Is anyone else getting completely annoyed watching someone’s hand draw and write on videos and elearning?

OMG! It’s beginning to drive me nuts! What the hell is wrong with us?

Here’s the thing. When this was new, it was engaging. Now it’s cliche! Now most people are habituated to it. What we’re doing now is taking one of our tools and completely overusing it.

Let’s be smarter.

Somebody sent me a link to a YouTube video today — a video created to explain to laypeople what instructional design is. Most of it was reasonable, until it gave the following example, narrated as follows:

“… and testing is created to clear up confusion and make sure learners got it right.”


Something is obviously wrong here — something an instructional designer ought to know. What is it?

Scroll down for the answer…

Before you scroll down, come up with your own answer…

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Answer: 

The test question is devoid of real-world context. Instead of asking a text-based question, we could provide an image and ask them to point to the access panel.

Better yet, we could have them work on a simulated real-world task and follow steps that would enable them to complete the simulated task only if they used the access panel as part of their task completion.

Better yet, we could have them work on an actual real-world task… et cetera…

Better yet, we might first ask ourselves whether anybody really needs to “LEARN” where the access panel is — or would they just find it on their own without being trained or tested on it?

Better yet, we might first ask ourselves whether we really need a course in the first place. Maybe we’d be better off to create a performance-support tool that would take them through troubleshooting steps — with zero or very little training required.

Better yet, we might first ask ourselves whether we could design our equipment so that technicians don’t need training or performance support.

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Or we could ask ourselves existential questions about the meaning and potency of instructional design, about whether a career devoted to helping people learn work skills is worthy to be our life’s work…

Or we could just get back to work and crank out that test…

SMILE…

 

 

I work in the learning-and-performance field. I watched the first two presidential debates. They were problematic to say the least. So, I thought to myself, “Hey Will, you’re a learning-and-performance professional. What might be done to improve them?” Actually, it was more like, “Damn, somebody’s got to make these debates better. They’re not creating the best outcomes. They’re not really educating us on the important issues for the presidential election. Our debates are not helping the democratic process. Indeed, they’re probably creating harm.”

24564574914_0cdd268f92_zPicture above by Donkey Hotey 2016 Creative Commons on Flickr

In looking at the debate process, there are several leverage points, including the following:

  1. The debate format.
  2. The questions asked.
  3. The candidates’ responses.
  4. The citizenry’s cognitive processing of the debate.
  5. The news media’s and social media’s messaging about the debate.
  6. The citizenry’s cognitive processing of the media messaging.

For most of these, we — the citizenry — have very little direct leverage to influence the process. Together, we can influence the social-media messages, but as individuals, we have very little influence there. Tears in the ocean.

But certainly the media and the candidates are acting with intentionality to influence the citizenry. Candidates act bold and confident because they know that people, in general, are suckers for those who display confidence. Candidates use certain words to influence — even if those words are too general to be meaningful (words like freedom, equality, strength, diversity). Candidates avoid talking about complicated issues, because they think we can’t understand. Candidates speak in terms of black and white, good and bad, either this or that — though the world is shaded in sepia tones — because they think we need certainty.

They act because they think we as citizens will react in predictable ways. But what if we changed and improved our responses to the debates? What if we as citizens improved our cognitive processing and instead of having knee-jerk reactions, we improved our thinking? What if instead of being persuaded by irrelevancies, we were persuaded by a clear understanding of the issues? Is there anything we can do to improve and deepen our thinking about the debates?

Yes! We can do a better job! Not a perfect job, not a brilliant job, but we can improve and deepen our thinking if we take some time to think about what we care about and what matters.

I’m sure my efforts here will be inadequate, but I offer a one-page checklist to spur your thinking. Take a look, try it out at Wednesday’s final Presidential debate and let me know how you’d improve it. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Better yet, let me know what else we can do to improve the results of the debates.

