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Clive on Learning

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Adding the human touch to digital learning content

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 16:43:00 +0000

Learning is a very human experience. To learn successfully, it requires us as human beings to exchange information, give and receive feedback, share perspectives, engage together in practical activities, support each other through the bad times and get together to celebrate our successes. People need people.According to Dr John Medina, 'Our ability to learn has deep roots in relationships. Our learning performance may be deeply affected by the emotional environment in which the learning takes place.’ The foundation for a good relationship is a teacher or trainer – or writer of learning content – who is credible with learners. This person needs to be friendly and show respect for learners while at the same time setting high standards and exhibiting confidence in the ability of learners to achieve great things. In short: 'Relationships matter when attempting to teach human beings.’In an ideal world, we would probably provide personalised support for every learner, but this gets more and more unrealistic as online learning groups get larger. We need to find ways to retain that essential human quality to the learning experience even when we have a great many learners.One way we can all do that is through the content that we provide to learners – the videos, the podcasts, the self-study materials and the job aids. It is easy to see these as impersonal ‘corporate’ resources but they don’t have to be like that. Content is just another way of connecting ‘teachers’ with ‘learners’.The best content provides no barrier to this connection. Just like when you read a great book – you’re not interacting with paper, you’re participating in a storytelling experience. That’s why videos are so popular in online courses – they provide that all too important ‘teacher presence’. But interactive content and reference materials can achieve similar results.Professor Richard Mayer’s 'personalisation principle’ holds that you will achieve better results with multimedia learning content when you adopt a friendly, conversational tone, a phenomenon which he attributes to the fact that this more closely resembles a person-to-person interaction. Text that uses a formal, impersonal, third-person style tends to make the author seem invisible, whereas the use of first-person narrative makes each student feel as through the teacher is communicating directly with them.Learning designer Cathy Moore has long railed against what she calls ‘corporate drone’, a formalised style used often in workplace learning materials, which comes over as impersonal, lacking in authenticity and un-engaging. Like Richard Mayer, she argues that when you write learning content in a conversational style, there is a greater chance that the learner will react to the content as they would to a real teacher; in effect, the teacher communicates to them personally through the medium of the computer, much as they would face-to-face or through the pages of a book. Professors Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves argue that our interactions with computers are fundamentally social and natural, just like interactions in real life. We respond emotionally to the human characteristics exhibited by on-screen text and voiceover. Even though we know very well at an intellectual level that we are only interacting with software and not directly with a real person, emotionally it matters to us whether the software communicates with us in a polite and friendly manner. Similarly, Mayer found that people learn better from a human voiceover, rather than one synthesised by a computer, further emphasising our desire for a more human relationship with our virtual teacher.With the increasing focus on artificial intelligence (AI), we might be led to believe that the human touch is becoming less of a necessity but the only difference with AI is that we don’t have as great a need for real, human teachers to give their time to individual students. The tone adopted by an&nbs[...]

The changing skill set of the learning professional

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 18:06:00 +0000

Skills define us. They are what make us useful and productive. They are the foundation of our achievements. On our death bed, it is our skills that we will reflect on with pride.These could be physical skills – our ability to knit jumpers, drive vehicles, perform gymnastics, play the violin, cook tasty food, swim or make beautiful furniture. They could be social – our ability to make good conversation, present to an audience, flirt with the opposite sex, negotiate deals or handle customer complaints. Or they could be cognitive – our ability to write poetry, perform mental arithmetic, fix faulty equipment, solve crossword puzzles or program computers. Yes, skills are what make us what we are.‘What we are’ is constantly changing as we continue to develop our existing skills and take on new challenges to respond to a changing world around us. Learning professionals are no different. Perhaps more than ever before, we need new skills to respond to the developing expectations of both employees and our key stakeholders, and to take advantage of the fantastic opportunities afforded by technology.What's changing?It comes as a surprise to no-one that learning professionals are operating in a very different world to those of a generation ago. I’d like to highlight four changes in particular that impact heavily on the skill set of the learning professional.Change 1: From events to processes: It is, of course, still commonplace for learning solutions to be delivered in a single hit, whether in the classroom or as a piece of interactive content. However, there is a much greater realisation of the inadequacies of this approach, as new learning achieved in this form is rarely properly consolidated and is liable to rapid decline.Blended solutions, with ingredients that are distributed over time and properly embedded in work performance, are much more likely to achieve success. Rather than delivering events, learning professionals will increasingly be establishing processes that blur the distinction between formal and informal learning.Change 2: From face-to-face to remote: There is no doubt that a face-to-face learning experience has the potential to be more engaging and more memorable than something similar experienced online. Not convinced? Just think back to those big sporting, musical or theatrical events when you were they on the day – we bet they stick in the memory.But on a day-to-day basis we don’t always have the luxury of being there in the flesh. Learning is an everyday experience that we can routinely participate in remotely, typically online and, more often than not, through mobile devices.Digital learning, in all its forms, requires new skills of the learning professional. And let’s remember there can be no such thing as a technophobic professional, in any field you can imagine.Change 3: From dependency to empowerment: Historically, learning professionals everywhere have wished for a time when learners could take a greater responsibility for their own development. Over the last few years, as people almost everywhere have gained near-instant, every day, any place access to mountains of information, they have got used to the idea that learning is something you just do as it pleases you, without reference to their employers or to ‘teachers’.This is what we always wanted. Now it has happened we’re maybe not so sure how to cope with the change. Empowered learners enjoy being in control; they expect quick solutions to their problems; they don’t take any one person’s opinion as gospel; and they realise that everyone, including them, is now a teacher as well as a learner. The days of the ‘sage on the stage’ seem numbered.Change 4: From same time to own time: All through history, humans have been busily devising ever more ingenious ways to communicate both at the same time (face-to-face, on the telephone, through TV and radio, using Skype, web conferencing and so on) and in their own time (through drawings, signs, mail, print, tapes, discs, downloads, streaming, web sites a[...]

