How To Encourage Informal Professional Development At Work
In my previous blog post, I wrote about how workers and job seekers likely undervalue the benefits of free online learning and professional development opportunities. Of course, if the impetus for this eLearning trend is based on employer demand for cutting-edge skills, managers in content development and instructional design departments must play a role in facilitating the pursuit of good online learning by staff members. There are simple things you can do as an eLearning manager to promote professional development efforts within your company.
It’s usually not realistic, or even efficient, to commit substantial time and money to have your staff attend conferences and seminars across the country. It’s also not reasonable to expect every employee to engage in significant professional development efforts during their free time when they’re off the clock. But there’s also no rule that says great learning opportunities have to be expensive, time-consuming, or rooted in formal credentials. So here’s the question: What can you do as a manager to encourage staff members to engage in free, informal, and useful professional development activities during work hours? Consider these five ways you can make this a priority in your workplace.
1. Make it an agenda item at staff meetings
If you want to emphasize the value of professional development to your staff members, make the topic an agenda item at weekly staff meetings. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time in the meeting, but if you plant the seed you may be surprised at how quickly the conversation can grow.
Here at Web Courseworks, members of our instructional design, production, and art teams are typically allocated a block of time each week to research topics and learn about emerging trends and best practices in their respective fields. Routine questions about professional development posed by managers during staff meetings have become an avenue to discuss creative solutions to current issues and concerns.
2. When problems arise, use timely research to find solutions
When problems arise during projects, people often tap into the collective wisdom of the Internet to learn about topics and answer questions. These informal searches can easily be re-framed as timely research efforts that feed into the constant refinement of best practices within an organization. It’s easy to fall into the trap of setting best practices in stone, but this can stifle creativity and make it difficult to incorporate new lines of thinking into your established processes.
The better alternative is to recognize your best practice standards as a living, breathing organism capable of growth and improvement. If you run into a problem, don’t be afraid to check whether someone has come up with a great tool or method to help you solve it. The “Google it” approach can produce surprisingly effective results and give rise to great informal professional development opportunities – at least if staff members know where to look for quality answers.
3. Assign team members to follow key websites and eLearning blogs (like this one!)
If you encourage staff members to search the web for answers, make sure you direct them to valuable resources, such as blog posts by industry experts, articles written by members of the online learning community, and even the massive archives of conference materials at sites like The eLearning Guild. You can coordinate informal professional development activities and reinforce quality control simply by hand-picking the best content sources to fit your needs and asking a staff member to follow that site, blog, or forum. Start by having each team member pick a site to follow from the “Featured” sites on http://www.elearninglearning.com/.
4. Cultivate a culture of collaboration and sharing
As you promote professional development efforts and integrate research opportunities into work hours, the hope is that great ideas, new design concepts, relevant process changes, etc. will eventually emerge. To ensure that the fruits of this labor nourish the company as a whole and don’t just rot away as good notes written on a forgotten page of a notepad or Word document, you need to facilitate collaboration and information sharing among staff members. This team-building component should develop organically if you support professional development as a problem-solving method and make it an agenda item at staff meetings.
5. Segment specialties and develop specialists
Do you manage a diverse set of employees with specialties that range from art to instructional design to software development and programming? Great! Don’t let this diversity become an impediment to the edification of your staff. Build a stable of specialists by catering to the unique skill and knowledge of each member of your team.
For example, we were able to turn our lingering questions about the finer points of course development with Articulate Storyline into a collaborative research project that tapped into the special talents of our production and ISD departments. More importantly, by actively assigning certain research topics to team members who can directly implement solutions during development, we were able to increase our collective working knowledge and produce effective course content more efficiently.
Are you doing these five things to promote professional development efforts within your department? What insights do you have to offer? Please feel free offer additional tips and other feedback in the comments section below.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks, which includes Jon Aleckson, Meri Tunison, and Steve von Horn. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
Recognizing The Benefits Of Free Online Learning
Here’s a question worth pondering: As demand for individuals with hybridized skill sets and specialized knowledge increases, are people changing the way they perceive and pursue opportunities for professional development? In a recent feature for The Guardian, sponsored by online learning institution The Open University, a survey of 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom was used to explore the value of higher education and shifting attitudes toward online learning. The results offer some interesting insights into how the educational paradigm may be transforming behind the scenes. Consider the following answers from respondents who attended university (i.e., traditional institutions of higher learning in the UK):
- 61% of people feel the experience prepared them for their career.
