The science behind L&D

What is the secret to great metrics? What is the secret to efficient learning? And a great ROI story? The answer is much closer than you think. It is a simple matter of applying science, and ensuring that the science behind L&D is just the same as in any other discipline where science is applied.

Original photo: aboutmodafinil.com

It’s all about science. Original photo: aboutmodafinil.com

Beware

But let me start by saying what this post is not about. It is not about neuroscience, or perhaps more accurately “cognitive neuroscience”. Cognitive neuroscience tries to explain how mental activities are executed in the brain.

Because studying a functioning brain is so difficult and the conditions under which it can be done are so limited, cognitive neuroscience hasn’t been able to contribute much yet to the corporate learning field. This is because what can be observed so far in limited, confined contexts can be hardly generalized to more complex conditions such as learning in the enterprise.

Back to basics

Rather than neuroscience, let’s talk about plain science. And by that I mean the scientific method. The scientific method is an ongoing process that observes measurable evidence and formulates hypotheses. A hypothesis is simply a statement that needs to be tested.

If all this seems too detached from L&D, it’s because we lack an example, so let’s go back to the workplace. Your business contact is telling you that the software developers in his team need a course in Advanced SQL Indexing because the product’s performance is slow due to sluggish SQL database code.

The hypothesis here is that training in Advanced SQL Indexing will improve the ability of developers to write better SQL database code.

And here’s the science

The L&D professional will at this point get to work with providers and SMEs to source the best possible learning solution.

But then, shockingly, it stops there. 87% of Irish organizations do not measure return on investment, according to a survey conducted by the University of Maynooth on behalf of IITD. And that’s where L&D lacks science.

Every hypothesis must be tested. First, L&D must challenge the hypothesis given by the business, because it may be flawed. If both the business and L&D agree with the hypothesis, then the only way to validate it is to measure the evidence. The evidence is not successful delivery of training: the evidence is how that training is helping the team deliver a more efficient product.

Time to change

The recent hype about neuroscience -soon it will be something else- doesn’t help. It keeps L&D happy with some new buzzwords and generalizations we can somehow incorporate into our practice (and claim that we are applying them) and avoid taking a more scientific approach to what we deal with on a daily basis: hypotheses.

It’s time to move outside of the cozy confines of the LMS, where surveys are easily conducted, and into the more challenging world of metrics: counters, long conversations with IT to implement telemetry; statistics, distribution curves, longitudinal studies, assessment, A/B testing, agile iterative approaches and, in short, running L&D like the businesses it supports.

Let’s do that, and then, maybe, we can start looking at the advances of cognitive neuroscience and how they can help our practice. But let’s be scientific first.

4 learning metrics managers like

Metrics, although necessary, can easily infuence behavior in undesired ways. They can’t be taken lightly, and I would never recommend limiting the number of tracked metrics to just a handful. But I found these 4 learning metrics managers like, because they are likely to trigger productive discussions about your learning solution’s deployment and impact.

Butts in seats

You still have to count them (photo: Beatrice Murch)

You still have to count them (photo: Beatrice Murch)

While we all have heard a thousand times that metrics have to move beyond attendance, many good conversations start with attendance statistics. Learning effectiveness is useless if it didn’t reach enough or the right people. Avoid bringing just a number per location: good attendance tables -including demographic components such as geography, group, role and seniority- lead to good conversations about the potential of a learning solution to drive change, its operational challenges, budget and milestone reviews.

Smile sheets

Moving on to Kirkpatrick’s level 1. So easy to dismiss but so important in order to understand the quality of the experience as a crucial enabler of learning. I would, however, avoid the actual smileys and go for the business-oriented type of survey that managers are used to see elsewhere in the business. Specifically, using a 5-point Likert scale, I ask two questions: Were you satisfied with the learning solution? Would you recommend this learning solution to others?

To calculate the results, count the top answers, take away the bottom three, divide by the total number of answers and multiply by 100. The result ranges from -100 to 100; you want at least a positive number. What’s considered a “very good” result will depend on your specific business, but will probably be around 30.

For recommend, the result is called NPS, and for satisfaction, NSAT. Although I have seen these metrics exhibit consistent bias by culture and context (for example, the same learning solution is rated lower in Denmark than in Ireland, or by a group that has been recently reorganized) they are a great starting point for conversations with management because they demonstrate the ability of your solution (and by extension, your team) to engage employees.

Management feedback

Measure positive management feedback, even if indirect

Always capture and tabulate positive management feedback

Although qualitative and potentially subjective, management pays close attention to what their peers are saying about a learning solution. And when you hear a general manager telling you that he has heard great things about the new program, you have an ally that may help in geographies or divisions where the solution has not been deployed yet, or in organizations that remain skeptical. Whether it’s an email, a hallway conversation with permission to quote, or a brief mention during a staff meeting, these little feedback nuggets do carry enough weight to be brought to the table.

 Follow-up activity

LMS progress and attendance are great. But they don’t tell us anything about impact outside the learning environment. However, with a bit of effort it is possible to obtain great additional data points that indicate impact.

After delivery, your LMS is no longer a good radar. Keep track of your solution adding other data points

After delivery, your LMS is no longer a good radar. Keep track of your solution’s impact by adding other data points

For example, it is very likely that you are setting up job aids, portals, social media channels and other systems and resources that support the learning solution after it has been delivered. Because these tend to sit outside the LMS, they don’t get tracked. But it doesn’t take much effort to “plant” counters on job aids, so you know who and how often employees are using them. Or measure social chatter within the channels you created. Or measure traffic to a supporting portal. With a little help from your friends in IT, you can add simple telemetry that gathers evidence of new behavior in corporate systems. A few data points is all you need to show management how the learning solution is driving the desired impact.

