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.  :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 2

Day Two of the conference featured absurdly good weather, yet again. Seriously, it is making me so happy to not be wearing a big, bulky coat (and, even with that, STILL be freezing to death). *sigh* I don't want to move back to FL anytime soon, but it's definitely great to visit at this time of year.

So here's what I was up to today...

1) General Session- Big Data Demystified for Learning: What's Important, What's Not, and What's Next
Speaker: Douglas Merrill
I feel like most conferences have at least one session these days that focuses on a buzzword topic (not a complaint, just an observation). So this was our LSCon trend topic session: big data.

Big data is something we hear about constantly, but often without much context other than "Look at all the info we can capture! More info must mean we'll do better at _____." But Merrill made the point that there's no guarantee that'll actually happen. In fact, he made some very sensible challenges to the idea that big data is an automatic game changer.

On one hand, big data isn't this magical, mystical thing it's sometimes made it out to be. Many people get stressed out at the very mention of the word "math", and so they buy in to this religion of data because it's a way of dealing with the potential for data and math to help us, without going into the actual details of how exactly it can do that. You don't have to understand the data... you just have to have faith that it works.

Except there are so many ways to manage and interpret data, so if you don't understand how that process works, you're going to just mangle what all your data actually means. Be aware of how outliers can warp results in weird ways. Acknowledge that data isn't independent, it's always connected to other factors ("No data is an island..." *laugh*). Understand how the real world can be messier and more chaotic than mere data can represent.

Or, to summarize, ignore your anxiety and go take a great Stats 101 class (seriously, stats is the best kind of math for people who hate math)!

On the other hand, if you can learn to interpret data properly, it can empower you to do some fantastic things. It allows companies to pay better attention to what their customers are actually doing, not what they think they're doing. For instance, take the music industry back when they were in the early days of dealing with pirated MP3s. They thought the solution was to sue the people who were illegally downloading the most of their music. But, as it turns out, these exact same people were also the users who were spending the most on legal downloads as well. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot instead of looking at the bigger picture. Now, this doesn't mean you only listen to what your customers want and do. That mindset gets in the way of innovation (sometimes customers can't actually conceive of the new thing they might someday want),. That said, it's definitely worth paying attention to data for interpreting what your customers are actually doing.

Crowdsourcing is another angle on using big data smartly. Done right it allows you to use a wide array of sources to do things as different as building a spell correct system for Google searches or hiring more effectively.

At the end of the day big data isn't the magical solution that some people think it is, but if you use it smartly (and stop being so darn afraid of math) it can be more effective than skeptics would lead you to believe.

So overall the session was enjoyable. However, there was one thing that, while it may have seemed small to others, stuck out to me. Merrill made this crack during his talk about the CEO of Zappos and what exactly it said about him that he spent so much time around women's shoes. I'm sure he wasn't intending to be a jerk, but, you know, that's not the kind of comment that would be likely to make a transgender Guild member feel particularly welcome. It's more often the repeated little things, like those kinds of jokes, that make people feel like they're not a part of a community and I would have thought a lot more of the session had that one thoughtless joke not been there.

2) Doing Things With Words: Words That Work in eLearning
Speaker: Lisa Russell
In this session we talked about the nuts and bolts of the words, phrasing, and sentences we choose to use in our training.

Words, even a small number of them, have the power to move people. Take, for instance, Ernest Hemingway's famous 6-word story:
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
It's just a few words, but because they're so cleverly chosen they can still stir a surprising amount of emotions. 

And yet, when most people write they pad out their content, using filler words and sloppy sentence structure to convey information clumsily. But in training, we don't have the luxury of letting our writing meander. If you don't grab people in the first few words, you may have lost them for good. So you need to make your prose snappy, and you need to figure out what your specific audience will actually respond to.

So how can you fix this? First, pay attention to your phrasing. Arrange your words for emphasis, keeping in mind that the first and last words in a sentence will get special attention. Next, don't be a word hoarder by padding your writing with filler words. If you can't tell your information simply, you don't know it well enough. Also, use active, not passive words. Passive language kills the action in what you're writing.

Finally, use the framework of the MEAL plan to balance your paragraphs:

M: Your main idea
E: Your evidence
A: Analysis
L: Link back to the main idea or lead out to the next one

Keeping these tips in mind can make your writing clear and concise.

3) Best Practices For Enlivening the Virtual Classroom
Speaker: Pandora Bryce
You know what's a bizarre but amusing experience? Live tweeting a session lead by a coworker where she's presenting a case study involving your own workplace. Not bad... just a bit surreal. *laugh*

Bryce used this session to talk about two aspects of virtual classrooms (VCs): a summary of some of the ways we use VCs at BMO Financial Group and a selection of VC roadblocks (plus suggestions for ways around some of them).

So, for context, we run about 110 VCs per week at BMO and have 50+ certified VC facilitators. That is a lot of VC content. On the plus side, VCs have no travel costs, don't require a physical classroom, enable broader access to training, have features that are difficult/expensive to replicate in classrooms, allow anonymous knowledge checks, make it easy to capture questions and output, and are, no surprise, relatively cheap. On the other hand, all of them suffer from the same problem: it's a challenge to maintain learner attention.

So there are a few VC best practices that can help attract and keep people's attention in them:

Bryce then followed this with a description of two programs at BMO that use VCs in engaging ways, one for Customer Service Representatives (bank tellers) and another for first time leaders. In both cases the VCs were just one part of the program, with eLearning, manager 1-on-1s, and group work (obviously done via conference calls) included in the overall experience. The VCs themselves were used not for basic content that was explained by a talking head, but instead for facilitated group discussions and debriefs on the more complex, grey areas of the content. And using VCs for discussion and talking through tricky issues tended to get people to buy in to the learning experience substantially more than just asking them to put on a headset and listen to a live lecture.

As for VC roadblocks (and a few suggestions for solving for them), Bryce mentioned 3:

  • Human Obstacles: What if people don't do their prework? What if they haven't figured out their tech setup before the session. Solutions can include giving them training and support on the tech side of things long before the session starts. Also, set their expectations for the VC early, so they get why the prework is important.
  • Organizational Obstacles: In the case of the new customer service representatives, when they began their training many of them didn't have access to corporate email or the company intranet yet. Plus, many bank branches only had a single computer available for employees to use for training, which meant you couldn't schedule more than one person at a branch at once for a VC at any given time. Because learners didn't have remote access to the intranet either, they couldn't do their training remotely from home. As well, there was a culture of text and content-heavy slides for VCs that didn't work well for learners.
  • Technology Issues: What if the technology doesn't work as planned? Obviously doing the pre-session tech test first helps, but sometimes things just stop working in the session itself. What should you do then?

