Change is hard and causes unease, anxiety, and at times, frustration. Every parent who has dropped a child off at kindergarten (or college) knows this!
While change can be overwhelming or even scary, it is often necessary. Professional change brings its own set of challenges. How can you best navigate change at work?
EnVision needed to adapt when we were required to move our SharePoint site over to a new hosting company. We were notified by the “old” hosting company via e-mail and given less than a month to move over our files, as our original service would then be discontinued.
I was a bit taken aback after learning of the tight timetable. After taking a few deep breaths, I notified Tom, our IT guy, and Danielle, our technical/administrative whiz. I couldn’t do this without them.
Tom managed the functionality of the server – back-up and hosting. Danielle’s responsibilities, which required about 8-10 hours of work, included revising the new site’s look to mimic the old SharePoint; setting up appropriate user access for each team member; creating usernames and passwords; and providing crackerjack technical support.
Danielle met some challenges initially. “I went in thinking it’s going to be exactly like the old SharePoint….It is a little bit different,” explained Danielle. “It wasn’t as intuitive.”
The new service provider didn’t offer a support document or user guide. Plus, Danielle discovered that when she added folders, there was no way to return her to the main SharePoint page, so she got creative and built a workaround by adding a “home” link.
The end users (EnVision team members) encountered obstacles, too. Some of the functionality worked best with a particular browser; one team member had difficulty logging in; another had trouble opening and saving documents. Thanks to Danielle and her support, these issues resolved pretty quickly.
Lessons learned from this SharePoint experience can be applied to any change. While initially I felt a bit overwhelmed, I dug into the new software and eventually figured it out.
Three things that helped me were:
1. Planning extra time into my schedule to adjust to the new software and minimize impact to our own clients.
2. Asking for help when needed. I was fortunate to have Danielle and Tom to turn to, and relied on them. Having Danielle as my capable “point person” to train my team was a huge benefit. I will remember to choose my “point person” carefully for all future changes; it can make the difference between implementation success and failure.
3. Keeping a positive attitude. Knowing that my team and I would eventually figure out the new SharePoint helped me through the change.
I’m happy to say we successfully moved our files and team over to the new SharePoint. Weeks later, it seems like we’ve always used this service provider…and we like the new site even better than the old. Time to embrace the next change!
When you eat at a restaurant, the food arrives in a specific order. First, there’s the bread (for those who still eat carbs!). Next, you may get a first course, a salad or soup.
Then the waiter brings the main course, the heart of the meal. This takes longer to eat than the bread or first course, but is usually the most satisfying part of the meal. It’s also the most vital part – if you don’t eat the main course, you could be hungry when you leave the restaurant.
Finally, you can order dessert and coffee. Of course, dessert isn’t necessary – it’s “nice to have.”
But what if all of your courses were served at the same time? You wouldn’t know which food to start eating, or where to focus your attention. You’d have dessert at the start of the meal, whether or not you wanted it. And, you’d probably feel overwhelmed and irritated, and might lose interest in the main course.
The same principle holds true for elearning. If you are given too much material simultaneously, your mind will be overloaded, just like your stomach would be with too much food at once.
Here are some pointers to reducing cognitive overload in your elearning:
- Create a course that reads logically. People read top to bottom, left to right. So avoid having information begin on the right-hand side. This prevents your learners from having to work too hard and get frustrated.
- Use white space liberally. Placing paragraphs and graphics too close together creates a disorganized appearance and will only confuse the learner. Instead, break up one screen into two or more screens.
- Add color wisely. In an elearningindustry.com post, Christopher Pappas advises using just two or three colors per course or module; otherwise, the course may appear disorganized. When adding color, don’t forget that some learners may be color blind, and find another way to provide visual contrast. You can even find online applications that analyze color contrast.
- Be smart about animation. There are a lot of great tech tricks out there, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Any formatting tool should support the learning objectives and/or learning styles; when in doubt, take it out!
- Focus on the need-to-know; trim the nice-to-know material. Research backs this up: Studies have shown that extra details can actually detract from learning. If you must incorporate the optional information, put it in a clickable “tips” box on the applicable screen or in a course resource list.