 

Try the Presidential Debates Insight Checklist

 

Read My Article on LinkedIn

 

 

WHAT ELSE? WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Okay, I really feel like this effort is too inconsequential and too unlikely to make a difference, so I’d love to hear your ideas:

  • What’s wrong with this approach?
  • What could make it better?
  • What else could be done to improve the outcome of the debates — that is, creating a better informed citizenry.
  • Are there other tools in our learning-and-performance toolbox we might use?
  • What could make our debates great again? (sorry, couldn’t resist)

Those of us in the learning professions are naturally enamored with the power of learning. This is all fine and good–learning is necessary for human survival and for our most enlightened achievements–but too narrow a focus on learning misses a key responsibility. Indeed, learning without sustained behavior change is like feeding a man who's planning to jump off a bridge. Nice, but largely besides the point. 

The bottom line is that we learning professionals must not only look to the science of learning, but also the science of behavior change.

My friend and colleague Julie Dirksen has been thinking about behavior change for years. Here's a recent article she wrote:

Here is another recent resource on behavior change:

It's good to keep this all in perspective. Science often moves slowly and in fits and starts. There is great promise in the many and varied research areas under study. You can see this most fully in the health-behavior-change field. There's a ton of research being done. Here's a quick list of research being done on behavior change:

  • Cardiac health
  • Obesity
  • Clean cooking
  • Asthma
  • HIV and STD prevention
  • College-student drinking
  • Cancer prevention
  • Child survival
  • Recycling
  • Use of hotel towels
  • Young-driver distraction
  • Hand washing
  • Encourage walking and cycling
  • Smoking cessation
  • Healthy pregnancy behaviors
  • Promoting physical activity

Okay, the list is almost endless.

One of the findings is not surprising. Lasting behavior change is very difficult. Think how hard it is to lose weight and keep it off, or stop an internet addition. So it's great that researchers are looking into this.

In the learning field, we have our own version of behavior-change research. It's called transfer. We've already learned a lot about how to get people to transfer what they've learned back to their jobs or into their lives. We're not done learning, of course.

One thing we do know is that training by itself is rarely sufficient to produce lasting change. Sometimes our learners will take what they've learned, put it immediately into practice, deepen their own learning and continue to learn and engage and use what they've learned over time. Too often, they forget, they get distracted, they get no support.

 

Summary

My four messages to you are these:

  1. Keep your eyes open for Behavior Change Research.
  2. Keep your eyes open for Transfer-of-Learning Research.
  3. Don't be a fool in thinking that training/learning is enough.
  4. We learning professionals have a responsibility to enable usable behavior change.

 

Research shows that one-on-one tutoring is generally highly effective — with a good tutor, of course. Similarly, John Anderson — the cognitive psychologist — along with others — developed Intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) that tailor content to learners based on cognitive models of what they know and don't know.

These learning approaches are beneficial because they personalize learning based on a diagnosis of learner knowledge. This is not a new concept. Indeed, the Socratic Method also took learners on a journey based on their responses. B. F. Skinner's operant conditioning provided reinforcement based on learner actions. Skinner's Programmed Learning and Fred Keller's Personalized System of Instruction are practical applications based on operant conditioning principles.

We've known for millennium that personalized learning is good — and we've even dabbled in scalable implementations like programmed learning — but for the most part we are still awaiting the promise of such personalization.

Now may be the time. New technologies are beginning to show promise. For example, subscription-learning threads based on personalized spacing schedules personalize learning nuggets based on learner responses. Still, one area where personalization hasn't been much in evidence is video. That may be changing.

Consensus Demo

Consensus allows its users to create videos tailored to each learner. Their focus is on sales and marketing — and particularly on creating demos — but the technology could be used for other needs as well. Consensus tailors content to users based on their interests, background, etc. When folks choose a topic as “Very Important,” users get the full video segment and get it first. When folks choose a topic as “Somewhat Important,” users get a summary video. When they choose “Not Important,” users don’t get any segments associated with those topics.

Consensus can also segment users based on their role in an organization, based on the size of their company, or based on other demographics as well.

They’ve got a great video that you can tailor to your needs. Worth watching! Click to check out Consensus.

 

In my ongoing research interviewing learning executives, I occasionally come across stories or ideas that just can't wait until the full set of data is collected.

This week, I interviewed a director of employee development and training at a mid-sized distribution company. She expressed many of the frustrations I've heard before in my consulting work with L&D (Learning and Development) leaders. For example:

  • Lack of good learning measurement, causing poor feedback to L&D stakeholders.
  • Too many task requirements to allow for strategic thinking in L&D.
  • While some SME's are great trainers, too many deliver poorly-designed sessions.
  • Lack of some sort of competency testing of learners.
  • Lack of follow-through after training, limiting likelihood of successful application to the job.

