Monday, January 19, 2015

TechKnowledge 2015 - Videos

As most of you know, I experimented with doing videos this TechKnowledge instead of blog posts. You can find the collection of day reviews (and one bit of silly bonus content) here:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Bonus content!!! Chatty Dolphin

So what did I think of making videos instead of blog posts? Well, once I got over the weirdness of having to watch myself on camera, I was pretty happy with the results. The blog posts I used to write were more in-depth, but often took hours to produce, and this time commitment meant I usually skimped on sleep throughout the conference. Not ideal, that's for sure. Doing videos, on the other hand, was much less time intensive (although, admittedly, also had less depth of content).

As far as I'm concerned it was a good experiment, and one I'm likely going to do again at Learning Solutions in March. I'd love to get your feedback on what about the videos you liked, what could use a bit of tweaking, and what content you wish I'd added or skipped. Thanks in advance!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TechKnowledge 2015 - Day 1

It's the end of Day 1 at TechKnowledge, and I thought I'd try something a bit different for my wrapup post: a video!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TechKnowledge 2015 - Plans and such

It's January, so you know what that means: I'm on my way to ATD TechKnowledge (quite literally, as I'm typing this at the airport while I wait for my flight)! Once again I'll be there for the full three days of the main conference and will be trying to cover as much as I can through live tweeting and blogging. I'm also considering experimenting with recording a few videos... well, if the wi-fi upload speeds at my hotel decide to accommodate that. We'll cross our fingers for that one. I'm still not sure of the exact sessions I'll be livetweeting, but I'll definitely be covering the keynotes at the very least.

I'm also happy to be involved with two events at TechKnowledge this year:

So this is a nifty event for this year. If you have an eLearning course that you'd love someone else's feedback on, you can bring it to this session and get 15 minutes of expert feedback, including tips and suggestions for making your course even more awesome. As weird as I feel about calling myself an "expert", I'm really excited about having the opportunity to chat with people about their courses, and I'm looking forward to seeing what cool things everyone is creating. While I'm happy to talk about anything related to eLearning, I'm probably most useful to you if you want to come up with some new ideas for graphic design, storytelling, simulations, and/or user-focused design.

Hooray! I get to talk about video games and training simulations for more than an hour! Video games and simulations have a lot in common, both from a player perspective as well as a development one. In this session I'm going to chat about what years of gaming, as well as research in to how video games are developed, have taught me about how to write and build more effective (and more enjoyable) sims for training. Whether you create process-oriented sims, like software training, or soft-skills ones, such as coaching simulations, I'll have a bunch of practical tips for you that you can use immediately. Plus, I'm going to share some recommendations for specific video games that can teach you more about creating fantastic sims. Yup... you can justify playing games as professional development!

On a tech nerd note, this will be my first conference experimenting with using an iPad Mini & keyboard instead of my usual full-sized iPad set up. I'll likely post about the difference and how I feel about the MUCH smaller keyboard once the conference is over. So far, though, the biggest difference I've noticed is just how much lighter this setup is!

If you're at the conference, I'm looking forward to seeing you there! If not, see you on the backchannel.  :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DevLearn 2014 - Day 0

Why look at that... I'm acually here at DevLearn!

Today wasn't a full DevLearn day for me... acttually, a lot of today was spent in transit. But there are a few highlights of the day I thought I'd share before I crash into an exhauted, jet-lagged pile and fall asleep (only to more than likely automatically wake up at my normal Toronto wakeup time with my luck):

New Hotel
So DevLearn changed hotels this year, from the Aria to the Bellagio. I hate to say it, but I'm not enamoured with the Bellagio. As much as I love the hotel fountains (seriously, they are worth the hype), the rest of this place isn't that impressive. I mean, it's still nice, don't get me wrong, but it's not Aria-nice. It feels older, the rooms aren't as slick, and honestly it feels a bit overpriced for what you get. That said, even a so-so Vegas hotel is still lovely.

xAPI Hyperdrive
This was a cool 3-hour event/competition that debuted at DevLearn this year. The basic setup was a single stage and projection screen, a large number of speakers, and a panel of judges. Unfortunately I missed the first few minutes of it (and likely the introduction), but my understanding was that speakers were each given 5 minutes to talk about an innovative xAPI project they were working on and highlight what about it it particular was spiffy. The panel of judges then had a chance to ask a few quick questions to find out more about the project. This sort of quick burst "elevator speech" approach honestly reminded me a great deal of DemoFest, only with each person taking a turn rather than all the presentations going on at once. 

I thought the idea of this event was great. Because of the fast-paced format, I got to learn so much about so many different ways companies have used xAPI, from sales training to increasing engagement at a children's museum. That said, you could see that many of the speakers were struggling with the limit of how to talk about their project in 5 minutes (and make it shine to boot). I wonder if a set of coaching resources for these speakers on how to quickly summarize the key aspects of a project in such a short time frame (and how to weave in storytelling techniques to make their presentation come alive) would have helped? 

Regardless, I was happy to see a new and innovative event at DevLearn.

