Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Conference Tips: Vegas for people who don't like Vegas

Lots of people get excited about an excuse to go to Vegas. I most assuredly am not one of those people.

I'm not much for drinking or partying, I don't gamble or smoke, and I'm not even great at staying up late. The supposed charms of Vegas are pretty much lost on me. And yet, I find myself there at least twice a year these days thanks to the rather spectacular L&D conferences that happen in that city.

So if you're like me and find yourself there in spite of not really liking the place all that much are you stuck just trying to tough the days you're there out and counting the minutes until you get to go home? No... not if you don't want to be. Turns out there actually are some fun things to do in Vegas even if you aren't terribly keen on the typical Vegas experience.




Cirque du Soleil shows
Even if you're not interested in your standard Vegas offerings, checking out one of the Cirque shows in town is definitely worth your time. They're all spectacular, but in a way that doesn't feel in your face the way a lot of the rest of Vegas can (my personal favourite is KA). Also, if you're willing to wait until last minute, you can often pick up significantly reduced Cirque tickets from the multitude of Tix4Tonight locations along The Strip.

Shark Reef Aquarium
If you need a chill break from all the noise and bustle, this aquarium at Mandalay Bay is absolutely worth a visit. Also, if you're here around Halloween they dress the entire place up like a haunted house and let kids trick or treat throughout the exhibits. It's the most adorable, least Vegas, thing you'll find on The Strip.


Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat
Another aquatic option can be found at the Mirage. It's small, and I'll admit I have a preference for the Shark Reef over it, but it's still worth checking out as the dolphins are absurdly fun. Case in point:


The Top of the World Restaurant
The Stratosphere is just far enough from the main section of The Strip that you'll probably want to take a cab here, but it's totally worth it if you don't have any issues with heights. You'll get a spectacular view of Vegas and the surrounding area in a relaxed and calm environment. Also, the food is quite good as well. It's a bit pricy, but the last few times I've been there they had a great prix fixe menu at lunch that's really decent bang for your buck.

Downtown Container Park
If you want an experience that's pretty much the opposite of your stereotypical Vegas expectations, try checking this place out. It's a charming shopping and dining area made out of repurposed shipping containers. It's also home to the coolest praying mantis sculpture you'll ever see. Seriously, I love this place.

Do your sight seeing early
If you want to see the strip but without the crowds, do it early in the day. REALLY early... I mean, "before you go to your conference in the morning" early. If you pop out for a walk super early in the morning there are way less people around (and, bonus, almost all of them are relatively sober). If early morning doesn't work for you, then your next best bet is to check things out earlier in the week. Seriously: The Strip seems to hit Drunk o'Clock a bit later in the evening on Mondays and Tuesdays than it does on, say, Friday. Use that to your advantage.

Leave The Strip entirely
This area is not just defined by a stretch of casinos. I've not done this myself, but lots of people tell me that, if you have the extra time, it's well worth getting off of The Strip and seeing what else is in the area. There's quite a lot of good hiking around here and don't forget that the casinos are just one small part of what makes up the city of Las Vegas.

Look for fun food you can't get easily back home
Vegas food runs the gamut from "as much volume as you can ingest... and some" to "so expensive you'll need to eat ramen for the rest of the year". But in between those two extremes is some reasonably fun, not horrifically priced eating adventures. Vegas is home to bizarre but amusing stunt food, like the lobsicle (I kid you not, it's a lobster tail on a stick... and it's actually tasty). It's also a place you can find pretty authentic treats that you might not have as easy access to at home. For instance, the Jean-Philippe Patisseries at the Aria and the Bellagio have surprisingly spot-on croissants and Amorino at The Linq makes gelato that's both beautiful and delicious. Now, I skew hard towards desserts, but whatever style of food you're craving, you have a good chance of finding a great iteration of it here.