That’s all?

Certainly not. Although you may notice that the above four points map loosely to Kirkpatrick’s levels, there are many other metrics I would use, including longitudinal studies. For example, after a career advancement program, I would track participants for two years to see if their promotion/transfer rate differs from a control group. My experience with these, however, is that they are not as interesting to management, because these metrics span more than one or two performance review periods or business cycles. Yes, metrics can easily influence behavior.

¿Una imagen? ¿Mil palabras? ¡Basta!

Tranquilo, Neo: no TIENES que elegir una pastilla

Tranquilo, Neo: no TIENES que elegir una pastilla (Fotograma: The Matrix, Warner Bros.)

¿Qué es mejor, una imagen o mil palabras? Cuando esta conversación pasa de un contexto informal a uno profesional, y especialmente al de la formación, me pregunto hasta cuándo vamos a estar estancados en esta falsa dicotomía que tanto perjudica al sector.

En inglés, las expresiones “sucker’s choice” (la falsa premisa de que es necesario forzar una elección entre dos opciones) y “chicken or the egg” (la falsa premisa de que una cosa debe preceder a la otra) sintetizan perfectamente mi opinión sobre este tema.

Contexto

Siempre que pregunto a un profesional de formación qué es lo más innovador que ha hecho, obtengo una respuesta distinta. En algunos casos es la implementación de un nuevo LMS, una integración, o la introducción de una plataforma social de aprendizaje. Otras respuestas describen procesos de análisis, diseño de intervenciones o captura de indicadores que evidencian cambios en la organización.

¿Innovador? Todo depende del contexto. (Foto: http://www.beamicrohero.com/)

¿Innovador? Todo depende del contexto. (Foto: http://www.beamicrohero.com/)

Todas las respuestas son indiscutiblemente innovadoras, aunque muchas podrían ser, a ojos de otras organizaciones, obsoletas o simplemente estar muy lejos de constituir una innovación. El motivo, por supuesto, es el contexto: el valor de las cosas depende del enclave donde aparecen.

Ejemplos y contraejemplos

Por eso me parece fútil el uso de ejemplos para tratar de demostrar un extremo u otro de una falsa dicotomía. J Carlos Arroyo apunta en su blog que la imagen de Aylan Kurdi no dice nada sin la ayuda de palabras.

¿No dice nada? ¿Dice bastante? ¿Dice suficiente? (Foto: Wikimedia Commons)

¿No dice nada? ¿Dice bastante? ¿O dice suficiente? (Foto: Wikimedia Commons)

Visualicemos (no tengo la imagen, lástima) un bosque en terreno escarpado, con árboles perennes de follaje denso, aunque deja entrever el horizonte, también accidentado. Delante hay un lobo, enseñando los colmillos, con las orejas bajas, patas flexionadas, con la actitud -difícil de describir con palabras, pero inequívoca para casi todo ser vivo- que precede a un ataque. A la derecha hay una zanja natural, por donde quizá discurre el agua, aunque no se ve por la cantidad de maleza muerta. A la izquierda, un pino estrobo corta el paso con sus enormes ramas extendiéndose horizontalmente a ambos lados.

En fin, es muy difícil describir la escena, y sin embargo, en caso de tenerla delante de mis ojos, concluiría en una fracción de segundo que mi única vía de escape es trepar las ramas del pino que tengo a la izquierda. Si fuera un mono, analfabeto, sin uso de la palabra, habría llegado también a la misma conclusión en el mismo periodo de tiempo. Sin palabras. Pero si el mono o yo hubiéramos tenido que leer el párrafo anterior, probablemente ya tendríamos los colmillos del lobo clavados en la carne.

Por cada ejemplo que ensalza la palabra, se puede aportar un contraejemplo que hace lo propio con la imagen. No terminaríamos nunca. Lo que más me preocupa de este post es que insinúa que somos incapaces de interpretar una imagen sin la ayuda de palabras, y peor aún, que “una imagen sin palabras no tiene ningún valor”. Supongo que en Pinterest (70 millones de usuarios) e Instagram (300 millones de usuarios) no estarán de acuerdo. Si vivieran, también me gustaría saber la opinión de Da Vinci y Sorolla.

Evidencia

En el ámbito de formación de empresa, los empleados consumen información gráfica con avidez. Buscan, ven, analizan, comprenden y recuerdan imágenes con facilidad. Es, como digo en otro post, un lenguaje innato y gratuito. Es una observación que se repite en cada taller, con cada sesión, con cientos de empleados. Evidencia pura y dura.

El uso de imágenes elegidas o diseñadas expresamente para estimular el recuerdo es claramente efectiva: la gente llega incluso a referirse a un concepto por la imagen que he usado, no por su nombre. Lo mismo ocurre en técnicas de solución de problemas: la visualización desbloquea, acelera y mejora el proceso. Por supuesto también uso imágenes para evocar un concepto concreto, una idea vaga, para iniciar una discusión, un debate, creatividad. Las imágenes funcionan, y muy bien. Con y sin palabras.

No tenemos ese lujo

En un contexto tan competitivo, variado y difícil como el de la formación, donde necesitamos mejorar el rendimiento de la organización empleando para ello el menor tiempo posible del empleado, considerar la imagen como medio de comunicación inferior o incompleto es un lujo del que yo, personalmente, creo que no dispongo.

Mi Introducción a la psicología de Atkinson y Hilgard. De lectura recomendada, pero sin perderse en sus palabras.

