Thursday, April 29, 2010

LSG Webinar - Designing e-learning for impact

Liveblogged notes from the second Learning and Skills Group webinar for the day. Lars Hyland is the Director of Learning services at Brightwave. Lars's plan was to share a series of tips that make all the difference to whether e-learning succeeds or fails:
  • Avoiding death by LMS
  • Ensuring your e-learning is learner- and performance-centric
  • Creating meaningful and memorable interactions for your learners
  • Introducing the IMPACT model: better design for better results
  • 5 tips for design success
I'm very excited to see the examples Lars is trying to show. I'm a big fan of his work, though I feel some of it is too high-end for my liking.

Why training and elearning fails

What's the elephant in the training room? We're delivering training:
  • to the wrong people
  • by the wrong people
  • at the wrong time
  • in the wrong way
As a result there's no learning, no value and a lot of time wasted! Elearning (not just the classroom) suffers the same problems. A lot of elearning is:
  • too dull
  • too inaccessible
  • lacks relevance
This results in the same problem at a greater speed. Essentially similar point to what Laura made in the earlier webinar.

Why DESIGN is an essential ingredient to engagement

Elearning demands more of the learner. It's hard to hold attention - distractions are all around us! This is an interface sitting between us and the content. So design matters to make elearning effective!

The IMPACT way of designing


There are various levels of interaction ranging from game based learning to the good old 'Click Next to Continue'.  A few examples that Lars showed, that were quire useful:
  • the use of a visual metaphor to explain a complex topic;
  • the use of analog sliders to show dynamic change in outcomes
The common trend I see from these examples is that learners can actually see how their actions impact their real life outcomes.

Again if you look at the example above, you'll notice that learners have an activity to learn about missing stock from a showroom. So there's a problem as you'd have in the real store and you'll learn from discovery by interacting with real customers in real situations. The example included real applications that people see at their job so they can transfer the skills back to work. Good example of teaching people to do something than remember facts.

Key Learning: Make your interaction mimic the real world and real scenarios.


Elearning is essentially a multimedia experience, so there's a good reason to focus on this element, isn't there? Again, integrating custom flash, video, audio isn't tough even with rapid-elearning.

Key Learning: Try very carefully to draw key points by intelligent use of media. Green screen video isn't very costly these days, so transparent background videos on your slides is really easy!


This is a big opportunity for instructional designers where we can personalise the experience for every individual learner. So Lars' point is that too broadly generic content may just not stick and may not be contextualised to people's workplace. Of course, it isn't that easy to do this without spending too much money, but I take his point.

So is there case for personalised action plans, personalised feedback, personalised learning logs and the like? The example above provides different interfaces for people with different tastes. How about mobile and computer versions of the same course?


A lot of learning and training doesn't translate into actions very easily. Why don't we align learning around helping people perform actual tasks? Cathy Moore's action mapping approach speaks to this end. No fluff, only stuff!


Don't over-simplify and patronise your training/ elearning. If you break it out too much then it doesn't reflect the real world appropriately. So it's important that you reflect all real-world elements in a challenging and fair manner. Provide your audience an opportunity to go wrong, gain from intrinsic and extrinsic feedback and activate new skills in 'safe-to-fail' environment.


Lars touched upon the topic of 'learning interventions'. We try to cram too much stuff in too little time. People forget as the learning event ends. How about spaced out courses, where you give people an opportunity to have more events to reinforce their learning. This minimises forgetting and is in line with the research from Will Thalheimer.

There could be various other factors affecting IMPACT -- it could vary by your situation.

Provide easy ways to access learning

Learning management systems that are data and report centric aren't learner centric. The context of the learning can get lost. How about structuring your learning management platform to be more user-friendly and learner focussed? How about a portal approach? How about centering it on a campaign or desired performance or capability or a target audience?

Lars' point was that design of how we get to elearning is crucial in increasing engagement and creating the pull to do more in the elearning and learning technology space in your organisation. I completely buy that!

The point Lars made about 'anytime, anywhere' learning and reaching mobile audiences makes complete sense to me. The fun part is that with tools like iWebKit anyone can do it.

A few other design considerations.

Think about making the following elements of design:
  • Applied - scenario driven, contextualised
  • Authentic - practical, pragmatic
  • Open - put the user in charge of navigation
  • Intuitive - design and structure encourages reuse
  • Accessible - learner centric portals
  • Dogma-free - don't be dogmatic about instructional theory.

LSG Webinar: Making an impact – tricks for grabbing management attention

Today's liveblogged notes are a recap of the Learning and Skills Group webinar by Laura Overton of Towards Maturity. Laura is one of the UK's leading consultants in the elearning space and is widely renowned for her work with Towards Maturity - an independent, not for profit organisation with a passion for helping others to improve the impact of learning technologies at  work. The topic was about how learning consultants can maximise management attention on their programs.

"Practical stuff backed with hard facts...", was how Don Taylor introduced the topic. The agenda of the webinar was to cover off some points from the list below:
  • How we create managerial indifference!
  • Why estimating benefits always sells you short
  • Reporting on impact not activity - why complex ROI methodology is unnecessary
  • How to use the Impact Indicator findings in your organisation
  • Tricks for tackling managerial indifference
We've all heard stuff like:
  • Training is not my job!
  • Elearning isn't real work!
  • My manager won't give me the time!
  • This is just not a priority right now!
  • You want to spend how much?!
Audio was very choppy today, so my notes are patchy as well.

What are the top tips for managerial indifference?

