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Creative confidence in eLearning projects

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 13.15.00Last week I gave a workshop to one of our client companies on how to create engaging content to eLearning modules.

“To catch people’s attention and to ‘stick’ in people’s minds”, I said to the participants, “eLearning content should be simple, a little unexpected, concrete, credible, it should touch emotions and utilize stories. “

I continued: “And interactions should be interesting, challenging and engaging….”

One of the participants interrupted me: “But how do you, well, come up with this kind of content?”

Such a good question. Although it may have originally left me slightly speechless, the question certainly wouldn’t leave me alone afterwards. It kept bugging me during the weekend while I was emptying the dishwasher, playing the piano and cleaning the bunny cage. It made me go to my bookshelf and return to Creative confidence by Tom and David Kelley.

Creative confidence in short

So here is what I think: To create engaging content for learning I think one needs not just knowledge about the topic, but also creative confidence spiced up with a dashful of positive deviance.


The book Creative confidence (excellent website about the book is here  and one of David’s TED talks can be found here) is an extremely energising read and makes you not only want to finish your creative work projects, but also be more active in your local community and design the part of your garden you have always left “as it is”.

Creative confidence doesn’t require you to be formally trained in arts, media, or the like. Instead, what you need is deep empathy for your users and curiosity to know more about the challenges in their daily working life. You need to have the courage and resilience to come up with plenty of ideas, as most of them will likely fail. You need to have a good routine of writing quick drafts and not waiting for “the one brilliant idea”.

A quick start?

Two quick things you can do to gain more creative confidence when starting a new eLearning project:

1) Get new perspective: Try flipping your questions. Assume that your reports give out depressing facts about eLearning attendance or adherence to safety measures etc. Instead of asking “Why aren’t people completing our eLearning modules?” ask: “Why are people in these certain locations participating in our eLearning modules so well?” Instead of asking “Why isn’t our staff wearing eye protectors when they need to?”, ask: “Why do these certain people wear eye protectors?”

2) Gain more empathy: Try interviewing one or two users on how they feel about your current eLearning modules available or the LMS. Let them tell you what they like, what they find difficult, how they fit eLearning in their work day, how they share their learnings with their colleagues and what would make them even more committed. Most important: Be quiet most of the time, don’t defend, don’t judge.

Just let them speak.


One thing that improves any type of learning

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What is the one single thing you need for effective learning of any type – live or virtual classroom, online training, video? Good stories, of course.

The longer I have worked in the eLearning industry the more I have come to recognize the power of good stories. I have used stories everywhere: in scenarios and interactive video activities, as concrete examples to simplify a complex concept, and in motivational speeches made by top leaders. You name it – my “story factory” creates it.

Good stories grab the learner’s attention and make your learning content stick.

Even an experienced story factory like myself needs new, fresh ideas for using stories in online learning. That’s why I am starting Acumen’s course Storytelling for Change course next week. More to come as the course advances…


Achieving Zen in eLearning projects #eLearning

reaching_instructional_zenI recently listened to eight (!!) presentations from Learning Solutions and Ecosystem 2016 Conference that took place in Orlando, Florida in March.

To mention a few presenters, Connie Malamed, the lady behind the popular blog The eLearning Coach, gave an excellent crash course on visual design and Julie Dirksen from Usable Learning talked about the science of attention, willpower and decision-making.

My favourite presenter however was Sean Bengry from Accenture who discussed how to achieve Zen in eLearning projects.

Sean asked an interesting question from the audience: “What if money wasn’t a barrier?” In other words, if you had enough money to do what you want in an eLearning project, where would you spend that money?

Despite, or rather because of, the fact that I wasn’t sure how to answer this myself, I realized this was an absolutely brilliant question.

As an eLearning professional I am expected to find the best learning outcome on a limited budget and schedule. While trying to balance project resources for writing, media production, graphics and client meetings, I often find myself asking, “What is good enough”? When is writing, interactions, graphics, video and other media on a level that promotes good learning, blends in with the rest of the organisation’s image, but is still manageable within a project budget?

