Monday, January 7, 2013

I ran across an article the other day that rekindled my interest in applying agile software development methods for eLearning development. The gist of the argument made was that the traditional ISD Approach, that is, analyze, design, develop, and evaluate (ADDIE) doesn't lend itself well to accommodating frequent changes in requirements and ultimately leads to waste. Instead, many people are considering using more of an agile software development approach to develop elearning through frequent iterations; each iteration bringing the solution closer to a more refined state. All of the articles I read, however, describe the current application of ADDIE as a lockstep, linear (waterfall) approach. That is, the ISD follows the ADDIE process linearly, not moving to the next process step till the previous one is complete. I don't think, however, that this is how ADDIE is typically applied in practice. Rather, I've worked on many projects that applied ADDIE in an iterative way. One of the most practical tips I took away from a mentor during my first week on the job at a consulting firm was, "the customer shouldn't be seeing the product for the first time at the end of the project. NOTHING should be a surprise. In other words, we should we working with the customer throughout the entire process to gather requirements, validate assumptions, design approaches, and evaluate solutions. Hoping to have every bit of information necessary to move from one process step to the next is a pipe dream. That's why it's said that projects are progressively elaborated. Count on learning more details as the project unfolds, accept there's an ammount of risk that must be factored for, and have a plan in place to manage changes to the project. Perhaps this all just boils down to how you see the ADDIE process. If you see it as a linear, waterfall process, then it can use an overhaul. If, however, you see it as iterative anyway, I don't think you'll find much need to change.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quality Control - Part 2: The Kano Technique

In my last post, I  talked about quality control as it relates to training, education and performance support products and services. I started by defining what quality means and distinguished quality from grade. If you recall, quality refers to a product or service's ability to meet customer requirements, whether explicit or implicit.

 No matter what product or service we're talking about, there are basically three different types of requirements a customer has that must be met to some degree: grade, cost, and speed.

Grade, which I discussed in part 1, describes the overall performance of the product or service, as compared with other products or services that are similar in function.

Cost describes the amount of money a customer is willing to pay for your product or service.

Speed describes the amount of time a customer is willing to wait to get your product or service. 

Generally speaking, customers want the highest grade of product or service, for the least amount of money, in the shortest amount of time. Seldom is the case, however that a customer can get all three. Instead, a balance must be established to determine which of the three types of requirements are most important (ones you cannot live without) and those that are not as important (ones you CAN live without)

One way of determining a customer's requirements priorities is to use the Kano technique, which is the focus of today's blog post. The Kano Technique, created by Noriaki Kano, uses customer surveys to gather and prioritize customer needs. The Kano Technique divides requirements into "Must-haves, Performance  Attributes, and Satisfiers."  Must-haves are considered those things that must be present. They do not make the customer happy if they're there because they're expected.  But if Must-haves are absent they do cause dissatisfaction. Performance Attributes satisfy customers depending on how well they perform. If these perform well, they satisfy customers. If these perform poorly, they dissatisfy customers. Finally, Satisfiers are those items that are considered "bonuses." if present, they satisfy customers. If not present, they do not dissatisfy customers. So, the idea is to identify Must-haves, to reduce dissatisfaction, while maximizing the right Performance Attributes, and opportunities to include Satisfiers.

The Kano Technique accomplishes this through the use of a Likert Scale survey. For each attribute, the survey asks two questions: how would you feel if this were present? And, how would you feel if this were not present? As you begin to plot data along an XY axis, you begin to get a picture of what your customers consider Must-haves, Performance Attributes, and Satisfiers. With this information, you can identify those things your product or service must provide, and work within your constraints to improve the other two types of requirements.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quality Control - Part 1

It's time yet again to to blow the dust off the old blog; this time with a series on quality control. As usual, I'll attempt to address the topic within the context of training, education and performance support products and services. Before jumping in to the topic, which I'll do in subsequent posts, I'd like to begin this series by defining a couple terms, particularly quality and grade.   Quality refers to the ability to meet requirements, whether explicit or implicit. If something is high quality, it means it meets someone's stated requirements, such as instructional requirements, content requirements, delivery requirements, etcetera. Requirements, of course, are different depending on each person's needs and change over time as the person's needs change.  Grade, on the other hand, refers to the category of something as compared to something else with similar functional characteristics. For example, Mercedes Benz might be considered a high grade automobile, or K-Mart might be considered a low grade product seller. Pop quiz: Does high grade equal high quality? Not necessarily. Take the automobile example above. If you were in the market to purchase a low cost vehicle for the purpose of hauling equipment from one construction site to another, which vehicle would likely be higher quality: an inexpensive used Toyota truck, or a brand new Mercedes Benz convertible two-seater? If you chose the truck, you're correct. The truck meets the stated requirements, both from a cost and utility perspective. Why is this important? To deliver high quality training, education and performance support products and services you need to understand what the requirements are. What instructional objectives need to be met? How much should it cost to develop training? What technical specifications must be met to deploy the training product to the target audience? And the list goes on. Identifying all these requirements isn't usually an easy task. How often do you encounter people that can describe everything a product or service must be able to do?  Over the next several posts, I'll share some methods of identifying these requirements and putting processes in place to ensure you meet these requirements.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Improving on the Model to Deliver Learning Content

