Municipal Planning Means Planning

Reading the NY Times, Sunday, 5 May 2019, I scan as always for an article that will inspire me to write something of a useful lesson to clients—in business communications and case studies—or an event that just sets my temper to a higher temperature. This meets all criteria.

A native New Yorker (I confess I’ve been an upstater for quite some time) this headline—”6 Years After Hurricane Sandy, Here’s What They Came Up With: Really Big Sandbags” just stopped me in my tracks.

My reaction gives away my roots still run deep: Are your f&^%*(^ kidding me?

It appears in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 planners will install large sandbags along sections of the East River and lower Manhattan to arrest an initial storm surge. “Six years of studying it and you come up with sandbags? Really?” — one woman called them “atrocities”.

Sandbags East River

With no legitimate plans yet in place who knows how long it will be till a permanent solution is reached, no doubt by a consensus. In New York, this means opinions from every commission, community group, politico and those with influence who put ‘thumbs on scales”.

Officials claim they have a more ambitious vision and have begun planning to extend the shoreline of the island into the water to serve as a bulwark against rising sea levels and storm surges.

I contrast this with Chicago, a city I also love, where I was seconded for a few years. To drive from my hotel to the office took me down Michigan Avenue, cutting over behind the Art Institute to South Columbus Drive, hopping on the expressway towards Midway Airport. Monday morning, I headed out only to be detoured back on to Michigan. Seems Mayor Daley felt Columbus was showing wear and about 3 miles would need resurfacing. Well, I figured for the next 10 weeks or so I’d add 20 minutes to my commute. Tuesday morning, I left early but to my surprise, one of six lanes in each direction were completed and ready for traffic.

ChirouteWhat? Seems that at the time Chicago lived up to its unofficial moniker, “The City That Works”. Night crews were just packing up for the next night’s work. That’s right – no traffic disruption allowed during daytime. Within 6 working days (actually, nights) – bang – get your motor running. Imagine this situation in New York…one can only laugh or cry to hysterics for the year or so it would take to fouling traffic and igniting tempers in the Big Apple. Maybe it pays to have an authoritarian in charge? Present government excluded!

Pardon the longish intro but I’m reaching for an important point.

Planning suggests either forethought before a problem arises, usually to make improvements; or reaction to a catastrophe that forces decision makers to, well, decide. And that’s just the start of it. Then there’s the actual planning. In the first instance a usually positive and optimistic series of activities leading to action. The latter is loaded with blame and finger pointing; a pessimistic undertaking—and in New York, everyone has an opinion.

However, some instances are so egregious that there should be blame placed on the shoulders of government and citizens who couldn’t muster the gumption or courage to put their reputations at risk. Looking like a fool does not play well here—and stupidity is more reviled. Congrats graduates.

And this ‘solution’ has the characteristics of every human failing—failure to act with due haste, a rushed temporary solution that will stay in place for about 10 years—cowards who wouldn’t stand up, and above all the hubris that ‘we know best’. With no clear brief offered to professional engineers and architects, not to mention cooperation with, maybe the Army Corps of Engineers, (Maybe not the latter – see New Orleans: Katrina) a more pleasing aesthetic solution equal in civil engineering to the task of keeping waters where they belong might have evolved, with a bit of alacrity.

More than all these failings, the lack of leadership, even a heavy hand with a vision to see this through. No fan of most of Robert Moses’s design decisions—that’s the kind of thumb that should have been on the scale. Where’s our Richard Daley? Even a petty martinet would be favorable to paralysis by analysis.

Makes me glad I moved.

The Learner, 70:20:10 and Customer Experience

iStock_000008801928SmallMore so than in other efforts learning demands a careful balance of content and context. Many courses or projects chock a block with great information never quite achieve the results intended because of the way the information is delivered. Still too many learners won’t or cannot stay engaged. And it’s not for lack of effort by designers. Neither dynamic media, nor learner engagement exercises, even all the bells and whistles designers build on can always keep the learner riveted. Moreover, it’s not the pacing nor structure of events nor even the implied threat the learning or training is a job requirement. When learners are asked about courses a range of answers emerge, from I liked it but it meant little to me in my job, it was just not interesting, it was isolating, dull, the same old thing. So, if you believe, as do I, there is a missing element, hang on, I may have some insights.

Firstly, it’s important to clear off the Kirkpatrick levels. Not dismiss, just set them aside. Traditional learning and development is about pushing out information. What I suggest is a different way of thinking about the learner perhaps reflected in Kirkpatrick but not aligned to its grid like way of organizing learner uptake. Rather the lens through which we should start is Charles Jennings’s 70:20:10 approach.

Looking back to the original premise, that courses even with great content are bashed on the shore of rocks of delivery and contextual modes, than Jennings realization about how learning works is even more in line with my premise. And not to hold you in suspense, I am advocating we begin to think of learners as customers and every aspect of the learning experience as a customer experience. In the customer experience (Cx), world companies look at their service by way of touchpoints.

Touchpoints are every interaction taking place between the company, product or information—the content—the user or customer of that information and the context or channel used to communicate. Calling your cable company, speaking with a representative offers many touchpoints. For instance, how many rings did it take to get through, did the customer service representative understand the problem, how did she speak to you, could he resolve the problem, how long did it take, or perhaps you got better service using the website. The media, in this case the phone, is referred to as the channel. Companies measure each touchpoint in each channel against criteria in order to examine their process, develop standards and measures to improve customer service and contain their costs.

As learning people, we might take a lesson from touchpoints in Cx. In business, every time a touchpoint is observed, measured, and found lacking, it is improved—called touchpoint renewal. Now think of learning experiences whether virtual or face-to-face. Every interaction with content is naturally in a context (channel). So working online, the UI/UX channel might have been designed with minimal cognitive overhead in a handsome interface so information can be actuated easily. The more interactions, more touchpoints, and more reflective thought by the designer is required. Or in a classroom, instructors who focus on critical content and presents interactively have touchpoints relevant to that context or channel.

