Training Gluttony

859476_656278311603_743478685_oThe local ice cream shop near me has what is called the “Brain Freeze Challenge”. The idea is that if you can eat 8 scoops of ice cream, 6 liquid toppings and 4 candy toppings (essentially 3 pounds if ice cream and toppings) in thirty minutes, you win a free t-shirt…ice cream gluttony. Feeling daring this week, I went there with a group of friends and two of us decided to take the challenge…

After finishing, I couldn’t help but thinking how this experience was like attending an intense training session. At the end of the bowl of ice cream I was beyond full, I had no desire to have any more, and while it was pleasure at first, by the end, I just wanted it to be over and in a few days, many of the details of the experience will be lost. This is very similar to how I feel after attending an intense training or conference (what I would call training gluttony). I arrive, excited about the information I am about to learn and I start eagerly. Somewhere in the middle, my brain gets overly full and I start to think about it all being over instead of taking in the information being presented.

Sometimes these training sessions are a necessity, so how do we help learners not succumb to training gluttony?

Let’s look at ways to avoid the downsides of training gluttony:

  • Change Activity/Topic every 20-30 minutes
  • Take regular breaks
  • Develop familiarity with the material beforehand*
  • Provide resources to remind participants of covered material*
*These are also discussed in my post, Learning Beyond the Session

Change Activity/Topic every 20-30 minutes

While a great deal of research has been done on attention span, the results are varied based on many different conditions. From the point of lectures, they have found that scores on quizzes on the material after a 20 or 50 minute lecture do not have a significant difference. Research has also shown that after 20 minutes, the amount of reported time not focused on the speaker increases. Keeping these in mind, changing topics or activities, helps learners have increased attention and keep periods of inattention down.

Take Regular Breaks

During learning activities, a lot of information is being absorbed. During breaks, or periods away from the learning activity, memories about the information is strengthened and the brain has time to process and develop connections between the new material and previous knowledge. Research has suggested that breaks should occur every 90 minutes.

Develop Familiarity With the Material Beforehand

When people are familiar with a topic and the material being covered, their brain is better able to process new material. When learners are going to be participating in training gluttony, it is helpful to provide resources ahead of time that will help them to become familiar with the material. This could be related articles and/or videos, foundation material about the topics to be covered, or just an outline or agenda that will instigate their brain to consider the ideas ahead of time.

Provide Resources to Remind participants of Covered Material

Often times information exists in our brain but we can’t access it, or don’t remember it. Proving materials such as job aids, notes, or graphic representations triggers that material that we are not easily accessing. When our brain first heard the material, it may not have had time to determine and file the information into the correct type of memory in the brain. The tools provided to the learner will help them recall the material later when their brain will have time to properly organize the material and develop connections to other information

When a day-long or multiple day training is necessary, with careful planning, we, as instructional designers and trainers, can help learners to not succumb to training gluttony. By providing the right materials before hand, structuring the time appropriately and providing supports afterwards, we can make sure that while our learner’s may feel full, they can manage and process the experience and maximize retention and enjoyment of the experience.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, I finished my ice cream with 8 minutes to spare…

Finding Inspiration: In New Tools

inspiration-design-ideas3754[1]Where do you find inspiration for your work? If you ask 100 people I suspect you would get many different answers. I find inspiration in a number of different places, but today I want to focus on finding it in new tools.

The beauty about a new tool is that it can inspire you to take another look and evaluate how you do something. Changes can come out of it, not only that utilize the new tool, but from the fresh look you are taking. Since a new tool changes your workflow, it becomes a point of new insight and inspiration, so take advantage of this and be inspired.

