Friday, December 14, 2012

Last minute gifts for the design minded

Tis the gifting season for many us right now. Obviously I'm more than a bit of a design/tech nerd, so I thought it might be fun to put together a series of design-themed presents for people in our industry. I'm covering the full range of skill sets here, from newbie to guru, so hopefully there's something for everyone.

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
That co-worker who always puts together PowerPoint decks that are just slide after slide of bulleted lists. Zzzzzzzz.

There are way too many lousy PowerPoint decks out there in the universe. If you know someone who needs a kind but serious deck intervention, or even someone who's self aware enough to realize their slides are painful but isn't  sure how to fix them, then this book is a perfect gift. Reynolds make creating effective PowerPoint slides surprisingly easy. He also avoids unnecessary jargon and instead explains concepts in simple terms.

While this book focuses on slide decks, most of the concepts also transfer easily to e-Learning, page layout, and user interface design too.

Sidenote: Know someone who's got the concepts of Presentation Zen downpat and wants to move up to the next level? Give them slide:ology by Nancy Duarte instead.

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
Your team member who constantly complains that they "aren't creative."

I used to be an art teacher, so I've heard the "I'm just not good at creative stuff" line millions of times. Honestly, it's nonsense. All it takes to improve is some good instruction and commitment to practice. 

When I hear co-workers say "I just suck at design" I typically point them to this book. Ignore the horrifically bad cover (seriously, how did such a perfect design book end up with one of the worst designed book covers I've ever seen?) and buy this for anyone in your life who needs practical advice on what makes good design. Like Presentation Zen, this book is easy for newbies to follow and does a good job of demystifying concepts and terms.

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
Your friend who always draws ideas on scraps of paper that they inevitably can't find later on.

Have I ever mentioned my love for Moleskine notebooks? The paper is splendid, the binding holds up for the long haul, and they're just so enjoyable to write and draw in. They're pricy, but this is definitely a product where you get what you pay for.

Moleskine makes a number of specialty books for niche markets, and this is the perfect one for instructional designers. Each page has two small panels printed on it, which are perfect for putting together ideas for videos, e-Learning pieces, slide decks... heck, turn it sideways and you can even sketch out handout and workbook ideas. A scrap of paper is easy to lose, but chances are your giftee is going to have a much easier time keeping track of this spiffy notebook.

Sidenote: Know someone who's obsessed with using Evernote? Then here's a good gift idea. Moleskine just partnered with Evernote to put together a physical notebook that can be paired up with the Evernote app using the Page Camera feature. It's a great idea for people who constantly jump between physical and digital notes.

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
Followers of the Cult of Jobs.

Yes, it's a mirror that looks like a MacBook. It is absolutely ridiculous and clearly not licensed by Apple in any way or form. That said, it's the perfect size and weight for a portable mirror, so it actually does serve a purpose other than to collect dust. I have two and they make me happy for no sensible reason.

They're absurdly cheap on eBay, so consider picking up a few for Apple geek stocking stuffers.

Sidenote: They come in two colours (white and silver) and unfortunately the eBay listings sometimes show an image of one colour when the auction is for the other variant. Read the item description carefully.

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
Anyone on a Dev Team.

Know someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes one or more Adobe products? Get them a few of these Adobe Icon-themed pillows. Great for alleviating desk-related back pain or for angrily throwing against the wall when your software refuses to work properly.

Sidenote: This company also makes iOS mini pillows too.

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
Your hipster buddy who will just not stop posting photos of his/her brunch.

I'm guilty of all the typical Instagram-related sins, so I suppose it's not surprising to anyone that when I saw this mini projector on Kickstarter I jumped on backing it ASAP. Basically, it's a tiny battery powered projector. Once you have the projector, you can then order custom mini-slide wheels of your Instagram photos... you know, so you can project all those brunch photos on a wall. Yeah, it's another silly item, but I can't help but find it amusing. Plus, it's practically perfectly aligned with the aesthetic of the typical Instagram addict.

Sidenote: Found this idea after the Kickstarter funding period ended? Click here to go to the official Projecteo Facebook page instead.

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
Hardcore design nerds.

Pantone is most famous for creating a widely used standardized colour reproduction system. It's an industry standard for loads of products and the colour chips used by the system have reached iconic status in the design community. Yes, maybe that's a bit dorky, but hey, we all have our weird dorky thing that we love, right?

Pantone is clearly not run by idiots, so they licensed out the look and feel of their chips and you can now buy a number of Pantone-themed products. Since its the holidays, why not treat the design geek in your life to a set of these amusing branded tree ornaments?

What is it?

Ideal gift for:
Anyone who's ever had a particularly moronic request from a client/SME/boss... so, basically everyone you know.

Based on the hilarious website of the same name, Clients From Hell collects a large number of anonymously-submitted stories about astronomically stupid requests and conversations from people footing the design bills who clearly have no idea how anything works.


While this book is full of all sorts of depressingly-idiotic situations, it'll at least make the person who receives it feel better the next time their SME insists that Comic Sans is a professional font.

So those are my suggestions. If you've got any other ideas for design-themed presents, be sure to leave them in the comments.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What other media should you know if you're about to write a branched simulation?

