Instructional Design Basics


The End of the World May or May Not Come This Year

*This post originally appeared in eLearning Industry 

The other day my dad offered a glimpse into his world of intrigues.  Here I was giving him grief about the spat between the Pope and Rush Limbaugh. During our discussion, he broke out:

 “Some scholars say that the next antichrist is going to be the Pope.”

According to the Internet, my dad may be on to something.

Personally I think my dad and the Internet are wrong about the whole pope/antichrist thing; however, I do think some amazing things are going to happen in the next several years and that’s what I want to talk about today.

Predictions for 2014 and Beyond

The following list contains my predictions of likely events for 2014 and beyond:

1. You realize that mLearning is Overhyped (for now)
In our current landscape, mLearning doesn’t improve our formal learning environment much. In this regard, our users are still tied to a LMS and to the objects within it—any learning that occurs outside of this structure isn’t easily recognized.

This is unfortunate as our mobile devices are always with us and support powerful self-directed content.  For instance iBooks and ePubs are widely available and used with these devices.  These objects can contain dynamic content, video, 3D multimedia, Augmented Reality, complex interactions and software widgets.

More importantly these iBooks and other objects can be embedded within our environments and tools. This feature becomes more significant as our mobile devices gain context awareness.  Such awareness gives designers the ability to use push/pull measures to deliver content that is related to a person’s immediate and future needs.

Fortunately these limits are changing as Experience API and the Internet of Things are slowly becoming a reality.  This year you will need to start embracing these technologies and figuring out how your content will work in this new world. Converting your manuals and job-aids to mobile friendly objects is a good place to start.

2.  Formal training wins
This long standing prediction of mine isn’t solely about push/pull, directed versus self-directed or even formal versus informal learning; rather it is about what recommendation engines and open reporting abilities mean for our field.

Here Experience API and Open Badges will soon allow us to track any type of learning (formal/informal, directed/self-directed,…).  In addition as our Personal, Social and other data profiles become connected/organized within internal systems, our abilities to recommend content for our students will increase greatly.   Adaptive learning will eventually be part of this and will mean that our organizations will be able to predict not only the content that our students need, but also their unique content preferences.

These systems will also allow us to track and report on all learning activities regardless of whether they are internally or externally provided or even directed or self-directed activities. And when learning professionals have this ability, then, it’s all formal, that is, we have the ability to control what is learned with our recommendation engines as well as the reports to track it.

3.  You need to up your game now
MOOCs, freelance professors and other trends are shifting the nature of education as a product to education as a service. Here cheap content and competition will eventually mean that market forces will take hold and cause organizations to fail, consolidate and merge.  When this happens a glut of skilled professional will be around.

You need to start preparing for this eventuality to ensure that your role is valued and needed in five years.  Fortunately many new roles are emerging today that will demonstrate this value for years to come:

  1. Data experts are needed for learning and development folks.  People analytics  will enter into HR and Talent Management areas and Adaptive Learning needs will begin entering the learning realm.
  2. Curation and metadata activities are needed to capture, sequence and validate all the cheap and quality content that is available online.
  3. Gaming and simulation development skills will continue to gain influence and acceptance in the learning world; however, this will remain a niche area until cost/quality/time requirements scale down for it.
  4. Mobile performance support professionals will be needed to create the tools and content that will be embedded in our work environments.
  5. Traditional online course designers will be needed, but these designers need to update their skills to address our changing user interfaces—touch, voice, gesture,…

4.  Formal learning institutions will embrace new opportunities
Many colleges, universities and other formal learning institutions are in for a rough ride in the next several years. Brick and mortar classrooms will have to deal with the competition MOOCs represent. This access to cheap quality content is a threat to the traditional stand-up model, as students will begin asking themselves,

“Why should I pay thousands of dollars for a class when I can get the same or like content online for a fraction of the price?”

Only a small group of schools and companies will emerge as the dominant MOOC providers, which means that everyone else will need to figure out how to adjust for their loss of revenue.  One promising option is for these learning institutions to form academic partnerships with regional companies and organizations.  Here these institutions agree to offer specialized degrees and programs to companies for a set number of students—a learning cohort.

Such agreements will create new revenues for these institutions and will allow them to safely plan and project enrollment numbers based off these guarantees. These agreements also benefit the regional companies by providing specialized training for their needs as well as cutting costs related to normal tuition reimbursement models.

