Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Projects are how we change the world...and ourselves...



The process is not linear (as indicated in the diagram). It is iterative and parallel. The diagram just depicts the various tasks/steps of the entire process. These were the key points the client needed to understand to get a feel of what happens behind the scene in elearning development. Read the post for a more detailed explanation.

Preamble
Projects are how we change the world and introduce new knowledge into our organizations (when they are done well that is - also sometime how we remove obsolete knowledge and processes).
~From a comment on the post, Defining KM, by Dave Snowden

Though the post is on Knowledge Management--and a tiny gem of a post it is--it was this comment that drew my attention because of a recently completed project. While I can't say this project changed the world, but it definitely changed me (because of all I learned and learning is change) and added a world of altogether different perspectives.

I have tried to capture some of my key learning in this post. But before I fast forward to the learning, here's a brief overview and background to set what I learned in context. I have erred on the side of caution and have not named the client.

How it all started

  1. The client (an IT organization functioning in the telecom industry) has a global presence with footprints in all the continents, and the major countries within each.
  2. They have very very well-defined training programs with certifications in place.
  3. It is mandatory for all technicians in the organization to take the training/be certified before they are allowed to venture on to client sites.
  4. The training is purely class-room based with instructors (who have been conducting ILT there for close to 25 years) leading/guiding/facilitating the sessions
  5. Management (the C-suite folks), realizing the cost and the administration overheads of flying people from all over the globe to attend training wanted to move to e-learning
  6. Wisely, they wanted to begin small by rolling out e-learning for a new version of an old application (the assumption was that the information would not be too new for the learners)
  7. The application for which training had to be designed was still in Beta and was expected to change significantly over the next few months. (This proved to be one of the major challenges during the actual development phase of the project.)
  8. They wanted to experience what switching from class-room training to elearning meant
I went as the Consultant to do the initial requirements gathering and scope analysis.

What ensued-Part 1

I had gone mentally prepared to gather the training requirements and also assess the overall scope of the project. About a week into my visit on-site, I realized the following:

  1. The C-suite folks wanted e-learning. They had a some notion of what it entailed having observed other organization. The management below that had no clue what "moving to e-learning" meant.
  2. I could not do requirement gathering or scope analysis without educating the client on e-learning, its various phases, the implications, the role of SMEs, trainers, learners, etc.
  3. I had to get the buy-in from the people I would be interacting with daily to develop and design the course and convince them that e-learning wasn't so evil.
What ensued-Part 2

  1. I kept aside all thought of scope analysis and content gathering.
  2. I spent the next few weeks focusing on preparing and giving presentations with the hope of explaining e-learning to folks with hell of a lot more experience in the corporate world than I have. 
  3. I got used to answering skeptical questions. (I also got used to fending off our program manager and relationship manager on the side, who for very obvious reasons, wanted to pin down the project scope and start the work.
Aside: Point #1 is ratified by a point made by Jenise Cook in her post, How to Estimate Training Time and Costs. 
One e-learning consultant in another state told me his “secret”. When he gets a brand new client, he does not work on a fixed, project fee basis, he always works on an hourly basis. When a new client is new to e-learning, he finds he’s also a coach as well as an ID and a developer, and the coaching takes up more of his time.
It is important to keep this pointer in mind if you are introducing elearning. It saves the client and the project team some anxiety about time and cost.


The outcome

As I spent almost a month explaining the various concepts and terminology related to e-learning, the differences and similarities between e-learning and ILT, the advantages of each, I could see the mindset changing palpably.
This was brought home to me most forcefully when I heard the following conversation between one of the ILT trainers (a very senior person) and an SME (who has been in that org for close to 15 years):  
Trainer: "Oh, we need your input on the CDD because you have to verify if the performance objectives noted against each topic maps to what that topic is supposed to cover."
SME: CDD? Eh??
Trainer: Oh...Course Design Document (with a smile at me). It is this interesting excel sheet with colorful tabs that Sahana will present in today's workshop. We have to fill out the questions in each of those sheets. Keep a day free for that activity or you'll have her parked outside your cabin door with a printout...


It was then that I knew I had made a dent, a difference, brought about a small change. After that, the presentations and workshops became interactive with questions pouring in. These were no longer skeptical ones but questions with a genuine desire to understand the various stages of e-learning development. Some of the most FAQ were:
  1. What do you mean by gathering content?
  2. What are the various things you do before we can see an elearning module?
  3. What is a storyboard? 
  4. How long does it take to review a storyboard? Will you show us how to review one?
  5. How do you "fit" the content into a storyboard?
  6. What do you mean by a module and its objectives?
  7. Our learners are new to elearning? How will they adapt to the navigation?
  8. Can you explain the different UI features and the functions in the prototype you showed us?
  9. Can you build a feature where they can ask questions if they get stuck?
  10. How will they be assessed?
  11. If we want them to go the main document for reference, can we add the document to the module?

Post this phase, the regular activities of gathering content, analyzing it, creating micro-design documents and writing storyboards started.

Fast forward

Moving ahead to the review of the storyboard phase. This was when I truly felt the impact of having introduced elearning as a concept to the client first. The trainers and SMEs not only felt involved, but they were also convinced of the value of the tasks they were performing. This made a huge difference to the way they reviewed, to our interactions, and to the experience of the entire development phase.

Yes, this project did make a difference. A huge difference to me!

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