What Happens When Technical Learning Goes Mobile?

Fast-paced organizational growth and competitive environments demand employees to be more productive and better informed to serve customers. To achieve these objectives, the population of mobile workforce is steadily growing in all organizational departments. According to a Gartner and BusinessWire forecast, this number will cross 1.3 billion by end of 2015 and will continue to rise.

Learning leaders can empower this mobile workforce by using digital learning tools with just-in-time access, delivering the knowledge employees need to complete the job at hand, quickly and effectively.

An increase in the number of powerful mobile computing devices plays a key role in empowering employees in the field. Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Google’s Android OS and Windows Mobile and other platforms in conjunction with technologies like augmented reality, proximity sensors, collaborative workflows and analytics make a compelling proposition for effective performance support tools.

With high expectations from the sales workforce to add to the organization’s top line, the demand for a mobile productivity tool is higher than ever before. Many organizations in the United States have started enabling the sales workforce with productivity tools, in turn providing returns for all departments.

Leveraging the authentication details, sales executives log in to the tool using mobile devices or a PC and access product specific details. In many organizations, details such as product features, value proposition, price points, possibility of discounts, tentative order closure details are dynamic in nature. The ability to update these details on a daily basis makes it a useful tool in the field.

Another aspect of the tool that gives its information context is its ability to tag information with location and time of day. With this feature, the mobile device understands the location of the sales executive and facilitates relevant information proactively.

Despite of all these information bytes, sales executives do have queries on products, hence a rapidly growing use of query resolution modules in productivity tools. This started with a simple form — users post a query to an expert or a peer community and receive resolution in asynchronous mode. To get employees speedier access to information, apps integrate instant messages so sales executives can seek clarity from an expert in synchronous mode. These instant messengers enable sales executives to share pictures or video files through instant messengers for faster resolution.

Sales executives with years of experience in the field often understand certain processes much better than others. Such wealth of tacit knowledge can be turned into explicit knowledge using productivity tools, where the experts make videos, store them on a central knowledge management repository and share with peers for replication.

Because sales executives are in the field most of the time, sharing updates on organizational events can be challenging. Productivity tools have started integrating organizational alerts as a feature where new product launches, messages, policy announcements, etc., are shared using a remote backend utility for alerts announcement. The remote backend utility of the performance support tools allows the administrator to push the information for sales executives on their mobile and PC apps.

The backend utility also facilitates analytics on data collected from end user access points. These analytics help the organization to understand the sales executive’s knowledge on products and map them with sales closures data.

Most of the time, these conclusions lead to training programs for sales executives on products or reassignment of field roles. They are also used to reward performance or winners on the field. All these actions help sales organization perform better and improve the top line of the organization.

How to Beat Creative Fatigue in E-Learning Design

Are you tired of building the same courses over and over again? Sure you may get to build a hundred courses, but they’re essentially the same course built a hundred times. The result is that many of the courses look the same and they don’t provide the opportunity to expand your course design skills.

Today I’d like to offer a few tips on how you can get out of the hundred course rut.

Build Better E-learning by Making Time to Do Something Different

Many organizations allow their employees to have some free time to hack together ideas or work on other types of projects. I spoke to one elearning manager that lets his employees spend a few days each month on personal projects. His rationale is that it gives them “time to unwind and play around with ideas.”

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - build better elearning courses by doing something new

Most organizations probably won’t make time for you to “mess around with ideas” so you need to find ways to get the time. We often used the team meeting time to brainstorm ideas. For example, one challenge was how to navigate a course if all you could do was drag and drop objects and couldn’t click anywhere on the screen. Another was to come up with 100 analogies we could apply to our training programs: climbing stairs, climbing mountains, going down a road, entering a building’s lobby, etc. We then used some of the ideas as models for our course designs.

The main point in the activity was to think about things in a different way and to prototype ideas. They may not always be used, but they will help develop your skills.

Build Better E-Learning Through Inspiration

As you know, I am a big fan of the weekly elearning challenges because they do exactly what I’m talking about above. They’re a springboard to playing with ideas. We present simple challenges to help nudge you a bit. They’re not intended to be big courses or even all that elaborate.

Some people put together complete ideas and some just build quick prototypes. The main goal is to get you to try something different than what you normally do at work. Through that process you find new ideas and production techniques.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - build better elearning courses by finding inspiration

Even if you don’t participate in the weekly challenges, I still encourage you to look at what’s being done. They’re a great source of inspiration. You may pick up some neat ideas that can be applied in your own elearning courses. All of the participants get the same instructions but the results are always different. It’s nice to see the diverse ideas.

Build Better E-Learning Through Mimicry & Iteration

All of the Articulate community managers do a great job building courses. However, if I were to look at the demos they build without knowing who built them, odds are that I’d be able to match the course author to the course. And the reason is because we all tend to have our own style.

