Personal Fit Learning “To Go”

When someone realizes that she needs to actively seek out learning to complete a task, the most natural behavior is to find the shortest path to competency. This makes some learning professionals and subject matter experts nervous. After all, how can someone learn something properly without completing the entire course/program/degree?

The truth is that we do this all the time without even realizing we are learning. Watching a YouTube video to learn the proper way to peel and slice a mango, asking a question on a software user group board, or signing up for a class are all examples of learners determining the right amount of learning for the task. It’s learning-to-go that fits the learner’s personal need.

Recently in Chief Learning Officer magazine, Elliot Masie compares this concept to ordering in a coffee shop. Customers have an amazing range of choices and customize the order to their taste and current caffeine requirements. We implemented a similar concept at work about three years ago with our company culture curriculum. We targeted employees and managers who wanted to refresh on the culture topics. We developed our “Culture to Go” concept using a cheesy take-out menu format to make it fun.

  • Appetizers are short activities, articles, or assessments for individuals or teams to get a quick refresh. They can be completed in about 15 minutes and could easily be an agenda item for a staff meeting.
  • Entrees are meatier activities with a facilitator guide. Managers could run these activity at a longer face-to-face meeting or as a stand-alone training.
  • Desserts are the “icing on the cake”. These are deeper-dive activities to become more expert on the topic.

We publicized the series at Career Days across the US at all of our major campuses. Managers loved it. They told us that it was nice to have a quicker option than sending an employee to a half-day or full-day training. They actually used it and gave us great feedback. We decided that going forward we would create to-go options for any course we developed. Many of these to-go options were housed in an on-the-job-support wiki with an easy to remember goto/ redirect URL. A goto/ URL inside our firewall is similar to tinyurl, but instead of being random you pick the keyword. For example, I could pick goto/learningtogo to redirect to this blog post.

Below is a mock-up of the menu we did for the Constructive Confrontation topic. It includes virtual options for globally dispersed teams. Links have been removed since it can’t be accessed outside the firewall. Click the image to see the full document.

Here is another one we did for the Performing to Company Values topic.


Please Use Both Hands

When I look at this photo two things come to mind:

  1. How nice to have a job aid when and where you need it to help you figure out what you are doing wrong so you can do it right.
  2. How lame to use a job aid to compensate for the fact that you have a crappy design. The designer thinks the real problem is that people only use one hand. Let’s use a job aid to change everyone’s behavior instead of adapting the design to real human behavior.

More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve witnessed this kind of behavior in the learning profession. We try to force behavior patterns that aren’t natural so that the great learning activity we designed will work properly. When we try to do this we are wasting everyone’s time, and unnecessarily stressing out the poor facilitator who is trying to make it work.

So what does this have to do with virtual learning? Everything.

I teach a virtual class at work called Interactive Virtual Facilitation. In the class we discuss the challenges of transitioning from the physical classroom to virtual. Overwhelmingly, participants are highly concerned about participants multitasking during the session. They want to know how to stop them. You can’t really.

There are elements you can incorporate into your design to make it “must-see-TV” so they don’t want to multitask:

  1. Make sure that your visuals are dynamic from the beginning. If the visual flow is quick and interesting they will be reluctant to switch screens because they might miss something. Don’t spend five minutes on your first visual. (Or any visual.) It’s boring. It sets the expectation of a visually static experience for the next 60-90 minutes.
  2. Use and vary the channels of participation early and often. Find a way to involve the audience immediately by having them physically manipulate the tools. Do this as people are logging into the platform. Ask everyone to answer a poll question, or draw a picture. This is a great way to capture information about the audience before the session begins. (Place an X on your location on the map. Put a check mark on the topic you are most excited about today. Place an X on the scale to show how you would rate you expertise in this area.) This also sets an expectation of participation from the very beginning.
  3. Harness their need to wander by asking them to do a quick Google search to find resources to share and paste the URLs in the chat channel.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the chat channel, and for goodness sake, don’t turn it off. If they are chatting about the content, they aren’t checking email or finishing a Sudoku. Sure, it’s the digital equivalent of passing notes in class, but it is also a great way for them to spontaneously share resources with each other and network. You can also ask them to answer a question in chat, take a pulse to see if the pacing is good, or anything else you can imagine.
  5. Create activities that allow audience members to share expertise and compare different ways of thinking or doing things.
  6. Don’t show bulleted lists for a topic. They will read the bullets and not listen to you. Or worse, they will think “This is ridiculous, I’ll just read the slides later when they are posted. What’s in my inbox?” Show the topic and ask the audience to write what they think should be on the list. You can guide the conversation to include items that were not added.