Why micro-learning works for me

Thu, 17 Nov 2016 11:13:00 +0000

Over the past twelve months, micro-learning has quietly worked itself into my daily routine. Absolutely every day (I’m on a 360-day streak), I practise my French using the Duolingo app. Not quite so often (because it takes a lot of concentration), but still regularly, I do brain training using Peak. And the latest addition is KnowFast, which sends me a daily learning video covering anything from history to science to cookery.The sum total time commitment for these three apps is probably around 10 minutes a day, which is not inconsiderable but, because I can access them on mobile devices, means there is nearly always the opportunity. And if the task slips my memory, I get nagging notifications on my Apple Watch.So yes, I’m sort of hooked. But what effect is micro-learning having in terms of longer-term learning? Well, Duolingo is definitely improving my French vocabulary and grammar, although I’m short on conversation practice – something I will be remedying with numerous trips to France for a current project. Peak may not be making me cleverer but is definitely improving my ability to do brain training exercises. KnowFast is entertaining and informative but, because none of the knowledge is rehearsed, almost all evaporates immediately.What this modest amount of experience tells me is that micro-learning does not in itself guarantee effectiveness (which is true of just about all media). Success depends on how well you apply long-standing learning and teaching principles, and make sure that important knowledge and skills are reinforced on many occasions over a period of time.What my experience is also showing me is the power of gamification and constant reminders. With Duolingo and Peak I’m looking to move up the levels and maintain my streaks. With KnowFast, I want to dismiss the reminders having obtained my daily fix.There are many definitions of micro-learning but they all seem problematic to me, limiting the idea unnecessarily. For me, the essential point is that a micro-learning experience is short, whether or not it is regular and regardless of who is in control of what the learner learns and how.Long before the micro-learning term was coined, the practice was widespread, almost ubiquitous. Who does not watch videos on YouTube to see a demonstration of how to do something or an explanation of how something works? Who does not read web articles, blogs, forum posts and wiki pages to obtain factual information? We have been sold on micro-learning for some time.What we have now are more commercial micro-learning services, in many cases bundling up mini-lessons into short courses. For some time we have had the Khan Academy covering maths and providing tech skills. Now we have more general portals allowing teachers to connect with learners across all sorts of subjects. So there is, with 13,000 lessons from 1500 teachers; coursmos, with 50,000 videos organised into 11,000 courses; and Highbrow, which will email you 5-minute lessons displayed as text and graphics.I don’t personally see micro-learning as evidence of shorter attention spans as is sometimes claimed. We have never liked being bombarded with lots of new information and for good reason – it doesn’t work, at least when you’re a novice. Small chunks of information, delivered as and when needed, are clearly more useful. But we are perfectly capable of concentrating for hours on end when faced with compelling stories and problem-solving challenges. Learning can be highly successful in chunks of hours and days, but not when it is an information dump.So we know micro-learning is likely to be a popular personal choice outside work, but where does it fit in the workplace? Well, it is unlikely that, on its own, it is going to provide someone with the skills, insights and confidence needed to perform to a high level in their work. But it certainly can satisfy needs for additional personal development and fill in all the gaps left after basic training. It can also fit into blended [...]

Skills: The last frontier for digital learning

Thu, 17 Nov 2016 11:00:00 +0000

I’ll cut straight to the point. To most learners and most learning professionals, digital learning is a way to meet requirements for knowledge. Even in its most contemporary forms – responsive, massive, open, mobile, point-of-need, video-based and gamified – the priority is still knowledge, whether that is of facts, concepts, principles, processes, rules, procedures or spatial positioning.There is nothing wrong with knowledge per se – we all need a certain amount of it just to get by as human beings. We particularly need it – however temporarily – to pass examinations and thereby gain entry into colleges and our first careers. Beyond that, knowledge is useful in that it provides us with perspectives on the modern world and helps us to understand how it all ticks.But knowledge is less important than it once was. Beyond the basics – vocabulary, times tables and the like – the knowledge we really need is what helps us to make sensible use of information. And information is what just about everyone with access to technology now gets as and when they need it from computers, particularly those in their pockets.Ignoring this reality, far too many of our formal courses – digital, face-to-face or blended – are still weighed down with knowledge objectives when most of these objectives would be better met with reference materials. Reducing the knowledge burden would allow us to concentrate on the real purpose of training in the workplace – developing skills.Skills define us. They are what make us useful and productive. They are the foundation of our achievements. On our death bed, it is our skills that we will reflect on with pride. These could be psychomotor skills – our ability to knit jumpers, drive vehicles, perform gymnastics, play the violin, cook tasty food, swim or make beautiful furniture. They could be social – our ability to make good conversation, present to an audience, flirt with the opposite sex, negotiate deals or handle customer complaints. Or they could be cognitive – our ability to write poetry, perform mental arithmetic, fix faulty equipment, solve crossword puzzles or program computers. Yes, skills are what make us what we are.As everyone knows, skills do not come easily. They do require some foundational knowledge, but most of all they depend on deliberate practice over a prolonged period, based on a clear idea of what good looks like and supported by regular, informed feedback. A good face-to-face course will provide many of these features but for nowhere near long enough for the skill to become embedded and for the learner to gain the confidence required to learn independently. With digital courses, we have the potential to prolong the experience, but more often than not we don’t even try.There are notable exceptions: simulators allow for repetitive skills practice in highly specialised areas such as surgery or flying a plane; apps such as Duolingo allow for daily rehearsal of language skills; sites such as the Khan Academy allow you to practise maths; Code Academy does the same for programming. But these are sophisticated applications requiring a great deal of bespoke development. Perhaps because of this, most corporate digital learning does not even venture in this direction.Yes, it would be nice to be able to invest millions on skills development software but for many of us that will be out of reach. But that should not put you off because there is so much you can do to support skills practice without the benefit of sophisticated simulators and artificial intelligence-driven coaches.First off, increase the number of practice activities that you provide as part of your formal courses. Instead of one scenario, offer many, distributed over time and of increasing difficulty.If you can, use your interactive software to provide helpful feedback to the learner which will enable them to do better next time. If that is not possible, because the skill cannot be practised on a computer or it is not possibl[...]

The four responsibilities of the learning professional

Wed, 03 Feb 2016 09:30:00 +0000

I have been lucky in my job to spend time with many hundreds of learning and development practitioners over the past ten years or so, in all sectors of the economy and in all parts of the world.Almost without exception I find them to be enthusiastic, friendly and determined to do the best possible job.Just as consistently, it is apparent that they experience a major obstacle to achieving their goals and providing the best possible service to their organisations. In their interactions with key stakeholders they are not afforded the respect upon which their credibility as true professionals depends. They are simply not trusted as they should be to apply their technical expertise in solving problems that in practice are beyond the reach of the lay person.Let’s take an example …What would you do?Your internal client, a long-serving, senior manager, calls you in for a meeting. He is looking for a training programme to ease the upcoming transition from Microsoft Office to Google Apps.He suggests a suite of e-learning modules to cover each of the apps in the suite, along with an option of classroom training for those who still prefer this approach. He would like you to go off and work up a proposal with a budget and schedule.This would not be your favoured strategy for addressing the situation. What would you do?What it means to be a professionalTo be a professional means a lot more than simply doing whatever the client wants. You wouldn't hire an interior designer only to inform them that you've already chosen all the colour schemes and furnishings; you wouldn't engage an accountant and then explain to them the way your figures should be processed (unless of course you worked at Enron); you wouldn't employ a fitness trainer and then tell them what to include in your workout; and you wouldn't buy a dog and then insist that you do all the barking.So why, then, do we continue to encounter situations in which line managers tell the guys from L&D exactly what they want in terms of learning interventions, with the expectation that they'll simply take these instructions and run with them? You'd like a six-hour e-learning package to train customer service staff to sell over the telephone? A two-day workshop to teach every detail of a new company system to all employees, regardless of whether or not they will be using it? A one-hour podcast to teach manual handling skills? No problem. That's what we're here for, to meet your requirements.Hang on a minute, you’re probably thinking. This isn't an encounter between a professional and a client, it's simply order taking.When asked to jump, a professional does not ask 'how high?'. They say, 'Let's talk about this a little, because jumping may not be the best solution for you in this situation.' And if this tactic doesn't work and the professional is told in no uncertain terms that jumping is the only acceptable option, then he or she has two choices: either they resign and get another job where their role as a professional is properly valued; or they agree to go ahead, but only after having expressed quite clearly in writing that jumping is against their best advice.Learning and development isn't common sense; it isn't intuitive. If it was then experts wouldn't lecture at novices for hours on end; they wouldn't insist on passing on everything they know, however irrelevant, however incomprehensible. That's why we have learning professionals, so they can explain, in terms that the lay person can clearly understand, how people acquire knowledge, develop skills and adapt to new ideas, and how best to support this process. If the customer doesn't hear this advice, they will assume that the people in L&D are just the builders, not the architects; and, if no-one seems to be offering their services as architect, they'll take on the task for themselves.Doing no harm to learnersOne of the key differences between professions and other forms of occupation is the fact that professio[...]

