While you were busy celebrating Easter, Passover, or Holi, you could be forgiven for forgetting the most glorious and humble of holidays: Śmigus-dyngus. Now, many have accused me of making this up, which is understandable given the name, but I assure you I do not jest.
Śmigus-dyngus, or Wet Monday (aka: lany poniedziałek; try saying that three times fast) is the Polish Easter Monday tradition when boys try and drench girls with water and slap them with pussy willows. For those interested in equal opportunity, the ladies get their chance the next day, although it has basically become a free for all in recent years; a massive water fight in the streets, no matter the temperature.
I experienced my first Śmigus-dyngus when I taught in Poland. Yes, while my friends were off earning money teaching in Japan, or sunning themselves in Thailand, I went to the appealing Valhalla of Northern Poland. In case one fears I am exaggerating, I taught Intro to Literature on the second floor of an old college. Downstairs, the fine art of gravestone masonry was studied. Nothing like arriving to work with a hundred tombstones outside. In the field behind the college was a military training centre, so it was not uncommon to hear the rapid fire of Kalishnikov’s in the background. I neglected to mention the latter in letters to home.
Despite being raised by a Polish mother and babcia, Śmigus-dyngus was not practiced in our home. This is surprising given their love of all things that remind me who is really in charge. Which then gets me to thinking: how are ideas spread?
Years ago, the traditional Jack-o’-Lantern had triangles for eyes and nose, with a wide open mouth. Cue the internet and suddenly every carved pumpkin is inspired by Pinterest and Instagram worthy! People create and share carving tips and tricks. Not only that, Hallowe’en is no longer a North American phenomenon. I was surprised to see it celebrated in Poland and Germany, when just a decade ago, it was not. Although, I do appreciate the appeal of free candy versus a drenching of cold water.
So how do we make this type of experience in learning? In global companies, how do we share and embed concepts and methodology? Unfortunately, we are rarely subtle in our industry. Everything obvious and stark for learners: you will learn X; pass this test! Even covered in mandatory sauce and cut up into microlearning bits, the experience is unappetising. I suppose this comes from ensuring clarity and purpose for the audience, but what if your neighbourhood enforced a carved pumpkin mandate? Would you even bother putting in the effort or just do the minimum and get on with it?
Yes, there are times when regulatory environments make content mandatory, but use sparingly. No one likes to be ordered what to do. Fit the content into the everyday workflow, even if it means breaking it free from the LMS, which you should be doing anyway.
Ideas also seem to spread faster when they are spoken about by peers or influencers. In the case of the pumpkins, I am sure the root was an article by Martha Stewart, and Hallowe’en likely spread globally via the social posts of celebrities trick or treating in cat costumes. So rather than a talking-head CEO video, look at who your audience gravitates toward. See if you can utilize them to spread your message. One caveat: be cautious with this tactic. No one likes a shill and you could lose credibility, or worse, your influencer will. It takes a long time to build trust in a virtual relationship. Be authentic.
Last tip is to be frequent. I know I mentioned subtlety before and this would seem dichotomous, but hear me out. People rarely change behaviours after seeing something once. In marketing, the metric is people rarely have brand engagement even after five encounters. In learning, we build one learning asset and that is it. Maybe there is an LMS generated email, or a communication piece, but it still makes the content too easy to ignore.
Consider other ways to infiltrate the audience other than the elearning module: screensavers, articles, widgets, etc. In fact, get rid of elearning modules all together in favour of learning campaigns and experiences, but that is another blog post.
I accept I cannot run down the streets of Toronto throwing buckets of water at people today, but all is not lost. Buffalo, NY, boasts the largest Dyngus Day outside of Poland. For the price of a pussy willow pass ticket, you get all you can consume vodka, pierogi, and polka. This is so on my bucket list. If not, I will just have to spend next year in Krakow!
Happy Śmigus-dyngus! (And yes, I made those eggs in the photo).
