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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.