Sunday, October 27, 2013

DevLearn 2013 - Day 3

Conventions like DevLearn are fantastic for bringing together people from across the globe to share ideas. They're, unfortunately, also fantastic for bringing together people from across the globe to share germs. Yup, I caught Con Plague this year (thankfully just a cold rather than a full-blown flu), which is why this post is more than a smidge late.

Ah well. DevLearn was fantastic, so I've decided the cold was worth it.

1) Tips For the Successful Learning Practitioner
Speakers: Trina Rimmer, Jane Bozarth, Tracy Parish, Connie Malamed, and Cammy Bean
Unlike the other concurrent sessions I attended, this one was an informal, off-the-cuff Q&A session with a number of seasoned professionals. No slide deck, no prepared speeches. Just answers to real time questions. Honestly, it had more in common with a Morning Buzz session than most other concurrent sessions, which actually turned out quite well as far as I'm concerned. Having a number of experts with a wide variety of experiences meant that every question got answered from a number of angles and the panelists did a great job of building off of what each other had said.

Now, I could try to describe the session further, but I thought it would make more sense to just show you all my notes on the questions and answers from the session. I didn't capture every answer, and I also didn't manage to note who said what, but it should give you a good sense of the gist of the session anyway.

Q1: What methods/questions do you use to gather info from SMES?
  • "Tell me what these people do all day?" "What training have they already have?" "Where do people make mistakes around this area?" "What do you need people to actually do?" "Tell me more about this subject" "What are the 3 or 4 main points they need to remember?" "Does it really need to be eLearning/classroom/_______?"
  • Remember to say please and thank you to the person who is answering your questions.
  • How to find a great SME? Find one who is newer to their skillset. They'll have an easier time remembering a beginner mindset.
  • Get the stories and examples that AREN'T in the content slide deck(s) they give you!

Q2: How do you help learning practitioners grow (especially those who have gaps in their skills)?
  • Pre-conference workshops. Books. Blogs. Doing things with them that help them diagnose and solve problems, not just build a class. Help them define their role as NOT an order taker. Encourage them to build a PLN. Help them look to other industries for ideas. Get them up-to-speed on learning theory. Find out what they're passionate about and have them work on that. Make sure the branding of the job title doesn't limit it too much in the minds of some employees. Match people up with mentors (or have them mentor others). eLearning Guild online forums. Cathy Moore's eLearning blueprint.
  • Do you have people who only want to be order takers and have no interest in continuing to learn new skills? Maybe they aren't the right people for your team.
  • Find something that they're doing that you can value and praise. They'll feel less threatened in a changing workplace.

Q3: What can you do when your SMEs disagree... particularly when there are many correct options?
  • Build learning so that it shows multiple perspectives, not just one absolute correct answer. Reflect several correct options. Look to how people create learning for areas that don't have absolute right and wrong answers. Video multiple experts talking out how they'd solve the issue so people can see multiple solutions.

Q4: What happens when your audience insists they don't need as much training as you're convinced they need?
  • Are they right?
  • If they're so sure they can do this and really can't, let them make mistakes or even fail. That might be the best option.
  • Make the learning in-the-moment performance support so that they can learn as they go instead of getting a content dump.

Q5: Is there a best team structure for a growing team?
  • Go through all the individual tasks your team needs to do and figure out how best to chunk those tasks into roles.

Q6: What can you do to entice people to take training that isn't mandatory?
  • For competitive learners, tie in to leaderboards. (Note: I'm not sure I love this answer for everyone, especially based on what we know about how leaderboards can actually demotivate some people)

Q7: How do we get people to move away from designing traditional learning experiences and towards more informal learning?
  • Make the people in your organization in charge of the information. Ask does it need to be a class or a conversation? Help people build PLNs. Identify great mentors. Look how we can help people talk to each other, not talk to them. Don't push your own agenda: pull them in to the conversation instead. Understand your organization's tolerances/gaps (e.g. If people don't talk to each other now, creating an internal social network might not help).

Q8: What beliefs/principles do you fight for when designing solutions?

  • Learner 1st. Make sure you're solving the right problem. It's human beings that have to do this. Keep things streamlined. Never think your first design is perfect. Make things attractive and well-designed. Get to the point!

2) Design 3.0 for Learning and Performance Professionals
Speaker: Thomas Spiglanin
This session began with an intriguing question: if we can't possibly know everything ourselves, how do you choose between your options and know you've made the best choice? The beginning of the answer was another question, a quote from Dan Steer: "There are 7 billion people in the world. Maybe somebody has a better idea?"

This is where Design 3.0 comes in. This concept is a social, collaborative, and iterative way of designing. And here's how your typical Design 3.0 process cycle works:

Share early! Share often!

