Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back to the Classroom and Integrating Technology

Here at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), my job is to provide consulting and training for Faculty who want to incorporate technology into their classrooms. Our Fall semester began on August 20, and we see students arriving on campus, expecting to see technology in place in the classroom. Whether it be offering enhanced or blended courses using Blackboard or supplementing learning with Podcasts, Faculty are being reminded by students that they want to have access to the technology. For the workshops that I provide, I've created learning content with Camtasia and posted it to our CMS, and the feedback is always positive. The opportunity to access content when and where the learner needs it is the new expectation in the learning environment.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Blackboard World '07 - Boston July 10 - 12

I recently attended the Blackboard World '07 Users Conference. It was the first combined users conference in North America for both Blackboard and former WebCT clients.

Over 2000 participants representing 850 institutions from 26 countries attended in Boston, MA.

One of the common threads I heard throughout the conference and the various sessions is the call to ensure that the instruction we are providing as instructional designers, educators, instructional technologists, etc. is first and foremost useable and relevant to the student.

Recall the early days of desktop publishing: we quickly learned that just because the software was easy to use, the final product produced often left much to be desired. We see a similar situation today; tools like Blackboard and WebCT make creating online instruction a relatively straightforward practice. But what is the instruction's inherent worth? Does it hold to the standards set forth that identify good, solid, effective instruction, whether traditional, or online?

It seems we can sum it up easily: Let's not worry about providing good e-learning; let's be sure we are providing good learning, period.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Strictly Do You Interpret Instructional Design?

I just visited Ben Hamilton's new weblog ( and addressed the issue of ISD for effective creation of learning solutions (Design (Part I) - Why is ISD receiving a black eye?).

I suggested that, on his first bullet point, "ISD is done too much 'by the book'..." can be a fair argument; too strict an interpretation for every situation can create some tedious training solutions. Instructional Design is a wonderfully powerful tool to design effective learning, and I have approached it with a sense of flexibility to fit the particular situation. Often, having a clear idea of the intended audience helps me identify to what degree I apply any given part of ID. That said, I wouldn't want to create learning solutions without it; it has helped guide me to effective training solutions by taking some rather complex components and ideas and getting them clearly communicated and covered in the training.

This very issue had come up in a recent conversation with a colleague. We found that if we interpreted ID too strictly (at least in this particular situation), the training we were trying to convey became too rigid, and made understanding the concepts we were promoting more difficult.

This is a very interesting topic to me, and I'd like to hear from others in our profession: How do you approach ID? What works best for you?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Games Coming to a Workplace Near You

This post is a continuation of my observation from this past Corporate Advisory Council at Bloomsburg University concerning generations and their different learning styles and expectations for how training is delivered.

Check out ASTD’s Buzz News (link:

It provides a summary (Gaming Gets Down to Business; Toronto Globe & Mail (05/03/07) , P. B20; Scott, Graham F.) about the growing popularity and use of games and simulations in corporate training, and the observation that a different (more interactive) approach to training is wanted:

"They're (participants) going to corporate training courses and they find someone standing at the front with a PowerPoint show when they're used to being engaged in a different way."

PowerPoint has its place, and used properly remains a useful way of delivering information. But to avoid training that has become too static, we need to look at other delivery options as well. Gaming may be one avenue. Our “on-the-go” culture makes podcasting another strong contender for delivering information and instruction in a manner familiar to the present digital generation.

As information and knowledge continue to expand, learning-delivery methods will need to keep pace and provide the depth of content that is available for any subject, in order to give the learner the most complete exposure to the information available for that particular subject. Of course, the information needs to be presented (and made available after the training) in such a manner that the information is accessible and structured to avoid content overload and information not related to the subject under review.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Corporate Advisory Council at Bloomsburg University

Bloomsburg University's Department of Instructional Technology just completed its most recent Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) this past week. (For a great summary of the events, check out Karl Kapp's weblog at

One word comes to my mind as I reflect on this spring CAC: Generations.

Some presentations focused on transferring knowledge from one generation to another, and what considerations we need to make as we design learning products and instructional solutions.

Learners come not only from varied backgrounds, but from different times: Traditionalists. Baby Boomers. Generation Xer's. Millennials. All have been influenced by the technologies and methodologies of their day. And all approach learning in different ways - and with different expectations.

How do you build learning solutions that will accommodate these different generations of learners?

How you answer that question will impact how (and how successfully) you recruit, retain, and train your workforce.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Keep in Mind...

From time-to-time I like to share quotes I come across that speak to the importance of reaching your potential, the importance of learning, and inspiration to live a complete, fulfilled life.

Here’s a quote for this week:

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank among those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- President Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Workplace Learning and Performance Professionals as Leaders and Teachers

Do you recall a boss from your work history who made a difference in your life – who managed to teach you something instead of just manage your work? They seem to be the ones we remember most.

How about teachers? You know, the ones who did more than just teach the subject assigned for the year; the ones who gave you more of a full picture, a focus toward a vision, a goal, a path.

In the April 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine (page 112), Bill George, Professor at Harvard Business School, and Wendy Kopp, President of Teach for America (, had a conversation around leadership and teaching. It got me to thinking about past jobs (and bosses) and school days (and teachers) gone by.

But even more so, it has me thinking about our role as Workplace Learning and Performance professionals – we need to think both as leaders and teachers when creating and delivering instructional materials and content.

As Kopp notes in the article, “The best leaders keep focused on the outcomes they’re trying to achieve...” Having clear objectives makes all the difference in ensuring you reach your intended destination, whether you’re developing and launching a new product, or teaching a student the proper way to dissect a frog.

