Engagement – a case study (with tricks)

About fifteen years ago I was asked to help redesign a CPD program.

As you always should, we started by getting to know our audience and we learned as much as we could about the profession and its workers. One thign that was clear was that the people involved were good. I mean really good. The level of knowledge and experience they possessed was clearly going to be both our best asset, and our greatest challenge.

Lecturing to those with practical experience is a mugs’ game. It’s not merely pointless but counterproductive when the audience knows your material’s assumptions and limitations. It’s those little simplifications we have to make in a theoretical context that lead to those who has worked in the “real world” offering wry smiles and then dismissing the program as not credible.

On the other hand, experts well…. um… do tend to like the sound of their own voice…

did I just say that???

Sorry I meant to say that they are eager to act as mentors. Including to other equally experienced experts. (My turn to wear a wry smile…)

More seriously… what an asset! How about not having to make all those little simplifications? How about drawing on practical experiences and applications from the audience to turn black and white into shades of grey? After all – our audience had finished with the black and white after their graduation ceremonies… when they began to learn what no teacher can offer a class.

One thing I learned is not to fight an adult audience and instead to harness them.

Building interactivity into the eLearning we created made it more rewarding and more valueable at the same time. It required us to concede we were not the smartest people in every room as regards the topic and instead be the smartest learning environment creators in the room (our job, after all!)

Multiple choice – the enemy of engagement

We never asked a question with a right and a wrong. We asked better questions with multiple valid answers depending on circumstances. These became decision points in a branching scenario where people could form their own conclusions as to what was the best decision.

These were interspersed with reflective questions… “In the following situation, what would you recommend?” is an invitation to offer wisdom. We would wait for a considered submission and then take it seriously in one of the following ways:

  1. asking the learner to compare what they had offered to something presented as “here is our response to the same situation. Please provide your thinking as regards the differences”
  2. submitting the response for review by peers – we took the module response and injected it into a discussion forum for peers
  3. modifying the comparison approach (1 above) to inject automatically into the module the last 3 responses given by others to the question, or
  4. inviting the respondent to categorise their approach into one of a set of options, then having the LMS keep track of the proportion of respondents who chose each category to that it could inject a real-time graph of the distribution of collegues’ thinking.

All this was live and automated. Better yet, it created new content – the responses were used to improve our modules and add more insightful text. The modules themselves served to inform us when we were making assumptions or exhibiting unconscious bias (our audience loved to pick us up!)

It was always fascinating to look at the way the overall population’s viewpoint evolved over time – the graphs from type 4 above would slowly change as new ideas were established in the sector and this in turn allowed us to update modules to inform our audience about changes to prevailing ideas.

Taking it forth… a community

We did not view our duty as ceasing on the last page of a module. It was critical that any momentum we’d built (often exhibited in the form of professional debate) continue, but that required us to consider how to build a sense of community online?

Clearly the obvious approach involves social media  – discussion boards and the like and these proved valuable especially when the discussions were guided by a respected expert and built around a scenario.

Another really successful approach was inviting the former participants back to help us review and comment on the in-module offering of those who came after them.

A third approach was to draw in the collected contributions and use the ideas from our learners reflective responses to create new scenarios around the same topic – often shorter – and build them into new microlearning items to generate yet more responses.

Our approach was so successful that an entire sector’s training was transformed – you can still hear the differences in how its workers discuss their ideas to this day. Meanwhile their peak body moved from a century old membership-based funding model to training-based funding model with one of the country’s most profitable training subsidiaries within eighteen months.

I remain pretty proud of that…

Training videos on a shoestring

Yesterday I had coffee with a fellow instructional designer. She spoke about how videos are perfect for some of the things she’s tasked with teaching before adding “… of course I don’t have the budget to do that”. It was the second time I’d heard exactly that line in the last week alone.

