Monday, December 24, 2018

eLearning Materials Development - Testing a Course Preview

Lettering by Alexandra Fillip (on Instagram @alextrieslettering)
In the past 48 hours, I was absorbed in a little project.  I wanted to develop an interactive presentation using PowerPoint.  Instead of a set of slides that would automatically move forward or move forward in a linear fashion with a click of the mouse, I wanted the viewer to explore the slides in a non-linear way by selecting to click on different elements of the slides.

In the end, I switched to Google Slides because it provides an easier way to embed the presentation in the LMS I will be using.  Once the presentation is embedded, any update or change I make in Google Slides is automatically updated in the LMS.   Since I tend to continuously improve content, automatic updates of the files to avoid confusing versions of a presentation is a great feature.  The same is true of the presentation posted below.  It will be updated automatically if I make changes to it in Google Slides after posting this blog.

I also learned a few very useful tricks in just 24 hours of playing around. The resulting course preview (below) is not perfect because there are still a few things that don't work exactly the way I would like them to work, especially with regards to the navigation.  By the time the course is launched I suspect further improvements will have been made.

Knowledge Management in Project Environments - A Course Preview

A few reflections based on this rapid development:

1. Testing before full development 

Once the course concept has been finalized and it's time to develop the content that will actually be delivered, it's a good idea to test a small component.  In this case, I tested an interactive course preview to know exactly what is going to be possible for me to develop on my own with existing tools BEFORE developing full presentations for the entire course.   I could have developed a full set of interactive PowerPoint presentations with various features only to discover that all interactivity would be lost once uploaded to the LMS or that the students would need to download them to view them as I intended.

The test needs to cover the full development cycle, all the way from the development of the slides to their upload to the LMS to know exactly how the students are going to access and view the materials and how they are going to interact with the materials. Always test the student view in the LMS.

2. Adjust existing materials to target audience

While I already have 90% of the content in one form or another, the packaging for delivery purposes is not a matter of cut-and-paste. Each course I teach is very distinct in terms of audience, format and activities. Individual slides or graphics and pieces of text can be re-purposed, but adjustments are always needed. In the case of this course intended for project managers, I want to make sure that examples or explanations for key concepts are specifically relevant to the world of a project manager.

3. Make use of free available tools 

I have been tempted to identify a good eLearning development software and purchase it to ensure I have access to the most professional tools. However, in my situation, teaching on different platforms, it won't help at all.

At UMUC I have to use the UMUC platform, at GMU I have to use Blackboard and I have found that I prefer to partner with institutions that have their own eLearning platform in place rather than be responsible for my own.  It also forces me to learn to use a variety of tools, which is a long-term advantage.  If I had to be completely on my own, I would probably use one tool, like Yammer, and keep it as simple as possible.

In the process of testing how I would upload this little interactive presentation to Blackboard, I also figured out what tools are available on Blackboard for video lectures (Kaltura).  Therefore, for this particular course, I have solved 90% of the technical issues with this testing phase.  I can now focus on developing my content based on what I know of the technical constraints and opportunities.  In fact, identifying the tools available gave me new ideas.

4. Creative work is fun and rewarding, therefore I should plan on doing more of it!  (that's the beauty of being your own boss)

There are things I will do in the evening even if I am tired and on weekends because they engage the brain in ways that energize me.  In that sense, creative work is not "work".  I knew that already 15 years ago when I launched my first course, but the tools available now to everyone allow for the development of much more engaging content and a great deal more creativity.

Fifteen years ago my course was the equivalent of an online textbook with tons of hyperlinks and a separate email discussion board to engage with the participants.  Now, with the tools available, all it takes is a willingness to learn how to use those tools very quickly.   Whatever problem I encountered in this rapid development effort, there was a blog or a YouTube video that helped me find a solution.  This was a straightforward example of learning by doing and rapid problem solving.

5. Wider Application of Lessons (so far)

Everything I learned in the past 48 hours will be applied to improve the other classes I teach. I have already added video lectures to the UMUC class, but looking back they can be further improved with each session I teach. Similarly, the online component of the GMU class (assuming I teach it again next year) will also benefit from improvements.  And now that I think of it, I could also dramatically improve my Skillshare class on Insight Mapping. Let's make it a goal for the second half of 2019.

