Saturday, March 16, 2013

Learning Solutions 2013 - Day Two

Okay, it's time for the Thursday Learning Solutions session roundup, now with 100% more "me leading my first concurrent session."

Session: Keynote -  Hotbed: The Blueprint of High Performance
Speaker: Daniel Coyle

Just what I like: a keynote speaker that's entertaining but also relevant to the conference topics. Nothing against Ballard, but Coyle's talk felt like it had a lot more to do with what I'll actually be able to use on the job.

The question at the center of his talk was simple: what exactly makes people improve their performance drastically? The common story we're used to hearing is that some people are just talented, but real life data challenges that assumption. As it turns out, there are actually habits and patterns that lead to talent.

The core of improvement is 10,000 hours of practice: the "magic formula" to mastery. If you've ever read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers then you're familiar with how this works. If you haven't, though, it's pretty simple - practicing an awful lot leads to an awful lot of improvement. Now, Coyle didn't mention this, but this practice does need to be high quality. If you practice caterwauling off-key in your shower for 10,000 hours without any guidance on how to improve, all you've mastered is caterwauling off-key.

Also important is pushing a learner to struggle. In that point where we're stretching ourselves to do just a bit more, that is the sweet spot for building skills. But, you need to have a balance of challenge. Too easy and learners become bored. Too hard and they become overwhelmed and frustrated.

While Coyle had a number of additional bits of advice, one really stuck with me: "Fill your windshield." What he meant by this is that you should make sure you have a large number of role models in your life to show you what you can become and challenge you to even surpass their achievements.

Session: Designing for Clarity - Graphic Design Tips for Non-Graphic Designers
Speaker: Bianca Woods

Oh look, it's me!

Yes, I presented at Learning Solutions this year. Actually, it was my first time ever presenting at a conference. I'm sure I'll write more about the experience later on, but suffice it to say I survived... and even enjoyed it.

Rather than recap my own session for you, guess what... you can actually download my deck; read through my speaker notes; and find links to all the books, sites, and documents I referenced by simply clicking this link.

Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions/comments!

Session: Learning On Demand—the Evolution of Technology and the Future of Learning
Speaker: Reuben Tozman

Have you ever seen a room full of people try to organize themselves into a number of groups all at the same time, all the while trying to reconcile the fact that they themselves actually belong to multiple groups and aren't sure how they should show that (no, as it turns out people don't naturally sort themselves into Venn diagrams *laugh*)? I have, and it was hilarious.

So, amusingness aside, this was the intro to Tozman's talk, and he used this experience as part of a larger activity to show just how tiny and often useless the information that most LMSes hold about the learners and courses they interact with is. He also discussed other distinct LMS limitations.  For instance, they essentially just repackage the traditional classroom experience in a digital format. They don't create customized courses for individuals based on their actual needs. The true/false and multiple choice assessments typically used within an LMS don't actually assess how well a learner can actually perform a skill.

Clearly, the traditional LMS model is broken, but where should we look to for better models of how to use technology to teach? Tozman suggests the web. The way we've built the web shows some amazing best practices for using technology to better reach our students. For instance, here are a few snippets from this session:
  • The web doesn't have the strict hierarchy of the learner/teacher relationship. It levels the playing field.
  • Loads of people contribute to the web with no financial reward for doing so. This creates a wealth of information.
  • The web needs to "understand what you're feeding it", so we've built more effective systems for helping it do this.
  • Going viral can actually add to the value of the content.
However, there are some core issues about the web that would also apply to a web-inspired learning system. Learners would have to be willing to share more details about themselves in order for the system to know how best to help them (the difficult balance of privacy vs. openness, a question that does't have an easy answer for all people). Also, the system would need to be a network, so that if one portion went down the content you're trying to share in it could still be accessed. The information itself would need to be networked in a sensible way, so that learners could find and follow connections themselves. As well, since current lessons aren't packaged in a way that makes all the content in them searchable, we'd need to port over any relevant legacy information from lessons built for LMSes.

