- QA- two letters to avoid a lifetime of regret
- Monday, September 1st, 2014
Picture the scene – having submitted your work in time to meet a tight deadline, you take a moment to collect your thoughts whilst perusing the very work you’ve just submitted with an air of pride.
But wait, what’s this? Your post-deadline euphoria is shattered in an instant as you realise that you’ve made a glaring error in your submission.
In this situation, options are limited – after all, it’s already too late. However, there are ways to avoid such a nightmare-ish scenario. You can build in a thorough Quality Assurance (QA) process at every stage. This will ensure that all of your work is finished to the highest possible standard, without any nasty surprises at the end of a project. Quality Assurance is a process designed to ensure that software processes (designing, developing etc.) and products (the software, associated data, documentation and paperwork) are completed to a particular standard. The QA process itself means ensuring that existing standards and procedures are followed throughout the software development lifecycle. It is essential that development and implementation follow monitoring, product evaluation, audits and testing.
QA’ing is not always easy. Requirements change, and often users have different ideas about how they think the software should work. The more complex the product, the more complex the process becomes, but it must remain a universal standard that can be controlled, measured and repeated. QA’ing should be seen as a learning process – good for staff members as well as business overall.
What are the aims of QA?
Software development, like any complex development activity, is a process full of risks. The risks here are twofold – both technical and programmatical. On the technical side, there is always the risk that software will not perform as it ought, or will be too difficult to browse or modify. Programmatic risks include projects over-running with regard to costs or schedule. The QA process aims to mitigate both types of risk, and, if enforced systematically, can help when it comes to planning for future projects.
In order to mitigate risk, it is essential that standards are put in to place. Without a proper QA process, it is inevitable that things will slip through the net, either in terms of process or the finished product itself.
How to review
Here are a few quick tips to make sure that you’re reviewing everything properly.
- Define the criteria – Do you have a checklist of what to look for?
- Perform the check
- Record your results
- Share, discuss and implement the changes required
- Version control the documents involved
Here are a few common pitfalls you might want to look out for:
- Poor requirements or user stories
- Inadequate testing
- Featuritis – the excessive use of features with no real meaning
What does the QA’er do?
The QA resource records the set requirements and then develops a test matrix. She confirms that all set requirements are testable and coincide with the project objectives. They then edit the documents and confirms they meet the objectives and the quality standards for documents before recording the completion criteria for the current phase.
The QA’er identifies any conflicts or discrepancies between the final design of the system and the initial proposal for the system, before confirming that an acceptable resolution has been reached between the project team and the client.
Using the test matrix, the QA’er develops a set of test cases for all deliverable functionality for the current phase. She confirms that all test cases have been written according to the guidelines set in the QA test plan. The QA’er executes all test cases in the QA testing cycle, records test results and creates defect reports. Having a fresh pair of eyes to look at work is always useful, as it’s easy to get so caught up in what we’re doing that we’re blind to the mistakes we might have made. Having a QA’er come in and adjust work so that it meets universal standards is an easy way to ensure success, and limit risk.
Total commitment to quality and customer satisfaction forms the key factors for any organisation to be successful. In order to ensure that all output meets high quality standards, it’s essential that the QA process is integral to all other business practices. In the rush to meet deadlines, it’s sometimes all too easy to forget just how important it is to take the time to reflect on everything you’re working on; ensuring consistently high quality throughout the QA process will mean great customer relationships in the long term!
- An illustrated guide to illustrating elearning
- Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
Who doesn’t like cartoons? Illustrations are designed to break up large amounts of text, introducing fun and laughter into the process. More than any other type of television, I can still remember the cartoons that brought me so much joy as a child.
So it makes sense that illustration remains one of the major points of graphic design. Illustration itself pre-dates civilization – even cavemen were fans of drawing.
According to the dual-code theory, hypothesised by Allan Paivio in 1971, pictures are twice as memorable as text as they mean that the lesson imprints twice on the memory – once as a visual image, and again as a verbal association. As my childhood, cartoon-based memories will testify, illustrations really are a fun and memorable way to learn. They serve a real purpose, rather than just adding aesthetic value to a course. They also have a universal appeal that will ensure your lessons outlast page after page of instruction. Illustrations can simplify complex learning concepts as complicated ideas can be made in to tree diagrams, and charts, meaning that they’re easier for learners to understand, and, crucially, remember the lessons they’ve learnt.
There are so many ways to create illustration; I’ve used pen and pencils, as well as the more modern approaches involving digitally merging photos and drawings. I want to make sure that illustrations are so clear that the learner will be able to gain a large amount of knowledge in a short time.
