Friday, June 14, 2013

5 Steps to Informal Learning, Content Curation & Knowledge Hustling

Instructional design, training, and e-learning courses should be dead. And my job should be in the grave next to them. The numbers tell us why: 

  • The average office worker spends less than 2% of his or her time in formal training. 
  • Less than 20% of formal learning transfers to the job (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004).
  • A Google search of “e-learning sucks” offers 2,690,000 results. 

After all, I’ve been an instructional designer focused on e-learning for more than 17 years. And, I’ve been very skeptical of the power of informal learning; I assumed it was a fad, difficult to control, and nearly impossible to connect to bottom-line business results.

Well today I'm rising from the dead, pulling myself out of the grave, kicking over the tombstone that says Instructional Designer 1995 – 2012, and declaring myself to be a “Community Manager”… 

Actually, I think I want to go with something a bit more provocative and descriptive like “Knowledge Hustler.”

A Community Manager or Knowledge Hustler is someone who (1) identifies all the sources of information relevant to the organization (both internal and external) – whether they be blogs, discussion boards, job aids, chats, wikis, videos, formal courses, Twitter, etc.; (2)  shares high-quality information through an easy-to-use tool; (3) publicizes the tool and encourages everyone to use it; (4) monitors the usage data to find out what works best and continually improve the user experience. 

The thing is, there’s a lot to get my head around to become a world-class Knowledge Hustler. So here are the first steps I’m gonna take:

  1. Divorce my LMS and get cozy with an LRS. A Learning Record Store (LRS) keeps track of everything people are looking at for information. For example, if someone reads a pdf I’ve put on the company intranet, the LRS records that information. Or if someone uses a mobile app to share a video, the LRS records that too. In other words, the LRS can record pretty much anything anyone does to learn something, so I probably won’t need a Learning Management System (LMS) anymore. In getting cozy with the LRS, I’ll find out what information people use most and give them more.
  2. Get intimate with Tin Can and HashTags. The Tin Can API captures the data that’s sent to the LRS. So I must get comfortable using it to “tag” everything I expect people to look at. Similarly, I have to get in the habit of hashtagging information religiously because “Hashtags provide a means of grouping such messages, since one can search for the hashtag and get the set of messages that contain it.”
  3. Woo SMEs to be Content Curators. A Content Curator sorts through the vast amounts of content on the web or intranet and presents it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. But only subject matter experts (SMEs) know what information is worthwhile in their field. Without them, my informal learning community would perish instantly because it would lack credibility. The thing is, SMEs rarely have time on their hands, and content curation takes about an hour per day. So I have to create an incentive plan that will keep them going. In fact, I also have to create an incentive/marketing plan to get everyone to use the community (could my gamifaction experience help here?) because lively discussion and sharing is the best motivator.
  4. Bring sexy back to the company Intranet. I’ll make sure it’s mobile-friendly.  The search feature will bring up useable, relevant results. @mentions will get people’s attention. Anyone will be able to easily post content – blogs, videos, threads, you name it. I will make the Intranet stop one when someone wants to get job-related information – not YouTube or Google.
  5. Play the field. I’ll constantly explore and experiment with technology and information to make the community stronger. I’ll use Storyfy, Twitter, Flipboard, Pearltrees, Summify, Themefy, Pocket, Alltop, YouTube, BuzzFeed, Reddit, Evernote, BagTheWeb, etc. and borrow ideas from them. 

I have to admit, I already feel more alive in my Knowledge Hustler role. It’s current. It moves instructional design into the realm of true performance improvement. It embraces all information, not just formal training events. I learn new things every day. Everyone in the company stays current, but avoids information overload.

I’m all in. You?


Cromwell, S. E., & Kolb, J. A. (2004). An examination of work-environment support factors affecting transfer of supervisory skills training in the workplace. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 15, 449–471.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

4 Steps to Microlearning Mastery

Is it cheating if you read the Cliffs Notes version of War and Peace instead of Tolstoy’s? Or is it resourceful?

Your answer probably depends on why you’re reading it and how much time you have; whether you’re in school or business; and whether you’re a kid or an adult.

