Friday, September 19, 2014

Communicating Effectively

Effective communication is an ongoing process of sharing information. It is essential to clearly express ideas to others and to understand what other people are saying to you. Effective communication leads to trust and mutual respect. “The ability to communicate well both orally and in writing is a critical skill” (Portny, 2008, p. 357). Communication methods should vary based on the message intent. Some messages can be sent via e-mail or voicemail whereas others are best served as a face-to-face conversation, when possible.

In the multimedia program, “The Art of Effective Communication”, one message is conveyed in audio, video, and written text format. The tone and urgency of the message changes in each format as you internalize what the sender is communicating. Effective listening skills and visual cues play a significant role in interpreting the audio and video messages while the written text leaves a lot to the imagination. I feel that the face-to-face communication relays the true message of the sender’s intent. Although it did not happen in this example, face-to-face communication provides an opportunity for the receiver to ask questions, clarify understanding of the message, and visually interpret the sender’s tone, inflection, and body language.

The following points express my interpretation of each mode of communication:

E-mail: In this example, my perception is that this is an urgent matter that only I can deliver on. The sender seems genuinely concerned about meeting a deadline that has serious consequences. The sender respects my current workload but my lack of urgency could potentially damage our business relationship. In this situation, I would act on this request expediently as I would not want to negatively impact my business partner’s assignment.

Voicemail: The business partner’s voicemail adds more urgency to the situation because I can hear the stressed tone and inflection in her voice. The business partner still seems genuinely concerned about meeting the deadline, but does not come across as rude or aggressive. There is still a mutual level of respect with this business relationship and I would definitely react quickly to ensure it stays that way.

Face-to-face: The face-to-face interaction puts me at ease a little more than the previous examples. Although the business partner is expressing concern about meeting the deadline, the visual representation shows that the business partner is relaxed and even smiling as she speaks. Her body language reflects understanding and professional courtesy as it feels like we know each other pretty well. This removes the stressful sense of urgency on my end. Even though I would still want to deliver the data quickly, this interaction makes me feel like I have a little more time before the matter becomes extremely serious.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Learning from a Project - "Post-Mortem"

When I think of a project that I learned a great deal from, a specific one comes to mind. The project goals were reached in the end but the process was disastrous. In retrospect, there are a few components that could have been done differently to make the project a success. To provide some background, this project was created as part of a mandate from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As part of the mandate, our organization was required to create a process for logging customer concerns and complaints. All branch employees had to be trained with the new process and we had 120 days to do it. This meant that we had to outline the process, create a system, and train all employees in this short period of time.

To get all parties involved, there were two project teams created. One team was mostly comprised of the organization's upper management and project champions, with a few functional employees. The second project team was that of our internal training team which consisted of functional employees and two project champions from the other project team. Each project team had a different project manager.

One problem was that the smaller, internal training project team had to await instruction from the larger organizational project team before actions took place. This created a huge communication problem because the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. The project champions that were engaged in the larger team would come back and report the "next steps" to the smaller team which included important details and timelines. This process didn't leave our group with much time to execute, which left everyone in a panic of meeting the deadline.

The second problem was that the larger team wanted our group to create the training simultaneously with the policy and the system. This was difficult to do because we needed both to reference in the training. The training had to be revised multiple times as the larger team tried to nail down policy definitions, scenarios, and exclusions. In addition, systems had their share of glitches as we tried to capture screen shots of what the process looked like.

In the end, the project deadlines were met with only 24 hours to spare (no room for error). Looking back, we could not change the CFPB's deadline but the following would have made for a smoother project:


  • Include the Instructional Designer in all project teams and meetings. Obtaining any information firsthand can help the ID draft designs and get an idea of what the project team is envisioning. 

  • Communicate frequently. Time is of the essence for any project so when a project deadline is extremely tight like this one, it is crucial to share information as soon as it is received.

  • If at all possible, policies and systems should be created first. This will save time and resources when the training is created. This will also eliminate multiple attempts to create training that relies heavily on the two components being in place.

  • When faced with a project with stringent timelines, the IDs functional manager should be informed every step of the way. This will help the functional manager when scheduling other projects for the ID.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Welcome!

Hello everyone!!

My name is Jenea Smith and I pleased to have you all visit my blog. Feel free to review and make comments on the material I post here. I look forward to learning with each of you!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Distance Learning Reflection

As I reflect on the knowledge gained from this course and my experience with distance education, I can say that distance learning will only grow more popular with time. As the Generation Z learners begin to knowledge seek, I see distance education being a must, not a want. With a generation of learners born with the latest gadgets in their hands, it will be difficult to offer them anything less than this.

