Monthly Archives: December 2013
What is MOODLE? Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) is a free open-source learning management system or e-Learning platform, that serves educators and learners across the globe. It is the most widely used LMS in the world and currently has over 68 million users world-wide (and growing!) Many vendors such as Jones and Bartlett and Kaplan are using MOODLE as the back end of their LMS delivery. The very same LMS many of these vendors are reselling at the trade shows.
Moodle was developed in 2002 by Martin Dougiamas to help educators create online courses with a focus on interaction and collaborative construction of content. Since then, the main development of Moodle is led by Martin and the core team at Moodle Headquarters, as well as hundreds of other developers around the world who have helped fuel the growth of Moodle through contributing and testing code, and being active participants in community forums.
Moodle makes it easy for you to provide online support for your course. Providing a central space on the web where fire rescue personnel and staff can access a set of tools and resources anytime anywhere. Staff and students of the Department have found most valuable aspects are: news forums automatically email messages to all employees and staff on the course. Forums can also be used to answer commonly asked questions – and prevent repeats, to provide a space for informal peer to peer student discussion or even online tutorials.A quick way to share documents: Moodle provides a place where you can easily create web pages with information about your course and provide links to word documents, slides, and other resources that your students will want to access. Department SOP’s, Rules and Regulations can be stored and easily accessed through the Moodle platform. Easy access to relevant and useful online resources:The department and can provide a wealth of materials and resources, but catering for so many different types of of fire rescue assignments it can be hard for learners to find those that are most relevant to them. You can use your Moodle to provide links directly to the resources that will be most useful for your students whether e-library resources, skills courses, or information about technical rescue, hazmat etc.. Other advantages – Save time and money – making resources available online can save time and money in photocopying or actually assuring that all personnel received the information. Control access to different areas – can make a space for officers on other shifts to communicate with each other as well as students. The Use of less paper – keep a central copy online so everyone can find the latest version of a course handbook etc. provide handouts online and personnel can only print out what they really need. Easy to experiment with new ideas and tools – a low risk way to incorporate new tools and ideas into your teaching. Manage your materials – if all your course information is on Moodle this is easy access this year after year. Other features and tools: Course calendar – use this to flag important events to everyone on your course. Profiles and contact information – help the learner/personnel get to know each other at the start of the course, also hold information about course team and students in one place. Deliver content – post up slides, url hyperlinks, powerpoints, pdf files or even the content you created via the interactive software. Video and audio – many departments/institutions find it easy to record lectures as podcasts or even arrange for videos of lectures or special events– posting these online and making it available to the learner. Many of these podcasts are featured in articles and trade shows. This can be a conference where videos can be shared or even a webinar that can be recorded for viewing.
The bottom line is MOODLE is free. It can be downloaded at www.moodle.org. I would set up a meeting with your IT department and find out if MOODLE can be installed within the fire departments hosting or hosted outside. The great thing about MOODLE is that its open source so that means developers are always uploading plugins to make your MOODLE platform as impressive as those that are out there for high dollars. If you would like more information on getting your MOODLE site up and your online content up please contact mevia my website at: www.FreddieDiazBatista.com or FreddieBatistaFirefighter.com.
This is a great article I wanted to share with my network Online: By Peter Reuell, Harvard Staff Writer
Varying lectures with tests improves attention, note-taking, and retention
The number of online educational offerings has exploded in recent years, but their rapid rise has spawned a critical question: Can such “virtual” classes cut through the maze of distractions — such as email, the Internet, and television — that face students sitting at their computers?
The solution, Harvard researchers say, is to test students early and often.
By interspersing online lectures with short tests, student mind-wandering decreased by half, note-taking tripled, and overall retention of the material improved, according to Daniel Schacter, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology, and Karl Szpunar, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology. Their findings are described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“What we hope this research does is show that we can use very strong, experimentally sound techniques to describe what works in online education and what doesn’t,” said Szpunar. “The question, basically, is how do we optimize students’ time when they’re at home, trying to learn from online lectures? How do we help them most efficiently extract the information they need?
