Category Archives: eLearning


A frog, an iPod, and misplaced skills

I love this video. It’s funny and unexpected, but it also can inspire some thought about the intersection between mobile learning, training and authentic tasks (no, really!).

Mastery Learning is Transferable

That frog is really good at that game. Is anyone surprised? That’s what frogs do.  The main knowledge transfer is from operating in 3D world to a 2D representation on a screen, but the game still exploits the frog’s rapid reflexes and tongue/eye coordination.

Platforms Change, Skills Remain the Same

The frog doesn’t care if that’s an iPhone or an HTC or a real-life fly. Its scanned the movement and the shape and wants to perform. Design for the task, not for the platform or the OS.

Without Satisfaction, Frustration Reigns

Finally the frog attacks the one 3D object that it can. It’s been denied a tasty treat multiple times when all of its experience tells it that that it should be eating a bug– not just a tidbit, but a critical part of its sustenance. As it fails to get its reward, its body language demonstrates greater urgency.

What are our lessons as designers here?

  1. Know what compels our learners — design activities that speak to their desires and strengths. 
  2. Design platform- and device-agnostically– Exploit what makes them unique– touch screens, for example, but make sure that activities are high quality.
  3. Reward with authentic returns. Virtual awards won’t satisfy everyone, or at least not frogs.

Creating Losing Designs

We spend a great deal of time planning for learner success. Do we ever create the ability for learners to lose? Should we?Our society puts a premium on “winning” — nowadays it seems like every team gets a trophy — not just the winner. Americans are culturally bound to the ideal of winning. However, in the real world people lose all of the time: athletes lose games and tournaments, politicians lose elections. In high stakes situations like these, losing has a real consequence. How does this affect learning?Low stakes losing occurs every day. When we lose, we tend to either give up, or continue to practice to overcome the failure. Any casual gamer is familiar with losing and attempting to overcome the loss by quickly replaying the game. Losing, in this context, can be a big motivator, driving the will to practice, which can lead to increased skill. Learning to lose effectively is actually a skill in itself. Resiliency in the face of losing and using strategies to improve is an important life lesson and professional skill. If losing always equates to complete failure, then learners stop striving, stop attempting creative solutions, and see themselves as incapable.In learning design, a primary goal should be to create an atmosphere where losing is acceptable and intrinsically motivates the learner to try again. The potential learning value from this type of experience is measured not by how often the player loses, but by how much they improve through repeated practice.

In your training design include opportunities for low stakes losing before learners are thrust into their high stakes, real-world situations — be it a qualifying exam or on the job performance.

Recommendations for a “losing” design:

  • Make content available on demand so that learners can review material as needed
    • A common mistake is being overly controlling with content. If the goal is for learners to gain knowledge and skills, shouldn’t they have free access to the tools that can make that happen?
  • Communicate how the learner is performing relative to passing scores or via peer-to-peer review as appropriate
    • By communicating how comparatively well they are doing, learners can better sense where they can improve. This also gets their competitive juices flowing.
  • Allow plenty of practice opportunities before the final assessment occurs
    • If the only time that learners can demonstrate knowledge is a final graded test, their opportunities to “lose” are reduced to one high stakes moment. Build in low stakes assessment opportunities that prepare learners for the one that counts.

This post originally appeared in July 2011 on The Total Learner Experience.

Prior Knowledge and Proper Leveling

This post first appeared in June 2009.

Yesterday I spent a long time ensconced with working through ActionScripting 3.0 for Flash. Now, I’m not a super-sophisticated Flash user or ActionScripting writer, but I know my way around. If you don’t know Lynda’s training, they structure the courses through a series of 2-5 minute long screen capture videos with voice over. The courses do not offer clearly stated prerequisite knowledge and I wasted long minutes watching videos defining variables, functions and repetitive syntax. I work from the assumption that most people who are working with a particularly specific programming language through an expensive subscription tutorial service likely know what a variable is.

I wouldn’t even be complaining about the slow step by step nature of the lessons if it weren’t that when they got to the portion that I wanted to know, interactive buttons, it suddenly fast-forwarded adding multiple concepts all at once. After overexplaining basic syntax, it underexplained a multi-layer, multi-movieclip while purportedly teaching how to make a button work. Rather than demonstrating how to control action in a simple, reusable manner, they instead embedded it within a much more complex framework, which makes it difficult for this user to transfer it to her own purposes.

So after suffering through information that was overly basic, I was then overwhelmed by the complexity of the next lessons. I had a similar experience at a four day FileMaker Pro training session. The first day was review for me. The instructor went over database structure — topics like “one to many relationships”. I must mention that there were only 2 people in this training, both of whom had a fair bit database experience. Neither of us needed hours of discussion of fields, tables and relationships. Day 2 was moderately useful. The information covered was graspable. Day 3 and 4 however were pure torture. We breezed through layers of proprietary knowledge that was highly specific and highly detailed.

