Adventures in professional development October 2012

In-person team meeting, Oct 16-17

My team works virtually.  We’re scattered all over Ontario and so when we can meet in person, we take the opportunity.

This year, our in person team meeting was held in Toronto and we assembled from our respective offices: Timmins, Sudbury, Scarborough, and Chatham, to meet with the three of our colleagues that lived and worked in Toronto.

The focus of the meeting was professional development, but there were a couple of specific things that we had to accomplish: review our accomplishments to date, and plan our activities for the remainder of the year.

My team is diverse with respect to skills and relative areas of expertise.  I contribute to subject matter expertise in my business line, technical, facilitation, instructional design, and other communications skills.  Others bring subject matter expertise in other business lines, project management, instructional design, presentation, and specific business communication skills.  Some have great budget management skills and a holistic knowledge of our business that I lack.

We all come together to support one another and get things done.  As the result of our accomplishments/planning session, I once more find myself entering uncharted territory and helping to put together professional learning agreement (PLA) templates for various positions my business line.  This will be interesting work.

In the professional development category, we were reintroduced to a tool called the Passport to Service Excellence (PSE), which is supposed to help us chart our career path.  Talent management is something still fairly new and very much in development at my employer.

We have several tools and platforms to help us do this.  One is, of course, the PLA, where outside our departmental mandate and goals, we list activities that we would like to engage in and what positions we’d like to move into, job shadowing or acting roles we might like to adopt.

There is a Renewal Gateway site onto which we can post our resumes and where managers from various departments are supposed to look for individuals to suit their needs.  There are also formal and informal assessment processes for various jobs occurring all the time.  There is the PSE, and I’ll be helping out with another project geared to assist employees in planning their professional development activities in the coming weeks.

It seems to me that there’s a little too much duplication in these tools.  So if I were to take a course, I would have to update my own resume, the one posted on the Gateway, then open up my PLA and list it there, go to the PSE and make the appropriate alterations there, and soon possibly also update the new tool that’s being proposed.

That’s a lot of work.  It’s almost enough to make one reconsider taking part in any professional development activity.

What would be better is to work into one of the tools the ability to export information into other forms.  So that if I complete a course, I then go into one tool, for sake of argument, the PSE, update it, and then have the tool communicate with and update the other tools (PLA, resumes, etc.)  It makes sense to me, but when I made the suggestion, it seemed something beyond what could be provided.

This kind of thing happens a lot at my employer.

The Business Expertise Forum, Oct 29-31

Along with the SMART Board training that I delivered with my colleague Monica in September, I was to deliver a workshop at the BE Forum.  It soon turned out to be three workshops offered to a portion of the attendees in rotation with two other presentations.

Monica ended up having to deliver other training and couldn’t help me, so I said for convenience’s sake that I’d deliver the workshops solo.

I thought I’d have time in October to develop the presentation, handout, and complete the work necessary to have a translated version of the handout ready in time.  Unfortunately, other priorities emerged.  My job as training coordinator is not a boring one, to be sure.

Then two days before I was off on leave to attend a writing conference, one of my team mates volunteered to co-facilitate.  At that point, I didn’t really have the presentation hammered out, but I gratefully accepted the offer and shared what I could put together in a day.

Another issue was that the training room that I was assigned and that I wanted to get in early to set up was in use the day previous.

So making the best of the chaos, I travelled down with my colleague and attended the first part of the Forum.  There were a pile of work friends from various departments and locations that I got to see again.

Our regional head delivered a welcome address and expressed interest in attending the SMART Board workshop.  <gulp!>  Fortunately, her schedule was too full to allow it, but I had a momentary wiggins 🙂

One of my training team colleagues did a presentation on creating a quality monitoring program.  She’d been called in at the last minute when the original presenter was unable to attend.

Finally, at the end of the day, I got into the training room, hooked up my computer, and tested the SMART Board out.  Joy.  Everything was working.  Linda and I started to go through the workshop and had to finish off our mini-run through the next morning, as the training rooms were being locked down for the night.

Ultimately, all went well, and I ended up having a great time.  I went out with all of my work friends and caught a couple of great presentations, on training in a multi-generational environment and on managing transitions (another course that I will be delivering at some point in the future).

