Archive for March, 2013

Communicating Effectively

For this week’s blog assignment, I am interpreting a message delivered by three different methods of communication: email, voicemail, and face-to-face from the multimedia program, “The Art of Effective Communication” (Laureate Education, n.d.). While the same message is delivered each time, its tone and meaning is noticeably different with each delivery. The image below displays a copy of the message text.
Communicate Effectively

Email

Voicemail

Face-to-Face

In this method of delivery, Jane   sends an email message to Mark, requesting a missing report. I read this message three times before I was able to grasp its meaning. Its tone is informal and vague; and without specific date and time sensitive deadlines. The sentence structure is complicated. The use of abbreviations/acronyms in   written text, such as the one used in this example, ETA, should be discouraged because the project manager may   believe ETA means one thing such as estimated time of arrival, and another person may believe it means something else. When I listened to the voicemail version of the same message, I was immediately impressed by the female voice. Her tone of voice was pleasant, calm, and non-threatening. She effectively   used breathing techniques to pause briefly between sentences and phrases, resulting in a well- articulated message. Despite these enhancements, the content of the message remains informal and vague, and without specific date and time sensitive deadlines. The sentence structure remains complicated. While the   abbreviation ETA is used in this example, for some reason it was less noticeable by me. In the third example, the female shares the same information as in the other two delivery methods, requesting Mark to send her a missing report. She is observed to be leaning over a cubicle wall to talk to Mark, with her non-verbal body language leading Mark to believe the conversation is informal and there is no rush in providing the requested report. While her tone of voice is pleasant, calm, and non-threatening, she enunciates her words in a manner that causes some of the words to be drawn out and having extra emphasis where in a normal conversation this would not happen.

For me personally, I found the second method of delivery, voicemail, best conveyed the true meaning and intent of the message. This exercise demonstrates that the same words can be interpreted in three different ways based on its delivery method and the audience receiving the message. When functioning as a project manager and communicating with the project team, I need to carefully choose the delivery method based on the team members receiving the message. Stated another way, it is “sharing the right messages with the right people in a timely manner” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 357).

Here are a few strategies and tools which can be utilized to communicate more effectively with other people involved in project management activities.

  • Project Dashboards: A project management tool used to provide up-to-date information for a project. For example, a brightly colored stop light with red, yellow and green symbols. Green indicates the project is in good shape; yellow indicates the project requires attention; and red indicates the project is in critical condition (Mind Tools, 2013).
  • Project Milestone Reporting: The project manager can utilize a Project Milestone Report to show team members the tasks which have been completed and the tasks still needing to be done according to the timeline in the project plan (Mind Tools, 2013).
  • Keep Repeating the Message but in a Different Format Each Time: According to Chiu (2012, p. 43), the project manager should keep repeating the same message to compensate for the brain’s 20% information absorption rate. To minimize repetition, Chiu (2012, p. 43) recommends putting it in a different format each time. For example, a safety banner, an agenda item for the project meetings, a certificate for a safety award, provides verbal reminders about working safely, or schedule a free safety lunch.
  • Use Both Active and Passive Methods of Communication: It is recommended, the communication strategy determined during the project planning stage should include both active and passive communication methods (Project Management Communication, 2013). Examples of Active communication include face-to-face meetings, video conference, one-on-one meetings, telephone conference, webinars, and stand up presentations (Project Management Communication, 2013, p. 5). Passive communication methods include these examples: pod cast, web cast, email, Intranet bulletin boards, Blogs, Websites, and a project newsletter (Communication, 2013, p. 6).

