Be better at work using social tools inside (or outside) the org

September 28, 2011

Blogger Stephen Hale makes an informed, experience-based argument that social tools can help people to be less busy and more productive. He gives an example of getting frustrated at work, and then receiving feedback after expressing himself via social tools outside his org.

To me, that is the essence of social media. It is an incredibly powerful vehicle for connecting with others, and in ways unimaginable just a decade ago.

Whether you’re blogging, participating in online forums, connecting through tools like Yammer, or Tweeting your way to 2.0 bliss, social media has changed how we connect…and the possibilities that arise through those connections.

Stephen received some time-saving, efficiency increasing ideas about dealing with with email. I have gotten great ideas and feedback on my (not so great!) design ideas by reaching beyond through social media.

Based on such personal experience, and reams of external evidence, Stephen, I, and probably you, too, inevitably ask:  Why isn’t my team/org/group using these tools?

I preach the social gospel at least once a week in some water-cooler way: “you should share that on X (our internal platform)”, or, “why don’t you post it on X, and let people edit it, add to it, etc there?”

I always get push-back. Don’t have time, don’t trust, not ready to share the idea, blah blah blah.

I don’t know how to confront that, at least not effectively. But I will continue my crusade internally, and connecting externally in any way I can.

You see, social media doesn’t care about whether they are used inside or outside the company firewall. They exist only as vehicles for connecting. Where, and when, and with whom, is our choice. I’m all about keeping that choice as wide open as possible.


ID Lessons from “The Electric Company”

August 28, 2008

Back when I was a kid I loved watching the TV show “The Electric Company.” The show used funny skits and simple animation to teach elementary aged kids (those who were too old for Sesame Street) reading and writing skills. The show’s theme song promised to “turn it on (and) give you the power.” And they did. The show was highly creative, hip, and open-minded (mixed-race relations, for example). It was good stuff. Recently, being in a nostalgic mood, my wife and I took out a DVD copy of old Electric Company episodes from our local library.

I am in awe and now have a new set of instructional design heroes. Move over Gagne. Like a lot of childen’s education, the show does a great job at explaining complicated things in a simple, fun way that make sense and are easy to apply. A good example is their lesson on “silent e” of the English language.

Pretty cool, huh? Now read what some smart writer on wikipedia wrote about the same topic:

Silent E is a writing convention in English spelling. When reading, the silent letter e at the end of a word signals a specific pronunciation of the preceding vowel letter….

Yawn…..ughhh……OK, that really sucks. If you want to learn more about silent e’s orthographic pattern you can read more here. I’d rather scrape my head on hot Georgia asphalt.

Now, the writer at wikipedia probably wasn’t writing with creative or effective instructional design in mind. But an awful lot of adult educational material reads like that. IDs and other business writers tend to make things too complicated, too long, and too detailed. I guess deep inside, a lot of us secretly think that long explanations with plenty of big words make us sound smarter.

Instead, we need to apply these lessons that The Electric Company writers mastered long before e-learning even existed:

  1. Get to the point.
  2. Keep it simple: Leave out the theory and unnessary explanation.
  3. Show how to do something.
  4. Give lots of examples.
  5. Be light, engaging, and fun.
  6. Don’t be afraid to express yourself in the material. (Its OK to show some personality! Honestly.)

Is it possible to turn adult learners on and bring them the power of The Electric Company?

Yeah, yeah. I know. Adult learners are different. I studied the theory and know the rules. But are we that much different? Not so much. Sure, sometimes what we need to teach is complicated and dry by nature. But too often we tend to bore victims learners with text heavy e-learning. We can do better. We can be light, simple, engaging, fun, and still reach adult learners. Don’t believe me?

Check out this Common Craft video explaining what a wiki is:

Notice that the video embodies some of the same pointers I took from the Electric Company: to the point, fun, engaging, and simple. No long-winded explanations. Good stuff!

So, think about the last boring e-learning you sat though (or created!). How could you apply the Electric Company lessons to YOUR course? How can you make learning a bit more fun and expressive? It might be worth a gamble. Go ahead….turn ’em on. Give ’em the power!

Need some musical motivation? Get turned on with the groovy theme song.

