Learn and Lead

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eLearning and Content Development Trends for 2008

Learning Circuit’s January Big Question is about predicting trends for the year 2008. Here’s my take on what we can expect in the coming year.

Web 2.0 in Learning
Web 2.0 will be the killer buzzword for the year 2008. Everyone will want to use the technology for learning and training. Bersin report for 2008 talks about it, Brandon Hall has announced new categories of awards, and most bloggers are talking about it. I believe 2008 will continue to be the year of discovery and experimentation with Web 2.0. Web 2.0 techniques will not yet be used in formal training, but each company will have an initiative around it.

In my view, corporate intranets and extranets have been around for years and have been attempting to do what Web 2.0 is expected to do. Are Web 2.0 techniques different from corporate intranets? Will employees feel more compelled to use these as compared to corporate intranets? Will companies provide the Internet freedom culture on their corporate Web 2.0 environments? Will companies adopt open sites like Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare for allowing employees to post and share corporate content on the Internet? Or will these sites provide secure environments (inside firewalls or hosted) to the corporate world? Do we have a new business model here? Or will Web 2.0’s usage be limited to building communities by product companies?

Training managers will still be required to measure success in training days/hours per person, which will make Web 2.0 in formal training and learning environment extremely difficult to adapt for formal training. What is required is another path breaking research that can provide some return on investment figures of using Web 2.0 in learning and training. I expect more research towards this in year 2008 rather than training managers embracing Web 2.0 as a mode of formal learning.

Virtual Environments
Virtual environments will find increasing use in building communities and new product launches by technology customers. Will Second Life be used for actual training in the corporate world? I don’t believe 2008 will be the year for mass adoption of Second Life in training. There will be questions of security, access through corporate networks, and of course tracking progress in Second Life. However asynchronous virtual environments will find their way in training in a limited way. Most of these will be showcase training module as opposed to bulk of training being developed as virtual environment. There will be a conflict between rapid development and real-life imitating virtual environment training. I am also very impressed with The 3Di-Web Singularity is Near by Tony O’Driscoll. This will certainly change the way learning happens. I am not sure about its adoption in formal “training” in the next year or two.

Form Factors
The 2000-01 downturn saw a trend towards formalizing elearning as a mode of learning. There were mechanisms to justify the return on investment on elearning. As the economy improved, we moved to blended learning. Even as elearning increased, most industry reports still indicated that instructor led training led as the preferred mode of learning. In the last few years, we as a training and content development organization have seen an increase in projects developing instructor led training material. Now with the US economy showing signs of slowing down (no one actually conclusively knows which way the US economy will actually go but most reports are tilting towards “caution”, “slowing down”, “start of recession” etc.), my guess is that we will once again see an increase of elearning development.

What constitutes elearning has also changed. Most instructor led training now a days has an element of ‘e’ in them, whether it is in the form of demos or virtual images. In 2008, we should start to dump the ‘e’ and start classifying training as synchronous training and asynchronous training.

The training in 2008 will tend towards online synchronous training. We will see more of “VILT”, “online sessions”, “online conferencing” etc. The technology now has matured; online conferencing tools are easily available without significant investment option to be made by organizations.

Rapid Development and Development Models
Rapid elearning will continue to be a buzz word. PowerPoint will reclaim its position as a rapid elearning development tool. Sites like SlideShare will help PowerPoint in this endeavor.

Of course, being the buzzword, along with “collaborative development”, “self organizing groups”, “user generated content”, training managers will have harder time convincing management to spend training dollars in an already weakening economy. Most management will want to know what value instructional designers add when all content is driven by subject matter experts in user generated content mode. Instructional Designers will be required to acquire new skills for content development and interacting with SME and reinvent themselves. The development models will change to factor in collaborative development and rapid development needs.

In summary, we will see a lot more talk about Web 2.0 in learning and training. However 2008 may not be the year of adoption of Web 2.0 technologies in "formal training". Rapid development will be key and instructional designers will need to reinvent themselves and development models will evolve.

Would love to hear what you are seeing as trends within your companies or you’re your customers are implementing. Share your practical experiences.

Directory Blogging

Directory Blogging

I discovered SlideShare and liked it very much. It is the slideshow version of YouTube. Currently takes PPT, PPS, PDF and OpenOffice files only. Slideshare allows you to embed presentations on your site just like YouTube. Figured that the site is already about a year old. Will this be the next YouTube or Facebook? Time will tell but I would put some money on it. Read about Rashmi Sinha, the co-founder and CEO of SlideShare.