I'm currently in the midst of rapidly developing a branched simulation at work. The timeline may be killing me, but the work itself is delightful, even in spite of the fact that it produces documents like this:

This is a map... just trust me here.
If you're not that familiar with branched simulations, think of them like digital versions of the Choose Your own Adventure books you may have grown up with. Basically, you get to read a bit of story, then the story stops and you get to choose from two or more possible options for what should happen next. The story progresses based on the choice you just made, and this cycle continues until you reach the end of your story branch. Because of all the opportunities you have to make choices, one branched story will have a large number possible endings.

So why am I using this type of storytelling for a work project? Because using a branched storyline in a simulation is an ideal way of letting a learner test out how the information they've learned in theory could actually play out on-the-job. Learners are given a real-world scenario, have opportunities to make choices, and then are able to see the results of their choices. When written well, a branched simulation feels immersive to the learner and can help them practice complex skills in an environment that's both close to real life AND low risk.

Branched simulations can used for practicing procedure skills, such as entering customer data into a computer system. A more intriguing option, though, is to use them to have learners practice soft skills, such as coaching or sales techniques. Seriously, what would tell you more about whether a learner has grasped, say, the interviewing content you just taught them: a multiple choice test or an immersive experience where they get actually conduct an interview with an applicant that actually responds what the player asks them?

That said, the more complex the situation you want to use, the harder it's going to be to write well. That's why it's worthwhile to look at some of the more successful examples of branched storytelling before you get ready to write your own. And here's where I'm going to suggest you look completely outside our industry and turn instead to mediums who have been doing this a lot longer than we have: books and video games.

The following is my own personal list of books and videogames that aren't just entertaining, they also offer some of the best examples of what you can do to create a successful and nuanced branched simulation. One that will entertain AND teach at the same time.

Title: "To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure" (book)
What can I get out of it?: The basics!
If you're looking to understand the core basics of how a branched story actually works you could start with the Choose Your Own Adventure books. While they're decent examples of the basic mechanics of this type of storytelling, they're also dreadfully written (I just tried re-reading one as an adult. PAIN! SUFFERING!). You'll be better off with an example that works like the CYOA books, but is actually entertaining to read. So my suggestion is "To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure" by Ryan North. It's a tongue and cheek retelling of Hamlet and it should manage to both make you laugh AND show you how multiple branches of a story work.

If you're reading this before Dec 21, 2012, then you can take advantage of the fact this project is currently raising funds on Kickstarter. If you need something more immediately, though, might I suggest an alternative: the story "Down to the Scum Quarter" by Garth Nix. It's equally hilarious and instructive. Also, he's recently made a PDF of it available for free on his website.

Title: Shadow of Destiny (Videogame - PS2)
What can I get out of it?: The basics... videogame style!
Time to dust off the console. This early-PS2 title was one of the first times I played a game where your choices had substantial impact on the rest of the game. I'll admit, Shadow of Destiny isn't that subtle about what actions in the game count as high-impact choices, but aside from that it's an intriguing look at what the consequences of the player's choices can be.

From a storytelling perspective, it's worth looking at because of how the drastically different endings play out. On your first playthrough you'll think you understood the plot. However, you've only got one piece of the broader story at this point. It's only on further replays that you'll see other sides to the story and realize how much more was actually going on than you initially suspected.

Title:  999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (Videogame - Nintendo DS)
What can I get out of it?: Understanding that all important choices don't have to be obvious
When you're ready for something a bit more subtle, try out 999. Much like Shadow of Destiny, this is another game where the story is set out so that it takes multiple playthroughs to understand what's happening. Unlike Shadow, however, the times you're asked to make meaningful choices aren't quite as obvious. There are a lot of dialogue choices to make in this game and a large number of them don't have any impact on the broader plot. Then there are a few that at first glance seem unimportant but turn out to be key in how another character responds to you later. The lesson here isn't that you should try and trick the learner. It's more that all choices in a simulation don't need to have the same weight.

This game also shows how to execute choices and gestures that can seem minor to the player character, but end up being much more meaningful for the other characters. Think about times you've done a small favour for someone that took little effort on your part but made a huge difference in the other person's day. 999 is a good reminder that you should consider including moments like these in order to make the simulation seem more realistic.

Title:  Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit (Videogame - PS2, Xbox, Windows)
What can I get out of it?: Dialogue pacing and forcing quick choices
In a real life conversation you don't get to just sit there and spend all the time you'd like determining the best answer. No, you have to think and respond quickly. Many simulations allow you as much time as you want to decide what to say or do next. Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit as it's known outside of North America) instead aims towards realism and actually has a timer start counting down every time a choice appears. Timer runs out? Well then, too bad. You don't get to make a choice anymore and the game just keeps going. Doing this too often keeps you from getting vital information and is detrimental to getting one of the better endings.

Seeing that timer tick down as you're trying to pick an option is stressful, and sometimes you don't make the choice you would if you were given all the time in the world to make your decision, but it's also a much closer experience to real life conversations. Since you're designing a branched simulation to help your learners make the right decision in the moment, not in a vacuum, then it's worth considering adding options like Indigo Prophecy's timer to your sim's dialogue choices.

Nice bonus to Indigo Prophecy? You can currently pick it up for a measly $6 online.

