ASAE Annual Conference 2015

Join us at ASAE Annual With less than 2 weeks remaining until the year’s most highly anticipated gathering of association and nonprofit professionals, Digitec Interactive has some exciting news! We’ll be unveiling our newest version of the Knowledge Direct Learning Management System, Knowledge Direct 7 Beta, at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition.

For the last 3 years we’ve been vetting technology, surveying the analysts, and asking the learning community, “How can we transform learning? What does the future of online member education look like to you?”

We’d like to show you what the future of learning looks like to us, based on the feedback we’ve received from you. Using mobile-first design and offering WCAG 2.0 compliance, social learning, and scalability, we’ve completely redesigned the LMS, creating a platform that offers transformative learning experiences for Everyone – Anywhere, Anytime.

We invite you to stop by our booth for a demo and share your thoughts on the future of learning via Twitter using the hashtags: #thefutureoflearning and #asae2015. We will be monitoring your comments and feedback for continued enhancements and additions to Knowledge Direct 7.

In addition, Digitec is offering an exciting giveaway for ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition attendees. One lucky winner will receive an iPad mini! To enter, attendees must visit the Digitec Interactive team in booth #508 and obtain an official “digitec-ie” ribbon to be worn on their conference badge. The winner will be selected at random and an announcement will be made on the final day of the expo in the Digitec Interactive booth.

This year’s conference will take place at the Cobo Center in Detroit, MI, August 8-11 and is expected to be the largest Annual Meeting on record, with more than 5,000 ASAE members in attendance.

Learn more about the conference and register to attend by visiting the official ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition 2015 website.

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The Benefits of SaaS: Hosted LMS

SaaS-CloudSaaS stands for Software as a Service. It means software that is hosted on the provider’s servers instead of servers in-house. So, when an LMS provider say they have a SaaS LMS, they’re really saying we offer a cloud LMS.  Cloud meaning accessed through the internet, available on demand, anytime, anywhere.

How does it work?

The client subscribes to the software rather than licensing it outright and running it on their own servers. They then pay a fee, either by subscriber or by monthly usage to the provider who maintains the software program and provides technical support to the client. The provider runs back-ups, does server maintenance and security upgrades, and provides IT services that support the clients usage of the software, while the client runs their organization.

What are the benefits?

In addition to being able to say you’re “on the cloud,” there are other benefits to SaaS (Cloud) LMSs including:

• Lower initial costs and reduced in-house support

Because you aren’t purchasing hardware and hiring IT support staff to go along with your software solution, your up-front costs are lower than they would be if you simply purchased an LMS that was not hosted elsewhere.

• Faster deployment

Because the SaaS provider has an entire team of IT professionals, your deployment time is vastly reduced. Even with customizations, the provider has the advantage of having more techs available with specialized skills and full training on how the LMS works, what’s needed to implement customizations, and how to get your SaaS LMS up and running. Taking this on by yourself could be a hassle, as you first have to find skilled IT staff, and then they have to learn the LMS. Once they know the software, then they have to figure out how to customize it for you. Do they know how to integrate your AMS with your LMS? How long will it take them to learn? Software as a Service skips those hassles and makes deployment a breeze.

• An ability to focus on the organization’s core business, instead of spending resources to support yet another system

Because you’re not spending your time and resources on managing and implementing the LMS, you’re free to expand your association membership or organization’s learning objectives. You have time to focus on creating the right learning content and developing marketing strategies to build your eLearning programs.

Need to know more about Software as a Service (SaaS) Cloud Learning Management Systems (LMS)? Ask us your questions or request a demo.

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Dense eLearning Isn’t Smart

Content Density“It was too much all at once. I was overwhelmed.” That’s not something you want to see in the feedback for your association’s eLearning. Luckily, there are ways to make eLearning more digestible, regardless of the subject matter. Managing content density is the key.

What is Density?

