Can eLearning Change Hearts and Minds?

Last week I wrote about how a well-designed classroom training experience can change long-held beliefs and practices. I began to wonder if an eLearning experience could change hearts and minds in a similar way. I was skeptical.

I discussed this idea with eLearning instructional designer extraordinaire Kirby Crider.

Kirby

What do you think? Can eLearning ever provide a powerful, life-changing experience that some people may find in the training room? We’d love to see the conversation continued in the comments section below.

Brian: I’ve seen some amazing eLearning design from folks like Michael Allen and the Articulate community. They’re fun. They’re engaging. But I’m skeptical that eLearning is a tool to change hearts and minds for something like diversity training or change management. You’ve spent more time designing eLearning than I have. What do you think?

Kirby: Plenty of classroom sessions don’t change hearts and minds, and the same goes for eLearning. I do think it’s possible to break out of the standard way of doing things in the self-directed eLearning world, just like how you’ve shown on this blog that it’s possible to break out of the reading-off-a-PowerPoint-slide way of doing things.

Brian: A lot of what I write about is based upon what I’ve seen working in practice. I just haven’t seen an eLearning module in practice that I’d consider powerful or life-changing.

Kirby: Describe for me what makes those in-person experiences so powerful for you. You recently wrote about a white privilege checklist activity that made a big impact on you. Why did it resonate so much?

Brian: The checklist itself was interesting, but it wasn’t enough on its own to change anything for me. The ensuing conversations with a diverse group of other participants crystalized this concept of privilege. It was eye opening for me to be able to see and feel the passionate, incredulous reaction of an African American colleague when I confessed to never having through about my privilege. How do you replicate that intensity online?

Kirby: Of course there will be certain things that can’t be replicated online, but have you ever watched a TED talk that profoundly changed the way you behave? I have. Imagine if you combined the storytelling, the surprise and the utter relevance of a killer TED talk with reflection questions that promote asynchronous discussion via an integrated message board with other users!

Brian: Interesting. Video can be more engaging than looking at clip art or even photos of real people on the computer screen. I definitely find webinars more engaging when the presenter uses a video feed. But it’s so easy to misinterpret tone in an online discussion. Any suggestions for how to mitigate misinterpretation of tone for anyone interested in designing a social component into their eLearning design?

Kirby: There’s a body of research that suggests conversational language and first person language (“you” or “I” instead of “one”) increases retention, and things need to be memorable in order to change hearts and minds. Art Kohn has a nice article about selecting language on the Learning Solutions magazine site. Honestly, we need to stop taking our scripts so seriously in the asynchronous world. When I design an eLearning module, I like to take chances with an activity like this: “Alright, by now you’re probably tired of listening to my voice and clicking on the next button. I’d like to challenge you. Take what you’ve just learned, and go find a colleague. See if you can explain it to them!”

Brian: Bringing the online world into the real world, I like it! Any final thoughts about how to reach a learner’s heart and mind?

Kirby: My father-in-law teaches an online class. In order to build a sense of common ground, he has his students ship dirt from their yards to each other and then asks each person to make a sound effect out of the dirt they receive. We have so many tools at our disposal – Twitter, wikis, discussion boards, plain old email, Padlet, even the US postal service – I’d like to challenge all eLearning designers to use them. You change hearts and minds when you can build community and create spaces for discussion and growth.

What do you think? Is eLearning a tool that can change the hearts and minds of learners? Add your thoughts to this conversation in the comments section.

How Many of these 86 Slides are Necessary?

A month and a half ago I was given two slide decks that totaled 86 slides of technical material. I was asked to develop a 2-day training workshop based on those slides.

This coming Thursday and Friday, two subject matter experts will facilitate the 2-day technical skills training workshop that I developed. How many slides will they click through?

Zero.

Once I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with several subject matter experts to better understand what trainees should be able to do new or differently or better as a result of this training, I realized that PowerPoint slides would be the least effective visual aids possible. The slides have been replaced by a series of individual, small group and large group activities, live demonstrations and discussions.