As you can see, using Design 3.0 means you design using not just your own skills, but also the skills of your extended personal learning network (PLN) as well. Of course, this means you need to build up a great PLN long before you start designing. To do this, Spiglanin recommends tapping in to social networks as well as, perhaps even more importantly, online communities. The broader and well-curated your set of connections is, the better the feedback and advice you'll receive during the design process.

So how do you find communities? Places like LinkedIn, Yammer, Google+ are good places to start, as are vendor websites like eLearning Heroes and professional groups such as ASTD and (of course) the eLearning Guild. Once you join a community, there are four important ways to share and get feedback: follow the culture, be polite, make it easy, and don't create barriers. One key point that came up repeatedly in discussion of all of these tips was that being a part of a community is a give and take relationship. You can't just be that person who shows up to the community when you personally need help. You need to give others help too.

If you're interested in finding out more about the idea of Design 3.0, you're in luck: Spiglanin did a fantastic job of creating a resources site for this presentation that you can check out here

3) Keynote - HackLab: Pursuing Progress Through Deviation
Speaker: Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt
DevLearn finished up with a talk on hacking. No, not computer hacking... the speakers were actually referring to the original meaning of hacking: it's not about breaking (or breaking into) things, but more about building things and finding new ways of tweaking existing things to do something different. If you're my age, you probably use a slightly different term for this same idea: MacGyvering.

Regardless of what term we're using, hacking is essentially identifying a system or problem, deciding how it could be better, breaking it down into its constituent parts, and then figuring out what you can change or tweak to make it do what you need it to. These hacks can be major changes, but more often than not they're just little tweaks that add up to a bigger result. This kind of hacking requires nothing more than curiosity, experimentation, courage, and the ability to view failure as just feedback rather that a sign to give up.

So what does your typical hacking process look like? Well, here's a handy flowchart:

In my opinion "Is it awesome?" is a question you should ALWAYS be asking yourself.
Hacking isn't just a process you can use to to help you escape being tied up in a burning building using only your wits and a tuna fish sandwich (and no, I can't stop making MacGyver jokes). It's something you can use to try and fix or improve anything in your life, be it the dreaded office meeting (the example we tackled in the session), trying to make a mandatory course less tedious, or even managing a relationship with a difficult co-worker.

So that's my final day of DevLearn. If you'd like to see the session handouts and resources for all the conference sessions, don't forget that they're all available on the conference handout site.

I'll likely make a final blog post later this week summarizing my overall feeling about the conference. In short, though, I can say this: DevLearn was delightful and inspiring as usual and I continue to be grateful I was able to go again this year.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Devlearn 2013 - Day 2

Ah DevLearn Day 2. You were completely exhausting, but entirely enjoyable. This was a day that I didn't actually get to attend many sessions, but I had so many fantastic conversations with fellow attendees that it completely made up for it.

1) Keynote - The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You... and Your Learners
Speaker: Eli Pariser
The opening session of the day took apart a major perception we have about the internet: that we all think we're seeing the same information on it as everyone else. Little do many know, this isn't actually the case. What we see in our searches and social media is actually a filtered version of the world, be it filtered by our own choices of who to follow (or not follow) or by the algorithms that are used to make many of the online sites and services we use function.

This invisible filtering causes a number of serious problems. It can make diversity of opinion invisible and cause the internet to reflect you instead of the actual world. It can also make it rarer to discover the kind of content that challenges you. This filtering make it easy for the "junk food" of the internet to rise to the top, since it's likely to be enjoyed by everyone, and the more uncomfortable or complex issues to be simply swept under the rug. Nothing against fluff... goodness knows I enjoy a hilarious cat video as much as the next girl... but when we only see the trite and uncomplicated then we aren't challenged to think about topics that are hard, depressing, or even meaningful. We also don't grow as much as people if we're always in an algorithm-enhanced comfort zone.

That said, Amazon is pretty darn good at choosing books for me...

If you're curious to know more about the actual content covered in this session, William Chinda did a fantastic job of covering it on his blog here

Beyond the content (which I enjoyed immensely), I thought this was the perfect example of a great keynote because of what happened on the backchannel and after the session: debate. I had a fantastic conversation with my co-workers afterwards about what in the talk we agreed with, what we didn't, and why. This session sparked a level of conversation with us that no prior session had managed to reach. Even when everyone in the discussion disagreed with a few of Pariser's points (in particular, we thought algorithms were made out to be, unfairly, a bit of a super villain in this story), we each had our own perspective on why that was the case. The session itself was great and the chatting it sparked was just as informative.

2) Putting the Smart Into Smartphones with Performance Support
Speaker: Ruth Haddon
Here's the awkward thing about conferences: sometimes you attend a session and it is excellent, but you're just not its intended audience. That's what happened here for me. Haddon did a spectacular job of outlining the basics of why mobile is particularly well-suited for performance support and the specific ways you can consider using it for this task... it's just, what I personally needed was something that went beyond the basics. She also said a great deal about the importance of structuring your resources in a way that people can actually, you know, find them when they need them (or even know they exist in the first place). While this is something I already knew, it's always lovely to hear other people confirm an idea that's near and dear to your heart. What can I say... I very nearly decided to become a librarian instead of an instructional designer. Organizing content in the optimum way for your audience is something that makes me giddy in a dorky sort of way.

