If you’re a DIY online course creator and haven’t yet tuned in to John Colley’s Online Learning Podcast (free via iTunes), then it might be worth your time to take a look the next chance you get online. John has built a trending podcast by interviewing online course creators and getting them to reveal their workflow, thought process, development techniques and marketing strategies when developing their own courses.
John and I had a great conversation during his show’s Episode 22 where I shared a little background about my “upbringing” in the training profession, and how it is I came to develop my own online courses. You can click the link above to hear the full podcast, or browse the highlights I’ll summarize over the next couple of posts.
Online Learning Podcast Interview Highlights (Part 1): “How did you get started in the training profession and with screencasting?”
John: Mel, a very warm welcome… We’ve already established that we’re both veterans, but perhaps you could tell our listeners a little more about you and what you do.
Mel: Absolutely…. My background is that I started off with the U.S. Navy. That’s probably where I first got intimately involved with training, as a profession.
I was fortunate enough to have a flying career with the Navy. For some of you veterans who might be listening in, I flew in an airplane called a P-3 Orion. It’s an “anti-submarine warfare” (ASW) aircraft. In the UK the equivalent might be what they call a Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. Basically, our mission in the P-3 was to go out and hunt submarines. But, as interesting as all that may be, the main story is how I got involved with training through my early career in U.S. Naval Air.
Safe Environments In Which To Fail
As many of you can imagine, there’s a LOT of training that goes into preparedness for military and commercial aviation professionals. I mean, before you actually step into an airplane they put you in these simulators. And before that there’s classroom based training called “ground school.” And the fascinating thing to me in all this is the progression of training that progresses through these simulators. And the reason these simulator training programs were so fascinating to me is because they represent what I would call “safe environments in which to fail.”
By creating those safe environments, the Navy was able to maximize learning by allowing students to try techniques — even if it would realistically have resulted in catastrophe or death — and still be able to recover from those failures in a way that allowed students the opportunity to live another day, to reflect upon those mistakes, discuss them with instructors and try another way that was more aligned with accepted best practices. And by facilitating that cycle of failure, recovery, discussion and reflection we were really able to evolve skills much more effectively than if we just stuck with book learning and flew in strict accordance with accepted “standards.”
So it was that whole methodology is what got me interested in simulation- or scenario-based training after the military. And one of the organizations I joined that was doing this stuff was a company called Andersen Consulting (AC). They’re now called Accenture. It’s one of the, I guess, “Big 4” management consulting companies who was doing this kind of stuff at the time.
At AC, I joined the Change Management practice. A typical project found me bundled with our technology team as we implemented new technologies at Fortune 500 type organizations. The funny thing about changing technologies: when it changed in any organization, it would typically mean changes to the organization’s processes and how their employees would subsequently do their job… this ultimately meant training.
Challenges In Training People In Enterprise Organizations
But because these organizations we worked for were also multi-nationals, where the workforce was otherwise geographically dispersed, training had unique challenges in that the people that needed to be trained were geographically distributed. If you were going to design a training program that was based on instructor-led classroom training, then you needed to account for a design that would accomodate a nationally (or internationally) distributed learner base.
At that time — the early 90s — we didn’t have the internet. And words like “intranet” were basically typographical errors in peoples’ minds. So there was a challenge of distributing all the training content to people across wide geographies. And that’s why computers (which weren’t yet so ubiquitous back then as they are today) were such a boon when you could get them for both the development phase and for the learners. With CBT, or computer-based training, we could create and distribute training programs to other computers by burning them on to disks and then mailing those disks to regional trainers or training facilitators in each of the geographies.
But even that had a lot of logistical challenges. Not the least of which was to coordinate the distribution of new CDs — and to force their use in each of the training regions — whenever new updates were made to the core training.
And so when the world wide web evolved, then WBT, or web-based training became the buzz word. With WBT (wow!) you could centrally locate the training in much the same way we would publish, say, a video blog today, and let learners access the training through the web. And whenever that content needed to be updated, the updates could be made centrally and have it immediately propagate to everyone who needed access to the training. But even that had its technical and formatting challenges.
Early Bandwidth and Video Production Hurdles
Bandwidth was very much an issue — especially in a world where the majority of learners would still need to use dial-up access. I mean, if you could virtually access a computer via a 56k baud modem (remember those?), you were on the bleeding edge. But, happily, that eventually became less of an issue as time evolved.
And, not to mention, on top of the technical, bandwidth and formatting hurdles, there were also development hurdles. I mean, to produce anything with video back then required an entire team, including actors, camera people, audio people, lighting people, script writers, subject matter experts to review the scripts, and so on. It was a production! Then there was editing. And all the editing used to be done on tape drives and analog devices.
And that’s why, right around… the turn of the century, a company called Techsmith, created software called Camtasia. And that was an eye opener.
It was an eye opener because all the simulation-based training that we used to produce with moderately sizeable teams could now be done by just one person.
And when Camtasia came out–and the proliferation of other screencasting software like it since–we were all of a sudden exposed to a product that allowed us to install software locally and then use the software to record video of our computer screen, then digitally edit that video directly afterwards in the same software.
And since then, of course, it has just gotten more ubiquitous. All of that production efficiency, coupled with the explosion of technology and bandwidth capacity really opened up the ability for us to deliver video — and learners to consume video — over the internet; it was probably in just the last 5 to 7 years, because of the explosion of bandwidth capacity and the ability to digitally create your own online video recordings and editing capability, where video training really exploded. It allowed for individuals and owners of home-based businesses to create their own courses or information content…
Next up: “How did you move from developing projects for corporations to creating your own courses through your own website?”