Pick up groceries at one of the many drug stores along The Strip
If you want a quieter experience, there's no need to go out every for every meal. The numerous drug stores in Vegas carry way more than just cold meds and shampoo: they also stock a decent amount of food as well. When I first visited Vegas I was surprised to find you can pick up some reasonable food basics at these stores, including fresh fruit and vegetables in some cases. It's incredibly easy to put together simple breakfasts from what you can find here and make it so you can spend just a bit more time relaxing in your hotel room (and avoiding the casino floors). And as long as you're okay with nothing fancy, you can even pull together lunches or dinners from what's available here too. particularly if you picked out a hotel room with a kitchenette.

Just chill in your hotel room
There is no rule that says that just because you're in Vegas for a conference that you have to go out afterwards. You're a grown up and if after a long day stuffing your head full of knowledge you just want to head back to your room to read a book, watch a sports game, or binge on Netflix, then that's absolutely what you should do.




So those are my personal suggestions for making Vegas more bearable for people like me who would pretty much rather be anywhere else. Do you have any tips of your own to add? Be sure to pop them in the comments below.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: Let the Elephants Run


It's really time for me to start blogging again, and what better way to restart than with a review of the book I just finished!



Title: Let the Elephants Run
Author: David Usher


What's it about?

When I was growing up David Usher was mostly known as the lead singer of the Canadian band Moist. In the subsequent years he's also built up a rather interesting reputation as a speaker on how people can become more creative. This book takes the core ideas from his talks and expands on them even further.

What's so great about it?

Are you someone who loves the idea of creativity but doesn't always think of themselves as a creative person? Well then, this book is for you. Everything Usher says in this is meant to help you see that creativity is a skill anyone can build. Through a bunch of mini essays (think Seth Godin length, but in a layout with better graphic design) he expand on the many reasons people believe they aren't creative and the steps and activities they can use to strengthen that skill and use it in a variety of ways.

If you know me or have heard me talk, you know that I absolutely agree with Usher's approach here. Many people have told me that they think creativity is just something you're born with, not realizing the years of practice, experimentation, and just plain willingness to keep going even when you suck at first that has made the people they admire seem just naturally outstanding at coming up with new ideas and approaches. Usher does a fantastic job at pulling back the curtain and showing readers all the sweat and effort that goes into building your creative skills. It's not always pretty, and Usher doesn't romanticize it in the slightest.

What he does do, though, is break down many of the processes people use to spark their creativity and show the reader that this is something that they too can learn how to do with time and practice.

What's going to drive me nuts about it?

Are you someone who already feels confident in their creativity? Then you're probably not going to get much out of this other than a feeling of solidarity with Usher. It's not a waste of your time (and can be a nice way to inspire yourself out of a creative rut), but you were never the intended audience for this book. Maybe buy it as a gift for someone else... like the next person who tells you "Oh, I really just can't be creative like you are."

Also, be aware that the chapters in this are short. I mean, REALLY short. They're much more like reading a bunch of mini articles than a typical book. If that kind of writing frustrates you, this might not be the book for you.

Anything else?

I am overwhelmed with how beautiful this book is. Normally that's not something I would mention in a book review, but it feels well worth mentioning in this one case. A book on creativity should use every tool imaginable to help inspire you, and clearly that idea fueled the graphic design and layout of Usher's creation. Just flipping thought this thing can be enough to help you feel excited about coming up with new ideas.

I'm too lazy to Google the book. Where can I buy it?

I've got you covered (Well, at least if you live in North America):

Monday, January 11, 2016

TechKnowledge 2016 - Where am I going to be?

It's TechKnowledge time again and this one is going to be a bit different for me as I've headed in early for my very first pre-con workshop (It's the Duarte Visual Storytelling one and so far it's been amazing!). On one hand, I'm pretty giddy about the workshop, but on the other hand it's an extra two days in Vegas. Is it possible for me to get even sicker of Vegas by the end of a conference? I don't know... but we're going to find out!