Post-script: in case you missed it, I have changed roles to Chief Learning Officer at Fuse. I am so excited to be working on a dream learning platform that can deliver the metrics and experience so critical to today’s audience. You can still catch me here on the blog, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @loriniles. See you there!
Whenever I go on a trip, I make a big point about doing two things: washing, ironing, and folding, my pyjamas because nothing is better after a long-haul flight than fresh jammies. The second is choosing an appropriate playlist, carefully curated according to mood and location. These little soundtracks also help me get through my indomitable fear of flying. According to my husband, getting on a plane with me is akin to traveling with a meerkat. For every bounce, jiggle, or sound, I sit straight-up, nervously scanning the faces of the flight attendants for traces of worry. Over 100,000 KM flown and not a chink in my anxiety armour. I am that good #not.
It was an obvious choice for this year’s playlist for Learning Technologies UK: The Clash. And I am not talking about the ubiquitous London Calling. No, this was a job for a deeper cut. Since the conference was being held in the Olympia, there was no question: (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais. For those not familiar with The Clash (which is a damn crying shame) the song is about the famous Hammersmith Palais de danse in the late 1970’s. Whilst the dance hall was torn down in 2007, the original site was mere blocks from my hotel. iTunes volume set to 11, s'il vous plait.
So what did I think of the conference? Well, in a un-word, very “conference-y”. This is not a bad thing. The nature of these types of events is for vendors to promote their wares and talk about what is trending in the industry. Both of these boxes were ticked. The exhibition hall was fully packed with demos and swag, and judging by the volume of people, lots of engagement and traffic flow.
I was amused at the number of outspoken complaints about the floor map and signage. Seriously? This is an industry that takes a good 10+ clicks to reach a piece of content on an LMS and calls it the Netflix of Learning. Navigation is not an L&D strength…but I digress.
Prior to the event, I was at an illicit gathering of other like-minded L&D peeps (nameless here, but you know who you are) Over a few too many bottles of wine, we talked what the next two days would bring. More specifically we hilariously mapped out an L&D buzzword bingo card. Whilst it started as a joke among friends, it quickly turned into an ominous prediction of LTUK18. Microlearning, personalised, gamification, mobile-friendly, curated, BINGO! Yes, there was a lot of the same old, same old. This is not the fault of the organisers. It is where the industry is. Le grand yawn.
To me, there was one big a-ha takeaway from the entire conference: to move forward, we must partner together. The vendors in attendance could be grouped into three main categories: LMS providers, content-side providers (either rapid authoring tools or libraries), and then learning platforms like Fuse and Degreed. There are a few outliers like Watershed (miss you! love you! xoxo), but for the most part, this is the triangle. Or rather, three separate bars trying to make it on their own.
The LMS folks are busy demonstrating they are building better user experiences, which are dubious improvements to my discerning eye and still do not consider the ways people consume content. As for the libraries and tools, it is still the same click-next, avatar, drag and drop, yay! a passing score, stuff. They pay attention to transmitting completions to the LMS via SCORM, but that is as far as they really collaborate with them. The platforms are starting to bridge the gap by measuring engagement. Still, if the content is stinky, as it often is, no technology is going to fix that problem.
The other observation was an odd relationship between upstairs and downstairs. I was lucky to have been loaned a pass to go see some of the high calibre speakers on the floor above the free-for-all exhibition hall. Basically I had a golden ticket for learning nerds. The presentation I saw was interesting, but at the break, few people were speaking to each other and as I poked about, there was little interest in going to see the vendors. It all felt a little Downton Abbey. Here were all of the decision-makers and yet there was little linking the theory to the problems being solved (literally) beneath their feet. I was not the only one to make this observation. I heard it from others and it was echoed in Amanda Nolen’s post here. This has to change.