Found a great presentation that describes different styles of blogging by Rohit Bhargava and Jesse Thomas of Ogilvy.

Inspired by this, here is my Directory Blog article this time. Here’s the list of websites, blogs that you might find useful.

Learning, eLearning, Training:

  • I loved Cathy Moore’s blog on ideas for lively learning. This is a great repository of ideas to make elearning and all content interesting and lively. Truly a “Get a life” site for content development ideas.
  • Clive Shephard describes himself as consultant with an interest in all aspects of technology-assisted learning and communication.
  • Brandon Hall research site – needs no introduction. View RSS feed on the side bar.
  • Learning Circuits blog – love their Big Questions. View RSS feed on the side bar.
  • Learning TRENDS by Elliott Masie
  • eLearning Technology, Tony Karrer’s blog. This blog also has a huge listing of other related blogs.
  • Bersin and Associates – Research on what works in enterprise learning and talent management. Lots of reports and papers, mostly paid. However you can still find enough free stuff, mostly 30,000 foot view.
  • CLO Media – Must subscribe to their email newsletter. Also get access to the digital version of CLO Magazine. And it is always good to see familiar names like Nafay Kumail on this site.

Indian learning, content development community:

And of course, I am begining to like del.icio.us very much. Add me to your network and we can share our Internet bookmarks.

iPhone – The Dumb Blonde of Phones?

When I went looking for a new computer for my son, I chanced upon the new iStore in Noida. As I played with the iMac, I instantly fell in love with it. The effects were too cool and it seemed like a computer built for true home computing. The fact that the design of the machine itself was also very s**y helped me make my decision to buy the iMac. It was reasonably more expensive than an equivalent PC but I think it was worth it. My son wasn’t too impressed though. The games he was used to playing didn’t run on the new Mac. This was of course an opportunity to get new games. Many of the games came with really cool graphics. The overall experience was close to the gaming station. Of course, it made my wallet lighter quite a bit.

When I saw the video preview of iPhone I was hooked. I salivated at the features presented by Mr. Jobs in the video. This will be my next phone I thought. So finally when I managed to get hold of an iPhone for myself, I was a little boy with a new toy. I was lucky to open a firmware version 1.1.1 of iPhone. This made it easier to unlock it and use it with my existing sim card. The next two days went in playing with my new toy, upsetting my family for not giving them enough time over the weekend.

After the initial euphoria of the new toy, I finally managed to use the "phone" of the iPhone, and I instantly missed my old Nokia. To start with, I couldn’t access the phone numbers and SMSs stored on my old sim card. iPhone doesn’t recognize sim card as a device on which phone numbers and messages stored. So before upgrading to iPhone figure out a way to get your phone numbers in Microsoft Outlook Contacts.

Finally after a weekend, I started on the Monday morning drive to office. The earphones are convenient contraption for hands-free driving (which unfortunately is as illegal in Delhi as using the phone itself while driving). Anyway the earphone on iPhone are very good for music but not for hands-free usage while driving. The earphones do not have any button to take a call or disconnect a call. So if you are using iPhone while driving, you still need to do things on the phone to take a call. I recommend getting a Bluetooth earpiece for hands-free on iPhone.

You will be absolutely enthralled by the finger scrolling on iPhone. It is undoubtedly one of the coolest features on iPhone. But if you want to find a contact in your contact list, you can’t just simply type the name for quick search. You still need to scroll through the list to find the contact, which is a pleasant experience initially but I miss the ability to type the first few letters of the contact name to quickly get to what I am looking for.

iPhone can’t separate the country code/city code for incoming numbers. So when I got a call, my iPhone displayed the number instead of the name, since the phone number stored in the phone was without the country/city code. I of course failed to recognize the number. The one thing that mobile phones and new technology has done is that it has reduced my ability to remember numbers. (I beginning to feel it is critical that kids get their math education without calculators.) So when the person on the other side of the line reminded me gently that he was my boss calling, I had to quickly recover from my lack of recognition. To ensure that your iPhone displays names stored in the contacts list, store your numbers including country code and city code, e.g. +91-98… or +91-11-234… etc.

iPhone also can’t send business card, or at least I haven’t figured out a way of doing this. So I am not sure how I can simply forward a phone number stored in my contacts list.

Of course, there is no end to the cool features. The SMS stored as conversation is really nice. You can see all the messages together with history. The finger scrolling feature has all the s*x appeal. The photo scrolling, zoom in and out of photos, websites etc. is fantastic. Overall the iPhone is too cool. Notwithstanding the fact that there is much improvement required in the actual "phone" of iPhone, you are sure to turn heads when you flaunt it.