Now I’m in recovery 🙂

On taking breaks and lunches

One of the other things that came out of my team’s in-person meeting was that we all need to take care of ourselves.  A former member of the team, who’d left it prior to my coming on-board in May, had passed away in the summer at the young age of 51.

So we were all encouraged to take our lunches and breaks, and to take care of ourselves.

I have to confess that I haven’t taken more than a handful of legitimate lunches or breaks since starting with the team.  I tend to take on too much.  I know this about myself, but when I have something that I’m interested in, I can’t help myself.

Unfortunately, the things I’m interested in are not the kinds of things anyone else shares a passion for.  So I end up being a niche specialist because no one else has the time or aptitude to take up the torch.

I’ll have to let you know how my quest for personal time and balance at work goes.

The Learning Mutt has a couple of weeks at home before she’s on the road again, and hopefully for the last time this year …  I can dream, and whuffle in my sleep 😉

Four learning-related resources that have come my way recently

After two weeks out of town, I have a couple days off.  So this week the learning mutt is sharing some of the interesting stuff she found on the interwebz 🙂

The first two come from my friend BrainySmurf courtesy of her blog Connecting the Dots.

Brainy’s a MOOCer, that is, she participates in massively open online courses.  Through her most recent set of them (I think 4 at last count), she’s come across Susan Cain and her site: The Power of Introverts.

Now I’m essentially an introvert, though I work in an industry that has me talking to people all the time, facilitating courses, and the like.  I dislike “putting myself out there” and “being on.”  Really, what I want to do is work independently with words (just let me design courses and give me the time to finish them properly!), and of course, write.  My true preference would be to write all the time, holed up in my wee garret, but I know that after the writing comes the promotion and I have to be super “on” for that.

Susan Cain - Quiet - The Power Of Introverts

Susan Cain – Quiet – The Power Of Introverts (Photo credit: k-ideas)

What this means is that I have to find my power as an introvert and learn how to use my innate and learned talents and skills to their best effect in an extroverted world.

Last week I mentioned Susan’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s definitely on my reading list.

Last year, Brainy also mentioned Gretchen Rubin and her book The Happiness Project.  This week, I saw Gretchen on Canada AM promoting her new book Happier at Home.  Gretchen also came up during the platform-building course I’m participating in with Dan Blank of We Grow Media.  She was cited as an excellent example of platform-building, self-promotion, and book marketing.

PBS @ SXSW 2010 / Gretchen Rubin

PBS @ SXSW 2010 / Gretchen Rubin (Photo credit: PBS PressRoom)

When I first saw Brainy’s post on Gretchen, I wasn’t caught.  I was happy and didn’t really need any advice in the area, or so I thought.  Now I’m reconsidering my position.

A recent crisis in self-confidence has forced me to face the fact that I’m not currently happy.  Stress, mostly self-imposed, has me out on a limb and trying to look at myself in a mirror at the same time.  Tricky business that.

I’m thinking that I have to take another look at The Happiness Project.

Clark Quinn (the Quinnovator) noted on his blog learnets this week that Learning Design isn’t for the Wimpy.

ID isn’t easy.  We’ve been given some content, and it’s not just about being good little IDs and taking what they give us and designing instruction from it.  We could do it, but it would be a disaster (in this case, that’s what we’re working from, a too-rote too-knowledge-dump course.  And it’s too often what I’ve seen done, and it’s wrong.

Instructional design, or ID is what I aspire to do.  I write courses now, but it’s not really ID in the sense that Clark’s talking about.  There’s no consultation, there’s no conversation, there’s no back-and forth.  So far, I’ve only been writing courses on topic in which I’m considered the expert.  I can only write what I think a learner would need to know.  Being self-taught in most of these topics means that I’m writing courses for learners like myself, but I know that not everyone has the predisposition to learning that I do.

I try to work in what I think other learners will like and relate to, but it’s all through my own filters, and ultimately, that’s not good design.

Harold Jarche

Harold Jarche (Photo credit: Harold Jarche)

Which brings me to my next find: Harold Jarche.  He’s the champion of personal knowledge management, or PKM, and his latest post on Life in Perpetual Beta talks about how PKM can work to foster innovation within an organization.

In an organization where everyone is practising PKM, the chances for more connections increases. Innovation is not so much about having ideas, as making more and better connections.

PKM is something else I aspire to (hence the learning mutt), but it’s really only possible in my workplace at the advisory level or higher, and not many of us have hopped on the bandwagon so the sharing community isn’t huge.

