How “Fly Swatter Phonics” Can Help Solve Your Next Training Challenge! Part Two.

Last week, we started exploring the connection between having fun and actually learning…something my 4-year old grandson does by “swatting flies” as he’s learning to read. A key takeaway from that discussion was to keep your training content relevant and manageable. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the “fun-o-meter” will register pretty low. This week, we’re picking up there.

We often hear clients say something like this: “We rolled out training, but we can’t keep people’s attention. They aren’t engaged. What can you suggest?” Remember the client from last week? The one with the bazillion PowerPoint slides? What we discovered was their training wasn’t connected to people’s everyday work in a real, practical and believable way.

Our suggestion was to rebuild the training to simulate the learner’s real world. We felt it was critical to give people a chance to immediately apply what they were learning in meaningful ways and get immediate feedback at the same time. I’m happy to report that the client loved the idea, we built it, and it was a huge success! People remained engaged the entire time as they practiced “fly swatting” the way they would be doing on the job. The takeaway? If you want to make training fun, engage the learner through realistic practice!

In “Fly Swatter Phonics” the game mechanics were pretty simple. There was a fly swatter, some 3” x 5” cards, a blackboard and a few rules. But it wasn’t the game itself that made the learning fun. It was the fact that my grandson was actively involved in the learning. He wasn’t just a bystander. He was doing something. He was participating. He was making decisions. He was competing, appropriately, with his peers. He was responsible for earning his rewards or watching others earn theirs. These are the things that made it fun. (A fly swatter without purpose is just another fly swatter!)

When our client handed over all of those PowerPoint slides, we knew immediately that we had to find a way to make participants active learners rather than passive ones. We did that through the simulation. We also did it through a self-directed learning visual where, with minimal facilitation, teams navigated themselves through a collection of activities, team discussions, applications and mini-challenges.

Here’s what ‘our client of many slides’ had to say about their new program: “CONGRATULATIONS! The new training was amazing! What an improvement over the old method. Thank you on behalf of all involved. I would be very surprised if there was one person in the room who did not gain from the two days.” The takeaway? If you want to make training fun, involve the learner in the learning!

We at Blueline Simulations believe there’s no good reason—and no good way—for effective learning to be boring or passive. Let us help you swat your biggest training challenges!

Simulation Develops Results Focused Leaders at Fortune 300 Company (Part 2)

In my last post, I described the need for a simulation that could serve as a capstone event for our Leadership Development program at Alltel, and how I came to decide to use Blueline Simulations’ Executive Challenge™. Together, we conducted roughly 15 sessions over a two-year period. Each delivery built on the one before as we refined the simulation in ways that made it feel as if it had been designed just for Alltel. The work we did on debriefs and adverse events to help “customize” the experience made it that much more relevant to my audience.

Attendees were placed in teams of eight and were tasked with growing a virtual business by investing in and producing product lines, responding to market demands, and balancing time, capital, and human resources. Throughout the simulation, teams evaluated the sustainability of a business and the long-term implications of short-term decisions, acknowledged personal management styles and leadership blind spots, balanced personal and organizational objectives, solved complex business problems collaboratively, defined a clear strategic vision as a team, and implemented this vision in the face of adverse events.

The simulation began after normal work hours on day 1, as teams were presented with the simulation scenario, had a practice session on the technology, and discussed their company strategies for the next day over dinner. Day 2 lasted a full day and consisted of participants managing their companies over 6-8 virtual quarters. During debriefs, teams examined how closely their decisions reflected the Core Values of Alltel, as well as the soundness of their business strategies.

Teams prepared presentations at the end of the simulation experience and delivered them to a Board of Directors composed of Alltel executives. The board chose a winner based on strategy, financial performance, team effectiveness, ability to handle adverse events, adherence to the program competencies, sustainability, and overall quality of the presentation.

Participants found their simulation experience invaluable.  They experienced the challenges of being a results focused leader, while using behavior and relationship skills in their interactions with their fellow team members. Participants rated the experience highly, remarking on “how the pressure, the competitiveness, the unexpected turn of events really tested their ability to work collaboratively to make good decisions and to execute against them.”

As for me, I had chosen the perfect partner and solution to bring all the work of leadership assessments, coaching and training together in an innovative, engaging and practical way that was useful and memorable to my Directors and Vice Presidents. To this day I continue to get comments from former Alltel Associates about the leadership program, and inevitably they always mention the chance to run their own companies, amidst market pressures and unanticipated events, that was Alltel’s Executive Challenge!

I am excited to now have the opportunity to represent this solution, plus the other equally powerful solutions Blueline offers as part of our Leadership Innovation Series. As Director of Leadership Innovations, I look forward to working with our clients to provide the same kind of business results and organizational impact that I witnessed first-hand in my use of these solutions at Alltel.