“Some students I’ve talked to say that it takes them as long as four hours to get through an hourlong, online lecture because they’re trying to combat all the distractions around them,” he continued. “If we give students an incentive to pay attention to what they’re doing, it’s going to save them time. This is one way to do that.”
Ironically, Schacter said, while online classes have exploded in popularity in the past few years, there remains “shockingly little” hard scientific data about how students learn in the virtual classroom.
“A lot of people have ideas about what techniques are effective,” he said. “There’s a general folk wisdom that says lessons should be short and engaging, but there’s an absence of rigorous testing to back that up.”
To get at that question, he, Szpunar, and research assistant Novall Khan devised two experiments.
In the first, a group of students was asked to watch a lecture that had been broken up into four segments of about five minutes each. After each segment, students were asked to do several math problems. Some students were then tested on the material from the lecture, while a control group did more math problems.
In the second experiment, participants were separated into three groups. Similar to the first experiment, all began watching a lecture that had been broken up into four segments. The difference was that students were interrupted, and asked whether their minds were wandering.
“It was surprising how high the baseline tendency to mind-wander is,” Schacter said. “In our experiments, when we asked students if they were mind-wandering, they said yes roughly 40 percent of the time. It’s a significant problem.”
Following each segment, all three groups again did a set of math problems. Some students were then tested on the lecture, some did more math problems, and some were given the chance to study material from the lecture a second time.
Surprisingly, Schacter said, in both experiments, students who were tested between each segment — but not the others, even those who were allowed to study the material again — showed a marked drop in mind-wandering and improved overall retention of material.
“It’s not sufficient for a lecture to be short or to break up a lecture as we did in these experiments,” Schacter said. “You need to have the testing. Just breaking it up and allowing them to do something else, even allowing them to re-study the material, does nothing to cut down on mind-wandering, and does nothing to improve final test performance. The testing is the critical component.”
Those tests, Schacter and Szpunar believe, act as an incentive for students to pay closer attention to the lecture because they know they’ll have to answer questions at the end of each segment.
“Whether it’s in the classroom or online, students typically don’t expect to have to summarize a lecture in a way that makes sense until much later on,” Szpunar explained. “But if we give them an incentive to do that every now and then, students are actually much more likely to set everything else aside, and decide they can get to that text after class, or they can worry about their other class later, and they’re able to absorb the material much better.”
Another surprising effect of the testing, Szpunar said, was to reduce testing anxiety among students, and to ease their fears that the lecture material would be very challenging.
Going forward, Schacter said, he hopes to research whether the testing effect can also reduce mind-wandering in the classroom.
“We know that there is mind-wandering in classroom lectures,” he said. “Testing intervention hasn’t been tried yet, but I think both Karl and I expect it would have similar, and possibly even stronger, results, because these experiments were conducted in a very controlled setting.”
As online courses are increasingly touted as a large part of the future of higher education, Szpunar said he hopes the findings help to lay out a blueprint that can ensure students get the most out of such studies.
“At the very least, what this says is that it’s not enough to break up lectures into smaller segments, or to fill that break with some activity,” he said. “What we really need to do is instill in students the expectation that they will need to express what they’ve learned at some later point. I think it’s going to be a very sobering thought for a lot of people to think that students aren’t paying attention almost half the time, but this is one way we can help them get more out of these online lectures.”
Online student retention is one of the most critical components for the success of any school or organization. The key to a successful online retention program is the realization that student retention is everybody’s job.
The main objective of a well-established online retention program is to maintain the learners enrollment and to keep him highly satisfied with the level of education he is acquiring in an online environment. This is not an easy task since there are many reasons why a student might need or want to withdraw or leave the program.
Below are a dozen strategies for improving online student retention for within your organization:
Make a good first impression.The first day of class should be both welcoming and informative. The instructor should create a welcome letter with a few details about herself and the course and have students introduce themselves as well. After students post their introductions in the discussion board, the instructor should respond to each and every student. These first-day activities help set the tone for the course as a community of learners.
Never underestimate the importance of instructor presence. Providing students with immediate feedback and being highly visible in the classroom and online threaded discussion boards will improve the online experience for learners.
When grading student assignments, it’s best to provide constructive recommendations for improvement that are highly motivating and encouraging. It’s easy for attempts at humor to fall flat or words to be misinterpreted in the written word, so be sure reread your comments before hitting submit.