As an instructional designer in the corporate world, I always assume that learners want to gain a business edge in the shortest amount of time. To me, the Cliffs Notes’ microlearning model is, therefore, not cheating. 
The dilemma though is that microlearning is extremely difficult to build. It requires instructional designers (IDs) to be minimalists with their words and interactions, but virtuosos at user-friendly delivery methods. As E.F. Schumacher, author of A Guide for the Perplexed and Small is Beautiful, said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” 

So how does your team get into the microlearning mindset and then use its power?

  1. Tattoo a rectangle the size of an index card on your forearm.
    Just kidding, of course. But an index card is about the size of typical mobile phone screen, and you need to be very cognizant of how much information you can fit on it. Practice boiling down your PowerPoint decks to this size; offer one learning point at a time and try to limit the deck to 5 slides. Then start thinking about media that could substitute for words but fit in the same space…video, for example.

  2. Research examples of microlearning.
    Microlearning isn’t just phone-sized bits of information. Check these sites out for ideas like Google’s post-a-lesson-on-the-back-of-the-toilet-door:
  3. Dump the “Tell me, show me, let me” model of instructional design.
    Jump directly to the “Let me” portion of the learning. Give your learners a problem, let them try to solve it, and give them feedback. Microlearning requires you to cut to the chase, and adult learners are ready for it.

  4. Don’t push learning.
     Let learners pull it when they want or need it ( To evolve from a “push” to “pull” organization, your team must become adept at marketing; learners must know where to get the information just when they need it, so you have to burn it into their brains.
With that, this “Cliffs Notes” version of Getting Started in Microlearning is complete.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Top Tips to Avoid Ineffective Virtual Classrooms

“Experts” of the virtual classroom recommend limiting sessions to less than an hour. So what do you do if you have to make a four-week face-to-face (f2f) training program virtual? Is it possible? Definitely.

Six years ago, my learning & development (L&D) team and I tackled this challenge numerous times for clients who wanted to create at-home call centers.  We had to on-board and establish skills for agents all over the world without relying on in-person classrooms or travel. And we had to achieve improved on-the-job performance in comparison to bricks-and-mortar call center agents.

Can you imagine being a student in a virtual classroom for four weeks though?  I’d rather suck the hairspray out of Donald Trump's comb-over.

To make a long story short, we did it. Through ruthless respect for adult learners, constructivism, and adherence to the “flipped classroom” model, we created a wildly efficacious training program that was significantly shorter than the original. 

What steps did we take to success?

  1. Cut the fluff. We went through the original f2f facilitator guide and identified all “icebreakers,” games, and other non-essential training activities. Instead of using training time for these, we posted them as messages on a social network like Google Groups. Learners controlled the discussions. By doing so, we reduced the time required for instructional designers to create interactions, as well as the trainer’s time to deliver them, and the learners’ time to suffer through them.
  2. Turn lectures into YouTube videos. Instead of listening to the trainer drone on in the virtual classroom over PowerPoint slides, learners watched shortened lectures on their schedule and used Rewind if they needed to. While we didn’t reduce instructional design time because we had to create the videos, we reduced classroom time. (We could have created self-paced elearning to cover the lecture materials, but in most cases this was overkill.)
  3. Create a non-graded workbook of activities. After learners finished watching each lecture video, they tackled workbook activities related to the material. They did it on their own and they often found they had to go beyond the video lecture, Googling to go in depth, or returning to the social network to ask questions of their colleagues. Trainers didn’t need to grade the workbooks – they could tell who was doing the work when the learners came into the virtual classroom.
  4. Use the virtual classroom to practice skills. After learners watched the lecture videos and attempted the workbook activities, they came into the classroom to ask specific questions, role-play, and practice job-specific skills such as searching the electronic performance support system. The trainer merely introduced the activities. Learners guided each other through, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and collaboration.
  5. Build a targeted performance support system. The L&D team used its saved time to create a user-friendly, smart knowledgebase for agents to find answers quickly when they were on the job. As a result, the training program didn’t require learners to memorize tomes of information. It was like Google, only specific to the job. 

The results speak for themselves:

  • Training time for each program was cut in half.
  • On-the-job performance improved by 20%.
  • First-month attrition dropped by 50%.