If you can figure out your own team's solutions to these barriers, it makes running VCs much easier.

4) Telling Your Story With Infographics
Speaker: Bianca Woods

Oh look... it's my own session!

Obviously I'm not going to review my own talk. However, I am going to to do the "share your work" thing and give you a link to my session resources page. 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.


And this has turned into yet another terribly late night for me. So I'm going to keep this wrap up short by saying this conference continues to be excellent in all ways.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 1

I've got to say, it's nice to be at Learning Solutions in Orlando right now. Yes, obviously it's great to hear fantastic speakers and catch up with industry friends, but, as I'm sure anyone from the northeast will agree, it's even more exciting to actually be without snow for awhile! *laugh*

Okay, all kidding aside, I really am happy to be back here for my second Learning Solutions. As this was a particularly session-packed day (and I have a presentation tomorrow and need my sleep) I'm going to cut to the chase and get right down to the session reflections.

1) Keynote - Leapfrogging to Learning Breakthroughs
Speaker: Soren Kaplan
I've said this before and I'll say it again: I feel like the first session of a conference needs to focus on getting you energized and open to learning more. In this case, Kaplan definitely hit the right note with his talk of creating breakthroughs using surprise.

Kaplan became interested in finding out how business leaders had made major breakthroughs, and what he found was this: many great breakthroughs involve an element of positive surprise for the customer, and sometimes even the business too. In fact, brain science confirms the benefits of this as well. When people experience a positive surprise, the pleasure centres in their brain actually light up.

But how do you go about finding the right surprises? And how do you broaden your view so your focus on one issue or thing doesn't get in the way of your seeing other options? Kapan suggested there are three things anyone can do to become more innovative and find the surprise in their business or role:

  1. Rethink what your role actually is. If you're making drills, you're not really in the drill business. You're in the hole making business. If you can see what your real role is, it's easier to find surprising solutions.
  2. Fall in love with problems, not solutions. If you get married to what you think the solution should be, you're not going to be able to tell when there's an even better problem to solve.
  3. Go outside to stretch your inside. Staying inside your organization/role isn't going to challenge you to think of things in new ways. You can't just play it safe and expect to be able to find surprise. You have to step outside your comfort zone and go outside your organization/role to get new, surprising ideas. You also have to be open to trying new ideas out and possibly failing for awhile until you find an idea that sticks.

Sure, I'll agree that much of his content wasn't rocket surgery or anything new, but it was a good reminder to all of us that we need to not just know these things, but actually act on them on a regular basis.

2) Featured Session - Subscription Learning: A Fundamentally Different Form of eLearning
Speaker: Will Thalheimer
Subscription learning is a pretty simple concept: it's smaller packages of learning that you sign up to receive and get on a regular basis. It's like the magazine subscription of the learning world. While it isn't exactly a brand new idea, it is much easier to implement today than even just a few years ago (both from a tool and a cost perspective).

Many L&D groups put out one-time learning events or a handful of multi-session lessons. Unfortunately, what we know about how content is actually retained tells us this isn't the best way to ensure the people actually learn the information we're trying to teach. The forgetting curve tells us that learners unfortunately don't remember much content in the long-term from one-time learning events. However, if you regularly repeat and build on content over time, people remember substantially more. Subscription-based learning is an excellent option for training in the way we know people actually retain content.

When it comes to how you teach your information in a subscription situation, there are a few tips to keep in mind. First, repeated content is good, but don't repeat it the exact same way each time. Studies showed that paraphrased repeated content was much easier to remember than the exact same text repeated over and over. Also, space out your learning. Give people time in between learning content, repeating it, and adding on. This gives them some time to process.

When it comes to actually delivering this content, there are numerous ways to push it out to your subscribers. Email is a simple, yet effective, option. Apps and bite-sized eLearning are other delivery method too. Even texts can be a reasonable choice in some situations. And, while we didn't discuss it in this session, there are tons of other alternatives (both tech enabled and not) you can try. How about podcasts, interactive PDFs, or videos, just to name a few?

3) Where Does the Learning Occur In Games?
Speaker: Rick Blunt
You know, I had actually sworn off sessions on learning and games (long story), but this one pulled me in with an intriguing concept and a Twitter buddy (@rblunt81) as the speaker... particularly because I hadn't realized this friend actually had a background in games for learning (the more you know). So, I went anyway and was glad I did.

To really get this session it's important to first establish what exactly a game is. Blunt's definition was simple: a game is an engaging activity in which players seek a goal by overcoming challenges within a given set of rules. That definition applies as much to a simple game of tic-tac-toe as it does to a modern videogame. Game-based learning (in this case, serious games) is just an extension of that, where the game's main purpose is learning. Games like this aren't just fun, when designed well they give nearly all types of learners a noticeable boost (the only group left out: most learners over 40... sorry guys!). Now, just like any tool, you can't use games for learning in all situations, but for the circumstances they work well in they're a good option to consider.

When you're designing a game for learning there are three goals you need to consider: the business goal, the learning goal, and the game goal. Only when you've considered all three of these goals (and made sure your solutions for each aren't working against each other) can you create a game that actually teaches content in a meaningful and successful way.

Then Blunt showed us an example of a serious game done right: Re-Mission. This game was designed for adolescents with cancer to both teach them about the disease, as well as prepare them for how it would affect their day-to-day life. And what was interesting to see was that, by structuring the game missions and elements around what you want players to learn (in this case, how to live with cancer) while also not forgetting the fun, you could create an engaging game that would also manage to teach players content as they played.  Game-based learning also allows for something we know is a powerful learning tool: failure in a safe environment.

Now, this isn't to say that all game-based learning is effective. Goodness knows any kid from the 80s can tell you about all the well-intentioned, but content-devoid learning games they played as kids (I'm looking at you The Oregon Train). But it does mean that there are ways to make games that can lead to actual learning.

And if you only take one lesson from this session, let it be this one: a game will resonate with people if you make sure to give players the opportunity to make meaningful choices.

4) Reality TV Training as an Onboarding Program
Speaker: Gail Griswold and Samuel Weber

I'll admit, other than an affection for the early seasons of Project Runway I'm not that in to reality TV. But, based on the sheer number of different reality shows available right now, it's clear that many people are attracted to this genre, so I thought it was worth taking a peek at how one team had created a reality TV-inspired onboarding program for their company.

