Learning in the Wild

I grew up visiting the national parks with my parents on long road trips across the country. We live in Florida, so getting to see mountains was a rare treat that I always looked forward to. I got away from it in my twenties, but as I got older I felt the pull of the mountains calling me back. One of my friends has recently declared his life’s quest to be visiting every national park, so we took the chance to tick Bryce Canyon off his list in the days following this year’s Devlearn. Bryce isn’t quite as imposing as Yosemite, nor as famous as Yellowstone, but I’ve always been curious to see the bizarre little spires (the famous “hoodoos”) ever since I first saw pictures of them.

And they don’t disappoint. The rim of the canyon is on a bit of an incline, so as you approach it from the west, all you see is a fairly unremarkable forest (though if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a few deer).

Looking at some deer as we walk towards the canyon

Cresting the hill brings you to this view…

The Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre

And it’s hard not to have your breath taken away.

My friend and I immediately started searching for the trailhead, ready to dive headfirst into that beautiful canyon.

Another friend took one look and decided that an afternoon of reading and drinking hot chocolate in the lodge was preferable to anything that could happen in that canyon (in her defense, it was bitterly cold, about to snow, and the hike ended up being incredibly challenging – her choice was probably the rational one).

It’s amazing this place could contain such a variety of experiences. You can dive into an intense day hike or bum around and relax by the fire. There are deep wilderness backcountry trails that take days to traverse… or you can hire a tour bus from Las Vegas and get driven straight up to a paved overlook path.

If the excitement of being in this beautiful place isn’t enough, you can even get an extrinsic reward by playing the “Hike the Hoodoos” scavenger hunt.

Photo by Maria Andersen

Photo by Maria Andersen

After giving it some thought, I realized how the act of building and curating these experiences feel oddly parallel to what L&D professionals do in the workplace.

Performing well at work is wild. It is complex. It is no longer “show up and push this lever for eight hours.” It’s more like, “here’s a problem we don’t know how to fix – please solve it.” During his keynote, Neil Degrasse-Tyson spoke about the irrelevance of knowledge. The people that will succeed in our new economy aren’t those who remember the most, but those who can solve the most problems and create the best new ideas.

It’s an amazingly big ask for our learners, but trying to contain this challenge and complexity, dumb it down somehow, would take away everything beautiful and exciting about it. Instead we must provide the appropriate experiences within that wildness for each person. In the same way we can’t let a bus load of sedentary sightseers try to tackle the “Under the Rim” trail (23 miles one way), we can’t let an inexperienced new hire tackle a complex project without the necessary guidance and resources. The same way we can’t hold back an experienced hiker or ultrarunner by building only easy paved trails, we shouldn’t prevent the experts from achieving all that they can.

In one of the conference breakout sessions, Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman laid out the case (based on a recently released a white paper) for just how such a learning ecosystem might look. Clark Quinn’s book, Revolutionize Learning & Development, offers up a similar vision. It’s a big shift in thinking, and involves not just considering the singular learning experience (through an event or performance support tool) but all the things before, after, and two years down the line.

Building an ecosystem isn’t easy, and it isn’t something that can be accomplished in an afternoon. We’ve been discussing it at my company for some time, and it’s going to take a while before all the disparate pieces come together and all the audiences have what they need to thrive.

But that’s what it’s going to take to start learning in the wild.

As for the conference itself: I cannot thank enough the eLearning Guild and my company, who gave me the opportunity to speak and give back to a community that has given me so much. A big thank you to everyone who showed up and added to the conversation! Please contact me should you have any additional questions or would like to chat further.

Collaboration con pollo

Mercado Lanza is an enormous, hulking block of concrete occupying an entire square block in the middle of La Paz. Its interior can best be described as maze-like – every few feet, the concrete path splits to form narrow ramps that zigzag off in various directions.

The meat market

Like any good department store, there are places where certain products can be found. There’s a flower section, a weird old magazines section, a snack and drink section, a meat section, a cleaning supplies section. Vendors sell their wares from what look like mini-garages or tiny shipping containers (it goes with all that concrete, I guess?) and some ramps are crammed with them end-to-end while other ramps are deserted and sad-looking.

Unlike their American counterparts, who look to be unique and exploit their market differentiators as much as possible, these Bolivian vendors were intent on carrying products as similar to their neighbors as possible. Each stall was like a slightly rearranged copy of the one next to it.