My company started life as a TV production crew. We hold many awards for video and while it was certainly true once that with video you could have quality or economy – not both – it equally surely is not true now. When GVM started life we bought three massive editing computers and spent half a million dollars; today we do far more on low end laptops.

We used to spend tens of thousands on fancy cameras and a great deal on tapes. It would cost a few thousand for an autocue complete with a specialist to drive it. Many videos now are shot on a smartphone on a tripod. There are no tapes required and the autocue has become an onld iPad with a free app.  Video production has become so easy for our clients to do that our role now is often simply to point them in the right direction and let them go.

So long as you have the basics right – your camera’s mounted (please! no queezycam!), your scene’s well lit and the audio is crisp (and no…  that doesn’t have to be expensive either) – a few basic tips is all you’ll need for a DIY video that passes the watercooler test, so I thought I’d share a few…


Know what you want

We’ve all seen those painful internally-produced videos that just seem to try hard for authenticity but fail. They look amateurish with overacting, poor editing and ultimately the message is lost.

I’ll let you into a little secret – the difference between that and a professional job is often pretty small.

More often than not, the amateur director simply forgets what they are trying to achieve. Once we get a camera in our hands we forget everything we know about messaging and about why we’re filming and are led by the medium.

A professional is simply clearer about what they are doing, why they are doing it and above all what they are not doing… and they adhere to it.

My advice is to do what you know – in fact an instructional designer is not unlike a scriptwriter in many ways – start with what you know. Before you do anything else, complete the following:

My audience is comprised of members of the  _____________ (single) persona. I need them to know ___________ so that they can __________ (single goal). I will do this by showing them ___________ because our analysis shows that other approaches don’t work well due to __________.

Use a minimalist approach from there. Nothing you shoot should be unscripted and nothing you script should not be germaine to the goal you have set above.


Know the medium

In the last section I suggested restrictingg video to situations where “other approaches don’t work well”. That might sound like I am advocating video only as a last resort. In fact my point is different. If you have a good solution, use it. Like any medium, video should be used where it is the best approach. Those cringeworthy efforts we sometimes see are typically produced for their own sake – “Have camera, will shoot”.

A professional director would never commence work before knowing your alternative approaches. They go far beyond “what are we saying” to understand “and why do you want me to be the one to say it?” Armed with that, they add nuance. They study YouTube to find others who have grappled with the same issues. They think about how to deliver those messages that have proved challenging to convey through casting and setting decisions. They remain focussed on the challenges, not the decoration.

Never forget that you do have options. Just because your teaching point has not done well in a classroom, an animation or an eLearning course, does not mean video is your only option. The options available to us are expanding all the time. (I’d like to offer a shout out to Jennifer Gallegos and Matt Sparks here – they recently wrote a terrific article on the use of immersive audio – a form of VR – and talk about its capacity to draw the listener’s attention to key points using sound alone.)


Less is More

Your viewer has a superpower – the “scrub forward” slider.

You have a single defence – relevance. Never attempt to make more than a single significant point in a video before allowing the person to stop and reflect. You have reserved a space in a conversation – don’t get greedy. For the same reason, the moment your video runs over 90 seconds it’s doomed to be fast forwarded.

Beyond adding carefully considered dot points, I would never use effects in a training video – for something that will take a lot of effort you are almost certainly going to add something that you will love and others will smirk at. Again, the issue is relevance. Remember a director has a budget too – they add effects because they need them and only then. Your audience has been brought up expecting that an effect is there for a particularly important reason. If it’s purely aesthetic is simply cuts against our intuitive grain.


Don’t tell, show

If you have chosen video as your medium, presumably your message isn’t well conveyed through telling. You chose video because you want to show something, so do that.

In film and TV, the term used to describe a situation where characters explain something to us is “exposition”. Writing these scenes is one of the most challenging tasks for any scriptwriter.

