Classroom Simulations

How the iPad Transformed Learning for Me at ASTD

I’ll admit it. The real reason that I purchased an iPad in advance of ASTD’s International Conference a few weeks ago was so that I could attract interest and showcase all of the wonderful solutions we have created for our clients over the last year. (From all the reviews I read, I figured it would be a perfect platform to showcase our learning visuals, simulations and other graphically rich projects.) And the technology was brand new, orders for the new iPad had been backlogged since its launch just a few weeks earlier. (So how did I find mine – how else – Craig’s list. But I digress.)

Not surprisingly, my foolproof plan worked. At a conference of over 8,000 participants, there were just a handful of iPads to be seen. Over the course of a 3 day conference, nearly a dozen folks got up the courage to ask: “So, you got one of those new iPads, how do you like it? Can I take a look?”

What’s surprising was my answer: “Of course you can, I love it! It has transformed my experience at this conference. THAT WASN’T THE PLAN! But it was, in fact, the truth.

The iPad is simple and easy to access. It took seconds to go from my backpack to full interactivity. I could move quickly between taking notes, tweeting, and web searching, all as I listened to the presenters with newfound appreciation. Why? Because I became engaged in the learning experience. I researched the presenters in real time, scanned their bios, their blogs, and in some cases even identified connections via Facebook and LinkedIn. When I found links of interest, I captured them via Instapaper, so that I could return to my research later without losing focus on the presenter. As I listened, I took notes. Sometimes in notepad, other times via twitter.  And when I tweeted, I noted other tweets from other participants in the lecture. And then a real time discussion evolved.

THIS IS SIGNIFICANT! Where ASTD had failed to encourage collaboration by putting us in rows instead of at round tables, technology made it possible for us to make connections in real time.

Despite ASTD’s traditional lecture format, my learning experience had been transformed. And I led the transformation. (With a little help from Apple.) Imagine what we can consciously do using iPads as part of our learning designs!

Managers Do Still Make a Difference

The point of all training provided by an organization is to improve people’s performance on the job. For this to happen, employees must use what they have learned when they are working. In their 1992 book, Transfer of Training, Mary Broad and John Newstrom evaluate the impact of three key resources on skills application – the facilitator/designer of the training, the trainee, and the trainee’s manager. Their analysis showed that the largest contributor to whether people actually use what they learn on the job is the manager. And the biggest factor was not what the manager did after the training (like coaching) but what the manager did before the training occurred.

Since Broad and Newstrom’s work was conducted nearly twenty years ago, and there have been a lot of innovations in how we deliver training, including eSimulations, virtual classroom, social learning, and mobile, I was curious to ponder whether  the role of the manager in learning transfer has changed?

Based on a three-year study of over 10,000 learners by KnowledgePool, not that much. Their research shows that “where learners receive line manager support, 94% go on to apply what they learned”.  Apparently, managers do still make a key difference

The question this raises for me is, as we move to more “bite-size” and ubiquitous training through social and mobile learning, how do we continue to ensure that we tap into this critical resource to ensure learning gets transferred? As stated above, Broad and Newstrom’s work indicated that what a manager does before the training session occurs is even more critical to learning transfer than what they do afterwards.

In 1991-92 its very likely that a manager would have had significant opportunity to interact with the trainee before a training session, if nothing more than to ensure there was coverage for their absence to attend a class. Even if the training was offered via elearning, it is likely the manager was aware of when the employee was going to take a particular course.

Now jump to today (and even more so into the near future). The trainee may be just as likely to complete a 5-10 minute mobile learning session while waiting in line at the cafeteria or bank drive-thru. Or perhaps, they’ve spent part of their lunch time browsing through recent postings in their favorite Community of Practice portal. Will the manager even know that they have engaged in learning? It may be that self initiated training like this will consistently have a high transfer of learning, but I think we are failing our clients if we don’t continue to find ways to engage managers and tap into the impact they have in ensuring that what is learned gets used on the job. Just as we are developing new and innovative ways to deliver training, we will need to find new and innovative ways for manager involvement.

What’s Your Goal?

What should be a training designer’s goal? The answer would seem obvious: design a training solution. While that may be the product the designer produces, it should not be the goal.