To be fair, there was one slide that was still hanging on in the almost-final version of the training program. It just seemed like too much work to fire up an LCD projector for a single slide. That slide was replaced with an activity in which the facilitator would illustrate her points using a flipchart. According to several recent studies, illustrating your points with a whiteboard or a flipchart is a more effective teaching strategy than even the most visually appealing slide, anyway.

I’m not saying that PowerPoint should never be used. I am saying that it doesn’t have to be the default visual aid for every aspect of every presentation.

 

Why Nicholas Kristof Isn’t Changing Hearts and Minds About Racial Disparities in the US

In a recent series of articles, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof offered statistic upon statistic about the racial disparities that continue to this day in the United States.

Depressingly, when asked if he felt he was changing any minds, he responded: “I wish I could say that yes, it’s having an effect. I honestly don’t know. In general, I think that we in journalism tend to change people’s minds quite rarely on issues they have thought of.”

If you examine how corporate learning and professional development are measured, you could replace the word “journalism” in Kristof’s response with the word “training” and have an equally true (and depressing) statement. It’s why delivery methods such as lecture may raise awareness, but very rarely lead to a change in mindset or lead to new skills being transferred to the job.

I’ve sat through a variety of classes and workshops on “diversity training” and I’ve heard all the statistics. Still, it was easy for me to think of rational excuses for the disparity among outcomes between white people and people of color in America in this day and age… until I attended a workshop created by Casey Family Programs. I was asked to complete a 20-question “white privilege checklist”… and then I was asked to compare my results with others in the room – white people and people of color. The ensuing discussion was life changing for me. I’ve facilitated that workshop many times since, and it’s been life changing for many of the participants. It wouldn’t have been possible if someone had simply shared a bunch of statistics with us, regardless of how striking the disparities were on paper (or on PowerPoint).

I’ve led presentation skills and instructional design workshops with SMEs and experienced trainers alike. The attitude coming into the session is often very similar: I’ve been doing this for years… what can you possibly teach me?

That attitude would prevail if I were to simply talk about the importance of a lesson plan and learning objectives and engaging your audience. When the participants, however, are challenged to work in groups and develop a 10-minute presentation, and deliver that presentation in front of a group using the ideas and skills they’ve learned in the workshop, they can feel the difference between their old way of doing things and the new way they’ve just been taught. “What can you possibly teach me?” turns into “Why haven’t I been doing it this way all along?”

Lecture and didactic delivery might be a useful style to raise awareness. Finding opportunities to involve your audience, giving them opportunities to explore your content and discuss your ideas, can be life changing.

5 Ways to Incorporate More Play into your Next Presentation

“You can learn more about someone in an hour of play than you can in a year of working with them.” Every time I hear Kevin Carroll say those words, I have renewed energy to get creative and incorporate more “play” into my own presentation design.

When I think about incorporating play into presentation design, I’m not thinking about waste-my-learners’-time-with-some-silly-game-that-doesn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-anything type of play. I’m thinking about the-audience-learns-while-at-the-same-time-thinking-this-is-fun-and-oh-wait-I’m-learning-something-too type of play.

If you’re looking for new ways to engage your audience, maybe incorporating some more play can be helpful for your next presentation design. Here are five examples of how I’ve seen play effectively incorporated into presentation design:

In an icebreaker.

Icebreakers are often associated with play. And if they’re done well, there’s a learning component, too. Last year at a big meeting, I watched as my company’s CEO led an activity in which 80 people in a room were broken into small groups, and each group was given a tennis ball. The groups were tasked with seeing how fast every member of the small group could pass the ball from one person to the next. Attendees included prominent surgeons and business leaders. The room was abuzz. People like to play no matter how old they are or how important their job may seem. Our CEO concluded the activity by connecting various strategies and solutions from this icebreaking activity to the overall meeting theme of innovation.

In a room of 2,000 people.

