10 Reasons Not to Write a Business Plan

If you are one of the new age of entrepreneurs who hates the thought of doing a business plan as a first step in starting your new venture, you will love this message. More and more professionals agree that a better strategy is to explore and fine tune your assumptions before declaring a specific plan with financial projections based only on your dream and passion.

In the process, you may save yourself considerable re-work and money, or even decide that your dream needs more time to mature, before you commit your limited resources, or sign up with investors to a painful and unsatisfying plan.

I just finished a new book on this approach, Beyond the Business Plan, by Simon Bridge and Cecilia Hegarty, which outlines tradeoffs and recommends ten principles for every new venture explorer. Here is my edited summary of their ten principles, which might just convince you that you don’t need a business plan at all, or at the very least, will help you write a better one later:

1. A new venture is a means, not an end. A new enterprise should be pursued primarily to help you achieve your goals, like providing a better life for others, satisfying a passion of yours, or enjoying the benefits of a technology you have invented. In that context, it could be a social enterprise, or even a hobby, in which case a business plan may not be beneficial.

2. Don’t start by committing more than you can afford to lose. New ventures are usually exploratory and risky by nature, so don’t let any business plan process convince you to commit more than you can risk as a person, should your exploration fail. Start with an effectual approach, which evaluates risk tolerance, and suggests a more affordable means to an end.

3. Pick a domain where you have some experience and expertise. Don’t handicap yourself by starting something for which you have to build or acquire knowledge, skills and connections from scratch. No business plan will save you if you are just picking ideas at random or copying others, just because the story sounds attractive.

4. Carry out reality checks and make appropriate plans. Before a business plan has any validity, some work is required to validate that your technology works, a real market exists and your assumptions for cost and price are reasonable. Don’t be totally driven by your own passions, the emotional enthusiasm of friends or even third-party research.

5. The only reliable test is a real one. Market research techniques for trying to predict the market’s response to a new venture can be costly and are often unreliable. Testing for real is the assumption behind approaches such as Lean Startup. It is also what explorers do — they go and look, instead of trying to predict from a distance what they will find.

6. Get started and build momentum. Too much hesitation will kill any new venture, as markets move quickly and difficulties mount. Getting started helps generate momentum and creates a sense of accomplishment, which can carry your startup through many obstacles. Early perseverance pays off.

7. Accept uncertainty as the norm. You will never remove all uncertainties, so accept them, and plan your activities in an incremental fashion. Too often, a business plan is seen as a mechanism for eliminating uncertainty, lulling the founder into complacency. Eliminate major uncertainties before the plan and update any plan as you learn.

8. Look for new opportunities. Many useful opportunities are either created by what you do early, or are only revealed once you have started and can see out there. So keep your eyes open and respond to new customers, markets and partnerships. You will also find that looking hard helps eliminate opportunities that are not right for you.

9. Build and use social capital. Social capital is people and connections. No entrepreneur can survive as an island. Social capital is as important as financial capital for all ventures. As with all capital, you can use only as much as you have acquired to-date. If you have no social capital, no business plan will likely get you the financial capital you need.

10. Acquire the relevant skills. Three basic skill sets are required for successful delivery of almost every venture. These are financial management, production capabilities and marketing and sales. If you don’t have the relevant skills and knowledge, take time to build them or find someone to partner with, before you attempt any business plan.

If you decide to continue building a conventional business after exploring these principles, especially with investors and employees other than yourself, I’m still convinced a business plan is a valuable exercise. You should do it yourself to make sure you understand all the elements of the plan and facilitate communication of the specifics to your team and investors.

In essence, building a complete and credible plan is the final test of whether your venture has legs. The entrepreneur lifestyle is all about doing something you enjoy without undue stress, uncertainty and risk. Are you having fun in your venture yet?

Advertisements

A Refreshing Take on User Experience Design

UX Design

I recently came across a blog-post by Susan Weinschenk which provides a quick overview of ideal user experience guidelines from a psychologist’s point of view.

The article addresses a diverse set of user experience guidelines and standards and consists of some really practical and useful tips which can and ought to be implemented right away.

Here’s a quick summary of the points which I found to be relevant to eLearning andInstructional Design.

  • It is better to show people a little bit of information and let them choose if they want more details. (Progressive Disclosure)
  • Instead of just describing things, show an example.
  • If something is clickable make sure it looks like it is clickable.
  • If a task is error-prone, break it up into smaller chunks.
  • Don’t make people remember things from one task to another or one page to another.
  • People can only remember about 3-4 items at a time. The “7 plus or minus 2” rule is an urban legend. Research shows the real number is 3-4.
  • People need feedback. The computer doesn’t need to tell the human that it is loading the file. The human needs to know what is going on.
  • If pages are cluttered people can’t find information. Use grouping to help focus where the eye should look.
  • Things that are close together are believed to “go” together.
  • The hardest colors to look at together are red and blue. Try to avoid red text on a blue background or vice versa.

