L&D lessons from… a photobooth?

Photobooth

Last weekend I attended a fundraiser and near the entrance was a photobooth. And there was a long line to wait in order to get pictures.

It seems photobooths are en vogue these days – at wedding receptions, birthday parties, church gatherings, office holiday parties. Inside the photobooth, children and adults alike giggle, make funny faces, wear silly hats. The photobooth is an instant icebreaker for some, a must-do destination for others.

On the other hand, there’s training. I can’t say people line up for most training courses. There’s not much giggling or enjoyment that comes out of the training room.

Are there lessons that the photobooth can teach L&D professionals? Continue reading

Crafting an Online Learning Strategy

Online Learning

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of conversations with a variety of organizations about overall learning strategies, and the role that online learning should play in a more comprehensive strategy. Following are my thoughts on components that need to be considered when developing a more comprehensive strategy for online learning: Continue reading

In honor of the Women’s World Cup goal-fest, here are 5 goals for L&D professionals…

USWNT

Yesterday as I watched the US women make it look so easy to score five goals in the World Cup finals, I wondered if other people in other professions could ever make it look so easy to achieve five goals.

Here are five goals that learning and development professionals might want to consider. They’re certainly not easy to accomplish, but the key here is to make achieving them look easy. Continue reading

67 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Learning and Development Professional

washburnBrian2

In spring 1998, a young, brash bureaucrat at the United States Office of Personnel Management delivered a presentation on the federal government’s early retirement policy. It was his first presentation and as the room cleared out, someone pulled this young, brash bureaucrat’s boss aside and asked: “Who’s the asshole?”

It was me. And apparently I didn’t quite hit my first presentation out of the park. I’ve learned a lot over the past 17 years. Here are a few of those lessons learned, in no particular order: Continue reading

What I Learn From My Readers When I Blog

This is the 308th blog post that I’ve published, and one of the best part of my blogging experience has been the opportunity to learn from my readers.

Yesterday I received an incredibly nice note from a reader who wrote, in part, that this blog offered her “Such insightful and helpful information.” While I love the opportunity to share my insights in hopes that others may find them helpful, more than anything I love learning from Continue reading

How Does Learning Stick? 5 Resources that Help Answer This Question.

I had been working in training and instructional design for several years and was feeling pretty good about myself. I was creative. I was charismatic. I loved being in front of people in a room. I loved using Mr. Sketch Markers to create fun (and great smelling) flip charts. And people seemed to love my presentations.

People would come up to me after presentations, telling me they were some of the best presentations they’d ever attended. Ever!

Yet when I looked around, I didn’t see people doing many things new or differently or better as a result of my presentations and training programs. So I spent a lot of money and a couple years’ worth of time on earning a master’s degree in organizational development in order to study how better to make training stick. I learned that there were a lot of other, non-training factors that go into whether or not a training program is successful.

That said, training professionals and instructional designers have an obligation to do everything in their power to make sure a training program is well-designed so that their learners have the maximum opportunity to remember what they’ve learned.

Here are five resources that can help you better figure out how learning will stick:

1. Will Thalheimer’s “Decisive Dozen”

Will Thalheimer has sifted through tons of research in order to distill evidence-based practices down into 12 key concepts.

2. Make It Stick

Looking to go further in depth on the topic? Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel have written the best book I’ve read on this topic in a long time. It’s both informative and filled with ideas on both how to design learning programs more effectively and how to boost retention long after the event has passed.

3. Transfer of Training

This book is a little older (written in 1992), but the concepts that Mary Broad and John Newstrom have laid out in this book continue to influence the way I design training programs today. One of the most fundamental pieces to this book is the importance of both the trainee’s manager and the trainer, who can both play a more significant role than the learner him (or her) self when it comes to whether or not the content will actually be put to use.

4. Art Kohn’s monthly column in Learning Solutions magazine

Art Kohn’s presentation at DevLearn 2014 was my first introduction to the concept of learning boosts. Since that presentation I’ve been a pretty faithful reader of his column, which offers bite-sized chunks of brain research and its role in how people learn.

5. Meta-analysis: Is Blended Learning Most Effective?

Every once in a while I still hear the question: isn’t in-person delivery better than online? In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education studied this question and cited research that concluded… well, I’ll let you read the study for yourself (click on the link above!).

What did I miss? I’d love to hear about other resources you use to figure out how learning best sticks.

Want Direct Access to Like-minded Professionals on a Regular Basis? Try a Tweet Chat.

Biding your time until you can attend another conference? Looking for ways to connect with other learning and development professionals from around the world?

Twitter just might cure what ails you.

