Category: Workplace Learning

What I Learned at LSCon18

Last month, I attended the Learning Solutions 2018 Conference in Orlando. Once again, it was a great experience. I had fun meeting people like Judy Katz, Tracy Parish, Cammy Bean, and Clark Quinn in person who I have known online for years, plus seeing people again from last year.

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to process and reflect, I want to summarize some of what I learned. I did a similar post last year, and it helped me reinforce and remember what I learned. This is my own “spaced repetition” to help me use these ideas. These comments won’t always be the most important thing each speaker said, but one thing I took away from the session and think I can apply in my own work.

Diane Elkins: Microlearning Morning Buzz

One of the things I appreciated from Diane’s discussion was the balanced approach. This wasn’t the “microlearning will solve all of our problems!” hyperbole I see from many sources. We talked about how microlearning is sometimes a solution, sometimes on its own, sometimes in combination with other forms of training.

Diane also shared a really great idea for training where you have to meet a certain minimum time to meet a legal or regulatory requirement. Instead of doing lots of content dump (which is sometimes padded to fill the required time), why not do just the minimum content plus a lot of practice and maybe reflection?

As a side note, Diane’s hand puppet demonstrations of pointless conversations with SMEs are hilarious.

Kai Kight: Composing Your World

As a musician and former music educator, it was really fun to hear a session start with violin and to watch the reactions of the audience.

One of the ideas from his keynote was to not get so wrapped up in the notes that you forget who you’re playing for. That applies to our work (and many fields); we have to always keep thinking about the audience and what they need.

Kevin Thorn: Comics for Learning

This was a session I attended specifically because it’s outside of what I normally do for work. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to apply this yet, but thinking about the various visual styles for comics gives me some new ideas.

Kevin shared a ton of research, examples, and resources. One that I need to dig into more is the Visual Language Lab.

Ann Rollins and Myra Roldan: Low-Cost, High-Impact AR Experiences

This was another session where I have no experience with the topic, but was curious to see some possibilities. My biggest takeaway is that several tools for simple AR are pretty affordable and easy enough to get started. Simple things like showing a video or a little information to explain features is very doable. We tested Zappar in the session to create a quick sample, but Layar also looks promising.

Julie Dirksen: Strategies for Supporting Complex Skill Development

I took 5 pages of notes from this session, so this could be several blog posts on its own.

How do you know if something is a skill or not? Is it reasonable to think that someone can be proficient without practice? If not, it’s a skill.

One idea I’m going to start using immediately is for self-paced elearning where I ask learners to type a longer answer. I have been using a model answer to compare as a way to help learners evaluate their own work, which is a good start. Julie talked about giving learners a checklist to guide their self-evaluation even more. I can implement that right now.

Tracy Parish: Free eLearning Design Tools

This was a discussion about free tools and how people use them, based largely on Tracy’s immense list of free tools.

Platon: Powerful Portraits

This was an engaging keynote because he has so many great stories about famous (and not famous) people.

One idea he shared was that if you can get people to see themselves in the story you put forward, maybe you can build bridges to connect people.

Cammy Bean: Architecting for Results

The big idea from this presentation was to think about broader systems for learning. Instead of content in a single event, it’s a journey over time. It’s a mix of what you do before the training, during the training, and after the training, but we often focus just on the middle portion.

The mix is going to be a little different for every program. This model is one way to think about the different pieces.

  1. Engage
  2. Diagnose
  3. Learn/Understand
  4. Apply
  5. Assess
  6. Reinforce

The simplified version is Prepare – Learn – Practice – Reflect.

Connie Malamed: Design Critique Party

The best thing I took away from this session was actually the protocol for requesting and giving critiques.

The protocol for the designer requesting critique:

  1. State your objective.
  2. Walk people through the experience.
  3. Say what you’d like to get feedback on
  4. Become an impartial observer

The protocol for giving critique:

If your objective is ____________, then _________ [critique].