In a recent article on the importance of “priming” your learners to make it more likely they’ll later retain your content, Art Kohn offers the example of having someone say the word “silk” ten times, then asking the question: what do cows drink? (The answer, by the way, is not milk.) I’ve seen a similar strategy – having the audience say or do something from their seats – used in a keynote address to 2,000 people. It was a quick activity. Everyone participated. Everyone laughed when they realized cows drink water, not milk. And the speaker had everyone’s attention.

In a roomful of people not accustomed to participating.

Sometimes I’m asked to design a presentation to be given to an audience that’s not used to being called on to participate and it would be well beyond their comfort zone to get up and move around. Instead of defaulting to lecture, this is a situation in which I like to use some PowerPoint tricks to get people engaged. I’ll set up a Family Feud style board and I’ll ask the audience for responses. Instead of the typical PowerPoint animation that forces the presentation into a pre-determined order, the Family Feud-style slide allows the presenter (and the audience) to decide dynamically what information will appear on the screen next.

Poll them… and keep score.

In a Bob Pike Group training session I attended earlier in the year, facilitator extraordinaire Scott Enebo not only used PollEverywhere to get the entire room participating, he gave points for correct responses on his polls/quizzes. It added an element of (friendly) competition and kept things interesting throughout the 2-day workshop.

In sucking them into case studies.

In the movie Tron, Jeff Bridge’s character gets sucked into and becomes part of a video game. In Ruth Kravitz’s training room, learners get sucked into the world of child welfare, becoming part of her case study activities. Different from role play, learners are given small bits of information and need to use their previous knowledge on the topic and the information they’ve been given in order to determine what additional information they need and to make recommendations on the next steps of a given foster care case. If anybody in her training class is checking their smart phone, it’s not because they’re reading their email or watching cat videos on YouTube… it’s because they’re frantically searching for additional information that could help them on their case study.

How are you incorporating play into your presentation design?

Case Study: The Power of Training Preparation

Last week I had an opportunity to facilitate a session at the LINGOs annual member meeting. After the presentation, my co-facilitator, Shannon Cavallari from PATH, shared her observations about what helped her most in the days leading up to our presentation. Following are her reflections, written immediately after our presentation:

It’s a wonderful feeling; this mixture of excitement, nervousness, and RELIEF because I had prepared. I had a plan A and a plan B should it not unfold in the way I hoped it would.

I’m a learning and development professional, but my skill set lies more on the learning technologies side. Basically, I do put together eLearning programs and projects. Rarely do I get invited to stand in front of a group with the intent to inspire, teach or change behavior.

Training Preparation

With my Lesson Plan template in hand, Brian and I started mapping out the presentation.

Objectives identified? CHECK.

Activities designed? CHECK.

Engagement with the participants? CHECK.

Opportunities for questions and lessons learned? CHECK.

The Lesson Plan allowed me to think through and assign specific blocks of time to each of these steps, from the start of the presentation to the finish.

Then we did a dry-run and more light-bulbs went off. This step – the dressed rehearsal – is such a crucial step in preparing for a presentation and yet most of us skip it or don’t give it the attention it deserves. In my dry-run, I practiced what I would say AND I practiced where I would stand, and it revealed questions I would need to ask my co-facilitator along the way. The Lesson Plan allowed me to capture these questions and my thoughts on the “choreography” for each section of my presentation. I felt more at ease; I felt prepared.

I reviewed my lesson plan the evening before and the morning of our presentation. “I got this,” I thought. Then, of course, came the need for Plan B.

Results of Doing Training Preparation

The audio failed on our computer and we were unable to use a video we wanted; we had planned for this to be integral to our initial 8-minute introduction to the session. But that was ok because we had rehearsed with a Plan B in the event we might experience such a technical difficulty. I learned how essential it is to assume things can and will go wrong and think through ways to mitigate such unfortunate circumstances.

Through some anecdotal feedback at the end of our session, our participants claimed that they got what they came for. We delivered on the objectives we identified and they were happy and engaged.

