As you may know, I am co-chair of ASTDNY’s eLearning Special Interest Group (SIG) for 2014. If you’re a member of ASTDNY (or considering joining) we have a great webinar/meeting coming up at 6pm EST on Wednesday, March 12th. Our guest speaker Karl Kapp will explore uses of Gamification in Talent Management.
Well, it’s here already. The past two nights we’ve had great previews, and now tonight at 8pm, we’ll officially open Asolo Rep’s production of Chris Durang’s wonderful, Tony-winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, directed by the inspired and inspiring Peter Amster.
I am beyond thrilled to be playing Vanya with this director, cast, and theatre. And judging by the audience responses to our preview performances, the audiences are going to love this production. This play has all the offbeat, wacky humor you’d expect from Chris Durang, but it also has an undercurrent of deep feeling that is taking us all on an amazing journey. And for anyone who grew up during the 1950’s in the U.S., the play will have an especially strong resonance.
I have been advised that this production is expected to sell out its entire run; if you’re in the area and planning on coming, please do buy your tickets soon! You won’t want to miss a couple of hours in the company of this zany and lovely cast of characters. You will leave feeling very good, indeed.
If you’re in the market for programming or some eLearning tool “how-to” eBooks or videos, Packt Publishing is offering all of their eBooks and training videos for $5 each from December 19th through January 3rd only.
Packt Publishing offers more than 1700 titles, so it’s very likely they’ll have a couple that might be useful on your eBookshelf. And you can’t beat the price! Stephanie Hartnett’s book Learning Articulate Storyline is one title well worth snapping up if you don’t already have it.
To take advantage of this special offer, you must use this link:bit.ly/1jdCr2W
And remember: the $5 holiday sale is only in effect from 12/19 through 1/3/14.
MAY 2014 UPDATE: As I’ve received so many great comments about this post, I’ve now created a podcast version of it, which you can listen to at the bottom of this post. And I’ve also created an instructional video of it, which you can launch and download from my eLearning Samples page!
In the fall of 2013, the folks at Allen Interactions graciously offered a free webinar for the ASTDNY eLearning Special Interest Group (or SIG). Their topic was the dangers of content-driven learning, and one of their key points was that presenting Learning Objectives at the start of an eLearning course in the traditional bulleted list is not particularly meaningful or effective. True, a bulleted list states what your company wants the learner to walk away with at the end of the course, but it’s not a presentation style that resonates with the learner. The rest of the world doesn’t think in terms of Learning Objectives, and poorly-presented Learning Objectives at the start of the course can in fact be off-putting rather than helpful. The learner has to come first. I have been engaged in this debate for years, and sometimes when working as a subcontractor, it has even been the development shop who hired me that has flat-out said: “Don’t get creative; the client expects to see a traditional bulleted list of objectives, and the same list restated at the end–and if you don’t do it that way, you’re not a good instructional designer.” Hogwash.
After the webinar, I started thinking about SMART objectives, and how we can improve them. Now, back when I first learned about SMART objectives, the acronym was defined with the following meanings:
Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant TIme-bound
I did a Google Image search for “SMART Objectives” and found a number of variations, none of them as good as the list above, in my opinion. For example, some lists used “Agreed,” which to me should be a given on any project, and “Realistic,” which is already covered by “Achievable”–and losing “Achievable” would be a mistake. Others use “Aggressive” instead–but this is corporate buzz talk, and misses the very real need to establish learning objectives that can be met within the confines of the training to be presented. Be as aggressive as you want, folks. But at the end of the day, each Learning Objective has to be Achievable or it has no merit. And there are other variants as well, but many of them boil down to a question of semantics. You get the idea.
So, what would make Learning Objectives even SMARTER? Almost immediately the answer for the additional “E” and “R” letters came to me. Before I tell you what mine are, I will note that I also did a Google Image search for “SMARTER Objectives,” on the assumption that I might not be the first person to point out that SMART Objectives need improving. Sure enough, I found a couple of versions. But frankly, I didn’t like them. One added “Ethical” and “Reachable” to the above list. Well, again, as far as I’m concerned, ethical should be a given, or you shouldn’t be doing business. And “Reachable” is redundant; we already have “Achievable.” Others proposed “Reviewed frequently” (a good idea, but again a given in my book) and “Recorded”–which is just a bit lame.