Throughout the four days I kept wondering, who is this training for? There was no database manager who could find all four days useful. I “earned” a certificate, but I didn’t feel like I was well-served by the 28 hours that I sat in that room.

The missing component in both these experiences was the acknowledgment that these skills would not come until we had time to practice them. There was no time for reflection or synthesis built in or encouraged by these training experiences. I understand the culture that creates training like this, but I think it’s wrong-headed to omit time for people to actually ingest what they are “learning”.

Moving to Online Universities

Originally posted on The Total Learner Experience

A friend and colleague approached me because my alma mater is interested in pushing into the world of online courses. I began thinking about what I think is critical about the university and college experience. Reflecting on all the numerous reasons why people go to college, I developed this list:

  • It’s what’s done
  • to make more more money
  • to avoid adulthood, or the real world, or whatever you want to call that delaying tactic
  • to pursue their interests
  • to network
  • to be qualified for the position they desire
  • to remain competitive
  • for the prestige and social status
  • to learn
  • personal satisfaction

I think that these reasons can also be applied to graduate degrees as well. Of course all these factors and more influence which institution a student might choose as well. These variables include:

  • Location
  • Price
  • Flexibility of courses
  • Relative academic rigorousness, relative emphasis on socializing, demographics of student body– including race, age, social status, economic status
  • Trajectory of graduates

I think where you go to school matters, but not necessarily for the reasons people always give. More than anything the college becomes a kind of identifier of the sort of person they might be, just like another accessory. Regionally, I know what a choice to attend a particular college or campus might say. Nationally, we may tend to share those judgments. Reflect on what you might think about a individual you meet who graduated from Berkley or MIT or West Point. Even without knowing anything further about the individual you might make assumptions about their politics, interests, “style”, or major.

For all their supposed rigor, The US News and World Report and other magazines’ annual college rankings feel fairly subjective and ultimately ring a bit false. I’m not super excited to have a veterinarian who claims to have matriculated at Yale perform surgery on my pup. Ultimately, I don’t really care what college a person has gone to as long as they perform their role well.

Others may not share that view. Online colleges need to stake out their expertise and proclaim what their requirements for enrollment are. I’m not impressed by online colleges advertising on every random social networking. Online colleges need to identify not only how they serve their audience, but how their audience, their graduates, serve us.

But also, if we accept that there is some name-brand recognition influencing why people choose to go to an institution, then we must consider how opening up an entire new product line will affect an established brand.

How much of higher education is breathing the rarefied air in the libraries and lounges? Or attending tail-gating parties? Or finding your niche of disgruntled malcontents? Or having casual coffee with your favorite professor?

On the other hand, online learning broadens the pool of people able to matriculate. Allowing students to engage in asynchronous off-site learning can change the demographics of the target population in the areas of age, work-experience, economic level, purpose and expectations. Responsible college administrators should acknowledge that if they plan to expand their client base, they should include reasonable

Using Social Media in Sales Training

More from the archives. This originally was posted in November 2009 on The Total Learner Experience

This post is a “conversation” held in Google Wave between Dolly Joseph and Brandon Carson (two of our bloggers). Until we can embed actual waves in this blog platform, we will copy-and-paste interesting back-and-forth dialog.

Bwc BRANDON: Typical sales training provides principles, criteria, and process for making the sale. In many instances a a video demonstrating the optimum application of those factors is what is used to try and achieve behavior change. These videos are primarily from the viewpoint of the expert, however. Why not try using social media applications to provide two more perspectives: that of the salesperson being trained, and that of the customer receiving the sales pitch?

Drj DOLLY: Why not use a game? I have some recollection of some game (perhaps from The Sims) as you did different actions you got rapid feedback– so as your avatar smiled or said the other character’s name you earned points, but as you gave negative feedback you would lose those points. How about if as a sales person you didn’t know what the other customer wanted exactly. It’s part of the salesperson/player to figure it out– what their trigger points are. In a sense it’s a sophisticated 20 questions.

Bwc BRANDON: Good point. I like the idea of making it more game-like.

Drj DOLLY: What would be motivating game rewards for sales people? Would they need to IRL rewards, or could they be contained with a larger game framework?

Bwc BRANDON: Sales people have a small window of patience for “games”. However, they do thrive on competition and “winning”. I think reward can be as simple as executive/leadership recognition all the way to financial compensation. A competitive game arcade was used at Intuit as a sales education tool, and the primary reward mechanism was simply the leaderboard and a “weekly top scorer” notification that was sent out to everyone in the sales organization.

