Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Podcasts that can make you a better instructional designer

You know how when you're early in your career you'll be willing to do just about anything to get your foot in the door? Well, that's how it was for me and my first full-time instructional design role... and the "anything" in this case was a repulsively long commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic every day.

I won't lie, the hours in the car were all sorts of stressful and unpleasant, but there was one plus side to it: I finally started listening to podcasts. Sure, before this job I had understood that podcasts were a thing and had even poked at them with a stick once or twice, but I hadn't really bonded with any. Hours and hours in the car, though, gave me a great excuse to try out a bunch and finally find some I loved.

The podcasts kept me entertained, but (and this is possibly because I skew towards non-fiction in my choices) they also taught me a lot about how to convey content in a fascinating way. It might seem like an unusual source of inspiration, but they definitely influenced the way I design training. If you haven't gotten into podcasts or if you're looking for some new ones to try out, here are the ones that I've found have helped me out the most as an ID.

Podcast: 99% Invisible
Listen to it to learn how to: make ANY content interesting, leverage storytelling to convey information, get excited about design
That this podcast on the design of everyday things is my all-time favourite should surprise nobody at all (a big thanks to @marklearns for suggesting I try this one out)! The topics of each episode can range from things as bizarre as the carpet in the Portland airport, buildings that started out as Pizza Huts, or those strange "dancing" inflatable creatures you sometimes see at car dealerships, but when it comes to the content it's always solidly based in finding the fascinating story behind a design. This podcast has given me a lot of ideas of how to use storytelling to make my content more interesting, but it's also been helpful just as a simple boost to my creativity levels.

Podcast: Stuff series
Listen to it to learn how to: talk about content in a way that's exciting to your audience, explain concepts in a simple way that newbies can wrap their heads around (without making them feel you're dumbing it down too much), make things interesting that could easily be boring  
This is actually a family of podcasts from the How Stuff Works website. Each series covers a specific subject (like history, tech, and science), but is structured basically the same way: the (usually two) podcast hosts use each episode to get you up-to-speed on one specific topic. In the hands of a lot of people, this could end up being a snoozefest of a content dump, but the Stuff hosts are amazing at talking about content in a conversational, chatty way that makes you feel like a friend is catching you up on a topic over coffee. They're also generally quite good at pacing the content for the audience (you won't find it goes over your head or is too easy) and knowing what they can leave out to make things go faster. It's been a great inspiration for how to write training content that's effective and interesting.

Which one should you start with? While I personally have a soft spot for Stuff To Blow Your Mind because once they used Katamari Damacy to explain accretion, you're pretty safe just looking for the show topic you like best and starting there.

Podcast: Snap Judgment
Listen to it to learn how to: talk about content in a way that's exciting to your audience, leverage storytelling to convey information, explain your content concisely 
There is one simple thing that links all the content in this podcast together: great storytelling. Every episode has a loose theme, like Unrequited (the opening story of this ep is a personal fav), The Return, and The B-Team, and features a collection of stories, often non-fiction, from a variety of speakers that all in one way or another connect back to that theme. The storytelling in this podcast is some of the best you'll find and you'll be astounded at just how much ground they can cover in just a few minutes. I think storytelling is one of the most important parts of the work we do, so I love this podcast as a source for a wide variety of examples of how to do this right.

Podcast: Welcome to Night Vale
Listen to it to learn how to: design for your audience, think about the long game of conveying information, putting fun in your content 
If you know anything about podcasts then you've probably already heard about this one. Night Vale is one of the most downloaded podcasts these days, which you wouldn't really expect from a show that's pretty much Lake Wobegone by way of The X-Files (with a healthy dash of Eureka in there for flavour). So it's really entertaining if that's your cup of tea (note: it is totally my cup of tea), but what does a silly and bizarre show like this have to tell you about creating great training? Plenty.