What other ways can you think of to harness the learner’s natural behavior and make it work for you in the Virtual Learning Space?

Here is something to chew on from Steve Flowers of Androidgogy. My take away for the virtual arena is that a virtual learning experience doesn’t have to be a course. It could be an interactive panel discussion, an open discussion on a specific topic, a show-and-tell of learning application, group coaching… Your imagination is the limit.

I’d like to take Steve’s challenge even farther by saying that the learner should have access to all of the learning objects and have the opportunity to custom design their own learning experience. If the learner is a novice an self evaluation could suggest a configuration to meet her needs.


Let me start by issuing a battle cry. If you’re an instructional design professional, this battle cry is for you. Are you ready? Here it comes.  




Make fewer courses! In your loudest, most shrill voice. In face paint that would get you onto the set of the Braveheart sequel. At the top of your lungs. Make. Fewer. Courses.

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The Business Case for Virtual Learning

Yesterday I attended a webinar called The Case for Live Virtual Training led by Martyn Lewis of 3GS . I had three very interesting epiphanies during this session. I’m not sure how long it will be maintained, but for what it’s worth you can view a recording  of the session.

#1 Virtual training saves money, but in order to realize an ROI, you have to invest in more than just quality live virtual sessions.
Martyn demonstrates this fairly early on in the session with a graph comparing increased investment in a robust program for optimal-to-maximum return vs. minimal investment for, frankly, minimal return. I have to trust his data on this one, but when you see his description of the full program it seems logical enough. The key here is providing support materials and systems that help learner to apply learning for improved results: The Holy Grail of Learning.

#2 There is much to be learned about creating and facilitating quality virtual learning programs by benchmarking with other professions.
OK, I kind of already knew that you could learn a lot from a DJ to keep people engaged during a session, but Martyn takes it several steps farther in building out a robust virtual program:

  • Live Virtual – We can learn from broadcast media. Not only can we learn from the DJ but also from the NPR hosts. There isn’t just one DJ but two co-hosts who create an open, inviting environment. This immediately caught my attention as Martyn compared collaborative discourse during a live virtual session to “driveway moments”  listeners have during great shows. Not only should it feel like a great radio show, it should sound like a listener call-in show: think Car Talk or Talk of the Nation.
  • Application of Learning – Here Martyn suggests that we have much to learn from performance  coaching. In a case study he references in the session about 30 managers attended a learning event. After 3 weeks only 3 managers had applied the learning. After 3 coaching sessions 27 managers had applied the learning. Coaching can be a very powerful tool to support learners in applying the learning for results.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration – Take a cue from social media. Harness what participants are already doing in their personal lives on facebook and YouTube. They can do this.
  • Asynchronous Learning Resources – Here our tutor is crowdsourcing, explained by The Economist in the article, The Roar of the Crowd.  Crowdsourcing allows an organization to leverage the experience of the target audience to rate existing resources, share experiences, and create new resources for their peers. Some excellent examples of crowdsourcing platforms are Waze , Yelp, Netflix Ratings and Recommendations , and Pinterest .

#3 I really need to add a coaching element to my current project.
I’m working on an interesting challenge right now to refresh current instructors on a completely new design of our face-to-face New Employee Orientation (NEO)… in a virtual TTT. The class is much more interactive than before with more complicated physical setup. I almost flat-out said no when my manager asked if the TTT could be done virtually since we have no travel budget to do them in person. I’m a big believer in training people in the same environment where they are expected to perform when possible. I do like a challenge though. After sleeping on it I figured out a way to do a blended solution using the following elements:

  • Asynchronous Learning: Review the Facilitator Guide andview a video of selected activities from the pilot. The video gives a cue to pause after each activity for a guided reflection about how it might work at smaller remote campuses and in the space where they normally teach. This is recorded on an Instructor Worksheet that they bring to the live session.
  • Live Virtual: Attend a live telepresence session (one session for each site  led by me) where they can try out the activities with the actual materials, discuss the challenges they identified, and resolve how to deal with special circumstances at their sites. They learn from me and each other.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration: Each instructor will be added to the NEO Instructors group (forum + blog) on our company’s internal professional networking site. There I will seed questions about how elements the first session went. I will ask my rock star instructors to respond and get the conversation going.

I was intrigued by Martyn’s view of follow-up coaching and I want to integrate it into the design. The goal would be to provide support and answer questions 1:1 that come up after the group session. I can’t decide if the coaching session should happen just before or just after they teach their first class with the new material. Both? Let them choose?

Luckily I have a great contact in the finance department with a passion for coaching. I think it’s time for us to have lunch.