Friday, March 27, 2009

Blended Learning - It's time has FINALLY arrived with PS

How PS Can "Save" Blended Learning!!

Con and I have been working this instructional approach for over 15 years now!! I remember having my first "blended learning" meeting back when I was with Element K in the early 90's. I was even on a special "taskforce" for it! :) The original premise was that since we finally had all these learning assets at our disposal, from classroom to e-learning, how could we not start blending them together into a beautifully orchestrated learning experience???

We have since talked to literally 1,000's of training colleagues regarding more failed attempts at this design model then successful. I thought I'd share a few lessons learned, as well as how PS finally tipped the scale for me!

  1. Blended Learning is at its BEST when you're designing to meet all 5 moments of need - Have Conrad and I ever shared with you the 5 moments of need?? (that was a POOR attempt at humor by the way) I know we bring mention this principle in almost ALL of our postings, but it has become so fundamental to our work. If you need a refresher please click on this link to visit one of our original posts for more details.

    When it comes to blended learning, the 5 moments helped me understand how different learning assets work throughout the process. Many of my earlier blended efforts failed because I was only supporting the first two moments (when someone learns something for the first time, and when learning more - or better know as FORMAL instruction) and NOT supporting the last 3 (when someone is trying to remember or apply, when things change, or when thing go wrong - or better known as INFORMAL instruction). Simply swamping one formal asset for another does NOT create a total solution. Blended learning is more then simply saying, "Rather then come to class for this lesson, why don't you take it on-line?". It's also about blending the learning experience so that a learner gets the right amount and type of information at the right time throughout the learning process. Formal assets have a hard time fitting into the informal domain, and visa versa.
  2. PS needs to become a critical part of the FORMAL learning process - This was one of the harder jumps for me in earlier efforts. When experienced Instructional Designers (IDs) run a task analysis and design for a train event, they typically include most every skill and task a learner will perform in the training outline and what becomes the learning event (be it live or on-line). How could we not? If we skip something, how would a learner ever "get it"? This also tends to make our training events WAY too long, thus hurting retention and transfer. Adding PS will shift the emphasis from just mastering information to its application. If you've designed your strategy for a total solution, you can swap out much of the content which was only seen in class to the PS framework and tools which is accessed after class. Certain critical processes, concepts, and skill still need to be taught in the formal experience, BUT way less than ever before. More of class time can now be spent learning the PS tools and building the learner's confidence in their ability to find and apply skills after training. Blending your design involves allowing learning assets to blend throughout the journey and to be experienced in multiple ways.
  3. The blended strategy and tools need to be supported throughout the learning ecosystem - Con and I have recently discovered the power of what we're calling the learning ecosystem. Support comes in all shapes and sizes. Our learning industry tends to emphasis the physical tools such as electronic performance support systems (EPSS), or paper based job aids because they are often seen as the most effective approaches both in time and cost. The danger of being overly focused in these areas is that we can loose sight of some of the other critical components of a learning ecosystem. For example, assets such as help desks, trainers, and line managers are often overlooked in a blended learning strategy. Because the learning group doesn't see these assets as being under their control, they are often overlooked for the vital role they play in allowing a blended approach to work. Since this new approach intentionally puts more emphasis on the informal side of learning, tools and assets such as the ones mentioned above need to understand their part in using and supporting them. Their support and understanding can not be assumed. They need to be included in the early design discussions and taught their role in the overall process and application of these tools. For instance, many help desks are not taught or incented to direct a learner to an on-line support tool first. They want to get learners off the phone and back on the job! An important, but often shortsighted, objective. The ultimate goal is to create an independent learner who doesn't call the help desk for ever task or problem. This approach will not be adopted if they, and other assets in the ecosystem, are not considered and guided.
  4. Blended Learning is NOT exclusively about saving money - I don't know how many times I have to learn this lesson!! My experience has been that when "making training cheaper" becomes the principle driver for blending you get just that "cheap training"! Now, I'm NOT saying that I haven't saved a good deal of money with the correct blend, especially with PS in the mix, but we need to be careful in these difficult times to not loose sight of our prime directive.

