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. https://elearningindustry.com/microlearning-macrolearning-research-tell-us 

Shank, P. (April 16, 20) https://elearningindustry.com/learning-participants-control-research-says 18). https://elearningindustry.com/learning-participants-control-research-says

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 https://www.eppic.biz) 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.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The delusion of attention

In the AT&T commercial above, a man asks a group of children, "What's better, doing two things at once or just one?" All the children yell, "Two!" The commercial ends with "It's not complicated. Doing two things at once is better."

Except AT&T is wrong. It might seem better. But our cognitive abilities are not built to allow us to do two things at once. Hell, we often have a hard time doing one thing. (Or is this just me?)

I just finished reading A Deadly Wandering, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matt Richtel. I wanted to know more about how technology impacts attention because attention is critical for learning. Since we regularly use technology for workplace learning, does technology positively or negatively impact our ability to attend? Most people in our field seem to assume that technology is good for learning. Here's my take: Assume nothing. Follow the evidence.

A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richtel

In the book, we follow Reggie's story along with how neuroscience experts see his story. Reggie Shaw makes a tragic mistake and accidentally kills two men while texting and driving. The story follows the accident, Reggie's prosecution, and what we can learn as a result of his horrific mistake.

It also follows what science knows and is learning about attention and technology. Richtel offers insights throughout the book from Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Physiology, and Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. And from David Strayer, PhD., University of Utah.

Earlier attention scientists found that neural conduction (how the brain and nervous system transmit signals and commands) is much slower than expected. Mental processing is not instantaneous. As we increase demands on mental processing (too much to look at, process, think through, make sense of), we "lose the thread" and make mistakes. Add in technology and demands on mental processing can increase a lot, sometimes exponentially.

For example, when we take our attention away from driving for a second or two (for example, to see where something dropped on the floor or to talk to someone in the car), it takes many seconds to regain full focus and understanding of what we are seeing and doing. Texting and driving don't only impact processing of the road while looking at the phone (which is terrible enough). It affects the ability to process what is happening around us for many seconds after looking at the phone. It's like no one is driving for those seconds because thinking is elsewhere engaged.

My insight: Anything that diverts attention while learning (music, interruptions, bells and whistles, going elsewhere to get a question answered) makes it MUCH harder to return to full focus.

People simply cannot learn or perform well under these conditions. Reggie's accident was a prime example. Anything else we try to do while driving, diminishes our ability to perform. Anything else we have to deal with while learning diminishes our ability to learn.

The bottom line here is that attention can be a delusion because our processing capabilities are quite limited. We easily fool ourselves into thinking we can do more than one thing at a time. But focus and attention are fragile and we are easily distracted. And while distracted, our processing capabilities are elsewhere.

Richter explains that the distractibility of the technologies in our lives and work have increased a great deal and continue to increase. To keep up we feel we must multi-task. But this is not how our minds work. We cannot change how we process and the speed of processing so we must change what we do to accommodate what is so.

In this section of the book, I want answers to the following questions.
  • How can we keep technology from capturing attention away from learning?
  • How do we learn while facing an onslaught of distraction information and demands?
Feel free to offer your insights and answers. I'll be back soon with more insights from A Deadly Wandering.  

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thank you, 2017

This has been a good year. Not all good, of course. Everyone's life has enough pain to keep it real and mine is no different. My most favorite kitty, Cleo, left this world and many months later, I still look for her in the bay window in my office. I used to squeeze three cat beds into the window and now there are two. :-( 

Redd (Minnie's brother) has taken Cleo's place on my lap. But he refuses to let me read on the couch. I can watch television there, as long as I have a certain blanket on my lap that he likes to lay on. But no reading. Books evidently distract me too much from my petting duties. The cover of the book on attention and technology that I'm currently reading has teeth marks in it.

Redd and Minnie
There have been other problems, but I've learned (lately) that sometimes you just need to sit with them and let them be. I'm a doer and that's truly hard. But often, problems are opportunities to see how much you have and what you don't have that you don't want.

I've been thinking a lot about where I was last year at this time. Many people know I have chronic migraines and they're not easy to live with. I didn't realize until recently that migraines can actually do damage to your brain. Nothing I'd done in the last thirty years had really improved the situation, and the pain and other effects became more frequent. The drugs had pretty horrible side effects as well.

This year, in desperation, I started Angela Stanton's migraine protocol (her book is on Amazon). Nothing else worked well so my expectations were low. But only two to three months later, my migraines have lessened by by 90% (and I believe they will be gone, eventually). I am slowly reducing my meds and feel better than I have in years.

Two years ago, I started writing two evidence-based training books. My first efforts were not loved (by any means) by the people who agreed to review them. I was depressed at my results. But after a few months, as my brain subconsciously worked on solutions to the problems the reviewers described, I thought of how to not only start again, but do it better. The result has been two books (so far) that people have valued. As a result, I'm going to start on the next two in 2018.

I have deep gratitude to the early reviewers, who planted the seeds of more valuable efforts. It's not always fun to learn you're on the wrong track. But if you push through, you can learn a great deal from failure. Especially if you're open to what you don't (yet) see.

Most years, there is a song that fits the year (for me). This year it's Happy People by the country-pop group, Little Big Town. Here's the youtube video. (Hope it makes you smile.) My two favorite lines:
Happy people don't fail
Happy people just learn

Thank you for reading what I write, telling me where I need to do a better job, and giving me the opportunity to do just that. I hope your 2017 was also a chance to grow and learn and see what is absolutely terrific. I think that's the key to sanity.

A Moving Story

Gateway to the historic part of Monument, Colorado http://www.coloradospringsweb.com/photo/Monument-CO/historic-monument-gateway-panoram...