The project started out in a way that loaned itself well to an eventual session at this conference: they actually came up with the concept while attending Learning Solutions two years ago. Their old method of doing onboarding was the usual suspects: lecture and PowerPoint. The team thought it could teach the content in a more interesting way by leveraging the style of reality TV... the episodic content, the in-the-moment revelations, the confessionals, the true-to-life situations and scenarios, not to mention the drama... all of that could be a package for showing the content that new employees needed to know as they began working at this company. While the "reality" would be fully scripted (not, let's admit, unlike some current reality TV), the situations would still be written to feel as true to life as possible.

However, the team hadn't created anything like this project before, so the first thing on their list was to make a proof-of-concept video. The goal of it was to both have an example of what they were trying to accomplish to show stakeholders, as well as prove to themselves that they could actually create this thing in-house for a reasonable cost. So, they made the proof of concept with the barest of bones resources and used themselves as the actors. Because they were just creating a proof of concept it didn't need to be perfect and polished, it just needed to show the gist of the idea. The video worked, they got buy in early on in the project, and even managed to acquire a bit of a budget for better tools too.

Then came casting. They knew they wanted to make episodic content revolving around a few major characters, they knew they needed to find in-house employees to be their actors, and they most assuredly knew they didn't want to be the actors themselves. So they did the equivalent of a casting call and screen test. They asked for people to audition using a short script with three mini-scenes, recorded it all on video, and then focus tested the results to land on the best choices for the job. In this case, once they had the cast settled, only then did they start deciding what their characters would be like (a great option if you're using amateur actors: work around the talent and range your people have to offer). In the end they put together 5 characters who represented the various average new employees in their workplace (read: not just new graduates!) and got ready to film.

The setup for filming was relatively simple. They wrote a detailed script that included many of the standard reality TV tropes; picked up a decent DSLR camera for filming; added a microphone, 3-light set up, and green screen as supplies; and started filming their main footage as well as b-roll. They then used Adobe Premier Pro, Flypaper, Camtasia, and Adobe After Effects to edit and add in effects, and then packaged the results (along with some accompanying eLearning) in Articulate Storyline. And there you have it: a reality TV-style training program.

Here's one final thing they did that I found interesting: they created buzz around the project even in its early stages by sharing a music video, trailers, and sneak previews with the organization. By the time the episodes were ready to share, people were already excited about the project and itchy to get their hands on it. This isn't the first time I've heard of learning projects successfully using an ad campaign to drive interest, and I really hope it's a practice that we consider using more often in L&D on a whole.

5) Gaining Altitude: Sustaining Ed Tech Culture
Speaker: Mark Sheppard and Luc Blanchette

Here's another session I attended both on the appeal of the topic as well as the appeal of seeing a Twitter buddy present (this time it was @MarkLearns). What can I say, it's my duty to heckle... um... I mean "support" my fellow Canadian presenters, right? Okay, all joking aside, I work in a conservative and heavily regulated industry (banking & finance) and I was curious to see how Sheppard and Blanchette had managed to encourage and sustain ed tech culture in an equally strict industry (the Canadian military).

The school Sheppard and Blanchette design training for is the Canadian Forces School for Aerospace Technology and Engineering. You'd think that a school with the work "technology" in the name would be all on top of using technology for training. Alas, you'd be wrong. The typical method of training is your standard one: lecture and (often bad) PowerPoint. Training aids are surprisingly old. Instructor turnover is, for a multitude of reasons, incredible high (1/3 per year) and many people selected to be instructors have little to no experience as formal teachers. Not a comfortable situation, but one that was most assuredly ready for some revamping.

I loved that, at the end of the day, Sheppard and Blanchette came up with a flight-related analogy for how you make ed tech culture thrive in this, or any other, environment. They suggested that there are four forces at work on ed tech culture: lift, thrust, weight, and drag. You need to achieve balance between all four in order to succeed, and to do that you need to do the following:

  1. Improve lift: Find ways to be cost efficient and align your work with corporate objectives. As well, be sure to make the "trifecta of advocacy" happy: the buyer, client, and consumer.
  2. Reduce weight: Make due with less. Be responsible with funds. Get approval from the myriad of people you need to get approval from and go through all the hoops required. (While this wasn't directly stated in the session itself, I have to imagine that reducing both the number of people who need to approve decisions/content and the number of hoops that you have to jump through would also reduce weight).
  3. Increase thrust: Focus on project success. Make sure your projects are able to fulfil a need and/or solve a problem. Look for easy opportunities to meet a need too.
  4. Decrease drag: Alas, a main source of drag seems to be people who are disinterested in change. Decreasing drag could involve helping them to become more accustomed to change (and get them to buy-in to the plan), addressing their fears directly, or even just waiting for these people to choose to leave on their own.

These forces aren't ever going to go away, which is why it's so important to acknowledge them and work to keep them as balanced as possible.

This is the part where I'd write a wrap up... except it's super late and I need to sleep or I'll end up walking into walls tomorrow. So, to summarize quickly, yea Learning Solutions Day 1!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Where I'm going to be!

It's Learning Solutions time again, and I'm happy to say I'm back in Orlando this year and all set for three days of live tweeting and blogging about the conference. And, natural shyness aside, I'm also giddy about getting to hang out with all the attendees and meet more of my online Twitter buddies (Twitter PLN FTW!).

If you're curious about what I'm planning to cover this year, here's my (tentative) schedule:


8:30-10:00 AM - Keynote - Leapfrogging to Learning Breakthroughs
Speaker: Soren Kaplan

10:45-11:45 AM - Featured Session - Subscription Learning: A Fundamentally Different Form of eLearning
Speaker: Will Thalheimer

1:00-2:00 PM - Where Does the Learning Occur In Games?
Speaker: Rick Blunt

2:30-3:30 PM - Reality TV Training as an Onboarding Program
Speaker: Gail Griswold and Samuel Weber
4:00-5:00 PM - Gaining Altitude: Sustaining Ed Tech Culture
Speaker: Mark Sheppard and Luc Blanchette


8:30-10:00 AM - Keynote- Big Data Demystified for Learning: What's Important, What's Not, and What's Next
Speaker: Douglas Merrill

10:45-11:45 AM - Doing Things With Words: Words That Work in eLearning
Speaker: Lisa Russell

1:00-2:00 PM - Best Practices For Enlivening the Virtual Classroom
Speaker: Pandora Bryce

3:45-4:45 PM - Telling Your Story With Infographics
Speaker: Bianca Woods

Oh look... it's my own session! I should hope I'm planning on being there.  ;)

4:45-6:45 PM - SolutionFest 2014


8:30-9:30 AM - BYOL: Awesome Audacity - Tips and Techniques for This Free Tool
Speaker: Don Bolen

9:45-10-45 AM - Today's Visual Design Trends: What Non-Designers Need to Know
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Yes, I'm actually doing two sessions at Learning Solutions this year. Hope to see you there!

