Friday, July 12, 2013

Are you Interpreting eLearning Data Correctly?

Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.
Synthesis.The responsibility of eLearning developers does not stop at implementing lessons. Post-learning assessment and data analysis are major factors to determine the efficiency of the learning modality. eLearning facilitators should ask themselves: Are we interpreting data correctly?
Image source.

Recently, the British Broadcasting Company website published an article written by Malcom Gladwell entitled “Viewpoint: Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War?” It is both intriguing and enlightening. It showed the vital role of data analysis and consequences for the erroneous process. Gladwell cites historical references pointing to the failure of American intelligence executives to correctly interpret the data of the Vietnam War. It proposes that the Vietnam War could have ended much earlier and saved thousands of lives had there been accurate interpretation of information collected.

Konrad Kellen was part of Rand Corporation, a high-level think tank commissioned to interpret Vietnam War data. He was part of the Vietnam Motivation and Morale Project headed by Leon Goure.

 Gladwell summarizes the objective of the project:
“The idea was to break the will of the North Vietnamese. But the Pentagon didn't know anything about the North Vietnamese. They knew nothing about Vietnamese culture, Vietnamese history, Vietnamese language. It was just this little speck in the world, in their view. How do you know that you're breaking the will of a country if you know nothing about the country? So Goure's job was to figure out what the North Vietnamese were thinking.The idea was to break the will of the North Vietnamese. But the Pentagon didn't know anything about the North Vietnamese. They knew nothing about Vietnamese culture, Vietnamese history, Vietnamese language. It was just this little speck in the world, in their view.”
As the Vietnam War ensued, Rand Corporation managed to interview captured Viet Cong guerillas and produced 61,000 pages of transcribed manuscript. Goure interpreted these data and concluded that the Viet Cong were utterly demoralized and they were about to give up. Goure recommended more bombings to break North Vietnam. Everyone but Kellen believed Goure.

According to Kellen, his interview with a Viet Cong Captain changed his perspective. The captured officer revealed that North Vietnamese believed that they could not win the war. Kellen interpreted this data differently and concluded that “an enemy who is indifferent to the outcome of a battle is the most dangerous enemy of all.”

The US government ignored the opposing recommendation submitted by Kellen. The Vietnam War continued and the rest is history.

Data analysis and interpretation are vital in any industry including the eLearning sector. As eLearning facilitators and developers, we should interpret the data without biases or prejudice. It is in the best interest of our elearners to give up control over our desired results or projected outcomes.

Vignettes Learning is running a program called STEX, an online application that gathers learner’s feedback and reaction over simulated training scenarios. We do our best to interpret data in the most objective way in order to get accurate evaluation. Aware of the consequences of manipulating data to achieve preconceived outcomes, I would point out that our guidelines in data interpretation are meticulously followed.

In the medical field, wrong diagnosis could lead to dangerous results. This can very well compound the problem and endanger the well-being of the patient. This logic is also applicable in eLearning. 

Here are some points to ponder in analyzing elearning data:
  • Give attention to details. All data are important, even the seemingly insignificant ones.
  • Approach your data with an open mind and objective disposition. Do not prejudge an assessment based on initial results.
  • Analyze the data with someone who has an opposing perspective. You need to test conclusions and recommendations by putting it in a crucible, so to speak.
  • Detach yourself from the analysis and do not get emotionally attached to the outcomes.
  • State your margin of error in your assessments. No one is infallible.
Malcom Gladwell compares data analysis to listening. The ability ”to listen” correctly to data is a skill all elearning facilitators and designers should possess. Of this, the author of the article writes:
“Listening well is a gift. The ability to hear what someone says and not filter it through your own biases is an instinctive ability similar to having a photographic memory. And I think we have a great ]deal of trouble with people who have this gift. There is something about all of us that likes the fact that what we hear is filtered through someone's biases.”
Related Blogs


Viewpoint: Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War by Malcom Gladwell

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Story-Based Learning Design Using a Mobster Story

Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.
Synthesis. An iconic TV series is used as a model for creating an open-ended ending for story-based elearning design. Such an approach creates cycles of continuous learning because the lesson becomes collaborative. As the learners attempt to put an ending to an unconcluded story, different insights contribute to the development of the lesson.

Image source.

American actor James Gandolfini passed away last June 19, 2013. He played the iconic role of Tony Soprano in the HBO TV hit series The Sopranos. As the mob boss of a ruthless and dysfunctional crime family syndicate in New Jersey, Gandolfini was critically acclaimed for his intensity and realistic portrayal of the role.