So, what are my “E” and “R” values? Like the other five letters, they should only be added if they add real meaning. For my money, the “E” should stand for “Engaging” and the “R” should stand for “Rewarding.” Why? Because we need to create Learning Objectives that actually speak to the learner!
We should be creating Learning Objectives that Engage our target audience members, so that they have some “skin” in the game. We have to frame our Objectives in such a way that the they are not just the company’s objectives–they become the learners‘ as well. If we present our Learning Objectives in a more Engaging way, and show how they will be Rewarding to the learners themselves (not just to the company), then we will have truly taken a step toward making our SMART Objectives even SMARTER:
Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant TIme-bound Engaging Rewarding
And when it comes to sharing your Learning Objectives at the start of your eLearning: be creative! Use a story or scenario, make an exploratory interaction–let your imagination run free and think about what will engage your learners, and how they feel rewarded for investing their time in your course. Challenge them, intrigue them, open with a situation that raises a question with real-world relevance. Consider subtly employing some Gamification tactics (see my other blog posts on this topic). Whether your course is high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech, help your learners see themselves in the challenge or question you pose. Then, instead of just glazing over or skipping a Learning Objectives slide, they’ll embrace those objectives through the engagement, and take those objectives as their own. Give that some thought the next time you’re defining your Learning Objectives. I’m betting it will make a real, positive difference for your learners.
Many thanks to Nancy Duarte for taking this ambitious (and generous!) step into ebook publishing. It’s a win for everyone. Even if you already own the hard copy of this book, you may want this multimedia version, as well.
My client Green Mountain Coffee Roasters recently flew me out to Seattle to teach another session of my full-day eLearning Voiceovers class for their Sumner, WA site. This is the third site I’ve visited for GMCR so far, and once again it was a great bunch of students, all willing and eager to dive into the full-day exploration of what it takes to add genuinely engaging voiceovers to eLearning projects.
The great work the students did in class, and the great feedback I received afterwards, are proof that my holistic and personalized approach to eLearning voiceovers really pays off. I don’t just teach and coach on voiceover delivery; I work hands-on with my students in creating quality scripts, preparing their vocal instruments (every voice is different, after all!), and learning the basics of Audacity sound software, as well. As my GMCR students in Sumner proved in their classwork, quality voiceovers always begin with engaging, speakable scripts that “hook” and “hold” the ear of the learner, to ensure a learning payoff.
As in all previous sessions I’ve offered, the huge leap in quality for what my students produced by the end of the day was audible to everyone in the room. Microphones don’t lie, and neither do ears. I never tire of watching my students’ faces light up with pleasure when one of them delivers a genuinely fresh and engaging voiceover performance that makes every person in the room sit up and take notice. Bingo. And I love knowing that they leave my class fully equipped to recreate that success back at their own desks. Well done, all!
At the October ASTD NY monthly chapter meeting, guest speaker Sebastian Bailey of Mind Gym spoke on a topic near and dear to my heart: rethinking learning delivery in smaller, more manageable chunks spread out over time to enhance knowledge transfer. Sebastian calls it “Bite-Size Learning.” I call it good old-fashioned common sense. As Sebastian put it succinctly: “It’s not about cutting and pasting, it’s about reconceptualizing what you can do within that time.”
Sebastian led an engaging and interactive session, frequently asking us to partner with another attendee to perform one of his activities. The first interaction brought out one of his key points: after a short-term change, we all tend to go right back to what’s comfortable and familiar. Sebastian presented compelling evidence that true change and learning transfer can be better assured by making the learning sessions more manageable in length (he favors a 90-minute maximum), and spaced out over time to allow better reinforcement and retention. He was quick to note that actual length of any particular session really depends on what’s being taught, and that if something less than 90 minutes will do–even better! I noted in chatting with him afterwards that this approach also aligns with a reality we all face today when trying to hold an audience: television and film have moved steadily toward shorter and shorter scenes, and more cross-cutting of them, to keep idle minds engaged. I liked a comparison Sebastian made: ensuring good learning transfer is like practicing good parenting. Cramming too much information into someone’s head in a short space of time (for example, a two-day executive boot camp) does not provide lasting learning transfer as effectively as introducing topics in smaller doses over a sustained period of time, allowing the learner time and breathing space to absorb, reflect, and associate.
