Archive for February, 2009

Everything in life is about learning. From the moment our eyes open in the morning to the moment we close them at night our brains are taking in information. There’s some craziness that happens while we are asleep (especially after a late night cheesy snack) but I’m not really sure what I learned the other night by dreaming about being chased by a big dog with Les Dawson’s face whilst crawling through treacle with no trousers on. At least I hope that was a dream.

Anyway, I digress. Working for an e-learning company has opened my mind to the endless possibilities for learning that abound in modern society. For instance on my daily commute over the years I have learned that people jabbering down their mobile ‘phones on public transport annoys me. I have also learned that it is sensible to take off your backpack before boarding a bus or train. Having your ticket ready when passing through ticket barriers is also something I have learned to make life just a tiny bit more bearable for me and other people. Some of you are probably thinking “That’s hardly learning, more like common sense!” Yes I agree but there are lots and lots of people who don’t seem to have this common sense. Therefore people need to be taught and to learn. Some of us learn things just by observation. Others, less suited to personal development, need other methods of learning. I believe interaction is the key.

Most of us have attended lectures at school, college, university, work training courses etc. How dull is it when the beardy-weirdy with the patches on the elbows of his frayed jacket stands at the front of the class and drones on and on in a dull monotone? Constant glances at your watch, the stifling of yawns, doodles on your notepad, counting the panels on the ceiling, watching the flies going in triangles around the lightbulb. Do you really learn as much as you are expected to? Imagine if you could interact more. Imagine if the training was more eye-catching. Imagine if after the training was over you actually had a chance to think to yourself “Hey, that was interesting, I actually learned something today.”

Imagine imagine imagine.

We imagine a lot here at Saffron. We also turn a lot of those imaginings into reality. Our training courses reflect that.

We at Saffron have put on our Red Noses and have blended the challenge of learning with the thrill of competition. We’ve designed and developed an online game to test your reactions and observation skills.

So, if you fancy joining the fun and want to raise money for an amazing cause, click here to play our game and donate some money. You’ll then be in with the chance to win exclusive tickets to the FA Cup semi-final!

The Chinese are full of words of wisdom and I’ve come across a proverb (in a promotional freebie booklet from Pret, as it happens) that seems particularly relevant to what we do here at Saffron.

Tell me and I’ll forget.
Show me and I’ll remember.
Involve me and I’ll understand.

Wise words indeed. This saying really does sum up the Saffron philosophy – we want to enable our end users to learn by doing. There’s absolutely no point in throwing in fancy animations and impressive graphics if all we’re really producing is a glorified PowerPoint presentation – a page turning exercise with little to no learning value.

Of course, every e-learning course has to include an element of ‘tell me’ – it wouldn’t be feasible to create an entirely interactive training solution (with the possible exception of captures based systems training, of which more is to come next week). And we build in ‘show me’ elements where it’s most appropriate: memorable news stories the learner might recognise and which will stick in their mind; animations to illustrate the stages of a process; videos to emulate situations the learner could well experience in their daily work.

But there’s no doubt that the very best learning includes a large dose of ‘involve me’, of user interaction. This might be through very simple activities such as click to reveals, or through asking the learner to rack their brains and existing knowledge by presenting them with a question or asking them what they would do in a given situation. It could be achieved by creating a highly developed scenario and positioning the learner as a character within it.

Whichever approach to user involvement you choose, the crucial thing to remember is that interactions shouldn’t be built in for the sake of it, but only when they are the best way to get the learning across. There’s no need to include an interaction on every screen and there’s no recommended number to include in every unit. What’s important is recognising what the key messages are and finding the most appropriate way to get those messages across.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog – …Involve me and I’ll understand

Twitter this, twitter that; it’s all we ever hear about at the moment. It seems the whole world is ‘tweeting’, from Stephen Fry to Barack Obama. So, never one to miss out on an opportunity to enhance my social life, I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about.

Signing up took moments and soon I was given a list of fellow Twitters who I might like to ‘follow’, including Al Gore, The Guardian newspaper’s technology team, 10 Downing Street and…Britney Spears. Feeling a little bewildered and wondering if I really want to know snippets of Britney’s personal life, I quickly moved on. Next, I was encouraged to give details of my email account so Twitter could find who of my friends are already twittering. Surprisingly few and I couldn’t decide if I was relieved or disappointed. But, only minutes in, I’m already ‘following’ seven…and Twitter is sucking me in. Knowing that Stephen Fry is a big fan of Twitter, I can’t help but wonder how many other celebrities I can hunt down and so I immediately go to the Find People page. Mere seconds later and I’ve found Lily Allen, Barack Obama, Sir Richard Branson and Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles. Uh oh, I’m starting to see the appeal…

So, I’m faced with a question: ‘What are you doing?’ Apparently I must answer this question in 140 characters or less, and I can do so as often as I like. Other people can then sign up to ‘follow’ me and receive my updates. Isn’t this exactly like Facebook’s status updates? But curiosity suppressed my cynicism and soon I was gripped by the Home page, which details the actions and thoughts of those I’d selected to follow. Lily Allen is about to have scrambled eggs on toast drowned in Tabasco…Stephen Fry is off for a walk…Chris Moyles is playing Fifa 09. Perez Hilton, celebrity gossip queen, apparently has his mojo ‘going on’. Eek.