While L&D can’t take full credit for these results (older, more educated agents, for example, had something to do with it), we definitely contributed. When it’s time for you to contribute too, take the virtual classroom “experts” with a grain of salt. Don’t just do a straight conversion from f2f classroom to virtual classroom. Rethink the whole program.


Brian Bishop, PhD, is virtualwirks’ Practice Leader for Workforce Performance. He harnesses the power of emerging technologies to launch global training programs that improve employee, organizational and industry-wide success.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Learning tech dies. We don't have to.

Rest in peace QR codes. You had great potential for informal and on-the-spot learning, but you’re no longer needed. And you’re ugly. You’ve been rendered moot by mobile browsers like Layar[1] and Aurasma[2] that recognize the item itself; no “barcode” necessary.

Typically, learning technologies perish not because they’re ugly like QR codes, but because they require too much work for too little performance or monetary return. Serious games, immersive learning simulations, gamification, learning content management systems (LCMSs), virtual worlds, virtual reality, haptics, and even custom Flash interactions get heavy scrutiny from learning & development managers interested in ROI; the payback often isn’t there.

Another cause of death for learning technologies is the realization that formal learning is, quite literally, “old school”. (Isn’t it ironic that serious games and virtual worlds might be considered old school?) In other words, learning researchers and practitioners[3] are confirming the notion that most learning – as much as 90% – is informal; talking to people, heading out to YouTube, Googling, etc. 

Some people call it the 70/20/10 learning model[4]. Some people don’t believe such a model exists[5]. But whether the model exists is inconsequential. We all know that informal learning outweighs formal learning through empirical evidence. Think about your own job – do you spend more than 10% of your time in formal training events? Probably not. But you do learn things – probably every day. Therefore, if you’re an instructional designer, media developer, or learning & development manager spending most of your time building formal training, you’re wasting quite a bit of that time.

So what learning technologies do I think offer a good payback in terms of time, money and informality? 1. Augmented Reality, 2. Video, and 3. Performance Support Systems (PSSs) that are easily searchable and deliver mobile-friendly information. Notice that I didn’t include company-wide social networks; they’re very tough to search.

Augmented Reality (AR)
AR offers information on the spot through your phone or tablet. It puts the information in context perfectly. And, right now, it’s free to build using Hoppala[6]. It’s also fast to build as long as the content you want to link to already exists. You might link to Wikipedia, YouTube, or your PSS. Once you’ve built it, deliver your AR through Layar, Junaio, or Aurasma. I’ve built AR “apps” in half a day.

The trouble with AR is that we L&D folks might end up sending it to its grave if we try to get too fancy with it. We have a tendency to do that: “The learner needs to be more engaged.” “We need to include more interactivity.” When you utter these phrases, ask yourself, “Am I just trying to show off, or does the learner really need it?”

Video is potent for learning; plus, it can be very quick and cost effective. I made the argument here:

But, again, the danger is if we get too fancy. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Performance Support Systems (PSSs)
This is where I spend most of my working day – putting more content into the PSS and making sure it’s easy to find –.pdf files, Word documents, instructions, FAQs, or anything that will help people on the job. You can use your LMS for this as long as it’s easy to search and delivers mobile-friendly content. If that’s not an option, start your research into a PSS here:

The point is that L&D won’t go the way of the QR code as long as we:
  1. Pay attention to shifts in technology that change the way learners learn.
  2. Spend most of our time on the projects that give us the most bang for our buck.
  3. Don’t get too fancy. 


Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. email him at if you want to: 
  • Roll out a virtual workforce, but your internal training department is not familiar with multi-week virtual training programs
  • Create a more efficient internal training department
  • Implement training programs that exceed performance goals in minimum time
  • Meet or exceed predicted L&D ROI

[3] Godwin-Jones, R. (June 2009). Emerging technologies personal learning environments. Language, Learning & Technology, 13(2).
Levenberg, A. & Caspi, A. (2010). Comparing perceived formal and informal learning in face-to-face versus online environments. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects, 6.
Manganello, F., Falsetti, C., Spalazzi, L., & Leo, T. (January 2013). PKS: An ontology-based learning construct for lifelong learners. Educational Technology & Society, 16(1).
[5]Howe, N.J. (May 2010). Let’s kill a few learning holy cows – 70:20:10 is dead (or at least seriously ill). Retrieved April 3, 2013 from

Monday, April 1, 2013

eLearning cuts costs? Should I care?

