2016 Blog Review: 10 Years and Counting

Wow, I’ve been blogging for 10 years now! It’s time to step back and review what I’ve accomplished and what I’m planning for next year.

By the Numbers

I am less obsessed with my statistics than I was in the early years, but the numbers seem like a good place to start.

Overall statisticsNumber 10 candle

  • Total number of posts (including this one): 1008
  • Total all-time views: over 1.2 million
  • Total visitors since 2012: around 350,000 (WordPress has only been tracking visitor count for 4 years)
  • Total comments: 2847

My total views are down a bit over 2015 and 2014, although I still average about 500 views per day and 15,000 views per month. Although I had 20K fewer views this year than my high point of 2014, I received more comments in 2016 (202) than I did in 2014 (152).  I’ve seen an increase in sharing over LinkedIn this year as that platform has become more focused on content.

Subscribers

I estimate I have around 5000 subscribers now. I have around 3400 blog subscribers plus 2100 Twitter followers. While WordPress adds Twitter subscribers to my follower count, I’m sure there’s overlap between the two groups. It’s hard to get an exact number of subscribers with RSS. Feedly shows I have 1000 subscribers, but I know that number is rounded. I also have around 200 followers on LinkedIn, plus 500+ connections. About half of my subscribers read my posts via email. 2016 Subscriber Pie Chart

Most Popular Posts

I published 40 posts this year. As in 2015, I set a schedule and published a new post about every 2 weeks, plus ID links posts about once a month. I have been focusing on writing more about storytelling and scenarios, but some of my most viewed posts are on more general instructional design topics. The broader topics like my blog list and portfolio ideas were shared by many people, while scenario-based learning is more specialized.

  1. 35+ ID & eLearning Blogs
  2. 30+ Ideas for eLearning Portfolio Samples
  3. A Range of Options for Scenarios and Storytelling
  4. Broad and Deep Instructional Design Skills
  5. Scenario-Based Learning: Why & How

As in past years, several of my older posts on instructional design careers continue to be very popular. In fact, these 5 posts were the most popular posts last year as well.

  1. What does an instructional designer do?
  2. Instructional Design Hourly Rates and Salary
  3. Time Estimates for E-Learning Development
  4. Instructional Design Skills
  5. Getting Into Instructional Design

What’s Next in 2017?

I’m looking for ways to reuse and expand my existing content to do more and reach wider audiences.

More Scenario-Based Learning and a Possible Book

I keep a running document with blog post ideas, including another 20 ideas for posts related to scenario-based learning. That has become the focus for my consulting, so that’s also the focus for my writing. Eventually, I’d like to gather all these posts for scenario-based learning into a book and self-publish it. I don’t think that book will happen in 2017, but every blog post I write on this topic gets me a little closer.

Voice Over Scripts Presentation and Course

In March, I’m presenting at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Conference. I’m reworking material from my blog post series on voice over script pitfalls into a presentation with new sample script sections. I’m also planning to turn some of this content into a course I can sell for an additional income stream.

Consulting

When I started this blog 10 years ago, I had no real intention of leaving my job and becoming a consultant. However, it’s one of the primary ways new prospective clients find me. This blog has allowed me to become independent. One common piece of advice to consultants looking to grow their businesses is to become recognized as an expert in a specific niche, and this blog is how I earned that recognition. I’ve never really had to hunt for clients; they have always found me. That lets me spend more of my time creating and less time marketing.

Thank You

For those of you who have been with me since the beginning and those who just discovered my blog, thank you! Writing a blog would be much less rewarding without all the great readers who leave comments and send emails with great questions and thoughtful responses.

3 Tricks for Working with SMEs on Branching Scenarios

If you’ve ever worked with a SME on scenario-based learning, you know it can sometimes be challenging. SMEs who are accustomed to working on traditional elearning may be uncomfortable or unsure how to help you write scenarios. I have used these 3 tricks to help SMEs get “unstuck” while working together.

Working with SMEs on Branching Scenarios

Ask for Their Stories

SMEs almost always have a collection of good stories about their topic. The trick is figuring out how to get those stories out of their heads and into a format you can use in a course.

Try these questions to gather for stories and consequences:

  • Can you give me an example of how someone used this technique successfully? What were they able to accomplish by doing it right?
  • What are the common mistakes people make? What happens when they make that error?

You may have to keep probing for more details with follow up questions like, “Tell me more about…” or “What happened next?”

The questions above give both positive and negative examples, plus the consequences for actions. The success story can become the outline for the correct path in your branching scenario. The mistakes help you identify the decision points in your scenario and the consequences following those choices.

Start Writing Even If It’s Wrong

Sometimes it’s hard to get anything from a SME. We’ve all worked with SMEs who were too busy to get on the phone or sit down for a meeting, or who replied to all of our questions with one- or two-word answers. I worked with one SME whose thought processes are so linear that she literally couldn’t read a flow chart unless someone physically sat next to her and pointed at each box while explaining it.

