Thursday, December 20, 2018

Closer I Am to Fine

Are you dealing with a difficult personal decision? I relate as difficult decisions consumed my 2018. I had some important but really hard decisions to make and I was none-too-sure of myself. 

I found the strength to pack up my life and move mid year as it was the clear answer; one I had been struggling with for some time. I also ended a relationship with a family member because she took advantage of me far too often. Letting go of two important but unhealthy relationships was gut wrenching. I realized that accepting bad behavior from others is a choice. I had to make a different one.

Being in emotional pain comes from holding (often tightly) onto to things that cause us damage. We worry that releasing these things will leave a gaping hole in our lives. But the hole can only be refilled with something better after it has been emptied. There is no room before. Simple. Not easy.  

Gradually, a bit at a time, I found a new day-to-day life. New grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and movie theaters. Less mindless television to numb the pain. More commuting to see old friends, old local clients, and to the Denver airport for work trips. More deep talks. More walks in the (nearby) mountains. More joy. It's been a short time so my new normal is evolving.

The big ah-ha this year was that I simply had to trust the journey. I tried hard to listen to what the changes and struggle were telling me. Here are some of the most important messages: It's okay to be scared. Everything is figureoutable (thank you, Marie Forleo). One step at a time. And then another.

My friend Phil told me I'd feel disoriented but should realize that the most important parts of my life would remain the same. He was right, of course. The things I love--cooking, fitness classes, writing, and helping people get better results from instruction--didn't change. My work buddy, Karen Hyder (, who encouraged me to write my research-driven learning books and now uses them in her own (amazing) practice, came to visit me in my new home. Laughing and walking around my new little town with an old friend felt perfect. My friend Steve and his daughter helped me KNOW that I was absolutely where I was supposed to be. 

Each year, I pick a song that conveys this year's main message. This year's is Indigo Girls' Closer I Am to Fine. I relate to these lines especially.
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety 'til I sank it
In the last few years, darkness has called to me loudly. I had to make it stop before it consumed me. Deciding to and then making the move helped me again hear the soft voice of lightness, telling me I wasn't stuck and I would be fine. I began the difficult journey to becoming fine. If you are facing hard decisions, I wish you the peace, strength, and insight to make them. I get how hard it is.

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings."

If you read my articles, books, blog posts, or tweets, or sent me messages on email, LinkedIn, or Twitter you helped me as well. We think of writing as a one-direction activity. But it isn't. I've had many conversations with people who read and comment on my work. Some people have done a lot to help me but didn't have to. Special thanks to Mirjam Neelen (@MirjamN), Will Thalheimer (@WillWorkLearn), Bill Sawyer (@billsawyer94566), Guy Wallace (@guywwallace)and Christopher Pappas (@elearnindustry) for all of your help. 

I wish you a "fine" 2019. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Pictures From Berlin (#oeb18)

I just returned from Online Educa Berlin 2018 (#oeb2018), a conference that brings together higher education and workplace learning practitioners from mostly Europe. I’d heard of the conference and knew it was considered one of the best adult learning conferences in the world. So, I was super excited when they asked me to present and knew it’d be a great experience.

The trip to Berlin for the conference began with me leaving my coat in my home airport. (Yep. Extra dumb. Walking around Berlin in the winter without a coat is a bad idea.) When going through security, the TSA took out my coat and some tools from one of my bins. Everything else came right through and I didn’t realize that the coat and tools were missing. I picked up my luggage and purse and walked off. I remembered about 10 minutes before boarding my flight that I didn’t have my coat. Too late to look for it.

The first morning after arriving, I met up with my friend Mirjam Neelen (twitter @MirjamN). We went coat shopping :-) and did some walking around the city. That night Will Thalheimer (twitter @WillWorkLearn) met up with us and we walked around looking for dinner.

The next day, Thursday, I was involved in the OEB Plenary Debate which was about whether all learning should be fun. There were two people debating each side. I debated on the “Against” side with Alex Beard, the Director at Teach for All, UK. The “For” side included Elliott Masie, the head of the Masie Center, USA, and Benjamin Doxtdator, an educator at the International School of Brussels, Belgium.

My answer in a nutshell: Learning can be fun, but deep learning (for skill and expertise) is often a lot of effort and often requires pushing through the not-fun. Here’s a picture from the debate. The room was large and each of us was on camera when we talked. I was nervous (massive understatement). You can watch a video of the debate here.