So I quite quickly figured out I wasn't going to learn much that was new from the session, but decided to have a "make it work" moment and spent most of the session studying the design of Haddon's lovely slide deck. The layout, colour palette, and font selection were all completely harmonious and consistent. A particularly good example of what session decks should aspire to be.

Seriously, my photos aren't doing this deck justice.

I've got to add, is it just me or is the design quality of the slide decks at this year's DevLearn higher than years past? I've been so happy at the lack of bullet point slideuments over the past two days.

Edit: You know what's really classy? When you complain about wanting a session to go beyond the basics and the company that put together said session sends you a link to more in-depth materials. So kudos to Haddon and Epic Learning Group for going above and beyond what's required of a confernce session. I couldn't appreciate it more.

3) Not Just For Superheroes: Exploring Learning Through Comics
Speaker: Me!
Hey look! It's my own session!

Hello beefy superhero silhouette!

I'm more than a bit anxious about public speaking, so the lead up to actually presenting this content was more than a bit stressful for me. Thankfully, when I actually got in the room and settled in, the nerves calmed down substantially.

As expected, the crowd at DevLearn was friendly and inquisitive. I thought everyone in the session asked great questions and seemed legitimately interested in figuring out how comics could fit into their bag of learning tools. They also were happy to chime in with their own suggestions and examples. I couldn't have asked for a better group.

In my usual spirit of sharing, my full session resources, slide deck, and even speaker's notes are all available online. To check them out, just click here.

4) DemoFest
Okay, so this wasn't just my first time presenting at DevLearn. It was also my first time presenting at Demofest as well. I was in love with the project I brought, a series of branched simulations on successful career conversations, but I wasn't sure if anyone else would be curious to check them out. I was vaguely terrified that I'd end up sitting sad and alone at my table the whole night. Thankfully, though, I don't think I had a moment's rest for the entire Demofest time period. Once again, the level of questions people asked were stellar. This is one of the the things I love so much about DevLearn on a whole: how curious we all are about what each other is doing and how we're all doing it. That's what makes something like Demofest such a spectacular resource for us to learn from.

My little corner of DemoFest

There were only two sad things about Demofest. First, as the lone person representing my table, I had no time to check out all the other projects that were on display. I really would have loved to see what everyone else brought to show. Second, they ran a live #LrnChat during Demofest that I wasn't able to participate in. Yeah, those are some first world problems there. Otherwise, it was a fantastic experience that I'd recommend everyone try out at some point.

I am ridiculously tired and am probably losing my voice but, body pain aside, I am also so thankful for all the people who stopped by my session and/or Demofest table... and even the people who weren't at DevLearn but sent questions and words of encouragement via Twitter. You guys are absolutely the best and you completely made my day today.

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*

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My DevLearn 2013 Livetweeting Schedule

It's DevLearn time again and so, as usual, I'll be livetweeting and blogging the entire experience. If you're interested in seeing what specifically I'll be contributing to the backchannel, here's the schedule of sessions I'm planning to livetweet. Just an FYI: All times are listed in Las Vegas time (PDT).

*Also, this year's DevLearn is a bit different for me as I'll be presenting a concurrent session of my own (Not Just for Superheroes: Exploring Learning Through Comics on Thursday from 1:15pm-2:15pm) and well as showing a project at DemoFest on Thursday night. If you happen to be attending DevLearn this year, definitely stop by either of these sessions and say hello.

Wednesday, October 23






Thursday, October 24




Friday, October 25 



Sunday, October 6, 2013

What's my DevLearn 2013 session about anyway?

It's conference time again, and you know what that means... trying to figure out if sessions are right for you based only on a paragraph or two of description! Now that sounds easy, doesn't it?

Oh wait. No it doesn't.

Anyway, to do my part to make the choices a bit easier for DevLearn attendees, I thought I'd do my usual summary post to give all of you a bit more info on what to expect from my session.

What is it & when it is happening?
My session is Not Just For Superheroes: Exploring Comics Through Learning and it's taking place on Thursday from 1:15-2:15pm (I haven't heard yet what room it'll be in. I'll update this as soon as I know).

What's it going to be about?
As usual, the session description is delightfully accurate.

Comics and graphic novels are an engaging and immersive way of communicating information and stories, but not one that we often see used much within learning and development here in North America. Personally, I think we're missing out on a great tool, which is why I decided to talk about how we can use comics effectively for learning.