There were so many changes to make that it appeared overwhelming — as if making positive change was going to take forever.

Then she got an idea. Her organization had begun to train its customers (in addition to training its employees), and they began to search for ways to demonstrate the value and credibility of the customer-focused courses.

What this director realized was that accreditation might serve multiple purposes — if it provided a rigorous evaluation scheme; one that demanded living up to certain standards.

She found an accrediting agency that fit the bill. IACET, the International Association of Continuing Education and Training would certify her organization, but the organization would have to prove that it engaged in certain practices.

This turned out to be a game changer. The requirements, more often than not, propelled her organization in directions she had hoped they would travel anyway. The accreditation process had become a powerful lever in the director's change-management efforts.

Some of things that the accreditation required:

  • The L&D organization had to demonstrate training needs, not just take orders for courses.
  • They had to map learning evaluations back to learning objectives, ensuring relevance in evaluations.
  • They had to have objectives that tied into learning outcomes for each course.
  • Trainers had to be certified in training skills (aligned to research-based best practices).
  • Trainers had to be regularly trained to maintain their certifications.
  • Et cetera…

While before it was difficult for her to get some of her SME's to take instructional design seriously, now accreditation constraints propelled them in the right direction. Whereas before, SME's balked at creating tests of competence, now the accreditation requirements demanded compliance. Whereas before, her SME's could skip out on training on evidence-based learning practice, now they were compelled to take it seriously — otherwise they may lose their accreditation; thus losing the differentiation their training provides to customers.

The accreditation process was a catalyst, but it wouldn't work on it's own — and it's not a panacea. The director acknowledges that a full and long-term change management effort is required, but accreditation has helped her move the needle toward better learning practices.

I was speaking to a CLO (Chief Learning Officer) today about research-to-practice stuff, and he made a statement that blew my mind. It was brilliant!

First, a little background.

He’s been a CLO at two organizations with over a decade of tenure in learning-executive positions. He knows what he’s talking about.

He talked persuasively about how many learning and development units are stuck in the old-world view of learning as delivering training (and training alone). In such learning cultures, L&D folks are order takers. A more enlightened approach includes training, but it also involves performance-consulting, performance-facilitation, knowledge management, improved evaluations, etc., with a key goal of helping to create a partnership between L&D and its organizational stakeholders.

Okay, that’s not news. We know this is the right thing to do.

Here’s what struck me as illuminating. He said that what’s really needed to make the leap from the old way to the new way, you need a large capital-like investment to get you started, to bring in committed change agents, to overcome inertia, to have resources and tools to let you leverage research-based methods. Without a large resource infusion, you get incremental change, but it’s just not enough to change the culture so you end up fighting long exhausting battles with only some success.

But what CEO’s are going to be so enlightened as to pony up the dough?

You’d think they might. After all, making huge investments upfront is what successful businesses do, what successful entrepreneurs do, what successful athletes do, etc.

We in L&D have to figure out a way to convince our CEO’s to make the investment. Otherwise, we’ll likely remain in the purgatory of order taking henceforth.

 

Connie Malamed is The eLearning Coach, an intriguing podcaster, and the author of two fantastic books on visual design. Here I interview her in regards to her most recent book, Visual Design Solutions.

 

Here is the book:

Here is Connie:

1.

Will:
Connie, in your book, Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals, your goal seems to be to help learning professionals utilize effective visuals to improve their learning outcomes. Indeed, you dedicate the book to “the hard-working creative learning professionals who want to make a difference.”

Tell me about your hope for the book and the importance visual design has for learning professionals?

 

Connie:
My three goals in writing this book were to: 1) prove that it is possible to improve one’s visual design skills without being an artist, 2) demonstrate the benefits of using visuals to enhance and amplify learning, and 3) raise awareness about the importance of aesthetics in a learner’s experience.

For those with normal vision, the brain processes more sensory information from the eyes than from any other sense. So learning professionals should expect that the visual aspect of instructional materials would be of great importance to comprehension, retention and the user experience. The good news is that anyone can become more competent in visual design by learning, applying and practicing the foundation principles.