Answer all questions posed by students in the faculty forum section within 24-48 hours, and communicate this feedback window to students so they know what to expect. A student could be encountering a discouraging issue or a personal emergency that could lead him or her to withdraw from the program, so a timely response is critical.
Make students feel they are a part of the program by letting them know how important their contribution is to the class. One of the most important factors impacting retention is whether students feel they belong to part of a larger community, which can affect whether they continue on a course of study or drop out (DeVries and Wheeler, 1996; as cited by Ludwig-Hardman and Dunlap, 2003).
Let students know they were missed when they return from being absent. This gives awareness to the student of how important they are to the class, that their classroom contribution was greatly missed, and that you’re aware of their absence.
Practice proven adult learning principles and strategies in the classroom. For example, students should perceive that the goals of their learning experience are directly related to their own personal goals. Also, their learning experience should be organized around what they see as relevant to the “real world.” The student is provided with self-directed and independent learning activities. The faculty should ensure that the learning environment is characterized by mutual trust and respect, freedom of expression, and acceptance of differences.
Introduce collaborative learning techniques in the classroom. The famous Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978), who contributed to the later formation of constructivism, theorized that students learn more effectively in a collaborative environment where they can share their ideas and experiences.
Engage students by hosting live webinars. In addition to the classroom experience, introduce a variety of career skill topics that will provide students with learning tips and other strategies that will help them in the future.
Establish an early alert system. Identify and assist underperforming students who are at risk. Recommend to the students to seek assistance with the appropriate support staff.
Help students establish specific goals for attending the program and each course. At the very beginning of the course, in the announcement section, the instructor should establish the course expectations. This ensures the students know early on what is required of them for a successful completion of the course. If the student does not meet their weekly goals, the faculty should contact the student and remind them of the course goals and help to get the student back on track.
If you’re an administrator, be sure to involve faculty in student retention matters. Because faculty have the most interaction with students, they serve as a tremendous resource for helping improve online student retention and success.
The North American Council for Online Learning defines it this way: “Blended learning means many things to many people, even within our relatively small online learning community. It is referred to as both blended and hybrid learning, with little or no difference in the meaning of the terms among most educators. In general terms, blended learning combines online delivery of educational content with the best features of classroom interaction and live instruction to personalize learning, allow thoughtful reflection, and differentiate instruction from student to student across a diverse group of learners.”
Blended learning is the perfect training solution for:
• Students who want the convenience of learning online
• Employers who need to minimize employee time away from the work station
• Independent trainers seeking additional revenue by increasing student volume
A study conducted by the United States Department of Education found that instruction combining online and face‐to‐face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face‐to‐face instruction than did purely online instruction (Evaluation of Evidence‐Based Practices in Online Learning, 2010).
Blended learning formats are time saving. The results state that students who took a blended learning course spent about 25% less time to achieve essentially the same learning outcomes as traditional format (classroom only training) students.
Blended learning formats can save money. According to the study, blended learning offers significant savings in compensation costs, with the degree of cost reduction depending on the exact model of blended learning used. Productivity may also get a boost if students complete their online learning more quickly than they do in a traditional classroom setting. According to Training Magazine, corporations save between 50-70% when replacing instructor-led training with electronic content delivery. Opting for online training also means that courses can be pared into shorter sessions and spread out over several days or weeks so that the business would not lose an employee for entire days at a time. Soft skills, industrial skills and safety, health and environmental compliance training are being conducted online and organizations are beginning to reap the monetary and qualitative benefits of implementing online training solutions for their employees.
Blended learning can help if you’re tight on space. You know how tough it can be to schedule a large room for an entire day. Having part of the training take place online keeps students or employees at their desks and out of high-demand, high-traffic common areas like overbooked meetings rooms.
Remote employees? No problem. If your workforce is spread out over multiple locations or you have staff that telecommutes, blended learning makes it easier to schedule the online content portion of their training.
A blended approach to training can also encourage employee engagement in the training. The online learning environment allows students to begin applying knowledge during the course of learning and classroom training fosters more group involvement, team building and team problem solving during the learning experience. Classroom training also allows for real time instructor to student interaction to answer specific questions and receive hands-on training.