- Only 48% of people feel their degree has been beneficial in terms of getting a job in today’s economic climate.
- Over half of those people feel they were rushed into making choices at university, and 40% said they would have chosen a different educational path in hindsight.
These sobering responses point to a burgeoning demand for specialized learning solutions capable of filling knowledge and skills gaps left behind by conventional curricula. This, of course, is where online learning enters the picture.
In the same survey, a majority of respondents ages 18-24 said they feel obligated to gain additional qualifications and acquire new skills. Moreover, 39% of all respondents have spent time doing professional development online. But as workers balance the costs and benefits of acquiring new skills to help them in their careers, they may still be overlooking the value provided by free online courses. According to the survey, 45% of respondents said they would only do an online if it led to an official certificate.
The more interesting, and perhaps more telling, divide is the one between how employers and job seekers or workers see the value of free courses. Only 13% of job seekers or workers felt that employers would value free online courses with no accreditation, yet nearly one in five recruiters said free online courses do add value to a candidate’s curricula vitae (CV). It’s possible that people simply aren’t taking as many free courses as employers want them to take!
If individuals aren’t enrolling in as many free courses as employers would like, this should be a very easy problem to fix – at least if both sides recognize and acknowledge the extent of the added value. As employers and job seekers/workers redefine what it means to be qualified for a job and what levels of specialization are required, online professional development courses are primed meet these needs and provide benefits free of cost. That’s a win-win situation for all parties who want workers with skills relevant to modern jobs.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson, Meri Tunison, and Steve von Horn. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
BPO: Managing Services & Association eLearning
Associations love their members. Members love professional development opportunities. So, associations strive to provide those opportunities to their members. Sounds like a match made in heaven!
However, many associations are starting to recognize that while members are central to their functions, the deployment of professional development is not an association’s core business. This is particularly true for learning provided over the Internet. As such, associations are beginning to look outside their own organization for help with service management, or outsourcing the business process (BPO).
Companies such as Accenture, GP Strategies and Web Courseworks offer external consulting and implementation solutions to businesses with needs ranging from IT services, training, and recruitment. These companies help other organizations maximize processes in terms of efficiency and quality.
How does that work for associations?
Essentially, an association identifies a need that it lacks the expertise to fulfill in various ways. Let’s say they need to deliver eLearning to thousands of members. So, the association hires experts to provide the services to fill that need. The key change is that associations are looking to hire external services for managing these processes rather than relying completely on internal resources.
This is BPO at work. It allows companies and associations to “let go” of frustrating issues and organizational headaches and instead focus on more important matters such as marketing, building your brand, and growing revenue.
What service management needs might an association “outsource” for eLearning?
As noted previously, it is not the central function of an association to deliver online professional development. This is, instead, one of many services they provide to their members. Many processes go into providing that service, processes that should not cause an association’s time or resources to spiral out of control. Which processes of eLearning, therefore, can and should be handed off to the experts to worry about?
The education side of professional development has always been relatively easy for associations to tackle. However, due to the explosion of eLearning in the past 15 years, education staff members need to have new areas of expertise, particularly in IT-related processes.
SCORM, Flash, HTML5, 508 compliance, etc… The rapid pace of change and innovation for eLearning is making the lack of synergy between education expertise and IT expertise more apparent. This is problematic for associations hoping to successfully and effectively provide quality online learning for their members while minimizing hiring costs and interdepartmental issues.
More associations will consider utilizing BPO to maximize their eLearning and IT processes in a variety of ways. Don’t think about it as giving up cold turkey on an entire eLearning, training, or support department. At its extreme, yes, an association could go that route. Most of the time, however, it would be more likely that management will strike a balance upon determining which functions and responsibilities should remain more internal and to what degree others can be transferred to or shared with highly capable external teams.
An association with eLearning needs, for example, can hire an external company to administer a variety of functions necessary to create, host, deliver, and/or assess the eLearning and the systems that enable those processes. For instance, the external company takes over administration of the association’s learning management system. Compare this to the association itself spending months and money to find a qualified team who satisfy both the educational understanding and IT expertise needed for the job. The BPO company would still work with the association to ensure their needs for the system are met, and the association focuses on more important aspects like their brand and relationship with members. This is what we like to call a win-win situation!
Ranging from simple to more complex, these needs may include:
- Hosting software (SAAS)
- LMS administration
- Support/help desk
- Content management
- Project management
- Subject matter expertise
- Live training workshops
What makes an association an ideal candidate for using BPO with eLearning?
