Monday, July 07, 2008

Brandon Hall Research Excellence in Learning Awards 2008

Category: Use of Videos for Learning

Of the three learning solutions that I evaluated, two featured interviews and one had a complete walk through of a software in the videos:

  • The first learning solution used interspersed videos for reinforcing and emphasizing the importance of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). WHMIS is a part of the mandatory training rolled out to 15-30 year olds by a Canadian, community-based, NGO. The videos featured interviews of four employees who work with hazardous materials. They had the WHMIS for use but their ignorance and flippancy had serious consequences on their health and wellbeing; one of them lost his sight, another suffered severe burns and so on. By seeing the impact on the lives of four real people who did not use WHMIS, the developers wanted learners to connect emotionally with the material and inspire a change of attitude and a willingness to develop new work patterns.
  • The second learning solution was for one of the largest telecommunication companies in the world. It had a series of 33 video vignettes featuring structured interviews of sales coaches describing the activities and techniques they implement to achieve the Top Performing Sales Coach level. Prior to interviewing, designers used a research-based competency model to identify the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of high performing sales coaches to decide the training outcomes. After the videos were used in the training, the company used the Kirkpatrick's model for evaluation. The learning solution has achieved the level 2. This was concluded based on the post training assessment score of the learners. The rationale for using videos as a learning strategy was to have top performers tell their own stories. The real message of the learning was not what a top performer should do in order to be successful, but instead what Top Performing Sales Coaches who are successful actually do.
  • The third learning solution was to teach a 3D software for Architecture. It had voice-led videos that walk users through a complete architectural design project from start to end. The videos run in the application environment to provide the users the possibility to follow the steps almost parallel with the video-tutor. The developers wanted learners to experience the flow of the tutorial without the need to switch between the software and a standalone tutorial.
More to follow.......

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Experience of a Ticket Vending Machine User

..:: This post was among the winners at the TWIN Technical Writing Blogging contest 2008 ::..

The ticket-buying experience at a Mumbai railway station is always a time-consuming task; even on weekends and even at 5.00 am in the morning! However, the recent introduction of the ticket vending machines by Western Railways, with an interactive touch screen, has made it quite a convenient experience.

You have to purchase a smart card and use it on the vending machine to print tickets for your desired destination. After placing the card on a sensor, you see the Mumbai map and the railway stations as the touch points on the opening screen. You first select (touch) a station that you are currently at. Next, you select the station you want to travel to, the number of passengers, whether they are adults or children, the class (first or second), and whether you want a one way or two way (return) journey ticket. Selecting the Print button takes you to the next screen where a preview of the ticket is shown. Finally, once you confirm, the ticket is printed.

My tech-savvy quotient and only an occasional need to travel by train triggered me to try a vending machine. I wanted to avoid the long ticket queues. Imagine waiting 15 minutes for a ticket when the actual travel may sometimes take just about 10 minutes if the destination is close. The first time I used the machine, I found the interface very intuitive and convenient. So much so that I hardly took any time to learn the steps to print a ticket. The machine seemed to be designed for the common man who is often semi literate or even illiterate at times. Use of the machine, the next couple of times, made me believe that I will not face any usability issues.

However, my experience on April 21, 2008 when I mistakenly printed an extra return journey ticket, brought forth an unexpected usability issue. The system seems to have been designed with a lot of assumptions. Some of them include:
  • Users will never make a mistake.
  • Users will always print only a single (one-way) ticket.
  • Users will know that return journey tickets for two or more persons will be printed on a single ticket.
  • Users with return journey tickets will always travel together.

The third and fourth assumptions cost me price worth one return journey ticket. I required two return journey tickets. I followed the steps as stated in the first paragraph above and waited for two tickets to be printed. Only one ticket popped out. I didn't read what was printed and thought that the steps had to be repeated again for one more ticket and I did so. It was only when I boarded the train that I realized that the first ticket was valid for two persons.

Was it my fault that I did not preview the ticket displayed on screen before printing it? A typical user will face the same question, I suppose. Although, the next time the user will be more careful, a feeling of failure will prevail. The user, especially a beginner, may become averse to the machine and may stop using it. This will defeat the purpose of having help-yourself machines. Is that the intent of such systems?

  • Give the users a choice of printing two or more tickets separately. This will enable two or more passengers to travel separately–at different times or in different compartments.
  • Include a confirmation message such as 'Do you want the ticket(s) to be printed on a single card?' before the user presses the Print button.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dr. Michael Allen's Webinar

I attended Dr. Michael Allen's Webinar on enhancing the learning experience of an elearning program last week. There were more than 400 participants. Dr. Allen is among the most influential people in the training industry and proponent of rapid prototyping.

Here are some notes (applicable to adult learners):

- An elearning program must achieve a behavioral change and build a positive attitude in the learners. Behavioral change can be brought about if you make your program meaningful, memorable, and motivational (3M).

- Context, Challenge, Activity, and Feedback can make an elearning program 3M.

- Focus on enhancing the performance skills of the learners and not mere transfer of knowledge. Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is nice. Skill is power. Success of an elearning program is determined by the skillful performance of the learners.

- Let learners focus on the context within which the skill is to be applied and not merely the course content.

- Make the context the anchor. Throw the learners in a challenging situation. Only guide them to the reference sources. Let them face the situation on their own. Present the challenge as the ultimate goal right at the beginning.

- Provide sufficient practice activities. Let the teach happen in the feedback.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Costly Water

It's very difficult to believe that water, a basic necessity of life and freely available in ample quantities when it rains, can be so costly when bought in the form of bottled water. Check this editorial from Down to Earth, a science and environment fortnightly of the Society for Environmental Communications.