Technology in the workplace is increasing daily. As emerging technologies become more accessible and new generations of learners who grew up with technology enter the workforce, blended learning options might not simply be a nice thing to consider. Rather, blended learning may become a mandate if a workplace wants to remain competitive as well as attract talented and creative workers who want viable options in their working and learning lives.
“As the concept of e-learning moves from the future into the present, trainers and human resource professionals must not only adapt their methods to a new medium, but also rethink the very nature of workplace education. Written by a top training professional and leading authority on technology-based development, The E-Learning Revolution is a call to arms that no one in training and development can afford to ignore. Based on a series of hard-hitting propositions that examine how organizational learning has evolved, the book provides provocative insights on: * How learner-centered educational technologies will demand a reexamination of the way professionals learn * What trainers must do to acknowledge the changes in which organizations compete in the new connected economy * Why barriers between knowledge management, performance management, and training must fall if a company wants to achieve its agenda Filled with case studies of companies like Ernst & Young, IBM, and Hewlett Packard, The E-Learning Revolution provides a catalyst for change in a rapidly evolving profession.”
W ether you are just getting started with eLearning design and looking to get a better understanding of eLearning best practices, or you’ve been designing courses for a while and are trying to find ways of making your material more effective, considering the basics of visual design is key.
Design is too often overlooked by course developers, or otherwise misunderstood – some eLearning designers think that as long as their course “looks good,” the visuals are sufficient. But graphical composition and design affect the way a learner takes in information, so giving a bit more thought to the visual layout of the pages of your course is an important part of eLearning best practices. Try these ten simple changes, and see the difference they make.
1. Guide the viewer’s eye:
The placement of the elements on each page should flow naturally from one to the next in a progression that lends itself to the content you’re teaching. Images and graphics should be oriented in a way that directs the reader’s attention inward and onward, never away from the screen or your content.
2. Control the clutter:
Many eLearning designers are tempted to overload their pages with content, because the authors of the material for the course included an excess of details. Figure out what’s most important, provide the reader with an avenue to access the additional information, and cut everything superfluous. An important part of eLearning best practices is identifying the critical facts and concepts and keeping things simple. Going overboard with text density in an eLearning course can be a very big deterrent to a student, especially when they’re reading on a screen.
3. Shorten your columns:
It’s easier to read a shorter line of text than a longer one; many readers feel daunted by strings of words that stretch all the way across their screen. You can make your text easier for the learner to take in by narrowing the width of your text box, or breaking a longer piece into multiple columns, like a newspaper.
Note: The ideal measurement for displaying text on screen is the 50% column “rule”, which is about 40 to 60 characters per line.
4. Proper usage of white space:
Don’t fill every spot on the screen with content or graphics. The negative space on the page can be useful to guide the reader’s attention and eliminate distractions.
Note:It is important to note that white space doesn’t need to be white. The term simply refers to empty space on a page. It’s recommended that the body of the text should occupy from 25 to 40% of the total space of a page.
5. Make smart font choices:
Your typography decisions should be informed by the needs of the content. Avoid fancy fonts that are harder to read. Use size and color to emphasize or highlight certain elements, but don’t go overboard; less is more, especially in dramatic color usage.
6. Keep things consistent:
The visual theme of your eLearning course should carry through from page to page. Getting too creative can end up distracting the reader from the content. Graphics in your eLearning should match. Also watch out for heading sizes, font choices, color scheme, button styles, and spacing. Everything must be in harmony.
7. Watch your alignment:
It should always be clear what text is associated with which images, and any tables and charts should be easy to read at a glance. Don’t make your reader puzzle out what you intended to go where. Alignment makes your course more organized and digestible, as well as making it seem more professional.
8. Let prominence inform position:
Pride of place should to go the most important information. Learners from most Western countries read left-to-right and top-to-bottom, so the most relevant pieces should be placed in the upper left of the page, and anything important should be visible at the top of the page without scrolling.