You know the one… the scene at the end of every B-grade detective show where the hero responds to that question “there’s just one thing I don’t get…”. I’m cringing just thinking about it!  Unfortunately, unless you are a gifted screenwriter, your expositions will always look forced. In you need exposition, you probably shouln’t have chosen this medium.

Show us! The best videos work with the sound off. That’s a great test and in fact, you may find that’s how they are played at times. After all, in an office setting it’s often impractical to turn sound on.

Finally, always ensure your scenes have motion in them – people are moving naturally and providing an example of the poit you’re making (rather than glued to a spot talking about it).



The economic case for knowledge sharing

After my post on 70:20:10 at the end of last year, I took a bit of a break from posting to read more research on this area and was struck by the findings of a number of studies that show just how crucial it is to create knowledge sharing cultures. It’s becoming clear that there is a consensus that it’s not only linked to business survival, but to the prospects for Australia as a whole. Our government’s economic research stresses that while innovation is vital throughout the OECD now more than ever, Australia’s circumstances make innovation our number one priority.


The decline of productivity growth in Australia


In the period since 2012, Australia’s productivity growth has declined steadily and it’s not alone. That said, the issues that give rise to this problem are domestic according to Australia’s treasury analysis:

“Australia’s recent productivity slowdown is not an isolated occurrence. Developed
economies have experienced slowing productivity growth in recent decades,
particularly during the 2000s. […] Australia’s recent productivity performance appears to be driven by domestic factors rather than factors common to developed economies.” (Australian Treasury)

The report points out that Australia has several specific challenges:

  1. Ours is an economy in transition from a mining and agricultural one to a more diverse economy, and
  2. Australia does not have the capacity to generate the level of new product innovation it would need to arrest the productivity decline on its own.

The second point underscres the degree to which Australia’s growth is welded to the level of innovation we can import from countries such as the USA.

Worryingly, the same research goes on to point to a worldwide slowing down of innovation generally worldwide. For example Gordon’s provocatively titled paper Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds actually concluded that the factors which saw product innovation underpin our growth for the last century are gone forever.


All is not lost

Despite this, the latest Australian Government Innovation Activity Survey shows clearly that the proportion of businesses here who are defined as “innovation-active” is actually rising and is now almost at 50%. Even with our limitations, the good news is that now more than ever, Australian businesses have new forms of innovation beyond this traditional pure R&D available to them and the Australian Government points to a trend for Australian businesses to innovate in new areas.

“… business innovation encompasses much more than these measures. Australian firms undertaking innovation are more likely to invest in purchasing new equipment, training and marketing than investment in R&D or acquiring intellectual
property. ”
(Australian Treasury)


The number one barrier to becoming an innovative organisation

The same survey polled businesses to determine the greatest barriers to innovation and this is where all this links back to training.

The number one barrier to further innovation was a lack of skills. By comparison, the cost of innovating was a barrier for fewer than half as many buinesses.

More than a quarter of innovation-active businesses and almost a fifth of all businesses pointed to skills shortages as a concern and it was also the number one barrier for those businesses who were not actively innovating,


The solution

The largest Australian survey related to innovation, staff performance and skills was undertaken as part of a Ph.D. thesis for RMIT University, Melbourne by Peter Chomley who reported that his research “confirmed the relationship between the dimensions of Knowledge Sharing Behavior and Workplace Innovation” – in other words that there is a direct link between use of knowledge sharing in the workplace as the means of skills development and innovation outcomes.

“Knowledge sharing links individual, team and organization by sharing knowledge and expertise from an individual to an organizational level where it is converted to competitive value and advantage for the organization.”

It is here that 70:20:10 becomes central to this picture. In fact, Chomley’s research prioritises a number of the same ideas I pointed to in my last article on that topic :

“the behaviors investigated in this thesis were not constrained to
organization specific knowledge and include the sharing of knowledge gained
outside the organization of employment, either through continued education,
participation in professional bodies/Communities of Practice (CoP) or Communities
of Interest (CoI), or in boundary spanning activities.”