Mi Introducción a la psicología de Atkinson y Hilgard. De lectura recomendada, pero sin perderse en sus palabras.

No tengo el lujo de perderme en laberintos filosóficos que desgranan si una imagen es real o imaginaria, o la posible ambigüedad interpretativa de la imagen (como si el texto no fuera susceptible de ambigüedades) y mucho menos prescindir de las imágenes basándose en estas cábalas. No; cuando hay que analizar, diseñar, implementar soluciones, obtener y presentar resultados (todo ello real, no imaginario), no queda tiempo para estos lujos.

Todos somos bilingües. Hablamos con palabras, y hablamos con imágenes. Colegio y universidad desarrollan la palabra y dejan atrofiar el lenguaje visual. Dado este claro desequilibro del que partimos (el contexto) toda proposición que defienda el uso de la palabra frente a la imagen me parece contraproducente; afirmar que la imagen es inútil sin palabras, irresponsable.

Madurez

En nuestro ámbito de la formación, considero un síntoma de madurez el bilingüismo palabra/imagen que sabe encontrar el mensaje más efectivo para cada contexto. Y por supuesto, el destierro de esta falsa dicotomía: ¿Una imagen o mil palabras? No, por favor. Basta.

3 steps to better visual language skills

There is one language our brain is instantly capable of speaking, from birth. It is tolerated in primary school, seriously neglected in secondary, and by the time we leave college, it’s almost forgotten. Yes, I’m talking about pictures and images. Current L&D practice doesn’t leave much room for them, even though pictures are a crucial thinking, design, and communication tool. Here are some tips to improve your visual language skills.

Acquiring skills for free

A language we all speak

A language we all speak when we are kids

Talking about bilingual families, I often hear comments about “how lucky” their children are. How so? Well, they are growing up with an extra language “for free”. No effort, no evening classes, no study work. A language for free. How lucky.

And yet we are all born with innate capacity to speak a very powerful, international language. We communicate with pictures before we can read. We learn a vast amount of information and skills as illiterate children through the use of pictures. How lucky.

School does a pretty good job at suppressing all our drawing and picture instincts, but our brain doesn’t give up: it still processes visuals quickly and with minimum effort.

Death by clipart

No. Please. Not. Him. Again.

No. Please. Not. Him. Again.

And this is why you can detect a boring learning solution at first glance. There it is, the tired sticky figure trying to tell us something important, and clearly not succeeding. In fact, its very presence makes the content that comes with it much less attractive, tired, repetitive. Death by clipart again.

If you think you don’t have the time, skills or resources to come up with your own images, I’d blame your schools and colleges, not you. They convinced you that text is king and you lack those visual skills. Time to reclaim your free gift in 3 steps.

1. Rediscover

Rediscover the basics of drawing and how it supports the thinking process. Drawing is crucially important during the brainstorming, design and prototyping phases of any learning solution. They give you an advantage by adding speed to all these processes. Books such as The Sketchnote Handbook (Rohde, M.), The Doodle Revolution (Brown, S.) or The Back of the Napkin (Roam, D.) will let you recover your dormant skills. Read at least one, and then practice.

2. Sentences

Think sentences, not words. In this text-based world, we tend to think in text units. Letters combine to form words, and words to form sentences. But it strikes me to see how many people think about images as words rather than sentences. When they search for clipart or a picture, they type just one word in the search box. But pictures can tell a whole story, with present, past and future. They are much more than an adjective or a noun. So when you think about visuals, assign them the value of a sentence, not that of a word. Doodle, sketch, draw and take pictures with sentences in mind.

3. Shoot

Your (phone) camera can help create original material with simple subjects

Your (phone) camera can help create original material using everyday items

Your camera is your friend. There are simple messages that can be easily captured using some common items found around the office and at home. Time-related concepts? Grab a watch, put it on a newspaper, take a few shots from different angles and chances are you’ll find one shot that is unique, original and relevant to the work at hand. Even if you only spend a few minutes per week taking pictures, over time you will build your own personal library. Bye-bye clipart.

Why you should be doing agile L&D development

Agile, iterative, successive approximation… There are many terms that broadly encapsulate the same concept: agile L&D development, or the delivery of small incremental value-add to your business through an iterative approach. Here’s why you should be agile too.

Life is agile

It's never this straightforward (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s never this straightforward (photo: William Warby)

We have all heard someone complain about a specific goal being “a moving target”. Usually, this type of complain implies that it is not worth pursuing such goal. But the reality is that almost everything today is a moving target. In fact, the targets that are not moving are most likely the ones not worth pursuing. In an organization that strives for continuous improvement, everything, including learning, is a moving target.

And with that comes the realization (deep down you knew all along) that your learning design will never be “finished”, and that you may have to work towards the goal in small but usable increments. Courses, workshops, elearning, blended learning solutions that are launched frequently, incorporating minor additions and changes as you learn from them. Welcome to agile L&D development.

Once restricted to the realm of software development, agile has found supporters in many activities involving design. There are many good introductions to the concepts relating to agile development, such as Leandog’s discussion guide.

Agile, in short

But a frequent, usually off-putting feature of agile literature (at least for us in L&D) is the fact that it focuses on software design.

