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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 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.