Often the things that we do are the ones that cause management to be indifferent to the things do. IMO, use of the word 'social' is one of these as is not using their language as is the lack of communication linked to making real performance change. Here are Laura's top 5:
  1. Make sure it's not relevant
  2. Do as much possible to imitate past bad experiences
  3. Never talk about business outcomes
  4. Only focus on cost savings
  5. Alternatively don't talk to them at all!
There's a comprehensive list here.

Why is it important to grab managers attention

"55% learners say their line managers opinion is most likely to influence their elearning uptake." This is based on Laura's research. The way to grab attention however is to create value -- managers need to know that learning technologies will actually generate value.

There are heaps of case studies on Towards Maturity to help create your business case. A picture of possible success is more likely to get traction than pure imagination. "Leave the cost benefits in the business case and promote the benefits in operational efficiency and flexible training such as reductions in travel trainer and time costs." ,said one participant.

3 Impact indicators:
  • Efficiency
    • Cost, Volume, Time
  • Business Agility
    • Time to competence
    • Ability to respond to business need
    • Business responsiveness to change.
  • Management perception of value
    • How do we measure?
    • report?


"There's no point delivering more learning for less cost faster if all we're doing is rubbish."
This said, effficiency indicators look good. People are reporting time cost and volume savings! Obviously, saved costs mean that you have more time and money to spend elsewhere. That said, if the quality of learning isn't great, it only accentuates your problems because you're now just creating problems at a much greater speed.

As it turns out most people don't seem to do simple cost benefits of the use learning technology. Only 29% of Laura's participants do this. The cost benefit calculation is perhaps quite siple.

Business Agility

69% report faster time to competence
59% report improvement ability to implement changes faster.

This has got to be a great case to make with management.

There are a host of other benefits:
  • reach of learning
  • efficiency with compliance
  • satisfaction/ engagement
  • customer satisfaction
  • organisational productivity
  • qualifications
  • revenue increase
The results however seemed mixed and my guess is that it'll be useful to look at the Towards Maturity case studies to find out what succeeds in the success stories.

Management Perception

Unfortunately, we don't communicate very well if productivity, efficiency and time to competence has improved significantly.
Most people report the following - % of staff uptake, efficiency in demonstrating a skill and staff satisfaction. That said, other measures such as productivity, revenue, customer satisfaction don't necessarily get address. I guess this is because it's not easy to measure, but oh well!

That said, it's not all about ROI! Case studies, podcasts, social networks, surveys and talking to managers really can help capture our success quite well.

If people come and say good things, try capturing it on audio for podcasts or in a document, for a case study! Great advice for bottom up cultures.

Tips for tackling managerial indifference - the 5 C's

  • Cultivate relationships and ask questions
  • Cut out the jargon
  • Calculate the basic efficiency benefits. (convert  features into benefits)
  • Confirm your own impact indicators
  • Capture and communicate your successes
Here's some interesting stuff from the Towards Maturity evidence for change campaign that can help actually show some of the value that we are gunning for.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

He's homeless and he needs a family - can you help?

Talk about never having a dull moment. This evening was quite eventful to say the least. The pup in the picture is 'Beast'. Beast is an Indian mongrel pup. I'm calling him Beast because that's the first name that came to mind, but I guess he doesn't care yet.

This evening, Beast got hit by a speeding motorcycle and was lying helpless on the middle of the road. I was walking my dog at the time and I noticed him trembling in shock. I rushed him to my vet who checked him and confirmed that he's slightly hurt, but has no broken bones. Beast is now at my home, scared, but OK. He's eaten some food too.

Now comes the big question. My wife and I can't raise another dog given our work-schedules and the absolute lack of domestic help. I want to, but I just can't.

Will any of you be willing to adopt this little puppy?

I'm happy to help you out with vaccinations, training and everything that goes with bringing a dog home. Let me know if you're interested -- I'll give him to the first person who is willing to raise him like family. If I don't hear from anyone in the next couple of days I guess I'll take him to the dog shelter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

5 Tips to help you Plan your Next Presentation

“Presentation is the ‘Killer Skill’ we take into the real world. It’s almost an unfair advantage.”The McKinsey Mind.
If you've followed this blog long enough, you'll know that I am big on presentation skills. I completely agree with McKinsey when they call presentation, the killer skill. If you're a salesman, you can make an impressive pitch. If you're a teacher, you can deliver a memorable lecture. If you're a technocrat, you can make an effective point to your clients. If you're an exec, you can appeal to your employees. If you're a keynote speaker, you can do what Steve Jobs does. The list is endless! An effective presentation is often the edge that your core skills need.

So what goes into an effective presentation? I want to examine this in a series of posts. In today's post I want to touch upon the first step to an effective presentation -- planning. This is before you slam in your first slide. This is where you start to think of your story and how you will present it. I have a few tips that'll help you create a compelling story for your show.

Don't Start at the Computer

This has got to be the most common mistake of all time and it's one of the six mistakes you should never make as a presenter. I find it very awkward to plan my presentation on slideware. I say so, because when my first step is Powerpoint or Keynote, then I end up context switching amongst the following jobs:
  • crafting my story;
  • deciding how i spread the story over slides;
  • finding the right images;
  • and dealing with every challenge the program throws at me.
To avoid this, I like to avoid the computer at the first step. As presentation guru Garrey Reynolds says, "One way to ensure that your computer and software applications remain great tools to amplify your ideas and your presentation is to first turn off the computer and walk away from it. You'll be back soon enough."