5.  Internal data wars will happen soon
In the business world, the departments that tell the best story or demonstrate the most value get the resources and influence within the company. Such dynamics make sense, but can lead to infighting and groups being less than willing to share information. This is unfortunate as the above predictions rely on data sets across our business lines.

Getting recommendation engines and reporting tools developed will require cooperation and data from Human Resources, Training, Talent Management, Organizational Development, Business Intelligence, Information Systems, Legal…

This year, be proactive and start building relationships with all of these groups so that you can begin developing your engines and tools.

This is the End

You may have noticed that none of my predictions included an end of the world scenario and if this comes to pass well then “my bad.” If you are rooting for the end of the world, I suggest reading up on the whole pope/antichrist thing.

Regardless of what happens, the next several years are going to be interesting— I hope we all get the chance to enjoy them.  Cheers.



Seriously the End of the World Is Coming


We survived another year—that’s two straight years of incorrect end of the world predictions.  You would think that people would stop believing this stuff but that isn’t the case, in fact, a popular show highlights this fear.  Doomsday Preppers follows people that are actively preparing for the end of world.

As to these preppers, I guess if the end of the world is coming, it’s good to be prepared, but these scenarios seem like a long shot to me.  And in this regard, I’d rather spend my energies preparing for something that is likely to happen. So let’s revisit the Connan clip and get ready for some predictions of the coming year and beyond.

One Step Back

Last year my predictions were pretty broad and longer in range than just 2012. This year, these predictions are still in play; however, some developments have either strengthened parts of these predictions or caused slight modifications:

Last Year’s Prediction Revised Prediction for 2013 and Beyond
You will finally be asked to do mobile learning and you will fail You are failing with mobile learning
Formal training wins Formal training still wins
We are not going away Well, some of us are not going away

1.  You are failing with mobile learning
If you are not doing mobile learning today then straight up, you are a failure.  In this regard, Smartphone penetration, IS infrastructure and content development tools are in place.  This means you no longer have any of these as an excuse.  Further, mobile provides performance support abilities not addressed by any other delivery system. This removes the final argument for not doing it, that being, lacking a use case for it.

In this regard, performance support has always been a need in training. Job aids and other takeaways are important because they help users transfer knowledge and increase on the job performance.   And it’s in this performance support area that everyone is failing at with mobile.  A recent initiative illustrates this failure:

The Berg Balance Scale is an assessment tool that determines a patient’s risk of falling.  Based on their score, various treatments are used to counter that fall risk.  In addition, clusters of scores indicate exercises that can be done to increase a patient’s mobility and lessen their future risk of falling.

This all seems easy enough and when a request for training on this tool came in, we came up with a pretty standard solution.  Here we developed an online course that went over the 14 assessment items and provided video and other content to illustrate each measurement item.  Then we provided students with a nicely formatted Berg Balance Scale job-aid that they could print out and use on the job.

So our solution focused on training (teaching them how do the assessment) and included a performance support tool (the nicely formatted job-aid).  This solution though should have been the other way around, that is, we should have focused on developing a performance support tool and included some training elements in it.

In this regard, we could have built a mobile application that would have walked the users through each step in the assessment.  And if they needed help on a particular item, they could have accessed training on that item through the mobile application.

The main advantage of that solution would be the time savings involved.  First we wouldn’t have forced everyone to take a 1 hour training course—users would only access training that they needed.  Secondly and more importantly, this mobile app would cut out the time needed to perform the calculations and cluster analysis in the scale.  Here users would enter the Berg Balance test information and then get the results in seconds. This time savings would be realized every time they performed that assessment.  Besides saving time, the automatic calculations and analysis would also lessen the chance of human errors in each assessment.

So to stop failing with mobile learning, you should start examining your content for performance support opportunities.  If you find an appropriate opportunity then build a mobile application or widget for it – doing so could save your organization significant money and decrease error rates.

2.  Formal training still wins
With Experience API  and Mozilla’s Open Badges, we are close to the goal of tracking informal learning. These and other technologies will bring about an environment where all learning is tracked.

In addition, recent movement around the concept of Big Data will further strengthen the need for tracking and assignment measures.   Here recommendation engines will be used in your systems to push and pull content to your students.  Using Big Data concepts, these recommendation engines will be used to counter risks associated to some types of employees. This means that one day soon, each employee will have predictive scores associated to them that indicates their risk for quitting, getting hurt, calling in sick,… and based on those risks, training will be pushed or pulled to them.

So in the end, it still looks like Formal is going to win in the informal/formal debate.