More specifically, I'll be covering the following main topics:

These topics will help you think about how you can use comics yourself. First, I’ll show you examples of the specific ways comics have been used as a learning tool, often with examples you can easily pick up and read on your own. Then I’ll discuss some basic rules and tips to consider when you go about writing and drawing your own comics. Finally, I’ll touch on tools that everyone can use to handle the visual aspects of making comics. And yes, I realize that not everyone in the audience will be a trained artist, so we’ll discuss tools and ideas for every level of comfort with drawing, from people who have been drawing for years to people who couldn't draw a stick figure if their life depended on it.

Who's the right audience for this session?
Do you love storytelling and are looking for new ways of doing it? Do you have large amounts of dense content you want to distill down to the essentials? Do you have scenarios and case studies that just aren't cutting it in text form? Do you want the immersiveness of video but just don't have the budget? Do you need a training solution that works well on mobile?

Well, then this is the session for you!

Also, this is a great session to check out if you don't have a sense of how comics could fit into L&D, or if you already love comics and need to build a business case for how you can use them at work.

Do I have to already "get" comics in order to enjoy this session?
Not at all. This session will make sense to you even if you haven't read a comic since the Sunday strips you might have enjoyed as a kid. I planned this talk so that it would be useful for anyone, regardless of their experience (or lack thereof) with comics.

If I'm already a huge comics geek then will this session bore me senseless?
Nope. We're going to looking at comics from the more unusual perspective of how they can be used for learning. Chances are you'll still get some good pointers on how you can use comics in training and performance support. Plus, it would be super helpful to have some fellow comic fans in the audience to give recommendations for what the newbies should read.

What if I'm still not sure if this session is for me?
Definitely feel free to ask me more about it. Email ( and Twitter (@eGeeking) are great ways to reach me, but I'm also happy to chat about it if you happen to bump in to me at the conference.

Friday, September 27, 2013

IGDA Toronto 2013 Keynote

Remember how two weeks ago I attended that Getty Images event that was decidedly so-so? Well, last week I went to an event that was the polar opposite: a fantastic keynote run by the International Game Developers Association. The featured speaker was Neil Druckmann, Creative Director and writer from the game studio Naughty Dog

Edit: a video of the full session is now available on YouTube. To view it, click here.

Why is this event something I'm mentioning on a blog that focuses on L&D work? Because Naughty Dog and Neil Druckmann are responsible for creating one of the best examples of storytelling in video games thus far: The Last of Us. The emotional impact of this game, as well as its immersive storytelling, is something that I think people in our industry could learn a great deal from. We know that well-crafted stories help content stick and increase emotional engagement. That said, L&D departments don't always use storytelling as well as they could.

So, in the interest of learning more about writing great stories, I spent my whopping $5 to buy a ticket (yes, I still can't believe it was that cheap) and went to this event hoping to live tweet the whole thing and share it with all of you. That plan was quickly thwarted by the fact that the keynote was being held in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum, which is possibly the only place in Toronto where you can't get a decent wi-fi connection OR a cellphone signal. Yup. No live tweeting for me. They also turned the room lights off for the presentation, keeping me from even taking notes (well, keeping me from taking notes if I cared about not distracting the audience with the bright glare of iPad screen... which I did, in fact, care about... because I'm not a jerk).

The event ended, I loved it, and I intended to blog about what I learned... and then The Verge beat me to it with this excellent article. Warning: do not click that link unless you've played the game or have no intention of ever playing the game, because it is chock full of spoilers.

For those of you who either want to dodge spoilers or just want a quick synopsis, here are the three key things I learned about storytelling from this event.

1) You may have to wade through a ton of lousy versions of your story before you get to the one that actually works

Druckmann didn't have the plot for The Last of Us spring fully formed from his head magically. The story was actually the result of years of playing with several core story elements in a number of different ways. His initial attempt at the story, a game idea he proposed back when he was a student, just didn't have that much depth. However, there was a nugget of a good concept in amongst that unsuccessful game proposal, which he clearly recognized since he spent years reworking the ideas over and over again throughout numerous (and drastically different) iterations. In a clear example of why it's important not to just give up if a story doesn't work right away, after many years of experimenting he finally hit on the combination that worked.

2) That said, sometimes you have to just let go of the parts of your story you can't manage to make work

In the midst of all this reworking, Druckmann had a number of ideas he got attached to that were actually holding his story back. He admitted that, while at the time he was rather enamored of these plot points, on looking back these story elements only got in the way of character building and innovative storytelling. Letting go of them was difficult, but necessary. 

The hard part of storytelling can often be differentiating the ideas that aren't working now but could work eventually from the ideas that aren't working now because they aren't ever going to work.

3) Your life experiences will change who you are as a storyteller

While The Last of Us was in development something happened that deeply affected Druckmann's perspective: he became a father for the first time. All of a sudden the story he was telling about a man who becomes a father-figure to a young girl became that much more connected to his real-life experience. This event made him think differently about what that kind of relationship was, as well as how to make video game characters (in particular, nuanced female characters) that his daughter could some day grow up to respect.