Feeling the thrill of knowing what celebrities are up to merely minutes ago, I changed my background and profile photo. Suddenly: a Twitter follower request! Clearly, one of my friends had recognised my username…or not. How naïve was I! A total stranger from the newly-discovered depths of the Twitter universe had seen my profile photo and that, combined with my first answer to that all-important question ‘What are you doing?’ had caused them decide I was someone they’d like to follow. I was struck with a sudden sense of paranoia – this was a random stranger, wanting to view my thoughts and know my every move! I quickly clicked Decline. Shudder. In fact, within an hour, I’d received six follower requests including two from the same persistent person not taking the hint. One request even came with the message: ‘Blessings! Psychic empathic and spiritual net worker always looking to make new friends’. Decline.

Is this what it’s all about? Like MySpace and Facebook, the more friends (or in this case, followers) you have, regardless of whether you actually know them in person, appears to indicate how popular you are and supposedly influences the sense of satisfaction you feel with your life. Is Twitter just one huge world-wide contest, where everyone competes with everyone to try and prove whose life is the more interesting? Indeed, to my horror, I stumbled across a site called which apparently calculates a tweeter’s value based on the number of followers they have, how frequently they tweet and how many @replies they get. I’m currently worth $2. Ouch. Possibly because I’m still such an amateur tweet that I don’t have a clue what @replies are.

I’m possibly missing the point. Twitter insists that tweeting brings people closer to their friends by sharing bite-sized updates about their lives that they didn’t necessarily already know. Celebrities adore Twitter because they can communicate directly with their fans. And those who actually know the difference between a tweet and an @reply can take advantage of Twitter’s popularity to share news and information, and advertise products and services. But, regardless of my cynicism, a small part of me can’t quite click the ‘delete my account’ option and I’m intrigued as to whether I can track down my childhood idols Andi Peters and Philip Schofield.

  • Curb to create!
  • Friday, February 6th, 2009 at 12:34 pm
  • Written by Jennifer Wrigley

As someone who composes music in their spare time I often come up against a wall of creative choice when starting a new composition. I could write a piece of music for any instrument, at any speed or any style, based in a major or minor key or even in multiple keys, and I find myself overwhelmed by the endless possibilities. This often results in me getting 24 bars into a new composition for full symphony orchestra plus rock band and wondering whether I could add in an opera singer, two Indian sitars and a tabla. It’s then that I realise I have got side-tracked by the abundant possibilities and my composition has lost all direction, focus and meaning.

So what does this have to do with e-learning? Well, just like music composition, the possibilities are endless. We have so much technology at our disposal, endless video and graphic options and wonderfully eye-catching gadgets we could use that we can be left feeling overwhelmed with choice. Should this slide be a click-to-reveal or a drag-and-drop? Should we introduce another character with a new case study? Perhaps the case study could be an interactive video? Could we have the character be made to look like the learner using their internal work photograph? As we begin to drown in exciting possibilities, so too does the learner. Inevitably their senses are overwhelmed by a million and one super gadgets and gimmicks but are they actually learning? Since the main point of any training is to learn, a way of curbing and channelling this creativity has to be found.

When I began my music degree we were all instructed to compose a piece of music using only one note. Initially I was filled with dread, how could I possibly compose something using only one note? Then the penny dropped and I realised there was so much more to music than simply the pitch of the notes, for example, I could use any instruments I wanted, I could change the rhythms and dynamics (loud and soft) or the tempo. Suddenly it struck me that previously I had been using pitch and melody as a crutch to hold up my compositions. The idea of limiting a composition or part of a composition to only one note is not a new idea. In North Indian classical music, a raga (piece of music) starts off with the sitar playing only one note repeatedly for several minutes. They will strum the note quickly or slowly, the octave above and then the two octaves together,and then back to the single note. And then, one time they will play an entirely different note and that new note sounds like the most wondrous note you’ve ever heard. It has much more impact than if you had been hearing that note throughout the piece of music. It really makes you sit up and listen.

Therefore, as an instructional designer perhaps I should set limits on my creativity. Of course, this doesn’t mean I will end up creating a bland and non-interactive course, it just means that effects should not be the crutch of an e-learning course rather they should be facilitators to the learning process. Perhaps the first module of the training should have no interaction at all? Perhaps each module should be limited to a maximum of 3 interactive pages? Perhaps the layout of every page should be standard until there’s a really critical point the learner must absorb and then that page should be in a different style to give more emphasis to this point? Just as there is so much more to a piece of music than melody, there is also so much more to an e-learning course than gadgets. There are so many subtle ways in which to interact with the learner and cause them to learn in a more focussed and strategic way. By limiting choices in some creative areas, other areas will inevitably blossom. By picking and choosing when to allow this blossoming and using it as a way to emphasise the key learning topics, the resulting course should be more succesful and focussed.

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