The Thinking My New Captivate Version Inspired

Two weeks my upgrade for Adobe Captivate 7 arrived. I had been working with 5.5 and so this gave me access to all the improvements and features of both Captivate 6 and 7. Let’s look at some of the inspiration it provided me:

  • Notes to build Engagement – One of the new features is the ability to take notes. I see this as a way to build course engagement. To have my learners interact more and take responsibility for the information in the course. In my previous courses, I have often wanted learners to hold information learned at the beginning to be used later on. Some of this is procedural and some of it is scenario context. I know my learners are not always sitting at a desk in a typical learning setting so in the past, for the scenario context information, I found myself having to provide it on screen later in the course when it was needed. The addition of course notes will allow my learners to collect this information on their own and use it when necessary and give them more control over this aspect.
  • Web and YouTube Interactions to add Enhanced Resources – Some of the new interactions of Captivate 7 are the ability to bring web pages or YouTube videos right into the course. This alleviates the need for learners to leave your course to have access to this information or having you embed them into the course, making the file (and course loading times) smaller. I see this as a way to connect my learners to more resources. I have avoided adding these kinds of things in the past but as new training initiatives for our department include product knowledge and soft skills training, outside resources become more important. I am inspired to keep an eye on that in future development and take advantage of existing resources right through my course. For example, when talking about a generator, I can easily bring in a YouTube video explaining generators done by one of our vendors. My course becomes more of a collection of resources framed by me instead of something I have to completely create.
  • Data Interactions to include more Exploration – Many of the interactions now available in Captivate were added in Captivate 6 (but are still new for me because I never had this version) and they are ripe with opportunities to add more exploratory options to learning. I see these as opportunity to make my courses even more exploratory in nature. Learners are provided with charts. diagrams, or images that allow them to take control over exploring and discovering information. Previously in order to create these experiences, it required my to use advanced interactions and variable to create these and I was having to design the framework myself. This limited the amount I could take advantage of for time and resource reasons. These new interactions will free me up to create these opportunities when appropriate without having to weigh them against development time and cost.

How My Current Project was Improved

Now I had just finished designing three lesson modules that were ready for development and I decided to do that in Captivate 7, while exploring the features and functions. Let me share with you a few of the ways it impacted the development of my current project:

  • Using Characters – My company does not subscribe to any image services and I either have to find free images at places like or I have to take them myself (fortunately I am a photography buff and have fairly good photography equipment and resources). I have developed a set of images of people engaging in different activities that I can draw of for my modules but I did not take them in front of a green screen so that i can remove the environment. The characters now available in captivate allowed me to replace some of the photos I would have used with characters that look and feel like they are a part of the slide as opposed to a photo added to the slide. This also allowed for some consistency in use and I will probably develop a few of the characters as standard “characters” in my training since they come in a wide variety of poses and expressions.
  • Interactions – Oh, how I have pined for some prebuilt interactions. I have been hacking together more complex interactions using variables and advanced interactions but having a set of prebuilt, smoothly operating interactions is a real time-saver. I was able to replace a few of my intended interactions with one of the ones included ion Captivate 7. I still left some of the interactions I had designed and intended, but where those offered provided an equivalent substitution, I made the change and saved myself a bunch of development time.
  • Themes – Recently I developed a new look for our courses. This had been focused on the lesson slides and interactions. With the new themes available, I was able to find a complimentary one to my new design that allowed me to fill in the gaps, most noticeably in my quiz slides. This became a timely enhancement and made a huge difference in the overall aesthetic of the course.

This is just a few of the ways this new tool has fueled my thinking and motivation. I am sure as I use and work with more of the features of this tool, I will be inspired further. And tools are just one of the ways to inspire your work. I plan to write about others in future posts.

Learning Beyond the Session

Anticipatory set…follow-up…extend the learning. These are just a few of the ideas that run through my brain from my days an an elementary school teacher. But as I plan my upcoming training session in Chicago, I am reminded that these aren’t just for kids. Building your training session beyond the actual event, increases retention of information and engagement.