In case you're curious, here are some quick notes I took about the multitude of xAPI projects that we saw at this event:

-Training new teachers
-Preparing volunteers to do work in Haiti
-Intersystem data sharing in military training (to prevent silos in training and simulations)
-xAPI-based scavenger hunt for training. xAPI reports data on people interacting with points (qr codes) in the scavenger hunt
-Using a portal and app version of sales onboarding training leveraging xAPI to connect both. Content could be accessed offline and SCORM content was enclosed in an xAPI wrapper to upscale it
-Use xAPI to better track data and measure competencies with more precision (levelling up like character stats in RPGs)
-Creating a backbone platform to link system of record, content (including informal learning), and distribution
-Creating community-based collaborative learning environment with peer-to-peer information sharing
-Game-based approach to teaching management concepts. Mobile first... Casual, quick game
-Increasing children's museum engagement using RFID tags imbedded in a badge. Taggs interact with exhibits. Also gives museum data about how kids interact with the museum

It's not a trip to Vegas if I don't go do something weird, and THIS time I had a bunch of coworkers with me who were along for the ride! Our first "only in Vegas" adventure was the much talked about Lobsicle from Lobster Me: essentially a lobster tail on a stick (don't worry, it's piping hot, not frozen). It's a hilarious source of nutrients, and I managed to convince SEVERAL coworkers to snack on a lobsicle today. Here's my proof:

No one was brave enough to get the battered and deep fried version, not even me, but it was still a strage and wonderful Vegas experience.

Tomorrow is the first day of the main DevLearn event, and also my first day hosting the eLearning Tools learning stage ( I'm really exicted about the speakers we'll have there this week, so definitely stop by tomorrow if you have a chance. Also, I may be a shy extrovert, but I'd love to say hi to any of you (look for the girl with the pink streaked hair and chances are it'll be me). 

On a related note, I may have (repeatedly) bragged today about conquering the other learning stages by brute force, so if anyone wants to join my noble cause and fight the good fight, I'm looking for recruits for my invasion forces.  ;)  *laugh*

Also, let's not forget the reason most of us are EXTRA giddy about this year's DevLearn: Neil deGrasse Tyson!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Where am I going to be: DevLearn 2014 edition!

Yes, it's that time of year again. Time for what I'd call the Comic-Con for us learning tech nerds: DevLearn!

If you've ever read my blog or followed me on Twitter you likely have a pretty good idea of how I feel about this event (CliffsNotes version: I adore it). You're also likely used to me live tweeting practically the entire thing. Unfortunately, this year is going to be a bit different. Fortunately, it's for a really good reason.

I'm happy to say that this year I'll be hosting one of the three Learning Stages at DevLearn (the eLearning Tools stage, to be exact). We've got a bunch of amazing presenters at the stage on Wednesday and Thursday... seriously, you should click this link and check them out. You should also pop by the stage and say hi. if you're at the conference.

Hosting a stage has a number of responsibilities, though, and I'm not sure I'll be able to balance them AND live tweet at the same time. So I'm going to be upfront and not commit to tweeting non-stop about those sessions (I'll definitely share highlights though).

That said, I am planning on live tweeting the parts of the conference where I'm not hosting a stage, which means you can expect me to cover the keynotes and Friday sessions. I'm also still planning on doing my end-of-day wrap up posts where I'll cover the most exciting things I saw each day.

If you're hoping to get even more live tweeting coverage, my lovely and brilliant coworkers @erbvillage and @jsteeveslepage are planning on some DevLearn live tweet coverage of their own, so you might want to check out their feeds. You should also check them out because they're awesome people (note: I may be extremely biased in my evaluation of them, but you should still follow them anyway).

And with that, I'll leave you with a picture of the scariest thing I've ever witnessed in Vegas...

You are WELCOME!

See you at DevLearn tomorrow!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

This is why we tweet

So the other week an article started making it's way around Twitter that listed out all the reasons people shouldn't live tweet during presentations. If you haven't already seen it, go check out this link. It's a short read and I'll be here when you get back.

Now, obviously I'm someone who's pretty invested in livetweeting events, but I decided to go in to the article with an open mind anyway because there's always room to revise your thoughts about something, right? But the more I read of it, the more I felt like it was written entirely from the perspective of someone who just didn't understand the mindset of the average livetweeter I've met. I felt the author's heart was in the right place, but the experience of livetweeting was so alien to him that he ended up misinterpreting people's intentions.

It's not about wanting to prove we're smart, or having a distraction, or feeling disengaged with the speaker. It's something else entirely, and something I think has real value, both for those of us who tweet and the people in our online community. And so, I thought it might be worth the time to sum up some of the reasons people like me live tweet.

If you get the hang of it, it can lead to some of the very best notes you've ever taken
No matter how fascinating a talk is, there's no way an audience member can remember every detail from a talk. This is why most of us took notes in school... so we could review and remember the main points later. This is also why a lot of us livetweet. It's notes you can review later, only they happen to be shareable notes that others can view almost immediately after you write them down. Also, because you're often writing notes for an audience who isn't there (more on that in a bit) it means that you have to take exceptionally good notes so they'll understand what's going on. It actually trains you to make more precise notes than you'd have made if they were just for you.

Sure, I know that when I livetweet I'm taking a bit of a hit to my attention by trying to do two things at once, but I more than make up for it in reviewing my tweets later. In fact, I find that I have a much better time retaining information I learned from talks I livetweet than talks I just sit and passively listen to.

The backchannel adds depth to the talk
The article claims you can't possible be engaged with a speaker and the backchannel tweets about the talk. Yeah... we're going to have to agree to disagree on that one. If you're very comfortable with your tech it's actually possible for some people, particularly if they're also speed readers and fast typists, to pull this off. If you're one of those people, then the backchannel is an amazing resource to tap into. You'll find content you missed tweeting, questions and comments about the talk, and even related information and links that people share with the group.