References:

Chiu, A. (2012). Ten tips for smart project managers. Chemical Engineering, 119 (1), 40-43. Retrieved from http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=70327788&scope=site

Laureate Education (n. d.). The art of effective communication. Retrieved from http://mym.cdn.laureate-media.com/2dett4d/Walden/EDUC/6145/03/mm/aoc/index.html

Mind Tools (2013, March 21). Project dashboards: quickly communicating project progress. Retrieve from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/new PPM_92.htm

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., & Sutton, M. M., Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Project Management Communication (2013, March 21). Project management communication – perfection eludes us… Retrieved from http://www.successful-project-management.com/project-management-communication.html

Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

Background

Phase 1: In the summer of 2009, I was a member of the project team implementing Microsoft Exchange in our organization. My role on the team was the instructor for the face-to-face classes which were to be conducted in the month prior to going live with the project. The target audience included all current Internet email users, consisting mostly of management staff, educators, administrative and department assistants, and other key personnel; about 500 total employees. This implementation did not impact the internal communication system used for non-management/non-exempt employees as their conversion to Microsoft Exchange was supposed to occur sometime in the future, though a target date had not been established. For the training, I designed three face-to-face courses, two hours each:

  • Outlook Web Access Mail Skills
    • 16 sessions, maximum number of available seats 224
    • 161 completed, 9 no shows
  • Outlook Web Access Calendar Skills
    • 16 sessions, maximum number of available seats 224
    • 123 completed, 19 no shows
  • Outlook 2007 (Client version) Mail Skills & Calendar Sharing
    • 2 sessions for Administrative Assistants
    • 6 sessions for Department Assistants and others needing to share calendars and delegate access
    • 32 completed, 4 no shows
  • A total of 161 employees (32% of target audience) attending the first course also attended either the second or third course.
  • No further face-to-face sessions were scheduled because employee did not take full advantage of the previously scheduled classes.

Phase 2: Over the next few years, an increasing number of nurses, physicians, and other healthcare providers were given an Internet email address in addition to receiving a login for the internal communication system still in use. Face-to-face training sessions for using Internet email were not provided during this time period though all new hires received training for the other internal communication system.

Phase 3: Three years later in the spring of 2012, phase three was hastily implemented to transition the remaining 1400 employees to Internet email via Microsoft Exchange and phase out the antiquated internal communication system. The catalyst for this hasty implementation was the new human resources personnel system and its requirement that every user have an Internet email address. Due to the large target audience, limited computer classroom and instructor availability, the decision was made to design two online courses for Internet email skills and Internet calendar skills which employees were recommended to complete. In addition, a series of open computer times when employees could walk-in to receive assistance from the education staff was scheduled over a six-week period leading up to the Go Live date and afterwards. During the six-week period:

  • 380 users (27% of target audience) completed the Internet email skills online course
  • 98 users (7% of target audience) completed the Internet calendar skills online course
  • 89 employees (6.5% of target audience) attended the walk-in sessions
  • Walk-in sessions for the last available date were cancelled due to low turnout on previous dates
  • No additional walk-in sessions scheduled for current employees
  • New hires receive Internet email skills training during new employee orientation

What contributed to the project’s success or failure?

Despite only training 32% of the target audience, the Go Live date came and went in the Phase 1 implementation with essentially no major issues from an instructional point of view or related to the technology equipment and therefore was seen as a success. Project leaders from the Technology department as well as from my perspective as the face-to-face instructor, believed the implementation went smoothly primarily because the target audience was already experienced with using Internet email, with only the nuances of using the Microsoft Exchange server being new. While I was disappointed with the turnout for the face-to-face classes, I was nevertheless confident knowing I designed and delivered the instructional sessions by focusing on the “need to know versus nice to know” (Murphy, 1994, p. 10) content, enabling participants to attend shorter training sessions and avoiding “information overload” (Murphy, 1994, p. 10).

While Phase 1 was seen as being a success, Phase 3 was more of a failure from an instructional point of view. Participants attending the walk-in sessions were assisted to log on to the Network with their user name and password, register and complete the online course for Internet email skills through the LMS, and assisted to log on to their email account for the first time. Unfortunately, only 6.5% of the target audience took advantage of the walk-in sessions. It was ironic the employees with the least amount of computer skills during this phase were the ones who did not take advantage of the walk-in sessions. A year later, my department continues to receive calls from current employees having difficulty understanding basic Internet email concepts. The online courses for email skills and calendar skills remain available in the LMS but only about 50 employees have completed them after the implementation was finished.