In essence, density is how much “stuff” is packed into a given space. A higher density means there’s more “stuff” and the object is harder. For example, water is less dense than concrete. Think of your eLearning as a pool. You want your learners to swim from one side to the other. It takes energy to get there, but it’s a reasonable goal. What happens if you ask them to swim through the concrete pool wall instead of the water? That doesn’t seem reasonable anymore, and they’ll know it. When you pack too much content into a course and make it too dense it’s suddenly a lot harder.

What Adds to Content Density?

Everything a learner sees, hears, or interacts with adds to the density. You want to strike the right balance by providing what the learner needs without overwhelming them. A ten screen course may sound inviting, but if each screen has five minutes of audio narration and extensive on-screen text with images you may be looking at fifty screens of content crammed into ten. That’s like trying to swim through the pool wall. It leads to frustration and fewer completions.

The types of screens in a course make a difference too. Activities and assessment questions are a good example. An easy multi-choice question will seem less dense than a more difficult one, even if they have the same amount of text or other content. What’s going on here? Remember, density includes anything the learner interacts with. If the learner needs to think about something they’re interacting with it intellectually. Activities should be more involved. After all, you want learners thinking about and applying what they’re learning, and that takes mental effort.

How Dense is “Too Dense”?

It’s not an exact science, but any time a learner reacts to a screen with something like, “Wow, that’s a lot” or “How long is this?” you should consider addressing the density. You can have a focus group go through the course before roll out so you can gather their feedback and address any issues. If that’s not an option, find someone who wasn’t involved in creating the course and ask them to do the same thing.

Ways to Manage Density

  • Only include essential content in your eLearning
  • Provide directions and/or links to “nice to know” information
  • Make a series of short eLearning offerings rather than one big one
  • Focus on having one main idea per screen
  • Use more, less-dense screens rather than a few dense ones
  • Only use animations when it’s appropriate, not whenever “because they’re fun”
    • Use them to draw attention to key information and “build” visual content a little bit at a time
  • Leave some “breathing room” or white space on screen, it doesn’t need to be filled
  • Avoid screens with long narration as best as you can, especially if a screen is static
  • Make questions and activities thought provoking

Give your learners room to “swim” to success by managing your eLearning’s density. Everything that is seen, heard, or interacted with in a course contributes to content density. In most cases less density is better, but activities and assessments are often a key exception. Interact with this content intellectually by leaving a comment below.

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What Copywriting Can Teach Us About Writing for an Audience

Copywriting and eLearning Copywriting is the practice of using written content, both online and in print to market, advertise, raise brand awareness and communicate core brand values.

The beauty of copywriting is that it’s written in such a way as to speak to almost any level reader, taking complex products, services, features and benefits, and breaking them down in such a manner they become understandable to everyone. The copy becomes relevant to the reader because it’s written for the reader.

How might that help you in writing your content? Anything that helps you break down information and transform it into something useful for your reader, whether it’s an association member or an employee taking training, is valuable. Here are some tips to do just that.

Write at an 8th Grade Level or Less

Being able to communicate as a layman to a wide audience is critical when you need to reach a large body of people. While most folks probably won’t understand content written that’s written at a college level, they usually will understand something written at an 8th grade level.

There are some publications that write below that, even as low as a 5th grade level. This is done not to dumb down the material, but to improve reading comprehension of the information being given.

Think short, easy to understand words as opposed to that newest zinger you yourself first had to use a dictionary to look up. A good rule of thumb is the less syllables per word the better. Shoot for short sentences as well, and keep your paragraphs limited to 5 or 6 lines. Yes you may have to break a few grammatical rules, but if your audience can’t understand what you mean, the information you’re giving them is useless.

Consider the Art of Storytelling

Copywriters are great at using the art of storytelling to resonate with a reader. Why? Because stories sell. They connect with people, they draw a reader in, they invest them in the information. When done right, the reader wants to keep reading to find out the end to the story.

This technique can be used when creating lessons and courses as well. A learner is much more likely to become engaged in the material when they can relate to it, and centering the material around a story helps that information become relatable.