Let’s look at how that will be incorporated in my upcoming session:

The Scenario

I am heading to Chicago to do two full days of training, one for stores managers and one for branch managers. The training will cover different tools in the company’s proprietary software that can help them accomplish important aspects of their job. Most of the participants are new hires in the last six month. So basically, I have each group for a seven hour day, and lots of information to cram into it. My plan is to use different techniques before and after to:

  • Increase engagement in the session
  • Improve information retention
  • Reduce the amount of new material covered during the onsite training
  • Build confidence in the new material

What Comes Before

Thinking about extending the learning began right in the planning session for the training. As I discussed the needs and goals for these learners with their managers, I was already thinking about what steps I could take before I arrived in Chicago to prepare them for the session. While there are many things that can be used, for this session I am going to:

  • Selected appropriate on-demand learning to be completed before the session. I create a number of eLearning modules which cover basic aspects of our proprietary software and I selected a few that were relevant to each groups’ specific job responsibilities. By having them do these before the session, I am making sure they have the basic building blocks covered, so that I can build off of them instead of starting from scratch. This gets them thinking about the tools in the system and ensures they are familiar with how it operates. Since they will have covered some material in advance, I can draw on this common experience in the session and use it to do some followup activities on that material spread throughout the rest of the session. Another side benefit that has come of this is that because our LMS is new, many of the learners are experiencing it for the first time and as they have questions about logging in, etc, I have been able to talk and connect with many of these employees that I have not met before.
  • Get them to come to the session ready to share a current challenge they face. Several days before I fly out for the session, I will be sending each group of learners an email inviting them to write down one of their greatest job challenges and come to the session ready to share it. This gets them preparing themselves to receive answers and solutions at the session. They start thinking about what they are hoping to get out of the session and when I have them share these at the beginning of the session, I will also know what their goals are. Many of these I will be able to directly connect to the different topics that are already planned or I will be able to weave them in. For the one or two that don’t connect in, I will be able to use those in the follow-up sessions. During the session, engagement is increased because the participants are listening for the solutions to there challenges and they feel they have had a role in shaping the direction of the training.

What Comes After

It is never a good idea to dump information on learners and run. Certain questions will come up during a training session, but until participants put it into practice, all questions won’t be answered and the participants need to know they can still get answers. Of course I always provide contact information and welcome questions, but I also have planned follow up:

  •  Post Session Coaching Sessions. During the weeks following my trip I will offer two webinar coaching sessions for each group. This will allow us to deal with any questions not answered from the sessions and provides an opportunity to follow up on how implementation is going and address any additional questions or issues that have arisen. Offering this accountability and forum builds confidence for the learners in the material and their ability to use it. Additionally, this provides a space for this group to gather again and create further bonds that encourage them to reach out and support one another.

Let’s Review

Let’s just review how engagement and retention will be increased through these activities:

  • Participants are exposed to material before the session and have time to reflect on it
    • They have foundational knowledge
    • They are ready to receive the type of information to be presented in the training session
    • They have common experiences that can be used to for examples during the on-site session
  • Personal connection has been made with the learners and a bond of credibility and respect is being built
    • Participants know that I (the trainer) is already invested in their success
  • Participants come thinking about what they can and hope to gain from the training and engage to hear the answers
    • As common goals are shared, bonds are created among participants developing into a potential support network
  • Participants have a role in shaping the training and their goals become the focus
  • Participants report on their implementation of the learning, providing accountability
  • Space is provided to ask follow-up questions as the learning is being used
    • The group nature of this means that discussions remind participants of more topics and ideas than would be individually thought of
    • Participants hear others’ success stories and challenges and are able to use the material more effectively and confidently

In the busy life of an instructional designer/trainer, it is easy to fall out of the practice of maximizing your training with pre and post activities. We need to remember that preparing participants for a session, getting them focused on the topic and how it directly affects them and then following-up on sessions to make sure learning is put into practice has a huge impact on the ROI for training. The goals are constant, while the methods that work for different organizations vary.

Diving into Twitter

twitter profileWith my interest in social learning, you might be surprised to hear that just last week I created a Twitter account. While I see great value in social media, I can be very cautious and I plan out my goals for different social media before I engage. But I believe that if you want to get the most out of a tool, you need to do some planning before you dive in.

Before Signing Up

I first decided to jump on the Twitter band wagon a month ago, after being inspired by a book I was reading, The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner and  a TED Talk called The Art of Asking given by Amanda Palmer.