A major reason for scheduling walk-in sessions instead of structured face-to-face sessions for Phase 3 was the same key personnel who could have taught face-to-face classes, including myself, were involved configuration and implementation of the organization’s replacement LMS. There simply was no time available to design and deliver structured face-to-face training sessions.

Which parts of the project management process would have made the project more successful?

For the design and delivery of the online courses in Phase 3, I functioned as the subject matter expert as well as project manager. Looking back on this portion of Phase 3 which I was responsible for, even though I was not aware of it then, I now recognize I loosely followed the life cycle phases for planning a project as depicted in our course text: 1) Conceive phase; 2) Define phase; 3) Start phase; and 4) Perform phase (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 76).

Because Phase 3 was being hastily implemented for the same target date as the implementation of the human resources personnel system, the project leaders in the technology department did not have much lead time to clearly explain to the target audience why this implementation was necessary. They also did not plan well for announcing the implementation to the target audience. At the same time, it was not entirely the fault of the technology department for these weaknesses because they were not aware the human resources personnel system included a required field for email address until after contract signing for the other project.

All in all, I consider Phase 1 to be a success and Phase 3 to be more of a failure.

References:

Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materials. Performance and Instruction, 33(3), 9-11. Retrieved from  https://class.waldenu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/USW1/201340_04/MS_INDT/EDUC_6145/Week%202/Resources/Week%202%20Resources/embedded/Murphy_W2_6145.pdf

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., & Sutton, M. M., Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Reflecting on the Future of Distance Learning

As Walden University’s graduate course EDUC 6135 Distance Learning comes to a close, I will reflect upon the future of distance learning by answering the following questions:

  1. What do you think the perceptions of distance learning will be in the future (in 5-10 years; 10-20 years)?
  2. How can you as an instructional designer be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning?
  3. How will you be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education?

Perceptions of Distance Learning in the Future

When I started this course eight weeks ago, I was not aware of the impact distance learning has had on the history of education, both formal and informal, going back to its early beginnings as a correspondence study advertised through a Swedish newspaper in 1833 (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Along the evolution time line, it is interesting how many of the advances in distance learning occurred in conjunction with advances in technology. This timeline includes the following milestones: mail order correspondence studies, educational radio, education via broadcast television, and then satellite instructional television (Simonson et al., 2012). Fiber-optic communication systems, introduced in the late 1980s, were the first of its kind to offer, live, two-way, audio and video communication between groups of students (Simonson et al., 2012).

Despite fiber-optics’ unique features, its impact on distance learning was quickly overshadowed by the creation of the World Wide Web in 1991 and as one resource describes it, the “internet changed everything” (Post University, 2012). The bond between distance learning and the internet has grown so strong in the last 22 years, I wonder if it will ever be broken. On the other hand, with the implementation of Web 2.0 technologies including blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, Flash, hosted services, and web applications (MindGrub Technologies, 2010), distance learning moved into a new era, not just for delivering content, but also for creating and sharing content in a global setting, irrespective of time and place.

Distance learning will continue to evolve as Web 3.0 technologies are implemented. Known as the “Intelligent Web with its portability and mobility” (MindGrub Technologies, 2010), distance learners will have access to better searches, ultra-high speed broadband networks, and fourth generation cellular wireless transmissions. Other Web 3.0 technologies anticipated to impact distance learning include: Cloud computing and storage options, Internet on TV, social media on Smart Phones and in motor vehicles, and location enabled social media (MindGrub Technologies, 2010).