PS: In case you are wondering why am I being such a prude not writing s**y etc. like DD network, it is because I am not sure what AdSense will do with the contextual advts that it shows on this site. So I am playing it safe for now till I figure these things out more.

PS PS: Do read the comments for more info. Please rate this page by clicking on the stars below. Thanks.

Death of the Instructional Designer

Fifteen years ago when I joined the profession, Instructional Design was a new profession. Friends and family asked about what I really did for a living. Customers were surprised to find Instructional Designers in India and after a few years of struggle, getting business was not so hard. We were grudgingly accepted as Instructional Designers without any formal qualification in Instructional Design. As Instructional Designers we spent time in learning about the underlying theories of instructional design, did our research on the project content area and spent hours in brainstorming instructional strategies.

Over the years instructional design became less of a mystery. Many more companies were vying for instructional design projects. Setting up a new instructional design company was and still is easy. Type of projects over the years changed. Entry levels lowered. Instructional Design transformed into more Content Development and less Design. Design became user interface and media elements. Visual appeal overshadowed fundamental instructional design.

Last few years has seen the emergence of Subject Matter Expert (SME) as the absolute key role in content development projects. And rapid development tools are in. Tool product companies wooed customers with rapid development tools showing samples that could be created in less than an hour. So technically SMEs could create one hour of content in only a few hours. Companies preferred to hire pure Content Developers with knowledge of various tools instead of Instructional Designers. Customers questioned about what value the Instructional Designers add to their projects. After all the SME provides content and graphics designer and programmer add media elements and integrates using various tools.

With content development commoditized, Instructional Designers needed to transform into Solutions Architects and move up the value chain. So if you aren’t solving large corporate problems like improving productivity of 50,000 people across 10 countries, you aren’t really adding value. That takes care of about 1% of Instructional Designers. So what do the other 99% Instructional Designers and Content Developers do? Do we even need Instructional Designers today? What value do Instructional Designers add in content development projects today? What are the key skills in an Instructional Designer that are required and valued by organizations today?

Work-Life Balance and Quality Time

A lot is being talked and written about work-life balance. Usually this means that people are overworked and not spending enough time on “life”. A lot is also being talked about Quality time. This is usually in the context of making the most of the limited time available with the family, read “life”. The usual grouse is that since there isn’t much time available because of the long hours at work, we get limited time with the life and therefore need to make whatever time available “quality” time. True. So what if we turned it around and spent Quality time at work to be able to achieve work-life balance?

Spending quality time at work ensures that we are more efficient in our work. This means planning what is to be achieved during the day (to-do lists), more efficient meetings and fewer breaks while focusing on achieving things to be done during the day. I have found myself most efficient at work when I know I need to leave office early, on time :-), usually because I have another commitment with my family or friends. On those days, I prioritize my activities, don’t attend meetings that I can avoid and focus on completing my to-do list items. 8 out 10 times I am able to get out of office to maintain my work-life balance.

Of course on most days I work late. Do I have so much work? Probably. Am I efficient on most days? Probably not. I think we tune ourselves to work in a mode that is in line with path of least resistance. Being efficient each day is hard work. We all need breaks during the day. And we all encounter activities that are important and urgent (Q1) or just plain not important (to us) and urgent (Q3). We don’t spend enough time on activities that are important and not urgent (Q2), or sharpening the saw. Heard these phrases before have you :-).

When people crib to me about how they are unable to maintain their work-life balance, I say, it is your work and your life. No one else can balance it except you. So spend Quality time at work to get more time available for life. And hey, no harm spending Quality time in everything that you do, including “life”.

Chakde India Coaching in Corporate India

I am sure Chakde India will soon inspire many management articles, much like Lagaan did. I found it very inspiring, specially at a time that I am going through some management and leadership challenges myself. So what where the leadership mantras of Chakde coaching?

Well the clich̩d one was there Рhave hairy audacious goals. Of course it is important to have goals that are really challenging. But I think what was different here was that the goal was a cause in itself. And more importantly, there is absolute belief in the cause. The cause could be a particular goal or an organization itself. And it helps to have the belief in own capability to accomplish the cause.

Integrating the team isn’t easy and it starts by breaking the norms. Alignment with the goal/cause from the very outset is critical to set the pace. “Mukhe sirf eik mulk ka naam sunai deta hai – India”. Breaking norms, personal egos and past individual performances and aligning the team with a new goal, a new cause is critical. There are no compromises in alignment. Either you are with it fully or you are out. I feel a leader personally inducting new team members plays a critical role in alignment with the cause and setting expectations.