When I start using a new media, I plan out my goals and consider how using this new tool will fit in with my life. i want to make sure I have that about the why, how and when of the new tool so that I can get value out of it and not get caught in the sea of what can be. Once the decision was made, I determined my goals for Twitter:

  • To create and use an account for professional purposes
  • To focus on collecting information from other professionals in the field

There are certainly other valid goals such as connecting and communicating with employees within your own organization, or developing connections with people who share a hobby, or to keep abreast with friends and family, but I decided to focus on the goals above. In the future i would love to be using Twitter with learners to activate prior knowledge before a training session and extending learning and the Q & A period after training sessions.

Then I considered my time and when I would add this to my life. I decided that I could find a few periods in my day to look at Twitter and, that as I ran across things of value I wanted to share, I could take a moment to do so.

Finally I did some research to get tips and pointers from others on their Twitter experience. Tips about who to follow and how to get followers, ways to compose your tweet, and when to jump into a conversation. (I will share my tips at the end of this post)

Getting Started

After planning, I signed up for Twitter. I admit that I had brainstormed a lot of different possible ID’s. I wanted it to be something that would give people an idea of who I was in relation to my Twitter goals. I wanted someone to be able to see it and know something about me. If I was well-known in the field, I might have chosen my name, but instead I went with a nod to my profession, @LearningDsigner. I followed that up by creating my profile, describing myself based on my Twitter goals and using unique photos for my profile page.

Next, I started looking for people to follow. I wanted to follow people that were going to tweet on topics I was interested in and possibly local people that I might connect with in person at some point. I looked for people by:

  • I went through the people I am connected to on LinkedIn that are in the learning and development field to see if they were active on Twitter
  • I looked for authors of books, articles and blogs that I have really enjoyed
  • I looked for professional organizations that produce resources I respect and use
  • And after I followed some of these people, I looked to see who they were following

Next I started to read what came through my Twitter feed. If there were links that looked interesting, I checked them out. I picked a few that were interesting and retweeted them. If someone’s tweet raised questions or I had an idea or answer to a question they raised, I answered it. They key is to write something valuable or interesting and not write for the sake of writing. As I quickly found out,  I start to tune out people who tweet constantly. I suspect that if I do that, then others probably respond the same way, so clogging up people’s twitter feed is not my plan of approach.

As I respond or write new tweets to share resources, I hash tag keywords. I find myself searching hash tags to learn more about topics and find additional people who I may want to follow.

Within days of starting Twitter, I decided to start checking out Twitter and social media clients to find a way to better organize my activity so that I focus on the most valuable information. I started with HootSuite. One of the nice things about HootSuite is that you can organize information from several social media sources and create tabs based of topics of interest. It also allows you to schedule posts to the different media as well. I haven’t spent enough time with it to fall in love and I will probably investigate others, but it has been a good place to start.

What I Have Learned

Through out this week, I have found the time to look at Twitter. I find that one great time for me is during my after lunch walk each day. Since I don’t walk on busy streets, I can scroll down my Twitter feed easily as I walk and with a few flicks of my finger I can retweet or respond to someone else’s tweet.

I have also taken advantage of hash tags to find new conversations on topics of interest. As I do this, I pay attention to people who seem to be key in those conversations and follow them. I know that if I later find they are not the right person, I can unfollow them. Also, there are some regular conversations by different groups that are scheduled for certain times. The messages in the conversation all include a specific hash tag designation. I ran across one after the fact, but have put it on my calendar for next week so I can participate.

Twitter has made valuable resources available to me. Of course I could probably find a lot of the same information online if I searched for it, but by selecting people I respect to follow, I see a collection of what they found valuable, so my information is vetted. I also can easily and quickly interact with the person who shared it and sometimes who authored it.


So here are some tips for Twitter:

  • Set goals before you start, know how you want to use it
  • Spend some time setting up your profile, this is your first impression to people in the community
  • Follow people who are leaders in topics that you are interested.
  • Use hash tags to find information and people you want and use them to index your tweets
  • Retweet something that you find valuable. If it is of value, retweeting will help others find it
  • Ask and answer questions. Join in on conversations and engage.
  • Share resources that you find valuable and if you think it is valuable to a certain person, direct it towards them by including @TheirUserID in the tweet
  • If you include links, use a link shortening tool

Do you have additional tips to share or Twitter client suggestions? Please feel free to share them in the comments.
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