It's not to say that you have to experience an event in order to write about it well. It's more that the more you open yourself up to new experiences, the more of a pool of knowledge you'll have to draw from to craft creative and innovative stories that ring true to your audience.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Getty Images: Visual Trends and Innovations event

A few weeks ago I got a random email from Getty Images about an event they were holding in my area (you can check out the event info by clicking here). It was local and it was free so, despite never having been to a Getty Images event (and despite my suspicion that, like many free events, it would pretty much be one big commercial) I decided to go.

Here's a quick summary of the three sessions I went to:

Session 1: What's in your content? - Canadian content for Canadians, by Canadians
Speaker: Beau Lark, Hero Images

I'm not quite sure what the deal was with this title. Lark briefly touched on the idea of "Is there a particular Canadian aesthetic that's visible in Canadian-produced stock photos?" and then promptly dropped it minutes later.

The rest of the talk focused on how his company, Hero Images, produces stock images. It was interesting to find out how some of the imagery I use on a regular basis comes into existence. This company makes substantially better than average standard stock images, and it's clear that the additional thought, planning, and spontaneity that Lark discussed his company using is a large part of why this is the case.

We shoot people holding arrows, of course!

That said, it was hard not to feel like much of this presentation was more a subtle commercial for their stock images rather than a session with content I could do something with afterwards. Great... I now know what image themes Getty Images has asked their photography partners to create. That's interesting from a general curiosity perspective. However, it doesn't actually contribute much to helping me do my job better, which makes it less than an ideal topic for a workshop.

Snarkiness aside, this is a really good image.

I have to wonder if Hero Images and Getty got more out of the experience from the admittedly excellent audience questions that followed the session than the actual audience got from the talk?

Session 2: Trends in video - How our video is driving engagement
Speaker: Andrew Delaney, Getty Images

This one was at least decently-related to the session description. Delaney opened the session by talking about statistics that showed how video can increase customer engagement (and showed his sources at the end of the session! Speakers: remember to do this if you use statistics). At this point, though, it became clear that this session would be looking at videos through the lens of advertising/marketing. That's a valid lens, but one that only relates to my work indirectly. Not to say that us L&D folks don't have a lot to learn from marketing, but in this case it took a bit of heavy lifting to translate what was being said about video into something that would impact learning.

Long story short (too late), video generally increases people's interest in interacting with your content. Okay, sure. I'll buy that (as long the video content is good, at least). Then Delaney showed this slide the outlined the 5 types of videos he felt every site needed:

Good advice for people selling a product/service at least

Obviously this is coming from an "advertising a product or service" spin, but the gist of it could apply to other situations as well, I suspect. Depending on what you're doing, I think some of those video types matter more than others though. For instance, I develop leadership training right now. Out of all those options, I think #3 (expert video) would matter the most to my audience.

Delaney didn't spend a ton of time going into these 5 types of videos (Shame, really. I would have loved an entire session on how to make effective versions of each video type.), and instead shifted into sales mode. Once again, this is pretty much what I expected considering the event, and at the very least his sales slides were informative and attractive to boot.

It's a bad photo (with a person's head in the way) but you get the drift.

Getty Images basically has a huge library of videos. No surprise to me, but apparently a bit of a surprise to some people in the room. They currently seem to be trying to brand their particular images/videos as "authentic", which is probably a good business model considering the most common complaint about stock photos is their phoniness. They then showed off a few demo reels which were, as expected, pretty decent.

The session continued by very briefly exploring three innovations in stock video: Hyper-lapse photography, using flying drones to take shots at interesting angles, and the use of amateur YouTube style videos. Of all of these, I think it's the amateur videos that impact us most in L&D. I'm glad to see more acceptance for amateur video, since it's both easier to produce and fantastic for quickly capturing in-the-moment insights and reflections that in the past have been too difficult to capture with professional video shoots. That said, I think it's important to point out something that I mentioned on Twitter during this session: professionally created faux amateur videos practically reek of inauthenticity. You're better off having no video than a fake YouTube-style video that comes across as phony. There's something deeply off-putting about companies that try and appropriate something authentic. It has severe reputational risk, which is why I find it a bit curious that it's a direction Getty Images is taking. I'll be curious to see if they're able to strike a good balance between decent production values and authenticity. I'll also be curious to see how our industry manages this balance as well.

As much as I left this presentation feeling like I wasn't actually its intended audience, there were two good takeaways for me. 

First was the confirmation that Getty Images uses the analytics data from what people search for on their site (in particular, popular searches that result in little to no results) to drive the themes they ask their partners to create. During the break between the first and second sessions I chatted with a friend about this and we theorized this was likely the case. It was deeply amusing to have it confirmed under an hour later. It's always interesting to have a bit of a look underneath the hood of services I use regularly.

Second, and this may be the best bit of content I learned at this event, I found out that Getty Images shares some of their image trends research via a site called The Curve. I suspect I'll be visiting this site often for ideas.

