be part of the company’s best insights and use a voting system within the realm to showcase the very best content.

Bottom line

To be sure, there’s a lot more work to be done in this area, and at the moment I’m looking to talk to those who have implemented social learning initiatives within their organizations to research deeper on what the ‘ideal number’ might be.

But for now, let me suggest five lessons from WoW to help your Social Learning initiatives scale massively:

1. Break down online social interactions into smaller realms and instances for groups
2. Ensure everyone in a group needs to contribute in order for the group to succeed
3. Create areas for groups to interact with other groups
4. Don’t allow groups to match up identically with organizational structure; instead, diversify
5. Curate the best bits of each group to deliver real insight back to the rest of the organization.

About the Author:

Ben Betts is managing director of HT2, creators of innovative learning technologies.

Reprinted from Learning Circuits

Sharing Hidden Know-How: Facilitator as Catalyst for Innovation

With “Sharing Hidden Know-How” (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, April 2011), Katrina Pugh introduces a radical new way to unlock the knowledge captive in organizations. She introduces the “Knowledge Jam,” a facilitated conversation between “Originators” (experienced individuals, teams, networks) and “Brokers” (representatives of the learners, such as instructional designers).

Pugh explains how a facilitated conversation makes know-how come out into the open and translate into practice more efficiently than does more transactional or solitary forms of knowledge transfer.

In “Sharing Hidden Know-How,” Pugh introduces the arc of the Knowledge Jam, including sponsoring and planning steps, the disciplines of facilitation, conversation, and translation, and guidelines for setting up a Knowledge Jam program.  The excerpt below is from the “Facilitation” chapter. It takes a step-by-step walk through the tasks of planning, convening, and engaging participants through the Knowledge Jam cycle, and considers facilitator as leader.

By Katrina Pugh, President AlignConsulting

When I took facilitation training, I learned, to my surprise, that while facilitation feels to the novice like the “facilitator show,” when done right, it’s the “participant show.” Facilitators filter and channel the insights, passions, and intent of participants. They direct, but don’t wear, the limelight.
So it is with Knowledge Jam. While the Facilitator is the catalyst for knowledge exchange, it is the participants who are on stage. The Facilitator builds the conditions for getting out Originators’ know-how. They help Brokers to drill down on ideas so they can translate the knowledge to new contexts. And they shepherd the whole Knowledge Jam process.

It’s helpful to represent this process as a series of facilitated interactions. Knowledge topics are defined, tacit knowledge comes to the surface, epiphanies occur, and knowledge is translated into practical future uses. In the following section, I will narrate this trek, and describe what the Facilitator does to convene productive conversions among Originators and Brokers. Done skillfully, such convening results in know-how accumulating, becoming ever more useful, and getting put to work.

Facilitated Interactions in a Knowledge Jam Process

Select Step: During the Select step, the facilitator works with the Sponsor to develop a portfolio of subjects. For example, “The tsunami rescue,” “The retiring inventor’s logic,” “The 80-year-old anthropologist’s world view,” “The (rare) cross-organizational success.” Selection is based on a Jam’s potential feasibility (e.g., availability of Brokers and Originators) and impact on the organization (e.g., potential for the knowledge to lead to new product revenue, cost improvement, or executive succession).

Plan Step: Facilitators plan by aligning concepts, attitudes, and time commitments. Even before topic selection, facilitators’ preparatory interviews or introductions give key Brokers and Originators a sense of how they will contribute and benefit. A Planning Event among representatives of both groups fleshes out the “topics” (agenda) around which the Jam unfolds. In addition, in partnership with the Brokers, the Facilitator may set up collaboration sites, wikis, or discussion boards to house captured knowledge and brokering in progress.

Discover/Capture Step: Facilitators chair the 90-minute Discover/Capture event(s), type and project (or Webex) conversation notes, and manage the tone in the room (or virtual room). Facilitators apply hard skills, such as information gathering and mapping, and softer skills, such as hearing what is not being said, encouraging the heart, and managing dysfunctions. (In the Conversation chapter, we learn that these lead to a Posture of openness, Pursuit of diversity, and Practices of dialogue.)

Facilitators encourage participants to speak concretely, avoid blame, withhold judgment, and ground their statements in shared meaning. In effect, they create a climate of safety. Safety enables them to dig into the whys behind the whys. For example, “Why I turned down that offer” or “Why using those O-rings at low temperatures presents risks.” Participants correct and add to the shared notes as they are captured in front of the room (desktop), and then work with the Facilitator to summarize.

Broker Step: Brokers now take center stage. During the Broker step, Facilitators continue as process managers and networkers. They assist Brokers with translation—where Brokers publish, extend, integrate, and blog about the knowledge that came out of the Discover/Capture event. Knowledge could end up in a project plan, an onboarding program, a process redesign, and even an M&A integration guide. Frequently, Facilitators themselves, transfer elicited knowledge to target knowledge-seekers.