9. Offer easy access:
Don’t turn your eLearning course into a scavenger hunt. Just as in effective websites, any information that users want should be accessible in three clicks or fewer. Your learner may need to go back and review a section, or skip ahead past content they already know, so navigation should be simple and quick. In particular, you should avoid:
- Poor navigation
- Hard-to-find or nonexistent forward and back buttons
- Links that leads learners off the course
10. Employ contrasting colors
Contrast is a basic tool of graphic design, and is highly effective for keeping a viewer’s attention. Combinations of red and green, purple and yellow, and especially blue and orange, are very effective in keeping a reader’s interest.
Note: According to some studies, at the text level, if the use of chromatic contrasts is adequate, the precision and the rapidity with which information is perceived and memorized increase by 40-50% compared to simple white-black contrasts.
We hope these tips will help as you build your eLearning courses. And don’t worry about being a graphic designer pro, just spend some time learning the basics and build from there.
What other design principles do you have in mind? Do we forgot something? Tell us!
How do you design training to appeal to learners on a generational basis? Aetna Inc. may have the answer. Earlier this month, the Hartford, Conn., insurance company took home a Training magazine Top 125 Best Practice Award for its generational diversity e-learning.
After evaluating the results of training, Aetna realized that longer-tenured employees reacted differently to some of its new learning approaches than did shorter-tenured employees. In response, the company conducted a more detailed analysis based on age, identifying five groups (Silent Generation, ages 62-77; Baby Boomers, ages 52-61; Late Baby Boomers, ages 43-51; Generation X, ages 31-42; and Generation Y, ages 18-30).
Based on its own studies and those of other organizations, Aetna found each of these groups to have unique cultural and learning preferences based on experiences encountered during formative learning periods. Then, the company began developing training more closely aligned to the learning styles of each group.
Training recently spoke with David Blair, Aetna’s learning head of curriculum design, about the program and his tips for success.
Training: What did your research reveal?
Blair: Baby Boomers and Late Baby Boomers like linear courses in which information is covered in a very logical, progressive manner. They struggle with simulations. They also accept objectives. If you tell them upfront what the course objectives are and what the training will cover, they are apt to accept what you say.
Generation X learners appreciate new technology and expect a certain amount of interactivity. Like Boomers, they prefer linear content, but they also want to be able to “test out” of courses when they reach a point where their level of knowledge is sufficient. Those in this generation also want choices, such as being able to turn audio and closed-captioned text in a course on or off. They want you to teach them what they need to know and apply all the time. If there is something that they won’t likely apply for another six months, they prefer not to receive training on it. They’d rather receive a performance support tool or job aid to which they can refer later.
Those in Generation Y like to freeform it. The first thing they like to do in a course is take a test and figure out what they don’t know. Then, they want to be able to go back in and learn what they don’t. They also want to navigate through parts of a presentation in the order they prefer. Then, they want to have the option of researching references at their discretion.
Training: How do you design your e-learning to align with these preferences?
Blair: When we began looking at this issue in earnest, our analysis revealed that at Aetna, most training designers are Baby Boomers. As a result, much of the training that was being developed at that time was created with Boomers’ preferences in mind.
For Generations X and Y, more of our e-learning now incorporates games and simulations. Content search and research capabilities were also added to a number of courses.
To meet Generation X’s preference for learning takeaways, we began building more performance support tools for those tasks that learners don’t perform often. Because this group likes choice, we also added an audio on/off and closed-captioning option to many of our courses.
For Generation X and Y learners, we changed the way in which we write course objectives. If you put objectives at the beginning of an e-learning program, Baby Boomers will read and accept them. Generation Xers and Yers won’t. So we began telling a story instead. The story usually explains why the training is necessary (e.g., Here’s a situation and here is the outcome that will occur if the situation is not handled properly.).
For Generation Y learners, we adopted The Thiagi Group’s Four-Door approach to e-learning, in which learners choose their best learning style and can shift from one to another to meet their needs. This approach, which consists of the Library (performance support and reference materials for self-study), the Playground (learning through gaming), the Cafe (learning through social interaction) and the Torture Chamber (the opportunity to test one’s skills or knowledge through simulation) is having a tremendous impact on our Generation Y learners.
Training: What results has the program delivered?
Blair: Early on, we did a study that compared an old course and an updated version of the same course, which was completely redesigned based on generational differences.