The following day I did a short workshop on Managing Memory. Here I am at that session with two workplace learning professionals who traveled to the conference from Poland. They asked to take a picture with me and I clearly needed to stand on a chair so I didn’t look child-sized. The picture belongs to Tomasz Jankowski (Twitter: jankowskit), who is on the left. Tomasz wrote a blog post about my session. It’s in Polish but Google Translate does a good job of making it readable in other languages. The person on the right of the picture is Bartlomiej Polakowski (twitter: @b_polakowski), a long-time twitter friend.

Before leaving, I got the chance to meet Donald Clark (Twitter @DonaldClark, blog in person, who is one of the best minds in our industry.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Moving Story

Gateway to the historic part of Monument, Colorado 

For the past few years, I have struggled with some major difficulties. We all have them. I've come to realize that pretty much everyone is struggling with something difficult. Sometimes really difficult things. Sometimes many difficult things.

I've had very bad migraines the past 15+ years. (Found a large piece of what reduces them to manageable just recently so if you're struggling with daily migraines and no meds seem to help, feel free to reach out.) Recently I added getting divorced. (Not so great for migraines, by the way.) People inevitably change over 30 years and sometimes where they each end up is not compatible with where their spouse ends up. We're friends.

I recently moved from the Denver metro area (Colorado, USA) to Monument (Colorado, USA). I picked it because it's small, has locally owned shops and restaurants, and there are free Wednesday night concerts in Limbach Park. (New band discovered: Dreamfeed... they're amazing).
Limbach Park

And I can do something regularly that was more difficult in suburban Denver: get to trails within ten minutes. Below is a view from trails on Mt. Herman looking eastward...

View from trails on Mt Herman

This experience, especially the move, helped me remember that each time there is a change in our circumstances, we are forced to learn. Many times we don't want to learn... we want things to stay the same. It's easier to coast. But either we learn or we stay stuck.

Learning helps us get back to our path (or change it, intentionally). Staying stuck does not. To survive under change (job change or loss, relationship change or loss), we simply have to allow for learning and the discomfort of instability. Feel the pain and learn and change anyway.

Mt Herman trail view

If you've gone through a difficult change and are willing to share what you learned and how you opened yourself to it, I'd love to read your comments.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Next Button: Yay or Nay? A Research Perspective on a "Pointed" Question

Research offers important clues to difficult and complex questions. (The reason I say clues and not answers is that science is a moving target and some research is not done well or is not applicable to the specific question.) I find that research doesn't always tell me what I expect, however.

When research gives me unexpected or surprising clues, I sometimes have to overcome my biases, including the natural desire to look for and apply solutions that agree with what I personally think is true (confirmation bias).

Can I let you in on a secret? I held some views about learning that research showed me were off base. (Shocking!) It happened regularly when reading and analyzing the research to write Write and Organize for Deeper Learning and Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning. For example, I learned that instructional feedback has a different purpose than I realized. Although my previous view wasn't wrong, it lacked the big picture. When reading the research on writing for instruction, for example, I learned a lot about readability research and how applying these insights improves comprehension.

The research that I read recently on the next button offered insights that I hadn't considered earlier as well.

Next Button: Force It Down People's Throats. Or Put it In Jail.

I started with a search to see what L&Ders are saying about the next button. And this heading jumped out at me (slightly changed to protect the writer):
Disabling the Next Button Until Learners Finish the Slide.

Whaaaat? Sadly, I thought I knew why (which is why the heading jumped off the page) as I've built many eLearning courses. Stakeholders or clients wanted to disable the next button so people are FORCED to stay on the page. But is this what this article was discussing?

It was exactly what they were discussing (slightly changed):  
You can prevent users from moving forward to make sure people perform specific actions (for example, listening to the entire video or clicking on certain interactions) by...

So one point of view is that we should use the next button to force-feed content. (No!) Another point of view is that the next button is the just awful and we shouldn't use it. Here's a statement made on a L&D blog post (slightly changed):
You shouldn't use the next button for navigation. Have learners choose their own path. 
Except... research does not support this statement (discussed in detail in my eLearning Industry post).

Okay, that's enough for opinions. What does research support?

Next Button: Useful

The next button (and the player controls) are simple interaction tools that help people control pace.

Mayer and Chandler's When Learning is Just a Click Away: Does Simple Interaction Foster Deeper Understanding of Multimedia Messages? researched the learning benefits from simple user interactions, specifically in multimedia explanations. First, some definitions:
  • Multimedia explanation means words (for example, text or narration) and pictures (for example diagrams, images, video, or animation) that show how something works. 
  • Simple user interactions give users control over the words and pictures they see.
These are both common in eLearning.