Plan on Paper

So if you don't start at the computer, where do you start? I like using low-tech, hi-touch tools like index cards, stickies, whiteboards and good old writing pads. Garrey reynolds calls this 'planning analog' as against 'planning digital' on the computer. These tools are highly flexible. If I don't like what I've done, all I do is rip the paper apart and try again. During this phase, I try to do one or more of the following things.
  • I decide how I'll deliver the presentation. I like telling stories over providing a collection of facts. So at this stage I decide what my story'll look like and how it'll progress through various stages of my talk.
  • I like to get some details nailed down at this stage of planning. I try my best to create a topic map from my story. This helps me understand what parts of the topic I'll cover at each stage of the story.
  • If possible, I like to do some storyboarding at this stage. For this, I lay down index cards and try to sketch out as many slides for my talk as possible. In this video, you'll see an example of how I do my storyboards.

Think of 3 Key Points

You may have heaps to say about your topic. Nothing wrong with that, except that people can only remember so much. To craft a memorable message, it's a good idea to structure your presentation around no more than three key points. I usually let my audience know right up front, "In today's session, we'll touch upon three things...". Once I've done this, then I keep coming back to this list of three so I can keep reinforcing the message in my audience's memory. Take a look at the examples in the above image. They are from real presentations and though my style could do with a little more variety, you'll see that each talk focusses on three main topics which I can keep coming back to during my presentation.

The Grandma Test

Being complicated and difficult to understand is no longer fashionable. The acid test for your plan is if you can take your story to your grandmother and she can understand what you're saying. Well, if you think that's a stretch then you need a patient wife. My wife listens to all my stories and interrupts me when she doesn't understand something. If she doesn't understand, then that's a signal for me to simplify my message.

There's something I want to say about statistics at this point. We seem to be obsessed about presenting statistics in our presentations. We use complex charts and graphs in presentations as if people can glean all the details in a few split seconds. Most charts, tables or graphs have one key point that we want to drive home. If that's really the case, then why not present just that key point? I was recently watching Steve Jobs announcing iPhone OS 4.0. Steve presented a lot of statistics in this talk, but it's an education to see how he presents these numbers. A few things Jobs does really well:
  • He doesn't present more than one number at a time.
  • Whenever he has to, he provides context for statistics. It's meaningless to say how many applications there are for the iPhone. It's meaningful to say how this compares with the competition. For more inspiration on how you can do this, take a look at 'Shift Happens'. No wonder it has close to a million views!
  • Jobs uses visuals to convey his message effectively. Take a look at how he uses colour contrast and simple imagery to make his statistics stand out. This is something you and I can do. All that it takes, are simplicity, restraint and naturalness.

I have another example about presenting statistics - Jamie Oliver's TED prize talk. It's one of the best presentations I've seen in a long, long time. Jamie presents statistics and yet he doesn't. He talks about how American families eat unhealthy food, but instead of showing food consumption charts he shows a video of an American mother with all her junk food on the table. Definitely more compelling than a chart. He talks about how children don't know about vegetables. He could have shown education statistics, but instead he shows a video of children failing to recognise vegetables in school. The most memorable part of his talk is when he explains how much sugar children have, just from milk. He doesn't present statistics, he brings in a wheelbarrow of sugar to make his point. Now that's what people will remember!

So, let me come back to where I started. If your plan is to use a chart or graph in your presentation, then show it to your grandmother or wife. If you can make an impact on them, then you're OK. If not, please reconsider your plan!

The Catastrophe Test

If you've planned analog, thought of three key points to hang your presentation around, and been able to convince grandma about your point, then you need to undergo the catastrophe test before you get into Powerpoint, Keynote or Prezi. What's the catastrophe test? Well, it's simply a test for you to deliver your presentation without any electronic tools. Why should you do this? Remember Murphy's law?

"Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong."

What if the projector fails? What if your computer misbehaves on the day of the presentation? What if you realise on the day of the presentation that slides are not the way to go? You've got to be prepared, right? So I like preparing for the worst. That's my catastrophe test. If I know my story like the back of my hand, then slides are just another way to visualise it. If I know my story well, then I can also move quickly when designing my slides. So try this out -- see if you can use your paper based plans to talk in front of a mirror. If you can, then you've got most of your presentation nailed.
If you can pay heed to these five pieces of advice when you plan your presentation, designing it will become almost a mechanical exercise. You may feel that this planning phase is tough, and you may well be right. This will take some time. This will however, save you time when you create your slides. It's also likely to make your audience's time worthwhile, because you're less likely to drone and more likely to tell an engaging story. What do you think? Do my tips make sense? They've certainly worked for me, but I'm keen to know how you feel about them. Let me know by commenting on this blogpost. In my next Monday's post, I'll cover off a few tips for effective presentation design.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Making Feedback work in your Teams - Webinar Notes

Today I delivered a webinar for the 'Thought Leadership Webinars' series from ThoughtWorks Studios. I thought it could be  useful to share stuff from the webinar on this blog, for the benefit of those who may be interested in this topic. My topic had nothing to do with the technical mumbo jumbo of creating software. While 'feedback' is a key XP value, it usually manifests itself on Agile projects as a way to improve software.

I like to look at feedback as a way to improve people as well, because people that improve continuously are more likely to produce better software in teams. Anyways, the slides for talk are on Slideshare and you can download them from there. I've tried to design my slides so they're self-explanatory to some extent. I'm happy to answer questions if you have any.

