Monday, January 19, 2015

Outtakes and Sense Making


"Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues" -- R. Starr & G. Harrison


What is school? School is being exposed to diverse ways of knowing (and questioning everything).

Photograph of Newton's Cradle
My professional development journey went off on a tangent today. More often than not that's how I seem to learn best. What force launched me in a new direction? Questions 1 to 3 of a Twitter book club chat with the hashtag #lrnbk. The book? Kio Stark's Don't Go Back To School.
Screen capture of Twitter chat #lrnbk

Positive deviant that I am I may have tweeted my response too quickly and been misunderstood.

Screen capture of tweet


Stark's writings make sense to me. One's development isn't, and shouldn't be, confined by walls, syllabi, or accreditation. I'll go a step further: Learning should know no constraints at all. Stark is saying there are constraints. The institutions of higher learning offer education on a range of topics. Employers require documentation that a specific type of learning has happened. Individuals need something to frame.

I've had several careers: electronics engineering, military service with the US Navy, programming multimedia, and learning and development. At heart I am a problem solver. Ms. Stark needs to restate the problem. I disagree with her about misfocused energy.

Consider what is happening in the K-12 space. Significant educational problems are being talked about and more.Educators are collaborating to make learning experiences better. Many of the people I meet there are actively involved in growing their know-how through exposure to diverse ways of knowing via higher education so that model of learning and development still works.

In the trenches there are teachers like Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) advocating for more engaging ways of presenting the learning experience. Teachers Erin Klein (@kleinerin) believe that the learning environment matters. Teachers like Don Wettrick (@donwettrick) are giving students the opportunity to choose their own path to learning. All one has to do is visit an #EdCamp to see this energy in action.


I went through school in the 1960s and early 1970s. Back then learning was mostly rote memorization of facts and formulae. Worksheets figured in the learning process, too.

What are the limits of school? I think Stark is asking the wrong question. She needs to tweek its focus a little and ask what is school? One of Webster's definitions for school, the one I identify with the most, is "a source of knowledge." Maybe it's in a building. Maybe it's online. For me it's something that changes me: How I perceive the world around me. The change can and does happen any where at any time.I don't get why one would want to highlight those whom choose another path. They are everywhere.

  • The coworker lamenting about a missed promotion
  • The parent volunteering at their kid's school
  • The supermarket cashier with a textbook tucked under her lunch bag
We are learning. All you have to do is look up at yourself and the people around you. If you're not having a conversation with those around you then you should consider starting one.We still need something to frame. If you're so inclined and not currently engaged in another form of learning give Todd Nesloney's (@techninjatodd) Educator Learning Series (#EDULS) a look and learn and earn.

Screen capture of Credly badges


I have an M.S. Ed. I made a couple of tries for a Ph.D. before putting it on indefinite hold. You know what? It's hard. No, that's not it. Not really. It got to be uninteresting. Like one of Stark's highlights I chose a different path. And, whether you realize it or not, you have too.

I wonder what path today's K-12 students might choose?



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Design Thinking


"Walk a mile in my shoes." -- Joe South


Last year via a Stanford University MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) I learned how to put a new spin on an old problem solving process. I'm talking ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) and Design Thinking.

Image of two cartoon characters talking


Design thinking adds empathy with learners to the instructional design process. ADDIE's analysis phase typically involves working with subject matter experts (SME) to identify attributes, needs, and gaps. How learners feel usually isn't evaluated.

The instructional design process can benefit greatly if designers begin the process by empathizing with learners: feeling their pain and learning about their perspective.

Partnering with learners in designing learning means the chances of a miss are greatly decreased. Learners prototyping and tinkering with content and activities help produce experiences that meet real needs.


In my projects I advocate for eLearning that is brief and focused. Assessment comes in the form of making: producing evidence of mastery and sharing with peers and managers.

It's human science, not rocket science.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Expeditionary Mettle


"To all whom see this presents, greetings." -- Introductory text contained in my US Navy Expeditionary Medal citation.

Photo of US Navy Expeditionary Medal on a notebook cover
US Navy Expeditionary Medal


A long time ago in a land far, far away I went on an expedition. It was challenging and, decades later I can say this, fun. Recently I've gone on a few more expeditions of the professional development variety. Some of these, trips to EdCamps in other states for example, require me to travel a long way. Others I can complete using my iPad. One of the latter I finished a few minutes ago: reading @quinnovator's Learnlet blog. In it he discussed, with Dr. Will Thalheimer, instructional design tools, processes, and challenges.