Session 3: Access to all areas - How the red carpet has evolved, a look at our archives and how photography has evolved with celebrity.
Speaker: Robert Ahern, Getty Images

I walked into this session having very little idea of what to expect. The full session description didn't really match the title, and all of it was rather vague (seriously... Getty could use a bit of help with their session and audience descriptions). What I got, thankfully, was the most interesting session of the day.

I wish I had gotten more photos of the images shown in this session. They were all stunning like this.

Ahern works in the Getty Images archives and, with a nod to the Toronto International Film Festival that was going on at the same time as this event, used his experience to weave together a fascinating retrospective on the history of celebrity photography. He began by discussing the early days of celebrity photography, in particular how Hollywood used high-end photography to create and frame the idea of what a Hollywood star actually was in the minds of the public. These highly staged photos eventually gave way to more casual images in the 50s and 60s. This change came about as photographers moved themselves out of the studio and into the actual lives of their subjects. When imbedded in a celebrity's entourage for a long period of time, they were able to capture intimate, real moments in that person's life, leading to stunning and authentic imagery (look, it's the "A" word again!). Of course, this trend towards photography of celebrity lives has moved to an extreme end with paparazzi photographers: people who capture the intimacy of a celebrity's life without the level of consent seen previously. It's amazing how the images from this type of photography manage to read as drastically more intrusive and off-putting when compared to their predecessors.

So it was a interesting session made all the better by the fact that Ahern was clearly passionate about the subject matter. That kind of excitement from a presenter is infectious. While I didn't learn a lot that directly relates to the work I do, I did at least get to see numerous examples of what high-end photography should be, which I suppose is helpful for inspiring me to strive to use the best images I can find/afford for my projects.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people have asked me if this event was worth my time. It's a hard question to answer. On one hand, the Getty Images research website is something I can see myself using on a regular basis and it's not something I was likely to find out about otherwise. I also just loved the final session, even if it won't directly impact my work. But were those two things worth taking almost a day's worth of my time? I'm not sure.

By the end of the session there were two questions I was surprised I still couldn't answer:

  1. What did Getty Images hope its audience would get out of this day?
  2. What did Getty Images themselves expect to gain from this experience?
I wonder if this lack of event direction is why I still feel a bit uncertain about what I should have gotten out of the day. I mean, if the event sponsor didn't seem to have a clear vision for what this event should have accomplished, then how could I?

The other question I've been asked is would I go to an event like this again? My answer: possibly. I like the idea of creative events to help shake up my mindset a bit, but clearly intention and execution don't always match as well as everyone would like. So yes, I'd attend an event like this again, but I'd be a lot pickier about which events specifically and would look for ones with a clear vision for what the event should accomplish.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Making a branched simulation: eGeeking style! (Part 1)

A bunch of people have asked me lately how I go about creating branched simulations. This is partially because I won't stop yammering on about them (I may be a smidge obsessed), and partially because I actually create the things start to finish on my own, which means I have reasonably decent insight into all steps of the process.

Anyway, because of this I thought I'd outline how I personally make branched simulations for work. This is not, by any means, the only way to make a branched simulation. It's just the process that I've found works well for me. Your own milage may vary.

Step 1: Find out what on Earth this branched simulation is trying to accomplish

Before you start getting all giddy about branching and tech tools that help you do it, it's best to step back and find out what the thing you're trying to create is supposed to actually help learners do. Doing this right away keeps you from developing a branched sim that technically functions well, but doesn't actually create the kind of change that your client/SME is looking for.

As well, this step helps you determine if a branched sim is really what's right for the learner. Too often you'll have SMEs who want to jump on the branched sim bandwagon because it's new and innovative, not because it's actually the best tool for what they want to accomplish. You may be put in the rough position of having to advocate for a different approach entirely, but you can't know if you need to do this unless you ask a bunch of questions about the project intent upfront.

Step 2: Mine your SME for character and story ideas

Let's say you've done your assessment and you all agree that a branched sim is the right choice. Now what you need to do is get as many stories as you can about the issue you're designing the project for. 

For instance, I've recently been developing several branched sims that are designed to help managers practice having more productive career conversations with their employees. Here are just some of the questions I asked my SME:
  • What are the most common ways managers mess up when they're having these conversations?
  • What kind of coaching do managers need to change their behaviour?
  • What are the subtle errors managers typically make during these conversations?
  • What are the subtle errors employees typically make during these conversations?
  • What best practices do we want to model for both managers and employees?
  • What employee types do managers have a particularly hard time having successful career conversations with?
  • What are managers currently doing well already?
  • What are some real life examples of unsuccessful career conversations?
  • What are some real life examples of successful career conversations?
Does that seem like a lot of questions? Well, too bad because it's just the start. You're going to be asking a LOT more as this project goes on. This first wave is just to narrow down the core theme or themes for your sim(s).