11:00 AM-12:30 PM - Keynote: Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
Speaker: Cathy Davidson

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

ASTD TechKnowledge - Day 3

The final day! It's kind of a relief that the last day of the conference is only a half day, since everyone is so tired at this point. Of course, it's also a bit sad that it's just a half day because the creative wheels in my head where only just getting spinning this morning and then the conference was over.

Well, now's the time to take advantage of the last of the free conference wi-fi and get some blogging about today done.  :)

1) We’re All in This Together: Team Collaboration Tools
Speaker: Koreen Olbrish Pagano
Pagano did something really fun in this session: she gave us a bunch of recommendations for free team collaboration tools to check out and then basically let us all poke at the links with a stick together to see what they all did. It was a morning of guided play through a curated list of tools and I can't think of a more perfect way to start off the last, exhausting morning of the conference.

So what specific tools did we play with today? Here's the list (compiled into three handy, dandy categories):

Project collaboration
  1. Producteev  
  2. Podio
  3. Redbooth
  4. Trello
  5. Wiggio  
Design collaboration
  1. Red Pen
  2. Marqueed
Real-time collaboration
  1. Scribblar
We also got a list of great (but not so free) tools to check out as well: 

Project collaboration
- Basecamp, BinFire, Projecturf, Zoho, Google Apps, Apollo
Design collaboration - Cage, Mindmeister
Real-time collaboration - Flow, Conceptboard, GroupZap

These products are all so different, so it's hard for me to make a grand declaration that one is better than another. However, there are definitely a few that I suspect will be worming their way into my heart (and workflow). For projects, Redbooth's user interface made me pretty happy, so I think I'll take it out for a proper test drive when I get back to work. For serious design work I'll likely end up using the mood board-like features of For making joking annotations on pictures, though, Red Pen is a clear winner (here's the delightfully riduclous thing the group put together in the session). As for real-time collaboration, might just be the thing for times when my brainstorming buddies and I can't all be in the same place.

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend that, if you're curious about these tools, you go and click on every single one of those links and see which might work best for you.

2) How to Engage Learners With Digital Stories Using Free Tools
Speaker: Kenneth Hubbell
In this session Hubbell talked about a number of free tools you can use to put together an animated story. While we briefly touched on software like Audacity (sound recording/editing), MovieMaker (video editing), and Celtx (script writing), the vast majority of the presentation centered on an animation tool called Muvizu. This tool uses a suite of pre-created set pieces, characters, and settings that you can arrange, tweak, and light to your own preferences to create animated scenes. Add in voice over work (Muvizu does the hard work of syncing character mouth movement to your audio), stitch a bunch of these animated scenes together in sequence, and you've got an animated movie.

So what does the finished product look like? Well, here's a super slick example that Muvizu linked to on their website. So you can do that with a lot of work, but you can also make stuff that's a lot clumsier (and, sadly, visually dull as dirt) too. There seem to be two secrets to using this tool in a way that doesn't look crummy. Obviously you need to figure out all the ins and outs of the camera/lighting/animation features so you can incorporate them in to your work as needed. But even if you get all that mastered, your animation will still look lousy and boring if you don't understand the basics of film making before you begin even scripting your story.

What I'd suggest you do is get up-to-speed on film making techniques first (perhaps through some of the resources I talked about from the Day 2 sessions) and only try out a tool like Muvizu once you've gotten a good hold your film making basics.

Let's say, though, that you know your stuff when it comes to cinematography, script writing, and directing. Is Muvizu a tool you might want to try? Well, I'm not sure. To my gamer eyes the characters and set pieces looked a bit dated. Plus, the user interface (particularly for moving your design elements and camera around the stage) was terrifyingly odd. I've never played a video game that controlled as awkwardly as this. I think it's something that you'd vaguely get used to though, so don't let the initial uncomfortableness of control completely stop your from trying out this tool.

At the end of the day I might play around with this tool for fun, but don't think it's the right fit for the audience I'm designing content for. The look and feel of the final product has a rough and cartoony aesthetic that I didn't love. However, you might be in a situation where that will still work for you, so check out a few example videos and decide for yourself.

3) General Session 3
Speaker: Kate Hartman
As far as I'm concerned, if a conference opening session should get you excited, then an ending session should make you ponder new ideas that you'll need to mentally chew on during your journey home. By this standard, Hartman's talk about wearable technology, particularly from the angle of using it as "social prosthetics", was a perfect fit.

Hartman has spent years experimenting with how technology can communicate with people. An early project she worked on was Botanicalls: a device that monitored the water levels in a potted plant's soil and actually phoned you, posing as the voice of your plant, to tell you if the plant was thirsty or overwatered. Cute, right? Well, the project morphed from phone calls to giving your plant its own Twitter account and enabling it to tweet its status to you and any of its other followers. Yes, your plant can have Twitter followers. *laugh*

Since then Hartman has continued exploring alternative ways in which we can use technology to alter the ways we communicate. And through this exploration she's been focusing on communicating through wearable technology, in particular with her work as a professor of Wearable and Mobile Technology at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and as a member of their Social Body Lab research group.

Her projects have included getting her students to push the boundaries of wearable technology (check out some fun examples of past student projects here. The telepathic motion-sensitive cat vest is a personal favourite). She's also experimented with new ways to let people communicate using wearable tech, particularly through simple and cheap components like Arduino and LED lights. She shared an amusing project called Nudgeables which was designed to create a subtle way for people to communicate in a tactile way with someone else in the same room (check it out here). The challenge with this project wasn't just designing the mechanical aspect of this tool, but also to shape the design of it so it would be something people would actually want to wear too (fancy that... people don't want to walk around looking like awkward cyborgs?! *laugh*).

So what does this mean to us in L&D? Well, wearable technology is likely something that's becoming a reality in our world... and not just with obvious examples like Google Glass. For instance, think about how many people you know who regularly wear a Fitbit or Nike FuelBand nowadays? I don't know about you, but I know a lot (all of which took to these devices in the last year or so). So why not stretch your brain to think not just of how to use the existing wearable tech that's out there for learning, but also contemplate the possibilities of wearable tech that could become a reality in the future?

So that's it for the sessions I attended at ASTD TechKnowledge this year. Right now I'm going to track down some well-deserved lunch before I have to scamper back to Toronto on the red eye, but definitely expect a final conference post in the next few days where I'll review the conference on a whole and talk about the "joys" of staying off-site at the Flamingo.