Learning designers can think in touchpoints when they build instruction or training. If we begin to think like this courses will improve simply because each action is viewed as an individual, measurable touchpoint. There are two elements, the content and the quality or style with which it is delivered (no matter the context or channel) and the learner (or customer). The smoother, faster, clearer the touchpoint, the easier it would be for learners to navigate and perhaps benefit from the experience. Customer experience thinking does not require a major pivot in the way courses are developed. Instead, it’s a mindset and reminder that learners need to be serviced as customers or even as buyers with a choice. Knowing your learner needs, your customers, and what they must achieve at the conclusion of the experience can help shape designers decisions about what to insert into a learning experience, the style, and the channel.

iStock_000004786684SmallJennings research clearly says most learning, over 80%, takes place in the workplace not the classroom (and I assume not the screen either). He has demoted formal learning to the ’10’. This diminishes the role of the learning designer or at least, as far as I can tell reshapes it. Experiential learning through contact and information with others yields—according to Jennings—better development and business outcomes. A conversation with a colleague in the pursuit of a solution or the sharing of an incident that leads to an A-Ha moment is planned. Keep in mind, these interactions all have touchpoints, too. That ‘20’ doesn’t mean we can easily measure the import of every utterance and seek to improve coaching or mentoring conversations by observing or eavesdropping continuously. However, it’s worth considering just how powerful informal, professional language is and how worthy it might be to bring to daylight the concept that everything one says or does has a value that is measurable in terms of utility and effect. This would include sharing via social media as well. As we know, a useful point made in Twitter, evinces a piling on of like-minded comments. These touchpoints will have extraordinary reach and thus value if the sources are trusted and adds to the validity of the single point under review. Most importantly both Cx and 70:20:10 are performance and productivity focused.

It would seem terribly logical for learning designers, ID’s, courseware, and content builders to become aware of the customer experience. If our product is the transmission of knowledge, skills and behaviors—and we expect change to result from each learning event, than designing with care and scrutinizing each touchpoint is another valuable way to look at and improve learning outcomes. Perhaps the designer’s role will change toward one of director; scripting a full 100% development experience—composed of 70:20:10 where every action or activity plays a role in the education of a learner and the idea of the total customer experience is viewed via touchpoints ensuring all actions are focused on results.

Overcoming Generation Differences When Building Learning: Part 2

When we last visited this topic about a week back I promised to create a visual—a chart of sorts—to encourage learning and instructional designers to consider how generational bias in training delivery. Just looking to start a conversation.

A Quick Review
You might want to pop back to the original article: http://tiny.cc/qpsrax

We know we’re engaging three distinct groups in today’s workplace, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (Millenials). Each has specific preferences for general communication and they carry over in training as well. Whether creating a training program when all three groups are in the room or accessing courses online demands the learning designer incorporate specific ways of delivering information with the appropriate assets, techniques, and technologies. Initially, we would hope learners, right from the first word or screen, slide or handout, would buy-in and see value; a predisposition that his will be a good experience. During the training, we build formative experiences to keep all groups interested and motivated to continue, committed that the investment in time is worthwhile. Finally we would want participants to exit the training experience appreciating it was translatable into their work life. If this is accomplished, the next training experience will be viewed much more favorably and meet with less resistance.

Acknowledging their generational age, and considering their technological age (how savvy are they to tech) as well as comfort with social media, influences how they will respond to courseware. Though there are three distinct groups, many learners exhibit the preferences for learning outside the generational ‘norm’. These people are to be commended for either learning new technology, appreciating other ways of ‘seeing’ learning or just curious enough to drop a toe in the fast flowing stream of change. We need to depend on these folks to help convert those who tend to be inflexible.

Caveats abound:

  • This is not a fully scientific approach nor based on academic, androgogical research
  • It is the product of crowdsourcing, anecdotal research and discussion with hundreds of learning/instructional designers and clients not to mention intuition
  • My professional experience over thousands of hours of course building across more than twenty verticals and five geos and over 25 years of design have informed these findings, too

I am fully prepared to hear from all quarters. It’s a living document—a work in progress— so send your ideas to rshadrin@wonderfulbrain.com. I’m hoping criticism will help improve this instrument not merely tell me where to get off or how narrow-minded, oblique or stupid this exercise is.

Anyway, someone had to put a stake in the ground. Apparently me. I hope it doesn’t end up in my heart.

Ultimately, the learning designer has to make everyone happy if information transfer is to take place. Elements that ‘favor’ one group more than another will always be necessary. If knowledge, skills and behaviors are to be transmitted, absorbed and used than instructional design should seek balance. Occasionally this compromise is not appreciated nor well tolerated across the generations. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to honor each aspect of the generation’s learning preferences and mitigate those that irritate others. Skillful designers know how to navigate these choppy waters and subtle mixtures of learning preferences can always be developed. Can the design ever be perfect. Well, no. But reasonable learners in all generations can recognize when attempts are made to entice them into a learning experience. And the organization expects each generation, besides tolerance, adapt as necessary to improve performance and solve problems through learning and training experiences.

GenCon

NOW EVERYONE WINS: OVERCOMING GENERATION DIFFERENCES WHEN BUILDING LEARNING

During an interview about a week back I asked the project manager about the audience for which the training courseware would be designed. The strongest criteria, emphatically made, was the consultants ability to work out a curriculum for 24 to 70 year olds. She added, by the way, some of them ‘don’t play well with others’ or didn’t want to take the training…and were clearly hostile. I know the second part is actually more enticing to discuss than the first but we’ll save that for a sequel.

It’s far from the first time any educator has faced this situation but it did get me wondering. A good place to start in preparing for such a project would recognize the characteristics of learners in each of the 4 major generational groups in today’s workplace. From that point discover, categorize and develop with some confidence the types of learning each would be most comfortable with then craft an overall rubric to be used when designing courseware for multi-age audiences. Looking around I did find an article where this conundrum was voiced. That solution was to conduct a needs assessment, offer basic training particularly in the technologies for those unfamiliar with online learning, and then take out an ‘insurance policy’ by creating what really was a back up curriculum in case of mass lethargy or a pedagogical mutiny. This answer seemed too superficial and really doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.

The Generations
Although these descriptions may seem a bit broad there is agreement the characteristics of each generation are accepted as real and true.

Baby Boomers (Post WW II, 47-65 years old)
Creating a pleasant work environment is paramount

  • Like steady work and climbing the corporate ladder, consider their coworkers to be their main social network
  • They put work at the center of their life and focus on building the company
  • Viewed as ‘seasoned’, thought leaders, or subject matter experts, has a stronghold on experience
  • If you want something done, pick up the phone instead of waiting on an email or text response

Generation X (Born between 1963-1980, early 30s to mid 40s)
genxfemale

  • Often labeled ‘slackers’, but are the best educated generation
  • Display a casual disdain for authority and structured work hours, dislike being micro-managed, skeptical and embrace a hands-off management philosophy
  • Will put in the hours while maintaining a reasonable work-life balance
  • Incorporate social media seamlessly into their personal and professional lives

Generation Y (Also called Echo Boomers or Millennials, born between 1981-1994, early 20s to early 30s)
millenial

  • Will make up 46% of the US workforce by 2020
  • Expect near universal positive reinforcement from authority figures while seeking job satisfaction
  • Incredibly technology savvy, immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches
  • Rely heavily on blogs, instant messages, tweets, text messages
  • Demand work-life balance, flexible hours, work-from-home options, and mobile technology

