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Monday, December 21, 2009

Interview with Dara Feldman, The Heart of Education: E-Learning Innovators Series

Many people think of iPhone applications and elearning as something they can do to learn a language or listen to lectures. However, there are other possible avenues, which include areas of ethics, and developing a positive self-concept and self-efficacy. One example is the organization, The Heart of Education, which has helped develop a set of cards for use on the iPhone. They focus on student empowerment, and helping students gain self-confidence.

Welcome to an interview with Dara Feldman, Heart of Education. In addition to her work with The Heart of Education and The Virtues Project, she is an instructional coach for DC Public Schools. Feldman worked in Montgomery County Public Schools, in Maryland, for over 20 years and has taken on this new challenge with the trust that The Virtues Project will help transform DCPS.

1. What is your name, affiliation, and connection to e-learning?

The name of our organization is The Heart of Education. Our connection to e-learning is that we have a free online 30 minute introduction via the National Education Association’s (NEA) Online Academy.

We have also created iPhone applications of the virtues cards so that they can be accessible anytime, anywhere. In addition, we have are leveraging the power of Web 2.0 to connect people of like minds and hearts via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and to share the 5 Strategies of The Virtues Project to empower individuals to be the best they can be.

2. What is The Heart of Education? What is your philosophy of e-learning -- how do you see communities and e-learning relating to each other?

The Heart of Education is part of the global grassroots Virtues Project which INSPIRES INDIVIDUALS to live more authentic, joyful lives, FAMILIES to raise children of compassion and integrity, EDUCATORS to create safe, caring and high performing learning communities & LEADERS to inspire excellence and ethics in the workplace.

This award-winning program was honored by The United Nations as a model global program for all cultures and is being used to transform individuals, families, schools, businesses, organizations and communities in over 90 countries.

As Thomas Friedman wrote, “The World is Flat”. Technology has helped to shrink the world and give us access to people, places and ideas with the click of a button. With the use of Web 2.0 tools, including social networking sites and tools such as Skype, the world is our community. The Virtues Project gives us 5 Strategies for unifying global citizens.

3. How do you create conditions for learning in The Heart of Education?

The Heart of Education is about making meaningful connections. Focusing on creating caring relationships is the foundation that fosters prime conditions for learning and that is what The Virtues Project is all about. My thesis, The Power of Virtues Language to Inspire Learning, can be downloaded from the NEA site.

4. What do you hope to accomplish with The Heart of Education?

Our hope is that The Virtues Project will spread to all schools across the US by 2012 to transform education by bringing more joy, meaning and purpose back into teaching and learning.

5. Have you had any unique experiences as you've unfolded your plan? Please share two or three brief stories.

The journey of The Heart of Education has had many exciting surprises. It all started when I was honored as Disney's 2005 Outstanding Elementary Teacher of the Year and found out about The Virtues Project. Then having The Virtues Project Founders ask me to be their Director of Education was an honor. The fact that the NEA came to us to develop an online course was amazing.

6. What are your plans for the future?

We will continue to offer personal, professional and organizational development to people all over the world. In addition, we are planning to create a highly interactive online course around The Virtues Project. We are going to revamp our websites. Finally, we will launch our PositiveNews4U site where we will Twit positive news that people share with us from all over the world.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Revisiting Moodle

It is often difficult for learning management systems to keep up with social networking and collaborative technologies. Their architectures are a bit clunky, and even when they allow embedded html to link into social networking, it's often difficult to incorporate them in an outcomes-based way. Further, they are not dynamic and it is difficult to integrate mobile activities and devices.

In these cases, Moodle, as an open-source solution, is often overlooked. The basic structure and philosophy of Moodle are simple: object-oriented, with a focus on reusability of components, and a very transparent structure that rests on a foundation of forums, which makes it very friendly to interaction and collaboration. Further, the flexibility of Moodle makes it ideal for programs ranging from certificate programs to graduate programs such as an online MBA program.

Ideal for Small and Evolving Programs
Moodle is instantly appealing to fledgling programs. After all, the price is right. It's free. Granted, nothing is really free, and the trade-off with opensource is the fact that it's necessary to do the IT work oneself. There are hosting solutions such as MoodleRooms, which are affordable for the individual instructor or small institution.

Moodle does not look much like other learning management solutions such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Angel, or the old WebCT. If anything, it reminds one of an expanded discussion board, with customizable add-ons. Student information systems can integrate fairly easily, which makes a "soft launch" or pilot program a viable option. This kind of approach is effective for graduate programs, professional programs, as well as independent study and professional development. One is limited only by the limits of one's imagination.

Moodle's emphasis on reusable content objects makes it fairly easy to make changes to individual courses and to an entire curriculum. It's also fairly easy to save objects in repositories that can be shared by other instructors and the instructional design / technology support. Moodle lends itself to convenient, enterprise-wide content management.

The fact that Moodle allows faculty and the institution to be responsive to evolving student and organizational needs, and educational objectives is a core benefit. For example, if the school wants to be able to tweet students in the event of an emergency, Moodle is much more effective than using email to do so. One can embed applications and integrate them in order to enhance functionality.

Emphasis on Interactivity
With the forum structure as its foundation, Moodle's core architecture rests on interactivity. However, Moodle's capability extends much further than simple posting to a discussion board. Students and instructors can post photos, videos, audio. In addition, they can embed an integrated application which allows content sharing as well as collaboration.

The fact that the forum is so interactive is engaging. Students like to see if their posts have provoked a response. They also like to comment on each other's posts, and to respond in kind. Relevant, engaged interaction is motivating, and one can guide the interaction toward achieving outcomes.

