aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for June, 2010

Quick Links

Posted by Ellen on June 27, 2010

You don’t have much time. Every day you field more calls and e-mails than you can count. Your To-Do list trails off the bottom of the page. Every now and then you actually get to check something off that list and it feels like a huge victory.

I know because I’ve been in your shoes, sat behind your desk, stared at your computer screen.

One of the goals of the aLearning blog is to keep an eye on the hundreds of blogs and resources and trends and ideas and developments in elearning, then summarize them here so you get what you need quickly and efficiently.

So here’s your injection of professional development, your aLearning Quick Fix… a summary of some helpful posts from out there in the blogosphere.
Tech Help

Using Articulate? Launching via a Moodle LMS? Need to pass scores, track attendance or pass other information between them? Joe Deegan at eLearning Blender offers some advice for doing just that here:

Following the cloud? Amit Gautam summarizes his take on the release of SCORM Cloud that took place June 7. Check out the conversation and links to the SCORM Cloud site to see if it might fit a (non-)LMS need you might have:


Webinar Help

Karen Hyer, Online Session Producer and coach with the eLearning Guild, offers up suggestions for producing your own Webinars in this eLearning Coach interview:


eLearning Audit Help

Lars Hyland describes what he calls IMPACT — six categories for reviewing elearning effectiveness, from Interaction to Timing. See the full description at his Lars is Learning blog:


Social Learning Ideas

Eric Davidove at Daretoshare has some thoughts on “Creating Safer Peer-to-Peer Learning Experiences at

Jeff Hurt gives you “A Blueprint for Socially Augmented Events: The Seven Stages Recap” at Midcourse Corrections:


eLearning Design Help

Cathy Moore links to a Webinar recording on using action mapping to design what she calls “lively elearning” here:

Opinions on Video Streaming of Conference Sessions

First, see Clive Shepherd’s perspective at
Then read Mark Berthelemy’s response at his Learning Conversations blog:
Opinions on Whether the LMS is Dead or Just Needs Some Fresh Air

Several elearning experts have been circling around the topic of traditional learning management systems and their need to grow into the current social learning environment… David Mallon at Bersin & Associates has a good summary of the debate (with links, if you have time, to original posts):—LMS-Edition.aspx

That should make the most of your spare minutes!!

Have links you want to share? Let us know!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Blogroll, eLearning Resources, LMS, Online Learning in General, Social Learning, Webinars | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What About Sharepoint?

Posted by Ellen on June 23, 2010

If you’ve been reading the posts here at aLearning about LMSes, you might have notived that one of the systems I haven’t discussed yet is Sharepoint. It’s very popular among many associations, and it’s actually one of my favorites.

So why haven’t I mentioned it before?

Let me tell you a story that will help explain….

As you well know, keeping several committees and groups of volunteers on track to deliver dozens of educational programs requires devoted organization. Whether you actively lead your volunteers or mostly sit by the sidelines, you still have to be on top of what’s happening, what’s about to happen, and what isn’t that should be.

E-mails, phone calls, conference calls, Web meetings… sending around agendas and documents… making sure everyone has the same version of the latest edits… You can easily spend more time chasing paper than accomplishing other necessary tasks.

I’d come into the association from an elearning development company where we tackled those issues in a number of ways, including implementing an inhouse system and then Sharepoint to keep project teams and clients organized. I loved it. I could post reminders of meetings, client calls, and because of the document version control feature, we could tell when we had the latest version of storyboards, project plans, and other documents. And where there were unexpected changes, we could see who’d made them and follow up.

I missed that. At the association, I was amazed to discover that my meeting planner (who had also come out of the corporate environment) and I were the only two using Outlook Calendar to set meetings for our conference calls. How were the others managing?!?

So when I discovered that our server upgrade included use of Sharepoint “for free” I was thrilled. I took a look at the functionality and saw that it was even better than I’d used it last a few years before. I touted the advantages to everyone in the office.

You know what they say: Free is never really free.