The Sopranos are considered as the greatest television series of all time. It has won a multitude of awards, including back-to-back Peabody Awards for its first two seasons, twenty-one Emmy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America named it the best-written series in television history. (Wikipedia).

What impressed me most about the Sopranos was the manner the scriptwriters ended the series. The interpretation and meaning of the Sopranos’“final scene” is still being debated today, six years after the last episode was aired.

The final scene showed the Soprano family about to have a family dinner in a diner. The camera pans through different frames suggesting that an assassin could show up and ‘whack’ the crime boss in front of his family. As tension builds up, the camera gives a close-up of Tony Soprano’s face, looking at someone who just entered the diner. Then, blackout. The credits followed without any annotation or epilogue. Watch the Sopranos’ final scene here. The ending has spurred hundreds – if not thousands – of blogs, articles and feature writing, explaining their point of view or interpretation of the ending.

The Sopranos’ finale is a clear example of what we story-based elearning designers aim to achieve in their elearning modules. After hooking the learners with a well-written and engaging story, the open-ended ending allow the viewers decide how to end their story.

In the same manner, a story-based elearning lesson solicits innumerable lessons, insights, interaction and reaction among the learners. Unlike conventional learning where there have been always a ‘right or wrong’, the story-based elearning lesson probes deeper into the emotional and intellectual faculties of the learners. The learning becomes collaborative because of the interaction and feedback.

Here are some guidelines on how to create a story-based elearning lesson with an impactful open ending:
  • The beginning and body of the story should be engaging. It should move the learners to commit to the story. It should be compelling enough to make them deeply concerned about how the story would end.
  • If the developer could not feel the tension and conflict of his or her SBL design, I am 100% certain that the learners would not experience it also. Without character identification, the story-based elearning lesson fails to connect with the learner. Without such connection, the whole learning framework falls apart.
  • Everybody is basically going through the same thing every day: joy, happiness, enthusiasm, sadness, tension, anxiety, disappointment and fatigue, among others. Human emotions are the easiest to recreate and project. Reflect and ask: is this story-based elearning lesson projecting an authentic experience?
I close by quoting an excerpt from my book Scenario-Based Learning Using Stories To Engage e-Learners:
“Many of us in the business of teaching, learning and training believe it is our role to engage learners. We become frustrated during these occasions when we can’t achieve this. We can only set the stage for learners to become engaged themselves. There’s a difference. Learners are perpetually engaged by their own stories. They complete their own stories, their bucket lists. Trainers and designers merely help by facilitating the process. The power of SBLs is to allow learners to complete their stories and discover the embedded learning ideas, not to force them to participate in stories that don’t resonate. They may go through the motions, but they won’t be engaged.”
Story-based elearning design creates a never-ending story that draws reactions, perspective and insight long after the last scene ended.

Related Blogs

Creating Learning Peaks with Scenarios

Put the elements of viral videos in eLearning story design


Scenario-Based Learning Using Stories To Engage e-Learners by Raymundo Jimenez, PhD.

The Sopranos, Wikepedia

Monday, July 8, 2013

‘Ikea’ in eLearning Design and Development

Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.
Synthesis. eLearning content should be a collaboration between the client and the instructional designer and developer. Without the collaborative process, it is more difficult to produce effective and impactful elearning design. This is the reason why training needs analysis is important in elearning development. The first question a developer should ask the client is: what do you want to learn?

Recently, Ikea launched an ingenuously designed shelter for refugees. In his article, A New Ingeniously Designed Shelter For Refugees—Made By Ikea, Shane Snow writes:
"The Ikea Foundation (which has invested approximately 3.4 million euros in the project so far) and UNHCR will beta test the shelters in Ethiopia next month, then iterate to a final design for mass production. They currently cost $10,000 to make, but they’re hoping to get that price down to less than $1,000 when they’re in mass production. The tents cost half that, but they hope to have the cost even out, given the long life of the shelters."
The same article cites that these innovative shelters are twice as large as the old-school refugee tent. They measure 17.5 square meters, take four hours to assemble and designed to last 10 times longer than the conventional ones. Take a look at the Ikea tent here.

Putting on my designer’s hat, I became fully aware of the amount of research, situational-needs analysis, behavioral study and technical preparations Ikea designers went through to produce the innovative refugee shelters. The design is objective and end-user specific: for refugees.

