Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Identifying your project risks

My intention here is not to list every project risk you might face but to at least get you thinking. Every project is different, therefore not all of your risk will be the same, however there are also some generic risks.

One that quickly comes to mind is the implementation of new Training Packages. As you consider the qualifications and units of competence you will develop you should also spend some time identifying what is out there, its usefulness and currency. If you are looking at the TAA for example you need to explore TED 10 as some of the units you are used to will soon disappear or be merged with others.

Changes in staff are common throughout the life of a project. This too needs to be identified and stategies considered to counteract any potential negative affect this could have on your project.

Projects not achieving their outcomes due to poor planning and unrealistic expectations is another common risk. The key here is to develop some timelines (gantt charts, workbreakdown structures, network diagrams etc) to see how long your project will really take. If it will go beyond the current funding period (30 November) you will need to scale it back a little to make sure you are planning a successful project.

Technology issues also cause delays. Make sure you talk to your I/T people, get them on board and consider any limitations of your platform, hardware, software. Plan strategies in consultation with your I/T people to reduce or eliminate the risk.

Budget problems can also cause concerns for project teams. Carefully evaluating project costs and possible expenses at the beginning of the program is one way of managing this. Your project manager will also need to carefully manage your budget throughout the life of your project.

Lack of Management Buy-in can completely ruin a project. This is one of the reasons why you are required to get CEO and Business Partner sign off. Before you finalise your project application make sure they understand their commitment, the project outcomes (in terms of benefits to the organisation) and the roles they are expected to play.

The technical ability of your team can also cause problems if not assessed correctly. Appropriate strategies to help you may include staff undertaking skills audits at the beginning of the project to identify skill gaps and plan for any possible training required.

Projects not tracking correct are another likely possibility. Someone needs to take responsibility for monitoring project progress on a regular basis and informing team members of timelines, responsibilities etc.

Another interesting area is managing and interpreting stakeholder expectations. Careful planning and a strong communication strategy is the key to success. I came across a software project checklist that might give you some ideas of other project risks to consider as you work on your project application http://www.softwareprojects.org/project_riskmanagement_starting62.htm.

As you can see the list is starting to grow and we have only considered generic risks. Project risks are a very important part of the project lifecycle so spend a little bit of time on this section to ensure your project is a success.

Working on your budget

Okay so this is the hard part and probably an area that could do with some improvement to get your project application across the line.

Let's explore some common budget areas. We will start by consider project roles.

You will of course need a project manager. Someone has to drive your project, monitor your project and evaluate it. As you think about how much to allocate to your project manager consider the types of duties they will carry out.

Your project manager will (this is only an idea not an entire list):

* understand the big picture
* control and monitor the budget
* liaise with key stakeholders and keep them informed of project progress
* document, monitor and assess project issues
* understand risk management (we will talk more about this in a future post) and identify, reduce and eliminate various project risks depending on the nature of the risk
* development, implement and monitor project milestones
* have an understanding of instructional design

With all the duties above in mind, how much time each week will your project manager need to devote to your project, what is their hourly rate? Will this amount go in the funding column or the in-kind column for the organisation?

You are likely to require the expertise of content experts. What will their role be and how much time should they devote to the project? As with the project manager you will need to make a decision which column the funds will apply against.

Will you require an instruction designer or do your staff on the project already have this expertise? If not, you may need to include this in your project budget.

Other roles on your project might include a web developer, audio/video producer, graphic designer and quality reviewer. You may also require the assistance of administrative support staff.

Your project may require some trials and evaluations. Who will do this and how will you cover the expenses?

Will your course be distributed online or on CD? Are any of these expenses legitimate expenses (refer to the NSW funding guidelines for clarification on what can and can't be included in your budget)? Can you request funding or claim these costs as in-kind or RTO payments.

How will you support your learners? Are there any costs associated with this support and should this be included in your budget?

Will you use workplace coaches and mentors. Their time can be estimated and costed and included in your budget. If they are fulltime employees and their salaries are already covered you might like to consider including this in your in-kind contribution column (remember that you must match the funding amount $ for $).

How much is your organisation willing to contribute to the project (in terms of dollars and in-kind)? This too can be included in your budget.

How many team meetings will you need to hold and where will these meetings be held? If you are using a meeting room within your own organisation you can cost in the hire costs for such a room and include this in your in-kind contribution.

