Wednesday, August 15

The Blog Evolved

This month marks the end of an era. After nearly a decade and 500+ posts, we are shuttering the Learning Circuits Blog and posting exclusively on the ASTD Learning Technologies Blog. It has been a tough decision, especially with the LC Blog getting some of its highest traffic ever—thanks to the amazing group of guest bloggers who have contributed their ideas and expertise over the past 10 months.
So, why are closing it down?

Well, ASTD’s website redesign in April enabled us to publish blogs through our own Communities of Practice—rather than externally house them. For the past few months, we have been dual posting new content in both places, but that was never intended to be a long-term solution. So this month, we’re making the transition to post new content solely to the ASTD Learning Technologies Blog. It will still be the same great content, just on a different—and more dynamic—platform that is searchable from anywhere on the ASTD website, making it easier for users to find technology-related content.

This isn’t the first time ASTD has revamped the LC Blog into a more serviceable offering. Excited about the new communication tool, we actually started our first blog somewhat ambitiously in 2002 as an experiment lead by informal learning guru Jay Cross and Learning Circuits editor Ryann Ellis. After a few years of misfires and restarts, Jay helped us relaunch the blog as we now know it on January 5, 2005, with a post laying down ground rules for a group-generated blog. In short, the rules were, no self-promotional posts, no personal attacks, and keep it brief—all good advice to heed today, no matter the platform.

Indeed, over the years, the blog has seen several incarnations and a parade of learning technology thought leaders contributing content, including Clark Aldrich, Karl Kapp, Donald Clark, Dave Lee, Clark Quinn, Clive Shepherd, Harold Jarche, and most notably Tony Karrer, who was at the helm for nearly four years. We thank them and everyone else who shared their ideas, expertise, and dedication to the field. [And have no fear: For those looking for an older post, the LC Blog will remain live with all its content intact.]

The final post on the LC Blog, Let’s Stop Pretending, is a fitting one. It’s been the most commented on post we’ve had in years. Written by Craig Wiggins, the post is a rally cry to all learning professionals and instructional designers. Thanks for sending us out on a high note, Craig.

For August, our guest blogger is the wonderful Mayra Aixa Villar, who will share her insights on mobile learning.

Wednesday, August 1

Strategies for the Scattered

Part 2 in a 4-part series on what the Human Capital Community of Practice can learn from neuroscience

Neuroscience is a field buzzing with new findings that are indisputably attention-grabbing. But what practical value do these findings offer for those in ASTD’s Human Capital Community of Practice? In part two of this four-part series on what neuroscience can offer to the Human Capital CoP, Dr. Erika Garms examines two related functions critical for our success in the workplace—focus and attention. Readers will learn what supports and challenges focus and attention so they can improve their own performance, and coach or train others in their organizations to improve their performance. We will also explore the facts and fiction surrounding multitasking, which may change the way you allocate your time and energy... continue reading

Monday, July 30

Let's stop pretending

I think I may have mentioned this before, but I work with researchers - people who spend time living in data and coming up for air only when they have actionable insights in tow. In some ways this has been a bracing change of pace for me, and for the most part it has been very interesting to witness. I don't think any of my colleagues in Rosslyn would put it this way, but I like to think that the unspoken refrain in this kind of work is:

look -- really look -- at what is in front of you.
stop pretending that things are otherwise.
act accordingly. 

Rinse. Repeat.

I like this idea a lot. I think I like it so much because we are living in an age of unprecedented access to data and potential analysis. It's flooding into our living rooms, our classrooms, and our conversations, threatening to knock over our television viewing habits and aborting our actor sighting arguments into trips to IMDb. Never has it been easier to elicit the right answer, even taking into account the number of wrong answers that doggedly flank our prey. In the interests of taking stock of the world in which we're working - in light of all of this (and inspired by this unconference update) - let's stop pretending.

