Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 3

Okay, it's taken me a bit of time to get this up here (I blame a terrifying wave of post-conference exhaustion) but here's your wrap up of Learning Solutions: Day 3 (AKA: the half day in which everyone is both ready to fall over from tiredness AND still sad the conference is almost over).

1) BYOL: Awesome Audacity - Tips and Techniques for This Free Tool
Speaker: Don Bolen
This was a walkthrough of the basics of using Audacity, so it's a bit hard to give you all a rundown of what happened other then yes... we did get a great introduction to the tool. Instead, here are a few links that will help you get up to speed with this tool:

  • You can download Audacity for Windows, Mac, and Linux (yes, Linux!) here.
  • Learning the keyboard shortcuts in Audacity will speed up your workflow a lot. Here's a handy dandy keyboard shortcut cheat sheet I found.
  • One of the first steps in getting used to Audacity is figuring out what everything on the Control Toolbar actually does. Here's a quick guide to it.
  • Finally, here's the Audacity help manual. Among other things, it also has a number of tutorials.

I'd actually never used Audacity before this session, but had previously had friends tell me it was a great tool. By the end of this session I'd have to say I agree. While it's not remotely as easy for newbies to just pick up and go the way Garageband can be, once you have someone show you the ropes it's pretty simple. It's also substantially more powerful in a lot of ways than Garageband. I honestly wish there was some way to mesh the ease of use and friendly UI of Garageband with the power of Audacity.

2) Today's Visual Design Trends: What Non-Designers Need to Know
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Yes, I actually did two sessions at Learning Solutions this year.

I'm going to do the exact same thing I did with my Thursday session: show my work by giving you the link to my session resources website. It's got links to all the tools I talked about in this session (plus a few more I thought were worth sharing), the session slide deck, and my full speakers notes. Enjoy!

3) Keynote: Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
Speaker: Cathy Davidson
Awww... the last session of the conference. It's always a bit bittersweet.

In this session Davidson explored the idea of attention, in particular how our perception of how well we pay attention to the world around us doesn't typically mesh well with reality. In our heads we think we're fantastic at paying attention, but as it turns out we're rather rubbish at noticing things outside of what we're focused on.

To make matters worse, it's incredibly easy to manipulate our focus. Take this famous video: the Monkey Business Illusion (AKA: the Gorilla Test). Don't read any farther... just go watch this video and come back.

Did you watch the whole video? Great.

So did you notice all the other stuff going on in the video? Chances are you missed most or even all of it beyond the basketball. Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with you in particular, this is just a demonstration of how human brains tend to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Our attention can be influenced by others (such as the directions in the gorilla video telling you to focus on the basketballs), but it can also be influenced by our own experience. Yes, your expertise can actually make you less inclined to notice some things because your attention is guided by your expectations and past experience. This is why sometimes a newbie can notice things that experts can't, particularly if that thing is surprising.

Yes, our brains sometimes betray us. So what can we do? Well, we need to leverage tools and partners to help us see the whole picture and catch the things we miss. Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Like I mentioned before, think about including thoughtful non-experts (or people who aren't close to a project) in some of your reviews and discussions. Their lack of expert focus will actually cause them to see things and expert might miss. Of course, thoughtful is the key word here in choosing who to ask to be your non-expert in the room. 
  • Don't do everything alone. Team up with other people who have different skills and experiences from you. These differences will help your group pick up on different things (this is one of the great arguments in favour of team diversity).
  • Just simply talk about ideas/problems with others.
  • Everyone has different things that help them focus their attention. Do some reflection and think about what things work specifically for you, then remember to use these techniques regularly.
The session wrapped with Davidson talking about how our current education system is rooted in the Industrial Age mindset of just teaching kinds to have singleminded focus and punctuality... the exact skills required to work in a factory. However, these skills don't prepare us for our world today, a world in which it's much more important to be able to see topics both deeply and broadly. A world in which it's not just important to know how to learn skills, but also know how to unlearn and relearn skills too. A world in which we're lifelong learners. Changing how we teach (and the values our teaching methods imply) is the best way to strengthen our ability to notice more and come up with better solutions.