Tweet Chats are the lowest cost, most impactful professional development opportunities I’ve stumbled across over the past year. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a Tweet Chat is a Twitter-based, moderated dialogue about a range of hot topics and current trends and generally lasts for 60 minutes.

Four benefits I’ve reaped from participating in these discussions include:

  1. Easy development of a Personal Learning Network
  2. Easy introductions to people you’ll bump into at a conference (never feel awkward trying to find someone to have lunch with during a conference again!)
  3. Direct access to scores of like-minded professionals and industry thought-leaders on a regular basis
  4. Exposure to questions, practices and industry trends you may not otherwise have thought about

Following is a short list of Tweet Chats that learning and development professionals may be interested in:

  • Chat2Lrn (every other Thursday at 8:00am Pacific/11:00am Eastern)
  • LrnChat (Thursday evenings at 5:30pm Pacific/8:30pm Eastern)
  • GuildChat (Fridays at 11:00am Pacific/2:00pm Eastern)

Participating in a Tweet Chat can be oddly intimidating the first time. Your brilliance needs to be distilled down to 140 characters at a time. Plus, jumping into a Tweet Chat can feel like trying to break into a clique.

Fear not. I’ve found that regulars not only embrace new participants, but it’s a huge ego boost the first time one of your responses gets re-tweeted.

Know someone else who might want to engage with learning and development professionals on a more regular basis? Please pass this article along!

I hope I’ll find you participating in a Tweet Chat soon… maybe even tonight’s LrnChat or tomorrow’s GuildChat. In the meantime, feel free to connect with me on Twitter today.

 

Facilitation Lessons from a Drum Circle

Drum Circle

In the summer of 2001, I was introduced to the concept of a drum circle. As I reflect on that experience, I realize it exposed me to three key elements of effective meeting facilitation.

I was visiting my friend’s mother, Susan Bauz, at her home in Newport News, VA. All afternoon, people were talking about going to a drum circle. They weren’t sure if I’d enjoy it. They gave me the opportunity to stay home. I had no idea what a drum circle was or why they thought I wouldn’t like it, but I insisted that I’d like to go.

I thought it would be a performance where I could sit and passively listen. I had no idea that it was a participatory activity.

Everyone present was given their choice of percussion instrument and we were welcome to exchange our instruments at any time. Then someone said “go” and the drum circle was off and running. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was quite sure that I didn’t like this at all. There were no instructions. There was no structure. Just people beating drums.

I sat for 30 minutes, beating the same staccato cadence from the minute it began to the minute it ended. There was a moment, about halfway through our session, in which another drummer found my cadence and repeated it. Eventually everyone was repeating my cadence.

Ha! I thought. I’m doing it right! They’re all following me. Finally!

And then as quickly as they found my cadence, they moved on to their own beats once again.

Lessons for Facilitators

A drum circle, like meeting facilitation, involves a lot of improv. To be sure, meeting facilitation will often have objectives, maybe even a lesson plan and some structure, but in the end, skilled facilitators are willing to move away from their planned lessons depending on the needs of their audience.

I’ve been told that there are 3 rules to improv:

  1. Listen
  2. The answer is always “yes”
  3. Make the other person look good

Can you imagine the consequences if we violated any or all of these rules as we facilitated a meeting? What happens when we don’t listen to our audience? What happens when a participant asks a question and our immediate response is “No!” or “That’s wrong!”? What happens when we don’t attempt to make our co-facilitators or our attendees look good?

In the drum circle, there was one brief instance in which my fellow drum circlers humored me and marched to the beat of my drum. And I felt like I was a part of something. For a brief moment, this was fun!

But I never gave anything back in return. I kept to my own beat.

I violated all three rules of improv and this turned out not to be a great experience for me. I’d like to think I’ve learned from that experience and am able to better adhere to these rules when I facilitate in order to create an amazing experience for my audience and my co-facilitator(s).

As for Susan Bauz, the one who introduced me to this whole drum circle business? She passed away this weekend. I’ll be forever grateful to her for inviting me to come out of my comfort zone in order to get a life lesson in improv.

Where’s the Training in “How to Train Your Dragon 2”?!

Last weekend, we took a family outing to the movie theater. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see a movie about training.

Side note: If Hollywood was smart, they’d make more movies about training. Can you imagine the crowds lining up after seeing a movie trailer that went something to this effect: “In a world where everyone was subjected to lecture, one man chose to take a stand. Where others left masses of boredom in their wake, he rose up from humble beginnings to lead a revolution. Adventure. Romance. Engagement. Valuing others’ experiences. Task vs process maintenance. Coming this Thanksgiving, you’re invited to come along for the adventure of a lifetime.” I’d cast Vinnie Chase as the young, sometimes naïve, rogue, rebellious learning professional. But I’ve totally digressed.