I’m a big believer in the power of eLearning, but I get tired of hearing that eLearning cuts costs in comparison to face-to-face instructor-led training (ILT). Put quite simply, that’s not a reason to use it. Heck, you can cut costs by 100% if you eliminate training completely.  So it’s important to establish that the eLearning you deliver is at least as effective as the ILT it replaces. Only then can you use cost savings as a benefit of eLearning.
Can you honestly say your eLearning is at least as effective as your ILT? How do you know?

Start by collecting performance data on the people who went through the ILT. Then, pilot the eLearning. Check the performance data from the pilot group. Compare the two sets of data.

Is there a statistically significant difference?*

If there is no significant difference between the two sets of performance data, your eLearning is just as good as the ILT (or your learners aren’t paying attention to either the ILT or the eLearning). The cost savings you’ve achieved should be added to your salary.

In most cases there will be significant differences. That’s because ILT has its advantages, eLearning has other advantages. In other words, learners might absorb specific pieces of knowledge better in the classroom; other pieces of knowledge might best be delivered via eLearning.
So what do you do if there are significant differences in several performance statistics?
  1. Label the positive differences as either ILT or eLearning.
  2. Rank the differences in order of importance to the company’s strategy. For example, ILT might result in speedier troubleshooting, but the company gets paid by the hour. As a result, speed might not be high on the list of priorities.
  3. Determine which delivery method accounts for greatest number of differences in the top five according to your ranking.
If eLearning wins, you’re doing great because you’re getting better on-the-job performance out of your learners and you’re saving money. Your next step is to make the eLearning even better by improving it in the performance areas where ILT won the battle.

If ILT wins, your eLearning cost savings argument is moot.

*If you need to brush up on your business statistics, start here:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Training Development Under the Microscope

When I help training departments become more efficient and effective at what they do, they often ask how long it should take to develop an hour of training. The answer begins with a look at the data supplied by Karl Kapp, Robyn Defelice, and ASTD at

Then I tell my clients it should take half that.

If they say, “Great! We already achieve half,” we make sure that their training contributes to the company’s strategic objectives. If not, the training represents wasted time and money. In such as case, what’s usually happening is the training department receives its training development requests from line managers, not from executives.  A flip of the model is probably in order. But we don’t want to jump to any conclusions – that’s a recipe for disaster. So, we look at their process systemically and systematically (described below) to get the full picture.

If, however, my clients say it's impossible to achieve half the training development time listed in the ASTD study, the training development process immediately goes under the microscope.

I recommend taking several days every six months to examine your training development process to find out where you can tighten it up. Here are the steps we typically follow. (You’ll see many similarities to the Analyze phase of the ADDIE process): 

1. Talk to your customers to find out what they want from your training.
You have several “customers” to take into account: customers, learners, executives, and your department.

2. Clarify – in specific numbers – your training development goals. 
For each of the training products you produce – ILT, vILT, eLearning, Blended, Performance Support, etc. – answer the following questions:
  • How much will we impact strategic company goals?
  • How well will learners perform on the job? 
  • What will the level of learner satisfaction be?
  • How much will an hour of training take to develop?
  • How much will an hour of training cost to develop?
3. Commit to collecting the numbers to answer each question.
Create a plan to do it.

4. Based on the “voice of the customer” and the strategic goals of the company, prioritize the desired performances.
Which desired performance is most important? Maybe your company’s most important goal is speed-to-market, therefore you must get learning out very quickly. Or maybe it’s to increase customer satisfaction, so your training must offer great depth. Whatever it might be, it becomes the focus when scrutinizing your training development process.

5. Map the current training development process. 
For each of your department’s products (ILT, eLearning, etc.) create a development process map. Be thorough. Be honest. Don’t skip any steps. 

6. Carefully dissect the process map. Find the flaws. 
First, identify the parts of the process that distract your training development team from focusing on your top customer and company priorities. Then, find the parts of the process that are slowing you down or costing too much. Do you receive too much content from the SMEs? Are SMEs not giving you enough time? Are reviews taking too long? 

