Social networking is fast becoming ubiquitous

Further evidence of the near universal appeal of social media comes in the form of a new report from Neilsen, which shows Internet usage in April of this year. According to the report:

  • Worldwide, 22% of all online time is spent social networking.
  • Three quarters of all Internet users visit a social networking site when they log on (that’s 24% more than just last year).
  • The average user is spending 66% more time on these sites than a year ago, which amounts to some six hours a month.
  • Australians spend the most time networking, followed by Americans and Italians. Don’t ask me why.
With social media practically ubiquitous, the pressure will inevitably mount for similar functionality to be present in enterprise systems. Surely connecting with people to share information and solve problems is even more vital at work than it is when we get back home.

How long does it take to develop one hour of training?

Examines the results of a US survey on the time taken to create an hour of live e-learning.

People often ask how long it takes to develop one hour of self-study e-learning. The answers vary wildly, from under 50 hours to more than 300, depending on the amount of research that is needed, the complexity of the interactions, the richness of the media, the capabilities of the authoring tool, and the experience of the designer. These figures nearly always surprise people, because they wouldn’t normally spend anywhere near this time developing for the classroom. However, because they have to stand alone, self-study materials are notoriously hard to develop and they can only therefore make economic sense when there’s a reasonably large audience of users. The estimates are also open to question on the basis that self-pacing is, by definition, variable – what’s one hour for one learner, is 20 minutes for a second, and 2 hours for a third.
However, with live online learning, the concept of ‘one hour of e-learning’ really does make sense. An hour is an hour is an hour. That’s why I was interested to read the analysis by Karl Kapp (see Time to Develop One Hour of Training):
“In 2003, the low estimate for developing one hour of instructor-led, web-based training delivery (using software such as Centra, Adobe Connect, or WebEx) was 30 hours and the high estimate was 80 hours. In 2009, the low estimate is 49 and the high estimate 89. Both higher. Is it taking us longer to develop e-learning than it did six years ago?”
These figures are low compared with self-paced e-learning but higher than I would have expected. I can’t quite see why it takes 1-2 working weeks to assemble a really good hour of training. Am I missing something here? What’s your experience?

Increasing use of web conferencing for sales training

Cites a report from Citrix which shows how the use of web conferencing for sales training is on the increase.

Increasing sales effectiveness with online training, a new report from Citrix Online, highlights just what an important role web conferencing is playing in sales training. Using data from a recent Manasco Marketing Group survey, the report shows there is a significant rise in the number of sales organisations that rely on online training to stay competitive:

  • “The survey data reveals a considerable jump in the number of sales organizations that are conducting online training (54 percent last year compared to 70 percent this year).”
  • “56 percent report that they have integrated onsite and online training for sales development.”
  • “Online training is more frequently utilized for product updates and refresher sales training.”
  • “Organisations are more than twice as likely to hold sales development activities more often when they utilise online training. A full 20 percent of respondents report that they conduct online training sessions once a week or once every two weeks.”
  • “The survey results presented a nearly universal consensus – with 94 percent of respondents in agreement – that limiting disruptions to the sales process is an important consideration when designing a sales training program. And for 78 percent of respondents, travel costs also play a significant role in making sales training decisions.”
With most sales staff based away from a central office, it’s easy to see why online training is likely to be popular for this audience. Nevertheless, in my experience, this is a tough and demanding audience to work with, so it’s encouraging to see how successfully this change has been implemented.

Brain rules for the virtual classroom

A look at the implications for virtual classroom facilitators of the neuroscience findings summarised in John Medina’s book, Brain Rules.

Recently I conducted an in-depth review of John Medina’s book Brain Rules for my personal blog, Clive on Learning. I took my time over this because John’s analysis of the applications of neuroscience to education and training was so far-reaching. I looked at each of John’s rules in turn, assessing the implications for workplace learning in general. The purpose of this post is to explore the ideas in a more restricted context, the facilitation of virtual classrooms.