Just make sure your stories are relevant and support the lesson, and include elements of all good stories. Good characters, great conflict, words that paint a mental picture… these are important to telling a good story.

You also want to watch your length, and stick to what’s important. If the story doesn’t support your material and serve a purpose, it’s time to rethink your story.

Don’t Forget You’re Talking to Your Reader

Readers like to feel as though you are speaking directly to them. Doesn’t it feel good when you know I’m speaking to you? If most of your content is heavy with “we, us, and I” you may need to revise it, or risk losing your connection. People don’t want to be talked at they want to be talked to.

Keeping your content “you” driven, speaking directly to your reader helps you connect with them, investing them in what you have to say. A good way to do this is to make up someone you write your content to. Be specific, and only write to that one person. Keep the tone conversational, friendly, and direct. It sounds simple, but it works.

And finally…

Formatting and Organization is Your Friend

Many readers begin something first by scanning it to see if it’s relevant to them and let’s be honest… to get the highlights. Using things like subheads, bullet points, and making sure to organize your information in the order you want your reader to consume it is a powerful way to help your content sink in and take root.

Not only that, but when something is neatly formatted and readable, it makes it more enjoyable to consume. Plenty of white space, relevant subheads that give an idea of what each section is about, bullets that help nail a point home… all these things serve to make for a more enjoyable reading experience.

Remember that not everyone is a naturally gifted reader. Some people struggle with reading, and for still others, it’s downright painful. Do your best to make your content easy to consume, engaging, and useful, and you will stand a much better chance of that content doing it’s job and educating your reader. We all like to learn new things when the learning is enjoyable.

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Blended Learning: Not your Mother’s, Grandmother’s, or Possibly Even Older Sibling’s Training

Pre-Assessement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blended learning is not new to training. Remember the days when you looked forward to field trips to the planetarium, hovering over a formaldehyde preserved frog with your lab team, or seeing the movie version of Lord of the Rings on a Friday afternoon? Yes, you probably do remember and that’s the point of blended learning.

Not New, But Improved

Make no mistake, today blended learning goes beyond merely tagging on a movie or performing a Web Quest on the internet. The “new” blended learning means finding the right balance of learner participation and instructor facilitation. This involves actively redesigning and rethinking the teaching and learning relationship, and often including technology as a key partner. The outcome is that the learner becomes the leader of their own multi-modal experience, while the instructor assumes a supporting role. To take this a step further, it’s no longer acceptable to take the same content and simply give it a fresh coat of paint with technology. It requires careful analysis, planning, creativity, and follow through on the part of training departments to design meaningful experiences. However, the integration of face-to-face interaction with technology has the potential to create transformative learning experiences, both inside and outside of the traditional training classroom. Suffice it to say, the four walls of the conventional classroom have come crumbling down and are being rebuilt in exciting new settings without borders.

Fringe Benefits

Today’s learners expect a different kind of learning experience. They want information to be relevant to their needs and presented in a variety of ways which appeal to how they learn. A blended learning approach can help you meet these expectations. Let’s look at Melanie’s learning experience to see how a well-designed blended learning program can help improve the learner experience.

Without Blended Learning. Although she loves learning new things, Melanie has always been an introvert and is pretty shy around others. Working in groups makes her very nervous as she prefers to observe and think about what to say first. The courses she’s required to take to maintain her certification are all instructor-led and based entirely around group activities, which make her anxious and uncomfortable. In fact, sometimes she’s so distracted by her discomfort that she doesn’t speak the entire session. From a learning perspective, it’s debatable whether she actually learns anything.

With Blended Learning. In hopes of saving time and increasing learners’ base knowledge, the association offering Melanie’s certification has sent out a link in advance of the face-to-face training with some key information. The online resource is a simple Wiki which includes a course outline with planned activities, reading materials, and a pre-assessment that helps learners understand their strengths and weaknesses. Now that Melanie knows what to expect, she takes time acclimating to the material, taking notes, and coming up with additional questions relevant to her specific job. When she arrives at the in-person class, she knows what will be discussed and feels more comfortable asking questions in front of others and participating in her group. This is how blended learning can not only help your association cover more ground, but improve the overall learner experience.