Today, a colleague of mine offered a suggestion that I felt worthy of blowing the dust off the blog and putting the proverbial pen to paper. Earlier this month, I attended the Innovations in E-Learning Symposium at George Mason University. On the last day of the symposium, I learned that Defense Acquisition University was actively looking to develop an learning experience for its users. This concept isn’t new, although it was nice to hear that an organization is actively trying to achieve this model. I can only presume—because you know what happens when you assume—that, like Amazon, this model would use smart technology to deliver learning content and training to users based on the user’s behavioral patterns. So, for example, if you consumed several learning resources that dealt with project management (i.e. job aids, courses, manuals), the system would then “push” additional project management learning content to you that you might also find useful, or based on what people with similar interests consumed. I presume this system would also allow users to rate the usefulness or quality of learning content that is provided, then permit users the ability to sort content by highest rating.

When I mentioned this model to a colleague today, she offered what I found was a profound addition. Rather than merely offer learning content based solely on behavioral pattern, provide relevant content that is mapped to a user’s job competencies. The reason I found this advice profound is because it attempts to address organizational performance, rather that just offer a new way of delivering learning content. In other words, rather than just offer additional learning content to users, offer the right learning content for users to perform their assigned jobs, not to say that learning content relevant to other job competencies shouldn’t be available to users.

The reason I like this suggestion is because it addresses the organizations real needs, which are better performance, and not just a better method of delivering content to users.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Polarized Professional Learning

Since starting back to school in 2000, I’ve become rather polarized about my own learning, which hasn’t been entirely bad, but I think I’ve taken it a little too far for my personal taste. Nearly every book I’ve read since that time has been something I’ve hoped would further me professionally, for example, Economics, Psychology, History, Poetry, English, and the myriad of Instructional Design books. Again, don’t get me wrong. This has gotten me a long way professionally, but at a cost. I just realized today that it’s been about four years since I read a book for pleasure. Four years? Really?

What got me thinking about this was how I spent my Christmas vacation. I had time off of work, and time off of school. No assignments to complete. No project deadlines to meet. Instead, I cleaned the house, played my guitar, and got all the computers in my house on wireless. Yet, I don’t feel like I accomplished anything. I read no “self-improvement” book, article, or research paper. In my minds eye, I learned nothing new, and that’s my point. No balance.

Well, no more. No more being polarized about learned purely for professional advancement. From today on, I’m making it a point to balance my learning activities. I don’t really know exactly what that means yet, but I’m educated, so I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The American Education System

A few good reads over the last month got me thinking about the American Education System, particularly what’s wrong with it. Although each book had a contrasting focus, I found the overlap in education profound. The two books in question are Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, and Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. In Made to Stick, the authors attribute the gap in math proficiency by many K-12 students to teachers not using enough concrete examples. The Heath brothers, explain that concrete language is the language of novices. It’s only after people grasp basic concepts that they can begin to think about them abstractly. The reason American K-12 students lag behind other countries is because American students are introduced to considerably less concrete examples than their foreign counterparts. Of course, I’m over simplifying here, but that was the gist.

On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell raises the point of summer vacation as a culprit for America’s education woes. Gladwell explains that summer vacation provides students with a lengthy gap in which students are often left to forget most of what they learned. When students return to school, the teacher often spends weeks reiterating what was taught during the previous year. What I found interesting about this was the gap in learning retention between the upper and lower class after students returned to school after summer. A study showed upper class children performed significantly better than lower class children when retested at the end of summer. Gladwell goes on to explain that upper class children are generally offered many more opportunities to reinforce learning during the summer than lower class children, indirectly making a case for year-round schools.

Whether either suggestion offered by the authors above is merely correlated or it’s causal, I thought the authors did a great job at peaking my interest enough to think long and hard about the education my children are getting. For that, I give a tip of the hat to the Heath brothers and Malcolm Gladwell.