Drj DOLLY: Maybe they could earn vacation time. That would be motivating for me. ;). I could see this being a great tool for new hires who don’t have a great deal of sales experience.

Bwc BRANDON: Exactly. The first video can serve as the model. Modeling behavior from the perspective of an expert is a great way to demonstrate to the learner the expected outcomes. New hires need scaffolding to help them practice and understand the complex skills needed for mastery.

Drj DOLLY: Well if we are trying to promote peer to peer learning, then the salespeople should upload their own suggestions or trials. Is there a way for them to do this?

Bwc BRANDON: Sure! Successful salespeople could record their own responses. Have the learner use a webcam or Flipcam to provide their response. Have them upload the response to a video community (YouTube, or an internal “video-on-demand” platform if you have it). Using social media utilities such as ratings and comments, the cohort of learners can view each other’s responses and provide feedback. The experts can also view and rate the practice videos and provide their input as well.

Drj DOLLY: Salespeople who upload videos can receive points. More experienced salespeople could mentor new hires and receive points. If it’s modeled like YouTube, then the more views or comments you get, the more points you get. Of course what we are describing is a closed circuit. You’re not getting any input from the actual customer base.

Bwc BRANDON: Another video can provide perspectives from the client receiving the sales pitch. You can consider using actual customers who have viewed the first and second videos, or you can assemble “actors” and use case studies from the field. I would think it’s key to use real-life experiences whenever possible. Authenticity is a key factor in this type of activity. This unlimited back-and-forth between learners, experts, and even customers provides practice opportunities not possible in a classroom.

Drj DOLLY: What if the best videos became part of the companies marketing plan? Spotlight on top performers. The game makes a genuine leap to real life.

Bwc BRANDON: Great idea! I like that.

10 Ways to Use Facebook for Training

This post first appeared in December 2009 on The Total Learner Experience. Although dated, I think it still has value. 

Bwc Brandon: You know as I work to create social learning micro-sites on the internal corporate network, it sometimes hits me that in a lot of ways I’m just re-creating what Facebook has already hit a home run with. So, Dolly, the question for you today is: How can I leverage Facebook for training?

DrjDolly: What content is best suited for Facebook? Is Facebook for content or is it for social networking and engagement?

Bwc Well it seems that technical training, soft skills training… really any type of learning content would work. The power of the platform seems to be around the integration of peer-to-peer dialogue and sharing with the context of learning. Facebook users are collaborating by default because they are exchanging comments and creating dialogue interactively. What we need to do is make this engaging activity applicable to work/training.

Drj Shall we brainstorm? What are the features of Facebook are conducive to training?

Bwc OK, so let’s make it a contest. Let’s list 10 ways we can use Facebook for training. I mean we’re professionals right? With imaginations like ours, we should be able to easily list 10 ways! Here’s one way:

1. Discussion threads. People seem to love engaging in dialogue about relevant subjects. A simple discussion board functionality is key in attracting learners to a higher level of engagement.

DrjFacebook recently took out the updates about when people commented on others’ walls. I liked that and was sad to see it go. It allowed me to see what my friends were saying — even if it was directly relevant to me AND it often introduced me to new people that I liked. You never know what tidbit of seeming off-topic information will inspire a new idea.

Bwc  2. Class notes and links to supporting information. In academic settings I’ve seen many professors, trainers and facilitators add their syllabi, notes, and links to websites. I’m using Microsoft Sharepoint now to create a wiki where I will host pre-work content and activities for a workshop I am designing. A Facebook-like platform is great for this, although versioning control would be a nice-to-have.

Drj Sharepoint?

Bwc Sharepoint is Microsoft’s collaboration platform. A lot of people are using it for collaborative learning environments. Check out more about it here.

Drj 3. Course feedback. Students can provide feedback about their favorite or least favorite aspects of the training.

Bwc This is where a “two-way” information stream can provide excellent near real-time feedback. An instructional designer could easily move to a more “agile” design process by using Facebook’s social utilities to gain “instant” feedback on instructional content. I’ve been using similar methods for several years by building database systems. Facebook has this functionality built in!


4. Student Reflection. Students are required to post some “takeaway” from any training that they just completed in their status, which can help their community at large.

5. Events. If you can get out of the whole departmental competition thing, it could be really interesting to have online “events” that everyone was invited to facilitate cross-company brainstorming for new initiatives.

Bwc 6. Build your personal network/brand. It’s important for individuals to be able to broadcast their expertise and interests. Facebook-like platforms could become similar to an “auctioning” of skills. IBM does this now with their internal Blue Pages. Employees are encouraged to list their skills, expertise, and availability. People can search using keywords to find suitable candidates for their projects.

