Blog or Newsletter, that is the Question

Blog or NewsletterAt my company, we send out a monthly publication designed for all employees that answers a common issue that has been coming into the help desk. Occasionally this is also used to promote some new bit of information or process to encourage people to use a new tool. Currently this is sent out as an email attachment and is then linked to our Intranet. Last week I was talking to a colleague about creating a similar publication for managers at a certain level, not for general consumption and I brought up the question of blog or newsletter…

Maybe you have asked yourself the same question or you have a similar situation in your company. In either case, a blog or newsletter, the information can be delivered, but the question is which will be more effective and offer the best return on investment.

Let’s look at a few factors that can help us determine that:

  • Audience
  • Resources
  • Content

Audience

To determine the best delivery method, one of the things you need to consider is audience.Ask yourself some questions about your audience…or better yet, ask them:

  • How are they currently accessing information?
  • Is the audience computer savvy and they can easily tap into a blog or do they need that piece of paper in front of them?
  • Are they on the go a lot and needing to see information quickly accessed through a smart phone or tablet or are they in their office regularly accessing files?
  • Are they interested in just receiving and digesting information or do they want to interact with it and other employees that are interested in the same topic?

Starting from what is currently a part of the audiences regular routine or type of tools they usually access makes it easier for them to adopt a new tool. It doesn’t have to be they methods they currently use in their work life, but this could be what they do in their personal life as well. If you are going to use something outside of their experience, it is important to identify some advocates; people who will not only adopt the new tool, but those who will promote it to others.

A blog has the potential to be a great learning tool that is rich with content and comments that spark discussion and collective learning, but this is only true if it is read and interacted with.

My company does not currently use blogs and this would be a new tool for us. It would be important for us to understand how many of our intended audience uses blogs on a regular basis and identify some advocates for this method. It is also important for us to understand the level and type of interaction people might want with the information. Our audience would be used to the idea of a newsletter that is delivered to their email and posted on the Intranet. Regardless of the direction we choose, we should talk to our audience and examine the effectiveness of the current tool. Does it in fact reduce help desk calls on the topics presented? Do people click on the link on the Intranet? Is the document being accessed?

 

Resources

In addition to examining the intended audience, it is important to consider the resources available to you. Sometimes resources lend themselves to one solution over another, these include time, talent, and material resources. The table below looks at some of these:

Newsletter
  • Write and publish newsletter and then a break until next cycle begins
  • More formal so time is spent editing to ensure high quality writing
  • Word processor and basic publishing tools are needed
  • Can be delivered physically, electronically or posted where it can be accessed
Blog
  • Single topic posts are written in a concise, informal style
  • Regular moderation of comments needed
  • Blog site includes writing and editing tools
  • Published digitally, link can be shared through email or social media tools, and can be accessed where it is posted

In our situation we have a very targeted audience. We only want a certain level of audience to receive the information. This is easy for us to accomplish through email and we have a sign-in area of our Intranet these employees. If we were to use a blog, it would need to be private and require user log-in. This can be accomplished through many commercial blogging tools or this capability may reside in a Learning Management System (LMS). Since our LMS does not have this capability, we would need to create a private blog.

Content

The intended content can also lend itself better to one medium over another. If the content will include many topics at one time, it may fit better into a newsletter style publication. Newsletters also tend to have a more formal style and for certain contexts this is important. Blogs are best when each post is focused on one topic. This focused style makes blog posts easily searchable and content more easily accessed at a later date, particularly if the post is well categorized and tagged with appropriate keywords.

The nature of blogs is social and the ability for readers to comment offers:

  • Readers can ask and answer questions
  • Readers from across the company can interact and develop connections
  • Readers can link to additional resources

In our situation the content is answers to frequently asked questions and problems. We have been presenting the information statically but since often there is a basic solution but specific circumstances require a slightly different approach, a blog would offer our employees the chance to ask questions about specific applications and situations.