ASTD TechKnowledge - Day 2

Well, it seems Thursday was my big day for sessions as I managed to fit in 5 today. Hooray! On one hand, there was a ton of great content today. On the other hand, all the live tweeting has made my right arm HATE me. Ah well... it was worth it.

1) General Session 2
Speaker: Amy Jo Martin
The day started with a talk on how to humanize our social media brands. The spin was on doing this to monetize our social media presence, which, to be honest, made me feel like this specific talk didn't quite fit in with the overall conference. Martin was an enjoyable speaker though, so there was a lot to be gained from her session even though the angle she took on the topic wasn't ideal.

She started by referencing a Simon Sinek quote: "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" (I highly recommend this TED talk in which he elaborates on this idea). This is a core component of building a compelling brand, both from a company perspective as well as from a personal one. It's even more important when you're dealing with social media. Social media isn't a one-way media... it's collaborative. Because of this, your presence on social media needs to have a real personality and presence in order for people to want to follow and interact with you.

Unfortunately a lot of companies and people new to social media don't get this. They just push out content, are confused when that doesn't seem to lead to any results, and then write off social media as a fad. This is why, Martin suggested, social media education is so important these days. Really "getting" a social media tool is like trying to learn a new language... and just because you've mastered one tool doesn't mean you're a master of all of them. To make her point Martin shared this video from Jimmy Fallon where he and Justin Timberlake hilariously speak in hashtags. Sure, it's funny, but it also points out how drastically different the way communication on social media can be from real speech.

Social media education can help a person or company learn to communicate in the "language" of different social media tools. It can also reduce social media mistakes, help employees become brand ambassadors, be a professional development tool, save companies money, and make social media seem less scary (and more valuable too).

2) Transmedia Storytelling: A Hero's Journey Through New Media
Speaker: Anders Gronstedt
Gronstedt started off by immediately sharing the link for the Prezi presentation he was sharing in the session (you can check it out here). Hooray for showing your work! I'd recommend checking out the full presentation if you get a chance, but here's the high level summary for now.

Transmedia storytelling is simply using multiple types of media to tell a single story. Each media channel should contribute to the overall story, but also be able to stand on its own. Want to see a fantastic example of a deep and effective transmedia story? Check out The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice told using YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr (my love for this series is epic).

While transmedia storytelling comes from the entertainment industry, there's no reason this technique can't also be leveraged for L&D as well. But why use stories to teach information? Because our memory is itself so story based. Stories are exceptionally memorable and persuasive because of this. That means you can make training that's both easy to follow AND easy to remember.

But how do you structure telling a story this way. Gronstedt suggested a tried-but-true structure that humans have been using for ages: the hero's journey. Thanks to a recommendation from @oxala75 (hooray for Twitter!), you can learn more about this story structure with this fun (and short) video. Another great video introduction (also from @oxala75) that will appeal to my fellow gamers is this intro from Extra Credits.

Once you've figured out your compelling story, what media is appropriate to use with transmedia storytelling? Why, any and all of it... from paper posters to videos to podcasts to written stories and so on. Just make sure each story component plays to the strengths of the media you're choosing to create it in.

3) Apply the Skills of TV Directing to Your Learning Video
Speaker: Jonathan Halls
Halls opened with a rather grand statement: "The future training professional will be a media producer." Essentially, he feels that video is going to become even more important in L&D in the upcoming years, so if you don't get how to produce it (and produce content with it that's actually useful) now, you're going to get left behind.

Hall was yet another speaker who made his slide deck and resources available online (and for that I'm grateful), so rather than retell the whole session I'm going to recommend you check out his site for all the details and I'll just fill you in on the highlights.

First off, not all media is great for all situations. Because of this, you need to know the strengths (and weaknesses) of video to help you decide if it's the right fit for what you're trying to teach or show. Second, video is primarily a visual medium, so take advantage of that to make the story you tell with it is both easy to understand and compelling. Use techniques like camera angles, shot types, and framing appropriately in order to help your audience's comprehension and keep things interesting (related note: for an example of how making mistakes with basic framing can completely derail the story you're trying to tell, check out this scathing review of Les Miserables from Film Crit Hulk). Third, create visual tension to keep your audience's attention, for example through the Rule of Thirds.

Hall emphasized how important it is to pre-plan both your individual shots as well as your sequences of shots. Doing this assures that you get all the shots you actually require, and also keeps you from filming more than you need or recording less effective versions of shots because you didn't quite know what you wanted beforehand.

But all these tips are useless if you don't get one thing straight right at the beginning: don't start creating videos until you actually have a learning objective. This helps you know exactly what story to tell.

4) Making Time Lapse and Stop Motion Video
Speaker: Stephen Haskin
While this session was supposed to be about making both time lapse and stop motion videos, we spent nearly all the time on time lapse techniques. Fair enough... I'm not really sure how you could tackle both effectively in only an hour and 15 minutes.

So what exactly are these video styles? Well, time lapse is a type of video that's created by using still shots taken over time with an interval between them (for instance, one image for every 4 seconds of time) that are then stitched together as a video to show a sped-up version of events. You've probably seen this kind of video used in science and nature documentaries (here's a great example from YouTube). Stop motion, on the other hand, is created from shots taken over time with a deliberate movement between shots that creates an animation of sorts. The most likely place you've seen stop motion is in movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline (my favourite example of stop motion animation is this music video for the Kenna song Hell Bent).

So how do you create these types of videos? Well, we only got in to time lapse because of the short amount of time we had, but here are the details on that...

This is the math you can use for figuring out how many shots you need to take for the time lapse project you want to make:

Start by determining the total number of frames you need: (time in seconds) x (your frame rate)
Then calculate your frames per minute: (total frames)/(# of minutes)
Finally, use all this to calculate your length of time between shots: (frames per minute)/60

Here's the example we got in the session: to make a 30 sec time lapse of a 1 hour event, you would take 900 frames over the 1 hour event. This equals 15 frames per minute, which will mean you need 4 seconds between each frame.

So that's the math for the timing and number of shots. But how do you go about taking the shots? Haskin recommended using the Interval Timing settings on a DSLR. This makes it easy to set up the camera to take just the right number of shots of the right length of time without you having to monitor it the whole time. Also important: keep your camera stable for the whole shooting period by using a simple tripod.