I am glad I made it across the pond for the week. Meeting in-person many of the connections I have online was brilliant. Likewise, I was very impressed by the very civilised decision to break open the bubbly at 5 o’clock each day. Coming from Canada, where you have to basically obtain a papal dispensation to serve alcohol on public grounds, I was most impressed. I extend a big thank you to everyone who took time to speak to me about the blog and eBook. Apparently my writing is really popular in Denmark – who knew? Next stop Copenhagen?
After a couple glasses of prosecco on Thursday night, I wandered back to the hotel and made a point of stopping by the site of the Hammersmith Palais de danse. For those who are curious, it is now an outlet for a gym chain. I stood there listening to The Clash, having a wee bit of a moment, until a pumped-up guy carrying a protein shake told me to move it. It was awkward.
So forgive me this very gratuitously stretched metaphor, but when (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais was written, it was about a lot of things, but mostly a frustration with the commercialisation of the music industry. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wanted to create something new, not sell out, and honour their ethics. I am no guitarist or song writer, but the people I truly connected with at LTUK all want to do the same thing. It is time to tear it all down. Or more aptly from White Riot: “Are you taking over / Or are you taking orders? / Are you going backwards / Or are you going forwards?”
Did you like what you read? Come hang out with the cool kids at my blog: www.lori.ca and download my free eBook "Data-Driven Learning Design" while you are there.
Christmas is finally over, and to all of my friends, who went out of their way to send me cards with extra glitter, just know that revenge is a dish best served cold…or a candy dish with smarties and skittles mixed together. Don’t test me.
As I was putting away my one Christmas decoration, I started thinking about 2017. For me personally, this year signalled a lot more speaking engagements and connecting with an entirely new calibre of creative thinkers in the L&D space. Regarding the former, those events were not by my efforts, but rather by invitation which indicates there is a widening space for new ways of looking at learning. As for the latter, I have a massive appreciation to all you undercover learning renegades, and you know who you are. The covert Skype conversations, WhatsApp groups, and off-the-record coffee talks, are so immensely valuable. In 2015 I wanted to run away screaming from the industry. Not now. Thank you.
So what is changing? Well, I do not think there are any real spoiler alerts for the new year. We have the usual suspects of curation, adaptive learning, personalisation, and so forth. I will not write about any of those. Last year, I thought we would see the end of the traditional LMS. Whilst it did not happen in 2017, it is beginning. The way people access learning is more important than the actual content. Eleven click epic searches on an LMS render modules useless.
As for 2018, my personal prediction is not remarkable, but something I have been banging on about for quite some time: we will no longer measure digital learning in terms of completions, but engagement and sentiment scores.
Some have misaligned the term sentiment with the happy sheet evaluation. This is not what I mean, so perhaps I need a better term. Sentiment is a demonstration the person found the content of value. Did they share it, comment, spend a reasonable amount of time, bookmark it? All of these cues mean more than passing a test. Achieving 80% does not mean a change in behaviour. It means your learning taught someone to pass a test. If the content has high engagement, there is a better chance of adoption.
I suppose I look at it this way: when I was in high school, I had an amazing English teacher and a terrible Biology one. These factors ultimate set me up on a path of English major, when, as I have gotten older, I appreciate how much I love medicine. I read medical textbooks and watch surgeries for fun. Maybe I would not have been a doctor (a thousand would-be patients are nodding in gratitude this did not happen), but I may not have studied English Literature. My sentiment was strong towards the first teacher (who graciously tolerated my Doc Martens and surly attitude).
I 100% admit this is an over-simplification of a lot of learning and behavioural theory, but I am not seeking to replace any of that. All that still has an important place. But to get to the actual learning, we have to engage. In a digital environment, we can start to track that. But we have to measure beyond the next click and instead, how quickly they reach for that button. Yay for xAPI!
This is a pretty lack-lustre bombshell prediction, but one I hope does come true. As for what else will happen in L&D, I think the speed and momentum will accelerate quickly. I hear from so many, some in whispers, others in sidebars, that learning needs to change. These rumblings are the cracks before the earthquake. I look forward to the ground shifting.