Last weekend, my family saw How to Train Your Dragon 2. The adventure and plot twists and drama and intensity and pace were all great, yet I walked away feeling a bit cheated. Empty. As we left the theater, I turned to my 7-year-old daughter and asked: “Where was the training?!” She said there wasn’t any, and skipped away.

How could she be so nonchalant?! How could she not care?! What kind of parent am I? Raising a child who doesn’t even care if the title of the movie matches up with the plot?? (To my son’s credit, he ate a whole bag of Skittles then promptly fell asleep. I’m assuming this was because he, too, was on the lookout for training and when he didn’t see any, he decided to cut his losses.)

I couldn’t let it go. It invaded my dreams on Sunday night.

I dreamt I was in the theater. It all seemed so real. My family next to me. Other movie patrons. The credits rolled. I stood up and yelled: “WHERE WAS THE TRAINING?! I CAME HERE TO SEE A MOVIE ABOUT TRAINING! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WRITE A BLOG POST ABOUT TRANSFERABLE LESSONS THAT I CAN TAKE FROM DRAGON TRAINING AND APPLY IN THE CORPORATE WORLD?!”

And then Hiccup, the hero of the movie, peered out from behind the scrolling credits and, in his calm, rational way of being, simply said: “Sir, what do you mean ‘where was the training’? It was everywhere.”

For some reason, in my dream, I didn’t think it was weird that the movie character was talking with me. I did, however, found his argument flawed. “But there was no classroom. No flipchart. Jeez, you didn’t even have PowerPoint. Or Mr. Sketch markers. Hiccup, you’re a nice guy. But you’re young. And naïve. You need some structure if you’re going to call it ‘training’.”

“I suppose it all depends on your definition of ‘training’ then, doesn’t it?” the young chieftain asked rhetorically. “Look around? Did you see ‘proper training facilities’ anywhere in the set design? No. But more importantly, when we think ‘training’ we think skills development. And that takes place in the context of real life. Our ‘training’ depends on supportive relationships. Teaching others by modeling the behaviors we’d like to see. We treat our dragons with respect. Through our actions, the dragons learn how to behave appropriately around us. You don’t need PowerPoint, or flipchart or a classroom for this type of thing. In fact, I’d argue that PowerPoint or flipchart or a classroom would actually have hindered the way we trained our dragons.”

Then I woke up. They say that different things in your dreams represent different aspects of your life or your psyche. I wonder what this dream could have possibly meant…

Where Does Learning Happen?

When I facilitate a train-the-trainer event, I ask my participants where learning happens. I’ll get answers such as “in the classroom” or “at the water cooler” or “everywhere.” Sometimes a participant will say: “where there is discomfort.”

When this meme recently made the rounds on LinkedIn, it got me thinking a lot about my training design.

Where Learning Happens

It’s an inspirational image. And it doesn’t tell the whole story. I recently came across this image as well:

Where Learning Happens (2)

I absolutely agree that it’s essential to move learners beyond their comfort zone in order to discover new possibilities, new perspectives and new ways of doing things. However, there can be a fine line between the spot where learning happens and the “panic zone” which can lead to a horrible learning experience.

Effectively moving learners out of their comfort zone while ensuring a positive learning experience requires the following considerations:

  1. Safety and comfort are not the same thing. Safety in a training environment is a must-have. If a learner feels threatened or offended or at risk of humiliation, then her ability to learn will take a back seat to her desire to simply survive the experience. Comfort, on the other hand, is not necessary at all. I know that even I like to be able to sit in a training and listen and not be asked to join in an activity. And while that makes my life easier, I remember very little from those types of training sessions. The fact is that finding ways to engage attendees to participant and be involved in the learning is crucial, and it usually means an element of discomfort.
  2. Choice is essential. Every learner is different and each person will grapple with discomfort in different ways. Some participants love the limelight and relish the opportunity to speak in front of the large group. Others need small group conversations in order to be able to engage and discuss ideas and concepts. An opportunity for learners to choose when, where and how to participate will reduce the amount of “panic” among participants.
  3. So is de-briefing. When learners are pushed outside their comfort zone, mistakes are often made. Or sometimes things just don’t feel right when they’re tried for the first time. This is all ok, and it’s part of the learning experience. But unless the participants have an opportunity to process and think through why a mistake was made or why something didn’t feel right, then it’s just an ikcy experience.