Collaborative learning activities (Wikis, Glossaries) in Moodle replicate the kinds of activities that students do in their everyday computing lives. Most students are comfortable with wikipedia, so to be able to contribute to their own wiki encourages a belief in one's capabilities and an "I can do it" attitude. Contributing to a collective body of work lets people learn by observing others performing a task. Further, Moodle makes it easy to ask and to answer questions.

Student presentations can take many forms, including portfolios and galleries. This makes it easy for the student to assemble a portfolio or to make a presentation. Presentations can be synchronous (taking advantage of chat and embedded whiteboards), and asynchronous (archived powerpoints, etc.).

Interacting with mobile devices, including smartphones, is easily done in Moodle as well. For example, students can post to Flickr or to Facebook, which can be embedded within the course shell. Posting remotely, and building on existing resources is important. At the same time, it's important to include a cautionary note when incorporating social networking because it can take one away from one's primary learning objectives, if one is not careful. Further, extraneous, non-course-related materials may slip in, which could prove distracting, even embarrassing.

Future of Moodle
Moodle will continue to evolve to meed needs of users. As an open-source program, development of updates has not always proceeded as smoothly as hoped, and times of economic crisis tend to be particularly challenging. On the one hand, the fact that opensource is free increases the demand. On the other hand, increased adoption by schools, and the development of mobile and other applications, puts pressure on Moodle to bring out new editions and to enhance capabilities.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview with Tim Riesterer, E-Learning / Training Case Study: Power Messaging (R) Virtual

Real-world education and training needs have quirky issues and time challenges that make you wonder, Does anyone else go through this? E-Learning Queen realizes we can all learn from each other's experiences, success stories, and "lessons learned." So, welcome to another installation of our new "E-Learning Case Study Series." In this interview, we talk with Tim Riesterer, CMO and SVP, Strategic Consulting, Corporate Visions (, who had a challenge when launching training for Power Messaging® Virtual.

Please describe a case in which you successfully used e-learning. Include the following:
**what was your need?

As a marketing and sales consulting company, we work with numerous organizations on strategies for articulating and nailing down their sales messaging. We recently launched Power Messaging® Virtual, moving an intensive, two-day, in-person training event to a two-week e-learning course.

This course combines modular, online coursework with interactive Web conference coaching to drive home important concepts and, through our modular content library, enable instant and easy refreshers post-training.

The impetus for this e-learning program was client demand. In this tough economy, many of the companies we work with have been saddled with budget cuts and travel restrictions – meaning that bringing sales reps together for onsite training has become cost-prohibitive. For others, sacrificing time in the field for travel and onsite training was simply too detrimental to productivity. The on-demand (i.e., view at any time) format of new our coursework alleviates these pressures and allows the sales reps who participate to view materials at a time that is convenient for them.

**why e-learning?

As a training company, our capacity to train increased exponentially through the use of pre-packed e-learning modules. We can literally be in multiple places at once, imparting expertise on-demand. And our trainers are still able to periodically touch base with attendees through live, virtual training sessions and by providing one-on-one coaching access – making the process even more personal.

Another advantage for our clients is that they can have access to this training program exactly when they want it. Waiting for a particular trainer or for a particular training venue to become available might have meant, in the past, that they missed a valuable window for training before a key launch or kick-off. Now, through e-learning, we can conduct training in a completely hassle-free way.

Also, as many companies move their kick-offs to a virtual environment, it allows us to participate with our training content because we’ve got materials that they can plug and play. We can create a virtual training program to meet their needs – that can then be integrated into their virtual kick-off environment.

**what technologies did you use? software? hardware?

We created a Web portal that houses Brainshark on-demand presentations. As I mentioned, these presentations – which include audio, embedded videos, interactive exercises and quizzes, workbooks, attachments and more – can be viewed by our customers at their convenience. You can see an example and program demo here:

Upon registering for the program, all individual participants receive a password for accessing materials. An automated calendaring function alerts participants to the Brainsharks they should be viewing and places the virtual coaching sessions right in their Outlook calendars.

These customized coaching sessions – where participants can practice the skills they learn – occur at the end of each week. We use Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro and WebEx for this live coaching, and equip our trainers with Webcams so they can see their classes.

**how did you go about conducting the e-learning?

As mentioned, we use online, on-demand presentations from Brainshark to provide info to our participants in an engaging and memorable way. Brainshark is used to deliver the bulk of our e-learning content and to conduct quizzes and comprehension checks – on topics ranging from how to create impact and connect with emotion, to how to make complex stories visual and abstract stories concrete. Then, our weekly Web conferencing sessions provide interaction, practice and feedback, where participants get to ask questions about the materials they consumed and gain confidence in their ability to apply the new skills.

How many people participated?

Although we only rolled this out a few months ago, we’ve already seen great demand and have used this e-learning program with leading Fortune 500 companies and smaller businesses as well.

Once the e-learning was created, we’ve also leveraged it to significantly enhance pre-instruction work for our traditional classroom training. We’ve been able to provide a more powerful blended learning model to improve preparation and transform the onsite work into more scenario-based practice (versus technique instruction). We’re making much better use of the classroom time for what it’s best for – examples and exhibition.

What was their background with technology? Did you have any challenges with "comfort level"?

We haven’t experienced any technology challenges for participants so far. We’ve been doing a lot of work with tech-savvy companies though – so sales people there are predisposed to using all different types of technologies and tools.

Even still, the technology we’re using is incredibly easy to use. For example, to watch a Brainshark presentation, participants simply click on a link, and they’re instantly brought to a hosted training module – no downloads, installations or special programs required.