3.  Well some of us are not going away
Last year it was hard not to hear about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). This idea and others like freelance professors will fundamentally change the nature of formal education.  Here cheap content and competition will shift the nature of education as a product to education as a service.

Initially this means that there will be high demand for content production, but soon after market economies will take over.  As the market forces take hold, organizations will fail, consolidate and merge to meet demand. This means that eventually a great number of us will no longer be needed.

So learning professionals are not going away, but in five years there’s going to be a glut of skilled people in the field—ramp your skills up or face the consequences.

New to the List

Last year I spent a lot of time writing and reading about technologies and initiatives that are changing the stand-up training world. These are great changes and I’m excited about what they represent, so here are a couple new predictions to my list:

4.  Brick and mortar gets downsized, but this is good
Flipped Learning is changing the way the classroom operates. As this movement grows, our Tell/Show content will become the homework that our students complete and our classrooms will focus on Do activities.   This shift in focus, will allow stand-up instructors the ability to create problem-based and experiential learning environments.

Further as instructors produce, share and organize content for these environments, they will become curators of knowledge.  This is significant in that, these activities will extend their reach beyond the classroom—in this world, all learning events have the possibility of becoming life-long activities. Here students follow their instructors on social media channels long after the classroom experience is over.

As this shift happens, the amount of direct hands-on class time will begin to change as well.  Here since much of the class content will be covered online, there will not be the need to meet up as much.  So a class that meets three days a week now, may one day only meet once a week.

Brick and mortar classrooms will also have to deal with the competition MOOCs represent. Access to cheap quality content is a threat to the traditional stand-up model. And in this regard, students that are comfortable with online learning will begin asking, “Why should I pay thousands of dollars for this class when I can get the same or like content for free online?”

So the Brick and mortar classroom model is going to be hit with two forces—less need to meet directly and increased competition.  These forces will cause some turmoil in these circles, but this is good for the students. Here they will have more choices and still receive effective content.

5.  HR embraces the new world
The technologies talked about above, offer some exciting opportunities for professional development and talent management folks.

For one, organizations that are strapped for cash often lack the funds needed to develop their employees. Soon these organizations will be able to tap into the free and cheap content being offered by MOOCs.  In addition, they will be able to track completion of this informal content by taking advantage of Experience API.

These technologies also offer additional opportunities as they begin to open up the door to potential employees.  In our current environment, formal degrees are a requirement to get your foot in the door, but these degrees offer little in explaining an employee’s true background. ADL’s Training and Learning Architecture (TLA) as well as features like Mozilla’s Open Badges and LinkedIn’s endorsements and recommendations will allow talent management professional greater insight into potential employees.  Ultimately these technologies may change the formal degree requirements for many of today’s jobs and thus increase the pool of talent available for some hard to staff positions.

Finally as noted in my second prediction, big data concepts offer abilities to improve recommendation engines for training. These engines will ensure employees get individualized training and identify mentoring opportunities within the organization.

Minor Predictions

In addition to the above predictions I do have several minor ones that are not as significant and will not take as long to come to fruition.  These are:

6.  Trends associated with social media and mobile technologies have changed interface standards.  In this regard, the Next button is no longer sacred and learners are comfortable using their scrollbars.

7.  Tappestry and other like apps will gain momentum as the focus around curation and tracking informal learning continues.

8.  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will continue to be big this year and will hasten the move to HTML5.  Start converting your Flash based courses to HTML5 and stop building solely with this tool.

9.  Augmented Reality (AR) is still not ready for wide scale mobile use. Here standards across devices for technologies like Near Field Communication (NFC) have not been established. In addition the public at large has not been introduced to this technology sufficiently.  AR use is still a couple of years away at best.

This is the End

You may note that none of my predictions included an end of the world scenario, so if this comes to pass well then “my bad.” If you’re worried about that stuff, you might want to check out the following links:

List of upcoming end of the world dates

Homepage of Doomsday Preppers

Regardless of what happens this year it will be interesting and I hope we all get the chance to enjoy it.  Cheers.


The End is Nigh?

Despite some predictions 2011 is over and we are still here. The end of the world didn’t happen and the failed rapture pictures made good light of this subject.  So we survived 2011, but don’t feel too safe as the Mayan calendar ends in 2012—so the end of days may really be nigh.

Today I’ll give you my own predictions for 2012 and beyond.  But before moving on to this you may want to see What was on my mind in 2011 as that influenced my thoughts here and for those that need to be in the proper mood for the future, please see this prediction from Conan.