What other costs will you need to cover? Consider attendance at induction in Sydney, conference fees for e-learning 2010, travel etc.

By now you should have started to formulate a reasonable budget. Remember funding cannot be used to purchase infrastrure, hardware or software. It can't be used to run a conference or other one off events and the focus of your project cannot be professional development for your own staff.

If you find your project is running on a tight budget you could visit http://creativecommunity.flexiblelearning.net.au/ for some useful tips and tricks.

Work closely with others as you develop your strategy

Your e-learning strategy will involve several departments in your organisation. It is essential to make sure you are in constant communication with them, that their needs have been discussed and considered and that they understand the role they will play in your project.

Prepare a project plan and include a realistic budget. If your application for innovations funding is successful you will be required to develop a full project plan. Don't let this frighten you too much you will have access to plenty of support to assist you to do this. In the meantime you must consider some simple project planning techniques to ensure that your project application is realistic.

Carefully consider the resources you will need including human aspects and equipment. Do you have access to these resources? Will you need to purchase them (remember your project application will not allow you to purchase infrastructure, hardware or software [including subscriptions to online spaces such as wikis]). Having said this, you can hire equipment or if you organisation has the equipment calculate the possible hire fee and include this in your in-kind contribution).

If you are unsure about the hardware and software you will need discuss it with your I/T department. They can easily inform you of the type of software and hardware available and the platforms they can support. The important thing is to do your homework before you start and then you won't have any nasty surprises later in the project.

Gather your team together and really consider what your online environment will look like. Will you use a learning management system (such as Moodle) or will you employ a team of programmers to create your own? As you research this consider the equipment your learners will have access to. What browsers will they use, what plug-ins will they require and how easy can they obtain and install these plug-ins. Sometimes I find it helpful to include this in my student induction and issue all students with a CD that includes all plug-ins they are likely to need and some step-by-step instruction sheets to install these (if you are developing instructional how-to guides these can also be counted as a project deliverable and given back to the Framework for others to use).

Another really important consideration is where your e-learning program will be hosted and what the limitations are, including access limitations. I once taught an online program and the web-designer decided that the platform would be updated over the Christmas vacation. This web-designer didn't realise that courses run 24/7 and that this decision would impact an existing student group. The plan was to maintenance over a period of six weeks while everyone is on holidays. Communication and planning can easily identify potential issues and put into place appropriate strategies to overcome these hurdles.

Continue to consider how your e-learning course will look. Will you use a common style (by this I mean fonts, heading structures, page layouts)?

If you are just starting out on your journey this might be a good time to have a look at http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/content/plan-e-learning for tips on planning e-learning.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

So what e-tools will you use in your e-learning strategy

Of course this is the fun part. If you are like me you love the challenge that technology brings to the table.

This is the really cool part of designing a course that includes e-learning.... but don't get too carried away.

My main message is making sure that your strategy will aid, improve and assist learners to learn, but having said that they should also have some fun.

This post could go on and on, but I won't I will leave room for you.

As we are talking about considering a strategy for a project application we must consider the following points:

Start by identifying the e-learning tools you will evaluate and make a short list of those you will trial and implement (if applicable) during the project lifecycle.

If you are unsure you should first start by considering:

* What technologies do your learners have access to?
* What technologies do your staff feel confident to use in the learning environment
* Was your past strategy successful or do you need to introduce other technologies to better meet the need of your clients?

Someone asked me a question the other day that I think should be included in this blog. The question was 'My learners come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they do not have computers at home and even if they did the internet connection (assuming they have one) is very unreliable. How can I use e-learning in my programs?'.

This is an excellent question and my answer is 'consider the technology your learners have access to'. As the discussion progressed I discovered this group of learners all had access to mobile phones and many had iphones and mp3 players. My suggestion is to consider the activities that are useful to their learning program and where appropriate develop audio and video files that could be downloaded or bluetoothed to their phones and mp3 players for later viewing. You could even get them to listen or watch these applications and then contribute to discussions or discussion forums when they next attend class. Applications such as the ones mentioned above are also useful if you are demonstrating skill and the learner would benefit from watching this demonstration as many times as they need.

SMS is a standard feature that many learners would be very familiar with. How could you use this feature in your learning environment? Just to start this discussion you could use it to post course announcements, you could use to prompt discussions and promote collaboration. There are so many ways it could be used, we just need a little imagination. If you have some ideas you would like to share, make a comment and let's get this discussion happening.