So if you are not inclined to read that 112-page ebook, or a similar one, here’s the essence as it relates to learning:

  • Work with your team and your learners, not with documentation and processes
  • Aim to design and create the smallest learning solution that solves the problem
  • Launch it and ruthlessly collect and analyze feedback
  • Refine the solution, informed by the feedback you get
  • Launch revised solutions as soon as you feel they address enough previous feedback to add new value
  • Constantly seek ways to remove non-value steps so you can cycle through the above as fast as you can

In practice

How this looks in practice depends on many factors. For example, classroom solutions lean themselves to quite frequent iteration. In fact, you could revise the material and delivery script after reading the survey from each class. In teams, it gets only slightly slower. The way I have done rapid iteration of classroom solutions within a team involves:

  • a common storage location in the cloud
  • a standard way of documenting changes
  • a regular video conference to coordinate changes

In practice, your personal delivery kit will be somewhat off sync from the central repository, since you need time to fully assimilate changes made by others before being able to incorporate them in your own sessions.

Blended and elearning solutions are somewhat less agile in that there is a production and deployment process involved that may cause too much overhead if done frequently. Still, adopting an agile methodology will help the L&D team be more nimble, launch solutions faster and keep them fresh and topical over time.

It’s easier than it looks

When thinking about implementing agile practices, the L&D field has some important advantages over the software field.

Paper prototypes are quick, cheap and effective in testing new concepts (photo: theuxreview.co.uk)

Paper prototypes are quick, cheap and effective in testing new concepts (photo: theuxreview.co.uk)

Perhaps the most important one is prototyping. It is generally much easier to prototype a learning solution than it is to prototype software. This applies both to classroom and elearning. There are many approaches and techniques to quickly create useful prototypes for the purpose of testing an idea, visualizing the solution or requesting feedback from customers (learners).

When it comes to elearning, we also enjoy the same benefits of the software world. Particularly, practices like A/B testing, where a small portion of the learners are shown a different version of the elearning so we can study their reactions and feedback. Many software companies are constantly in A/B testing mode.

There are also great low-tech approaches to gathering feedback and understanding the business, the learners and their needs, and quickly incorporating these insights into the agile development cycle.

It’s easier than it looks because the key, as in any agile practice, is not so much the technical ability or tools used by the L&D team, but their grasp of how agile can help in their specific environment and their ability to work together to deliver that promise. Actually, if you are leading an L&D team, a good conversation starter is reading the Manifesto for Agile Software Development but placing the word “Learning” whenever you see “Software”.

When to do agile

Of course not every learning solution is an ideal candidate for agile. For example, solutions with short shelf life or those where participants are getting externally certified and consistency across groups, industries and countries is expected.

Onboarding new hires. A great scenario for agile L&D development (photo: Arthur Grigoryan)

But there are many other areas where I have seen or practiced agile development of some sort, including:

  • Employee onboarding. I consider this the perfect scenario in large companies or those with high turnover. As this post suggests, it’s hard to get it right; iteration becomes your friend
  • Role-specific training. This is a great example of a “moving target”, as the learning solutions must quickly adapt and support the company’s talent strategy
  • Compliance and other courses that must be repeated over time and for every new hire

Time to park ADDIE?

Probably not. Although it’s time to look at ADDIE not as a flowchart or fixed set of rules, but as a set of principles. The principles that guide ADDIE are solid. But it is easy to be slowed down by the waterfall approach that is traditionally applied in ADDIE. If you’ve only worked on ADDIE models, experiencing agile L&D development will change the way you think about learning solution design.

La irrelevancia de los estilos de aprendizaje

Estoy convencido de la irrelevancia de los estilos de aprendizaje a la hora de diseñar elearning. En las revisiones de un diseño que está ya tomando forma, no hay nada que me haga temer más por la integridad del proyecto que un compañero apuntando con preocupación al hecho de que “no estamos poniendo nada kinestético”, o alguna apreciación similar relativa a los estilos.

El efecto Forer

Se presenta a cada participante una lista personalizada de preferencias personales. Se les pide que indiquen, en una escala de 1 a 5, en qué grado coincide esa preferencia con su personalidad. Los resultados indican una clara concordancia con una buena parte de la lista personalizada. Pero ocurre que la lista no es personalizada: todos recibieron la misma.

El principio de afinidad nos fuerza a tomar bandos y atribuirnos propiedades

El principio de afinidad, bien descrito por Cialdini, tiene el potencial de cambiar nuestra “forma de vida”.

Existe una tendencia bien documentada a identificarse con parámetros y pautas. El horóscopo es un ejemplo perfecto. Del mismo modo, es muy sencillo “encasillarse” en un estilo de aprendizaje simplemente por el hecho de haberlos conocido, y muy posiblemente, haber hecho algún tipo de “test” que no hace sino reafirmar el convencimiento personal de que la preferencia descrita se exhibe habitualmente como parte de nuestra personalidad.

¿Somos los profesionales de formación y desarrollo los primeros en caer en esta “encasillamiento”, y por extensión someter a nuestra audiencia al mismo proceso? Me temo que todos somos susceptibles de caer en esta falacia.

La teoría es discutible

No voy a rebatir aquí la validez de los estudios realizados hasta el momento sobre estilos de aprendizaje porque ya hay quien lo hace con mucho acierto, también en el campo de la formación corporativa. Prefiero, como hace Cathy Moore, preguntar qué utilidad práctica nos brindan estos estilos: de acuerdo, puede que existan ciertos estilos… ¿y qué? ¿Existen ejemplos de soluciones elearning en los que un diseño especialmente adaptado a un estilo de aprendizaje haya dado resultados superiores a los que se obtendrían sin realizar esas concesiones? Me gustaría verlos y añadirlos a este blog.

“Pero yo soy muy visual”

Los niños no tienen "estilos": aprenden indiscriminadamente. Foto: Outdoor Classrooms blog.

