Tag: writing

Book Review: Write and Organize for Deeper Learning

Patti Shank’s latest book, Write and Organize for Deeper Learning, is a great read for anyone who writes to help people learn: instructional designers, trainers, professors, tech writers, etc. The book explains 28 tactics to improve your writing. Following these tactics will help your readers spend more mental effort on actual learning rather than wasting mental effort figuring out your meaning. Each tactic is clearly explained with a brief description of why it’s important. While all the tactics are supported by evidence (and references are provided at the end), it never gets bogged down with theory or overly stuffy descriptions of research. The book is squarely aimed at practitioners who want to start writing more effectively today without wading through any fluff.

Cover of Write and Organize for Deeper Learning
For experienced instructional designers and others who are already good writers, many of these tactics will confirm what you’re already doing. For example, you’re probably already determining your key points and using active voice. Those aren’t new tactics for me, and I expect some of this will be reinforcement for most readers rather than brand new content. I found the reminders helpful, and it will make me focus on some tactics I knew but hadn’t been using (like checking readability statistics).

I also find books like this helpful in justifying my decisions to clients. I will be pulling this book out again and referring to it the next time a client argues with me that their content is so serious that it must be written with a stiff, formal tone rather than a conversational, plain language style.

The book contains worksheets to help you remember and apply the tactics in your own work. In addition, the checklists and job aids make it easy to use.

This is the first book in a planned series called “Make It Learnable.” I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in the series.

How to Get Started Writing a Branching Scenario for Learning

In a recent conversation, a colleague asked, “Once you and your client have agreed on a branching scenario approach, how do you get started writing it? How do you get from the broad concept of training on X topic to actually creating the scenario?”

The short answer is to “begin with the end in mind.” Let me walk you through the process of analysis and preparation I do before writing a scenario.

Get Started Writing Branching Scenarios

Begin with the End in Mind

At the end of the training, what do you want people to do differently? It’s important to ask what you want learners to DO, not what you want them to KNOW. Cathy Moore has been beating this drum for years. If we’re aiming for behavior change, then we need to focus on what behaviors we want. It’s not enough to simply increase awareness.

Get Specific with Behaviors

Julie Dirksen describes this as the “photo test.” If you took a photo or video of the desired behavior, what would it look like? For example, a client might ask you for training on “quality customer service” or “better communication between nurses and patients.” As part of your analysis, ask what that really means. It’s not enough to just get a list of principles or broad best practices. You need specifics and examples.

“Quality customer service” might mean cashiers asking customers if they found everything they were looking for and calling for someone to get it if they missed something. That’s a specific behavior we can observe and assess.

“Better communication between nurses and patients” might mean asking open-ended questions to learn what concerns are most important to the patient. That’s another behavior we can observe.

Identify Common Mistakes

Ask your SMEs questions about mistakes. In a branching scenario, it’s not enough to know what the right behavior looks like. You need to know the wrong behavior you need to change too.

  • What are the common mistakes people make?
  • Where do people get stuck in this process?

If you have access to learners or people who have recently learned the skill, ask them too. They may have more insight than the SMEs.
The mistakes you identify become the distractors in the questions for your branching scenario. The mistakes and places people get stuck help you determine where to put decision points. If certain parts of the process are fairly clear and unproblematic, you can make those sections of the scenario passive review. That way, you can focus on what you really need to meet your objectives in the scenario.

Identify Consequences of Mistakes

For each mistake you identify, find out the consequences. Ask your SMEs and sources this question.

  • What are the consequences if people make this mistake?

The consequences of those mistakes become the feedback in your scenario. Asking a patient a closed question rather than an open-ended one results in a one-word answer. Forgetting to ask customers if they found everything results in lost sales and less satisfied customers.

Keep Probing for Specific Behaviors

Sometimes SMEs have a hard time switching from talking about abstract principles to describing behaviors. If they answer your questions about mistakes and consequences with broad answers, keep probing for specific examples and behaviors. You may have to ask these questions several different ways to get what you need.

  • Tell me more about that mistake. What do you think is going through people’s heads when they do that?
  • What does it look like when they make this mistake?
  • What does that consequence look like in practice?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • Tell me about a time when you saw this happen in a real situation.
  • What happened next?
  • Where do people get confused? What do they do when they’re confused?

Sequence Decision Points

Once you have a list of mistakes, you can list and sequence the decision points. Often, you’ll be following a specific process where it’s clear what needs to happen at each step. In those cases, you outline the process and note where you’ll insert decision points that give learners a chance to make the mistakes you identified.

If you aren’t following an established process, think about a logical flow of events. Sometimes a particular mistake obviously happens at the beginning or end of a process. Look for the set points of the process and flow the rest of the steps around that.

Rough Flowchart

At this stage, I only do a very rough flowchart or outline. I find the flow is sometimes easier to determine by simply sitting down and writing it rather than planning out every branch in advance. However, if you’re just getting started with branching scenarios, you might benefit from planning out in more detail. In the planning process, I often only do the sequence for the main correct path; I fill in the branches later as the scenario develops.

Storyboard or Draft

Once I have a rough flowchart and I know my primary decision points, I start storyboarding or drafting. I check my storyboard against my list of behaviors from the beginning of the analysis. Did I include all the critical decisions and behaviors? Did I include all the common mistakes?

Your Process?

What is your process for preparing before creating a branching scenario? Let me know in the comments.

Do You Need a Villain in a Learning Story?

I recently attended an interesting webinar by Joe Ganci on how to use science fiction to improve eLearning. In the presentation, Joe talked about elements of storytelling common to science fiction and how to incorporate those aspects for better stories in elearning. If you’re attending the Learning Solutions Conference later this month, you can hear this presentation live. (You can attend my presentation on voice over script pitfalls too!)

One of Joe’s points was that great science fiction stories have a compelling villain that allows the heroes to be heroic. The same goes for storytelling for learning. Even if the major conflict is a tight budget or short timeline, Joe argued it’s better to personify that challenge. Provide a manager who explains the budget limitations or a harried customer who needs an project finished quickly.

To some extent, I agree with Joe. Instead of simply an abstract challenge of time or resources, you can humanize it by showing why the budget is tight or how being late will impact a real person. Stories help you make learning more concrete.

Bearded businessman with evil expression

However, I’m not quite convinced that a “villain” is what we need in learning. In the real world, the bad guys and good guys aren’t always so clear cut as in the movies. Real people are rarely motivated by simply being evil. They may be confused, misguided, angry, or disorganized. That doesn’t exactly make them a villain though.

I’m worried that forcing a villain into a story might make it too over-the-top or comical. That can work if that’s what you’re going for, but I think that’s challenging to pull off well in most corporate environments.

Maybe my problem is with the word “villain.” If we call that character an “antagonist” instead, then it works well. The antagonist doesn’t have to be evil like a villain; they just have to create the conflict or challenge that drives the story. I think that’s really what Joe is getting at. The harried manager telling you the budget is tight isn’t really an evil villain, just someone doing their job in a way that creates a challenge for the learners.

What do you think? Is it beneficial to include villains in learning stories? I am ambivalent and looking for your perspectives. Answer the poll and let me know. (Email readers, you may have to click through to the site to respond to the poll.)

If the none of the answers in the poll fit, or you want to explain more, leave a comment and tell me what you think.

 

ID and E-Learning Links (2/19/17)

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

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

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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