This conference is also going to be a bit different for a programming reason too. There's an entire room at TechKnowledge devoted to more conversational, collaborative sessions - the Disrupt Room - and my plan is to attend as many of those sessions as possible (including, no surprise, the two sessions I'm helping out with). I really enjoyed last year's Fail Jam and the Disrupt Room programming promises more of that same kind of "learning from everyone in the room" that made the Fail Jam so fun. So if you're at TechKnowledge and looking for something a bit different, definitely come join me there.

And now on to the specifics. I don't have my whole con fully figured out, but I'm definitely heading to the keynotes and these sessions:


WEDNESDAY

1:00-1:45pm
Speakers: Well, it's a group conversation but I'm facilitating

Yup... I'm starting out my Disrupt Room adventure by facilitating a session. The main idea of this event is that a great way to keep your work fresh is to look for inspiration OUTSIDE of L&D. That said, a lot of us look in dramatically different directions. While the session is going to be guided by the interests of the people in the room, it's definitely going to touch on what fields people find particularly helpful to pull inspiration/insights from, what they've gained from them, and how you can dip your toe in each topic if you want to learn more.

What's particularly cool about this session (and many of the other Disrupt Room ones) is that it doesn't have a set speaker or formal panel. Instead, anyone who shows up has the opportunity to share with everyone else. It's a format that worked fantastically for the Fail Jam and I think it's a great format for this topic as well.

So if you get inspiration from ANY other field, whether it's something closely tied to L&D (for instance, software development or film making) or drastically different (gaining L&D inspiration from flying drones or being a volunteer fire fighter? I bet it can be done!), I'd love to see you at this session and hear what you have to say.


3:00-4:00pm
Speaker: Me!

SPEAKING of outside inspiration, if you've ever met me or followed me online you probably know that I love comics. They're fun and engaging to read, and it turns out they can be pretty effective for teaching and explaining content too. Want to know more? Watch my session trailer.


4:15-5:00pm
Speakers: Diane Elkins, Megan Torrance, Julie Dirksen, Connie Malamed, Cammy Bean, and me

You know what can be really helpful when you're trying to polish up a project (or get it unstuck)? A fresh set of eyes. And that's what the e-Learning checkup is all about. Bring your project, whether it's something fully built or just an idea you've been pondering, and you'll get some one-on-one time with one of the six of us to get some feedback and come up with a few new ideas.

While I'm happy to help out with anyone's project, I'll admit that I'm probably most useful to people who have graphic design, storytelling, or multimedia questions. Or cupcake-related questions. I have a lot of options about those too.  ;)




THURSDAY

10:45-11:30am
Speaker: JD Dillon is facilitating this one

Curious about what some of the newer social collaboration tools out there are (and how you might actually use them in the real world to get stuff done)? Then some to this session to see cool examples and ask all the questions you need about how they work.


2:15-3:00pm
Speaker: Becca Wilson is facilitating this event again!

Like I mentioned earlier, last year's version of this session was one of my ATDTK 2015 highlights. Basically, it works like this: we all know failure is a great way to learn, but it's not something we get to share a lot at conferences. This session is your opportunity to learn from the mistakes and missteps of others and even to share your own too. That's right, this is another session where anyone who attends can share, and I strongly recommend sharing something if you come. The environment is completely supportive... plus getting to talk about something that didn't go the way you wanted is delightfully cathartic.


3:45-4:30pm
Speakers: Chad Udell and John Fairchild

Ever wonder how you might actually go about using virtual and/or augmented reality for learning and performance support? Ever wanted to just poke the technology with a stick and see what the fuss is all about? Then this is the session for you. Not only will there be a discussion of the applications for this technology, but you'll also be able to get hands on with it too!





FRIDAY

8:00-9:15am
Session: PowerPoint for Graphic Design
Speaker: Tim Slade

I use PowerPoint for graphic design all the time (ah, the joys of often having little or no project budget!), so I'm hoping to pick up a few tips. Plus, Tim Slade is always sharing awesome design stuff on Twitter, so I'm looking forward to getting to see him speak in person.