And so Learning Solutions 2014 came to an end. As always I found myself happy I had attended, but really ready to take a nap for about three days straight.

As a final side note, this year the conference was helpful not just for learning from sessions and other attendees, but also for this spectacular reveal about DevLearn 2014:

Oh HECK yeah!!!

Yeah, the fangirl squeeing will be non-stop until October.  :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 2

Day Two of the conference featured absurdly good weather, yet again. Seriously, it is making me so happy to not be wearing a big, bulky coat (and, even with that, STILL be freezing to death). *sigh* I don't want to move back to FL anytime soon, but it's definitely great to visit at this time of year.

So here's what I was up to today...

1) General Session- Big Data Demystified for Learning: What's Important, What's Not, and What's Next
Speaker: Douglas Merrill
I feel like most conferences have at least one session these days that focuses on a buzzword topic (not a complaint, just an observation). So this was our LSCon trend topic session: big data.

Big data is something we hear about constantly, but often without much context other than "Look at all the info we can capture! More info must mean we'll do better at _____." But Merrill made the point that there's no guarantee that'll actually happen. In fact, he made some very sensible challenges to the idea that big data is an automatic game changer.

On one hand, big data isn't this magical, mystical thing it's sometimes made it out to be. Many people get stressed out at the very mention of the word "math", and so they buy in to this religion of data because it's a way of dealing with the potential for data and math to help us, without going into the actual details of how exactly it can do that. You don't have to understand the data... you just have to have faith that it works.

Except there are so many ways to manage and interpret data, so if you don't understand how that process works, you're going to just mangle what all your data actually means. Be aware of how outliers can warp results in weird ways. Acknowledge that data isn't independent, it's always connected to other factors ("No data is an island..." *laugh*). Understand how the real world can be messier and more chaotic than mere data can represent.

Or, to summarize, ignore your anxiety and go take a great Stats 101 class (seriously, stats is the best kind of math for people who hate math)!

On the other hand, if you can learn to interpret data properly, it can empower you to do some fantastic things. It allows companies to pay better attention to what their customers are actually doing, not what they think they're doing. For instance, take the music industry back when they were in the early days of dealing with pirated MP3s. They thought the solution was to sue the people who were illegally downloading the most of their music. But, as it turns out, these exact same people were also the users who were spending the most on legal downloads as well. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot instead of looking at the bigger picture. Now, this doesn't mean you only listen to what your customers want and do. That mindset gets in the way of innovation (sometimes customers can't actually conceive of the new thing they might someday want),. That said, it's definitely worth paying attention to data for interpreting what your customers are actually doing.

Crowdsourcing is another angle on using big data smartly. Done right it allows you to use a wide array of sources to do things as different as building a spell correct system for Google searches or hiring more effectively.

At the end of the day big data isn't the magical solution that some people think it is, but if you use it smartly (and stop being so darn afraid of math) it can be more effective than skeptics would lead you to believe.

So overall the session was enjoyable. However, there was one thing that, while it may have seemed small to others, stuck out to me. Merrill made this crack during his talk about the CEO of Zappos and what exactly it said about him that he spent so much time around women's shoes. I'm sure he wasn't intending to be a jerk, but, you know, that's not the kind of comment that would be likely to make a transgender Guild member feel particularly welcome. It's more often the repeated little things, like those kinds of jokes, that make people feel like they're not a part of a community and I would have thought a lot more of the session had that one thoughtless joke not been there.

2) Doing Things With Words: Words That Work in eLearning
Speaker: Lisa Russell
In this session we talked about the nuts and bolts of the words, phrasing, and sentences we choose to use in our training.

Words, even a small number of them, have the power to move people. Take, for instance, Ernest Hemingway's famous 6-word story:
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
It's just a few words, but because they're so cleverly chosen they can still stir a surprising amount of emotions. 

And yet, when most people write they pad out their content, using filler words and sloppy sentence structure to convey information clumsily. But in training, we don't have the luxury of letting our writing meander. If you don't grab people in the first few words, you may have lost them for good. So you need to make your prose snappy, and you need to figure out what your specific audience will actually respond to.