Looking for a bit of lunch, we headed upstairs to the food vendors, where the smell and sound of food preparation seemed to be coming from.

The comida stalls

Each stall was run by one or two women, with a narrow seating area and tiny kitchen inside. Much like the rest of the market, there wasn’t much to differentiate the stalls except for their signs – either a Coke or Pepsi logo and the owner’s name. Occasionally, someone looking to drum up business would dart out at us and yell something in Spanish repeatedly.

We avoided these stalls.

Ultimately, we ended up at the end of a ramp in one of the deserted looking ends of the market, with the hopes of finding a non-claustrophobic and non-confrontational person who could feed us. There, we found a stall with no sign at all, but instead had a fraying and weather-beaten menu for “Dona Gaby.”

Dona Gaby's stall

Photo by Jessica Eberl

We pointed at a few different options, only to be replied with exasperated sighs and confused Spanish from (what I assume was) “Dona Gaby.” Eventually, we settled on something I knew was chicken and would probably be ok. Who doesn’t like chicken?

After sitting down, we noticed “Dona Gaby” had disappeared. Did she go to get some supplies?

A few minutes later, another woman came by the stall and spooned some soup out of “Dona Gaby’s” pot into a plastic shopping bag and then left.

Did we just witness a soup theft?

Did we need to tell “Dona Gaby?!”

Should we have ordered the soup that’s so good that people want to steal it?

“Dona Gaby” came back with a plastic shopping bag of her own full of something a few minutes later. She didn’t seem bothered that her pot had been touched, so we just carried on being the dumb tourists we were. She stirred her pot some more and walked off again.

Not long after, a third woman came by a brought us giant plates of fried chicken, rice, and potato salad.

Photo by Jessica Eberl

Photo by Jessica Eberl

It became pretty apparent at this point that what we witnessed wasn’t a case of soup theft, but rather the inner workings of a giant collaborative restaurant. With such tiny kitchens, no one person could possibly offer the kind of menu that all their customers might want. The solution is to specialize in one thing and work with others to share the production as needed.

Even more than the language and the weird potatoes, this way of working seemed incredibly foreign to me. Sometimes it feels like my default mentality (and that of everyone around me) is to build structure into everything. Create a plan. Formalize a process. Do what’s expected and know what to expect from others.

But creating structure doesn’t ensure success. Otherwise, how would companies like Valve and Zappos stay in business? If you present people with problems to solve, or ways to show off their talents, they might just perform and do what they need to do to get the job done – whether you create those structures and hierarchies and bureaucracy and reporting structures or not.

Thoughts from Places: Crime & Death in La Paz

Bolivia is something of a mystery, but not because it’s especially mysterious. Not a whole lot of news from the poorest corner of South America really filters up to us here in US, aside from the occasional WTF curiosity. So when I traveled there recently, I had a lot of questions. What could I expect from a two week jaunt through this relatively unexplored but supposedly remarkable place that (literally) exists on another plane?

I was glued to the window as we flew over Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world.*


Landing in La Paz was an unlike any experience I’ve ever had. At over 13,000 feet, El Alto International Airport is the highest international airport in the world* and the thin air makes landing a hair-raising experience that causes the plane and shudder and sway side to side for what feels like an eternity.

My freak out must have been audible. Not long after landing, a gentleman from Chicago introduced himself and we started discussing travel plans. He had received a research grant and was doing an extended tour of South America. He had just come from Peru where he had met a woman told him about Bolivian thieves who cut open her pockets in order to steal her iPhone. He then decided to recite all of the terrible things he had read about in the Lonely Planet, and looked to be having a serious attack of nerves. I tried to calm him down by telling him that the violent crime rate was relatively low by South American standards, but that didn’t seem to do much for him. Maybe if I showed him the Wikipedia page, he would’ve believed me.

Thankfully, I had thought to fill out our visa application forms ahead of time, which meant we were able to speed through immigration and leave our worried friend behind.

La Paz itself is a mind-boggling sight at first glance.


Imagine a city built within the Grand Canyon, with downtown at the bottom while the poor neighborhoods cling to the canyon walls. In a country of such high altitude, the most expensive real estate is where the oxygen is.

Walking the streets of a foreign country on the first day is inevitably one of unease and wariness, partly due to jet-lag and partly due to the sensory overload that comes from being in a place that’s unfamiliar. But I was especially hypersensitive now that my friend on the plane had given me a crash-course reminder on the “Dangers” section of the Lonely Planet.


