Month: June 2014

My eLearning Story

 

Image Credit: David Anderson
Image Credit: David Anderson

I am jumping back in to the Articulate eLearning Challenges this week!  David has asked us to do a short interview with ourselves, answering the following 10 questions:

1. Tell us a little about yourself and the types of e-learning projects you most enjoy.
2. How did you become an e-learning or instructional designer?
3. What are the essentials of good e-learning design?
4. Tell me about your most successful e-learning project.
5. What are the most important criteria in evaluating e-learning?
6. What are some common mistakes new course designers make & how can they avoid them?
7. How is designing mobile learning different than designing for the desktop?
8. How do you evaluate whether your course was effective?
9. How do you keep up your skills and stay current in the industry?
10. What is the future of e-learning?

A little about my process:

Script: I didn’t fully script out my answers, but I did consider each question and make some notes for myself before starting.  I find that when recording audio for eLearning I prefer this method unless there is a specific script I need to follow.  When I do have a script, I always read it out loud a few times to note any phrases that feel unnatural and try to edit those if possible.

Hardware: I almost always use a Logitech headset for recording. It’s comfortable, easy (it’s always plugged in to my computer), and produces a pretty good quality sound.

Software: I recorded each answer as a separate track in Audacity and used the noise removal function to minimize any background buzz the headphones didn’t cancel out. I only allowed myself one take for each answer as I didn’t want to sound scripted and wanted this to be an honest reflection of where I am at this moment. (I did have to start one track over after some crazy dog barking started a few seconds in… the perils of working from home while being married to a professional pet sitter!)

Sharing: Once everything was recorded, background noise was removed, and I had exported the files, I uploaded them to SoundCloud so they could be embedded here.

That’s it – the whole process took less than 30 minutes.

You can listen to my eLearning story using the player below.

I hope you take a little time to share your story as well!

Swim-Bike-Learn

Yesterday I signed up for my third triathlon.  I did my first tri a few years ago and became hooked.  I don’t have the time (or money) to do more than one a year but I look forward to these events with great enthusiasm.

photo

My friends and I after last year’s Iron Girl Rocky Gap Sprint Triathlon

To celebrate round number three, I’d like to write one of those cheesy “what my hobby taught me about life” kind of posts. So, here are 6 things that triathlons have taught me about instructional design and, well, life.

1. All big things are just made up of small things

I do sprint triathlons.  They usually take about 2 hours for me to complete. But the thrill of triathlons though is that you can really take each part individually and each piece alone isn’t really that bad.  And, when you’re training for that big day you get to start small and gradually big. In fact, just jumping into something so large can lead to serious injury so starting small is imperative.

So it is with instructional design. Sometimes our projects can take a really. long. time. But in the end, each piece is manageable if you have some small goals along the way.  The key is to make sure that everyone on your team (SMEs, graphic artists if you’re lucky enough to have one, etc.) is aware of those small goals and can celebrate when you reach them.  Not only will this help everyone feel like the work is progressing, but it builds camaraderie and can keep people on task.

2. Practice makes better

I don’t believe in perfect, but I do think the more we practice anything, the better we get. And it’s not just practicing the same routine over and over.  Eventually your body (or mind) will get used to that one thing and your fitness will plateau. Practice means stretching yourself and trying new things.  In triathlon training that means running sprints or hills, swimming quick drills and long distances, and biking new routes.

In instructional design it means continuously challenging yourself to innovate and then learning how to build out those fresh new ideas.

photo 1

Open water swim on Lake Habeeb

3. Practice with others makes much better

The best triathletes have coaches, as in any sport.  I am not nearly that good.  But I still need people to improve.  A running partner who is a little faster than me.  Someone to race up a hill on my bike. On some days I just need someone to give me the extra motivation to get in my workout.

I have talked at length about why community is important in instructional design and I mean it.  You can’t get better at anything without others to push you, motivate you, and give you feedback. Better doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sometimes practicing with others means reading books or blogs.  Sometimes it means getting inspiration from other people’s projects.  Sometimes it means collaborating or getting feedback on a project from someone else.  It’s not nearly as important how you incorporate others into your practice, as it is that you just do it.