So how can you fix this? First, pay attention to your phrasing. Arrange your words for emphasis, keeping in mind that the first and last words in a sentence will get special attention. Next, don't be a word hoarder by padding your writing with filler words. If you can't tell your information simply, you don't know it well enough. Also, use active, not passive words. Passive language kills the action in what you're writing.

Finally, use the framework of the MEAL plan to balance your paragraphs:

M: Your main idea
E: Your evidence
A: Analysis
L: Link back to the main idea or lead out to the next one

Keeping these tips in mind can make your writing clear and concise.

3) Best Practices For Enlivening the Virtual Classroom
Speaker: Pandora Bryce
You know what's a bizarre but amusing experience? Live tweeting a session lead by a coworker where she's presenting a case study involving your own workplace. Not bad... just a bit surreal. *laugh*

Bryce used this session to talk about two aspects of virtual classrooms (VCs): a summary of some of the ways we use VCs at BMO Financial Group and a selection of VC roadblocks (plus suggestions for ways around some of them).

So, for context, we run about 110 VCs per week at BMO and have 50+ certified VC facilitators. That is a lot of VC content. On the plus side, VCs have no travel costs, don't require a physical classroom, enable broader access to training, have features that are difficult/expensive to replicate in classrooms, allow anonymous knowledge checks, make it easy to capture questions and output, and are, no surprise, relatively cheap. On the other hand, all of them suffer from the same problem: it's a challenge to maintain learner attention.

So there are a few VC best practices that can help attract and keep people's attention in them:

Bryce then followed this with a description of two programs at BMO that use VCs in engaging ways, one for Customer Service Representatives (bank tellers) and another for first time leaders. In both cases the VCs were just one part of the program, with eLearning, manager 1-on-1s, and group work (obviously done via conference calls) included in the overall experience. The VCs themselves were used not for basic content that was explained by a talking head, but instead for facilitated group discussions and debriefs on the more complex, grey areas of the content. And using VCs for discussion and talking through tricky issues tended to get people to buy in to the learning experience substantially more than just asking them to put on a headset and listen to a live lecture.

As for VC roadblocks (and a few suggestions for solving for them), Bryce mentioned 3:

  • Human Obstacles: What if people don't do their prework? What if they haven't figured out their tech setup before the session. Solutions can include giving them training and support on the tech side of things long before the session starts. Also, set their expectations for the VC early, so they get why the prework is important.
  • Organizational Obstacles: In the case of the new customer service representatives, when they began their training many of them didn't have access to corporate email or the company intranet yet. Plus, many bank branches only had a single computer available for employees to use for training, which meant you couldn't schedule more than one person at a branch at once for a VC at any given time. Because learners didn't have remote access to the intranet either, they couldn't do their training remotely from home. As well, there was a culture of text and content-heavy slides for VCs that didn't work well for learners.
  • Technology Issues: What if the technology doesn't work as planned? Obviously doing the pre-session tech test first helps, but sometimes things just stop working in the session itself. What should you do then?

If you can figure out your own team's solutions to these barriers, it makes running VCs much easier.

4) Telling Your Story With Infographics
Speaker: Bianca Woods

Oh look... it's my own session!

Obviously I'm not going to review my own talk. However, I am going to to do the "share your work" thing and give you a link to my session resources page. It's got links to all the tools I talked about in this session (plus a few more I thought were worth sharing), the session slide deck, and my full speakers notes.


And this has turned into yet another terribly late night for me. So I'm going to keep this wrap up short by saying this conference continues to be excellent in all ways.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 1

I've got to say, it's nice to be at Learning Solutions in Orlando right now. Yes, obviously it's great to hear fantastic speakers and catch up with industry friends, but, as I'm sure anyone from the northeast will agree, it's even more exciting to actually be without snow for awhile! *laugh*

Okay, all kidding aside, I really am happy to be back here for my second Learning Solutions. As this was a particularly session-packed day (and I have a presentation tomorrow and need my sleep) I'm going to cut to the chase and get right down to the session reflections.

1) Keynote - Leapfrogging to Learning Breakthroughs
Speaker: Soren Kaplan
I've said this before and I'll say it again: I feel like the first session of a conference needs to focus on getting you energized and open to learning more. In this case, Kaplan definitely hit the right note with his talk of creating breakthroughs using surprise.