 

2.

Will:
Many learning professionals enter the field with little or no background or experience in graphic arts, visualization principles, or aesthetics—and yet you declare in your book that “you do not need drawing talent to work as a visual designer.” First, let me ask you, “Why not?” Second, let me ask you what key skills people do need to be effective at the visual aspects of learning design?

 

Connie:
Early in my career, I met an excellent designer who didn’t know how to draw. He told me he wasn’t an illustrator. I was shocked. Since then, I’ve met and read about many designers who do not illustrate. Visual design involves the arrangement of images and text in graphic space. To be able to do this, one doesn’t need to render with a pen or pencil. Of course, it’s always nice to brainstorm ideas with a pencil and sketchpad, but visual concepts can be communicated using geometric shapes and stick figures.

The skills that I think people need for visual design competence can be learned. Here is my list:

  • An understanding of how to think about and solve visual problems.
  • Foundation principles of design, such as use of white space, establishing a visual hierarchy and appreciating typography.
  • Awareness of design in the world around you to see how others have solved visual problems.

 

3.

Will:
I noticed in your book that you begin with lots of research supporting the benefits of using visuals. But certainly visuals can also be used in such a way that causes harm. What are some of the problems involved in using visuals? What are some of the most common mistakes learning professionals make?


Connie:

Right. Like anything else, it takes thoughtfulness to come up with an effective visual design. I think common problems are: cluttering a layout with too many flourishes, using irrelevant graphics that are distracting, and splitting attention so that the visuals and text or activity are not well integrated. One way to avoid common mistakes is to get your work critiqued by peers, sponsors and potential users.

 

4.

Will:
In the book, you emphasize white space, and yet I’ll bet this is one of the hardest things for us instructional designers to get. Just as we tend to cram content into our curriculums and don’t leave enough time for learning, I’ve often seen designs that cram content into our visuals without thinking about white space. What is white space and what are the top three things learning designers should realize about it?

 

Connie:
White space is also known as negative space. It’s the area in a visual that does not contain any images or text. It even includes the area in between letters. Here are three tips about working with white space.

  1. Think of white space as another element, just like text and images. These three building blocks of design have to work together to create a clear communication. Without white space, you can’t have form and without form, you can’t have white space.
  2. As you design, if you begin to focus on the shape of the white space, you begin to bring it into the foreground perceptually. Become conscious of the white space and make sure the shape is pleasing and that it’s not broken up into tiny little pieces.
  3. White space gives a viewer’s eyes a place to rest and allows a design to breathe. So don’t be stingy with your white space. Let your designs have some spaciousness.

 

 

 

5.

Will:
I put a ton of time into creating PPT slides for my workshops and presentations—and I’ve developed some beliefs over the years that may or may not be true. Would you comment and critique my visual-design prejudices?

  1. Never use clip art; photos are cheap, easily available, and convey more credibility.
  2. Using a transparency fade (for example when you take a photo but gradually fade one side of it into the background) is good looking, adds credibility, and enables room for pertinent text.
  3. It is better to have one major learning point per slide with a nice supporting visual, than to offer many ideas on the same slide.
  4. Using objects with some gradient is almost always preferred to no gradient.


Connie:

  1. It depends on what you mean by clip art. Although you want to avoid the silly smiling characters, there are wonderful collections of illustrated and simplified vector drawing that you can use to represent concepts and objects. You can make an entire presentation or eLearning course using this minimalist and distilled style.
  2. Adding a transparency fade is a good way to be able to add text. But it’s not the only way and if it looks very feathered, it could look dated. Other ways to add text are to use a large 1024×768 photo (the size of the entire slide) and then overlay a slightly transparent rectangle on part of the photo where you want the text. Place the text within that rectangle and ensure there is enough contrast to read it.
  3. I think you’re probably right about one point per slide. Don’t tell anyone but sometimes I might put three related points on a slide. Maybe I’m being lazy.
  4. A gradient can give an object a 3D appearance, but it’s not always necessary. The flat design trend has moved away from full gradients and you will now probably see more designs with flat or solid-looking objects. I don’t think there’s a wrong or a right way to fill in objects, but as trends change, a viewer’s idea of what is aesthetically pleasing will change.