As often happens, my fears were overblown. Instead of trying to slash my pockets, all La Pazians (La Pazites?) were too busy with their own concerns. In a city of 2.3 million people and not enough oxygen to go around, who has the energy to bother the tourists?

Documenting, researching, and seeking out information before jumping into something is vital. There’s nothing more valuable before embarking on an endeavor than simply making yourself mindful of all the things that could go wrong. But there’s diminishing returns after a certain point. If you’ve found yourself googling “what can kill you in bolivia” at 2am, you’re probably doing yourself more harm than good.

*Bolivia has a lot of things that are the “highest in the world.” In Juan de Recacoechea’s ridiculous crime novel American Visa (Down and Out in La Paz would’ve been a more appropriate title, IMHO), the main character calls this Bolivia’s national consolation: “It’s compensation for our frustrations.”

Godzilla vs. DemoFest

After attending my second DevLearn, it was only inevitable that my face would eventually end up as promotional fodder for the eLearning Guild. It’s a wonderful picture! </sarcasm>

But thank goodness Bianca Woods was there to save me from my self-consciousness:

Inspired by the Dinosaur Comics presented in her session, I came up with some captions! If you’ve got  your own Godzilla quotes, make sure to add them in the comments.

"I think your next button needs more green."

"Does the text to speech handle Japanese?"

"But can I use the webcam to see if they're not paying attention?"

*Actual product. Complete madness.

Day Three at DevLearn 2013

The final day of DevLearn had me sitting in sessions led by Clark Quinn, Conrad Gottfredsson and Neil Lasher. Since there were so many overlapping concepts, I’ll just cover them based on the two overriding themes I saw rather than by session.

Start at “apply”

The problem that instructional design seems to face is that requestors bring us in to situations that don’t always require instruction. So instead of creating unnecessary instruction, start design by trying to understand what the end user needs to do to perform a behavior. If the design demands the introduction of new knowledge, introduce that knowledge within the relevant context, then provide the ability to apply that knowledge in practice and offer appropriate feedback. But if performing doesn’t require instruction, don’t force it. As Clark Quinn mentioned earlier in the panel discussion, “build knowledge into the world, not in the head.”

In terms of deciding what needs instruction and what doesn’t, Conrad Gottfredson presented a beautifully simple system for sorting it out. While performing your task analysis, determine the negative consequences your learners face should they fail and rate it on a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being no effect, 7 being catastrophic (I would probably add a level 8, just in case failure leads to a zombie apocalypse). Anything rated 5 or higher gets the most instructional attention, anything rated a 3 or lower gets mostly performance support. It’s so simple, but it’s a brilliant way to make sure our end users get the support and practice they need to perform (and not cause a zombie apocalypse).

I like the emphasis at this conference on building smaller bits of content as performance support instead of courses. I never went to school intending to become a technical writer, but somehow when I landed my current role as one, it seemed to be a pretty natural fit. I think if instructional designers better understood the things technical writers produce (help systems, job aids, documentation) and if technical writers understood the skills that instructional designers can leverage (user centered analysis and design, multimedia instruction) both professions would be in a better place.

I think since my department has a history of delivering on these things, most of our requestors are willing to be talked into performance support solutions, even if their initial inclination is to request training. There are other challenges, of course, namely how do we respond to requesters demanding a small forest’s worth of printed documentation (destined to go out of date almost as soon as the training ends)? And how do we optimize documentation so that it covers everything that needs to be covered while being attractive and not intimidating for the user?

Then there’s problem of managing and tying all of these things together, which leads us to…

Build an ecosystem

When it comes to supporting performance, elearning is just the start. As Art Kohn mentioned on the first day of DevLearn, nothing can be taught in one pass, as the learner will almost immediately forget it. Instead the goal should be to build an ecosystem of learning and support by using all of the tools at our disposal. This means EPSSs, job aids, pocket cards to support performance as well as mobile delivery and context to support instruction. Additionally, managing it requires content governance to ensure the most relevant things are easily discoverable and not lost beneath a mountain of outdated content.

