written by Paul and Sophie – two sorely afflicted students
Don’t forget to complete our survey on the role of the learning platforms and get a chance to win tickets for the football game between France and England on 17 November 2015 at Wembley Stadium, London
It’s that time of the year again: Thousands over thousands of new students have started University recently, which brings along countless little obstacles they have to overcome. It seems a bit hard to understand that an LMS is one of them. Don’t get us wrong, it is indeed a wonderful platform, as it provides loads of functionalities and enables a fantastic remote workflow. We just want to get the message across that organisations which use an open source software should not take this ‘out-of-the-box’ but instead go for a bespoke version which is customised to their specific needs. This post shows why saving costs at the outset will eventually annoy everybody to no end: students, teachers and most of all IT administrators. So if you are in the position of choosing an LMS for your organisation, please do consider the following five stories, fresh from University:
You’ve been transferred to a foreign branch of your company. You’ve studied the language at school but you haven’t used it in years and you’ve never been to that part of the world. Besides, to comply with local regulations the work procedures are different. Now imagine, it’s your first day in your new role. You walk to your desk, log into the local system and start your work as normal. The phone rings, it’s your local client who wants to amend something on their project. The call isn’t in English but you manage to understand your client and agree on how to implement the changes. After the call, you email your team to inform them of the changes… all of this in the local language.
Well, who wouldn’t want to be? Agile, I mean. Given that there are so many antonyms of ‘agile’, including dull, ignorant, inactive, lazy, lethargic, lifeless, rigid, slow, and for good measure, probably sluggish too.
My background is in software development and traditional IT classroom training on topics including programming and project management. I gained twenty years’ experience as a software team leader and programmer before my involvement in instructional design at Saffron, which commenced about fifteen years ago.
The Instructional Designer role has never been considered particularly cool. But, just like mainstream indie or double roundabouts, the only reason it hasn’t been replaced is that no one’s agreed on a suitable alternative. Come to think of it, it’s pretty hard to pin down exactly what an ID is meant to be doing. Wikipedia quotes Utah State’s University to say that Instructional Designers create “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” That’s a start, but this kind of definition feels problematic. For example, what’s an ‘instructional experience’? Presumably it’s one that instructs the learner in their topic of choice, but how can this be effective and appealing without the presence of an instructor to breathe life into the words? And why does the definition put such emphasis on efficient acquisition? Surely learners must be able to acquire knowledge at their own pace in order to retain new skills and information in the long term.
To be effective, elearning has to be on a par with the best face-to-face training in its engagement, memorability, and potential for behaviour change. It has to put the learner’s needs at its heart while living up to their employer’s expectations. It has to prove its own worth through creating measurable change. The world is awash with compelling digital media and new generations of professionals have a world of choice at their fingertips. How, then, is elearning going to make an impact? Well, we could lose the Instructional Design title for a start. And let’s face it, the market’s already flooded with alternatives. People are being as creative with their job title as they are in their design. Here are just a few options to pick from. Do any of them apply to what you do?
In an age of simplified, some might say distilled, mobile gaming where simple interactions lead to addictive gameplay (i.e. ‘flappy bird’, ‘angry birds’, anything to do with birds) – businesses and instructional designers have desperately grasped for a mechanic that can transform their learning from mind-numbing compliance into addictive learning gameplay.
For me, however, they seem to be grasping at the wrong mechanics. Scoring and rankings are great, but they require difficulty to become interesting (if Flappy Bird was easy, it would never have caught on). That difficulty is the mechanic through which a user, or a learner, becomes interested in bettering themselves and beating the game. The difficulty in flappy birds is derived from the precision it requires to guide the least aero-dynamically shaped bird in existence through an increasingly complex series of jutting pipes.
No, the answer’s not having a very good lawyer or an alert public relations officer. The rules to the game have changed!
The Environment Agency has grown a sharper pair of teeth. It has recently used its new sentencing powers against a utilities company to make a statement:
- Fines for environmental breaches are now going to be much, much higher…up to a 100% of a company’s pre-tax profits!
- No excuses will be accepted. Companies should allocate means to prevent or fix any environmental issues their business may face, no matter their size or financial situation.
- Self-monitoring and inspection checks are no longer the only means of reporting incidents. The general public has access to a 24/7 hotline.
