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What does travel teach us about learning?

April 8, 2015

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Greece and thought it would be fun to reflect on what I’ve learned from travel that I could apply to training or learning.

Don’t rely solely on technology

We had the worst GPS experiences on this trip. Our GPS sent us up the side of mountains where the word road could only be loosely applied and down narrow side streets that added unnecessary stress to a drive and may have saved a second or two in the journey. It also frequently got confused and would “replan” in the middle of a journey. When we were up the mountain, we used a brochure with a rudimentary map and a goat herder to “reposition” ourselves and turnaround for a treacherous journey downhill to our actual destination. After awhile of the silly side streets, we ignored the commands from the GPS and trusted our instincts or road signs. We also tried to outwit the GPS by entering in stages of a journey rather than the whole thing. It worked a bit better. For future reference, we’ll be taking a good old fashioned map along for the ride and verifying the GPS with another source, even the goat herders. The roads were still a challenge – much like this author describes ( but the scenery was pretty spectacular.

The road from Sparti to Kalamata

The road from Sparti to Kalamata

Lesson: It’s very easy to be seduced into the convenience of technology, but there are times that we need to engage the brains and not just follow the instructions. When considering the use of technology in learning solutions, we should really be wary of what might make things so easy but really not helpful in the long run. If we hadn’t shut off the GPS and asked the goat herder, we might have ended up in the gorge where the Spartans used to toss their lame babies or hundreds of kilometers away from our destination (and mostly UP). We need to be careful that we don’t lull ourselves into a false sense of security where mindless employees can’t respond to problems or adjust their plan because they don’t have the device that tells them.

A story goes a long way

We were a bit underwhelmed at some of the museums we went into, the descriptions of the items were mostly interesting, but after awhile there were only so many columns and statues that we could take. Some attempted to provide a bit of background, but the things that were the most interesting were the stories that the museum displayed told. Putting a date on something only gets you so far. “wow, this one is from 439 BC…. oh wait, this one is even older”. That actually gets a bit boring. Unless you are museum curator or hard core history buff, this won’t really enhance your experience. We actually enjoyed the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil. It told stories about the evolution of the olive and the influence it has on the region. Fascinating. Plus they added some cool features: a recipe printing station (we printed and cooked at least one, very yum), a video about how soap is made, working machinery and miniature replicas of factories. But mostly the stories were what kept us engaged. The sexy new Acropolis Museum was very good as well (also told more stories than just displayed stuff).



Lesson: When considering how to engage someone in your facts or content, a story can be a much more compelling way to do so. Provide some context and put your facts (or objects) into that context. Otherwise it’s just stuff, even if it is interesting.

Language matters

OK, so you can imagine that Greek is not an easy language to learn, but what made it harder to navigate around (for me) was the various spelling of places. We spent a couple of days in Nafplion, also spelled: Nafplio, Anapli, Nauplie, Nauplio, Nauplion. We had the same problem in Kardimyli. We hoped as we entered one spelling into the GPS that she’d understand and also used the road signs to verify and hoped that they at least sounded similar in pronunciation when we asked for help or directions!

Nafplion, Nafplio, Anapli, Nauplie, Nauplio, Nauplion, beautiful regardless of spelling!

Nafplion, Nafplio, Anapli, Nauplie, Nauplio, Nauplion, beautiful regardless of spelling!

Lesson: when you are putting together training, your audience is like the foreign tourists who don’t understand the jargon that is used by experts in your country. Try to keep it simple! Feeling lost and a bit foolish doesn’t help anyone learn.

Travel is great for gaining perspective and experiencing things you don’t normally get a chance to in your usual environment. Every trip provides you with insights, hopefully great memories and if you are lucky some new friends.

What have your travels taught you? I’ve enjoyed Julian Stodd’s recent articles on this, and not just because my next trip is to NYC…





How wearables might work to train employees in customer service roles

March 10, 2015

This is part 3 of my series of posts on wearables. You can view the others: Part I,  Part II and Part III.

In this post we’ll look at the potential use of wearables in customer service work and more specifically how we use them for training and development purposes. First of all, let’s clarify what customer service roles considered for the purposes of this post.

  • Retail service
  • Food service
  • Financial service
  • Travel agents and tourism providers
  • Call centres

There’s many others, but we’ll stick with those. They share common challenges when it comes to training their employees. The most common is that employees are interacting directly with their customers constantly. Providing training to them usually means doing it outside of work hours (and paying them more to complete) or sometimes skipping it altogether. Not a great idea (see last post on Training Debt). These are also typically high-turnover types of jobs and that means organizations are constantly training new employees.  Most of these organizations also involve selling and servicing a wide variety of products so ongoing training is usually required for existing employees. Service-based businesses, especially large chains, often have many employees. The cost of training is very high and never ending.