What about for you? Blog or newsletter?

If you are interested in using social media as training tools, I recommend checking out “The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media” by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner

Creating a Leadership Statement

Have you ever considered your leadership style? Do you reflect on it to determine if your beliefs and actions are consistent? Do you need to?

Early last week one of my co-workers asked me to answer some questions about leadership for a class she is taking. Answering the questions she asked gave me a time to reflect of my leadership ideals and style and I found answering these questions to be a good, reflective growth opportunity. Furthermore, it inspired me to dig deeper and I decided that I could gain even more by fleshing out a full leadership statement and seeking feedback on it. I want to share my experience with you and encourage you to examine your own leadership style and develop a leadership statement.

Writing a Leadership Statement

I started the process using one of my answer to my co-worker’s question, which outlines my ideal of leadership:

An effective leader understands the different resources available to him; people, skills, tools, financial resources, and leverage those resources to bring vision into reality. But an effective leader is not an island. He recognizes that visions are best achieved when the leader acknowledges that he does not have all the answers and invites those around him to collaborate, to fully develop and implement the vision.

Identify Core Values

From there I asked myself what my core values were. After careful thought, I came up with the following list:

  • Integrity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Personal Growth

Reflect on these Values

For each of these values, I considered how it impacted my leadership and leadership style, identifying actions where I saw each core value used in my leadership. For instance, as I considered personal growth, I observed my practice of looking at each situation I encounter for something I can learn or grow form.  One such example was discussing eLearning design with a colleague from another company. I was intrigues by their focus on exploratory techniques in the design. It caused me to further research this idea and evaluate my own work, which led to some tweaking of my design approach and templates. This approach of seeking personal growth and encouraging and empowering others to engage in that is central to my leadership style.

Summarize Your leadership Style

Looking at the full scope of my reflections, I wrote about each core value and them summed up with a statement summarizing my overall style:

Each of these core values influences me daily in my choices and behavior and guides me to be a leader that invites others to join me on the journey and focuses on coaching others to continually grow and evolve as we develop and achieve our vision and goals.

Get Feedback

Finally, the last, and one of the most important pieces, is to get feedback. I sent out my statement to people from different areas of my life where I am a leader. I sent it to people who I have led, co-led with, or been under their supervision. I asked them if they felt the statement was accurate and fit what they observed, if there were things they had not see, and if there were core values that seemed to be missing.

If you have not engaged in this kind of reflection, I highly recommend it. I found it was helpful to understand my ideals of leadership, my core values and how they impacted my leadership and then checking my perceptions against those I trust and respect.

 

To see my leadership Statement click here.

Applying Game Design Characteristics to Training

In recent years, the words gamification and gameful learning have been showing up across the industry. This has caused some to chase after turning their learning activities into games, others to make it game-like, and still others to throw up there hands and walk the other way.

Challenge Creates Learning Opportunities

There are a few elements that are key to keep in mind when developing learning. First, people learn when they are presented with a challenge. The challenge brings purpose to their learning and people want to do something purposeful. These challenges are sometimes artificial such as a test, or sometimes real-world, like learning new processes for a new job or a new skill that someone has chosen to pursue.

All kinds of resources and strategies can help learners meet these challenges. The greater the motivation the person has for accepting the challenge, the less the particular learning tools and strategies have. The motivation provides the purposefulness. If the learner has little desire or motivation to learn this new skill then the learning activity needs to provide greater engagement and purposefulness.

Game Design Characteristics that Promote Learning

Games provide many characteristics that promote opportunities for learning. Here are a few that I am focusing on adding to my learning activity design:

  • Scaffolded challenges leading up to a “game goal”
  • Exploratory environment and choice
  • Constant feedback and the freedom to fail without negative consequences

Applying Challenges, Exploration and Feedback

Let me walk you through a few characteristics of a recent eLearning activity I have created. My goal is for my learner to be able to successfully order material a customer needs and deliver it to the customer. This involves several possible strategies available to the employee and these strategies are broken up into different modules but already you can see the framework of a over arching goal with smaller goals leading up to it.