We had another activity and much discussion around what roadblocks might stand in the way of taking a fresh look at learning delivery and migrating to more of a bite-size approach. I offered two that he agreed with readily: organizational tradition (“But we’ve always taught it this way!”–again, really just the desire to cling to the old habits), and fear on the client’s part that all their learning points couldn’t possibly be covered in less time–that something important would be left out. In reality, this comes down to solid knowledge of the content, and thoughtful design–not just instructional design, as Sebastian pointed out, but also program design. To work, bite-size learning needs to be a holistic approach from the start. Other possible roadblocks identified included lack of commitment and ownership, and insufficient understanding of the material’s key learning concepts.
Here’s Sebastian’s list of common misconceptions about training, and his reply to each:
“Longer = better” No, it’s just longer.
“The event is the hero” No, learning transfer is the hero.
“Design for the participant outliers (aka lowest common denominator)” No, design for the context of the application. Engage and stimulate everyone.
“We treat people all the same” We should mass customize (as Starbucks has done).
“The change isn’t worth the cost.” Focus on value to company and customer satisfaction, not just price.
Sebastian also offered examples of how the bite-size approach is also actually more cost-effective to implement. More efficient, less costly–that’s a recipe any learning organization should want to embrace.
So how does a learning organization embrace bite-size learning? Sebastian cited the Pareto Principle, which translated into learning terms means essentially that 80% of your transfer comes from 20% of your content. In other words, it comes down to letting go of the “Trivial Many” pieces of information and focusing on the “Vital Few” learning elements instead. After all, as everyone present agreed, quality of learning is not truly measured by time expended. The key is distilling your content down to the Vital Few topics, and figuring out how to spend just enough time on each one.
Sebastian also offered this simple model: an ongoing cycle made up of Engage, Participate, and Activate. Here he gave voice to what many of us in the room already believe: for effective transfer to happen, learners need to have a stake in the proceedings from the start, and to be active participants in the learning experience, not just passive sponges or information buckets. As a professional actor, I can tell you this from personal experience onstage: the scripts that most “grab” an audience are not the ones that simply lay everything out and tell the audience what to think and feel. A good script (and good learning) pulls the audience into the event and makes them willing and eager participants.
With regard to possible challenges, Sebastian suggested his own variation of a common model for the areas of likely failure, as applied to learning:
Before (Context for the learning event): 40%
Event (a single learning event): 20%
After (Post-event support for transfer): 40%
In other words, what comes before and after a learning event is most likely to be where we fail to deliver what the learner needs. Whether you choose to deliver your learning event as “big gulp” or bite-size, that truth remains: we always need to provide our learners with meaningful context for why they are being offered the learning event(s), and support for the new behavior after the event(s).
In closing, Sebastian noted that we all need to focus on increasing “opportunity recognition,” leveraging the power of giving learners targeted hints to help them see the opportunity for the solution themselves. We provide them with the tools, a way in, and motivation–and they put it all together for themselves, enriching the experienced and deepening retention. With that focused help from us, the learning transfer success factor increases enormously.
Thanks again to Sebastian and to ASTD NY for another excellent, invigorating session. For more about Sebastian and his company, I encourage you to visit the Mind Gym web site.
If you have a current license for Articulate’s Storyline eLearning development tool, here’s a great bonus: you are now eligible to receive a free, licensed, full version of Articulate’s new presentation tool, Replay!
I just downloaded my free copy, and look forward to checking out the Tutorials and Discussions in their Forum.
You can create standalone presentations with Replay, or drop them into your Articulate Storyline or Studio projects.
Given the cost of eLearning tools these days, this gesture from Articulate to licensed Storyline users is a delightful surprise. Thanks, Articulate! I hope it’s the start of a trend. And I hope the Adobe Captivate and Presenter teams are watching.
Storyline license holders: download your free copy of Replay today!
eLearning folks: Today through Thursday 10/17 only, Packt Publishing is offering 50% off its entire catalog of eBooks and Videos, including the very good book on Articulate Storyline that I recently reviewed, as well as titles on Adobe Captivate and other products. Use this link: bit.ly/1bqvB29 and enter this code at checkout: COL50 to obtain the sale pricing. The link and special pricing are only good through 10/17.