That means our course screens tend to look similar. The layouts, colors, fonts, and object sizes all tend to be the same. That’s not a bad thing. But build the same type of course a hundred times exactly the same way can cause some creative fatigue.

By stepping away from our own style and attempting to mimic the work of others we become better course designers. I recommend collecting elearning courses, multimedia examples, or visual design ideas that you find inspiring and then setting some time to practice recreating them.

  • Step 1: Try to replicate what the content creator did. This helps you figure out what they did and how you’d do the same thing with your authoring tools. Don’t worry about copyright or anything like that. This isn’t for public consumption. Instead it’s for your personal development.
  • Step 2: Once you have decent replication, start to iterate. Pretend that a client told you they wanted this project redone. What would you do? From there you’ll be able to transform the idea that inspired you to something that’s uniquely yours. And most likely it’ll look a lot different than what you would have done on your own. I usually look for color themes, font pairings, and visual design ideas like how shapes and lines are used. I’ll create a few different layouts based on the original design.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - build better elearning courses practicing new techniques

Here are some of the places I go to find inspiration:

  • E-Learning Examples: a good collection of all sorts of elearning and interactive multimedia examples that could inspire course design ideas.
  • Articulate demos: the elearning challenges have produced over 1000 different examples. You can find a complete list here. But we also feature a few of the more popular ones and other demos in our examples section.
  • News multimedia: with every major news event there’s usually some multimedia composed to explain it. USA Today and NY Times (links to examples) usually have some good demos.
  • Museums: many of the large museums have interactive tours and demos. Here’s one from the Smithsonian on how to build a sod house and an interactive tour of the Louvre.
  • Design sites: I’m not a graphic artist but I can glean ideas from those who are. I like to look at some of the portfolios on sites like Dribbble and Loviv. I often get ideas on layouts, colors, and UI.

If you don’t want to get stuck building the same course over and over again, challenge yourself to find inspiration in the work of your peers. Make some time to connect with others and if you have time, join one of the weekly challenges. I’d love to see what you do.

About the Author:

Tom Kuhlman is host of The Rapid E-Learning Blog and has over 20 years experience in the training industry. He’s developed hundreds of hours of elearning and managed elearning and training projects at Capital One, Washington Mutual, and Weyerhaeuser. Tom currently runs the user community for Articulate, with a focus on building a passionate community of rapid elearning developers.

What FarmVille Can Teach E-Learning Designers About Social Gaming

The rise of social gaming giant Zynga is something startup dreams are made of: Going from a small, 27-person company bringing in a respectable $5 million, Zynga skyrocketed in 2009, raking in $209 million in revenue in just one year. And the game most responsible for the overnight success? FarmVille.

You probably received the invites from people you’d barely spoken to in the last 10 years via social networking. After all, by the end of 2009, a whopping 20 percent of all Facebook users were using their free time to harvest imaginary crops and annoy their friends with requests. FarmVille spawned a number of other social games by Zynga and its competitors, including the mega-popular Candy Crush Saga by King in 2012. In its heyday, Zynga brought in $332 million in revenue before its stock tanked in 2012 (but that’s a story for another day).

Now, why are we talking about a practically-defunct farming game that was popular with middle-aged women in 2009? While Zynga might be an economic lesson for startups, it’s also a lesson in the allure of social gaming for eLearning pros. From Candy Crush to FarmVille, Words With Friends, and Bubble Witch, social games hold a certain appeal for playing.

Whether it’s sharing achievements with friends, working with others to beat a level, or competing against other players, social gaming offers the ability to essentially crowdsource gameplay. Zynga was able to—even if only for a short time—capitalize on players’ social need to share, compete, and support others through what might seem like an inconsequential game.

If L&D pros could harness the power of social gaming in their current efforts, the results could be of pretty epic proportions. By picking and choosing the most effective components of typical social gaming applications, gamification becomes much more than using games to teach: instead, it’s using games to drive users to interact, engage, and better absorb material—no farming necessary.

The Gamification of eLearning

Gamification as an eLearning topic is old news. We already know that utilizing game-like components within modules can help users test knowledge and assess their progress. They might answer a few test questions, complete a simulation, or even participate in a trivia challenge to ramp up user engagement. Awesome.

And for the most part, gamification does what it sets out to do: increase motivation and break up modules with periods of interaction. But while game-like components can stop your learners from simply clicking through, gamification has certain limitations that could keep it from reaching its full potential as a learning tool.

First, gamification is highly isolating. Without the ability to share scores and compete against other players, the motivation to achieve is pretty low for learners. Unless game scores are going to be saved and used as a barometer for literacy, there’s little motivation to actually perform and perform well while experiencing game components within a module.

