Monday, May 4, 2009

Continuous Learning Experience

Through experience I am learning that training should never be a one time event, it should be a continuous learning experience. As a corporate trainer it can be all too easy to facilitate the class (off or online), collect your smiley sheets, and check the class off the list as done forever. It feels great to mark the task off the list but it can also be a recipe for disaster. This raises the question, "What are the best "Continuous Learning" solutions?" This post highlights some of the wins and losses I have had in creating continuous learning experiences.

I have recently been working on a lot of technical training projects for a recent software implementation. The learners completed a series of eLearning tutorials and a day long instructor led training class but that was not enough to help learners retain the knowledge needed to use the software fluently. In an effort to provide a continuous learning experience I implemented a Wiki using MediaWiki. Myself and a few others filled the Wiki with detailed instructions covering every procedure the software is used for. It is now a great resource for quickly finding answers especially in the first couple of weeks after the software implementation. The instructions in the Wiki served as a great reminder of what they learned in the eLearning and instructor led courses to get them through the tough times.

However, the Wiki did not fulfill all of the learners needs. Many learners had a difficult time fully understanding the in's and outs of unique situations by reading instructions on the Wiki. They needed to interact with somebody who could answer their questions and provide perspective unique to the situation they are dealing with. The problem with this is that the technical support staff was too busy to provide the one on one coaching that many people needed. To address this issue I implemented a help forum on the organizations Moodle LMS where learners could go and post their non urgent questions. At first I thought it would mainly be the tech support staff answering questions in the forum but it turned out to be other tech savvy learners who caught on to the software quickly that were able to lend a helping hand to their colleagues by answering questions. The great thing about this is that the quick learners who were answering questions were learning more by answering questions. The forum turned out to not only be a great tool for reducing tech support calls, but it was also a great tool for both novices and experts to learn about the software.

The wiki and help forum turned out to be great resources but this was not until I could overcome the major hurdle of getting people to use these resources. In any organization, it can be difficult to attract participation for tools like this even if the information is valuable. I still don't have the participation I would like but as I continue to advertise within the organization, I'm gaining more and more visitors in each of these resources. The bullet points below highlight some of the advertising successes I have had:
  • Cover Resources in Formal Training Courses - I made sure to include training on using the Wiki and help forum in the formal eLearning and Instructor Led courses as a form of advertising and to set expectations of when to use these resources. In the past, employees of the organization have had a tendency to quickly call the tech support staff when they didn't know how to do something so we needed to break this habit.
  • Advertise anywhere and everywhere - The more chatter there is about the resources the better. I had success by advertising in the company newsletter and the internal company intranet. Employees refer to the newsletter and intranet for the latest news so these were ideal places to advertise the successes people were having using these resources.
  • Get the power users involved - I mentioned that there was a tendency in the organization to rely on the tech support staff when you have a software question. To break this habit we needed to change the habits of both the employees and the tech support staff. Rather than firing off the answer to the question I encouraged the tech support staff to coach the employee on how to find the answer to their question using the Wiki and Forum. Once employees realized that if they call tech support, they are going to be coached on using the Wiki and Forum the calls start dwindling and participation in the resources increases.
After a lot of hard work the Wiki and Help Forum turned out to be great resources for creating a continuous learning experience. I am still learning more about Wikis and Forums and will be exploring other ways to continue the learning experience after the formal training is complete. What have you done that worked well? Please share your experience by posting a comment.


Steven Brent said...

Joe, this is a great post and has help to crystallize some of the challenges I've been having in designing both asynchronous and synchronous (instructor-led) courses. The question of continuity is an important one, especially since this aspect of the experience must be explicitly designed in -- it's not going to. like, emerge spontaneously from a well-designed course. I've been thinking a lot about game design concepts and how these might be applied to instructional materials, towards the goal of creating more engaging guided interactions. Thanks again for the post.

Joe Deegan said...

Thanks for the comment Steven. You're absolutely right about designing continuity in. With something like a game you can have more success with an instructor led session where learners are taught the skills they will need to play the game. Then after the ILT session they can practice what they have learned in the game. Thanks again Steven.

Sonya Nichols said...

Many people in elearning give lip service to the idea of continuous learning, but it is hard to find actual examples of it being used. I think the key to adoption of any concept in any company is influential people within the company buying into it. Thank you for your real and honest assessment of the challenges too in creating blended learning (the reluctance of people to try a new technology.)

Joe Deegan said...

Thanks for the comment Sonya. There are definitely challenges in creating blended learning solutions especially when it comes to social media. Right now I am trying to think of some kind of contest I can implement to promote use of forums and the wiki. I think some kind of contest would help to make more people aware of the benefits and encourage them to try it.

Sonya Nichols said...

Thanks for the comment on our blog, Joe.

I am not surrised the tech people were less of a resource. Even for our tech support here at Phasient, we've found the best tech support people have used our tool extensively themselves.

I think the most important part that perhaps you didn't include is getting buy-in from management. When I was at the elearning guild conference in Florida, I found that the most successful web 2.0 type tools as resources were really adopted by the company as a whole and were a part of the culture. Without that buy-in of key people, the best resources and tools in the company can often go unused.

Joe Deegan said...

Hi Sonya,
Thanks, your blog post is great. You make a very good point on management buy in. That's actually something I have been working very hard on to promote the wiki I mentioned in the post. Executives talk up the Wiki like it's the solution but when it comes down to execution they don't think to use it or promote it until I remind them. I am slowly winning the hearts and minds but at this point it's just not at the front of their mind as a resource. I am noticing increasing success and use of the Wiki but it's a slow hard battle. I actually just had one of my greatest "Wins" when the president of the company promoted the use of the Wiki in an address to the company. Thanks again for the insight.

Jen said...

This is very helpful (even a year later) as we are looking for ways to utilize social media in our organization, expecting some of the obvious challenges, including those you mentioned. I will be back to read more. Thanks!