Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Role Update

So, I’ve come up with a little model of how I’ve been thinking about the work my team does. It goes something like this…

A client comes with a need for training. Let’s assume it is a legitimate training need. The client comes with a process. The policy consultants (technical writers) work with the process and develop procedures and the other supporting reference materials. The learning consultants (instructional designers) take that input, create a learning strategy, and develop the learning interventions. In those instances where there is a synchronous component, the trainers then deliver the materials. The output of the delivery, aside from people better prepared to perform the process, will be reaction, learning, results, data. The learning analyst takes that data, analyzes and reports.

Now, this model is not necessary sequential.

What happened with me is often people would come with requests for training and not have their process. In the organization where I work, there wasn’t a “process consultant.” I raised the issue a time or two, some very perceptive leaders churned on the idea for a while, and now I’ve been asked to develop the process consultant capacity in the organization. It’s going to be a blast.

Accordingly, I’ll be doing some work in Six Sigma. I’m also spending some time learning the Hammer process materials (check out I’ll be attending the offering in Cambridge Nov. 12 – 14, Cambridge Dec. 12 – 13, Tampa Jan. 28 – 31.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Trainers and business operation improvement

An Epiphany of Sorts

For the past several months, I’ve been working, in my spare time, on ways of representing web-based outputs of Visio process flows to people performing those processes here where I work. I have several people on my team who are working on the same thing.

All along, while we’ve been working on these, we’ve been getting “push back” from the trainer group. They are not interested in using them in training. I haven’t understood why.

In a meeting last week, it finally became clear to me. I’d like to run the reason why by you and get your reaction.

I was in a discussion with several trainers; talking about classroom materials. One of the instructional designers who works for me had created a job aid that he was asking get introduced to students in he training class. One of the trainers said, “If they aren’t using it on the job, I’m not introducing it in training.”

I let the conversation go on without me and thought about that comment for a moment. It was a completely new perspective to me. I had thought of training and the classroom as a place to drive innovation. For this particular trainer, the classroom is NOT the place to drive innovation. The classroom is a way to get people up to speed on what is currently happening.

I’m now starting to think of the innovations we do as learning consultants in two categories. The first category is those innovations around teaching and instructional design. They happen in the classroom. If we can design a better classroom experience, that innovation will happen in the classroom. The second category is those innovations that influence how the work gets done. These would be things like job aids, information management solutions, and the like. These are implemented in the work environment and only make their way into training once that has happened. Once the innovation is part of the work, we can run it back into the training events.

So, certainly this is not earth shattering – and I’m making a fairly significant change to how I think about implementing changes based upon one comment. But the comment feels right.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Process and Instructional Design

The process work I've been doing with my current employer is garnering some attention. For professional development, I'll be taking some of the Hammer process courses in Boston later this year.

I've been working on an instructional design model and process that is specific for those instances where the instruction is primarily about process. I have a start and there are some things I don't like about it, but the process works something like this.

A request comes from a client to teach a group of people how to do something. The project lead requests from the client their process (temporary definition: a set of actions performed by one or more people that produce an outcome). The client has to own this process (the training and development group cannot). If they have a process, the project lead then asks for the procedure for each process piece. If they do not have a process, the project lead must assign a process developer to the project.

The next focus is on procedures. If the requesting department has procedures, the process and procedures then become the foundation for the instructional designer's work. If the requesting department doesn't have the procedures documented, a technical writer is assigned to the project to get them written.

The instructional designer should begin his work with the foundation of process and procedure. He looks for those places where there is greater complexity, longer sequences of steps (greater probability for error), and areas of greater judgment. These areas become the focus for any instructional components.

A full development team therefore, could consist of the following roles: project manager, process developer, technical writer (for procedures), instructional designer, trainer, and project analyst (the person who analyzes the measurement data obtained from instances where the content is delivered).

More on this later...

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Reusable Interactions
Starting in about 2000, while at General Motors, we started creating Interactions. Interactions are Flash files that encapsulate functionality that pull content from external files at runtime. With this approach, the Interactions only need to be developed once. They can be reused by simply editing a text file and indicating the content for that particular instance.

Flash is great at importing XML. So, the file that needed to be edited for each instance was an XML file. What we found was, that most of the Instructional Designers didn’t have the expertise to edit an XML file (no one willingly edits a raw XML file, whether Instructional Designers or not). So, our interactions had limited success. The success wasn’t limited in that the interactions weren’t used. We used them often. The success was limited in that we could have had more instructional designers using them in courses without going to the XML authors.

So, hanging out there has been this challenge to figure out a way to make it so instructional designers could author the XML in a way that would work for them. The preferred tool would be something they used all the time. The most obvious choice would be Word. The second most obvious choice would be Excel. These are the tools that people use all the time.

So, here are the key elements to an Interaction:
- The Interaction incorporates the functionality.
- The instance information comes from an external XML file.
- The instance can be developed without programming (i.e., no need to even have Flash installed on the machine where the instance is created).

We had 7 or so of them that we used regularly.