These individual tweets and conversations add layers to the content of the talk, letting you explore it, question it, and connect it to other information in ways you never could have on your own. The backchannel is like a shared knowledge pool where everyone adds their own insights and thoughts to make something even greater than just the talk itself. And because it's all on Twitter you can check it out in the moment, revisit it again later, or even collect that knowledge in something else like a blog post or Storify.

It challenges you to make content connections fast
Getting good at livetweeting usually means pushing yourself not to just repeat what's being said, but to add your own thoughts and make links to information you've learn previously, all at an incredibly fast pace. This can be overwhelming at first, but once you get used to it it's like giving your brain a workout for critical thinking. I don't think it ever stops being exhausting, but it does make you a faster thinker over time.

We gain a community to talk about the content with
You can learn a lot from listening to a session, but what can make the content even stickier is talking about it with others. Interacting with the backchannel while livetweeting helps you do this, both during the session (and yes, I do think you can learn to do this and still give attention to the speaker) and afterwards. The conversation during the session is great, particularly when the topic at hand is contentious or tricky to get a hold of, but it's actually the continued conversation afterwards that I find even more useful. Speakers often don't see it, but people in the Twitter backchannel often talk about content from a talk long after it's over. And that's a great way for that information to actually stick.

It's not always just for us
It's nice when you can go to a conference just to satisfy your own curiosity and professional development. For a lot of people, though, that's not a luxury they have. They've been sent as a team or company representative, and livetweeting the event so that their coworkers can basically attend the conference remotely is the means by which they can convince their employeers to send them to a conference in the first place. Without it, they might not even be in the room right now.

That said, there are non-financial reasons we want to share too. Many times I've gone to conferences that friends and aquaintences would love to go to, but can't. When I livetweet a session they're interested in that helps them get some of the information they missed by not being there, and that's a kind thing to do for other people.

Sometimes we're just nerds who love sharing
This one is particularly true in my industry, because you usually don't go into L&D if there's not some part of you that gets excited about being able to share information with others. For some people, getting to geek out on Twitter about a session they're enjoying is part of the fun of the experience. It brings us joy to be able to share the cool things we're learning with other people, and I think that's an instinct we should be trying to encourage, not stamp out.


So those are some of the reasons I'm so passionate about the value of livetweeting. I know it's not the right kind of experience for everyone, and I'm sure there are just as many people who would find it disracting as there are people like me who find it enjoyable. But all and all I'm glad that it's something people have started doing, and I hope that this blog post is able to explain why some of us love it so much.

Are there any reasons you love livetweeting that I missed? Have any questions about livetweeting that I didn't address? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 3

Ah, the final day of the conference... well, for me anyway. I had to leave a day early unfortunately, but at least I was able to keep up with some of the sessions I missed via other attendees and their livetweeting. All hail Twitter, allower of distance conference attendance!

1) Keynote: General Stan McChrystal
Tying in to the conference theme of change, McChrystal talked about the vital need to adapt. As an example, he pointed to a famous plane crash that happened despite great flying conditions, a functional airplane, lots of safety equipment, and a competent crew.

This seems like the least likely set up for a tragic plane crash story, and yet the crash happened anyway. Why, you might ask? Because of a combination of too many new and complex safety features (which caused confusion) and insufficient crew communication skills (which made the confusion even worse). Things changed with how the plane functioned and how the crew needed to work together, the crew hadn't adapted to this change, and a sad, but likely preventable, crash happened as a result.

So what does this mean to us? The rate of change has accelerated, which makes it hard for us to keep up, but all the more important for us to learn how to adapt to. Unfortunately, we have an adaptability gap... a big difference between how much we're currently adapting and how much we actually need to adapt. But McChrystal says there are three key ways to learn to bridge that gap, so we can learn to adapt at the speed life is actually moving and learn from the experience.

The first part of this bridge is avoiding predictive hubris. Predictive hubris is the feeling that you can always use the same rules over and over to predict what's going to happen. In the rapidly changing world McChrystal described, though, often the rules we think we know can suddenly get shifted, or even thrown out the window entirely. What we need to do is give people the ability to quickly move with this change and figure out what the new rules of the game are, all without having to depend on someone else to tell them what do do.

In the case of the air crash I mentioned earlier, after it happened airlines realized they needed to become more adaptable. To do this, crews were trained on adaptability, situational awareness, and flexibility so they could become better at dealing with unexpected situations. And do you know what happened as a result? Airline safety skyrocketed.

The second part is shared consciousness. Sure, rapid change is tricky, but if you build bonds of trust and common purpose in your teams, that shared pool of knowledge can do amazing things and adapt quickly. That trust and knowledge can make it easier to understand how each person in the team needs to react when change happens, which makes it smoother and faster for the overall team to change.

The final piece is empowered execution. Teams where people feel micromanaged and/or unable to affect change end up being unable to adapt effectively. Empowering execution gives people the ability to do things themselves and to take ownership of their work. That means they'll be more likely to directly point out (and even fix) issues they see and be emotionally invested in the work, both of which lead to better results.

2) Build Your Company Tribe: Engaging Employees Through Online Collaboration
Speaker: Andi Campbell
This session was a case study on how LAZ Parking, a company that specializes in parking lots, leveraged an internal social network for training and collaboration.