Title: The Walking Dead (Videogame - Windows, OS X, iOS, PS3, Xbox 360, 
What can I get out of it?: Remembering that making the right choice shouldn't always be easy
The most recently published entry on this list is also, by far, the most complex. The Walking Dead combines all of the elements of the previous games on this list: branched storytelling, varying weights to decisions, and timers on your choices. It ups the ante even more, though, by putting you in situations where the "good" thing to do and the "right" thing to do aren't necessarily one and the same. Out of all the branched dialogue games I've played this is the one that regularly gets just how complex human decisions can be. In order to make the best possible choices you have to pay careful attention to context, previous actions, and how the other characters around you currently perceive you.

If you need to learn how to create a branched simulation or storyline, this game should be your gold standard for what the genre can be.

So that's my list of games and books that can inspire you if you're about to write a branched simulation. I'll admit, though, that it's not remotely a full list. If there's a book, video game, or some other type of media that you think does a fantastic job of demonstrating the best of branched storytelling, then I'd love to hear about it in the comments section.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quick DevLearn link

I've been absent from this blog not due to lack of interest, but more due to the arm injuries. As it turns out, rapidly tweeting and blogging for 3 days straight on an iPad/iPhone combo with no keyboard isn't so great for your wrists, especially if they're already injured from millinery class (it's a long story that, oddly enough, makes complete sense if you know me). So I've been keeping my wrists in braces and crossing my fingers to get better.

I'm not all the way recovered yet, but I thought it was worth writing a short comment here about the roundup of 7 recommended DevLearn backchannel resources posted today by David Kelly... a list that I somehow managed to make it on to. Glad to see the wrist injury wasn't for nothing.

Aside from my own content, though, the rest of the list is absolutely worth checking out. It's a good mix of video, blog postings, audio, and mind maps. Something for everyone, really.

Monday, November 12, 2012

DevLearn 2012: So What's Next?

DevLearn can be a fantastic ride. You spend a handful of days surrounded by new technology, innovative ideas, and people who are genuinely excited about pushing the envelope in our field. Chances are by the end of the third day you're just itchy to get to work on making all the ideas you've come up with over the course of the convention happen.

Then you go back home.

That's when the hard work begins. Taking those ideas and tools and actually making them a reality, well, that doesn't just magically happen. It often requires meetings after meetings to sell others on your plans, scraping up the necessary budget and time, managing pushback from people who don't see the need for change, and sometimes dealing with being told no outright. If you're not careful, all of that amazing energy you picked up from the sessions, keynotes, vendors, and other attendees can fizzle out amidst constant jumping through hoops to actually make things happen.

I know I don't want that to happen to me. So here's what I'm planning to do to keep me motivated and  on-task with my DevLearn-inspired ideas, even when the going gets hard.

Tell others about what I saw, especially while I'm all fired up from having just been at DevLearn
When I got back from the convention pretty much the first thing co-workers asked me was "So, how was Vegas?". Rather than just saying it was fun and leaving it at that, I actively promoted some of the best ideas I had seen in hopes of getting others excited about them as well. I mentioned nuggets of interesting info and, if the person I was talking to seemed interested, then I gave them a quick summary and pointed them in the direction of more. It's been a careful balance, because I wanted to infect people with my enthusiasm, but I didn't want to drive them nuts by going on and on about something they're not particularly keen on.

It seems to have been successful, though, since I was asked me to present the highlights of the conference at our next instructional designer meeting. This should be another good way of getting people curious about some of the ideas and mindsets from DevLearn.

Ask for the changes I want now
Hey, the final keynote speaker did say that we should ask for what we want, right? I've been using the the meetings I've had over the last week to start asking my manager and subject matter experts to consider changes, namely broadening the ways we're delivering content. I've had some early wins here with at least getting people to buy in to my ideas and give initial support.

Does it help that I can now name drop the conference and say things like, "Based on what Speaker X said at DevLearn..."? Yes.

Does it also help that those speakers gave me good business cases for why these changes are the right things to do for both our learners and our learning objectives? Yes again.

Continue to advocate for using technology appropriately
I love technology with all my heart, but I'm the first to admit that you can't solve a learning problem by picking out software/hardware first. You have to instead look at what the learner actually needs, and only then pick out the tools to teach them. I was lucky enough at this year's conference to meet a number of people who feel the exact same way.

I've had projects in the past where someone is so incredibly excited about a new piece of software or hardware that they want to shoehorn it in even if it's not the best solution for the learners. The next time this happens, I'm going to continue to advocate respectfully for basing our decisions on the learners rather than wanting to use a shiny new toy. However, this time I'll do this knowing there are a large number of others in the industry that back up this viewpoint.

Get more involved with the online community
You know what was unexpectedly fantastic about DevLearn? Getting to interact with all my fellow learning professionals on the backchannel. It may be the thing I miss most now that the conference is over.

In the past I've been rather shy about actively engaging with the online community of learning professionals, but I'm going to push myself to do more from now on. There's serious value in tapping in to the insights and experiences of people in the same role as me, but outside of my workplace. I'm also hoping that getting involved with the community will help push my ideas and project even farther.

The only thing I may need some pointers on is where exactly are the best places for chatting with others in the industry.

Keep sharing
Twitter and this blog helped me reach a surprisingly large number of people during DevLearn, so I'm going to keep up with both and see how it works out.