    I have never worked with a more cost effective learning approach then PS. I have been challenged with the ROI issue for over 20 years, and it is only in the past 2 that I have made significant strides in finally proving it! BUT the danger of overly emphasizing the "spend" side of this equation can cause the overall strategy to blur and possibly hurt the end product. Many of us were burnt by taking this myopic approach back when e-Learning first hit the landscape. It was viewed first and foremost as a cost savings tool and its effectiveness and adoption has suffered since in many organizations. Let's not do the same with the powerful world of PS.

We hope these help!! Blended learning can be an incredible solution for our learners and organizations on so many levels. PS can help take your programs to a level never seen before, if not be the key to helping blended take-off!

Please let Con and I know if you have any other questions, if you would like to talk through your current efforts, or if you'd like to see some working examples...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Conducting a Sucessful Rapid Task Analysis

Rapid Task Analysis Checklist

Thirty years ago I took my first instructional design course. At some point during that class I learned about task analysis. Since then, I have grown to realize that it is a most vital skill. If you get this wrong, learning and performance support spirals out of control. It becomes unwieldy and murky. Of all the skills, in our profession that we need to get right, we certainly need to get this one. Yet, my sense is we need to do better in this area. As a start, we need to figure out how to be more consistent and efficient in our approach. The practice of performance support especially cries out for a Rapid Task Analysis process. After all, how can we ever expect to develop an effective performance support solution, if we haven’t determined what those performances are. Fundamental to any Performance Support strategy is the identification of the performance tasks the strategy needs to support. In addition, since tasks don't stand alone but actually orchestrate into higher work-flow processes, a solid strategy also requires the determination of those processes.
In an earlier blog, I provided a detailed written description of Rapid Task Analysis. Below is a job aid “Checklist” for this process. We’ve also embedded several links to video clips within the checklist to provide added elaboration on critical parts of the process.

1. Prepare for the Task Analysis

Note: For your first few task analysis sessions, you should invite someone to help you during your session. You will find it helpful to have this person help make sure you are successful in conducting your session. You may also benefit by having your helper take notes on a computer while you facilitate the discussion from the whiteboard.

- Develop and validate the preliminary Scope Objective

- Identify primary SMEs (those who should attend the task analysis.)

- Identify backup and secondary SMEs
This can be helpful in case the response is less than 100% with your primary SMEs.

- Schedule date and place for task analysis.
When you reserve the meeting room:

  • Make sure it has at least one large whiteboard.
  • Include at least 30 minutes before and after your task analysis session for setup and cleanup time.
  • Make sure an easel and easel paper (flip chart paper) will be available for the date and time of the session
  • If you are using the voice conferencing, try to choose a room with extra microphones so that people on the phone can hear all the people in the room more clearly.
  • Be sure to send “Meeting Details” email to your coach and other writers who will be observing or helping with your task analysis.

    Note: You might find it helpful to create posters of your agenda and scope, and the definitions of a task, step, process, and concept to post on the walls of the meeting room for participants to reference during the task analysis session.

- Invite SMEs

  • Has a sufficient representation of SMEs confirmed they will attend?
  • Send “Meeting Invitation” email to SMEs: Include the general purpose of your task analysis session and what is expected of them.
  • Send “Meeting Details” email to SMEs: Include meeting date, time, location, and web meeting information (if necessary). Also include the scope and agenda for the task analysis session.

- Review Existing Performance Support Content

  • Review any existing performance support tools relating to your task analysis scope objective. Notice the length of the section or chapter. Were the tasks based on the user’s job performance?
  • Try to create your own list of concepts and tasks for this topic to help guide you through your task analysis session.
  • Generate an outline of tasks and related concepts if possible.
  • Create a handout containing this list. Use this list during your task analysis session to prompt SMEs about tasks they might be forgetting.
  • Email handout(s) to remote participants.
  • Photocopy handout(s) for participants attending the meeting in person.
  • View:

2. Conduct the Task Analysis

The following are things you should consider bringing to the task analysis session.
(Note: All bullets might not apply to your particular task analysis session depending on whether you have participants that are all remote, all attending in person, or a mixture of both.)