Time for a clearout of urban myths

Wed, 11 Nov 2015 08:20:00 +0000

At the time of writing, I am on my to speak at the  eLearning Network’s annual conference in London. While I am looking forward to sharing my views on how learning and development professionals need to skill up to meet new challenges and to take advantage of new opportunities, I am enthusiastic to hear from the other keynote speaker, Pedro De Bruyckere, co-author, with Paul Kirschner and Casper Hulshof, of Urban Myths about Learning and Education.The learning and development world seems to be inhabited by rationalists and romantics, with a distinct leaning towards the latter. I characterise them as typefaces. While the rationalists are analogous to Times New Roman, sensible but uninspiring, the romantics remind of Comic Sans, cuddly but daft as a brush. As a liberal sort of person, I should be really happy to see such diversity, but I’m really not sure that romanticism is such a good strategy to hold when you belong to a profession that people look to for advice and inspiration. After all, would you not be just a little un-nerved if your doctor prescribed you a herbal remedy, or taken aback to discover that an astronomer ordered his life around the predictions of astrology?Of course I am exaggerating. Most learning and development people are sensible enough and want to do the best job possible, but their own teachers on train-the-trainer courses have provided them with totally inappropriate tools with which to understand the world of adult learning. Yes, I’m talking about learning styles, NLP, MBTI, 70-20-10, Dale’s Cone of Experience and much more. Now some of these have some groundings in genuine research and have simply been misinterpreted and miscommunicated over the years, some have been offered up as legitimate theories but been since been discredited, and some are just somebody’s opinion (which is not a problem unless you start to treat it as some sort of universal truth).To discredit a widely-held and much-loved myth does not make you popular. It makes you a party pooper, like someone who pronounces themselves an atheist at a funeral, warns of a house price bubble or tells you that bacon is bad for you. And there are times when it is better to keep these views to yourself. However, working as a professional is not one of those times. A true professional is always looking for evidence that will better enable them to provide an effective service to their clients, even when that sometimes means giving up on an idea that you’ve taken to heart.Suggested reading for myth busters and other rationalists:Evidence-Based Training Methods, 2nd Edition by Ruth Clark (ATD Press, 2014)Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates (Routledge, 2003)Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown and Henry Roediger (Harvard University Press, 2014)Urban Myths about Learning and Education by Pedro de Bruyckere, Paul Kirschner and Casper Hulshof (Academic Press, 2015)Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen (New Riders, 2015) The Debunker Club[...]

Towards Maturity 2015 benchmark shows just how much we've got stuck

Tue, 27 Oct 2015 11:15:00 +0000

Last week I attended a preview of this year’s Towards Maturity benchmark results, due for public release on November 5th (you can register for the launch webinar on this page). In case you don’t know Towards Maturity, they were established in 2003 as a government-funded body to promote the use of learning technologies in workplace learning across the UK. Their main focus from that day on has been the provision of a benchmarking service which allows organisations to compare their progress in renewing the L&D offerings against 100s of others. Over 4000 organisations and 18000 learners have contributed to the reports. Since TM became independent of government in 2010, they have broadened their focus considerably to offer a truly  international service across 50 countries worldwide and to move beyond the confines of learning technology to promote a whole new approach to workplace learning. I share the values of TM and believe they have played their part admirably. You will find their 2015 report is full of valuable insights and enthusiastic calls to action. And therein lies the problem, for the call seems only to be heard by the already converted. What TM calls the ‘Top Deck’ (those organisations that are showing the best results from their L&D efforts) are shooting ahead, overcoming barriers and exploring all the possibilities for workplace learning in all its contexts, formal and informal. The rest have been stuck for years. I do feel for Laura Overton, TM’s CEO. I’m sure she would love to report huge progress year on year but it just isn’t happening. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the huge changes taking place in our use of technologies for learning outside the workplace. People are empowered as never before, through their ever-present mobile devices, to explore, share, learn and develop. Learners are doing it for themselves: 88% learn by finding things out for themselves; 74% know how to access what they want; 74% want to do their job better and 87% know what they need. Some 42% are prepared to learn at evenings and weekends, 42% at the point of need and 29% while travelling to and from work. Those employers who can re-shape themselves to take advantage of this opportunity will find themselves pushing against an open door.As ever, the problem is with L&D professionals, with some 56% of organisations citing a lack of L&D skills as a major barrier to progress. We have to wonder why organisations are not doing more in terms of CPD for learning professionals. One reason, it pains me to say, is that, for too many people, their only encounter with learning technologies at work has been through mind-numbing compliance e-learning. Compliance has so damaged e-learning that I fear its reputation is now damaged beyond repair. Learning professionals do not want to be associated with damaged goods. We need a new push based on a simple premise - bringing what is working in our personal lives into the workplace. People do not go home to engage with instructional e-learning programmes, they want how-to-videos, animated explainers, thriving communities of practice, thought-provoking podcasts, blog posts and interviews, gamified apps that encourage spaced practice, compelling dramas, challenging quizzes and the rest.I reckon any learning professional would want to get behind media like these, blended intelligently with activities such as coaching, practical workshops and action learning. The future is not single-hit e-learning any more than it is single-hit classroom. The future is already with us - we just need to bring it to work.[...]

Fighting back

Tue, 06 Oct 2015 13:02:00 +0000

OK, but the standing desk's a start.

Compelling content hooks you in and won't let go

Mon, 10 Aug 2015 11:51:00 +0000

We are told that learners are no longer able to concentrate on content that's more than four or five minutes long. And there's no doubt that, when it comes to consuming information, we'd prefer it concise. After all, we want that information to help us achieve some goal and we don't want to take too long in the process. GIGIGO - get in, get it, get out.But meaningful learning does not take usually place in minutes; it can take days, months or years of testing ideas out, reflecting and discussing, honing our skills and building our confidence. Our content can play a valuable role in that process, not just by informing the learner of what they need to know and do, but by sparking ideas, generating insights, challenging assumptions and enabling them to take their first steps along the skills journey. But that takes time - four or five minutes will not be enough.In this last post in the series, we discuss two elements in learning content that can hook learners in and not let them go; that will give you the time to make a more meaningful difference. We start with storytelling.Slice our brains open and out pour all our storiesA well-told story - whether real or fictitious - will immerse us in someone else's world and make us care about their problems. We can concentrate on stories for many hours - just think how much time in a week you spend reading novels, watching films, catching up on soaps or wading through box sets.As Jeremy Hsu writes in Scientific American, 'Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history.’ For more than 27,000 years, humans have been communicating by telling stories. I’m sure that if you were to open up our brains and tip the contents onto the floor, what would come out but piles and piles of stories. According to a 1997 study by Robin Dunbar at the University of Liverpool, personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations. That seems like an underestimate to me.In my post Seven ways in which stories power learning, I explained why I thought storytelling made such an impact in a learning context:Stories speak to us as humansStories hold our attentionStories engage us emotionallyStories provide us with good and bad examplesStories provide us with insightsStories help us to remember lots of other stuff (when we recall the story, we remember lots of other details)Stories are likely to be sharedStories also provide an escape from the mundane, as this poem by Julia Donaldson reminds us.I honestly believe that any subject can be made more interesting through storytelling. In fact I'd go further: any subject can be taught using storytelling. Here are two of my own examples:The Emperor's New Slide Show: which demonstrates how dangerous Powerpoint can be in the wrong hands.No regrets: a short film which provides insights into good blended learning design.Good teachers tell lots of stories. So does good learning content.Only one thing beats a good story and that's being in the storyThere is one thing that engages people even more than storytelling and that is a challenging problem to solve; something that tests our wits, that allows us to show what we can do; nothing impossibly hard, but not so easy that it insults our intelligence.Every one of us can think of examples in which we've laboured into the night to meet a challenge; when we've been so 'in the flow' that we have forgotten about the need for sleep or sustenance: solving a puzzle, perhaps, programming a computer, developing a plan, making something, playing a game.Compelling challenges provide us with the incentive and the opportunity to put our learning into practice and to revisit our assumptions and attitudes. In the context of learning content, these challenges might take the form of practice exercises, case studies, quizzes, scenarios, simulations and[...]