When you first looked at this blog post, I’m sure your eye was drawn to the illustrations rather than the text itself. Illustration grabs the learner’s attention in a way that text can’t, and illustration can help to build the story-building process. Another benefit of illustration is that facial expressions it might be difficult to show in real life characters can be achieved very easily in illustrations. We can depict a vast range of expressions, as you can see below:
But how can drawings help to get learners engaged with an elearning course?
Using illustration is also good news for business, as well as learners. It’s a cost-effective solution, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent on expensive photo-shoots. There are ways to ensure that illustrations reflect branding by stylising the drawings and changing features such as the colour shapes and line-thickness.
When a client approaches me, there are a few steps I take to ensure that the end results will persuade any company of the value of illustration when it comes to eLearning:
- The first thing I do is to go through the storyboard with the client’s brand guidelines and topics. It’s important to ensure that the style is in line with branding. In the past, I’ve worked with clients who have been reluctant to use illustration, fearing that it will mark a drastic break away from their brand. However, that’s really not the case. Mixing photography and illustration is a great way to ensure that illustration benefits, rather than damages, brand recognition
- Next, I try to put myself in learner`s shoes and read the content. For illustrations to be effective, they must start with real scenarios and real people. Once I’m sure that my designs will be compliant with branding guidelines, I start to look at the illustrations from the learner’s point of view. Is the target learner a teenager, middle aged or older? The severity of the subject matter is also important to bear in mind when creating illustrations for an elearning course, as it will affect the types of illustration required
Illustrations are one of the best ways to ensure that the lessons of your elearning course are straightforward and memorable. Including illustrations in elearning courses can be great for learners and brands alike.
- Ten more tips for a popular website
- Monday, August 18th, 2014
In April we published our top ten tips for building a learning website in a reasonable timeframe and on a reasonable budget. Well, since then it seems like everyone at Saffron has been hard at work on website building (and not just ‘reasonable’ ones either!), so the logical conclusion was… ten more tips. This time we share some of the secret sauce that goes into a flamin’ hot website so good your audience will want to eat it up!
Want to know the difference between a one-hit-WordPress-wonder or getting into the HTML-Hall-of-Fame? Then you can’t afford not to read the tips below.
1. Content is king
While great design and graphics are important, they should never be to the detriment of the content itself. In the last few years web content has climbed ever-greater peaks of personality, artistry and power. It’s no longer about recycling printed materials – it’s about telling a story your audience won’t find it easy to forget. So be ruthless! Don’t stop until you have some jaw-dropping content. And if you don’t feel confident about the quality of your content, get a great web copywriter and work them hard! Above all, expect people to bounce right off your site if your content isn’t presented in a clear and concise way.
2. Text formatting
Properly formatted text is crucial for a number of reasons (and gets further mentions below!) When formatting the text on your site stick to using “clean” HTML.
If it’s the main title of the page make it a h1, and if it’s a subtitle make it a h2. It seems simple, but often bold or underline styles are added with extra line breaks. Not only will this make the content look messy and inconsistent, it’ll make the developers loathe you when they’re trying to style your website.
This tip applies for all HTML tags, use them as they were designed to be used! Don’t try to get the effect by using a work-around like changing the font-sizes directly.
3. Make the mobile experience equally as good
With the use of smartphones and tablets becoming so widespread, responsive design is a must. Users must be able to access information quickly and easily.
What is considered ‘easy to access information’ is changing all the time. User’s experience with the mobile website should be just as engaging and informative as the desktop version.
4. Create a journey for the user but let them get off at any time
Long scrolling pages are great for achieving this, as well as being very on-trend at the moment. They let the user follow through the story of the content, often with interactions or animations flying in along the way. This can be a great way to take the user on a journey, but they need to be able to get off at any time.
If you are going to use long scrolling pages, it’s also important to remember to include some quick navigation buttons and don’t make important content difficult to find.
5. Get users to act, not click
You want your users to interact with your site and you want potential clients to contact you. It’s no good including links that read “click here to contact us” or “Find out more”; use descriptive calls to action. For example, a button labelled “Submit a request for proposal” is more likely to make someone do something than a “click here” label. Your website should be geared towards maximising interaction and generating business, and calls to action are a great way to achieve this.
6. Keep Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in mind from the start
SEO is a tricky thing to get right, but there are a few simple things that can be implemented from the start to improve SEO on your site:
- Make your titles concise
- Add relevant tags to all of your images
- Use heading tags correctly in your content
(search engines and screen readers will appreciate this, see tip #2 for more)
- Get your keywords into the first paragraph so they’ll be picked up by search engines more easily
There are many more tips and tricks on SEO so it’s worth looking at some online guides. A lot of these things are very difficult to implement once the website is finished as it means going back through all the content, but if it’s kept in mind at every stage, you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run!