- Use audio rather than text to explain graphics. This allows the learner to focus visually on the graphic while taking in the description aurally, which maximizes learning. Of course, text should always be an option for sight impaired learners.
Implement these tips, and they will help your learners to be satisfied by – and not overwhelmed by – your elearning solution. And, they might even look forward to returning for another “meal” sometime!
In part 1 of Re-envisioning the Meeting, we looked at how to prepare for and open a meeting. Now let’s look at facilitation, meeting conclusion, and post-meeting activities.
The facilitator must consciously strive to keep participants on task to achieve the meeting’s goals. If you’re talking about an upcoming training launch, for example, don’t spend time generating ideas for your next team development day. Participants may have tangents that they would like to explore, due to their job role or specific interest. It is the facilitator’s job to keep them focused. Using a “parking lot” can capture important topics for discussion at a later time.
While attendees may take their own notes, the meeting facilitator should as well (or assign someone to take notes), so everyone can refer back to them later. As action items are assigned during the meeting, write down each assignment, responsible party, and due date. Similarly, for key decisions that are made, document the decision and date. For recurring team meetings, you can build on these lists and check off assignments as they are completed.
Summarize key points and assignments at the end of the meeting. For recurring meetings, remind attendees when the next meeting will be. And of course, thank everyone before you adjourn. Showing your appreciation for everyone’s time and participation helps motivate them to continue contributing in future meetings.
Follow Up Promptly
After the meeting, be sure to e-mail the attendees and other interested parties the meeting notes, or at least any major decisions that came from the meeting. Include the action items that need to be completed and their due dates.
Although not done often enough, it is definitely wise to ask for participant feedback to help the next meeting run even smoother. One idea: Pose a statement or two, such as “This meeting met my needs” or “I know what is expected of me prior to our next team meeting.” Ask attendees to write their level of agreement with the statement, on a scale of 1-5 where 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is highly agree, and hand in their responses. If you see a trend, you can follow up with the group to learn how to improve the meeting next time. Another idea: Ask an open-ended question, such as: “What worked really well in today’s meeting you’d like to continue?” or “What is one thing we should do differently in future meetings?”
Follow these tips, and your meeting will not only be more meaningful, but can result in greater productivity, too!
“Wow…what a GREAT, productive meeting!”
When was the last time you heard someone say that? Hopefully the other day …. or has it been a while?
Meetings have, sometimes fairly, earned the reputation of being timewasters at best, scheduled
snooze-fests at worst. Too often, employees suffer through meetings until they are released from captivity, free to resume “real work” again.
Yet, meetings are actually “the laboratories of real, measureable teamwork,” according to an article by Kristine Kern of The Table Group (Inc.com). They can in fact be very productive, if planned and run well.
At EnVision, we offer a proprietary and customizable course called “Making Meetings Meaningful.” The cornerstone of the course is that a meeting’s success is not only determined by what occurs during the meeting, but also what happens both before and after. To conduct an effective meeting that really furthers participants’ work, you should:
Before you gather people together, know the objective for your meeting. What do you want to achieve? Be sure to only invite those people who will be interested in and/or impacted by the meeting’s content. If certain people don’t need to actually participate in the meeting, feel free to give them a pass and instead update them afterward.
Plan an agenda to keep the meeting focused and avoid tangents. And, estimate the time it will take to discuss each topic and share your timetable, so attendees know that the meeting, no matter how beneficial, won’t go on forever.
From the beginning, set the tone that the meeting will be efficiently run. First, begin on time. If someone arrives late, acknowledge him and continue with the planned agenda. Backtracking will only frustrate those who came on time.
Share the meeting’s objective and agenda with the group so they know what to focus on. And, if needed, set ground rules for the meeting. If your company is one that claims meetings as “smartphone free” zones, remind everyone to turn the sound off their phones and put them away.
Designate a “time keeper” as a back-up for ensuring that the meeting ends on time.
An organized start will set your meeting off on the right foot.
What do stained glass windows, intricate marble carvings, and richly symbolic murals have in common?
They are all easily seen from just one spot in the Library of Congress.
Why do I mention this?
