Sunday, May 11, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 3

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 2

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Sunday, May 4, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 1

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

I regret nothing!

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How charming is this?!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 3

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you watch the whole video? Great.

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

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

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




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

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

Oh HECK yeah!!!

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


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.

Enjoy!



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:


Wednesday

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



Thursday

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



Friday

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
  2. Kollaborate.io
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 Mural.ly. 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, Kollaborate.io 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.