Neil Lasher displayed a brilliant example that tied in some of the transmedia storytelling ideas in Lee Lindsey’s session on day one. He presented a simple scenario of a top sales employee at a retail outlet angrily tossing a customer out. You’re then presented with several options:

  • Verbal Warning
  • Written Warning
  • Suspension
  • Firing

Making the wrong choice (in this example, a written warning) causes the employee to storm out and quit. Later on, you’ll receive an email or SMS offering additional information and coaching. A couple days later you’ll get another SMS, saying there’s a situation developing with another one of your employees. It leads you into another scenario where you have to deal with an employee causing problems because they saw the other employee quit angrily a couple days ago.

It’s a real time scenario. Like Animal Crossing for new managers!🙂

As more scenarios are developed and new content is required, more pieces to the ecosystem (both instructional and performance support) are added. It’s important to note that at no point is any “score” information provided, as simply receiving feedback from the scenario is enough. Score data is only used on the backend to calculate what the system should send the user to next.

Keynote: Talent Anarchy

Though I found the Talent Anarchy keynote on hacking to be a useful tool that I’ll be implementing on an almost daily basis, I don’t know how much I can add to the conversation around it. Instead, I defer to Bianca Woods and Cammy Bean who have posted excellent recaps from the session.

And that’s it!

I want to thank everyone for another great DevLearn where I learned new things, gained tons of inspiration and met people doing some very exciting work. Rather than being an end, DevLearn last year was a real kicking off point. Many of the things I’m only just putting into practice were inspired by those sessions, and I suspect it’ll be similar this year.

Day Two at DevLearn 2013


While Day One of a conference is a sudden, brilliant dose of energy, Day Two has me dragging a little.

OK, maybe a lot. I wasn’t quite as diligent about taking notes during sessions today, so things might be a little incomplete or remembered incorrectly.

Morning Buzz: Adam Weisblatt

My morning started out great when I managed to cut myself shaving. This has nothing to do with this session, but does explain why I was late and feeling not quite ready for the day (most likely due to blood loss and lack of caffeine). What part of the conversation I did catch dealt with the issues faced in managing technology and data within learning organizations. Often we have solutions (like an LMS) that have to plug in and talk to other solutions. A lot of the process can be simplified and automated by having APIs and ensuring IT is involved in the process.

One person made the point that you should never look to your LMS (or really, any technology solution) as a permanent fix. You always need to think about how you’re going to extract your data and content when you’ve outgrown the current solution.

Keynote: Eli Pariser

I honestly came into this keynote slightly skeptical, because quite frankly, I get great recommendations from services like Amazon.


As you can see, the algorithm really knows me.

Pariser started out by discussing his attempt to expand his worldview but was stymied by Facebook’s newsfeed filter. As one of the founders of Moveon.org, he obviously leans to the left politically, but befriends people with other mindsets to try and understand their perspective as well. Unfortunately Facebook’s algorithm filters out content from his conservative friends, because it knows he is less likely to hit “like” on articles posted by them (there was an audible gasp when his mockup news feed removed his conservative friends’ posts, which may or may not be an indicator of how many conservatives were in the audience).

One of the challenges this filtering causes is what danah boyd calls “psychological obesity.” We have both an impulsive self and an aspirational self, but the content most likely to be fed to us by algorithms are things that appeal to our impulsive selves. In this way, we’re only getting the candy and junk food (Justin Bieber and lolcats) instead of intense things that might be difficult (investigative journalism and stories on Afghanistan).

The problem for educators is that education IS challenge. He referenced a quote from Siva Vaidhyanathan that learning is “by definition an encounter with what you don’t know, what you haven’t thought of, what you couldn’t conceive.” By filtering out the challenging things, how will we ever grow and learn?

While I’m still not entirely convinced by Pariser, I think the points he makes are worth considering. But when content on the internet grows more in two days than all of human history prior to 2010, how can human curators possibly sift through it all? We need the algorithms to bring things to the surface, because there’s a level of personalization algorithms offer that no human curator can possibly reach.

The solutions Pariser offers also seem rather simplistic. Teach “filter literacy” by opening up a separate tab in incognito mode to compare the results? You’ll still see content filtered by your location, browser or computer (Pariser himself mentioned that there are 57 different signals Google can use to personalize results, even on a brand new computer). I think filter literacy needs to be part of a broader discussion about how people perceive media online. Simply because we use filtered systems to find media doesn’t stop us from reaching out to people or consuming content from curated resources. Most likely we use both equally without even thinking about it.