The first thing we measured was satisfaction, which we define as the ability to take information learned in training and apply it on the job, as measured by learners after they leave training. With Generation X and Y learning styles designed into our learning programs, overall learner satisfaction increased by 21 percent.
We also measured achievement—in other words, how well learners perform within the actual training program. For those who took the “generational” training, this metric increased by 12 percent compared to the control group.
Finally, we took a look at retention, which we test three months after training concludes to determine how much learners retained. This metric increased by 9 percent compared to the control group.
Training: What tips can you offer to others interested in designing their courses with multiple generations in mind?
- There are exceptions to the rules. You can lump people together by generation, but there are always going to be exceptions. We have seen people in the Silent Generation, for example, who are extremely competent with computers, prefer to learn by searching, and like new technologies—just like Generation Y learners. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to design training around all of these exceptions, but one thing you can do is keep all of the e-learning you design as open as possible. Design it so that learners, themselves, can choose how to learn and interact with the content.
- Learning styles are upwardly compatible by one generation. If you build a course targeted at Generation Y learners, Generation X learners will look at the course and say, “I’m progressive enough to accept this,” even if it’s not targeted specifically at them. If you have a learner population comprising 50 percent Generation Y learners and 50 percent Baby Boomers, however, and you design the program to appeal to Generation Y learners, Boomers will resist the course. It’s simply too big a jump for them to make. In that situation, it’s best to design two different programs—one for each group.
- Learning styles are not downwardly compatible. If you have a group of learners consisting of both Generation X and Generation Y, always design for Generation Y. If you design for Generation X, Generation Y will view the course as antiquated and won’t accept it.
- Weigh the costs and benefits. We don’t have many learner groups that comprise one generation, and there are very few that are even 50-50. With most courses, we look at the majority population and design with their proclivities in mind. When the split is somewhat even, however, we weigh the costs and benefits to determine whether taking the time to develop two different programs makes sense. We are lucky in that we design all of our e-learning within a content management system, so it’s relatively easy for us to reformat the same content in different ways to make it to appeal to each generation. It’s not like building two courses; it’s more like building a course and a half.
Businesses and member-based associations are looking for ways to extend the learning experience beyond their walls to reach a wider audience of stakeholders. What are some of the benefits of this practice and how can they select a learning management system (LMS) that helps them achieve their extended enterprise vision?
Offering learning outside the organization can help achieve the following:
>> Improve customer satisfaction — Easily accessible training can enhance a customer’s interaction with the product, while potentially reducing support costs. This, in turn, can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty by building engagement and investment in the product.
>> Increase partner involvement — If the business depends on resellers, integrators or other value-added partnerships, then those partners need to be educated on the product. Providing consistent and current product and sales training allows partners to accurately represent the product to end customers.
>> Expanded revenue sources — Many organizations are selling training content to external audiences as a way to grow revenue. These organizations are taking a broader view of training and monetizing existing content by offering it to wider audiences.
>> Involve value chain partners — Suppliers, distributors and brokers can all benefit from training that may not be directly related to a product but supports a business process. Compliance and regulatory training falls into this area, as would education around health and safety.
However, the logistics of delivering training to the extended enterprise can still be daunting to organizations that lack the right learning management system (LMS) technology. Organizations that are considering an LMS first need to do some planning and assessment. Here are some key points to consider as you embark on selecting an LMS for your business or association.
Identify and Clarify Objectives
Too often overlooked, the first step in selecting an LMS is to identify and clarify your organization’s objectives for the system. This is a higher-level discussion than identifying what the LMS should do — that comes later. Ask some of the following questions:
>> How will the LMS support our near- and long-term strategic goals?
>> What do we really want to accomplish with learning and educational programs?
>> What are the associated people, processes and functions that will be affected by an LMS?
>> What problems are we trying to solve?
>> What other opportunities could open up to us if we take this direction?
Answering these questions and focusing on objectives is an important precursor to defining actual system requirements.
Consider Your Ecosystem
These days, no LMS should be an island, and in fact it should integrate with as many other applications as possible within the learning ecosystem. For example, learning data affects human resources, talent management and performance management systems. An LMS should seamlessly integrate with the key systems that help run your organization, especially if you’re hoping to tie learning to revenue. Take the time to work with I.T. to make sure the selected LMS can function across the existing ecosystem.
