How do we move from 'good' to 'great'?

I'm wondering what people think about what makes 'good' learning content and what makes something 'great'? How can we make sure we don't just get stuck in a rut of delivering something that's 'good' and fit for purpose, and what can we do to make sure we're continually raising the bar, especially in today's climate?I spoke with a colleague at a recent event (our presentation can be downloaded here) and we touched on this topic but I'd be really interested to know what other people think about this.

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  • I think the idea about giving users ratings or points to encourage them to contribute to an online community is a great idea, as one of the major challenges of social learning is getting people to use it. For the same reason it's also important to have a proper communications plan to make sure that people know about the different resources and that you keep pointing them towards it until it becomes embedded.

    As a follower of the Spicy Learning Blog you might have already seen this, but at the LT Show in January a colleague and I gave a seminar about social learning and as part of that we created a few visuals to illustrate our ideas - as you mentioned, I think it's important to create a blend of the formal and informal, building links between the more 'traditional' e-learning courses and the more user driven forums, wikis, networks and so on.

    And of course there's more to it than just social media - mobile training is something that could be exploited more than it is at the moment (which tends to be along the lines of podcasts, or simply delivering e-learning via tiny mobile phone screens). We've done a lot of interactive telephone training in the past - 15 minute scenario based training that the learner drives through answering questions or choosing different situations to explore using their keypad. But beyond that, mobile training offers great potential for point of need performance support. For example, technical support or maintenance people making house calls could quickly and easily get the information they need without having to call into the main office or make a return visit (again I'd point you to a post on the Spicy Learning Blog), or sales people could get product updates sent straight to their fingertips, removing the need for them to seek out details every time they need them or retain constantly changing information.

    We've also explored how mobile devices can help cut down on the costs of compliance training - if every member of staff has to take every different compliance course every two years, the time and money involved mounts up. So we've developed a range of diagnostic compliance assessments that can be downloaded to a BlackBerry, letting the user take the assessment at the most suitable time for them and determining quickly whether or not they actually need to take the full e-learning or classroom training course.

    As you said above, there are so many ways that technology can be used to support or enhance existing training and to help improve performance and productivity, and I'd say the more you can integrate those ideas into your strategy (designing communities and so on as you design the more formal training) the better.
  • Hi Stephanie,

    Firstly congrats on your recent success at the IT awards, you must be very proud. I follow the Spicy Learning Blog so have been following the discussions and thoughts you've been posting and enjoy the read.

    I'm going back to all previous discussions within the Share and Learn Group and prompting members to give an update on what's happened since their last post and if they achieved what they had set out to do and share it with others.

    For you then I guess (on the evidence of your recent award) you've cracked moving from 'good' to 'great', are you now concentrating on what moves us from 'great' to 'fantastic'.

    Would be interested in learning how to are continually raising the bar in e-learning design?

    Many thanks
    • Hi Mike

      Thank you! And I'm glad you've been enjoying the Spicy Learning Blog. To answer your question I think the challenges I'm personally facing have changed since I last added to this discussion - I'm increasingly working on rapid projects rather than/alongside bespoke projects (which have longer timescales and bigger budgets). So my priority at the moment is about trying to achieve low cost, speed to market and good quality on these projects - how to make sure I'm delivering great instructional design within the boundaries of the project.

      Additionally Saffron is doing a lot around social learning at the moment and I think that ties into another thing that I'm interested in, which is looking beyond the common understanding of a training course and exploring other ways in which technology can be used to help improve productivity and performance.

      So I hope I've answered your question although I'm not sure I have! How about you - you said above that you were getting a rapid authoring tool and would soon be putting some ideas in practice. Did that all go to plan and what have you learnt over the past few months? Have you changed your opinions on what makes good/great/fantastic e-learning?

    • I don't think I've changed my opinion on what makes e-learning great but what I have started to realise is that more often or not it is not something that should be delivered in isolation or a one off and more as part of a learning experience.

      I've managed to get my hands on a trial of Atlantic Link software (one of the three we short-listed) and was amazed at the speed in which a course could be constructed and have read often that access to more rapid authoring tools does not necessarily mean more great e-learning being produced.

      Content is critical and of course how it is presented and what we discussed previously around reward, engagement, the link to games, scenario's and branching etc is all still very relevant and things I will be exploring when the time is right.

      Up to press sadly, I am still looking at this through the eyes of the learner but this is good (or bad) as every piece of e-learning I see I constantly question "would I do this the same way" or "how could this be improved"

      The point you make about technology is interesting and also how the rise of networks and social media can add value. For example, someone may have to learn something new, they undertake one or a series of e-learning modules and on completion they gain access to a collaborative platform or network in which other people who have undertaken the same learning use to share relevant knowledge and / or experience and work through problems. On joining the network the new user is given a rating as a 'newbie' and then builds up reputation / points by contributing to discussions and sharing knowledge, supporting others until they achieve 'expert' status.

      At this point they they can then take on additional modules and join other discussions or areas of the network and thus the experience continues.

      There's plenty of variations to this and it won't work for everything but I'm keen to utilise this approach at some point in my own solutions and develop further.

      Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this approach or is this something that you have done already at Saffron?

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  • Hi Stephanie,

    I've been trying to think of a really in-depth and intelligent answer but to be honest I haven't got one, so I'll put some ideas of what makes a great e-learning course in my opinion. Not sure I have actually experienced a 'great' standalone piece of e-learning yet so this is a wish list I guess

    First thing is relevance - too many sheep dip courses out there that are too generic and too bland to remember. Great content would be completely relevant to my role or bespoke to my area and mean something to me.