  • Let's stop pretending that the answer to 70-20-10 is to double down on formal learning hierarchies.
  • Let's stop pretending that 'social learning' is something new (or something that can only be achieved using social media).
  • Let's stop pretending that what you're collecting with your LMS has a lot to show in terms of learning analytics, ROI, or business intelligence.
  • (While we're at it, let's stop pretending that you need an LMS at all to capture information about meaningful learning experiences.)
  • Let's stop pretending that online learning can only be canned, disembodied public access TV-style instruction with no connection to universities' missions and students' needs.
  • For starters, let's stop pretending that live instructor-led or online education are the only (let alone ranking) games in town.
  • Let's stop pretending that the university will be killed by online education.
  • Let's stop pretending that we don't know (better than most) that the ones most responsive to change will survive.
  • Let's stop pretending that the solution to crafting excellent learning experiences is going to come from Silicon Valley.
  • ...or from a tool.
  • ...or from a tool.
  • ...or from a tool. (it bears repeating.)
  • Let's stop pretending that tools are anything more than tools.
  • Let's stop pretending that elearning and mlearning should exist as terms.
  • Let's stop pretending that we even know how to spell eLearning e-learning e-Learning elearning.
  • Let's stop pretending that any part of our value comes from shrouding our methods and knowledge in mystery.
  • Let's stop pretending that the transparency of a common language for what we do is anything but potential #winning.
  • Let's stop pretending that any of this is about anything other than GTD.
  • Pelo amor de deus, can we please stop pretending that catering to learning styles is something that we should be talking about in 2012?
  • Let's stop pretending that bowing to business pressures from stakeholders is helping anyone, in the long run.
  • At the same time, let's stop pretending that we are not in a business of production.
  • Let's stop pretending that some part of us didn't wish that we could please everyone.
  • Let's stop pretending that we don't have the scars to prove that much of our value is in our spirited, educated opposition.
  • Let's stop pretending that, somewhere along the way, we didn't allow marketers to make us look kind of dumb.
  • Let's stop pretending that we can get away with not knowing how to work with visual and user experience design teams.
  • Let's stop pretending that we have nothing to learn from visual and user experience design teams. (for starters, they tend to be more comfortable with the concept of design thinking than we.)
  • Let's stop pretending that badges = fun.
  • Let's stop pretending that this game from 2006 isn't more engaging than a fair lot of serious/educational gaming.
  • (While we're at it, let's stop to marvel at our breathtaking getting-schooled-ness at the hands of a motivated social change organization and a clever ad firm.)
  • Let's stop pretending that content curation isn't already a core competency.
  • Let's stop giving the impression that we as a people have this social media thing figured out. (This is me, standing on the free soil of Google+land, staring disapprovingly at you all trying to make it work in Facebookistan. Let's get it together, my people.)
  • Let's stop pretending that, at one point or another, we haven't for a moment wondered if we deserve to be marginalized.  (Opinions on learning are never short supply.)
  • Let's stop pretending that what we do is to be relegated to the corner of any business or institution. What we do is central to life -- or at least, living full throttle. Let's make everyone else realize that, too.

Craig Wiggins has been helping people create and manage learning experiences for the last 10 years. He is the eLearning Instructional Design Strategist for the Corporate Executive Board's Corporate Leadership Council, where he manages the creation of meaningful distance learning and performance solutions. Craig holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.Ed. in curriculum development, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to sneak usability, accessibility, and proper task analysis into the mix. In his natural habitat, he is usually storyboarding on wall-sized whiteboards or pontificating on Google+.

Monday, July 23

Think like a product manager

I think it's okay to admit one of the things that attracts us to something like curriculum design and the world of knowledge management is the idea of achieving elusive goals. While we often profess to be striving towards something measurable, 'learning' is still a deliciously vague term for what we are trying to cause or create. I think part of becoming an instructional designer is loving (or learning to love) the craft of creating conditions and designing experiencesI could probably go on for a bit to talk about the virtues of pursuing systems excellence, but I want to spend a bit of time talking about the flip side of that interest - the part where what we create is rightfully situated in the corporate or academic contexts. The part where what you create is considered a component of a product.

