eLearning Quality

written by: Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Graduate Program Director

LearningWhen I tell people that I am a college professor, they usually ask me what I teach. When I tell them that I teach instructional design and e-learning development, I often get a puzzled look from them. After explaining what instructional design is, the conversation usually turns to eLearning and quality.

Many times people tell me that they think the quality of e-learning is not good. I ask them what their experience is with e-learning. I asked if they have ever taken an e-learning class or have even taught a class, or have been part of an online class. The answer is usually no.

What they usually tell me is that they think that e-learning is simply ”not very effective”. As an educator I am interested in how people form their opinions. When I asked them how they formed their opinion about e-learning, I discover that they have very little first-hand experience with it.

Often times they will say “I heard that it is not very good” or “my friend took a course and didn’t like it”. As a student and working professional, I have literally taken hundreds of in-person courses. Guess what? Some of them weren’t very good either. I don’t think that e-learning has a corner on the market on low-quality courses.

Sound critical thinking tells us to try to get objective information about a topic. It tells us to ask questions to get to the heart of the matter. I find it interesting that in higher education some highly educated professionals who embrace the use of critical thinking, throw it out when it comes to eLearning. For some unknown reason anecdotal information seems to be good enough for some people when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of e-learning.

Let’s face it. eLearning is not for every instructor, nor is it for every student. What I do feel confident about is that e-learning will not be going away anytime soon. At some point the “e” will be dropped from the term “e-learning” and we will simply focus on what is important….the “learning” itself.

Getting Laid Off – It’s Not Personal. It’s Strictly Business

Getting Laid Off – by Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Program Director

laid offIn the movie “The Godfather” (Part I), there is a line where Michael Corleone says to his younger brother “It’s not personal Sonny, it’s strictly business”.

In 2002, I was told by my employer that they had some bad news for me.  Due to the State of Maryland’s economic situation, the university had to make budget cuts. Unfortunately for me, my job was one of them.

Laid Off

I was shocked!  I said to myself “this happens in private business, not in the slow moving world of higher education”.  I thought “how could they lay me off?”  I had good evaluations, was a dedicated employee, did all they asked, and more.  Boy, was I wrong.  In other words, it’s not personal, it’s just business.

After the feeling of shock subsided, I had an uneasy feeling of panic.  What was going going to do? How long would I be unemployed?  Had I saved enough money? Who would hire me?

Preparation is Key

I felt very unprepared.  My resume and references were outdated.  Worse yet, I really had no professional portfolio to speak of.  Oh, I had accomplishments.  But many were undocumented and certainly in no shape to show a prospective employer.

To make a long story short, I survived.  I had a solid work history and an extensive network of professional contacts that proved to be my lifeline.

So what lessons did a I learn from getting laid off?

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned (or re-learned) was that life isn’t fair.  If an organization can benefit by cutting their costs (e.g. laying you off), they will.  Accept that as fact and more on.  It’s not personal…just business. You should never feel completely secure in your job.  Fear can be a good motivator.  As a former boy scout I should have known to be better prepared.

So what can you do to prevent this, or at least cope with getting laid off?

  1. Accept the fact that anyone can get laid off at any time.
  2. Always be open to career opportunities.
  3. Stay on top of what the job market looks like for our field.  Know the changes and trends.
  4. Have your resume up to date.  There is nothing sadder than seeing a great job advertised only to find out you cannot meet the application deadline.
  5. Have your portfolio up to date and ready to share with people.
  6. Get feedback from professional colleagues on your portfolio.
  7. Have a LinkedIn account.  It’s the number one digital professional network.  Recruiters rely on it.
  8. Don’t forget in-person networking strategies.  In-person networking is not dead!
  9. Stay in touch with your professional references.
  10. Stay positive.  Good thing will happen, but sometimes things take time.

Don’t make the same mistakes as me.  It was painful learning experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

How A Junk Mail Flyer Changed My Career

junk mailWho would have thought that receiving a junk mail flyer in my mailbox would have changed my career? How was I to know that this one particular flyer would have a significant impact on my professional life?

Dr. Greg Williams, Program Director for UMBC’s ISD Graduate Program, shares his story of how junk mail changed the trajectory of his career.

