Archive for February, 2010

I’m currently reading a book by writer and consultant John Simmons, Dark Angels: How Writing Releases Creativity At Work, which has got me gripped. As an instructional designer at Saffron, my job involves writing – and lots of it. Every course I write is on a different topic and therefore demands a different style and tone, focused towards a particular audience. My aim is to always write the content, regardless of what it is, in a light, positive and conversational way so as to engage the learners and motivate them to want to take the training. But it can be tricky to strike a balance between making sure the right message is conveyed and trying to banish the business speak and avoid switching the learner off.

So I turned to John Simmons’ book in the hope it would not only help me become a better writer, more able to conquer various styles of writing, but also inspire me. Like John, I believe that creative writing in any business is relevant and essential for business and personal development, and I know that it’s only natural that my writing incorporates some of my own personality – as well as that of the company I’m writing the course for.

Something that John encourages really stuck a chord with me. One of his principles of writing is: ‘Transform the most unpromising materials. Not even lists can be boring.’ So I challenged myself to write a list which embodies my personality, and which conveys something about me to the reader. Here goes:

The contents of my handbag

Memories captured on paper, a flash of colour as I open my wallet,
photos reminding me of the places I have been.
A bundle of jingling keys, my trusty pen and notepad just in case a thought strikes.
Wild strawberry lip gloss to brighten up the day, Ibuprofen, mascara.
Excitement for the Friday night ahead as I find my camera. Mirror.
Pennies breeding in the bottomless pit, my eyes in liquid within a plastic case; my favourite scent in a bottle. A friend gave me the purse in which I find a camera battery and a business card. The iPod which keeps me sane on public transport. A Guatemalan worry doll, tucked away safely in the depths.

Hopefully that made you smile and warm to me as a writer because I expressed something individual, something that goes beyond providing straightforward information.

Can we do this at work? Of course we can. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do – it’s hard to think of a job that doesn’t require the use of words. As John points out: ‘The reality is that if we write at work on behalf of a company, organisation or brand, we are being asked to carry out a creative writing exercise.’

As for e-learning, if even a list of what’s in your bag can be engaging, why can’t compliance training be engaging? Shouldn’t businesses embrace the opportunity to convey their personality through their induction training? What do you think?

We’re excited to announce that we’re putting together a Microsoft Silverlight development team for e-learning.

Microsoft describes Silverlight as a ‘browser plug-in that enables a new class of rich, secure and scalable cross-platform experiences.’ Anticipating growing demand for e-learning built for Silverlight, we’ve put together a dedicated team to explore how it can be used to enhance the online learning experience.

One of the key benefits of Silverlight is that it enables designers and developers to work in parallel and therefore reduces overall development time. It also supports smooth and high quality 3D graphics and animation rendering, making it an competitive alternative to Flash for creating engaging e-learning.

Hanif Sazen, CEO of Saffron, says ‘we see Silverlight as being one of the key technologies of the future and, with a number of development projects for Microsoft under way, it only made sense for us to create a dedicated team.’

Evaluating the effectiveness of a learning intervention is often where projects fall down – it can be hard to know how to prove a return on investment. But isn’t it about time we had some common methods to evaluate and measure the value of learning? Here are Saffron’s top five tips for measuring that all important ROI.

1. Define what success looks like

To measure the right thing, you need to first know what the learning aims to do. Is it about mitigating risk or improving productivity, for example? Are you trying to reduce the number of security breaches or are you attempting to improve performance relating to targets or sales metrics? What does success look like for your organisation?

2. Align the metrics to the business needs

When identifying ways to measure success, keep them simple but try to think beyond typical LMS measures such as completion and assessment data. Make sure you know what the business needs are, and how the training is intended to address those needs, and align the measures of success to this.

3. Set the baseline

Ensure you have robust baseline data at the start of the project so that you can assess the performance impact of the learning. Capture results over agreed time periods and against pre-determined success factors. Then turn this on its head and ask how the business would be performing without the training. What would happen if you didn’t do anything?

4. Look beyond average scores

Use a variety of qualitative and quantitative evaluation tools and techniques. Compare the performance of a group of training users against a control group who didn’t take the training. Complement this with happy sheets, feedback forms and gathering verbatim comment. And get line managers reporting on behavioural change on the ground.

5. Consider what’s appropriate

Proving ROI from social learning is our next challenge. There is no LMS to draw data from and you can’t test learners. Instead, have polls to determine the usefulness of information, rate and rank posts, and measure the learning outcome rather than the ROI because perhaps this should be more about the individual learning process than the organisation’s return. Our advice is to trust the learner!


Top ten tips for measuring the value of learning

Saffron is proud to announce the development of a sub surface fire awareness e-learning course for Heathrow Express.


This is the first collaboration between Saffron and Heathrow Express, the fastest rail link from London to Heathrow Airport, and represents an important development in Heathrow Express’ use of technology in learning


The sub surface fire awareness course is for Heathrow Express’ business partners and second tier suppliers who total approximately 700 people in a range of job roles including cleaners and engineers. The course will not only meet necessary requirements but will also increase learners’ awareness of the risks of fire and their ability to respond appropriately in the event of a fire. This invaluable training will also include a focus on track awareness and demonstrates Heathrow Express’ commitment to the safety of its passengers and staff.