We’re used to seeing dramatic depictions of corporate misdeeds in Hollywood movies. But usually the focus is more on a black and white moral message than on the mundane reality of business processes. The bad guy gets his comeuppance at the end, but what you don’t get to see is the two thousand page report put together by the regulator. The harsher sentencing guidelines highlight that the consequences for companies getting things wrong aren’t the same as in the movies, but they’re very real nevertheless. Read more
I’ve just finished my placement year of my engineering degree at Saffron Interactive. But my placement journey began not at Saffron, but a while before that. Having been rejected from a few multinational tech organisations (not going to name any names), I felt deflated and so I decided to venture into a different field: elearning.
eLearning was an alien concept – not so much the invention itself, but in the thought process behind it. It felt for me like an after-thought, something that was regurgitated by companies who didn’t have the time or resources to give their workers or learners their full-fledged attention. Instead they could only afford to sit them down and have them interact with a plethora of meaningless multimedia, hoping that the information was actually being transmitted. How wrong I was. Now I feel proud to say I’ve worked in this industry, especially alongside the pioneers of learning technologies.
With my placement year at Saffron coming to an end, I’ve decided to reflect upon my time and articulate seven things that I learnt here as an engineering student.
Nothing can quite disengage me as much as being forced to complete a task, when I can’t see the point of it in the first place.
That’s how I used to feel when I had to wake up early on a Saturday for the dreaded “Spring Clean”. Two things used to bother me about this. Firstly, it was just as likely to happen in November as in April. And secondly, I couldn’t, at the tender age of 7, see the benefit in it for me. Why was I cleaning when I could’ve been playing football, riding my BMX or better still playing even more football?
That’s how I think most people feel about compliance training. Even the word itself removes choice from the equation.
So how then do you engage learners from the outset and throughout? How do you influence a learner to choose to be impacted?
Enter Dale Carnegie. Not literally Dale Carnegie, but his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. The book sets out a framework for people to become better influencers in their workplaces, schools and homes. But why is this relevant?
Life is full of uncertainty. It is something most of us try to avoid and, for centuries, it has long been assumed that humans favour certainty over uncertainty, especially when making decisions. But new research published in the Journal of Consumer Research has thrown up some surprising revelations.
A recent email campaign from our friends over at Training Industry promises big things from small learning:
“Microlearning is a training method that solves the challenges of aligning and educating organizations in the 21st century. Carefully designed 60- to 90-second lessons deliver content in bite-size pieces to increase learner consumption, retention, and performance gains. In an era of shrinking attention spans and rapid technological change, microlearning is the most effective way for organizations to give their employees the skills they need.”
(If you don’t have time to read this whole article, jump to the summary)
I think the idea of micro-learning is pretty great for learners, for designers, and for stakeholders. And we are big exponents of ‘quick’ here at Saffron. Over the years our typical unit has got shorter, the amount of text on the screen has fallen, the platforms have got snappier, and the devices themselves have got smaller.
This reflects the way the digital environment is changing our brains and it’s no bad thing.
But the radical proposition of replacing everything with “carefully designed 60- to 90-second lessons” is even more alluring. Learners like it because it sounds short. Designers like it because it sounds quick to make. Stakeholders like it because it sounds cheaper.
Last October, it was announced that there are officially more mobile devices than people in the world – over 7.2 billion. “Mobile,” with respect to technology, is summed up in the words “portable” and “personal”. For the new generation of digitally connected workers and students, it means carrying a device which enables you to learn in a new way compared to the old model: just in time and just enough.
So what is driving organisations to adopt a mobile-first learning strategy? Here are five key advantages of the mobile miracle.
1. Convenience and ease of access
mLearning provides easy access to learning at a time and place convenient to learners. Since learners normally have their smartphones or tablets with them most of the time, they can have access to courses or learning tools anytime and anywhere, such as between client meetings, while travelling or waiting.
“The utmost thing is the user experience, to have the most useful experience.”
Slick interactions create a more dynamic elearning course that responds to the user and allows the user to really play and interact with your content instead of just looking at it. HTML5 has come a long way from its predecessors, and with the JS libraries which are currently available it’s time for us to push it to the next level! Below are six ways you can start exploring the full potential of HTML5.