Regardless of being a trainer is your full-time gig or if you’re a subject matter expert sharing your vast knowledge, I can say with certainty that it pays to practice. Not only did such preparation create a better experience for our learners, but it also put my own mind at ease. I was a better presenter because of the process.


What do you do to prepare for a presentation? Has your training preparation evolved with experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

3 Lessons for L and D Practitioners from Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop

Marijuana

Washington State legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. A pot shop recently opened a few miles down the road, and over the weekend I decided to see what all the hubbub was about. My experience at Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop brought to mind several keys to effective learning experiences.

  1. Self-directed learning works… sometimes. Having never tried marijuana (contrary to what the FBI thinks… but that’s a whole other blog post), I felt a little anxious and extremely out of place as I walked into the store. I was relieved to see both clerks talking with other customers, so I figured I could just browse a bit and educate myself.

The problem was that I had so little knowledge about what I was looking at, I had no idea what the numbers or words on the labels meant. I had no idea what the difference was between a little baggy that had a little clump of weed, and a differently-labeled and differently-priced but no less little baggy of another little clump of weed.

Lesson for L&D professionals: While on-demand, self-directed learning can be an important and cost-effective element of any comprehensive talent development strategy, even the smartest, highest potential employees may need some human guidance every once in a while. Pairing employees up with a mentor to help create a foundation of knowledge upon which to build when it comes to self-directed learning can be essential.

  1. Dude, back off on the buzz words and snobby insider language. When I got to the front of the line, the clerk asked how he could help me. I confessed I had no idea what I was looking at. He told me that there were basically two kinds of marijuana in stock right now: _________ and __________. I can’t for the life of me remember what words he used. They were big and fancy and I’d never heard them before.

I asked him what those words meant. He explained that _________ basically meant that it provided a “deep, chill, stoned feel to kick back and relax,” while __________ offered more of a “lighter, creative stoned feel for the daytime.”

Lesson for L&D professionals: Know your audience, and when necessary lose the industry jargon and sophisticated terminology. Your audience will be impressed by how much they learn from you, not the size of the words you use.

  1. A mentor doesn’t have to love his role as a mentor… but it would be a lot cooler if he did! I was kind of excited to learn more about what I was looking at behind the counter. The closest I’d ever come to imbibing in The Weed was probably when I watched Dazed and Confused. However, the clerks were closer in personality to Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off than Matthew McConaughey’s in Dazed and Confused. They were strictly business, and if I didn’t ask the right questions, I wasn’t going to get many answers.

Lesson for L&D professionals: Sometimes an employee doesn’t need formal training – classroom training, elearning, etc – they just need a mentor to show them the ropes. Simply pairing an employee up with someone who loves your business or who really loves your product isn’t enough; the mentor needs to love working with people and love teaching. Sometimes those qualities are innate and sometimes they’re taught, but those qualities are always crucial for a positive mentor/mentee experience.

In the end, I suppose I did learn a little bit, including the fact I was in way over my head, with no foundation of knowledge upon which to build or make an informed decision. Maybe I need to watch Dazed and Confused again before I head back to Uncle Ike’s.

 

 

 

Corporate Training Isn’t Little League… Not Everyone Should Get A Trophy

Trophies

When I was growing up, I wanted nothing more than to win the Brockport Junior Baseball League championship. Not only would I have bragging rights among my friends, but the championship team also received trophies.

The trophies were coveted because they were rare, and they meant something. The only people who got them were the people who got results.

I didn’t get a little league trophy until 1990. I was a freshman in high school (not-so-little-league, I guess). I didn’t even realize I’d get one. Apparently the rules changed that year. When I went to turn in my uniform for the summer, my coach sat in a room, collecting uniforms and handing out trophies as team members strolled through. No ceremony. Just a guy in a room, collecting stinky uniforms and handing out trophies.

I was confused. It was weird. We certainly didn’t win the league. We barely won any games. And we got trophies for that?!

