What are the most “radioactive” elements you can include in a training program?

The Association for Talent Development’s International Conference and Expo kicks off in earnest today, and in the final podcast of our series featuring ATD ICE speakers, my longtime friend and fellow L&D nerd (and VP of Organization Development at FORUM Credit Union in Indianapolis), Michelle Baker, fills in as our podcast interviewer to ask me some questions about my upcoming session (which will take place on Wednesday, September 1, from 8am – 9am Mountain time).

My presentation will focus on the “radioactive” elements that are often (mis)used in training programs, and how they can best be leveraged to yield maximum impact on your learners. These elements include lecture, PowerPoint, subject matter experts, handouts, smile sheets, icebreakers, elearning, augmented reality, role play, games and data.

Transcript of the Conversation with Brian Washburn / Michelle Baker

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, Co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning. And today I am joined by my good friend, Michelle Baker, who is now– has climbed the ladder and is the Vice President of Organizational Development at Forum Credit Union in Indianapolis. Hi Michelle, thank you for joining me.

Michelle Baker: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Brian Washburn: Well– and this is a little bit different than our typical podcast because we’re going to flip the script and– this is part of our series of podcasts for people who are presenting at ATD ICE. And today we’re going to feature answers by the presenter, Brian Washburn, who will be speaking at ATD ICE, but I can’t ask myself questions. And so I’m going to turn the questions over to you, Michelle.

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: But before we do that, we always like to make sure that we introduce people with a six-word biography. Today, we’re going to be talking about the idea of radioactive elements in training design. And for me, introducing myself in six words along the lines of this topic, I would say that, “Sometimes my training experiments blow up”. How would you introduce yourself to our listeners in six words, Michelle?

Michelle Baker: Yeah. So, being excited to be here and excited about this topic, I recognize that partnership and collaboration is all about everything. And so my six-word introduction is, “Collaboration sets my soul on fire”.

Brian Washburn: Then let’s set your soul on fire right now because we get to collaborate here, and you get to ask me the questions. And so I’m all ears and I’m kind of curious what you’re going to be asking me today.

Michelle Baker: (Chuckling) Well, are you ready to be in the hot seat?

Brian Washburn: Let’s do it.

Michelle Baker: Alright let’s go. Alright, so I was so excited to read a little bit about this session that you’re doing– that you’re speaking at ICE. And the topic of these radioactive elements just really resonated with me because it challenges us as learning and development professionals to get out of our comfort zones, and try something new.

Radioactive elements

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Michelle Baker: But a lot of times we just don’t. So, you know, why do we find ourselves sticking with the tried and true – what we know with regard to, you know, tools and methods and technology? Why do we do that?

Why Are Learning & Development Professionals So Hesitant to Try New Methods and Tools?

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question and I definitely fall into this trap. Actually, I was just having this conversation with my own team yesterday, as we were talking about professional development plans and goals and setting goals. And one of my goals is to move beyond the technologies and tools that I thought were awesome in 2017, right? 

So I have been using the same tools. I’ve been using things like Kahoot or things like Poll Everywhere, which were really cool when they first came out and there’s still a place for them. And there’s a lot of other things that have happened since then. And I think that a lot of us in this field, we find things that are really cool, we find things that work for us and if it’s not broke, we don’t fix it. And so we just keep using those same tools, those same strategies. We rely on research that we read 5 or 10 years ago. And then when we go to cite it and we’re like, “Ooh, that’s kind of old. Is there anything newer?” 

And so when we fall into that routine and then we get busy, we don’t– we feel good about ourselves, we feel comfortable about where we are and we continue to do things along the same lines. And what’s important for us is to not get too complacent, is to look for what is the research out there saying today about using some of the new strategies and the new tools that are out there? Can we find anything that says using something like augmented reality actually benefits the learning process? Or can we find something out there that goes beyond, “Oh, learning styles are bad”, right? 

So what kind of research is out there, over the past couple of years, that we’re not picking up on? What kind of trends are out there, over the past couple of years, that we are not picking up on? Which is why I think it’s really important for us to move beyond where we’re comfortable, and always be thirsty for what’s new.

Michelle Baker: Absolutely. So you said something about AR, and so I’m going to dig into that just a little bit, if you don’t mind. So you have a really interesting perspective on the use of handouts – so just a very traditional method – and incorporating augmented reality or AR into that. So a lot of times I think people shy away from things like that. You know, it’s gotta be too complex or too techie or our company’s not ready for that or, you know, it’s probably really expensive. So, you know, are we just overthinking it?

Are We Overthinking Experimenting With the Elements of Learning?

