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.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Bianca! I think I could have really used the confidence meter session this week, so I'm glad to see such detailed coverage of it.