As well, one of my conference highlights was hearing how people tackled different learning projects, so I thought I'd do what I can to contribute to the conversation by sharing my own work when possible.  I work for a financial institution, so I obviously I have to edit what I share because of privacy issues, but I'm hoping what I can disclose about my projects will be enough to help others learn from my successes and problems, and maybe even help me get some constructive feedback along the way.

Continue learning
If there's anything a technology-based conference will remind you of, it's the fact that you have to continually keep building your skills in order to stay current. I'm definitely going to be making the most out of YouTube, blogs, and my membership so that I can keep broadening and deepening my technology skills.

That said, if there's anything to be noted from DevLearn's choices in keynote speakers it's that there are insights to be gained from outside the industry. That's why I'm going to keep challenging myself to learn skills that aren't directly connected to instructional design. For instance, right now I'm taking a millinery course at a local college. Sure hat making is unlikely to directly influence how I design a course, but you never know what sort of design principles or life lessons I could gain from it that might indirectly help me find new or better ways to teach.

So those are my plans for the next year. I'd love to know what you're doing to keep motivated post-conference?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

DevLearn Bonus content: "Coca Cola: Taste Around the World"

This ridiculous bonus content is dedicated to my co-workers who enticed me to attempt this.

This is a tale of woe and pain. It is a cautionary tale that is not for the faint of heart. Learn from my mistakes so that you too will never feel the curse of "Taste Around the World".

Okay, I'm being melodramatic and silly, but this really is an opportunity for you to avoid the terrible mistake that I did: the mistake of trying to take on the Coca Cola Taste Around the World all on my own.

It all started with searching for things to do in Vegas while I attended DevLearn. Not traveling with anyone from work, and not knowing if I'd make any friends at the conference, I Googled "bizarre things to do in Vegas" to try and find something off the beaten track to check out on my own. When I saw that the Coca Cola store near my hotel had a drink platter that featured a number of unusual soft drinks from around the world, I knew I had found something I had to sample.

I had tried a smaller version of this at Epcot Center in Florida and I have an exceptionally high sugar tolerance, so I thought I could tackle this one by myself. I headed off to the store Thursday night, scampered up to the second floor, ordered my platter, and was presented with THIS:

Oh good god, what had I gotten myself into!

Soooooo.... yeah. Any normal person would have sensibly had a sip of each and called it a day. I'm clearly not a normal person, though, so I pulled out a pen, started downing the entire first cup, and began taking notes.

I'd say I got through the first tray before I started feeling a bit off, and that was with giving myself permission not to finish 2 of the drinks due to their intolerably bad taste. And yet, I kept on going. Why? An inherently stubborn and persistant personality I suppose. I'll also accept naiveté... or in-the-moment stupidity.

I continued and just barely survived. It takes a lot for sugar to make me ill, but this completely did me in. However, my mistake can save you since I took detailed notes about each drink. Learn from them and save yourself!

Tray 1 (the front tray in the photo)
1) Inca Kola from Peru
Smells like: Cream soda
Tastes like: Has a light, sweet flavour (much like the Kola Champagne pop that you can get here in Toronto).
Overall: I liked this very much

2) Sunfill Blackcurrant from Mauritius
Smells like: Blackcurrant! So yeah, this was well-named.
Tastes like: Soda water mixed with a splash of Ribena
Overall: Okay

3) Stoney Tangawizi from Tanzania
Smells like: Ginger beer
Tastes like: Slightly sweeter ginger beer
Overall: Good

4) Sprite Ice from Korea
Smells like: Nothing, oddly enough
Tastes like: A less-cloying Sprite. Did I mention I don't like Sprite?
Overall: Meh. Didn't finish drinking it.

5) Vegitabeta from Japan
Smells like: A bit like McDonald's orange drink
Tastes like: A bit like orange gatorade, but less citrusy. Not carbonated.
Overall: Great!

6) Sparletta Sparberry from Zimbabwe
Smells like: Cherry
Tastes like: Soda water mixed with cherry Nyquil
Overall: Meh. Didn't finish drinking it.

7) Smart Watermelon from China
Smells like: Melon
Tastes like: Melon Ramune
Overall: Yummy

8) Kinley Lemon from England
Smells like: A tiny bit like lemon
Tastes like: Slightly less bitter grapefruit pop
Overall: Quite tasty

Tray 2 (the back tray in the photo)
1) Lift Manzana from Mexico
Smells like: Caramel sweet
Tastes like: How it smells
Overall: Decent

2) Fanta Kolita from Costa Rica
Smells like: Cheap strawberry candy
Tastes like: A more cloying version of Inca Kola
Overall: Okay. Didn't finish drinking it.

3) Krest Ginger Ale from ??? (wasn't listed on the card)
Smells like: Weak ginger ale
Tastes like: Weak ginger ale
Overall: Decent

4) Ciel Aquarius from Mexico
Smells like: Apple juice
Tastes like: Cheap hot cider powder mix... but cold. Not carbonated.
Overall: Bad. Didn't finish drinking it.

5) Sunfill Mint from Djibouti
Smells like: Mint mouthwash
Tastes like: A liquid breath mint
Overall: Surprisingly not bad in the moment. May have been what made me so spectacularly ill later on.