What’s more, unless built into the module, there’s really no way to track results gleaned from gamification. And even if there were, is there any incentive to score higher if no one else is going to see or assess the results? Probably not.

Gamification, when done on an individual, intrinsic level, is flat. You can hope that your learner wants to perform to improve herself and gain knowledge, but it’s not always the case, nor is it always realistic. By tapping into the social needs of your learner à la FarmVille and other social gaming, you create a three-dimensional experience that goes deeper and reaches farther than previous gamification efforts.

Taking a Page from FarmVille

While opinions may vary on what exactly made FarmVille such an overnight success, here’s a hunch: It was the first game to introduce social networking as the main facet of play. Sure, other games offered a social aspect (think World of Warcraft) but required separate sites, add-ons, and ultimately a group of strangers.

Games built to play in conjunction with social networking, however, are friendlier than your average online gaming platform. They utilize a site players already use. They offer gameplay with family members and friends. They allow automatic and simple sharing tools to earn levels and announce achievements to the masses, prompting even more game play.

And perhaps that’s where social gaming really got it right: The addition of badges and achievements to help keep players glued to the game. By offering recognition when players reach certain levels and complete tasks, the games no longer rely on intrinsic motivation (“I want to complete this module because it’ll make me a better employee.”) but extrinsic results (“If I finish this level, I’ll move to the top of the leaderboard and earn a reward.”) Perhaps it’s a simplified version of how players are motivated by badges, but it’s simplified and true.

Social gaming, first and foremost, allows players to make the games a community experience. It then turns time and effort into a tangible achievement through the use of badges. Badges essentially become micro-credentials—a currency by which learners trade in on their time, knowledge, and energy. Social games like Mafia Wars and Candy Crush are a variation on the same theme: Instead of just playing because a game is enjoyable, players focus on achievements, badges, leveling up, and beating their colleagues.

Don’t Hate the Player…

We know that humans are social animals. Unfortunately, your gamification may not have caught up to that philosophy, forcing learners to isolate themselves in the name of accessible modules. But just because you strive for convenience and accessibility doesn’t mean your module can’t also be social in nature.

By tapping into the human need for competition, support, being part of a group or team, and the ability to apply knowledge, badges and social sharing create the ideal environment in which learners are completely engaged.

Social sharing caters to those who prefer to learn on their own time, but still require the added motivation of collaboration. Consider the ways in which badges and social tools can bring your gamification efforts to life:

  • Competition. Igniting the fire of competition is a tried-and-true method of motivation for most (if not all) learners. The ability to share scores or check leaderboards online lets your learners know exactly where they stand, pushing them to achieve more.
  • Tangible achievement. Some learners need more than just the satisfaction of a job well done to motivate action. Awarding badges for completion and mastery could make all the difference.
  • Group sharing and collaboration. Imagine a learner gets stuck on a specific quiz question. She might give up and disengage from the module, but imagine if she had the capacity to use tokens or points toward asking a group of co-learners for their input. Social tools make collaboration simpler, creating a symbiotic relationship between the learner who needs help and the learner who wants to demonstrate his knowledge base.
  • Litmus testing for knowledge. Social gaming is the ultimate litmus test for where each learner falls in the pack. Sizing up proficiency against other coworkers helps each learner understand his or her strengths and weaknesses in correlation to colleagues and other “players.”
  • Feedback looping. Don’t forget that social gaming also offers benefits for leadership and management. Scores, leaderboards, and badges are simple ways for management to see real-time feedback in the form of proficiency and engagement. Issuing feedback and pointers then become more effective and personalized, based on a learner’s actual performance.

In short, social gaming works because it taps into players’ human nature. The drive to be the best, paired with the need to work as a team become the main motivators for logging in, experiencing modules, and gaining the achievement and badges necessary to unlock new levels or level up to other material and information. What could be simpler?

Game Changers

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the idea of adding badges and sharing tools to your existing modules is completely out of your price range: Thanks to open-source code currently being used for mobile apps, the availability is there: It’s up to you to harness that power for your organization’s needs. It’s likely that what could make the biggest difference in terms of learner motivation is already well within your grasp.

Tracking and recognizing learners via badges creates an interesting conversation, particularly surrounding typical credentials and education. While course badges probably won’t completely replace traditional post-secondary achievement, recognizing those badges as real training and education could be fairly disruptive to the L&D scene. By making it possible for learners to display and utilize their badges as credentials, you further incentivize their participation while offering recognition for a job well done.

Zynga’s heyday might be past, but there’s much to be learned from the gaming giant’s rise to revenue. Social creatures to their core, players seek out achievement when interacting with a game-like module. Adding the ability to share, collaborate, and (let’s face it) brag about mastery creates a whole new experience. If social media is already a learner’s “happy place,” training should be less PowerPoint and more Words With Friends.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

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