So that my game plan so far. What are you most excited to see or do at TechKnowledge this year?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

IPL Conference 2015 - My big takeaways

Well, this post is LONG overdue. I attended the 2015 Institute for Performance and Learning conference here in Toronto way back in November, but the last month and a half kind of got away from me. A bit late is better than nothing, right?

Rather than try and blog about every single thing I saw individually, I thought I'd instead do something a bit different this time: a summary post about the best parts of the conference that have stuck with me even a month and a half later.

Nir Eyal's Keynote
Eyal's talk on how habits are built (and how to influence people's habit building) was delightful AND insightful. It pretty much hit all my buttons for a great keynote at a L&D conference: technically out of our field but on a topic strongly connected to what we do, a great balance of enough information to understand the topic but not so much that it felt like an infodump, excellent storytelling, a good sense of humour, and well-designed slides. I would definitely want to see him give a talk again if I had the opportunity. He also completely convinced me that I need to buy his book, so I suppose that's a win for both of us.

Sad you couldn't see the keynote yourself? Well, this video seems to have the same talk filmed at another event, so that's a pretty decent option for you. Also, hooray for YouTube!

Trend: Lego slides
Yeah... I've seen slides that use Lego before, but never so many used so well all at the same conference. This is a trend I feel I can totally stand behind (well, at least while people keep using them smartly). At some point it's going to become overdone (and poorly done), but for now I'm just going to keep enjoying it.

Gotta love this!
Trying to attend a conference while sick is the worst
I've gotten Con Plague after a conference, but never before it. To say attending a con while sick is a challenge is a massive understatement (as was trying to desperately keep from infecting others... sadly, no conference hugs and handshakes for me). Thankfully, my body at least picked a hometown conference to feel horrid at, so there's one small win there, right? That said, there were more than a few events I ended up needing to skip, which wasn't ideal for my first time attending this particular conference.

FINALLY getting to see certain speakers
I've had some pretty crummy scheduling luck with certain L&D speakers. For some reason there have always been a few people I either always end up having my sessions scheduled at the same time as (Hi JD!) or other people that always have their talks opposite of six other things I need to see in that time slot. I guess to make up for me being pathetically ill, the universe decided to do me a solid this time around and I got to see two people talk that I usually never get to see: Jane Bozarth and Aaron Silvers. No surprise, they were both fun and engaging speakers, so that was a big win as far as I'm concerned.

Hallway meetings
As I go to more and more conferences, the thing that's becoming the most valuable to me is simply the conversations I have with other attendees. Actually getting to meet Twitter buddies in MeatSpace (AKA: the real world), making connections with new people, and chatting with all of them about what they're doing is what tends to stick with me the most weeks later. Plus, it's just plain fun.

So, no surprise, this was definitely my favorite part about the IPL conference. While I always love catching up with everybody, this particular location gave me a chance to chat with a ton of Canadian L&D folks. You'd think that since I live in the same country as them I'd see them in real life more often... yeah... that's sadly not how it turns out. And sometimes we don't all go to the same conferences in the US either. So attending IPL became an amazing opportunity to connect with people I don't regularly get to see. That was a nice surprise I hadn't considered.



So those were my thoughts about my very first IPL conference. If you attend or followed the backchannel and have some of your own reflections, pop them down in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

DevLearn 2015 - Day 1

Well, my plan to do video recaps at DevLearn didn't go exactly as planned. The Day 1 video refused to upload to YouTube and I got back way too late on Day 2 (thanks to attending a surprise wedding renewal... a nice problem to have!) to record coherent sentences. By Day 3 I figured this was all going to be post-conference reflections and that was just going to be okay.

Now that I'm home and have access to delightfully strong Wi-Fi, I've posted that Day 1 video after all (you can view it here). But since I'm doing all the other days as blog posts, I figured I may as well just recap it in text too.