The Connection between Little League and Corporate Training

Just about every training workshop and conference I attend is very similar to little league in this way: everyone gets a certificate at the end of the session. Honestly, when I receive a certificate, I either dump it in my hotel room trash can or it ends up in the recycle bin when I come across it as I’m sorting through ancient piles of stuff that have accumulated on my desk over the past six months. The certificates are meaningless. It doesn’t matter how much effort someone puts into their participation during a workshop. It doesn’t matter whether someone does anything at all after leaving a conference session. They all get the same certificate.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

About a month ago, a program director from another organization asked me for some thoughts on how to improve accountability and outcomes. He works with doctors who have annual CME requirements, and actually need certificates as proof of their continuing education.

I suggested that, instead of ending a 3-day course on the third day by handing out certificates, he turn his courses into “6-month” courses. In reality the course would still be 3 days of in-person training. But it would be important to set an expectation that the course doesn’t end on the third day when people walk out the door (thus the “6-month” course label). Perhaps it could be followed up with 60-minute webinars (or in-person sessions, depending on funding and logistics) during which trainees would have an opportunity to report on what they’ve done with their new skills or knowledge. At the 6-month mark, once trainees have demonstrated that they have done something with their new knowledge or skills, they could receive their certificate.

And the organization would suddenly have data to report on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of their training program.

Are you doing anything to give “real” meaning to your certificates (or are you just handing them out like little league trophies)?

Do You Train Like Barney Stinson?

This interaction resonated with me for two reasons.

First, I’m beginning to train for a marathon and there’s something appealing to the idea that there’s only one step I need to take in order to prepare for a 26.2 mile run.

Second, I hear similar statements when I talk with co-workers and clients about putting together a training program. “Look, adult learning principles are nice and all, but honestly I just need to tell them what they need to know. And then they just need to do it.” When it comes to training, too many people carry the attitude that “there is no step 2.”

The problem, as borne out by research, is that when you bring people together for training and it’s a bad experience and nothing new or different results from that training, people grow more cynical about the value of the training going forward. When people are more cynical about training, they are less likely to engage or take anything away.

“There is no step 2” is a simplistic fantasy (if you were to watch the whole episode, Barney indeed pays for this guiding philosophy later on!). The truth is, if someone wants you to help put together a training program and your name will be attached to it, then there are three steps you need to take.

  1. Set clear objectives. Basically, you need to finish this sentence: by the end of this training, the participants will be able to ___________________. And your sponsor (supervisor, executives, client, or whoever else asked you for this training) needs to be aligned with the way that this sentence ends.
  2. Design something amazing. Yes, this is easier said than done. Of course, if you have well-crafted objectives, your task of designing something amazing should be a lot easier. Click on the link for “Instructional Design” on the left-hand side of this blog if you want some ideas on ways to engage people and get them involved in your next training session.
  3. Follow-up! Just because you said something and/or because your participants had a great time in your session doesn’t mean it’s going to stick. How will your participants be held accountable for doing something new or different or better once they return to their desks? (Click here for a more effective way to create an action plan)

Labor Day is a Good Reminder for Training Professionals to Work Less

Sometimes it seems we training professionals work too hard. As we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, this is a simple reminder for anyone in the training field that we don’t have to work so hard!

I was on vacation last week and spent some time at the beach with my kids. At one point, they asked to learn how to skip stones on the water. I had a decision to make: what would be the best way to train them to skip stones?

My first instinct was to pull out my computer (yes, I even bring it to the beach in case I get a good idea for a blog post) and develop a quick PowerPoint presentation. It only took 45 minutes or so to do a little research on stone skipping and I threw together this presentation for them:

 

They were intrigued by this presentation at first, but quickly lost interest. And when they actually found a few round(ish), flat(ish) stones and tossed them in the water, the stones did not skip.

And then their grandfather came along, helped the kids pick out some good skipping stones, and spent about 3 minutes working with them on their throwing motion. My four year old tossed a stone that skipped 7 times.

