Monday, November 28, 2011

Play Santa

"Well, pucker up and kiss it, Whoville."    -  The Grinch
Give yourself a gift for next year.  Commit to attending and participating in one learning event, training class, or conference next year.  I know, you’re too busy or you don’t have it in the budget.  You can come up with a hundred reasons not to, but you should consider the valuable reasons to do it. 
Get out of your box.  When you work with the same people day in and day out you don’t get an infusion of new ideas.  You just keep plodding along with what’s worked for you in the past.  Even new ideas and processes get stale at some point.  The 8-track was brilliant at one point in time.

It’s not what you know but who you know.  Everyone has heard that in terms of career advancement, but it has a parallel in business called networking.  No matter what job you have there are probably other professionals that do just what you do.  Only the most arrogant people would say they have nothing to learn from others, and it’s always helpful to have a cache of people in your contacts that you can ask questions of or just chat business. 

Get fired up.  Oddly enough it’s through the excitement of others that you can regain that passion you once had.  Everyone gets bored or in a rut.  The best way to prime your pump is to sit and watch a few other people who are excited about your profession.  I have to say the biggest thing I get out of a conference is just that spark, that excitement that I take back to my own desk.

Increase your value.  If you really participate you will come back excited and probably have a box full of new ideas to at least discuss with your team.  The potential value you bring is high.  Every conference that I or my team has been to has given my team insights that have increased our value to our customers.  What is a better investment than that?

Recharge.  Sure it’s work, and sometimes you spend more hours attending events than you do in your regular job.  But it’s like a mini vacation.  You will come back recharged and ready to go.

Cool Stuff.  Schwag.  Enough said.

I hope I’ve planted the seed in your mind to search out and attend a learning event or industry conference.  Don’t be a Grinch.  Give yourself a gift.

You can even dress up in a red suit and yell “Ho Ho Ho” if it makes you feel better.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Mac & Cheese

"I find chopsticks frankly distressing."
                  -  Bill Bryson

I like that quote because it is memorable.  To find a utensil distressing is an odd thing to say, and we remember odd things.  Of course Bill isn’t remarking on the instrument themselves, but the culture that persists their use.

That’s why I love to use the Mac & Cheese quote, which is, as far as I can tell, my own original.  When I have to teach people how to develop a learning exercise or topic, I tell them “Start with tasks.”  Which sounds good until you realize that people don’t really know what tasks are, or they all have different ideas. 

So I came up with Mac & Cheese!

Mac & Cheese is really a mnemonic for remembering how to construct a great task.

Measureable.  Your tasks must be measureable in a real way.  Most people, when speaking of software, come up with a task that resembles “Use the software.”  Well what does that mean?  If I simply open the software a click something, is that “using?”  What is using anyway?  I’ll tell you what “using” is - it’s nonsense!  It’s like “know” and “understand.”  Simply unmeasureable.   Good tasks are constructed in such a way as I can have a stranger stand behind them and evaluate whether that task is complete.

Action Verbs.  Make sure your verbs are some sort of positive action.  I like build, describe, construct, and verbs like that.  They describe an action.

Concise.   Good tasks are fully described.  They describe the action and the expected result.  “Build a display file with a live, updating trend that shows the last 4 hours values for ….”  You should strive to leave nothing vague.

And there you have it!  MAC.  What about the Cheese part?  That’s easy.  Smile and have fun  (Say “cheese”)!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.”
                           -  George Bernard Shaw

I am often asked by non-learning people, "What is the best way to go about developing materials for a course, exercise, or learning activity?"

I say it's easy.  Start with Rule #3Go Slow, this information is critical to your audience.

"Go Slow..."  Pace your talk.  No matter what you think about how long your activity will be, it will take at least two times as long as you think it will.  You need time to let material sink in, to let learners absorb and process the new skills.  And remember, you will get questions!  They always add time and can turn into lengthy but valuable tangents.  Leave time to create a connection with your audience.

"... your audience."  Focus.  When you are assembling materials don't try to cram everything into one exercise or session.  Figure out what you really want to get across.  Ask yourself, what skills or information do you really want your learners to leave with.

"... #3:"  Remember the rule of three.  The human brain is limited as to what it can take in and store at one time.  Every time someone gets "full" they shove things to the back to make room for new facts.  Think of the last conference or class you were at and how many things you really remember from it.  Try to narrow your exercise down to three of the most important skills.  This is especially true if you have to share the day with other presentations. 

Remember Buck's Rule #3 and you really are off to a solid start.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Is this thing on?

"I get so tired listening to one million dollars here, one million dollars there, it's so petty."
Imelda Marcos

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just not communicating?  You’re not making that crucial connection with your audience?
Learning is a different game than most.  If you don’t make that connection with your learner it doesn’t matter how good your information is.  You aren’t going to be effective, they aren’t going to learn, and the whole thing is a failure.

Now abstract that one more step – asynchronous learning.  Traditional computer based learning offers little in the way of feedback, and in some regards it is even more important.  Without an instructor standing over your shoulder answering questions, how can we possibly know if we are successful?  

We have had computer based training videos for years and I have absolutely no idea whether they are useful in any way. Sure people buy them but I don’t know if they use them.  I don’t know if they are helpful or they confuse the issue.  I don’t know if people feel they got value.  For all I know I could be in the business of producing expensive coasters.

This is one of the main reasons why, earlier this year at OSIsoft, LLC, we published our entire catalog to YouTube.  Hundreds and hundreds of videos are now available for free, and I will argue that we get more out of this than my customers.

How can that be? 

It is simple – I now have a real-time gauge of how successful my videos are.  I can see who is watching what videos, what videos are successful, and most importantly you, as a user, can leave us feedback.  We have already had customers ask questions we have been able to answer quickly.  One customer requested an explanation of a certain topic that we suspected was highly desired and within a week we had videos posted.  The interaction is endless.

You can ask questions and we can provide answers – answers that ultimately help you learn.  Isn’t that why we’re here?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Think Different?

          "As you get older, you look at things differently."
             -   Brett Favre

One of the most difficult things to do in life is admit there's a better way to do something.  After all, you may have spent years or even decades perfecting something.  You have probably had a good deal of success with your methods.  They are comfortable and they work.  Change can only have a downside, right?!

I thought about this today as I was listening to a country band cover one of my rock and roll favorites.  It definitely wasn't the same experience, but it wasn't better or worse either.  It was different and I enjoyed the fact that in the alternative arrangement I heard things in the song I had never noticed before.  It gave me a better appreciation of the song.  And I realized that most people don't even bother to listen to a cover because they're comfortable with what they know.

Few people like to change, but it's the only way we truly improve things.  I look at the way we did training years ago - throw some PowerPoint slides together and rent a room.  Or spending 40 hours of development time for every hour of classroom training.

But Thiagi has shown us we don't have to make that investment to be effective.  And people like Tufte have shown us that presenting is not learning.  Changing the way we think of, design, and deliver learning isn't always easy.  In fact, most times it's so hard you wonder if it's worth the effort at all.But you have to change. 
Because if you're not improving you're falling behind.

Friday, July 01, 2011

I once was lost, how did I get found?

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
        - Martin Luther King, Jr.
I had a discussion the other day with a course designer, and we were both complaining about having to show every feature before we demonstrated it and let the learners try it.  And then it struck us - Why?  Won't the learners get lost without a clear vision of what they need to do?

Why do we have to hand hold learners through every single feature?  Because that's what everyone does?  Because that's what we're done since first grade?  because that's the way we've always done it?

Just Because?!?

Whenever I hear an answer start with "because we ..." I always know there's something stupid coming.  So we started asking each other questions.

"What if we gave them a couple of clues and let them discover how to use each feature? 

"What if we let them get together in groups and try to guide each other through the menus in a game to see how many of them could get as many features on the page?

"What if we made it a friendly competition!"

This is where real change is made.  We will try this on a test group in the coming months.   I'll keep you posted.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Real Returns

“Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight.”       
            -    Bill Gates
What is the real measuring stick in learning?  Of course, it is a change in behavior that improves a learner's work life.  So why do we insist on collecting "smile sheets" - those evaluation forms - at the end of each class?

I'm going to say something controversial - don't do it.  They are useless for measuring learning performance. 

In fact, in my opinion they are harmful.  They hurt our effort to be better learning designers because they give us a false sense of success.  If you look at results and comments, almost everyone rates a course excellent or good.  And in most cases they are grading on their subjective entertainment experience in class.  They aren't telling you if they actually learned and applied new skills - they're telling you how they liked the cookies and coffee.

So I say ditch the forms and put in place some sort of survey at least a week after the session but no longer than three weeks.  Ask people important questions, like: 
  • Did you use your skills?
  • What skills did you find most helpful?
  • What skills did you just not get?

Now that's a real measure.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Embrace Change

“Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 
        -  Alphonse Karr, Novelist
As I prepare to talk about social networking and learning next week at the eLearning DevCon 2011, I can't help thinking that a lot of what we call new isn't really new at all.  Most of the things we do today are rooted in what traditionally works when people interact.  And after all, that's what Learning is in most cases: people interacting.

Even when you consider the notion of self-p[aced or computer based tutorials, those were still designed by a person to be consumed by another person.  it's still interaction, albeit asynchronous.  Some day maybe computers will be smart enough to figure out what a learner's information needs are without human interaction on the design side, but probably not in my working lifetime.

The real fun and excitement in this industry for me are the new tools however.  I am a self admitted "geek," and the new bells and whistles hold my attention like a fish and shiny lure.  That's why I am so excited about the DevCon.  There will be a lot of shiny things.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


"The appearance of illness is swift as an arrow; its disappearance slow, like a thread. "
     -    Chinese Proverb
As I sit this week laid up with a cold, I find that the worst part of being sick is the irony.  Here I am with all the time in the world and I don’t feel like doing anything.  In fact, I will usually prohibit myself form doing anything important.  Every time I am sick and I try to be productive I look back later at the work and say to myself, What was I thinking?  It’s always garbage.

Being sick also remind us of what we have when we’re feeling well.  Very often we take too much for granted, especially the important things like our own health. 

So the only thing I will do is to read and perhaps learning something new.  The solitude of sickness is often made quicker by occupying your restless mind.

I’ll share another quote, that I will myself take heed of more.

"My own prescription for health is less paperwork and more running barefoot through the grass. "
    -   Terri Guillemets

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don’t Be Anti-Social On Social Networking

"I'm not anti-social. I'm just not social."
                              -  Woody Allen

I should stop being surprised that the biggest hurdles in any program are unexpected.  Or maybe I should just get more cynical and I could anticipate them better.   In our program to bring our voice and video learning to YouTube, making it available to literally anyone who wanted to know more about our software, I have had some people just shocked that we would consider the idea.

They cling to the idea of keeping everything tidy in a box, controlling who gets access when and where.  As a learning designer I am often challenged to get my information to as many people as possible, so this paradigm of secrecy is strange to me.  Moreover, at OSIsoft learning is seen as a sales tool and not a profit center, so this idea of global access is ingrained in what we do.

One of the responses of industry is to create and market “private” social network applications.  These are tools that look much like the collaboration sites we are familiar with, but accessible only within the four walls of the company.   It’s like having a private Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter.  You can see any number of vendors at ASTD and other learning conferences and expos.

But what good is that?  The power of collaboration is not derived from people who normally get together at the water cooler getting together online.  It’s like having a company cell phone that only dials other employees or email that only works within your company domain.  They don’t let you communicate the way you need to, so you wouldn’t use them.

When email and web browsers first debuted many companies avoided them as “time wasters” and applications that had no business value.  These applications challenged traditional rules of control and the workforce.  We have come to understand that these are now valuable tools.