Brian Washburn: Yeah. You know, the specific example of augmented reality is an interesting one just because it is something that not all of us work with day in and day out, right? A lot of us work with e-learning. A lot of us work with instructor-led training. But then there’s some technologies that some of us dabble in, some of us think are cool, but we don’t always find a good use for it. 

periodic table of amazing learning experiences

Even with some AR uses, it’s kind of a cool and fun thing, but isn’t necessary. And so I think that– and there’s going to be an example in my presentation in Salt Lake City in a few weeks where we use AR as an example of how it can be used as a job aide to help people do their job better. And there are people out there that are much smarter than I am when it comes to the use of augmented reality – Betty Dannewitz is somebody who comes to mind. She’s always writing about it. I think she’s presented about it a lot. She’s been on this podcast to talk about it. And so some people get really passionate about it. I see AR as another tool that we could be using– and it is listed in this category of radioactive elements, according to this periodic table that I’ve presented. 

But I see AR as a tool that we can be using to enhance the learning experience as long as it fits right. The reason that I say it’s a radioactive element is because sometimes people get so caught up in the technology and they want to use it. They’re looking for an excuse to use it so they just kind of jam it into something and it’s kind of like, “Oh, that’s kind of cool, but what’s the point of that?” So as long as we can find a way to bring it into the flow of work – which is what it is – it’s really– I mean, it’s what it sounds like, it’s augmenting reality, right? There’s something real in front of you and then you use your phone or a device or, you know, some sort of screen to augment that so that something that isn’t actually real, in real life, can still appear there and help you in the flow of your work. And so that’s where I see it as being most useful.

Michelle Baker: I love that. And I think that just gives a lot of confidence to people who shy away from those things because they’re worried that they might combust.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. Absolutely.

Michelle Baker: (Chuckle) Yeah. And so that kind of takes me, like– I think a lot of our experience – our personal experiences – really shape those moments where we have the lessons we learned throughout our career.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Michelle Baker: And so tell us about a time when you had a radioactive moment – maybe you combusted – and how’d you get through it? And what did you learn from that?

An Example of Surviving a Radioactive Moment 

Brian Washburn: Yeah, so– and this goes back to my six-word biography, right? “Sometimes my training experiments blow up”. And the one example that really comes to mind– and I talk about this in the book that I just released about this periodic table– is an example when we were working with a nonprofit to help educate people on what nonprofit boards do. And because it was a board training, we thought it would be fun to come up with “The Board board game”, right? So ha ha ha, right? 

What's your formula by Brian Washburn

That’s similar to what I was just talking about with augmented reality. We were looking for a reason to smash a game into the design of this program. And when we went and we piloted it, we realized that the game was too complex, people were just like, “Just give us the information! We’re busy and, you know, we just– we get it, but just give us the information”. And so we didn’t do a very good job assessing the needs of our audience, we didn’t do a good job, kind of, assessing who the audience was. And so that was an example– and games is one of those radioactive elements. Because a lot of times, like we found, a lot of times other people are just trying to put a game in because it’s kind of fun, it’s a fun idea. Let’s make training fun, which makes it engaging, which somehow leads to effectiveness – when that’s not actually true. And so we, kind of, reevaluated the design of that program after we piloted it and got the feedback and decided, “You know what? A game may not be the best way to go here”. But we had all of this content that came out of the game that we could redesign the actual training program for. We could use that content and still find ways to make it engaging without actually having to resort to “The Board board game”.

Michelle Baker: Gotcha. You know, I have that conversation with my team all the time that the words “fun” and “engaging” are not interchangeable. It doesn’t have to be, you know– we don’t have to view it as the same thing.

Brian Washburn: Right.

Michelle Baker: Like you don’t have to be playing games and eating candy and having all this for it to be engaging and meaningful and relevant for a participant. So it’s just that important distinction that you’re not trying to force it for one reason or another.

Brian Washburn: Yup.

Michelle Baker: Whether it’s a tool or a technology or we think we’re supposed to do it this way to make it more effective. So very smart distinction there. And like when you mentioned games, I noticed that there’s also something that you explore about the difference between games and gamification.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Michelle Baker: So I can see how that would be confusing to people. So I think there’s that interchangeability again, a little bit, with it.

Brian Washburn: Yeah.

Michelle Baker: So, you know, if we want to incorporate games or gamification into a learning experience, you know, how do we kind of make the determination on what might be more appropriate?

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I think it helps to start with a few definitions, right? So what is a game, what is gamification

So a game is kind of a discreet activity that you can do within a training program that involves game rules, right? And so it could be like a game of Jeopardy, for example, or some sort of review game using Kahoot – using things like that. So those are specific games and just because you’ve put a game into your program, doesn’t mean you’ve gamified it. It means that you’ve put a game as an activity within a larger learning context. 

Gamification itself is using game elements and weaving them throughout the course of a program. And that doesn’t mean that you just simply give people points for different activities and say, “Oh, I’ve gamified it”. You’ve ‘points-ified’ it– and that’s something that recently I read – that term, and I love that term. Because it’s not gamification if you just add point. Points are indeed one game element but the idea of gamification is an overall learning strategy, where you would incorporate various elements of what makes games work into your program. And maybe it’s a giant game that your learning program becomes, or maybe it’s just you using game elements to increase engagement and interaction. 

