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What does Citizen Science have to do with instructional design?

January 5, 2015

I’m not a scientist, but I am curious person. I am the type who reads voraciously, watches documentaries and nature shows and is amazed at the ingenuity of innovators who find solutions to both big and small things. Often sharing with people: “did you hear/read about …” and then rattle off the interesting discovery I found (usually via Twitter).

Today, I saw this article tweeted: and immediately clicked through. You see, I am quite drawn to the notion of citizen science for many reasons:

  1. Being part of something larger than yourself. As some of you who follow me on Twitter might know, I’m really interested in the Southern and Northern Resident Orcas (Pacific Northwest). The chance to participate in ways to learn more about them and improve their chances of survival is pretty potent.
  2. Learning from others. We don’t live in a vacuum. We don’t learn in a vacuum.
  3. Transferring learning across domains. What I learn as part of a citizen science project translate to a e-learning project. What I do in an e-learning project might enhance citizen science. Discoveries are not siloed.
  4. Science was always the domain of logic and structure. As a creative thinker, I struggled in traditional science situations, but in citizen science lets me participate in ways where I share my strengths. Maybe I can’t calculate the right answer, but I might notice something or see a connection or pattern that someone else doesn’t.
  5. Variety is the spice of life. For me, at least. Some folks can specialize in an area and go deep. I’m at my best when I can shift gears and do something different. With citizen science I could learn about bats, stars, fish, birds, you name it!

As an instructional designer, I think there are lots of great ways that participating in citizen science could improve your practice, increase your knowledge in a subject or even influence your learning designs. Really, it’s another way of developing an “Instructional Designer’s Mindset”, which I blogged about late 2014.  I encourage you to find a project to contribute to this year and would love to hear stories of instructional designers who have done so. Feel free to tweet your thoughts with the hashtag: #IDmindset.

Serial Learning

December 10, 2014

Wow! Serials are really trending. The most popular example is “Serial” – a podcast that is delivered as a serial (shocking I know) – it’s a fabulous model for learning. People who are captivated by the story and the approach are creating their own “study” groups to discuss and analyze the new findings. It provides a great example of learning that is pushed out to an audience, but additional learning is pulled from the accompanying web resources (and the study groups). It’s fascinating. It’s compelling storytelling so it might be successful because it’s done well. Good pacing, moody background music, great interviewing. Plus, everyone loves a mystery.

Over the past few months, I’ve also seen some courses or modules being delivered by via email on some kind of schedule (serial) sometimes called:

  • Drip Campaigns – more a marketing slant and training is one
  • Educational Drip Campaigns – this shows how this type of learning can be a great Minimum Viable Product – MVP, which is a great insight and could even be a way for learning professionals to get a course out the door quickly. You could even build it as you go, adapting each week based on feedback or analytics.
  • Subscription Learning – Dr. Will Thalheimer has a whole blog with examples
  • Learning Campaigns – I noticed that all the big e-learning companies in the UK seem to offer this as part of their services now -not sure if these are courses broken into smaller pieces and delivered piecemeal (serialized), but struck me as interesting.

Email newsletters have been around forever, but these take the notion further, it’s not just a grab bag of interesting content, but content with instructional goals, delivered with intent to teach something. There’s something anticipatory about waiting for your installment. The examples I’ve referred to below are not stories, but that would be a very interesting approach.

Here’s a couple of examples:

this explains everythingThis Explains Everything (how could you NOT sign up for this?) – this is a course that features a range of experts and provides you insights on product psychology. It’s more of a curated list, but each week in your inbox a new module is sent about social psychology, brain science or design thinking.

“Creative instructional design lessons” can be delivered to your inbox from Ever Learning. The topics include “Use Learner Personas to design learning experiences” and “Digital technology is like a bicycle for the mind”. The lessons aren’t long, and it’s the kind of email that you like to open because you are going to learn something.

If you want to create your own – you might want to check out: How to create a self-paced email course. The part I like about this explanation is it establishes a way to set autoresponders to send the next lesson when the current one is marked as finished, so you can automate it, but also match the pace of the person taking the course. Which may not make it serialized, but still a subscription.

What do you think? Are these a viable option or a fad that will quickly fade? Got any great examples to share – leave a comment.


Synthesize, don’t polarize

November 27, 2014

I saw a tweet quite awhile back that was said something like “smart societies don’t polarize, they synthesize”, which I thought could be applied to many things. Take the learning industry for an example. There can be some times when it feels polarizing. If you deliver courses you are a luddite who is a throwback to the 20th century. Or, if you use rapid e-learning tools, you are responsible for the creation of bad e-learning and ruining the industry.  I’m not sure if it’s just me, but sometimes I think we are not helping ourselves in the grand scheme: the zero sum approach only makes winners and losers.

The way I see it, the solution is only a solution that makes sense in the context of the problem, the business drivers for the solution (time or budget for example) and the culture of the environment. But as an industry we tend to judge the solution based on what we see, and we actually don’t know what’s going on beneath the surface, what lead to that or what criteria was considered. Instead we point out what it isn’t. It’s not mobile-first. It’s got a next button. It’s a course.