First, Night Vale knows who its audience is and is written in a way that appeals to that group. Because of this it's not the kind of show that's right for everyone, and it's better because of that. It's a perfect example of how much more effective something can be when it targets a specific audience. Also, it does a great job of long game storytelling. It plants threads of stories here and there for episode after episode, and sometimes these threads don't pay off for months... but when they do it's so much fun to see how everything eventually comes together. This is a great technique to use to make your simulations feel more real or to help content spread over a lot of lessons feel like it's meaningfully connected. Plus, Night Vale is an excellent reminder that humor is a great way to catch and keep attention (writers of dry technical or legal training: take note!).

So those are my four favorites of the moment, but I'd love to hear more about the podcasts you find inspire your work (or just inspire you to think your commute is a bit more bearable). Be sure to put your favs in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Some things I'd suggest you bring along each day to a L&D conference

Now that I've been to quite a few conferences, I'm starting to get a good handle on what I like dragging around with me each day.

Curious about what I think is worth the trouble to keep on you? Check out this video:

So I'm curious... what are your conference best bets?

Learning Solutions 2015 - What I'm going to try to live tweet!

It's the night before one of the most fun events of the year (and one that's happily NOT in Vegas): Learning Solutions!

I just had an amusing day of playing absurd pirate mini golf with my work siblings, AKA: two of my awesome co-workers, and my mom. It should surprise no one that none of us are going to ditch L&D for a professional mini-golf career, but we had a great time in spite of our lack of athletic ability.

Now I'm just settling in, getting excited about my schedule, and thinking about the sessions I'm going to see. Once again, I'm going to try and live tweet this thing, and here's my intended schedule for the next three days. It may change a little bit here and there, but this is at least what I expect I'll be live tweeting each day:


8:30-10:00 AM - Keynote - Return on imagination
Speaker:Tom Wujec

10:45-11:45 AM - Featured session: Bridging the gender gap
Speakers: Jennifer Hofmann, Mark Lassoff, Megan Torrance, and David Kelly

1:00-2:00 PM - I know it's ugly, but I can't tell you why: Fixing common design mistakes
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Oh look... it's my own session! Yeah... I somehow suspect I won't be live tweeting this one.

2:30-3:30 PM - The second-screen experience: Designing a paperless classroom
Speaker: Andrew Vecchiarelli
Andrew is one of the awesome co-workers I mentioned earlier and you should totally go to his session. Also, I've seen his content and it is GOOD!
4:00-5:00 PM - Interactive video for training: Secrets of success
Speakers: Cass Sapir and Ty Marbut


8:30-10:00 AM - Keynote- The future of learning at work
Speaker: Michael Furdyk

10:45-11:45 AM - Training hacks to improve your practice
Speaker: David Glow

1:00-2:00 PM - Serious game secrets: What, why, where, who cares?
Speaker: Andrew Hughes

2:30-3:30 PM - Free and low-cost eLearning tools you should know!
Speaker: Joe Ganci

3:45-4:45 PM - BYOL: Project paramedic: Tools and resources to resuscitate your projects
Speaker: Coline Son Lee

4:45-6:45 PM - LS DemoFest


8:30-9:30 AM - BYOL: Video 101 - Creating captivating videos on a budget
Speakers: Amanda Mahoney and Stacy Bodenner

10:00-11:00 AM - BYOL: Video 102 - Building your intermediate video skills
Speakers: Amanda Mahoney and Stacy Bodenner

11:15 AM-12:30 PM - Keynote: Design thinking to enhance learning
Speaker: Juliette LaMontagne

Hope to see you there, either in-person or on the backchannel!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

E-Learning Heroes Design Challenge #73 (AKA: I'm so very sorry...)

Okay, so this week the E-Learning Heroes design challenge was something that had practically been written for me: "Design a Cover Slide for the Oddest E-Learning Course Title of the Year" (you can read all about it here). 

I love ridiculous things like this, so I got excited and started contemplating ideas... and almost immediately a terrible, horrible idea came to mind. A topic that technically someone might have to really make eLearning about... but not any eLearning I'd want to take, that's for sure.

It was an evil idea, but once it got in my head I realized I'd have to make it.


Side note: If you don't know what a cloaca is, go and Google it now. Warning: it is something you can never unlearn.

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 (http://www.elearningguild.com/DevLearn/content/3441/devlearn-2014-conference--expo--learning-stages--elearning-tools). 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.