Simple user interactions, according to the authors, includes the next button (go to next segment). But they might also include player controls (stop, play, go forward, rewind) as they have a similar purpose. Their conclusion is that these simple types of user interaction have two positive and important impacts on learning. They:
  • Reduce the load on working memory 
  • Allow people to build understanding a piece at a time.
When multimedia explanations are force-fed at the designer's pace, the flow of words and pictures can move too fast for needed processing. Processing is needed to learn. Working memory processing capacity is limited so force-feeding "instructional stuff" means likely means less processing and confusion. (So the force-feeding view of the next button can actually damage learning). It's harder to make sense of information and mentally integrate it with what we already know (prior knowledge) when multimedia explanations are too long and the user cannot control them.

What we are talking about here is control of the pace. This is one of the learner control issues I discuss in the eLearning Industry article I mentioned earlier in this post. That article offers more information about when learners should have more control and when they shouldn't.

The bottom line is whenever possible, we should let learners chose the pace. Breaking up segments with a next button (or player controls) allows people to continue to the next segment when ready.

When I discuss this with other L&D practitioners, they sometimes tell me that people learn on their own all the time, so why be worried about this? Yes, people do learn on their own, and it's easy to get frustrated when doing so (ask me about learning Tableau, a data visualization tool). My point here is not that we cannot learn on our own. We can. We do. It's this: If we are going to design instruction, it should be done using what we know helps people learn.

So maybe we should stop treating the next button like Clippy and give it some respect. Especially when we use it to control pace.

Comments? I love them.

Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive load theory and the format of
instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 8, 293-332.

Chung, J. & Davies, I. K. (1995). An instructional theory for learner control: Revisited, Proceedings of the 1995 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 72-86.
Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge Univer­sity Press. 

Mayer, R. E. & Chandler, P. A. (2001). When learning is just a click away. Does simple user interaction foster deeper understanding of multimedia messages?. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93 (2), 390-397.

Shank, P. (February 19, 2018). Microlearning, macrolearning. What does research tell us? eLearning Industry. 

Shank, P. (April 16, 20) 18).

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The MOST Important Thing

A few days ago, someone asked me a most interesting question: What is the MOST important thing L&D practitioners can do to improve the instructional content they build?

There are MANY truly critical things (I describe truly critical strategies in Write and Organize for Deeper Learning and Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning). But there's one thing that makes those other things possible:  Deeply understanding the jobs our content supports. If we don't understand the tasks and outcomes of these jobs, how can we...
  • Deliver what people really need?
  • Design for relevancy?
  • Offer the right content and activities?
  • Provide what's needed at the right time?
  • Write at the correct level?
  • Provide needed support?
Simple. We can't. Building for anyone is the same as building for no one, especially for workplace instruction.

People don't have time or motivation to slog through things that are not relevant to them, especially in today's chaotic and fast-paced workplace. And if it's "compulsory," they will learn only enough to pass whatever barrier we provide (assessments, etc.). This is shallow learning but deep learning (and here) is what's needed for people to be able to use what they learn.

Training research shows relevance is a critical factor for transfer of trained skills to the workplace and to motivation to learn and persevere. Without these, our efforts become busywork for people who already have too much on their plate.

Far too many L&D practitioners think their job is to take content from a content expert and put it into instructional authoring tools and output it to [whatever]. Nonsense. We may do that but that's not our chief responsibility. Our chief responsibility is to use knowledge of jobs and the organization to help people grow skills and performance so that organizations can remain viable. We simply cannot do this without a deep understanding of the work and organizations we support.

Guy Wallace (Twitter@guywwallace), website has some great articles about how to understand the job and why a single content expert cannot give you all the information you need for valuable instruction.