There is a considerable amount of return on investment (ROI) that comes from acquiring or replacing an LMS. Some sources are more obvious than others, so it is also important to look for potentially hidden ROI.
For example, there may be ROI that comes from the ability to aggregate and analyze learning data to make better decisions
about which courses to offer. More apparent ROI will come from streamlined processes and improved efficiency, and these should be quantified as much as possible in terms of gains, savings and costs avoided.
Don’t Overlook Change Management
While most people know that change is necessary, they still may not like or accept new applications and business processes right away. It is always important to create and implement a change management plan that involves frequent communication and training for all stakeholders. Consider the different audiences that will be using the LMS and tailor communications accordingly. Apply basic principles of training so that people will accept the system that helps them with training.
In some instances, using outside resources to facilitate the process makes sense. Bringing in a consultant can ease the burden on internal resources, and your organization can benefit from the experience and perspective of a seasoned professional.
Whatever approach you take, remember that these initial steps are as important as the LMS selection itself.
A working definition of crisis is “a significant threat to operations that can have negative consequences if not handled properly,” according to Dr. W. Timothy Coombs, writing for the Institute for Public Relations. “In crisis management, the threat is the potential damage a crisis can inflict on an organization, its stakeholders, and an industry.” That’s not even taking into consideration (and it’s a major consideration) what it can inflict on employees.
Granted, many crises have little to no direct effect on learning departments or divisions within a corporate bureaucracy. But, as Dr. Chris Hardy of the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) found out, some can have an absolutely numbing effect on day-to-day operations.
On Aug. 11 of last year, the DAU’s brand-new Teaching & Learning Lab (TALL) —with 30 projects running —burned to the ground (photo page 31).
“It was pretty traumatic out in the parking lot watching the building burn down,” remembers Dr. Hardy, director of the Global Learning and Technology Center at DAU. “We lost the lab as well as office space and hardware for the entire department. We lost the learning analytics office, all of our smartboards, and our knowledge-sharing and curricula development facilities.
“The biggest impact was that 60 people lost their laptops and recent work. People lost all of their wall furnishings like diplomas, autographed photos — even some car keys. But, thank goodness, no one was injured, and we didn’t lose our main servers that housed the LMS, which were located in another building.”
The crisis at the DAU was totally unexpected, as fires usually are. Thankfully, they are not a common occurrence in the learning professional’s world. But other types of crises that cause anything from a minor to a major disruption in service do arise. Among governmental organizations, cybersecurity is a major concern. Among companies in the public sector,
it’s not just having a system invaded by viruses and worms but also having the electronic equipment fail completely. And organizations in both the private and public sectors suffer from unexpected crises due to severe personnel management problems.
Accenture, a management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, believes that technological change (widespread use of the Internet and mobile communications), rapid globalization, and interconnection among economies makes it more difficult for traditional risk- and crisis-management practices to keep up. It further believes that companies often find themselves preparing for and responding to the most recent crisis, while pushing into new businesses without establishing the necessary safeguards against failure.
One of the things that definitely helps is to have a written procedure in place before a crisis arises. At DAU, written crisis-related programs and standard operating procedures existed that covered various crises such as fire prevention and evacuation procedures; continued operations plans for redundant LMS capabilities; disaster preparedness plans; and the
emergency notification process — all of which cover a wide variety of possible prevention and response activities.
How to Respond to a Crisis
Before even being faced with whatever might be termed a crisis, astute organizations should be prepared for all eventualities. Accenture, a management consulting company, recommends four basic business philosophies:
>> Be prepared for unexpected failures.
>> Ensure that crisis management operates across structures, functions and divisions, both vertical and horizontal.
>> Recognize the crisis early, and take quick, decisive action.
>> Communicate thoroughly, effectively and frequently with all audiences.
The first hours after a crisis occurs are the most important. Dr. W. Timothy Coombs, writing for the Institute for Public Relations, suggests a few initial best-practices:
1) Be quick and try to have initial response within the first hour.
