Areas of Expertise

What can we learn from the world’s best business schools?

What’s the one thing that everyone with an MBA shares? — One or more experiences with team-based simulations. They are perfect for the B-School environment:

  1. They facilitate team-building,
  2. They provide a quick and effective means to assess the strengths and weaknesses of other students,
  3. They are fun and engaging,
  4. They are an outlet for extremely competitive students, and
  5. They teach practical application of a broad range of skills: business strategy and finance, project management, brand management, leadership, market strategy, sales strategy and trust.

Until recently, these simulations ranged from “simply elegant board games” to sophisticated LAN-based computer simulations with unique information presented via “dash board” for each learner to analyze, make and communicate decisions.

Remote team-based activities and simulation

This summer, the Wharton School of Business presented a case about the effectiveness of team-based activities run remotely — either synchronously or asynchronously — at ASTD’s National Conference. Wharton’s experience (with their Executive MBA Program) was that, in addition to significantly reducing travel time and cost, learners retained more and were more productive when they had more time between sessions to digest and apply information. Their typical design approach incorporated a series of individual and group exercises. It included podcasts, webinars, white papers, remote office hours, and a remote group activity followed by a capstone live classroom experience.

While there have been notable exceptions in our past (e.g. broadly successful roll-outs of Simulearn’s Virtual Leader) historically, for most organizations, distance learning has meant delivering PowerPoints via webinar.

However, that’s no longer the case. Blueline recently launched: Enspire’s Business Challenge. Business Challenge is a web-based, single or multiplayer simulation in which participants take the helm of a virtual business and compete for market leadership. The simulation is set up and debriefed remotely via Webinar. At the client’s option, it can also be supplemented with a series of case-based elearning modules called Fluent in Finance. It presents a unique combination of elearning, simulation and virtual classroom in its design.

Today, we live at the intersection of technological innovation and learning. We feel that the ROI on remote team-based activities and simulation is so compelling, that we regularly include elements of it in the work that we are proposing and designing for clients this fall.

Blueline Client, Booz Allen Hamilton, wins Bersin Learning Leaders’ award for Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence

The Bersin Learning Leaders program is designed to identify the very best in organizational learning and talent management. The program’s goal is not just to provide awards – but to recognize organizations which are driving high-value solutions based on business strategies. Bersin’s focus is on the use of benchmark criteria based on years of in-depth study across all areas of learning and talent management.

The program categories cover six major areas of learning and talent solutions, and encompass the key ways that organizations can drive value:

  1. Operational Training and Development Excellence
  2. Leadership Development Excellence
  3. Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence
  4. Learning and Talent Technology Excellence
  5. Learning Organization and Governance Excellence
  6. Vendor Innovation in Learning and Talent Management

The 2010 Learning Leaders represent the very best of enterprise learning and talent management with high impact on the business. Our Client, Booz Allen Hamilton, was announced as the winner of the Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence for the work that we did with them to create a positive new hire experience.

To learn more about Bersin’s Learning Leaders program, and the work that Blueline Simulations did with Booz Allen Hamilton to create an award winning Onboarding Experience, click the link below:

Learning Leaders 2010: Lessons from the Best

Learning Leaders are the Key to Reengaging a Disengaged Workforce

Your organization has much to contend with – uncertainty in the marketplace, changing customer behaviors, new technology, and employees that have disengaged.  That’s right – DISENGAGED.  The broad employee population may be thankful to have a job, but let’s face it, their focus has been challenged by the worst recession in three generations. In fact, research consistently shows that when employees are uncertain about the organization’s future, their productivity suffers. A lot of time and energy is lost as people discuss and worry about “what could happen.”

Active learning techniques such as simulations or learning visuals have been proven to engage more effectively than any other training medium. Now may be the time to refocus and reengage your workforce with one of these custom training solutions. Imagine the competitive advantage you could enjoy if all of your employees were focused on the critical success factors that your leadership has identified as the keys to achieving plan this year.