Recently I’ve been reading Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. While at Blueline we often find a serious game or game-like element is an effective part of a training solution, I’ve found that the lenses that Schell offers extend beyond games to training solutions in general.

In chapter two Schell states, “Ultimately, a game designer does not care about games. Games are merely a means to an end. On their own, games are just artifacts – clumps of cardboard, or bags of bits. Games are worthless unless people play them. Why is this? What magic happens when games are played?

When people play games, they have an experience. It is this experience that the designer cares about. Without the experience, the game is worthless.

I think we could easily substitute “training” for “game” in his statement and it would fit nicely. Yes, I’m fully aware of Bloom’s taxonomy and it’s importance in writing clear and specific objectives for a training solution. And I strongly support the theory that the ultimate outcome of any training should be a positive impact on business results. However, from a designer’s perspective, the goal should be to design an experience that leads to those results.

That’s why we say that at Blueline we focus on immersive learning experiences, whether they be simulations (classroom or esim ), virtual classrooms, learning visuals , or even large group communications events. To paraphrase Schell’s question, “What magic happens when Blueline training occurs?” it is the rich immersive experience that produces the results.

Keeping the learner’s experience in mind throughout the design and development process leads to a set of questions beyond just “was the content clearly communicated?” and “was ample practice provided for skill development?” Thinking about designing an experience that leads to powerful learning means continually asking questions like:

  • What frame of reference is the learner likely to have at this point?
  • How receptive to learning will the learner be? How can we increase that receptivity?
  • How have the previous elements or activities likely affected the energy and focus of the learner? How will this element or activity impact that focus or energy level?
  • How can we engage the learner’s interest, curiosity, and/or emotions with this material?
  • How might we have the learner “disagree” to incite more passion about the topic?
  • What methods can we use so the learner must actively engage with the material rather than merely serve as a passive recipient of information?
  • Would a “failure”or a “success” at this point be more likely to engage the learner? Increase the stickiness of the learning?
  • What situation can we setup so the learner actively creates his or her own learning? Or generates his or her own data?

When we design with the learner’s experience in mind, we keep the learner and not the content front and center. Developing a training that puts the learner at the center more often than not results in greater learning comprehension and stickiness.

Classroom or eLearning? – There’s an App for That!

Need to make an ROI assessment on whether a classroom program or eLearning solution is right for you? Now there is an app for that.

Brainvisa recently released a free iPhone app that helps you calculate the development, implementation and maintenance costs of a classroom program, and compares those costs to developing an eLearning solution. Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) Tool for Learning Investments asks you a series of questions about the program to be develop, such as: “What’s the approximate length of this course?” — “How often it will need to be updated?” and, “How many times it will be offered?”

tool1

Next, the app steps you through similar considerations for implementation such as, cost of space, cost of facilitation, hourly rate of attendees, etc. Using all this information, it then calculates your total cost. Next, it asks if you would like to compare that cost to the cost of developing an eLearning solution.

tool2

CAB doesn’t ask any of the same questions about the eLearning development or implementation, so Brainvisa must be using their development costs for those calculations.

I did three test runs of CAB to check it out. The results of two of the test runs indicated that eLearning was a more cost effective approach. The third test run, with less than 50 people to be trained, said a classroom solution was a more cost effective approach.

Now there is nothing here that you couldn’t do with a simple spreadsheet – or even a pencil and piece of paper! But CAB is simple, the voice over that asks the questions is done with a sense of humor and the math is done for you. More importantly, it is an early demonstration that not only is mobile learning going to be a big trend in 2010, but I think we will also see more mobile tools to support the development, implementation and maintenance of learning solutions.

It looks to be a very interesting year!

What Can Facebook and Twitter Teach Us About Developing Knowledge Communities?

The social media tools of the tech-savvy have gone mainstream in the last year. CNN and many other news organizations now encourage us to follow them on Twitter for the most up to date and breaking news. And not just follow them, but share news stories as they are happening!

Facebook has gone from a way of connecting with other college students on campus, to an international community that includes not just students but mothers, fathers, and even grandmothers and grandfathers.