1) Keynote - Learning Disrupted: The unrecognizable new world of tech and culture
Speaker: David Pogue
Who doesn't want to start a learning & tech conference by looking at the absurd amount of things our tech can do these days?! From keeping track of your health to making your smart phone into an ocarina, Pogue talked about we are surrounded by new tech. And what's cool is this tech doesn't just make our lives better (or, at least, more ocarina-infused), it also changes how, what, and why we create, share, and interact. No surprise, that's why it's important to keep on top of it, especially for those of us in L&D.

So there's that point, but Pogue also made another important one: not all these tech ideas are going to make an impact. For every tech success, there are dozens of products that don't pan out (or, let's be honest, were just too stupid to succeed... I'm looking at you Nintendo Power Glove). It takes all that trying weird ideas and often failing, though, to find what sticks.




2) DIY Music Tracks - Loops and Virtual Instruments
Speaker: Don Bolen
If you're looking to create a more immersive experience in your eLearning, videos, podcasts and other cool training mediums, adding a soundtrack can help you out. They're great for conveying moods, emotions, transitions, and/or a sense of place, all of which can make what you create feel more realistic. That said, most of us aren't trained composers. But thanks to loops (tiny snippets of sound/music you can chain together to create songs and soundtracks) all of us have the ability to put together our own soundtracks with a bit of effort.

When it came to what to compile your loops in, Bolen recommended GarageBand. This was because it's cheap (well, it's cheap IF you already own Apple products), easy to learn, and, best yet, comes with free loops already installed. If you want to use other software or if you need to expand your library of loops, though, Bolen mentioned a few options for acquiring more cheaply, including:
On a related note, if you're looking to make your own loops, I've actually bumped into a few easy-to-use iOS apps that are great for that. As of late, I've been playing with Auxy, Beatwave, and Figure, all of which are worth poking at with a stick.



3) We don't own social in the workplace and we never will
Speaker: JD Dillon
Has the universe ever conspired against you? That's how I used to feel about JD's sessions. If we were both speaking at a conference, then inevitably we'd always be scheduled at the same time, much to my annoyance. Thankfully, the universe clearly got lazy this year because I FINALLY got to see him speak. No surprise if you follow him on Twitter, his session was both useful and hilarious.

Basically, lots of organizations have invested in social tools that it turns out their employees don't care about using. Some companies like to make the excuse that it's just because people don't know how to use the tools (and then WE all get called in to build completely unnecessary training), but JD says that's not the real problem. It's not that they don't know how to use the tools - in fact, many of these tools are just as easy to use as Facebook or Instagram - it's that they don't automatically see how the tools fit into what they're trying to accomplish at work.

So what can you do to help people want to bother with those social tools? Well, a lot of what JD found helpful was actually modeling using the tools to get things done. Want your team to use your chat tool to keep in touch? Chat with them through it so they can see how it's useful. Want them to start using Slack instead of email? Start running a team project through it so people can figure it out (are you thinking of doing this? Then go bug JD on Twitter about how he got his team using Slack). People don't just magically understand how whatever tool you're trying to launch will make their work lives better. Often you've got to help them see the value.

One of the other key points he brought up was that, for social tools to take off, L&D shouldn't actually be leading the work on them. Sure, L&D should have influence (and often we're in a pretty great position to test out new tools and weigh in on what's actually worth bothering with), but for social to actually take hold it's got to be used beyond just in training.



4) The past, present, and future of games and learning
Speakers: Julie Dirksen, Sharon Boller, Koreen Pagano, and Bianca Woods
Hey look! It's one of my sessions!

Since I was actually speaking and not live tweeting the thing, that makes it a bit tricky to cover afterwards. Instead, let me just give you a taste by answering the last two questions we were asked.

What's your favourite game that you've played recently?
Oh boy... this one's weird. I'm quite keen on both games in the visual novel genre as well what you could basically categorize as "bizarrely random stuff from Japan". My most recent fav, Hatoful Boyfriend, sits well within both of those areas. The thing is a spot-on spoof of Japanese dating sim games, but with one weird twist: all the characters you're trying to romance in the game are pigeons. So it's super weird, but I love it. I adore branched storytelling and it's such an excellent example of how differently a story can go based on your choices. Plus, it just cracks me up every time.

