Online collaboration tools for learning and teaching

This is the third in our series of blog posts on the way we have tested our assumptions around a national learning solution for health and care employees.

We have been holding a series of ‘ideathons’ with health and care colleagues where we have presented ideas and concepts and got users to provide feedback on their preferred solutions.

Volunteers from around the country joined our session in London to take part, representing community and mental health, acute and ambulance services.

Activity 1 – Opportunities to collaborate

In the first exercise, we explored situations where people might be likely to collaborate. Participants looked at a range of scenarios and assessed them for how likely they were and if they were likely to elicit a response. There was some great discussion particularly around how quality of resources should be assessed, how to make resources meaningful and how Trust policies and governance on sharing should be handled.

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Don’t underestimate the power of snacks! An important part of any ideation is to keep the audience motivated and snacks are a means of helping people to maintain focus and encourage participation!

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Activity 2 – Tools for collaboration

In the second exercise, individuals were asked which tools they would use to collaborate. Do we need to develop a hybrid based on multiple existing products and services or recreate one of the existing collaboration systems? The discussion focused on ways individuals ask questions and how they get answers by examining existing websites including: Stack exchange, Quora, Monzo, Yammer, Penflip and Trello.

It is, however, important to recognise some of the barriers to accessing third-party sites as well. For example, existing groups may exist on Facebook but could be blocked by ICT policies in individual Trusts. Our Barriers project is beginning to explore some of these challenges and how to address them, in parallel to this work.

Lots of websites which enable collaboration were explored, highlighting which work well and which work less well.

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Activity 3 – Personal profiles

Many websites including  BBC, Amazon, the Royal College of Nursing and Facebook, have personalised pages and information. In this activity, our volunteers were asked to consider how a personal homepage and profile page might look.

Participants sketched their ideal homepage with the information they might need and want when visiting the site. Examples included new items added since the last visit, notifications and alerts and personalised recommendations.

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Activity 4 – Related content

How do individuals find the content that is relevant to them or related to the subjects they are interested in? In this exercise, participants explored their preferred way of finding related content on a system.

The participants liked the ability to see related content but also wanted to be able to filter it further. Participants also liked it when the content was filtered by profession showing information that their peers were also interested in.

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Activity 5 – Categorising content

Key to the success of any solution is the ability of users to find content. Categories are one such way of classifying and identifying information.

In this final exercise, participants were asked to categorise a wide range of learning objects and to design a search system that worked for them.

The card sort identified some natural groupings and categories based on type of resource, care setting and subject.

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Six steps to sharing and collaboration success?

This is the second in our series of blog posts on the way we have tested our assumptions around a national learning solution for health and care employees.

At the first, of two, Health Education England learning technology ‘Ideathon’ users from across the UK were gathered to test a number of concepts to understand how a proposed learning solution might operate.

The Discovery phase of our work identified a number of ways in which learners might want to interact with learning in the future. The purpose of this ‘Ideathon’ was to test some of the hypotheses identified during our Discovery phase so that we know what we’re building is the right solution.

This ‘Ideathon’ tested six concepts during the course of the day with exercises designed to identify solutions to the most pressing concerns and riskiest assumptions.

 

Activity 1 – Most important information on a page

Which information do you consider to be most important and least important on a webpage? This was the question asked of our participants to understand their behaviours and priorities. Printed versions of website wireframes showing learning resource records were annotated by participants to identify those items which were critical to the resource meeting their needs.

This exercise was coupled with an activity that explored how users would find information and what criteria they might use to search. Everyone agreed that the work of Google on search was exemplary so should be emulated, where possible.

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Activity 2: Reviewing and rating pages

In the second exercise, participants were asked to consider the various ways in which products and services are reviewed on the internet, such as using simple star ratings, or more comprehensive written reviews.

There was a discussion about the virtues of various methods which were recorded and will be used to design an interface which satisfies the needs of all the users.

 

Exercise 3 Searching for resources

Searching for and finding the right learning resources on the learning solution will be very important and as there may be many search results, it’s important to only display key information to help learners make the right choice. But what is that key information?

In this exercise, participants were presented with information on a learning resource and asked to remove all non-essential information for the search results page.

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Exercise 4: What motivates users to share?

In this short exercise, individuals were asked to consider a series of statements on sharing from different personas. They were asked to consider how true or how likely the statements were so that accurate personas and motivations for sharing could be determined.

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Activity 5 – Stakeholders, personas and collaboration

No technology planning session would be complete without copious sticky notes and this event was no exception. However, these were post-its with a purpose!

Participants were asked to identify different stakeholder groups and their individual needs and then asked to identify how they might collaborate with each other.

The result was a complex but comprehensive set of post-its that told the story of how a user might navigate this complex journey.

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Activity 6 – Ranking comments

The final activity of the day involved ranking questions and answers on a website in a similar manner to websites like stack overflow. Participants explored how collaboration might work on a practical basis using upvotes, downvotes and discussion threads.

This is the second in our series of blog posts on the way we have tested our assumptions around a national learning solution for health and care employees.

At the first, of two, Health Education England learning technology ‘Ideathon’ users from across the UK were gathered to test a number of concepts to understand how a proposed learning solution might operate.

The Discovery phase of our work identified a number of ways in which learners might want to interact with learning in the future. The purpose of this ‘Ideathon’ was to test some of the hypotheses identified during our Discovery phase so that we know what we’re building is the right solution.

This ‘Ideathon’ tested six concepts during the course of the day with exercises designed to identify solutions to the most pressing concerns and riskiest assumptions.

 

Build it and they will come?

Once upon a time, when building a new product or service, such as a website, a client would issue a brief and the supplier would build it before releasing it to the user. Users would either love or loath the new solution and have very little say in the process. This is the “Kevin Costner approach” from “Field of Dreams”: “build it and they will come.”

In the mid-2000s, there was a recognition that it was important to consult with users to achieve success; so along came user-centred design. Developers would do some research into what users wanted, then build a website which was released with a hope that there would be some success given that users had been consulted. This kind of development was termed “development of a minimum viable product”. Results were often mixed.

Most recently, the latest buzz is around agile development, where users are involved throughout the development process and small iterative versions and concepts are tested with users on an ongoing basis. Success rates with this kind of development have dramatically increased.

Following the Health Education England (HEE) Discovery process for implementation of a learning solution – to support learners in health and social care to develop the essential skills they need to provide the best possible care to individuals – we have adopted the agile development approach. Our interpretation of agile development has been to hold a series of ‘Ideathons’ where volunteers working in health and social care from around the country join us to test some key concepts – we identified our riskiest assumptions and tested them with users, not just building a minimum viable product.

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Over this series of blog posts, we will be providing feedback about our assumptions and how we tested them with learners and users to make sure that we build a learning solution that is fit for now and the future.

Build it and they will come? Never underestimate the need for engaging with users and our aspiration to ensure continuous testing will increase the chance of success.