Joe Fournier: Novel Writing Tricks

One idea from this session was about how the idea of a theme might apply to learning. The theme ties to the objective. It’s the emotional or value shift in a story. In learning, the theme might be how reporting employee theft is better for everyone.

Panel: Evolution of Instructional Design

This panel included Connie Malamed, Diane Elkins, Kevin Thorn, and Clark Quinn.

Diane Elkins pointed out that in classroom training, we often ask questions that only a few people will answer, and we don’t track them. If it’s OK to do that in classroom training, why not do it in elearning too? It’s OK to ask learners to type longer answers even though some of them will skip it. Let’s not punish the people who are willing to do the work and learn more just because we can’t track it or not everyone will do it.

David Kelly moderated the panel, and he pointed out how our field has a lot of “shiny object syndrome.” We’re often looking for “one tool to rule them all” that will fix every problem in every situation. That just doesn’t exist.

David Kelly: Shifting from Microlearning to Micromoments

There is no definition of microlearning. There are lots of opinions, some of which are labeled as definitions.

Maybe we should be thinking about micro as in microscope: something that narrows the scope of focus to a tiny part of the whole.

Bethany Vogel & Cara Halter: cMOOCs can be Effective

They used Intrepid Learning as the platform, which may be worth exploring more.

In their model, a MOOC is a time-bound online program that contains highly contextualized spaced, micro, and social learning. “Massive” and “Open” aren’t really part of their model, so I admit I’m not sure why they’re calling it a MOOC (other than that’s what their clients are asking for). I think you could do this same model with moderated social, spaced learning and call it “blended” or a “journey.” The experience was good, even if I might quibble with the label.

Photos

You can get a feel for the conference here.

 

Using Time as Scenario Feedback

Nicole is creating a branching scenario practicing communication techniques for nutrition counselors to better understand their clients’ goals. She has written a simulated conversation between a counselor and a client. Her SME, Brian, provided this feedback after reviewing the prototype.

The conversation overall does a good job giving plausible choices for questions and showing realistic responses from the client. I want this to be really exciting for learners, like a game. Let’s add a timer for each decision. That way, they’ll be motivated to answer quickly and keep pushing through the scenario.

What do you think? How should Nicole respond to Brian?

A. That’s a great idea! I think that will enhance the learner experience.

B. I’m not sure. Let me do some research.

C. Timing might not be the best form of feedback for this particular course.

Remember your answer; we’ll come back to this question at the end of the post.

Using Time as Scenario Feedback

When Time is Effective

Time can be a very effective consequence in some learning situations. Check out the Lifesaver training on what to do in emergency situations for an example with effective use of time as feedback.

In the first scenario with Jake, you help someone in cardiac arrest. Each question has a 5 second timer, and you are scored for both accuracy and speed.

6/6 Right First Time - Avg Speed 1.32s

Later in the scenario, you simulate performing CPR by pressing two keys on your keyboard in the same rhythm as CPR. While you practice, you see a scale from good to bad showing how close you are to the ideal timing. This lets you adjust your rhythm. After you finish the 30 seconds of simulated CPR, you see a percentage score for your accuracy.

Scale showing good and bad for speed

This feedback works in the Lifesaver training because timing really is a critical part of the skill being taught. Speed of response matters in these emergency situations, as does knowing the right rhythm for CPR.

Time can work for other skills too, like manufacturing, making sandwiches in a chain restaurant, or safety training.

When Time is Counterproductive

If the skill you’re practicing and assessing requires critical thinking and careful consideration, measuring time can be counterproductive. For simulated conversations where you want learners to pause and think about their options, it’s better to not use a timer.

You might be thinking, “But in a real conversation, people need to think quickly. Doesn’t that mean we should use timers?” That’s a question about fluency, which requires more practice over time. If your goal is to get people to that point of fluency, you might add a timer, but not for the initial practice. Teach the skill without a timer first, then provide additional practice opportunities to build fluency and speed in the skill.

Do Timers Improve Motivation?