 Generation Z (Soon to enter the workforce, born between 1995-2009)
First generation never to have experienced the pre-internet world. Already technology-focused

Where the Problem Begins
Let’s just back up a bit. School is the common denominator amongst all generations. But the problems that continue to arise in public education are magnified when boomer type instructional modalities are used to pitch information at millennial students. Teachers, the curriculum, methods and even the spaces for instruction are evidence of a generational disconnect. There are many superior older instructors who have made the technological and sociological leap to align content with context to educate their charges. But, in general this divide is not uncommon and where that happens, little learning goes on. Unfortunately many youngsters get patterned and adapt attitudes that, even as adults carry a distaste for learning not in their preferred mode. However these students are now our employees and need to be convinced by example learning can be made meaningful respecting the ways they want to, and best can learn. The question to consider? Are employees of a generation too rigid or overly reflexive in their rejection of training? Put another way, how malleable and adjustable are employees willing to be?

Where is Alignment in the Organization?
In corporate training we expect all generations to make adjustments so courses, training and instruction can be cast from a single or a few uniform models. After all this is the workplace. But that no longer cements an employee’s commitment nor guarantees willing participation. If we don’t honor the fundamental attitudes and proclivities of each generation we risk losing learners at the outset. Often staff, having endured training delivered in essentially a mode akin to a foreign language, have attitudes about training harden into instant negativity every time a required learning experience comes around. The problem that begs a solution is how best to design learning for all  generations.

Organizational Intolerance
Corporate leaders are skeptical  about the costs associated with learning and training believing there is not a high enough dividend in performance change to drive up profits. They would be extremely unlikely to embrace multiple course types to engage each generation in their learning ‘sweet spot.’ Instead corporate education needs to innovate, devising learning experiences to lure employees by offering a variety of ways to interact with information, absorb and most importantly use what they learned to be better at what they do—for themselves and the organization. Enough quality experiences and the fear, inertia or rejection displayed by generations will dissipate replaced by a more optimistic attitude about training at work.

A Way to Look at Instruction with Generational Regard
The goal is to reach every generation in their preferred learning style suggested by their social description. How? Develop learning elements, experiences, and technologies integrated into the content of courseware or training that speaks to each generation. This balanced methodology will engage all learners—not all the time nor in every instance—but enough so each group can sense an invitation to learn has been extended to them. Such an experience might offer elements (scenarios, interactivities, video, animation) techniques (direct instruction and gamification) experiences (role playing and decisions making strategies), assessing for competence (tests, role plays, scenarios, games) and media where learning might be best delivered (live, virtual, online, mobile, mixed), so that every generation can find relevance. Content will be carried forward in multiple modalities; formal, informal, social, participatory, for collaborative teams and individuals. Text, visuals, audio and interactivities will drive information respecting the sensibility of generational familiarity.

And while many employees are archetypes of each generation there are enough who just marginally typify the description of that generation. Of course this does not mean they are outliers, they simply fall into some other generational category.  I believe we can make some reasonable assumptions about the elements that once incorporated into instructional programs will reach every generation in their preferred learning style leaving no one outside the scope of education.

So what would a multi-generational learning plan look like? That’s going to need a well crafted visual. Stay tuned for Part II.

WHEN YOUR LEARNERS ARE ENGINEERS… BETTER KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

It can’t be a secret that stereotypes are often well proven by personal experience. And in my many years building learning, whether facilitated instruction or elearning it’s a cardinal rule that instructional designers need to know many aspects of their target learner’s personality traits. One, and maybe the most important metric, is their profession. The notion this alone determines both the techniques and design elements you should employ suggests the challenges you’ll face when the precepts of good learning are antagonistic to the personality characteristics of your audience. I don’t believe there is a more difficult group (I don’t mean they’re not nice people mind you) of learners—but whose typology seriously conflicts with story-based instruction than engineers.

If we’re going to create quality knowledge transfer, skills building and behavioral changes in our engineer audience then it pays to peel back their character traits that research and experience seem to bear out: Engineers are:

  • problem solvers
  • perfectionists
  • appreciate intelligence in others
  • creative within their field
  • argumentative when supporting their point of view
  • dogmatic
  • risk averse
  • emotionally detached
  • impersonal and reserved
  • not particularly diplomatic
  • uncomfortable with ambiguity and vagueness

Naturally, we can characterize any group of homogeneous learners who were drawn to their profession because these traits were naturally occurring. Also within any profession, practitioners lean into the traits most prevalent in the group and therefore further prove the stereotype. To be fair not every engineer exhibits all these traits, and the degree to which they are demonstrated or expressed vary considerably.

Regardless, given these traits engineers (it’s no stretch to hypothesize) prefer training or education delivered in a very practical way. It is an exhibition of their personalities. In other words:

  • Goals that are clearly presented
  • Results that are measurable/quantifiable
  • Material that is focused directly on achieving stated results
  • Visual elements included only if they directly illustrate a critical concept
  • Information presented in logical sequence and in order
  • Direct, to the point, facts with proofs
  • Concrete examples presented with no ambiguity; delete anything not directly aligned to training objectives

So what would a learning solution look like if it were built to an engineer’s specifications?

  • Clear unambiguous, quantifiable outcomes
  • Screens with material presented in logical order, point by point—like bullets for example
  • Literal, temporal and sequential presentation of information
  • Few if any checks for understanding (the assumption that if the material is correctly presented they’ll get it right; a certainty among engineers)
  • All facts, no emotive content need apply such as scenarios/stories
  • Tell, show, do; period

Many engineers would be just fine with a PowerPoint presentation or its equivalent with the addition of examples if necessary. The sample below is a screen from a course designed by engineers with no input from a learning designer.


Huh? As you can tell this even violates their preferred modalities.
Even an engineer would have problems understanding what this is trying to communication let alone teach.

Finally, let’s look at the considerations an instructional designer might regard as quality learning strategies, techniques and methods when building learning.

Content would have:

  • Objectives achieved through both cognitive learning and intuitive understandings
  • Preview and review experiences
  • Provisions for options, decision making risk taking
  • Employ checks for understanding, feedback and remediation
  • Images that both illustrate learning points, used to generate time, place, emotional content or as another modality for retention; and infographics that explain concepts visually w/o narrative content
  • Offer examples as scenarios/simulations and especially stories
  • Use emotions to help cement retention

By now you can tell I am arguing that the disconnect between the way engineers prefer their information delivered and the best practices in learning are estranged if not divorced from each other. That said; as the learning master how can you reconcile these differences. If your goal is to present information that yields a higher degree of knowledge transfer, what roads are open that will improve learning uptake and therefore performance while enticing engineers to see the learning design as interesting but compelling.

