Tuesday, November 27, 2007

IT Comes up Huge!

Last week my chances of getting a Wiki installed behind the firewall were looking terrible. I actually refocused on hosted solutions because the notion of installing MediaWiki behind the firewall was shot out of the water at first. Luckily we have a fired up tech support guy who is dying to get a Wiki up and going so that he can update it with the latest tech support issues that come up. He was persistent enough to find a solution that all parties are happy with and MediaWiki is now installed behind the firewall. The ball is now in my court to make it useful. Where do I begin?

I was so focused on just getting buy in for a Wiki that I didn’t put much thought into the actual development and implementation of the Wiki. So, what are the keys to success in a Wiki implementation? Based on experience I would say the most important factor is creating a great base of content to show the organization what the possibilities are and then come up with a way for them to be excited about it so that they will jump in and use it. It would be a good idea to come up with some kind of contest or release event that brings a lot of attention to the Wiki.

One idea I have had so far that should generate a little interest in the Wiki is to create an online scavenger hunt that will require the participants to find certain information in the Wiki. This would help them realize the great information that is available and how easy it is to access. Quia makes it really easy to make an online scavenger hunt that would be perfect for this exercise.
In addition to a scavenger hunt I will need something that requires them to post or edit information in the Wiki.

Once they see how easy it is to find answers to the Wiki they need to see how they can contribute to making the Wiki better. This is where some kind of contest could come in to play. The organization has a large sales force and a good contest idea would be to enter their most effective sales technique. The techniques entered into the Wiki could be judged by the VP of sales and the winner could win some kind of cool prize like an iPod.

But before I worry about getting people to use the Wiki I need to start writing out the content. I am going to start out by cruising through Wiki’s and developing opinions of what works and what doesn’t. I need to see how the information is presented so that it is made useful. I have plenty of material to work with but I am not exactly sure of the best way to present it. My goal for now is to research what makes a good and bad Wiki and develop a content layout plan from there.

Just in the nick of time!

Just as I was looking into purchasing Camtasia Studio by Tech Smith I came across a blog posting on Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology blog just in the nick of time. Tony posted links to free downloads of Snag It and Camtasia. I have been a long time user of Snag It and love it for screen shots. It is very handy for creating software training materials. I recently used the demo version of Camtasia to complete a software simulation project and it worked out great. I just installed Camtasia and can't wait to put it to use on a larger scale project.

Post about free Snag It and Camtasia downloads

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We Need a Wiki in a Wiki

It’s obvious that a Wiki would be a great help in my organization. A few years ago we started using SharePoint and now we are SharePoint junkies. The problem is that our SharePoint intranet has grown so immensely that it is now difficult to find information you need in a pinch. The search features are weak and there is now so much information available that we need a quicker way to get an answer in a pinch. I believe a Wiki would be a great addition to our systems so that it is easier to access commonly needed information quickly. People don’t want to look for the manual then scroll through the manual to the appropriate chapter to find their answer.

So, we know we need a Wiki. Now, how do we make it happen?

Here is what I have identified as our options:
  • SharePoint Wiki – SharePoint 07 offers some basic Wiki options that would probably satisfy our needs. The problem is that we will not be upgrading to SharePoint until the end 0f 08 and we can’t afford to wait that long. Plus it would be nice to have some more robust options.
  • Install behind firewall – One of our tech support guys has experience with PHP and MediaWiki in particular so I am hoping to leverage his experience and install MediaWiki behind the firewall. I proposed this to IT management and I am hitting some roadblocks that I might not be able to get through. Our server farm is stretched too thin and we are preparing for an infrastructure upgrade so it wouldn’t be a good time to install anything additional to any of our servers. This is still being discussed but not looking good.
  • Hosted solution – This is what I am leaning towards at this point. There are a ton of free hosted solutions that will most likely get the job done for us. The problem is that there are so many options that it is overwhelming. There are quite a few hosted solutions that specialize in Media Wiki and I have also been referred to PBWiki and Project Forum.

At this point I am leaning towards a free hosted solution that will let us get started and prove the value of a Wiki. Once I can prove its worth through a pilot Wiki and we complete our system upgrade I am sure that IT will not have a problem with installing media wiki behind the firewall so we can expand our Wiki. If I am able to prove the value and IT agrees to install MediaWiki behind the firewall it would probably be best if my data is already in MediaWiki so the data can be easily transferred and I am familiar with MediaWiki options.