Los niños no tienen “estilos”: aprenden indiscriminadamente. (Foto: Outdoor Classrooms blog)

¿Muy visual? De acuerdo. Pero nuestro cerebro no cierra puertas. Durante nuestra infancia aprendemos de muchas formas. Somos una especie incapaz de sobrevivir sin aprender, y lo hacemos de forma innata, versátil, improvisada o planificada, consciente e inconsciente, y recurriendo a todos los medios que tenemos a nuestro alcance: mirando, saboreando, oyendo, tocando, haciendo, vicariamente, equivocándose y más adelante escuchando y después leyendo. Aprendemos a través de todos estos canales continuamente, y nuestro cerebro no dispone de “grifos” que cierren una u otra forma de suministro: aprendemos de todas estas formas.

Por tanto, afirmar que una persona acostumbrada a la lectura “no va a aprender nada” con un vídeo o ejercicio práctico (o que va a aprender menos) es, en mi opinión, un insulto a esa persona. Es como afirmar que un vegetariano no puede digerir un filete (vaya esta frase con todo el respeto del cuasi-vegetariano que suscribe).

Colegio y universidad: los anti-estilos

Las pruebas de que todos podemos aprender incluso en las condiciones más adversas son, tristemente, el colegio y la universidad. Son estos lugares especialistas en suprimir muchas de nuestras vías de expresión, comunicación y potencial inquisitivo, al mismo tiempo que nos someten a una restringida dieta sensorial basada en el monólogo y el texto.

Aquí está mi monólogo, delante de esta pizarra. Que nadie hable mientras yo hablo. Ahora, aprended.

Aquí está mi monólogo, delante de esta pizarra. Que nadie contraste opiniones mientras yo hablo. Que nadie baraje hipótesis. Usaremos este libro, que he escrito yo. Ahora, aprended. (Foto: Malate269).

Es aquí donde adquirimos la vergüenza al dibujar, hasta perder el interés por el dibujo y el boceto. Es aquí donde dejamos de actuar, de experimentar, de formular hipótesis. Es aquí donde aprendemos a callar y levantar la mano antes de preguntar. Es aquí donde aprendemos que hay preguntas tontas, y que el experimento fallido no es válido ni sirve para aprender. Es aquí donde se va por el libro. Es un clima increíblemente restrictivo para el aprendizaje.

Pero a pesar de todo, prácticamente todos salimos airosos de la prueba; prueba que es, para cualquiera que crea en los estilos, una de las privaciones estilísticas más prolongadas y estrictas de nuestras vidas. Las estadísticas de fracaso escolar y abandono apuntan a factores familiares y socioeconómicos, por supuesto. Una vez más, sugerir la más mínima incapacidad escolar del individuo basándose en unos supuestos estilos sería un insulto personal y directo contra los alumnos.

¿Estoy defendiendo los modelos escolares y universitarios actuales? No, estoy diciendo que aprendemos sin problemas en ellos a pesar de su escaso cromatismo estilístico.

El elearning como solución, no como terapia

Rechazo la noción de los estilos y su aplicación en el diseño como medida para "optimizar" el aprendizaje; dichas medidas son una acusación implícita de incapacidad. Todos tenemos capacidad innata para aprender. (Foto: 'lil pick-me-up blog)

Rechazo la noción de los estilos y su aplicación en el diseño como medida para “optimizar” el aprendizaje; dichas medidas son una acusación implícita de incapacidad o capacidad limitada. (Foto: ‘lil pick-me-up blog)

Cuando me planteo el diseño de una solución elearning, no hay cabida para estilos de aprendizaje. Hacer este tipo de concesión sería similar a que una empresa ofreciera dos horarios de trabajo, uno para los que son madrugadores, y otro para los que no lo son. El elearning es una solución a un problema específico, que nunca es la capacidad de aprendizaje de su audiencia. El diseño de la solución debe:

  • Resolver el problema. Probablemente en conjunción con otras intervenciones de naturaleza no formativa (tema para otro post)
  • Resolverlo de forma efectiva. Además de las intervenciones mencionadas, aquí entran en juego variables como la motivación y lograr que la experiencia usando la solución de elearning sea amena. (La formación como experiencia es también tema para otro post en español)

Entre los factores que influyen en el diseño de la solución, incluiría:

  • Contexto y cultura de la empresa
  • La estrategia de talento ya presente en la empresa (¡o su ausencia!)
  • Tecnología y medios disponibles
  • Calendario de actuación y esperanza de vida de la solución

Con la notable ausencia, por supuesto, de los estilos de aprendizaje.

Creating international elearning with Camtasia: More tips

I am going to pick up from my last post to add more tips that may help in creating international elearning with Camtasia, especially if you are creating multiple versions of the same solution in multiple languages.

As I explained in that post, because Camtasia generates keyboard callouts in real-time, as long as you have the desired keyboard layout language installed, it can produce it for you while editing the video.

Let’s continue with a couple of tips I find useful when creating multiple version of the same solution – for different languages, for different versions of the same software, for different versions of the hosting operating system…

Screen capture… Again

You may find yourself performing screen captures of pretty much the same sequence, with only minor differences, such as a language or version change. When you have a carefully crafted script, possibly translated to multiple languages, and a set of visuals and sequence already planned, any variations between screen captures will cause pain.

Text file containing JitBit Micro Recorder's steps to insert a column in Excel. Delay times in milliseconds.

Text file containing JitBit Micro Recorder’s steps to insert a column in Excel. Delay times in milliseconds.