Once you have your shots, keep the file names as the camera has created them (the camera will thankfully number them in chronological order for you), and move them all into a single folder. From this folder you can use Photoshop or Premiere Pro to compile them into a video. Here's the process you can use for each tool:
  • Photoshop: Open Photoshop and use it to open your image folder. Select the 1st image. Check the Image Sequence box. Click Open. Set your frame rate. Click OK. You now have your time lapse video set up. To publish your video click File, then Export, and then Render Video. Choose your settings and you're good to go. Cool bonus: you can use Photoshop filters to add visual effects to your video. Obnoxious downside: Photoshop takes a long time to render video. 
  • Premiere Pro: Open Premier Pro and press Ctrl+N to create a new project. Set the preset to Digital SLR and choose either 720p or 1080p. Click Import, navigate to your image folder, click the 1st image, click the Image Sequence box, and then click Open. You've now got your time lapse video. When you're done, just publish as you would any regular Premiere Pro project. Plus side of this tool: it has a MUCH faster render speed than Photoshop. Minus side: it doesn't have filters like Photoshop does.
5) Keepin' It Legal: Free Stuff to Spice Up Your Training
Speaker: Michelle Lentz

Surprise, surprise... this was my third session of the day where the presenter, much to my delight, decided to share their full slide deck online. You can check out Lentz's excellent presentation here. It's definitely worth spending some time with if you want to find out more about Creative Commons licensing and/or are looking for a large number of useful links to free media resources. Because you can see the whole deck yourself, once again I'm going to go with the key points review for this blog post.

To start, in order to use something legally you need to understand copyright. But when is something copyrighted? Why, when the idea is committed to paper/screen (not when the idea comes to your mind, but when it's actually created in a physical or digital form). A term you might have heard regarding copyright is fair use. Fair use is the idea that you can use something within copyright if you're parody it or critiquing it (this is the legal way, for instance, that shows like SNL can get away with their spoofs).

When it comes to free resources you can legally use without violating copyright, there are two groups of media you'll want to be keenly aware of. First is public domain. This refers to both old media where the copyright has expired as well as some government materials as well. You can use anything in the public domain for free.

The other group is the kind of licensing this session focused on leveraging: Creative Commons. What exactly is Creative Commons? It's a type of license creators can release their creations under if they want to allow it to be used for free (but possibly with some limitations). If you want a simple overview, I recommend checking out this comic explanation. This type of licensing structure was created by a group of people who were passionate about sharing information and content for free, but also wanted to give content authors a simple way to have some say over how that free content was used by others.

There are currently 6 easy-to-understand types of Creative Commons licenses a content creator can choose to use for their creations. The licenses are all in plain English and the differences pretty much centralize around whether the author needs to be attributed, if the content can be altered, if it can/can't be used for commercial work, and if the content user has to also share their work under a Creative Commons license too.

So, long story short, this means that there are a ton of people online who are making and sharing content that you can use for free (as long as you respect the easy-to-follow license they're sharing their stuff under). If you want to find Creative Commons media to use yourself, there are thankfully a bunch of services that can help you locate this type of content easily, and Lentz cataloged many of them in her slide deck. I've used quite a few of her website suggestions in the past and can vouch for the fact that they're a great resource to have at your disposal.

One final word based on some of the questions asked in the session. Creative Commons licensing works on a lot of trust, particularly in the case of attributing the content you're using to the original author. While you could usually easily get away with not attributing content, I think it's important to keep to the spirit of Creative Commons when thinking about attribution. Remember, someone was nice enough to share that content for free. The very LEAST you can do is credit them as a thank you.

That was one full and productive conference day filled with a bunch of content on learning media! I had a lot of takeaways from today, but none more than this: I am so glad more and more presenters are sharing their slide decks and resources online. It makes it so much easier to review the content and share it with others, which is what many of us come to conferences like this for.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

ASTD TechKnowledge - Day 1

The first day of TechKnowledge is officially over. I'm completely exhausted, but also delightfully full of knowledge. I also reek of smoke, but this is Vegas. I suppose such things are expected.

As usual, here are my thoughts and feelings about the sessions I attended (for even more detailed notes, definitely check out the live tweeting I did earlier today).

1) General Session 1
Speaker: Jeff Dyer
Typically what I look for in an opening general session is a speaker and topic that get people thinking in a new way. Dyer's session on how to be a better innovator definitely fit the bill nicely.

He opened with a discussion on whether creativity comes more from nature or nurture. People typically think of creativity as an inborn talent, but research says it's not. It's something you build. And yes, as a former art teacher I'd most thoroughly agree (my rants about the perception that creativity comes from some sort of stroke of luck rather than years and years of hard work will have to be saved for another full blog post some time in the future). This rest of this session was designed to give people ideas for how they could actually go about the process of building their own creative abilities.

To do the talk a bit of a disservice and give you guys the Cliffs Notes version, Dyer feels that there are several skills that are vital for being a creative innovator:
  • Associating: The ability to connect ideas in new ways. Dyer recommended two ways to build this skill. First, he suggested a thought exercise where you brainstorm ways to combine two seemingly unrelated products, which forces you to think about things in a flexible, innovative way. Second, he talked about ways to use questions to help groups think differently. Depending on the situation, asking questions that impose constraints, completely eliminate constraints, or create substantially more questions can be incredibly useful for helping a group to innovate together.
  • Observing: The name really sums up the task here. Too often people go about creating things based on assumptions or because it's the way it's always been done. True innovators do lots of observations and look for things that surprise them. What can help you think about solving a problem in a new way is to do these observations from the perspective of focusing on the task, not the tool used to accomplish the task. On a related note, Dyer also suggested that doing observations outside of your typical work environment can be incredibly helpful. Your newbie eyes may see issues those close to the task would miss.
  • Networking: Most of us have an informal list of people we tend to go to when we want ideas for how to solve a problem. However, for many people that list is filled with individuals who are just like them: the same industry (maybe even with the same job title), the same age, the same work experience, the same socioeconomic group. The thing is, when you're always bouncing ideas off of people with the same experiences as you, you're probably always going to get the same answers. That's why you need to build a network that also includes people with substantially different experiences from you too. To do this, Dyer recommends tapping in to experts who have solved problems like yours before, attending networking events, and joining a networking group. I'll also add that Twitter is an amazing place to meet fantastic people with a wide range of experiences and interests, but all of which share the love of simply sharing knowledge. Seriously: getting hooked up with Twitter was one of the best things I ever did for my own creativity.
  • Experimenting: Test ideas, seek new experiences, and take things apart. Challenge yourself to learn skills that, at the surface, seem unrelated to your work because you never know what these new skills might be able to inspire in your work, now or in the future. Try prototyping to test out your ideas and see if they actually work (and if some work better than others). Don't be afraid to make a mistake, particularly if that failure means you learned something important that helps you do better later or gives you new insight. I also recommend doing the mental equivalent of going around and poking new things/ideas with a stick to see what happens. It's a fun way to learn.
Overall this session did a great job at framing exactly why no one can get away with saying "I'm not a creative person" anymore. It also was pretty much exactly the energy booster I think a first session should be.