For whatever reason, if you’re having trouble drawing information out from a SME, start writing something yourself. Do your research–review existing training materials, online articles, books, blogs, etc. Make your best guess and start writing a scenario as best you can. The trick is, it doesn’t matter if it’s wrong. At this stage, you’re just trying to get something other than a blank page. Ask the SME to review it and point out all your errors. Even a recalcitrant SME will have a hard time not correcting your mistakes–and now you suddenly have more realistic mistakes or consequences.

Prototype Early

SMEs frequently have a hard time envisioning how a storyboard will translate into a final product. Creating a prototype early helps them see how everything will work and how learners will progress through the scenario.

No matter how hard you work on the storyboard, even with multiple rounds of revision and a final approval, expect at least some small changes once the scenario is built and functioning. Build a few iterations into your project plan. An early prototype helps catch major problems before you build the entire scenario. If your SME is stuck, a prototype of part of the scenario might help them see how to fill in the gaps for the rest of the scenario.

Your Tricks?

Do you have a great trick for working with SMEs on branching scenarios? Tell me about it in the comments!

Read More

Read all my posts about Storytelling and Scenario-Based Learning.

ID and E-Learning Links (12/4/2016)

  • Evidence on how to combat racism and bias (and how not to do it)

    tags:psychology equity diversity

    • “Telling people they’re racist, sexist, and xenophobic is going to get you exactly nowhere,” said Alana Conner, executive director of Stanford University’s Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions Center. “It’s such a threatening message. One of the things we know from social psychology is when people feel threatened, they can’t change, they can’t listen.”
    • In The Science of Equality, Godsil and her co-authors proposed several tactics that seem, based on the research, promising: presenting people with examples that break stereotypes, asking them to think about people of color as individuals rather than as a group, tasking them with taking on first-person perspectives of people of color, and increasing contact between people of different races. All of these interventions appear to reduce subconscious racial biases, while interracial contact appears most promising for reducing racial anxiety more broadly.
    • Godsil and her team also put forward tactics that can help people limit actions based on racial biases, such as getting people to slow down in their decision-making and teaching them about how subconscious processes can influence their impulses — even on issues unrelated to race — in order to push them to question their own objectivity. The research suggests these ideas have potential, but they generally seem to require that people are genuinely willing to reduce their biased behavior and actions.
  • Have you heard the myth that nonverbal communication is 80% or 93% of all communication? A number of different statistics are cited, hardly ever with a reference. This article breaks down the research that has been incorrectly generalized and misinterpreted.

    tags:communication psychology myth

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

Tools That Make Consulting Easier (And a Few More I Need)

Tools for ConsultingI have now been working as an independent consultant for over 5 years. These are the tools I use to run my business and work with clients. I’m a one-person business, so I need tools that let me manage the business side of things efficiently. This list is constantly evolving, and I have a list of solutions I need as well.

Collaboration and Communication

  • Zoom: Zoom is my preferred platform for video conferencing. I have used all the other major tools (WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.), but Zoom works with the fewest technical challenges. It also includes the option for calling in on a phone rather than just VOIP, so you can get better quality audio. For $150/year, I can host unlimited high quality group video calls with up to 50 people.
  • Google Voice: I use Google Voice for my business phone number. This is a free service I can forward to my mobile and landline phones. I schedule my Google Voice number to go directly to voicemail outside of business hours .
  • Dropbox and Google Drive: I use both Dropbox and Google Drive to share files with clients, depending on the clients’ preference.

Stock Images

  • Graphic Stock: Graphic Stock is the source for many images for my blog posts and presentations. I use it sometimes for courses, depending on the content. It’s $99/year for unlimited downloads. I love it for backgrounds and basic images where I don’t have terribly specific needs.
  • Can Stock Photo: When I need more specific images for courses (e.g., a non-white male teacher talking to a female elementary student), I mostly use Can Stock Photo. Credits are fairly reasonably priced, and subscriptions are also an option.

Other Tools

  • Google Sheets: I use Google Spreadsheets to track my time, collect review feedback, and do light project management.
  • Remember The Milk: I manage my daily to-do list with Remember The Milk.
  • WordPress: This blog is on a free WordPress.com site; my business website and portfolio were built with  WordPress and hosted by Dreamhost.
  • Amazon: I use Amazon Affiliate links for my book reviews. I don’t make much income this way, but $250 a year is better than nothing.
  • HelloSign: I used to digitally sign contracts with Adobe Acrobat Pro (and sometimes still do if a client sends it), but mostly I use HelloSign for digital signatures. If you don’t sign documents often, you can do 3 signatures per month for free.

What I Need

I have a few needs for software currently. If you have found a great solution for these, let me know in the comments.