In general, associations looking to minimize expenses and maximize revenue would benefit from considering this method of managing their services. However, the decision also depends on the capabilities of any departments involved, as well as the availability of resources to be able to make that success happen. Read more…
This post is gonna party like it’s January 1, 2014
The new year is still so—well, new during the first month. It’s still trying to get its footing. Find a sense of purpose. Point the way. Tread the waters a bit. We gave January the room to accomplish these things. As such, we had a 31 day opportunity to really mull over what we think will make 2014 a great year for e-Learning. What’s in store for the remaining 334 days? We have four “M” trends to keep an eye on!
1. Mobile compatibility
Adapting e-Learning for a variety of desktop browsers continues to be important for content providers, but we predict that 2014 will be the year that “m-Learning” really gets a significant look from associations. Rather than focusing solely on browser compatibility, m-Learning seeks to offer quality learning opportunities across devices such as tablets or smartphones. Is there any chance we will be using these devices less in the coming year? Not very likely.
According to Comscore, “multi-platform users will evolve from being a simple majority to a dominant majority, while an increasing percentage of consumers will access the web from all three leading digital media platforms.” Clearly, it is in e-Learning companies’ best interests to consider investing in making their products compatible across multiple devices and platforms in 2014. By creating a responsive design for accommodating different screen sizes and user interface capabilities, associations can deliver their e-Learning to a wider range of clients and keep them engaged in learning rather than engaged in trying to zoom in and out and click tiny buttons on a touch screen. To accomplish this, companies may consider investing more heavily in HTML5 development, or the use of the standards such as Experience API (Tin Can) that particularly support portable, compatible data.
2. Mo-mo-mo-more MOOCs
In the last couple of years, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have been the poster child example for globalizing education and increasing your average Joe/Josephine’s access to previously exclusive academic content. A quick glance at MOOC List, an aggregation site for the thousands of MOOCs in existence, will reveal that while many of these courses appear to be more academic in nature (Crash Course Biology or Introduction to International Criminal Law, there are certainly many contenders that additionally fall under the categories of life-long learning or professional development. In fact, in 2014, it is easy to argue that the line between academic content and professional content is extremely gray, perhaps even useless to some.
We predict that more e-Learning companies and professional associations will work together in 2014 to provide a MOOC-like experience for their employees and their members. Associations may not be ready to release theses courses into the wild with tens of thousands of users like true MOOCs might have, but it is possible for associations to create a MOOC-like experience for professional development and other learning opportunities. Many companies who offer learning programs already host these resources online, or “in the cloud” so that users from anywhere, at anytime, can access the information through any Internet-connected device.
To increase the MOOC-like experience for these courses, associations would focus on utilizing technology (such as a corporate Learning Management System) to promote synchronous collaboration. Social learning and blended learning structures are becoming more popular, and MOOCs revolve around those concepts as opposed to the traditional asynchronous page-turning used in many online association learning resources.
Check out our blog post here to learn how we recommend getting started building your own MOOC-like experience for your users!
3. Miniaturizing Content
One purpose of e-Learning is to make content more accessible to learners. Often, the focus of this purpose is connected to the e part of the word, and less so on the learning portion. Copying and pasting mass amounts of content from one context into another is not enough.
In 2004, the term micro-learning was introduced. In 2006, nano-learners were given voice. Now, content chunking is a widely recognized best practice for breaking up lengthy content and keeping a more manageable scope on what information is valuable enough to be assessed. The majority of learners process information best in smaller amounts, and there are many ways to provide this type of instruction.
ISD experts have been recommending this technique for years in regards to both in-person and online educational opportunities. It’s likely that 2014 will continue to champion this educational practice for the increasing numbers of online learners. We predict more variations of this technique, such as using learning objective modules rather than courses, or microcredentials (see below). The emphasis on making content meaningful will continue to be a mission for instructional designers everywhere.
Who doesn’t love getting an award recognizing their hard work and achievements? Yahoo! Sports, Xbox, Netflix, and other major companies are hopping on the microcredential train, offering small achievement-based awards for their users. Did you against all odds successfully demolish your #1 ranked opponent this week? There’s a medal for that! Did you accidentally watch ten episodes in a row of that one TV show, or finally watch your first TED talk? There’s an Achievement badge for that! Even Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox browser, are promoting badges for their users.