  • Easel, Easel pad, Office supplies (scissors, tape, several colors of dry erase pens, ballpoint pens, pad of
    paper), Posters (Scope, Agenda, Definitions of Terms), Your meeting notes and reference material, Copies of appropriate existing TOCs, Handouts (if applicable), Conferencing dial-in and ID numbers,
    List of participants, Web Meeting instructions (if applicable), Snacks for meeting participants, Computer w/mouse, mouse pad, power cord, and Ethernet cable or appropriate wireless equipment), Recording equipment (optional)
  • The following are set-up requirements for the session:
    - Set up computer
    - Tape posters (agenda, definitions of task, concept, etc.)to wall
    - Set up easel & easel pad
    - Rearrange furniture
    - Set up NetMeeting (if applicable)
    - Call into audio conferencing center (if applicable)

- Make introductions and review the agenda

  • Introduce all participants. Thank them for coming.
  • Review the agenda for the meeting (posted for easy viewing during the session).
  • Make sure that remote participants have joined the session and that they can view the whiteboard.

- Introduce and refine, if necessary, the scope objective.

  • Is there consensus?
  • Is the scope objective posted for participants to view at any time?
  • Ask if there are any questions about why you are conducting the task analysis or the goals of the session (both presented by email prior to the meeting).

- Identify Tasks

  • Do SMEs understand what concepts are and that concepts will be identified later?
  • - Chunk and Label Tasks

    • Do SMEs understand the principle of chunking and the benefits of applying this principle?
    • Have participants received a listing of any tasks identified during the activity, Has each participant had an opportunity to add, modify, or delete tasks from the list?
    • Have the tasks been adequately grouped?
    • Have each of the groupings (chunks) been labeled?
    • Is there consensus regarding the labels for the tasks and the processes (chunks or groupings)?
    • Task groups ideally have 7 (plus or minus 2) tasks.
    • Each group of tasks is a business process (similar in scope to a chapter).
    • Keep business and “real world” situations in mind. Help attendees distinguish between describing the product/technology and providing information required to achieve a business goal.
    • The label needs to provide enough detail to convey the relationship used to establish the grouping.

    - Establish Ordered Relationships

    • Is there consensus regarding the order for the processes (chunksor groupings)?
    • Is there consensus regarding the order for the tasks within the processes (chunks or groupings)?
    • Have the unique order requirements for all audiences been addressed?
    • Usually the initial tasks have a typical order in which the customer performs them.
    • The order of some tasks may not matter, but assign them an order anyway.
    • You may have only one group if there are 10 or fewer tasks.

    - Identify Concepts

    • Are the concepts labeled with nonperformance labels?
    • Are the concepts chunked appropriately and assigned to a specific task group?

    3. Follow-up on the Task Analysis Results
    - Review results of the Task Analysis and discuss “next steps.”

    • Are participants leaving with positive feelings about their contribution to the results of the task analysis?
    • Do participants know when to expect a written summary of the results of the task analysis?
    • Do participants understand the amount of time they have to provide their feedback regarding the task analysis results?
    • Tell participants when to expect to receive a written outline of the results of your task analysis session.
    • Explain that you will be contacting them to help you identify the steps in each task and the purpose of that step. You will also be asking for comments about each step.

    Encourage participants to send you their feedback on what went well and what they feel could be improved during your task analysis session, and any suggestions on how to make future task analysis sessions more useful.

    Note: Consider the following tips while you are conducting your task analysis session:
    - You may want to consider having another person take the notes for your first RTA, since you will be writing on the whiteboard for “in person” attendees to view.
    - Monitor the TOC of the related documentation, if any existed, during your task analysis session. If the group gets stuck, use the TOC to prompt SMEs about tasks. You can also check to be sure SMEs cover all the tasks already documented. Be careful about leading the
    SMEs to duplicate the existing TOC.
    - If you get through your entire agenda of identifying, grouping, and labeling tasks and identifying concepts, you can use any time remaining to start filling in the actual steps of each task.

    - Summarize the results and distribute to primary and secondary level SMEs for review and feedback.
    The following is a list of what you should do as soon as possible after your task analysis session:

    • Write your outline of the process(es), tasks, and concepts that the participants identified.
    • Distribute the outline to primary and secondary level SMEs for review.

    - Integrate feedback from the SMEs and distribute for buyoff.
    Once you have obtained buyoff, you are ready to begin documenting the processes as well as producing your performance support solutions. You may find that as you continue this process that your listing of tasks and their groupings will continue to evolve as you uncover additional concepts and tasks. If you have done a thorough task analysis, however, these changes should be few unless there are implementation or business changes (which there likely will be.)