How were the instructors trained / oriented before they gave the training? Were they nervous? Did they have any doubts?

As mentioned, our Brainsharks are pre-recorded content, so there was no need to train instructors for that portion. Subject matter experts uploaded PowerPoint presentations that they had created, and then used Brainshark to synchronize their voice with the slides – as well as add in video, other multimedia, quizzes, etc.

For the virtual coaching sessions, we practiced beforehand with our instructors. Many had been used to being in a physical classroom and were not as accustomed to the virtual way, so to alleviate any anxieties and ease the transition, we created an in-the-office environment for them, as they delivered their virtual sessions – providing flip charts, markers and even special lighting to recreate a classroom feel.

After a few sessions, instructors really began to get a kick out of the experience, and also appreciated the lack of travel and the reprieve from being on the road all the time.

Was there any anxiety or uncertainty among the learners? What was it? How did you work with them?

To prevent anxiety and uncertainty, we try to acclimate learners with our e-learning processes before the program even begins. They participate in a live, half-hour webcast – or watch an archived version of the webcast – that provides an explanation of how the two weeks of training will unfold.

The webcast explains how their passwords work, how we push out calendar invitations, how the technology functions and more.

Also, as more and more companies adopt some form of e-learning – be it for sharing product info, disseminating training or conducting webcasts – we’re seeing that many of our participants have prior experience with these solutions and are very adept at using them. This is no longer an unfamiliar or unnatural act for many of these people.

How did you know that learning took place? What kinds of assessment did you have?

Each of our 17 Brainshark modules – spanning various sales messaging and conversation skills – incorporates quizzes and virtual workbook activities. Through Brainshark’s granular tracking capabilities, we can provide reporting on which activities were completed, how much content was viewed and how quiz questions were answered.

Workbook exercises can also be pushed to a manager, coach or instructor for review. Depending on our clients’ requests, we can push this info out to them as frequently as they want to see it – so they can remind sales reps to get going and congratulate those who are on track for completion.

What were some of the immediate results? How did you decide whether or not the experience was a success or a "nice try"?

We surveyed our program participants to determine the efficacy of our e-learning initiative. We’ve gotten rave results – after the course, 92% of the participants rated the Power Messaging Virtual experience as better than other online training they’ve taken, and 86% rated it as better than other on-site, instructor-led, courses that they had attended.

What were some of the "lessons learned"?

Although many companies use e-learning to convey product information, some are hesitant to use it for skills training and selling behavior modification – thinking that a live, in-person environment is the best way. Our experience shows that e-learning for skills training is certainly a viable – and many times preferred – method. With the right amount of coaching, contact and interactivity, e-learning skills training can be a great success.

We also learned that for those companies who still insist on onsite skills training, a blended approach using more e-learning instruction and virtual forums to complement the onsite will significantly improve the impact on behavior change.

Do you have a case study to share? Send a tweet at @beyondutopia.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Interview with Marianne Cherney, Innovators in E-Learning Series

On-demand online technical courses are often fairly static and do not involve interaction with fellow learners. GoGogh incorporates social networks in an innovative way to bring in interaction, engagement, and to enhance conditions of learning.

1. What is your name, affiliation, and your connection with e-learning?
My name is Marianne Cherney and I own Dashcourses and I have been in technical training for 19 years and have delivered instructor-led live and onsite, and self-paced e-learning courses for the last two years.

2. How would you characterize your philosophy of learning?
I believe that learning needs to be delivered to meet the needs of the client. The provider must be open to understanding the needs of the client and willing to embrace new ideas and ways of delivering training that work for the student. Too many companies are tied to the way that they do things, which forces the customer into a plan that really doesn’t fit them (and eventually will put the training provider out of business).

3. What are some of the emerging gaps in e-learning technologies and access?
E-learning needs to take advantage of bridging the best of all worlds and link the instructors to the students. It is not an all-or-nothing world out there and students need access to the experts. There are many creative ways to do this, such as online communities like that provide a platform for the learner to connect to the experts. A program like this enables mentored learning coupled with e-learning.

4. How might some of the old ways of approaching e-learning become obsolete?
This is a continuation of the last question. Learning must be interactive. I think a really interesting approach is to couple e-learning with a mentored learning session so that the students can ask live questions.

5. What is GoGogh and why was it developed ?
The world has changed and we operate at speeds that were never dreamed possible. People and information need to connect in new ways. We have social networks that have brought people together in a brand new way.

At the same time companies are global in new ways and that requires providers to offer new solutions. Some of the technologies that my other company, Dashcourses, teaches are not taught outside of the US and the global market requires these technologies to be taught globally at prices that local markets can afford.

With GoGogh we are able to do that. GoGogh offers high quality e-learning courses built on an interactive platform that allows providers and users (20 million+ IT professionals) to interact, learn , create and keep themselves and their companies learning the way. Companies allocate between $1,000 and $1,400/year/technical employee to keep them up to speed. Traditional training could use this budget in one or two courses. With GoGogh for only $250/person, individuals can get unlimited training. For the enterprise, companies can license GoGogh and save significant amounts of money. For example, a company with 2,500 employees can save over $2 million/year on training costs by using GoGogh.

6. What is your vision for GoGogh?
We want each and every member of the IT, Hardware and Software community to be an active GoGogh member. We integrate new and creative solutions each and every day and we welcome every company, every service provider and every professional to become a part of our community.

7. Describe a few examples of it in action. Who does it benefit and how?
GoGogh benefits the individual by providing on-demand technical trainings – the individual can schedule them for a time that works best for their own hectic lives. For the company, the cost benefit is tremendous – their IT staffs can get outstanding, expert led trainings for a fraction of the cost. Like I said in an earlier question, GoGogh’s $250 annual cost/employee can save a company with 2,500 employees upwards of $2 million every year.