Junk Mail Offered a New Direction

In 1999, I was living in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. One day I received a flyer in the U.S. mail from an online university. They were recruiting potential faculty to teach online for them. I had wondered about teaching online, but never really did anything about before. From my research, reading and conversations with professional colleagues, it seemed like eLearning was poised to grow. And now, a supposed piece of junk mail confirmed it!

At the time of receiving this flyer, I was working at Towson University at the time in a staff position. I mentioned to a faculty member that I was thinking about going through the online university’s faculty training program. To my surprise he said that he knew someone who had gone through the same program and thought that it was excellent.

It All Started with a Junk Mail Flyer

I decided to enroll in the course. I thought it would be good for my career. I was right. Prior to this training course I had never taken an eLearning course myself, nor had I taught one. I had some limited experience with eLearning, but I never taught a complete online class.

This particular class required us to be available for 20 hours of class time, homework and studying each week. There were no exceptions for anyone. If you missed class time or were late on your assignments, you were removed form the class and had to start over again.

The course was modeled after the online university’s regular 5 week format. We experienced the same thing as students taking our courses. This helped to develop empathy, as well as to “walk a mile” in the students’ shoes.

It was a demanding and challenging experience. However, I learned a great deal. It was the foundation for developing my eLearning skills. Here is some of what I learned.

What I Learned About eLearning
1. It’s not “easy” being an online student. Online learning is not for everyone.
2. Online students need good time management skills, be motivated and disciplined.
3. eLearning is not about the technology. While online teachers use technology, a successful course is more about their ability to facilitate their learning.
4. Communication is very different. We know how simple email communication can easily get misunderstood. That misunderstanding can grow exponentially when it comes to eLearning.

Other Lessons Learned
1. Be open to change, it’s how we grow.
2. You never know where or when opportunities may pop up.
3. Use critical thinking and don’t believe everything you hear.
4. Take some calculated career risks.
5. Your career is dynamic, so you need to be dynamic too.

Because the flyer, my career would never be the same. It opened up a number of life-changing opportunities for me. Maybe you have some opportunities coming your way too. Would you recognize them? Be open-minded and give them a chance.

Lastly, take a quick glance at your junk mail before you throw it away.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

eLearning – What I Wish They Told Me…

eLearningWith eLearning being so popular now, many trainers and college faculty are learning to teach their first online class. Read on and hear from Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Program Director.

eLearning Resources Abound!

Today a number of great resources are available to beginning online teachers. These eLearning resources range from blogs and websites dedicated to this to entire books on the subject. Additionally, there are numerous great courses now that help you learn how to teach online. I taught my first online graduate level course over ten years ago. eLearning resources were not as plentiful as they are now. I was given a syllabus and an empty course shell in Blackboard. I think someone wished me good luck. That was about it.

Looking back, there are a number of things that I wish someone told me before I taught my first online class.

8 eLearning Things I Wish I Learned Ahead of Time:

Know Your Students – It is important that you get to know your eLearning students (and their motivations). For example, do they need your course to graduate this semester? Are they working three jobs and taking care of kids? Are students taking your course because they love the topic? Or did they register because all their other class choices were filled? Have they taken online classes before? Beware the students taking your class because they think that online classes are “easier”.

Be Deliberate About Communication – Have a plan about how and when you communicate with your eLearning students. For example, I tell my students to expect a response from me in 24-48 hours when they post a question or send me a direct email. Don’t leave them guessing. Over the years I have received numerous VERY long emails from students. They have dozens of questions and concerns about their performance in the course. Rather than respond via email, I usually ask them to talk on the phone with me. It gets to the point quicker and helps to deal with any issues directly. Additionally, it may be a good idea to have an eLearning course FAQ.

All Students Will Not Read the Syllabus – As teachers we are very proud of our course syllabi. Be prepared that a number of students will not read it. How do you deal with this? You can structure an assignment that forces them to read the syllabus (scavenger hunt). Or you can award bonus points if students can answer questions about your syllabus. Remember that the syllabus is the contractual document between the students and the college. When there are issues over grades, the courts always refer back to the syllabus.