I recently visited Washington, DC and toured the Library of Congress. If you haven’t been to the Library, I highly recommend it. It is jam-packed with, well, books. But also with all manner of media. And the art and architecture! The building was built to safely house books, but it also shows off art and architecture created by over 40 American artists.
Our tour guide spent much of our hour together describing just a portion of the art and architecture we were seeing in a relatively small part of this edifice. There were masterpieces filling every square inch of wall, ceiling, floor, pillar, and even staircase. Each item’s artist, creative origin, and beauty could have merited an hour on its own. After five minutes I was on mental overload!
I can tell you the feelings I am left with after visiting the Library: awe, pride, and patriotism. But I don’t think I can tell you who the artists were or the significance of each piece of art. Maybe that was the idea — that the most important take-away was my overall impression, not the myriad of artistic details.
Well, I do remember the Library is supposedly going to acquire all Tweets. And that Jefferson’s library burnt down and they are trying to re-acquire all missing volumes so they can recreate it. But the experience reminded me that less, so much of the time, is more. So, I’m making this post really short. Just trying to make one point.
Here it is: Keep your training focused. Lots of content doesn’t necessarily translate to effective learning.
I might need a reminder myself the time next I write a post, but here’s to giving it a try!
By Kathy Harvey-Ellis
For my day job, I work in marketing, for EnVision and another company. After this winter, however, I also feel like I work in home improvement – of our own home. I am my own general contractor. From the repair of a supporting beam in our garage, to minor water damage in our house, to our nascent attempts to renovate our long-suffering kitchen, the projects have taken center stage in my life.
I call contractors. I talk with them, and I make notes. I hire people. They bring materials, and begin to work. While I know generally what they will do, I don’t always know their project plan or understand specifically how it will address what I need done. After they leave, I carefully examine the finished work, trying to evaluate its success without knowing exactly what I’m looking for. Have they consulted the most knowledgeable people on their staff? Have they used quality materials? Really, I’m just hoping for the best.
If only I had a construction plan, a blueprint. Then, I would know what they are preparing to do, and if their plans match what I need done.
For a successful “construction job” or learning solution, instructional designers need a curriculum blueprint, too. Their blueprint, a design document, guides the team to a solution leading to improved performance.
The curriculum blueprint will tell the reader the Who, What, and When of the learning plan. Let’s start with Who.
My garage repair project involves a project manager, structural engineer, construction foreman, and construction workers, each with specific and different responsibilities. Similarly, the curriculum plan describes who has responsibilities in creating and executing the learning design, and what exactly their tasks are. These people include the instructional designer, subject matter expert (SME), project manager, reviewer, and more.
Early on, the document also describes the “homeowner” or target audience– the learners. What are their roles within the company, and what is their experience level? Which factors motivate them to perform well, and which approaches to learning do they prefer? This information helps lead the design team to choose certain modalities and activities to “construct” the curriculum.
Like a construction project’s scope of work, the “what” portion of the curriculum blueprint tells the team all of the work that needs to be done to ensure the learners are taught effectively.
The blueprint document addresses the blend of learning modalities that the curriculum includes, whether those be elearning or classroom training (in-person or virtual), on-the-job training or hands-on lab time. The evaluation strategy may be described here as well.
Once the learning blend is established, the blueprint will incorporate the curriculum development, including a list of the physical deliverables generated. Slides, instructor notes, and learning manuals all fall under this category.
While these components are critical pieces of information in the blueprint, the bulk of the document is an outline of the curriculum’s modules, comprising the topics, delivery modalities, and learning activities that support the learning objectives.
The outline includes estimated learner time for each topic, allowing the team to plan for delivery of the training. The blueprint also spells out the order of the modules and any prerequisites.
The curriculum blueprint provides an organization with a logical framework to construct a learning solution. Similar to how a construction company supplies a scope of work and builds a structure, such as a garage, the curriculum blueprint designs and frames a training program. “A curriculum blueprint provides a clear overview of what will be included in the training, how the training will flow, and in what manner the training will be delivered,” explained Irene Stern Frielich, EnVision’s President. “Having a roadmap helps guide the developer, though she may decide to make a different design decision as new options arise during the development phase.”