4. Flexibility is key

Two types of flexibility are important in training for triathlons – literal muscle flexibility and some life scheduling flexibility.  It can be difficult to fit in the amount of training that is needed to practice three sports, and do some flexibility and strength training work every week.

Muscle flexibility is also important in instructional design – brain muscles that is. We need to make sure we aren’t getting too caught up in the rigid, power parts of instructional design (our models and theories). In the end, it doesn’t matter how much theory we know or how well we can apply a theory if those aren’t accompanied by some creativity, analytical thinking, and an influx of new ideas.

We also need to be schedule flexible. SMEs don’t always comply with our deadlines, technology issues can ruin a day, and sometimes life just happens. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stick to our deadlines, but rather that we should always build in a cushion when setting goal dates. I always love to under-promise and over-deliver, even on delivery dates.

photo 2

The transition area

5. Get the hardest things done first

In triathlons the swim always comes first.  Why? Because you are more likely to drown if you are exhausted from biking and running.  On the same note, the run comes last because, well, you can always walk.

I try to keep that in mind at work as well. I can be a terrible procrastinator, with the excuse that I work well under pressure. But recently I have tried hard to not put off the part you I’m dreading until that after-lunch-I-want-to-nap time. Use the time of day when you have most energy to get the hard things done.  For me this is usually until about 11 am.  In the mornings my mind is more flexible and everything seems a little easier.

6. The only goal that matters is the one I set for myself

Pressure to be the best is all around us and, for myself at least, often the worst of it is pressure we put on ourselves.

The thing is, I will never be a world-class triathlete, and that is ok. What matters is that I am constantly pushing myself to get better physically, mentally, and emotionally so I can handle the challenges thrown at me every day.  This includes making sure I have time with my family and by myself to unwind every day. It means letting go when I have too much on my plate and working harder when life is a little more flexible. It’s about knowing when a project is good enough and not driving myself crazy trying to get to perfect (which is always impossible). I have learned to find confidence in being my best, not the best. It’s so cheesy, and I would have rolled my eyes at this not long ago, but true.

My friend, Kate, looking strong at the finish.

I hope that you have something in your life that challenges you to be your best self.  What lessons have you learned?  Why do you love your hobby?  How does it pour over into your professional life?

And if you are looking for something to help challenge you physically and mentally, I would suggest starting with couch-to-5k program or a sprint triathlon if you already have s few 5k’s under your belt. Trust me, they are much more manageable than you think!

Guest Blogger for ATD

Hey everyone,

I am now officially a guest blogger for ATD (the Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD).  My first post, about my path to starting my Master’s program, was just published.

logo_block-FINEnjoy!

-Allison

 

School’s Out for Summer!

Today is the last day of school for the kids in my town. For many that means the start of several months of forgetting much of what they just crammed into their brains for finals.  Admittedly, I was never that kid.  I read all the time, even really boring things like math text books (yeah, I’m that person).

But, as an adult that has been a really great thing!  I am constantly seeking out new ways to learn.  The downside is that now I am the one responsible for paying for books, events, and other learning tools…  and that sure can get expensive.

Earlier this week I attended a local ISPI event.  Rick Rummler spoke on performance thinking and then we participated in several mini-sessions.  Deadra Welcome presented a great min-session on a program she used to keep her department learning (for free!) for a month.

So, in the spirit of keeping the school year alive here are some free tools and resources anyone can use to keep learning all summer long (any beyond!). I provide some examples below, but you can use your favorite search engine to easily find a resource in any of these categories that fits your needs.

Blogs

beach-84560_640You’re here so I figure I don’t need to sell you too much on this one. 🙂

Blogs offer a way to stay on top of current trends, interact with other professionals, and expand your horizons a little. I follow several and my advice is to find some authors you like and subscribe so you never miss a post (unless you are sitting on the beach with a pina colada in hand, in which case you should be ignoring everything digital).