Session: Is elearning broken? Panel discussion

Attention grabbing and provocative title! I’m not a fan of such things generally but went into this session knowing that many of the panel participants would have insights that would prove valuable. I didn’t take notes (it’s hard to type while you’re standing), so there’s not many specifics that I took from this session. If nothing else, it only reiterates the need for people in this industry to continue to innovate and fight the urge to simply go along with a request for training or build a context free page turner. Instead of attempting to recreate the analog world of the classroom in an elearning project, why not use some of the affordances of the technology? Why attempt to put knowledge into the learners’ heads (through a knowledge dump) when it is far easier to put knowledge into the world (a performance support solution)?

Session: Comics for Learning with Bianca Woods

After such a heady and theoretical start to the day, it’s great to step into a session about the actual act of building things. An excellent case can be made for long-form comics to tell extremely powerful stories or take complex ideas and make them more digestible. Best practice design in comics forces learning designers to move towards better instructional practices – clearer and more dynamic visuals, minimal text, and better stories.

As I wandered through DemoFest later that night, I couldn’t help but think about how much of elearning design has already pulled from comics. All you need to do is look at any project created with Storyline using the bundled characters and their accompanying dialogue surrounded by speech bubbles.


And then you can vomit, because they are absolutely disgusting. Why does anyone use them? I have a feeling they get used because they came free with the program and most instructional designers don’t have the time, money, or the desire to make anything better. If we’re going to take inspiration from things in other industries (like comics), why do we accept these half-measures?

I can’t stop thinking about the comment from Ian Bogost about deepening the experience of work and making our creations move towards this goal. If we’re going to invest all this time in building extensive elearning interventions, why can’t they approach the level of experience we get from a great graphic novel or short film or documentary?

Day One at DevLearn 2013

Going to a conference is equal parts inspiration, excitement and complete utter exhaustion. But before it all disappears from my mind, here’s some bits and pieces that I found most relevant from the things I saw today.

Morning Buzz: Immersive Learning, Koreen Pagano

Starting things off was a session with Koreen Pagano on immersive learning that brought up themes reiterated in other sessions later on. Apprenticeship, an idea I became fascinated with at last year’s DevLearn, is an incredibly powerful training method that enables learning through practice, skill improvement and context. While it’s been used successfully for hundreds of years, it isn’t scalable without technology-based solutions.

One of the tactics for immersive learning design included a “scared straight” method to allow your learners to fail right off the bat. By throwing the user straight in the deep end, you make the user immediately aware of either their abilities or their failings for a particular topic.

Another tactic was wrapping training around a real-world task. For instance, if you’re providing information on how to fill out a form, the user doesn’t access training until they have a form to fill out. In this way, training is delivered directly at the point of need and doesn’t waste the user’s time.

Keynote: Jeremy Gutsche

Jeremy Gutsche is an extremely energetic presenter but like most of the keynotes I’ve seen at DevLearn, it was more of a general business tips presentation rather than something directly applicable to the development of learning.

His presentation revolved around moving away from the “farmer” mode of thinking where we work our plot of land over and over again, constantly optimizing production at the same time we protect that plot of land against any and all threats. Success makes us complacent, and if we’re not willing to embrace chaos we’re destined to become the next Blockbuster, Encarta, or Smith Corona. Above all, we must become “relentlessly obsessed” with our customers, communicating with them instead of at them and in their language.

Featured Session: Mobile Learning in Museums with Nancy Proctor

I love museums, and this session really caught my eye as soon as I saw it. Unfortunately, what I do and what museums do don’t overlap terribly much, so there’s not a whole lot that I can go back and apply straight away.

Audio tours have been in place in museums for more than half a century, with only a few upgrades here and there technologically to present audio non-linearly and on demand. While they provide affordances like offering background information, audio tours can be a passive experience that doesn’t engage the visitor. So the Smithsonian embarked on an effort to “recruit the world” by listening as well as speaking; connecting as well as broadcasting.

One particularly exciting example she showed off was a location-based audio installation called “Scapes.” As you wander the Scapes environment, you hear music based on your location and can both listen to audio recorded by previous visitors as well as record your own. In this way, the environment facilitates a conversation between people existing in the same space at different times.