It makes sense. While it’s obvious why creating a new product will lead to business outcomes, we often forget just how much we can gain from less visible innovation.  For example, simply creating a knowledge sharing culture has been shown to foster innovation.

I wonder how often your organisation repeats its mistakes? How often has one project team found an error and addressed it, but without documenting or sharing their findings so that a second team repeats the same error completely unaware of the solution? Innovation will happen naturally if you let it (in this case the innovation is the rectification of a fault). If only the organisation had established a culture that saw it captured as an asset!

The challenge is to prepare the ground that turns individual innovation into team innovation and team innovation into organisational innovation.

Conversely, the absence of a knowledge sharing culture not only prevents the organisation capitalising on innovation but stifles innovation itself by conveying a message that it is undervalued.

So… how good is knowledge sharing and 70:20:10 generally?

  • 70:20:10 is the natural way humans learn – and we are being told by businesses that if only their staff had greater skills they would be able to innovate.
  • Meanwhile that very same culture is itself fertile ground in which innovations germinate and grow.
  • Best of all, as I’ve previously pointed out, 70:20:10 is easier and cheaper to do than you probably realise.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer really but it will not happen by itself. 70:20:10 environments don’t just happen – they are fostered by supervisors and by training coordinaters – Chomly’s work highlights this point too:

“From the managerial perspective, the managers and chief knowledge officers may
create a knowledge-friendly environment through the encouragement and
facilitation of teamwork, communities of practice, personal networks, strong and
weak ties, and boundary-spanning.”

and finally he reiterates the key role that policy makers must play:

“Management policy is informed by these findings and can be further developed to
encourage a sharing, learning and innovative growth mindset”

70:20:10 and how to do it

In recent weeks I’ve spoken about xAPI and in particular how it relates to the idea of 70:20:10.

Today I gave a presentation on xAPI and found myself looking at blank faces when I got to that 70:20:10 part. to appreciate xAPI means knowing about 70:20:10 and so I found myself on a 70:20:10 tangent.

I know that while many readers have a good idea of this term, but not many have an idea where it came from, what evidence there is for it and what kinds of activities fall into each category. I thought I’d present some of what I told my group here…

The term 70:20:10 is a reference to the fact that humans were not designed for classrooms let alone LMSes. We learn by doing or by being shown. Around 40 years ago, some work was done to try to measure how much we learn in each way. In 1971 Allen Tough from the University of Toronto published the following statement ‘about 70% of all learning projects are planned by the learner himself’ about fifteen years after that, Morgan McCall, Bob Eichinger and Michael Lombardo (all working at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina)went on to observe that for corporate settings,

“Lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly:
70% from tough jobs
20% from people (mostly the boss)
10% from courses and reading”

There have been a number of researchers since then who have cited similar ratios and though the importance really is not whether it’s 70:20:10 or another ratio – what’s important is that learning on the job, gaining experience, interacting with colleagues and performing tasks are by far the most effective way to learn.

Casebow and Ferguson identified informal chats with managers and on-the-job tuition from supervisors are the best way to teach employees. In fact our everyday experience is that when left to their own devices, people want to be shown – that’s one reason so many use YouTube as their primary self education resource.

The challenge for educators is one of stepping away from the instruction they were trained to deliver and focus instead on allowing people to teach themselves. This is easier said than done. The questions it raises include:

  • Will busy people actually set aside the time to learn? How will we know?
  • How will we link learners to the best mentors?
  • How will we handle those least skilled at self education?
  • How will we accredit staff?
  • How can we apply quality control to the information people find?
  • How will people be able to identify all their own knowledge gaps for themselves?

The answers to these and other questions vary between situations but the important point is to provide options. Creating an environment where people can indulge their curiosity and are safe to fail while not ignoring the 20 and the 10.