Kaplan became interested in finding out how business leaders had made major breakthroughs, and what he found was this: many great breakthroughs involve an element of positive surprise for the customer, and sometimes even the business too. In fact, brain science confirms the benefits of this as well. When people experience a positive surprise, the pleasure centres in their brain actually light up.

But how do you go about finding the right surprises? And how do you broaden your view so your focus on one issue or thing doesn't get in the way of your seeing other options? Kapan suggested there are three things anyone can do to become more innovative and find the surprise in their business or role:

  1. Rethink what your role actually is. If you're making drills, you're not really in the drill business. You're in the hole making business. If you can see what your real role is, it's easier to find surprising solutions.
  2. Fall in love with problems, not solutions. If you get married to what you think the solution should be, you're not going to be able to tell when there's an even better problem to solve.
  3. Go outside to stretch your inside. Staying inside your organization/role isn't going to challenge you to think of things in new ways. You can't just play it safe and expect to be able to find surprise. You have to step outside your comfort zone and go outside your organization/role to get new, surprising ideas. You also have to be open to trying new ideas out and possibly failing for awhile until you find an idea that sticks.

Sure, I'll agree that much of his content wasn't rocket surgery or anything new, but it was a good reminder to all of us that we need to not just know these things, but actually act on them on a regular basis.

2) Featured Session - Subscription Learning: A Fundamentally Different Form of eLearning
Speaker: Will Thalheimer
Subscription learning is a pretty simple concept: it's smaller packages of learning that you sign up to receive and get on a regular basis. It's like the magazine subscription of the learning world. While it isn't exactly a brand new idea, it is much easier to implement today than even just a few years ago (both from a tool and a cost perspective).

Many L&D groups put out one-time learning events or a handful of multi-session lessons. Unfortunately, what we know about how content is actually retained tells us this isn't the best way to ensure the people actually learn the information we're trying to teach. The forgetting curve tells us that learners unfortunately don't remember much content in the long-term from one-time learning events. However, if you regularly repeat and build on content over time, people remember substantially more. Subscription-based learning is an excellent option for training in the way we know people actually retain content.

When it comes to how you teach your information in a subscription situation, there are a few tips to keep in mind. First, repeated content is good, but don't repeat it the exact same way each time. Studies showed that paraphrased repeated content was much easier to remember than the exact same text repeated over and over. Also, space out your learning. Give people time in between learning content, repeating it, and adding on. This gives them some time to process.

When it comes to actually delivering this content, there are numerous ways to push it out to your subscribers. Email is a simple, yet effective, option. Apps and bite-sized eLearning are other delivery method too. Even texts can be a reasonable choice in some situations. And, while we didn't discuss it in this session, there are tons of other alternatives (both tech enabled and not) you can try. How about podcasts, interactive PDFs, or videos, just to name a few?

3) Where Does the Learning Occur In Games?
Speaker: Rick Blunt
You know, I had actually sworn off sessions on learning and games (long story), but this one pulled me in with an intriguing concept and a Twitter buddy (@rblunt81) as the speaker... particularly because I hadn't realized this friend actually had a background in games for learning (the more you know). So, I went anyway and was glad I did.

To really get this session it's important to first establish what exactly a game is. Blunt's definition was simple: a game is an engaging activity in which players seek a goal by overcoming challenges within a given set of rules. That definition applies as much to a simple game of tic-tac-toe as it does to a modern videogame. Game-based learning (in this case, serious games) is just an extension of that, where the game's main purpose is learning. Games like this aren't just fun, when designed well they give nearly all types of learners a noticeable boost (the only group left out: most learners over 40... sorry guys!). Now, just like any tool, you can't use games for learning in all situations, but for the circumstances they work well in they're a good option to consider.

When you're designing a game for learning there are three goals you need to consider: the business goal, the learning goal, and the game goal. Only when you've considered all three of these goals (and made sure your solutions for each aren't working against each other) can you create a game that actually teaches content in a meaningful and successful way.