The process of developing the elearning design is similar to the design approach of the said tent. Just as the blueprint of the tent was based on the needs of the refugees, the development of elearning modalities should consider the assessed requisites of the learners. 

In this sense, a needs analysis is a vital step. A shotgun approach will not achieve learning goals especially in the development of the elearning design. 

The next key step would be the presentation and discussion of results with client. Here lies the opportunity for a collaborative approach between designer /developer and the organization’s elearning stakeholders.

In my years as an eLearning developer, I am convinced with certainty that the most effective and impactful lessons are those co-designed by the client. Co-design in this respect means that the client spent collaborative sessions with the developer to analyze the needs of the organization.

Entities subscribed to elearning, participate in the development of lessons. After all, the principals have better knowledge of its members than the developers. Collaborative elearning development produces contextual lessons that hit the bull’s eye.

In my book 3-Minute Learning, I pointed out one of the common pitfalls in eLearning course development: designing and developing e-Learning programs without understanding the principles of elearning behaviors and the nature of internet technologies.

Based on the above fact, I cite these guide points for both the developers and elearning principals:
  • Learning needs analysis should be implemented with a critical mind. The principal should disclose relevant data and information that could help designers come up with an objective-specific lesson.
  • Designers should be given the general background of the elearners. Prior knowledge of the contextual situation of the organization would definitely help designers customize an appropriate eLearning design.
  • Principals should inform the designers about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization in relation to the lesson being designed. This way, the designers and developers are able to build the learning parameters.
  • Learning results should be quantifiable and measurable.
  • Keep in mind that the behavior of learners in an elearing environment is different. Virtual classroom solicits a different attitude and disposition from the learners. What works in a conventional learning environment would not necessarily apply in a virtual class.
  • Conduct a Beta test of the virtual lessons and invest time in implementing trial runs to recognize the flaws and defects of the conceptual and technical elements of the design.
  • Allow the principals and the learners to evaluate the elearning design.
  • Record and keep the evaluation results. Knowledge benchmarks are necessary for the next phase of the elearning development.
Related blogs

Accelerating eLearning by Focusing on Context
Surgical Insertion of Micro-Scenarios that Beautify and Fire Up Your eLearning


A New Ingeniously Designed Shelter For Refugees—Made By Ikea, Shane Snow

Monday, July 1, 2013

Accelerating eLearning by Focusing on Context

Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.
Synthesis: Accessibility to massive content  in this Digital Information Age can be overwhelming and sidetrack even those with the best intentions. It is therefore important that designers focus on the intended context of their lessons rather than allow themselves to be distracted by too much information during elearning development.  Minimizing  content to its essentials  can be an effective way to accelerate eLearning.  It allows  context to float to the surface like oil over water.

Image Source

Well developed elearning programs put premium on embedding context rather than just provding content. A critical step to achieving this is distinguishing content that learners need to know or must know. It is lean yet significant. Otherwise, it does not create the intended learning impact. As we apply the approach to creating micro-lessons with the embedded context, learners are drawn to discover it and enables them to glean the critical knowledge and retain it more easily.

The quality of content and the process by which we synthesize content are factors that affect learning. Content that simply  overloads our minds and makes learning incomprehensible can even  lead to confusion. In this light, context takes precedence over content.

In my blog Context is King, I wrote:

“With the massive information and content growth and the speed of information change, the next generation challenge is not content but rather how to make sense, how to discover and how to apply the ideas from the content. In essence, how to find the context becomes more important. This is known as Contextual Learning – a learning that connects content with what the learners already know and benefit from its immediate usefulness. It is not the amount of information that we provide learners that is important. It is what is meaningful and immediately useful to impact their performance.”
Here are points to ponder for elearning designers:
• Content development doesn’t work like a piggy bank. Storing too much information in one single lesson weakens the learning framework. If you keep on dumping content without providing the process on how to weave everything into one symbiotic modality, your lesson becomes good for nothing.
• Context focuses on micro-lessons that lead to rapid learning. Uncovering  a single lesson from one page is more practical than unearthing  multiple lessons from  a whole book.
• Contextual learning limits the scope of the lesson but it does not mean that the learner  has lesser learning.
• Context enables designers to focus only on what is relevant and disregards novelty and unnecessary  information embellishments that do not contribute to the eLearning structure.
In his article  4 Weapons of Exceptional  Creative Leaders, Charles Day wrote:
“The context gives us the ability to say no with confidence.Great leaders are not necessarily braver leaders. They’re just better informed about the consequences of their choices, which makes it easier for them to make the hard ones. The result is they are able to keep their companies focused.When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 as its CEO, he began saying no to virtually every request by Apple’s developers. He understood that saying yes was a distraction from where he knew he needed to take the company and having context gave him the confidence to stand by his convictions.