It would not be New Years if I did not end with a few resolutions, so I here is my big one: I will personally boycott any learning content with the following graphics:
- Bean people putting together puzzle pieces, or any variations on that theme
- A bullseye beside learning objectives. In fact, screw both the target and LOs
- A path or roadmap. For those old enough to remember, the Talking Heads had it right with Road to Nowhere
Happy holidays to one and all. Thank you everyone for the talking, connections, and sharing of ideas. It has been brilliant. If you are about in 2018, look for me on January 31st doing a webinar for CLO Media on Blended Learning, or find me at Learning Technologies UK, or TICE (TBD). More to come....hint, hint....
Oh, it is that time of year again. The seven weeks before Christmas where everything suddenly and eerily sparkles, and all the tidiness and order is replaced with bits and baubles. I know, you are not allowed to hate Christmas. I still do, but not maliciously. I mean, go crazy with your festive sweaters and tinsel (just not glitter – anyone who sends me a holiday card with glitter is an abominable person). But for me, I can do without all the disruption.
Probably my biggest dread in December is the endless parties. As a fully-formed introvert who mastered the art of the French Leave before I even knew such a thing existed, these are taxing events. My closest friends know the chance I will bail on an event increases in direct correlation to the number of guests I will not know, such is my social awkwardness. Case in point: on more than a dozen occasions I have woken up at 3AM in a cold sweat remembering my brutally embarrassing moments. For example, when I boarded a plane and wished the flight attendant a safe flight, or instead of saying “hola” or “ole” for cinco de mayo, I simply blurted, “HOLE!”. Cringe.
My lack of basic small talk skills mean I will go through extraordinary lengths to avoid face-to-face conversation with people outside of my inner circle. Email, WhatsApp, Slack, LinkedIn, Blog, Text – all fantastic ways to engage with me. Coffee? Depending on who you are, that’s pushing it. This bumbling nature means one of my least favourite L&D tasks is performance consulting.
To be clear, I am not saying performance consulting is without value. It is extremely important, and I greatly admire people who can do it well. Unfortunately, my inability to maintain a neutral face means anyone can tell when I am impatient or bored, making performance consulting conversations awkward. I do try my best, but it is just not pleasant for all parties involved.
As a result, I have long sought out ways to streamline performance consulting conversations. Not just for my own personal and selfish comfort, but so they are more meaningful and result-orientated (and shorter!). The method I prefer to use is data. Now, all needs assessments should involve data collection and analysis. The data I am referring to are from sources we do not typically consider, but can offer insights to influence what solution, if any, we create.
In no particular order, these are the pieces of data I try to bring to any performance consulting conversation.
Intranet Search Terms
These indicate precisely what your audience is interested in and can be easily obtained by IT. Too often, I have stakeholders claiming their employees are desperate for content on “X”. Many times, this item has not even made the top 50 of search terms, in which case, the gap is dubious. Now, if content “X” is integral to the business then it means we then consider how to make the topic a priority for the audience, which is an entirely different problem. That said, a L&D leader should keep a keen eye on these trending terms. They are the canary in the coal mine to what is truly important to the learner.
Time of Day/Week Most Active
A lot of information can come out of knowing when your audience is engaging with your content. For example, spikes at lunch hours or outside office hours are intriguing. In my experience, they indicate a very eager learning culture, willing to invest their own time in their growth. However, if the content consumed is compliance-based, it may also indicate the business is not allocating enough time for people to learn. Again, an entirely different problem. Lastly, knowing when learners are most active gives you the best time to launch a new program or communicate with your audience. Follow their digital body language and engage when they are already active.
Stakeholders usually come to the table wanting an elearning module or a video because these are the only things they have seen in L&D. Before you have the performance consulting conversation, look at the types of videos you have and how long people actually view them. If you are using a platform like Vimeo or YouTube, you can see robust data analytics. One insight I have discovered is talking head videos tend to have shorter seat times. Likewise, if you are using xAPI, look at the data to see where learners spend most of their time or what they skip over. I have used these data points to guide stakeholders away from bloated designs because I could show evidence these would likely not yield engagement and therefore, not solve the problem. And no, making content mandatory fixes nothing.