    Must be intuitive/ interesting - Click next, multiple choice - move on , read text, click next - multiple choice , read text, click next - BORING !!!! Whether it be case studies, examples, stories, simulations, your answers must dictate how the course progresses and again be relevant to you and your answers. The things that designers are doing now with flash is pretty amazing and while content is obviously important the look and feel and how the content is presented is equally so (especially with some content) - it needs to be visually inspiring and fresh. Trouble with this is technology and what flash player is available in your organisation

    Reward - I like the idea of reward linked to video games type levels / structures - if it is possible to build in some sort of progression matrix it would add some extra interest and desire to complete it and do well at it. Or for example as I'm in insurance - a course on the FSA would present challenges and if I wasn't up to scratch I'd be fined or depending on answers be promoted etc

    Assessment is a tricky one as the e-learning I'm most familiar with either:
    - Provides multiple choice questions with a 90% pass mark
    - Link to an external assessment centre linked to a LMS

    What's a great assessment? I don't think organisations care in most instances as long as the learners pass for audit purposes but again from a learners perspective how do we test retention of knowledge and make it a great experience - I'm working on this one ..........

    The points above are equally valid and I agree that where possible the learning should be based around on-going learning, communities etc but in order to inspire your learners to get off their bums and join the on-going learning the original content must start at the great point or it will all fall flat and just be 'another e-learning course we have to take'.

    We are getting a rapid authoring tool in the near future so I'm looking forward to trying to put some of these ideas and other ideas & suggestions in to practice and practice what I attempt to preach

    • Hi Mike

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm not sure there's a straightforward answer to this - if there was, all learning would fall in the 'great' category and unfortunately I don't think that's the case just yet! The key thing that jumped out at me from your reply was your comment that we need to inspire learners to want to learn, to join those communities and contribute to their ongoing learning: we do often have hurdles to jump in terms of how people perceive training, and e-learning in particular. It's our job to make sure their first (or next) experience of e-learning really is great and challenges any preconceptions they might have.

      I definitely agree with you in terms of relevance and interest (which I might expand to engagement) and I think this article does a good job of highlighting why this is so important if behavioural change is to be achieved.

      You also make a great point that the look and feel or presentation is a key part of generating and keeping that interest and engagement. However, I would say that there's always a danger of putting too much weight on this side of things - focusing on making something look amazing at the expense of the actual training content. But, as with most things, I guess it's all about moderation and balance!

      The idea of reward is an interesting one, and one which was raised in the 'ensuring learning adoption' seminar at the recent LSG conference. This is something I'll definitely be looking at working into future courses that I develop - and like you say there is a whole range of ways to approach this, whether that's taking inspiration from video games and including 'levels' or an element of competition or basing the reward and motivation on the things that will affect learners in real life, such as the fines or promotions you mention. I'd be interested to know how other people have integrated the idea of reward in the past and whether they've had any substantial feedback from the end users as to how effective this was in getting them motivated and engaged.

      Unfortunately you're right that all too often organisations want assessments for compliance or audit purposes, rather than competence. There are some interesting discussions around assessments in the Assessment group, which might help you in your thinking on this. I also recently wrote a piece for the Spicy Learning Blog about this (prompted by Clive Shepherd's thoughts on compliance and competence) - I think it is possible to create a course that meets those compliance and audit requirements but also really does engage the learner, display relevance, create behavioural change and achieve competence. I get the feeling people might be divided on this though, so would be interested to hear other opinions!

  • Hi Stephanie

    Looking at the question in your title and then contrasting that with the question in your opening sentence, I find a disconnect. In order for a learning resource to be great, I would say that the emphasis should be less on the content and more on the community.

    If a learning resource is all about its content, you need to think of things like shelf-life and so on, and that will have a tendency to dull the edge of it somewhat. If a learning resource is all about the community, you can keep it really fresh and include some really cutting edge stuff. If users are able to update materials as necessary, you don't have doubts about the inclusion of a piece of information that is going to change at some point in the not-too-distant future.

    One thing I try to build into all my solutions is ways for people to get in touch with one another. Things like discussion forums, 'speak to an expert' and so on. I also try to build in mulitple routes to content, so that a user can go straight to the information they need and then get back to the job, rather than having to wade through screeds of stuff not relevant to the current situation.

    I would say that a great resource delivers the goods at the point of need. This is not a content issue.
    • Hi Karyn

      Thanks for your reply - I think you make some really interesting and valid points.

      However, sometimes a 'traditional' e-learning course (one that doesn't buildin forums or allow users to update material themselves, for instance, and that is a stand alone one-off piece) is exactly what the client wants, for whatever reasons. I think there are definitely ways to distinguish between a good example of this type of course and a great one.

      For instance, like you I think it's great if we can offer users key information when they need it. So even if a client specifies that a course is mandatory and must be taken in its entirety initially, I try to build in downloadable or printable resources and job aids for easy future reference, give them the chance to bookmark particularly relevant web pages, or add key links or downloads to the launch page of the course - so they can access these key resources without having to trawl through the whole training module again seeking it out.

      Where it's not possible to make use of social networking sites, forums or wikis to enhance the learning, I think there are ways to emulate these (though obviously without the ongoing discussion element) within a self contained course - including case studies, testimonials or war stories from real life employees, for instance, or spending time with the end users to identify their questions and including some kind of FAQ area that's part of the course but also accessible outside the course that addresses these common questions.

      I also think there are some key things that, in my experience, really make a difference to the end user experience. This can be something as simple as adopting a tone which is conversational and friendly, rather than overly formal and full of technical or legal jargon. I've had really great feedback from users who picked up on this and said it made a real difference to their levels of engagement and the effectiveness of the training.

      What does anybody else think? For learning to be great, do we need to be looking at the community, or are there ways that even the most traditional of e-learning courses can be turned into something great, rather than simply good?

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