Reuse Step: Facilitators’ ultimate goal is reuse—no matter how the knowledge gets to the learners. Facilitators start by walking the talk. For example, during the Jam cycle, they reference earlier Jams or echo insights or terms Originators shared. Facilitators work with the Brokers to record and report back to the Sponsor actual reuse activity. Some reporting can be done online (e.g., search hits and download counts), but the most effective is self-reported, surveys, or interviews. Facilitators help participants respond to news about the impact and “stickiness” of the knowledge.

In sum, Knowledge Jam Facilitators are on-point for all five Knowledge Jam steps, intentionally channeling the organization’s energy and insight into new creations and innovations. At the same time, their centrality diminishes progressively from Select through Reuse, as Originators’ and then Brokers’ roles grow.

Building facilitation capacity is valuable even beyond Knowledge Jam, and may fit nicely with the organization’s leadership training. Facilitation skills like these are much in demand for today’s emerging leaders. As the Knowledge Jam conversation can be unpredictable, Facilitators must inspire a certain faith in the unknown, and the confidence in a collaborative approach to dealing with it.

The Knowledge Jam can be a leadership development opportunity. The Knowledge Jam experience hones important business skills: prioritization, boundary spanning, process facilitation, productive conversation, and results measurement. It’s not surprising that great Knowledge Jam facilitators don’t stay in place.

About the Author:

Katrina Pugh, author of “Sharing Hidden Know-How”(Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2011),  is president of AlignConsulting, a firm that helps organizations plan business and technology change by channeling insight into action. She formerly was VP of Knowledge Management for Fidelity and senior technical program manager for Intel Solution Services, and held leadership roles at JPMorganChase and PwC Consulting/IBM.

Reprinted from  Training Magazine Network

Challenge Your Leadership Development Rituals

It is time for leaders to take a fresh look at leadership development and create tomorrow’s development process based on today’s evidence.

Organizations spend more than $13 billion a year on leadership development and training. They invest in new, rising and established leaders. They go to leadership retreats, to business schools for professional development, spend time with the C-suite occupants, participate in 360-degree feedback, get coaches and learn multiple theories of leadership and management.

These activities can be powerful and transformational on a personal and career development level, bringing participants into leadership circles and helping them more deeply absorb organizational culture. Their participation also provides opportunities for organizations to preview employees’ potential, which shapes their future assignments.

Yet, most organizations do not have much, if any, evidence of the efficacy, efficiency or impact of these investments. We know they can be powerful. We value and often have experienced the intensity that signals someone is being groomed for leadership. Still, we don’t have a lot of proof to shape our redesign of leadership development and training.

Beyond Rituals

During the past year, I have been interviewing senior learning leaders about their corporate leadership development programs. One word keeps appearing in our discussions: rituals. Many leadership development programs are full of activities that have been done repeatedly over the years and have face-value validity and evoke powerful reactions from leadership candidates.

But CLOs often describe these as rituals rather than proven, evidence-based activities.

For example, one ritual might have well-known leadership experts and authors from top-tier business schools spend half a day with potential leaders, summarizing their latest books or research and telling powerful stories about their work with other corporations. This might cost an organization $10,000 to $50,000. It’s powerful, memorable, fun, stimulating – but it’s still a ritual.

Why a half day and not three days? Why bring the person in instead of showing a YouTube video of the same story?

The answers are often all about tradition, the expectations of the new leaders and the value of a common shared experience. Don’t misunderstand — these are good answers — but perhaps it’s time to take a fresh look at leadership development from a design rather than ritual perspective. In fact, let’s challenge some of our most common practices in leadership development and see if there are any better alternatives.

Consider duration and delivery: Most leadership programs, particularly at the senior level, are structured as face-to-face events — usually over five to 10 days — often as immersion programs after someone is nominated as a high-potential employee or promoted to a senior level. From a design perspective, let’s consider alternative durations that are shorter or that stretch over two years. Play with hybrid and blended learning modes that decrease the time in the classroom and increase field-based learning.

Leverage technology: Imagine handing leadership candidates a tablet that would serve as their connection to key expertise and feedback — from coaches to video segments done by other leaders — via live video chat. Add a GPS link between the tablet and the talent system, and provide suggested conversations or lunches with key leadership exemplars as they travel to various corporate offices.

Promote expertise shifts and project-based learning: Imagine using the leadership faculty differently. Rather than using sages on the stage, bring them in to observe and facilitate real-time, project-based learning, where the leadership cadre tackles a major challenge facing the organization.

Create real-time redesign: At the end of the next leadership program, take two hours and ask the learners to redesign the program for the next batch of rising leaders. You will be amazed by what they change. They will not see their experience as a ritual; rather, they will give you fresh input about alternatives.