Then Blunt showed us an example of a serious game done right: Re-Mission. This game was designed for adolescents with cancer to both teach them about the disease, as well as prepare them for how it would affect their day-to-day life. And what was interesting to see was that, by structuring the game missions and elements around what you want players to learn (in this case, how to live with cancer) while also not forgetting the fun, you could create an engaging game that would also manage to teach players content as they played.  Game-based learning also allows for something we know is a powerful learning tool: failure in a safe environment.

Now, this isn't to say that all game-based learning is effective. Goodness knows any kid from the 80s can tell you about all the well-intentioned, but content-devoid learning games they played as kids (I'm looking at you The Oregon Train). But it does mean that there are ways to make games that can lead to actual learning.

And if you only take one lesson from this session, let it be this one: a game will resonate with people if you make sure to give players the opportunity to make meaningful choices.

4) Reality TV Training as an Onboarding Program
Speaker: Gail Griswold and Samuel Weber

I'll admit, other than an affection for the early seasons of Project Runway I'm not that in to reality TV. But, based on the sheer number of different reality shows available right now, it's clear that many people are attracted to this genre, so I thought it was worth taking a peek at how one team had created a reality TV-inspired onboarding program for their company.

The project started out in a way that loaned itself well to an eventual session at this conference: they actually came up with the concept while attending Learning Solutions two years ago. Their old method of doing onboarding was the usual suspects: lecture and PowerPoint. The team thought it could teach the content in a more interesting way by leveraging the style of reality TV... the episodic content, the in-the-moment revelations, the confessionals, the true-to-life situations and scenarios, not to mention the drama... all of that could be a package for showing the content that new employees needed to know as they began working at this company. While the "reality" would be fully scripted (not, let's admit, unlike some current reality TV), the situations would still be written to feel as true to life as possible.

However, the team hadn't created anything like this project before, so the first thing on their list was to make a proof-of-concept video. The goal of it was to both have an example of what they were trying to accomplish to show stakeholders, as well as prove to themselves that they could actually create this thing in-house for a reasonable cost. So, they made the proof of concept with the barest of bones resources and used themselves as the actors. Because they were just creating a proof of concept it didn't need to be perfect and polished, it just needed to show the gist of the idea. The video worked, they got buy in early on in the project, and even managed to acquire a bit of a budget for better tools too.

Then came casting. They knew they wanted to make episodic content revolving around a few major characters, they knew they needed to find in-house employees to be their actors, and they most assuredly knew they didn't want to be the actors themselves. So they did the equivalent of a casting call and screen test. They asked for people to audition using a short script with three mini-scenes, recorded it all on video, and then focus tested the results to land on the best choices for the job. In this case, once they had the cast settled, only then did they start deciding what their characters would be like (a great option if you're using amateur actors: work around the talent and range your people have to offer). In the end they put together 5 characters who represented the various average new employees in their workplace (read: not just new graduates!) and got ready to film.

The setup for filming was relatively simple. They wrote a detailed script that included many of the standard reality TV tropes; picked up a decent DSLR camera for filming; added a microphone, 3-light set up, and green screen as supplies; and started filming their main footage as well as b-roll. They then used Adobe Premier Pro, Flypaper, Camtasia, and Adobe After Effects to edit and add in effects, and then packaged the results (along with some accompanying eLearning) in Articulate Storyline. And there you have it: a reality TV-style training program.

Here's one final thing they did that I found interesting: they created buzz around the project even in its early stages by sharing a music video, trailers, and sneak previews with the organization. By the time the episodes were ready to share, people were already excited about the project and itchy to get their hands on it. This isn't the first time I've heard of learning projects successfully using an ad campaign to drive interest, and I really hope it's a practice that we consider using more often in L&D on a whole.

5) Gaining Altitude: Sustaining Ed Tech Culture
Speaker: Mark Sheppard and Luc Blanchette

Here's another session I attended both on the appeal of the topic as well as the appeal of seeing a Twitter buddy present (this time it was @MarkLearns). What can I say, it's my duty to heckle... um... I mean "support" my fellow Canadian presenters, right? Okay, all joking aside, I work in a conservative and heavily regulated industry (banking & finance) and I was curious to see how Sheppard and Blanchette had managed to encourage and sustain ed tech culture in an equally strict industry (the Canadian military).

