The Webinar Manifesto

Live blogging from Learning 2012

I had the opportunity to hear from Matthew Murdoch and Treion Muller,  the authors of The Webinar Manifesto. We definitely play for the same team when it comes to doing interactive live virtual training. You can join their revolution by signing the Manifesto.

Matthew and Treion covered 3 of the topics in the book during the session. Here are my notes with additional resources that I think support their points.

Don’t Default
Don’t simply use the default settings in your platform. Learn about all of tools available to make the session come alive. Think about how you could use them to to allow for maximum participation.

  1. Read the manual
  2. Apply the Manual
  3. Write your own manual

Shut Down the Ugly
Channel your inner marketer. Learn some basic graphic design rules and apply them to your communications and visuals.

  1. Email Invitations: Your invitations should look as good as your visuals for the presentation. Include a value proposition so learners know what they will get out of it. “The words you use should be just as beautiful as the graphics you use.” 9 Must-Have Components of Compelling Email Copy.
  2. Social Media: This is just as important as email. Again, don’t default. Make sure that you use a relevant branding image for the account and include links to make it easy for participants to register. Don’t post more than 3-4 times per week or it becomes noise. Try different benefit messages for wider appeal.
  3. Ban Ugly Slides: Limit the amount of text to a powerful phrase or two. Use relevant, teachable graphics. Here is an example of a PowerPoint makeover by Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen.

Captivate or Alienate
Your visuals and the flow of your session must be dynamic. You are competing with email, texts, and Sudoku. These distractions will always be there, but you can create anticipation by using powerful images and well planned activities. I write about this in Is “Webinar a Dirty Word?

  1. Create Virtually Accountability:  Set the expectation for participating verbally, visually, and kinesthetically. Begin the session with a highly interactive inclusion activity and let participants know they will use chat or annotation tools to participate.
  2. Don’t Mute: Don’t silence participants. Invite verbal participation throughout the session.
  3. Set the stage: Let participants know that this is not your usual webinar. Participants may be called upon by name.
  4. Hang 10… count to ten after asking a question. Say out loud, “I’ll give you some time to think about it.”
  5. Visual: Open their eyes. Map it… where we are, where we are going… use graphics.
  6. Kinesthetic–Push: use the mouse, move around, Pull: Download. Play: Scavenger hunt. Come back and contribute. Never break for more than 5 minutes for an activity.

Surviving the SME

Live Blogging from Learning 2012. Thanks to the participants of session 162 for these great tips!

Working with a Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can be challenging.  Dealing with conflicting schedules, roles and responsibilities, and accountability issues can ruffle the most seasoned ISD. Below are three profiles of challenging SMEs and how to get the most from them.

The Buddy
This SME has been a friend for many years. They don’t understand the underlying processes you use to get the job done and rely on you to “just take care of everything”. They often ask to skirt the process and don’t understand why they have to “follow the rules”.

  • Start with an open and direct conversation about roles and responsibilities. Set deadlines and do a periodic pulse check. Find out what else your buddy is working on and make sure a realistic schedule in place. Collaborate on the deadline up front. Does anyone have constraints that will affect the deadline?
  • Clarify roles. Sometimes SMEs try to take on the role of designer and the buddy might impose in this way. It is important to help them understand how they fit into the big picture. What part do they play? What are the consequences and impact to others working on the project if they don’t fulfill that role? Establish accountability.
  • Many times the SME is a long time instructor you have gotten to know over the years and many course updates. This buddy can be very invested in the content and think of the course as “their baby”. You have to help them become a change agent so milestones are not delayed because of the attachments to the course. One way to do this is to share needs assessment data with the SME. Appeal to their passion to meet learner needs with the data. Another way is to recruit new instructors to add new ideas. This introduces some competition and might elicit the cooperation you need.
  • Friend SMEs sometimes think they can skirt the process and still get something done. It is important to communicate that you can’t take shortcuts or the project will fall apart. It’s not about “doing them a favor,” it’s about doing it right.

The Historian
The historian is an expert on a product or process that has been in place for many years. They may have been involved in previous updates. Often they are highly invested in the last version and may not agree with new updates.