Compelling content requires some media chemistry

Mon, 03 Aug 2015 17:48:00 +0000

Media chemists know less is usually moreMedia consumers, especially learners, want the easy life. They're interested in the content, not the container. The technology and the interface with which they interact should be invisible. Your design decisions should be invisible. And all that requires a little media chemistry.There is a limited range of elements which make up all media formats. While there is generally more than one element capable of fulfilling any task, they each have their own particular strengths:Text is precise. You can read it at your own pace. It requires the barest minimum of bandwidth.Still images (photos, illustrations, charts and diagrams) show what things look like, clarify cause and effect relationships and depict trends and proportions. They are memorable.Speech is more expressive than text and combines brilliantly with moving images (animations and videos).Music creates an emotional response. Elephants like it (see my previous post).Animation provides the best possible way to illustrate processes (how things work). The movement attracts attention.Video depicts real-life action. It shows people as they really are.Media chemists do not throw all these elements into a test tube and heat them up. They take care over what goes with what. However, you do not need a media chemistry degree to sort it out. There's a simple rule.Text and speech are verbal elements. Still images, animation and video are visual elements. Music's an embellishment that we can put to one side for now. Generally speaking you want to major on a single visual element and a single verbal element. So ...text and still images work well togetheranimation (perhaps even a sequence of pictures) combines well with speechvideo works just fine with an audio soundtrack (speech, sound effects, music)But ...text and speech used together alongside any visual element makes for difficult viewing (the brain can only process one verbal element, so the learner has to choose which to concentrate on and try to ignore the other)video (say a presenter's webcam), alongside still images or animation, is equally distracting because the learner cannot watch both at the same timeSee Richard E Mayer's Multimedia Learning (Cambridge University Press, 2009) to see the research that backs all this up.At this point, you may be feeling a little uncomfortable. After all, lots of e-learning breaks these rules and so do most Powerpoint presentations. That's not an excuse for continuing as things are. A lot of e-learning courses and Powerpoint presentations are tolerated at best, hated at worst. We're trying to be compelling, remember?It is OK to have a personalityOn the assumption that you're not an artist or a video producer (the ones I know don't do a lot of reading), let's concentrate for a moment on the verbal channel. We're talking words.Back in 2008, Cathy Moore advised us to Dump the Drone. What she meant was that we should write like human beings and not like the legal department. Why do so many talented designers leave their personalities at home when they set about creating learning materials? Probably because they believe that is what their bosses and clients expect. Something safe, non-controversial, corporate and impersonal. No jokes, no anecdotes, no practical examples. Nothing for the elephants at all.Believe it or not, learning content is written for learners - everyone else just gets in the way. And learners want material that engages, enthuses and explains.As a general rule:use simple wordslimit paragraphs to a single pointuse the active voice (the passive voice is hated by Clive Shepherd)use lists like this (but not all the time)if you're writing for voiceover, then write like you speakkeep it brief (edit, edit and then edit again)And we'd better act fast, because it seems the corporate drones are getting t[...]

Compelling content requires a cunning plan

Tue, 28 Jul 2015 13:40:00 +0000

Second in the series: Six characteristics of compelling contentFirst you need a compelling conceptYes, you probably got it - they’re talking about the same subject. One person’s boring compliance course is another person’s hot topic. If you approach the development of learning material as a tedious chore, that’s how it will come over to your audience. Your job is to engage your learner and that starts with a compelling concept.In our leisure time, we might choose to consume content, such as TV shows, novels and music, for the entertainment value alone. The content is an end in itself. At work, things are different. We are not interested in content in its own right; we’re interested in solving problems. We want information that will help us to meet a current work challenge or provide us with a competitive personal advantage.So, your job is to position your content in such a way that the learner can clearly see what’s in it for them (as opposed to you, their employer, a vendor or anyone else who’s sponsoring the content). They won’t want to dig deep to find the benefits - they’ll want them to be absolutely obvious. Benefits are critical to motivation because a person won’t put effort in when they can’t see what’s in it for them.Motivation also has a second dimension. Not only do the benefits need to be desirable to your learner, they also need to be readily attainable. A prize of £1m is going to be desirable to most people, but not if it means swimming the English Channel. In the context of learning content, attainable means not too complex and not too lengthy; the path to the benefit should be short and clear of obstacles.Compelling concepts:provide clear benefits (avoiding risk, solving a problem, explaining a tricky concept, showing you how to do something);can be articulated in an eye-catching title (so ‘Five closing techniques used by the masters’ or ‘Quantitative easing explained in two minutes’);provide the benefit with the minimum hassle (so not ’Fifty ways to close a sale’ or ‘Quantitative easing - a new 13-part series’).Creating a concept might seem like a creative exercise but it actually requires some in-depth analysis. To provide relevance you need to understand your audience well. In particular you need to understand how content can in some way enhance their working lives. What do they most need to know, to be able to do, to feel? That means getting out there and meeting your audience. Relevance cannot be contrived in an ivory tower. And relevance drives out resistance.Then you need a compelling structureThere’s more work to do before you type a single word, draw your first picture or shoot your first scene. You need at very least an outline of how your content will be structured. As the picture above shows, structures clearly affect how compelling your content can be.Whatever the type of content you are designing, your first goal is to engage the elephant ...In Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors make a key distinction between what we think consciously and what our more primitive, emotional system will have us do. They liken the emotional system to an elephant and the intellect to the rider of the elephant. As you can imagine, when you’re trying hard to resist that bar of chocolate or force yourself up out of bed on a cold morning, the rider has a heck of a job keeping the elephant under control and can easily become exhausted in the process.While the rider may be engaged by the long-term benefits of a learning activity or an intellectual curiosity, the elephant is much more interested in what’s in it for him right now. The prospect of a solution to a real, current problem will definitely do the job. The elephant may also be motivated by a ch[...]

