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Monday, June 15, 2009

Interview with Robert Penn, Interview with E-Learning Innovators Series

New authoring tools can make creating flash components for customized applications, or shareable repositories of learning objects much easier to do. In this way, some of the early promise of learning objects and LO repositories can be realized, and the high expense plus time lags can be reduced. Welcome to an interview with Robert Penn of Suddenly Smart, an innovator in the area of flash-based learning module authoring tools.

What is your name and your involvement in e-learning / training?

My name is Robert Penn and I’m the CEO of Suddenly Smart, a provider of e-learning authoring software and services. I had my first exposure to training and professional development when I worked for Accenture where I taught workshops on emerging information technologies. I’ve always been interested in how people learn and how we can use training to make a lasting impact on skills and behavior. After a number of years in consulting, I co-founded a company in 1999, Pacific Light Technologies, which developed interactive e-learning.

In the process of developing these courses, we ran into difficulty trying to rapidly develop effective content and were forced to develop some of our own authoring technology. Realizing that many others were facing similar challenges, we changed tack and created Suddenly Smart in 2000 to develop and market our SmartBuilder authoring system.

Please describe

Suddenly Smart’s primary focus is our award-winning e-learning authoring tool called SmartBuilder. SmartBuilder is used to create self-paced e-learning. You can think of it as a sort of "Flash for dummies". In other words, it provides the power and flexibility needed for creating rich, interactive learning experiences, but you don’t have to be a programmer or to use it. The learning curve is about 2-4 days versus many months for Flash. The goal is to empower trainers and instructional designers to actually develop their own content rather than having to hand off designs to programmers for development.

Intrinsic Feedback

How is's vision of flash authoring different than, say, those that focus on animation? Is your product web-based, or does one download it to a computer? Where can one save the flash files once they're created?

Flash does a great job of creating animations for things like a talking character, or a simulation of moving parts in a machine. SmartBuilder is different because its focus is on creating meaningful interactivity, interactivity that leads to behavioral changes in learners. For example, you could use it to create a case-based e-learning exercise, a branching scenario, or a real world task that the learner might face. Zooms, fades, spins and slides can be created in SmartBuilder, and richer animations can be created in Flash and embedded in SmartBuilder lessons.

Assessment / Interactive Quiz

SmartBuilder is a web-based product, which enables it to provide a number of collaboration and content management features. It generates Flash courses that are downloaded from SmartBuilder and run independently of the tool. The courses can be delivered from a website, an LMS, a CD-ROM, or whatever delivery platform is required.

Please describe two different ways that has been used in course design.

Our clients are always turning out great courses designs, so it’s hard to pick just two, but if I must… Hennepin County used SmartBuilder to create a wonderful module on how to work with interpreters. They included branching feedback to make the scenarios more authentic, and even included a fun mood-o-meter for intrinsic feedback.

The Nature Conservancy used SmartBuilder to create a business planning course. They included a robust assessment whereby learners are directed back to specific topics in the module for remediation if they answer a question incorrectly. They also used SmartBuilder’s translation features to repurpose the course for Spanish speakers.

How does SmartBuilder make meaningful interaction possible?

For skill building, the most important element of learning interactivity is contextual relevance. In other words, if you needed to train employees on how to use the ports of their laptop, you’ll have much greater motivation, recall and transfer if the exercise throws them into a situation where they need to set up their laptop for an important presentation in the board room, than if you provide them with, say, a who wants to be a millionaire game.

To help create these experiences, you can’t rely entirely on templates since each learning situation is, to some degree, unique. So, in addition to providing templates, SmartBuilder also provides a free-form layout of objects such as text, graphics, and buttons.

Action Logic

Another key element of meaningful interactivity is to provide individualized, intrinsic feedback. As the learner makes choices, they should see the impact of those choices on real world indicators that they care about, such as seeing what a customer is thinking as you speak with them, or seeing a clock run down if you make poor choices in a time sensitive scenario.

SmartBuilder provides point-and-click menus for setting up this type of logic so that authors don’t need to learn any kind of scripting language.

Have you thought about using's authoring tools in building assessments?

Yes, you can use SmartBuilder to create multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and other traditional assessments, but you can also go beyond these formats, when needed. For example, you could decide exactly when a question should be asked, such as when a video is completed; you could ask different follow-up questions depending on whether an initial question is answered correctly or not; you could store results to be displayed in a certificate, and so on.

How might the flash authoring tool be used to develop an assessment that would work with a skills or knowledge competency matrix?

That’s a great question. Did you ever notice that you can pass a lot of quizzes without reading the material? Or, did you notice that many people can pass quizzes and yet not do anything differently on the job? Unfortunately, passing a quiz really just indicates that a learner has successfully stored some fact or data in short term memory. An isolated fact or piece of knowledge does not indicate skill competency.