Many of our clients have enjoyed tremendous productivity boosts by utilizing our learning visuals (Blueline Blueprints) to facilitate their employee’s personal connection to the business imperative – why it matters, why it must happen now, the role that each of them must play, and the benefits to them collectively and individually.

In one of my favorite movie scenes of all time, Andrew Shephard (played by Michael Douglas), in The American President, chastises Bob Rumsfeld (played by Richard Dreyfuss), saying: “we have serious problems and we need serious people Bob, and your 15 minutes of fame is up.”  Given the current economic conditions, the role of the learning leader as business advocate is more critical than ever.  In the words of Andrew Shephard, “It’s time to stand up and support the business, the time for nice to haves is over.” If you are ready to lead, a custom simulation or learning visual may very well be the answer.

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.

Helping the Brain Make Meaning

I recently discovered a presentation from last year’s TED conference by Tom Wujec, an Information Designer and Fellow at AutoDesk, in which he explored the question, “How can we best engage our brains to help us better understand big ideas?” Certainly an important question for those of us engaged in developing training and communications programs.

Wujec’s investigation was stimulated by people’s reactions to an experiment conducted at the previous year’s TED conference. (For those not familiar with it, TED is a conference for bringing together leading thinkers and practioners in the fields of Technology, Education and Design. The purpose is to share “big ideas” that will “change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world.”) At the previous conference, artist from AutoDesk and The Grove were capturing the main ideas or concepts from each presentation in sketches. These were then assembled into an interactive display that attendees could explore. The overwhelming positive response led Wujec to begin to investigate just how does the brain “make meaning” or assemble mental models.

Not surprisingly, his investigation of cognitive science lead to the conclusion that the visualization of ideas and concepts plays an important role in how we make meaning of and retain ideas. He learned that meaning comes through a series of discovery or “ah-ha” moments, through various processes. His talk focused on three areas of the brain involved in converting visual input into mental models.

  1. The Ventral Stream – which determines “what” we are looking at
  2. The Dorsal Stream – which spatially locates or places items
  3. Limbic System – where the feeling or emotional reaction to what we’re seeing resides

Wujec’s examination of how these three (along with about 25 other processes) create meaning led to three conclusions that have significance for how we develop training and communications.

  1. Have People Interact with the Images to Create Engagement
  2. Augment the Memory with Persistent and Evolving Views

Of course as I watched the presentation, I immediately thought of our Blueline Blueprint learning visuals. For years we have known how effective they are at helping individuals grasp new ideas and concepts. One of my clients found that after three months people who attended a session using a learning visual I had designed had a 65% better grasp of the company’s new strategic objectives, and how those objectives should influence their work, than individuals attending the traditional CEO “road-show.” I was struck by how the training and communication sessions built around one of our Blueprints tap directly into Wujec’s three components of making meaning.

1. Use Images to Clarify Ideas — Now I can hardly draw a stick figure, but I’m lucky enough to work with talented artists who excel at developing visual metaphors and images to capture and clarify clients’ ideas. During at least half the Blueprint (links to projects I’ve worked on, someone on the client team will say, “we’ve struggled with this for months, but your visual has created alignment and clarity of message that we just couldn’t achieve.”

2.Have People Interact with the Images to Create Engagement — Using the Socratic Dialogue method, small teams of learners explore this powerful visual to find information, make connections and discuss application to their work. This creates a level of engagement and processing of ideas that is an order of magnitude greater than listening to a presentation of material.

3.Augment the Memory with Persistent and Evolving Views — Frequently, we will use elements from the Blueprint as a visual component in on-going communications that occur after the initial session. This provides a visual trigger that recalls the experience and the learning. We have also created place-mat size copies of the visual or even mouse-pads as take-aways, all to provide that persistent review of the concepts and application.

Of course, discovery learning, or creating those “ah-ha” moments, is fundamental to all of our designs and programs. We constantly strive to find ways to live up to a slightly altered version of Lao-Tse’s quote on great leadership, “But of a good design, – when its work is done, its aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.”