Two Methods for Designing Learning Engineers will Appreciate

  1. Leverage their primary mental framework and traits while chunking and organizing information with enrichment materials to enhance learning retention.

Let’s take the information in the sample screen and deconstruct it.

The objective seems to be an explanation of how automatic data synchronization takes place.

In the current screen learners are told after CM has been added as a Managed Element it is cued up for synchronization. This is followed by two qualifying conditions; one positive the other negative. To monitor the process, the learner is offered a navigation string to access software that illustrates a screen where the process is made evident. While this seems to have logic and order, it is a mashup of too many ideas in one space. Engineers, though we didn’t mention this earlier, really don’t like to waste space so they jam in as much content in one place as possible. This has a double negative effect; there is too much information to digest and it is often confusing and overwhelming, particularly in the screen above since there are two disparate operations.

Now look at this example. Without changing he content—there’s only one element chunked differently—the actual application moved to another screen—there’s much more clarity. There is a logical flow of information and the two options are more distinctive and differentiated. A screen like this meets more of the engineers’ preferences; even though the former seems to be more chocked full of information—it really is jammed up and more difficult to absorb. No doubt when the screen is composed with adequate white space, learners have a better visual experience.

More importantly on the next screen, using a tool like Captivate, the learner could manipulate the data and work through a ‘Show Me, Tell Me, Let Me Try’ option to enhance participation, add interest, and show proofs of fact.

So screen design, which is a function of the instructional design process leads to more clarity and more information presented in a direct and functional manner meeting the engineer’s preferences for ordered delivery of content.

2.       Organize courses to take advantage of engineers drive away from ambiguity

It’s too easy being deceived into building courseware that relies on one set of online screens to sustain the entire learning program. Often, engineers need to learn applications, new hardware, and software and apply their learning to initiate a new method of processing information or bringing new equipment online. When this type of knowledge AND skills must be transferred a blended approach works best.

Recently I designed a learning protocol that required engineers to work with an application in a lab setting with opportunities to use software to program hardware to work to specification. However, they needed to have fundamental information before the lab experience. Initially the client believed that once on site in the lab the facilitator could deliver the content and then lead the lab experiences. This would have proven to be overwhelming for both instructor and learner. The time on learning would stretch to five or more days. Lecturing from the platform while walking engineers through the content and then transitioning to the software application training was a model this company had used before. No wonder their ability to fill seats in the training facility was regularly less than 30%.

The solution was to develop an initial introduction to the course material online followed by a synopsis of each unit of learning into a guide distributed well ahead of the onsite lab experience. After each ‘chapter’ in the Learner’s Guide, a short check for understanding would be completed and forwarded to the facilitator. He would then review the responses, see the areas where there was most confusion, and later start the lab session with remediation of those areas. Only then would he begin to deliver the lab (software application) experiences.

The Instructor’s Manual would provide all the labs, screens, teaching scripts and software application directions. Each individual operation would be shared with the engineers in sequence after an explanation of where this experience aligned with content in the Learner’s Guide. Application operations would be selected to include those that posed the most challenges; others would be worked up by engineers on their own time, during or post training with an open invitation to query other participants or the facilitator. In total the amount of lab time would be reduced, learners would have all their deficits resolved during the remediation period and the need to explore over 700 potential individual application operations in the lab unnecessary.

Using pre-instruction, passing responsibility to learners to be ready for the lab, allowing the facilitator to quickly resolve areas of confusion and finally engage learners in the lab with the most critical and challenging aspects of the application made better use of time and left engineers with a sense of community and competence.

Going back and reviewing the way engineers prefer to learn you can see that in online or facilitated instructional design, awareness of their particular personality traits can be mitigated. Better yet—if you are able to design learning with their considerations in mind, engineers, though always a tough crowd, can be reached and taught in an effective way and one where their opinion of the education experience will more than likely be positive.

ARTICULATE NON EST REX – 3 REASONS HIGHER ORDER LEARNING IS BEYOND THE MOAT

For the past two months or so, I’ve been writing high profile video scripts and storyboarding in a group whose company is synonymous with the 2008 economic collapse. That they made a recovery and paid back most of their bailout money is a testament to leadership and perseverance. But I wish those same qualities extended to training, for here, little was produced that could be considered responsible online education. Like most subjective or creative ventures, it comes down to choices. Beginning with objectives for what learners should take away and then demonstrates in their performance, to the design process and finally the software used to build courseware always determine the instructional yield at the end. When you desire higher order learning; that is information that actually teaches beyond mere recall, then how you design and what software you select for development define your expectations most clearly. If you’re happy to live and feed at the bottom—and by this I mean the lowest end of the taxonomy, providing simple information transfer or at best skills and recall that ask little of the learner you can default to what is easiest. You know, and accept training not education as your outcome. Reminds me of Lewis Grizzard’s humorous tome “Shoot Low Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies.” And for training, the contemporary tool of choice is Articulate.

Low-Level Learning Cheats the Learner
What I call ‘low-level’ elearning is the product of 3 conditions; the desire to move content to delivery as fast as possible, using the most basic software tools from which this can be accomplished, and lastly if something important is being tee’d up online but the development tool isn’t up to the task, the organization puts up fierce resistance to deliver learning in a different medium.

I harbor a patent dislike for packaged authoring tools like Articulate. Popular to the point of ubiquity, one can quickly see why since with very little instruction a learning designer can become a learning developer. Them that invents can own the means of production. It’s highly seductive, relatively cheap in price and learning overhead. Nothing wrong with that except for three insurmountable issues: The first being Articulate and other analogues, encourages anyone to believe they know how to create learning. This attitude diminishes expectations of what learning could be to what the tool will allow it to be. Not to get too deep in the weeds here but learning and instructional design is a discipline that requires significant education to get it right and be of some use. From my vantage point, training managers effective at face-to-face instruction believed they knew how to translate that form into online instruction. Furthermore, having no grasp of how to build let alone interpret a storyboard never held back their opinion about how a screen (which they continued to call slides after that infamous program that serves as an anchor for Articulate) should be populated. The comparison might be a dentist who decides to attempt heart surgery. I mean they are both doctors, right? So the tool invites simplistic, often poorly constructed, and wrongly paced learning as a composite of (I’ll call them by their right name) template screens that the ill prepared but titled deign as adequate. That’s how you get training, not education.