Do you think of what you do - what you contribute - as a product? For a long time, I didn't. I thought of myself as exercising a honed skill, and it didn't really matter where I was doing it. I didn't think a lot about how things would be acquired, and the term 'product' seemed a little too crass for what I was trying to do. These days, one of the more challenging and clarifying parts of my job is to focus on the product aspect of what I do. I say product because my design is a functional piece within a larger unit that is sold. Today, I say that thinking about instructional design (in my case, e-learning instructional design) in product terms helps me to create more useful solutions. In a way, I am becoming a product manager. For me, this means three things:

Focusing on the context
In my experience, we instructional designers can at times to look at 'the business' as basically a set of limits on what we can do: not enough funding, not enough freedom, not enough appreciation for what we can really do. (If only I had that really good authoring tool, you all would see something...) There's a bit of comfort in that position, of course -- the best solutions can't be properly leveraged due to limits, so we are cleared to make do with a lesser design -- often a design pushed by those with business concerns but no instructional design experience. 

That is one option. Another is to look past the minor limits and focus on what your business is trying to do. (I learned the term business acumen while working for CEB. It should probably already have been in my vocabulary.) Using the desired business outcome as your north star -- continually asking what the stakeholders want the learner to do, not learn -- means that you can stay rooted in how valuable this whole endeavor (e.g., your project) really is. Maybe your approach will change. Maybe your stakeholders' resolve will founder. Either way, we shouldn't fear this kind of interaction -- we should embrace this kind of practical analysis and strive to be known for it. We are partners in creating, rather than agents of stakeholder notions, and we have to be OK with (advocate for!) destroying in order to create. Thinking about product means thinking about how we want something consumed; focusing on the context means focusing on why you are making something before getting caught up in the how.

Focusing on the positioning
I am not a marketing professional. I do not want to be a marketing professional. Additionally, brief summer jobs selling vacuum cleaners and steak knives taught me that I really, really hate selling things. I just want to help people do what they do better. Most of us are taught that the target audience -- the end user -- is the most important profile is the cavalcade of people who will lay hands on the end result of our work. I still believe that this is true, but thinking about the product as a whole - as something to be sold and consumed - means that sooner or later, I start thinking about who's doing the shopping. In other words: when all is said, done, developed, and set on the shelf, who or what is going to deliver your work to the end user? Maybe you sell your products externally - in this case, you should have marketing working on your behalf. But maybe the product is internally focused (i.e., for your co-workers); in this case, who or what is standing in the way of your target audience consuming your content? Think about that, and you'll open yourself to more than design and development by thinking about production and deployment - the entire system at play in a business solution, rather than simply the part that you directly control.

Focusing on the ecosystem
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the learning ecosystems in my company. This is something that I never expected to say, but here it is: by focusing on the product, I am more aware of other products that are vaguely or acutely related to what I have helped to produce. To make sure that I know how what I've helped to produce is interacting with other products, my business acumen has extended from my business unit to other parts of the company. If my product is to be a star in the night sky, I want it to be part of a guiding constellation of resources.

I don't know if thinking this way will work for everyone, but thinking about creating a consumable resource (i.e., thinking like a product manager) has made me closer to both the people who consume the fruits of my labor and the people who help me create them. I believe that doing so is leading us to create ever more helpful solutions - a goal that suddenly doesn't seem so elusive.


Craig Wiggins has been helping people create and manage learning experiences for the last 10 years. He is the eLearning Instructional Design Strategist for the Corporate Executive Board's Corporate Leadership Council, where he manages the creation of meaningful distance learning and performance solutions. Craig holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.Ed. in curriculum development, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to sneak usability, accessibility, and proper task analysis into the mix. In his natural habitat, he is usually storyboarding on wall-sized whiteboards or pontificating on Google+.

Monday, July 16

Can Higher Education Afford Innovation?

So...this whole week I was pretty excited about the idea of riding the interest from my last two blogposts. I was all set to mount a rousing defense of Google+ as a social media tool worth greater interest from learning folks of all kinds. I really was. Maybe one day you'll get to read that blog post, replete with breathy exhortations and compelling infographics.

...and then, I got distracted by something shiny and buzzy. A colleague of mine who is headed to business school sent me this article, in which Robert F. Bruner, Dean of UVA's Darden School of Business, meditates on the hurdles that online education will have to surmount in higher education. I'm going to admit that my first impulse as an e-learning instructional designer after reading perusing hastily skimming the article was to fall into a bit of defensive confusion, especially with passages like this:
But it’s possible that what iTunes did for music and Netflix did for films will be what online education will do to traditional colleges and universities—not a pretty prospect.
(Is what iTunes and Netflix did for music and movies bad? What was that, again? Are they the same thing? Can media forms like music and movies be equated with institutions? While we're at it, has iTunes U not been a successful venture? I have questions.)