LAZ Parking wanted to encourage employees to collaborate and feel connected to each other. That said, with 7800 employees working at 1900 locations across 24 states, sharing between employees was more than a bit tricky. Sure, in-person collaboration was limited, but LAZ Parking realized that there was another option: an internal social network.

In doing some initial analysis of this idea, LAZ Parking realized they had not one, but two ideal target markets for a social network: all employees (for general sharing) and participants in their management training program (for more specialized sharing). And so, rather than try and make one social network try and be all things to all people, they instead set up two separate networks: one for each target audience.

Here's a peek at one of the social sites they created
Both networks functioned relatively the same way. Like a simplified Facebook, they showed posts in a reverse chronological order, and let people share status updates, photos, and other user-created content. The company-wide site focused on sharing community-building content, like team photos and events. The site for the manager training program, on the other hand, focused more on tying in to course assignments and discussions, allowing users to learn from each other. What was great is that because LAZ Parking smartly made two different social networks, neither one got diluted. Both were able to focus on their core goals, which helped them resonate with the people who used them.

So, overall both sites were considered to be successes. But LAZ Parking is the first to say that social networks like this aren't a one-size-fits-all tool. They attributed much of their success to their company culture. They already had a positive work culture with a lot of trust, which made it much easier to get people to feel comfortable sharing with each other. I can't imagine this would have worked nearly as well in a toxic work environment. They also took their learners and corporate culture into account when designing how their social networks would function. A different audience might require a very different set up in order to work well in that workplace.

3) Sweet Caroline! A Super Set List for Sensational Learning Sessions!
Speaker: Rick Lozano
So this was my last session of the conference and, with its high-energy and practical message, it was quite possibly the perfect way to end my time at ASTD ICE.

Like the stand up comedy session I saw the day before, this was another session that talked about what we in L&D can learn from another set of professionals. In this case, the title tells you all you need to know about what other career we'd be learning from: professional musicians. Here are the main points of the session, in handy dandy photo format!

I *could* recap his main points, but this is even better: the recap Lozano made himself.
While I quite enjoyed the entire session, there was one point Lozano made that really stuck with me: that it's so important to find ways to connect the things we're passionate about outside of L&D to the work we do inside of L&D. Sure, it would have been easy for Lozano to keep his music life separate from his work life. I mean, it's not immediately apparent how they connect and that's definitely the approach many people take to their work life and their personal life. But no, he made the intuitive leap that helped him see how the skills he built as a musician and performer could actually complement and enhance his abilities as a trainer and facilitator. 

When you can find ways to leverage one skill to improve another, that makes your work stronger. But when you can also find ways to combine two things that you love, and to not have to live as though your passions are completely separate, that does even more. It means you don't have to pretend that your life is segmented off into completely unconnected portions, and you can instead work in a way that's authentic to everything you care about. That's some pretty powerful stuff when it comes to helping you feel excited about the work you do everyday.

Sure, not everyone is a professional musician, so we're not all going to pull our inspiration from our work onstage, but we all have things we care about outside of work that, when you do a bit of digging, can actually connect to our work in L&D. Maybe you're passionate about coaching your kid's sports team, and you leverage that to help you lead projects at work. Perhaps you enjoy scrapbooking, so you use the layout skills you learned from that to create beautiful and effective PowerPoint presentations and class materials. Maybe you're like me and you've found a way to turn your nerdy love of gadgets and software into a role where you show others the ways tech can help make training more effective. Where ever your passions are, find a way to tap into them to fuel your work and your passion about that work.

And with that came the end to my time at ASTD ICE. I was sad to have missed the last day of the conference, but at least I got to see the Twitter backchannel coverage of the rebranding announcement while I waited at the airport for my flight home. My thoughts on that? Well, other people have covered it with more historical perspective than I ever could (I quite liked David Kelly's take on it) but I will say this: this early on there's no way to really know what the what the long-term ramifications of the change will be. I, for one, am definitely interested in seeing what comes of it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 2

Day 2 was a busy day for me. Not only was I all set to watch a bunch of sessions, but I was scheduled to give one of my own too. On top of that, I promised a co-worker that I would hit the Expo hall on her behalf. All and all, a good, but exhausting day.

1) Keynote: Arianna Huffington
Did you know that Arianna Huffington was funny? I sure didn't until this session. Always a nice surprise to find that out about a speaker, don't you think?

Anyway, the point of this session was how do deal with change and succeed in life in a healthy way. Huffington pointed out that society typically recognizes two measures of success: power and wealth. Trying to achieve those two, though, can come at a pretty pricy cost to ourselves though. Huffington saw this happen to her, when her drive to burn the candle at both ends actually caused her to pass out at her desk from exhaustion.

And so, she wondered if there might be a third way we could start to recognize success. One that wouldn't require us to work 24/7 until we burn out. And so, she proposed a new measure of success. One with the following four pillars:

Science falls pretty strongly on the side of "less sleep makes you more dumb," and yet so many workplaces push people to work as much as possible. Huffington compares this to encouraging people to come to work drunk. It's not safe and the work tired people make is not terribly dissimilar to the junk they'd crank out if they were hammered.

To do our very best work, we need to start by being very well rested. Make sure to get a full night's sleep, take time for naps, and for the love of god keep your smart phone away from where you sleep. Beyond catching some winks, you also need to rest your brain. Our world is full of input, and our attempts to multi-task often just leave our brains overworked. Take every opportunity to be in the moment and just concentrate on one thing at a time. You'll be surprised at how much less exhausted it makes you.