The Sharepoint re-seller we worked with wanted a bit of money for the branding. They recommended ten hours of training (! I’d learned the system on my own… what’s with training?!?), which would cost us $X. They said they’d set up the framework for our committees and groups for us, and that would only run us $X more.

We did our calculations. I went around — was membership in? Was the conference manager in? Was marketing in? We could divide up those costs across everyone’s budget, making it more affordable for each group to cover the expense in other ways.


Then I found out that access to Sharepoint was “free” to our internal staff only. Access for members was going to cost us.

I got the calculator back out. Let’s see… at $X per 5 people… for about 200 people…


Cha-ching!! Cha–ching!!


That was a cost we couldn’t justify.

Our small staff of twelve (including part-timers, and when we were fully staffed) was starting to use Outlook Calendar more frequently for staff meetings and reminders, and our kitchen served as an effective central communication hub already. There was no added value in using Sharepoint for the staff.

So we let it go.

Many associations are using Sharepoint it makes me wonder if we made the right decision. I can see its value in large organizations, those with staff sizes that warrant a system that can allow everyone to see what’s going on across various functions and committees and groups.

But what about small associations?

What about your association? Are you using Sharepoint? How are you covering the cost of the per-person access for those outside the staff members? Are you finding the system is actively being used?

Is it worth it for a small organization? What do you think?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Financing eLearning, LMS | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

What? Or How?

Posted by Ellen on June 19, 2010

Let me say right off the bat that if you’re doing needs assessment (you are, aren’t you?!?), I’m glad to hear it.

If you’re coming up with a narrowed (preferably prioritized) list of topics to cover in upcoming educational programs, kudos and all that.

But you’re only getting started. Take a closer look at your planned topics. Are they formulated around “what” something is or “how” to do something?

Lots of chatter around the blogosphere these days about collaborative learning (Marsha Rea at Acronym is doing a great series on this topic) and getting our events to be more interactive than passive (thanks to Jeff Hurt at MidCourse Corrections for pushing this).

Transitioning your events from passive learning to active learning, transforming your “presenters” into “facilitators” doesn’t have to be complicated.

One way to start the process is — believe it or not — as simple as shifting the focus of their sessions from “what” to “how.”

Here are some examples of general “what” topics:

  • The Benefits of Being a Volunteer
  • What You Need to Know about the Latest XYZ Regulations

And… here is a “how” version of each of those topics:

  • How to Share Your Expertise as a Volunteer
  • How to Comply with the New XYZ Regulations 

See the difference? Sometimes “what” treatments come disguised as “how” titles: “How the Latest XYZ Regulations Could Affect You” is just another information dump. Think “How TO Do [fill in the blank]” to avoid that trap.
Adult learners need to see a use for what they’re learning — the usefulness is where the value in the topic lies for them. If they can’t apply what they’re learning, what’s the point?

So decide what actions you want people to be able to take when they leave your session: what should they be able to do, or do better, than they could when they walked into the room?

Notice that the “how to” topics suggest the types of practice you can structure the event around? Notice, too, that you’ll end up covering some of the “what” — but that the focus has shifted to the application of the “what.”

For example….

  • How would you walk your members through a session on how to volunteer?
    • What steps do they need to take?
    • Is there a form they need to fill out?
    • Where do they find that form?
    • Are there deadlines they need to heed?
    • Can you provide them with a handout (not a Powerpoint printout!) showing all the information they’ll need?
    • Would a checklist of steps help?
    • How about giving them a timeline or calendar with important deadlines or program and meeting dates?
  • The compliance topic might require an initial, quick review of the most important
    regulatory changes so everyone is on the same page.

    • Providing a handout that clearly explains those changes means they’ll have the information in a form they can easily refer to — in the session and later — so they can focus on how what they’ll need to DO.
    • Small group tasks using worksheets and calculators or calendars or resource planning tools can make what might seem a dull session into a highly interactive — and immediately relevant — learning event.