7. Determine the root causes of the flaws. 
“The Five Whys” is probably the easiest tool for this task ( Pay particular attention to the root causes that have a ripple effect on each other.

8. Identify the fixes for the root causes. 
Maybe you need to put SMEs at the core of development (, or adopt rapid prototyping (, or something else... Or a combination.

9. Draw a new process map that includes the new interventions.

10. Now, start from scratch. 
Draw another process map, specific to your department, based on the 70/20/10 model ( for training.

11. Compare your revamped process to the 70/20/10 process map.
Which one better helps you hit your desired performance goals?

12. Whichever process you choose, identify those areas of the process that contribute most to your desired performance goals.
These will be the areas of change that you’ll work on the most vigorously.

13. Implement the changes to your process using proven change management techniques ( 

14. Measure the results with the completion of each new project.
  • Ask team members to comment on new process
  • Get feedback from customers
  • Collect learner performance data
  • Collect business results data
15. Go back to step 1.
Continually improve. 

See if you can make your training so efficient and effective that you never have to ask how long it takes to develop an hour of training. Instead, you simply ask, “What do we need to achieve?”
Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. He applies the efficiencies of virtualization to training and human performance programs for global clients.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

3 Steps to Avoid the Training Dev Iceberg

When building training, instructional designers (IDs) spend a titanic amount of time coercing information out of subject matter experts (SMEs). They beg SMEs for content - over and over again. When they get the content, IDs study it for hours on end. They work with SMEs for days conducting applied cognitive task analyses (, trying to get to the core of the way experts think. Finally, IDs try to become authorities on the subject in weeks, when it took the SMEs years - even decades - to achieve mastery

So, it's no wonder that when review time rolls around, SMEs feel like they've run into an iceberg. The front-end analysis was only its tip. Now, they're feeling the pain of what's below the surface. They spend double the time they thought they'd have to, fixing mistakes and pouring over content they've seen dozens of times before.

Training managers everywhere are aware of this problem. But most often they try to fix it by altering the most obvious part of the process - reviews. Google docs, online collaboration sites (, PowerPoints, alternate versions of the course that include textboxes for comments (, or Lectora's ReviewLink ( and RapidIntake Review ( are among the most popular "solutions." The trouble is, although they are helpful, these tools usually don't make a significant dent in the overall project time.

If you're truly interested in reducing the amount of time required to launch a training program: 
  1. Commit to having SMEs at the core of the development. As Tom Kuhlmann says, "It’s a lot easier to train a SME to use a tool like the Articulate suite than it is to train you to replace the SME" (
  2. Get SMEs up to speed in simple instructional design by following Onlignment's 60-Minute Master's program (
  3. Have the SMEs use the successive approximation model (SAM) developed by Michael Allen ( In other words, get them to rapid prototype. The IDs can use their expertise in learning theory to help shape learning activities and simplify content at each iteration.
I hear you saying, "But that will take way too much of the SME's time. They have their regular job to do."

Actually, it takes significantly less time than the "model" I described at the top of this blog. In fact, the SME-at-the-Core model routinely decreases development time and costs by 30%. Plus, it lets SMEs and IDs focus on their areas of expertise. And, as SMEs get better at learning development with subsequent projects, time is further reduced. 

The trouble is, fewer than 10% of all training departments will adopt this model because they're scared of SMEs. Don't be. SMEs want to coach. They want to impart their wisdom on others. And they love to learn new things themselves. Let them captain your ship around the training development iceberg.
Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. He applies the efficiencies of virtualization to training and human performance programs for global clients.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Future of Induction Training

Last week, I suggested that nearly 80% of the $200 billion spent on training is wasted. That's because one-time training "events" rarely stick with the learner. As a result, I recommended following the 70/20/10 model:
  • 70% of learning is informal, on-the-job performance support such as knowledgebases and job aids.
  • 20% of learning happens through feedback and communication with clients/colleagues.
  • 10% of learning takes place during formal courses.
A reader responded that it's important to acknowledge, however, the role of on-boarding and technical skills training. 