Wisdom isn't just knowing facts. It's being able to see the big picture, avoid obstacles, make intuitive jumps and create a vision for how things could be.

Step back and just connect with the mystery of the universe. I think sometimes we take for granted just how spectacularly cool our world is. It's healthy and refreshing to tap back in to that wonder at everything around us that we had as a kid.

Personally, when I'm in need of a bit of a wonder jump start, I always watch this video. It really is my happy place sometimes.

You know what's cool? Research currently shows that giving time and/or money can give you the same boost in happiness as an increase in income. So we need to remember to make giving a priority. It's good for other people, and it's good for us too.

To wrap up, Huffington insisted that we all have a place of strength, peace, wisdom, and joy and it's time we live life connected to that place... time to choose to live life not with stress and burnout, but with compassion, creativity, and rest.

2) Telling Your Story With Infographics
Speaker: Bianca Woods
I had an awesome time facilitating this session, in large part due to a fantastic audience who was willing to participate (and ignore the occasional odd flickering of the room overhead lights). If you weren't able to make the session, you can still check out the in-depth session reference website I created. It's got links to the tools and sites I talked about in my session (plus a few more I thought people would like), my PowerPoint deck, and all my speaking notes. Enjoy!

3) Train Like a Rockstar: Speaking Tips From a Stand-Up Comedian
Speaker: Jeff Birk
When you think about it, it's not surprising that presenting to a group and doing stand up have more than a bit in common. Sure, the content is different, but the set up is the same. In both cases you have an audience (in some cases, a hostile one) that is counting on you to keep their attention and tell them something they didn't already know. And so Birk, a professional comedian, decided to share his tips for leveraging the skills one needs in stand up to make you a successful presenter.

I should start by pointing out that Birk mentioned early on that this didn't mean that in order to learn from stand up you had to make your content funny. Some content just doesn't hit right if you make it into jokes. Make light of something like diversity or sexual harassment and you're likely to make your audience ticked off, not engaged. But there are other techniques comedians use that you can try out in even the most serious of classes (and you can always pull out the jokes and light heartedness in the right occasions). Here are some of the key tips he mentioned:

  • Find a good balance between not being dull, but not being over the top either.
  • Don't make the session about you (the facilitator). Make it about the audience and the content.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse... especially your first 3 minutes of the presentation so you can be sure to start out solid.
  • Rehearse enough where your presentation is so second nature that you can actually riff and improv off it based on the room.
  • What can often work better than just straight humour? Mentioning something poignant that's strongly related to your topic.
  • Have trouble memorizing things? Use visualizing to connect images with what you need to say. Then recall that imaging when you need to present.
  • Use self-deprecating humour to connect to your audience.
  • Don't let intimidation get to you. Always remember that you are the expert! 
  • There's a lot of power in memorizing at least a few audience member names and using them throughout the session. Repeat people's names to commit them to memory.
  • You've got to have a little ego as a presenter.
  • Nobody cares about your product or service: they care about what it means to THEM.
  • Use light banter, both before your session and at the beginning, to get people comfortable and friendly.
  • Be aware that if people are tuned out, it's not always because of you. You don't know what else is going on in their life that could make them not feel engaged at the moment.
  • Audience is unattentive? 1) Stop talking. 2) Light-heartedly call them on it. 
  • Every great speaker still has quirks/tics. Have someone watch you speak and let you know about yours.
  • Know your audience so you can connect with them. Also remember that knowing your audience requires emotional and cultural intelligence. Not everyone reacts/converses/interprets everything the same way.

Finally, Birk made a strong point that I think he did a great job of following in his own talk: use humour to make impact, but be careful not have it override what you're trying to teach.

4) Even a Duck Can Drown: The 6 Keys to Building Career Resilience
Speaker: Maureen Orey
Did you know that ducklings aren't born able to float? It takes a bit of time for them to develop the skills they need to stay buoyant. In a similar vein, none of use are born magically able to be resilient. That's a skill that takes time to build too. And, from the stories I heard in the room about layoffs and job cuts, it's a skill that you'll want to hone fast.

So how do you go from an easy-to-drown newbie to a seasoned veteran whose career can stay afloat no matter what challenges they face? These 6 steps!

Build a supportive network
Staying connected to others, both in our industry and outside of it, will help you stay inspired... and also help you out when you have a problem. There were a lot of people in this session who mentioned how the power of a great network can help you find a new job rapidly, but it can also help you in smaller ways too, like fixing an issue on a project or hearing about a new tool or technique to try out. I adore my network so, no surprise, I just maybe have written about the value of a strong personal learning network in the past.

Develop new skills and resources
You can't just do things the way you've always done them and expect to continue to succeed. Things change, and you need to change with them. Learn to adapt by developing new skills, being open to new ideas, identifying new resources, being flexible, and changing your mindset.

Apply and practice your new skills daily
It's not just enough to learn new skills, you also need to use them on a regular basis or they'll atrophy. How can you do this? Make it a priority to practice your new skills, be proactive, take risks, believe in yourself, then REPEAT!

Take care of your health
This seemed to be a bit of the the theme of the day, now didn't it?! No surprise, though, because personal health is so vital to keeping us sharp and energized. Of course, this isn't just our physical health that we need to take care of, but our emotional health too. So take care of yourself (physically, emotionally, and financially), eat right, exercise, avoid toxic people, get rest, and stop any negative self-talk.