In his “Aligning Learning and Performance Contexts” report, Dr. Will Thalheimer writes: “Our goal as designers of instruction is to determine the boundary conditions of the performance context and align the learning context with those parameters as much as possible.” (13).

What are you doing today to align the training you’re delivering to your members’ working environment? No, you can’t recreate that environment — but you can create tools and activities that make their learning more applicable when they return to their environment.

Starting with the “how” rather than the “what” is as good a place to start as any.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Learning in General | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Do You Need an LMS?

Posted by Ellen on June 8, 2010

David Mallon at Bersin & Associates has summarized the recent multi-author discussion on learning management systems (LMSes) in a way that’s succinct and insightful, and I won’t repeat it here except to say that the question at hand is whether what I’ll call the conventional LMS  is falling by the wayside as we use more and more social media and networking Web options for learning.

Here’s what gets confusing for associations and non-profits: most of the experts are grounded in corporate training.

Corporate training — from an administrative standpoint — is very different. They need to track compliance, and generally use LMSes to make sure workplace training is completed by employees, often because such training is tied to competencies and/or performance goals. Some of the most elaborate corporate LMSes also enable instructors to schedule rooms, reserve equipment, order books, and organize their sessions (how cool is that?!?).

So, as Jane Hart said in her comment to my post “LMS Resources,” the first question is really whether we need an LMS at all.

Here’s my take (in summary; Chapter 2 in the aLearning trail guide provides more detail). An LMS can help you:

  • Track, record, and provide reports on certification and licensure training. So if you’re offering any of these online and through your association, you probably need an LMS.
  • Automate the registration process. So if your programs attract hundreds or thousands of learners per event, and they must register within a restricted period of time, and LMS could make the registration process more efficient.
  • Gain visibility over completions. So if you want to know who’s accessing an online offering, how often they’re accessing it, whether they’re completing it, or even how they’re doing on the quizzes or testsGa, an LMS can give you that information.

For example, if you have an online course that is not tied to a certification  program and you don’t care who accesses it or how long they spend in the course, and the learners aren’t likely to register en masse, you really don’t need an LMS.

But let’s say you decide to charge a fee for the course. And let’s say the culture of your organization is such that members who end up registering but never accessing the course are likely to want their money back. You’ll want to have some way to track who spent X amount of time in the course and who didn’t. An LMS can do that.

Let’s say you want an idea of how much traffic the course is getting so you can justify your next elearning program. An LMS can do that, too.

Let’s say you want to integrate your internal (white label) social networking system with your courses so learners can continue to stay in touch post-course. Let’s say you want to be able to send out periodic Tweets about new resources related to course content, or updates on controversial regulations. An LMS that’s integrated with your social networking system (or has its own, embedded) is your answer.

But if you’re offering a publicly available video intended to raise awareness about a particular issue, or providing a quick tutorial about your association’s new governance structure, investing in and hooking up an LMS is probably overkill.

An LMS is a significant investment for your association. Don’t just assume you’ll need one — or that you won’t need one. Decide what you’ll need to know about the course and its learners BEFORE you create the elearning offering, and let that be how you decide the LMS debate for your situation.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, LMS, Measuring Results, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Hard

Posted by Ellen on June 6, 2010

Marsha Rhea has great food for thought in her Acronym post, “The Hard Work of Collaborative Learning”:

Let’s be honest about collaborative learning for a moment. People who just want an answer–fast–would rather listen to experts or click their way to a solution.

And those experts–well–they just barely have time to spew forth some of what they know before racing to their next great achievement.

And too many association executives are forced to crank out educational opportunities, because they are programming too many sessions, meetings and workshops to have enough time to inspect their products for learning outcomes and quality experiences.

Is this assessment too harsh?

No, Marsha, it’s not. And I agree that we need to spend more time and energy creating collaborative learning opportunities.


We have to be careful we’re not trying to put a bandaid on an inch-wide gash or stitch up a tiny scratch.