Downloads, Views, Likes, and Shares
If you have a social collaboration platform, statistics on the engagement for posts should be readily available. Just like with the common search terms, these are indicators on whether the content is considered of value or not to the audience. Do a light comparison – do videos, infographics, or articles, have the most likes or shares? Are there differences between geographies? Just because someone viewed an item does not prove it was valuable, but sharing with peers demonstrates engagement. Use the insights to influence stakeholders towards content modalities that have proven track records in your environment.
Mobile vs. Desktop
Building for mobile is expensive. It is not just about transferring the design to a smaller screen. Content needs to be written and chunked in a unique way to make it palatable on mobile. Something I have discovered is that in some ecosystems, mobile learning is quite low in comparison to the desktop. Scarily low. There could be a variety of reasons such as no reimbursement of data usage, the LMS does not have an app, or the content is not that great on a mobile device. Whatever the reason, it is prudent to look at the uptake of mobile in an organisation before investing in the development. This is not to say stop building mobile. It simply means use data to make wiser design decisions.
There are loads of other ways to use data. This is just the skinny version. If you are keen to learn more, download my free eBook “Data-Driven Learning Design”, or visit here for more.
As for me, it is starting to snow here in Toronto, which means the inevitable cannot be ignored. Enjoy the festivities, if they are your sort of thing. To the other introverts, stay brave. Maybe we should invent a sticker or something to tactfully indicate we would rather be reading? What about a polite, “Thank you in advance for not inviting me” button? That would mean getting together to collaborate, so best give it a swerve.
And here's my grade one report card. I appreciate the underline by my teacher.
It has been an intense few months here in the Loriland of L&D! Lots of talks, webinars, and overall great connections with some very smart people! Thanks for all of the conversations (and vodka + sodas).
Here's a list of places I have been, as well as where you can find me in the future!
O.M.G. This was a fantabulous conference with some of the very smartest people in the industry. I got to meet quite a few of my heroes and was not disappointed. I also managed to finally get an ubiquitous "me-as-presenter-see-my-big-slides-behind-me" photo. You can see my presentation, but for much better viewing, I highly recommend the keynote by Dan Lyons. Insightful, gregariously funny, and simply real, Dan was my personal highlight.
Learning While Working Podcast
I was super-excited when Robin Petterd contacted me for his excellent podcast "Learning While Working". I have been a long-time fan and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, although I think you can hear the faint snores of my cat in the background. Clearly, she was not as interested. Robin - thanks for the opportunity!
Human Capital Institute - It's Time to Embrace the Digital Revolution Webcast
Some of the most frustrating things for me to hear are, "this is just the start of journey", or "evolution takes time", or "we're not quite there yet, but we will be". Argh! To me, these are just platitudes that really mean, "we are not interested in changing and will only do so when everyone else makes us". That is why it was so refreshing to speak with Jeff Gothelf, Organizational Designer and author of Sense and Respond, and Doug Stephen, SVP of CGS Enterprise Learning. The topic was about the revolution that is here and now. No excuses or apologies. Listen here.
Elucidat - What's the science behind digital learning that works?
I have long enjoyed chatting with Kirstie Greany and wished we lived in the same time zone! We finally decided to capture some of the themes of our transatlantic rants into a tight webinar on November 22. You can hear the recording here.
CLO Media + Degree - Getting Started Using Learning Data to Improve Design
True confession: I did some jumpy claps when this webinar request came into my inbox. Not only do I have an active crush on the work done by Degreed, but I binge on Chief Learning Officer content (yes, I am that weird). The date is December 5...register here!