1. SVG – Scalable Vector Graphics
In this cool example they show how to create an interactive infographic with SVG and CSS. This experiment with motion blur effect shows that there are plenty of ways we can bring life into animations with an SVG object.
“To design is to communicate clearly by whatever means you can control or master.”
To turn a good design into a great one is not rocket science – you just have to think outside the box. The box I refer to here is a colossal text panel over a bland image – which is usually what elearning ends up looking like. But there are hundreds of ways to bring a new dimension to your design. Here’s six to try out:
1. Substitute large chunks of text for images that tell a story
Thinking visually, large chunks of text often look dull. Instead, try telling the story using a scrolling, parallax animation. Here’s an example that comes to mind.
There’s been a colossal amount of development in AI research. Last week my colleague Jay wrote about the origins of artificial intelligence (AI) and its application to modern day society. Today I want to talk about its future and highlight some of the challenges that currently prevent AI from becoming mainstream in learning technologies.
In elearning there are undoubtedly benefits to using artificial intelligences which correspond and react to human behaviour. Wherever it may not be possible or desirable to incorporate real people (for example, a mentor who guides you through the introduction to a programme or LMS) is where an artificial intelligence can come into play. A system that learns with the student simultaneously and acts as a peer that can match its own capabilities to that of a human creates just the right level of competition.
Remember that AI has been involved with computer games for decades. By 1950, Alan Turing had invented a software programme to play chess named Turbochamp. There was no computer powerful enough to run the programme at the time, so Turing played games himself by simulating the computer – taking half an hour per move. Finally, in 1997, the hardware caught up with the software. IBM built a computer program, Deep Blue, which beat the world chess champion at what he does best – chess. The involvement of AI in computer games gets us thinking about how it could be used as part of a gamification strategy: a simple AI program could compete with learners in an adaptive way in order to produce a more challenging and addictive elearning experience.
Although artificial intelligence as an independent field of study is relatively new, it has some roots in the distant past. In fact, we could say that it started 2,400 years ago when the Greek philosopher Aristotle invented the concept of logical reasoning! The effort to finalise the language of logic continued with Leibniz and Newton. George Boole developed Boolean algebra in the nineteenth century, which finally led to the base design of computer circuits.
However, the main idea of a thinking machine came from Alan Turing, who developed a hypothetical model for a ‘Turing engine’ that could handle any algorithmic computation, and proposed the Turing test which is still used today to measure the success of artificial intelligences. The term “artificial intelligence” itself was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956.
AI is now known as the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It’s related to the concept of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.
Bulk uploading can be an effective way to maintain large sets of users on an LMS when connecting to external databases and self enrolment are not options. This can often be the case in a corporate environment when an LMS is in its early phase of deployment or when HR systems are in the middle of an upgrade.
Moodle provides powerful and flexible bulk user upload and update facility. If you can learn to exploit all of the functionality it removes a lot of the pain from managing users and enrolments. So are you ready to transform your monthly upload from a brain-trauma into a breeze? Try my top ten tips for CSV success.
For consumers and many companies, gone are those days where low bandwidth and connection problems were an issue with accessing the internet. But because of those problems, elearning companies or developers are used to taking the ‘minimum’ approach to visual and animated assets when designing elearning experiences.
At Learning Technologies 2015 we delivered an interactive seminar with IBC, a leading Danish business school, which is shaking up the market for online business education. In partnership with Saffron Interactive, IBC is spearheading the move to offer learners a ‘consumer-technology’ user experience on any device.
When was the last time you spent a day without receiving any performance feedback?
I don’t mean just at work (that was probably quite recently). I mean generally.
Such as: when was the last time you walked down a street with no awareness of how you were affecting other pedestrians, motorists… street furniture? Or how about the last time you received no ‘performance feedback’ at all from a nagging partner about an annoying habit you have? Or the last time someone rolled their eyes instead of chuckling at your particularly dull anecdote and you completely ignored the put-down, and told another boring story? Without the vital impact of performance feedback in the latter two cases you would be a very lonely human. And in the first case, you would more than likely be a very dead one too.
Browser testing has to be a key part of any project process. Everything from IE8 to iPads are now widely used in corporate environments, and, users are beginning to expect multi-device options, meaning that all software is subject to increasingly rigorous browser testing.