Right now, it’s a problem without a resolution.  I have the solution, but not the internal platform to promote it.  I don’t have a lot of authority and all I can really do at this point is lead by example and talk it up every chance I get.

I set up a SharePoint site for the training team last year focused on professional development, but I was the only one using it.  I eventually stopped updating and promoting the site.  A bit of a defeat that, but perhaps someday I’ll be able to get back to it.  Not being a part of the training team anymore kind of throws a monkey wrench into those gears.

That’s it for this week.  Feel free to follow Brainy, Clark, or Harold.  They really are excellent resources in the learning and development field.

Also feel free to share any learning resources that you’ve found recently in the comments below.

Getting smart with SMART Board

Back in April, I posted about a gift I received back in May of 2010: a SMART Board.  Now I never did a dedicated post about what became of that wee gift.

English: A Smartboard

English: A Smartboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In March of 2011, my then brand-new manager started an initiative.  She wanted the training team firmly in the 21st century, designing and delivering elearning.  Unfortunately, that was also about the time that my father passed away, and though I was considered the expert in  SMART Board, I only had time to complete part of the training course before I was off on leave.

My colleague completed the course for me, created a video segment for it, and delivered it, not only to our fellow trainers, but also to the regional learning governance committee, and at the business expertise forum.

The result: we received, as a team, a service excellence award for the project.

Getting even smarter with SMART Board

Fast forward a few months, and riding close on the heels of that success, it was determined that additional training should be delivered.  In person training.  Not only to our fellow advisors and consultants, but also to managers and other individuals in need of additional tools to present and conduct meetings.

Plus, there would be additional workshops to be held at this years’ business expertise forum.

Reunited for this next project, my colleague and I reworked the training, which was previously delivered as a combination of self-study and virtual delivery, into a 1-day, in class session.  The idea was that to cement the learning, hands-on application would be required, and lots of it.

Today was the first of two sessions, and though things were a little rough, we’ve received some very positive feedback.  I’m relieved.

Bumps on the road

Earlier in the summer, I was notified by the updating utility that Notebook, the software that accompanies the SMART Board, needed to be updated, so I dutifully put in my ticket with the techies, and was promptly updated to the wonderful Notebook 11 🙂

I realized that this was a major change that would necessitate the rewriting of the package.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dedicate any time to the SMART Board until early August.  At that time, I booked a room, set up the SMART Board, and started playing again.  I also took scads of screen shots 🙂

The rest of August was spent re-writing the training package, given the new version of Notebook.  Dates were set, the course entered into our learning management system, invitations to participants were sent, and another ticket was submitted to the technical team to install Notebook 11 onto all the computers in the training room.

Pre-course assignments, including the participants’ guide, were sent out and submitted by the participants.

Then, last week, when I returned home after being out of town for the Managing Transitions training for trainers, I received a note that the computers were all updated … to Notebook 10.7.

Essentially, all the work that I had done on the revisions was a waste.  That was Friday, and I was on the road Monday morning to come down and set up the room prior to training.

There wouldn’t be time to work on anything.

Further, the versions of Notebook installed on the participant computers were all trial versions, and missing a few key elements.  This meant that some of the parts of the program that we were demonstrating could not be accessed by the participants at their desks.

That was a bit frustrating.

Nothing like rambling on for five minutes about this really cool feature when one of your participants pipes up and says, “where are you?  I can’t find that Icon.”  Then you realize that they’re missing something that it would really have been nice if they had.

Chameleons by any other name

So, as facilitators, we adapt on the fly, to a greater or lesser extent, and to more or less success.  Again, it seems we managed well, and that everyone got what they needed out of it.

It’s just frustrating.

I would have liked to have had more time to complete a proper facilitators’ guide.  I would have liked to have had the most up-to-date version of the software available to the participants.

As the song says, though, you can’t always get what you want 🙂

I guess all of this speaks to my perfectionism.  I’ll deal with good enough, and not stress over it (I’ve learned to let go of things at work), but I can’t help but think how much more successful the package could be.

There are so many things that I’ve done in the last couple of years that have been good enough, and that I’d love to have time to get back to and revise/update/complete.