Technology Will Fail You and Your Students – No matter what you do, technology will not work at times for you and your eLearning students. Murphy’s law mandates that this failure will happen at the worst possible moment. Encourage (require?) your students to have access to a backup computer. Additionally, have them save everything in MS Word first before they post it. It’s also a good idea to have them save files online using tools such as Google Drive and others. This will minimize issues such as “my hard drive died and my assignment is gone”.

Check Your Course Every Day – I originally thought that checking my eLearning course every few days would be more than enough. Wrong! What I discovered was that it makes much more sense to check in online every day, even if it is only for 20 minutes or so. Students constantly want feedback in a timely matter. Additionally, questions may pop up that are time sensitive and need to be addressed quickly.

eLearning2Simple Is Good – My original eLearning course design was much more complicated than it is now. I used to think that “more was better”.  What I discovered over the years was that I sometimes confused students by giving them too much information. They didn’t know what to do or where to go on the course site. Now I’ve really scaled my course design back. The lesson I learned was “it’s not about the technology”.

Students Know How to Take An Online Course – Even though the first online course I taught was in 2004, I really thought that students knew how to take an online course.  Boy, was I wrong! Taking a course online is a completely different experience than taking a face-to-face course. What I’ve learned is that just because I have a lot of experience teaching and taking online courses, it doesn’t mean that my students do. We sometimes forget that everybody does not use a computer every day.

Students Will “Disappear” – I was surprised to learn that a handful of students simply “disappeared” from my course. What I discovered was students simply stopped showing up or stopped participating in the class. Even worse, they never even told me why. I had to seek them out myself. What I found out was they had work issues, personal issues, medical issues, etc. Some stopped participating just because learning online wasn’t for them.

eLearning is Not for Everyone

Over the years, I’ve learned that online courses are not for every student, nor are they for every instructor. As an instructor, it is helpful to keep an open mind and realize that you can always learn and get better. Ten years from now, who knows what I’ll write about this topic.

For more info, check out my video on this topic.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

You Don’t Need a Degree in Instructional Design to Get a Job

By: Dr. Greg Williams, Program Director, UMBC ISD Graduate Program

This blog article might get me fired!

ISD JobIn my position as the director of a graduate program in instructional design (OK there’s my full disclosure), I often get the question “Will this degree get me a job?” My answer is no. That response may be heresy for a college professor.

In reality, I am not sure that ANY degree guarantees you a job these days. If people truly think that a degree alone will get them a job, then they are wasting their time and their money.

Employers look at a number of things besides your education. That may include your work experience, your skills and competencies (as documented by a professional portfolio), how well you work in groups, how you solve problems, your creativity and much more. You should never overlook the importance of career tools and such as your resume, your references, your relationships within the professional community, how well they interview, etc. They too play a part in getting a job.

My academic colleagues may not like this, but everyone doesn’t need a college degree.

If people really wanted to they could get comparable knowledge on their own. They could do this by:

  • Reading and studying and practicing on their own
  • Taking appropriate professional development courses
  • Getting feedback and coaching from professional colleagues
  • Working with a mentor
  • And much more!

This might give them similar benefits that may compare to the content of a college degree. Are there exceptions to this? Of course there are! The truth is that most people don’t have the self-discipline to do this.

The older you get, your degree becomes less critical in getting a job.

As you gain experience, employers look more at your accomplishments and your body of professional work, far more than your degrees. There are some employers who use the degree as a screening tool to eliminate candidates from a large pile of applicants. However, in some workplace environments degrees are very important (higher education), while in others they are not (e.g. sales).

It is very possible that you may not need a degree at all. There are a number of people in our field (instructional design & eLearning) who are very accomplished and don’t have a degree. The difference is they have accomplishments and a body of work that showcases their skills.

As with many questions in life, the answer to this question often is “it depends”. Before you spend a lot of time and money on a degree, think about what you will put into it (time and money) compared to what you will get out of it (raise, new job, skills). In the end, you are in charge of your own career, so weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Speaking of careers, I wonder if I still have a job?

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

Why You Should Create Instructional Objectives

Instructional objectives help to improve learning.