According to Bengry, if presented this question most people will still want to spend money on great graphics and better quality videos. This is understandable, as the visuals are often the components that stand out quickly and that people can comment easily.  From a pedagogical viewpoint this is interesting since better media doesn’t equal better learning outcomes.

If not media and graphics, then what? From a pedagogical angle I would of course spend money on analytics: pre-studies of how much people already know, and post-studies on how their behavior changed after they took the eLearning. I would spend ample time on defining the current problems, creating a business goal for the training and defining the means to measure it. I guess if being presented with absolutely no barriers in the budget, I would focus on – well, solving the business problem!

Bengry was along the same lines. Quoting one of my favourite logo designers and illustrators of all time, Ivan Chermayess, Bengry said wisely: “to design is to solve human problems”.  Like Bengry, I’d like to believe that when keeping that in mind you are on a path leading to Zen.

PS: The image in this post is from Goanimate where you can nowadays make Common Craft style videos and images – my next post will be about that!


18 language versions done, here’s what I learned

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I am a linguist by training and at heart – I’ve even taught general linguistics at the university for one semester. This is why managing projects where digital learning materials are translated into different languages gives me immense pleasure!

I’ve worked with language versions for the past five years, but last autumn I had the chance to work with nearly 20 languages – many of which were new to me. Working with languages you have no knowledge of is extremely interesting since you need to find clever ways to ensure everything is correctly displayed.

What did I learn? At least these three things:

1. When you need to have your content translated, give the translator a visual demo of how the text will be displayed, preferably a full working version in English if that’s available. Especially when it comes to languages with non-Latin alphabet, seeing the context will mean the world to the translator.

2. Always try to work with web-safe fonts as otherwise you may (or rather, will) run into trouble with special characters. Do a test run with all the possible special characters in a given language with your font. Even if the font is said to support a certain language, do the test run anyway. It will save you a great deal of time, as otherwise you may be working for hours on a project before noticing that a certain special character isn’t showing as it should and need to change the font to the entire project.

3. Although you can’t be expected to know the syntax of each language you work with, do some basic research so you know what to look for while testing the final product.

At the minimum, first find out what special characters there are. As the space for text is always limited, you may for instance notice that the “tails” of letters like these are not displaying properly: щ ņ ķ ų ę ą (these are from Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Czech).

Second, learn how the basic punctuation marks are used. Did you know for instance that in French you need to have a space before and after many common punctuation marks (these at least : ; « » ! ?), like this:

Jean a dit : « Je veux le faire. »

Also, find out what kind of quotation marks are used – the English type (i.e. “like this“) or the German type (i.e. „like this“)? In my experience the German type„“ is much more common than I expected – for instance Czech, Polish and all the Baltic languages use it.

Hope this year brings me lots of new interesting languages to work with!


The really useful eLearning manual #book Friday

A well-known fact is that  80% or more of the learning that takes place in the workplace is informal. But what exactly is informal learning? A lot more than I had ever thought, I realized after reading  The Really Useful eLearning Manual (edited by Rob Hubbard).

The book is a collection of articles written by world-leading experts from all aspects of eLearning. For me, the book gave inspiration and new ideas to for instance how to win over business leaders, what the key elements of gamified elearning are and – as already mentioned – what the term informal learning means in the modern workplace.

Jane Hart, the author of the article Informal and Social Learning, cites Jay Cross who uses the bus and bicycle metaphor to explain the difference between formal and informal learning:

“Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. Informal learning is like riding a bike: the rider chooses the destination, the speed, and the route.”

Informal learning content can be anything from different types of written resources (blogs, use instructions , etc) to short videos and mini-courses. Often the content is technically relatively unsophisticated and without a predefined structure.

Informal learning is definitely what I do myself, every day – pulling the information I need about e.g. new software in the natural flow of work. My learning results are measured  by improved performance, satisfied clients, more profitable projects – not by tests, course completions and so on.

Realising this made me think how could I create more informal learning opportunities with my client organizations. What does it require for an organization to start basing its learning strategy on informal, not formal learning? I guess the current trend for videos and bite-size courses are a step towards a more informal type of learning, but I am hungry for more – and I’m sure more is on the way.