For each rule, click on the link to see the original posting.
So we learn much more effectively when we’re on the move. Implications for the virtual classroom? I would imagine it’s impractical for participants to use a mouse and headset when exercising, so I’d probably keep sessions short and encourage participants to exercise in the breaks. Some chance.
Without good facilitation, there is a risk of relationships breaking down, perhaps because one person tends to dominate or behave aggressively.The implication for the virtual classroom is to choose facilitators carefully for their empathetic ability and then provide them with the training they need to handle problems diplomatically and sensitively. Given you can’t see your learners, how do you pick up on potential problems? How do you deal with a difficult participant without embarassing them in front of their peers?
All learners are different and that makes it hard for the facilitator of any live session to ensure every participant achieves their objectives. In the virtual classroom that means keeping class sizes small, so facilitators stand a better chance of understanding and reacting to the differences inherent in every learner. It could mean running special sessions forlearners that are behind the pack. It also places a premium on the use of polls and other survey tools that provide you with more information about the group you’re working with.
You’ll achieve nothing if you haven’t captured the attention of your audience. The best way to capture attention is with an emotionally-arousing experience of some sort – perhaps an anecdote, a surprising fact, a scenario, an activity – that is relevant to the point you will be making.
Even if you do manage to capture the audience’s attention, you’ll have lost it within 10 minutes if you don’t stimulate a fresh emotional arousal. In the virtual classroom it will make sense to start with an overview and provide regular progress updates. And in each 10 minute block, concentrate on a single key point.
If you want people to remember something, make sure they understand it. Facilitators should make liberal use of relevant, real-world examples.
Retrieval works best when the environmental conditions at retrieval mimic the environmental conditions at encoding. If this is true, then the most effective environment in which to learn would be on-the-job, which for many virtual classroom participants will be where they will be!
A key lesson here is to present important information repeatedly over time, elaborating on it as you do so. Where possible, build on the learner’s prior knowledge, rather than presenting new information in isolation. Provide opportunities for reflection and/or discussion immediately following the session, perhaps using an asynchronous medium, such as a forum.
So, getting the right amount of sleep is critical to the brain’s functioning, including learning; we differ in how much sleep we need and this varies at different times in our lives; we could all do with a nap in the afternoon. The implications for the virtual classroom? Well, perhaps you should avoid sessions mid-afternoon. You might also find that some participants take advantage of the fact that you can’t seethem to catch up on their sleep during particularly boring sessions!
There’s no real harm in a a learning intervention causing a little stress in learners, so long as this is very moderate and short-lived. A small degree of peer pressure would be a good example. What we don’t want is to stress our learners out. I reckon that a great many classroom events, particularly those that are highly interactive, stress out learners too much because the degree of peer pressure is too high – the learner may be terrified of embarrassing themselves. Live events may also be stressful because they attempt to cover too much information too quickly and the learner simply cannot keep up.
Medina draws heavily on the work conducted by Richard Mayer on the link between multimedia and learning. At the most simple level, Mayer concluded that “students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.” Facilitators of virtual classroom events should try to avoid the most common sins, i.e. delivering two sources of verbal information simulataneously (typically voice and a lot of text on the screen) or two visual sources (say graphics and video). The brain can only comfortably pay attention to one visual and one verbal channel at a time.
Visual aids are not an optional extra; they are usally helpful and sometimes essential. It does matter what pictures you use – different types of information require different types of visuals to convey meaning most clearly. While more abstract information is harder to convey pictorially, it is worth the effort. However, better no picture than one that just fills a space and conveys an inappropriate meaning.
This may be the case, but I struggle to find any implications for the virtual classroom facilitator. In many cases, you can only tell who’s male and who’s female by the name on the participant list.
When it comes to more formal learning interventions, we sometimes seem to conspire to minimise the possibilities for exploration and reflection – the dominant strategy continues to be structured instruction, regardless of the suitability to the requirement. Guided discovery is more engaging and more rewarding, particularly when the participants have plenty of experience to draw upon and share. Probably learners would like a balance between the two. They appreciate the opportunities to reflect and explore, particularly collaboratively, but they also quite like to be able to draw upon expert experience from time to time. This is entirely an issue of pedagogy – virtual classrooms are neutral on this issue and can support each approach equally.

So are webinars effective?

A summary of research on webinar effectiveness from The Webinar Blog.

The Webinar Blog recently completed a small survey of 50 organisations, mostly from the USA, on the effectiveness of webinars. Asked whether they formally measure webinar effectiveness, 32% of respondents answered ‘always’, 16% ‘frequently’ and 26% ‘occasionally’. So whay isn’t effectiveness measured in every case? Of those who do not measure, 46% said it was too hard to establish measurable criteria, 36% said the results cannot be clearly linked to the webinar and 30% said that nobody has asked for it!
Of those who do measure, 40% found that webinar benefits definitely outweigh the costs and 30% felt they probably did. The remaining 30% did not know, which is strange given that they do the measuring. Those who did no formal measurement were asked for their gut feel about whether benefits outweighted costs. Of these 43% said ‘definitely’ and 45% said ‘probably’.