On top of this, GoGogh’s experts are available during the course, but also after. This means that small technical departments have access to a team of global experts outside of their course. And, many of our members find added value in GoGogh because we will build the content that our members ask for .

8. What are two things you'd like to see for the future?
I would like to see people open up and work together in a way that benefits the world community. We need to open the lines of communication and work together for the greater good.

9. Finally -- please recommend a book .... :)
The Go-Giver

Do you have a case study to share? Send a tweet at @beyondutopia.
or, email susan at

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Interview with Isaac Grauke, Populi: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Integrating the learning management system with a student information system is often tedious, expensive, and fraught with incompatibility problems. Welcome to an interview with Isaac Grauke, Populi (, which has devleoped a system that brings together SIS and LMS functions.

What is your name, affiliation, and relation to elearning?
I’m Isaac Grauke and I’m the CEO of Populi. We make web-based college management software, and a major part of that includes online learning and course management.

What made you interested in developing solutions for elearning?
You typically have two different kinds of software, the learning management system (LMS) and the student information system (SIS). In broad terms, the LMS manages courses, and more and more it delivers courses to students online, whether distance ed or on-campus. The SIS, generally, keeps track of the students’ personal and academic information.

So, most colleges have two separate programs for SIS and LMS, which create a number of inefficiencies: duplicated costs, online learners disconnected from traditional learners, and the difficulty of getting two systems to talk to each other. We became interested in developing a solution for e-learning when we saw how much time and money were being wasted, and how good solutions were all but out-of-reach for smaller colleges. We designed Populi to combine SIS and LMS functionality in one system, eliminating the costs and inefficiencies that arise from dividing those functions over two or more systems.

What is Populi and how is it different from other learning management solutions?
Populi is web-based college management software. We strive to combine, in one system, software that helps colleges track all their information—admissions, academics, student billing, financial aid—as well as course management and online learning. Colleges—especially smaller colleges—are a lot more unified than their software might lead you to believe, and we wanted Populi to reflect that.

So, Populi has the major LMS functionality, of course— lessons, tests, forums, bulletin boards, file uploades, gradebook, and so on—and, most important, it offers seamless, effortless integration between the LMS and SIS. In Populi, they’re different elements of the same program, and so they share information where it makes sense. LMS grading info, for instance, automatically feeds into student GPA’s, transcripts, and degree audits.

In addition to the SIS integration, Populi LMS is different from other solutions because of our focus on usability. It’s easy to set up, and easy to use. Anyone who works with a dedicated LMS—whether open-source or enterprise-level—will tell you that they need technical support just to run it and make it work with their other software. That was one problem we wanted to eliminate with Populi—you just don’t need an IT background to run it.

And you don’t need to be any sort of expert to use it. We approached the user interface so it would—to paraphrase the old rule of rhetoric—tell you what you’re going to do, have you do it, then tell you that it’s done. We also eschew customization. From our own experiences going through college, and from reports about LMS systems in general, we’ve learned that when a system allows too much customization, students have to relearn the system every time they take a new course. We built Populi so that if you take a course once, you’ll know how to take any course in the system.

You mentioned earlier that Populi eliminates inefficiencies by managing both student information and online learning. What does that mean for students?
Well, first, as I just mentioned, our emphasis on usability benefits everyone involved in online courses—faculty, students, registar, other staff. We provide customer support and other help resources, but it’s amazing to us how little they’re used—even though our customer colleges are really using Populi for everything. When we rolled out the online learning features, just about the only feedback were minor feature suggestions. But nothing in terms of “How do I…?” Students didn’t have any trouble to speak of. They logged in, saw what they needed to do, and did it.

But in the big picture, the combination of SIS and LMS features really enhances accessibility; putting everything the student needs in one place, with one login. 37signals published their thoughts on software design in a book called Getting Real, and one way to summarize their approach is that good software gets the job done and then gets out of your way. So, with Populi, a student can take a test, and once they submit it, they can see how it affects their in-progress course grade. At the end of the term, when courses are finalized, they can print a grade report or see their transcript or check out their Degree Audit—one click apiece—as well as keep abreast of their tuition and fees. Students don’t have to spend a lot of time on the system figuring out the navigation—the things they’re looking for are right there, or within a click or two. Rather than spending a lot of time figuring out software, they can just find their lessons, tests, or other assignments, and simply take care of it. Software that stays out of your way lets you devote your time and energy to the content the software delivers. And, obviously, content and meaningful interaction is the important thing when it comes to learning, and Populi strives to basically get out of the way and let that happen.

How does Populi foster student learning? What are the underlying philosophies of learning that underlie the project?
I suppose I answered this question in part in the previous response—the underlying philosophy of our software is essentially the same as our view of education. The thing that matters is the content the instructor provides and a student’s interaction with it; therefore, the software mustn’t interfere with that process, and so it ought to be as unobtrusive as possible. That’s the basic idea.

In practice, we’re seeing colleges use the e-learning components to enhance their traditional classrooms in lots of creative ways. One instructor used to devote the first fifteen minutes of each class for a review quiz. Within hours of pushing the online learning features, he had already converted those quizzes into online tests with Populi, and effectively gained 45 minutes a week of instruction time (the course meets three times weekly). That critical face-to-face class time now goes to lecturing and discussing material, and things like routine quizzes and tests are handled online.