Have you ever gone berry picking? Usually, you fill a container and pay by its size. Those juicy berries look so appealing you want to fit as many as possible into the container, right? Would you squish them in to get more? Or would you select the ripest berries to ensure excellent quality and highest satisfaction?
So, what happens if you try to pack too much content into your learning event? While perhaps not as messy as overstuffing berries, it’s not a pretty sight either. As training professionals, we are often caught between (a) advocating for the appropriate amount of time needed to result in effective learning and (b) the time that management is willing to make available for training. This often happens because organizations are running pretty lean, and missing employees for a few hours or days can impact production or the customer experience. Sometimes there is the added opportunity cost of billable time or direct cost for overnights that result in hotel and meal expenses. If effective learning requires six hours but the training “container” only holds two hours, how can we reconcile this? Do we stuff more in or pick the best, given the size of the container?
Here are three ways that instructional designers can address time constraints while helping to ensure the learners are prepared to do their jobs effectively.
#1. Have an honest conversation with stakeholders and share with them how people learn best.
Reinforce that learners need to be exposed to various methods for taking in information and they consolidate their knowledge by practicing skills in activities such as role plays, re-enactments, diagram creation, or troubleshooting. Part of the process is to receive feedback along the way and debrief at the end. This process cannot be rushed.
#2. If it is absolutely necessary to shorten the training prioritize the learning objectives and design training that focuses on supporting the most important behavior changes at work. We recommend the resulting lessons be ones that will help the learners perform the most frequent tasks that are most critical and could result in greatest risk if done incorrectly.
If, let’s say, only two hours are allocated for what would normally be a six-hour course, the instructional designer should work with the stakeholders to determine the highest-priority skills for the learners to perform effectively. This applies for any training, including performance management, compliance, and product sales and service.
#3. Keep in mind that learning can be maximized, and time away from work minimized, with the right design and blend of learning modalities.
Creating a blended learning approach, rather than relying solely on traditional classroom training, for example, can help streamline the learning process. It also lowers time away from work since travel time may be reduced and, often, the overall course “seat time” can be trimmed down.
We recommend that training include ways for the learners to immediately apply skills learned in class on the job. One such method is a practice known as “action learning.” This provides a structured way for the learner to solve a real-work problem on the job, then reflect on his or her learnings.
For a course on process management, EnVision recently incorporated an action learning approach, which proved helpful to the learners. “Action learning was very valuable, because we went from theory to practice,” said one learner. “The time for reflection and processing between sessions was valuable,” said another.
Increasingly, companies rely on training tools that can be accessed “on demand” to incorporate training into the workday. “On-demand training, such as virtual reference guides and ‘bite-sized’ training modules, can give you the ability to offer immediate and effective training to employees when they need it the most.” (elearningindustry.com).
Try using the above approaches to align with your stakeholders and focus your training, given the resources or “berry containers” you have. Throughout the process, keep in mind the learning objectives vital to improving employee performance. And help your learners enjoy fewer, but more satisfying, berries!
The bridesmaids donned light green dresses with intricate lace overlays. Before the ceremony, the ketubah (marriage contract) was signed by the groom. The groomsmen and bridal party enjoyed sushi and potato pancakes with smoked salmon in separate rooms before the wedding. At the appointed time, both groups entered the ballroom, awaiting the arrival of the bride on the arms of her parents. Each part of the beautiful wedding is executed perfectly, but how? Is it practiced for weeks on end?
No, of course not. Rather, it is choreographed according to a plan, by the couple and aided by a wedding planner. It is designed according to the couple’s traditions, which many of the attendees may know by heart from attending other nuptials.
After celebrating at this very wedding, it struck me that a well-coordinated wedding resembles the successful pilot of a course. Just like a wedding, the pilot needs to have each facet planned and each element timed carefully.
While the wedding plan focuses on where the bride, groom, officiant, and wedding party stand and what they say and do, the pilot plan describes what the instructor, debriefer, business stakeholder, and learners will say and do during the pilot. Prior to the course pilot, the pilot choreographer discusses the responsibilities with each of those groups just as, before the nuptial ceremony, the wedding participants learn what their roles will be. As soon as guests begin arriving at the wedding, the wedding planner begins to quietly guide the festivities from behind the scenes. Similarly, once the pilot begins, the pilot choreographer works in the background to help ensure the pilot runs smoothly.