What game do you think people should play to better understand games and learning?
I took a slightly different turn with this question. Rather than recommend a specific game I recommended a specific process: back a game on Kickstarter. What's great about this approach is that games that go up on Kickstarter usually haven't been developed fully yet... and the developers send backers updates through the entire development process (yup... even if you back them at the lowest price point available). I have learned so much about how to develop a game just from all of the backer updates I've gotten through the years, so if you're looking to create or purchase a game for learning, why not learn from the experts?! Plus, I've found there's a ton of overlap between how we develop everything we create in L&D and how game devs approach projects. Even if you never make a game yourself, you can learn a lot about great design and development approaches from these updates.



5) Keynote - Digital badges and the future of learning
Speaker: Connie Yowell
And, to cap things off for the day, another keynote!

Yowell opened with what we need to solve for if we want to reimagine learning: lowered student engagement, entering the workplace without the skills employers want, and a lack of equal access to the tools/programs/resources that help students succeed. To solve for this, Yowell looked at how successful adults mapped the things that helped them learn. As it turned out, they didn't just point to the traditional school path; they also mapped a wide (and not particularly linear) range of other connected and networked ways they learned new skills.

To reimagine learning in a useful way, then, Yowell said you need to find a way to capture and share that wide range of experiences. And the best way to do that is through open badges.

The open badge website has some wonderful content on what exactly these things are. The VERY condensed version is that an open badge carries data about who earned the badge, where they earned it, what they did to earn it, and a connection to relevant standards. You would earn badges for learning new skills anywhere (not just in school) and those badges could be shown to others as a way of displaying the skills you'd learned throughout your life. Kind of like a combo transcript/portfolio/scouting sash that follows you throughout your career and documents a wide range of knowledge. And that broader system of showing a range of experiences could be just what we need to solve the problems Yowell discussed at the beginning of the talk.

So what makes open badges different from any other badges? It's that ability to take them with you anywhere. In most systems the badges you earn are for that system alone. If you leave the system, you don't take the badges with you. In the world of gaming, that's like me earning achievements on my PS4 but not being able to transfer them to an Xbox One. That's annoying, but it's way worse in your work life. You're constantly learning things at work, but your record of that progress doesn't travel with you if you move to a new company. With an open badge system, though, it would. And that would be great for reasons beyond keeping you from having to redo the same legally mandated health and safety training every time you move to a new company.



That's a wrap for Day 1! My Days 2 and 3 coverage will be following along later this week. But, for now, sleep. Sweet, glorious sleep!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DevLearn 2015 - Where I'll be

Hey guys! Just a quick post about what I'm up to at DevLearn this year.

As always, I'll be live tweeting the event. I haven't solidified my concurrent session schedule just yet, but I'll definitely be at all the keynotes. There are also two sessions I can guarantee I'll be at... pretty much because I'm actually one of the session speakers for them.

Wednesday, Sep 30th - 3:00-4:00pm
The past, present, and future of games and learning
Hear a panel of really clever people (and somehow me as well) talk about how games and learning come together. Chances are I will find some way to bring up that bizarre pigeon dating simulation game I've been obsessed with. You've been warned!  ;)

Thursday, October 1st - 1:15-2:15pm
What? I don't have to be an art wiz to create my own design assets?
Yes, it's another of my series of conference talks that make it very clear I used to be an art teacher! Seriously, though, I really do believe that everyone (even those of you who can't draw stick people) can learn to create images, photos, and/or fonts yourself with the help of a few cheap tool and a couple of nifty tips that we'll discuss in this session. Also, this session *may* have some hideous examples of crummy designs I myself made when I was much younger and a lot less skilled. Come for the design tips! Stay for my horrible first website about the repulsiveness of Tiger Tail ice cream!

For those of you at DevLearn, looking forward to seeing you tomorrow! For those of you not here, hope to see you on the backchannel!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Everything you need to get ready for an L&D conference in Las Vegas - 2015 edition!

