Thursday, October 24, 2013

DevLearn 2013 - Day 1

It's Day 1 of DevLearn and somehow I'm already terrifyingly tired. Not quite sure how that happened. Ah well... at least it's the happy kind of tired.

Before I pass out from exhaustion, here's my summary of the sessions I saw today.

1) Keynote - Unlocking Cool
Speaker: Jeremy Gutsche
The morning started with a speaker with substantially more energy than I had at that hour. Let's be honest, though, that's not always a bad thing in an opening keynote.

As others have mentioned, keynotes at conventions like this tend to be more high level business advice than anything else, and this session was no exception. This isn't a criticism... just an observation. The premise of Gutsche's talk was the question of "Why should I choose you?". And by "you" he seemed to mean "your company or product".

Umm... because I have an awesome lamb hat?

The way we sell products and ideas has changed drastically in recent years. In the past doing things the same way you always have was the best way to succeed; now it's often the best way to get left behind. Gutsche noted several companies like Blockbuster, Kodak, and Encyclopedia Britannica who just couldn't adapt to changing times (although, to give them credit, the social media people from Britannica actually tweeted a challenge to that statement mere minutes after I tweeted Gutsche's claim. Delightful!). It's in this changing chaos, though, that some of the best innovations can take place. What's important is for businesses not to rest on their laurels (as it can be so easy to do when you're successful... I'm looking at you Blackberry!) and instead to continue to look for new opportunities and markets.

Another important thing we need to do is make a cultural connection with our customers. Instead of talking at them, we need to talk with them. It's this distinction that can make the difference between a message falling on dead ears or really resonating with an audience. We also need to stop trying to be all things to all people and instead focus on identifying and serving your message/product/service to a narrow but passionate audience. It's in doing this that we can better answer the question of why someone should choose us.

2) Featured Speaker: Exploring the Learning and Performance Possibilities of Google Glass 
Speaker: David Kelly
So what do a modem for a game system from the 90's, Friendster, and the original brick cell phone all have in common? Well, namely that they all sucked, that's for sure. But beyond that, they also all eventually opened the door for better, less sucky products later on.

Sucky trailblazers

And this was how Kelly opened his talk on Google Glass. Throughout the session it became clear that he felt that this was, in it's current stage, a product that was a door opener rather than a game changer. A Friendster rather than a Facebook. It was also clear that he felt that this was entirely suitable. Google Glass is, honestly, still in beta. He didn't expect it to be fully realized when he received it. It's got lousy battery life, vaguely unfinished apps, and has the potential to fly off your face when biking (don't ask), and yet it's clear Kelly sees it as full of currently-unrealized potential. The potential to provide in-the-moment training. The potential to allow for making immersive tutorial videos. The potential for hands-free learning. The potential to be another great tool for us to have in our training and performance support arsenal.

Google Glass isn't remotely there yet, but you have to admit... a product like it could get there eventually.

3) Sketchnoting - How to Capture Ideas and Concepts With Visual Narratives
Speaker: Kevin Thorn
With my passion for comics and infographics, this was a session I was giddy about attending. Sketchnoting is a type of visual notetaking that's been becoming more popular as of late. In this session, Thorn talked about some of the core basics of how you can get started with this note taking technique.

There are some general formatting ideas, but these are just suggestions, not templates

I could cover his session, but his own words speak better about this topic than I ever could. For that reason I'll just direct you to his in-progress series of blog posts about the various parts of sketchnoting. They're delightfully full of great tips and tricks. Another great resource is The Sketchnote Handbook, a book Thorn himself recommended. I bought a copy specifically for this trip and can't recommend it enough.

There is one thing I'll note here that will comfort the non-drawers: Thorn made a point of stressing that sketchnoting is not about creating a perfect piece of polished visual art. It's merely about adding creative style and emphasis to your notes. It's a technique that anyone can pick up, regardless of their art training (or lack thereof).

4) Storyboarding Your Videos and Animations
Speaker: Cory Casella
Seeing Casella speak is guaranteed to be enjoyable because he's always looking at the practical "how do I actually get stuff done" aspect of our work. I love sessions like this.

This particular talk was about how you can create storyboards for videos (like this hilarious example he showed in class). First off, Casella recommended checking to make sure a video is actually the right solution. Just because you can make a video, doesn't mean you always should. If a video is the right choice, then you next move on to a creative brief. This is essentially a high level document outlining the project (always good for making sure everyone is on the same page). Next up is the scripting. While a script isn't as flashy as the visuals, it's the gas that will power your video's audio and visuals. Without a great script, you can't have a great video. We were given some quick tips on creating good scripts, most important of which was to keep them short and simple.

Then comes the actual storyboarding itself. Casella shared a template that worked for him: a 5 panel page that had a field each for:
  • a scene summary
  • a rough sketch of the visuals
  • a voiceover script
  • a list of information needed from the client
  • and a spot for client feedback
It's seriously just this simple. My cat could learn how to do this.
Sets of these pages become the video storyboard itself. These pages are ever changing living documents that you'll pass back and forth between you and your client until you get the storyboard fully fleshed out and signed off on. Casella made sure to set expectations: scripts don't just magically write themselves perfectly. They take many revisions and edits to get right.

As much as we all joked in the session that this was too hard, it's actually ridiculously easy to put together, even if the best you can do for the visual sketches is stick people.

5) Keynote: The Real Power of Games for Learning
Speaker: Ian Bogost

The day wrapped up with Bogost's talk on games for learning. This ended up becoming one of those "gamification vs games" discussions that I see a lot from game designers. Bogost clearly felt that gamification could provide a surface level benefit (particularly because so many examples of it these days are just content in a game-like wrapper), but it was only actual games that could provide a deeper, more mindset altering experience in which the player felt they were able to craft their own success.

The eternal struggle between games and gamification
I'll give him that a lot of gamification only adds in superficial game aspects that don't actually alter the content. That said, last year I saw a spectacular DevLearn session on a gamified course created by Google where I felt the gamification was also tied to meaningful changes to the course content. The gamified system hinged on content that was optimized for the system and was a success because of this. Gamification doesn't have to be fully divorced from the content itself.

As well, Bogost's examples of why games are superior to gamified systems were all, as expected, stellar examples of games. In the real world, though, this isn't always the case. I've gone on record as noting that not all games are actually... you know... good. Not everything can be Animal Crossing. There's a lot of ETs and Fantavisions out there too. I honestly believe that a good gamified system, even if it just effects the surface level, is a better learning experience than a lousy game any day.

I don't want it to sound like I thought Bogost was all wrong: I actually thought he made some great points about the value of deep games over shallow gamification. I just wish he hadn't taken the approach of "games > gamification" always and forever. That's not always the case.

So, beyond the sessions themselves, DevLearn has been both fabulous and a bit frustrating. As always, the people who attend this conference are just delightfully curious about the world. It's refreshing being around that all day. Also, I've been able to meet a bunch of people I only knew through Twitter as well as reconnect with others who I only see at conferences. This has been fabulous.

On the other hand, the conference has had distressingly patchy wi-fi all day... something I've never experienced at an eLearning Guild conference before. They tend to really "get" how we all lean heavily on the wi-fi for live tweeting and the like, so it was a surprise to be constantly kicked off the network and have wide spans of time where wi-fi access was just suddenly unavailable. Not fun at all.

So that's it for Day 1. Day 2 includes my concurrent session on comics for learning as well and my DemoFest presentation... so let's see if I get ANY sleep tonight at all. *laugh*


  1. You were absolutely fantastic and your presentation was awesome at DevLearn 2013!

    Thanks a lot!!!!