Follow your instincts
This is the one that, personally, I think a "your mileage may vary" warning needs to be applied. I agree that you need to push yourself outside your comfort zone and be brave enough to trust your instincts once and awhile. But don't do it to the point that you don't take logic and/or research into account too. 

As well, this ability to take a risk on a gut feeling requires having a certain amount of privilege, don't you think? For instance, someone with no nest egg and dependants has a lot less wiggle room to take big chances than a single person with a decent savings account.

And, as always, don't let the mantra of "follow your instincts" feel like it gives you permission to violate Wheaton's Law.

Work hard and use grit
Be tenacious and scrappy. Sometimes, let's be honest, life is kinda crummy. When things get hard, work even harder to keep them from getting you down.

But was that the end of Day 2 for me? Not a bit. I did what was one of my favourite things from the entire conference: I went out for dinner with a few other attendees and just chatted for the rest of the night over tasty food. Really, is there anything better than great company and nerding out about learning? I think not!

Plus, I got some great tips for how I can start learning to play that ukulele I've been neglecting. Who would have guessed?!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 1

Hello and welcome to my very first ASTD ICE! Thankfully, the weather in Washington DC has decided to make my first ICE conference (and my first trip to DC) just stunning. I got in early on Saturday, which meant I was able to spend a day checking out the Air and Space Museum as well walking around to see all the major monuments. That was over 6 hours of walking, not including my trip to in to town earlier in the day, so needless to say my legs were more than a bit sore today. Of course, I didn't let that stop me from walking over to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market early this morning (I can't recommend it enough if you're in DC for a weekend).

I regret nothing!

So, how about the conference? Well, Day 1 was a good day, but a short one too as there were only three sets of sessions today. Here's what I saw...

1) Four Ways To Use Digital Curation In Learning
Speaker: Ben Betts
Curation is a pretty big buzzword in learning right now, but it's one of the ones I actually think is worth the fuss. What exactly is curation? Well, to hyper-simplify a bit, curation is the process of carefully sifting through information and then thoughtfully putting together just the pieces that contribute to a specific story or theme. Museums do this when they put together exhibits and collections. I do this when I make Pinterest boards on cheap design assets or things I think are cute. There's probably less of an audience for my cute things Pinterest board than there is for the work the Smithsonian does, but it all still counts as passionate curation where the sum is greater than the individual parts on their own.

But what makes a person a great curator? This question was posed to the audience and got back answers such as:

  • having enough knowledge to ask good questions about content (but not so much specialized knowledge that they can't see things from other points of view)
  • being able to evaluate content well
  • curiosity
  • passion
  • an understanding of their intended audience
  • the ability to see the big picture of how content comes together
  • a knack for building collections
  • analytical skills
  • storytelling
Betts had his own answer to this question. He believes a good curator stores items, transforms them through context, and shares them with others. They add value by aggregation, distillation, and reflection.

So curation clearly has to be done with skill and purpose for it to work well. It's not just mindlessly collecting everything in a certain theme like a Pokemon trainer. It involves finding just the right pieces of content and enthusiastically putting them together in a way that brings even greater meaning than the pieces had on their own.

So, back to learning and curation. Many companies have this mindset that in order for our learning content to be good, we have to make it all ourselves (and cover it entirely in our own branding to boot). The thing is, as Betts put it, that the world is actually full of content, so we should move away from constantly creating content and consider curating it instead. Why do we always have to reinvent the wheel? Why can't we leverage the hard (and valid) work others have done using curation skills?

As well, Betts says the work we do in training has changed and is now more focused than ever on finding new solutions rather than using existing ones. And what better way of doing this than collaborating with others through curation?!

So what does this "curation for learning" actually look like in practice? Well, Betts suggests four starting points to try out:
  1. Inspiration: Use curated content to spark learner curiosity and thoughts
  2. Instruction: Take a look at how you can leverage curated content in your formal courses
  3. Integration: Have learners curate content themselves
  4. Application: Encourage learners to create their own content from their real life experiences that can be curated by others
And what's the best way to get a handle on curation? Why, by curating content yourself!

As a complete side note, the slide deck used for this session was stellar. The slides were clear and to the point, and the hand drawn chalk graphics were delightful. See for yourself:

How charming is this?!

2) Calibrating Your Confidence Meter!
Speaker: Barbara Roche
Have you ever been to a session that just doesn't livetweet well? This was one of those sessions. I rather enjoyed it, but with the more touchy-feely topic and the large number of activities, I get the sense it came across as more flaky and dry than it actually was. I'm hoping I can blog about it in a more engaging way, but if I can't, just know this: I felt it was well worth attending.

So, confidence. Some people have it in spades, some people really struggle with trying to have any at all. Full disclosure, despite appearances I often fall pretty far into the latter camp. Distressingly far.

We also can have varying levels of confidence in different situations. One of the session activities was to look at a list of ten situations, ranging from public speaking to taking on a project that requires skills you don't yet have, and rate your confidence in them. When my table discussed our results our numbers were wildly different. Some of us were rather self assured in the work situations, and terribly unsure in the social ones, and then some of us were the polar opposite. It really is an individual thing.

But, regardless of whether you get into a crisis of confidence about taking a vacation by yourself or while asking for a raise, that crisis can really get in your way. And a crisis of confidence can happen to anyone, no matter how outwardly successful you may be. If you want to overcome whatever your personal confidence barriers are, there are a number of general tips that you can apply to help you along the way.