Skipping Stones 1

So, to recap:

  • I spent an hour putting together a PowerPoint deck at the beach and then presenting to my children on what stone skipping was, a brief history, reasons to do it and how to do it. It resulted in 0 skipped stones.
  • My father spent three minutes working with the children on how to skip stones. It resulted in countless skipped stones (and even more laughs and smiles and ooo’s and aaah’s).

If someone needs to learn a new skill, perhaps we don’t always need to spend so much time preparing presentations and materials. Sometimes there might be an easier, more effective, less time consuming way to train.

Happy Labor Day!

6 Reasons Your Presentation is no TED Talk

What is a TED Talk?

TED Talks are all the rage these days. They’re amazing 5- or 10- or 20-minute presentations delivered by thought leaders from around the globe in an effort to give “ideas worth sharing” a platform to ignite the world on fire.

Recently I published a list of Amazon’s top 40 books on presentation skills and 10% of the books were how-to guides on turning your next presentation into a TED Talk.

TED Talks have given renewed vigor to the argument that we can “just tell” an audience what they need to know. Why not lecture? After all, TED Talks are generally given before large audiences in auditoriums where interaction isn’t possible.

In fact, here are three TED Talks you could use to inspire the design of your next presentation.

What Can You Do to Be More Like a TED Talk?

Here are six reasons why your next presentation will not be TED-caliber and what you can do about it.

What is a TED Talk?

1. Amateur slide design

The minute you flash a slide like this, your aspirations of giving a TED-style presentation have gone down the drain. Even if your goal isn’t TED-caliber, poor slide design can ruin your message. Click here for some ideas on how to spruce up that design.

2. You think everything about your topic is important

When everything you have to say is “important” then nothing is a priority. TED speakers understand that they’re not going to create an audience of experts in 20 minutes. They are ruthless in their prioritization of what gets air time during their presentation. Click here for some ideas on how to be ruthless in prioritizing the content for your next presentation.

3. You think your content is boring

I’ve been surprised by how many times I’ve worked with a subject matter expert who has told me: “look, my area of expertise is boring, there’s no way to make it exciting, people just need to know this information and go forth and do what I say.” If you think your topic or area of expertise is boring, why in the world would anyone else pay attention, let alone be ignited to want to do something with your information?

4. You don’t want to be in front of the audience

That public speaking causes people great anxiety is no secret. Of course, if someone asks you to speak, then there’s something about you and your message that nobody else can offer to your audience. Embrace it! Relish it! Find a way to get others as passionate as you are about your topic. If you’re just going to go through the motions of a presentation, it’ll be an icky experience for you and your audience.

5. You make no effort to connect with your audience

Perhaps the single biggest problem I see when I review presentation plans is that people tend to launch straight in to their content, assuming their audience knows about it, cares about it and/or is interested in it. Click here to watch Jane McGonigal tease her audience’s interest by promising them longer lives if they simply follow the steps in her presentation. Click here for some additional ideas on how to connect with your audience.

6. You “just do it”

Nike’s message isn’t necessarily for presenters. TED speakers do not simply throw a presentation together on the airplane en route to their conference, then get up and put on a magical display of amazing slide design, smooth delivery and inspiring message. They spend countless hours designing what they want to say and how they want to say it. Then they rehearse. Then they tweek their presentation and rehearse it again until it comes out exactly how they want. Rehearsal helps hone your message, perfect your delivery and perhaps most importantly, lower your level of anxiety.

Whether you call it “lecture” or “didactic delivery” or a “presentation”, TED Talks have demonstrated that speakers can be incredibly engaging by “just talking.” However, if you find that one or more of the items in the above list are true for you, then you may not have a TED-caliber presentation on your hand. Effective lecture (or didactic delivery or presentation) requires a lot of work.

If you truly want to capture your audience’s imagination and inspire them to do something new or differently or better, it may actually be easier for you to bring some adult learning principles and interactivity into your next presentation.