I think we would serve our industry better if we didn’t look for ways to identify how others do it wrong (in our opinion) or polarize things. I think we’d do more good if we looked to synthesize or bring polarizing positions together.  You can still try to educate people that a course isn’t the only solution without polarizing. You can still urge vendors to innovate their tools without browbeating those that use the rapid tools.  Think about it the next time you tweet something about the “wrong-ness” of something. Are you just contributing to a polarizing discussion? Can you do something different?

[Note: It wrote this draft post here on the blog and let it sit here for awhile. I’ve been finding time to write blog posts again lately and thought this quote still had merit.]

Instructional Designer’s Mindset

November 22, 2014

I was going to call this post the “curse” of the mindset of the instructional designer, as many of us go through life seeing places where people could really use our help and sometimes we can’t stop. But, in reality it isn’t a curse. It’s a gift!

An instructional designer mindset means:

  • You seek to clarify what the intended audience supposed to DO and HOW are they supposed to do it.
  • You identify that there are conditions that may impede learning and/or remembering
  • Chunking is a legitimate activity (where you “chunk” the information)
  • You think about the sequence of information and how it might best be delivered or repeated
  • You see opportunities for job aids
  • You consider visual cues as a complement to learning

This doesn’t mean that we are looking to turn everything into a course, it just means that we are looking for ways to improve instruction.

Where would an instructional designer mindset be helpful?

Any program anywhere – schools, communities, non-profits, etc

Any time a group puts together a program, there’s an instructional component, whether they realize it or not. It might be in the application forms, in the orientation to the issues at hand (why does this program exist), in understanding their new role or just understanding the program itself. An instructional designer mindset could help program developers to approach the creation of their programs differently and think about how to ensure skills are transferred, and how they envision the program sustaining itself after it’s launched. There are times that enthusiasm and good intention are not enough. For example, one project we are working on helps community members learn what their role is as a volunteer and what the “rules of engagement” are, as they are dealing with youth and we want to be sure that good intentions are combined with helpful interactions. If you’ve ever volunteered and not been sure exactly what you are supposed to do, this might resonate with you.

Health interactions – especially for patients

Imagine you are in the doctor’s office and you get a bunch of verbal instructions and maybe a brochure to help you with a diagnosis, but you are emotional or distracted or just ill, so you forget the nuances of what you’ve been instructed to do. I think there is a huge need for an instructional designer’s mindset across health in general. For most patients, they are not familiar with the ins/outs of their condition or treatment, while health care professionals deal with this constantly. An instructional designer’s mindset might lead us to think about the different stages of competence: and identify how a patient is obviously at a much lower level of competence as a health care professional, and approach instruction from a beginner’s perspective. Chunking and sequencing could be a case of life or death! I’d love to see more of an instructional designer’s mindset in many health situations. Help patients be more supported and in more ways than currently exist. An example, one project that we are working on involves providing instruction for patients with a chronic condition and we’ve identified ways of providing introductory instruction (e-learning) and a range of performance support: how to guides that walk you through the first time, how to calibrate your home machine, signs to watch out for infection, etc. The intent is to empower the patient to manage their own treatment and it takes more than one in-home visit to do so.

Here’s a recent post by another instructional designer in a similar vein, but focused on the health care professional side:

Social Causes – many and growing

We all have causes we believe in and support. There’s a plethora of channels to get your message out these days and I personally have seen a huge increase in the number of petitions I’m asked to sign, videos promoting the cause and the dreaded “clickbait” to articles about an issue. These are often done with a marketing mindset and I wonder if adding an instructional designer mindset might be helpful. An example: recently I attended a documentary called “Just Eat It” – a film about food waste and I was inspired by the film to make changes, but got a bit stuck about what I could actually do beyond just trying not to waste as much. The instructional designer in me is itching to make an online course, especially a weekly email delivered course that would allow you to take action and creating lasting behaviour change. Like this:

As a company, we’ve been lucky to be involved in some programs that are in this “non-traditional” realm, and we really enjoy them. It’s not typical instructional design, but is does give us opportunities to be engaged in social aspects that hopefully make our communities and maybe our world a better place through the gift of an instructional designer’s mindset.

Do you see other areas that an instructional designer’s mindset could make a difference?

Reflections on DevLearn 2014

November 12, 2014

Having returned from my first ever DevLearn, it seemed appropriate to capture some rambling reflections and share them. As with any large conference there are some ups and downs, and for those of you considering attending a DevLearn in the future, here are a few of my main take-aways (and pieces of advice for the future).