I decided a good topic to cover for the “Pilot” wiki would cover how to find and use what you need on our SharePoint intranet. We recently acquired another company who will be integrating into our intranet next month and this might be a good tool to help them familiarize themselves with SharePoint. By using a Wiki for this topic I can decrease the amount of time it will take for them to become familiar with the new tool.

Now I just need to figure out how I am going to measure its effectiveness. This is going to be tough because there is no baseline to improve upon. They are not using SharePoint now so it is impossible to say if people have been making more efficient use out of it. The best option I can think of is to track the number of hits and relate that number to a number of unnecessary emails or phone calls that would have been made if it were not for the Wiki. If I can prove that the Wiki is being used then the benefits should be evident.

After I finish this initial project it should be easier to prove an ROI for other projects. In particular I would like to use a Wiki for tech support questions and it will be easy to show a decrease in the number of tech support tickets opened. Our tech support staff tracks all of their tickets through a program called Bridge Track which should make this easy.

Great blog post on starting a blog

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Proving ROI in Training

The company I work for has a tight grip on the training budget this year and if I want to make eLearning a priority in future budgets I need to make the ROI on eLearning obvious. As you may have seen in the previous post, I am attempting to do this by replacing some content that is currently delivered through instructor led training. By doing that I could easily point to the salary of the trainer and the cost of paying our employees to leave the store and sit through training. This would result in a large amount of money that I could point to as ROI and hopefully this would cause some alarms to go off among the VP’s.

I brought this idea to my supervisor and he likes it but he’s steering me in a different direction. He would like me to create some kind of tool or eLearning course that will help our sales staff with product knowledge because this is a current focus of the training dept. I am happy that he would like to use eLearning for this but it will not be easy to make ROI blaringly obvious in this situation. Because we are not currently spending anything on this training it’s hard to say how much we are saving by delivering it through eLearning. If we already had an instructor led course that covered this subject it would be easy to calculate the cost of the ILT versus the cost of the eLearning version.

Where there’s a will there is a way! I came up with a couple of ideas of how I can prove ROI on this project:

  1. At completion of the project, I need to show how much I improved product knowledge and somehow try and correlate that to a dollar amount if possible. I can see how much product knowledge has improved by developing a baseline of product knowledge at the beginning of the project then compare that to the level of product knowledge at the end of the project. I will develop this baseline of knowledge by conducting some kind of assessment at the beginning and end of the project then compare the results to see how much their knowledge has improved. The assessments will also make it easy for me to see what areas of product knowledge they need more help in. Once I know how much knowledge has improved I need to correlate that to some kind of dollar amount or value. That’s where I’m stuck.

  2. Another way to prove the value of eLearning with this project would be to calculate how much this would cost if we did it through instructor led training then compare that to the cost of eLearning. I’m sure the cost of eLearning would pale in comparison to rolling out an instructor led course. The only problem with this is that ILT may not even have been a consideration for this.

I think it would be best to go with both of these solutions so I can point to all of the positive way’s that eLearning has affected our financial situation. The more pros I have to point to, the better.

One small step for eLearning, a giant leap for the company

Now that I am on a shoestring budget I have been making more of an effort to find low cost solutions to implementing eLearning. In my research I came across a website called Quia that I think will be a perfect fit for helping us get our feet wet in eLearning. It’s no high powered LMS, but it will let us create all kinds of assessments and track the scores. In addition to assessments, it also has an interface for creating fun games and activities. I think that by using Quia assessments and games along with power point shows, reading assignments, and conference calls we can construct a low cost distance education course. This may seem like a small step for eLearning, but it is a giant leap for my company : )

Here comes the tricky part. I need to find a subject to cover and preferably it is a subject that is currently being covered in an instructor led course. Ideally, I would like to take a portion of the content of an instructor led course and convert that to eLearning so that I can reduce the amount of days/hours required to complete the class. If I can point to a dollar amount that I saved by converting this material to eLearning I am more likely to turn some heads and get more leeway in the budget. By doing something simple that has a positive ROI I can begin to win the VP’s over and make eLearning a priority in next year’s budget.

So that’s the plan! Create an eLearning course that will replace a portion of an instructor led course and make the ROI blaringly obvious.

Friday, November 9, 2007

What did I get out of DevLearn?

Going into DevLearn I was a little unsure of what to expect considering it was my first conference like this. I was hoping to get lucky and find some miracle idea or resource that will make it easy for me to implement eLearning at a minimal cost. Well, I didn’t come back with any miracle ideas or resources but I did come back with a lot of gems that if I follow through on will easily earn %100 ROI on the $1000 investment.