2) Be accurate by carefully checking all facts.
3) Be consistent by keeping spokespeople informed of crisis events and key message points.
4) Make public safety the number one priority.
5) Use all available communication channels including the Internet, intranet and mass notification systems.
6) Provide some expression of concern/sympathy for victims.
7) Remember to include employees in the initial response.
8) Be ready to provide stress and trauma counseling to victims of the crisis and their families, including employees.
The Crisis Management and Disaster Recovery Unit goes even further defining additional phases to effective crisis management that are longerlarger in scope:
9) Set up a business continuity project.
10) Review the different types of emergencies that can arise and assess their risks to various business processes within your organization.
11) Identify back-up and recovery strategies.
12) Develop procedures to be followed in the event of a crisis or disaster.
13) Develop detailed recovery procedures for the business.
14) Test the recovery procedures in semi-realistic emergency conditions.
15) Train all employees to assist the business recovery process.
16) Write a business continuity document, and keep it up to date, reflecting all changes in business process and employee structure.
THE FIRST STEPS
A crisis can create three related threats: (1) public safety, (2) financial loss, and (3)reputation loss.
“Effective crisis management handles the threats sequentially,” notes Dr. Coombs. “The primary concern in a crisis has to be public safety. A failure to address public safety intensifies the damage from a crisis. Reputation and financial concerns are considered after public safety has been remedied. Ultimately, crisis management is designed to protect an organization and its stakeholders from threats and/or reduce the impact felt by threats.”
That’s from an organizational standpoint. But on a more personal level, a catastrophic crisis can have a crippling effect on employee morale and, ultimately, efficiency.
So managers must, with some dispatch, deal with employees who might get hurt physically and/or psychologically, notes the Asia Risk Management Institute: “Unfortunately, one of the critical errors in crisis management planning is the strong tendency to focus attention and efforts on systems, operations, infrastructure and public relations, with people coming
in last on the list of concerns and hence often ending up neglected. This is a serious problem; organizations need to pay greater attention to the impact of critical events on employees, their families and the community as a whole for one simple reason: business recovery cannot occur without motivated employees.”
If the crisis does indeed affect employees (and most do), managers should offer a compassionate understanding of what the employees must be feeling. Cold communications do not work in a crisis. By speaking honestly and communicating with employees, the crisis will be more likely to pass quickly, allowing the business to get back on track.
“Our employees reacted differently,” Dr. Hardy remembers. “Some took it in stride, some went through tough emotional times with the loss of their office, intellectual capital on their laptops, their precious memorabilia, pictures and family items. [So] supervisors and HR had to be sensitive to each of their needs. We also got them together discuss their losses, to
recognize with themselves and each other possible different emotions to expect.
“What became very important was to get people taken care of and recover as much as possible of personal effects, relocated, and back on the job. We also had several town-hall-type meetings to discuss as a team their needs and concerns. Later, we conducted a team picnic sponsored by the organization and attended by its president that let us know her appreciation and her support for the future. The rest of the university coalesced around us the provided emotional support.”
Not many learning professionals will face a crisis as devastating as the DAU did in September 2012. But having a set of logical, compassionate, step-by-step written procedures helps get any organization back to speed in the shortest possible time frame. (Photo courtesy DAU)
BACK TO SPEED
Once employees’ needs are taken care of, organizational needs must be addressed. That includes getting a business, department or agency back up to speed as quickly as possible.
Follow-up concerns specific to the DAU incident were ongoing communications with the fire department, notifying leadership, relocation, re-equipping and re-location at an alternative work site in order to continue its mission as early as the next day.
Depending on the nature of the crisis, leadership must determine the next steps toward ameliorating the damage. (See sidebar.) By taking the proper steps, organizations can recover effectively from any given crisis. But the key is to make it “go away” — in all respects, as quickly as possible.
“Within a period of weeks,” Dr. Hardy remembers, “our folks were operating again. We had to borrow classrooms when needed, but the lab projects kept going.”
The DAU’s new TALL facility was to be completed this summer. “We did learn some things,” he admits, “so it will be a lot more agile as far as configuration. But the projects — the work itself — never stopped.”
And that’s good crisis management taken to the nth degree.