6) Smart Apple from China
Smells like: Apple
Tastes like: Slightly sweeter sparkling cider
Overall: Good

7) Beverly from Italy
Smells like: A bit like Brio Chinotto
Overall: HORRID! Didn't finish drinking it.

8) Mezzo Mix from Germany
Smells like: A bit like tamarind
Tastes like: Too sweet! Nasty!
Overall: Horrid! Didn't finish drinking it.

So now you know what to try and what you should skip for the sake of your stomach. In general, I'd say do the platter with at least one friend and stay the heck away from the Beverly and Mezzo Mix.

The trip to the Coca Cola store wasn't a full loss at least. I did find this spiffy hat while I was there:

You're not fully dressed without a polar bear hat!

DevLearn 2012: Final thoughts

DevLearn 2012 is over and I'm finally back home in the frozen tundra that is Toronto, Canada. Okay, it's not that bad, but it is awful in comparison to Vegas right now. While I go through learning withdrawal (yes, this is the nerdiest withdrawal out there. I'm more than okay with that), here are some final thoughts on the convention:

DevLearn is incredibly invigorating
I've never found anything else out there that leaves me as inspired and excited about my job as this conference. Most of the people who attend and/or speak at DevLearn are deeply passionate about that they do, and that passion is entirely infectious. Going to DevLearn recharges your creative batteries and pushes you to do even more than you're already doing in your career. That alone can be worth the cost of entry.

It will also sometimes be a bit depressing
Unless your employer has a massive training budget, you are going to see some things at DevLearn that you'd like do but can't afford to. This is entirely heartbreaking if you see something that would be an amazing fit for your learners.

Thankfully the inspiring outweighs the depressing though, and also there's a good chance you'll bump into some topic or product that will help you do something you previously thought you didn't have the budget/time/skills to pull off.

You'll leave the convention more energized than depressed, but there's a good chance that at least one thing you saw and can't currently do will hang with you long after you leave Vegas.

There is no way to see everything you want to
There will inevitably be multiple sessions that you want to attend that happen at the same time. That, and/or you won't have enough time to talk to every vendor you want to. It's an unfortunate reality that, unless you have a time machine, there will be things you want to see and can't. If you're traveling with co-workers, split off and report back to each other. If you're on your own, check the Twitter backchannel to see if anyone covered the session you couldn't attend. You can also check the DevLearn website to check if the speakers posted their slide deck after the fact.

People at DevLearn are, generally speaking, some of the nicest and most collaborative people you'll have the pleasure of meeting
Seriously... I am always blown away by how fantastic the people who come to this convention are.

If you are attending DevLearn by yourself, Twitter can be your best friend
Last year I attended the conference with a co-worker and had a fantastic time. This year it was just me on my own though, which isn't ideal for a shy extrovert like me (yes, I'm aware that's a bizarre combination).

Here's where the Twitter backchannel came in handy. Since I didn't have anyone to chat with next to me about the sessions, I started chatting online with people who were posting interesting/amusing/funny things using the DevLearn hashtag. That led to meeting up with several of them in person, which made the convention substantially more fun to attend.

In general, using Twitter and the DevLearn hashtag can be a great way of finding people with similar interests/job roles/areas of focus to you, which is part of what going to a conference is all about, right?

If you are Tweeting non-stop on a tablet or phone without a keyboard, you may injure yourself
Yeah, so that happened.

My hands, wrists, and elbows are not terribly impressed with me right now. I probably need to buy keyboard attachements for my devices for next year.

The Jean Philippe patisserie in the casino level of the Aria is mindblowingly good

Vegas is WEIRD
Case in point, here are some things I saw during my last 2 trips:

This is NOT food!

Umm, can I avoid the gunfight altogether?

They were not joking about this.

These are not the slot machines you are looking for.

Go home Mario & Luigi! You are DRUNK!

In short...
DevLearn continues to be worth the considerable time and expense to go to. I definitely wish it wasn't in Vegas, but what can you do?

Will I go next year? If work pays for it, definitely. If work won't pay for it... well, it's a lot of money but I'd definitely consider it.

But now... now comes the hard part: actually executing the amazing ideas from the convention.

Edit: In case you're interested, here's a link to all the available downloadable DevLearn resources. Enjoy !

Saturday, November 3, 2012

DevLearn 2012: Day 3

The final day of the convention. I find final days hard because, despite the fact that you're ready to pass out from sheer learning exhaustion, you're also deeply aware that there's ever so much more for you to learn about.

Also, despite the tiredness, there was a part of me that was only just finally getting in to the swing of things by Friday. I was getting super comfortable with my Twitter set up (iPad on my lap for following the DevLearn hash tag. iPhone in my hand for Tweeting and photos), I had a good sense of where everything at the convention was, and had managed to get acquainted with some fabulous people. By the end I wanted to take a 3-day nap, but I also didn't want it to be over.

But, alas, it is. So, until next year (I hope), here are my final insights about the DevLearn sessions I attended:

1) Getting Started With Mobile Learning
Speaker: Craig Taylor
There were two sessions at DevLearn that got me particularly inspired about what I can do in this industry: the first keynote and this presentation. It's not surprising since both touched on the power we have to create spectacular things for our learners (and help THEM create spectacular things as well). I can't help it, I'm clearly a content creation/curation junkie.