Las Vegas is a weird, weird place, but it seems like if you want to go to some of the best L&D conferences, you're going to have to be at peace with eventually going there. I've been... well... way more times than you'd ever guess someone who doesn't gamble would end up in Vegas. As a result, I've picked up some nifty tips for navigating the place, getting good deals, and making the most out of a conference there. So I thought I'd share some of what I've found out with you guys.

Now, some of this might look familiar as I originally wrote a version of this post in 2013 (you can read the original on the L&D Global Events blog). Since it's been a few years, though, I thought it was time for a bit of an update.




Before the conference

Hotel discounts
Staying in the conference hotel is pretty darn nice. Unfortunately, even with the conference rate, these hotels can end up a bit pricy, particularly if the money is coming out of your own pocket. One of the nice things about Vegas (yes, I'll admit it has some perks) is that there are an absurd amount of hotels on the Strip at a wide variety of price points. If the conference hotel is a bit much, look online at the hotels on the same block or just across the street. Chances are there's a cheaper one within a 10 minute walk. It's not as convenient, but being willing to walk can save you a bunch of cash. Worried a cheap hotel will be crummy? Well, cheap hotels on the Strip are still way nicer than the average hotel. As long as you're not looking for fancy amenities, chances are you can be pretty happy in one of the less pricy (but still awfully nice) hotels.
Once you've picked a hotel, be sure to check and see if it has a rewards program. This will pay off even more if you're a gambler (it's how they keep track of your gambling bonuses/rewards), but even if you're staying far away from the slot machines and cards it can still sometimes give you small but fun perks like coupons and a members only check in line.
Actually, hotel rewards programs are always smart to check in to, no matter where you're traveling. They've netted me free wi-fi, cheap room upgrades, and other cool perks.


Download the app
If you do one thing before the conference, do this. You may be used to events where the “app” is essentially a PDF of the conference catalog. The L&D conferences I've been to, though, consistently put out well thought out apps with features that actually take advantage of the fact that you have a smart phone/tablet.
These apps tend to include helpful things like a full conference schedule, the ability to curate your own schedule, maps, attendee information, exhibitor and speaker lists, in-app messaging and social media, and sometimes even points. Personally, I'm still not in love with any of the gamification I've seen in these apps, but sometimes they can land you some pretty sweet conference swag. Just promise me you won't be that person who clogs up the app feed with useless posts just so you can get enough points for a fancy mug or shirt. 
Download the app now, play with it to get used to it, say hello to some other attendees, and then use it to begin organizing your trip.

Get on Twitter
Are you on Twitter yet? If you aren’t, conferences can be the thing that will convince you that you should be. The sheer volume of valuable conversations, sharing, and reflections that go on through Twitter during a conference is epic (more on that later). This is something you don’t want to miss out on, so get set up with Twitter, start following the official conference account, find out what the hashtag for the event is, and get your feet wet before the conference.
Already on Twitter? If most of your followers are friends and family rather than L&D professionals, this might be the time to consider setting up a second, professional Twitter account. That way you aren’t annoying your friends with your constant tweeting about your conference (or your new conference connections with Instagram photos of your brunch).

Networking
Speaking of social media and connecting with others – some of the best networking happens when you make plans in advance with other attendees.  Be sure to find out who from your network is attending and at least make tentative plans to run into each other during specific times and places.

Packing
Packing for a conference can be a bit different than for a regular vacation. Great packing can help you feel less exhausted, avoid blisters and backaches, and keep your costs down too (something really helpful in Vegas). If you want a few tips about what I like to bring, here's a quick video I created about it.



