Learning Visuals

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!

Perfecting the use of “Gamification” Techniques to Increase Learner Engagement

Recently, we had to hold multiple sessions because demand for our webinar about Gamification was so overwhelming.  So what’s all of the excitement about?

The “gamification” of training designs isn’t new, it’s just newly popular and in more demand thanks to the highly publicized success of platforms like Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla.

Let’s start with a definition (from Wikipedia):

“Gamification is the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, and learning.”

The most important word in that paragraph is engagement. Because in the field of learning, engagement translates to retention; retention translates into application; and application translates into results. So if you want to drive results, drive engagement, and if you want to engage: gamify your learning.

At Blueline Simulations, we have been perfecting the use of “gamification” techniques to increase learner engagement for more than a decade.  Examples of how we do that include:

  1. Utilizing progress bars or other visual meters to indicate how close people are to completing a training element.
  2. Embedding casual games or game elements into the designs of our Blueprint Learning Visuals and our Level II & III eLearning designs.
  3. Using virtual currency in our business strategy and finance simulations.
  4. Incorporating peer challenge and feedback mechanisms into YouTube style best practice sharing.
  5. Constructing leaderboards, awarding points and conquering levels are all foundational to the design of our Level IV eSimulations.

Want to learn more.  Give the gamification experts at Blueline Simulations a call today!

Blueline is Celebrating our 10th Birthday. And I am a Bit Speechless.

Yes we had big dreams when we founded Blueline. But we never imagined the success and the many accolades that we have enjoyed in our first decade.  Blueline’s award-winning training solutions have been recognized by ASTD, Brandon Hall and Bersin’s Learning Leaders. Thank you to all of our clients for believing in our vision and for trusting us with the “tough” projects — the projects that weren’t simply about building a training program but were about solving a business problem.

And thank you to all of the Blueline associates who have contributed directly and indirectly to our client’s successes. I plan to dream really big about the next 10 years because now I know how capable you are.

On the occasion of this milestone, I’ve been reflecting about our business — where it has been and (even more exciting) where it is going.

Welcome to the Age of Simulation

Recently, I participated in a discussion about learning strategies with some very senior leaders from Xerox, AT&T, UPS, and Intercontinental Hotel Corporation. And it was interesting because though they weren’t able to agree on everything, there was one thing that they quickly came to consensus on: “in this environment we need to teach learners more, and faster than ever before.”

Consider that 47% of employees are going to be under the age of 35 by the end of 2013. Let’s think about that for a second. This is a brand new generation of learners with a whole different set of expectations. These folks grew up with Xbox, and they grew up with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. They grew up with Zynga and other social games on Facebook.

What’s the common theme? This group of learners expects to be entertained.

In 25 years in the learning space, if I’ve learned anything it’s that the fastest way to engage learners is through simulation. Period. And now we have this huge demographic that will not only benefit from simulation but is demanding it, because they want to be entertained, and they expect to be put in the middle of the experience.

Games, E-sims, and Beyond

Ten years ago, when I founded Blueline, we pushed the envelope by designing Blueline Blueprint Learning Visuals and classroom based simulations, many of which looked and felt like board games. These innovations speed learning and increase retention and continue to bring unique value in response to business problems that demand face-to-face interactions between learners.

About seven years ago, “branching esimulations” went mainstream in response to traditional elearning solutions that were dull and failed to engage and energize the learner. In a typical branching esimulation, the learner is faced with a challenge — often in the form of dialog with a customer or an employee — and is asked to respond by selecting from one of three alternatives. Their choice leads to another challenge and more choices, “and so on and so on” just like the old Clairol commercials. The problem has been that these simulations are hard coded, and for large scale immersive applications, expensive to build, and all but impossible to maintain and update.

Today technology has made it possible for us to do so much more, and to deliver so much more value. We are developing branching simulations based on gaming engines with thousands of nodes guided by easily updated rules and probabilities. Close your eyes and imagine a scenario in which you are interacting with a video-based character using your voice… and that you can interact with that character for hours on end in an almost life-like free flowing dialog.

Think for a minute about the potential that brings. Now, open your eyes because that’s a reality today.

Imagine what I will be writing about ten years from today!

“Maps to Go” We’ve Pioneered an Exciting New Application for our Signature Blueprint Learning Tools!

Just ask our clients — Blueline’s signature Blueprint Learning Visuals are incredibly powerful tools for driving change and engaging audiences. But many clients have been asking for a simpler, faster, less expensive alternative to visually depict complex messages. Introducing the newest category in Blueline’s solution suite: the Journey Map.

