Archive for April, 2009

Next month I, along with one of my colleagues, will be speaking at the eLearning Network event ‘Creating engaging and effective learning content.’ A big topic indeed, so it was hard to know where to start.

Surely it goes without saying that e-learning should be engaging and effective? The thing is, maybe it goes without saying so much so that it also goes without thinking. How often do you actually ask yourself what ‘engaging’ means, what ‘effective’ means? And even if you do, there are answers to these questions that are just as ready made – ‘multimedia’ and ‘interactive’, for instance. We all know e-learning should be interactive, don’t we? But why? Is a course necessarily engaging just because it’s interactive? Does the level of interactivity needed to achieve engagement change as technology evolves and possibilities multiply? If it’s interactive and engaging, does that automatically mean it’s also effective?

So over the past week or so I’ve been thinking about what these words – ‘engaging’ and ‘effective’ – really mean and how they can be achieved and realised in our online training courses. Of course there are no concrete answers but, in the words of Lloyd Alexander, ‘we learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself’. If you’re coming along to the event, you’ll be able to hear what I’ve learnt from asking myself these questions!

Saffron has been confirmed as the exclusive sponsor of the Champagne Reception at this year’s E-Learning Age Awards. These awards help to drive excellence in our industry and to reward teams that are willing to take risks and go that extra mile in pursuit of engaging, exciting and behaviour changing e-learning programmes. We’ve always been big supporters of the E-Learning Awards so we’re thrilled to be able to sponsor this year’s event.

To find out more about the Awards, please visit the website.

So everyone knows that the best way to get your message across in an e-learning course is to show you mean business and know your stuff by adopting an authoritative, intellectual and formal tone, right? Wrong. People – and your learners are people, after all – learn best when they receive information in a conversational tone, not when they are confronted with fancy grammatical constructions, intimidating legalese and incomprehensible jargon.

Our latest Advance™ article sets out a convincing argument for banishing the business speak and injecting a little life into your e-learning. To find out more about the Advance™ programme and joining the Saffron 100, please click here.

All too often potentially great e-learning courses suffer from poorly thought out questions. The spring issue of Head Light Communications’ newsletter features an article by one of our instructional designers about how to create better, more effective questions that test behavioural choices rather than just factual recall. Click here to read the full article or click here to find out more about Head Light Communications. 

Recently, an increasing number of our clients have been asking us about having videos in their e-learning, but are they always the best training solution? The second part of Dr Itiel’s seminar at the LT show examined the use of video as a training tool and, in particular, he compared the impacts of using interactive videos versus non-interactive videos on learning and retention.

His experiment involved teaching employees about health and safety in the workplace using three different styles: interactive video, non-interactive video, and non-interactive video plus a classroom discussion afterwards. The video content used was the same in all three videos, the only difference being that the interactive version required the learners’ input during the video. For example, they were asked to point the cursor at potential hazards or problem areas, or they had to answer questions for which they then received appropriate feedback. Dr Itiel then set all learners an assessment based on the video content to test their retention of the learning and the results were:

  • Non-interactive video: 40.83% correct answers
  • Non-interactive video plus classroom discussion: 64.44% correct answers
  • Interactive video alone: 73.22% correct answers

It’s no surprise of course that the non-interactive video was the least successful. We know from any type of learning that just telling people information is not as successful as getting them to interact and come to a conclusion themselves. Watching videos is passive, it’s very easy to drift off and start thinking about something else, but successful learning can never be passive. Interactive videos force the learners to be continually involved in the video keeping them focused and enabling them to understand and practice the learning points.

Another interesting result from the experiment is that the blended learning solution of having a classroom discussion follow-up after the non-interactive video still did not yield better results than the interactive video alone. As classroom training can be a drain on both time and budgets, this is great news in a credit crunch! However, before we all start making interactive videos it’s worth remembering that video is not always the best solution for every training need. There are some topics that, even with extreme creativity and ingenuity, really can’t be taught through the medium of video, interactive or otherwise. And of course, videos can exclude some audiences, for example those with visual impairments, and can’t serve global needs so easily due to language requirements. So, next time your client wants a video, remember Dr Itiel’s results and see whether you can use an interactive version – your learners’ results are bound to reflect your efforts.

…this is a performance improvement strategy.

There’s a lot of talk about blended learning and a lot of hype around leveraging social media to help learning. But in my experience – and by no means am I suggesting that this is always the case – training providers are often still engaged to work on projects that have already been scoped and defined. By the time the client gets us involved, they’ve decided what the business need is, that e-learning is the best way to address it, the drop dead go live date and, of course, the budget.

By this time, it’s really too late to make substantial, effective use of other tools and methods. So often, once we get stuck into the material we realise that actually it lends itself better to an i-Cast course, or once we’ve had the chance to engage with end users we think a combination of e-learning and classroom training would be the most effective route. In principle, the client might be thrilled with these suggestions – until you mention that they’ll need a bit more money or a bit more time.

In these situations, all those great ideas get put on the back burner. Of course, we meet the client requirements, often we exceed their expectations, but so often we aren’t in a position to really add the value we’re capable of adding.

In his recent session on creating a successful technology based learning strategy at the eLearning Network’s ‘Making the case for eLearning’ day, Charles Jennings highlighted manager engagement as a key challenge facing training professionals. The role we can and should be filling is that of consultant – helping managers to identify and address their business needs – rather than that of simple supplier. More often than not a manager’s learning priorities are how it contributes to growth, productivity, transformation and strategy.

One of the most interesting things that came out of the presentation for me was his discussion around who has the biggest impact on improving performance (based on research carried out by Broad and Newstrom in 1992 and 1998). He asked the group who they thought was the most important in terms of improving an individual’s performance following a training intervention: the manager, the training designer or the learner, either before, during or after the intervention.

The result? Roughly a third of the audience thought it was what the manager does afterwards that has the biggest impact. The reality? It’s actually what the manager does before the intervention that has the biggest impact, followed by the training designer before the intervention, and the manager afterwards.

So the person with the biggest influence on improving performance is the manager. So managers need to tell users what’s expected of them, what it’s about, what they are expected to do before, during and after the session, and how they will be measured. And designers need to think about who they are designing for, what their needs are and how the intervention can meet those needs and the business needs.

What I’m asking for then is for clients to recognise the added value that comes from a close relationship between business managers, training providers and users at this early stage. Work with us as consultants – don’t just come to us with a brief. Let us work with you to assess your business needs and training requirements, to develop a plan for the best way to achieve those needs and requirements, to help you maximise your influence by getting that crucial buy in from end users before they sit down to take the training, and to actually measure results and monitor performance afterwards.

In the end, this kind of partnership – buying not just a training programme, but a performance improvement strategy – really does drive the benefits, delivering learning solutions that don’t simply meet an immediate business need, but really do contribute to growth, productivity, transformation and strategy.

Saffron Interactive believes that there is a sure fire formula for ensuring that your e-learning is relevant and engaging: focus on the choices that your people make, every day. We also believe in putting learners back where they belong – at the centre of your e-learning.

We’d like to help you achieve these things in your own learning solutions. Saffron’s one day instructional design for e-learning workshop shows you how to put Saffron’s formula into practice. To find out more, contact us at

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