We’re going to have to start with an apology – if you tried to join us for weelearning this week in Bath, we let you down. Someone suggested the Raven of Bath as a possible venue and we took it on without due diligence. As it turned out there were plenty of people also choosing the Raven for whatever they were doing and there were no seats. Instead we decamped to the West Gate, which turned out to be a pretty good venue for space to chat, drink and eat. We did tweet our change of venue, but sorry if you didn’t catch it. An ironic start to the evening, given the topic…
This time we chose a chatty event topic, Fabulous February Fail Fest, after a similarly entitled event run by Nesta back in October. The premise was simple – come armed with a story of failure and be prepared to share. And share we did. Here’s a select cut of what we learned, and out of respect for those present, no names will accompany the stories…
Get agreement in writing, or at least know who you’re dealing with
Networking is a great way to pick up business – finding people to be your champion and sell your skills on your behalf is a great way to extend your sales range. However, if someone does get some work lined up for you, don’t forget to treat it in the same way you would if the customer was dealing with you direct, as one of our confessors did.
Many hours of design work already committed, the end customer went out of business. The potentially lucrative work was rendered null and though the intermediary, out of remorse for lining the job up, offered to pay for the work done, our confessor couldn’t accept. So now he doesn’t carry out any work without a decent agreement in place any more.
Know your audience
It seems a basic issue, but one that too many third-party instructional designers seem to come across far too often. Typically parachuted in once at least some, usually all, of the A of ADDIE is done, it is very often apparent that the A wasn’t done terribly well, if at all. Our confessor for this tale admitted to being bounced into designing a course based on anticipated, rather than an examined need. The sponsors felt confident enough of the motivation (compliance) without having to spend any time speaking to the target audience.
Without a full understanding of what, if any, problems end users were having with the subject, the course ended up being heavy on the tell and light on the more useful show. Decent production values and competent, if not exactly thrilling, design were as nothing since it was hard to convince users the course was going to do much for them. The confessor admitted to having been sceptical of proceeding without more research, but had allowed himself to be convinced to the contrary. He won’t make the same mistake, he says. Until the next time.
Know what you want to achieve AND don’t be afraid to let go
This tale came hedged with the caveat “it’s not a fail. Yet.”
A project to turn years of work in to a new, useful and relevant online resource is well under way and our confessor is playing a key part in making it happen. While the figures are sound so far, community building is a slow and arduous task and there is a long way to go yet. The sponsor for the project is committed, but wants to do too much themself. Our confessor spoke of the high levels of engagement in the community, but feels they could be encouraged to do more that would bring the group on.
This was a typical tale of a social learning community. The cause is a good one and the basic premise behind the materials is strong, winning converts around the world. But communities are about peer interaction, not top down distribution, and at present there is too much of the latter, pehaps at the expense of the emergence of the former. This project remained tagged #waitandsee.
Think about where the value of interactivity really is
Another tale of inexperience, for this our confessor admitted that the solution really only became apparent in hindsight as he learned more about how learning works.
A client wanted to turn a series of paper-based training manuals into elearning to improve a blended learning approach (previously paper and classroom, to become online and classroom), so our confessor was engaged to carry out the ID. The resulting elearning was sound, if perhaps being the very definition of “text and next”, but the project – training sales people in a regulated sector – got horribly bogged down in the necessary two-line review by SMEs. That wasn’t the problem. As the project developed, it was apparent that a top-notch simulation exercise could really improve things. A model was worked out, permutations permutated and it all got a bit complex and costly.
In retrospect our confessor sees that the delays in the review could have been avoided by: simply turning the original documents in to PDFs (no changes would have meant no review times); providing some smaller, less costly and easier to review, interactive resources to illustrate key tricky topics, and; spending the lion’s share of the budget on a top notch simulation from the outset.
Best practice is not always what is wanted – design for your audience’s experience
Our final tale started out as a demonstration of everything that was surely right in elearning: an exemplary attempt at producing compliance elearning of which the great Tom Kuhlmann would have been proud. Our confessor talked us through his course and we oohed and ahhed appropriately at nicely crafted skeuomorphic desks and personnel profiles, lovingly crafted simulated phone calls to experience and an open assessment that more experienced users could leap straight into without wasting time. Those of us who were IDs were suitably impressed and wondering exactly how this fitted the evening’s theme.
But not so the lucky recipients of this work.
Almost immediately that our confessor’s magnum opus hit the LMS, the complaints started rolling in. The exploratory navigation, despite being clearly labelled and explained, left users lost. The assessment, prominent on the course homepage and again labelled, couldn’t be found – and the fact that it could be attempted without endless screens mandated by measured mouse clicks caused apoplexy in one department, so much so that a business risk warning was threatened.
Though thankfully supported and defended by his line management, our confessor was left feeling battered and bruised, when, in the consensus of the group at weelearning, he should have been borne aloft on shoulders for a victory lap of the car park by grateful colleagues. He admitted ruefully that if he had just churned out “a bunch of bullet points and a knowledge only end test you could only do after you had endured every screen” then everyone would have been happy…
So, a chastening tale of doing TOO MUCH for learners to end our round up of Fabulous February Fail Fest 2013. It’s interesting to note just how many of these hinge on not knowing enough about your end users’ or customers’ expectations. It’s almost like we lined this up intentionally, but it’s fair to say that, as a design approach, design thinking does more than most to foreground end user concerns in the development of your product, and you know where we are going with that line of thinking…
We’ve all got 12 months to rustle up stories for next year so don’t look upon your mistakes too critically in 2013 – think of them as research for next year’s weelearning Fail Fest. In the meantime, join us in March for our next event, in Bristol.