For these scenarios, I am using a macro solution from JitBit called Macro Recorder LITE. There are a couple of things I like about this macro recorder. The first is that it’s really simple: It has exactly the features I need and not a crowded interface with advanced functions that are just in the way. Second, the files this JitBit Macro Recorder generates are plain text files. I open them with a text editor, change the keystrokes that vary from version to version or language to language, and then I immediately have the entire sequence I need to capture, with the same timing, without errors, without effort. Speaking of timing, you can vary it with the text editor too.

Before you jump in, just one thing to ensure a smooth start: Camtasia Recorder and JitBit Macro Recorder LITE use the same system-wide hotkeys. The first task when trying them together is to change JitBit’s Start/Stop Recording hotkeys them so there’s no clash.

Sadly, Camtasia has trouble capturing the mouse cursor when controlled with JitBit. This is not a concern if you work is mostly with the keyboard. But if the mouse cursor is important for your recording, try Mouse Recorder – Camtasia seems OK with that one, although you won’t be able to do plain text editing of macros, they use a proprietary format. Although Mouse Recorder has some editing capabilities, it doesn’t allow file-wide changes such as a search and replace.

Bitmaps are your friends… for once

In the software localization industry, bitmaps are a known evil. Every time software contains a bitmap with text, it causes lots of extra work, because the bitmap needs to be re-rendered with translated text. It is a basic rule of international software authoring that bitmaps with text are always avoided.

However, when it comes to creating multiple-language versions of Camtasia videos, I am doing exactly the opposite: I use text-containing bitmaps whenever I know that a simple bitmap change will solve my localization problem.

The reason? Camtasia is very forgiving when it comes to missing media. Say you have created a new keystroke as I described in my previous post. Let’s say it’s the Shift key. Your Camtasia project has that media in the Clip Bin, and it features in your video ten times.

Camtasia sees the bitmap for my Shift Spanish key is missing, and asks me to provide a location. If I provide the location of the French Shift key, that takes care of the translation in the whole project.

Camtasia sees the bitmap for my Shift Spanish key (deleted deliberately) is missing, and asks me to provide a location. If I provide the location of the French Shift key instead, that takes care of its translation in the whole project.

Now you move on to the next language version of the same piece. You can start from scratch, and insert or replace the corresponding version of the key ten times, or you can simply delete the bitmap you want to replace and open the project. Camtasia will notice the missing piece, and give you the opportunity to locate it. All you have to do is provide the location of the new bitmap, and Camtasia will insert it as in the original project. Of course, Camtasia won’t mind if the bitmap happens to contain a different version of the text.

What this means is no-edit localization for any resource that came in bitmap format. Yes, that’s right: Zero minutes editing time to get bitmaps in videos localized into multiple languages. Just delete bitmaps, get prompted for the location of their translated version, and save as new project.

Creating international elearning with Camtasia: Glitches and tips

If you are engaged in creating international elearning with Camtasia and like it as much as I do, perhaps you are wondering how to make the most of keystroke callouts when using other languages. Here are the glitches and workarounds I have found so far.

Capturing keystrokes

Camtasia Recorder does more than just capturing the screen: It also quietly takes note of what keys (other than plain letter and numbers) are being used, and also when they are being pressed.

When you add your recording to the timeline, you can make use of this great feature by right-clicking on the video segment and then selecting the last option, Generate Keystroke Callouts.

Camtasia's Generate keystroke callouts dialog box

Camtasia’s Generate Keystroke Callouts dialog box

The Generate Keystroke Callouts dialog will appear. There are a few options to select the appearance of the callouts, and a preview. More importantly, there is a list of keystrokes logged by Camtasia Recorder. It is not the full list: By default, only key combinations (such as Ctrl+Home) are shown. If you want to include single keys as well (such as Enter or Esc) then make sure to click on the “Show all” button first.

Finally, click on Generate and Camtasia will place keystroke callouts right at the time in the video when the keys were actually pressed. A great feature, a great time saver… if you are creating English-only elearning.

¿Habla español?

Well, the answer is probably “Un poco” (a little). Although Camtasia may never be available in Spanish, and it looks like Techsmith scaled back its French localization efforts, it is clear that Camtasia wants to be multilingual when it comes to keystroke callouts.

Ctrl+Home keystroke callout generated by Camtasia with Spanish keyboard

Ctrl+Home keystroke callout generated by Camtasia with Spanish keyboard

If you are using a computer configured with more than one language (I’ve tried French and Spanish) Camtasia will insert the keystroke callouts in that language. Thus, if the recording has captured Ctrl+Home, during edition in Camtasia Studio the Generate Keystroke Callouts feature will yield Ctrl+Inicio, the correct key names for that combination if the computer is set to Spanish.

The good

Here’s the best part about generating keystrokes: It doesn’t really matter what keyboard layout you used during the recording. You can perform all recordings in a computer set up with just an English keyboard layout. This is because Camtasia is recording the key mappings, not the key names.

Windows taskbar showing currently selected keyboard layout

Windows taskbar showing currently selected keyboard layout

The crucial stage is when you invoke the Generate callout dialog from within Camtasia Studio, during video edition. If your computer is configured with multiple keyboard layouts, all you have to do is switch to the language you want the callouts in (by pressing Alt+Shift or Windows key+Spacebar repeatedly until you get to the desired layout, as indicated in the Windows taskbar) and then use Generate callouts.

If you are in the business of producing multilingual elearning, this is a very nice feature. Although some captures are language-dependent and require separate recordings, there are also instances where a single recording is valid in multiple language projects just by generating the keystrokes again in the target language.

This is especially true in multinationals where the application software may be available in a single language, but is being used by employees of many nationalities, with equal training needs.