Happy Dog

Happy Dog (Photo credit: jmckind)

How are things going in your work lives?  Are you too, plagued by persistently frustrated perfectionism?  How have you addressed the issue?  Is being able to let go enough?  Is good enough really enough?

Let me know!

The learning mutt, signing off 🙂

What I’d like to do, but can’t …

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Those are the words of a whiner, but I’m stating a fact and not trying to make excuses.  Honest.  There’s only one of me, and I don’t have a time-turner, like the one Dumbledore gave Hermione in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Last week, I expressed my coulda-woulda-shouldas with respect to a piece of computer-based training.  What I’m talking about this week is part of the same training beast.  The virtually-delivered piece.

In my role as training coordinator, it’s not my task to deliver the training or to design it, and though I am training this week, it’s because I’ve no choice in the matter.  If I didn’t step in, the project would have stalled, possibly fatally.

Even as a trainer though, I’m a total n00b.  I’ve only been a trainer for three years, and though I enjoy it, and believe I’m good at it, I know I have a lot to learn and am far from perfect.  I’m even greener with respect to instructional design.  I only started doing that last year.

But if I can think of a better way to design and deliver training, then it must need improvement.

I have to step back a bit and explain a couple of things before I get to the meat of the post.

About a month ago, the task of organizing the training of all staff in Ontario on a new initiative was assigned to me.  The training products were given to the two consultants who agreed to deliver the training.  I had two weeks to get everything together, the training schedule, WebEx meetings, and invitations.  I didn’t have time to read, let alone critique or redesign the course material for virtual delivery.

So now we’re into week three of the WebEx sessions and I’ve just started my week of training.  Already, I’ve received reports back on how boring the session is.  It wasn’t designed with virtual delivery in mind.  On average, the sessions are running two hours, which is too long to sit in front of your computer, staring at a screen.

What I’d do for this course (if I could):

  • There is a policy bulletin for the new initiative and a Job Aid.  Though technically, this was all supposed to be a “pre-read,” I’d like to have had the time to turn it into a true pre-course assignment with some form of assessment, submitted to the trainers in advance, so they could have some indication of the group’s level of understanding of the new initiative prior to the course.
  • Start with an activity reviewing the four aspects of their job that this new initiative will change and conduct a proper debrief.
  • Have the exercises on a PowerPoint or Notebook presentation with answers on a reveal.  Use the annotate feature in WebEx to have participants complete the blank assignments (one “scribe” with group support) and debrief using the revealed answers.
  • Let the participants “play” with the online tool designed to help them implement the new initiative by assigning them control of the application through WebEx.  Alternately, this could be a post-course assignment to assist with skill transfer.

Now of course, all of this would make the session considerably longer and comfort breaks would have to be worked in, or the session broken up into smaller pieces (four 30 minute sessions would be my preference).

Why none of this could happen:

This is our busiest time of year, compounded by summer leave.  The timing of this new initiative couldn’t be worse.  As a result, we had to fight for the time to do the one-cheeked job we’re doing.

The initiative will be effective in August.  The training had to be completed before then.

There simply wasn’t time to roll this out differently given the tools and the resources we have.

This is why I often wish I was Shakti, one of the Hindu goddesses of multiple aspects and multiple arms 🙂  Then I might really be able to be in two places at once, doing two (or even three) jobs.  The word “shak” in Sanskrit means “to be able.”

Ah well, so much for dreaming 🙂

Timing is everything, they say.  Have you had a situation in which you’ve been “under the gun” with respect to training?  Were you able to pull a rabbit out of your hat or did you have to make do?  Is good enough really good enough?

That’s all from the Learning Mutt this week.

8 Good things I’ve learned from bad computer-based training

So … we were provided this computer-based training (CBT) product to help roll out what may appear on the surface to be a fairly minor change, but turns out to be quite a complicated change that has an impact of several aspects of the work our front-line and processing staff perform.

The intent was to send the product and its accompanying Job Aid out to all staff, and let them have at.  There would, of course, be a policy brief released and online tools to help with the adjustment.

At first blush, the CBT looked great: interactive, with exercises and self-assessment tools …  That was before anyone actually tried to work through it.  Early on in the process, when it had already been decided that the CBT would be insufficient for our needs (thank goodness) I and several of my colleagues had a chance to go through the CBT.