In general, this session was about broadening our definition of what "mobile learning" can be. It's one thing to believe that yourself, it's another to have that belief confirmed by a DevLearn speaker (plus, having that backing of a conference speaker will add substantial weight to my arguments for mobile learning at work).

Mobile learning doesn't just have to be done on the usual suspect devices (smart phones and tablets); it can be done with single-use devices (like cameras, e-readers, mobile gaming systems, or dictaphones) or even non-electronic means (like paper maps). If you're on the go and learning, then it's mobile learning. I imagine this is a relief to people who can't be guaranteed that their learners will have access to expensive devices or those in my situation where the device your learners DO have access to is deeply inferior (sorry Canada pride, but old Blackberrys just don't cut it... Especially when the company disables some of the existing features before giving them to employees).

The rest of the session talked about some of the ways we can easily start increasing our ability to do more mobile learning (without a large amount of risk or even cost):

  • Make sure your company/school website is mobile friendly.
  • Do the same for your RSS feeds...
  • ...And your LMS/online collaboration platforms.
  • Take advantage of existing social media platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+).
  • Even consider "old school" mobile options like text messaging (which, I admit, reminded me of this scene from Community)
  • Use mobile learning as an easy way to do follow up training to increase information retention.
  • Use existing apps rather than custom-made ones. The Apple and Android app stores are both teeming with apps. If you've thought of an app idea, there's a reasonably good chance someone else has too.

Another key message I took from this session was how phone, tablet, and web apps are doing an amazing job of making it easy and cheap for training developers and teachers to put together mobile learning for their students. For example, this session was preceded with online homework that included weblinks to useful content creation apps and a video that Taylor had created that prepped attendees for the session. Putting together this prework site 10 years ago would have taken obscene amounts of time. Now, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that Taylor put it together in under an hour on a tablet. That's not to say that prework site was poorly made... It's more a comment on how easy it is to put a site like this together on the fly and still have it look professional.

Side note: this was the only DevLearn session I've ever attended where the speaker asked the attendees to actually create something IN THE SESSION. I know that's not something all session speakers can fit in with their topic, but I greatly appreciated it in a practical application session like this one.

2) iBooks, Google+ Hangouts, and the Future of Learning Technologies.
Speaker: Alex Lindsay
Lindsay used this session to talk about the work he's done establishing low-cost but high-quality learning programs for students in Africa. His solution was a clever one: create blended learning that incorporated self-paced learning with iBooks, in-the-moment assistance from facilitators, and expert lectures/lessons using Google Hangouts. This solution did a good job of providing consistent training to all students, assistance to those who needed it, less barriers for those who understood the content quickly and wanted to move on, and allowed access to expert speakers who were unable to be on-site.

Lindsay talked a lot about the idea of filming experts once and then using that content repeatedly (as opposed to training a large number of facilitators who aren't necessarily experts and having them deliver training at a slightly lower quality and consistency). What I liked is that he didn't want to remove in-person instructors out of the picture entirely. He also recognized the need for individual instructor assistance that is available at the same time as the video expert.

This reminded me a lot of the website Craftsy: an online set of craft courses. The courses are set up as a series of expert instructor videos that you follow at your own pace. However, the user interface gives you the opportunity to post text questions during the videos, and the video instructor is paid to continue to answer those questions (the other learners also have the ability to answer questions. Hooray for creating a supportive learning community online!). If this is an idea that intrigues you, I can't recommend checking out the Craftsy website enough.

I admit, based on the title (and complete lack of session description) I expected this to be a session that speculated on future technology applications rather than talk about an existing learning solution. I was still happy, but I really wish DevLearn would be clearer in their session titles and descriptions so that attendees like me would have a better idea of what sessions we should/shouldn't attend.

3) Keynote - 101 Ways to Rock Your World for Success
Speaker: Dayna Steele
And DevLearn ended with a speech on life lessons from a DJ. I wasn't completely sold on life lesson keynotes in the middle of DevLearn, but it did seem like a nice way to wrap up the convention. Nothing Steele suggested was ground shaking, but she did a good job of illustrating her advice with amusing examples from the world of Rock and Roll. Some of her advice included:

  • "Life is too short to have anything but delusional notions about yourself."
  • Always remember to think about your audience, and then cater to their needs and interests.
  • Do your homework! Being truly prepared helps you build emotional connections and encourages people to see you as an expert.
  • Do things for others without expecting anything in return.

The point she made that appeared to resonate most with the people in the audience (at least, based on the Twitter back channel) was to make sure you ask for things, because people will usually help you out. How did she make this point? She walked around the audience and asked people to give her money without even saying what it was for... And they did! Granted, real life isn't quite that simple, but remembering to ask, even if you think the person will say no, can still be much more successful than you might imagine. I'll be honest, when I asked my manager to send me to DevLearn this year I was convinced she'd say no due to budget cutbacks, but I though it was worth asking just so she'd know I had interest. Little did I know that our team had a bit of extra funding sitting around. If I had just gone on my assumption that there wasn't the budget for this conference, I would have never asked to go and I wouldn't be here in Vegas typing up this summary.

I'll post a more through overview of my general thoughts about DevLearn once I get back home. In short, though, it was absolutely worth the trip.