Although Charles Wedemeyer’s theory dates back to 1981, I feel that he was forward thinking in his approach. Charles Wedemeyer’s theory notes several components that I feel will be imperative to the new generation. Wedemeyer’s theory notes that distance education should do the following:

1.     Be capable of operation anyplace where there are students – or even only one student –whether or not there are teachers at the same place at the same time
2.     Place greater responsibility for learning on the student
3.     Offer students and adults wider choices (more opportunities) in courses, formats, and methodologies
4.     Use, as appropriate, all the teaching media and methods that have been proven effective
5.     Mix media and methods so that each subject or unit within a subject is taught in the best way known
6.     Preserve and enhance opportunities for adaptation to individual differences
7.     Permit students to start, stop, and learn at their own pace (Simonson, 2012, pp. 43-44)

This theory rings true to me because I have experienced it first hand as an Instructional Designer. In the last year, my organization has updated their technological tools, software and systems to new, efficient models. We are now using Articulate Storyline over Captivate, Adobe Connect over WebEx, and our new CMS has far more capacity than the last. As an ID, this lets me know that distance education is here to stay and there is a growing demand for it. Although there are a number of learners who still prefer traditional classroom style learning, “evidence suggests that students are increasingly demanding to be allowed to learn at a distance” (Simonson, p. 5). It’s all about options and not conforming to an outdated, rigid idea of what education used to be.

My role as an ID is to become a positive advocate for distance learning. I want to stay current with trends and technological tools so that I can educate others on the benefits of learning at a distance. I need to not only be an advocate but a catalyst of change, challenging my peers and organization to lead the charge in finding new and effective ways to deliver distance learning courses.

I think it starts with educating others and making them comfortable with the new trends of distance education. For example, providing personal testimonies from learners who found it difficult to embrace distant learning tools but later found that the new way made life easier. As an ID, it is powerful to know that I can shift a learner’s attitude about distant learning just by designing a course that intuitively speaks to them and ultimately motivates them to seek out distance learning.


References


Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Converting to a Distance Learning Format

Blended learning approaches are becoming more popular as learners desire to use the latest technology to develop personally and professionally. A blended learning approach gives learners the best of both worlds as they work with their peers and instructor(s) online and face-to-face. Designing a blended learning program is not easy. The process involves careful planning and strategic steps to implement the program effectively.

With a blended approach, you will cater to different learning styles. For example, learners who are not comfortable speaking in class may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts in a written format virtually. Also, your role as a trainer will change because you will not have the visual cues of learner comprehension all the time. During the virtual components, you will have to rely on other cues such as silence, questioning, and other cues that indicate the learner is having trouble with the content. To encourage participation, set communication expectations early so learners know the level of participation that is required.


There is more to trainee development than just face-to-face training. Converting a face-to-face training session to a blended program will take hard work and dedication. This guide provides organized and systemic information on how to convert your face-to-face training to a blended distance-learning program. This guide includes helpful tools and tips to consider before, during, and after the conversion.



Monday, August 4, 2014

The Impact of Open Source

Open source courses are becoming more popular amongst distance learners. The idea of accessing and sharing free content is what appeals to learners. “More than half the course management systems currently available are open source or otherwise made available to educational institutions without charge” (Simonson, 2012, p. 142).  This concept is still new to me so I chose to explore some of the open course sites available. As a distant learner, I am amazed at the number of free courses with a variety of topics.

My first experience with a few of the open courses was not a good one. I am in the financial services industry so I chose to explore a couple of Financial Planning & Money Management courses from the Open Culture site. I came to a string of courses instructed by Frank Paiano from Southwestern College. I started with a course on the Financial Aspects of Career Planning, which was basically a recorded PowerPoint presentation of the instructor. I can say that the course was designed for a distant learner because it was easily accessible; however, for a collegiate level course, I can’t say that there was a lot of planning involved in creating it. I say this because the visual cues in the PowerPoint were not pleasing to the eye. There were slides with too much content on them, no animation, and most of the content were just quotes from other authors or educators. Although there were no objectives, the content in the course did not match up with the title leaving me clueless about the subject matter.

In addition, the Instructors tone and inflection was not helpful. He was overly animated, which made it difficult for me to stay engaged in the presentation. “Teaching with technology to learners who are not physically located in the same site where instruction is taking place requires a different set of skills and competencies than traditional education” (Simonson, p. 142). This presentation seemed to be more of a chapter summary than a course. To add value, I would recommend designing each presentation to be independent of the book. The benefit of this design allows any individual, even those who have not read the book, to learn from the content.