I had no problem, but I’m tech savvy, I know how these things are generally designed, and I also play with things.  I click in apparently inappropriate places.  I muck about until I figure out how something ticks, and then I git ‘er done 🙂

The first problem was the site onto which the CBT was loaded.  It wasn’t particularly user friendly and several people couldn’t figure out whether they needed to log in, set up a new account, or reset their passwords.  The system was a little glitchy too, and offered errors when the CBT was accessed, requiring a re-log.

After I helped everyone get logged in and set up, I waited for the reviews.  This is what we discovered:

  1. Though pretty, the CBT was very much of the “clicky-clicky, bling-bling” species that Cammy Bean reviles.  Read about it on her blog.  Go on, I’ll wait.
  2. There were no clear and easily accessible instructions to inform learners what they needed to do on any given page (e.g. you have a picture of a luggage rack on the screen … and … ?).
  3. Navigation was accomplished through varied small or awkwardly-positioned cues.
  4. Exercises and tests contained no clear instructions, nor any mention of the purpose of the activity or how it would apply to the learner’s work.
  5. When working through examples, the learner can not navigate back to the scenario page and so has to write everything down and work it out by hand, or muddle through on a memory and a guess.
  6. All the assessments were self-assessments.  How could anyone determine if learning had taken place?
  7. The CBT was filled with acronyms, but no definitions.
  8. There were errors in the examples.

Turn all these negatives on their heads, and you have 8 take-aways for elearning.  See how that works?

When the CBT was given to staff, many of them were so frustrated with the experience, they stuck to (and got more out of) reading the print material.

Ultimately, the CBT was about how to get through the CBT, and the real learning was lost.

Admittedly, we don’t have the time to correct the existing CBT, or to develop a new product.  As flawed as it is, it’s what we have to use.

Next time, though, I hope the development team keeps a few things in mind:

  1. The importance of bringing subject matter experts (SMEs) who have some course design experience and technical aptitude into the fold. There are a few of us out there.  Use your networks and resources wisely!  Even if I had the time, I couldn’t redesign the CBT: I don’t have a license for the tool used to create it, or anything similar.
  2. Design for how people think.  This means keeping the end-user in mind.  It has to be a product that both your mother and your ten-year-old nephew could navigate through equally easily.  This means beta-testing on a group of your target audience and taking their criticisms seriously.
  3. Assessment is not just for the learner, it’s for team leaders and the advisors who are going to have to answer all the questions your learners have after the CBT experience.  It’s also for trainers, course designers, and IT, so they can figure out how to make a better product next time.

In the end, the CBT has to facilitate learning, support retention, and help the learner apply the knowledge when he or she returns to work.

Oh, if I were king of my little learning world 🙂  And yes, I’m a woman and I want to be king.  Got a problem with that, do ya?  I didn’t think so 😉

How have the best-laid plans of upper management and IT gone awry for you?  Did you tuck any lessons away for future application?  Have you learned good things from a bad CBT?

The Learning Mutt is signing off for another week.

A course in course design :)

During my undergraduate years, I enrolled in a class that allowed me to teach the composition portion of the first year English survey course.  Periodic tutorials provided instruction in pedagogy and marking standardization session ensured that all of us in the program were marking essays neither too harshly, nor too kindly.  I also tutored in the writing centre and received attended an information session on the specific learning needs of native students.  I did this for two years.

When I started my graduate degree, I, like many grad students, taught the first year composition course.  Essentially, there was an orientation lecture, we were given our texts, and the rest of it was up to us. I used what I’d learned during my undergraduate degree, but really, I shot from the hip.

When I learned that an optional course called “The Theory of University Teaching” was offered, I signed up right away.  A lot of what I learned at that point was muddled with all the other courses I was enrolled in, the teaching, and my ongoing creative writing project.  I taught that course for two years as well.

Most of what I learned about course design from those days was focused on university teaching.  Most of what stuck with me was adult learning theory, creating syllabi, and the importance of learning outcomes.

While I’ve put together some creative writing workshops and helped a friend, who was a high school teacher, work on her redesign of her Writers’ Craft course, I didn’t start writing courses myself until last year.

I generally run on instinct.  I think about what I’d need to know if I was the learner, and go from there.  Systems training is easier.  There’s a logical progression to the course provided by the structure of the program: Basic navigation > menus > screens > fields > inputs.  It can be boring, but I do my best not to turn into a computer in the process.