First, you have to actually have a growth mindset: a belief that you're continuously learning, are willing to try, and your qualities are malleable (terrible related joke - Q: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? A: One. But the lightbulb has to really want to change). You also have to become more aware of you inner monologue and what it's telling you. The things you tell yourself can frame how you interpret your own abilities, so you have to be careful not to accidentally sabotage yourself with beating yourself down.

Next, you need to become more aware of what makes you awesome (my words, not Roche's) and get comfortable thinking of yourself (and presenting yourself to others) that way. This is essentially figuring out what your personal brand is: what awesomeness you bring to the table. To get started on this, Roche put up a huge list of potential words you could use to describe yourself and then asked us each to select the three that we felt described our skills the best.

I picked passionate, humorous, and expressive. How about you?
Those words are the start of being more mindful of what you actually have to offer the world. Use them to figure out how to play to your strengths in a situation you're less confident in (or consider using the broader list to try and figure out where you and another person might be having a disconnect because of drastically different skills).

Next up is taking a look at the people you surround yourself with. Roche mentioned the Jim Rohn quote "We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with." That can be a scary thought if you look around you and see yourself regularly in the presence of people who tear others down, don't support anyone but themselves, or always see the world as out to get them. It's no wonder that people in that situation don't feel overwhelmed with confidence. So what can you do? You need to change the people you're around the most. In some cases that may be as extreme as leaving a job or a relationship, but it doesn't always have to be. You can simple refuse to let those people be whiny, mean, insufferable, and/or energy sucking around you. You'd be surprised how well just shutting down negative conversations right when they start can be for changing how people talk to you (or encouraging negative people to go whine somewhere else).

Next is how you project yourself to others. Your body language does a lot to shape how people view you. It also subconsciously shapes how you view yourself too. So stand up straight and use confident body language. Even just faking-it-til-you-make-it can change how you feel about yourself and how others interpret you. As well, be thoughtful about what you say and how you say it. Things like mitigated speech and upspeak can lead people to believe you're confused or unsure of what you're saying. Trying to correct yourself out of those habits can do a lot to convince others to see you as someone who knows what they're talking about.

So that was the session in a nutshell. If you want more information on becoming more confident, then I recommend checking out Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Yes, it's technically a business book, but she talks a lot about how to overcome a lack of confidence (in particular, how to cope with one of the bigger confidence disruptors I know of: impostor syndrome).

3) User Experience Design for Learning
Speaker: Julie Dirksen
Defining user experience is reasonably simple (at least, if you forgive some massive oversimplification): it's the experience someone has through the journey of interacting with a thing/product/service/etc. User experience is somewhat subjective (my experience may be different than yours simply because we're different people with different expectations and experiences), but there are ways to craft great user experiences based on what we know, on average, about our target audience. There are also some broader best practices in user experience design that pretty much apply to everything.

The remote on the right is, no matter what the audience is, just plain crummy user experience design
So, and here's what appears to be the question of the day, how does this apply to learning? Well, whether we realize it or not, we all design user experiences on a regular basis, be it with designing eLearning lessons, putting together participant guides, or making resource websites. The thing is, if the design gets in the way of how your audience wants to interact with it, then a bunch of their brain is being used to figure out how they're supposed to interact with it instead. Want to bet that this means less of their brain is available for... you know... the actual learning?!

And so, we need to be aware of when we're designing or influencing user experience in our training and put our end user in mind when we make design choices. This can be tricky when you're in the dreaded "order taker" position, where your SME, stakeholder, or client just tells you what they want you to do and expects you to simply comply. But hey, who said our job was easy and stress free? We need to convince these people (and, let's be honest, ourselves too sometimes) that thoughtfully creating an experience that focuses on the audience's needs makes for better, stickier content. And what better way to do that than to learn from the industry that's been tackling this problem for ages: user experience (UX) design.

So here are a bunch of the tips you can learn from UX:

First, don't design in a tunnel. You need to go outside of your own experiences when you make something for others or else you may end up blinded to the problems it has (the whole "it's hard to edit your own work" issue).

Next, if you have the opportunity, go out and actually observe your users in their real world setting and simply talk to them. Often subject matter experts are great at telling you how things should happen, not how they actually happen. Observations and conversations with your users will tell you a lot about how things actually work in the real world. Observing also provides another benefit: people sometimes leave out telling you about the steps/tasks they've personally automated. This is like most of the math teachers I had in school: they know how to do the task they're trying to teach you, but they skip steps because they're so knowledgable that they don't even think about those parts anymore. So they tend not to tell you some things just because they're second nature to them now.

Observing has one additional benefit: it shows you the triggers that tell a person when they actually need to use the content you want to train them on. Knowing that can help you better decide how to present that content. It also tells you how to make sure your training resembles the real word application as much as possible. Never let it be forgotten that the closer a practice experience is to the real thing, the better that practice translates into being able to use that skill or knowledge in the real world.

Another thing that UX does that we in L&D could stand to leverage is personas (or, as we call them at work, learner profiles). These are documents that summarize one or some of the different target audiences for what we're creating. Obviously not every one of our learners will be exactly the same, but it's worthwhile to figure out what things most of them have in common so that you can build your user experience with them in mind. Remember, good design isn't the same for everyone, so you need to have general understanding of your audience in order to build something that works well for them.