Six characteristics of compelling content: an introduction

Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:59:00 +0000

Compelling is not the same as compulsoryMeet Meili. She has been working for three months on a 4-hour e-learning programme that teaches employees how to use her organisation’s new CRM system. So far the only people who have used the programme are those for whom it was made mandatory. Other employees have gravitated instead to a collection of quick and dirty software demos produced by an enthusiastic user of the system.And here’s Paul. He made a video recording of a one-hour presentation he gave at a recent conference and then made it available online. To date, 100 people have accessed the video, but only one has watched it through. Paul suspects that was him. In contrast some 5000 people have read an entertaining account of the presentation, posted by a blogger who was in the audience.And finally here’s Stephanie. She produced a 2-minute animated video that clearly explained a scientific theory that for most people had been impenetrable. The video went viral and Stephanie was elevated to star status.You have competitionThere is a lot of content out there competing for our attention:100 million YouTube videos5 million English language articles on Wikipedia5 billion web pages25 million songs on iTunes14000 films on NetflixClearly we can’t consume more than a tiny fraction of all this. We’ve become adept at ignoring content that isn’t compelling, in our personal lives and at work.To get attention your learning content needs to be compelling. This isn’t achieved by magic, just focused thinking and hard work.But there is hopeFocused thinking starts with a plan and that means (1) a compelling concept and (2) a compelling structure. It means making the most of visual and verbal channels with (3) compelling imagery and (4) compelling copy. And, lastly, it means maximising engagement through (5) compelling storytelling and (6) compelling challenges.That’s six characteristics that you can apply to videos, articles, blog posts, screencasts, slide shows, podcasts, tutorials and interactive scenarios. Characteristics that will help you to cut through the noise, hold your learner's attention and make a difference.Unfortunately, this is far too much to handle in one article, so expect three more over the next three weeks to complete the series. And do let me know if any of this makes sense to you.Coming next: Compelling content requires a cunning plan[...]

Twenty questions to ask when taking a brief

Thu, 18 Jun 2015 07:41:00 +0000

As a learning professional, it’s absolutely vital when you’re taking a brief from a project sponsor that you ask the right questions and are persistent in making sure you get a clear and satisfactory answer. Here’s my list of essential questions: About the need1. What goal is this intervention intended to support? It’s vital to identify the real underlying purpose of the proposed intervention. In the workplace, learning is usually just a means to an end. 2. At which people is this intervention aimed? This question establishes the scope of the intervention in terms of target population. 3. What does this target population need to be doing in the future that it may not be doing now if this goal is to be achieved? This question places the emphasis on performance not on learning, which is vital if you are to design a solution that is focused on changing behaviour and not on developing knowledge. 4. Why are they not doing this now? Have they ever done it? You want to establish as soon as possible whether there really is a learning gap and what other factors could be impacting on performance. If there really is a learning gap, proceed with the following questions: About the learning requirement5. What absolutely must learners know in order to meet the performance requirements? The emphasis here is on the ‘absolutely must’. Many learning interventions end up as knowledge dumps and cause a great deal of unnecessary pain for the learner. You want to know what the minimum is that people need to know (retain in memory in the long-term) to get started applying the new behaviours.6. To what additional information must they have access in order to meet the performance requirements? This complements the previous question because there is likely to be a lot more information to which people need ready access than they need to actually remember. Think resources rather than courses where possible.7. What ‘big ideas’ (key principles) do they need to understand and buy into in order to meet the performance requirements? Many learning interventions have at their heart one or more big ideas that cannot simply be presented and applied - the learner needs to buy into them at an emotional level. This includes all compliance courses, which have at their heart a big idea - data security, keeping healthy and safe, protecting customers, etc.8. What skills do they need to acquire and/or put into practice in order to meet the performance requirements? If skills are needed then you will have to build in lots of opportunities for practice with informed feedback. Typically we underestimate the time needed to develop skills and devote too much time to instilling knowledge. About the learners9. What prior knowledge, skills and experience does the target population have with regard to the subject of this intervention? This is a particularly important question because novices will need much more structure and support than those who are more experienced.10. What interest is the population likely to have in this learning? How motivated are they likely to be? If motivation is high, you will be able to get straight on with your intervention. If it’s low, you’ll have a job to do to build enthusiasm.11. What hopes and fears is this population likely to have with regard to this learning? Performance cannot be your only focus because learners are human beings with aspirations and anxieties to which you must pay attention.12. What expectations does this population have in terms of how they learn? Different organisations, countries and generations have different learning cultures. You do not have to pander to these if you feel that do[...]

Every learner is different but not because of their learning styles

Fri, 05 Jun 2015 11:37:00 +0000

I've been reading Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown and Henry Roediger (Harvard University Press, 2014). What a great book! It provides a whole load of useful tips for learners, teachers and trainers based on solid research. Although, believe it or not, I do have a romantic side, primarily I'm a rationalist and I'm drawn to new evidence relating to learning and teaching, even if this confounds my current thinking.Finishing this book coincides with The Debunker Club's Debunk Learning Styles Month. And learning styles really do need debunking, not because we, as learners, don't have preferences, but because there is no model out there which has been proven to be genuinely helpful in predicting learner performance based on their preferences.Luckily, I don't have to rant about why learning styles are unhelpful, because I can allow Brown and Roediger to do that for me:"The idea that individuals have distinct learning styles has been around long enough to become part of the folklore of educational practice and an integral part of how people perceive themselves. The underlying premise says that people receive and process new information differently: for example, some learn better from visual materials and others learn better from text or auditory materials. Moreover, the theory holds that people who receive instruction in a manner that is not matched to their learning style are at a disadvantage for learning."There appears to be no scientific evidence to support learning styles theories and plenty of evidence to suggest that they may be doing more harm than good:"A report on a 2004 survey conducted for Britain's Learning and Skills Research Centre compares more than seventy distinct learning styles theories currently being offered in the marketplace, each with its companion assessment instruments to diagnose a person's particular style. The report's authors characterise the purveyors of these instruments as an industry bedevilled by vested interests that tout 'a bedlam of contradictory claims' and express concerns about the temptation to classify, label and stereotype individuals."This is not to say that learner differences do not matter. Every person in the world has a unique brain shaped by their genetic inheritance and their life experience, and good teachers and trainers are empathetic to these differences. So what differences should learning professionals take into account?In my book More Than Blended Learning, I suggest some characteristics which both research and practical experience have shown to be important:A learner's prior knowledge of the subject or skill in question (novices will require a lot more structure and support than those with more elaborate mental models).A learner's likely level of interest in the learning experience (without this, you are going to have to make a special effort to engage them).A learner's cultural expectations for a learning experience.The hopes and fears which learners bring to the experience.Brown and Roediger suggest some more:Language fluency and reading ability.A learners ability to abstract underlying principles from new experiences and to convert new knowledge into mental structures.How a learner sees themselves and their abilities: "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."As professionals, I believe we have to respond to the evidence of what works and not to fads, fashions and what people are trying to sell us. As such, I would be perfectly comfortable with shifting my position again on learning styles if you can provide me with some solid evidence.[...]