Social Networking – A Contrarian View

Social Networking – A Contrarian View

Today, I’m going to adopt a contrarian view. We all know social networks promote learning; while the mechanisms aren’t documented or well-understood, that it works isn’t in doubt anymore. But we must ask, are the ‘social media/networking systems’ out there promoting this learning? Or does it happen in spite of these systems?

Sure, lots of companies want to replicate ‘Facebook’ behind the firewall; safe from prying eyes, but open enough for employees to freely express themselves. They hope that by just implementing such a system learning will ‘happen’; does it?

I have seen that early attempts to bring social networking inside companies as a work tool have failed. They probably failed because they didn’t really have a focus on the companies’ true ethos – making money. Perhaps they lacked the required understanding of business processes, the systems used to enable these and the ‘culture’ that each company develops over time. Social networks are about connecting people, about creating an ‘ambient awareness’ of what’s happening and where with reference to the people around us. Such networks come into their own when you want to find people who can help you solve problems, provide insights, or provide expertise you may not have.

Given the way social networking tools are at this time, connecting people is the easy part – the systems facilitate the connections easily and effectively. But how does one track the data exchange and activity on these systems to glean usable knowledge (further solves problem, provides an insight or expertise) – it is only this knowledge that people are interested in – knowledge that affects business process execution, social networking tools as we know it fail miserably in this area. People need to be motivated to change, and that isn’t going to happen overnight. Social technologies are going to take time to be adopted, just like it too years before people thought email.

Till that time, I wouldn’t be relying on them for much more than connecting and communicating, another tool like IM, video chat, VoIP etc. This of course, does not mean that you ignore the potential of such tools/platforms/systems. In the years to come, as people change their attitude and mind-sets about the tools, they are sure to have an impact. Has your organization implemented a social networking platform? What’s been your experience?

Courtesy : Abhijit Kadle  |  Social Learning 

How Mobile Learning Works

mlearning

Everything about the way the mobile market is expanding to every corner of the world is fascinating. With the number of mobile devices that connect the entire planet set to breach the 7 billion mark in 2014, every activity we do is being re-defined, whether it is shopping, banking, working, or learning.

Mobile devices have become as ubiquitous as human population. It is almost impossible to go anywhere without bumping into sea of people using cell phones. With the advent of new mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and others, mobile computing is finally coming of age globally, quickly outpacing its desktop sibling. The mobile web growth which has reached its pinnacle is showing no signs of slowing down. In short, mobile market, which constitutes apps, software, hardware, services and infrastructure, is going to be a vital participant in the development of the next generation human facilities and processes, learning being one of them.

M-Learning

The definition of M-learning keeps changing and even as we talk about it, there is always a new addition happening to the existing standard of mobile learning. In its simplest form, M-learning can be called that form of learning where there is no requirement for the learner to be stationary at a predetermined location. The advantages of various mobile technologies come into play here as the learning methodology focuses on the mobility of the learner and his interaction with portable devices such as smartphones, MP3 players, tablets and other smart devices. Online learning when combined with the power of mobile devices give rise to M-learning.

The FRAME Model

The Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) model is used to describe the mobile learning process.
The Venn diagram aptly represents the three aspects of mobile learning, Device, Learner and Social. The Device aspect refers to the various capabilities of the mobile device that includes its specifications, physical and functional characteristics. These characteristics have a significant impact on the usage habits of the learner and therefore require a comprehensive investigation before being implemented. Acting as a bridge between human being and technology, devices should be designed for maximum comfort.

mobile learning

The Learner aspect focuses on the cognitive abilities of the learner such as context and transfer, memory, prior knowledge, emotions and motivations and discovery learning. Mobile learning helps the learner access content in various formats and these factors have a vital role to play in the encoding, recalling and transfer of information. The Social aspect takes into account the various interactions between two learners with their mobile devices while following the rules of cooperation to communicate. However, what we are really concerned about is the area where all these three aspects intersect each other.

Mobile Learning Process (DLS)

It is the intersection of all the three aspects in the FRAME model that facilitates mobile learning. The interaction of Device, Learner and Social is what defines mobile learning, which itself is an ever-evolving process.