WIIFM?

For associations, it’s not always easy to incorporate change in training programs. There are questions about resources, economics, and stakeholder buy-in to consider and resolve before moving forward with new initiatives. The question always arises, “If we spend the money/resources/time, how does blended learning benefit our association and members?” Blended learning not only provides engaging, experiential opportunities for learners, it also has other benefits. We know that face-to-face training is not only costly, but also time consuming for learners and instructors. However, many organizations are reluctant to take away that personal interaction between learner and instructor.

The hybrid nature of blended learning allows organizations to transition learners from traditional instructor led training while maintaining a personal connection with learners.  It’s also an opportunity to develop talent within training teams by cultivating skills with eLearning platforms and other technologies, at a reasonable pace. Ultimately, even small steps towards blended learning can make change more digestible for learners and more manageable for training teams.

Where to Begin?

If all of this sounds great but daunting, fear not! Start with baby steps. Integrating small changes into traditional ILT makes the process a lot easier. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  1. Initiate online assessment
  2. Deliver pre-work online
  3. Integrate in-class surveys with real-time feedback, for example, using Google Forms
  4. Incorporate course wikis or blogs for collaboration
  5. Create “how-to” webcasts or videos, using programs like Camtasia or Jing and upload them to YouTube
  6. Leverage online chat or messaging capabilities for access to experts
  7. Use audio/video conferencing for regular check-ins
  8. Create online discussion groups as part of training and ongoing learning
  9. Try online virtual classrooms or worlds, such as Second Life
  10. Send follow-up “push notifications” to learners via text, email, or messaging

Blended learning allows you to improve the learner experience, manage change, save money, foster a strong technology-oriented training team, and reclaim hours and hours of time all around. What’s not to love? While the transition to blended learning may pose initial challenges, if you can start with small changes, you’re likely to reap big returns for both your members and your association.

 

 

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Gamification or Game-Based Learning? What’s the Difference?

Gamification and game-based learning (sometimes abbreviated GBL) are both hot topics and the terms are often used interchangeably. They’re not the same thing, but a lot of the definitions and explanations that are floating around aren’t very clear. Hopefully this will help: gamification is icing and GBL is cake.

Gamification, “Icing”

Gamification is primarily used to motivate learners. It is usually applied to content or training that already exists. Basically, you already have a cake but not very many people seem to be eating it. You add icing to the cake, which takes effort but not too much. The icing attracts people’s interest and motivates them to eat the cake. At its heart, it’s still the same cake though.

In essence, gamification is at work whenever an incentive is offered to encourage someone to do something they are already supposed to be doing. This could be an award or recognition, a special privilege, an increase in ranking, a prize, or a badge among other things. It’s like offering allowance money for the chores that haven’t been getting done. They’re the same old chores, but that added promise of reward makes people more willing to do them. Sales incentive programs, credit card rewards, and the badges used in scouting organizations are also good examples.

Game-Based Learning, “A New Cake”

GBL is motivational too, but it focuses on how the training is organized and delivered. It is usually applied to topics that require problem solving, critical thinking, or lots of practice. In this case, you’re getting a new cake rather than trying to improve an existing one. This takes more work than just adding icing, but the results can be well worth it in the right situation.

The big difference between gamification and GBL is that you could still learn something from the content you gamified before you gamified it. With GBL the learning takes place during play. If you don’t play you won’t learn, and if you don’t learn you can’t advance in the game. The Typing of the Dead is an example of GBL. As the name suggests, it teaches you how to type. You have to type the words and phrases that appear on screen to shoot at the zombies that are coming after you. If you don’t type fast enough it proves that you haven’t learned sufficiently and you get killed by the zombies.