Kopp adds: “The most successful teachers set a vision for their students’ achievement… They are purposeful and effective in planning and executing toward that vision, work relentlessly to tackle the immense challenges that inevitably arise, and reflect constantly on their students’ performance and their own practice.” We can draw parallels to the instructional design model: analysis, design and development, the implementation, and careful evaluation.

George notes, “I believe that great leaders are also excellent teachers. I wonder, would actually thinking of themselves as teachers help leaders be more effective? What can we learn from teachers about our own leadership?”

It seems these are fair questions to ask ourselves as Workplace Learning and Performance professionals.

Do our training and classroom presentations spark learners’ curiosity and interest? Do our instructional materials encourage independent thought and exploration to help build students’ future leadership skills? Are our instructional materials closely aligned to the desired learning objectives and outcomes? Do they teach something?

Maybe it’s a good idea, as Workplace Learning and Performance professionals, to remind ourselves to think (and act) as leaders and teachers.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Considerations when Implementing Instructional Technologies

Prior to implementing any new technology for adult learners, we need to give consideration to certain instructional factors:

  • Will the technology improve information delivery?
  • Does it empower the learner toward achieving a goal?
  • Will it expand the “instructional territory” the learner is traversing?
  • Is the new technology a complement to the instructional objectives?
  • Will the learner benefit from using this technology?
  • Can the new technology be integrated into the existing instructional structure?
Keep in mind that ease-of-use is critical. The technology must be intuitive to use. If learners find the curve to adapt too steep, they may look for something else.
In addition, the technology must provide a real benefit to the learner, and be integrated with sound instructional design principles.

The question we should ask is, will the new technology expand the learner’s territory in a positive way by providing a greater potential for interactivity, collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and personal development?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Navigating the “Learning Territory”

One of the greatest outcomes of instructional technology integration is how the learner can acquire and demonstrate new knowledge. Technology has eliminated the traditional “one-way street” approach to learning, where the learner passively obtains information from a lecture, demonstration, or presentation.

Instructional technologies have replaced the learning territory’s one-way streets with multi-lane, multi-directional, instructional highways. This creates true interactivity among learners, instructors, and resources.

Instructional technologies have created more “points of interest” to visit and interact with throughout the learning territory. Interactivity, collaboration, and networking are the new cornerstones in adult learning, made possible by instructional technologies.

Learners have a wider array of tools and locations from which to peruse and use information and learning resources:

  • Websites
  • Simulations and Gaming
  • E-learning and CBT
  • Podcasts
  • Wikis
  • Blogs
  • Networking sites
  • Forums
  • Virtual Classrooms
  • Remote Meetings
  • Virtual Spaces

These learning resources, like the learning territory, will continue to expand outward, substantially increasing what is available to the learner.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Keep in Mind…

From time-to-time I like to share quotes I come across that speak to the importance of reaching your potential, the importance of learning, and inspiration to live a complete, fulfilled life.

Here’s a quote for this week:
“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance toward the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point. Climb slowly, steadily, enjoying each passing moment; and the view from the summit will serve as a fitting climax for the journey.”

- Harold B. Melchart

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Expanding Your “Learning Territory”

“Learning expands the territory in which you live, and allows you to develop your fullest potential.”

Technology, applied thoughtfully, can equip adult learners with the tools needed to expand their learning territory and grow potential. Our challenge, as instructional technology professionals, is to ensure the applied technology directly serves the adult learner, and does not distract the learner from the primary goal: increasing knowledge, understanding, skills, and potential. Our primary focus, then, should be on the learning and not the technology.

Since new technology creates an environment in which adult learners have to adapt, we must ensure this learning space, this territory, is accessible, easy to navigate, and expandable. As adult learners traverse this territory, the technology should help to promote self-direction and expression within this learning environment.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Conducting Virtual Training

I always enjoy conducting a virtual training session. The biggest challenge remains really connecting with your learner audience, and them, with you.

How can we achieve that "all in the same classroom" environment? Here are a few tips that I have found helpful toward that goal:

  • Actively listen - When a student is posing a question or sharing information with the class, stay focused on what he/she is saying. It is too easy to use this space of time - when you are not talking - to organize your next thought, or bring up the next window on the computer. This can result in missing what the student has just said; you may have heard it, but you really didn't listen to it.
  • Avoid multitasking - Okay, this is really close to the first point, but this can happen while you are talking. If you are trying to explain one thing, while thinking of something else, and/or doing something else at the same time, you'll never be quite sure of what you just said. Your students may not be in the physical classroom with you, but they will pick up on this. We can sum this one up in two words: Stay focused.
  • Maintain professional etiquette when speaking - Remember, your students' primary way of "seeing" you is through your language. Speak clearly, thoughfully. Be mindful of your tone - inflection is important. No slang, either. And watch those "ummmms," "ahhhhs," and the "you knows." They are distracting to students when they are in the same room as you. They are even more pronounced and magnified when all they can do is hear you.
And finally...
  • Phrase questions that are open-ended - Maintaining collaboration and interactivity are critical in the virtual classroom. Keeping participants engaged keeps them learning. Close-ended questions requiring nothing more than a "yes" or "no" will result in your students drifting off, and makes for a boring session. Remember to ask those questions than encourage dialog and interaction among class participants. People like to express themselves - and this gives them the opportunity to do so.
What else works for you when facilitating a virtual class? Have any tips to share? Post them here and we'll re-visit this topic again.

Keep learning!


This Learning Altitude Blog is an extension of, and companion to, my website, The website, and this blog, focus on Instructional Design, Workforce Training, and Technical Communication. The common link among these three areas is the instructional technology that makes so much of it possible. I'm looking forward to the collaboration, networking, and discovery that these technologies make possible.