As the amount of knowledge increases, it is necessary to rapidly evaluate it for worthiness and that’s where mobile learning comes into help. Governed by flexible social, technological and cognitive factors, mobile learning helps users get immediate access to knowledge and experts, who help in determining the relevance and importance of the information found on the Internet.

So how mobile capability does enhance learning?

To summarize it all, mobile capability helps in learning by facilitating interaction and collaboration, creation of a learning community and providing access to a variety of online resources in real time.

Mobile learning implementation

Duke University provided all its incoming freshmen with their own 20-gigabytes of iPods. Similarly, Virginia Tech College was the first public institution that required every student to purchase a tablet PC beginning with incoming freshman in 2006 fall.

Apart from schools and colleges, mobile learning is also making its presence felt in workplaces. Instant messaging is going to replace email as the new generation prefers synchronous tools to asynchronous ones. Every person who possesses a Smartphone is in the capacity of perpetrating the learning content and applications.

Author- Saurabh Tyagi is an expert writer having interest in diverse topics like education, technology, career and Web 2.0. He is a social media enthusiast and a self-confessed gadget-freak, who loves to follow the latest happenings in the tech world.

Top 5 Trends – Where Technology Will Take Elearning in 5 Years

1. Technology Will Drive Collaborative Learning

Collaboration is no longer a hyped-up buzz word; it’s everywhere. It’s being fostered in the workplace because sometimes the best ideas come from just having conversations with others. Facebook, Google, Yahoo – the biggest and brightest are all following this model – and it’s bound to be the next step for elearning. As one respondent wrote “I hope that technology will enable all participants to contribute to the learning experience. Learning will become a collaborative experience not led by a traditional ‘facilitator’ pushing content out to consumers, but will result in shared knowledge, experiences and opinions from all to create the ‘content’.”

2. Elearning & Mlearning Will Be In Constant Regeneration

While we can see how technology can enable a collaborative elearning system, what if in unison, the Internet is also part of the equation? Imagine your elearning module automatically picking up brand new images via tags, categories, and systematically updating your module with new content. Think about it this way: new laws or regulations are put in place and your old compliance module is void null; the Internet, which is the first medium to pick up this news, will update any content on your module that needs to be fixed. “Once a course is created the information is redundant. The next logical step would be to allow the content to change automatically through sources on the Internet (pictures, content, etc.)”

3. Augmented Realities Will Be The Norm

If Google glasses are already a reality, what’s next? “Learning will become highly augmented…learning about architecture whilst standing at the opera house, looking at what you discussed. This followed by holographic teachers who can stand beside you and help you physically. Finally virtual classrooms through a projected self-meaning you can attend a lecture or tutorial in person even though you’re kicking back with Richard B on his island ;)”

4. Technology Used To Fulfil User’s Needs – Not To Impress Them

Just because it’s cool, doesn’t mean it’s going to help learners. We all know what happens with trends; they hit a peak and then slowly fade away. Technology is not something that should hinder the learning experience because of the cool factor; rather it should effectively foster the user and heighten their knowledge and skillset. “Technology is just another means to deliver the learning of new knowledge, skills and attitudes – we need to ensure we don’t add the bells and the whistles for the sake of it. It’s like they say on Masterchef, sometimes the best food consists of three well-balanced, quality ingredients. If the technology is poorly used, we’ll be faced by another cohort of learners screaming: “Not another elearning course! PLEASE!!!”

5. Creating Better Blends

On the other hand, maybe technology will drive users back into the classroom. “I’d like to see technology drive elearning back into the classroom . . . within reason! It would be great to see technology developments that enable much better integration of online content within traditional classroom environments. Often this is attempted, but it’s not often not seamless for participants – technology that better enables in classroom connection of content with facilitators with real participants would be great.”

Courtesy : 

eLearning On Tablets

eLearning On Tablets - Free eBook

We truly believe tablets are a game changer and that there is strong merit indelivering eLearning on tablets. Tablets are no longer limited to entertainment purposes like watching video or playing games; but now are a part of organizational L&D activities across businesses large and small. The tablet market is showing exponential growth with tablet sales touted to overtake that of notebook PCs with an estimated volume of 240 million units sold worldwide by 2015.

eLearning on Tablets-Tablets VS. PC Shipments

We find that while on one hand there is a growing demand for learning solutions on tablets, on the other, there is a clear lack of understanding of these media devices, and the designing and development approaches required. Training departments are unsure how to design and develop eLearning on tablets in a way that works for their organizations.