Let’s face it, compliance is not the same as learning

Wed, 29 Apr 2015 10:11:00 +0000

A while back I did something quite unusual. I completed a self-study e-learning programme, as a student, not as a consultant running their eye over someone else's work. Some time later, having had the chance to reflect on the experience, I can't resist making a few comments. I'm not going to tell you what the programme was or who it was made by. but I will say it was a compulsory piece of training, completion of which was required if I was to be able to go ahead with some work with a client. Contrary to the nature of much compliance training, the subject in this case was inherently interesting and gave an insight into the lives of people who work in much more hazardous environments than south east England (which, in case you were wondering, explains the picture). All in all it was competently produced and lively in its presentation. At this point you're expecting a 'but' and I don't intend to disappoint.There were some relatively minor annoyances:The on-screen text was mirrored by audio narration you couldn't turn off. As I could read much faster than it took to listen to the narration, the two were always out of synch and I had to resort to turning the sound down on the computer.There was no clear indication of what was really important to remember and what was nice to know.There was far more information than any human being could possibly hope to absorb; much of this would have been better presented as auxiliary reading materials.The assessment tested what was easy to assess rather than what was really important.The scoring of multi-answer questions was far too harsh - if you missed one option from a 'which of the following ...' question, you scored nothing.Compliance changes everythingMy main concern is the effect that compulsion has on the learning process. In fact, it's clear to me now that compliance changes everything. Knowing that I had not only to complete this course but pass an assessment to demonstrate the fact, made all the difference to me. The content itself took a back seat, because I became fixated with picking out the key points that I thought would be tested, skipping through any material that I suspected was superfluous, and getting on to the assessment as fast as possible before the material had evaporated from my mind. I achieved this. True, I missed the 80% pass rate by 3% the first time, but I noted down the answers to the questions I got wrong and simply took it again. No problem second time. Job done. Material already largely forgotten. Move on.Except this material was important - indeed it could easily have been life-saving - and it was fascinating. I would have enjoyed exploring it in detail and probably would have done so if the end objective had been my competence (or at very least enhanced awareness) rather than simple compliance. It seems you can't effectively combine the two, at least not when compliance takes the leading role.Compliance is such an ugly wordAll this has got me thinking again about the whole nature of compliance training and what an ugly word 'compliance' is. Here's how defined it:the act of conforming, acquiescing, or yieldinga tendency to yield readily to others, especially in a weak and subservient wayconformity; accordance: in compliance with orderscooperation or obedienceThese sound like rather derogatory concepts to me. Who wants to be yielding, acquiescing, compliant, obedient? And what self-respecting learning professional wants to induce these characteristics in others?Why compliance is killing e-learningE-learning producers are in a difficult position, because a great deal of their work comes in the form of compliance training (according to Charles Jennings, 80% of all e-l[...]

Do no harm - the duty of the learning professional

Wed, 22 Apr 2015 16:49:00 +0000

One of the key differences between professions and other forms of occupation is the fact that professionals are bound by ethical codes. If they contravene these codes they are liable to be disbarred from the profession. Doctors sign a Hippocratic oath, which binds them to do no harm to their patients. Their patients’ interests take priority over those of government or their own opportunities to make financial gains. Now we all know that, in practice, some doctors, lawyers, bankers, accountants and other professionals do break this trust and put themselves first, but generally we are shocked when this happens and expect it to be dealt with harshly.Those responsible for managing the learning of adults in the workplace also like to be regarded as professionals. But you don’t become a professional just by calling yourself one. You have to behave like one - a trusted consultant not an order taker, an architect not a builder.In my mind, learning professionals also have a duty of care - to do no harm to learners. This might seem like a no-brainer - after all, which learning professional does not care about the welfare of learners? Teaching and training are, after all, people professions. But in practice there are strong competing interests:those of senior managers, to keep costs and time commitments to a minimum;those of subject experts, to cover in any courses or materials every possible aspect of their particular subjects;those of compliance departments to tick boxes;those of colleagues who want to strut their stuff, avoid change, keep life simple, promote their own causes, and so on.If the learning professional pays disproportionate attention to these interests, then what harm can they do to learners?They can overwhelm them with content, leaving them frazzled.They can fail to engage them emotionally, so they never really pay attention.They can fail to establish the relevance of a learning activity, causing anger and resentment.They can patronise them with activities that are insufficiently challenging.They can embarrass them with activities that have the potential to humiliate them in front of their peers.They can provide them with inadequate opportunities to practise new skills, so they never have the confidence to put the skills into practice.They can fail to provide sufficient follow-up resources in the workplace, so the learning quickly fades into oblivion.They can fail to act on what we know about the science of learning, thus plying learners with dangerous quack medicines (which is like doctors advising homeopathy or astronomers applying the principles of astrology - please let’s be rationalists not romantics).Learning professionals may calculate that, by putting the interests of management, clients, SMEs and others above those of the learner that they will benefit personally in terms of how they will be seen in the organisation and that this could ‘make or break’ them. But this is short-term thinking, because if you do them harm then learners can break you all too easily:They will only engage in learning activities under duress.They will not learn what you want them to learn (you cannot force anyone to learn something, at least not in any deep or meaningful way).They will make no effort to put your ideas or instructions into practice.They will bad mouth you and your courses (and not necessarily openly, on the happy sheet).It takes courage to stick to your principles even when under pressure from people in power. But courage is surely what you expect of a professional. If you haven’t got it in you to be courageous, then are you in the right job?[...]

Engaging your learner - four dos and four don'ts

Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:15:00 +0000

Whether you’re teaching in a classroom, developing some e-learning or producing a video, you’ll be concerned about engaging your learners. Why? Because, if learners aren’t engaged they’ll pay little attention to what you’re offering and they’re very unlikely to retain anything. You can spend a fortune trying to engage learners, but the secrets to engagement do not demand you break the bank. Here are four dos and four don’ts:DOS1. Make an emotional impact: Too much of what we teach is aimed at the rational, reasoning side of the human psyche, but that’s less than half the battle. If we’re not emotionally engaged we won’t be listening to the facts, figures and scientific evidence. Do what you have to do to up the emotional ante - humour, shock, pathos, drama.2. Tell stories: Which brings us to stories, the currency of any great learning experience. We are engaged by stories (often for hours on end), we remember them and we pass them on. You can’t say that for theoretical models, processes and procedures. And don’t forget, learners’ own stories are more important than yours.3. Be relevant: ‘Relevance drives out reluctance,’ so hook into what is interesting your learners right now. Relate the learning experience to real work issues. And don’t forget those more fundamental needs - self-image, relating to others, sex, money, football, whatever.4. Be challenging: We love a challenge, just so long as we feel we have a chance of success. Nothing too easy, nothing too hard. We will spend any amount of time solving an interesting problem. So this time isn’t wasted, relate the challenge to the goals of the learning experience and the lives of the learners.DON'TS1. Overload on glitz: It’s a common misconception that super-high production values will provide that elusive engagement, but there’s no evidence to support this. There’s nothing you can do with video, 3D models, animation or high-speed interactivity that learners won’t have seen before (only done much better) in movies and video games. Overdo the bling and learners are more likely to complain that you’re wasting money.2. Interact for the sake of it: Interaction is important for learning but only when it's relevant to the objectives of the learning experience and sufficiently challenging. Questions with obvious answers don’t count. Interactions that simply reveal information don’t count. And don’t forget that questions from learners are far more valuable than questions from you.3. Cross the line: In the effort to relate to your audience you might be tempted towards the lowest common denominator. There is a time and a place for everything and a learning experience is definitely not the right place for offensive humour. If you’re not sure where the line is, test your content with representative learners.4. Pretend to be what you are not: It is patently obvious when you are trying too hard to talk the language of your audience, to be like them. You can be empathetic to your learners without pretending to talk like them or like the things they like.[...]

Clive's Cone (if Dale can have one so can I)

Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:55:00 +0000

Are you fed up with all that pseudoscience with which the learning profession is plagued? If so, join the Debunker Club. For April Fool's Day we're going after Dales Cone of Experience.

E-learning: what is it good for?