Step 3: Write a short summary of your sim plot (1 per sim)

It really doesn't need to be any longer than this
Okay, you've gotten enough data to craft the core story for your sim. Actually, technically you've gotten enough information to do more than that, but I find that this is a good place to refine the story you've decided on and get your SME (and any other stakeholders) on board before you get into the time intensive stuff. 

At this point I'll write a very short (often just 2 or 3 paragraphs) summary of the best path of the sim. I also include a few details of how the sim can derail if the user picks some of the worst options. Then I give this to my SME to make sure it rings true to them. If you can, get them to officially sign off on the plot. You don't want to make major story revisions later on in the process (when it's MUCH harder to do) because the SME didn't 100% love the initial sim story concept, so check with them early to avoid a massive headache later.

Step 4: Write a biography/summary for every character/situation that will be in your sim

It's not pretty, but it gets the job done
In a sim you're either going to be creating one or more characters that have to act consistently or writing situations that have to play out logically throughout a large number of decisions. That's why it's good, before you write a single word of your sim script, to clearly establish who these characters are and/or how these situations function.

Because a branched sim shows so many different variants of how a situation can play out, it's easy to accidentally write your characters/situations inconsistently if you don't do this pre-planning first (in particular if you happen to be writing a sim on subtle things like soft skills). The last thing you want is for users to be confused and distracted because, for instance, your character is shy in certain branches and more pushy in others.

To keep this from happening, you need to give yourself the character/situation equivalent of a style guide. For characters, this is where you establish the core motivations, habits, and behaviours that define who your character is. For situations, this is the time to clearly establish the rules of what can and can't happen under a number of common circumstances. Once you have this settled, then it's much easier to write your sim consistently.

Going back to my example of career conversation simulations, here are a few of the details that I thought about when designing the employee characters for it:
  • What's their background at the company?
  • Do they know how they want their career to grow?
  • Do they have any expectations of how their career should progress?
  • Are these expectations realistic/advisable?
  • Are they direct or indirect communicators?
  • Are they easily influenced by what their manager says (perhaps to a fault)?
  • Is there anything the manager can do that will make them particularly upset?
  • What can the manager do to make them feel supported?
  • Are they comfortable sticking up for their own interests?
  • If their manager makes a suggestion they don't like, how do they react?
  • Are there incorrect assumptions their manager has made about them?
  • What are their bad habits?
  • What are their most positive habits?
  • What makes them stand out?
Once you've figured out these details, pull them together in a character/situation summary sheet. Refer to this document on a regular basis while writing so you can keep all your details consistent. 

I'd also recommend that you share this document with your SMEs when they review your script. This information will help them quickly understand choices you've made in the script that may, to someone less familiar with the storyline, initially seem odd, or even incorrect.

So that's the planning stages of sim creation. In the second part of this series, I'll get into the actual details of writing your sim script and developing the final product. Until then, feel free to add any questions or tips you have about branched sims in the comments section.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What I've been up to lately - June 2013

Who'd have guessed it... I actually do more than just write on my blog and rant about Comic Sans on Twitter. If you're curious to know what I've been up to elsewhere (and WILL be up to later this summer), then this is the post for you.

L & D Global Events - Review of the Learning Solutions 2013 Conference and Expo
My coworker, Frank Morris, and I collaborated on a short review of the Learning Solutions conference we both attended earlier this year. Come for the concise evaluation of the conference... stay for the terrible photograph of me in mouse ears!

ASTD Learning Technologies blog - Choosing Technology Strategically
This article marks my first contribution to this blog, and what better way to mark the occasion than by writing a rant. In this case, I decided to chat about one of my biggest pet peeves: when people choose an "all-or-nothing" approach to learning technology. Yup.... 'cause nothing's more annoying than when someone says "We're going to make all our content _____"!

The Virtual Learning Show - June 27th, 2013 - Panel Discussion: How Can Emerging Technology Enrich Our Offerings And Add Value To Our Business?
Oh look, it's a thing that (at least, as I'm writing this post) is happening in the future!

Out of everything I'm doing this summer, this is one of the things I'm most excited about. I'll be teaming up with a bunch of brilliant people from around the globe (Yes, seriously. Thanks to the joys of Adobe Connect, we've got panelists from Canada, the UK, Australia, and the US) to chat for an hour about emerging technology and training. Not only is this conference free (yup. FREE), you can actually submit questions for the panel to answer using this handy Google Docs page. We're definitely looking forward to a wide variety of questions, so I'd love it if you could add one or two things to the list.

My session is running on June 27th from 15:30-16:30 UK BST (Yes, this is London time. Convert as necessary for your own time zone). I should also note, though, that this session is just one of many running on the two conference dates (June 20th and 27th), and I highly recommend checking out the other sessions as well. You can register for one or both days of the conference by clicking the Booking tab at the top of the conference website.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm Bianca Woods and This Is How I Work

David Kelly (@LnDDave) recently did his own fascinating version of the Lifehacker feature “How I Work” and challenged the rest of us in the industry to do the same.