Communications and Learning Professionals: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I’ve spent the past 20 years creating both communications solutions and learning solutions for some of the most influential companies in the world. One thing I’ve learned is that, from the organization’s point of view, those are two very different activities. Does the company need a communications campaign? Go hire the creative geniuses at Company A. Need a learning solution? Those would be the training hotshots over at Company B.

After all, communication is all about producing awareness; while the outcome of learning is new knowledge, skill and behavior.

Two totally different things. Right?

You would think so, considering how most organizations are structured. The communications folks sit on one floor of the building, while the learning and HR folks are on a different one. To get paid by everyone, I have to take an elevator.

At Blueline Simulations, we find these metaphorical and literal walls of separation unhelpful. After all, our professionals have extensive background in everything from organizational development to advertising to the fine arts. We believe your communications initiative should generate engagement and behavior change. And your learning programs should provide the message retention of a Madison Avenue ad campaign.

Come on, Corporate Communications and Training & Development. We love both of you the same! Let’s all get together!

We’ve been providing our clients with a unique mashup of learning and communications solutions for years now. We find that the people in Corporate Communications tend to join sides with the folks over in HR pretty quickly — especially once they see the power of aligning their efforts to create awareness, understanding, action, skill development, and exciting new ways of serving their constituents.

It all results in some pretty cool solutions. If you’re intrigued, we’d love to show you more! Stick around this blog. In our next post, we’ll show you some of the learning graphics and other tools we have developed to help our client partners achieve sustainable change.

Recorded Gamification Webinar Now Available

If you missed this interesting and informative webinar hosted by my friend and business partner, Brian Knudson you can watch it now. Brian is the Founder of NogginLabs and knows a thing or two about achieving learning transfer through gamification – and has 7 Brandon Hall gaming awards to prove it.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge budget or complex programming to design eLearning that’s as addictive as Angry Birds. If motivating your learners is a challenge, this webinar is for you. Learn the basic principles of gamification, and how best to apply them to your eLearning initiatives.

Watch the recorded webinar and see how gamification can take your organization’s eLearning to the next level.

How “Fly Swatter Phonics” Can Help Solve Your Next Training Challenge!

My 4-year-old grandson, Jackson, loves kindergarten and loves learning. In fact, I’m honestly amazed at how much he’s learning—and how quickly!

Is it because he’s smart and curious by nature? Yes, I’m happy to say that he is. Does he love learning because he likes his teacher? No doubt. She’s very likeable! Or is there more? Could it be because his teacher is making the job of learning exciting and fun? Bingo!

Here’s an example of what I mean, taken from a recent weekly update.

Dear Parents,

Our “W” week turned out to be a very fun week as it included a brand new game called “Fly Swatter Phonics” (inspired by the season we’re learning about, Spring). The game was played as follows: 3-5 flies (one-vowel words) were placed on the board. Two students were handed fly swatters. I then read aloud one of the words…blending our phonics sounds together. The students were to read the word choices and try to be the first to swat the fly (correct word). Once the fly was squished, two more students were selected and different words were placed on the board, continuing the game until all had a turn. The game was a huge success! On Friday, we played again, except this time I allowed the winner of each round to play a couple more times before sitting down (a modified “Around the World”). And the great part is you can play this at home. You just need 3×5 cards and a fly swatter and your house can be buzzing all weekend long!

The thing that impresses me most about Jackson’s teacher isn’t what she’s teaching, but how she’s teaching it. Through fun, age-appropriate games, she is laying the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Let the Learning (and Fun) Begin

So what’s the point here? What does a fun little game 4-year-olds play in a kindergarten class have to do with solving the complex training challenges today’s organizations face? I believe it’s the connection between having fun and actually learning. In this blog, and the next, I’ll illustrate, and leave you with a few takeaways.

In his May 3, 2012, blog, colleague David Hutchens shared a very common situation. David wrote: Client X comes to us with a PowerPoint deck of 300 bazillion text-dense slides and says, “This is our old training program. Can you do something with this?”

He’s not kidding! This happened with a longtime client just a few months back. As it turns out, the content driving the training program (and the 300 bazillion slides) had been created by 10 (this is not an exaggeration) different internal committees. Believe me when I say there was nothing fun about the program. However, because we love this kind of challenge, we dove in and sifted through the many layers of overlaps, inconsistencies and redundancies to uncover the content most relevant to the critical learning outcomes. Then we “chunked” (a totally magnificent training term) the content into a flow that people could actually wrap their heads around. The result was a relevant and manageable number of “flies” to swat. The takeaway? If you want to make training fun, keep it relevant and manageable!

While this sounds so obvious, it’s a mistake we see organizations make all too often. Even if “fun” isn’t a direct outcome of your training program, your content needs to be kept to a manageable amount of data and it should be immediately useful on the job.

Come back next week as we continue to explore what 4-year olds (who are learning to read by “swatting flies”) can teach us about solving some very common training challenges.