My team receiving our awards 🙂

The SMART Board course for which I receved a Service Excellence award was essentially systems training, as were the SharePoint videos I produced.

I also helped to cobble together a course on elearning design, not having a clear idea of what I was doing.

The last course design project I worked on was not writing from scratch, but rewriting a course that was originally designed as a self-instructional module.  The new venue was in-class, using with participant centered methodologies.  It may seem like a step backward in a world where virtual training is king, but it was what our participants wanted.

The response to this course tweak has been positive, though further revision has been recommended.

My writerly goodness tends to emerge in the process of course writing.  I like metaphors; creating stories and frameworks for the training to play out within.  I like to play.  I try to be clever, but it was never one of my strengths.  In the end, I’ve learned by doing and will continue to do so.

And I’ve learned by learning.  Last fall, I attended two courses, the first on participant centered training (see last week’s post, linked below) and the second on participant centered course design.  The courses were only a month apart, and there was some concern that I wouldn’t have time to assimilate the knowledge from the first before being thrown into the second.  I found the opposite to be true: the second course reinforced the learning from the first and expanded it in new directions.

Some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Allow the participants to take control of their learning;
  • Include sample questions;
  • Always include the purpose of an exercise or activity;
  • Include proper learning points for a debrief;
  • Link! (current topic to last topic; current topic to next topic; learning to application on the job; to value added pieces, etc.)
  • Assess seven ways from Sunday 🙂 and
  • Provide lots of opportunities for skills transfer and application.

I’m still missing a few bits and pieces, but I’m sure they’ll all fall into place as time goes on.  I’m addicted to learning, you see.  I can’t stop.  I learn however I can, whenever I can: reading, Webinars, informal learning …

Most recently, my employer has made available a suite of elearning courses from a third party provider.  I have my licence until the end of the year and have already completed the Change Management and mapped out enough elearning to keep my busy if I ever have a moment to spare 🙂

As I develop my platform, slowly and steadily, more opportunities will reveal themselves.  I still have a number of in-class courses I’d like to take at work, and I’m just beginning to figure out what books I want to read on the subject.

It’s going to be a great adventure.

Any gems to share about your own adventures in course design?

More adventures in SharePoint

Last week, I took a bit of a departure from my learning journey to tell you the bitter and the sweet of a recent event in my day-job professional life.

Now we’ll get back to what was possibly the best year of my training life.

Even as I was finishing up with the elearning course, the drive was on to develop our department’s SharePoint site.  It grew from a single team site, to a site collection.  This was for our team.  A second site collection was created as a training centre for staff, and because of my tinkering, I became head designer.

So I had to set up both site collections, and develop a training product to introduce, or reintroduce my colleagues to SharePoint.  There was another survey involved as well, and many service requests to IT.  In my business, no one outside of IT can be a site owner.  The best we can do is designer.

So I spent the better part of a month, dividing my time between writing the participants’ guide and workbook, developing the scripts for the accompanying videos, and the PowerPoint slides on one hand, and developing the two site collections on the other.

I created custom lists, manipulated content types to insert templates into document library menus, put together a professional development site for my team where I promoted the learning blogs I followed, the Webinars I participated in, the books I read, and so forth.

It was about this time that I wrote my exam for the courseware writer position.

I spent two days recording and re-recording the videos.  They were still too long, but the deadline arrived, and I didn’t have the time to devote any more to the project.

In the wake of the training and the survey, several more amendments to the SharePoint site were suggested.  At the time, my colleague Laura was working on another project, putting together a Web page for our department on the company Intranet.  The Web page on our corporate site was to point to the staff training centre SharePoint site collection.  Unfortunately, there were few things we could legitimately control on the Web page, so the SharePoint sites were in jeopardy of languishing …

Until my manager decided that our SharePoint could be our de facto Intranet site.

Then began a new drive to totally redesign the training centre SharePoint.  Away went most of the Quick Launch links to the lists and libraries, away went the “out of the box” home page with its announcements and links, replaced by content editor Web parts.  I used my limited skills in image manipulation to create banners, and wiki libraries to provide a Web page-like interface for staff to access our training products and documentation.

At that time, I had three weeks to finish that bit of miracle before I had a couple of days leave, and then a week of training to attend out of town.  This was also when I submitted my application for the consultant position. If it doesn’t rain, it pours!

A marathon final day of tweaking brought that phase of the project to a close.