Your Trip to Vegas

Cheap airport shuttle
On a map the Las Vegas airport looks mere moments away from the Strip. In reality it actually is… but thanks to traffic it can still often cost you $25-$40 for a simple cab ride to your hotel. If you want to save some cash and you have a bit of extra time, consider taking one of the airport shuttles instead. At about $8 each way ($14 round trip), it’s a decent amount of savings if you're traveling on your own. If you're traveling with a few people, though, splitting a cab can end up cheaper. If there's more than one of you, do some quick math.
The shuttles are located in the driveway just outside of the baggage claim (near the taxis). Walk outside and look for the shuttle kiosks along the outside of the building. Select your shuttle service, pay, collect your receipt, and then head to your pickup station on the curb (yes, each shuttle company has a different one). Tell the driver which hotel you’re going to and then settle in on the shuttle. The actual time it takes to get to your hotel will vary based on how many (and which) hotels the other passengers are going to, but it’s usually not too long a trip all things considered.
Note: If you’re going to take the shuttle back to the airport, be sure to ask your shuttle service about the process for booking your return trip. Every time I've used a service I've HAD to call 24 hours before I wanted to be picked up to ensure it gets booked. Yeah. This is annoying.


Cheap snacks
Vegas can be an expensive place to eat. However, if you can do breakfast on the cheap and leverage the conference lunch, then that leaves your budget open for splurging a bit on dinner. I do this by bringing my own breakfast bars and snacks, but if you didn't have a chance to do that before your trip, stock up by hitting one of the drug stores along the Strip. They have a surprising amount of groceries in them and their prices are thankfully quite reasonable.
Cheap show tickets
One of the main draws of Vegas is the shows, which are spectacular but admittedly pricey. If you’re open to a bit of chance, be sure to take advantage of Tix4Tonight kiosks (http://www.tix4tonight.com). This company offers substantially discounted day-of tickets to many of the shows in town and there are tons of locations across the Strip. Not every show is offered every day, but the selection is always decent.
Note: In addition to cheap tickets, these locations also offer restaurant discounts (generally around 25-50% off your entrĂ©e). If you’re trying to decide what to have for dinner, a visit to Tix4Tonight might be worth a trip.
Vegas is terrible for walking anywhere quickly

Google Maps would have you believe that the Strip is an easy walk. This is because Google Maps doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that the sidewalks in Vegas are a maze. Seriously: there isn’t a direct route anywhere. Walking up and down the strip involves navigating sidewalks that loop convolutedly around casinos and merely crossing the street often requires that you use a series of stairs and bridges. If you plan to walk anywhere and don’t want to be late, a good rule of thumb is to take the walking time Google Maps gives you and double it.


At the Conference

Backchannel
Remember how I told you Twitter was going to be important? This is why. A conference backchannel is essentially a real-time collection of all the social media comments and conversations about the event. The backchannel often includes summaries of conference talks, attendee conversations and reactions, links, and even photos and video, all of which make it a wealth of information. It’s also a fantastic way to meet new people.
So how do you tap in to the backchannel? Do a search in Twitter for the hashtag and you can see what people have been saying and sharing about the conference. Want to add to the backchannel yourself? Just remember to always include the conference hashtag in every tweet you want to share.
Note: Can’t attend the conference in person? You can still enjoy the conference from afar via the backchannel.

Keep fed and watered

In the midst of all this excitement it’s very easy to forget your basic needs. Of course, do that during a conference and you’ll eventually be hit with a massive wave of exhaustion right in the middle of the event. Plus, hotel air in Vegas is dry and smoky, so it's absurdly easy to get dehydrated and dragged out. Take care of yourself and remember to stop by the free refreshments tables provided by the conference. Visit them often!


After the Conference

Look for opportunities to save on the conference next year
Did you know that a paid membership to the organization that puts on a conference can sometimes get you a big discount on entry? It's true. For instance, if you have a paid eLearning Guild membership, you get a decent discount on all their conferences. If you're planning on attending just a single conference this discount can sometimes pay for your membership fees AND still save you a chunk of change. On top of that, you get all the benefits of membership for the rest of the year too. Can't complain about that.
Note: Guess what? For some conferences you can chain this member discount on top of early bird discounts. Hooray for additional savings!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Podcasts that can make you a better instructional designer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday

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

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

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

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



Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

4:45-6:45 PM - LS DemoFest



Friday

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

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

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



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