After a re-read, I realized that Bruner isn't so much pooh-poohing the coming digital transformation of the traditional college experience so much as he is scoping out the roadblocks that donors might throw up when called to empty their wallets for their alma maters. Fair enough, but I'm still not convinced that the investments necessary for improving the quality an accessibility of education are getting a fair shake.

Still, as an educator who has never worked in higher education, I think I may be missing something here. To explain my disconnect, I've matched Bruner's five points of potential investor balk with what I hear and think when I read them.

  • I read: Learning platform experimentation will "require ongoing investments through time," and obsolescence is a constant danger.
  • I hear: Educational technology is evolving, and such evolution will be expensive and full of dead ends.
  • I think: Dot matrix printers still print. Haven't seen one in a campus library in ages.

  • I read: While online courses may result in more effective learning experiences for students, they may not result in greater productivity for professors.
  • I hear: Our professors may have to spend more time developing their curricula, not less. If so, what's the point?
  • I think: This kind of thinking seems to fall into the familiar trap of trading cost for quality. It also calls into question what a given university might see as the primary role of professors.

  • I read: Economies of scale may allow one professor to reach thousands of students. While cost effective, this sort of mass dissemination is antithetical to the 'high touch' personal attention that is the hallmark of liberal arts universities.
  • I hear: We're afraid of separating the content and delivery from the institution itself.
  • I think: Is the synchronous, traditional higher education classroom consistently living up to its 'high touch' potential? Is 'high touch' a thing that all higher ed institutions actually value? Also, would not innovations such as the flipped classroom allow for professor time to be further partitioned into virtual office hours? Again, this is more work for the professors, but I believe it might allow for better experiences for the students.

  • I read: A "'star system' of well-known instructors" will "amplify the arms race for talent that already exists among colleges and universities."
  • I hear: We'd like to state again that we're really not comfortable with the idea of separating the content and delivery from the institution itself.
  • I think: The only way that I see online course education exacerbating this 'arms race' (!) is by removing more physical barriers to hosting 'celebrity' professors. Is a university's only argument against dumping their physics professors' sets for a series of live events with Neil de Grasse Tyson that it's hard to get him down to Charlottesville?

  • I read: Traditional university teaching structures require a certain number of people and things, and the need for these things and people might change if we change the way that universities teach.
  • I hear: We have made considerable investments, and are calling on our donors to continue making investments in time-honored methods. Changing our methods threatens both current and future investments.
  • I think: Yes, yes it does.

I obviously think that using technology to mix synchronous and asynchronous sessions can only help universities by increasing the depth of student engagement. Still, Bruner has a point -- someone has to pay for all of this. His meditation brings up a number of other issues that I'm not qualified to answer:

  • How do traditional universities update their methods and structures without breaking the bank and/or alienating nostalgic investors? How can they bring alumni donors around to supporting ways of teaching that are outside of their experience and (possibly) removed from the confines of the campus itself?
  • Even if it proves possible, is such a feat desirable?
  • Is the value of online instruction greater at the undergraduate level than in graduate courses (or vice versa)?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone reading this has had experience with a higher ed institution as a student or as an employee. What do you think? Is this a watershed moment for colleges and universities, or soon to be a minor speed bump in the history of our higher ed institutions? Is it possible for higher ed to wait this movement out and invest in an eventual learning platform 'winner'?


Craig Wiggins has been helping people create and manage learning experiences for the last 10 years. He is the eLearning Instructional Design Strategist for the Corporate Executive Board's Corporate Leadership Council, where he manages the creation of meaningful distance learning and performance solutions. Craig holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.Ed. in curriculum development, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to sneak usability, accessibility, and proper task analysis into the mix. In his natural habitat, he is usually storyboarding on wall-sized whiteboards or pontificating on Google+.

Monday, July 9

Do you brag about your personal learning network?