Armor Plated Articulate
Let’s keep I mind there is a learning-industrial complex surrounding Articulate. Thus sycophants, add-ons, templates, coaches, workshops, companies offer training that ensure it has become and maintains its self-righteous place as the default program for delivering low-end elearning. This is one moat you cannot easily cross. It’s well insulated from attack, whether from learning or economic exigencies.

Articulate provides very limited options in terms of interfaces, screen designs, and interactivities (there are 10 out of the box – like drag and drops and the like) that cause developers to suspend inventive screen design to push material out on tight schedules. I observed talented developers, who knew all the nuances and ‘tricks’ to fool Articulate into executing pretty neat operations for which it was not designed curse the heaven’s when a day’s worth of work crashed. At one point I ordered up a truly engaging interactive and the developer with whom I worked finally resorted to a mash up of Flash squeezed into an Articulate shell to create the most creative piece to come out of the that shop. Perhaps this is why Storyline is starting to gain traction. It is not linked to that (as yet unnamed) Microsoft Office program but it does offer the option to forsake templates and move towards more free form development. Plus it migrates to either Flash or HTML5. Of course, companies have beaucoup dollars invested in Articulate and the people to run it so this will be a bottom up migration. A revolution of the learning proletariat perhaps.

Managers Who Say ‘Good Enough’
Finally, management claiming to be realistic about scheduling and resources insisted what came out of that workgroup was good enough—better than anything the company had ever seen to that point. I refer you to the Grizzard quote. Understanding the limits of the tool, and recognizing that trying to re-educate internal executive clients was a losing proposition both politically and temporally, as the group manager let the learning product slither out the cubicle. Yet every single piece of courseware was—long after the storyboard had been approved and the course firmly digital, was picked over and redesigned. Now I ask anyone who knows anything about elearning if that is not a severe contraindication to all that good production means. And I blame this partially on Articulate; if clients think a course can be knocked together with such ease then what’s the big deal about modifying whole chunks of screens. It’s the inmates running the asylum.

Overall, results were measured by the number of courses that made it from a facilitators guide to the LMS at the lowest possible costs measured against production hours, stock photography purchases and additional matter—music or more robust narration for example. No accounting for redevelopment that, by most metrics costs ten times the amount to modify if quality assurance in the storyboard stage were respected. But the concept was foreign—it was let the client see it in its finished form and then we can negotiate changes. Duh?

The Ubiquity of Easy
Perhaps I thought this whole situation was an anomaly and that most other large firms including learning vendors reserved their higher concepts and critical thinking demands for courseware using Flash and HTML5. Not so. I asked former clients and employers how they were building projects and more than 60% said when necessary, they had assigned junior level designers and developers, or instructional designers who had expertise with Articulate—or, to be fair other templatized programs to produce complete courses. When I dove a bit deeper and asked what types of content and at what level of cognitive learning were they building with PowerPoint based tools (there, I said it) they admitted these were – to use one phrase – quick and dirty but they could at least turn a small profit and churn dollars through the company.

In the final result we have a process that insists good enough is, well… good enough, a tool that allows that attitude to flourish even when it the process demonstrates it is inefficient and a disregard for any other options that could improve results even if Articulate remained the developer tool of choice. This is a systematic failure. But for all that, plus missed deadlines and costs incurred by backwards facing repair work, the organization was impressed enough with the visual look and the rolling out of low-level content to be satisfied. There was never any attempt to examine how much or what was ever learned—no one knows (though I suspect) these courses simply replaced stand up training and there singular benefit was only one of scale. You know, less trainers, more viewers in multiple geos, But I’ll bet my reputation the conversion of ILT to this form of online instruction will be revealed as the equivalent of the emperor with no clothes. There’s no learning there, only screens of information; a low-level target for sure.

The Third Way
Let me close this distressing topic by referencing Edward Tufte. I can recall reading his famous treatise, “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” where he advocated this idea: Instead of spewing out bulleted slides, especially for complex information, it would be better to produce a high end print piece which would delve into the nuances of a topic and—my insert here—distribute it the same way courseware takes wing—online and accessed from an LMS or Portal. True there might not be any interactivities but—and this is a biggie—with the groundswell acceptance of infographics and the ability of people to ‘get it’ visually without a ton of text, perhaps we have a third way of delivering information. Add to that the capacity of infographics when designed with interactive components (using the newer Adobe program suite) there’s a better model now available. Moreover, combining a good written treatise with high-end infographics seems to me a much better way to offer meaningful information than the kerplunk I hear every time someone tells me they are fluent in Articulate. That, to me, telegraphs all I need to know about the depth and quality of the learning. Better to design a Word doc with good graphics then obey the regal law imposed by rules bound tools like Articulate.

Regem ut mortuum esse.

FEAR OF BRANDING – 10.1 Reasons to Move On

Mulling over branding and applying logic to emotion has become more meaningful to me on a professional and personal basis. In some engagements, I’m compelled to live within the ecology of a company’s personality that is expressed in many ways through its brand. And on a personal level, who has not been bombarded into submission in to formulate a noteworthy and memorable—not to say powerful and compelling brand: can’t communicate your value instantaneously without being commoditized. Let’s face it; anyone who has read Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio, or had prior knowledge of SJs commitment to establishing, protecting, and defending the vision and personality of Apple learned what an oath of fealty to branding means.

This whole scenario brings back the idea of corporate culture.
The fundamental concept is a company has a belief system and a vision as the basis from which a brand is established. We accept a brand as the vocal, linguistic, and visual embodiment of what the company claims and promises. Far too often organizations for too many reasons compromise their brand when their products fail to live up to the brand promise—or the brand overstates what the company is capable of producing. In either case the disconnect leads to distrust of the company and its products. So if your outfit claims it backs its products with outstanding customer service, any encounter that is less than 110% remarkable means the customer has lost faith in the product and all your branding goes out the window. Remember that branding carries the emotional promise of taking care of the customer at all stages of the life cycle of the product. Relate this to corporate culture where inside the organization says it stands for X but carries out its internal affairs with its employees as minus X. Then the culture devolves to what it really is, not what management claims it to be.

Branding has two major components
One, company claims and values as they appear in advertising and public relations and the other being the product that should express claims the company makes as the physical manifestation or promise of performance of its values. Most companies spend big telling you who they are and what they believe. Look at the logos and tag lines, advertising and websites of the Fortune 100, and even those of your neighborhood dentist. Striving to be known for something to differentiate from competitors. The question is can the company deliver and is the dentist painless like he claims.

