Learning Visuals

Why I’m Excited About the iPad

After months of rumor, speculation and hype, Apple finally revealed its latest (and greatest?) new product, the iPad. Personally, I can’t wait to get my hands on one, but I’m most excited about the possibilities of incorporating it into Blueline’s client solutions.

Many bloggers in the elearning space have already written about its use in mobile learning. And clearly it provides a more robust platform for mobile learning than the current smartphones. With its large screen, fast processor, ability to handle HD video, and full web browser (minus Flash, of course), it overcomes many of the restrictions associated with mobile devices.

In case, you’ve just returned from a lunar expedition and have not already been inundated with information about the iPad, here is a link to Apple’s demo of it. While I’m sure we will be developing new mobile learning applications for the iPad, I’m equally excited about how it can enhance our other custom solutions.

In this post I explore how we might enhance Blueline’s programs that utilize a learning visual.

learning-visualFrequently we are asked if we can put one of our Learning Visuals or Blueline Blueprints‘ online. And while I have adapted some learning visuals for use on the computer for refresher training or information access after a classroom session, I have never been totally satisfied with the overall user experience. In the live classroom session, you can see the overall visual, point out content to team members, focus on the parts that are relevant to the current discussion, and easily scan for the information you need. On the computer screen this process of scanning, zooming and focusing becomes a cumbersome process of using the view menu to enlarge the image, dragging the image around the screen, zooming back out to scan, then zooming back in, dragging to just the right piece of information, then scrolling through it. Whew — makes me tired just thinking about it!  And to this point it hasn’t proven to be as immersive or as effective as working with the table-size visual in the classroom. Of course, the other approach is to chop the visual up into small segments that fit on the screen when enlarged — again not elegant or as effective.

Now, if the Blueprint visual is being experienced on the iPad, you will still need to zoom, drag, and focus.  But with Apple’s touch and multi-gesture interface, using your finger to drag the image or quickly swipe across it to the area you need, or pinching it to zoom in and out, the learner’s experience will seem much more intuitive and thus immersive. This level of physical engagement mirrors the physical engagement that we often see in the classroom — in which people use their fingers to trace a path along a visual or touch certain graphical elements as they are reading the accompanying data.

But even more exciting to me are the possibilities for enhancing the classroom experience. The iPad offers new and engaging ways to augment the already powerful learning experience offered though the use of our Blueline Blueprints. In fact, several immediate opportunities came to mind as I watched Apple’s announcement.

One of the challenges with a team of 4 to 6 people sharing a table-size visual is making sure that everyone is able to see all of the details from where they are sitting. Now, if in addition to the table visual, everyone also had the visual on an iPad, they could quickly and easily zoom into any part of the visual as it was being discussed.

Another design challenge we face is finding the right font size that allows us to provide the rich depth of data desired on the visual, while still enabling those, who like me, have reached the bi-focal stage of life, to see it clearly. Again, zooming could help with this, but even more exciting is Apple’s new interface element called: pop-overs. With this technology we could easily overlay a full text case study on the visual that is easily readable.

ipadBut more than just addressing some of the physical challenges, the iPad also provides an elegant way to make the learning visual experience truly multi-media. Imagine a Blueprint that is being used to introduce a new sales model or product line. At points throughout the experience, the learners touch a point on the visual on the iPad and an embedded video of a customer starts playing.  Another possibility is live polling, in which the learners touch a section of the visual on their iPads and a poll pops-up in which everyone votes on a question or topic. The results are then instantly available to the team for discussion and review. The visual could also contain embedded links to additional information available on the company’s website or knowledge management portal. And if the iPads belonged to the learner, rather than being part of the classroom equipment, they could have a live, collaborative, note-taking element, in which learners create their own personal record of their experience that is tied directly to the visual on their iPad, thus providing a powerful anchor back to the entire learning experience.

Just as the iPhone opened the door for developers to create whole new categories of apps, I believe over the next couple of years, we will see whole new approaches to enhancing training delivery being stimulated by the iPad and the inevitable clones it stimulates.

What ideas do you have for the iPad and your training solutions? Let’s share the journey together.

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.”

Does Your Training Help People Fail?