Session: Transmedia Storytelling with Lee Lindsey

Sometimes I wonder if getting a degree in creative writing might have been just as helpful as my Master’s in instructional technology. So much of elearning design is the implanting of lessons within stories, simply because humans are hard-wired to learn this way. Transmedia storytelling goes along with this tradition, but with the idea that the story is spread across multiple forms of media. The goal is to make the story independent enough to stand on it’s own regardless of how it’s delivered, but capable of taking advantage of the affordances in each medium.

One of the examples discussed was the use of transmedia storytelling in information security training. In this, clues about a secret hacker organization lead into an alternate reality game where learners attempt to find out who is in charge of this secret organization trying to hack into the company. Along the way they learn about hacking organizations and what motivates them.

He also showed a really cool demo using both Storyline and Twilio, a service that enables you to send SMS messages on command. In the example, the user inputs their mobile number into the presentation and then gets a text from a character telling them to call another “agent.” That phone number leads to a voicemail box that introduces a character and provides next steps for the learner.

Also briefly touched on was Conductrr, a program that facilitates the writing and publishing of a transmedia story.

Session: Lasting Behavior Change with Art Kohn

Unquestionably the surprise of the day was this session, something I was not expecting based on the title. Art Kohn is a truly engaging speaker and storyteller, which is probably why I’m able to forgive the fact that he started the session with an extremely provocative statement that he later took back: “the only goal of training is to change behavior.” Teaching for knowledge is not important. Of course, this comes out of his experience working with the CDC in Zimbabwe to fight AIDS. When the CDC first went in, the goal was to educate people about the virus and risk factors for AIDS. The result? Nothing, except now everyone in Zimbabwe knows a lot about the virus and risk factors. The training did nothing to affect change. Changing tactics, the CDC moved to social modeling through the use of radio soap operas. While the rates of infection have more or less remained the same, the radio drama managed to at least get people in Zimbabwe talking about the virus through the decisions of the soap’s characters.

Knowledge, of course, is a prerequisite to behavior change, and he later acknowledged this point. Knowledge transfer, however, is not something that can occur in one pass. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is evidence of this, as 90% of the things we learn are forgotten within a week. By forcing learners to retrieve information (instead of just encoding) at certain points after training, much of this can be overcome. Key interventions come 2 days (quick quizzes), 2 weeks (short answers where the learner visualizes using the knowledge) and 2 months (longer answers where the learner describes how they applied the knowledge). The longer answers at 2 months can also be used as testimonials by L&D departments to demonstrate ROI for the organization.

Keynote: Ian Bogost

The final session of the day was an analysis of the difference between the trendy “gamification” so frequently tossed around and actual game design. This was an intense keynote, one with tons of information that breaks through a lot of the hype so frequently discussed in the elearning community. More than anything, instructional designers need to understand that the magic of games cannot be easily “sprinkled” into elearning by throwing PBLs (points, badges, leaderboards) on it. It sugar coats work, when really we need to deepen the experience of work. People want to do meaningful things.


I’ll be thinking about the lessons of this keynote for a long time and I’ll probably follow-up with additional thoughts in a later post.

Also, I’m tired.

DevLearn 2013

It’s late October again and you know what that means… I’m headed to Vegas!

View from the Aria

Whereas last year was a desperate attempt to capture every bit of knowledge from every session I attended, my goal this year is to absorb the things that I see and hear and actually create something that’s a little more coherent. Things have been a little hectic of late, and I haven’t had as much writing or reflection time as I’d like. Leaving work to focus on my own learning and development offers up the chance to spend some time doing just that.

And let’s be honest, no city inspires quiet reflection like Las Vegas🙂

If you’re not attending (or attending and sitting in other sessions), stay tuned to this site or my twitter for the information deluge (as well as the conference backchannel!). My tentative session schedule for the conference looks like this:

    How Museums Use Mobile Technologies to Shape User Experiences – Nancy Proctor
    Transmedia Storytelling: A New Strategy for Learning – Lee Lindsey
    Transfer Learning and Become More Profitable: The Science of Behavior Change – Art Kohn
    Is eLearning Broken? Challenges for Innovation – panel
    Not Just for Superheroes: Exploring Learning Through Comics – Bianca Woods
    Portfolios As Tools for Professional Learning – Sylwia Bielec, Thomas Stenzel
    AGILE Instructional Design: Keeping Pace with the Speed of Change – Conrad Gottfredson
    How to Deliver Measurable Behavioral Change Using Technology – Neil Lasher

With so many interesting sessions, it’s been a lot harder to narrow things down this year so, as always, it’s all subject to change.