A key part of the training will be to maintain learner engagement and make a clear link between the training and their work at the Heathrow Express site. To overcome this challenge, Saffron is working closely with the Heathrow Express team to develop an expert understanding of the content and to create bespoke graphics and animations. Furthermore, the course will include realistic and relevant dilemmas to enable the learner to recognise how their correctly raising the alarm in the event of a fire will save lives.


Heathrow Express’ Learning and Development Manager Chris Knapp says This is an important training requirement for Heathrow Express, and one which must be highly engaging to ensure learning transfer is effective to the target audience. I’m sure our learners will be delighted at the convenience of being able to learn when and where they want, using technology which will really enhance their learning experience. “We currently run approximately 46 sub surface fire awareness courses a year, on average each attended by 20 delegates.  The new e-learning course will deliver the training in one hour with no travel required, bringing a direct business benefit of 2760 hours per year. Over the projected five year lifespan of the course, that’s a total saving of over 13,800 hours from delegates alone.”

I was interested to see that Skype has recently announced a partnership with LG and Panasonic, which means we will soon be able to buy a TV which we can use to Skype and browse the internet (find out more here). Promoting this new technology Skype’s business development manager, Jin Kim claimed that, “TVs have lacked two things to date… eyes and ears” because “they haven’t had cameras and they haven’t had microphones.” This led me to wonder… does e-learning also lack eyes and ears?

In fact, I think that many e-learning courses already possess ‘eyes and ears’ thanks to new technologies. Take mobile learning for example, where the learner progresses through the course and answers questions by speaking. Or how about social learning? Forums and help desks are evidence of an e-learning strategy’s ‘ears’ while the use of social networking points not only towards ‘eyes’ but also towards an age of collaborative learning that Skype and social networking sites’ popularity makes possible. And what about the advances being made in PC-based e-learning where we can now use techniques like 3D graphics, which allow the learner to pan around images and really become immersed in the learning? Surely highly interactive learning such as these examples could be counted as the ‘eyes and ears’ Kim is referring to?

This led me on to thinking that even if we do have ‘eyes and ears’ in our learning courses, does this actually enhance the learning in any way? For me, the following benefits come to mind:

  • A positive first impression
  • Learner engagement and motivation
  • More realistic scenarios and environments where the learner can safely practise making decisions
  • The ability to tailor the learning for different preferences, learning styles and capabilities

So far we’ve been focusing on how technology can give learning its ‘eyes and ears’ but I believe that this can also be created through instructional design. For instance, a scenario can be made more realistic by using well researched case studies written in a conversational tone. Or the learner can choose how they want to progress through a course by selecting to experience a certain scenario from a different point of view, for example, an interviewer versus an interviewee.

Kim’s thoughts about the evolution of TV are interesting, but I don’t think we can expect to see e-learning strategies reliant on cameras and microphones anytime soon. Instead, we should continue to vary the approaches we take and to be creative, rather than focusing only on the technology involved. After all, the most innovative graphics, interactions and technology will fail to engage the learner if the instructional design falls short.

(See Cat’s top L&D tip here.)

One of Saffron’s senior instructional designers, Stephanie Dedhar, has been named Instructional Designer of the Year at the IT Training Awards 2010!

The instructional designer category was new for the 2010 awards, which were announced at a gala dinner held at The Dorchester in London on Thursday 4 February. Chief executive of the Institute of IT Training, Colin Steed, described the event as an ‘annual celebration of outstanding achievement, best practice, and excellence in IT training.’

The Instructional Designer of the Year award is presented to an individual who has developed a learning intervention that demonstrates exceptional instructional design, is innovative and high quality, and has delivered demonstrable performance improvement for learners.

Stephanie’s submission was concerned with a major compliance training project for BT and the judges were particularly impressed that she demonstrated that she fully understood that instructional design was at the heart of making this project a success. She worked creatively, using a number of innovative instructional design techniques and educated and influenced the client along the way. The outstanding end product and client feedback, from an audience very used to e-learning, speak for themselves.

After receiving the award, Stephanie said ‘It’s an honour to be named Instructional Designer of the Year and I’m delighted that the judges felt that my work on this project – which I am very proud of – was deserving of this award.’

Hanif Sazen, Saffron’s CEO, says ‘We are immensely proud of Stephanie’s achievements, both in terms of this award and the projects that she has worked on for our clients.’

Saffron’s director of operations, Vanessa Hill, says ‘We are very proud of Stephanie’s achievement. She is one of the key driving forces at Saffron and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the e-learning courses we produce are of the highest possible standard. Winning this award is nothing short of a tremendous achievement for Stephanie and she is an inspiration to everyone at Saffron, her clients and the industry.’

For more information about the IT Training Awards, visit

It doesn’t take a genius to make a presentation look great. All you need is a set of well designed master slides. Now read on for five top tips to help you get the most out of your master slides.