A few weeks ago while home from the University of Central Florida where he is studying Electrical Engineering, my son was working to finish up some physics problems before driving back to school. Most of the problems he blew through by looking up the appropriate formula and plugging in information the problem statements provided. One particular problem however, was giving him fits. After struggling with it for about 30 minutes he finally asked old Dad to take a look.

Now it has been way too many years since I took my last physics class. So I turned to Google and quickly located several pages of explanations on how to solve problems similar to his assignment. When he tried following them though, none of them gave the right answer. So much for Dad’s help! Later that evening he texted me to say that he had gotten back to campus safely and had solved the problem.

When home again a few weeks later, I asked him how he figured out the problem. Basically, we were interpreting one of the factors in the problem statement wrong, which led to us putting in the wrong variable. The rest of the story though, was him sharing about the test he had just taken. “Dad,” he exclaimed, “five of the ten questions on the test were related to that same formula and I know I aced them all!” When asked about the other questions, he admitted that he was less than sure about his answers on those and had to look up some of the formulas for those problems.

I think Austin’s experience bears out the conclusions of Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays and Robert Bjork, of U.C.L.A., from their recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. Learners remember better and for far longer when they don’t immediately get the correct answer, in other words — when they fail first.

For years, educators, and by extension some training developers, advocated “errorless learning” (first introduced by Herbert Terrace in 1963) where activities were designed to avoid learners getting an incorrect answer. The fear was that making an error (or practicing a skill incorrectly first) would lead to learning the error or inhibit learning the correct information or skill.

The research by Kornell, et al, reflects what we’ve seen in developing training experiences and simulations based on discovery learning. In our Blueline Blueprints‘, where table teams explore information based on a learning visual, the questions where teams have the most debate and spend the most time exploring possible answers create the most memorable learning. Questions where answers are too easily discovered don’t have nearly the same impact or retention.

We see the same in developing engaging and results-producing simulations (whether classroom or technology based). Post-simulation and follow-up testing often shows that learners retain best the material where they first made a wrong choice or incorrect decision. Of course, for the learning to be effective this must be immediately followed by some type of coaching, feedback and rationale for the correct choice.

Just like in my son’s case, when the learner fails first it often invokes a stronger emotional response to the material. Also, the learner spends more time processing the new information and aligning their original thoughts with this correct information. It seems reasonable that this increased energy, focus and attention would result in better learning and retention. And this is just what the research shows.

Of course, to be effective the experience should not just lead to failure willy-nilly. There are some guidelines to keep in mind when designing activities that provide the opportunity to fail.

1.There should be a reasonable path to the failure — The learner should not feel that they were tricked into failing. The given information or context should provide a reasonable frame for the anticipated incorrect choice or answer. However, the correct choice/answer should not depend on too nuanced a rationale. The response we want to generate once the correct choice/answer is discovered is Ah, “I can see that.”

2.Always provide feedback, coaching, or the correct answer — This should come immediately so that incorrect information is not retained. Part of providing this feedback or coaching is to giving a clear and succinct rationale for the correct choice/answer. In some simulation designs, the learner can call on a coach or mentor within the simulation before making a choice she is unsure of. While this may prevent a “failure,” the engagement, emotional energy and time spent processing the material is similar to what would have happened if the coaching had come after an incorrect decision.

3. Provide multiple opportunities for failure, but don’t overwhelm the learner — Look for critical content areas to make the most challenging. If every decision leads to failure the learner gets frustrated and probably will disengage. The most challenging situations or questions should be spaced throughout the learning experience to maintain high levels of engagement.

4.Ensure there are sufficient successes to maintain learner engagement and motivation — This is the corollary to #3 above. While the failures do seem to better ingrain new material, successes provide a necessary boast in energy and motivation. Typically, in designing a 90 minute Blueline Blueprint activity, that may consist of 20-25 discussion cards, I will look to develop 4-5 cards that I believe will generate significant debate about the “right answer.” These cards focus on the most critical aspects of the content. While the other cards are designed to generate discussion and engagement, they are likely to lead to consensus more quickly, and encourage a “yeah, we got that one” response. This response becomes all the more powerful and engaging precisely because the team has struggled and possibly “failed” previously.

Ultimately, all of our training efforts are directed toward helping people be more successful. And a few well-planned failures along the way may be just what it takes to help them ultimately succeed.