So, what’s the role for wearables?

1. Reduce the amount of formal training and increase the amount of performance support with feedback. There are many places that wearables could provide an ability to track activity by time or motion and trigger some type of follow-up performance support. The work environment is still not completely under the employee’s control (their pace and activity is determine by customer arrival), but there are mechanisms to at least capture a datapoint and provide daily feedback, much like a fitbit does. Perhaps at certain points of a workday the employee can provide their own reflection or impact, much like was suggested in this post, and then they can do some analysis on trends and challenges over time.

2. Sensors on furniture or equipment that “talk” to wearable, such as a uniform or a nametag or a watch. The wearable could provide some trigger that this person has arrived in the work environment and they are ready for a certain piece of performance support or are able to order up a mini-lesson. This would enable training/performance support to be based on demand, not supply. It could also trigger customer activity and offer prompts to the employee, such as: “customer is looking at the jeans section, remember to talk about style, size and fit”. Or perhaps innovations like this provide an example – this billboard uses facial recognition technology to change the display coupled with push notifications built with this to capture the attention with donations.

3. Wearables might be interacting with their point-of-sale (POS) or customer relationship management (CRM) program which can compile data such as frequency of errors or inefficient processes that can be “audited” and corrective instruction provided. This provides evidence-based performance support that really targets what the employee is doing in the software or POS that could provide valuable information about how they could improve their performance on the job.

4. Video recording of interactions or “virtual coaching” of customer interactions that are subsequently viewed and discussed to illustrate teachable moments. While there are potential barriers to this (how many customers are going to agree to being recorded?) it is a way to use a wearable to provide a data point for ongoing learning. In call centres, we are always advised that the transaction may be recorded for training purposes, so this is really an evolution of an existing practice.

There are concerns about the role of wearables in the workplace, but they are a tool. Tools can be used for both good and evil. Before we jump to conclusions, I think we need to explore the potential of wearables and of any technology. I loved this post by @JulianStoddThe Inexorable March in the Quantification of Me” – and especially his closing line:

It’s our role to explore: to think. To try things out. The Social Age is about iterative learning and a willingness to question everything. To humbly share our success and failure and learn together. Cynicism and denial are not differentiating behaviours.

I couldn’t agree more.

Are you Incurring Training Debt?

February 24, 2015

I recently read this post about “HR Debt“, which I strongly encourage you to read.

Most startup founders are familiar with the idea of technical debt, whereby poor system design or coding builds problems over time and makes it hard to improve a piece of software. If you don’t clean up and refactor as you build, you’re left with a clunky mess that no one can (or wants to) fix.

The same thing happens if you hack your way through hiring and management.

I call this HR Debt.

Come on back when you are done.

Training Debt

It got me to thinking about the same notion when it comes to training. Are there situations that you are incurring training debt through poor system design? I think for many organizations there are times when that could be a yes.

1. Not offering new employee training – in a small organization, there is very little of this offered for a couple of reasons: you might be the only person that does that work and there’s no real documented processes or training to use, and there might not be anyone in charge within the organization to give that warm fuzzy orientation that larger organizations can offer.

In larger organizations there may be a nice orientation “course”, but often the connection between the vision, values, HR info that you get in an orientation and job-specific training is missing or at odds with what’s in the warm fuzzy orientation.

So you may have employees who don’t know what to do and/or you have employees who don’t know why they do it.

2. New product roll-out – launching a new product into the market without providing proper employee training could end up hurting you in the end.

3. Ignoring legislative or regulatory requirements – You might also risk an employee doing a task wrong, which could have dire circumstances for your customers, your company or even create personal liability.

4. Ignoring some employees when it comes to training – if you are focusing on groups of employees, you may be missing some people that are less obvious, but can have a big impact on the organization. For example you train employees who are customer-facing, but don’t bother training others in the organization.

5. Doing all classroom or self-paced elearning – if you don’t match the need with the method, you may end up spending more on training that isn’t really the right fit. Sometimes, connecting employees together to learn from one another is the right approach, other times it might be creating a helpful job aid.

6. Overspending on a single group, such as the executives – if your budget is limited, don’t let your ego dictate your spending choices – those leadership development programs are always expensive and may not deliver in the end.

7. Creating training and not keeping it current – this becomes not only a waste of time to provide the training, but means that the validity of the entire training solution might be called into question and not followed (can I trust that this is the right information?)