Whereas Blueprints are designed as concentrated learning experiences, Journey Maps are built to move. A Journey Map is a smaller, 11 x 17 rendering that visually depicts complex messages. By design, these highly flexible images can carry change messages quickly and efficiently through your organization over a variety of media. The icon-driven approach, simple timeline presentations, and short marketing-style copy have been proven to be the perfect combination when rendering complex systems with simplicity and emotional engagement.

Our clients immediately recognize the Journey Map’s unique ability to deliver important messages with power and retention.  And what they discover soon after is that it can also be used as a cognitive organizer, with a series of images and icons that can be repurposed to create continuity across other applications – from the company intranet, to employee handbooks, to strategy presentations, to internal communications branding.

From collaborative “napkin sketch” to professional rendering to multiple applications, the Journey Map is an incredibly adaptive tool that keeps delivering value.

When creating a Journey Map, our Art Director and master artists collaborate with our clients through a simple three-step process that speeds development and keeps costs low:

  1. An initial “napkin sketch,” developed in collaboration with you. We will facilitate the process in which we help you render your strategic messages in a rough, metaphorical format.
  2. A first draft of the full image in highly polished Adobe Illustrator format (also known as “vector art”), accompanied by the copy messages.
  3. A final rendering, with individual icons and image elements isolated for you to apply to other communications.

    The visual approach to the journey maps have proven to be effective in rendering robust information in an accessible, graphical format.

Every Journey Map visual meets the highest quality standards:

  1. It is a colorful and dynamic visual, graphically consistent with other solutions developed by Blueline.
  2. The document will be formatted with “tabloid” dimensions of 11 x 17 inches, and delivered in PDF format. (Upon request, we can also deliver the document in Photoshop, EPS, JPEG or other graphic formats.)
  3. The primary design elements of the document will be isolated and delivered as individual graphics for use in other applications. (For example, individual icons may be placed within explanatory documents in Word format, or used in online documents.)

You may be squinting to view the details of the Journey Maps depicted here. (See how engaging the approach is?) We’d love to give you a much closer look… and help you envision how your critical, strategic messages can be rendered in a highly engaging narrative/metaphorical format. Give me a call today, and I’ll tell you how.

An Evolution in Learning: Welcome to the Age of Integration Part 1

Our story begins with a classroom and an overhead transparency projector.

In its nascent years, corporate training was filled with the promise of alignment and change as employees were removed from the shop floor, herded into the conference room, and encouraged to scribble notes while a subject matter expert delivered information that had been deemed strategically important. Learning was largely transactional — a one-way transfer of information with learners situated permanently on the receiving end. (As for PowerPoint gosh, don’t get me started. Let’s just say the technology has only ensured that the transactional model stayed in place long past its expiration date.)

Then came the age of the knowledge worker, and organizational learning took on a different flavor. Awakened from their classroom-induced hypnosis, practitioners recalled how they learned to ride their bikes at the age of 8 (no PowerPoints!) and wondered why the same idea couldn’t be brought to the front lines of work. Many firms (including your friends here at Blueline Simulations) were intrigued by the possibility of the “discovery rich learning environment.” Using learning technologies such as immersive simulation, learning visuals, Socratic dialogue, and narrative, learners drew from their own experience and knowledge to generate awareness, insight and behavior change. This rich age of constructivist learning persists today, and firms such as Blueline Simulations continue to explore whole-brained technologies (such as our popular Learning Blueprints) to create engagement, connection, and meaning. The constructivist age of corporate learning is still young, and we’ve just barely scratched the surface.

Then, with a mouse click heard round the world, web-enabled technologies emerged and learning changed yet again. Why are we spending all of this money to fly everyone here to HQ? Just look how much it is costing us to take our people off of the shop floor!

Sure, the early promise of e-learning was accompanied by a certain amount of disillusionment. (Click: Answer the question. Click: Advance to the next screen. Repeat.) But just as classroom designs evolved from transactional to constructivist, so did elearning.

And as the learning industry generated more and more great ideas for exercising the technology well, some new awarenesses began to spread within the organization: that perhaps it was time to end the artificial separation between doing the work and learning how to do the work; and that learning can and should be delivered at the exact moment of need.

The constructivist era has evolved into the age of integrated learning. This has spawned a broad range of performance support innovations.

In my next post I’ll look at some new ideas for delivering integrated learning — mission-critical training at the point of greatest learning impact: at the moment of need.