Saturday, September 20, 2014

Choosing Technologies

The Need

Consider this scenario:

In an effort to improve its poor safety record, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs a series of safety training modules.  These stand-alone modules must illustrate best practices on how to safely operate the many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor.  The modules should involve step-by-step processes and the method of delivery needs to be available to all shifts at the plant.  As well, the shift supervisors want to be sure the employees are engaged and can demonstrate their learning from the modules.

If I were tasked with designing an instructional solution, I would need to investigate the distance learning technologies that would best fit this need.  Before examining specific technologies, it is important to distill the overall requirements to list out the basic requirements, some of which are not explicit in the scenario:  
  • stand-alone modules
  • asynchronous delivery
  • interactive learning
  • engaging
  • assessments that demonstrate learning
  • record keeping

The use of Internet- or intranet-based training would assure that the training activities would be available to any shift at any time and in any location.  The choice of Internet or intranet would depend on whether or not it is desirable to allow employees to access the training outside of the work environment.  The most important technological issues revolve around the creation of interactive content, assessments, and record keeping.  Record keeping is important in this scenario given the company's poor safety record.  To show measurable improvement in the safety record as a result of the training would be beneficial.  

Interactive content should allow learners to practice and self-assess their progress throughout the module.  The use of simulations to create scenarios will demonstrate the learner’s ability to safely navigate the plant floor with heavy machinery as well as demonstrate their ability to react in prescribed manner to specific situations.  Per Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2012) such simulations, while technically complex, are effective methods and depending on the technology used, can allow for retention of performance data for review by supervisors.

The Tools

Articulate Storyline

Articulate Storyline offers the tools necessary to provide engaging and interactive content as well as assessment.  As an example, the Accident Investigation Demo is engaging, not only from an entertainment point of view, but in the way it presents information and highlights important notes or tips.  Section 2 in particular demonstrates the use of interactive practice for self-assessment and learning.  In this section, a correct answer provides an example photograph and a reinforcing comment while an incorrect answer provides a comment as to why the answer was incorrect and then proceeds with a similar response as if correct and continues.   The Broken Co-Worker  provides an interactive scenario where a series of inappropriate responses by the learner will ultimately lead to a screen that offers hints on how to better handle the situations and returns the learner to start of the scenario.  The learner must work through the scenario until the correct responses are made and the main character effectively handles inappropriate behavior in the workplace.  The use of branched-programmed assessment allows for those who possess the knowledge to move forward while those who do not to receive additional instruction (Simonson, et al., 2012). 

Watershed LRS

Watershed LRS is a learning record store (LRS), which is defined at the Watershed website (2014) as something which “collects people’s learning experiences from many different sources and presents them in a meaningful way.”  However, why stop at just the shift supervisors when it comes to assessment data?  Why not take the data and to determine the overall effectiveness of training? While Simonson, et al. (2012) primarily address the use of distance learning in the educational system, it is worthwhile to note their quality control concerns are just as applicable to a corporate setting.   A tool such as Watershed would be able to provide an overall picture of the effectiveness of training activities across an entire corporate setting, not just a single shift.  It could even be configured to compare results between shifts.   For this company, with its poor safety record, the ability to demonstrate an overall improvement could be beneficial.

The Conclusion

What I like the best about these two technologies is that they offer a great deal of flexibility.  Articulate Storyline allows for very professional and engaging learning objects while Watershed LRS provides a way to keep track of diverse training activities.  Creating engaging and interactive learning objects doesn't guarantee that they are meeting the needs of the company, but a tool which can integrate analytics from a variety of learning activities can. 

Links to Demos & Videos


Rustici Software. (2014). Watershed LRS. Retrieved from What is an LRS?:

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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