Hooking learners with a simple story

August 16, 2008

Instead of just starting an e-learning course with a dry-as-sand list of objectives, I like to start with a “teaser” scenario. A teaser is designed to hook the user and give them a bit of motivation for taking the course.

Recently I have been working on a WBT about the A3 problem solving process and report writing (made famous by the process gurus at Toyota). The approach is very effective, yet amazingly simple: You follow a certain problem-solving process and, regardless of the complexity of the project, you write the report on a single A3 sized (11″ x 17″ piece of paper). The purpose of the WBT is to introduce people to the approach, which is becoming the company-wide standard at the client company.

Check out my A3 report writing teaser below. Click the Slideshare navigation arrows to go through the screens.

In this case, I wanted to give a sense of fun and simplicity to the subject matter. Hopefully people taking the course can relate to or hope to avoid the pain experienced by the charachter Joe and therefore want to take the lessons. So, the implicit objective is that in taking this course, you will avoid writing crappy, ineffective reports and, instead, create reports that your audience (e.g., your boss!) will understand and use.

Another thing I like about teaser scenarios like this one, is that it sets the groundwork for fun interactions later on. For example, the story can be continued with multiple choice questions and examples.

Following the teaser in my A3 course, users can select from several lessons. Joe appears throughout the course, sharing his lessons learned with the viewer. The viewer is able to help Joe make decisions via short vignettes and branching scenarios. When the learner makes a mistake, Athena (the Problem-Solving super hero) appears, sharing best practices for good report writing. Athena also shows up on summary screens between steps.

So what do you think? The audience is probably a bit like you. Most are smart folks and most have not heard of this approach to problem solving. Does an introductory story/scenario like this make you more likely to be interested? Or is it too goofy? I would also love to hear about any other low budget ideas for hooking learners up front.

Rapid E-learning Challenge: Back in the Saddle

August 3, 2008

I haven’t posted much about my Rapid e-Learning Challenge in awhile. That’s because the project suffered a few roadblocks and set-backs. All of them were related to things like poorly defined project goals, lack of agreed-on specs, and non-responsive SME/sponsor. It wasn’t my fault, the sponsor’s fault, or the janitor’s fault. It was a process issue. My learning team had not defined and agreed on a process for initiating this type of project. Starting an e-learning project without such a process is a bit like reading the flight manual after the plane is mid-air.

AT ANY RATE….after a bit of floundering and false starts, the storyboarding is complete. I’m back in the saddle and the project’s moving forward. Yay!  The other good news is that now I have a graphic artist to help with the look and feel and original illustrations where needed. We do have a good process for actual course development. With the planning obstacles out of the way, I’m looking forward to the really fun part of development. We go full-tilt with this tomorrow, and plan to be finished with a beta release in a few short weeks.

All that said, I still want to “test out” just how “rapid” rapid e-learning tools are (in my case, Articulate). As the project plows ahead, I will jot down things I like, things I don’t like, new discoveries (tools, ideas, etc), and lessons learned. I’ll also post any challenges and requests for help here. Blogging is a great way to reach out and get feedback or help from the larger community “out there.”

Rapid Lesson Learned: Don’t move forward with a project if you don’t have clearly defined and agreed upon goals, as well as SME and sponsor buy-in. 

Rapid Roadblocks: Too-little Content

July 21, 2008

When you want to develop an elearning course relatively rapidly, having plenty of reliable, semi-stable content helps. In most cases, the SME (subject matter expert) usually has too much content. Over at the Rapid Elearning Blog, Tom Kuhlman recently wrote some excellent tips for getting rid of some of the content when your SME has too much of it.  It does seem that on most all instructional design projects, SMEs and clients usually give you a lot more content than is needed for your course. Thinning out the content takes time and reduces the rapid meter. But this is a heck of a lot better than the opposite case: not having enough content. Have you ever had that happen?

That is exactly the case with my current not-so-rapid e-learning project. When I first started, all I had for content was a single PPT slide deck and an unresponsive SME. The PPT had some good key ideas in it, but they were not hashed out in any sort of detail. A lot of the slides didn’t make much sense or seemed incomplete outside the instructor-led course that it supported. Unfortunately, there were no slide-notes, handouts, white papers, instructor guides from previous courses or anything else. And the SME was not responding to specific content questions.