And with that we are now ready to look into the future……

2012 and Beyond

1. You will finally be asked to do mobile learning and you will fail

Smartphone and tablet penetration; Wifi and 4G network speeds and the buzz surrounding these technologies will finally trigger the higher-ups to call for this.

All of this is good as we need to move in this direction and the resources/time needed to develop solutions here will require champions and support from the top.   As my prediction indicates though be prepared to set realistic expectations from this group as you will experience many speed bumps entering this realm.

Some of the things to watch out for in these pursuits are:

Same ole same ole
Web based learning has been around for some time and people still try take stand-up training and force it into an on-line format.  I’m sure many of you have taken these courses and know that they are not fun or effective when it comes to learning.

This same problem will occur with mobile learning, that is, people will try to force content from another delivery method into it.  Here content from stand-up training or web based training will be pushed onto a mobile solution with like results—bad or boring content.

For this to work you must approach it as a new delivery system and understand what it brings to the table, that is, what it offers that the other methods do not.  Key differences here will help you determine appropriate use and strategies for mobile.  And in this light remember, mobile learning isn’t just web based learning with a smaller screen.

One key to mobile learning is the location-based abilities inherent in this technology.  These tools allow you to determine your users location—where they are and what they are doing.  This context is a powerful tool and will allow you to push/pull training content and performance support tools that are relevant to their immediate environments.

Change is good?
These technologies have been around for some time, but that doesn’t mean industry standards have been set for Mobile Learning.  Here change is constant and the field is really just starting to figure out where to go and what to do.

In this regard you will have to answer questions on what browsers and OS to support; what interface standards (mouse, touch, gesture or voice) to follow and use; and whether to develop applications or browser based content.  Here you will need to try several prototypes and pilots in order to determine best use and practices for your students.

And once you have that figured out you’ll need to watch out for what is coming next as there is always another new feature or ability with this technology.

2.  Formal training wins

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other sites are now a part of our lives. And in this regard learning professionals are beginning to see how they can be used to support training.  Here they are using these technologies to push content in the form of blogs, wallposts, feeds and other mass distribution strategies. They are also using these technologies to create mentoring opportunities as the social networks within these sites can identify experts and trends to follow.

Such applications are making Informal and Social Learning opportunities too big to ignore and like mobile learning, your higher-ups are going to start asking about it. However, before this can really happen, something is missing from the picture.

In this regard there are real concerns about maintaining ownership of your content and keeping it private. There are also concerns about how to measure success and learning—after all, how can you determine Return on Investment (ROI) if these approaches are informal and outside of your normal tracking activities.

Some progress has already been made on these concerns and it is only a matter of time until they get resolved.  Here someone will figure out how to tie social and informal learning into your learning management systems and when this happens, Formal wins, that is, everything in essence becomes formal.

The Future LMS
In an environment like this, administrators are setting up filters, tags and other back-end preferences to control recommendations and connection suggestions. They are monitoring trends and emerging experts to place additional controls for pushing and pulling content.  Most importantly, everything that is happening on your site will be tracked and reportable.

As these environments arrive a new perspective will begin to take place regarding informal and social learning activities.  Today these activities are self-directed—here we are letting our students find their way.  As things get more connected and formal, we move into hive-directed—here the community activities and preferences will identify where and what our students should do.

Updates, check-ins and other activities will identify:

  • Training objects that related professionals have taken,
  • Subject experts that your student should connect with or follow and
  • Content that is trending.

Note that this future LMS isn’t just about assigning and reporting on training—it’s about direction, that is, what information will best help your students find their way.

3.  We are not going away

A few years ago I realized that course building tools and templates had become so cheap and easy to learn that most people could learn how to develop online training.  In addition, people are more comfortable with online content—they have an idea of the look and feel for online courses.

These thoughts caused me some distress and had me worrying about my job. Here I wondered if my skills would be relevant in the near future.  Looking at my 1st two predictions though has eased some of these thoughts as I know it will be up to the existing learning professionals to figure this all out.

Moving forward we will need instructional designers and other learning professionals to guide us in these new directions.  These people will take on the crucial tasks of:

  • Defining the new designs, strategies, assessment, and other elements that will make up these new approaches,
  • Identifying emerging tools and technologies that meet existing and new learning needs and
  • Guiding instructors, subject matter experts, and project sponsors in the new roles that will be created with these approaches.

Overall none of my predictions are that ground breaking and I’m a little lenient on when they might occur.  This is good though as I really don’t want to look as foolish as the end of the world folks.