Remember once upon a time when list servs and forums and bulletin boards were pretty new and less moderated than they are today? Remember that you were expected to lurk until you understood the lingo and other basics of the group before chiming in? Remember those awful flaming messages that were launched at any innocent “newbie” who asked what the group deemed to be a question that was too basic?

Of course none of us wants to go back to that, but here’s my point: if you’re wondering why your collaborative learning events aren’t as successful as you think they should be, the answer might lie in the first part of Marsha’s post.

— People do need answers, and often they need them quickly.

— Those with the answers have been asked for those answers so often, over and over, that at some point they start to pull away from the conversation (forum, listserv, educational event, volunteer opportunity, etc.).

Marsha’s suggestions for kick-starting collaborative learning in your organization are good ones.

Allow me to add another.

One of the first rules in instructional design is to know your learner. Level of experience or knowledge of the subject/topic and the reason(s) they need to know the content are especially important.

Here’s why:

[Click to enlarge]

This is especially helpful for education leaders in trade associations and professional organizations: learners who are early in their careers have different training needs than the “veterans” who have more experience. Early careerists need more fundamentals that can generally be provided through more structured learning situations; experienced veterans who have lived through that learning curve benefit more from direct peer-to-peer (PTP) interactions.

Not that the early careerists wouldn’t benefit from PTP learning as well — but unless the exchange is clearly set up for mentoring or coaching, you risk alienating your vets by putting them in a “learning” environment in which they won’t be the ones learning.

You think this isn’t happening at your learning events? Think again. Have you seen this combination of comments in your event feedback?

“I’ve heard this before. One or two new ideas but mostly a repeat of what I already know and do.”

“This was great! I took a bunch of notes and can’t wait to get back to put the in action!”

“Old stuff… isn’t there a new angle?”

“Loved it! Learned so much!”

These “contradictory” comments are evidence that you’ve attracted a range of early careerists and vets, and that your content was better received by the former than the latter. Figuring out how to make the session more collaborative could work, but you need to do it in a way that balances what the newbies need and engaging the vets so they will learn something as well.

It’s not an easy balance to find, especially when you don’t know who is sitting in the room. Who are the vets? How many are there? What’s their level of experience with the topic? Why did they show up — what do they hope to gain from the session? Who are the early careerists? What do they hope to gain from the session?

The experience of the vets needs to be valued and appreciated while the curiosity and enthusiasm of the early careerists is nurtured.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Here’s one idea of how to set up such a session:

1. Think of a problem they’re all likely to face related to the topic.

2. Design a scenario around that problem (better yet, design several — one for each table of attendees).

3. Organize the way you’ll present the scenario by assigning roles to various levels of experience.

4. Set the room in rounds. At the start of the session, tell everyone they’re probably going to end up at another table, with other people.

5. Using the four corners of the room, ask those who’ve been in their positions less than a year to go to one corner, those with 1-3 in another corner, 4-9 in a third, and those with 10 or more years in another corner (of course, you should change these options so they’ll make sense for the averages in your industry).

6. Assign at least one person from each corner to each table until everyone is assigned and the tables have roughly the same number of individuals from the various experience levels at each.

7. Present the scenario. If you can, use a variety of scenarios or case studies so the tables aren’t all working on the same ones. The scenarios/case studies should be designed around a problem that must be solved. Because everyone knows their group has at least one vet and at least one “newbie,” encourage (or better yet, set up specific) roles encourage the learners to share experiences and questions, expose their curiosity, and exchange ideas.

8. Remind the groups that there is no absolute answer, and that the value in the exercise is learning how the problem could be solved, maybe in different ways. Let them know each group will have a chance to describe their situation and what they decided needs to be done.

Any push back you get from collaborative and social learning is usually from individuals who expected to learn something and didn’t. Sometimes they ended up being the “facilitator” (because of their level of experience related to the topic) when they weren’t expecting it.

Setting up the learning event so those attending know immediately that their strengths will be leveraged so they can learn from each other is the key.

Is that so hard?

Posted in Conferences, Learning in General, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »