Thursday, December 27, 2012

Changes for 2013

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” 
       -  William Jennings Bryan
Far be it for me to talk about learning like it was somehow destiny.  But in the light of a new year I think it is fitting that we all pause for a short time and take stock of the past year.  What did we set out to do and, more importantly, what did we actually accomplish?  Did we make progress in our personal and professional lives?  Did we even take one step forward?

Those that know me will quickly point out that I am a stickler for measurable results - in many cases annoyingly so.  It's easy to set goals, and even easier to allow the momentum of life to carry us into the future without really moving at all.  The daily grind can be debilitating.  Some days it's all you can do to simply tread water, fight fires, or whatever metaphor you need to describe survival.  But as tough as anyone has it, they're still just excuses.

Excuses are the easiest trap of all.  Most of the time we're just trying to convince ourselves.  We need somehow to not feel bad about not taking that step today.  It's one thing to have someone else calls us lazy, but it's altogether something much worse for us to start to believe it.  Humans can create elaborate, intricate fantasies in an effort to protect our precious self-esteem.  But in the end, the constant question remains.  The essential measurement.  How many steps did I take?

I took some steps in 2012.  I achieved some of my goals.  Others I did not.  One of my failings was this blog.  I vowed to blog at least once a week, and it won't take a reader long to discover I missed that one by a country mile.  And when I think back on why, I come across the same theme.  If I didn't have time to write an entire post, or I didn't have a good idea at hand, I just put it out of my mind.  I used that dreaded admonition we all use, I'll get to it later. 

So to this year's goals I will add a simple one.  I will vow that if I can't take a large step I will take one none the less.  However small, however seemingly insignificant, I will take a step.  Maybe I won't write a whole blog, but instead write down three ideas.  Or maybe just one.  Anything is a step forward.  And you know where a lot of small steps leads.

So here's to all of us in 2013 achieving our goals.  And if you don't achieve your goals, achieve something.

Happy New Year.

PS - try to make one of your goals to learn something new!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ancient Wisdom Today

“Tell me and I Forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”
      – Chinese Proverb
 I love to go to conferences and events, to read industry blogs and articles, and generally try to follow the trends in Learning.  There are too many new ideas to keep up with.  And technology is simple roaring ahead - mobile, tablet, smart phones all seem to be driving the future.  And I've always said you can ride the waves or be left behind.

So imagine my surprise when I was at the eLearning DevCon put on by the good folks at Rapid Intake.  Jason Bickle stood up at one of the sessions and said something like, "I'm not going to talk about new stuff, but I'm going to get back to basics."

In his session Creating the Need to Know, Jason took us back to the basics.  He posed the question to the audience, what if we didn't have slides or technology?  What if all we had to rely on was our wits and experience?  What would we fall back on?

Now Jason talked a lot about leveraging cognitive experiences like perception and retention, but to me it took me back to a more functional level.  It reminded me about the basic core tenants of Adult Learning.  We all know what they are:
  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
An so on...

Creating a training class is really creating a Learning experience, and creating a Learning experience is about connecting with people.  It isn't about the technology or how much I can present.  It's about how much sinks in and stays with the learner.  Technology and technique can help or hinder that process, but if the experience doesn't obey the fundamental rules of Adult Learning it will fail.

I have a sign on my wall that says one thing.  Adults learn what is meaningful to them.  I will never forget that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"The day you stop learning is the day you begin decaying."
~ Isaac Asimov
This month marks two milestones for me.  First a life milestone - my oldest child goes off to college.  I think back to the days when I was in his shoes, embarking on a new adventure and the next stage of life where your only job is to absorb and learn.  There were freedoms like I had never known, and I made a lot of mistakes in those days.  But I was young and learned from them and bounced back.   Everyone who went on to get a degree after high school remembers how hard it was but also how full of life those days were.  

I heard someone say the other day that they wished they could go back to college with what they knew today.  But I think not, because the newness of it all, groping your way though situations and finally coming out the other side, was what made it memorable.  Going back now wold be like getting another job - some newness but most of the same.  

So whle I envy my son and the new world of learning he is facing, once is enough.

The second milestone this month was our annual Learning Group meeting.  People from every part of the globe got together for a few days of sharing experiences and designing new things to try in our classrooms.  This year was particularly productive.  I learned as much as I shared, maybe more.  What I found particularly fascinating was the perspectives from people in other parts of the world with other cultures and how they see Learning.  
I learned so much by simply listening, and those shared experiences will shape what we do globally.

But what really struck me this week was the intersection of the two.  I realized that, while I might be nostalgic for those university days, I have been a learner all my life.  And what Mr. Asimov said is true - those parts of my life when I put learning on hold were unremarkable and feel wasted.  And so I consider myself fortunate, because not only do I get to actively learn for a living but my job is to help others to just that.

My son might be starting a new adventure, but mine isn't exactly over yet.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

"It's a sign of trust. It's a human thing. You wouldn't understand."
     -    Detective Del Spooner in I, Robot
Isaac Asimov spent a great deal of his career exploring humans through the vehicle of science fiction.  And as the film starring Will Smith is one of those that makes the cable channel rounds  every few months and I was channel surfing this past weekend, I tuned in for a bit.  So what does this have to do with learning?  Maybe robots in the classroom?  An Artificially Intelligent teacher?

No.  Why does everyone developing learning want to treat their learners (us) as robots?

I have been in some lively conversations this summer, at conferences and at work, where all the buzz is around "mobile learning" and leveraging technology.  But what most people mean is that they want to separate the learner from the instructor.  It takes capital to operate a training center.  You have to pay for utilities and space, and instructors are expensive.  The bean counters want to shutter them and "move everything online."

That's a great theory and makes an interesting discussion.  But like a stack of marbles, it works great on paper but not so much in real life.  (think about it for a minute)

Making something as efficient as possible is an admirable goal, but there is a point where you can squeeze the value out of it as well.  Humans are imperfect things.  We have different ways we learn, we learn at different paces, and frankly some of us are not as bright as others.  On the other hand, robots are identical and one size really can fit all.

The bottom line is, we are humans and not robots.

I was asked a couple of times this year, "Will our new online learning tools replace the classrooms?"  In each response I came back with an enthusiastic "No!"  Online learning - videos, tutorials, chat - are all wonderful tools but they come down to performance support. Very few people can start a topic from scratch and become proficient using only online tools.

I want the availability of online tools to drive more learners to the classroom!

We will always have a need for instructors and coaches.  The only real efficient way to learn something is to have someone that knows the topic guide the learner.  We need the ability to ask questions when we don't understand something that is written or recorded, or when we need to apply the concept outside of the bounds of the content.  Otherwise we're just feeling around in the dark.

The classroom is a sanctuary where we can get away from the distractions of the workday and really absorb and apply new skills.  I hope it never goes away.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Untether Yourself

“We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology.
-    Dr. Carl Sagan
I don't know if you're going to call this profound, but it is very cool.   Here is a tech tip someone shared with us at the eLearning DevCon last week.  You can use your iPad to wirelessly project your content to your projector.

You will need an Apple TV and use its AirPlay function ( ).  Simply connect the Apple TV to the projector, and using the AirPlay menu connect them.  Now your Apple TV is streaming your iPad to the projector.  You can move anywhere in the room and use anything on your iPad - SlideShark, video, or anything really.

One note of caution, unless your projector has an HDMI input (many do today) you will need to get a HDMI to VGA convertor.  Keep in mind that you are going from digital to analog so a cable only won't cut it.  You will need a convertor box.  You can shop online for the best deals.  This is a good reference:

There are a ton of blogs, suggestions, and apps designed for using this technology in the classroom.  Explore away.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Refresh Yourself

"Rest when you're weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work."
                -  Ralph Marston
June is here, and for me it’s Learning Month.  Most of our events are in the Spring and Fall, and the holidays are always present in the Winter.  This leaves Summer for me to go into improvement mode.  

I’ve written about this before, so I won’t beat it to death.  But you need to set time aside periodically to improve your skills, to better yourself.  You owe it to yourself and your employer to bring new things to the table every once in a while.

It’s a good thing for me that there are a couple of Learning conferences in June. 

This week I’m at the eLearning DevCon in Salt Lake City.  This is an amazing conference of fresh ideas and challenging BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) sessions.  The BYOL is a brilliant idea – there’s no expense in renting computers and students get top take their work home with them.  Setup can be challenging but is manageable. 

Back home in Silicon Valley we have the eLearning Guild mLearning Conference.  Mobile Learning is the next wave, and for most people the term is fairly vague.  These events help solidify concepts and develop strategies.

I never have to worry about learning new things at these conferences.  On the contrary, I can’t fit it all in!  Every year is a challenge to select just the right track.  It helps to attend with colleagues and choose different tracks then share the notes.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dinner Time!

"We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.”
         ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
This year's ASTD International Conference in Denver was a great event.  I love networking with other people and learning new things.  And you just can't do that very well from your desk.

One of the concepts that really struck me with this conference was the focus on insight and innovation.  I don't know anyone who would say, I can't stand innovation or  Insights are dumb.  But how many of us spend any part of our working day trying to develop those skills? 

Almost no one, including me.  Now that's a real insight!

I concatenated a number of concepts from different talks.  One was a neurologist who was researching what happens in brain activity as someone has an insight, or as they described it an "ah ha moment."  The talk described how when we focus on a task we "turn off" access to other parts of our brains.  We lose the ability to connect to experiences stored deep in our mind.  In contrast, when we dream we have access to the total of our experiences on a subconscious level - that's why we dream odd things from our distant past.  Insights come to us when we are unfocussed.

Another talk described how we are wired for stories.  Storytelling can be so powerful because our brains activate different parts of our brains and experiences as we process.  Stories connect with us logically, emotionally.  Insights come when we connect fragments in a "non-linear" way.

One session that really struck me described the phenomenon of an answer to a problem "coming to us" later, after we've had time to process the question.  Even though we may have stopped consciously processing, our subconscious keeps working.  Often an answer will "bubble up" when we are unfocussed.

So this week I directed my team that for one day each month they are to disconnect from the working world.  No emails or cell phones.  Go for a walk.  Read a book about the industry.  Attend an industry event or talk (or a conference!)  Network.  Listen to Ted Talks.  Do anything to let your mind free up and seed insight and innovation.

Now this isn't a day off or a slacking opportunity.  They are responsible for writing a deliverable that describes what they learned or came up with, and to share that with the group as a whole.  They have to document some new learned piece of knowledge, skill, insight that emerged from their subconscious, or some new idea(s).  It is definitely a productive day.

What are you doing to feed your brain?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Don't Forget To Feed Yourself

In our everyday lives we hurry through our days, trying to get things done and cross items off our eternally expanding to-do lists.  Few of us have a lack of things to do.  We never get to work, fire up the technology, and say, "Gee, I wish I had something to do." 

So we make lists, sometimes on paper but more often in our heads.  We spend our days constantly shuffling items as priorities shift.  Your boss, your employees, your family and friends all seem to spend every waking hour thinking of ways to toss a wrench into your finely tuned machine.  You know they really aren't, but the result is still the same.

Everyone is different but I can guarantee every list has the same omission.  They all lack "you time."

As I attend the ASTD conference one thing hits me right in the face.  I come to the realization the I'm collecting so many new ideas to use in the classroom, in my company, and with my colleagues.  It makes me a better professional.  It makes me a better person.

This is "me time."  This is my refill, my recharge.   

So here's one more "sticky" item for your list.  Make time for yourself to  learn.  Shift priorities but that one will always be there.  Be it a conference, a workshop, or just a hike or regular conversation.  You owe it to yourself and everyone around you.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

“Little things made a difference in feedback I heard – the handouts, quality of answers to questions, internet access, lunch…”

I like to start my blogs with a famous quote to set the tone.  But this one is from an attendee from our annual Users Conference (I’m going to maintain their anonymity).  That part of the note to me really hit home.  I thought of a recent anniversary weekend away I spent.  I remember grousing about the price of the room before the trip but when we arrived and during our trip everything was flawless.  There was no detail left undone, from the landscaping to the fruit and wine on the reception table in the lobby. 

Then I realized that I really don’t mind paying more for quality.  We could have saved a few dollars staying at some chain hotel but it would have been a completely forgettable experience. 

Which brings me back to the conference.  We really spared little expense or effort to make the experience really great.  We printed some nice bound books that we could have just stapled together, we offered a full buffet breakfast and lunch in a nice room with tablecloths and silverware, and we staffed to the point where every room had a greeter and SMEs to help answer questions.  This is all on top of a two month effort to develop great quality sessions.

We didn’t have to go to all of that trouble.  But it was clear to me that our customers (our learners) had a great experience.  They will remember what they learned better because they were comfortable, relaxed and not distracted.

Often when we develop a learning experience we just look at the content, instead of the whole picture.  Next time you develop a course or session, step back and put yourself in that room.  Ask yourself, “Would I want to be in there?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gated Communities Are Not Necesarily Safer

You're living in your own Private Idaho
     -  The B-52s
I’ve had a lot of questions come to me this year that have all had the same theme.  That is, “I like this idea of YouTube for Learning but I can’t just have my people using YouTube.”

On one hand, I love that people are realizing how powerful video can be as a Learning tool.  Except for my good friend Steve, virtually every single person I talk to prefers to learn with some sort of easy to consume multimedia format.  Videos are clearly the way to go, as evidenced by the explosion of YouTube and people like Sal Khan.

On the other hand I’m frustrated.  We had these same discussions when email came into its own.  There were a lot of companies that simply refused email because it was “open to the outside” and “who knows how much time people will waste on email.”  I understand this – it’s change.  Most people find change disruptive, it rocks the boat, it is uncomfortable.  

Some companies have gravitated toward a private video serving mechanism – their own little YouTube.  An entire breed of software offerings have emerged to facilitate this.  But think about it – it’s like marrying within your immediate family.  It’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons.  First, you lose any sort of collaboration with professionals outside your immediate realm.  Sure we have good ideas, but some really great ones have come from outside.  Second, why do you want to spend valuable resources managing something that is already managed for you?

Proxy servers, firewall filters, there are so many ways to effectively control what and where your users surf.  There is some really valuable content out there that can help your company be more productive and thus more profitable.  In today's world we need to leverage every tools we can get our hands on. 

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  (That's one of those phrases I have always wanted to use!)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

“You learn it best by trying it over and over, figuring it out.”
        - Stuart Collins

Why are activities so important?  Why all the fuss? 

In a nutshell, it’s simply how we learn.  Humans learn through interaction.  They learn by doing the task they are expected to do.  Have you ever been told how to do something, and then when you do it you hesitate, unsure of how to proceed?  It’s because you haven’t imprinted the action in your brain yet.  Some studies have shown the actual memory of yourself doing something is more powerful than the knowledge of the task itself.

And yet, when we develop training  what do we often do?  We start with the lecture, then we refine out idea, and then we try to squeeze in some hands-on or / exercises.  How confused is that?

Moreover, look at what people do when they misjudge their timing (as we all do) and they run short.  They rush through the last topics in an unabsorbable flurry and then cut out the exercises!

That process is just wrong, and it needs to be turned on its head.  You START with the exercises you want your learners to be able to do.  Begin with what you want them to leave with – the really important bits.   And then you fill in the holes with what you want to tell them.  (But don’t fill in all the holes – make them think.  But that’s another story).

But I can’t claim credit for this idea.  It has been around for some time but really come on strong in the last decade.  In 2002, Harold D. Stolovitch wrote a powerful book called “Telling Ain’t Training” that put forth the idea that the most effective learning occurs when the learning is active and enjoyable.  In one sense, this was putting form over function (or at least elevating it to an equal).  It shook the foundations.  Academics revolted.  Pitchforks and torches.  (not really on that last one).

I paraphrase that concept with the line, “If you’re talking your class isn’t learning.”  Of course that’s an oversimplification, but it does point to a weakness in many programs.  That is, it’s more about what I as a developer can shovel out at you than what you will actually learn.  You can avoid this by following a simple paradigm, whether you’re building a multi-week program or a one hour session:
  1. What skills do I need my learner to leave with (my task list)? 
  2.  How can I get my learners to demonstrate that skills to me (the activity)?
  3. What seeds of knowledge to I need to plant to get them started (my lecture)?
If you remember that the LAST thing you do is open up PowerPoint you’re most of the way there.

So how do you get to Carnegie Hall?  I'll bet you can find that one out for yourself....

Friday, February 10, 2012

What's the Point?

"One hundred thousand lemmings can't be wrong."
      -  Graffiti
I have had the pleasure lately of being asked to contribute to some pretty significant learning opportunities and presentations.  Collaborating on effective course design is one of my favorite things to do.  If that was all I did for the rest of my career I would be a happy camper.

But almost every time I start one of these projects I have a “cringe moment.”  Why?  Because invariably people either come to the kick-off with a draft or they start by opening up PowerPoint.  Yikes!  How did we allow ourselves to be conditioned like this?  

A lot of people ask me why I hate PowerPoint.  They say, “Buck, why do you hate PowerPoint?”  And I always answer, “I don’t!”    PowerPoint is a tool, and good one at that.  But it’s just the vehicle.

Starting with the slide deck is like starting a trip by getting into the car with your group, pulling out into the interstate, and asking, “OK, where are we going?”   Do you ever wonder why most presentations and a lot of training classes seem to wander all over the place?     

So I’ll give you the method I give to everyone starting a new project: 

Start with Ideas.  Use a whiteboard, legal pad, almost anything.  Most of the ideas you will probably toss, but get those intellectual juices flowing.  Do not use PowerPoint!  Anything you toss on to a deck you will be tempted to want to keep.  It’s a bad idea.  Hone your ideas to a select group of concepts, skills, or impressions you want the audience to leave your session with.  Remember it’s about them – not you. 

Move on to Data.  Once you have your ideas solidified – what you want the audience to leave your session with – collect the right types of data to support your session.  These can be videos, spreadsheets, reports, images.  More is better.  Do not paste them into slides!  

Refine your Message.   You have your ideas, you have your data – now you should organize it all.  Think of the best order, get the right cadence.  Consider what to keep or what to toss.  You should NOT have clicked on that big orange “P” icon yet….

Now Open PowerPoint.  Once you have your message down, your supporting data collected, and you know what you want to say, you’re ready to build your deck.  How to build a good deck is another story.

In other words, decide where you want to go, look at the map, and plan the best route before you get into the car.  Your trip will go much smoother.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Old Dogs and New Tricks

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks….
               -  unknown

Change is one of the biggest fears humans have.  And yet, learning really is change.  Even though people will say they want to improve themselves, their actions sabotage them from every direction. 

Want to prove it?  Try to get rid of a bad habit.  You know it’s bad for you, and you may even curse yourself after you do whatever it is you don’t like, but you still do it.  This is the resistance to change.

When Information Week reported ( that Apple was pushing for using iPads in the classroom t replace txt books, I thought, here we go again.  iPads in the classroom would surely be bucking the status quo.  And what about the publishing industry? 

And in my own world, I fight every day with customers who just do not see the value in providing YouTube and other web content to learn on the job.  I can walk into any office on the planet and ask someone what they would do when they waned outlearn about something new, say a new function in Microsoft Excel.  Almost to a person he answer is either Google or YouTube – and yet many of these people do not have access to these resources on the job. 

If I was paying someone a great deal of money to do a job I would give them every tool I could.

So when I heard Apple was pushing for iPads in the classroom, I cheered.  This tool can bring a great deal of learning value.  Tina Barseghian writes a blog called MindShift and last year did a post on a classroom that had adopted iPads in the classroom.  One of the student quotes says it all:

Sometimes I don’t understand the step by step the teacher gives me, but I watch the videos over and over again, and I can get it when I need the help.

One of my main goals in 2012 is to drive that idea through the corporate learning world.  Give workers the tools they need and the freedom to excel, and they will.a