Wed, 11 Mar 2015 18:51:00 +0000

First of all, before we get started, let me just clarify that I am not talking about e-learning in the broadest sense, encompassing live online sessions and all sorts of online collaboration. I prefer to refer to these as learning technologies, perhaps even 'digital learning'. No, what I’m referring to in this post is the use of interactive self-study materials, particularly in the workplace. For most learning professionals that I meet, that is what they mean when they use the term e-learning.The problem is that the term e-learning, used in this specific context, carries too much baggage. When it was first coined, in the late 1990s, it promised a brave new world of engaging, multimedia-rich learning freed from the confines of the classroom, providing unlimited accessibility, flexibility and scalability.And in many cases it fulfilled the promise. However, the majority of people that I encounter associate it with tedious tell-and-test slide shows that they must sit through whether they like it or not. E-learning as a label is, I’m afraid, broken.At the same time, digital learning, in the broadest sense, is having a huge impact on our lives. Billions of people of all ages use YouTube, Wikipedia, SlideShare and all sorts of other tools to access web articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts and infographics to find out just about everything they could ever want to know. If we are looking for a model for information delivery in organisations, we just need to look at the way this works in our personal lives.E-learning is not a great medium for delivering information. If it was, we would see it all over the Internet and be using it every day, but that is obviously not the case. In the past five years, I have not once recommended to a client that they use e-learning to deliver information and I cannot imagine doing so in the future.So, what is e-learning good for? Actually, quite a few things, as long as they are primarily interactive in nature and we don’t call them e-learning:Drill and practice: Interactive learning materials are brilliant at providing you with repetitive practice in a wide range of skills (typing, mathematical problem-solving, etc.) and the opportunity to rehearse important knowledge sets (vocabulary, terminology, visual recognition, etc.). Of course computers aren’t good for all sorts of skills practice but where they do work, they work wonderfully. Drill and practice is ripe for gamification.Exploration: Interactive learning materials allow you to explore all sorts of objects and environments in 2D or 3D, whether that’s oil rigs, historical events, aero engines or organisation structures.Performance support: Interactive learning materials can help you troubleshoot problems and make informed decisions in situations in which there are too many variables and options to easily consider. Learning is incidental here, but may happen anyway.Discovery: Interactive learning materials can present you with problem-solving situations with which you can interact and gain insights into important principles and processes. Case studies, scenarios, simulations, strategy games: they come in varying levels of complexity and realism, but the idea is essentially the same - just make them as realistic and challenging as you can.Assessment: Interactive learning materials can test you on your knowledge and, in some cases, understanding. Yes, there are limits in what you can achieve given current technology, but developments in AI will mean we w[...]

Seven ways in which stories power learning

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 10:00:00 +0000

I’d never written a film script before. The nearest I’d got to so-called creative writing was penning the dialogue for interactive scenarios, so this was a brave move. To be honest, I was pushed hard by my colleague Asatuurs Keim, a film-maker with a passion for storytelling and someone who believes we have failed to realise the full potential of film as a vehicle for learning at work.Now I was only ever proposing a really short film, but I was encouraged by Asatuurs to use the classic script structure:Setup: Establishes the main characters, their relationships and the world they live in. As the plot unfurls, the protagonist is confronted with a dramatic problem to resolve.Confrontation: The protagonist attempts to resolve the problem, only to find him/herself in ever worsening situations.Resolution: The main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the dramatic question answered, leaving the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of who they really are.I’m sure experienced writers don’t approach their task in such a formal manner, but for a beginner like me this structure proved invaluable. Although my principal goal was to provide insights into the value of end-to-end learning solutions, I also needed the storyline to be engaging in its own right and to demonstrate the power of storytelling as a tool for learning. You can come to your own conclusions as to whether I managed to achieve both of these (I’ll provide a link to the film later).Here are seven ways in which I believe that stories power learning:1. Stories speak to us as humansAs Jeremy Hsu writes in Scientific American, 'Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history.’ For more than 27,000 years, humans have been communicating by telling stories. I’m sure that if you were to open up our brains and tip the contents onto the floor, what would come out but piles and piles of stories. According to a 1997 study by Robin Dunbar at the University of Liverpool, personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations. That seems like an underestimate to me.2. Stories hold our attentionStories with characters to whom we can relate will attract and hold our attention. If you don’t believe that 'people nowadays' can maintain attention on anything for longer than a few minutes then you’d be wide of the mark. It’s true that we want our information to come in the smallest possible chunks, but we’ll happily spend hours wading through a box set or turning the pages of a great novel.3. Stories engage us emotionallyEmotion can have a powerful impact on memory. Numerous studies have shown that our most vivid memories tend to be of emotional events. And stories are highly effective at triggering emotions - they make us laugh, they make us cry, they surprise us, they scare us, they inspire us. Above all, they make us care and caring matters when it comes to learning.4. Stories provide us with examplesStories have another very simple value to a learning experience: they provide us with examples that help us to understand difficult concepts, principles and rules. If you’re struggling to figure out the difference between education and training, a good teacher will tell you that old joke, you know, the one about when your daughter comes home and tells you about the sex education class she attended that day. Fine, but what if she came home and told you about the sex training she’d rec[...]

The teacher as storyteller

Tue, 17 Feb 2015 17:10:00 +0000

A few days ago, I sat down to write a post explaining why I thought stories were such a powerful tool for learning. In my research, I came across a post I originally published in 2005. Once I had got over the shock of realising that this post was a full ten years old, I decided to share it again, given I probably now have a very different audience. I also believe it holds true today, although what I refer to as ‘the science’ has probably moved on. Anyway, I’m still working on my new post on storytelling and I’ll share it soon.Back in 2003, I devoted a great deal of energy to the design of a new CD-ROM course entitled Ten Ways to Avoid Death by PowerPoint. In blatant disregard of all the usual constraints of time and budget, I set out to design a programme that was both highly interactive and media rich, engaging as many of the senses as possible.As the course was nearing completion, I came up with the idea of introducing the programme with a short story, adapted from a classic fairy tale. Because the moral of the tale seemed to echo the main message of the course, I added this in, even though I was concerned about starting a course in such a passive, linear manner.Some time later, I met with a colleague who had been reviewing the course. She had showed it to several managers in her company and got some feedback. I asked if anything stood out that they found particularly enjoyable or memorable - perhaps the games, the multimedia, the illustrations? No, you guessed it, it was the story. It made the point, it stirred the imagination, it stuck in the mind.You may not be surprised, but I was. Can stories really be more powerful than interactivity in bringing about learning? I investigated further, and consulted Google. According to, "We are story-making machines. Cognitively speaking, every experience, every relationship, every object is stored in the mind as a story." OK, but any website that calls itself 'story at work' is going to be biased. What about the science?Well, Jerome Bruner, the father of cognitive psychology, believes storytelling is hardwired into our brains. The primary reason infants are motivated to learn to speak is because they have stories inside them that they want to share with others. Simple stories like "I fell over" or "I had a bad dream and I'm scared", but stories nonetheless.In his book Tell me a Story, psychologist and artificial intelligence expert Roger Schank argues that "knowledge is stories" and that intelligence may be more or less equated with the ability to tell the right story at the right time. Even the old timers agree. According to the old Hopi proverb, "He who tells the stories rules the world". Hollywood already knows that.When you attend a really good workshop, the one thing you can guarantee is that the facilitator will have some good stories. Perhaps a few are just good jokes, but many will be extremely relevant to the subject in hand. They illustrate a point, they stimulate discussion. That's why it's so much more difficult to run a workshop for the first time - it can take quite a while to come up with all those anecdotes and examples that bring the event to life. It also explains why your average facilitator's guide is never quite enough of a foundation on which to run a workshop - however thoroughly it lists all the steps involved in preparing and running the event, it's inadequate if it doesn't also provide you with a repertoire of interesting and illuminating anecdotes.There's a [...]