How I Work

The elearning community’s Curator-in-Chief David Kelly recently created his own version of Lifehacker’s How I Work series and challenged others to do the same. Great idea, Dave! Here’s more than you ever cared to know about me.

Tampa, FL

Current gig
Senior Technical Writer at Healthesystems

Current mobile device
Samsung Galaxy Nexus (I’m the only Android person so far?)
The “New” iPad (which is no longer new)

Current computer
Work: Dell Blahblah Something laptop running Windows 7
Home: Self-built computer dual-booting Snow Leopard and Windows 8 (Yup, it’s a Hackintosh)

One word that best describes how you work
Craftsmanlike (a terribly awkward word, I know)

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
OneNote, Kindle, Doggcatcher, Nike+ Running, Tasker, Dropbox, Twitter, Google Maps, and Goodreads.

What’s your workspace like?
Rather uninteresting, I’m afraid. Gray cubicle walls and random papers lying all over the place. Aside from the books, the only “flair” I have is stuff given away during company fun days (hence the lei), and Master Yoda presiding over my shelf.


What’s your best time-saving trick?
Lists (see below).

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
OneNote is my jam. The ability to tag and search makes it incredibly powerful. It also functions a bit like my second brain, where I can write copious notes and sketch out wacky new ideas that I may not reference until months later. It’s really amazing, and I’m a bit of an evangelist for it at work.

The post-it note pad and white board also get used for lists when I require physical media, or when I’m in a panic.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
My running shoes. Do they count as gadgets? Considering all the technology that goes into them, I’ll say yes. I picked up running a year ago as way to get in shape, but I’ve come to enjoy it for what it is. For decompressing from the day or just exploring the neighborhood, there’s nothing better.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Looking back at some of my answers, I think it’s writing sentences that feature parentheses.

What do you listen to while you work?
I listen to a lot of podcasts, usually The Morning Stream or anything from the TWiT network while at work. When I need to focus on writing or some other task, I like instrumental music. Some of my favorites are Broke for Free, The Mercury Program, and Little People. The Downtempo Electronica and Dubstep Pandora stations also get a bit of play now and then.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
Introvert for sure. I’m not the most outgoing of people, but I can be pretty relaxed around those I’m comfortable with. Meetings can be a challenge, but I’ve learned ways to adapt and leverage my introverted tendencies to my advantage. I try to always compose some thoughts prior to any meeting, and if I have the time I’ll actually create something (a detailed plan or hasty sketch of an idea) beforehand. Even if the meeting drives things in a completely different direction, the simple act of creating helps me consolidate my scattered thoughts.

What’s your sleep routine like?
The standard 6-9 hours a night, usually more towards the low end of that range. It all depends on how cranky my cat is, though.

Fill in the blank. I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
You! If you haven’t already. I find most famous people I admire have done this or something similar. Seriously. Type “a day in the life {name}” or “how i work {name}” into Google and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find an answer.

This is how I found answers from Elon Musk, Gina Trapani, and Neil Gaiman.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If your job isn’t letting you do the work you want to do, do it yourself.

The good, the bad, the gamified

I’ve been taking Kevin Werbach’s Gamification MOOC on Coursera, and while it hasn’t really provided any concepts or ideas that are new to me, it’s done a lot to pull in all the disparate bits of information I’ve read on the subject in recent months. In the learning and development community, there’s a rather ridiculous debate that’s been raging that looks more like a beef in the hip-hop community than any kind of real discussion on how we can apply it.

That said, I do understand that educators might be skeptical about a concept that is coming straight from the entertainment and marketing industries. The example that Werbach keeps bringing up is Samsung Nation, a gamified system that enables viewers of Samsung’s websites to earn badges and points and get their name on a leaderboard.


If this is your definition of gamification, I would understand that you might think the entire thing is meaningless garbage. I get a badge for tweeting about my favorite Samsung product! Oh, goody! The badge shows everyone else I have no purpose in life!

On the other hand, a site like Stack Overflow uses gamification (in the form of virtual medals) to solve programming problems. In this case, the medals mean you’re sharing your expertise with the community and the community appreciates you doing so.


If we’re going to use gamification, it’s got to be closer to the latter example. Yes, it’s fun, it’s cool, it’s trendy, but above all it must be meaningful.