The reward and the accompanying feeling of encouragement is what appeals to users, whether they are binge watching on Netflix or learning about astrophysics through a series of TED talks. This aspect of gamification is quickly expanding its frequency and usefulness in the worlds of e-Learning and social media.
Tagoras’ Association Learning + Technology Report 2014 demonstrates that while microcredentials are currently offered by only 9.3 percent of associations utilizing e-Learning currently, it is really “natural territory” for these groups and will thus continue to grow. Associations want to reward members for acquiring new knowledge or improving skill sets.
While digital badges may lag behind the traditional accreditation or certification process for some companies, the “micro” part could very likely be on the rise for many learners in 2014. Having smaller, trackable assessments within your e-Learning structure not only satisfies the best practice of content chunking, but success with those assessments can more easily and more often be recognized and rewarded. The learner remains engaged and keeps on learning! Ultimately, as microcredentials continue to pick up speed, they will provide associations with a fuller picture of the learner and their achievements—a picture that we hope will come into better focus in 2014.
Managing e-learning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
A Research Review
“…we abandoned the term e-learning entirely.”
Wow! Bold words grace the second paragraph of the latest research done by Tagoras founders Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele. In their freshly published (and free to download!) research, Association Learning & Technology 2014, Cobb and Steele analyze how 200 associations report using technology to “enable and enhance learning.”
The authors certainly waste no time in dispensing of e-learning as a term, which may perplex many in the educational technology industry. However, after reading the report on their research, it is clear that Cobb and Steele subscribe to a broader vision of learning, one that may be enhanced or delivered by technology but that ultimately relies on one other thing to be successful: strategy.
Yep, e-learning is out (at least, for now from the Tagoras vernacular). What’s in? Technology-enabled learning. Technology-enhanced learning. Notice that learning remains prominent. Technology remains prominent. However, these terms are meant to highlight the strategy rather than the technology tools themselves. In other words, particular tools are indispensable for enabling and enhancing learning, and a wide variety of options exist for associations to employ in educating their members. While these tools are key, however, they must be planned and used in meaningful and productive ways for associations to successfully educate their members. This means strategy.
Markers of Success
A solid strategy leads associations to success in terms of education. The research shows a “steady increase” in associations’ use of technology for learning. Are all associations experiencing the same amount of success in this area? If not, why not? Cobb and Steele use their research to illuminate the importance of strategy in helping associations become “more focused,” “more professional,” and “more significant.”
Eighty percent of associations responded that they were very satisfied (24.7 percent) or somewhat satisfied (55.3 percent) with the overall performance of their current learning initiatives with technology. That’s excellent news, right? And in fact, it is, until we look closer at the areas of dissatisfaction identified in the research.
- Cost – The financial investment needed to create the materials.
- Time – The investment by staff needed to create the materials.
- Revenue – The profits/return netted by these associations from offering the materials.
All three areas above hovered around 50 percent for the number of respondents reporting levels of satisfaction. Considering the importance of these areas for any association, it is surprising that the number of respondents feeling satisfied overall is a good thirty percent higher.
Certainly costs, time, and revenue are key components of any corporate strategy. Education is not excluded from this aspect. Cobb and Steele determined several markers of success from their research that can assist associations in improving their satisfaction with these three areas. And, no surprise here—all these markers come back to building a strategy.
To achieve success, and thus to increase satisfaction in terms of revenue, costs, and time, Cobb and Steele’s research emphasizes several steps. Here’s our take on the top 3 ways to proactively increase your association’s chances of success and levels of satisfaction.
“Have a formal, documented strategy for their use of technology for learning.”
As the report notes, associations know that education is a source of revenue—it is a part of doing business. By providing information and services to their members, associations can make money and grow in order to improve those offerings. Education is a key part of that corporate plan for most associations. Just slightly over 88 percent of respondents reported that their organizations “currently offer technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning.” And, 10.6 percent plan to begin doing so in the next year. These associations hope to generate revenue from these offerings.
Currently, just over half of the associations in this report increased their organization’s net revenue due to education efforts. However, nearly 70 percent of associations who reported having a strategy for technology and learning also reported increased net revenues from that strategy. In comparison, only 45 percent of associations without a strategy reported increased revenues.
For example, part of such a strategy may be to ensure a quality product. Over 63 percent of organizations with a strategy use professional instructional designers, compared to 33.3 percent of those without a strategy. While admittedly hiring these professionals is easier for larger associations to budget for, it is possible (and necessary) for any strategy to include building and delivering quality to members.