That was fun!  I have a feeling 2019 is going to be exceptionally fun.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and exceptional New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Knowledge Management for Project Managers - A New Course Coming Soon

Exciting news!  

I have just heard that my proposal for a new course to be offered through the George Mason University Executive & Professional Education program has been approved.

The course is meant to give Project and Program Managers (and those aspiring to these positions), the essential theoretical and practical knowledge needed to better leverage knowledge as a key resources within projects and programs. 

The first session of the course to be offered in the Spring of 2019 will be 100% online through the George Mason University Blackboard eLearning platform.

I am also hoping to develop and deliver face-to-face versions of the course tailored to the needs of specific organizations.

Details, including registration information, dates and a course outline will be posted as soon as everything is confirmed.

To be kept informed of this or future sessions, please drop me an email at

Friday, December 14, 2018

What I have learned (so far) from teaching KM

Teaching is all about knowledge transfer.  Understanding the challenges of knowledge transfer from an organizational learning perspective is very helpful in creating parallels for teaching (and the other side of the coin, learning).  Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning could borrow a little more from learning theories and instructional design.  The Learning and Development (L&D) departments of most organizations could also learn from Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning.

In the fall of 2018, I focused my professional activities on teaching, but since i was teaching Knowledge Management, a lot of merging happened.  That merging of ideas is something akin to Nonaka and Takeuchi's Combination stage of knowledge creation perhaps.  Now I can't help cite some of my classes mandatory readings they're so present in my mind.

I taught two sessions of a Knowledge Management class for undergraduate students completely online and a semester long graduate level class on Knowledge Management Strategy face-to-face in a Friday evening/Saturday all-day format that accommodates working students. The two courses are taught completely differently.  There is some overlap in terms of the content, and the target audiences are very different.

In both courses, I've enjoyed the part that actually involves TEACHING through my interactions with the students.  With the graduate level class I have a lot more control over the methods and content and much more flexibility to adjust anything I need the next time I teach it (assuming I am asked to come back to teach it next year).  With the undergraduate level class, I am adjusting to a rather rigid format and content I have limited control over.

Regardless of the format and challenges presented by each class, I found myself often wondering how much learning was actually going on.  Obviously I was teaching but that's just one side of the equation.  It's like a conversation.  I could be talking while no one is truly listening. 

In both classes, there were disappointments and challenges.  There were things I wasn't fully prepared for, such as the 4.0 student who isn't quite happy with anything other than 100% on every assignment, the general reluctance to read, the overzealous reliance on Google to find answers to everything and the nagging feeling that there is some cheating going on (in the online class).  I was troubled by all of this but I was also inspired and in awe of some of the learning that I witnessed.  There were a few times, both online and face-to-face when I reviewed an assignment and I genuinely thought I could not have done it better if I had tried. 

The online learning environment can be particularly challenging because it requires much more self-discipline on the part of students.  I have seen good students (those who were really good before stepping into my virtual classroom) take advantage of what was being offered and learn a lot.  I have also seen weaker students make strong efforts to take advantage of my advice and support throughout the session and improve tremendously.  Somewhere in the middle, 50% of the class just wants to get to the finish line and will do the minimum required.

The face-to-face environment is challenging in a different way.  The students are working adults.  On Friday evenings, they are not in the best state to absorb four hours of teaching or engage in deep learning.  They want to get through the evening.  When they come on a Saturday they've had another class the night before.  Again, these are not ideal learning conditions.  Most of the work they have to do in-between classes involves a group consulting project which is also quite stressful (if they take it seriously).  Those who take it seriously learn the most, but there is a toll to pay.

While I have learned a great deal this Fall semester in terms of my own teaching and there are lots of little things I can change to improve the classes and their delivery, the most important things I have learned probably relate to my increased understanding of the students themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, motivations, attitudes, and how to react (and not overreact) when things don't go exactly as planned.

I look forward to more teaching and developing new classes.