And, of course, Populi makes it simple for a college to offer any of their courses to their distance-learning students. Online education really fits the bill for a wide variety of people—people in the workforce who need to fit their classes around business schedules, people who need less expensive education options, people limited by simple factors like geography. Giving colleges the ability to offer distance learners the same software access that on-campus students have—that enhances distance access to the college and, again, hopefully simplifies the process a student goes through to interact meaningfully with the course.

Do you have any plans for Populi?
We’re taking it a day at a time at this point! We’ve gotten a huge, positive response from colleges when they see Populi, especially the smaller institutions that are looking to expand their online presence. We provide them with a very affordable, low-stress means of doing that.

Right now Populi streamlines almost all of the day-to-day operations of the college. Our plan is to expand into the few areas we have yet to touch. The big things on our development timeline for the end of 2009 and into 2010 include a library information system, online payment processing, and a donor management system. All of the new features would be integrated into what we have already, and developed in accord with that basic “get it done and get out of the way” approach. And, of course, the more we learn about how our customers use Populi, the more usable we can make it.

What would you like to see in the future with respect to elearning and mobile learning?
I think there is a huge opportunity to expand the e-learning experience by going mobile. Populi has an iPhone app but at this point it is only available to access school email, course schedules, and faculty and student contact information. I’d like to see all of the online learning content in there including lessons, forums and tests. But, again, that sort of thing is only helpful if it fosters that crucial interaction. One of the risks of mobile education is that your courses can more easily disappear into the din of information and e-noise that more and more envelopes a student’s life nowadays. So while we hope to upgrade the iPhone app and make it more of an aid to students in relation to their courses, there’s also something to be said for reserving the educational experience, to emphasize it in a context where the student can concentrate on the meat and not the technology.

Have you read any interesting books lately? Please share :)
Well, on the business side of things, and as I’ve mentioned a few times here, everyone at the office is enjoying the 37signals book Getting Real. Lots of good reality checks in that book, and good, sensible principles for a company like Populi to keep in mind—basically, build your software to solve a real problem, and make sure it’s usable. Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky—I’m reading that for the second time. I don’t know of anyone else who writes about landscapes the way he does. It describes his upbringing in Montana, sheep ranching with his father. Simply staggering prose in places. And then I’ve been reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to my son. We’re in an educational community that values the Classics, and those books fit rather nicely into that. And they’re pretty funny. I get almost as wrapped up in them as my son has.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Interview with Heather Hill, Special Olympics World Winter Games: E-Learning Case Study Series

E-Learning Queen is launching a case studies series to discuss applications of e-learning, including mobile learning. We're excited to kick off the series with an investigation of how elearning was used in the Special Olympics World Winter Games. Welcome to an interview with Heather Hill, Special Olympics World Winter Games, and founder of H2 BrandWorks, LLC

Please describe a case in which you successfully used e-learning. Include the following:

**what was your need?

With the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games – an event involving over 2,000 athletes from nearly 100 countries – rapidly approaching, we needed a consistent, high-quality way to train our event volunteers. But just like other non-profits, we were facing challenges stemming in part from the troubled economic climate and needed to get creative in our efforts to raise funds, retain services and reduce costs. For our training initiative in particular, it was imperative that we conduct training on a budget, without sacrificing quality in the slightest. As you’ll see, we were thrilled with the results – and through our successful training program and myriad other initiatives, had a first-class Games experience.

Heather Hill, Vice President of Marketing, Special Olympics World Winter Games

**why e-learning?

Although this year’s Winter Games were held in Boise, Idaho, our volunteers hail from all over the U.S., and all over the world. We had used a traditional, classroom-based approach in the past, including last year at our “dry-run” Invitational event, where volunteers traveled to regional offices to participate in training sessions.

On-demand e-learning made much more sense, and enabled us to reduce the costs previously associated with training thousands of volunteers at regional locations. And the “on-demand” (i.e., view at any time) aspect was particularly appealing, allowing people to complete the training at a time that was convenient for them – and then to revisit any portion at any time. With a core staff of only 60 people at the World Winter Games, implementing e-learning also freed us to spend time on other mission-critical initiatives.

We calculated that one on-demand training presentation, used for volunteer orientation, saved us tens of thousands of dollars in staffing costs and more than a month of logistical planning and preparation. Using the previous classroom-based model, this same process would have taken an estimated 20 trainers 12 weeks to complete!

**what technologies did you use? software? hardware?

Through Brainshark’s Non-Profit Program, which awards Brainshark software grants every quarter, we received a free one-year Brainshark license. This meant we could use Brainshark’s SaaS platform and services to create, distribute and track on-demand, e-learning presentations/ modules. They were easy to create – we uploaded a PowerPoint presentation to the Web, then picked up the phone to add audio narration. We easily incorporated videos, comprehension questions and poll questions within our presentations, as well as attachments that provided supplementary information. For example, within our online, orientation training, we included an attachment that provided further info on intellectual disabilities and the appropriate terminology to use in communicating both with and about people with intellectual disabilities.

**how did you go about conducting the e-learning?

Volunteers logged in to view the training presentation, which you can see here. We used this presentation to make sure volunteers were well-versed in medical screening procedures, uniforms and credentials, the function of the Special Olympics Town, sports competition (alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating) and much, much more. Quiz questions assessed their comprehension of adaptive skills limitations, policies and procedures, and event logistics. With the detailed tracking information Brainshark provides, we could immediately tell who had viewed the presentation, how much of it they consumed, and how quiz and survey questions were answered – enabling us to track completion.

How many people participated?

Nearly 4,000 volunteers from the local area, across the U.S. and abroad participated in the training. Since we were dealing with such a large number of participants, the “on-demand” e-learning aspect was particularly appealing. Instead of having to coordinate schedules so that a live event could occur at a designated time, volunteers were free to watch – and even revisit – the training at their leisure.