7. Keep it on brand
Stick to using the brand colours, don’t add in too many different shades and try to keep the colour palette small.
If your business has a particular personality, try to incorporate this into the design of your website and balance this with the personality of the clients you want to attract. For example, a website designed to attract accountants won’t also attract teenagers. Know your audience and aim it at them.They will have expectations of your brand, so make sure your website lives up to them.
8. How to check accessibility
There are a number of online accessibility checkers available which can provide a thorough report of your site’s accessibility performance. You can also do some quick checks offline; testing the colour contrast of your text, for example light grey text on a light blue background is not going to be suitable for anyone to comfortably read your content).
It’s also important to consider how a screen reader will navigate around your website. You should be able to use the tab key to navigate through all the links on your page. This also ties in with the point about calls to action. Links should describe what they do or where they go – simply writing “click here” won’t be much help to users.
9. Social media “integration” – not just links
Make the links to your social media obvious and place them in a prominent position, such as the header or footer.. Also think about placing links to social media in relevant places like the end of a blog post. Including a Facebook or Twitter feed somewhere on your site is a great way to keep the website fresh with up-to-date content.
10. Test with Browserstack
If your website is going out into the world wide web you’re really going to want to support all browsers, even those as far back as Internet Explorer 8! This can be a real pain to test because no one has every version of every browser installed on their own machine.
A great way to overcome this is to use a service like Browserstack that lets you boot up a virtual machine using any operating system or browser. It can even emulate mobile devices so you can see how the site will look on the latest iPhone or an old Android.
With a free 3 month Browserstack trial available, there really is no excuse for your site behaving unexpectedly in an old browser.
That’s it for now, thanks for taking a look at my top tips, I hope they’ve been useful and made you think of some improvements for your latest web project. While a couple of these tips are as old as the hills it’s amazing how often they can be overlooked or ignored – don’t be next to fall into the trap!
Do you have any of your own tips you think everyone should know about? It would be great to hear your pet hates and top tips for websites you’ve seen or worked on so far in 2014.
…oh and if you know of any other great new tools with free trials, I’d love to get my hands on them too!
- Great leadership to achieve great results? It’s game on, Captain!
- Monday, August 11th, 2014
Recently, England cricket Captain Alastair Cook, came under fire for his ineffectiveness, which was apparently affecting the performance of the other players. But he proved all of them wrong by leading from the front: scoring runs and making tactical field placements in the very next game.
Before looking at success or failure, it’s important to acknowledge the vital roles that team leadership can play. Managers want their team to top on productivity and effectiveness, but have no desire to micromanage their learning curve. How can they expect great results without attention to detail? Great outcomes, on the pitch or in the boardroom, will only be found through great leadership at the training stage.
Managers now look to ‘the next big thing’, when it comes to innovation, with little regard for the needs of their learners. In cricket, as in learning, there is no guaranteed success. But, leaders can increase their chances by ensuring that they’re on track when it comes to great leadership. As the Chief Executive of Pennsylvania radio station WGPA SUNNY 11AM, Richard T Mindler knows a few things about keeping people engaged, and he says that leaders must be able to:
“Create enthusiasm, empower their people, instil confidence and be inspiring to the people around them.”
There are always ways to improve leadership both on the field, and in the office. Take for instance, the case of Michael Clarke, the Australian cricket team captain. Losing the Ashes in England, followed up by a 4-0 defeat in India, meant that it was unclear whether he would remain as captain. He, along with Mickey Arthur, punished members of the team for not working hard enough.
Team morale was at an all time low. Something had to change. It was his willingness to dramatically alter his thinking and behaviour which transformed his relationship with his players. He acknowledged his accountability for their success or failure. While reinventing himself as a leader, Clarke showed determination and persistence and never lost sight of his goal: winning the Ashes and getting Australia back to Number 1 in test ranking. This can show us all a thing or two about the nature of successful leadership. In order to change the behaviour of his team, a good leader must also to be able to adjust his or her vision, setting clear, achievable goals in the process.