  • Depending on the topic, you can get sucked into the history. It may be  fascinating, but you need to keep them on track. Find a way to create a balance between respect for the SME’s opinion and sticking to the timeline, not losing sight of the task. Demonstrate respect to the history while still moving forward.
  • Historians may be well respected in the organization and they may have great influence. Focus on bringing them into the project and making them part of the change. Communicate how their ongoing participation helps meet the goal.
  • Decide when to cut your losses.
  • Where is the accountability? Could you leverage a project manager who might have more leverage to have a direct conversation about risk to the project. Might need to elevate to the SME’s supervisor.
  • Stress the value of the person’s contribution. Clearly define the roles and responsibility, and were they add value.

Out to Lunch
This SME may be invested in the project and even great to work with int he beginning, but slowly begins to disappear. Review meetings get cancelled because of more important work meetings. Deadlines are missed. They are just too busy.

  • Set a regular meeting. Even if it is only a 15 minute chick-in. Get buy-in early that this meeting will happen. It can be rescheduled, but not cancelled. Use virtual presentations if needed to make the meeting more convenient.
  • Be persistent. If you keep calling and emailing them you will stay on their radar.
  • Ask to observe the SME on-the-job to better understand and get what you need. They can continue working while you collect data.
  • Build good relationships. SMEs tend to come around and give you more time if you take genuine interest in them. Appreciate them… have a luncheon for them to recognize them and demonstrate why their involvement is important.
  • Do you third party project manager who can “be the bad guy” to keep everyone on track? This can help to put the SME and you on the “same team”. One participant shared this method. The project plan is posted and project manager dials into the first 5 min of every meeting to revisit the plan. This person acts as a mediator to help resolve time conflicts and manages resource allocation.
  • Use Outlook to assign tasks. Send a weekly recap email to remind about tasks and thank those who have already turned in on time. You can also block work time on their calendar to help them carve out time to do the work.

General Advice

  • Be very clear about roles and what everyone brings to the table. Even if you’ve worked with the SME before, don’t assume they understand the design and development process. Be clear about what content and data they need to provide so that the project will be successful.
  • If you use Articulate, (and you don’t want them to try to design) don’t share that it comes from powerpoint!
  • Communucate, communucate, communucate… keep them up to date on developments. Share the product… follow up when the learning product is final and give them credit as a contributor.
  • Respect their time and schedule them in meetings only when needed. They will be more likely to attend meetings if they know they have an active role.
  • Recognize the value of their contribution. Let them know how important their expertise is. Send them thank you cards and reward cards… not just at end, but at milestones throughout. Hold an annual lunch for your SMEs and give them some public recognition.
  • If scheduling conflicts are an issue, schedule lunch to get the review meeting. Pay for lunch. Get offsite if possible.

Flexible Design for a Global Audience

What happens when you are tasked with designing a single solution for a global audience? How do you ensure that in the process of designing something that works for everyone, that you don’t end up with something that doesn’t work for anyone?

This is where I deploy what I call “Flexible Design”.

About 7 years ago the leadership of our learning organization declared that we would no longer provide customized design for specific regions or countries. We would now provide a “vanilla” solution for the entire corporation, unless the topic covered pay or benefits. At the time this meant one solution for 48 different countries.

It made sense at the bottom line because it is expensive and time consuming to provide multiple versions of a course. It made no sense from a learning point of view because there are drastic differences in learning styles from region to region. For example:

  • Israelis thrive on heated discussion and don’t hesitate to challenge the facilitator.
  • Chinese learners will rarely speak out in a class and will defer to the instructor or the most senior manager in the room. They prefer more intimate small group discussions to large class discussions.
  • The British use humor and wry wit to express descent and consider an emotional response to be a sign of immaturity.

How could one solution possibly meet the needs of global learners?

We had to get very creative if we were going to operate with this new constraint and still produce quality learning experiences that felt like they were customized. We used the following techniques to design-in flexibility.

Trust Your Facilitators
Facilitators are in the in the trenches. They are part of the culture where they teach and they know what will engage their learners. They can give you great advice about whether or not an activity will work and make suggestions about how to reach your goals. Make sure to include a few facilitators from various countries on your design review team. Additionally, solicit feedback from all instructors via email or survey. You might be surprised how much they are willing to share.

Design the Structure, Let the Facilitator Fill In the Details
You wouldn’t do this for an entire course, but some sections may benefit from some localization. A list of examples that resonates in the United States might not make any sense to learners in Brazil or Japan. As a part of the train-the-trainer, ask facilitators to fill in the blanks with locally relevant examples. If you have an embedded regional or country training manager you could work with them to set a standard list for their location and communicate it to the facilitators they manage. If possible, utilize social media within your organization to set up instructor communities where they can share ideas and post files.