What was their background with technology? Did you have any challenges with "comfort level"?

It’s important to note that the people undergoing training were *volunteers,* presenting a different scenario than training staff who already have a similar baseline understanding of an organization’s mission, procedures and even technology. Understandably, our volunteers varied in familiarity with our mission, as well as in technical aptitude, but they uniformly appreciated the convenient and intuitive e-learning format. Survey questions at the end of our e-learning module asked volunteers whether they found the way information was presented to be helpful, as well as what they felt the best way was to present and receive information. Responses were overwhelmingly positive about the online training experience, and volunteers felt the rich, visual information made the training process much more engaging.

How were the instructors trained / oriented before they gave the training? Were they nervous? Did they have any doubts?

N/A – As mentioned, our instructors were subject matter experts within the Special Olympics World Winter Games, who created the e-learning materials in advance, readying them for viewer consumption at any time. They were excited about the new format – which saved them travel and staffing time – and were pleased with the reception.

Was there any anxiety or uncertainty among the learners? What was it? How did you work with them?

To be honest, I cannot recollect any anxiety or uncertainty among the volunteers. The online training was relatively general content and material, and volunteers understood that once assigned to a particular position, role or functional area, they would also receive job-specific training in person at the start of the Games.

How did you know that learning took place? What kinds of assessment did you have?

As mentioned, we incorporated quiz questions within our e-learning modules. In addition, as soon as a volunteer finished viewing (or “x”ed out of) the presentation, we received detailed tracking information, letting us know what portions had been viewed and for how long that volunteer lingered on them, as well as how questions were answered, and in what order slides were viewed. In this way, we were able to check off that learning took place and assess the level of comprehension of our volunteers.

What were some of the immediate results? How did you decide whether or not the experience was a success or a "nice try"?

We were absolutely thrilled with the preparedness of our staff, which, we think is a testament to our e-learning initiative. Feedback from our athletes and participants involved – in terms of treatment, support infrastructure and more – was glowing. Based on our positive experience – and the positive feedback from volunteers – we deem this a true success.

What were some of the "lessons learned"?

I would say lessons learned include making sure that critical information is gathered early from all respective functional areas or leaders in the organization, so that as much as possible can be covered and conveyed in one thorough online training session. I would also recommend a complete and turnkey system of tracking completion and “grading,” if you will, of all participants taking part in the training, so that it is clearly understood which consumers of the training are most suitable for any particular area or function of the organization. In our case, our own staff was not required to take the online training session due to their extensive knowledge of the organization and each of their respective areas; however, given the opportunity to do this again, I would recommend it be mandatory for all staff to complete the online training as well, simply to be familiar with the exact information and format of communication to their volunteers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Interview with Bryan Orme, E-Learning Innovators Series

Developing technologies that facilitate discussion and encourage learners to engage is critical to maintaining student engagement and motivating them to stay active in the course. Welcome to an interview with Bryan Orme, co-founder of CreateDebate, an online debate forum.

What is your name, your affiliation, and your connection to e-learning?

My name is Bryan Orme, I am a co-founder of CreateDebate. CreateDebate is an online debate forum that can be used in the classroom as a web-based virtual learning environment (VLE) to drive collaboration, discussion and critical thinking.

What is your view of how people interact and learn in the e-learning space?

In my view, the e-learning space is evolving as technology redefines how teachers and students communicate and collaborate with each other and among themselves. It's an exciting time because technology is being used in new ways to supplement traditional classroom activities and enhance the overall learning experience.

People learn best when they are actively involved in the learning process. E-learning technology has unlocked new possibilities for teachers eager to engage students with a collaborative learning approach. For instance, it is quite easy for a teacher to incorporate CreateDebate into an existing lesson plan to drive discussion and constructive reasoning through participation and collaboration.

Please give an example of a discussion that leads to a learning encounter. How do you open people's minds rather than simply reinforcing bias or rigidity?

On the topic of American Imperialism, one history teacher uses CreateDebate to enliven the instructional component by supplementing his lecture with an interactive debate. The lesson plan begins with a central question: With regard to the exploration and establishment of the United States, do the pros outweigh the cons?

As the lesson plan unfolds, students are given the opportunity to write arguments supporting the either pro or con positions. The students are also encouraged to vote for or against the arguments written by their peers. As a result, the most convincing arguments are voted to the top of each position. The net effect is a competition where students are striving to craft well-written, logical arguments.

Each time the students are given an opportunity to write new arguments and vote for the most convincing, the teacher leads a discussion in class to review the most popular arguments. As the lesson plan progresses, the students are encouraged to incorporate new ideas into their arguments and reminded that they can change their votes. By the end of the instructional component, the debate reads like a lesson plan summary.

This teacher has harnessed e-learning by providing a forum for his students to learn through competitive collaboration. As the interactive debate has been threaded throughout the lesson plan, the views of his students have been shaped through instruction and peer-collaboration. All of his students have become active participants in the learning process.

What do you see as the connection between creativity and debate?

Creativity is a mental and social process through which new ideas and concepts are generated. Debate is a method of interaction between people where ideas and concepts are analyzed, argued and judged. Creativity and debate are two dots connected by ideas and concepts.

What is CreateDebate? How does it work? What are the underlying learning theories that support its application in the elearning space?

CreateDebate in the Classroom enables teachers to customize and build an online debate community that can be easily incorporated into almost any lesson plan. Typically, teachers will create debates around questions that will build on the current course of study. The goal is to engage students and enrich the classroom conversation through peer collaboration. Debates can be conducted in the classroom “real-time” (if computers with Internet access are available) or participation can be assigned as homework and reviewed in class.

