Learning Visuals

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!

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.

Choose Wisely

Last week I wrote about the power of the learning visual to engage learners in creating their own story. Now clearly the quality of the art and visual metaphor in a learning visual have a significant impact on the learners and their experience, but how about the visuals you choose in other learning mediums, such as the virtual classroom or social learning portal? What role does the avatar or look you choose play in creating your story?

Well, as it turns out, these visual representations can play a significant role. In their book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, Nicholas A. Christaki and James H. Fowler, discuss research that has been done on the impact your avatar or visual representation has on the interactions you have and the perceptions others develop about you.

In one study they cite, individuals were assigned at random either an “attractive” or “homely” avatar in a virtual world. Those who got an attractive avatar exhibited more self-confidence than individuals assigned a homely avatar. Specifically, they had their avatar stand closer to individuals when interacting, on average 3-feet compared to 6-feet for homely avatars. They also demonstrated a greater willingness to share information and initiate conversations.

In another study, individuals assigned a tall avatar were more confident and assertive. They were consistently able to negotiate for a larger sum of money in a money exchange game when paired with someone who had a short avatar.

Perhaps the most amazing finding of these studies was that there was a carry over of the perceptions created in the virtual world to interactions in real life!

As more training and learning takes place through virtual and social technologies, be sure that when choosing your visual representation – choose wisely!

The Power of the Learning Visual

It doesn’t matter if you call it a Work Mat, Discovery Map, Learning Map or, as we do, a Learning Blueprint. I’m constantly in awe of the power of this medium to change attitudes and pass on knowledge. The solutions we develop utilizing learning visuals consistently garner comments such as “This is the best training experience I have ever had,” but more importantly show significantly enhanced learning retention and use.

So what makes this particular approach so powerful? Intellectually, it appeals to the visual, auditory and kinesthetic learner. Behaviorally, it creates high levels of engagement and interaction. Intuitively, the metaphor often used in the learning visual provides a “big picture” that draws all the content together in a meaningful way.

While these are certainly considerations when choosing to recommend a Learning Blueprint for our client, there is a fundamental reason for its impact: a well designed learning visual taps into the power of stories.

Stories are one of the oldest, and certainly one of the most basic ways that we learn. For most of human existence the primary way of passing on hard-earned lessons was through story telling. If it can be said there is a primal way we are hard-wired to learn, it would be through the power of stories.

What makes the learning visual a particularly powerful story medium is that the learner becomes a part of the story. Of course, a story line is often built into visual and experience, but the real power is that learners become both the storytellers and players in the story. Good design begets an experience in which each table builds its own story and each person has a role in that story. This taps into our natural inclination to internalize and remember stories. Retention and impact grow, because the story becomes personal, it becomes my story for each learner.

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.