A course pilot serves several objectives, one of which is to get a sense of the length of each portion of the training. If a facilitator goes off on a tangent, there may not be enough time for the skill-based portion of the class. Should the instructor take too many questions from learners, there may be no remaining minutes to summarize takeaways for the learners.
Similarly, wedding planners must have every element of the couple’s special day planned down to the minute. The bridal party must start their walk down the aisle at the appointed time. Each dinner course must be served on schedule, so the dancing can take place as planned. The band must plan their break carefully. Every element of the event is carefully orchestrated behind the scenes so that the celebrants don’t notice it.
In addition to the timing of events, the order of modules and learning topics can be finalized with the knowledge gained during the course pilot. Sometimes, the original plan may not correlate to the logical order of learning. Likewise, the bride and groom may choose to change the order of events if there is a timing issue during the wedding rehearsal. Perhaps they decide a particular reading or song would lengthen the ceremony and cut into the reception time, so they elect to take it out.
Of course, there are some factors for course pilots that don’t arise in wedding planning. Periodic check-ins with learners, with or without feedback forms, can be very effective for a pilot. Is the class going too fast or too slow for the learners? Are they engaged in the material? Are they bored? All of this information helps the instructional designer.
The course pilot offers many tools to plan the learning solution. It helps create what the instructional designer hopes is a successful course – just like a well-planned wedding rehearsal leads to a well-choreographed wedding, enjoyed by all.
Have you ever been in a class where everyone’s eyes are glazed over? By the end of the first half-day, participants stop, well, participating? Perhaps the course just isn’t engaging them. Or, perhaps (cue music: dut, dut, dut) they are experiencing cognitive overload.
So, what is cognitive overload?
Cognitive overload is an inundation of short-term memory or working memory. This type of memory is easily overwhelmed because it can only hold between two and four “chunks” of information. (Halls, Jonathan. “Memory and Cognition in Learning.” InfoLine: Tips, Tools, & Intelligence for Training, May 2014). Sometimes cognitive overload cannot be avoided; however, it is considered “extraneous” when the learning design or method causes it.
And, why should I care?
Learning can be adversely impacted by stress, including stress caused by cognitive overload. The amygdala is the section of the brain involved with emotions, and it is affected by negative experience or emotions. “When learners experience stress they go into a hyper-stimulated state known as the affective filter, which inhibits information passing through the amygdala to the information processing parts of the brain.” (InfoLine).
An overzealous subject matter expert (SME) could also induce cognitive overload. While SMEs may want to provide as much information as possible, it is the instructional designer’s job to choose the most critical content to achieve the learning objectives.
Inattention is considered a hallmark symptom of cognitive overload. The “glazed eye look” represents an overwhelmed state. If a learner is unable to perform the activities or fails the test, this could be a sign that he or she is having difficulty absorbing the information.
Now, what can I do about it?
There are many ways to combat cognitive overload, and we’ll introduce seven of them here.
- Take breaks. A well-timed intermission allows participants to consolidate their learning.
- Allow for a lot of movement, either within the context of the training, or during a scheduled break time. Physical activity allows for more blood and oxygen to flow to the brain, preparing it for more learning time.
- Keep the training focused on the learning objectives to eliminate superfluous content.
- Arrange material in a logical pattern so that learners may build on their prior knowledge.
- Avoid having the learners multitask, and discourage it when you see it in your learners. Despite the stereotypical view of multitaskers as super-competent individuals, human beings are not made to multitask. When we do, an overload occurs between working memory and long-term memory.
- Repeat fundamental material and key points. This may sound counterintuitive to avoiding cognitive overload, but cerebral overwhelm actually results from too much new material. Once a learner repeats a process enough, it can become automatic, freeing up the working memory (theelearningcoach.com).
- Don’t put the meat in the middle. Unfortunately, many programs are structured just this way. Research tells us that the human brain recalls the beginning and ending better than the middle, so introduce crucial material at the beginning of the course, or save it until the end.
What two tips could you implement this week? Did you notice a change in your learners?
Commit to following even some of these pointers, and your learners will retain and implement more of what they’ve learned well after the training is over.