The school Sheppard and Blanchette design training for is the Canadian Forces School for Aerospace Technology and Engineering. You'd think that a school with the work "technology" in the name would be all on top of using technology for training. Alas, you'd be wrong. The typical method of training is your standard one: lecture and (often bad) PowerPoint. Training aids are surprisingly old. Instructor turnover is, for a multitude of reasons, incredible high (1/3 per year) and many people selected to be instructors have little to no experience as formal teachers. Not a comfortable situation, but one that was most assuredly ready for some revamping.

I loved that, at the end of the day, Sheppard and Blanchette came up with a flight-related analogy for how you make ed tech culture thrive in this, or any other, environment. They suggested that there are four forces at work on ed tech culture: lift, thrust, weight, and drag. You need to achieve balance between all four in order to succeed, and to do that you need to do the following:

  1. Improve lift: Find ways to be cost efficient and align your work with corporate objectives. As well, be sure to make the "trifecta of advocacy" happy: the buyer, client, and consumer.
  2. Reduce weight: Make due with less. Be responsible with funds. Get approval from the myriad of people you need to get approval from and go through all the hoops required. (While this wasn't directly stated in the session itself, I have to imagine that reducing both the number of people who need to approve decisions/content and the number of hoops that you have to jump through would also reduce weight).
  3. Increase thrust: Focus on project success. Make sure your projects are able to fulfil a need and/or solve a problem. Look for easy opportunities to meet a need too.
  4. Decrease drag: Alas, a main source of drag seems to be people who are disinterested in change. Decreasing drag could involve helping them to become more accustomed to change (and get them to buy-in to the plan), addressing their fears directly, or even just waiting for these people to choose to leave on their own.

These forces aren't ever going to go away, which is why it's so important to acknowledge them and work to keep them as balanced as possible.

This is the part where I'd write a wrap up... except it's super late and I need to sleep or I'll end up walking into walls tomorrow. So, to summarize quickly, yea Learning Solutions Day 1!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Where I'm going to be!

It's Learning Solutions time again, and I'm happy to say I'm back in Orlando this year and all set for three days of live tweeting and blogging about the conference. And, natural shyness aside, I'm also giddy about getting to hang out with all the attendees and meet more of my online Twitter buddies (Twitter PLN FTW!).

If you're curious about what I'm planning to cover this year, here's my (tentative) schedule:


8:30-10:00 AM - Keynote - Leapfrogging to Learning Breakthroughs
Speaker: Soren Kaplan

10:45-11:45 AM - Featured Session - Subscription Learning: A Fundamentally Different Form of eLearning
Speaker: Will Thalheimer

1:00-2:00 PM - Where Does the Learning Occur In Games?
Speaker: Rick Blunt

2:30-3:30 PM - Reality TV Training as an Onboarding Program
Speaker: Gail Griswold and Samuel Weber
4:00-5:00 PM - Gaining Altitude: Sustaining Ed Tech Culture
Speaker: Mark Sheppard and Luc Blanchette


8:30-10:00 AM - Keynote- Big Data Demystified for Learning: What's Important, What's Not, and What's Next
Speaker: Douglas Merrill

10:45-11:45 AM - Doing Things With Words: Words That Work in eLearning
Speaker: Lisa Russell

1:00-2:00 PM - Best Practices For Enlivening the Virtual Classroom
Speaker: Pandora Bryce

3:45-4:45 PM - Telling Your Story With Infographics
Speaker: Bianca Woods

Oh look... it's my own session! I should hope I'm planning on being there.  ;)

4:45-6:45 PM - SolutionFest 2014


8:30-9:30 AM - BYOL: Awesome Audacity - Tips and Techniques for This Free Tool
Speaker: Don Bolen

9:45-10-45 AM - Today's Visual Design Trends: What Non-Designers Need to Know
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Yes, I'm actually doing two sessions at Learning Solutions this year. Hope to see you there!

11:00 AM-12:30 PM - Keynote: Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
Speaker: Cathy Davidson

Hope to see you there, either in person or on the backchannel!