(The Learning Circuits Blog is moving. Please add this bookmark to keep up-to-date on all of our new posts:

One of the best things about being an instructional designer right now is that now more than ever we feel that our field is in the zeitgeist of what's happening in the media and technology worlds. What we do (rather, how we do it) is influenced greatly by technologies that support more flexible means of communication and collaboration. Social media and mobile technologies have turned the spotlight on social learning concepts, which in turn have made more of us think about the large, ill-charted dark matter of culture: informal learning.

Of course, our response to this turn of events should be elation - finally, Charles Jennings can stop talking about 70-20-10! We can explain communities of practice without once using the phrase "well, no, that's not really an example of what i'm talking about..."! (bonus: we can avoid awkward tittering by wholly avoiding the name 'Wenger' in a classroom setting). Everyone in the Internet Time Alliance can retire to tropical islands. Their work here is done, because everyone in your care now understands the value of social and informal learning.

Except maybe they don't. Maybe you're having trouble convincing your boss that her task force is not a community of practice. Maybe your top-down Yammer implementation has yielded more tumbleweeds than users. Perhaps it's because, in fact, no one is making the connection between the breakthroughs in networking that they can plainly see and whatever it is that you do. Maybe you should brag about your personal learning network.

In this new world, those in our care probably find it harder - not easier - to square the existence of this wikiHow entry and your job as conductor of whatever they've been led to think formalized training is. Do you exemplify the benefits of social and informal learning in your own work life? Do you document successes of social learning? Are you watching and listening to the concerns of your co-workers, providing the right nudge when needed, and openly sourcing your information? Are you connecting your peers with relatable thought leadership or community resources that you've found valuable? How about using technology to make spaces for serendipitous learning - loosely organized, de-escalated learning, free from expectations but endowed with purpose?

As I've said before, I love our kind of people, and not just for their unfailingly sparkling personalities. Every day, they are useful to me in my work, and every day I make it known that I am bringing fire to those in my care because of my associations. In design meetings, I nip errant learning styles talk in the bud. I stay up-to-date on the development of Project Tin Can and use what I know to rethink learning management systems. I experiment with Google Hangouts. I make it easy for myself to be a node in the network and I make sure that people know that part of my value is being as connected as I am.

While I probably spend more time talking about #lrnchat than I do participating in it these days, I've been known by more than one boss as 'the Twitter guy.' I'm proud that I eventually stopped being 'the Twitter guy' - that is, I stopped being just a tolerated, quirky evangelist for the platform when I stopped telling people how valuable Twitter is and started using it very publicly to inform my discourse in the workplace. (As Jane Bozarth says, "Google gets you links. Twitter gets you answers.") As a result, the questions that I get around social media are less of the "what good is Twitter?" variety and more about how to use social learning tools to their best effect.

As I rely on  a large, diverse learning network to help me be competent and prescient, I hope to show (not tell) that I am here to solve problems, not simply build courses or teach classes. I can suggest and employ social and informal learning strategies in part because they're already working: social media tools, content curation, collaboration, and networked learning are making me better at what I do.

Craig Wiggins has been helping people create and manage learning experiences for the last 10 years. He is the eLearning Instructional Design Strategist for the Corporate Executive Board's Corporate Leadership Council, where he manages the creation of meaningful distance learning and performance solutions. Craig holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.Ed. in curriculum development, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to sneak usability, accessibility, and proper task analysis into the mix. In his natural habitat, he is usually storyboarding on wall-sized whiteboards or pontificating on Google+.

Monday, July 2

Our kind of people

(Please bear with me. This has been percolating for a bit, and i'm airing it on a larger stage than I had originally intended.)

I have been a few things in my life, but I really, really like being an instructional designer. I love the idea and practice of helping people learn better - to do better. This is pretty fortunate, as people are willing to pay me to make this happen. However, I've come across a problem with my feelings about instructional design: I find myself in quiet moments thinking that instructional design is the domain of a 'certain kind of person.'

If you're reading this, I think you know who I'm talking about: the autodidact's handmaiden, the unapologetically pedantic, the learning architect. Those who love to to think about learning knowledge transfer performance support so much that they put books like Design for How People Learn and 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People on their pleasure reading lists. Those who get into internet arguments about Alton Brown's instructional method. Those who will cut you at the mention of 'learning styles'. You know, our kind of people.