For now, I'll leave you with a few ideas to help you better understand what people do and how what WE do connects with their job.
  • Understand what your organization does and how it does it. In detail. Find out its major pain points and what gets in the way.
  • Spend time in different departments to better understand what they do and how it impacts organizational success.
  • Watch how key tasks are done and document the process. Ask good performers to evaluate your documentation for holes and flaws. Ask questions.
  • Review tangible work products and see how they are used. 
  • Watch workers work. Ask questions about their processes, their work, what doesn't work, and how what you want to teach connects to what they do.
  • Ask tons of questions when someone asks for training: What specific results are needed? How do you know there's a problem?  What gets in the way of producing needed results? If they cannot answer, get the answers from people who can answer them.
  • Figure out what foundational knowledge and skills are needed to perform the tasks. Do people have it? What happens if they don't?
Understanding your organization, the business they are in, and how jobs support organizational survival isn't nice-to-know. You simply cannot be effective without this understanding. Content development is not enough. Not even nearly.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Reflections on the Learning Technologies Conference (#LT18UK)

First thing: Plan to come to the Learning Technologies conference. Learning from L&D folks from the UK, Europe, and elsewhere gives you a wider view of workplace learning around the world. And having international L&D connections are priceless. How else would I have had the opportunity to meet Lesley Price's cats? And work with the amazing Mirjam Neelen?

Although US learning conferences often have some international presence, most of what we discuss relates to what we do in the US and Canada. Globalization has changed learning and work. It's not enough to know how workplace learning supports organizations where you live. Globalization means understanding work globally and how to support it.

The conference is a great place to meet, discuss, and learn from others. Donald Taylor knows how to put together a terrific conference and personally understands global workplace learning. The Expo is 10+ times larger than any you've been to in the USA. The conference is medium sized and you don't become a small dot in a sea of dots. It's easy to walk up to just about anyone and ask about their work (and it's a great way to learn).

I spent most of my time either talking to people, preparing for our presentation (Mirjam Neelen and I discussed how technology and globalization are changing the workplace and how that changes L&D's role), or answering questions about my work. Here are some impressions from the sessions I was able to attend.
  • A LOT of people are investing in microlearning like it's THE ANSWER. I'm writing an evidence-based (research-driven) response and it'll be out soon.
  • There is a wide disparity among organizations in the use of learning technologies. Some are just getting started and others are looking at ways to use virtual reality and augmented reality. We need to be very careful to meet organizations where they are.
  • There was a terrific session on globalization and women in our field. I saw that globalization has impacted the careers of other women just as has affected and is continuing to impact mine. 
  • Connie Malamud, Will Thalheimer, Mirjam Neelan, and I discussed research-driven approaches! Thank you, Don Taylor, for allowing us to put forth our research-driven L&D practices coalition (I just made this term up... it's not a thing. Yet.)
To help you adopt a more global understanding of our field, here are just a few of the L&D peeps I got to meet at Learning Technologies to follow on Twitter:

Jo Cook @LightbulbJo

Kate Graham @kategraham23

Mirjam Neelen @mirjamn

Lesley Price @lesleywprice

Julie Drybrough @fuchsia_blue

Barbara Thompson @CaribThompson

Rob Hubbard @RobHubbard

As usual, the best part of conferences is learning from each other. Learning Technologies is an especially good conference for this!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Poll results: Which books come next?

Last week I asked people on Twitter to help me decide which book to write next by answering a simple poll question. (And many of you retweeted... thank you!) I posted a question listing six books. Respondents could select any or all of the books. Here are the results:
Survey question and results
I received 39 completed responses. And that leads to my dilemma: Should I write the learnable eLearning book next? The results suggest that this is a good idea. But in survey analysis terms, these results are not necessarily significant. When doing surveys for decision making, you want to know that your data is "representative" and not chance. Representative means that it accurately represents the answers of the entire group. My "entire group" is everyone who reads or will read my books.

There are many reasons why this information may NOT be representative (biased).

  • There aren't a lot of responses and data from fewer people is less likely to be representative than responses from a lot of people
  • I only asked people on Twitter and my extended audience is unlikely to all be on Twitter
  • People who didn't answer may have different opinions from people who did answer

So what should I do? The truth is, I'm not sure. I wrote the first two books, Write and Organize for Deeper Learning and Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning based on what I thought were needed. And they are doing well!

Am leaning towards starting on the learnable eLearning book next because I know this information will be super helpful. For example, what does research specifically tell us to do differently when writing for mobile? I spent time finding the applicable research on this topic during the recent holiday break. And the research is fascinating and actionable.

Writing a book, especially one based solely on research, is a heavy undertaking. That's because it takes a lot of time to search for widely applicable (generalizable, in research terms) research. This is made even more difficult when searching for training research rather than the more widely available learning research ( which is typically K-12 and higher education).

If you have advice, please let me know. I hope to have the next book ready by May.  If you are one of my readers, THANK YOU. I absolutely love doing this.

Closer I Am to Fine

Are you dealing with a difficult personal decision? I relate as difficult decisions consumed my 2018. I had some important but really...