A 2009 project team developed an application for timber grading that could be either downloaded from a website or blue toothed to a phone to assist learners as they worked and graded timer. Checkout http://nswinnovations.wikispaces.com/09-44 for more information on this 2009 Framework project and for a link to their website.

e-learning the focus is learning not the e

Your e-learning strategy should highlight appropriate strategies for learning. We sometimes get carried away and focus on the e-tools rather than appropriate strategies to facilitate learning in an electronic environment.

As you start to consider just what some of these strategies might be, consider if you need to capture formal and informal learning. Is there a difference in the way you capture formal and informal learning?

Examples of Formal & Informal Learning include (but are not limited to):

* Attending workshops
* Training programs
* Accredited courses

* Networking
* Information in manuals and instruction guides
* Mentoring & coaching

I am currently discussing this with a variety of educators and some have said that they simply request the learner to create a blog and journal informal learning. My question to you is "Is asking learners to contribute to wikis and discussions forums or other forms of social media an appropriate strategy to capture informal learning?"

I would love to hear your views so please feel free to contribute to these discussions.

E-Portfolios and activities within Learning Management Systems (LMS) are an exciting way to capture formal learning.

E-Portfolios can capture text, graphics, audio and video as a way of providing evidence. Therefore it seems they would also be very useful in capturing evidence of informal learning too. Blogs are great tools for reflection and I don't want to take away from their usefulness, however an e-portfolio has features that a blog doesn't. I encourage you if you are not experienced to do some research and form you own opinions. Why post your comments and questions here for others to learn from?

The difference between an e-portfolio and a learning management system is the control the author (that's you) has over the content and organisation of e-portfolio; whereas the teacher or developer has more control over the LMS (consider course content, activities, assignments etc).

Some useful resources to assist you with e-portfolios can be found at:


http://mahara.org/ (you will find a useful demo and if you are a moodle user, this provides an alternative to the e-portfolio plugin provided in moodle)

Moodle's Exabis e-portfolio block http://moodle.org/mod/data/view.php?d=13&rid=1142

As we are discussing learning and appropriate teaching strategies it is useful to start thinking about how you will develop your course. Is it okay to take your existing face to face teaching resources and strategies and simply put them up online? I don't mean to ruffle your feathers, but to me this is may not demonstrate e-learning at its best.

Sure you can upload text and pictures etc but how engaging is it for the learner.

I have been involved in e-learning for a long time now and I love the challenge of improving my teaching and making my resources more engaging. There are so many great strategies you can use to improve learning and improve the retention of online learners.

The Framework has a really useful resource to assist you to explore some new strategies and technologies http://designing.flexiblelearning.net.au/gallery/all.htm. I hope you find it useful too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Important topics to consider when developing an e-learning strategy to support your funding application

Continuing on from my last two posts we will start to draw on some important criteria you must consider when you are developing your e-learning strategy to support your funding application.

We will start with the technical ability of your organisation to provide the required e-learning strategies.

Is your organisation ready to implement e-learning?

The answer to this question is critical to the success of your application of more importantly the success of your project.

What technical ability does your organisation have. Do you have the right mix of skills in your organisation to assist you to move forward and successfully implement e-learning? If you don't have the right mix of skills how can you get it and do you have the money to pay someone who has these skills?

Do you have the skills in house or will you need to outsource? We touched on this in the earlier question. You also need to consider if you will develop your own content, create your own interactive activities, audio files, video (you may not need expertise in all of these areas it will depend largely on what is you are planning to do) etc. Will you purchase existing content and upload it into your own learning management system (LMS)?

Where will your learning content come from (developed by staff, incorportate LORN, Toolboxes and pre-purchased courseware)?

Make sure you familiarise yourself with the free resources available from http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/.

There are a large number of resources available and you can also get assistance from Framework staff. If you are considering using toolboxes or customsing components of toolboxes or LORN then it would be a good idea to contact the NSW Toolbox Champion http://toolboxes.flexiblelearning.net.au/champions/nsw/index.htm#calendar

Once you know what you are going to do, make sure you understand your learners, their preferred learning styles, their skills and how you plan to support them on their e-learning journey. For example, what skills do they have, what training they will need, will they require help desk support and how will you make this happen? These are only just some of the questions to start emploring.