1. Use a single slide master for simple presentations

Formatting presentations in PowerPoint can be a painstaking process, especially if there are number of elements on each slide. But if all these elements are common to each slide, you can make sure that all the slides look the same by creating a single slide master.

2. Use multiple slide masters for complex presentations

If you’re working on a complex piece of work such as a storyboard, you might find it best to create multiple slide masters, each one representing a specific screen type. This saves time and effort and ensures that the screen types are consistent across your storyboards.

3. Reduce the file size of your presentations

Presentations can become quite large, especially if you are using a lot of images. Creating master slides not only saves time but also minimises the file size. For example, if you are using a 1MB image five times, instead of adding it to five slides just add it to one slide master and reuse it as often as you like.

4. Remember: not everything is ruled by master slides

Even if you are using master slides, you can still make changes to individual slides. And if you edit a slide master, you won’t lose those changes. However, if you delete a slide master, the formatting will change so make sure you either create a new slide master or apply another appropriate one that already exists.

5. Save master slides for later

PowerPoint often automatically deletes a slide master if it’s not being used in a presentation. So, if you’ve created a slide master which you’re not using in your current presentation, make sure you preserve it by right-clicking on the slide and selecting the Preserve Master option. That way you know you can use it another time.


Top ten tips for making effective use of master slides

Last week I gave a seminar with my colleague Jennifer at Learning Technologies 2010 on the subject of social learning. We were pleasantly surprised to see a large audience spilling over into the aisles and (bar a few microphone issues) our presentation seemed to go down well. The theme of Saffron’s stand at the event was also social learning and, despite the lack of smoothies this year, attracted a lot of attention. All in all, over the two days I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the topic. So, social learning: is it just the latest buzzword or is it something that’s worth taking seriously?

A few months ago I was pretty firmly in the ‘all talk, no action’ camp. And I still think that a lot has been said and not nearly so much done. But when I found out that social learning was our theme for 2010 I thought I’d better give it a bit more of a chance! Jennifer and I challenged ourselves with turning a few ‘traditional’ learning blends into social learning strategies. We picked a variety of recipes from the Blended Learning Cookbook (call centre training, language learning and compliance training), put our heads together for an hour over a coffee and surprised ourselves with what we came up with. You can see the results of our brainstorming here.

What I’ve learnt while preparing for the seminar and speaking to visitors to the Saffron exhibition stand is that most people are already persuaded of the benefits of social learning and are now looking for practical tips for implementing it as part of their L&D strategy. My top three recommendations are:

1. Start small.

Our Cookbook examples are designed to show what a well developed social learning strategy might look like, but don’t try to run before you can walk. And don’t think you have to make big investments to see a return – start by using what’s out there (follow Saffron’s lead by setting up a Facebook page, Twitter account or YouTube channel, for example) and maximising any wikis and forums you’ve already got.

2. Shout about it.

Many a well designed forum has ended up languishing in a dusty corner of the company intranet because nobody actually knew about it. Let people know what you’re doing, why they should use it and how they should use it. And then keep telling them – find innovative ways to point them towards it (viral emails might be one way) and nurture it until it becomes so embedded in business as usual that it sustains itself.

3. Remember the blend.

It’s probably unrealistic to ‘go social’ for all your training solutions and it won’t always be appropriate. But social learning can really add value if it’s used in the right way as part of the right blend.

Over the past few months, then, I’ve been convinced of the potential of social media to add value to workplace learning – but what do the rest of you think? Would our new social learning recipes do the job? Have you already started adding social media to your training blend? Is social learning just a fad, or is it here to stay?

We’ve all heard stories of or witnessed the powers of social media, so why not create your own success stories by embracing these technologies and embedding them in your learning strategy? Often, the problem is how to get buy in from the business. So here are Saffron’s top five tips for taking the first steps towards winning support in your organisation:

1. Build a solid, measurable plan

Ask yourself what your learning and development goals and objectives are for engaging in social media. This will give you ammunition for building the case in the first place.

2. Do your research and put it to the test

There are so many social media apps out there so decide what features you’re looking to utilise and seek ‘business friendly’ alternatives to these. Then, once you’ve found out all you need to know, why not try it yourself? Write a blog, post on a wiki… start with the simple things.

3. Choose your words carefully

There are still reservations surrounding social media, so try to stick to more familiar terms. For instance, instead of ‘social networking’, consider replacing it with ‘online forum’. Also, present social media in the context of building capabilities, collaborating and exchanging knowledge within your organisation – this will be far more persuasive!

4. Blitz the stigma

Social media apps are worthy tools for enhancing learning – it’s not all fun, fun, fun. Yes, people use them for dating and socialising but they can also be applied for embedding and retaining learning more effectively, consequently shifting the learning culture in your organisation.

5. Educate the decision makers

Show them how social networks can be used in business and learning, and iron out any myths and misconceptions. Explain your plans to create a community of practice and develop members’ capabilities through sharing knowledge.


How to gain buy in for learning with social media

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