2) The Special Sauce of Social Learning
Speaker: Marc Rosenberg
The premise of this session was simple: social learning isn't anything new. It's something we've actually doing for ages. What is new, though, is the technology that we're using for it and the way we're trying to integrate it into learning situations. L&D is, as a group, quite behind the curve on both social learning and social media and we need to catch up to how society on a whole has already started using it. Now, this doesn't just mean we should shove everything into a social media tool and call the job done (no surprises: this doesn't work at all). It means we need to really grasp social learning as a strategy and then understand how to leverage things like social media to enable this kind of learning.

Rosenberg then went on to talk about what he sees as the next generation of learners: impatient, multi-tasking, more purposeful, not "clock-bound", tech savvy, and social. And here's where I'm going to disagree a bit and say that's not a set of learners that's coming in the future... that's many of the learners we have now. Heck, it's me, and I'm by no means super young. So maybe what's more realistic to say is that these are the preferences of more and more of our learners now.

So if these are the learner needs we need to get better at responding to, and social learning can better help us address those needs, what should we do to incorporate legitimately good social learning in the work we do? Well, here are the suggestions Rosenberg had:
  • Make your social tools and technology extremely easy to use. That way the user sees the tools as a natural way of doing things (Apple, we're looking at you here).
  • Nurture authorship. Let people contribute. You'll need to walk a fine line between not putting too many barriers in their way but also acknowledging that not everyone who creates content creates good (or even accurate) content.
  • Support mobility. Sharing shouldn't only happen in restricted situations (like only when you're at your work laptop... AND it's connected to the corporate intranet). It should happen anywhere.
  • Identify clear, meaningful goals for your social learning that are actually important (both to the company and to the learners).
  • Make membership in your social learning meaningful. Give people an answer for the question "Why do I want to participate?"
  • Put effort into facilitation. Sometimes social learning needs the help of certain people who work to guide the conversation or push it in new directions. This doesn't mean this role has to be be filled by specially trained official facilitators, though. You can even ask one or more of the learners themselves to take on this task.
  • Get leadership on board. A great way to do this is to talk about social learning from the perspective of how it benefits the business (rather than fussing about the tools you'll use). Also, start small with easy to implement tiny pilot projects rather than massive, full scale ones.
  • Remember that management can't be all "Big Brother" about social learning. People need to know that they have a safe place to share or else they won't share at all. Keep management at bay and remind them that this isn't the appropriate place to monitor employees closely.
  • Align your social learning with more formal learning. This is a good way to ease people into social learning habits and techniques.
  • Develop a knowledge-sharing culture. People need to see the benefit of sharing knowledge rather than hoarding it (and the business culture needs to reflect this change in mindset too).
  • Make sure your learners know how to learn. Many people have gotten into the habit of expecting learning to be a passive experience where all the content is pushed out to them. Social learning requires them to become more comfortable with the idea of seeking out and sharing information themselves, which can take some adjusting to (depending on your audience).
Using these tips you can begin to build a work environment that fully utilizes social learning. That said, I do wish Rosenberg had spent more time directly addressing the problems corporate culture can create when trying to integrate social learning into a workplace. I personally see this as one of the biggest hurdles most L&D folks will encounter when trying to increase their use of social learning. Because of this, I would have liked to have gotten more of his perspective on how you can reshape corporate culture in a way that's more friendly to the habits you need to have to make social learning work

3) Choose Your Own Sim-venture: Branched Simulation Basics
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Oh look! It's my own session!

Okay, obviously I'm not going to review my own content. However, because I always share my full slide deck, presenter notes, and resource links, you yourself can review this content on your own. Yeah, it's more fun when it's actually me presenting it, but it's the next best thing.  ;)

Here's the link to my full session materials.

4) Leveraging Devices to Create Amazing Mobile Learning
Speaker: Chad Udell

This was my last session of the day and, while I quite enjoyed it, it's nearly impossible to capture with a blog posting. Basically what happened was Udell talked about how we need to become better at designing for the specific affordances of mobile devices. And what exactly is an "affordance"? It's a quality or feature of an environment or object that allows you to perform a a task. For example, three of the affordances of binoculars include magnification, a dial to adjust focus, and an adjustable size.

Mobile devices have their own unique affordances (an overview is captured in this blog posting from Float Learning), but when we design mobile content many of us don't fully take advantage of these fantastically useful features. So what the rest of this session was designed to do was to help us become more aware of what these affordances of mobile devices are and what sort of ways we can consider using them for learning. Udell took advantage of a tool called Poll Everywhere to let the entire audience text and message our thoughts about the learning application of specific mobile device affordances (like a camera, device sensors, and geolocation) into one big brainstorm. Udell is planning on collecting all the ideas from this session later in the week, and I'll post that link here and on Twitter as soon as I have it (Edit: here's the link). Suffice it to say, there were a lot of creative and useful ideas proposed.

So, this session was all about pushing people to see mobile in a more accurate and broad way. For those of us who routinely push the boundaries of what our mobile devices can do, this didn't really shock us. That said, I still really enjoyed the exercise of it. For others, though, that had previously thought of mobile in a more limited fashion, this was a great way to see mobile in a new way. I thought Dan Steer did a fantastic job of summing up the session from that perspective on his blog.

So, overall, a good first day. I'm still looking for that session that completely shakes up my own thoughts about some L&D-related topic. While today I found a number of sessions that reinforced my own beliefs, I haven't seen one yet that makes me question them. Crossing my fingers that I come across that in the next two days.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

DevLearn 2013 - Day 3

Conventions like DevLearn are fantastic for bringing together people from across the globe to share ideas. They're, unfortunately, also fantastic for bringing together people from across the globe to share germs. Yup, I caught Con Plague this year (thankfully just a cold rather than a full-blown flu), which is why this post is more than a smidge late.

Ah well. DevLearn was fantastic, so I've decided the cold was worth it.