My takeaway from this Learnlet is the tendency of today's Learning and Development (L&D) infrastructure and tools to dictate how training is designed. Some times these strategies are effective and other times designers should consider taking a trip to learn how others are approaching their work.


One topic discussed in the blog got my ideation juices flowing: spaced learning. Learners are introduced to a bit-o-content for a brief time then go on to another topic. Some time later they return to the first topic and take the learning a little deeper.

Sketch containing text describing several types of training to include soft skills, process knowledge,and other
Artifacts learners can produce during training

I outlined how I like to design spaced learning experiences in the sketch above. Ideally they involve learners in small teams of no more than three. They learn a little of this and then a little of that. Along the way the learners create a tangible artifact from what they learned. In a soft-skills leadership development program this could be a table of scenarios they might encounter later on the job. It would help them work towards a solution more efficiently.

Some benefits of this sort of spaced training include:

  • Not being tethered to a learning space they can move around and manipulate materials on hand to prototype ideas. This lends itself to elearning and collaboration.
  • Learning from others perspectives.
  • Forming relationships with peers that may continue after the training. With some additional support they could form communities of practice.
  • Having a tool that helps them get started when they begin to apply on the job what they learned.

Another name for these artifacts is performance support tools. You're probably applying bits and pieces of this strategy today.


The journey doesn't end here. What are your thoughts on applying spaced learning in your instructional design practice?





Sunday, December 21, 2014

Empathy Scales


"How high?"


In her latest Learning Rebels blogs post @stipton writes Look up! How high? Up to the blue sky? Or is it enough to look around me, into the tired eyes of the other zombie workers? I think she's talking about the tendency many of us have to be so immersed in our work that our days rush by without us. There are at least two reasons for this. One, we fear falling behind and getting replaced by someone who can keep up. Two, our jobs are so satisfying we're in flow from that first sip of coffee until.. when? I don't believe it's flow. I think it has something to do with empathy and the systems we work in.


Simon Bernard-Cohen, explaining Empathizing-Systemizing (E-S) Theory describes five brain types. Two of these, E (Empathizing) and S (Systemizing), are of interest to me as I learn more about designing transformational learning experiences. Empathizing is the ability to feel what others are feeling. Systemizing is the ability to analyze and construct systems. I wonder if when we construct learning systems and training, particularly in online modalities, we give enough consideration of learners' feelings about that learning?

I learned that empathy has two scales: affective and cognitive. Cognitive empathy leans towards systemizing. In a recent Google Hangout I tried, I think unsuccessfully, to make the point that it's possible for instructional designers to scale empathy by producing learning experiences that:

  • Have learners spending less time sitting in front of a computer
  • Use story as hooks to engage learners more deeply
  • Encourage learners to make artifacts that visually evidence they "get it"
Sketch of a meter showing affective and cognitive scales
Empathy Scales

In a traditional face-to-face classroom I think most teachers can sense what their students are feeling. I have met a number of teachers recently who leverage empathy to get students moving.

Kinesthetics are the missing piece in online learning, especially when that learning takes place 1:1 (computer:learner). There's so much more to learn and prototype about that.


Getting back to @stipton's Look Up! While you're up there, ask yourself: What has you working long and hard: worry or flow? The cartoon in Look Up! has someone observing two others pushing a cart with square wheels. To the observer the problem is the wheels. They could expend much less effort if the cart had round wheels, like the one the observer is holding. But from my perspective it's the two pushing who are in flow. Maybe if the observer made the effort to empathize with them the cart would have round wheels sooner rather than later.





Thursday, November 27, 2014



I have mixed feelings about acronyms. Two acronyms have special meaning for me: TLAP (Teach Like A Pirate) and FAIL (First Attempt In Learning). TLAP is about passion. If you aren't feeling it don't do it. FAIL: If you're not failing once in a while maybe you aren't learning anything new.

Constructive Responses

I presented a session during the eLearning Guild's DevLearn Conference last month. The evaluation results came in last night. How'd I do?

DevLearn presenter evaluation results
DevLearn presenter evaluation results
DevLearn presenter evaluation results
DevLearn presenter evaluation results

I have constructive feedback I can use to improve.


How to practice for next time? I'm thinking YouTube.


It's Thanksgiving Day in the USA. Thank you EdCamp. Thank you SDCUE. Thank you everyone whose names begin with @. Thank you God and Mrs: the first for each new breath, the latter for taking each away. 23 years married and still going strong.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pandora's Snicker Doodle


I like going off on tangents. I love it when the tangent brings me back to where I started. This has the feel of a great circle: something about navigation learned whilst in the Navy. It happened this morning in one of those never-ending meetings a stray thought crossed my awareness. Its sudden appearance startled me. That it had nothing to do with the meeting caused my mind to snatch it out of the ether for a closer look.