Does a timer increase motivation for getting the right answer? Maybe, if the learners are already motivated prior to starting and time makes sense in the context of the activity. Many games use time as a way to keep players engaged and excited.

I suspect in practice that unnecessary timers encourage people to guess randomly for whatever they can click fastest. Time may actually decrease learners’ motivation to be truly cognitively engaged with the learning experience. They may be more motivated just to click and get through it quickly than to read carefully and understand their decisions.

Accessibility

Timers can create challenges for accessibility. Learners with visually impairments who use a screen reader and keyboard navigation will generally need more time to answer. Learners with  mobility impairment may have trouble manipulating a mouse or keyboard quickly. Depending on your audience, adding timers may prevent some learners from being successful in your elearning courses, even if they could do the real task (like having a conversation) without problem.

Revisiting the Communication Scenario Example

Think back to Nicole’s scenario at the beginning of this post. She’s teaching communication skills to nutrition counselors, using a simulated conversation. Her SME, Brian, suggested adding a timer.

What do you think? Does a timer seem helpful in this situation?

Probably not. In this training, it’s more important for learners to think carefully about their choices and responses than to be speedy. Feedback like the expression of the client or a scale showing the client’s motivation to change their eating behavior would be more beneficial than feedback on how quick they are.

Your Examples?

Time can work as feedback in learning scenarios, but it should be used sparingly, and only when it is actually relevant to the skill being practiced or assessed.

Do you have any examples of time used successfully as feedback in a scenario? I’d love to see some more samples. Share them in the comments.

 

Book Review: Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning

Patti Shank’s Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning is a summary of tactics you can use to create memorable, relevant practice opportunities and provide constructive, beneficial feedback for learners. Everything in the book is backed by research and written to be immediately usable by instructional designers and trainers.

Cover: Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning

This is the second installment in Patti’s “Make It Learnable” series, which is shaping up to be one of those sets of fundamental reading in the field of instructional design. The first book is Write and Organize for Deeper Learning; you can read my review of the first book. As with that book, this book gives you a shortcut to what really works based on evidence, without having to wade through complex (and often contradictory) research yourself. Specifically, this is based on training research, not research on K-12 or higher education learners.

Have you ever wondered…?

  • How do we create practice activities that will help transfer skills to the workplace?
  • Ho can we create practice activities that are more memorable?
  • How can we create more effective feedback than just “correct” and “incorrect”?
  • Do novice and experienced learners benefit from the same strategies?
  • How do we make sure learners are practicing the right skills and behaviors?
  • How can we help learners deal with errors and mistakes?
  • If we’re training a complex task, should we divide the task into small parts or train a simple version of the whole task?
  • Is it better to give feedback right away or to delay it?
  • What kinds of realism are important to training practice? Is it necessary to use lots of multimedia to make training look exactly like the work environment?
  • Is it better to set goals for specific performance levels or goals for making progress in learning?

All of these questions are addressed in this book through 5 overall strategies divided into 26 tactics.

Go buy Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning now. Read it, and then pick something relevant to apply to your own work. After all, the best way to improve your own learning design is to practice using these tactics yourself.

Software Training with Stories

“Stories don’t work for all kinds of training.”

One of the common objections I hear to using storytelling in training is that “stories don’t work for all kinds of training.” Those who are skeptical of storytelling often use software training as an example where stories don’t work. However, I think stories can have a place in some (maybe even most) software training.

Software Training with Stories

When to Avoid Stories and Focus on Features

Sometimes software training should be just about the features. In that case, you’re often doing more technical writing than instructional design. Just get in, show the features, and be done. Short tutorials and demos are great for that, and they don’t always need a story. If your goal is to create 5 minute tutorials to help people solve a problem at a moment of need, they’re already motivated and engaged. You don’t need stories in that case.

We often provide software training in advance of the need though. Instead of something learners seek out to solve their own problems, we’re training them about what they’ll do in the future. That training is often much longer; instead of 5 minutes, we might spend hours reviewing everything software can do. Have you ever gone through software training that was just a list of features with no context? How helpful was it? Did you wonder WHY you might use certain features or why a software update would help you?