I love our kind of people. I love meeting them at conferences and online. Perhaps more than anything, I love meeting novice instructional designers who seem to have more sense than I did at their stage in the game. The idea that more of us can be made intentionally (rather than "accidentally", even if it seems that's how most of us got here) is really appealing.

Which leads me back to my problem. In the last few years, the responsibility for helping budding intentional designers has crept up on me - an direct report here, a correspondence mentorship there. Pretty soon I really started thinking about what it means to have an ordered introduction to our industry. I also quickly found out that maybe not everyone who is serious about learning knowledge transfer performance support name drops Vygotsky. Maybe they just want to get things done and not meditate so much on the deep roots. (Also, it's possible that they just don't care that much about Alton Brown.) I'm learning that intentional designers like to worry about sensible things, like what tools they should learn to use and what learning theories are most applicable, or how they should really feel about ADDIE. This is bemusing for someone who didn't even know the term instructional design until after he had created two elearning courses for actual money. I started to think that maybe my real problem is that my idea of what an instructional designer should want might not have a lot to do with what an instructional designer has to do.

So it is with this mental about-face that I started listening more closely to some voices who have been talking about a particular problem related to the creation of our kind of people - we don't have good ways to talk about what it is that we're supposed to be doing. Our kind of people are they way they are because they had to figure it all out and create tools and guides and strategies from scratch without the benefit of routines. The fact that they relished doing so...well, that's how you knew. But in the service of being intentional, maybe we can say that there's simply more romance than virtue in reinventing the wheel. This is where people like Susan Devlin and Julie Dirksen and Steve Flowers are advocating the most sensible way for us to help intentional designers: to put our experience and solutions into patterns of instructional design so that it's less of an educated guess as to which interventions to employ. Maybe we I need to spend more time leaning the ladder against the wall to scale the problem than worrying about making the kinds of people who would build their own ladders.

I'm really excited about the idea of helping to create an instructional design pattern library. I think you should be, too. How do we get started? 

[Steve and Julie, this is your cue :) ]

Craig Wiggins has been helping people create and manage learning experiences for the last 10 years. He is the eLearning Instructional Design Strategist for the Corporate Executive Board's Corporate Leadership Council, where he manages the creation of meaningful distance learning and performance solutions. Wiggins holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.Ed. in curriculum development, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to sneak usability, accessibility, and proper task analysis into the mix. In his natural habitat, he is usually storyboarding on wall-sized whiteboards or pontificating on Google+.

Tuesday, June 26

Face Up To It: Are You the CBT Lady?

Last winter, I was on a cub scout camping trip with my son.  Me and a bunch of dads.  The inevitable “what do you do for a living conversation” came up over pancakes.  I hadn’t gotten too far into the “I design corporate training programs that people take online” description before one of the dads started hissing at me.  Literally.  He formed his fingers into a cross and said, “You’re the CBT Lady!” 
Visions of a hair-netted lunch lady serving up sloppy joes.  Is that what I am?

He went on to describe the true horrors he had suffered while forced to complete hour after endless hour of boring, locked down elearning programs:   “They make us sit through this long audio and you can’t click next until it’s over and then you get to the end of the quiz and you have to take all twenty questions over again because you got one question wrong!”

I attempted to defend myself and our profession.  “We try to do it better than that! That’s not what we’re about!” I protested.  My words fell on deaf ears.  This man had suffered and would hear nothing more.

Weeks later he introduced me to his wife and I got the exact same treatment. She works in the pharmaceutical industry and had similar tales of woe and suffering at the hands of elearning. “Honey, she’s the CBT Lady!”

The point is, this is what a lot of people think of this profession and the work that elearning designers and developers put out there in the name of training.  Is this what you want your name on? Is this how you want to be known?

So before you go out and spend another minute planning your next learning initiative, go out and find out just how what you’re already doing is being perceived. 

Do you know how the people in your organization currently view your formal learning offerings? Is classroom training seen as punishment for poor performance or a careless slip of the tongue? Or is it a breezy day or two out of the office with free lunch?  What about elearning? Is it a task to be endured while otherwise multitasking?