Apologies if this next part comes off a little skewed. I'm drawing on knowledge from when I was 12, a 7th grader I think. Pandora was the first woman the gods made, per Greek Mythology. They gave her all manner of positive attributes. Some time later, Pandora happens upon a jar. Curious about its contents she opens it. Much to her surprise and humankind's lament all of life's evils were released from their cache to inflict pain and suffering on us all.


I'm an instructional designer. I've practiced my craft, using equal parts of science and art, for 16 years or so. The stray thought I'd had was this: Pandora unleashed uncertainty, fear, and doubt. These are the very things that keep many of us from embracing change and enjoying success beyond our wildest dreams. Ok. That last sentence is in here for dramatic effect. Writing without benefit of an editor means sometimes a little incoherence makes it into the final piece. Anyway, the myth goes on to say that Pandora was drawn back to the jar by a small noise coming from within it. She opens the jar again and out pops hope.

In my world hope means training. Something changes and a gap in performance results. Most times we see change coming from a mile away. Other times it surprises us. Either way training gives us a way to cope and do better.


With the US holiday season almost upon us Mrs felt the need to make sugar cookies. So we mixed up a batch of cinnamon sugar cookies. It was an easy recipe. She did the mixing and rolled the dough balls. It was my job to roll them in the cinnamon sugar and place them on the cookie sheets. She snickered now and then at my clumsy attempts to keep the dough in ball form. Now and then she guided me so there were more balls at the end than pancakes. Fom the start she had a clear idea of what the result would be. For me that realization came only at the end. In training we call this performance support.

Photo of a cookie sheet with a number of unbaked snickerdoodle cookie balls


It is an efficient way to impart skill and know-how. More often than not there are instructions, checklists, and pictures to help produce a successful outcome.


While I produce amazing learning experiences (according to the Level 1-4 evaluations) my preferred way to learn something involves play (and a ton of trial and error).

At the end of my typical learning process I generally have a positive outcome. A few times I fail. What I also come away with are a plethora of possible things to try next time. The last time this happened was Saturday.

At The SDCUE tech fair in Carlsbad, CA last Saturday I was wowed by Daqri4D, an augmented reality (AR) app. Lacking the funds for a license, I wasn't really sure I needed the app--I just wanted to play with it, I started thinking how an app-smashing approach might yield a similar wow.


I did some poking around with Aurasma, another AR app, the past couple of days. The results are kind of rough. Even so, I can see how I might be able to use the techniques I learned during my design and protyping phase to produce a wow learning experience.


Going forwards I'll continue playing around with AR. I think some green screen work, larger models, and better lighting will kick the prototypes up another notch. Stay tuned.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

It's People: PD Is People (and the connections and things they make)


I've been known to go way off the beaten path to learn new stuff. Though I own a GoPro camera I'm not too into extreme things to do. Extreme for me means going the (usually long) distance to connect with people and their ideas and ways of doing.

PD Is People

The past year or so my professional development (PD) has come from sharing ideas and ways of doing with other educators far from my home.

photo collage of learning events

Yesterday, for example, I participated in EdCampUCLACenterX in Pico Rivera, California. The school where it took place was an hour's drive from the town where I grew up. The school's architecture and layout reminded me a lot of good 'ol Colton High. Someday I'd like to participate in an EdCamp there. Who knows?

That's why I go the distance for PD: lots and lots of diverse perspectives in safe and familiar environments. Yesterday during the Technology and other checking for understanding session I was asked how different the EdCamps I've been to are from each other. I replied that the focus of the sessions changes. Or maybe because it's the times that are changing. Certainly the district and state environment affect what teachers are interested in learning.

I love meeting new people. I worry sometimes that I might be a little annoying, as I like taking a lot of pictures. I generally ask permission, at least of those nearby.

One thing I think that most everyone I've met at the PD events I've gone to in the last year (DevLearn, EdCamps, COMPILE) share is the need to keep the conversations going. "How do we maintain the relationship?.


This guy: Jed Butler knows Twitter PD.

photo of Jed Butler explaining Twitter chats

In the space of about 20 minutes he spun the most amazing series of short stories about how Twitter PD changed his life and how it can change ours. He took us step by step from starting, to sharing, while pointing out some awesome resources like Cybraryman1's site along the way


I'm hoping to be able to visit Austin, TX next week for EdCampATX and Los Angeles early next year for EdcampLA. Then there's the San Diego CUE but it's the same day as EdCampATX. Try and go out and meet some people: learn something new whilst growing your personal learning network (PLN).