Blended learning tools provide an instructional designer with many options, but more choices can also be confusing. How do you determine if the blended solution meets your learning objectives? How do you know which modalities to pick? And finally, how do you know that your mix will work within the culture of your organization?
To start creating a blended solution, you first need to know what your goals are and what you want your employees to learn. Is the material strictly knowledge-based, such as company policies or history, or is it skill-based, such as learning how to use a new software program? Or, will the learners need to create something entirely from scratch or evaluate a product, process, or individual? These different types of learning are represented in Bloom’s taxonomy as different levels of the cognitive domain and include knowledge, comprehension, application, and other learning levels.
For EnVision’s clients, we recommend examining the learners when putting together a specific blend. Where do the learners work, and how easy is it for them to travel? Do they work in similar or different job roles? We also advise instructional designers to look at an organization’s budget and efficiency requirements.
Regarding the organizational culture, consider which training methods have worked well in the past, and management’s attitude toward training. Finally, it is important to consider whether or not the material requires peer interaction and facilitator feedback, which are best addressed with a classroom environment. Factual content can be learned via independent study, either reading or elearning.
Julie Young, now an EnVision consultant, oversaw development and implementation of a blended solution on talent management for a global biopharmaceutical company where she worked. The company wanted to support new employees and educate them in the company’s philosophy in talent management, as well as teach practical skills in delivering performance reviews and engaging reports in career development conversations.
The client wanted the learners to master both knowledge and skill-based domains. However, they also wanted to educate the new employees without investing in a series of lengthy classes, said Young. All potential learners happened to work at the same campus.
Because the company philosophy piece was knowledge-based, Young, together with the EnVision consultant partnering with her, decided to implement an e-learning module to address it. They determined that material such as background information and company philosophy would be addressed effectively by elearning, because these learning chunks remained consistent and did not require hands-on practice.
However, the client also wished this group of new employee managers to learn how to write and deliver a performance review, as well as talk with a direct report appropriately about compensation. For these skills, the new employees needed hands-on practice that only a classroom environment could provide.
Young, who delivered the training, states that the company wanted to be efficient with class time, especially given the fact that the number of learners would periodically vary according to the rate at which they were hired. The final product was a four-hour, half-day classroom session of hands-on skill building. “This was a much more efficient way of bringing people up to speed and onboarding,” said Young.
Alison McIsaac, an EnVision consultant, took both learning efficiency and effectiveness into account for her learning blend. As the project manager for a statistics course for a global pharmaceutical company, McIsaac helped to design and pilot the course. While classroom training comprised the bulk of the learning solution, independent reading and computer-based training also augmented the solution.
The learners included professionals from quality control, manufacturing, engineering, and other roles throughout multiple worksites. Prior to attending the 3-day classroom training, learners read a detailed process document and took a 30-minute computer-based training which introduced concepts, provided interactive learning with questions and answers, and assessed knowledge with a quiz. This prerequisite learning enabled the classroom training to focus on applying the concepts to practice scenarios that simulated the on-the-job experience.
As with Young’s project, learning efficiency proved to be an important factor in creating the blend. McIsaac noted that elearning reduces the amount of classroom training, which benefits both learners and employers, since a company loses money every day an employee is pulled out of his/her job. “For every hour you spend in the classroom, you want to maximize that time,” said McIsaac.
When basic concepts are self-taught initially, it also makes the classroom training more engaging for the learners, since there is less lecture and more practice. Interestingly, this particular blend also may prove more effective, because the instructional designer “plants a seed” with the elearning on which the classroom learning later expands, rather than overloading learners at the outset, said McIsaac. “The learners are much more likely to absorb small amounts at a given time,” she explained.
While a powerful option in the instructional designer’s toolkit, blended learning serves an organization best when it follows thorough analysis. The result will be a targeted, appropriate learning solution designed to grow the skills of the organization’s employees.
Through EnVision’s years of experience in planning, designing, developing, and implementing blended solutions, we have prepared a checklist and worksheets to support L&D managers and instructional designers in creating robust, well-constructed blended solutions.
If you would like a complete copy of our blended learning considerations and checklists, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.