CreateDebate is built on Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which states that when students are able to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate subjects they are learning at a much higher level than rote memorization of facts. CreateDebate is also based on James Surowiecki's theory of Collective Wisdom, which argues that the aggregation of information in groups leads to better conclusions and decisions. By engaging in collaborative debate, students are able to exchange ideas and theories that eventually lead to better conclusions than simply calling on the student that raises their hand.

Do you have any future plans? How are you planning to leverage new technologies?

We plan on expanding the CreateDebate platform to make it even more valuable and useful for both students and teachers. We are creating lesson plans that teachers can leverage to encourage debate and discussion in their classroom depending on the grade level of their students as well as the topic of study.

We also plan on enhancing our social networking features to allow teachers to collaborate on what works best in their classrooms and share ideas for how to most effectively leverage debate in their curricula. Additionally, we plan on creating functionality to allow classrooms from around the world that have the same learning objectives debate each other by using the CreateDebate platform. We are actively working with teachers to create new features that make CreateDebate even more valuable for use in the classroom.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Interview with Christopher Cummings,, Innovators in E-Learning Series

Learning Spanish online, in virtual worlds or via distributed instruction (virtual tutors, etc.), continues to expand as people find interacting in real time via avatar or chat to be stimulating, engaging, and effective. Have the reference materials kept up? Have virtual dictionaries expanded their instructional strategies? It is a tough question and one we pose to Christopher Cummings, CEO of Curiosity Media, which operates

What is your name and your connection with e-learning?
My name is Christopher Cummings and I am the CEO of Curiosity Media. Curiosity Media operates the world's largest Spanish learning website, SpanishDict. The site reaches over 3,000,000 people each month and provides free, high quality Spanish reference and learning material.

What is your philosophy of e-learning in relationship to language acquisition?
The number one most important challenge to overcome when learning a new language is persistence. Language learning requires practice and a sustained commitment. Our philosophy is to develop tools make it easy for people to stay committed by keeping them engaged. features interactive videos taught by a real Spanish teacher. We supplement each video with multimedia flashcards, games, and writing and speaking activities. These videos and features are then packaged into courses that guide people step-by-step--from beginner to advanced levels--to learning Spanish. All of this is made available for free on our website.

Please describe your new product and how it works. What makes it different or special?
The new version of the website makes it even easier to learn Spanish. We now offer 90 profressional video lessons, hundreds multimedia flashcard sets, and two commercial dictionaries. We also offer an exciting new "Answers" section where people can ask and answer questions. The best answers are voted to the top, creating an extensive database of common and not so common questions and answers.

Here's a tough question: Does the world need another dictionary? How does yours encourage collaboration, interaction, and social networking / learning community development?
We started in the site in 1999, back when the world really did need another dictionary--one that was online, easily searchable, and had audio pronunciations of the words. That formula is what launched the site on its pathway to popularity. Since then we have led a number of innovations on the world of online dictionaries: we use one simple search box for both English and Spanish words, recognize what language you've entered, and bring you to the right translation immediately. We auto suggest words in English and Spanish as you type. We have audio prononuciations for every word. And perhaps most importantly, we licensed some of the best dictionaries available, so that our search results give not only the translations, but example sentences, regional variations, and the information you need to actually be able to use the word with confidence.

We have an incredibly active community. In the question and answers section, people are constantly helping one another. The answers section enhances the results from our dictionary: each time you look up a word we also search for relative posts from the answers section for that word. This can often provide help with hard to find translations and tricky usage scenarios. If we don't already have an answer to your question, we make it dead simple to ask a new question. It's really amazing to see that virtually all questions that are asked get good, solid answers from members of the community.

How do you keep Flashcards from being passive?
We try to make the flashcards interactive with the games that we have linked to each flashcard set. People learn words with the flashcards, and they practice what they have learned with the automatically created multiple choice quizzes, listening games, and a memory recall section that is associate with each word list. Users earn points on these games for each correct answers, and they are able to challenge their friends and other members of the site to see who can earn the most points on any given flashcard set. Finally, we also users to create their own flashcards sets and games. We link this to the dictionary so that is really easy to look up a word you don't know and then add it to a flashcard set of words you are learning.

What is Curiosity Media? Do you have plans for future projects?

Curiosity Media is the company behind SpanishDict. Looking ahead, we are constantly adding new features to SpanishDict and trying to reach more people with the resources we have on the site. We will soon be launching a full-featured iPhone app. This will make it even easier for people to lookup words on the go or brush up on their Spanish with our word game and talking phrase book. Stay tuned for the that. We are also going to be reaching out to more Spanish speakers looking to learn English. Our whole site has been translated into Spanish, and we now have video lessons that teach English to Spanish speakers. I think these will be a couple of the future projects to watch out for on SpanishDict.

What is your core learning philosophy?

Approach the world with a curious and open mind and you will be amazed at what you learn.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Interview with Mark Luetzelschwab, BrainHoney: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Dr Mark Luetzelschwab, of, a new learning management system that state standards into the entire teaching and learning process, which, in the past, has been a stumbling block as developers attempt to create K-12 courses for learners in different schools, or as colleges develop Advanced Placement courses for individuals in high schools in located in different states. Brainhoney automatically creates a curriculum map template, populates all of a person's state's standards, gradebook, and mastery chart. It is all web-based.