What can I say, David? Challenge accepted!
I'm Bianca Woods and this is my bear hat!

The Great White North (AKA: Toronto, Canada)

Current Gig
Instructional designer/technologist at BMO Financial Group

Current mobile device
iPhone 4S

Current computer
A terrifyingly slow Lenovo

A 4-year-old MacBook Pro that is somehow substantially better than my work computer despite being substantially older

One word that best describes how you work

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Oh boy, I could write about this practically forever. To spare you hours of reading, though, here are a few of my favourites as of this very moment.

  • Post-it Notes: I may be head over heels in love with technology, but not a project goes by where I don’t find that the humble Post-it is the right tool for part of the job. They are, by far, the best early storyboarding/drafting tool I’ve ever used. Plus they come in a variety of shades, so I can be all fussy about colour coding things. 
  • PowerPoint: Hear me out on this one. I know we all hate the typical “thousand bullet points in 7-point font” nonsense PowerPoint deck, but if you actually take the time to apply design principles you can produce some beautiful presentation decks. Plus, PowerPoint is delightfully easy to MacGuyver. I’ve used it to create such non-standard offerings as vector graphics, animated videos, and branched simulations. It’s an underrated workhorse if you ask me. 
  • Twitter: My much-loved personal learning network is there. What more can I say. 
  • Bloglovin’: It’s the worst named service I use (Seriously? No “g”? I feel ridiculous every time I have to refer to it by name.), but out of all the Google Reader replacements I’ve tried it’s the best suited to my needs. If you like skimming tons of RSS feeds then I recommend ignoring the terrible name and checking it out.

What’s your workspace like?
Wow is it messy right now. I’m creating several branched simulations and I always start by mapping them out with Post-its first. As a result, my desk has three poster-sized maps covering it right now. I also like being surrounding with things that fuel my creativity, so there are infographics, random images, books, duct tape (don’t ask), and toys at my desk. It’s one of the odder-looking work areas in my building, but it feels like home.

Cubicle, sweet cubicle

What’s your best time-saving trick?
Remember to talk about what you’re working on to others (both in your office and in your industry) and get them to do the same. It’s amazing how often we take the difficult path, reinvent the wheel, or use the wrong solution simply because we didn’t know the person sitting next to us had a better solution all along.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I tried to go all high tech with this but in the end found that the best solution for me was just a notebook. That said, I did enjoy using the EpicWin app a lot.

Good advice if you ask me!

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
The general consensus seems to be that saying “iPad” is a bit of a cop out (although in my case it’s true. I love you iPad!), so I’m going to instead say my fabulous iPad keyboard.

I seriously injured myself last year by live tweeting a conference on my iPhone and iPad. As it turns out, typing directly on touch screen devices for over 8 hours a day, 3 days straight isn’t so fantastic for your body. Go fig.

After way too much physical therapy I’m finally starting to get better, but I promised myself I wouldn’t let that same injury happen again. As such, I picked up this Logitech iPad keyboard and have been entirely impressed with it. It’s comfortable to use (note: Your mileage may vary on this one. I have small hands), keeps a charge forever, and is super lightweight.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Planning trips. Seriously, I am the master of creating detailed and efficient travel itineraries. I’m actually quite flexible about changing plans when I get somewhere, but I get a large amount of satisfaction in knowing I have a well-researched itinerary to use as a starting point. Nothing would make me sadder than wasting a ton of travel time because I hadn’t researched what subway stations I needed to use or how to get from the airport to my hotel.

Side note: TripIt is my go-to tool for this, although I’ve also used Google Docs for collaborating on group trip plans.

What do you listen to while you work?
I listen to a series of curated stations on Songza, and choose which one depending on my energy level. If I’m awake I like the Sunshine Indie Pop and Blogged 50 playlists. If I’m groggy, then it’s all K-Pop Party-Starters, all the time for me.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
I’m the bizarre combination of a shy extrovert. That means if we’re at a conference I’ll likely be too shy to just walk up to strangers and chat with them, but I’m practically giddy when people take the time to talk to me.

(Big thanks to everyone who’s ever gone out of their way to introduce themselves to me at a con. You are all fabulous.)

What’s your sleep routine like?
I have a long morning commute, so my intention is always to get up early so I can scamper out the door before traffic really hits. Alas, my body rarely wants to play along with this plan. That’s mostly because I typically have trouble getting to bed when I ought to (I have a horrible habit of falling down a Pinterest-Geek board rabbit hole when I’m trying to wind down at the end of the night). Damn you internet for being so interesting!

Fill in the blank. I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
Can I say “everyone in my personal learning network” (I’m dying to see your desks)? Beyond that, I’d also like to see Nancy Duarte and pretty much anyone who works at Valve answer these same questions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If the job you want doesn’t exist, go out there and create it.