After completing this course, I moved on to another topic within the series, An Introduction to Financial Planning. Again, the content left me questioning the title because there were no key concepts of financial planning covered. The beneficial aspect is the asynchronous nature of the course; however, the dynamics of the course content and facilitator enhance the learning experience. This was not the case here. There was a point in the recording where the Instructor started hacking and coughing in the middle of his thought. In a recorded online presentation, I felt that this was unprofessional and I was unable to stay engaged at that point.

Although my first open course experience was not optimal, I have a few takeaways. As an ID, it is extremely important to design content that caters to a variety of learning styles. An audio/visual presentation does not have to be boring. There are a variety of ways to implement interactivity and visual cues to engage the learner. “Teaching at a distance eliminates many of these cues. Alternative approaches to ongoing evaluation of instruction must be incorporated. Students may feel alienated and will begin to tune out the instructor” (Simonson, p. 154).  Also, the title and/or objectives need to reflect what is in the content. If there is a gap in the two, it will be difficult to evaluate the quality of the course and learner comprehension. Designing, teaching, and learning at a distance is not an easy task, but implementing these key practices will add context and enhance the learning experience.

Paiano, F. (2014). Financial planning & money management. Retrieved August 2, 2014, from Southwestern Community College iTunes U Website http://www.openculture.com.


Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Example 3: Asynchronous Training



In an effort to improve its poor safety record, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs a series of safety training modules. These stand-alone modules must illustrate best practices on how to safely operate the many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor. The modules should involve step-by-step processes and the method of delivery needs to be available to all shifts at the plant. As well, the shift supervisors want to be sure the employees are engaged and can demonstrate their learning from the modules.


My proposal for this asynchronous training request is to create a series of short training videos that simulate the safety procedures needed. A video is the best approach when demonstrating step-by-step processes because the user experiences the audio and visual components. Each video will be approximately 10 minutes in length, or less. Shorter videos keep the learner engaged and make better focal points. “People can remember complex material better if chunks of information are grouped into spatially related locations” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, p. 155). Each video will show real employees demonstrating step-by-step processes and focus on one function before introducing the next. The videos will be created using the technology because it will allow employees to take the training at their own pace.

Once the training videos are created, the videos will be placed on the CMS that the organization uses. “More than half of the course management systems available today are either open source, meaning that adopting organizations can download, install, and modify the software for their own needs without payment of a license fee, or are otherwise free to educational institutions” (Simonson, p. 184). The CMS will allow the employee to launch the training from any access point and offer the capability to pause and start, as the employee may want to take notes.

In lieu of an official assessment or evaluation, I would create a game to test the learner’s knowledge. The game would mirror Jeopardy and give the learner a chance to win points for each correct answer given. I would create a game board and the categories would mirror the training video modules. For example, if the first training video is about “metal fabrication”, the first category of the game would be as well. Each category would consist of 7-10 questions or scenarios related to that category. If the employee answers correctly, they receive the points allotted to the question. If answered incorrectly, the point value is deducted from their total score. The employee would have to earn a specific amount of point for a passing grade. I created a similar game for a customer service course at my organization and it has been extremely successful.

Gaming in education is taking off and has been quite effective for those who have ventured out and used it. Julie Brink, Director of  viaLearning states that, “Research has shown that gaming, in the right context, can be just as, if not more, effective than traditional e-learning. It improves problem-solving, creativity, risk assessment, and risk taking” (Freifeld, 2012).  Julie provides valid points as to why gaming is valuable.


  • Gaming uses multiple intelligences for learning (logical, special, linguistics, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, music). 
  • Games are immersive, engaging and motivating through new technology and interactions. 
  • Gaming provides another means of performance support and, when woven with other training, can give learners a competitive edge. 
  • Gaming provides just-in-time learning.


For additional support, employees will be asked to participate in a discussion board. “As a learning aid, discussion forums have shown to stimulate critical thinking, improve communication skills, foster a sense of community among students, and encourage collaborative problem solving” (The discussion board will pose additional content related questions or scenarios and employees will be asked to demonstrate their understanding of the material. The discussion board will also be used for employees to ask questions as well. If an employee has a question about the subject matter, an administrator will monitor the Q&A section and respond accordingly.

I believe the solution to this training need is multi-dimensional. Multiple tools are needed to engage the learner and test comprehension.

Freifeld, L. (2012). Game-based learning for the corporate world. Retrieved May 25, 2014 from http://www.trainingmag.com/content/game-based-learning-corporate-world.

ProBoards. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.proboards.com/free-forum-articles/forums-in-the-classroom.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.