During the webinar, I also shared an elearning module on Feedback, which you can find here. Hopefully, this could be useful for any team to develop a healthy practice of sharing feedback. Let me know what you think.

This apart, chat transcripts and a webinar recording will soon be available at the ThoughtWorks Studios community, if they aren't there already.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UMBC's "ISD now!" Webinar - 5 ways to Doing More with Less!

This evening I was on UMBC's "ISD now!" webinar titled "Doing more with Less". These are live blogged notes from the event.

UMBC’s ISD Now! Webinar Series is UMBC’s ISD Graduate Program’s newest online platform to share ideas and information on topics related to business, organizational productivity and workplace learning and performance.

The panelist on this was Jay Cross - the progenitor of the term Informal Learning. Jay Cross is a champion of informal learning, web 2.0, and systems thinking. His calling is to help business people improve their performance on the job and satisfaction in life.

As usual, Jay was on his favourite meme of Informal Learning and as always, it was fun listening to him.

We started off with a poll that asked us about the importance of informal learning and not surprisingly most people said it was important or very important.

Jay started off with a picture of the cloud. Well -- signs of what he's thinking, huh? Jay claims to learn a lot from his buddies at the Internet Time group and the web. Jay had a lot to say, but decided to do whatever he could do in the time he had at hand. F a while I was having a hard time keeping up -- 2230, and no visuals, what do you expect?

Convergence of Work and Learning

But then we realise that Citrix was playing up, so back to a more visual webinar. Well, Jay started on his meme of 'work is learning now' and reminded us that we need to be moving learning platforms and workscapes. Well, this can't be easy. There are risks and not everyone's going to make it.

10 Dirty Words

This carries on from Jay's great article on 8 dirty words for us L&D professionals. So Jay doesn't like the words social, elearning, informal, learner, learning, etc. He likes to call this 'working smarter'. Jay talked about the examples of:
  • how a twitter like information sharing saved a turbine company $3-$5m annually.
  • how CGI saved 4000 systems engineers two hours a week by using in-house subscriptions to research findings.
  • how intel's free wiki became the go-to source of information eliminating $20m a year in duplicate effort.
  • how P&G has outsourced 50% of it's R&D to its customers, cut staff and increased innovation
  • how 7000 workers at a major insurance company are sharing information in near real-time via Twitter
  • how at Best Buy 2000 employees have providede more than 20000 answers to customer queries using Twitter
  • how at CAT 3000 communities of practice have generated more than $75m in savings
Jay started to talk about Hans Monderman who radically changed street and road design. Read the Wikipedia article. So we need to be radical to be effective -- calling people learners isn't going to do that. They're workplace performers!

Moving from Formal to Informal Learning

Jay finds the phrase 'Formalising informal Learning' to be absolutely incorrect. What we need to do instead, is 'institionalise' it. I agree -- that's what I like to say.
So, informal learning is more pull than push. Formal bolsters knowledge, informal is wrapped up with doing things. Formal takes a while, informal is bite sized. Formal is away from work, informal in embedded in work. Formal design is by SMEs and instructional designers, informal design is by individuals. Formal takes months/weeks to develop, informal takes minutes. You go through formal learning in advance of the need, you pull informal learning only when you need it. Formal learning is top-down, informal learning is laissez-faire.

Each of these have their space. If you're a novice, you need formal learning of some kind. Yes, some informality helps, but the recognition that a specific phase is over, becomes really important. But as you gain experience, you're looking for little wins, and small experiences which solve specific problems are really useful.

Formal Learning is like being on a bus. You need to go through the entire journey. Informal Learning is like being on a bicycle. Stop where you want to and when you need to.

We're all experienced with formality, but our focus on the informal is minimal. Most of our spending is for formal learning, but most of our learning is informal! Don't know how mathematically correct that is, but sounds right.

Spectrum of Activities

The above picture talks about the various activities that move from Formal to Informal learning and illustrates the bridges amongst them. The key is that you need to go through the entire spectrum. Try wrapping the formal learning experience within informal experiences. Example: team meets in advance of a workshop and discuss their goals for the workshop; go to the formal workshop and then ends with an alumni-support network followed by brief recall sessons.

Businesses are part of a large ecosystem. What's the benefit of helping our customers and partners learn? Is it improved business results, better partnering, lesser friction? Hell, yeah!

Q to Jay by a CxO: How do you know informal learning works?
Jay's fabulous answer: Well how did you learn to standup, walk and learn? Did someone train you for hours before you spoke your first word?

OTOH, do you believe everything you learnt at a religious school? Do smokers quit only because they know that smoking is bad for them?

Skipping to the end - Cost/ Benefit of Informality.

Jay skipped most other stuff and moved right to the end - bummer!

Tips to make your informal learning project succeed:
  1. Your sponsor is god - well they're the folks backing you aren't they?
  2. Coordinate throughout.
  3. Agree measures up front.
  4. Only valid metrics are business metrics. If the business don't care, you shouldn't measure!
  5. If numbers are squishy, interview sample and extrapolate. Don't present unconvincing data -- find what you can.
You must manage what you can't measure.

Some more tips:
  • Think of an elevator pitch
  • Know the ROI - you may not know the actual 'returns' but being able to articulate true value of the investment is quite useful in MY opinion
  • Talk about helping people work smarter
  • Ask for support from the executives
Most of Jay's talk is in a free white paper at his website. It's an awesome read, so please download it - great stuff. Jay's own website has a lot of free materials on the topic, so please look through that too! All in all, interesting, engaging webinar!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The need for Metadata on Enterprise Knowledge Systems

OK, I admit that I use Google search a lot. I won't deny the importance of search in my life. These days, search is a convenient entry point into our complex intranets. However, I don't believe that layering search over document management systems is the answer to today's knowledge problem.