The bad

There is bad, unfortunately. I am currently working on a Spanish project and, alas, I won’t be able to use the Generate Keystrokes functionality “as is”, without a lot of additional work. The reason is that while Camtasia knows exactly what keys are being pressed and has demonstrated its ability to speak languages (at least with keys), some generated callouts don’t name keys correctly. Here is my snag list for Spanish:

Actual keystroke Camtasia’s callout Desired callout
Shift Shift Mayús
Caps Lock Bloq mayus Bloq Mayús
Num Lock Num Lock Bloq Num
Pause Pause Pausa
Print Screen Print Screen Impr Pant
Ç è Ç
Tab Tabulacion Tab
PgDn Av pag Av Pág
PgUp Re pag Re Pág

There are also some keystrokes that are not necessarily wrong, although I don’t see the need to spell them out, just as they aren’t in the English keyboard. When you spell out “left arrow” instead of showing a left arrow… well, it takes a lot of space and calls for a very small font, as shown in the sample below.

The ugly

If you have used Camtasia before, at this point you are probably thinking that you can create your own callouts to match the style of the keystrokes and place them over the offending ones.

But alas, Camtasia doesn’t use any of its own native callout styles to create the keystroke callouts. It uses something else. So no matter what you do, the callouts you create within Camtasia will never look like the keys produced by Generate keystrokes. You need to clone them, use some graphics application to craft the correct keys at the resolution of your project, and then place them.

The solution

The number of keys that are wrongly displayed for Spanish is not too high. Therefore, instead of making all keystroke callouts from scratch, I’ve decided to use the Generate Keystrokes functionality with some editing work afterwards. That means I had to create the Spanish keys I believe should be there. I used the “Traditional keystrokes” style, with no background, no shadow. Feel free to download them (links in the table above) for use in your projects. You may also need the plus sign.

1. Original keystroke 2. Spanish, generated 3. French, generated 4. Spanish, manually created

1. Original keystroke
2. Spanish, generated (font too small)
3. French, generated (font overflow)
4. Spanish, manually created

By the way, if you want to create your own, I’ll save you the guesswork: The font is Kartika, or at least it’s close enough. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of font, given its kerning… but I’m getting picky.

The ideal solution

But this workaround won’t change the frustrating fact that Camtasia can handle multilingual keyboards but doesn’t do it well right now.

I get the fact that Techsmith have decided not to localize the product due to low demand. But even assuming Camtasia remains forever an English/German product, all Techsmith have to do to get their Spanish and French keys right is ask. If they want to go further and offer a Generate keystroke feature that is truly multilingual and future-proof, I can think of at least two approaches that would not take much refactoring work. One involves mapped libraries, and the other text-based layout files. That’s right: Community-based layouts to suit all tastes. We are many eager users, we speak many languages, and all we are missing is the tools to get to work.

Design better blended learning by understanding affordances

blenderHave you been asked to “blend” learning? In its rushed form, this process involves deciding which parts of an existing classroom course will fall into an “elearning bucket”, and which portions remain in the “classroom bucket”. It is a process, sometimes led by assumptions, that may yield a less-than-ideal split. So how do you protect the integrity of learning designs when moving portions to online format? Understanding affordances may help.

Affordance is a relatively new term (coined by Gibson) to describe the interactions that an environment offers to a certain organism. For example, a river affords swimming if you are a swan. The same river affords death -or at least trouble- if you are a beetle.

The term affordance was adopted by the design community, through Norman, for interaction design. Thus, to most people who regularly use computers, a rectangle containing an action verb should afford clicking; they call it a button. A triangle placed sideways under or over a static image should afford playing a video.

Black, white, and shades of gray

A button affords clicking. Or it's just a trick, and doesn't. Quite binary.

A button affords clicking. Or it’s just a trick, and doesn’t. Quite binary.

But these affordances are simple. Water lets you swim, or lets you drown. A button can be clicked, or not. In short, you either “can” or “can’t”, Yes or No. It’s a mostly binary world.

When we take the term “affordance” from its ecology and design origins and move it to the field of learning, it enters a much more nuanced space. It is no longer about handles, door knobs and computer user interfaces. It’s about knowledge transfer, communication, data aggregation, self-assessment, personalization.

In this scenario, many things “can” be done, but with various degrees of success. For example, a discussion forum affords peer-supported learning. Video recording affords knowledge transfer. Yes, these technologies “can” do many things.

The trap

And here’s the trap that leads to some less-than-optimal decisions about what goes into the “elearning bucket”: we tend to think about elearning affordances as binary. Can it be done electronically? Yes. So let’s do it electronically. When it comes to technology-supported L&D, we have an immediate tendency to think in binary, yes or no. And we tend not to think about the affordances of non-electronic alternatives. I have observed this behavior many times, and it works like this:

– The platform supports discussions under each topic
– So we can move all course discussions to the elearning module?
– Yes
– OK, let’s do it!

It’s not so simple

woman-reading-a-bookLet’s say you have classroom learning program supporting a big organization change. For example, the introduction of a new process, along with some new software, etc.

In this scenario, resistance to change by some vocal individuals is more than likely. The original classroom plan has discussions so people could voice their concerns. These discussions can be moderated and managed.

The request to “blend” this program results in all discussions being moved to an online forum. Now picture this:

9:00AM – New program is launched. Employees start watching elearning segments
4:00PM – No glitches, no problems so far. Rollout is going well. First few posts on discussion forums
7:00PM – The L&D team writes the launch retrospective report. It’s a success, they wrap up and go home
10:00PM – A well-crafted post by one of the most respected individuals in the company makes a strong argument against the new changes and processes. No L&D team members online, all celebrating
11:00PM – First responses from other employees strongly support the original post
10:00AM – The whole company is debating the new changes through the elearning forum
10:20AM – A rushed counterargument posted by L&D goes completely unnoticed as hundreds of new posts flood the system
10:40AM – L&D gets a call from the general manager

Yes, online forums support discussions. So does the classroom. But when you are likely to face fierce opposition by respected, influential employees, then the classroom offers an unbeatable set of affordances to manage that opposition right then and there, with limited viral effect.