More than blended learning - we launch today

Thu, 15 Jan 2015 09:00:00 +0000

We did it. We developed a whole new way of designing learning interventions, an approach that we really believe in. We started a new company to look after our new invention, a portfolio of products and services to support it, a new website to show it all off and a free online course for anyone who wants to learn how to use it.

It’s called More Than Blended Learning (>BL) and, although we’ve been working on the underlying ideas for some ten years now, it launches officially today at Icetank in London’s Covent Garden.

>BL is a refreshingly different but simple new approach to the design of learning solutions. Blended solutions combine contrasting learning methods and media in order to maximise effectiveness and efficiency. >BL goes a step further to ensure the blend results in application to real-world tasks and the learner is supported along the whole length of their learning journey.

‘We' are Barry Sampson, Eugenie King and myself (Clive Shepherd), supported by trusted associates Asatuurs Keim (Studio from the Sky), Gary Frost (Frost Creative) and Cheryl Clemons (LearnerLab).

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved and yet we’ve hardly started.

We hope you like >BL and will support us in our ambition to transform the way learning interventions are designed and delivered.

The new age of exploration

Mon, 01 Dec 2014 10:00:00 +0000

The rise of instructionFrom the earliest days of computer-assisted learning, way back in the mid 1970s, the dominant teaching strategy has been instruction. So dominant in fact, that those tasked with devising and assembling technology-based learning solutions have been called instructional designers ever since. As a result, it is easy to believe that there is only one valid approach to teaching on a computer and instruction is it.First of all, let’s just clarify what we mean by this term. Instruction is a structured teaching process that begins with behavioural learning objectives (that’s the sort that describes what you, as a learner, will be able to do at the end of the instructional process, in specific, measurable and observable terms) and ends with some form of assessment against these objectives. Along the route, the learner will be presented with facts, concepts, rules and procedures and asked to put these into practice in some way. They will receive ample demonstrations and examples. They will be provided with specific and timely feedback. Sounds like a watertight approach that is likely to lead to consistent and reliable outcomes. And sometimes this is what it delivers.The shortcomings of expositionIt’s important to contrast instruction with what, previously, had been the dominant approach, at least in formal learning settings, and that was exposition. With this strategy, a subject expert presents information to the – largely passive – learner. There are many forms that exposition could take, from lectures and presentations to textbooks and videos, but the idea is essentially the same. With the expositional strategy, the subject expert determines what you, as a learner, receive. If you’re a confident learner, already grounded in the subject in question, you may well be quite happy with this approach. You concentrate hard and hope that some of what you read or hear will stick. When it comes to the inevitable exam, you will cram as much information as you can into some sort of temporary memory space to help you overcome this hurdle. Chances are that, a few days after the exam, you’ll have forgotten almost all of it.Exposition is not a predictably successful strategy, even though it still dominates in many educational and training environments (including many of the latest MOOCs). It works very well for people who already have expertise in the subject, because they know what they don’t know, and can easily focus in on information that is relevant to them. On the other hand, novices are likely to be completely overwhelmed. You can understand why the emphasis shifted from exposition to instruction as it became necessary to provide millions of new entrants to the workforce with essential knowledge and practical skills. It was not good enough for soldiers, factory workers, insurance clerks and electricians to have been exposed to lots of information and to have passed exams; they needed to be competent.When instruction doesn’t workCompetence takes many forms. When the tasks that people are asked to perform are routine and predictable, then it is easy to see how instruction can work – the rules and procedures, and the skills needed to put these into practice, are undisputed and simply need to be understood and rehearsed. However, more and more work, particularly in the developed world, is far from routine and predictable – if it was it would have been computerised or outsourced to countries where labour was [...]

TV very much alive for learning professionals

Fri, 28 Nov 2014 17:42:00 +0000

On Wednesday, on his Plan B blog, my old mate Donald Clark told us that TV is dying, and I believe him. But in some ways it is just changing form.

Last night I tuned in to a live stream of the second episode of LearningNow TV, a monthly one-hour news magazine for learning professionals. I turned down the sound on the main TV and watched it on my iPad, expecting it to hold me for 10 minutes or so, but I was glued to it through to the end.

Nigel Paine presents a mix of webcam interviews and professionally-produced pieces. Hats off to the editors because this odd mix hangs together really well. It helps that Nigel is such an enthusiastic and compelling presenter - I know he worked at the BBC, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can present!

More than anything I'm pleased to see something really different for learning professionals who want to keep in touch with what's going on. It's not a conference, not a webinar, not a magazine - it's something new and refreshing.

The shows are free, whether you watch them live or view the recordings later. The venture will work commercially as sponsorship and advertising start to increase. I hope this happens because this is an idea that comes just at the right time and deserves success.

Seven ways that video can transform learning at work

Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:16:00 +0000

Video is very much the medium of the moment. Not only do we spend many hours each day watching it on our TVs, it has become an integral part of the online experience. An ever-increasing proportion of the population does not only consume video, it creates and shares it with a worldwide Internet audience.Whereas once video cameras cost many hundreds, if not tens of thousands of pounds, they are now integrated for no additional cost in computers, stills cameras and mobile phones. And where once video editing could only be carried out by skilled engineers in elaborate editing suites, it can now be accomplished, often with equivalent production values, with free or low cost software on PCs and even mobile devices.In a learning context, video provides a compelling means for conveying content, particularly real-life action and interactions with people. Amazingly, it can also be quicker and easier to produce than slide shows or textual content. Sometimes you just have to point the camera, press record, shoot what you see and then upload to a website. Obviously it won’t always be that easy, and to make the best of the potential that video provides will take skill and experience, but there’s no harm in starting with the assumption that you can do it yourself, until proven otherwise.Video is so versatile. It plays without difficulty on all sorts of devices, including smart phones and tablets, and adds a great deal to the classroom experience, virtual or physical. So what forms can it take? Here are seven suggestions:1. InterviewsPeople love looking at and listening to other people, particularly if they are providing useful information concisely and in a relaxed, informal manner. At its simplest you can just point a camera at an interviewee and do the simplest trimming and titling to finish the job. For a more polished look, with the interviewer in shot, you’ll need to shoot at different distances and angles and cut between them. For a more free-ranging discussion, bring in a small audience to ask their own additional questions.2. PresentationsIf you’re lucky enough to catch an interesting presentation live, then that’s great, but if not, then video is a great secondary option. The simplest method is to have the presenter record a narration to their slides and export that to video, but you can achieve a more engaging result by alternating between the presenter speaking directly to camera and the slides.3. DramaActed sequences are perfect for depicting interactions between people, perhaps to demonstrate an interpersonal skill, to stimulate discussion in the classroom, or as the basis for an interactive scenario. Drama is one form of video where you would be well advised to bring in the professionals, to work both sides of the camera. This will be relatively costly, but there are plenty of situations in which this is money very well spent.4. Physical demonstrationsA very simple use of video is to have an expert demonstrate a practical skill or the workings of a piece of equipment, particularly when this would not be easy to accomplish in a classroom (you might be talking about a crane or a tank!).5. DocumentariesA great use of video is to take the viewer to places they could not be expected to visit in person, perhaps to see how work is carried out in different parts of their organisation. Documentaries could provide a record of important projects and initiatives, or tell a powerfu[...]