  1. Twitter and my PLN made it a much less intimidating affair than if I went “cold”. Heck, I even had a roommate lined up ahead of time. It also meant the entire conference was more social than it would have been without that existing network. The conversation would also meander through personal and professional topics. My PLN would also connect me to their network, so I was quickly introduced to many people at the conference. This also happened in the expo, where community managers already knew you and greeted you like old friends. I think conference going has changed dramatically with the evolution of social media.
  2. The app/backchannel – I enjoyed commenting on sessions and sharing them as tweets, but I didn’t realize until afterwards that the app wasn’t adding the hashtag, which I thought it would and to tag someone in the app, you put a space between their first and last name, which would then tweet that info, so a bunch of non-DevLearn people were inadvertently tweeted and probably wondered what the heck was going on. The other factor was the “noise” that was generated by people who were pursuing points to get their swag. So, it worked, but had a few challenges.
  3. Themes: responsive design, interactive video, gamification and xAPI. These seem like the themes or trends we’ve been dabbling in for the past few years. What got me excited? Adapt is looking like a good tool to get your hands on for responsive design.
  4. Demofest – I was really looking forward to this portion of the conference, but boy was I overwhelmed by it! Midway through the conference, at the end of a full day, it was hard to keep the energy up. I flip flopped between looking at the coolest options (using tools that I would never use) and looking at solutions that would be within the realm of my possibilities. I’m not sure I retained enough to learn from these. I would love to hear from veterans how they use this part of the conference. I feel like I could have done a better job preparing and circulating. Check out the best of in the elearning guild webinar.
  5. Conference sessions – these were hit and miss – something that isn’t limited to DevLearn. My experience is that there’s a lot of emphasis put on the session proposal and little on how well they deliver on this. Basically if you get poor feedback, you’d probably not be welcomed back. If I’m paying to go to a conference, especially in today’s day and age, when all the sessions are recorded, shared, tweeted and covered, I’d like to know that the session delivery has been vetted. I saw lots of “presenting” and I think we can do better than that.

I do hope that someday they hold DevLearn somewhere besides Las Vegas as they have in the past. For me, it wasn’t the best “learning” environment. Too many bells and whistles for me. Although overall, it was a good experience and I’ll definitely attend another in the future. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect and share face to face with my PLN!

There’s a lot of other summary posts on DevLearn out there:

Focus on sustainment

September 16, 2013

It’s been a really busy year for Spark + Co this year. We had our website redone, welcomed six new clients and worked on many projects, ranging from developing management training for a North American restaurant chain (face-to-face training), to self-paced e-learning modules for a national sales team and all points in between.

For each of these projects, we’ve noticed how these solutions almost always include a “manager’s guide”. Whether it’s a short email that we craft for the client to send from their own senior team providing key messages to the manager/coach to support the key activities of the training program, or a full-blown manager’s guide that accompanies the program, it’s a part of learning design that’s essential. Sadly, it’s an often overlooked element.

When you think you are “done” designing and devleoping – stop and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Do the managers of this training audience know what to do to support and further the learning for their direct reports?
  • Can I clarify the learning activities for them?
  • Can I suggest a schedule of events that support the program after it’s been launched?
  • Do I have a communication plan?
  • Can I develop “management practices” that’ll help them habitualize their support?
  • Am I prepared to create “trigger” emails or alerts to nudge them?

Real behavior change comes after you’ve mapped a behavior chain and can honestly say: “I’ve done my best to sustain this training”.

Book Review: Learning Articulate Storyline

September 13, 2013

I recently read the book Learning Articulate Storyline by Stephanie Harnett.

I’ve always admired Stephanie’s work and was excited to see how she approached her book. You can see Stephanie’s work at her website (all built in Storyline) and in her super-informative Screenrs.

Articulate Storyline.As an avid Articulate Storyline developer, I wanted to find a resource that I could use with my contractors and even clients to get them up to speed on how to use the software. Since there is no official “user manual”, this book offers a really nice self-directed learning resource to learning the product, with some bonuses:

  • Stephanie’s deep understanding from an instructional authoring perspective. While I know Stephanie is a talented instructional designer, it really shines through in her approach to the book. She gives advice that is both feature rich, but more importantly, it’s written from the perspective of “why should I do this”.
  • Her “voice” shines through – everything she explains reads exactly like she was sitting beside me talking me through things.
  • Samples and examples she points to at the beginning of Chapter 4: Adding Characters and Audio, and the additional resources/links in the summary of Chapter 7 are like instructional design gold!

There are exercises to follow along step by step with the flow of the book, which was nice. Since I have experience with the software it’s hard for me to know how a complete novice would find the structure of these exercises, but they were logical and easy to follow for me .

Minor things I’d like to see in future editions:

  • I would have liked to have seen some of the tips in the chapter: Rapid Development show up in the beginning of the book, as she raises some great points about setting up for re-purposing which might affect how you approach a project from the beginning.
  • I would have also liked there to be a bit more visual distinction in the “follow along” sections, just to make them pop (I was working with an epub version), but that’s a personal preference. Additional icons would enhance the navigation of the book.
  • I would have loved to seen the types of examples provided in Chapter 4 for other chapters: Quizzing, States and Layers, Variables and Adding Visual Media.

Overall, this is a great book to help someone get up to speed quickly on Storyline and even a seasoned user will pick up a tip or two.

You can hear Stephanie talk about her book in a recent eLearnChat episode and host @rickzanotti’s written a review of this book as well.

If you want to win your own copy, check out Articulate’s review of it:

Even if you don’t win a copy, you should consider adding this to your bookshelf!


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