One of the most interesting messages in the movie was about why the team is playing. “First and foremost, you are playing for the country, then playing for the team, and lastly if you have any strength left, playing for yourself.” We often see teams fail because of individual or departmental tug of wars. And what are we willing to sacrifice for alignment and teamwork to meet the goal/cause? It takes a lot of courage to believe that team work is critical, more than specific skill. It takes a lot of courage to put your best players sit on the bench until they put their own egos aside and work as a team. I have often seen many managers, including me sometimes, fall into the trap of believing that skill is more important than team work. We give in to blackmail of egos of few skilled people and believe that the goal will be met by only a few individuals. The biggest challenge in today’s corporate India will be overcoming the fear that the best players will simply quit and join another company if you keep them on bench. It might be worth overcoming that fear.

Another critical aspect of Chakde coaching is expecting the best from each one and not making any excuses about it. Very clearly to achieve the goal, second best just won’t do. Pushing the team to perform beyond their capabilities is key to achieving the goals.

Having the goal, a cause and the bravado and attitude to achieve it is the first step. These will take you only so far, like getting the sponsorship by playing the men’s team in the movie. The goal and attitude has to be combined with other critical aspects – training and strategy.

Having the right skill is imperative. And a lot of training and practice involved in building the right skill. This is a continuous process. While past individual performances may have won many laurels, it is important to continually keep sharpening the saw. It is not enough the rest on your past laurels. Training and practice is an ongoing process and a very rigorous one at that. It helps if you start with an open mind to learn new skills. Past performances color our views and close our minds into believing that we know it all. New challenges require new skills and harder practice sessions.

Without strategy the game won’t be won. It is important to know the nuances of the game you are playing and the competition you are facing. Succeeding in achieving the goal requires taking quick decisions and even changing your decisions based on the situation. And while the competition may have better technology or even a seemingly unbeaten strategy, it is important to figure out what your strengths are and play them and the right time. Whether it is beating the man-to-man marking or playing aggressively, using the right strategy and the right time is critical.

So if you haven’t watched the movie yet, go ahead. Watch it on big screen for greater impact. And hey, management fundas aside, just enjoy the moments of winning…

Sometimes winning is everything

Small changes make a Big difference

My last visit to the hospital pharmacy provided me with a pleasant surprise. The pharmacy had got a credit card machine. This saved me a trip to another counter to get my card swiped. This small simple change gave me so much happiness. Finally they are listening to their customers, I thought, and making changes to improve the service. Small simple changes can make such a huge difference in perceptions.

Speeding up the processes

So why are processes so complicated? And even if they are, why does it have to take so long to get through them? When I travel abroad, I get a chance to stand in many queues, mostly airline counters but a few others too like supermarket, banks etc. Standing in queues is frustrating everywhere, even abroad. But there since everyone seems be disciplined enough to wait for their turn, I also stand and wait for my turn. The person at the counter usually provides full attention to the customer and will not listen to you if you break the queue, even if it is to make a small enquiry. Back home in India (my hospital experience mainly), I noticed that the person at the counter was handling at least three transactions at any given time. So while he was making an entry into his computer for the person in line, he was also responding to another query by someone who broke the line, and yet another who came from behind the counter. In the middle there was someone who came and stuffed more paper in his hands said a few things and left. And of course I pushed him to swipe my card (just a card swipe you see, nothing more... I smiled as I handed him my credit card).

Amazing multi-tasking capabilities one would imagine. But is it speeding things up or slowing things down? I broke the queue and got my card swiped and left. Didn’t have to stand in the queue I smiled. Then when I had to get my bill printed (and stand in the queue this time), I muttered under my breath about all these line breakers who were delaying the person at the counter to get to my papers.

Is this also what happens in our work environment? Are we on too many transactions at the same time? So if I am working on writing a chapter, or creating graphics or testing a module, are there are too many other distractions? Do we have many queue breaking activities that interrupt the work? What are these activities, events etc? Wouldn’t things get done faster and better if the process was followed in the first place and we didn't break queues?

Silly processes

Hospitals are strange places. I am not completely sure how to deal with them. Are they sacred places where noble people cure ills or are they business houses where I am a customer and expect to be treated like one? Given the way most hospitals are run and the fact that many are listed on stock exchange, I tend towards wanting to be treated like a customer. Well, in either case what’s important is it that it should be easy and simple to run through their various “processes”. If I am a customer, I should get the required attention, and if I am at a place where noble deeds are done to ailing human beings, things should be in such a manner so as to put ailing and emotionally fragile people at ease. Alas, easier said than done.