What this looks like will vary as I say but examples of ways to harness the “70” include:

  • Increasing people’s level of responsiblity perhaps through affording greater control, more autonomy, opportunities to lead or to join a committee or a smaller team.
  • Increasing the diversity of experience through role swaps or secondments
  • Allowing people to develop existing knowledge, applying it to increasingly specialist or more complex situations, stretch assignments or train others
  • Increasing the exposure to practical outcomes by being assigned to new projets and to real situations earlier
  • Encouraging people to think – to research ideas and reflect on work done.

The “20” is focussed on collaboration. Options include:

  • Joining professional bodies, attending events, joining industry groups and attending conferences
  • Implementing mentoring programs formally or encouraging informal mentoring
  • Ensuring that your corporate culture encourages people to seek advice and act as a sounding board to others
  • Implementing a policy of group discussions, group debriefs
  • Building the mentoring skills of members of the leadership group

Looking at it this way, the task is much less daunting. For example:
You will probably be doing some of these things now!
It’s usually far easier to get people enthusiastic about these kinds of actvities than attending formal learning.
These activities scale naturally – while a larger team makes class based learning a bigger challenge, the opposite is the case when you rely on team based activities. The bigger the group, the easier it is!
It’s great for budgets – much of this requires very little outlay financially yet the return is greater (70 and 20 as opposed to 10).

Little surprise then, that the 70:20:10 model was instantly attractive to trainers from a theoretical standpoint. The practice has been harder to imagine in part because it involves such a conceptual rethinkig, in part because it relies on everyone taking responsibility including the leadership group and in part because of those tricky questions above related to quantifying and measuring.

Cultural changes are what HR and L&D are good at. Learning Analytics – measuring the amorphous is where xAPI comes in. And now, you’re not on your own. The new xAPI Trailblazers Group is here to help you make 70:20:10 and xAPI work in your organisation. Want to know more? Drop me a line!

Instilled LXP launches in Australia

Last week I foreshadowed the launch of to the Instilled LXP in Australia.

Later I had the privilege of hosting that launch and wanted to share a recording of the event.

Instilled is a foretaste of the way eLearning is heading – a democratised, crowd-sourced way to have taff share knowledge in seconds and supported by xAPI and artificial intelligence that brings resources together to create smart, efficient just in time learning.

I’d love your thoughts!


LXP – rethinking online learning

This week I had the pleasure of launching an entirely new eLearning concept – the Instilled Learning Experience Platform (LXP). It really was not until I first saw the Instilled LXP in June this year that I realised just how dated our entire eLearning approach has become.

To understand LXPs, it’s important to remember that the ideas on which we base our current approaches to eLearning were developed in the 1990s – more than twenty years ago.

Back then we were not asked how videos will play let alone virtual reality. We were being asked “will it work over my 28k dialup in a remote area?” and “can you guarantee no content will be more than a few kilobytes?”

As for collaborative learning, well those of you who are getting old like me might remember the revolutionary forerunner of social media – Myspace. We are talking of a time ten years before Myspace was released so no-one had ever thought of people sending content up to a server. Servers do the delivery right?

Sure, a lot of tools have bolted these kinds of things on since then, but why don’t LMSes report when people skip a video? Why don’t they easily associate discussions with the content people are discussing well? The answer is that every one of the 700 LMSes in the world today is fundamentally based on 1990s concepts and any extensions are just that. Little wonder that digital natives would prefer to learn from a system not originally intended to teach – YouTube – than a system that is!

If we had our time again, we’d create a system that is much more like a social platform than a static website.

  • Where everyone can share their expertise by clicking a button and having the system capture it then and there;
  • Where content is automatically translated into your preferred language;
  • Where artificial intelligence matches your knowledge needs to the best content;
  • Where the whole experience of getting some knowledge takes two minutes and two clicks;
  • Where staff capture nuggets of information and have a truly intelligent system work out what they are saying so others can search for it;
  • Where others can add to that information and make it richer by contributing their thoughts and having the system link each thought to the most relevant spot within the content being discussed;
  • Where any type of content – be it a course, a document, a video or a presentation will play through a single player;
  • Where you get what you need when you need it and content is a click away at all times – no need to muck around with enrolments.
  • Where compliance and formal training can also be loaded and reporting is based on modern learning analytics;
  • Where the system extends out into the coalface and fosters on the job learning and experiential training (xAPI)

In short, we’d build a Learning Experience Platform.