1) Tips For the Successful Learning Practitioner
Speakers: Trina Rimmer, Jane Bozarth, Tracy Parish, Connie Malamed, and Cammy Bean
Unlike the other concurrent sessions I attended, this one was an informal, off-the-cuff Q&A session with a number of seasoned professionals. No slide deck, no prepared speeches. Just answers to real time questions. Honestly, it had more in common with a Morning Buzz session than most other concurrent sessions, which actually turned out quite well as far as I'm concerned. Having a number of experts with a wide variety of experiences meant that every question got answered from a number of angles and the panelists did a great job of building off of what each other had said.

Now, I could try to describe the session further, but I thought it would make more sense to just show you all my notes on the questions and answers from the session. I didn't capture every answer, and I also didn't manage to note who said what, but it should give you a good sense of the gist of the session anyway.

Q1: What methods/questions do you use to gather info from SMES?
  • "Tell me what these people do all day?" "What training have they already have?" "Where do people make mistakes around this area?" "What do you need people to actually do?" "Tell me more about this subject" "What are the 3 or 4 main points they need to remember?" "Does it really need to be eLearning/classroom/_______?"
  • Remember to say please and thank you to the person who is answering your questions.
  • How to find a great SME? Find one who is newer to their skillset. They'll have an easier time remembering a beginner mindset.
  • Get the stories and examples that AREN'T in the content slide deck(s) they give you!

Q2: How do you help learning practitioners grow (especially those who have gaps in their skills)?
  • Pre-conference workshops. Books. Blogs. Doing things with them that help them diagnose and solve problems, not just build a class. Help them define their role as NOT an order taker. Encourage them to build a PLN. Help them look to other industries for ideas. Get them up-to-speed on learning theory. Find out what they're passionate about and have them work on that. Make sure the branding of the job title doesn't limit it too much in the minds of some employees. Match people up with mentors (or have them mentor others). eLearning Guild online forums. Cathy Moore's eLearning blueprint.
  • Do you have people who only want to be order takers and have no interest in continuing to learn new skills? Maybe they aren't the right people for your team.
  • Find something that they're doing that you can value and praise. They'll feel less threatened in a changing workplace.

Q3: What can you do when your SMEs disagree... particularly when there are many correct options?
  • Build learning so that it shows multiple perspectives, not just one absolute correct answer. Reflect several correct options. Look to how people create learning for areas that don't have absolute right and wrong answers. Video multiple experts talking out how they'd solve the issue so people can see multiple solutions.

Q4: What happens when your audience insists they don't need as much training as you're convinced they need?
  • Are they right?
  • If they're so sure they can do this and really can't, let them make mistakes or even fail. That might be the best option.
  • Make the learning in-the-moment performance support so that they can learn as they go instead of getting a content dump.

Q5: Is there a best team structure for a growing team?
  • Go through all the individual tasks your team needs to do and figure out how best to chunk those tasks into roles.

Q6: What can you do to entice people to take training that isn't mandatory?
  • For competitive learners, tie in to leaderboards. (Note: I'm not sure I love this answer for everyone, especially based on what we know about how leaderboards can actually demotivate some people)

Q7: How do we get people to move away from designing traditional learning experiences and towards more informal learning?
  • Make the people in your organization in charge of the information. Ask does it need to be a class or a conversation? Help people build PLNs. Identify great mentors. Look how we can help people talk to each other, not talk to them. Don't push your own agenda: pull them in to the conversation instead. Understand your organization's tolerances/gaps (e.g. If people don't talk to each other now, creating an internal social network might not help).

Q8: What beliefs/principles do you fight for when designing solutions?

  • Learner 1st. Make sure you're solving the right problem. It's human beings that have to do this. Keep things streamlined. Never think your first design is perfect. Make things attractive and well-designed. Get to the point!

2) Design 3.0 for Learning and Performance Professionals
Speaker: Thomas Spiglanin
This session began with an intriguing question: if we can't possibly know everything ourselves, how do you choose between your options and know you've made the best choice? The beginning of the answer was another question, a quote from Dan Steer: "There are 7 billion people in the world. Maybe somebody has a better idea?"

This is where Design 3.0 comes in. This concept is a social, collaborative, and iterative way of designing. And here's how your typical Design 3.0 process cycle works:

Share early! Share often!

As you can see, using Design 3.0 means you design using not just your own skills, but also the skills of your extended personal learning network (PLN) as well. Of course, this means you need to build up a great PLN long before you start designing. To do this, Spiglanin recommends tapping in to social networks as well as, perhaps even more importantly, online communities. The broader and well-curated your set of connections is, the better the feedback and advice you'll receive during the design process.

So how do you find communities? Places like LinkedIn, Yammer, Google+ are good places to start, as are vendor websites like eLearning Heroes and professional groups such as ASTD and (of course) the eLearning Guild. Once you join a community, there are four important ways to share and get feedback: follow the culture, be polite, make it easy, and don't create barriers. One key point that came up repeatedly in discussion of all of these tips was that being a part of a community is a give and take relationship. You can't just be that person who shows up to the community when you personally need help. You need to give others help too.

If you're interested in finding out more about the idea of Design 3.0, you're in luck: Spiglanin did a fantastic job of creating a resources site for this presentation that you can check out here

3) Keynote - HackLab: Pursuing Progress Through Deviation
Speaker: Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt
DevLearn finished up with a talk on hacking. No, not computer hacking... the speakers were actually referring to the original meaning of hacking: it's not about breaking (or breaking into) things, but more about building things and finding new ways of tweaking existing things to do something different. If you're my age, you probably use a slightly different term for this same idea: MacGyvering.

Regardless of what term we're using, hacking is essentially identifying a system or problem, deciding how it could be better, breaking it down into its constituent parts, and then figuring out what you can change or tweak to make it do what you need it to. These hacks can be major changes, but more often than not they're just little tweaks that add up to a bigger result. This kind of hacking requires nothing more than curiosity, experimentation, courage, and the ability to view failure as just feedback rather that a sign to give up.

So what does your typical hacking process look like? Well, here's a handy flowchart:

In my opinion "Is it awesome?" is a question you should ALWAYS be asking yourself.
Hacking isn't just a process you can use to to help you escape being tied up in a burning building using only your wits and a tuna fish sandwich (and no, I can't stop making MacGyver jokes). It's something you can use to try and fix or improve anything in your life, be it the dreaded office meeting (the example we tackled in the session), trying to make a mandatory course less tedious, or even managing a relationship with a difficult co-worker.

So that's my final day of DevLearn. If you'd like to see the session handouts and resources for all the conference sessions, don't forget that they're all available on the conference handout site.

I'll likely make a final blog post later this week summarizing my overall feeling about the conference. In short, though, I can say this: DevLearn was delightful and inspiring as usual and I continue to be grateful I was able to go again this year.