McLean & Company - Implement Curated Learning
This is a pretty S-WEET (yes, this sweet deserves two syllables) guide to learning curation. I was excited to be a part of the research and the results are extremely impressive. Membership required to view (worth it) and preview available here.
Torrance Learning - xAPI Party
Normally the word party would be a deal-breaker for this socially awkward non-butterfly, but I could not resist anything to do with xAPI and the amazing Megan Torrance. It is a phenomenal event for the novice and expert alike. What could be more fun than data, xAPI, and some cool L&D people? Join us here.
Well, I *think* this is everything so far. Phew! Let me know if you are attending any of the above. Also, if you cannot attend any of the above and just want to talk L&D, leave a comment and let's chat.
In the meantime, here's #1 on my playlist. Play it loudly.
Sometimes I put up a post on LinkedIn that gets a little more, ahem, attention than I expected. This would be the case last month when I posted the following:
Learning Vendor: We are a creative, innovative, design-thinking, company! We are learner-centric and agile!
Me: Sounds great - can I see some of your work?
Learning Vendor: Sure! Here's a 17 minute GoAnimate video
Me: **sobs uncontrollably**
It garnered a LOT of views. As in 41,000…which initially made me a bit queasy, until I realised the comments were more than just people agreeing with my frustration. There was a healthy debate on how the standards of innovation have dropped and the perils of mass-produced content. It signalled to me that I am not alone with my cynicism in the learning industry.
Like most L&D folk, I get a dozen emails a week, and probably more than twenty InMail requests from vendors pushing their wares. The email opens with some sort of fuzzy science statistic to illicit shock (note: it does not), followed by an impressive list of clients, and then some more blah, blah, about how wonderfully bespoke and innovative they are and when is the best time to meet? (because: presumptive close!).
This is not an article about sales. Yes, I get annoyed when business development folks do not take the time to find out about my pain points and spam me. Why? Because you are wasting my time and your InMail credits. However, I doubt this practice will change any time soon and in passive-aggressive protest, all these emails go straight into the recycling bin.
So, Learning Vendor, why am I not impressed with your GoAnimate video? Precisely because it is a GoAnimate video. It is something that with a cheap license, I could build in-house. However, I would not build something in GoAnimate. Sure, it is an intuitive, rapid development software, but a) the graphics are very quickly dated; b) it looks like everyone else’s videos; and c) I get insecure when I see the impossibly tiny waists on their avatars (seriously, what happened there?). My expectation is that a vendor brings something unique; something I cannot readily develop internally. Oh, and if you are peddling VideoScribe content, you are marginally better…not by much.
I know Learning Vendor, you are trying to cut costs and keep margins low. There are other ways, my friend.
For example, we used stock video to produce vignettes on money laundering. A few people asked where we got the budget to fly to South America with a film crew. We didn’t. Using Camtasia, we threaded together purchased footage and built a narrative. Cheap? Yup. Cartoons? Nope. It also won a Brandon Hall Award, which was a pleasant bonus.
Video is not the only delivery channel where the bar can be raised. These are just a few of the sins I still see in learning content from vendors:
a) Woman with clipboard or iPad introducing module. Okay, so points for diversity, but beyond that, this is a relic from the days when elearning was supposed to mimic the classroom. We have moved way beyond. Your content should not require an avatar to direct navigating. Instead, learning must have an intuitive UX and be written to engage. If you do not believe me about the woman, do a Google image search of Storyline+Articulate+Woman (again note the impossibly small waists – if Paris Fashion Week can ban tiny models, can’t we?). In fact, most avatars should quietly retire.
b) Any of the following types of interactivity: spinner, Jeopardy Game, memory matching, or dice. There is no science that proves gratuitous interactivity increases retention. Secondly, branding these as gamification is false. Lastly, these are interactivities I can download from Articulate or eLearning Heroes and build internally. Admittedly these are not particularly my taste but it still comes down to a vendor bringing new ideas and skillsets. Hence why you are being engaged for work.
c) Green screen + bad actors. These have made a comeback in the past few years and much like shoulder pads, they are not a good idea. Stilted dialogue and superimposed backdrops are simply poor experiences. There is no context for a learner to relate to, only snicker at. Likewise, if you are complaining about keeping costs down, hiring actors and renting studio space IS expensive. You would do better with a candid clip from a SME recorded on a mobile device; more authentic, less canned, cheaper.