Friday, November 2, 2012

DevLearn 2012: Day 2

Day 2 of educational tech glee is done. While I recover from making the questionable life choice of trying to tackle the Coca Cola "Sodas of the World Platter" on my own (learn from my failure of judgement -- NEVER try to tackle it on your own), let me give you the highlights of today's sessions.

1) Keynote - Cliff Notes: Leadership Lessons From The Edge
Speaker: Alison Levine
Levine has had a broad array of experiences in her life, but what she focused on in her keynote was her experiences climbing Mount Everest. Yup... The session title contains not one, but TWO corny mountain-related puns.

The session itself had Levine speaking about her adventures and relating the lessons of climbing Mt Everest to lessons in life. Examples included:

  • If you don't try, you'll never know if you could have made it.
  • It doesn't matter if you're working with the best of the best if they don't care about the team.
  • Fear is okay... COMPLACENCY is what will kill you.
  • Take action based on the issues at the time. Don't hold on to a plan that isn't right anymore.

So, yeah... A bit trite, but Levine's stories helped bump up the speech a notch. Still not as invigorating as yesterday morning's speaker, but she was still entertaining and funny. I wish the content had been a bit closer aligned with what I'm doing (yesterday's speaker, while in a completely different industry, felt deeply aligned with what us convention attendees are trying to achieve at work). I appreciate DevLearn's commitment to cross-functional learning though.

2) Super Charging Google Sales Readiness With Gamification and Social Media
Speakers: Erika Grouell and Patrick Williams
This was an overview of a training revamp that Google did with one of it's sales programs. They had noted with the previous iteration of the training that learners were sluggish about getting the training done and not very emotionally engaged. They didn't dislike the training as it was, but it didn't get them excited either.

As a result, Google decided to start from scratch and create a brand new version of the training that involved a gamified system. Key things to note about this system included:

  • Instead of multiple choice quizzes they did writing assignments that more closely reflected real work experiences. That made the course work much more immersive.
  • These assignments were actually given feedback. Decent to good assignments were given canned feedback (this helped keep marking time down), but excellent and poor work was actually given personalized feedback, some of which was CCed to the player's manager.
  • They completely did away with the idea of a test and instead used a point system. Each action in the game (such as reading content or completing an assignment) gave the player a set amount of points. Once they hit a set point amount, they were then marked as complete.

How did it work out? The players loved the system and invested a lot more time in interacting with content. They got their work done faster than before (65% of players hit completion in the first week of the game!) and many people continued playing even after they had reached the required amount of points to pass. In general, an unexpectedly great result.

This session had some issues though. People started asking questions during the speech, and the speakers didn't seem to pleased with that. Also, the slide deck could have used a Presentation Zen-style makeover. It was full of bullets. Finally, and this was no fault of the speakers, there just wasn't time to get in deep on how the system worked and how they built it.

On a related note, if anyone wants a good resource to help them really get their head around Gamification, I strongly recommend they check out the Coursera course on it when it runs again next year. I took the first run of it and it was both fabulous AND free.

3) Keynote - Business Lessons From The World Of Blackjack
Speaker: Jeffrey Ma

Ma was a hilarious speaker, and he did a fine job of pointing out how human intuition (that gut feeling) has a nasty habit of not aligning with the choices that logic suggests are more advantageous to make. It's one of the reasons casinos make money even in games like Blackjack where there's strategy involved instead of just chance.

In the end, though, I felt like Ma was trying to make the point that your gut is always wrong, which many other studies would say isn't always the case. Sometimes your "gut feeling" is your subconscious taking notice of small things your conscious mind is just barely noticing. It's knowing WHEN to pay attention to your gut and when to ignore it completely that is the more nuanced (and, I'd argue, more accurate) take away.

Off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure that Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink and John Medina's book Brain Rules both did a better job of explaining why the brain does the bizarre stuff it does.

4) Accessibility Solutions for Screen Readers and Braille Displays
Speakers: Michael Demmons and Bill Strahlend
These guys clearly had a passion for the topic of accessibility. Thank goodness, because I think the low turnout for their session (there were only 6 con attendees in the room) would have thrown off less devoted speakers. Regardless of the tiny audience, they still put on a good show.

The session, due to length, was more about making us aware of the kinds of issues that can creep up in e-Learning when it needs to be accessed by someone using a screen reader like JAWS and a Braille display. They used a ton of in-class examples of real issues in standard Flash and Captivate projects and how you can fix them. Without going in to too much detail, I can basically sum up most of their advice as "Don't take quick shortcuts: sighted learners might not be able to tell, but learners using JAWS certainly will notice the difference because of how that software functions."

In general, I'm sad to note that even the speakers admitted that there aren't a lot of good solutions for making e-learning fully accessible and engaging for learners using screen readers. Unfortunately, in many cases the best option for now is to create an alternative text document of the training content for these learners to use instead. I was really hoping they'd have found some other solution I hadn't heard of yet, but clearly the tech hasn't caught up to the need yet.

On a general note, today was fantastic for making connections with other con attendees via Twitter. Getting to chat with new people online first makes IRL chatting much less intimidating for shy people like myself (and, I imagine, introverts as well). I've met some truly fabulous people over the past two days as a result.

Okay, I'm off to sleep off all the sugar in my system. Hopefully I'll wake up feeling much better (crossed fingers). Just 1/2 more days of convention awesomeness before I have to return to the real world!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

DevLearn: Day 1

I survived the first day of DevLearn! Hooray!