Here's why I think so:
  • Knowledge is linked. While search can identify physical connections between information, it cannot show qualitative relationships.
  • Knowledge is contextual. Search cannot identify the contextual significance of information.
  • Knowledge is valuable. Search by itself can't show value -- it needs 'intelligence' to decide value.
This is where I see the importance of metadata on knowledge systems. Metadata, coupled with search makes enterprise knowledge systems as useful as the web for finding the right information.

BTW, what is metadata?
"Metadata is a concept that applies mainly to electronically archived data and is used to describe the
  • definition;
  • structure;
  • administration
of data files..." - Wikipedia
In today's post I want to outline the power of metadata for your enterprise knowledge platform. Hopefully, you can use this as a guide to choose your knowledge platform if you're at that stage of your journey.

The Power to Relate Information

The ability to show relationships between information, is key for knowledge platforms. A lot of systems do this through tags. On, you'll notice that there's a 'label list' on the website that relates articles about similar topics. If you've used social bookmarking, you'll notice that we categorise information under tags. On enterprise systems, collective tagging helps relationships and structure emerge. It then becomes easy for people to look at a certain tag, to reveal all information possibly connected to it. For example, I've tagged my favourite enterprise 2.0 case studies here. This holds great potential for induction, onboarding and capability building.

The Power to Show Value and Appropriateness

When everyone has the power to create useful information, everyone also has the power to create havoc through inappropriate contributions and misinformation. This is a risk that most execs are concerned about. Enterprise 2.0 systems mitigate this through 'more eyeballs looking'. We want users to have the power to say how valuable or suitable a contribution is. You must have seen several ways of doing this on the web.
  • Favourites - if a lot of people 'favourite' an article, then it's perhaps valuable.
  • Thumbs up or down - similar to favourites, except the thumb down can indicate if an article is unsuitable.
  • Flagging - allows you to flag items as inappropriate.
  • Rating scales - a quantitative way to suggest the value of specific content.

The Power to Contextualise Information

"Information in context, trumps information out of context." - Karl Kapp
Dr. Kapp's quote is a clear indication of why enterprise 2.0 systems are becoming the rage today. The ability to find useful, bite-sized information just when you need it is indeed the killer advantage. The ability to further contextualise this information makes it more relevant to the user's situation. On the web, we see this context emerge through comments. Take a look at blogs and associated comments for example. Free-form comments serve a number of purposes:
  • They allow users to show their reactions to the content.
  • They allow users to give feedback about the content. e.g. "I used this technique at work and ..." or "Here's another perspective..." or "I want to add that..."
  • They allow other users to use the content effectively. User commentary gives different perspectives and much needed context for the information in question.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of metadata on enterprise knowledge systems. As you can see, the right kind of metadata can make your knowledge infrastructure come alive! I strongly believe that a knowledge platform based only on search is similar to putting lipstick on a pig! To make your knowledge come alive, you need users to contribute through low friction means. Comments, ratings, tagging create low barrier methods to make sure this happens. So do think about these elements when choosing your knowledge platform. Dinesh Tantri knows a lot more about these things than me, so do follow his blog here. Hope you enjoyed this post, please let me know what you think -- your comments are always valuable!

ELN/ALT Webinar - A Fresh Look at Instructional Design

These are live-blogged notes from a very interesting webinar with Cathy Moore and Patrick Dunn, where they were talking about new approaches to Instructional Design. It was a pretty cool session where Cathy and Patrick talked about how old approaches towards design cease to be meaningful and how instructional designers need to make an effort to create experiences over architecting information.

Cathy's talk

For more than 25 years, Cathy's used technology to help people learn. These days, she helps people strengthen their instructional design skills, and designs and writes elearning for businesses.

We as instructional designers have jobs because organisations have problems. They have useful information and we have to get it into peoples heads. We decide to make this information interesting, so we chunk it or add interest by adding narrators. Sometimes we play games to make it fun. We tell stories with a character who need help.

We've got into the business of putting lipstick on a pig through these approaches. Information isn't bad -- getting information into people's heads doesn't change behaviour. Knowing that smoking is bad for you doesn't make you stop smoking?

So we need to start over.

Cathy is a great proponent of instructional design using action mapping. It's a simple process:
  1. Start with a measurable goal.
  2. State job behaviours to help people reach the goal. These are real world behaviours. A useful question to ask, is "Why aren't people doing it?" Is it really a lack of skill?
  3. Brainstorm realistic practice activities for each job behaviour.
  4. We then identify the bare minimum information people will need to complete these activities.
The information is on the fringes -- it's not in the center. We need to limit the amount of information in our courses and place it in the spots where people will find it in their real jobs and teach people to find and use this information.

Our job is not to design information -- it is to design an experience.

As we do this, we start to solve performance problems and stop converting information into interactive presentations.

Patrick's Talk

Patrick Dunn has been designing, producing and thinking about various forms of learning technology for more than twenty years. 
According to Patrick, instructional systems design is perhaps an outdated, heavy process. On a pragmatic basis, what really happens in instructional design is the ADDIE process - analyse, design, develop, implement and evaluate. 

In this world of gaming, social media, twitter, etc, is our old approach to instructional design still appropriate? Earlier, our options were few. Constraints were few and clear. Learning challenges were structured, well understood. As against that today, we have many options, many and unclear constraints and very chaotic learning challenges.