Conduct surveys or get an informal feet-on-the-street view of what’s really happening.  You may want to walk around and check out the kitchens or break rooms. Are the answers to the latest compliance elearning assessment posted on the fridge for all to share?  The message here is that this elearning is just a box to tick rather than an activity with any actual value—or any connection to improving any one’s performance. 

Ask people what they think.  If they’re really being honest, you might get responses that will take your breath away:  “You’re the CBT Lady!”

While you’re on this fact finding mission, find out what people really value in a learning experience and find out if your organization is providing that. If not, how?

Ask people how they like to learn on their own time.  Ask people what you could offer them to help them do their jobs better.

Find ways to provide support and tools that give people what they need and when they need it.  Can you embed performance support tools and job aids into the work flow? Can you use social business tools to connect people directly to the experts in your organization or provide a platform for asking questions and sharing knowledge, information and best practices?

Look at your data and see what you can uncover.  I heard a story of an organization that developed an award winning elearning program with game-like features and goal-based scenarios.  They got lots of hits and uptake from their European and Asian audiences—an unexpected outcome—while the intended American audience stayed away in droves.  Why was that? And then why was this organization now designing a very similar program for their American audience? Do we ever learn?

I’m raising questions here and not providing a lot of solutions, I realize. But the point is to live the questions first.  Find out what people really think of all of the effort you and your team create.  Then ask the question, “is that the kind of work you want to stand by?” Stop being the CBT Lady, I beg you.  And then let’s all go out and find better ways together.

Monday, June 11

Flavors of eLearning Design (ooh baby, it's a wide world)

I met for coffee this past week with someone who’s looking to break into the elearning industry.  She wanted to know where she should be looking and what the hot topics out there are.  I was giving her my 12,000 foot lay of the land, this is what I see going on kind of a thing.  It was so interesting to step by and take stock of what’s happening. 

Here’s where I see elearning going down these days:

Corporate Training and Performance Improvement
Internal L&D departments and vendors designing and developing online learning programs for use within  corporate organizations.  This is 90% of what I do and I imagine the case for a lot of you people reading this post.

Leadership Training for Corporate:
You look at the ASTD ICE expo list and it’s filled with loads of leadership consulting and training companies. The Franklin Coveys, Ken Blanchards, etc.  This is it’s whole behemoth sector in the market – it includes a lot of classroom training and increasingly elearning programs as part of those solutions.

Lots of elearning happening in the school sector.  Although, I haven’t seen much of great quality.  My son has to do some of his math homework online: really basic games.  He says, “I’m not learning, I’m just getting bored!”  Hopefully there’s a lot more than that going on. 

Higher Ed:
Want a master’s degree or a BA? Chances are these days you can take some, if not all of your degree program, online.  And of course there’s the latest MIT/Harvard online education initiative EdX.  

eLearning design for semester long courses is a different beast than your corporate training elearning design where you’re creating a 30 minute course on the latest policy.  I suspect making a jump from higher ed to the corporate world and vice versa would be a big change -- and quite possibly a completely different skill set.

For Profit:
We’re starting to see the for-profit universities offering their curriculums up to the corporate market.  At Corporate University Week, I heard the story of the Verizon degree program for store managers being offered in partnership with Bellevue University (here’s my blog post on the Verizon/Bellevue story from last November).

The Consumer Market:
Just bought a fancy new camera? Maybe that company has some fancy elearning to help you learn how to use it.  More and more we’ll be seeing companies striving to increase their market share by creating value added programs like online learning to help people use their products better.  Because the better pictures you take with that fancy camera, the greater your loyalty AND the more you’ll get out there and evangelize about that camera. 

Health Care/Mental Health:
I think this is a niche area that’s only going to continue to grow.  It’s getting specific resources, information and strategies out to the general public – either through an insurance company as part of their overall benefits offerings, or as programs individuals can purchase online with a credit card.  I’ve been involved in two such programs in the past two years and I think it’s a really interesting space.  Want to help people and make a difference in the lives of individuals?  Start poking around here.

I just pulled this list out of my head.  I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of big buckets and welcome your additions in the comments.

The bottom line is that elearning/online interactive ‘stuff’ is increasingly accepted.  Who hasn’t searched on YouTube to figure out how to stop a leaking toilet? It’s just what we do.  And while more and more of the content out there is user generated (power to the people!), organizations are paying attention.