I could go on and on with examples, but those are not important. I am also aware of the many vendors who have told me the clients are the real problem – we want high quality at a low price and quickly. I assure you I do not have expectations of Givenchy on a WalMart price tag. I want simple, well-written, intuitive, learning content.
So, what does this look like? Well, that can vary depending the content but one that I share often on the blog is www.playspent.org. This was a piece developed by an advertising agency, but one of the more effective modules I have seen. The copy is clean and engaging. The interactivity contributes, not distracts, from the learning. Lastly, the learner is at the centre of the experience. Had this been put in the hands of an L&D shop, there would have been downtrodden avatars and dozens of Next Buttons, because that’s how rapid authoring tools work.
Another favourite of mine is the “Ryan Learns Something” series by Degreed. Now, before anyone says anything, I know these were high budget and slick to produce. However, what is intriguing about these examples is the simple concept of watching someone else learn. It is the ultimate way for a learner to contextualise the content. Rather than a passive viewer, you are constantly thinking, “what would my reaction be? Would I be like Ryan?”. That is damn powerful and can be done on a smaller and more cost- effective scale. Also, with all the hype around microlearning (keep it SHORT), these videos weigh in at an obese 10-15 minutes…yet they have been viewed more than 250,000 times. EACH. Mic dropped.
Wait? I am not going to give you more examples? Nope. Mostly because I do this in other parts of the blog and because I do not have all the ideas. When I do have them, I use them to keep me employed. Also, the more I provide, the more replication. There is no magic formula or template to follow for good learning. Design is independent. You can be inspired, but also need to create.
You would think I learned my lesson after my initial viral rant, but L&D folks are the worst students. That said, I do hesitate to put up this post. I know it will result in dozens of vendor emails and calls. I am currently on contract and therefore not able to engage anyone. Translation: I am not a good lead. For real.
With that out of the way, if you still think your learning cuts the muster, then here is a challenge: share it in the comments, not via InMail. Let’s have an open and honest feedback loop with our networks. It might sting at first, but it could improve us all. Are you up for it?
I remember my first experience with theft. It was over twenty years ago and I had just landed in Germany, en route to my second year of teaching in Poland. To be truthful, I flew into Frankfurt to visit my then-boyfriend in Bonn. However, as far as my parents were concerned, it was “cheaper” to land in Germany and take the train to Gdansk. Ah, the days before widespread internet and a very trusting mom and dad.
After getting my luggage, I stopped to use a pay phone (yup, it was a long time ago). When I hung up, I noticed that my wallet was no longer in my backpack. My first reaction was anger. My second reaction was, I need to cancel my credit card and fast! Fortunately, I had already bought my train ticket to Bonn. Unfortunately, it was leaving in less than five minutes and without the credit card, I could not change my ticket. There was no time or means to sort the situation out, so I legged it for the platform and boarded.
Two hours is a very long time to sit and hopelessly contemplate that your credit card is being charged to the limit on imagined first class tickets to Spain. I tried to relay my situation to the conductor in my pathetic German (Spoiler alert: my German is still brutal). He did his best to understand, but I had no success. Instead, he took generous pity on me and asked, “Rot oder Weiss?” repeatedly. Confused I said “Weiss” (white) and he promptly returned with a bottle of white wine. Let’s just say I tumbled off that train in Frankfurt 90 minutes later definitely less worried and angry!