8. Treating training as a “one 0ff” – put them through a training class and then assume they are “trained”.

9. Appointing someone in your organization as the “trainer” – they may know a lot about the subject, but they may not remember what it’s like to be new, or how to sequence instruction to maximize learning. This might end up a situation where your good intentions cost you more in the end.

10. Not training customers, suppliers or others in your ecosystem about things that are critical to your business. Training is not solely for employees.

11. Waiting until a major issue, mistake or event forces you to provide training.

12. Thinking of training as a “perk” – this happens a lot when it comes to ongoing professional development – you offer a certain amount of money for ongoing learning but don’t consider how to manage this or what the implications are as you grow.

13. Tacking training on at the end of a project – this is common in systems training – training is considered when everything has already been designed (when it would have been much better to be involved during the project to understand the system and impacts on employees) or it is assumed that you will deliver this in a classroom.

Preventing Training Debt

In terms of preventing training debt – while there are times to hack together a quick and dirty training session, there are also times where that approach will come back to haunt you. Consider training as a strategic connection to your brand and your company growth. Investing is different than just spending. As you build your business plan, make sure you add in the questions: “who needs to be trained on this?” or “what training needs to be considered”. When introducing something new, don’t forget the training element. Seek out help if you need it.

What do you think? Are there areas of “training debt” that I’ve missed? What have you seen that you’d add to my list? What strategies would you offer to deal with it?

Wearables in manufacturing training situations

February 19, 2015

This is part 3 of my series exploring wearables in training and development. In part 1 I talked about the angle that I’m most interested in: wearables providing a trigger, feedback and data for learning and performance. In part 2, I explored it a bit further, making connections to self-reporting components, affective aspects and behaviour change.

In the next few posts, I’ll look at how wearables could play a role in different types of training situations, beginning with manufacturing organizations. I’m curious about this segment, as the majority of applications that are shown for wearables are typically busy professionals who need a watch because they can’t even take the time to look at their phone, but here’s a lot of different types of work out there, and yet the emphasis is often on the knowledge worker. There are things about manufacturing work that sets it apart from knowledge work.

  • Productivity/efficiency is paramount
  • Safety is a factor
  • Physically demanding work
  • Involves repetitive work

In manufacturing organizations, there are significant pressures to maximize efficiency (in reality, the role of humans in manufacturing operations is on the decline as more of these repetitive actions are done by robots), so there is likely a role that wearables could play to ensure this time to competency is reduced.  Let’s assume that the employee is keen to reduce this time to competency and is not being pushed by a demanding employer, there are many things that could be an aid to monitoring and supporting learning. Let’s face it, having a laptop or even a tablet or handheld phone on a production floor is unwieldy and unlikely, so wearables could fit this niche.

If the employee wants to use a wearable (such as Google Glass or head mounted camera) to record portions of their work to play back and spot potential for improvement, they could use that approach to capture and review. They could “work out loud” narrating what they are doing, what they have questions about, what things they find challenging, etc. This could be reviewed by the employee and a smart system could provide short bursts of instruction after playback. Or it could be transmitted to the supervisor or expert for coaching.

There could be RFID chips or nDavid Kelly wearables tweetear field communications in the machinery, the product, or on their clothing to track activity, pacing, speed, weight, etc. Perhaps it’s using motion tracking to provide insights on their physical performance. This might ensure not only high productivity, but also provide feedback on techniques that may prevent repetitive strain injuries. There might also be sensors that provide insight on their physical responses – heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, etc. There are also gadgets that capture data and transmit wirelessly via bluetooth, which generates data and could provide an opportunity for trend analysis.

Smart watches or arm bands could also provide a visual cue in a potentially noisy environment. A vibration might alert you to look at the screen giving you a message to adjust your actions, access a piece of performance support or capture that moment in time for data collection.

Wearables could offer a training “mode” in manufacturing environments, where feedback is provided during real work (not simulation) that gives coaching and corrective input to ensure that the employee is learning IN the work environment, with actual feedback on their real performance. This would be a real benefit for learning in situ, blending real time feedback with performance support. One organization is even pitching gloves that will shape your muscle memory.

And there is also the potential for virtual reality to provide a simulated workplace for training purposes. This is likely too costly for most manufacturing operations, however the potential exists.

What do YOU think? Have I highlighted the things that are most relevant to manufacturing? Do you have insights to share about wearables in manufacturing? Share them in the comments below! Next time we’ll look at wearables in service industries.

You might want to check out David Kelly’s blog, he’s written and collected insights about wearables as well.

Could wearables provide the trigger needed for behaviour change?

January 28, 2015

This post is Part 2 in the series that I’ve started on Wearables for Learning + Development.