Will social networking catch on in high security areas?  Of course not, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  Even small companies have training areas on their corporate networks, and there are places where collaboration or access to web resources can make an employee more valuable.  These should be nurtured, so you don’t lose valuable opportunities.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Automatic for the people

“Automatic for the people.”
                       -  Dexter Weaver, owner of Weaver D’s

Every once in a long while you come across one of those stories that stay with you for the rest of your life.  These stories make an impact, because of their emotional resonance or their simplicity or the way they hit you in the gut.  One of those stories for me was when I researched and album title in the 1990s. 

I was a fan of the band R.E.M. and in 1992 they release an album cryptically titled Automatic for the people.  My curiosity was piqued.  I needed to know what it meant.  The title referred to one of the mottos of Dexter Weaver, owner of Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods is an Athens, Georgia.  It was their way of saying, “Everything we do is for the people, our customers.”  It’s an amazing, diverse place that transcends all of the racial, class, and professional categories we try to shove ourselves into.  It is truly for everyone.

I had a lifelong story.

So why talk about this now?  At this year’s OSIsoft User Conference we are announcing a revolutionary and radical change in the way we approach learning.  Beginning sometime this Spring (whenever we can process the content), we will begin offering all of our voice and video computer based training content for free using YouTube as the delivery infrastructure.   

One of the failures of learning is not getting it to the people that really need it.  Classroom learning is great but it serves such a small slice of our customer base.  Computer based training on disc usually sit s on a shelf somewhere, languishing unused after an initial browsing.  It is frustrating to have such great content and serve so few people.

When we found the Khan Academy ( ) a light bulb went on.  Based on the Google/YouTube infrastructure, it is a delivery mechanism that a small company could never reproduce.  We could stream videos but the features like transcription, translation into over 50 languages, crowd sourcing, and the best web analytics on the planet are simply out of reach for a small company.

And the best part is the price = free. 

As learning providers we finally have the mass market tool.  We have a tool where we can reach all of our customers, anytime, anywhere.  As we were assembling this project one of our stakeholders said “This is as close to a no-brainer as we will ever have.”

Or as I mused, Automatic for the people.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


"How can you tell that a salesman is lying?  His lips are moving."

Last year I was on a jury in a criminal trial.  It was difficult because the crime was as clear as it was violent.  But the main problem was that the plaintiff and defendant were the only ones to witness - there was no one else around until after the incident.  There was no doubt that something occurred, but was it the crime alleged or something else?

Perhaps the most interesting part of the trial was the demeanor of the two and how it changed based on circumstance.  When the plaintiff was up first she told a compelling and moving story to the prosecutor, but upon cross examination she could no longer remember important details, was evasive, and at some point annoyed at every question.  Clearly her opening was an act, as demonstrated by her own testimony.

We were all set to free the defendant until he took the stand.  He was arrogant and confrontational, answering snidely like this was a complete waste of time and angry someone would even accuse him.  He acted exactly like the stereotypical picture the prosecutor painted.

So what at all does this have to do with learning?

Well, everything.  Because the one thing the plaintiff and defendant had in common was they had zero credibility.  It wasn't a matter of who was lying and who was telling the truth, as we concluded that they were both as dishonest as the day long.  And as instructors or designers, all we have is our credibility.

You don't know an answer and rattle off some BS?  Your audience can tell.  And they won't believe anything you say beyond that point, and probably reevaluate everything in their memory up to that.

One of the most powerful sentences you can utter is, "I don't know that but I can sure get you an answer."

And speaking of sentences: Guilty.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Thinking and Learening in the New year

“We aren't thinking out of the box enough.”
                           - Stansfield Turner

As I watched everyone go back to work in this new year of 2011, the thought struck me that we are mostly similar to hamsters in a wheel.  We run and run and run and we get to the same place, over and over again.  When we're filled with the vitality of youth we have visions and ideals.  Everything we do we look at how to do better, because it's new.

But after a few years we find it easier to give in to the momentum of fighting the wheel.  We get on, get our work done, and hop off.  Same thing yesterday, same thing tomorrow.

I don't know what 2011 will bring, but let's promise ourselves one thing.  Let's promise ourselves to do one significant thing better. Let's break out of the wheel.