So why the story? Well, I have been thinking a lot about theft lately. Mainly, my thoughts are around “attention theft” when ads are pushed to captive audiences who have not given consent. For example, you are stuck in a lift and there’s a TV playing a commercial. You have no interest in the ad, but when in a 6’x 6’ box suspended by cables with twenty other people you do not want to make eye contact with (because I am an urban Canadian), you are a slave to the message. It is maddening and disruptive, but part of our lives.
How many times do we commit attention theft when we design learning? From my experience, an awful lot. From designing to the lowest common denominator so the majority is sitting through content they already know, to spray and pray learning interventions that push modules that have little specific relevance to the learner but cover a broad swath of topics. Sure, we can do a fancy ROI to “prove” our learning was effective, but here’s an interesting little experiment I once did (location to remain anonymous): We took a data-sanitised list of top performers based on end-of-year ratings and compared these to their learning histories. Over 90% had only done their mandatory compliance training and never touched another object in the LMS in the past year.
It would be wrong to say these people did no learning all year, because obviously they were able to perform extremely well. When we spoke to a few of these people, they said they could get the content they needed quicker via their own search skills. Our courses were simply too slow or broad for their needs. Our content was simply attention theft.
Yes, these revelations certainly felt like a punch to the ego gut, but I have paid serious heed to this feedback. Consider the current rise of micro- and nano-learning: we all know learning needs to be shorter. That said, I get really twitchy when I hear these terms bandied about.
It is not about the length of the video or module. A poopy video is still poopy even if it is only 90 seconds long. Making content under five minutes does not magically render it immune to bad design.
Oh, the crimes against humanity I have witnessed committed with GoAnimate! To truly stop attention theft, we must design beyond length and look at the data.
It is no secret that I am in a love affair with xAPI. As a tool, it is built to track all learning experiences on and offline, and beyond the confines of the LMS. Bonus round: use it for detailed reporting on exactly how an audience is interacting with a piece of learning. Did they bypass the drag and drop? How many seconds did they spend on a page? Did they repeat an exercise? This gives you intimate knowledge on what is, and is not, important to your learner. It is then your job to revise based on these insights. If a page is often skipped, look deeper to see if you are committing attention theft and delete. If that content is critical, then present it in a different way. Then run it with xAPI and see if you increase engagement.
Not ready to use xAPI? (I would seriously question that decision) Simply pop your videos onto YouTube or Vimeo. Both will give you detailed analytics on how long your viewers are watching (Another spoiler alert: average watch time of short videos is 2 ½ minutes). Also, pay attention to the metrics of your peers in this space. I see a lot of microlearning being shared on LinkedIn with big hype, but when you look at the number of views on YouTube, sometimes the number is less than stellar.
Digital content providers and marketers have been in the data game for nearly a decade. There are thousands of articles on how to increase viewing times on YouTube to what attracts audiences in a headline. L&D has a lot of catching up to do for us to truly understand and design the way our learners want content, but with tools like xAPI, there is absolutely no excuse not to. I truly believe that in a few years time we will look at learning metrics as less about completions, and more about maximising engagement. I am excited for that paradigm shift.
I did get my credit card replaced without damages, which was a great relief. As for the then-boyfriend in Germany, I married him a decade later. Thankfully I did not meet xAPI until a couple years ago or he would have had some competition. As for my parents, I think they figured out my alternative travel plans but we never discuss it.
Note: photo for this article was taken from graffiti outside our local high school. Some things never change…
Looks like I have a full dance card this autumn, which is Über-exciting. The best part? This mini-tour is an opportunity to actually *gasp* meet many of the people I have been connecting with virtually over the past year.
If your calendar can swing it, here’s where I will be speaking September-November:
September 14, Webinar
Human Capital Institute
September 20, Toronto ON
Canadian Community of Corporate Educators – CCCE
September 28, Chicago IL
October 5, Toronto ON
Swiss VBS Learning Summit
There are a couple webinars which are TBD, but I will keep this page updated.
Really hope to see you at one of the stops – let’s collaborate, debate, and maybe have a drink (or two…mine's a vodka and soda).