Automated testing for web-based applications is a cost-saving tool way which allows us to focus manual testing where it adds the most value. Recently, organisations have started to rely on open source test automation tools (which have now become so advanced they rival the commercial ones) instead of investing in their costly commercial counterparts. With no licensing costs, these open source testing tools provide competitive features for automating the testing of software applications as well as web platforms.
Did you miss Learning Technologies this year? Or perhaps the whole mêlée was so overwhelming that you’re still struggling to process some of the great ideas you saw in action? Either way, there’s no need to worry. Here’s four of our favourite trends and highlights from the event. It’s almost as good as being there, and you needn’t leave the comfort of your desk!
Saffron’s free, interactive seminar with IBC takes place in Theatre 1 at 10.15am on 28 January at the Learning Technologies exhibition.
I like to think that 2015 is the year that most of us realised we were now, in fact, living in the future. As I drunkenly yelled for several hours on New Year’s Eve, 2015 is in fact ‘the future’ of Back To The Future.
Trade shows can be perilous places – sore feet, leaflet overload and worst of all, being sucked into a conversation about the ‘next big thing’ in learning technologies without being able to decipher the sense from the spiel. Here are a few questions you might want to ask to translate the trends into success at this year’s Learning Technologies.
Lists. Often when talking to clients about designing a dashboard for an LMS, we have to gently remind them that ‘at the end of the day, guys, it’s just a list’. A list of courses, a list of action points, a list of statuses or a list of things to do. That’s not a bad thing, as lists are also deeply satisfying things – they are how we throw a hoop around our complex lives so we can sit back and say: ‘that’s under control.’ And as BuzzFeed’s success demonstrates, absolutely any content is immediately more appealing if it’s in a numbered list.
After Christmas’s over-indulgence, self-improvement is most definitely at the top of everyone’s agenda come the New Year. In that spirit, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite learning apps. There’s no excuse not to get learning when these resources are at your fingertips (plus, they’re less taxing than joining a gym)!
Creating a sequel is easier said than done. We’ve seen some software, games and movies losing the plot completely. But, with Storyline 2, Articulate have excelled themselves. Storyline 2 includes new and enhanced features, giving us multiple ways to bring our content to life with more control over how it looks and behaves. The new and enhanced features are exciting but I should warn you: as much as I love it, it runs a little sluggishly.
The 360 assessment tool began life in the Second World War as the German military sought to appraise one another’s performance. Nowadays, it’s not (always) a case of life or death, but the idea of personalising a method of assessment to achieve an impact has remained an important one when it comes to performance management.
With a new office and new website, the past few months have been a busy time for Saffron! To top it all off, we’ve also introduced new brand guidelines. Two of our team members, Sonja Gebetshammer and Carina Weingast, have been charged with updating Saffron’s branding, and they’re here to share their insider knowledge about how they’ve transformed the Saffron brand.
A pictogram, also called pictograph, picto or simply icon, is the most simple and efficient way to convey a message or an idea and has been used throughout civilization – from the prehistoric age, to ancient Egypt, until today. Pictograms have constantly evolved over the centuries. Often they’ve been associated with magic powers, used to convey religious ideas or even been used as a secret code.
When it comes to iconic figures in pedagogy, you can’t deny that Mary Poppins’ learning approaches were well ahead of the curve. Whilst watching Saving Mr Banks last weekend (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it), I realised that there’s plenty we can learn from Mary P’s approach. She knew about everything: from gamified learning, to the endowment principle. This blog post will take a look at a few occasions on which Mary P showed us how a successful learning intervention can be done: Read more
On Tuesday I was invited to attend the Parliamentary launch of a new report which has found that that our failure to fully address perinatal mental health problems carries a total economic and social long-term cost to society of over £8 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the UK. Of that, £1.7 billion is borne directly by the public sector. It would cost a mere £337 million to raise perinatal mental health care standards to recommended levels.
Having completed my induction at Saffron as the IT Technician/Developer intern, I had a feeling of accomplishment. It can be overwhelming when multiple systems are thrown at you. However, the implementation model we’ve got in place makes new starters feel at ease. Shortly after completing my induction, I was thrust into developing an internal ERP system that the company will use on a day to day basis.