 

Top 21 Tips For Mobile Learning

Top 21 tips for mobile learning

The eLearningGuild recently released a great resource “158 Tips on mLearning: From Planning to Implementation”. Very interestingly, in the introduction Chris Benz says – the big question last year was “Should we do mLearning?” The question this year is “How should we do mLearning?” It’s a fantastic change – one that we’ve been looking forward to a few years now.

While the report features some of the mobile learning gurus I already follow, it pops up some new ones to follow. I’ve listed below the 21 that appealed most to me. No surprise that some of these have been covered on this blog too earlier. I encourage you to take a look at the whole set of 158 tips as there are some real gems (beyond these handpicked 21) in there.

  1. Start lean and iterate. You don’t need to launch a perfect app for your first ver- sion. Start with a minimum viable product and go from there. Get user feedback, and grow your feature set based on the response you get from people actively using your experience. Combine this with analytics and you have a powerful one- two punch in understanding what people expect from you. The most important thing you can do is ship your software. Don’t let unnecessary features hold up launch dates.

    – Chad Udell

  2. Always ask questions and observe. Don’t be afraid of research because you assume it’s expensive and complex. You can get surprising amounts of useful information by simply watching end users in their natural environment, or care- fully asking questions about how they work and what they do. If you aren’t used to research, don’t directly ask what they want – and avoid focus groups because people don’t consciously know what they want and the group dynamic is hard to handle and influences the results. Do show off your design ideas as early as you can. People will suspend their disbelief and act like your paper sketch – or a mockup on the phone – is real, and react in telling ways.

    – Steven Hoober

  3. Two fields that are about to converge are mobile computing and adaptive-learn- ing software. Companies will use “big data” collected from massive numbers of learners to predict the kind of learning materials a specific learner needs to see next, and what kind of activities and assessments will advance learning based on the learner’s characteristics and responses. 

    – Gary Woodill

  4. Consider the context in which your users work. Not just the default answer that mobile is active, but very specifically. If users are on the factory floor, or in a re- pair shop, are their hands too greasy for reliable touch, or is it too loud for mobile sound to work? A good way to think about this is to consider accessibility needs; we all become “temporarily disabled” when we can’t touch, look at, or otherwise use our devices normally. Then you can use existing knowledge and technologies to meet the real needs of your actual users. 

    – Steven Hoober

  5. When designing for multiple devices, think “intelligent responsive.” Consider op- tions such as simplifying content when needed and adding extra content when it makes sense, changing what is displayed or how it is displayed depending on the accessing device, and you’ll produce training that is effective and impactful no matter how it is accessed. 

    – Paul Schneider

  6. Think about your mobile learners as contributors, not just consumers. Your mo- bile learners often know a lot about their part of the organization, and enabling them to share can satisfy their desire to create and contribute. Enabling content generation also allows you to harness your learners’ knowledge. 

    – Lauren Bonnet and Ben Bonnet

  7. Help your learners feel productive. The psychology of your learners will play a big role in how they feel about your learning content. We know that people like to feel productive, particularly when they are at work. Design your learning con- tent so your learners can feel like they are checking off items on a checklist. 

    – Lauren Bonnet and Ben Bonnet

  8. Start with pencil or pen and paper. Sketching is a vital part of the design process for mobile user interface and user experience design. Use a grid notebook and sketch at the appropriate aspect ratio for accuracy. For maximum effect, use a sketch template to assist you with scale and user-interface elements. 

    – Chad Udell

  9. Every day we talk to and work with others. Multi-user experiences are how our world works, and so how our digital experiences will function whether we want them to or not. Allow for things like arbitrary sharing, over email, SMS, MMS, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever is available. Flexibility like this, which is easy to build into mobile apps at least, allows the user to weave your digital product or tool into the way their life already works. 

    – Steven Hoober

  10. “M” is for multi, not mobile. When thinking about mobile eLearning design, re- member how and why people are going to use the content. Different devices and screens can support different types of learning more effectively. Smartphone de- vices are great performance support tools for example, while desktops and even tablets generally handle deeper, more complex learning well. Sometimes creating courses that you design for each device and that complement each other is the best route to go. 

    – Paul Schneider

  11. Too much that you’ve heard of about designing for touch is wrong, outdated, or personal opinion. Even OS guidelines like the 44px Apple size is a little too small and over-simplified. Instead, follow the research, and design for what we know about how people work with capacitive touch:
    1. Touch targets must be big enough to be contacted by users’ fingers and detected by the touch sensor. Make them at least 17pt (6mm) and prefer- ably 23pt (8mm). There’s no need to make buttons, lists, or other such items larger than about 43pt (15mm) in the smallest dimension.
    2. Make sure your users don’t hit the wrong target by spacing out the targets enough. Measured from the center, make sure nothing else is inside a circle at least 23pt (8mm) across, and if at all possible, 28pt (10mm).