So what’s an ID to do when there is too-little content?

Make it up! As an instructional designer, one of the value adds that I bring to the table is the ability to research and benchmark externally and synthesize the results into internally revel ant content for my course. If the SME isn’t responding to requests for content, I can research and literally make up content myself, send that to the SME, and hope to get a response that way. Indeed, I’ve found that this approach usually works. It’s easier for many SMEs/clients to respond to someone else’s content-creation attempt than it is for them to create original content themselves. Don’t let the lack of content stop you.

Researching, benchmarking, and writing content outside your realm of expertise takes a LOT of time and drastically cuts into the rapid meter. And that’s OK…so long as it’s OK to stretch out the time-frame. The key is to figure this out up front during the content analysis phase (assuming there is one!). If there are content challenges (too much, too little, bad content, NO content, etc) then you need to note it as a significant risk and include additional time in your project plan.

Have you encountered similar problems with too-little content on any of your training projects? How did you handle it? I would love to hear any tips and tricks you have.

Rapid E-Learning Challenge Day 4: Analog Storyboarding

July 3, 2008

Today I needed a brain dump. As happens frequently on training projects, I received new information from the project sponsor/SME that added significant content (a recommended book) to the course and may potentially alter my strategy and storyboard. Since I had already begun the storyboarding process, I found myself just spinning my ID wheels when I looked at my outline/storyboard in PPT. It was hard to see outside my existing plan.

So I decided to step away from my PC and try a non-digital approach. 1) Sketch out and brainstorm ideas on paper and a whiteboard. And then 2) storyboard on paper using sticky notes or print outs of blank PPT slide notes. Garr Reynolds (“Presentation Zen”) and others advocate this approach as a way to enhance right-brain activity and help get outside your box. 


my white board brainstorm

my white board brainstorm

I used to protest that storyboarding and brainstorming in a non-computer way added extra steps by having to then re-create it digitally. But sure enough, it helped dump the junk in my brain that made me feel stuck, and helped me to see the big picture in a way that is difficult in PPT or even a mind-mapping tool. I also found it easier to jump around, erase, scribble, doodle, start over, and whatever else I need to do. Sometimes technology is just too cumbersome.

My lesson of the day is that it seems that working on paper may be more efficient for hashing out ideas and screen flow. And move it to digital only after you have a good sense of direction.

 So while my rapid project ain’t so rapid right now, I am improving my processes which should help the next project take off more quickly. Now, if only I could get the SME to get all the relevant content to me BEFORE storyboarding begins!

Rapid e-Learning Challenge: Day 3

July 2, 2008

Since my introduction to lean management began over the past year, I have come to realize how dreadfully lacking in documented standards and procedures most training and e-learning groups are (and most all administrative functions!). I’m trying to change that for my immediate work environment by establishing not just some best practices around e-learning, but also baseline processes and a structure for kaizen (continuous improvement). I have a lot of learning (and unlearning) to do.

In his book “Workplace Managment,” Taiichi Ohno, co-founder of the Toyota Production System, wrote: “…it will be difficult to establish a standard if you are trying to achieve ‘the best way.’ This is a big mistake. Document exactly what you are doing now.”

It’s easy to state the ideal way, the way it is “supposed” to be done, and call that “our process.” Think ADDIE, fellow designers. But the reality is we don’t always follow it. We usually add all sorts of other non-value-added steps. Or we do the steps out of order, which causes another kind of waste. By following the TPS way, we instead start with listing the actual steps. Then we can more accurately observe waste and work toward improvement.

My storyboarding process was supposed to look something like this:

  1. Storyboard each screen on a slide in PPT
  2. Find graphics
  3. Develop screens

Instead, it looked more like this:

  1. Storyboard a few screens
  2. Look for cool graphics on-line
  3. Put cool graphics on screen to see how they look
  4. Change graphic to gray scale and see if it looks better
  5. Storyboard another screen
  6. Etc.

Can you see the extra steps there? These out-of-order, extra steps add to the time line and the cost. If I had been doing this for a client on a fixed fee basis, it would have reduced my profit margin. And if I were charging per-hour, I should be asking, “Is the customer willing to pay for this?” But that’s another post.