Seriously, I love this convention, but it's more than a bit exhausting, what with all the learning I'm trying to cram into my brain.

I've been live tweeting the day's events (@EGeeking), but here's the quick highlights of the sessions I attended:

1) Keynote - Braving A New World: Innovation in Avatar and What Lies Ahead
Speaker: Jon Landau
What does a movie producer have to say about learning? As it turns out, quite a lot. Landau got everyone kind of giddy as he talked about how we're ALL creators. His talk focused on how you push towards innovation... mostly through having vision beyond your current options as well as surrounding yourself with others who also want to constantly push the boundaries of what can be done.

This was an excellent way to start the day. It seemed like everyone left the session charged with the desire to innovate or die trying.

2) Applying the Magic of Hollywood to eLearning
Speaker: Tom Graunke
Want eLearning that's memorable and engaging? Graunke says that you should learn from the stickiness of commercials and movie trailers. It's hard not to pay attention to the way these pieces of media use quick clips, memorable imagery, emotionally-charged music, high quality sound and lighting, and, above all, polished and condensed storytelling to catch people's attention and stick in their memories.

There's no reason we can't do many of these same things in our eLearning. I think Graunke was overly optimistic about the budgets we're working with, but otherwise his advice was solid (check my Twitter feed for photos of his slide deck).

Graunke also gets a Scooby Snack for having dozens of flash drives to give away that were pre-loaded with his slide deck and video examples. Best piece of con swag so far.

3) Breaking The Shackles of SCORM: Tin Can API Basics
Speaker: Tim Martin
What on Earth is Tin Can after all? Martin sums it up as "a shared language of experience, a way for systems to talk to each other about what people do."

Basically, while SCORM standards have helped have able to move learning content/information around with some amount of ease, the standard is inflexible and out-of-date with how our learners actually learn.

What if instead of just getting completion records and test scores you could also get info on what related articles your learners were reading, what complimentary YouTube videos they were viewing, or what insights they were tweeting about after a lesson? What if you could then use that information to suggest new learning opportunities catered to each learner's passions, create a broad permanent record of a learner's training accomplishments, and, above all, understand the bigger picture of how your learners really ingest and interpret content? The Tin Can API proposes just this. It's still in the early stages, but Tin Can is working to create a system where this data can be collected, sorted, and interpreted.

If it takes off, Tin Can could do a lot to change how schools and companies track when learning takes place and what sources provide that content. It also, like most online tracking, opens up a scary can of worms in terms of personal privacy issues. Tin Can encourages developers to "stay classy" and let people opt-in to reporting, but that's no guarantee that developers always will. That's more than a bit unnerving, especially to those uncomfortable with their school or employer knowing everything about what they're doing.

Completely ridiculous observation: the official Tin Can t-shirts are rather nifty looking. How do I get my hands on one?

4) Building mLearning for iPads Using HTML5 and iBooks Author
Speaker: Jason Baker
This session was basically a walk through of a Mac-only piece of software called Hype that allows you to make HTML5 interactions. It's like Flash-lite for situations where you don't want to use Flash or can't (e.g. For content to be displayed on an iPad). The skill level needed to operate the software is somewhere between creating animations in PowerPoint and creating basic interactions in Flash. So, yeah, not for beginners, but not horrifically intimidating either. Worth investigating if you want to create iPad-friendly custom interactions or basic widgets.

So that was today's sessions. In general, the conference has been fantastic. The sessions have been delightful and the people attending are both insightful and hilarious (check out the #DevLearn hash tag on Twitter for examples. It's seriously worth keeping your eyes on if you can't be here in person). It's exhilarating being at a place full of people as excited about learning and tech as I am.

Check back with me tomorrow while I check out sessions on leadership lessons from West Point, how Google has used gamification and social media in sales training, business lessons from Blackjack (that's rather location-appropriate), and accessibility solutions for screen readers and Braille displays.

But now it's time to sleep.

Happy Halloween everyone! See you in November.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Made it!

The hurricane made it seem unlikely for awhile there, but I did in fact make it to Vegas before DevLearn actually started. Granted, it took 2 flight reschedulings and about 12 hours of travel, but it all worked out.

Look forward to tweets starting early tomorrow morning (at least, if the Wi-Fi is working in the conference area, that is).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

DevLearn 2012 Schedule

Okay, here's my intended schedule for DevLearn 2012. Barring any of the sessions being particularly awful, these are the sessions you can be sure I'll be live tweeting:

Wednesday, Oct 31
Vegas Time
Toronto Time
1:45-2:45pm Applying the Magic of Hollywood to eLearning
7:15-8:15pm Keynote: How to Scam Your Way to Success

Thursday, Nov 1

Vegas Time
Toronto Time


Keynote: Cliff Notes: Leadership Lessons from the Edge



Super-charging Google Sales Readiness with Gamification and Social Media



Accessibility Solutions for Screen Readers and Braille Displays



eLearning demo Fest 2012

Friday, Nov 2
Vegas Time
Toronto Time


Methods for Designing Serious Games from Indie to AAA Titles



iBooks, Google+ Hangouts, and the Future of Learning Technologies



Keynote: 101 Ways to Rock Your World for Success