I enjoyed this session immensely, partially because I've already bought in to how amazing the web is as a tool for learning (and, conversely, how limited our LMSes are in comparison). The talk apparently also ties in nicely Tozman's book, Learning On Demand: How the Evolution of the Web is Shaping the Future of Learning, which I haven't read myself but was recommended to me this week by enough people I respect that I'm absolutely going to be picking it up when I get back home.

Session: Storyline and the iPad: A Case Study
Speakers: Desirée Pinder and Rick Smith

This was part case study of creating training for a mobile group of employees, part explanation of some of the technical hurdles the development team had to overcome in order to develop learning in Articulate Storyline that would function on both iPads and PCs.

On one hand, it was great to hear someone talk about some of the ways Storyline requires a bit of unexpected fussing with (and a few bootleg solutions) in order to make your output function equally well on iPads as well as in browsers on a PC. Even the best software is going to have trouble pulling that off, so I appreciated seeing someone both acknowledge those challenges and show specific instances of how they solved them (key takeaway: don't assume what you create is going to work exactly as planned. Test early, test often!). I also appreciated how open the speaker was about admitting when something didn't initially go right. Her honesty about how the design process rarely runs smoothly was refreshing.

Oh the other hand, this session jumped between a very dry case study (they did an excellent job of outlining what the training requirements were and how they decided to address them, but the explanation had little "story" to it. It was just a series of facts.) and a tech demo of how to finagle Storyline to function in the way they needed it to (only, without a lot of order to the way the information was presented). I would have rather that they picked one or the other and focused on making it a stronger version of that type of presentation. Tell me a compelling story of a mobile team of employees looking for a flexible solution that would meet their technical needs... or choose instead to run a session billed as "Tips and tricks for designing lessons in Storyline that work well on iPads AND PCs." Don't try and do both.

Session: Let’s Hangout: Bringing Learning to Every Employee Everywhere
Speakers: Tara Higgins and Mari Capps

So this is a good example of how a focused and compelling case study can look. Higgins and Capps told a fascinating story about a training difficulty at Google: they were having a terrible time getting learners from outside their hub cities to actually attend internal in-class training. They tried a number of different training options (e.g. converting content to e-Learning, webinars, videotaping classes, and video conferencing), but those alternatives just didn't work for a number of valid reasons. They knew they needed a solution to make classes available to all employees, regardless of location, but would also provide participation opportunities for all learners.

What they eventually found worked was a new service Google was developing at the time: Hangouts. If you've never used Hangouts before, the basic explanation it this: it's an easy-to-use video chat service that can support up to 10 chatters on the free version (15 on the business edition). You can learn more by checking out this link. It was a cheap solution, company-owned, simple to use, web-based, and allowed for more interactive capabilities than any of the other options Higgins and Capps had tried before. After converting a few classes to Hangouts sessions, they found that the learners liked them too.

Overall, a happy story, but it wasn't without some hiccups:
  • Their facilitators, so used to in-class student interactions, have continued to have a hard time feeling comfortable with this new way of teaching. 
  • Hangouts also doesn't have traditional breakout rooms, which initially caused some design issues (although they found a sensible workaround by having the learners set up their own additional Hangouts and then had the facilitator bounce from Hangout to Hangout checking on their progress).
  • Learner engagement is trickier to catch and keep.
  • While learners have pretty much bought in to the Hangouts classes, some stakeholders/business partners still aren't completely on board.
Now, why did I like it so much? While, as @JS_Dilon so correctly assessed yesterday, it didn't teach me anything I didn't already know about how Hangouts worked, it did give me a great example I can take back to work of how an established company used video chats for training. And if you know anything about working for a big company, you know how much they like other people trying out new training techniques first. Plus, Higgins and Capps were high quality storytellers. This is a component I've noticed isn't included in many case studies I've seen but is vital to making it a relatable and vivid experience.

The only downside? They were very uncomfortable with us taking photos of the session and outright against any videotaping, all for legal reasons. When you're going to a conference, especially one like Learning Solutions where there's so much sharing that takes place at the event, it's a bit surprising to see presenters put limits on sharing the content they were presenting, particularly since I didn't think there was any truly proprietary information included on their slides. Disappointing.

And so...

That's it for Day 2. Day 3 coming up in the next day or two.

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