    – 
Steven Hoober

  12. Context is all about when and where learners will use your app. This can be difficult to determine, but it is vitally important. It’s not enough to just assume that because your users are mobile, they are in a rush and only want quick access to limited information. Eighty-four percent of us use our mobile phones while at home (source:http://www.lukew.com/Learning/ff/entry.asp?1263) Don’t as- sume you know where your users will use your application. Get out of the office (or hire someone) and do some testing. If you make assumptions based on when and where you think your users are going to be using your app, you’re bound to disappoint. 

    – Tim Todish

  13. Before choosing a development tool for an mLearning project, you must weigh the requirements of the project. Will your app use the device’s camera? Will you need geolocation? How about the accelerometer? A lot of popular mobile devel- opment tools (minus the native languages) have varying degrees of support for the native APIs of mobile operating systems. Realizing, in the mature stage of a project, that you need access to one of these native APIs and it’s not available can be enough to send you back to the drawing board. 

    – Perry Bennett

  14. Tame your mLearning video assets! Remember the mobile context – interrup- tions, connectivity issues, screen size, browser limitations, etc. Recommenda- tions include chunking segments into clips of less than five minutes, keeping file sizes smaller for download (around 4 MB), publishing to a compatible file format such as MP4, testing to find the best bitrate for the video size and resolution, and leveraging the “interactiveness” of mobile. Curate your searchable video so that learners (and you) can find it when needed.

    – Candice Herndon

  15. Own the performance support world. Sometimes instructional designers think of themselves as providers of training and assume that performance support is someone else’s job. Mobile learning is all about supporting the learner at
the point of need, which is the realm of performance support. All instructional designers should embrace this new role as performance support providers – or someone else will. 

    – Lauren Bonnet and Ben Bonnet

  16. The easiest way to deliver engaging mobile performance support is via short one- to two-minute videos. MP4 (MPEG4) video is consumable on 90 to 95 percent of mobile devices. 

    – Josh Cavalier

  17. Think of tablets when the mobility requirements aren’t too onerous, when you need screen real estate for data display, or when users will share the screen with others. Or – perish the thought-when you’re actually going to try to give users a course on a mobile device. 

    – Clark Quinn

  18. Build once, deploy everywhere, is a myth. For the last few years, people have been claiming that technologies like HTML5 offer the opportunity to build once and deploy everywhere. The truth is this is rarely the case. Except in the cases of very simple applications, you will almost certainly need to tailor your designs forthe various devices you are targeting. This doesn’t mean one design per device, but it does mean you will need to create a few different versions of your designs to account for varying screen sizes. Responsive web design is a nice way to solve this problem, but it is not as simple as the build once, deploy everywhere myth might lead you to believe. 

    – Tim Todish

  19. You cannot assume mobile users sit down and engage with your digital tool for any amount of time. They get distracted, and interrupted, or decide to complete tasks later when in other locations or with other devices. They expect their data to follow them, so be prepared to save data entered, and even scrolled-to posi- tion and searches. Let all that feed into the display of any other channel when users resume. Have messages and notifications remind users to finish tasks, and set up your success metrics and analytics to track across platforms so you can re- act to the way people actually work, and not panic at all the users leaving a single channel, if they come back later or in another channel. 

    – Steven Hoober

  20. Plan for measurements and metrics. You’re going to need to adjust the ways
you measure success. While your LMS may have some measurement options for mLearning, there are a lot of other options out there. Integrating in-app analyt- ics (Flurry, Google Analytics, Omniture, or others) is a must. Creating a landing page at your site (internal or external depending on your needs) for the app store or MDM/MAM (mobile device management/mobile application management) traffic is a basic requirement. And even using simple eCommerce-like conversion tools like promo codes and integrating a social-media-measurement platform like Hubspot, Hootsuite, or Owl.ly could all be smart things to do. This approach will show you who is sharing content out of your app, and more importantly, behavior patterns that your users are exhibiting while in your experience. 

    – Chad Udell

  21. Marshall McLuhan, the 1960s communications guru, wrote, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” That is why each new technology tries to use the content and methods from the previ- ous technology. Version 1.0 of a technology is mostly about the ideas of the past. Version 2.0 starts when someone starts to develop new applications that use the unique affordances of the new technology. Mobile learning is in Version 1.5. Ver- sion 2.0 is coming soon. 

    – Gary Woodill