Examples as Stories

With a few exceptions, nearly any training can benefit from examples. Those examples are often stories. When I taught Microsoft Office as a classroom trainer, I often told stories as examples. I had a collection of stories about colleagues or past students who had solved a specific problem like this one.

“One of my past students had a spreadsheet that needed to be updated every day. She added new data at the bottom, and then she sorted the spreadsheet. The way it was set up required significant manual cleanup. She spent at least an hour or two every day making manual adjustments to the spreadsheet. We found several ways to adjust the structure of the spreadsheet so nearly everything was automated. Instead of one or two hours, the new process only took her about 15 minutes a day. With a bit of initial work to set up the spreadsheet, we saved her at least 5 hours a week of wasted time. That’s why this information I’m about to explain about setting up your spreadsheet for sorting and filtering is so important.”

That’s a real story (it’s the only time in my training career where a student literally jumped up and down with excitement at the end of the course). When I was training Excel, I didn’t just tell students, “It’s important for you to set up your spreadsheets to make it easier for sorting and filtering.” I gave them the example so they understood why it was important and why it would matter to them. I made it concrete and relevant.

In elearning, this example could be presented similarly to how I used it in my classroom training. Instead of having a narrator tell it in the third person, I’d probably reword it to come from the point of view of the user. “I had a spreadsheet that needed to be updated every day…”

Stories to Increase Motivation

When we create software training, we want people to change their behavior. We want them to use the software and use it in specific ways. We want them to be motivated to use the software effectively.

This is especially important when software is updated and people need to change how they use it. It’s not always enough to just say, “here’s a new feature.” Sometimes we need to show people why that feature is going to make them better. Stories and scenarios put those features in context so users are more motivated to try them.

Hands-On Practice with Scenarios

As a software trainer, the books I taught from included examples that were often scenarios. Excel pivot tables are much easier to understand if you have a realistic project where you need answers from data. Those projects are scenarios, whether you’re teaching in a classroom or creating elearning.

The example above with the poorly formatted spreadsheet could easily be converted to a practice scenario. Instead of simply giving people a set of steps to follow, the scenario provides some context.

Why and When to Use Features

If your software training is meant to help people solve a problem while they’re in the middle of working, then microlearning focused on just the features can work. If your software training is intended to give people an overview of complex software, including why and when to use certain features, stories can be helpful.

For example, layer masks are a critical tool in Photoshop. It’s not always obvious to novices why they’re important though. This tutorial puts layer masks in context by creating a realistic scenario (merging together two wedding photos for a client). The author even starts by explaining how to merge the photos with an easy but incorrect and destructive technique. This shows the benefits of using the right technique and addresses a common mistake. There are plenty of tutorials out there explaining various features of Photoshop. Not so many explain how to select the correct tool for the job–that’s what’s valuable in this example.

In complex software, it’s often not enough to know how to use various features. Sometimes you have multiple options for an action, each with pros and cons. In Captivate, you can use a regular Advanced Action or a Shared Action. Depending on your needs, one or the other may be a better choice and make your development more efficient. Stories and scenarios help learners understand how to choose the right tools.

Model the Thought Process

Stories can also be helpful for modeling the thought process that accompanies using software. For example, I once created a software tutorial on how to troubleshoot a particularly problematic task in an LMS. We wanted the online instructors to do some basic error checking themselves before contacting technical support. While I could have simply provided a PDF document with the steps to troubleshoot (and I did provide that as a job aid), I also created an interactive simulation.

In the simulation, an instructor (represented with voice over plus character photos) narrated how she solved the problem. She walked through each step of her thought process. The actual story was pretty thin (an instructor has a problem in the LMS), but the character gave learners enough to relate to. This training gave learners more confidence that they could troubleshoot it because the process was modeled by a character similar to themselves.

How Do You Use Stories and Scenarios?