Scenario-based E-Learning

A more accurate indicator of competency would be to provide a series of learning by doing exercises and then track successful completion of the exercises. Let’s say you wanted to assess interviewing competency. You could create an exercise where you have to actually interview a simulated job applicant. You could include decision points to test competency with supporting skills and knowledge needed for the terminal skills. This might include avoiding asking illegal questions, noticing body language, taking good notes and so on. This approach would kill two birds with one stone: first, learners would actually improve their skills as they make mistakes and repeat the exercises, and, you’d have a much more accurate indicator of competency upon completion than you would have by presenting a traditional multiple-choice style assessment.

Do you have any plans for new applications?

Yes, we’re working on a new version of SmartBuilder that will be even easier to use, yet more powerful. If any of your readers are interested in providing feedback on this or joining our beta program, we’d love to hear from them. Please email to request information on this.

How do you envision developing human capacity in the future?

Our ultimate vision is to achieve what they did in the move The Matrix where the character Trinity learns how to fly a helicopter in about 10 seconds – that’s Suddenly Smart!…but we still have a little way to go before we get there!

Skip the video ahead to 1:20 à

Friday, June 05, 2009

Interview with Angie McQuaig, Knowledge Delivery Systems: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Finding effective ways to engage teachers and help them take advantage of new technologies, instructional strategies, and content is not easy. The conditions under which teachers are having to work are constantly in flux, and the assessments that teachers must prepare their students to take are often high-stakes, high-pressure. Dr. Angie McQuaig, Chief Academic Officer at Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS) shares her insights into how teachers can meet the challenges. She also provides insight into how and why teachers may rely on a repository of online courses.

What is your name, and your affiliation?

Dr. Angie McQuaig, Chief Academic Officer at Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS)

What is your background in e-learning?

I’ve been an educator since 1989 with teaching and coaching experience ranging from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade in Florida, Georgia, Washington DC, Japan, and England. I also served as a professional development presenter, curriculum designer, and school administrator at both the middle and elementary school levels.

I have written and spoken on instructional leadership, trait-based writing instruction, character education, cooperative learning, and conflict theory. I also teach university courses in leadership theory, strategic management, leadership ethics, research methodology, statistics, and business communications.

I have a B.S. in Elementary and Early Childhood Education, an M.A.Ed. in Administration and Supervision, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. I work directly with the KDS team to provide dynamic professional development courses for educators nationwide.

What is KDS? Why does it exist? What is its mission and vision?

KDS is a leading provider of professional learning courses for teachers. We are unique because our well-known experts deliver the courses in a web- and video-based format on a platform that includes several interactive features, helping teachers improve their classroom practice. We benefit teachers by providing them with approved courses, which earn them salary increases, recertification and graduate credit with a number of universities, and even full master's degrees. Our mission is to provide dynamic professional learning experiences that help educators reach personal career goals and promote student success.

What are the core values of KDS? What are the instructional philosophies that KDS values?

KDS is committed to broadening access to high-quality professional development so that teachers across the nation can be their very best professionally and positively impact the world of education.

What kind of instructional strategies that KDS employs? What makes them unique?

KDS employs an award-winning and dynamic learning platform to deliver relevant, high-interest courses that improve instruction. We do this by capturing some of the nation's best educational experts on video, and we pair their presentations with a number of useful resources that help teachers implement innovative and effective strategies in their classrooms. Video presentations include research-based foundational theories, classroom demonstrations, interviews, panel discussions, and workshops that focus heavily on strategies and useful teaching tips.

How are the courses interactive? What kinds of innovative approaches are being implemented?

Each of KDS's courses includes a discussion forum where teachers can share their thoughts, questions, lesson plans, and ideas related to a wide variety of teaching strategies and approaches. Courses also include syllabi, navigable video presentations, searchable and printable transcripts, and downloadable resources that teachers can use right away. Instructional leaders use KDS courses to take a fresh approach to the facilitation of professional learning communities.

Are instructional designers used throughout the process of design, course evaluation, and process improvement?

KDS employs a team of experienced curriculum developers that collaborate with education experts in the design of each course. The team ensures that courses are relevant, high-interest, easy to navigate, and immediately applicable to the classroom. The team's chief priorities include quality control, innovation, and responsiveness to teachers' feedback.

What changes have you made over the last few months or years to improve your products and provide a meaningful learning experience?

KDS continually surveys the education landscape in order to develop the most relevant courses that lead to instructional improvement and student achievement. For example, we have recently launched courses in educational technology, English language learning, grouping models, response to intervention (RTI), differentiated instruction, assessment, and middle school strategies. KDS has expanded its video presentation formats to include more classroom footage with exemplar teachers, interviews with experts in the field, and panel discussions that feature practitioners exploring solutions to common classroom challenges

What are your future plans?

KDS endeavors to lead the industry in providing the most effective and gratifying professional development courses for teachers in the nation. Our goal is to help teachers maximize their potential in the service of students.

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