Posted by Caveo Learning ● September 20, 2016
eLearning Developer Discusses Global Learning Tech Challenges
This is part of our ongoing series, Interviews with Learning Leaders.
James Eifler is a senior technical course developer with National Instruments, a producer of automated test equipment, where he designs online courses and some instructor-led training. He was previously an instructional designer and web course developer for AECOM/URS, a global engineering firm, as well as additional instructional design and courseware development roles. He has a master’s in instructional technology from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. His bachelor’s degrees are in computer information systems and Latin American studies, also from Bloomsburg.
You've designed courses that succeeded in generating revenue. What are the keys to doing that?
Collaboration! There are always many interested parties in a training project, so in order to be successful, I have to ensure I am aware of how the course will help exceed my team’s business goals, and thus support the company goals. That information helps frame the level of importance of the course for all parties involved, and there can now be a shared outlook on items like resource allocation; the visibility and cost of the course; or the timeline of the course, if it’s being released concurrently with software. Courses can vary in their revenue impact, and collaboration can help match expectations.
Another key is to know that the software that I’m creating training on will most certainly change… usually after I’ve done a lot of work on a feature that is no longer included in the software! For me, it became important to create strategies for what to do when this happens. It goes back to collaboration, because if I’ve been in contact with the product manager, the engineering team, the project manager, etc., then I’ve communicated the importance of the project goals and am finding out about project changes that affect training as soon as possible.
What training challenges are specific to your industry?
Ours is the same as for many: People don’t have time to attend training. We have a minimum amount of registrations needed in order to hold the face-to-face courses; sometimes for advanced courses, only two enroll, and the course doesn’t happen. Those same two people enroll again. They want to learn, and it can end up with customers not happy. We try to inform them of our virtual offerings. In the virtual courses, an instructor can see trainees' screens and guide them through a procedure. Those classes can happen with fewer people. We work in half-day increments. It is easier for people at desks to attend a half day at a time, versus three full days in a row. They can bring their own project to class and pick the instructor’s brain on it. It will also stimulate ideas for others in the class. It can be really robust.
How do you go about rolling out new software, tools, applications, or training?
By focusing on a task-based design approach, I can ensure that the training places the learner in situations that they’ll encounter at the job. The focus of the training isn’t to teach everything about a policy, compliance topic, or software tool; instead, I’m focused on providing the learner with realistic practice scenarios of how to do things that they’ll encounter at their job.
For example, if I’m creating training on new software, I would identify the roles that would be using the software. I would then identify the tasks that each role needs to do, and teach to those tasks. The focus of the training could be to introduce the tasks to the learner, and have them gain practice with them. I would not be able to teach every detail about the software, and I would have trust in the software documentation and user communities for the software to provide information not covered in the course.
The key here is that learners aren’t busy learning about things that they may not ever need in their role, and instead can focus on training that was created specifically for how they’ll use the software. Adult learners appreciate a focused, specific training session where they can get in, learn what they need to, and then get working!
What tips do you have for project managers on eLearning and technical projects?
First, get familiar with the subject, especially with technical items that you may not use every day. If it’s software, learn the jargon and gain at least a basic proficiency in using the software so you can better work with the team around you. This means getting into the software and using it like your target audience would, as opposed to just reading about it and listening to SMEs talk about it.
Keep the same general project folder structure. I’ve found this valuable not only during development, but also on occasions when another department/office/subsidiary wants some portion of an existing course that was created 4–5 years ago. Having the same general structure makes it easier to navigate back into those folders and quickly put the files together for the new request. It also makes it nice for course maintenance.
Lastly, for products that you may know and have used for years, it pays to go and search the Help function or Lynda.com to learn about whatever is new in the latest releases. I’m a big fan of the cloud-based subscription model for Adobe products, as it allows more frequent updates. You just might find a new technique or tool that could be incorporated into your workflow that could drastically change some aspect of development.
What’s the best way to approach an eLearning translation project?
Embrace the experience and you’ll find yourself designing and developing in different ways from then on. When I did it the first time, I pored over whatever resources I could find about translating eLearning, and I talked to a translation partner.
When we invest in creating the training, and learners invest time in taking the training, you don’t want images or something small distracting from learning.
There are technology challenges. Is the software able to be translated to local language? Is there space on screen to accommodate Asian-language characters (and spacing of text boxes), as well as a longer language like Spanish?
You also have to watch for images—there are colors to watch out for and avoid, plus images that don’t support the message for other countries (certain sports, for example).
The whole andragogy of the course can vary by country. Some cultures will require a different course, in the way materials are presented and what the course is intended to do. You can do different levels of translation; it may be just voiceover in other languages. If it is a sales course given in another country, their system of eLearning may be different. The way they sell will be different. You will likely need to tweak content, not just translate existing content.
What is your process for making solution recommendations for eLearning development?
Typically, I’ll have a good idea of the resources that are allocated to project at the beginning when I’m learning about the goals of the project. I can then base the solution recommendations to align with the resources and goals. For example, at a previous employer, there were 100,000 employees in over 50 countries that I might have to make training for. I had to ask questions about the number and locations of people being trained, the criticality of the training to business operations, the shelf life of the training, if there were country-specific regulations regarding training, etc. The answers to questions like these would then allow me to make a best recommendation to allow the project to be successful. There were many times when I had to modify what I thought would be best for a project to fit in with the requirements of the business environments.
I like to always know what the expectations are for my courses, and then I can navigate and see how to best fulfill or exceed them, while staying in line with the resources available to me.
What training technologies are you excited about?
I’m excited about what I’ve seen over at Salesforce with their Trailhead training initiative. It’s free training—anyone can access it—that allows learners to select what type of role they’ll do with Salesforce, and then allows them to pick a course that’s appropriate for their role. But that’s not the cool part: They have their learners using the actual software that they are learning about… right away! The course consists of facts, concepts, screenshots, procedures, maybe a video, and then you are asked to take a challenge—to do exactly what you learned in the actual software, not in a simulation or some other false environment. This challenge is where it gets good, as you are required to log in to your own Salesforce sandbox environment, and there you are, a new user trying to perform procedures in software.
The learner is free to go back to the lesson, use a search engine, ask their coworker… the point is that they now have to do the steps in the software, just like they would for their job. The learner can check their challenge, and the course will communicate with the learner’s sandbox to see how they did. It will go through the steps in the procedure and will stop when it arrives at a step that is not complete. The learner can then go back to their sandbox, try to fix their mistake, and recheck again. This tight integration between the training and the challenge in the software is exciting to me. It signifies a true alignment of company goals, product management, and a need to achieving customer proficiency.
Any resources you love and would recommend to others?
Lynda.com for learning new software—it is the first place I go. Next I will look to Google or YouTube instructions. Packtpub.com is a publishing site from UK, nicely written, affordable, one-stop technology shopping place.