Patrick is looking a cheap, quick and effective design that combines:
  • Rapidisation
  • Gaming
  • Social Learning
The question is -- does the old approach still make sense? Is it still fresh? For the current business climate it's neither fresh nor does it really make sense for the high impact solutions we're looking for.

So here are the ways to move to fresh approach.

Think experience, not content

  • Think about experiences in the real world that are changing people.
  • Get emotional!
  • What's the tone?
Nobody learns from content, people learn from experience. You cannot know something until you do something with that knowledge. Research shows that using information supports long-term recall more than studying information. As I always say, it's not enough to just look at a lake and read about swimming -- you have to dive into the lake and actually swim!

Design bottom-up and top-down

We don't design from business objectives to performance objectives to strategies, etc. We should have Lean design, where we start with learning tactics and trust our hunches. If our strategy doesn't work, we should be flexible to change. Everything should be flexible to change.

Use multi-role teams

Subway subs are great because they get created by people in sharply defined roles. If people switch roles, then the subs can be awful. We don't want this in our teams. We need few people overlapping in roles and generalising deeply. Writers should be able to build, builders should be able to do graphic design, etc.

Use users

  • We need more contact with learners.
  • We need the right kind of contact with learners
That's because people are now more into creating digital media than before. They can help us in a big way.

Prototype and Iterate

A working prototype gets more feedback than scripts, etc. A prototype forms a placeholder for discussion, so it's really important to get it wrong the first time and iterate from there. It's continuous improvement in design.


Designers take themselves a bit too seriously. We need to play, laugh, sing, dance a little more and that'll allow us to experiment and do things in a truer designer like fashion.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 - do the tools really matter?

A few days back I was witness to a debate where we were discussing if the choice of tools really mattered when selecting a knowledge platform. A group of people felt that an organisation should make a far sighted decision about their knowledge platform and select one that offers features to scale, rate and manage information better. The other group believed that the tools didn't matter. As long as an organisation could take a popular tool and start getting more people to use it, the features didn't matter. After all, isn't post-modern knowledge sharing all about the culture of collaboration?

I find both arguments very compelling. Being as dim-witted as I am, here are my conclusions:
  1. The tools don't matter
  2. The tools do matter
Confused? You must think I'm out of my mind! Let me explain what I mean.

The tools DON'T matter if you don't have the Right Environment

Last year, I'd written a post that talked about how little things can help your enterprise 2.0 efforts succeed. Let me be very clear about my opinions here. The most sophisticated tools will not help knowledge sharing thrive, if you don't have the following socio-cultural elements nailed down.

An Engaged Community

People are naturally helpful -- they want to contribute. Unfortunately, most corporate intranets are so restrictive that they discourage the most enthusiastic contributors. When they're permissive, they just have all the wrong workflows. Add to that the participation inequality principle by Jakob Nielsen and you have a fairly huge challenge on hand. Andrew McAfee talks about the importance of making your knowledge ecosystem freeform, frictionless and emergent. That's a first step. To deal with participation inequality, communities need to find creative ways such as the ones described here.

Committed Community Management

The concept of self-organisation is pretty cool, but in my experience of working with a strongly self-organising company, I can say a couple of things:
  • To self-organise, the first thing people need is a shared objective. It's naive to imagine that people will self-organise without clear goals.
  • Once there's a clear objective, every self-organising team needs a facilitator. In the case of communities, this person is the community lead or the community manager.
As it turns out, many community managers are volunteers running a volunteer army. While that's how many organisations have to operate, it's fair to say that community managers can't be 'just' volunteers. The organisation needs to cut them some slack from their day to day responsibilities and the these leaders need to channel that time back into making their groups more successful. The above presentation from mindjumpers provides an excellent summary of how a community manager should operate.

Content Stewardship

Knowledge is everywhere. Its on email, it's on IM, it's on discussion forums, conferences, unconferences, team wikis; it's in people's heads! It's in every possible place you can imagine. Most of this knowledge never finds it's way into an organisational knowledge base. Without establishing the right workflows to ensure that knowledge can move from these day to day channels to a universal platform, we run the risk of losing valuable information. As a consequence, we lose the opportunity to create the critical mass of information that attracts contributors. This is where traditional knowledge managers can still play a huge role and channel emerging knowledge from a silo to the rest of the organisation.

The Right Incentives

"People usually have no more than 10 minutes each day to contribute content 'for the benefit of others'. When they have a choice between the broad, appreciative, internet and the puny, thankless intranet, the decision is quite simple."
The last socio-cultural factor which I think we often overlook, is the question of incentives. Whether it's a soft toy, overall recognition or a rating on their performance reviews, people should have a clear idea of what's in it for them if they contribute. In the initial stages of an enterprise 2.0 rollout, this is crucial. I say this because there's very little reason why someone should spend time out of their regular work hours trying to contribute to a knowledge platform if they don't see a strong incentive. I'm not saying that there has to be a defined incentive here. The incentive could just be that it's 'the cool thing' or 'the fun thing' to do. In which case you need to invest heavily in the design of your knowledge system.