What I am providing here meets these requirements. Unzip into a folder. Open questions.xml (should open with MS Word – if it doesn’t, you’ll need to upgrade to Word 2003 or better) and edit the questions. When you’re done, save questions.xml. Open index.htm and see what you get.
This Interaction is a version of the concentration game. As questions are answered, an underlying image is uncovered. Other Interactions we’ve developed include:
- A version of Jeopardy.
- A procedure player: each frame has a title, procedure step, procedure description, image.
- An image player: presents a series of images, with a forward and back arrow.
A note about SCORM.
Ideally, these interactions should operate as SCOs. I’ve written this one so that it operates as a SCO. All it does now is sends the LMSInitialize and the LMSFinalize commands. When I get time, I’ll set it up so it keeps track of the number of correct / incorrect responses and writes that to the LMS. I’ve disabled the SCO functions. If you want to enable the SCO functions, open index.htm and take a look at the instructions.
If you know somewhere where other people are hosting these types of things, let me know and I’ll add a link. If you have one that you want to add, let me know.

The Interaction is located here:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Process Sensitive Information Support

Where I work, we have a document repository. I've done a fair amount of observing and interviewing people to determine how they use the repository. The key performers spend their lunch hours browsing around, locating documents, and learning what's there. Most everyone else doesn't like it and doesn't use it efficiently. There are plenty of reasons why people don't use it, but the primary one seems to be that they need to find information quickly and the repository doesn't get them the information as quickly as they need it.

This led me to thinking, how can I get them the information they need in the context of the procedure they're performing. My thinking is that, if I can know where in the process they are, I can know the documents that will help them at that point. I know, nothing revolutionary here.

Here's what I'm suggesting we do.

I work in a process-based organization. There is a team that has documented in MS Visio the processes the audience I'm targeting performs. I'm working with them to identify the procedures and information resources required at each step in that process. We'll take the Visio process flows, link them to the supporting information (loaded in the content repository), export the Visio flows as HTML, and provide the HTML to the performers (both in training and on-the-job).

Right now, we're at the stage of linking the process flows to the supporting information. Here's a principle I think should be followed, based upon what I'm learning.

No post processing

Let me explain. The process team has, along with the process flow, all sorts of notes in the documents. The people who will follow these processes don't need the notes. I can't ask the process flow team to pull their notes. What we did decide to do, is to have the process team add a Visio layer and put their notes on that layer. This way, they can have their notes, but when we need to export to HTML, we can turn off the notes layer. This allows us to have two levels of dialogue in the document. It also means that whenever we decide to export a version for HTML, there is no work we do aside from the export.

In the past, I've had the same dilemma while using Word. How do we present the information to the user, but still allow for a discussion about the content to remain in the Word document. In Word, we did it with styles and hidden text.

This is a big effort for me right now. If we're successful in doing this, I expect we can cut down the time required for training the new processes. I also expect we will have greater conformance to the process. I also expect we can reduce processing time by getting people information in context of the process they're performing - Process Sensitive Information Support.

More to come. I'll start talking about usability in the next post.

IU IST Annual Conference

I gave a version of the presentation I gave at Masie's conferene at the annual IU IST conference a couple of weeks ago.

I want to talk a bit about the presentation. But first, a comment or two about the IU IST conference. This is a great conference at a tremendous value. I saw a great presentation by Darryl Sink on efficient learning content development. Andy Gibbons from BYU presented on different types of reserach (science and technology). I'm at Humana right now. I'm going to encourage my team to attend/present next year. I'm also getting active in the local ISP chapter and I'll see if I can get them involved as well. It's a beautiful 90-mile drive from L'ville to Bloomington. I think this conference can become a professional development highlight .

On to the presentation.

First of all, here are some additional resources:

Here's the original presentation page:

There you'll find an example that demonstrates the XML portion of the presenation that you can download and try.

I'm working on a paper based upon this presentation and the feedback I've received. Sections coming soon...

Briefly, here are some of the main points from the presentation:

Content should be authored, maintained, and delivered in one tool - preferably a tool that your SMEs use.
Word for textual content
Visio for process flows

Yes, I'm saying you should think twice about using a tool like Toolbook, Lectora, or the like for development. Use them only if you can import the content at runtime from XML output or web output from the program in which the content was authored.

"Why?" you ask. Because of the inefficiency resulting from moving the content into a tool your SMEs don't use. Other benefits: no content freezes, your SMEs can participate in authoring content throughout the entire development process, you will be more efficient in developing content.

It is better to have content used once quickly that never reused.
I misspent my youth chasing the dream of content reuse. Forget about it. Focus on developing the content quickly. The reuse that is going to happen as our tools and methods mature is functionality reuse and content reuse (with no additional effort) within the lifecycle of information use.

What does this mean? It means that a tool that displays multiple choice questions directly from a Word file (saved as XML) can be reused - but the questions probably will not be reused. A course where the content is tagged (concepts, facts, principles, procedures) will have content reused WITHIN the course. For example, the procedures can be presented and practiced throughout the course - then "reused" in a job-aid format at the end of the course.

Then there is the idea of Quickly. Information has a lifecycle. You get it from your SME one day and sometime the next week, it's no longer current (sure, some hyperbole here, but not much). Have you ever wondered why your SMEs chafe so much at content freezes? If you freeze the content for 3 weeks while you put the finishing touches on a course, I may not be accurate when you're finished.

Prospect, KY
Happy St. Patrick day