Organizations in all sectors are figuring out how to create a valuable presence online that will meet the needs of their audience (consumers, students, employees, human beings).  Elearning is happening everywhere – even if that’s not what it’s called.

If you’re trying to break into “the field” – just remember that it’s a huge field.  Figure out where you want to shine and make your difference.  

Monday, June 4

Accidents Do Happen

Once upon a time, I worked at a small company. Because I knew the business and had helped design our software package, and because I was pretty good in front of a crowd, I ended up doing the training. 

One thing led to another and a couple of years later, I got hired at a small multi-media production company that developed corporate training programs delivered on CD ROMs. 

My new job title: “instructional designer.”  I’d never even heard the term, but here I was—off to the races—in what’s turned into a rather healthy career in elearning.  16 years later I’m still at it, designing elearning programs for the (mostly) corporate market.  It’s what I do – and, hopefully, what I do well. 

But I got here pretty much by accident.

What about you? How did you find your way into this role? How did you end up designing elearning programs?  Is this what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Me? I had visions of becoming a high school English teacher or a writer of fine American novels. And while elearning design isn’t all that, it’s sometimes a whole lot more.  In my role, I teach, I write, I schmooze, I share, I design, I create, and I learn.

Because although I’m here completely by accident, I’ve tried to invest myself in this business with passion and spirit.  I walked into this field not knowing how to spell instructional design. And while I’ve never taken a formal class or gotten a fancy graduate degree in instructional design, I have spent a LOT of time learning the basics and honing my craft.  Maybe it’s some deep rooted inferiority complex, but my desire is to do my job to the best of my abilities.

Here are three things I regularly do to learn more about this profession and keep my passion for what I do at a gentle boil:

Read, read, read
I get geeky and read instructional design textbooks.  I learn about learning. I read up on visual design and design in general.  I read books about business and consulting.  And I also read novels and poetry and non-industry stuff to make sure I’m continuing to fill my creative cup.  Over the years I’ve created a reading list for Instructional Designers.

What about you? Are you reading about this stuff in your spare time? What books or resources have you learned the most from?

I speak at a lot of conferences. As a speaker, I need to know my stuff, otherwise the crowd starts throwing tomatoes at me.  Speaking keeps me on my game.  And while I’m at these conferences, I get to go learn myself.  Good stuff.  And not just at sessions, but while connecting with peers and colleagues over coffee or late night karaoke.  Elearning people tend to be pretty passionate. Find your people and learn from them!

ASTD’s TechKnowledge (coming up January 30-February 1, 2013 in San Jose) is a great place to learn more about elearning and connect with other learning geeks.  Are you going? If it’s not in your plan yet, make it happen!  Speaking proposals are being accepted until June 10.  Make this be your inaugural year!

Speaking of people, there’s a lot to learn from each other even when we’re not in the same room together.  When I was first getting my ID passion on, it was all about the blogging community and man-oh-man did I connect to a lot of great people through blogging.  It’s been a great place to document and process my own learning journey, and a fabulous way to connect with other elearning professionals.

These days, a lot of the community activity is on Twitter, where you can be up close and personal with great learning minds like Jane Bozarth (@janebozarth), Clark Quinn (@quinnovator) and Karl Kapp (@kkapp). 

For blogs of interest, be sure to check out the eLearning Learning blog feed aggregator ( Jane Hart’s lists tweeters in the learning and development space. (

Who do you learn from? Do you have a mentor you can bounce ideas off of or who can gently steer you into new areas of learning? Who are you connecting with and learning from online?

What’s in your personal learning plan?
So what’s your game plan for getting better at what you do?  Do you take classes? Go to free online webinars? Write books? Look at lots and lots of elearning programs for inspiration? What helps you create and sustain passion for this work?  Would love to hear your ideas and inspirations in the comments here—and/or find me on Twitter! @cammybean.

Cammy Bean is the VP of Learning Design for Kineo US ( and has been accidentally doing elearning since the mid-90s. A frequent conference speaker and active blogger, Cammy served as the ASTD TK12 Planning Committee Chairperson and will be a featured speaker at this year’s ASTD LearnNow conferences in Boston (July 25-26).  You can find Cammy’s blog at