Social Media

tweet-149813_640Twitter is a great learning tool.  Follow some folks who post interesting and useful things, and click on their posts every once in a while.  Online chats such as lrnchat (which happens every Thursday at 8:30 pm EST) are a great way to connect with and learn from other professionals interested in learning. If you can’t make the chats (I am usually having family time) they post the transcripts each week.

LinkedIn is also a nice place to stumble across news, blogs, events and other professional happenings in your field.  The more rich your network of connections (read not just large, but also quality connections), the better your news feed will be on LinkedIn.

Of course, every social media channel offers a chance to learn, but for the newly initiated I think these two are a great place to start.

Online Videos

I can waste lots of hours on YouTube watching videos of cats.  But for about every 3 cat videos, I also watch something that helps me learn a useful skill.  It might be a new workaround for Articulate Storyline or how to build a rain barrel (yep, I just installed some to help water our garden!). Other great online video sites include Screenr, TED, and Vimeo.

Apps

iphone-37856_640Whether you want to learn to code, need some inspiration for a course, or want mobile support for instructional design, apps can offer lots of support and learning opportunities these days.  And no longer is apple king of the apps.  Andriod and Windows app stores have bulked up considerably in the last few years.  And yes, there are tons of great educational apps for free.

If you don’t have a smart phone or tablet, never fear.  Lots of apps also have versions that exist online or can be downloaded to a computer desktop.

Podcasts

Podcasts exist on any topic you can imagine.  I recently participated in one called Eye on ISD. I also listen to several that don’t directly relate to what I do, but keep me listening to a constant stream of new ideas. iTunesU is a great resource for high level learning on specific topics.

computer-103577_640MOOCs

Massive open online courses require some dedication but can be quite worth it.  These online courses are often free and offer an opportunity to “audit” a college course online. There are lots of great places to sign up for a MOOC and it is likely a class exists on whatever you want to learn.

Learn Camp

This is one of the few resources that I am calling out by name for a few reasons: A) I think it is awesome, B) It doesn’t really fit into the categories above, C) I signed up and want to learn from as many awesome people as possible, so you should sign up too.

Learn Camp is a free, 12 week long self-directed program led by Mike Taylor of Articulate. Basically, it is an awesome way to experiment with technology on the web. It is geared towards learning and development professionals, but everyone is welcome to join in the fun. It doesn’t even take much time (less than 30 minutes a week, or 4-8 hours total over 12 weeks), so you have no excuses.

Feedback

I know that for myself, and several others I have come across, a community that can provide substantial feedback on your work is the tool that has helped me grow the most.  I am lucky to have several of these right now, my school community and the eLearning Heroes community being the primary ones.

If you don’t have a work or school environment where you can do thispeak-238488_640s, there are lots of forums and communities online where you can share and get feedback.

Conversations

Talking with folks about their ideas is a great way to learn whether it is face-to-face or virtual.  Ask questions, listen actively, and engage. I try to approach every conversation with the attitude that everyone has something to teach me.

Library

Yep.  Remember the library?

If you really hate making the trek, or don’t have the time, or just love technology too much, many libraries now how programs that will allow you to check out books through your e-reader/tablet/mobile device. There are also now lots of virtual library options like Textbook Revolution (books & textbooks), the Free Library (classic lit and periodicals), and Project Gutenberg (eBooks).

 

What are your favorite ways to learn for free?  Do you have any sites, apps, community or resources you would like to share?  Please do so in the comments below!

Community Matters

An old friend came to stay with me this past week, someone I love dearly but hadn’t seen in about 5 years. He (Dave) lives on the west coast, I live on the east coast and therefore we don’t get to see each other often.

We had a wonderful time catching up and had lots of stories about where our lives had gone since we last hung out. Both of us had made some job changes, bought houses, and gotten married.  But one topic kept recurring in almost every one of our conversations – community.

Dave and his wife met at a cohousing community. They moved a couple years ago but are struggling as they have not found their place in their new community. I left 2 previous higher education programs because of a lack of a supportive community (in one case, students were even downright cutthroat). I love my neighborhood because of the strong sense of community. You get the picture.