I am a huge fan of BJ Fogg’s work and find his behavior model such a useful way of thinking about training. As I reflect on the idea of wearables for feedback and monitoring of learning, it seems to me that it provides a great opportunity on the “trigger” side of his model that helps to convert activity into habit. I think it applies to learning situations as well, as we are hoping to convert learning into memory or at least develop behaviours that will provide scaffolding for learning.

Interestingly enough, I saw this today: This app tells you which of your friends stress you out, make you happy – the app provides you the opportunity to self-report about how you are feeling. In fact, after stumbling on the story, I did some searching and there are many mood tracking apps, such as:

When you consider the possibility of using apps to trigger your self-reporting or reflection, you open up some powerful insights to your own patterns and behaviours. Having the app on a wearable as opposed to just an app on your phone means you have the potential to incorporate physiological aspects, such as heart rate to the mix, which might give you additional insights that support your self-reporting or not! But that focus on how you are feeling or what your state of mind is might just give you a better view to what’s going on for you, holistically.

Imagine how this would impact your own learning:

  1. you decide you are going to learn something
  2. you sign up for training, let’s assume it’s e-learning
  3. you track your progress through testing, which is sent to you electronically AND you also self-report what’s going on in the environment
  4. your smart progress meter collects this data and begins to create a picture of how your learning is impacted by what’s going on around you, or within you (physically or emotionally)
  5. your smart progress meter provides you with tips on which times work best for you to study or practice as well as gives you reminders on where to find things.
  6. you refine your approach to maximize the learning

What about at an organizational level?

  1. you enroll employees/students in a course
  2. you choose to use a drip campaign or serialize your learning
  3. you develop an app that not only provides content, but also provides opportunities to practice (maybe it’s a form of gamification) and a self-reporting component
  4. you provide a personalized experience for each employee based not just on how they score on tests, but also on the kind of environmental data that your smart progress meter collects and analyzes
  5. now you have a ton of useful data about the efficacy of your training program.

We tend to treat learning as a completely cognitive event, but approaching it from this perspective means we look at learning (and delivering training) on a more systemic level. That is interesting to me. There are of course tons of privacy, security, ethical implications, especially on the organizational side, but it’s interesting to think about how wearables, the internet of things (IoT), data and the quantified self movement might provide for learning.

What are your impressions? Do you have ideas to share? I’d be curious to know what others think of this emerging area and the impact on learning.

Wearables – how do they impact learning?

January 21, 2015

There’s a fair bit of hype around wearables – smart watches, bands, rings, belts (!) and the list could go on. As a trend, it’s still a few years from actual impact (according to the Gartner Hype Cycle). I am curious about the possibilities for application to training or learning situations. So far, we have naturally gravitated towards examples like Google Glass or Oculus Rift, which hold potential for delivering instant information or training.

How would wearables apply to training/learning?

I’m equally curious about wearables for monitoring and feedback on your learning and in gadgets to deliver training or support. In a recent #chat2lrn, there was some brief conversation around this as a trend it got me thinking about some potential blog posts. I can see several scenarios worth exploring:

  • Manufacturing training
  • Service training
  • Knowledge workers
  • Health education
  • Creative work

In the November issue of HBR, the feature article (“How Smart, Connected Products are Transforming Competition“), identifies there are three aspects to consider:

Physical components comprise the product’s mechanical and electrical parts. In a car, for example, these include the engine block, tires, and batteries.

Smart components comprise the sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, and typically, an embedded operating system and enhanced user interface. In a car, for example, smart components include the engine control unit, anti-lock braking system, rain-sensing windshields with automated wipers, and touch screen displays. In many products software replaces some hardware components or enables a single physical device to perform at a variety of levels.

Connectivity components comprise the ports, antaennae, and protocols enabling wired or wireless connections with the product. Connectivity takes three forms, which can be present together:

  • One-to-one: An individual product connects to the user, the manufacturer, or another product through a port or other interface –for example, when a car is hooked up to a diagnostic machine.
  • One-t0-many: A central system is continuously or intermittently connected to many products simultaneously. For example, many Tesla automobiles are connected to a single manufacturer system that monitors performance and accomplishes remote service and upgrades.
  • Many-to-many: Multiple products connect to many other types of products and often also to external data sources. An array of types of farm equipment are connected to one another, and to geolocation data, to coordinate and optimize the farm system. For example. automated tillers inject nitrogen fertilizer at precise depths and intervals, and seeders follow, placing corn seeds directly in the fertilized soil.

So in a series of posts, I’ll explore wearables and training/learning for these situations, and also look at the role of the xAPI (here’s an awesome post on “Getting Started” by Aaron Silvers). If you have suggestions or examples, please pass them on!

Interesting links:

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.


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