Monday, March 18, 2013

Learning Solutions 2013 - Day Three

Okay, the final day of the conference! This was the most brutal day for me not just because I was exhausted from the rest of the conference, but also because the breaks between each session were a tiny 15 minutes long.  Not ideal for a day where I needed to check out of my room and store my luggage between sessions. Sure, I could have skipped a session to fit in, oh, say an actual breakfast, but where’s the fun in that?

Session: Morning Buzz: Today's Challenges in Instructional Design

Speaker: Heather Porterfield

Once again, I didn't try and live tweet the Morning Buzz. These sessions seem to be more casual chats than lead sessions, so it made more sense to me to participate in the discussion in the room rather than observe and tweet. It went well for the two MB sessions I attended at Learning Solutions 2013, so I think it'll be my plan for any future conferences as well.

Anyway, this particular Morning Buzz was an opportunity for us to share some of the current challenges we're experiencing as instructional designers. What I got out of this session more than anything else was a reminder of both how differently most companies define what exactly "ID work" is and also the wide variety of paths people take to becoming an ID in the first place. Where I work there is a huge variety from person to person in what we each do in our roles as IDs and how exactly we got here, but that mixture is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the diversity of IDs in this session.

While I don't think we found a lot of solutions in this session, I suspect because of just how wildly different what we each do in our roles is, it was worthwhile getting up so early if just to continue to broaden my understanding of what IDs everywhere do in their role.

Session: What Stakeholders Need to Know: Communicating the Results of Training Evaluations

Speaker: Frank Morris

Is there anything more fascinating than seeing a co-worker in a completely different role? Like, perhaps, seeing them facilitate a session? Definitely not.

As you’ve probably guessed, Morris and I work together and, while I knew he also facilitates classes, I’d never seen him in action before. So this session wasn’t just an opportunity for me to learn some new content; it was an opportunity to see my co-worker in a new light (and see him do a fabulous job at facilitating if I do say so myself).

So, work team pride aside, this session’s theme was how IDs/Project Managers/Training Team Leads can strategically communicate the results of training with stakeholders and business partners. Honestly though, the advice was broad enough that it could be applied to any time a learning professional needs to talk effectively with those groups.

The gist of the session isn’t that complicated: good communication matters. As well, what counts as “good communication” isn’t going to be the same for every audience. What we need to do to effectively communicate is put ourselves in the shoes of the stakeholder and figure out what exactly they actually care about (here’s his slide on some typical stakeholder categories). For instance, an update about how your new training program aligns with broad company policy may not be that fascinating to a line manager, but it sure appeals to an executive in charge of that policy. Admit that a one-size-fits-all approach to your communications isn’t going to work and instead tailor your messages specifically for each audience.

Morris discussed some generally useful trend metrics to have on hand, for instance: trends over time; against standards, expectations, or targets; and compared to self or others. Quality and efficacy of the work you do can also be helpful metrics for your stakeholders. One metric that isn’t as helpful as business partners would like it to be, though, is ROI. Because ROI is tricky to quantify for learning, moving stakeholders to framing results in terms of Return on Expectations is a better, more measurable option.

Finally, Morris recommended taking the time up front to create a communication strategy for all your different stakeholders that quickly outlines how they want to be communicated with, when you should contact them, and what they’ll want to know. While it takes a bit of time, this type of strategy can easily be reused for future projects.

Session: OMG!—I Got a Budget for a Multimedia Studio: A How-to on Building It

Speakers: Mark Jenkins and David Dichmann

They had me at “OMG.” *laugh*

This session was a set of two approachable and funny experts who just walked us through some of their recommendations for purchasing equipment that’s good bang for your buck as well as tips for setting it up so it works effectively. The presentation, as fun as it was, was a lot of bullet point recommendations, so I’ll just list some of the highlights of what Jenkins and Dichmann mentioned:
  • Some cheap/free media software resources the speakers use: Solidworks viewer, Adobe Premier Pro, Camtasia Studio, and SnagIt
  • Their best practices for video are good best practices for everything: simplify, simplify, simplify
  • Two hardware recommendations for screen captures: Epiphan VGA2USB (external frame grabber capture device that captures output from any VGA source) and DVI2PCIe (PCIe capture card internal lossless frame grabber with a single-link DVI/VGA input).
  • For lights, Alzo Video’s fluorescent lights were a suggestion for new lighting, and GE Tungsten bulbs were recommended for replacing the lights in existing room fixtures.
  • If you’re choosing a single camera that has to shoot both video and stills, pick based on which of those two types you’ll be doing most often. Shooting mostly stills with the occasional video? Choose a DSLR. Doing mostly video with the occasional stills? Go for an actual video camera.
  • Green screen footage can be greatly improved with a few quick tips: keep the screen at least 5-7 feet behind the subject (to avoid green reflections on their back), keep the subject’s shadow off of the screen, and hairlight the back of the subject to make crisp edges for post-production.
  • Microphone recs: Shuie SM 58 or 57. XR-2 USB. H1 Zoom (fragile but flexible)

They finished with three key points: know your audience, fit your choices for the purpose, and having a budget does not equal having unlimited cash

Session: Keynote: Leading a High-Performance Life

Speaker: Yvonne Camus

The final session of the conference was a keynote by Camus about her experience as a competitor in the Eco-Challenge race and how what she learned from that competition relates to general advice about increasing and renewing your enthusiasm for what you do.

Camus began simply with this thought: enthusiasm is a renewable resource. It doesn’t magically replenish itself though. We need to do things to keep it fueled, such as
  • Explore what you’re capable of when you’re doing something at your best.
  • Concentrate and pay attention to the moments where you were brilliant, and then consider what you did that contributed to your high performance.
  • On hard days, just give yourself credit for showing up.
  • Work smart, not hard.
  • Surround yourself with incredible people.
  • Energy follows thought, so plan to be excellent.
Overall it felt like Camus’ story about her involvement in the Eco-Challenge was a good scaffold for talking about managing to push through adversity and continuing to raise your own bar. Each point she made was illustrated with vivid examples from the race that managed to feel both on point and genuine. I never got the sense that she was trying to force a story to fit a point or force a point in order to fit in a story.

I tend to find that the final keynotes at conferences skew towards the inspirational rather than the task-specific, but that tone change is likely a smart move. Most attendees end up leaving the conference feeling energized overall (and people who don’t love this sort of talk can consistently know to scamper off early).

And so…

That was Learning Solutions 2013. I’m planning a wrap-up post later on, but for now I’ll just sum things up by saying it was an enjoyable three days and well worth the trip.

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