Many leaders fear saying no and see it as limiting. But more often than not, it’s the right answer when you’re clear about where you’re headed and are in a hurry to get there. Context requires that you build from the future back. Once you know where you’re headed, the decision whether to turn left or right at any given fork becomes increasingly clear. Context is only relevant if it’s based on current information. Because the world is changing in real time, exceptional leaders actively welcome disruptive thinking.”
What is said about contextual leadership can also be applied in contextual elearning development.   Designers who are keen on contextual learning safeguards their lessons by saying “no” to:
• Information overload that defocuses the learner from the heart of the lessons
• Bland, boring and conventional designs that fail to challenge the creativity and rationality of the learners
• Knowledge spoon-feeding that induces procrastination rather than participation
Related Blogs

Context is King
Constraints Compel eLearner to be Creative


4 Weapons ofExceptional  Creative Leaders by Charles Day

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Advantage of Third-Person Perspective in eLearning Design

Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.

Synthesis.Avatars are not only novelties or catchy web accessories. They provide web users with a third-person perspective of themselves. Avatars help us project ourselves during web interactivity. Recent studies show that the third-person perspective has more advance uses in eLearning and interaction.

Image Source
I chanced upon an EA Sports website, a gaming portal that enables players to ‘paste’ their head shots onto the body of the player of their choice. The feature is called Game Face. It gives this alluring welcome to the players: Create your EA sports avatar on the web and get to play as yourself in the games!

I am not into gaming but I like the concept of personification: the users “see themselves” in the interactive zone they are engaged in. Perhaps, people tend to become more efficient in interactive games when they see themselves in it. The survival instinct kicks in: they don’t want to see their avatar lose or die right before their very eyes.

As eLearning facilitators, we make it a point to require elearners to post their photos or avatars during interactive sessions. The chat room and online forum become more ‘personified’ during virtual lessons through the photos or avatars of fellow learners.

An article published in the Harvard Business Review describes a breakthrough research that takes the avatar concept technology a hundred notches higher. In You Make Better Decisions If You “See” Your Senior Self, Hal Hershfield writes:
“There’s a large body of literature showing that emotional responses are heightened when you give people vivid examples: Donors give more to charity when they hear from a victim; pulmonologists smoke less than other doctors because they see dirty lungs all day. So I partnered with Daniel Goldstein of Microsoft Research, Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford, and several other Stanford researchers see if giving people vivid images of their older selves would change their spending and saving preferences. We took photos of our subjects and used software to create digital avatars—half of which were aged with jowls, bags under the eyes, and gray hair. Wearing goggles and sensors, participants explored a virtual environment and came with a mirror that reflected either their current-self or future-self avatar. Afterward, we asked them to allocate $1,000 among four options—buying something nice for someone special, investing in a retirement fund, planning a fun event, or putting money into a checking account. Subjects exposed to aged avatars put nearly twice as much money into the retirement fund as the other people. Later we had some people see the older avatars of other subjects to test if that affected their choices, but it didn’t. Only those who saw their own future selves were more likely to favor long-term rewards.”
So, how do we apply the basic concepts of the third-person perspective in elearning design? How can we induce our elearners to “age or become more mature” in their responses?
  • The correct and efficient use of avatars in story-based eLearning design is only part of the whole approach. To create the appropriate learning environment, designers should set a good storyline, an apt setting and a realistic script. Create the right tension and draw them into the scenario.
  • Trust the learners and implement your lessons with the disposition that they can rise to the level of the challenge. In short, treat them as adults who are capable of being creative and responsive no matter how difficult your lessons may seem.
  • Pace your lessons well so that learners have enough time to think, react and assess their response. We are recreating real-life scenarios. As such, there are emotions and reactions involved. While we try to draw out the spontaneous reaction from learners, it is also as important to give them space to process their own learning .
The results of the above-mentioned research could be further applied to elearning development. I foresee that this third-person concept is applicable to value-based and ethics-centered lessons for NGOs, socio-civic organizations and churches. Indeed, the elearning universe is expanding because of the changing needs of global communities.

Related Blogs

The Dream of Personalization – Far fetch but Possible

Designing eLearning for Martians and Other Aliens

You Make Better Decisions If You “See” Your Senior Self by Hal Hershfield