There are many different leadership styles for success, and psychologist Daniel Goleman uncovered six different leadership styles, which he argues spring from different components of emotional intelligence:
1. Commanding: Leaders demand immediate compliance.
2. Visionary: Leaders mobilize people toward a vision.
3. Affiliative: Leaders create emotional bonds and harmony.
4. Democratic: Leaders build consensus through participation.
5. Pacesetting: Leaders expect excellence and self-direction.
6. Coaching: Leaders develop people for the future.
The research discovered that a manager’s leadership style was responsible for 30% of the company’s bottom-line profitability! That’s far too much to ignore. Good leaders remain curious and committed to learning and have to motivate the team members to complete activities, and advise them about possible outcomes. The leadership styles outlined above depend on individual personalities, but there are steps that everyone can take to ensure success, whatever their leadership style. Getting successful managers to change the very behaviours that put them where they are will never be easy, but here is a simple solution, whatever your managerial background. The key to avoiding pitfalls is monitoring the team’s performance at regular intervals.
The SAMIE model is a simple tool which can be used to monitor and evaluate your team’s performance:
This straightforward approach can save organizations time, money and enable them to realise their targets, rather than wondering why it’s all gone wrong. No matter what your personal leadership style is, there is success to be found in monitoring your team’s performance every step of the way. Inattentive and ineffectual leadership? That’s not cricket!
- Top tips for using neurology to improve elearning
- Monday, August 4th, 2014
As teachers and other learning professionals will often tell you, imparting information to students is one thing, but to get them to remember and then apply it is a whole different ball game. So how do we achieve this holy grail of learning? It all comes down to the way information is retrieved and processed.
The means of acquiring and processing information that the brain uses depend on how it is stimulated. This means that it’s important to recognise which brain mechanism is appropriate for the type of training you want to deliver. Here are some top tips for delivering a learning innovation that changes behaviour on a fast-acting, intuitive level:
1) Make them fail: We’re not saying set impossible challenges that will demotivate your learners and cause them to lose confidence; this would be counter-productive. Instead, set a challenge appropriate to the learning objectives and ability of your learners. Science writer Annie Murphie Paul has observed that learners need to solve problems on their own in order to embed the learning. Learning through problem solving will also build the synaptic structures necessary to transfer learning from the procedural (or automated) response, to the intuitive/emotional response. By interacting directly with the learning activity, learners will be jolted out of passivity, into the emotionally engaged learners you want them to be. Which brings us to our next tip…
2) Get emotional: The brain is incredibly efficient at filtering out extraneous information to focus on the job in hand. So good in fact, that we can often miss the most obvious cues. For a great example of this, check out this short video. So how do we take selective attention in to account when designing a learning intervention? The best way is to elicit an emotional response from your audience – tell a story, show a video, show photos. Dry facts won’t always resonate, but show a relevant image or story and it will embed.
3) Induce the ‘fear factor’: You can even increase this effect by evoking a negative emotional experience. Use this power of error to increase learner focus and engagement in a way that isn’t self-critical by asking learners to spot the mistakes of others. This approach is often easier than self-correction. With these ideas in mind, ask learners to interact by clicking on mistakes when they see someone committing them. Instilling the ‘fear factor’ can be a positive learning technique, as learners are more likely to remember what they have learnt if they can associate their errors with the memory of someone else correcting them. The resulting reaction will have a far greater chance mental imprinting and thus embedding the elearning. The reason emotional learning gets cognitive attention is because it ignores the semantic, entering directly instead in to the episodic memory centres where more complex and interwoven brain structures reside. The strong mental representations formed here result in faster emotional responses, rather than slower, rational ones. The end result? Lasting behavioural change.
4) Learn over time: Learning doesn’t happen overnight and neither does neural pathway building. The true measure of learning effectiveness is measured in the long term, not just the short. A student may pass an exam, but test them 2 or 3 months later and you’ll see they haven’t retained what they’ve learned. To have an impact, the neural pathways must become well trodden. On the biological level, this builds stronger links that will eventually override the previously ingrained and proceduralised responses that we’re trying to retrain. So when designing a learning intervention, plan for more frequent, smaller sessions – 20 minutes is ideal. Also, when planning the learning objectives for each of these sessions, bear in mind that the average human brain can only recall 5-6 independent items (this is why telephone numbers were initially designed to include only 6 digits).
5) Make it relevant: This may seem obvious, but it can so easily be over-looked, especially when the commercial imperative is to provide as much information as possible. If the learning is not meaningful and directly applicable, the brain will not encode it. Therefore always relate the content to your audience. By connecting the learning to the real world, the learner will be more likely to form a bond, and the information will be more likely to stick. A great way to transfer the information from the elearning environment to the working environment is to take a blended approach. Create a programme that utilises the full breadth of training tools available. A classroom component, and on the job activities can be especially useful when combined with elearning.
So there you have it; next time you’re planning your content for a course, consider the neuro-scientific basis for how we learn. By considering these tips in your instruction design, you are more likely to deliver training that is memorable and instils the desired behaviour change.