When Jobs claimed, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and ensured that ‘Think Different” was not “Think Differently, “ he was defining branding as the core attitude pervasive at Apple. By manically guarding every aspect of design and production, Jobs ensured that simplicity would lead to products (that were and are) sensuous and easy to use. Apple is first encountered through bright white ads and web sites that set the stage for the products, to the intuitively understandable and pleasurable—from the anticipation of opening the box to the touch and feel of every product including the Apple stores. Jobs branded Apple a total immersion experience. Not many companies have a CEO who can be that hands-on let alone fanatic. But the point is, stating what the company is and producing products must be in sync at the atomic level.

An interesting business challenge arises when an existing company desires to change its brand. Moreover, it is a difficult challenge; it’s going in to the DNA of any enterprise and rearranging its genetic structure and then nurturing, announcing and bringing this new version of itself to the public. However, many companies take a hard look and must re-brand; not to do so would be organizational complacency and that can lead to early death.

Moreover, there is a conundrum.
When is good enough brand not good enough anymore? What are the metrics and key performance indicators that say, ‘change now’ to convince bean counters of the necessity of the expenses accrued by such change? There’s a lot of brand thought that relies on intuition, a pill not easily swallowed by many business folks. Whether the brand change is evolutionary or revolutionary, it can’t be just aesthetics whether you make products or render services. Once again it’s worth noting Apple built great products not just because it had a good design universe held by the gravitational force of Steve Jobs; to think this way makes you only half-right. It’s what Jobs and his select team believed design should do and be that molded blobs of plastic in to iPods. To be clear we’re NOT just talking about the logo—I’m referring to the entire backbone of a company vision. How these are expressed through a multitude of verbal, visual, and written modalities…and in some cases products, are the medium communicating the message.

After a bit of noodling around and research as well, here’s a list that might help clarify when the time is right to address your brand. This is in no way comprehensive nor highly nuanced. Nevertheless, if it sparks ideas there’s plenty of information out there to put a fine point on things.

Address your brand when:
1. Your reputation is diminishing prospect or customer activity
2. The scope of the business changes
3. There is a lack of internal or external understanding or clarity of what the business does or what its products promise
4. The company or products require repositioning
5. There has been meaningful innovation in the product line
6. The competition has caught up, is about to or has surpassed you
7. You want to attract a new segment of buyers and need them to listen
8. Company values are, or have shifted; new ownership or management need to assert a shift in the business
9. The value exchange principle is askew: does the product deliver value in excess of its price or must the firm deliver products at a price in excess of their cost. If the latter, branding might be a primary way of introducing the ‘new’ company values and therefore its commercial model
10. The brand—and its visual appearance has gone bland and dated so no matter how new or innovative your products, customers have to overcome the ‘hurdle of history’ before they’ll trust the new products or service
10.1 Finally, when your efforts have determined the essence of your vision and mission and there is a   disconnect between what you believe you are and what your outward facing information communicates, bring in objective experts to untangle the gibberish.

At too many enterprises, the desire to simply change advertising and collateral forestalling a brand renaissance hobbles what could be a life-saving adjustment. Case in point: Consider a firm that enjoys a modest commercial success. One competitor with a brilliant branding strategy—from language to design—but not necessarily a better solution—has better sales results. As we know all too often the perception of a company’s products is compared to the competition’s even before the products are viewed side by side. Even if unspoken the perception has taken hold in the buyer’s mind about which is the better product. In real terms, this means objections must be overcome even before selling begins. Prospects require re-education before solutions can stand on equal ground. Think of the cost in terms of effort and maybe lost opportunities.

Companies often cannot see an immediate payoff from a reconstituted brand. There is no direct bottom line profit to be measured in a relatively short period. However, over time, a rebranded enterprise has more clarity about who they are, and perhaps, what and how they should be making. However, armed with fresh attitudes, language, visuals, and all the other tools needed to gain tactical marketplace advantages prospects have a different understanding of the enterprise. The company’s sunk costs fade and expenditures for routine changes in every area from business cards to training costs demand less time, energy, resources, and money. The tendency will be your client facing associates can step in front of prospects knowing their company is forward thinking and carry on with pride. It’s worth noting while a company might be strictly cognitive, the selling process and sales people are emotional, and a new brand will serve them well at the point of attack. On that basis alone, branding renovation might be worth the effort and capital.

THE ACCIDENTAL LEARNER

There seems to be a revival of interest about informal learning. I suppose the definitions range from information gleaned from informal sources—everything from Wikipedia to People Magazine to storytelling, to disruptive media like tablets and smartphones. Some suggest it’s content discovered while looking for something else. Kind of like an accidental scavenger, a web surfer. No matter how the information is presented, gathered or used it appears the single best notion is that it was unintentional and/or secondary to the main thrust of what is or was to be learned.

Let me suggest we might think of informal learning as ‘Ad Hoc.’ This is not to say passive though it could be serendipitous – just because you ‘come across’ something worth spending time with doesn’t mean it won’t support formal content. If learning is as brain scientists tell us, empowered by the relationships of ideas, the gymnastics of making connections provides meaning and quite often enrichment; then hurrah for informal learning.

Here’s an example of, at least for me, the best kind of informal learning. My wife and I recently saw Woody Allen’s terrific film, “Midnight in Paris.” Aside from the story and plotline, the director paints the cityscape with a loving hand and inhabits it with characters from the Parisian heyday of the early to mid nineteen twenties. We get to meet Picasso and Dali, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds and Ernest Hemingway among others. And they are brought to life with dialogue they might have, and in some cases actually spoke. This is particularly true of actor Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Hemingway. Spurred on by his characterization I decided to read ‘A Moveable Feast’ the author’s description of his life in Paris as a young and struggling writer. Then too, the soundtrack with familiar tunes in some cases—and quite arguably—performed as in the case of Cole Porter just as he might at an evening soiree, that made the movie even more potent. So I purchased the soundtrack as well.

Let’s add up the ‘learning’ from a movie I intended to watch for entertainment only.

  1. A study of Parisian architecture from photographic angles and perspectives not seen in guidebooks, documentaries or even after a couple of visits.
  2. Information about art and artists, music and musicians, writers and their works.
  3. How the relationships all of these young and vibrant talents thrown together, that made what Stein coined the ‘lost generation’ such a roiling pot of creativity.
  4. Finally, the effect of this environment and people on the protagonist with whom we as an audience bond transported in a personal way.

Anyway, we went to see a movie for pleasure. However, I was encouraged to study the writing and music of the time and received enrichment and delight.

Is this informal learning? In a sense yes because the information I sought afterward was assembled organically and from curiosity. So is that a bad thing? Is the learning less important or salient? No, if you want to learn what you want to learn. When there is great enjoyment, the endorphins kick in and there is potential for exponential personal growth. Everything will have meaning to the learner.

Tablets and smartphones have made made information more readily available; time and space mean even less. If you’re intrigued about a topic then follow a thread until you are sated by a sense of completion or as has been known to happen, sensory overload.