The formula

Use to make better blended learning when converting existing solutions:

  • Always assume the answer to the question “Can we do that online?” is “Yes”
  • Create one column per each delivery method allowed within your blended solution. For example, elearning, classroom, job aids, social
  • Create affordance rows covering critical aspects of your learning solution: learning effectiveness, risk factors, subject complexity, geographical distribution
  • Score each row with a value from 1 to 5 indicating not “if” but “how well” the method affords this
  • Add scores vertically

Use these relative strength scores to make sound strategic decisions about your blended design. Iterate with every feedback round and update to continuously improve you affordance criteria.

Creating international elearning

flagsCreating international elearning experiences is not simply a matter of translating content (see “Translating elearning into other languages: 6 tips“). The platform and architecture must also be ready to work in systems that use different formats and assumptions. While these differences become apparent as international users engage their computers and devices with your elearning, they will also put your own content to the test. Here are a few tips to ensure your platform will pass the internationalization test.

Challenge your existing scenarios

Your current learner scenarios most likely don’t include international customers. Take Europe, for instance, where more than 50% of the population speaks at least one other language. The fact that they are based in one country doesn’t necessarily determine the language they speak. It’s easy to make an assumption about what your learners in Switzerland speak, and you will probably be wrong.

If you don’t know what scenarios are, start creating some international personas.

Unlearning your ABCs

Everything you thought about the alphabet is wrong. A comes before B, but Å doesn’t. Can your platform display all the characters of your target language? This usually means ensuring you have a full Unicode implementation. Can it sort course titles according to the rules of the target language, or will it put Å after A, when in fact it should come after Z, Æ and Ø? (If you are speaking Norwegian). Can your authoring tools produce those characters for video, vectors and other artwork? Can your search service support those characters?

dictionariesDisplaying text has far more consequences than being able to support Unicode. Layout will be drastically altered if you want to support languages that are written from right to left, like Arabic. The placement of buttons, interactive areas, callouts, everything will be affected, and the platform must be able to mirror visual designs based on language displayed. Videos and charts that rely on sequences represented as diagrams flowing from left to right will have to be re-rendered in the opposite direction. Then… the subtleties: In Arabic, does the “Play video” button point to the right or to the left? Is the numeric keypad mirrored or not?

Finally, the choice of font becomes less of a stylistic matter and more of a readability issue. Some fonts we take for granted do not display other languages well. Usually this means having a small, versatile set of fonts to choose from, or more frequently, having more complex style sheets or logic that handles font selection from a wider range of options, according to the target language.

Reassessing screen real estate

Bilingual sign

It’s hard enough to design responsive elearning interfaces for such a wide range of screen sizes. Well, the problem gets worse – the typical English text usually takes more space (in some languages, considerably more space) once translated. How does your platform handle text expansion? Will it adapt button sizes and other interactive areas to contain longer text strings? In this Visitor Parking sign, the Spanish translation takes exactly double the space (in characters). How will your elearning design handle longer text? Smaller font size, as it was done here, is not an option!

4th of July is not in April

Date, time and number formats vary wildly from country to country. An elearning platform must get dates right, and it is not exactly helpful that your learner (based in Switzerland) sees that she completed a course at 2:00AM… Pacific Standard Time, even if the server is sitting in that time zone. If she completed the course on 4/7, then it was July and it wasn’t a national holiday for her, and hopefully her certificate of completion doesn’t state the wrong date.

Numbers can be equally tricky. Not only because the decimal and thousand separators change from country to country, but also because if you expect learners to type in numbers, then they are likely to use separators too. If your elearning assessment system is expecting 1000 as the correct answer, it should deem “1,000” as correct for a US learner, and “1.000” as correct for a Spanish learner. They are the same answer, just a different format.

Currency

A special case within number formats is currency. If your content includes currency, for example as part of an investment course, you will have to decide if the subject matter and your audience will tolerate the use of a foreign currency in the context of a learning environment. This may be perfectly OK for an MBA-level course, but if it’s about say home economics, it is probably better to use the local currency, or the entire course will miss the local touch that helps make a great learning experience.

DSC_9644If you charge subscriptions, course or certificate fees, there are some additional challenges. You’ll need to decide how to arrange payment systems that are customer-friendly: not every customer will be happy to pay in a foreign currency, even if their credit card allows for it. This is particularly true for smaller amounts, where bank and exchange-related fees may add up to a substantial portion of the total cost paid.

And if you decide to continue charging in your original currency, you still have to ensure customers aren’t making wrong assumptions. For example, if I find a course in Spanish, a price marked with the $ symbol, and a shopping experience that is in perfect Spanish, I may assume that the currency is Mexican peso if I live in Mexico. I’m thinking pesos, you are thinking US dollars, the currency symbol is the same, I click Pay… and $100 magically become $1,500 plus exchange fee. I am the customer that will cause overhead to your accounts department, and the one you won’t see again.

A good start

That covers some essential points about the platform that will ensure a great internationalization start. Now, it’s time to turn to content and ensure it is country and culturally appropriate. Don’t know where to begin? Start with these 10 Tips for Global Trainers. If you are planning large-scale internationalization, then it may be well worth thinking about things like terminology management too.