 

6.

Will:
You mention perspective in your book. First, tell us what it is. Second, because you recommend it “to add realism to a story or scenario,” could you tell us if there is a secret to searching for photos with perspective in photo databases (so we don’t have to search through an endless array of photos)?

 

Connie:
Perspective is a way to trick the eyes into perceiving three dimensions on what is really a flat surface. I don’t know of any great way to find images with perspective other than to type that word into your photo database. Such as “street perspective,” for example.

7.

Will:
You mentioned distilled graphics. What are they and when should we use them?

Connie:
Distilled graphics are simplified, schematic or iconic visuals that represent objects or concepts. We perceive and understand them quickly, similar to the images on road signs. I think it’s a good idea to use these when you want to get an idea across quickly. Also, using a distilled graphic like a silhouette works like a visual suggestion of what it represents without getting into the detail. Another suggestion is to use distilled graphics instead of bullet points, placed near the text to represent the concept or fact. It’s tough to explain without a visual accompaniment!

 

8.

Will:
Connie, maybe you can help me. When I look for photos, sometimes I find myself spending half an hour or more just to find an image I deem acceptable. Am I nuts? Please help me! How long should I spend looking for an image?

Connie:
Will, I’m going to guess that you are a little nuts, but not because you take so long to find photos. But yes, searching for photos is one of the most time-consuming aspects of this career. Most stock photo sites that weren’t specifically made for eLearning seem to have an advertising/marketing focus. The photographers still have that mindset, where rather than showing people in realistic situations, they show people smiling at the camera or cheering. There’s not enough diversity in the image choices either. I got so frustrated one day, I sat down and wrote an article about this problem: 21 Reasons Why Stock Photo Sites Make Me Cry.

 

9.

Will:
I have a new favorite font, but while it’s in Microsoft Office, when some of the online meeting tools convert it, they replace my beautiful artsy font with a boring font often of the wrong size. Are there any ways to do a work around? Can I search-and-replace fonts for example?

Connie:
For those situations, you could make a second version of the presentation for online meeting tools and change the font to a similar but more common one in your template. Even though it might be boring, it everything will line up the way you want it to. If the online meeting tool is hosted by a professional association or a company, you can see if they would be willing to install the font on the hosting computer.

As to replacing fonts, I’ve always replaced the font in the Slide Master and that usually works. You may have to choose the Master Layout again in your slide though.

 

10.

Will:
Connie, I love the section in your book on creating a visual hierarchy. As you describe it, visual hierarchies send unconscious signals to our brains that prompt us to look at certain parts of the visual before other parts. I didn’t really know this until I read your book. Thank you! I’m a big believer in PowerPoint (or KeyNote, etc.) of revealing aspects of our visuals one at a time, which is probably cheating to get a similar effect to hierarchies—but sometimes there would be a huge benefit in having a visual hierarchy. Please educate us on how to create a visual hierarchy, and tell us why it’s so important.

 

Connie:
A visual hierarchy indicates where the viewer should look first, second and perhaps third. Make your most important element the first thing that people will look at. You can do this through contrast.  Make it larger, place it in the upper left or top of the screen, make the element more colorful or brighter or add movement (if appropriate to the learning). There are other ways, but that’s a good place to start.

 

11.

Will:
I notice you added humor into your book. I laughed out loud when you told me that to transform myself into an “expert designer” that I’d need to wear all black. LOL. Your book is extremely helpful—and one doesn’t even have to change their wardrobe.

What’s your most important message for us learning professionals? Besides reading your book, what else can we do to be more effective? And, are there any methods you’ve seen for getting evaluation feedback on our visual designs?

Connie:
There are a lot of things learning professionals can do in addition to reading my book, dressing in all black and getting piercings in weird places:

  • Analyze the visual design in your environment and see what works and what doesn’t. Think about what the designer was trying to achieve. Notice the layout, typography, color palette and focal point. This means studying the design of websites, apps, magazines, brochures, posters, books, catalogs, packaging, billboards, subway ads, store interiors, videos, icons and junk mail. You get the idea.
  • Start an online collection (via Pinterest, bookmark sites, etc.) of designs that you like. Then use these for inspiration the next time you are stuck.
  • Read design books. Although most design books focus on advertisements and branding, they still offer a lot of sound principles and inspiration.