1. What is your name and your connection to elearning?

My name is Dr. Mark Luetzelschwab, BrainHoney. I have been involved with educational technology for 20+ years in a variety of areas including hands-on microcomputer labs, video analysis, multimedia tutorials, etc. I have focused on eLearning for last 10 years, with an emphasis on practical applications that are available to large audiences. I have also been an executive at a number of elearning startups that have grown to hundreds of thousands of enrollments across the globe. My PhD deals with expert facilitation of asynchronous discussions.

2. Please describe BrainHoney. What makes it unique? What is its structure?

BrainHoney uniquely integrates state standards into the entire teaching and learning process. Teachers track student progress against state standards; this data can be integrated with SISs and other data systems for administrator review. An automatic registration process is followed and then you may drag and drop curriculum mapping to state standards. BrainHoney creates a gradebook from the curriculum map and uses the data and alignment to generate day-by-day reports of student progress against state standards. In effect, the teachers get the same data daily the administrators get annually from state tests - in time to do something about it and provide intelligent intervention.

3. Who will use BrainHoney, and what are the core instructional strategies that it employs? Is it easy to use?

BrainHoney is designed for K-12 teachers. It is so easy and clear, we have even been hugged during demos by a few teachers. The core instructional strategy is that instructional decisions are best made based on available data. BrainHoney makes it practical for teachers to integrate state standards into the day-by-day practice and significantly benefit from that integration by understanding what students know and what concepts need to be revisited before the statewide exams.

BrainHoney can be used in the classroom, online, or both. Teachers can provide supplemental materials online for classroom students, teach online and classroom students simultaneously, and teach completely online.

Teachers who have used online learning systems like Blackboard and Moodle express that BrainHoney "has it figured out" and report savings of upwards of 80% of administrative time (i.e. looking for assignments, grading, responding to discussions)

4. What kinds of collaborative learning strategies does BrainHoney incorporate? Are there elements about BrainHoney that one can't find anywhere else?

While we have some basic asynchronous collaboration tools, we don't dictate the style of instruction. We focus on teachers aligning their activity - whether its a field trip, a collaborative project, or direct instruction - to state standards and providing a tool for measuring and reporting progress.

5. Who is likely to benefit most from BrainHoney's platform?

Ultimately, the students. BrainHoney makes it practical to differentiate instruction, which is one of the most critical aspects of effective instruction. Teachers love that it makes them more efficient, and that it helps them focus on teaching, and NOT on administrivia.

6. Does BrainHoney host the solution?

We host the solution.

BrainHoney's Facebook:

Twitter: @BrainHoneyEd

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Interview with Vikram Savkar, Nature Education: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Vikram Savkar, Nature Education, who has dedicated energy and time to promoting science education that is truly collaborative, and which leverages new technologies and social networking to engage students and to make them comfortable with discovery science. He has led the development and launch of a new product,, which offers online learning, a social network, and a resource base of science.

What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
I’m Vikram Savkar, Senior Vice President & Publishing Director of Nature Education, a division of Nature Publishing Group. We are devoted to creating high quality, broadly accessible science e-learning.

Vikram Savkar

What is Scitable? Who are the users? What is their background (age, etc.)
Scitable, Nature Education’s first product, is a global online classroom for science. It is a combination of journal-quality articles and a social network. Scitable provides a library of free, peer-reviewed learning content to an online community of scientists, teachers, and students. Students not only delve deeply into key topics in science on their own using our content, but also reach out to and connect online with others—teachers, scientists, grad students—for advice, guidance, and insight.

Teachers use Scitable to create private online classroom spaces , combining premium content, discussions, news feeds, and more.

Currently, users come from more than 85 countries and include prominent researchers, teachers, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduate students, high school students, and even a number of non-science-related adults who are interested in learning more about science for personal reasons.

Please provide some examples of Scitable in use. E-Learning? Research?
Faculty in several countries have used Scitable to run their undergraduate classes, using our private classroom spaces and premium content. These classes range from “genetics for non-scientists” to intermediate level genetics classes. Researchers are also using Scitable to create public dialogue around topics of special interest to them. And a pleasant surprise is that a number of parents have come to use the site as a way to learn more about science topics covered in the news (like cloning or evolution), so that they can be in a better position to explain them to their children.

How is Scitable used in social networks? What kinds of social networks do you envision developing around Scitable in the future?
The faculty members who are using Scitable to run their classes form a unique kind of narrowly focused social network within Scitable. They are using the site as a powerful communication tool for their students in order to collaborate and have debates with each other.

Many users from overseas are using the site to build global networks of likeminded people whom they don’t otherwise know. We frequently hear how isolating it can be to be studying science in a country in which there are not very many science students.

In Scitable, these students find a thriving 24/7 global community of people studying the same area. We are planning to do more to capitalize on this potential and envision playing more of a “connector” role by which the site helps people find mentors or study partners from within the site community.

How much does Scitable cost? Are there articles that are free?
Scitable is free, and all of the articles on the site are free as well.

Does Scitable include images, audio podcasts, video podcasts? What kinds of assets do you incorporate?
Scitable contains text, images, podcasts and vodcasts. Please watch for Simply Science, a new online video series that we will launch shortly. It will explain cutting edge research in very simple terms from which any of us can learn. A podcast series on key trends in science education is also in the works. One of our goals is to provide resources that today’s students will enjoy using. Having a range of media assets is a key part of that strategy.

What are your plans for Scitable in the future?
We plan to expand our editorial coverage from genetics— the field in which we’ve created premium content initially—to the other life and physical sciences. Second, we plan to develop a version of Scitable that is accessible by Smartphone. There are numerous places in the world where top quality science resources are greatly needed that don’t have dependable Internet access, but do have strong mobile networks. Third, we’re going to continue to develop features that facilitate networking among our users.

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