Random selection: Slip a few people into the leadership program who might have been chosen randomly. In other words, challenge your own assumptions about who might be the next leader. If the leadership training is really impactful, it might be interesting to see its effect on a counter-intuitive leader.

There is nothing wrong with rituals. They become part of the fabric of our shared stories as learning leaders. The key is to continually look at the design dimensions of our leadership development programs to create tomorrow’s rituals based on today’s evidence.

About the Author:

Elliott Masie is the chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium,

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

Onboarding Program Indoctrinates New Millienials at MACH Speed

As a professor teaching business management undergraduates at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, Chip Espinoza interacted with young people on a daily basis. Several years ago he noticed a major shift in student attitudes, behaviors and expectations regarding schoolwork and assignments. Almost simultaneously, his corporate clients began to raise a new issue during consulting projects on organizational change.

“I found that my students wanted very specific direction,” Espinoza says. “Meanwhile, my corporate clients were finding them difficult to work with.”

Espinoza, who was pursuing his doctorate in leadership and change from Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, decided to make his discovery the subject of his doctoral research and dissertation. He wanted to uncover the reasons for and dimensions of tension between generations in the workplace. His findings were published in his book Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce.

Espinoza and his co-authors, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch, focused on managers as crucial drivers of successful intergenerational working relationships.

“The people with the most responsibility have to adapt first,” Espinoza says. “Once managers understand millennials and suspend the bias of their own experience, they will see a big change in relationships.” Every manager interviewed by Espinoza perceived millennials the same way, but how they responded and managed them differed.

The research revealed that a successful hiring and introductory process for a millennial is critical because of two common characteristics: a strong support system throughout childhood and an aversion to ambiguity. “The more the job requires education, the more important onboarding is,” Espinoza says of the process that allows companies to build successful relationships with new employees by helping them understand organizational goals and how their work contributes.

Espinoza cites Microsoft’s onboarding program, Microsoft Academy for College Hires, or MACH, as an example of one that helps young employees understand that crucial link. The Redmond, Washington-based software company launched MACH in 2005. It is a two-year program offered in tracks for undergraduate degree holders and newly minted MBAs. Its goal, according to Microsoft global curriculum manager Maryann Baumgarten, is to attract, develop and retain world-class talent.

“We’re trying to bring in innovative ideas as we encourage the next generation to join Microsoft,” she says. “We are increasing their numbers, and want them to get to know the company and one another.”

Baumgarten has developed and refined the program since its inception, although it has operated in its current format since 2008. It promises to help participants do three things—start strong, build your network and drive your career.

“It’s a critical first step in employee retention as we help them to understand our culture, strategy and customers,” Baumgarten says.

Certain jobs and roles are earmarked for MACH hires. Once in the program, millennial employees attend global and regional conferences and receive training, coaching and resources. Profession-specific training is offered in marketing, technology and sales tracks, and MACH participants become part of a global community that numbers 1,800 people in 60 countries. At the end of the first year, they participate in a 1 ½-day career planning workshop.

“That is the keystone—to put all the pieces together in a future-oriented plan,” Baumgarten says.

The program works, says Leigh Cresswell, a millennial corporate sales account manager in Australia who graduated from the program in 2010. Cresswell had previously worked at a multinational maker of office equipment; she says the program there was “just training; they didn’t understand what we wanted, which was to have an impact and a voice straightaway.

“[Millennials] are labeled in so many ways, most of them negative,” she adds, noting that MACH features dedicated roles that lead straight into work. “Microsoft sees us as very confident and knowledgeable about technology; we are extremely energetic and willing to give anything a go.”

Baumgarten understands generational differences; she holds master’s degrees from Fielding

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Graduate University in organizational management and development, and human development. She focused that knowledge on building MACH.

“I focus on, ‘Why?’ The purpose is at the core of everything I do,” she says. “[Millennials] don’t want to do menial tasks, so we give them projects that provide hands-on learning. We get them working successfully in teams across generations and cultures as they learn systematically how our business is run.”

MACH also gets managers on board. Their goals are to accelerate ramp-up time; drive performance and impact; and enhance manager capability. Baumgarten is offering resources to help managers learn to develop and retain young workers while networking with other managers.

“Managers must understand every step of MACH to support the learning and reinforce key outcomes,” Baumgarten says. She piloted a MACH manager conference in 2010 that provided education on generational milestones, characteristics and scenario training; an additional workshop on managing MACH participants, designed with Espinoza’s help, is due to launch in July.

“The Microsoft program is attentive to generational values and characteristics. But a successful onboard can be devalued by a bad manager match. If the manager doesn’t buy in and extend [the program], the investment can all be for naught,” Espinoza says.

For her part, Cresswell is enthusiastic. “From the moment I was brought in, I was given a two-year plan. The business took a complete bet on me. That makes you more loyal to the company because you can see a pathway. The possibilities for me here are endless.”

Reprinted from Workforce Management Online

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