Were there more adventures in SharePoint yet to come? You bet 🙂  But not for a while.

This was one of the most demanding projects I’ve worked on, but I enjoyed it immensely.  I love being master of my own domain and that’s exactly what this was.

Have your interests fed into a project like this?  One that grew until you hardly thought you could complete it?  What happened?  Did you pull a rabbit out of your hat?  I bet you did!

Tell me about it … Seriously 🙂


Learning elearning, the hard way :)

Last time, on Breaking open the mind: I participated in my first real working group.

In March of 2011, my team received a gift: our first non-acting manager in years!  We’d gone through four in the past year alone and it was hell.  The manager that we started the year out with had been our acting manager for a while.  He knew the team and what we needed, but then he moved onto another position.  Then, we had a manager for all of three weeks before she also took on another position.

Finally, there were two other acting managers who, while well-meaning and perfectly competent, really didn’t feel comfortable in the role for the training team.  The manager that we’d had for such a short time the summer previous was successful in a competition and returned as our manager, but this time permanently.

So, a new manager, and a new fiscal year threw things into high gear.  Our budget was restricted.  No overtime, and certainly no money for travel.  We had to start looking at alternatives to in-class, instructor-led training if we wanted to be able to continue and continue to be relevant.

Thus working groups evolved for the SMART Board and WebEx, our two main tools that could be used to deliver virtual training, either synchronously (together), or asynchronously (independently).  To follow up those two courses was to be a third, regarding elearning design and the conversion of in-class course materials to online or virtual vehicles.

Though I was considered the go to person with regard to the SMART Board, I couldn’t legitimately volunteer for any of the working groups.  My father had recently passed away, and I had asked for several weeks of leave.  I wouldn’t even be around when the training would be delivered to our colleagues.

However, I did get a “consulting” role on both the SMART Board and the elearning groups.  I ended up designing a good portion of the pre-course modules for the SMART Board course, though I must say that Monica did a smashing job of finishing them off, and of the Notebook presentation and recording.  Sadly, I got little to nothing done with regard to the elearning design course.  Monica and Laura were left with the bulk of the work.

When I returned from my leave, however, there was tweaking to be done.  The SMART Board course was a success as it was, but the elearning, having been piloted, needed some rework.  For one thing, it was too long.  Laura was seconded to another working group, and so Monica and I set to.

Shortly thereafter, Monica was pulled onto the WebEx team, or rather became the WebEx team, leaving me to finish off the elearning.  Really, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

I can write though 🙂  So I wrote my way through, like I usually do, and ran the rest on instinct.

I turned the lectur-y, research-y bits into a search and learn pre-course module.  I crammed in metaphors a-plenty, drawing heavily on the resources that my manager threw my way.  I created a post-course assessment, and tidied up the elearning toolkit that Laura had created.

One critical piece I learned was the importance of storyboarding the presentation.  I scripted that sucker out to the last detail.  I also became fairly adept at PowerPoint, and incorporated Notebook activities into each module as review and assessment tools.

I learned a lot writing the course, but in the months since, I’ve learned much more, and I’d love the opportunity to go back and refine things a bit.

When time came to pilot the course a second time, there was only one of our colleagues left to attend, or offer input for review (Thanks, Sandy).  It seemed to go well, but there hasn’t been much call for the course since.  No sooner was I finished with elearning, though, and I was on to the next project.

More on that in a couple of weeks.  Next week I’m going to share a recent, bittersweet experience with you.

Interesting update: Our work of the SMART Board project has been recognized with a service award for our wee working group. (w00t!)

How has the era of reduced budgets and travel affected your training efforts?  Are you adapting courses for online delivery?  How is that working out for you?

Storytelling in learning

Can you see why this might appeal to the Learning Mutt’s sensibilities?

Last week, I attended a great Webinar by Roger Courville of the 1080 group on incorporating stories into training.



His tips (in brief):

  • Keep it short and sweet;
  • Keep it relevant;
  • Keep it entertaining; and
  • Bring it back to your topic effectively.

In the past, I have also attended a Webinar by Nancy Duarte regarding her particular angle on storytelling.  Her focus is more on presentation, which, as Roger pointed out, has a different purpose to training.