Drj I like this idea. We haven’t talked about LinkedIn, but it seems like this might be an internal version of that.

Bwc 7. Post-classroom events (extended learning). We used this recently on a leadership training program. Although the primary component of the training course was a 3-day classroom experience, we designed pre-work activities for the cohort to participate in online, and, to ensure retention and reflection we also designed post-classroom activities. The cohort remained engaged, and continued to work on the post-class activities. One benefit were the “breadcrumbs” left behind by the cohorts… subsequent cohorts could learn from them.

Drj  8. Games. We could do a post of different types of games. But clearly all sorts of games are popular on Facebook. I don’t play, but I know that Mafia Wars, Farmville and the like have some real appeal. I could see seeking out people who had certain skill sets to form your teams. You and I play Scrabble and its knockoffs. Facebook serves as a portal to every kind of game imaginable. I could also see some scavenger hunts for content and personnel.

Bwc How many games on Facebook are designed for learning though? Quite a few I think… it’s just not real obvious.

Drj I FIRMLY believe that every activity people participate in teaches or reinforces some learning or knowledge (even if only a physical response). Even if games are not designed with education/instruction/learning in mind, they still have features that can be exploited and minded to fold in formal/planned learning opportunities. I mean, somehow they have made the most inane, tedious tasks on Farmville completely compelling. Who knew? Which leads me to think about another way to use Facebook for training:

9. Quizzes. What kind of programmer are you? What does your desk say about you? What kind of cubicle mate are you? While these are humorous, I could see some actual useful ones, like providing Myers Briggs profiles and the like. Oh, and here’s the 10th (I beat you to it)!

10. Fandom. I was interested to see that the number one corporate identity on Facebook is Coke. Their presence was first created by a zealous fan. The page has become their corporate identity, and hugely popular. A lot of times employees can be the biggest fans of a company and hold the most knowledge. Creating a safe environment to tell the positives of the company can offset some of the griping that we all need to do sometimes.

Bwc Yes, but some companies are paranoid about their “intellectual property” being made public. It’s akin to the music companies obsessing over DRM — the one thing a company needs to understand about today’s information revolution: you can’t control everything … so focus on influence rather than control. Comcast learned this quickly, and adopted Twitter to broadcast network statuses to its customers. Now it uses Twitter for customer support.

Drj  I see we keep returning to the theme that companies need to have a more flexibility in this era of accessible info.

Bwc Well there are 10 ways… but there are many more. The big question for companies: are you going to build internal social platforms, or leverage the public ones? It seems like many companies will want to keep their social networks behind their firewalls. This may work in the short-run, but newer generations of workers (Millennials and the 2020 Gen) will want to be able to blend their public and work networks and profiles. That will make for an interesting dialog… maybe we can discuss that one soon?

IBM CityOne goes live

I was a bit excited this morning to see that IBM’s CityOne had finally launched. I’m always a fan of innovative games with real life applications and I am currently searching for activities to use with my high school students. Billed as a SimCity-like experience, but with an educational side, I was expecting to have some fun building a city to my specifications and doing some high level problem-solving.

That build-up would indicate some disappointment– and indeed there was. The glossy cityscape I viewed was inviting and attractive. A small icon indicated my first problem to solve. I clicked, exposing the specific city-planning issue related to water. Three solutions were presented with various pricetags. I choose the most expensive, most comprehensive solution and was presented with some boilerplate response. Mousing and clicking over the screen to find my next challenge I determined (perhaps incorrectly) that I had no more challenges. I ended this first of ten rounds thinking that I couldn’t make much progress if I only had ten challenges to solve.

I made it to turn 7, barely. By this round I had begun to have challenges from all 4 areas (water, energy, retail and banking), but they all had the same basic format. There were few of the identified game attributes– little challenge, no suspense, I had no idea what I was competing for or against and I didn’t know how or why I could fail– and I didn’t really care.

I was attracted to the game because of this line from Gizmodo: “The idea here, presumably, is that it’s always a good thing to educate the populace about the these sorts of problems, and, hey, who knows, someone might unwittingly stumble on a solution we can actually use.” This is hard to see how that could happen  because all of the activities are call and response. There is no room or opportunity for players to create their own innovative solutions.

This seems like a marketing/training tool go awry. To launch the game I had to enter detailed personal info– not surprising– but the limited options for industry or occupation indicated to me that IBM had a  target audience in mind. One of the follow up questions asked you to indicate if you were a software purchase “decider”. Many of the game solutions included using software (presumably developed and marketed by IBM) to clean up a variety of perceived major city issues.

It’s disappointing to me that this game is so lame. I have no problem with companies reaching out through games– I just want them to be fun. There was no fun to be had.

This post originally appeared in October 2010 on The Total Learner Experience