These new ways of connecting, communicating and sharing information are now making their way into the corporate world as organizations look for ways to capture, share and manage the knowledge and expertise that exists within them. Social Learning is quickly becoming a new catch phrase in the corridors of HR.

So what can we learn from Facebook and Twitter as we examine how to develop knowledge or learning communities in our companies. I think there are several lessons to keep in mind.

  1. Some people will take to it naturally and some won’t.  Just like any other media, the social media approaches will naturally fit some people’s learning and communicating styles better than others. Some people enjoy the conversations and interactions that social tools encourage, while others find this type of sharing and discourse uncomfortable. Social media tools should not be viewed as the answer for knowledge sharing and information, but be part of an overall strategy that includes a variety of options. These new tools have not replaced the telephone, email and face-to-face contact. They have augmented them. In the same way, they will not replace classroom sessions, online training or reference sources, but provide new ways to enhance them.
  2. Plan for organic growth rather than mandated use. Okay, I will admit it. The first time I checked out Twitter about a year ago, I didn’t get it. Now I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy guy, who enjoys being on the cutting edge of technologies, but I really didn’t care what my friends had for lunch! However, as more people I knew began to use Twitter and use it to share important news, ask questions, and crowd-source needs, I found that it did have a place in my communications toolkit. While both Facebook and Twitter have grown exponentially in the last few months, it has not been through a strong marketing push, but rather an organic pull. Friends ask “Are you on Facebook?” and in online discussions “What’s your Twitter handle?” Sure once CNN and Oprah got on-board they took off, but the initial success was built by individuals sharing: “Hey this works for me, check it out.” Successful implementations of knowledge management/sharing communities within organizations will grow the same way. As people start exploring and sharing with their friends, co-workers and network, the value they are getting, and ways they are using the tools, growth will happen. So plan your roll-out strategy to build off of this organic growth.
  3. The greatest power will come in ways you won’t anticipate or expect.  The founders of Twitter had no idea that it would become a means for people to share breaking news during times of crises (like the riots after the Iran elections). It was simply a way to stay in touch with other tech friends – quickly and easily. But as people started using it, they found their own ways to make it valuable.When Facebook opened up to third party developers all types of additional possibilities were created. Now, I don’t really need any more Mafia Wars or Farmville invitations, thank you! But the variety of applications and ways of interacting that are being created means that there can be something for everybody. Again, not what Mark Zuckerberg had in mind when he started it, but certainly a big part of Facebook‘s appeal for many people. Now if you are a corporate IT person, this probably scares you to death. But the more open and adaptable you make the tool, the more ways people will find to use it to add value to the organization. The more locked down it is, the less it will get used and the less value it will create. Remember the folks who created the Internet never imagined it would become the ubiquitous tool for commerce, communication, and sharing that it is today.
  4. Don’t try to think or plan too far out.  Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace and before that Friendster. Soon there will be something that replaces Facebook. (Some think it could be Google Wave, but that’s for a future post). The technologies are evolving and creative people are developing new ways to connect, share, collaborate and work. And the pace of this evolution is accelerating.Three years is probably a good horizon for planning for any social media/communication tool. To plan beyond that is likely a waste of time and resources. And again, as more people begin to push on the capabilities of whatever you implement, there will be a demand for more, better and faster ways to share, organize and access knowledge.
  5. Finally, make it simple and easy to get started.  One of Twitter’s greatest advantages for growth is similar to one of Google’s, it’s dead simple to use. It’s just a single text box. How intimidating is that? And while Facebook is a bit more involved, the main use that most people start with is simply answering the “What’s on your mind?” question. Of course, there is a lot more you can do with Twitter once you start learning about hash tags, direct messaging, retweets, etc. The same goes for learning about the various features and options available on Facebook. But you don’t need to understand, or even know about those, to get started using them. In fact, go back to point number one, most people learn about these more advanced methods organically. They don’t need a “Here’s how to use Facebook” guide.

There are many platforms or technologies that you can use to implement a learning community or knowledge-sharing infrastructure in your organization. (In fact, we have recently rolled out our own platform Boost!,) Regardless of what platform you choose, following the lessons of Facebook and Twitter can help make your implementation more successful. I’d love to hear what you are doing and what you are learning.