Good point. But I'm not sure I agree. Many of the technical skills we use daily were learned on the fly - you might ask a colleague to show you something, head out to YouTube to find step-by-step instructions, resort to using the Help function, or even use Aurasma's amazing augmented reality ( Be amazed by the cables going into the router).

As for formal induction training, I think it's time to start thinking about its future. What would it look like if it were mobile, pull-instead-of-push, focused on young workers just entering the workforce, and not a one-time event but an on-going performance support system? I think it would look something like this:

Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. He applies the efficiencies of virtualization to training and human performance programs for global clients.

Monday, February 18, 2013

6 Steps to Avoid Training Failure

I got curious about how much single-event formal training actually works. Turns out, not much. That's why I focus most of my attention on on-the-job performance support and informal learning. The result is typically lower costs and better performance. Here are the six main steps I usually follow:

virtualwirks. Applying the efficiencies of virtualization to training and human performance programs for global clients.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Training is a Bicycle

Which gets you where you're going faster and more stably - a unicycle or a bicycle? The one with two wheels, right? Of course.

With that in mind, think of the training programs you build - are they bicycles? 
  • The back wheel is the training you build to establish performance; the kind of training you'd give to newly hired employees who don't know what they're doing. 
  • The front wheel is the support you give to established employees to continually improve performance. 
  • The frame that holds the bike together is the training you give to supervisors so the front wheel doesn't fall off.
  • The handlebars are the stakeholders who use their vision to steer the bicycle toward business goals.
  • The speedometer is continuous evaluation of the training program and its parts; evaluation tells you how your training program is doing. If it's not going as well as you'd like, maybe you need to upgrade some of the parts of your bike, or maintain them better.
The beauty of this bicycle analogy is that it sets up an explanation of "blended learning" perfectly. A blended learning program might use a virtual classroom as the hub of the back wheel. From this hub come the spokes - you might have learners go off to complete some e-learning, watch videos, complete workbooks, or go through simulations before returning to the virtual classroom. 

Supervisor training - the frame - uses a variety of media to prepare supervisors to be great coaches, mentors, and technical experts.

The hub of the front wheel is overall performance support - anything that helps people do their jobs better. The spokes are on-the-job-training, coaching, knowledgebases, feedback, performance reviews, up-skilling, job aids, and so on: performance-enhancing "drugs" that are totally legal.

So the question is are you guilty of building just the back wheel or just the front wheel? If so, is it any wonder that your training program crashes; in other words, doesn't influence on-the-job performance in the long run? (Of course, you probably don't know whether the program has crashed - you've only built a wheel, you've ignored the speedometer.)

Check out my visual depiction of this bicycle concept at

Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. He applies the efficiencies of virtualization to training and human performance programs for global clients.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Are you a Training Hero or Goat?

When you cut the "fluff" out of training programs, you're a hero if you work in an internal training department. You save money, time and frustration (it should go without saying that you have to deliver at least the same level of on-the-job performance from the students). But you're a goat if you work for an outsourcer training development company and you cut the fluff. After all, your company gets paid for the hours of training it delivers - the more the better.

The ideal solution to this goat dilemma is to have your client pay on the back-end based on the cost savings you achieve with your fluffless program. That puts a little skin in the game, huh? 

The trouble, of course, is that clients rarely gather data on the current costs of training or the performance that results from current training. As a result, no matter how much cost savings you achieve, you have nothing to compare it to. 

If they do gather this data, you're in luck - sorta. You have to create a plan to isolate the influence of training, get the client to sign off on the plan, develop and implement the training, measure it, present the results, and get the client to *finally* pay you for your work. Waiting that long for money to roll in the door gives your CEO an ulcer.

The pragmatic solution to the dilemma of cutting training fluff is to offer more than just training. Put less emphasis on one-time training events that rarely change student behavior. Instead, build holistic performance solutions that include training, coaching plans, support systems, on-going evaluations of the program, etc. After you've been doing this for awhile, you'll be able to bring money in the door on both the front-end and the back-end. And, more importantly, you'll really influence on-the-job performance for the better. Your clients will be astounded.

If they're not, they're the goats.

Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. He applies the efficiencies of virtualization to training and human performance programs for global clients.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cutting the Fluff

Training = Suffering. Usually.