Something else to try is prototyping and user testing. Build mockups of what you're creating, then let a small group of potential users (always make sure they come from your target audience) try it out and give you feedback. Observe what was easy for them, what didn't work well, and where they got confused. Reflect on that feedback, suggest changes, make those changes, and test again. You'll be amazed at what will seem easy and straightforward to you and your team, but will make your audience stumble.

At the end of the day, the simple truth is that design changes behaviour. Bad design can lead to flawed learning. But great, audience-centred design can make mastering your content so much easier for your learners.

On a related note, I felt like a lot of what we talked about in this session related back strongly to great product design. Dirksen acknowledged this by recommending we all read The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. I also suggest checking out the documentary Objectified and the podcast 99% Invisible.

So that's it for the first day. I actually kind of liked this more mellow start to a conference. It makes it a bit easier to ramp up and get into conference mode than the ones that just fill the first day up to the brim with sessions and content.

Join me tomorrow for more blog coverage of this event. Also, shameless plug, if you're at ASTD ICE and looking for a Monday afternoon session, definitely consider popping over to my talk on infographics at 1:00pm in room 144BC.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 3

Okay, it's taken me a bit of time to get this up here (I blame a terrifying wave of post-conference exhaustion) but here's your wrap up of Learning Solutions: Day 3 (AKA: the half day in which everyone is both ready to fall over from tiredness AND still sad the conference is almost over).

1) BYOL: Awesome Audacity - Tips and Techniques for This Free Tool
Speaker: Don Bolen
This was a walkthrough of the basics of using Audacity, so it's a bit hard to give you all a rundown of what happened other then yes... we did get a great introduction to the tool. Instead, here are a few links that will help you get up to speed with this tool:

  • You can download Audacity for Windows, Mac, and Linux (yes, Linux!) here.
  • Learning the keyboard shortcuts in Audacity will speed up your workflow a lot. Here's a handy dandy keyboard shortcut cheat sheet I found.
  • One of the first steps in getting used to Audacity is figuring out what everything on the Control Toolbar actually does. Here's a quick guide to it.
  • Finally, here's the Audacity help manual. Among other things, it also has a number of tutorials.

I'd actually never used Audacity before this session, but had previously had friends tell me it was a great tool. By the end of this session I'd have to say I agree. While it's not remotely as easy for newbies to just pick up and go the way Garageband can be, once you have someone show you the ropes it's pretty simple. It's also substantially more powerful in a lot of ways than Garageband. I honestly wish there was some way to mesh the ease of use and friendly UI of Garageband with the power of Audacity.

2) Today's Visual Design Trends: What Non-Designers Need to Know
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Yes, I actually did two sessions at Learning Solutions this year.

I'm going to do the exact same thing I did with my Thursday session: show my work by giving you the link to my session resources website. It's got links to all the tools I talked about in this session (plus a few more I thought were worth sharing), the session slide deck, and my full speakers notes. Enjoy!

3) Keynote: Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
Speaker: Cathy Davidson
Awww... the last session of the conference. It's always a bit bittersweet.

In this session Davidson explored the idea of attention, in particular how our perception of how well we pay attention to the world around us doesn't typically mesh well with reality. In our heads we think we're fantastic at paying attention, but as it turns out we're rather rubbish at noticing things outside of what we're focused on.

To make matters worse, it's incredibly easy to manipulate our focus. Take this famous video: the Monkey Business Illusion (AKA: the Gorilla Test). Don't read any farther... just go watch this video and come back.

Did you watch the whole video? Great.

So did you notice all the other stuff going on in the video? Chances are you missed most or even all of it beyond the basketball. Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with you in particular, this is just a demonstration of how human brains tend to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Our attention can be influenced by others (such as the directions in the gorilla video telling you to focus on the basketballs), but it can also be influenced by our own experience. Yes, your expertise can actually make you less inclined to notice some things because your attention is guided by your expectations and past experience. This is why sometimes a newbie can notice things that experts can't, particularly if that thing is surprising.

Yes, our brains sometimes betray us. So what can we do? Well, we need to leverage tools and partners to help us see the whole picture and catch the things we miss. Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Like I mentioned before, think about including thoughtful non-experts (or people who aren't close to a project) in some of your reviews and discussions. Their lack of expert focus will actually cause them to see things and expert might miss. Of course, thoughtful is the key word here in choosing who to ask to be your non-expert in the room. 
  • Don't do everything alone. Team up with other people who have different skills and experiences from you. These differences will help your group pick up on different things (this is one of the great arguments in favour of team diversity).
  • Just simply talk about ideas/problems with others.
  • Everyone has different things that help them focus their attention. Do some reflection and think about what things work specifically for you, then remember to use these techniques regularly.
The session wrapped with Davidson talking about how our current education system is rooted in the Industrial Age mindset of just teaching kinds to have singleminded focus and punctuality... the exact skills required to work in a factory. However, these skills don't prepare us for our world today, a world in which it's much more important to be able to see topics both deeply and broadly. A world in which it's not just important to know how to learn skills, but also know how to unlearn and relearn skills too. A world in which we're lifelong learners. Changing how we teach (and the values our teaching methods imply) is the best way to strengthen our ability to notice more and come up with better solutions.

And so Learning Solutions 2014 came to an end. As always I found myself happy I had attended, but really ready to take a nap for about three days straight.

As a final side note, this year the conference was helpful not just for learning from sessions and other attendees, but also for this spectacular reveal about DevLearn 2014:

Oh HECK yeah!!!

Yeah, the fangirl squeeing will be non-stop until October.  :)