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!


  1. The Google presentation looked really interesting. Were there any links or other references given? Look forward to Day 3 round-up ;-)

    1. Alas, no. It was an interesting presentation, but I wish the presenters had given us more to take back to our respective workplaces.