Let’s look at one particular module that guides the learner through allocating that material to a purchase order. Depending on the type of customer, the learner can follow two paths. Each one presents a scenario that is similar to a situation they might face on a day to day basis. initially the module is a demonstration that gives them opportunities to make choices. This lets them explore with out actually doing the tedious work of entering information.

At different points in the scenario, the learner collects information and makes choices. based on these choices, the learner is provided feedback as to whether that is the best choice and when a different choice is better. The learner can make a choice that is wrong for this scenario but before being guided back to the best choice, they learn when the choice they have made works best.

User Path Choice

The learner is also presented with Tell Me More boxes as they complete the main scenario. These boxes let them learn more information about special circumstances if they want to learn more.Tell Me More Box This adds additional content for those who need it while not cluttering up the basic procedure for those who are new to it or only use the basic process. Because the Table of Contents allows the user to easily move to different parts of the module, the user can always explore these at a later time.

Now the learning module does not look like a game. It would be a poor game at best and the point wasn’t to make it look or feel like a game. The key was to incorporate some of the same characteristics that are successful in game design to the eLearning module.

Haw are you using game design characteristics in your training activities?

 

Harnessing the Power of Social Media: Dipping a Toe in the Water

As an instructional designer, there is nothing more that I would like than for learners to digest the information I have for them, interact with it, and take action. And with today’s demands, I need to do it quickly and impact a large population.

In walks the tool of social media. Probably many of us are using it personally, but have you found a way to harness this amazing power to meet your learning goals?

We hear a lot about social media and most of us are engaged in social media as least personally. One of the amazing things about social media is that with the the touch of a few keys, we can share a message with many people at once and get feedback. If I look down my Facebook feed, I can see:

  • A news articles that is racing across news feeds with hundreds of likes, comments, and shares.
  • A friend who posted looking for people to join him on a day trip tomorrow with six likes and as many comments, looks like he will have a couple of carloads.
  • An announcement about the death of a friend’s grandmother, that has gotten seventeen like and many comments of condolences as friends from all parts of her life rally around her.

And we are drawn to follow all this information so that we are “in the loop” with friends and acquaintances and “in the know” about what is happening locally and globally. We read, we interact, and we take action.

The power is there, it is available, the key is to work for us, and for many, the task seems too daunting.

Here a few quick tips to help you start thinking about how you can take tools that already exist and use them to support training initiatives.

  1. Understand what the people in your organization are already using. If you reach out to them in a forum they are already comfortable with, they are more likely to participate and respond. For instance, if your learners already use Twitter, connect with them there. A few hours before your upcoming webinar, tweet a question or idea that will start them thinking about the topic and making connections to what it will do to help them. If your employees are in LinkedIn, consider starting a private group for company employees where ideas can be shared and commented on. In my company, starting a discussion of ways to sell aged stock before the annual inventory is a great way for employees to share ideas across the company and make existing ideas even more effective.
  2. Start small. Pick one tool and start with one focus. Initially you will probably need to be more involved in moderating interactions, but as you find adopters and advocates, some of this will start to happen organically. As one tool/use builds effectiveness, explore when and what to incorporate next.
  3. Start internally before you try something with an external reach. There are two good reasons to do this. The first is that you want to get the kinks worked out before you open things up to external audiences. The other is that stakeholders are often worried about what information will get out or about negative backlash. By doing it internally, stakeholders develop a better understanding of how it will go and be more comfortable with using social media externally.
  4. Set up and communicate guidelines. People need to know what is not acceptable to share and what is helpful vs hurtful interaction. Be sure that people have guidelines so it doesn’t go in ways that are unwelcome, but not so restrictive that people don’t want to use it

Are you already using social media to further your training initiatives? I would love to hear about it.