I need to take my mom to the hospital regularly and I am still struggling to find a way to work through the hospital procedures. So first there is blood test to be done, based on results of which the next step depends. So I need to consult a doctor there. To consult a doctor, I need to first pay the consultation fee (stand in queue) and then give receipt to get a number to be in another queue to see the doctor. Then based on doctor’s prescription, I stand in another queue to get admitted. I need to take the admission paper and give it in the ward. They will then hand me a prescription for medicines that I need to get from the pharmacy. If I need to pay by credit card, I need to go back to the billing counter to get my card swiped. Back to pharmacy and I carry the medicines and other stuff to the day care. Finally the procedure of administering the therapy starts. At the end of the day, the day care hands me a hand written receipt with amount that I need to pay. I first need to get a discharge slip made at one counter, and then make the payment at the other. And on the day of the therapy, the doctor’s consultation fee is considered part of the therapy charges. So in the final billing process, the billing guy will first return my initial payment and then take money for the final payment. Then I need to return a copy of the payment bill to the day care. Finally yet another trip to the pharmacy, billing counter to get my card swiped and back to the pharmacy to get medicines for the coming weeks.

On an average I stand in queues about 8-10 times and spend about two hours before the therapy process actually begins and another one hour or so before I can leave the hospital again. Each time I go, I get frustrated by the back and forth I need to do between various counters and queues. “It is the process” I am told each time I express my irritation. I have never been so frustrated by “process” than when I go the hospital.

In some of my conversations I am told content development involves too many processes. I am sure you have encountered silly mindless process that are completely redundant and make work more difficult. Post your comments here and share your experiences and suggestions. Tell me which processes really make you tear your hair out.

Unofficial salary survey for elearning/content development jobs

Update: See 2009 elearning and content development salary data here

There's an interesting debate raging in various forums about salaries in elearning/content development jobs in India. So here's starting an unofficial survey about salaries in this field. Nothing official about this survey -- all inputs available here are completely anecdotal and open to interperations by the readers. I do not make any claims about accuracy of these figures.

Add your comments in this blog about the salaries you have seen for various roles in various companies in India. And while you are at it, also add what do you want the salaries to be. This survey is not limited to instructional designers and technical writers. Feel free to provide inputs about salaries for other functions too.

Existing companies
Job title:
Relevant experience
Salary range (annual CTC):
Cool benefits:
Company size (# of people etc.):
# of people in elearning/content development:

What I want
Job title:
Relevant experience
Salary range (annual CTC):
Cool benefits:
Company size (# of people etc.):

Update: Results of 2008 Unofficial Salary Survey of elearning and content development jobs in India.

Are job sites encouraging attrition?

I have been fascinated by the recent advertisements of job sites. All bosses are shown as being really mean. Remember Hari Sadu? Or the bosses in ‘Guess whose heard from us lately’ ad. It’s really funny watching these ads. Remind me of old bollywood films (actually true for many new ones too) where characters are shown with exaggerated stereotypical characteristics.

And then there is the Happy Kumar ad. It reminds me of a conversation I had with someone who came to me to discuss this ‘fantastic’ offer she had and wanted my advice. In conversation with her, she mentioned that this offer would require her to relocate to a city where she did not want to go. And that she was actually very happy doing what she was and she was happy with the money she was getting currently. And the new job wasn’t something she wanted to do. I was very puzzled and wondered why she wanted my advice. She said, but hey this is a great offer. I wondered if Happy Kumar syndrome had caught up with her. Being happy and satisfied with your job is not such a good thing after all.

The most recent ad is about your pay packet making you feel small. This ad propagates that money is the only yardstick of how companies can show appreciation of talent. I wonder what this job site’s attrition rate is and what they pay to their people. And would money compensate for Hari Sadu? Surely no one will leave Hari Sadu if he paid more money. And we already know Happy Kumar is a really bad boy, being satisfied with what he is doing and all that.

Times have changed. Our parents spent most of their careers with one organization. This of course does not mean that we should spend our careers with only one organization. The fact is that there are indeed a lot more opportunities available now. ‘India Shining’ screams at us in the face. However I think we have gone to the other extreme now. It is now fashionable to change jobs at regular intervals. Does this regular change of jobs impact the individual or is it actually good? Will we really getting better at what we do if we keep changing jobs so frequently? Are we building a foundation or eroding our base?



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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

Creative Commons License This work by Manish Mohan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 India License.