In the Right Environment, you DO need Capable Tools

If you manage to take care of everything that I mentioned in my rather long discourse until now, then you will need a set of tools that plays well with your ecosystem. Simply layering 'search' over an archaic document management system will not do the trick. Knowledge sharing in this age is much more than just organising documents. You need a system that:
  • Can scale to hundreds of pages without adminstrative oversight.
  • Is easy to contribute to and integrates with the users' preferred channels (email?).
  • Accepts contributions in various formats and isn't tied to one method of content creation.
  • Has support for metadata.
In a subsequent post, I want to touch upon the importance of metadata in a world of search, but let's just say for now, that metadata has four distinct uses:
    1. illustrate relationships between discrete pieces of information;
    2. illustrate the value of some information;
    3. illustrate appropriateness (self-policing);
    4. and to gather opinions about the information itself
The above tag cloud is a representation of how I look at tool capability when it comes to selecting a knowledge platform. More on this in future blogposts.
So what do you think? Do the tools truly matter? Or do they not? I'm I taking the right view of this debate? I'd love to hear from you - so please comment liberally and let me know what you think. If you liked my post today, you may also like my other posts on the topic of enterprise 2.0. I'm quite passionate about organisational knowledge sharing, so feel free to reach out to me directly if there's a topic you'd like me to contribute to!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Integrate the Web with your next Elearning Course

I've always had one pet peeve -- when designing onlines courses, we instructional designers often try to do everything within a Flash-based elearning course. Somehow I feel we need to think beyond the Flash shell and rather design learning 'experiences' than just courses. When we start appreciate the concept of learning experiences, it automatically helps us think beyond the context of the elearning shell. I do understand however, the need to minimise context switches for the learner. This is where it helps to integrate media from the web into the context of our courses. There are several benefits to this approach:
  1. You can add high quality interactivity into your courses with minimal effort
  2. You can reuse existing content
  3. You can update content easily
There are perhaps several other benefits too, but I'll leave it to you to do that research (especially if this blogpost interests you). Let's take a look at a few examples of web content in elearning. I've used Articulate Studio 09 for the purpose of these demos.

Example 1 - Set up your Scenario

Click here to launch the demo

A few days back, I discovered this wonderful tool called xtranormal. All you need to do, is add a few lines of text and lo presto! Your video's ready! Given what Rich Mayer and Ruth Clark have discovered about the power of videos in scenario based learning, this can be an excellent way to create high quality scenarios, rapidly. Here's a simple elearning scenario that I created using xtranormal.

Example 2 - Show an Interactive Timeline

When I did this demo, a friend of mine said, "The Articulate timeline is nice, but timelines that you can drag around are nicer."  While I don't necessarily agree with that assessment, I do realise that timelines that you can navigate using scrollers are quite a common interaction. It could take you quite a bit of time and money to try and build something like that from scratch, using Flash. On the other hand if you could take xTimeline or Dipity and use that to create an embeddable timeline, you'll perhaps be done really quickly. And to add to that, the output is quite nice as well. While my output needs a lot of cleaning up, here's a quick demo I created this morning.

Example 3 - Display content differently

Often, we look for different ways of presenting our content and the interactions within the rapid elearning tool may just not be enough. What do we do in such cases? I find the idea of getting web content from sources such as Vuvox or Prezi, quite interesting. Here's a quick demo where I've embedded a prezi into Articulate. Cool, huh?

Example 4 - Collect Feedback

Everyone wants feedback for their courses (I hope). However most rapid elearning survey tools are not designed for great data management. OTOH, other tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Docs are better suited for this purpose. So why not bring these tools into your course and have learners submit feedback directly into the more capable application? Here's a demo I've put up with Wallwisher and Google Docs.
Of course, with all this, there's the challenge of visually integrating the web object with your course look and feel. That said, it is pretty cool that most of this web 2.0 media is embeddable and sharable. That gives you a whole lot of power and flexibility when designing your instructional experience. I think this is very cool and represents a huge advantage especially in the rapid elearning space. If you liked this post, you may like other people's articles on the same topic. As usual, I'd love to know what you think, so please comment liberally.

The source files for today's demos are here. Well, that's it for now folks -- enjoy!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

6 Mistakes you should never make as a Presenter

In today's blogpost I want to touch upon one of my other favourite topics - presentations. There's no doubt that an effective presentation is a killer tool for business success. The ability to express your idea effectively lends a tough to beat edge to your technical skills. If presentation skills are so important, then you'd want to think every professional worth their salt should be able to create and deliver an effective presentation. That isn't the case, is it? So here I am, making another set of points -- about six things you should NEVER do, if you want to be an effective presenter. Read on to know more.

Don't just start slamming slides together

I find it really strange how the first thing prospective presenters do, is to get into Powerpoint and start slamming slides together. Having followed Garrey Reynolds for long and having been a fan of Steve Jobs' style of presenting -- I've come to agree that the computer should be a bicycle for your mind. This means that a computer should accelerate your abilities and actually give wings to your own thinking. Having said this, when you start slamming slides together, where's the thinking? You may argue that you're thinking while putting together your slides, but is that really the case? I'll argue that when you start your presentation design at the computer, you're context switching between slide layouts, searching for images, dealing with hang ups AND thinking through your story. We know that context switching isn't the best thing for any kind of productivity. So if you really care about creating an effective presentation, then take some time away from the computer to think through your story. Try answering a few questions for yourself:
  • What state of pain are you addressing?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What's the solution?
  • How can you make the solution simple?
If you can do that and then draft out on paper, a play by play plan of your presentation, then you will see a few benefits:
  1. Because you know how you wish to present , you select the best tool for the purpose -- Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi or the good old whiteboard.
  2. You know exactly what you want to show on screen - so putting together your presentation is a fast paced, almost mechanical job.
  3. Lastly, if things go wrong and you don't have a projector at the venue or your computer crashes or there's another catastrophe, you're still well prepared. You can confidently make your presentation, because you have a strong grip on your story!