She looked at the three act story/play structure and saw a “shape” that could apply to verbal discourse.  She analyzed Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs to see if her theory worked, and it did.  She offered critical insights to presentation, and you can look up her TEDxEast lecture on the topic here.

I’ve also attended a Webinar by Terrence Garguilo of  His point: stories beget stories.  Tell an effective story, and your participants will begin to create stories of their own going forward.

Overall, storytelling in training is a powerful tool.  It’s one of the oldest social networking strategies in existence.

I would encourage you to look up, follow, and/or attend Webinars by these fine people.

How I have used story in training:

  • In design, I use a metaphor to ties things together.  It could be a knightly quest, or planning a road trip, but tying your material into a metaphorical frame work will help to keep everything on track.  This can (and should) extend to the visuals you use/create for the course.
  • In written materials, to link to external resources that are “nice to know,” or might set learners off on a learning tangent.  A lot of blog posts utilize this technique to connect the reader to useful information.  There have been times when I’ve spent upwards of an hour following links from a single post I’ve subscribed to, discovering and learning, connecting the dots.
  • In-class, I’ve used practical stories of my own or other’s experiences to engage participants.

Do you use stories in your training?  In what ways?  Are there opportunities in your training to adopt storytelling as a tool?

Breaking open the mind …

A word about my day job

My day job is as a corporate trainer: I teach staff in my business to do their jobs.  In the last year or so, I’ve become much more aware of the industry I’m in, and the oh-so-interesting social, psychological, and economic impact I can have simply by going to work every day and doing my job.

The title of his blog category, breaking open the mind, is a nod to Daniel Pinchbeck’s Breaking Open the Head:  A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Shamanism, and though no mind-altering substances—unless you count knowledge—were used, that’s exactly what it feels like.  I’m back in university, and my mind is being blown.

I worked for a year as a trainer in my department before I really understood what I was doing and what I could be doing in comparison.  Yes, I’d been introduced to participant centered training delivery, but that was in-class, and the world of training seemed to be so much bigger than that.  Online asynchronous, synchronous, and blended methodologies were becoming predominant in the industry outside my workplace, and I had a feeling that we should be moving in that direction.  There was no evidence that we were though, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me.  I hadn’t developed as a trainer sufficiently to be able to articulate this feeling; I didn’t even know what the terms asynchronous, synchronous, and blended referred to; and without being able to express my feeling, I couldn’t consciously process the information.

That will give you some insight into how my mind works.  Shamanism and corporate training:  in the world of the learning mutt, they mesh 🙂

Business writing

Last week I spent a few days in a business writing course, first as a student, to learn the content, then as a trainer, to work on the implementation of the training for my department.

It was a great refresher, and I did learn a few things.

My main takeaway: I’m a grammar Nazi, and proud of it!  I’m not ashamed to admit that I can detect verb or pronoun agreement issues at 50 paces.  I can generally advise which word should be used (e.g. advise, or advice) and will visibly twitch when someone says ‘irregardless,’ or speaks about how a new policy impacts staff.  It has an impact on staff, unless it’s the equivalent a meteor hurtling toward the earth!

Recently, a few blog postings on grammar have come my way:

In fairness, I should also post this response:

Yes, I believe that English is a living language, and as such, is in flux, as are its ‘rules.’  Common usage does eventually get entered into the Oxford English Dictionary.  In fact, I think that irregardless has been entered in some dictionaries already thanks to its rampant misuse.

I’ll remind everyone that we aren’t living in the days before a dictionary of any kind existed.  We now have excellent tools like spell and grammar check to alert us to potential issues.  I recommend that every writer in any professional context use them.  In order to use these tools though, a familiarity with the basics of good grammar is necessary.  How else will you know what to ignore and what to change?

If for no other reason, a writer should use proper language and punctuation because it might rankle with a manager, prospective employer, agent, or editor and scuttle any chance of advancement or publication.

In training design, good grammar is imperative.  You have to model what you want your participants to emulate in practice.  Professionalism shouldn’t be a swear word in the workplace.

Having said all that, I must offer this apology:  I am not perfect.  I make spelling and grammar errors, but I correct them when possible, and try to learn from them what I can.  Such is the life of a learning mutt  🙂

Some grammar resources (for those who wish to improve):

Also, for a fun book about grammar check out Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

So do you know your shit, or just know you’re shit?  Do you hate me now that you know I’m a grammar Nazi?  No Writerly Goodness for you!