Ultimately, this saves on cost, revenue, and time by being proactive rather than reactive. Documenting that strategy makes improvements easier to note and implement, as well as identifying areas of success that need to be continued.
“Offer facilitated online courses, gamified learning, virtual conferences, and at least some mobile learning—in general, be more innovative and forward-thinking.”
Variety is the spice of life. No technology tool should be used simply for the sake of using it, however. Part of having success is to strategize which types of tools are going to be most useful to your association’s educational goals—but also being open to trying new tools that could prove to be more effective and engaging.
There are numerous studies and ideas circulating on how to build these opportunities, so they do not need to be addressed in detail here. However, a couple of findings in Cobb and Steele’s research are important to note:
- Webinars and webcasts are offered by about 80 percent of the responding associations. The only other content delivery tools to command a majority of use are “self-paced online courses, tutorials, and presentations” coming in at 65.5 percent. Clearly, these particular options are very popular and arguably perhaps the easiest to implement in general.
- Mobile content is supported by almost 37 percent of associations in this study. In the 2010 study by Tagoras, the research showed a mere 9 percent. As Cobb and Steele excitedly note for 2014: “Add in those planning to offer a mobile version in the next 12 months, and we’re on track for a majority of associations to make m-learning part of their offerings in the future.”
- Of the four emerging types of learning specifically asked about by Cobb and Steele (MOOCs, flipped classes, gamified learning, and microcredentials), none have yet to reach above a 10 percent rate of adoption. Though still “fringe” offerings, the authors are optimistic that these will continue as trends that often may come naturally for associations’ strategies.
Using tools such as these to enhance and enable your association’s educational offerings will help generate engagement for your members, thus leading to improved satisfaction levels by members. Satisfied members are more likely to continue to learn, thus potentially increasing your association’s revenue from education. Additionally, trying new approaches can open up new and more effective possibilities that were not possible previously. Assessing the costs and uses of all tools will also improve the budgeting for these efforts, both in monetary value and time value.
“Use a learning content management system (LCMS).”
“While Webinars are often seen as a relatively easy, low-risk way to enter the technology-based learning market, implementation of an LMS is usually a sign that an organization has made the decision to invest significantly in technology to support its learning— presumably because it sees the potential for a positive return on that investment.” (Cobb & Steele, p. 14, 2013).
A key part to developing a strategy is to determine how to deliver and track your educational products for your members—and nearly 70 percent of companies with a technology-enhanced learning strategy use a Learning Management System (LMS), and just under 30 percent use a learning content management system (CMS or LCMS) either in tandem with an LMS or separately. Without a strategy, that percentage significantly drops to 44 percent of associations that use such a platform.
The report accurately points out that the use of an LMS may be closely related to the budgeting capacity of the responding associations. Though, it is likely that if an association currently could not afford an LMS, part of their strategy could easily include that as a future, viable goal for supporting their “overall learning initiative.” In the meantime, other means of delivering and managing content are available, though may be lacking the powerful data analysis capabilities of an LMS or LCMS.
Improving your management of content, data, and credentials for your members’ education will lead to more effective ways of determining areas of success and needs for improvement. Your product offerings will benefit from this as well, which will more likely translate to higher revenue and better allocation of costs and time.
 Ideas discussed in this post are based on the blog team’s reading of the Tagoras report. Quotes are taken directly from the report, though their application is paraphrased and adapted from the original recommendations, to emphasize what the blog team feels is important for e-Learning (technology enabled learning) management. Percentages with decimals have been rounded to the nearest whole number where appropriate.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
Web Courseworks team members were thrilled to visit the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) annual conference this week. CHEST 2013 showcased ACCP’s dedication to provide high-tech and high quality continuing education opportunities for their members.
As demonstrated at the conference, ACCP uses Coursestage (Web Courseworks’ LMS platform) in effective ways:
- share online content to members
- facilitate hands-on learning
- assess performances
- grant continuing medical education credits (CMEs)
Excited to see eLearning in action at CHEST, Web Courseworks CEO Jon Aleckson joined Jason Jensen (Executive VP of Sales & Marketing) and Andy Hicken (Product Innovation Specialist) on the journey to Chicago. Check out some great pictures from their visit!
ACCP members on the eLearning “midway.”
Hands-On Training and Live Assessments
Web Courseworks Celebrates Halloween In Style
Our e-learning team here at Web Courseworks wishes you all a very Happy Halloween! Today the office is full of our cast of characters, hamming it up in honor of the holiday spirit.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.