My next post will consider appropriate learning strategies. For now I will leave this post where it is but can I encourage you to comment and share your experience with others.

Continuing the development of your elearning strategy

In my last post I left you with an outline of how you could consider and analyse where you are on your e-learning journey.

We will continue your journey now that you are ready to outline the business problem (the reason for the strategy)and how you plan to solve it.

Which your focus now to:

What is the problem?
Do you need to update your current e-learning strategy?
How do you plan to solve it?

Similar to my last post, this post is aimed at those considering a strategy that is linked to a possible project application and not a whole of organisation approach (having said that it should align to your organisations e-learning strategy).

We will start by considering:

What are the main objectives of your project? This helps you prove why your project should exist in the first place. You need to know the answer to this question, otherwise you might find it hard to get management buy in. As you monitor your project throughout its lifecycle you can keep coming back to the objectives and the question - do we still have a problem, should this project continue to exist?

How will you know that your project will be a success?

Teachers are used to writing performance criteria and learning outcomes. The same rules apply here. Prepare a list of statements to identify the success of your project. Remember to use action words and make them measurable.

Eg: At the completion of the project the project team will have developed two units of compentence from XXXX that will include opportunities for self assessment and build on past experience.

Success criteria will help you to assess the need for the project and if necessary prove to management that the project should continue. It can also be used as a benchmark during evaluation processes.

Your strategy should draw on common project management tools, such as:
* Stakeholder identification & management
* Human resources matrixes
* The skills of your team and training required
* Audience (or learner) profiles
* Risk analysis
* Task schedules and Gantt charts

If you would like some help with project management visit my project management tips wiki at http://nswinnovations.wikispaces.com/Project_Management_Tips

In my next post I will move on to a discussion on the technical ability of your organisation and the support your strategy must offer to the project team and your learners.

Feel free to add your own comments and expertise to this post.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Before you start applying for funding, consider your e-learning strategy

I have decided to do some posts on developing an e-learning strategy for a small course or project to assist you with your questions.

The first question I am normally asked is 'what does an e-learning strategy look like'? When you search the net there doesn't seem to be much information out there or even examples. The information you find is targeted at the whole organisation and not useful to a teaching section or small registered training organisation (RTO).

To begin I think you need to understand why you need an e-learning strategy.

To make the information useful I will align my thoughts to an e-learning strategy that is being developed or revisited as you prepare to apply for Grant Funding.

Every project application should be supported by an e-learning strategy as it:
a) Helps you determine where you are on the e-learning journey
b) Facilitates the development of short, long, medium term goals
c) Identifies what you have and what you need
d) Provides a benchmark for evaluation

Before you start developing or critiquing your strategy you might find it useful to identify any national standards or global standards.

If you are in Australia, a useful site to assist you is http://e-standards.flexiblelearning.net.au/

Next you should determine where you are on your e-learning journey.

If you haven’t implemented e-learning in your organisation in the past your strategy should begin by assessing your organisations readiness for e-learning


If you haven’t implemented e-learning in your organisation in the past your strategy should begin by assessing your organisations readiness for e-learning

* Identify skills of staff
* Training required
* Courses that are suitable for e-learning
* The costs involved and where the funds will come from
* How you will promote your courses?
* Hardware/software available to
* I/T support available to you and your learners (it is critical you also consider the support required by the learners - this is sometimes overlooked)

If you have implemented e-learning into your teaching section or organisation it might be a good time to review your strategy in terms of success and areas for improvement. Consider:

* Past implementation of e-learning
* How did the organisation benefit?
* Skills of educators (were they appropriate, how can your staff get the right mix of skills?)
* Skills and responses of students (did they have the right skills, did they undergo an induction process, what can be done to assist your students acquire the right skills?)
* Courses on offer in an e-learning format
* What were the barriers to e-learning in past strategies and how can they be overcome?
* Did you have access to appropriate software/hardware?

Your strategy should consider your journey, successes and failures and make recommendations for change (if appropriate) based on research, past experiences and/or as a solution to a current business problem.

Once you have identified where you are on the journey you can begin to outline the business problem (the reason for the strategy). This will be covered in my next post.

A useful site to assist industry engage with e-learning is http://industry.flexiblelearning.net.au/. I hope you find it useful.
Please feel free to contribute to this post, talk about your journey, make suggestions and share your experience so others may benefit.