It is also good to know that “games” does not need to mean “video games” or “computer games.” There are many types of games: board games, card games, word games, pencil and paper games, and other games that don’t require any materials at all, like Charades. All it really takes for something to be a game is a goal and a set of rules that need to be followed in order to reach it.

There are two ways to implement game-based eLearning:

Store-Bought Cake

You can use games that already exist to help teach your content. There are plenty of off-the shelf games available, both educational and commercial. For instance, Monopoly or The Sims could be used to help teach financial concepts. If your association decides to go this route, make sure the game(s) fulfills your needs. After all, you wouldn’t want to show up at a birthday party with a cake that says, “Happy Anniversary!”

Made-from-Scratch Cake

There’s also the option of having your content built into a custom game. This is a big undertaking, so your association will want to find a proven vendor that will work with you to make your game-based eLearning a reality. It can take more time, effort, and money to make a cake from scratch. But you can taste the difference and make it just the way you want it.

There you have it. Gamification and GBL are icing and cake. They’re related, but they’re two separate things. One is purely motivational and the other, although also motivational, focuses on changing the way your eLearning is served. Games come in many forms and can either be purchased as-is or baked from scratch. No matter which recipe you choose, gamification and GBL are excellent tools for increasing learner engagement.

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Four Wishes for LMS Buyers

Four Wishes for LMS BuyersEvery week, like clockwork, I get a call from someone who wants me to recommend an LMS for their association or small business.  The conversation goes something like this…Typical Phone Call Example

If an eLearning Genie would come out of a bottle and grant me four wishes for my LMS buyers, here is what I’d request.

Wish #1: LMS Buyers understand what they are buying

I wish the genie would prompt all LMS Buyers to Google and read the definition of Learning Management System before calling me.  If they would do this, the first item that comes up is this link to a Wikipedia article.

Further down in the article LMS Buyers will see a list of standard LMS functionality compared to LCMS functionality. Notice that course development is generally not one of the functions of an LMS. Sometimes LMSs offer some basic course development tools, but it’s not a core LMS function.

Or the best source to define training and eLearning related terms is ATD’s Learning Circuit’s glossary. Check out the definition of LMS at this link.

Wish #2: LMS Buyers consider the stages of developing and deploying eLearning

Then the eLearning Genie would help LMS buyers to take the next logical step in the buying process before they call me. Now that the buyer knows that an LMS is not a course development tool, s/he will realize that buying an LMS before building courses means paying for something that isn’t going to be used for a while.  This is a waste of precious resources. It’s hard enough to fund eLearning effort, but to use those funds on something that sits dormant is not the smartest use of scarce funding.

Wish #3: LMS Buyers develop courses that comply with the eLearning industry standards

So, if the first step is to develop courses, the eLearning Genie would reveal to LMS Buyers that they need to obtain a course authoring tool or LCMS, or hire an eLearning firm to develop courses. If they buy a course authoring tool, they will also need training on how to design eLearning courses and use the tool. But then the LMS buyer would look at the Genie and ask, “How do you determine which course development tool to buy?” The LMS Genie would explain that using a course development tool that publishes SCORM-conformant courses, will ultimately allow nearly any LMS to run and track your courses. Here’s a few course development tools to consider:

www.udutu.com (free)

https://www.articulate.com/products/studio.php

www.adobe.com/products/captivate.html

Wish #4: LMS Buyers don’t assume that all LMSs are the same

The genie would show the LMS Buyer a vision of the eLearning world, and that there are a wide variety of vendors in the marketplace. Choosing the right one requires a savvy buyer and a rigorous process. Although there are a core set of features that every LMS has, the extra features and functions that LMS vendors offers varies significantly.  To choose the best LMS, LMS Buyers need to define their eLearning business processes and find an LMS that can most easily support these processes. Every LMS was built for a specific client to meet their requirements, then it was expanded to meet the needs of additional clients. The LMS that will most cost-efficiently support the buyer’s business process is the one that has clients with similar business processes.

Thanks to the eLearning Genie for enlightening the LMS buyers who read this blog.

Best wishes in your eLearning endeavors.

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