When I started as a new Instructional Designer at Saffron, I had to get my head around an abundance of new ‘systems’ in a short space of time. Of course, I didn’t think of them all as systems at the time, but when I stopped to think about what the word meant, I realised that countless new ones must be learnt and familiarised with whenever you enter a new environment. From working out how to get to work on time every day (still a struggle!), to mastering the various software applications that Saffron use; my cognitive faculties were busy getting to grips with systems all day.
This post is part of a sequence of articles which draw upon a book called the Six Disciplines of Breakthough Learning. This month, I’m exploring one of my favourite chapters: Deliver for application. The most prescient part of this chapter is all about reflection, a key to retention which all too often we do not retain! To understand why it’s so important, we first need to revisit some fundamentals.
Imagine, you’re in an airport and your flight has been delayed for a few hours. You walk around the terminal, go shopping, use the washrooms, get something to eat. You’ve managed to navigate a strange environment and find out all the details about your flight without having to talk to anyone. Who’s helped you out? How have you been able to do this?
Saffron Interactive has been named as ‘one to watch’ on this year’s Learning Portal Companies Watch List. Training Industry has recognised Saffron and its open source LMS, Saffron Grow, as an industry trailblazer amongst a growing list of clients that value innovation and user-impact.
Ruth: “Nick, When do you think you’ll have your proposed blog entry ready?”
Nick: “I’m hoping to be able to sketch you something soon.”
Ruth: “Is ‘something soon’ your target?”
Ruth: “It doesn’t sound all that SMART a target to me.”
Ruth is, of course absolutely spot on; my suggested ‘target’ was neither SMART nor was it smart. You’re probably familiar with the acronym SMART in the context of setting targets – it’s the idea that targets must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely in order to be successful. Using this checklist, you can see that my target was too vague, and therefore bound to fail.
Following on from our webinar last week (you can find the recording here), we wanted to show that improving knowledge management doesn’t always have to cost a great deal of time and money. Here are seven easy-to-implement changes and smart investments you can make to improve knowledge management systems.
Saffron Interactive, creators of innovative learning content and platforms, will be exhibiting at Learning Live 2014 in London this week, returning to the event as a premium sponsor and launching its vision for the future of knowledge management.
Increasingly here at Saffron, we’ve been asked to create courses so that they’re suitable for translation. In today’s globalised business world, working across linguistic borders has become extremely common. This means it’s essential that you remember that any content you’re writing may need to be translated throughout the design process.
Picture the scene – having submitted your work in time to meet a tight deadline, you take a moment to collect your thoughts whilst perusing the very work you’ve just submitted with an air of pride.
This month Saffron Interactive, leading innovator in the digital learning sector, has been re-accredited by the Learning and Performance Institute (formerly the Institute of IT Training) for the sixth year running. The rigorous accreditation process requires that vendors demonstrate consistently excellent performance and give evidence of strategic transformation and innovation.
Who doesn’t like cartoons? Illustrations are designed to break up large amounts of text, introducing fun and laughter into the process. More than any other type of television, I can still remember the cartoons that brought me so much joy as a child.
In April we published our top ten tips for building a learning website in a reasonable timeframe and on a reasonable budget. Well, since then it seems like everyone at Saffron has been hard at work on website building (and not just ‘reasonable’ ones either!), so the logical conclusion was… ten more tips. This time we share some of the secret sauce that goes into a flamin’ hot website so good your audience will want to eat it up!
Recently, England cricket Captain Alastair Cook, came under fire for his ineffectiveness, which was apparently affecting the performance of the other players. But he proved all of them wrong by leading from the front: scoring runs and making tactical field placements in the very next game.
As teachers and other learning professionals will often tell you, imparting information to students is one thing, but to get them to remember and then apply it is a whole different ball game. So how do we achieve this holy grail of learning? It all comes down to the way information is retrieved and processed.
Recently, Toby and I attended the launch of AVA’s Digital Prevention Platform. The AVA Project is an online initiative aiming to keep education and social care workers informed about maintaining good practice when reporting disclosures of Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG).
Saffron Interactive, leading innovators in the learning technology sector, are preparing to unveil their new vision for the future of the enterprise knowledge-base at the 2014 Learning Live show in Bishopsgate from 10-11th September.