So things like: points, badges, leaderboards are what’s often considered when you think of gamification. But other things like story narratives – are we going to have some way to have people cooperate? Do we have people get through different levels of the learning? And then more and more difficult levels? So there are lots of different elements of gamification you can build into a learning program without actually making it into a game. And that’s kind of the distinction between the two.

Michelle Baker: Well, that’s really helpful. And I think having that understanding of that – and I think a lot of these other elements – helps us recognize what could be considered radioactive, and help us prepare whatever the learning experience is appropriately. And I think that’s going to reduce our risk of combusting.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, absolutely.

Michelle Baker: So I think there’s a lot that we can take away from this session. And I hope everybody that’s listening here, that’s attending the conference later this month will check out your session and learn about all of these different radioactive elements and how we can just be smarter and more intentional about the way we incorporate them into training. 

So thank you so much for telling us a little bit about this. I know we’ve just kind of scratched the surface. We could keep talking for hours about this.

Brian Washburn: Yep. So for those who are going to be in Salt Lake City it’ll be on the final day of the conference – September 1st, in the morning.

Get to Know Brian Washburn and Michelle Baker

Michelle Baker: Fantastic. Well, do you have time to do a quick speed round with me?

Brian Washburn: Let’s do it!

Michelle Baker: Alrighty. So first question: what’s your biggest vice?

Brian Washburn: Ooh, my biggest vice. I would say my biggest vice might be junk food. Like I love sugar and junk food and cookies and candy. And I just can’t say no. And so it’s definitely– like if it could be Halloween all year round for me. I don’t need the costumes, I just want the tricks or the treats, I mean.

Michelle Baker: (Laughing) Well– and I know I look forward every year to hearing what you’re going to do for International Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.

Brian Washburn:(Laughing)

Michelle Baker: So I know that this is probably a true vice for you. (Laughing)

Brian Washburn: You know what? I don’t know if I’ve had you on the podcast. What’s your biggest vice?

Michelle Baker: I would have to say it’s binge watching either the really dumb comedies that I’ve seen a million times. So like Tommy Boy or Anchorman – just those super quotable movies that I just interject all the time and hope people pick up on the references.

Brian Washburn: (Laughing)

Michelle Baker: Or just watching either Seinfeld or The Office just constantly. It’s going to win the face off with the remote every single time.

Brian Washburn: Nice.

Michelle Baker: Alright. So next question, speed round: what’s your favorite place to travel for work?

Brian Washburn: That is interesting. So I’ve done a ton of travel for work. I think that my favorite place actually might be Greenville, South Carolina. It is where one of our big clients is located and it’s a fun little town – it’s a college town. There’s a neat downtown area that’s super walkable. The food is so good. And one of the things that I really love about going to restaurants in Greenville is that every time you ask for the check and you pay the check, the server will always ask, “Can I get one last drink to go?” And they’ll put it in the to-go cup so you can take it with you. And so you’re always staying hydrated in Greenville. How about you? I mean, you’ve done a lot of travel for work – what’s your favorite place to travel?

Michelle Baker: You know, I always enjoy when I get an opportunity to go to New York City. It’s very different then here in Indianapolis, but also very different from Indianapolis is when I get to go to a warm destination in the winter – don’t really care where it is. So just somewhere that’s not freezing and dreary and snowy and icy. So I’d say that’s for me.

Brian Washburn: Nice.

Michelle Baker: So last question in our speed round: what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Brian Washburn: That’s a good question. I think maybe I would go back to what my father told me as I was trying to decide what college to go to. So I really wanted to go to the George Washington University in Washington, DC, but it was super expensive. And my father said, “You know what – if that’s where you want to go, go. And we have enough to pay for the first year of college. And then after that, we’ll figure it out.” And I think that that was such a really good piece of advice. And then I followed that advice, like going to college, going into the Peace Corps, starting my own business. It was– if you really want to do something, go for it. And then figure it out, even if there’s not– I mean, don’t be reckless, but figure it out, right? And, you know, if it works, it works. If not, you learn from it.

Michelle Baker: That is good advice.

Brian Washburn: How about you?

Michelle Baker: You know, I tend to put other people’s needs before my own, all the time. Personally, professionally, it doesn’t matter. And I’ll put my own interests and needs on the back burner every time. And a few years ago, I got this piece of advice to say, “You don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm”. And that just really stuck with me. And I think about it all the time. Now, applying it and adhering to that is another story. It’s a work in progress for sure, but that– it’s just always kind of stuck with me since I heard it. And I think it’s just really important to remember.

Brian Washburn: It’s really good to have people that can give good advice. Michelle, thank you so much for filling in, in the interviewer role and putting me in the hot seat here. Thank you to everyone else who was able to catch this episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Spotify, Apple, iHeart Radio, wherever you get your podcasts. If you happen to be at ATD ICE, both Michelle and I will be there. So feel free to reach out on LinkedIn – maybe we can set up a coffee or whatever it might be. And until next time, happy training everyone.

Michelle Baker: Bye.

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