Good instructional objectives are observable and measurable. They can be easily created using the ABCD method (below). For maximum effectiveness, an instructor’s course content and activities should match the course’s instructional objectives.

instructional objectivesCharacteristics of Good Instructional Objectives:

1. Identifies who should perform
2. Describes what learner is to do
3. Describes conditions learner will encounter in performing
4. Describes how well performance is to be done

ABCD Method to Create Instructional Objectives – An Example:

A: Audience – Students in Keyboarding 101
B: Behavior – Type
C. Condition – Using a PC with Microsoft Word software
D. Degree – At lease 60 words per minute, with no more than three mistakes

For a more in depth presentation on how to create instructional objectives, Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC’s ISD Program Director, has created the video tutorial below. 

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

The Future of the ISD Industry – an interview with Dr. J. Marvin Cook

Video

Dr. Greg Williams, Director of UMBC’s Instructional Systems Development (ISD) program recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. J. Marvin Cook, the program’s founder, for a video series. Dr. Cook, a noted author, professor, consultant and entrepreneur, discussed a range of topics, including the UMBC graduate program in Instructional Systems Development, ISD competencies, and the future of ISD as an industry. When talking about the future, he reminded viewers how important it is to never forget the needs of an organization. He also talked about how the industry has a bright future ahead.

isd

Dr. J. Marvin Cook, UMBC’s ISD Graduate Program Founder

ISD Professionals Should Never Forget the Needs of the Organization
Regardless of the economic conditions, businesses still have the desire to improve performance. Instructional developers can help them achieve this. Now, more than ever, instructional designers must continue to focus on the need of the organization—not just using a particular medium (say, the the latest and greatest software). Often, when asked about the future of learning (or future of anything, really), it’s easy to jump to an obvious answer: technology. While technology has clearly changed how we learn, Dr. Cook reminds us that maintaining focus on needs is still critically important.

ISD – A Bright Look Ahead for Instructional Developers 

As the economy continues to pick up, companies will continue to generate jobs, Dr. Cook pointed out. As a result, new employees will need training, creating more opportunities for those in ISD roles.

The video below includes Dr. Cook’s thoughts on the future of ISD:

View the entire video series here.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

Join us for a Complimentary Webinar on January 15, 2013

UMBC’s ISD Now Webinar Series is holding its next complimentary webinar, “Visual Language for Designers”, on January 15, 2013.

This webinar will be held from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET.

Connie-MalamedThis complimentary webinar will touch on the importance of understanding the hidden language of visuals, and how this adds to more impact.

In this lively webinar, Connie Malamed explores visual design principles that are based on cognitive science. Participants will learn about the power of
visual communication and how to use graphics to engage learners, convey meaning and facilitate retention.

Register today!

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

PS. Feel free to check out Connie’s website.

Join us for UMBC’s ISD Now Webinar – November 7

allison-rossettMark your calendar for November 7, 2012 at 2 p.m. EST for UMBC’s ISD Now Webinar: Mobile Devices for Learning and Performance Support

REGISTER TODAY!

We all worry about the influence of our learning programs when our participants move out of sight and into the workplace. Mobile devices help to extend the arms and voice of the instructor into the field of play. They deliver at the moment of need, or pretty darn close to it.

Join Us and Learn:

  • What are the sweet spots for mobile learning and mobile support?
  • What is the difference between mobile learning and mobile support?
  • What are planners and sidekicks and how can they address the transfer problem?
  • Can apps help with soft skills, such as leader development?

PRESENTERS
Allison Rossett, Professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State University and in the Training magazine HRD Hall of Fame.

Dr. Greg Williams, Moderator Director and Clinical Associate Professor of Instructional Systems Development Graduate Programs, UMBC

COST:
Complimentary

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 ~ 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST

Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now.

Writing Instructional Objectives

Writing effective instructional objectives in education and training is one of the most important things a teacher or a trainer can do. They set the stage for designing a good course, linking behaviors to outcomes and creating effective evaluation measures. Many people think that writing instructional objectives is very difficult. In fact, there is a simple formula to use.   In this video, lead by Dr. Greg Williams, Director of the Instructional Systems Development program at UMBC, will show viewers not only what the formula is, but how to use it successfully.