  • Basic Accounting: I have been using QuickBooks Self-Employed for tracking expenses. I like how it automatically syncs with my accounts and makes it easy to categorize transactions. Unfortunately, the program repeatedly and spontaneously insists on adding my personal accounts as well. They also recently broke their mobile app so I can no longer categorize transactions on my phone. I’ve had enough glitches in the last few months that I don’t quite trust it anymore.
    Wave is the first one on my list to evaluate because it’s free. If I can do what I need with that, I don’t need to pay for something else. Several people have recommended Freshbooks, but it’s more expensive and I don’t think I’d use many of the features. Xero and FreeAgent have also been recommended. If you have experience with any of these, I’d love to hear about it.
  • Project Management: I currently manage projects in Google Sheets. It’s fast and simple to set up, and it shares perfectly with clients. This works OK for basic projects and small teams. It’s hard to visualize what’s happening though, and I’m starting to hit the limits of what I can really do. I’m starting to investigate other options now. I used Easy Projects with a past client, and that might work. I’ve heard positive reviews for MavenLink. There are some other free and low-cost options as well.

Your Tools?

What are your must-have tools? Any suggestions for accounting or project management?

As mentioned above, I use affiliate links on my blog. Several of the links above are affiliate or referral links. If you make a purchase after clicking these links, I get a small payment. Some of these links (including the Graphic Stock  and Dreamhost links) also give you a discount.

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A Range of Options for Scenarios and Storytelling

When someone mentions scenario-based learning, do you automatically think of complex branching scenarios? While that’s one way to implement scenarios (and a very effective one!), I don’t think it’s the only option. A range of options are available, from passive to active. Even if you can’t convince your organization to invest in full-blown branching, you can find less intensive alternatives to incorporate scenarios and storytelling. Some of these options can work for both elearning and instructor-led training. In fact, you may already be using some of these methods.

Scenario-Based Learning Options from passive to active

Provided Examples

When I take instructor-led courses, often the most valuable part of the training is the stories the trainer tells. The stories are often about how a real person applied this training in their jobs or about how a failure to apply principles caused problems. Stories with examples make the abstract concrete. It’s one thing to talk about customizing footers in Word; it’s another to tell the story of a past student who manually typed in page numbers for a 400+ page document because she didn’t know how to make it work. (That is a real example from my software training days. In her defense, it wasn’t straightforward numbering. Do you know how to add chapter numbers and how to exclude the first page from the count?)

Examples are the most passive method of using scenarios and storytelling, but they still work. They can be used both in classroom training and elearning. Examples can make concepts relevant, show why a topic is important, or show how others have solved problems.

Mini-Scenarios

Mini-scenarios, or one-question scenario assessments, are slightly more active than just listening to an example. Set up a short scenario and ask learners a multiple choice question. I frequently use this technique with clients who are just dipping their toes in scenario-based learning but aren’t ready to jump into full-blown branching or simulations. You can use this technique for practice or assessment, even in a linear elearning course. In ILT, use a scenario to pose a question to the class. Ask which choice they would make with a show of hands.

Here’s an example:

Andrew is a sales manager who has been struggling to motivate his team. He sent his team to a workshop where they learned about sharing stories about previous happy customers to improve sales. A few salespeople really like using this technique, but he wants everyone to start using it more. In the long term, he wants to change their attitudes about the technique.

What should Andrew do to encourage his team?

  1. Threaten punishment for anyone not using storytelling
  2. Offer a small reward for using storytelling
  3. Offer a large reward for using storytelling

Two Narrators with Decisions

Rather than using a single narrator for elearning voice over, you can use two narrators having a conversation to deliver content. Set up a story where one character has a problem to solve, and a more experienced character mentors and trains the first character how to improve. This is still mostly passive delivery, but it’s more engaging than traditional elearning. Adding a few questions where learners help the narrator solve a problem makes it more active and lets learners practice in a realistic context.

Pamela and Michael discussing coaching

Case Study with Practice

If a case study is just read, it’s a passive example. If you use the case study as a prompt for practice, it’s more active. Case studies are used in both ILT and elearning. They can be used to start discussions (either in person or online) or for group work.

Branching Scenarios

Branching scenarios are one of the most active methods of using scenarios for learning, short of simulations and serious games. Branching lets learners make choices and see the consequences of their actions. It gives them a safe space to fail and learn from mistakes.

Role Play or Simulation

Role play exercises and simulations are some of the most active ways to use storytelling. Simulations and role plays are more immersive and open-ended. Learners must make multiple decisions, and feedback comes in the forms of consequences and may be delayed. Role play exercises require skilled facilitation to keep everything running smoothly and to debrief afterwards. Simulations require more intensive development and resources. Both of these tools can be very effective at practicing skills to improve job performance.

What Else?

What did I forget from my list? How are you using storytelling in your courses? Which of these methods do you find works best for your audience?

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