I also found myself talking about all the professional communities I rely on daily to learn new things, get inspiration, and find support. I guess this would be my personal learning network. Today I just want to pay homage to some of those communities.

 

My colleagues

community animated GIF

Why I love this community: So, I have yet to decide if this is the best way to pick a new job, but I always rely so much more on the connection I feel with a potential manager during the interview than anything else.  I think this probably means I don’t make as much money as I could, but who cares?  All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough for me to work with a team I couldn’t stand.

Anyway, my current team at Engility is awesome.  My group/division works on projects in international development and is full of passionate people that want to change the world. My team members are my life support on a regular basis and I think I do a good job helping them out as well.

I also have so many friends from previous jobs that are always willing to give me feedback, or just go to happy hour after a tough day. A former boss of mine is the one that convinced me to move to my current location (she also lives in the neighborhood). My current manager encouraged me to start blogging and is my biggest advocate. Some of my current and former colleagues are folks I count among my favorite people in the world.

You guys (and you know who you are) are better than money – thanks.

What this community offers that others don’t: personalized support and feedback

 

UMBC

https://i1.wp.com/www.reactiongifs.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/community.gif

Why I love this community: For those that don’t know, I am currently working on a M.A. in instructional systems development at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It’s mostly online, which I was unsure about at first because I felt a large part of grad school was making connections in your field.  But I really had nothing to fear because UMBC is really great at encouraging those connections.

I am only about half way through the program but have already met a slew of wonderful professionals who challenge my thinking and expand my ideas of what is possible on a regular basis. There are so many stories of alumni in this program moving forward in their careers because of connections they made at UMBC.  If you are considering a master’s or certificate program in ISD or instructional technology, I would highly recommend this university.

What this community offers that others don’t: a real push outside of my comfort zone in conjunction with a safe place to fail

 

ASTD (ATD) and ISPI

community animated GIF

Why I love this community: To be honest, it took a long time for me to be convinced of the worth of professional communities. Then I realized that it was because I wasn’t really engaging with the community… duh.

The local chapters are a great place to meet folks in the field who work in your area.  The national chapters offer blogs, publications, conferences and other forms of support.

So this year I vowed to get more involved and it has really paid off!  I have attended some local meetings where I have made new connections in my area and learned some great information. I attended the ASTD/ATD conference in May and again, made some great connections and learned lots of great information.  I even offered to serve on a panel at the conference and met some amazing folks through that opportunity.  In fact, the ASTD staff member coordinating the panel asked us to write guest blog posts and mine should be up on the ASTD site some time in the coming week.

What this community offers that others don’t: a wealth of professional resources and tools for staying current in the field

 

eLearning Heroes

community animated GIF

Why I love this community: I’m not going to push Articulate Storyline or other products on anyone, but even if Articulate wasn’t a great tool (which it is!) I would still use it. I’m sure you can guess why – the community.  They have this amazing site full of forums, blogs, and resources.

One of the best parts of this community is that each week David Anderson posts a weekly challenge where anyone can create and submit a piece of work to help build skills, share information, and build their portfolio. Through these challenges I have “met” some really talented eLearning designers/developers, learned lots of new tricks, and really improved my outputs in Storyline.  These challenges have challenged me to try some new things in the software that I might not otherwise have an opportunity to try and made some of my processes more efficient.

Involvement in this community has also really increased my visibility. David and the other Articulate staff are amazing about sharing the work of community members through their site and on Twitter. For the freelancers in the field, they offer a lot of support when it comes to looking for new clients and they even post a weekly round up of job openings every Friday.

What this community offers that others don’t: specific support for and feedback on eLearning and Articulate Storyline and a regular opportunity to build my portfolio and increase my visibility

 

Note that all of these communities are awesome for the reason that all good communities are awesome – they offer laughter, insight, feedback, and support. Instructional designers and eLearning developers often produce proprietary products, but amazingly are some of the most open, sharing, supportive folks in any profession. I love what I do because it is creative and scientific, but mostly because I always feel like I am a part of something larger.

What communities have been important to you?  Am I missing any that I should be sure to check out?  Please share!