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.