Encourage Use of the Local Language
In the facilitator guide and train-the-trainer, encourage facilitators to facilitate important discussions or activities in the local language. If working with a multilingual group, ask learners how they would rename or explain a concept in their local language and share what it means. In a virtual setting you could do this in the chat channel or with annotation tools. It’s a great way to check for comprehension and open up discussion about how the local culture might accept or resist the concept.

Design-In Multiple Options That Meet the Same Learning Objective
Clearly communicate the goal of your activity in the train-the-trainer. Provide a few options of activities to meet that goal. This is a good discussion point in the train-the-trainer. Potential facilitators can discuss which one they think best matches the local learning culture. They also have options if teaching in another country. Consider high context/low context and direct/indirect communication styles.

Be Clear About What Must Not Be Altered
In the train-the-trainer it is very important to be clear about what material must not be altered. If consistency of message or process is required you don’t want to risk these sections being changed. This will be more necessary in some regions than others. (That’s right Israel, I’m looking at you.)

Do you have other strategies for flexible global design? Please share them in the comments!

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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Fostering an Adult Learning Environment in the Live Virtual Classroom

It never surprises me to see that most people have had more negative than positive experiences with the virtual classroom (VC). Unfortunately, most organizations that try to utilize the VC don’t realize that it’s not as simple as converting face-to-face material to the virtual environment. As one of my VC heros, Joan Bozarth, likes to say, “You don’t convert classroom material to the online classroom. You transform it.”

According to Nannette Miner of The Training Doctor, there are 4 risk factors that can determine the success of learning in the VC. In order of importance (in my experience) they are:

  1. Learner – motivation to learn in the VC environment, technological fluency and access
  2. Facilitator – technological fluency and access, ability to create “virtual body language,” is supportive of VC, and is willing to use a production assistant to troubleshoot technology issues.
  3. Technology – reliable connections and tested, predictable technology is essential, and the environment must be supported by IT dept
  4. Content – Appropriate for VC: interaction needed, but physical, hands-on not required

Design and development of courses for the VC must consider these 4 risk factors. Additionally, designers and facilitators must foster an adult learning environment in the VC. The approach to designing synchronous eLearning with adult learning techniques is similar to the traditional classroom in many ways. Wlodkowski and Ginsberg’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching still applies. The way it is applied is a bit different:

  1. Establish Inclusion – Create an environment of mutual respect and connection. This can be done by posting participant and instructor bios, allowing participants to choose their own work groups, and creating an orientation to help students learn how to learn in the VC. An excellent example of an orientation by Insync Training: Learn How to Learn Online
  2. Develop a Learning Attitude – Set ground rules and mutual expectations as a class. Facilitators can guage the needs of the participants using annotation tools to involve everyone.
  3. Enhance Meaning – Meet learner needs by making the content relevant and personally meaningful. Use polling and annotation tools to help participants provide feedback.
  4. Engender Competence – Create experiences where participants can perform–>receive feedback–>make adjustments–>perform. Provide simulations and simple performance assessments via the VC, web-based resources, or peer/manager reviewed on-the-job performance assessments.

The bottom line, really is that you treat people like the competent, experienced adults that they are. They enter the learning space with knowledge, experience, and ideas that can shape and enrich the learning experience. I love the creative use of annotation tools to accomplish these objectives. Annotation tools open the lines of communication and allow participants to contribute and collaborate. I always encourage my students to use them throughout a session. For example, if the green check marks and red Xs are available I ask my students to use them to let me know if they like something I just said or disagree with it. They are free to do this at any time. The red X could also mean I’m going too fast or someone is confused. I can ask students if they are familiar with a concept or for a quick yes/no vote and those symbols can give me a quick snapshot of where everyone stands.

I also love the chat feature available in many live online learning platforms. Don’t disable it! Yes, it is the digital equivalent of passing notes in class, but it can be harnessed. I often pose a question and ask students to predict the answer by typing their response in the chat window. They can also ask questions in this space, share information and links with their peers, and hold side conversations. Don’t let the side conversations bother you. If side conversations are happening it means that students are engaged with each other and the content. It could be much worse. They could be multitasking.