How do you use stories and scenarios in software training? Do you have a great example of your own? Share it in the comments.

If you’re developing software training and are feeling stuck, feel free to share that in the comments as well. We can brainstorm together ways to use stories to make your training more relevant and engaging.

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Writing Conversations for eLearning

In the previous post, How to Start Creating Conversation-Driven eLearning, I described how I use conversations between two characters to deliver eLearning content. In this post, I’ll explain how to write and structure the conversation. My next post will discuss options for multimedia with conversation-driven elearning.

Writing Conversations for eLearning

Learner Challenge

In the introduction of the story, show how the learner is facing a challenge. That problem is one that can be addressed through your training. Maybe your character has been dealing with an angry customer, students that are disengaged in class, or a project that is behind schedule. Your character needs new skills: how to respond to customer objections, how to motivate students, or how to get a slipping project back on track. This character is facing a moment of need. If your audience faces a similar challenge, they can immediately see that this training is relevant because they want to solve this problem too. Your character seeks help from a mentor.

In my conversation-driven coaching and mentoring course, the main character, Michael, is a newly promoted manager. He struggles to coach one of his employees on how to handle a difficult client.  You can see the moment of need, and hopefully learners can identify with the struggle. (Email readers, if no video appears below, try watching it on YouTube.)

If you want to see the rest of this course, you can purchase it from Cine Learning Productions, who graciously granted permission for me to use this video.

Don’t Make the Learner Dumb

One temptation with this style is making the learning character an empty vessel with no prior experience or knowledge. The mentor explains something, and the learner simply nods along, basking in the superior knowledge. If you do that, you might as well write it with a single traditional narrator. Instead, treat your learning character (and your learners) as adults with prior knowledge and experience. Let your character figure some things out and make intelligent guesses.

Mentor Questions

Just like a good teacher or trainer, the mentor character can ask questions of the learner character to draw out information. The answers can be wrong sometimes, just like in real life, but they should be reasonable guesses that your audience might make. Asking and answering questions also helps with the next point.

Don’t Talk Too Long

Don’t let your mentor lecture for multiple paragraphs at a time. Neither person should have a monologue. Listen to conversations where someone is explaining something. The person learning interjects regularly with questions or affirmations of understanding. Add dialogue to show your learner is actively listening to the mentor. Have the learner reflect back what they heard from the mentor and connect it to something they already know or share an example.

Skepticism is Good

Does your audience automatically buy into everything you’re training on the first try? Maybe, but often they are skeptical or resist. Let your learner character be a little skeptical too. The character can voice some of the objections your learners might have, allowing the mentor to address those objections. Over the course of the training, your learner character will become less skeptical. You may be able to get skeptical audience members to feel less resistant as they see the change in the character.

Here’s an example from a conversation between two doctors discussing the treatment of addiction.

Tom: How many of our patients do you think have problems with alcohol or drugs? It can’t be that large of a number.

Deborah: I’ve seen estimates that the lifetime prevalence of alcohol use disorders is about 30 percent of the total population.

Tom: Thirty percent?!? That can’t be right.

Deborah: It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I couldn’t believe it either. That includes both abuse and dependence though.

Tom: I never would have guessed it was so high.

[A little later in the conversation, after a few more statistics on the impact of addition]

Tom: Wow, I didn’t realize what a significant issue this is. I must treat patients all the time who are dealing with addiction without even knowing it.

Deborah: That’s probably true.

Tom: But is this really something we should be dealing with as primary care physicians? Aren’t counselors and specialists really better equipped to handle these issues?

Deborah: We should refer patients to specialists when they need extra help. We need to address it here first though. We’re still the people our patients see the most. It’s even more important that we do so now with the Affordable Care Act.

Tom: Why does that matter?

What Else Do You Need?

I’ve heard from several readers already that this technique is one they can apply to their projects. If you’re thinking about trying this strategy, what else do you need to get started? Ask your questions or tell me what else you want to know in the comments.

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