Training, whether in a classroom or online, often includes way more than you need. Icebreakers. Interactions. Tests. Group activities. There is nothing worse than a day of training that should've taken an hour.

But fluff in training is often expected, even encouraged. That's because instructional designers often focus on "pedagogy" rather than "andragogy", and learning managers focus on "butts in seats" instead of return on investment (ROI). 

Pedagogy means "to lead the child" (, which is not what we're doing in the business world. Instead, we're training adults who bring experience to the table. That's why I get flustered whenever anyone in corporate training speaks of pedagogy instead of "andragogy", the science of training adults (

When instructional designers approach corporate training as they would K-12 education, the result is too much unnecessary "instructional scaffolding" ( For example, let's say I'm developing training about setting up a home office. If I follow a "pedagogical" approach, I would take 5-10 minutes to explain the characteristics of the perfect desk chair. Then I would ask learners to choose a chair from a set of photos that matches the requirements of the perfect desk chair.

If, however, I follow an "andragogical" approach, I show learners the photos first and ask them to choose the correct chair. If they get it right, I can move on to the next topic, or I can ask them to give me the reasons for their choice. Either way, I'm banking on their experience as adults to trim the time required for training.

In doing so, I'm maximizing the ROI of the training. Less time training = More time working. But the thing is, many learning managers don't pay attention to ROI. Their bosses only ask them, "How much training did you develop this year? How many people did you train? How much training time did each employee have this year?" The questions should be, "How much revenue did your training directly result in? How much cost savings did we achieve as a result of your training?"

But, answering questions about ROI = Suffering. Most learning managers feel that level 4 and 5 evaluations take too much time and too many resources. I don't think that's true. Brinkerhoff's Success Case Method ( makes it pretty easy, and the results are eye-opening.

I think adragogy and the Success Case Method take the suffering out of training for learners, instructional designers, and learning managers. Let me know what you think.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Power of Video for Learning

Your training department has become a well-oiled machine when it comes to building and deploying self-paced eLearning courses. Congratulations. It's about time. 

The trouble is, eLearning is almost always overkill - especially now that learners would rather rely on their mobile devices instead of their PCs. So what do you do?

Quick, easy-to-follow video tutorials.  

Think about it, if you're not terribly worried about production value, you could shoot and post videos to YouTube in fewer than 10 minutes. Because someone did that for me, I was able to learn how to fix a vacuum cleaner, tie a bow tie, and play the harmonica in an afternoon. I didn't care how professional the videos looked. I cared only about the content. Because it was spot-on, I learned quickly. That's what your learners want too: just-in-time, super-relevant content they can access on their phones or tablets. 

As an example, imagine you work on the floor of a manufacturing plant. Your boss says, "Joe called in sick. I need you to run the bottle-capping machine." You've never run the machine. Should your boss send you to the PC for a couple hours of eLearning? No. 

You should walk over to the machine and use your phone to scan the QR code posted on the machine. (Don't know what a QR code is? Check it out here: See what I did there? I sent you to a video to quickly learn something new.) The QR code accesses a video that shows you how to turn on the machine and run it successfully. You can pause the video, rewind it, whatever you need to do to learn how to run the machine. Easy.

When I shared these thoughts with an L&D friend recently, his mind went straight to videos that have actors acting out a scenario - like "How to handle an irate customer." As a result, he wasn't a big proponent. "Too much effort goes into writing the script, storyboarding, hiring actors, and editing." However, when I qualified my fondness for videos by saying they should be step-by-step instructions with only one person in them, he agreed that would be a lot faster to produce. Cool.

The next issue with videos is hosting them. If you put them on YouTube, you can choose the private setting so only certain people can see them. Or, if you're really concerned about proprietary information, you can use a video hosting service such as BrightCove (

Finally, if you find that execs require high production value or insist on eLearning because they prefer glitzy stuff, start showing them numbers. Say, "If you can settle for slightly lower production value, I can get this training out in a quarter of the time and it will be as (or more) effective. It will save $$$." Plus, you can tell them how that frees up your time to create even more training programs. 

That's powerful stuff.

PS. Speaking of ties - imagine a bow tie with a QR code printed right on it that takes you to the video showing you how to tie it.