 

12.

Will:
Finally, what’s the best way for people to get your book?

Connie:
Thanks for asking. My book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the ATD online bookstore, where it is discounted for members. I hope your readers understand that there are around 130 color graphics, which makes it a little more on the expensive side due to printing costs.

 

Will’s Note:
You can view the book on Amazon
by clicking the image below:

In my 30th year in the workplace learning field, I've seen in my own work — and in that of my clients — that I cannot control everything that happens. I can make recommendations to clients, and I can get better as a persuader, but I can't force change.

I've also seen my clients and instructional designers everywhere struggle to make small improvements against floodwaters of organizational lethargy, misunderstandings about learning, conflicting priorities, and more. I've seen the same thing with CLO's, training directors, and other learning executives as well.

I've come to know many dogged professionals who keep at it year after year against Sisyphean challenges, making improvements — even small improvements — wherever and whenever they can. I admire them greatly.

To be effective in our jobs as learning professionals, we not only have to know the research and know our craft, we also have to develop an ability to marshal our resolve, maintain our perseverance, and retain at least some semblance of equanimity.

Perhaps by sharing our laments and our aspirations, we can get a little closer to these ideals.

I'm not religious, but it seems that a "serenity-prayer" approach for instructional designers might prove valuable.

 

Give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

 

Things that cannot be changed (in the short term):

    Examples:

  • Sometimes, I will need to crank out learning interventions that fail my standards for effectiveness.
  • Sometimes, I will need to fail to adequately evaluate my learning interventions.
  • Sometimes, I will need to do an inadequate job in doing needs assessment.
  • Sometimes, I will need to….

            List your "things that cannot be changed (in the short term)" below in the comments.

 

Things that require the courage to push for change:

    Examples:

  • Learning interventions that produce only awareness — should be improved to help learners be competent enough to perform a skill.
  • Learning interventions that don't utilize spaced repetitions — should be improved to space repetitions over time.
  • Learning interventions that don't provide substantial realistic practice — should be improved to provide skill practice that mimics the most salient aspects of the targeted (on-the-job) performance environment.
  • Smile sheets that utilize Likert-like scales or numeric scales — should be improved to utilize distinctive answer choices.
  • Et cetera…

 

Wisdom to know the difference:

    Examples:

  • By making a distinction between the short term and the long term, I can meet my task goals while pushing for lasting improvements.
  • By searching out the most dedicated learning professionals, by gathering together in a mutual effort to make the system work for better learning and performance improvement, I can maintain my motivation and energy to keep at it.
  • By meeting my organizational obligations with a steady excellence, I can develop the credibility and power to enable me to be persuasive and potent in pushing for improvements.
  • Et cetera…

 

These are just some examples… My hope is that you will add your thoughts and wisdom in the comments.

I just learned of a new initiative to push professionalization in the workplace learning-and-performance field. Because I'm a strong believer that we regularly fail in this, I'm signing on!

The Four Responsibilities of The Learning Professional

Here's what I wrote in my commitment statement:

Brilliant! And needed! The workplace learning-and-performance field is severely under-professionalized. When an organization asks an architect to design a building, the architect works from time-tested principles, from a code of ethics, from an architecture-first integrity. Certainly architects try to help their clients meet their goals, but they don't capitulate on the important stuff. I believe in the four principles!

Still, I think maybe we need to be even more directive. For example, we need to have a responsibility focused on working toward successive improvement, to doing effective measurement, etc. Maybe the four responsibilities can provide the umbrella hierarchy for more specific responsibilities… I'm a professional quibbler. Sorry about that! I wholeheartedly support your effort!

Check out the FOUR-RESPONSIBILITIES website by CLICKING HERE!

 

More Noble Causes in the Learning Field:

And, if you're the kind to sign up for noble causes, please check out the Serious eLearning Manifesto, which I worked on with Michael Allen, Julie Dirksen, and Clark Quinn.

Also, check out The Debunker Club, an effort to rid the learning field of myths and misconceptions. You can join the Debunker.Club too!