The biggest benefit of the conference was talking to other attendees. The conversations at the breakfast table and with neighbors in workshops were invaluable. Everyone was extremely open to share their experiences and ideas. One of the presenters is going as far as emailing us flash files she used in a course so that we can re use them. Hindsight being 20/20 I wish that I had looked into the “Breakfast Bytes” so that I would have had more of an opportunity to share ideas and experiences with people. Through conversations with a variety of people I realized how big of an opportunity we are not taking advantage of. I was already sold on eLearning but talking with people made me feel stupid for not making more of an effort to getting this implemented years ago. I am now even more determined and committed to implementing eLearning in stages over the next couple of years.

I wish I could have gotten more value out of the workshops. eLearning 2.0, and Opportunities for Performance Support which I wrote about in previous posts were awesome. These workshops got me fired up to get back to work and start working on all of my ideas. However, the other workshops I attended were not as effective and a couple of them proved to be excruciating. It was easy to see that many of the speakers had a lot of experience behind the curtain but not in front of an audience. I think that I could have gotten more out of the workshops if I had made better selections. It appeared as if the workshop descriptions were written long before the workshops were designed. In a couple of workshops I was completely surprised about the content after selecting it based on the description. The most effective workshops were those that facilitated discussion among the group and I wish there was more of that. I got my best ideas from other people in the audience but the speaker was too busy lecturing to provide the opportunity for us to share ideas.

Overall I would say I got my money’s worth because of the ideas and experiences that other attendees shared with me in addition to the better workshops. eLearning 2.0, and opportunities for performance support were great and I hope that other presenters can use them as a model for future events. I can’t say for sure that I will attend this conference again but I am glad I went and think it was worth the money.

Opportunities for Performance Support – Allison Rossett

Another DevLearn workshop I got a lot out of was “Opportunities for Performance Support” with Allison Rossett. I was excited to meet Allison because she is a professor in the educational technology program at San Diego State. I am starting the Ed Tech program in January and can’t wait to get started.

This workshop was right up my alley because it covered what I do at work every day. I love creating job aids because they allow me to make a bigger difference across the organization. If I teach a class I am only reaching a handful of people but by creating a job aid I can reach every person in the organization.

This workshop helped me develop a new way of looking at training initiatives. I think sometimes I have a tendency to assume some kind of training course is the best way of handling the issue and this workshop helped me realize that this is not true. In many cases if not most, a job aid or tool can be more effective than investing in ILT or eLearning. I learned to always ask myself “Do they already know how to perform this task?” If they do already know how to do it, will throwing more training at them help? By providing a job aid that makes the task simpler for them you can have much better results than investing in training and more training. By making more of a focused effort to look for “Opportunities for Performance Support,” I can make more of a difference in my organization with less effort and time.

Allison has written several books on the subject and I look forward to reading them. First on my list is Job Aids & Performance Support which seems to be a more updated version of her earlier book First things fast.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

eLearning 2.0 Presentation with Tony Karrer

I attended my first day of DevLearn and needless to say ideas are bouncing around my head like a pinball. This is my attempt to get it all out before I forget. The first workshop of the day was eLearning 2.0, presented by Tony Karrer.

I’m currently researching Wiki’s for my organization so I was going into this presentation hoping to come out with a lot of ideas of how they can be used. Tony provided some great information regarding Wiki’s and the audience had some great examples of how they are being used at their organizations.

A couple of Wiki ideas I walked away with:
· Honey Pots - I loved the idea of creating “honey pots” in the Wiki so that only certain areas can be edited. I had some concerns about using a Wiki to communicate policy and other HR related information without having control of what is edited. By using “honey pots” I can restrict editing access to the sensitive information while allowing access to other areas.
· Help Function – At my organization we recently rolled out a new point of sale software program and this seems like the best format for a help feature. The application is home grown and constantly in development. Feature creep is my worst enemy. A Wiki seems like it would be a great way to keep the organization updated on all of the changes. Our internal tech support staff is constantly coming across new “FAQ’s” and this seems like a fabulous option because they would be able to add the FAQ’s on their own.
· Meeting Agenda – Using a Wiki for a meeting agenda is a great way to collaborate on the content of the meeting. A wiki would allow each contributor to edit the agenda. This is much better than emailing around several versions of a document.

At this point I have more ideas of how to use a Wiki then I have time to implement. I am hoping to implement the Wiki in phases in hopes that I can prove its value and be freed up more time to work on it. Now I need to find a way to see an example Wiki(s) from other organizations and if possible talk to somebody who was involved in implementing a Wiki at their organization.