Once we formalize the process of learning and form expectations, objectives, outcomes, KPIs, and other performance measures two things happen. The core information is delivered in a linear and focused way so it can be measured and the the opportunity to ‘drift,’ that is find casual connections is diminished. One might be told to look elsewhere for examples and so on, but nonetheless it’s scripted. There’s no denying we have to learn things we might not find particularly entertaining or mind expanding. There’s no adrenaline rush from studying topics of minimal interest even when they have career importance and possibly tied to an extrinsic reward. Nevertheless it must be done. Even if there is useful information on the periphery learners are not encouraged to seek it out.

In the field of education, one of the latest trends is that of open courses, called MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). Such courses are based on the theory of connectivism and on a network where a lot of  people are doing independent but interrelated work. It’s collaboration on a global scale. Generally, everyone is working to assemble knowledge and learn about a particular topic but individuals are free to come at it from any angle. In this way, the subject is examined from multiples of different approaches. The content is infused and enriched. I wonder if MOOCs are the beginning of a hybrid of formal and informal learning.

Could this be a model for schools?
In most secondary schools, separate classes and courses compartmentalize instruction. Students have no one place to put their learning’s together to make a cogent whole. The relationship of one course’s content to another’s goes unexplored—there is neither opportunity nor invitation for reflection. Instead of individual courses we might allow for the type of learning…based on discovery… that will resonate with students, inform them factually and humanistically. Just like “Midnight in Paris,” was a nucleus from which students set off on explorations of culture, history, literature, art, and architecture, each strand could then be explored in depth, individually. In fact, what made Paris the center of creativity in the twenties was in some part the result of the First World War, so there’s another even more potent theme just waiting to be revealed. Of course, this mean school needs to be reinvented and there really is no interest in a meaningful reconstitution of education. But let’s not get into that.

The Corporate Venue
This might be tougher, especially if the topic is narrow, technical, and the skills learned must be applied in a direct and rigid way. In addition, this is often necessary. Learning to run an application, program a website, or design a manufacturing process to take costs from production offers few opportunities for exploration of happenstance. And yet, ask anyone who programs in code how they get into a zone and become fabulously productive for a given and fixed period of time. What sets this the ball in motion? Creativity is spurred on, we know, when there is a deep emotional response or a rich intellectual insight within the grasp of an individual. Could it be the distillation of informal and passive explorations can provide this jump-start? Moreover, if so, how will corporate educators adjust for that kind of opportunity, the kind that seeks to spur on creativity on a wholesale basis? I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn the greatest creators in the past few decades have emerged not from formalized training programs in education settings but rather from the fringes of experience earned by ‘messing around’ with ‘stuff’ that captivated and later drove them to explore more formally ways to capitalize on their ideas.

And so…
I’m afraid I’ve raised more questions than provided answers. I suppose that keeps in the spirit of informal learning though. We do know that both formal and informal education is important and each has utility. If I pose any argument it’s that in our rush to inject learners with information we leave out experiences that will not only make the learning more colorful and retentive but we perpetuate the perception that there are two kinds of learning; formal for school and work and informal for pleasure and personal growth. And that’s just unfortunate.

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IS A SIMPLE PROCESS ONCE THE RHETORIC IS REMOVED

The benefits of knowledge management (KM) are a monster value-add to any organization. Nevertheless, the more I learn how companies capture and leverage their intellectual property, the more disheartened I become. How could such a straightforward process for transferring information and learning become bogged down in dense MBA rhetoric taking what is essentially a simple idea and obfuscating it in layers of process and jargon? Some might think large enterprises require significant resources to carry forward a KM initiative. I’m not one of them.

A Flash History of Knowledge Management
I can remember lecturing graduate educators that schooling started when one man stood beneath a tree and told stories to his Grecian disciples who sought to learn. Then each would become a teacher and spread knowledge throughout the empire. Why is the oral tradition so different in the 21st century.  Certainly technology has made it even easier to move ideas with an immediacy not easily imagined in the not too distant past. Is, KM , as some claim become the fiefdom of experts with metricians and quants creating a lexicon and modality to which only they hold the password? If knowledge transfer has grown into a complex system, it’s only because the nature of organizations to pile on layers of management seeking justify the effort and deflect external examination has become endemic.

I know there are nuances and specifics necessary in many systems and it’s no different in KM. Nevertheless, KM is about smart enterprises discovering and sharing winning strategies and techniques to improve performances of many kinds. Creating a method to discover useful information that is ultimately accepted as knowledge, then storing it for easy retrieval and communicating how to access it, is far from the challenge some would have us believe.\So, if you indulge me a bit, I can deconstruct this business practice and translate it into plain language, offer basic guidelines for creating an effective and direct KM system and then release it to perform. Consider this KM for Dummies—No offense intended.

What is Knowledge Management
The ‘knowledge’ that we have internalized by experience or education is our ‘tacit’ knowledge. When we externalize it by communicating with others, our knowledge is made explicit. Explicit knowledge is what counts in knowledge management.

Where does knowledge come from if not tacit? Knowledge is a product of innovation and exploration. Usually this comes about when a problem looks intractable. Yet, within each organization—and perhaps inside all of us—there is a spark of genius that, meeting a challenge for which learning and experience has prepared us, yields a viable solution. These insights, concepts and experiences, when polished and vetted, tested and found to resolve the problem has enough value to be circulated. How this new found knowledge is expressed by an individual, discovered by the organization; how it is brought into a system where its application will have far-reaching effects is the management part.

Strategies & Practices
Knowledge management is a formal range of strategies and practices used by an organization to identify, create, verify, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences. Once aggregated into a body of useful knowledge  the purpose of KM is to focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, integration, and continuous improvement of the organization. Naturally, this demands a company commitment since these activities and will need creation, invention, and management.

It works like this:
There is a problem…

  1. An individual or group has a solution…but it requires testing and such a mechanism must be emplaced
  2. The solution is tested and found to be of further value and an important addition to an enterprise
  3. The solution is made available for distribution or dissemination…a location and method of retrieval requires development
  4. For those who encounter the problem, a solution has been developed and is now available…presuming the access system offers multiple ways to locate the information

Let’s not forget the climate for innovation and the dissemination of knowledge will only thrive when there is a culture of collaboration. Though an enterprise might have a slick mission statement and therefore a common mission, goal, or objective, sometimes we have to be taught how to effectively collaborate. But sharing valuable information throughout an organization so knowledge may be leveraged and intellectual property maximized is an achievement that often distinguishes winning organizations. Here’s the part where leadership steps up and says we believe in knowledge management and expect this initiative to yield an improvement of business.