In addition to the emerging Web 3.0 technologies, other forces will also impact distance learning in the coming years. As Dr. Siemens reflected in his video, the future for distance learning in the next 5 to 10 years includes a growing acceptance of online communication, practical experience with new technology tools, and a growing comfort with online learning programs. Also, distance learners will have the ability to communicate with a diverse group of global learners, in the corporate world, as well as in education (Laureate Education, 2010).

Distance learning in the future will be impacted by these additional advancements and changes: Continuous learning will be essential for the workers of tomorrow; the operation of traditional schools for K-12 education and higher education will evolve and meld together; and technical familiarity with distance learning skills will have increasing value for students (The International Association for Distance Learning (IADL), n.d.). According to the IADL, these changes are expected in the next decade: partnerships and mergers between learning institutions, publishers, technology companies and learning providers; an increasing percentage of learning will occur online; the instructor role will fade as specialized positions expand such as instructional design, content delivery, learning facilitator, and learner support. Likewise,  demand for top instructors will increase; fewer students will attend traditional on-campus degree programs, and most learners will get a portion of their formal education through online courses. The number of adult students is expected to continue increasing; cultural diversity will be more integrated into formal education; and learners will complete “degrees and certificates made up of courses and experiences from a wide range of private, public, traditional, and online learning providers” (IADL, n.d.).

In the next 10 to 20 years, I anticipate distance learning will look and function far differently than what it does today. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will expand exponentially; adult learners will be in complete control of their educational journeys; and distance learning courses will be fully interactive and realistic. Competency-based education where learners earn degrees by demonstrating competencies instead of completing required courses or credit hours (Western Governor’s University, 2013; as cited in Prometric, 2013) will experience growing acceptance and expansion. Additionally, K-12 online education will be fully integrated into school curricula while technology becomes the classroom instead of technology just being in the classroom (Post University, 2012). Higher education will experience a shift in that technology will be fully integrated into face-to-face programs as well as integrated into distance learning programs.

Improving Societal Perceptions of Distance Learning

As an instructional designer and a soon-to-be graduate of a distance learning program, I have a responsibility to be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning. This responsibility may be accomplished in several ways. On the local level, I can influence other adult learners to consider enrolling in distance learning programs to complete higher education degrees; advocate and play a major role in the design of and increased usage of distance learning in the work environment; and lobby my family and friends to consider enrolling in at least one or two distance learning courses while attaining their educational degrees. Mentoring other distance learners is another way I can improve the perceptions of distance learning. On an expanded level, I can work to improve society’s perception of distance learning by joining professional associations whose core purposes are directed to distance learning. Likewise, I can lobby my elected officials when laws and regulations regarding distance learning need to be enacted or changed.

Being a Positive Force for Continuous Improvement

It is possible to be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education. This can be accomplished by my commitment to maintain and improve my instructional design skills on a regular basis. Having up-to-date instructional design skills however is not enough. I must also be willing to learn how to use new technology for designing distance education as the technology becomes available. In addition, I must also be willing to update my knowledge and skills for the entire distance education process including assessment, design, development, implementation, and evaluation.

This distance learning course was extremely challenging and a huge commitment of my personal time to accomplish its goals and objectives, but the knowledge, skills, and dispositions I gained in the learning process far outweigh the inconveniences of long hours of study and preparation, and sleepless nights.

References

Laureate Education (2010). Dr. George Siemens: The future of distance education. [Video Program].

MindGrub Technologies (2010). Emerging web 3.0 technologies you need to know. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/mindgrub/emerging-web-30-technologies-you-need-to-know

Post University (2012). The evolution of distance learning in higher education. [Interactive Timeline].  Retrieved from http://www.evolution-of-distance-learning.com/

Prometric (2013, March 2). The future of distance learning in practice. Retrieved from https://www.prometric.com/en-us/news-and-resources/reference-materials/Pages/The-Future-of-Distance-Learning-in-Practice.aspx

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S, Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

The International Association for Distance Learning (n.d.). What is the future of distance learning? Retrieved from http://www.iadl.org.uk/Article17.htm