If you were not able to make the launch, let me know and I can send you a link to the recording, but either way it’s time to fasten safety belts – online training is about to meet the 21st century!.

Gotta love trainers’ ingenuity!

I have to take my hat off to everyone who just completed the latest xAPI Cohort – all 650 of them! They spent 3 months “together” online for an hour a week from all over the world and learned every aspect of xAPI.

What I loved most was the ingenious projects the “teams” undertook. It really uderscores what I have been saying in this series – xAPI is a technology that allows educators to shake off the straight-jacket of SCORM and get back to innovating!

Over the last two weeks they each got a chance to present their work to the group and I can’t think of many other single technologies that has led to so many practical and diverse outcomes.

As of next year, these xAPI cohorts will be available to Australians too! There’s no charge and it’s a fun and collegiate way to prepare for the future of learning. If you are keen to take part, drop me a line!

My favourite team was led by a grandmother looking to provide improved reporting of early childhood development. She and her group built a tool that a childcare centre can use to analyse child development and it does that with xAPI. Each time a child sleeps, it measures the level of rest they gain. Meanwhile it measures their nutrition, time of dropoff and collection and it keeps track as they achieve development goals. This is a microcosm of xAPI’s big picture goal – to provide a truely holistic picture of a person’s development including activities, formal learning, and personal preferences. What’s really cool is that it now applies to the 3 year olds too!

The next team showed us how analytics and educational games can combine to help people with limited computer skills become more comfortable with technology. They developed a simple 3D world for participants to explore. As they move around and complete small tasks such as placing a ball in a box using a mouse, xAPI keeps a record of what they clicked, what they dragged, when they succeeded and when they had difficulty. Speaking as a person who has often been tasked with designing technological solutions for people with limited confidence in technology, I found the concept really interesting. Better yet, it was particularly interesting to see the graphs of progress against time – how many of us would like to know how their learners are growing more confident with the systems we offer over time?

One other team explored how to take a course created with limited xAPI and retrofit xAPI to it. By the time they had finished, this previously SCORM-only course was measuring the time people spent on each slide. It was looking at whether people muted or “scrubbed through” a video rather than watching it and even reporting when someone set a video playing in a course and became distracted by another task! They could see which videos seem to be over-complex, which seem to be boring and which were effective educational tools. When it came to the quiz, we had immediate access to the kind of analysis that only the most expensive LMSes would normally offer – without the need to buy an LMS.

Another team tacked the issue that chatbots can be impersonal. They designed a system that utilises Alexa as a technical support helpdesk while using xAPI to capture information about each person’s interactions with this automated helpdesk. In short, they have created a chatbot that has a human “supervisor” keeping an eye on the quality of its work and knowing when a person needs to become involved.

Yet another focused on a branching educational video in which a learner can make choices that determine how a scenario plays out. This is something that many of us have seen and often makes for exceptionally engaging interactions. In most cases it gets inserted into a course in a standalone way – we get no data from it. What’s new is that xAPI makes it measurable; we can see the route each person took, and from that learn about their style, knowledge and knowledge gaps.

One other came up with the ingenious idea of monitoring how a reader interacts with an eBook. The data they collect will tell an author what parts were most read, what was skimmed, the order in which people move through topics and where they spent time. They talked about employee handbooks that could be personalised to people based on their roles and needs, but I could not help but imagine this kind of data collection becoming an integral part of the commercial publishing process in the future.

When these things become ubiquitous, remember you saw it first at the xAPI cohort.