Two Interlocking Parts
Managing knowledge effectively starts by identifying critical information that makes a ‘big difference’. Capturing and synthesizing new learning and ideas, and applying knowledge to make the best decisions, requires great communication and collaboration. If KM is about anything it’s using learning strategies and processes; methods, tools and techniques.

To benefit from a rich archive of proprietary intellectual property, designing the means of transferring, sharing, and ultimately disseminating knowledge is step one. Step two, retaining knowledge for the future and providing easy access closes the loop. The best part of a well-choreographed KM system is a problem solved once never needs to be solved again no matter where in the enterprise it subsequently appears.

This, in toto, is ‘knowledge management’. Done well, KM also provides so much fertile information it often generates a critical mass of ideas that, exposed to a large body of users, leads to further innovations—new ways of doing things company wide.

Here’s a working rubric that is but one way to define and assign responsibilities for making knowledge management work. The emphasis is on simple, direct communications with the goal to make the process less difficult than it need be. One caveat; there is often a need to bring in a consultant as a change agent to not only develop the systems needed to make KM work smoothly but to side-step internal politics that often obscure a clean shot at a great implementation.

Example:
After the introduction of a new financial product in the U.S., it became evident advisors could neither understand how it could benefit their prospects or client base, nor create an adequate story from which to describe its value. Therefore, it was undersold. However, in Brazil, a small team of advisors was having great success. Management wondered, “Is a cultural bias that would predispose local investors to accept this type of product, or, did the advisors have a key plan, language, and technique that invited interest, opportunity, and sales that could be imported back to the states.

Managers traveled eight thousand miles to the geo to discover what was driving this success.  They discovered that a three person sales team had devised language and selling scripts that communicated benefits with clarity. They were careful to make the discussion of value and risk not to dissimilar to others with which clients were familiar. Drawing comparisons for their prospects and clients allowed an easy introduction to the new product, meeting with fewer objections and faster acceptance.

The managers captured the processes and language, codified and tagged the elements and upon returning to headquarters archived them in the database. Only then was a company-wide communiqué released superseding the original collateral in favor of a selling guide that leveraged lessons learned for selling this product. Additional information and access to the ‘inventors’ was also part of the knowledge management strategy. The result was an enterprise wide uptick in the sales of this product.

Conclusion
What it boils down to is first seek internal successes before reinventing the wheel. If a problem or challenge occurs, it most likely has a solution created by someone who has already met that situation and created a response. Accessing the answer and using it, even if modified, as is sometimes the case, saves hundreds of hours, enormous effort, and financial resources. Let’s keep knowledge management simple; for the straighter a line to the answer the more confident users become and the utility of the system ingrained within the corporate way of conducting business.

Taming Information Overload Before it Devours

Not too long ago we needed design tools like an artist’s palette demands a variety of colors; both to provide many ways to communicate both cognitively and emotionally. Now we have the technological capacity to deliver learning to anyone in the learning style to which they best respond across multiple platforms irrespective of time and geography. With the gate down learning designers can roam far and wide (and deep) to match content, to methods of communication to outcomes.

The challenge is just because we can do anything doesn’t mean we have to do everything. The temptation to employ every idea and methodology is an organic consequence of information overload. And pushed at us by the hour (minute, second?) in all kinds of forms has in many ways had the effect of distracting our ability to solve problems. Rather than making learning design more direct and focused, content is too easily diluted by non-essential information—that, while interesting and valuable—does nothing to amplify the quality of the learning solution. At the same time, as this graphic illustrates, our brains just can’t take it all in. We’ve run out of cognitive space—and most of us do not delve any deeper, wider and in some cases outright ignore anything new having burnt out chasing the innovation comet.

We Are In The Throes Of Pedagogical Pleonasm
What a wonderful word to describe the use of more words than necessary to express and idea. For instance, ‘at this moment in time” presumably means “now.” That’s an apt metaphor of the forces with which we contend. It’s fair to wonder how much is information in courseware is enough and how to maximize delivery for the strongest and most effective outcome.

Information overload, combined with powerful expressionistic tools suggest developers can all too easily be blown off course even when their instructional targets, objectives and KPIs are solid, and more importantly clear. Where the challenge used to be filling in minimal material driving instructional designers to request more help from SMEs, too much available content is driving us towards a condition of learning pleonasm.

The Cure – Specificity Is The Antidote For Distraction
What can a developer, learning designer or courseware developer do to ensure the required elements; the colors of the educational project are included while taming the information overload beast?

Here’s a list of those elements to think about when starting to build learning in a global environment crowded with information from which exclusions, rather than inclusions become more important. As white space on a page offers visual relief, often room for reflection in learning can come only from careful pruning.

  1. Prepare with Clarity
    Long before objectives are even a mote on the screen, conversations with clients that result from questioning and probing; listening for cues and clues to what a client really expects as an end result will pay dividends later. Remember your client’s client is your learning target – not the payer. The performance that gets measured often means continually reminding the ‘paying’ client that understanding.How will those who complete the course differ in knowledge, skills, and decision making, from their naïve colleagues? I’ve yet to see a statement on an SOW that highlights those differences in writing. We write around it but we just assume…and that is too vague.

2. Write highly targeted, clearly demonstrable objectives
No matter how many projects I lead or, I am continually flummoxed by outcomes written by experienced instructional designers that offer no demonstrable measurement to check for acquisition of learning. Going one-step further not only developing the objective, but articulating the way in which each will be taught and assessed. And put it in writing.

3. Ensure you include KPIs
Key performance indicators drill down one-step deeper articulating specific qualities (or quantities) within each objective. Many times KPIs are most effective if ranked in a rubric or table with the most desirable condition at one end and the unacceptable at the other en

4. Operate with Precision
Instead of building in standard ISD form, with outlines, chapters, sections, modules and such, work the opposite way. Give in to information overload; put anything and everything related to the topic into a narrative overview. Then, with the objectives and KPIs on a giant billboard, bring out the scalpel and cut away anything that offers no direct benefit to the learning.

5. Ensure there are milestones and reviews, a standard practice that now takes on added importance – emblazon the objectives across the top of every QA review document,

6. Perform cohort studies for each group of learners when the course completes.
Since each has had the same experience, discover if your courseware or project has had the intended effect or outcomes. When comparing two courses as equal as possible, the one that has applied these steps should be more effective in learning uptake, time on course, and even likeability.

So…in our information rich world, the best courseware and education you will build resists the temptation to include every fact and figure that imparts more information, but in doing so dilutes specific performance objectives. More is often just…more, not better. What serves the learner and leads to desired performance outcomes signals your vanquishing information overload.