Don't be a compulsive bullet-pointer

In my recent post about slideuments, I argued that if your slides can convey their message without your presence, then you might as well send out an email and save everyone the time. The good old practice of bullet pointed presentations has to go away. Remember your audience can read faster than you, so if you have to read from your slides, then your presence is already redundant. Take a look at Steve Jobs' presentation style and look out for when he uses bullet points - never! Does he read from his slides? Never! Does he look back at his slides for prompts? Never! That says a lot for the amount of work that one of the most inspiring speakers of our generation puts in.

But it's not just Steve Jobs who you need to look at. TED presenters don't do bullet points! Now you may argue that your business presentation isn't the same as Steve Jobs' product launch or an inspiring TED talk. Agreed! Here's what I'll say though, and I'll say it with a two bullet points!
  • If you want to make your 'business' presentation effective, you need to make it engaging.
  • A bullet pointed presentation where you read from the slide, is not engaging.
So if there's a lot of text that you believe your audience should absolutely see, then put it into a well crafted document. Give it away as a handout. In my previous post on this topic, I've outlined a few strategies to avoid slideumentation - they could be helpful. And if you really, really are dying to use bullet points - then as Simon Jones says, use them at the end of your presentation to summarise your points!

Don't do live demos

I think I've heard Martin Fowler say the same thing at some point; I believe live demos are a recipe for presentation disaster. Forcing yourself to do a live demo is like saying, "Look at how much of a man I am! I'm willing to put my presentation to risk with my bravery!". One of the things you want to do in a presentation, is be in absolute control. I like to minimize the number of things that are out of my control in a presentation situation. Patchy network connections, a bad day with the demo software, and 'errs and ummhs' at the time of presenting are all things beyond my control.

What I prefer instead of a 'manly' live demo are screencasts embedded into my presentation. Powerpoint, Keynote and Prezi support embedded video quite well so why not make use of this capability? You demo looks assured and polished and there's very little chance of failure. And then once you're done with your presentation, you can show live stuff in a more intimate and less intimidating setting. Don't have a screencasting tool on your computer? Mute your mic and use a simple tool like Screenr.

Don't darken the room

I can't tell you how many times I've seen presenters do this. They set up the room, they get the projector to work and the moment the audience is in, they switch off the lights as if it's a movie theatre! What happens is, people can't see the speaker -- they just look at the screen. In his excellent article here, Cliff Atkinson says:

"It turns out that when you watch people speak, the visual cues help you to predict and understand the auditory cues that follow soon after. These visual cues are actually not limited to the lips, but include the entire human face."

Remember that even if you don't switch the lights off, people should be able to see your presentation clearly. That's because most modern projectors can handle ambient lighting and have sufficient contrast to be able to deal with a well lit room. By keeping the lights on, you keep people awake and can easily maintain a connection with them.

Don't use age-old clipart

If bullet points are bad, clipart is worse. A decade old, cheesy, overused clipart makes you look as if you were too lazy to click a photograph or search for a 'meaningful' image from the internet. Don't get me wrong - I'm sure screenbeans were a rage in the 90's! Design trends change fast and using screenbeans today is like wearing 70's style bell-bottoms to work. It's perhaps a bit unfair to generalise all clipart as bad. Some of the more recent illustrations in Microsoft's clipart collection are great for creating a consistent look in your presentations. I must say however, that I prefer to snag my own photos and I often use stock photography for my presentations. Yes, stock photography can be expensive, but there are quite a few places where you can find high-quality, free images. Of course there are many ways to use images poorly in presentations, and you need to avoid those! And visual design plays a huge part in making your message effective.

Don't drone

Last but not the least, you owe it to your audience to keep things simple. Last year at one of our conference briefings, Martin Fowler handed out an invaluable tip -- structure your presentation around no more than three key points. That's presentation zen for me! Most presenters drone as if it's their last opportunity to speak about their topic. What you want to do instead, is create enough interest for people to feel excited about your topic. In his post about the Japanese principle of 'hara hachi bu', Garr Reynolds says,

"Performers, for example, know that the trick is to leave the stage while the audience still loves you and don’t want you to go, not after they have had enough and are 'full' of you."

So for this last section here are my tips:
  • If you're doing a sales presentation, stick to your USP and avoid forgettable details. As Guy Kawasaki says, follow the 10-20-30 rule and finish your presentation in (less than) 20 minutes.
  • If you're speaking at a conference, leave at least 25% of your speaking time for (detail-seeking) questions and spend the remaining time to generate interest.
  • If you are teaching people then present the strawman first and tease out details through facilitated discussion and exercises.
  • Keep things simple - provide additional details in a handout or a follow up email.
Remember, if your presentation is interesting enough then your audience will hunt you down for details. But if you bore them with forgettable facts, they won't wait to rush out of the room when they have the opportunity!
What do you think of today's post? I must say I am no presentations expert and I've learnt all these lessons the hard way. What I do have, are sufficient experiences of failure to say what doesn't work - and of course that's the focus of this article. I'd love to know your thoughts about this topic, so please do let me know either by emailing me or adding to the comments section. And BTW, if you're keen on exploring and analysing Steve Jobs' style, then take a look at the links I'm categorising here. Until next time, cheerio and present well!
The characters in this blogpost are from Byan Jones' elearningArt.
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