Category Archives: Learning Management

Connie Malamed on how to really make your point with visuals

Humans have selective attention. And they have a bad capacity for processing information. But: If you can get their attention and help them process what you show, humans have excellent long-term memory. Professional Explainer Connie Malamed is here to give tips on how to use visuals to really pass across your message.. Welcome to ATD TK15 session W400.

According to our speaker, there are 3 basic (good) ways to pass across information: Story, graphs or data representations, and diagrams.

Stories are good for creating emotion. If it really IS a story. A real story has a situation, complication and resolution, with a character/protagonist that achieves a goal. That IS the story: How the protagonist deals with the complication. During the session, Connie showed us some beautiful examples of comic book style stories.

Graphs are an excellent way to show data. If you get it right. According to Cleveland and McGill, our understanding of data changes dramatically depending on the type of graphic used. Humans can deal with position and length easily, but not so well with volume.

Malamed says that, although very fashionable, info-graphics are actually pretty bad for recall. They look nice, but they don’t serve the basic purpose of a data-driven graph. If a graph is to get and keep attention and create recall, it needs to SHOW the viewer the shape of the numbers. Personally, I found Zelazny’s book on charts quite handy.

Diagrams are also really good, if you use the right one.

Our speaker noted 5 different types of diagram and gave some basic rules to follow.


As I write this blog-post, I realise that as a reader it might be tough for you to get some real learning from it. Connie Malamed’s session was quite simply brilliant. But it’s difficult for me to summarise all the guidelines here (live). Look below and you will find a lot of references to help inspire and instruct you.

The basic message is this: How you visualise things DOES make a difference. As a trainer, I pay a lot of attention to my flipcharts, even if they are mostly text based. Connie has got me inspired to go further…

Further references you might like:

Thanks for reading


Free Content You Can Use from Creative Commons – Michelle Lentz at ATD TK15

One of my clients is very serious about intellectual property and copyright. As a research-driven company creating innovative products, this is their whole business. When I have to make some training materials for this client, they almost always get sent back (you would think I would learn!) for an update. Why? Because I shamelessly steal and use everything I find on the internet. Sometimes not even intentionally.

So Michelle Lentz‘s ATD TK15 session on “Finding Free Stuff For Your Training With Creative Commons” seemed interesting to me. This blog post outlines some simple tips for trainers…

note: having trouble with my WordPress app putting in links right now … all reference links at end of this post


Tip 1
If you want to make it clear what people can and can’t do with your own work, materials, images, blogs etc.. add the right Creative Commons license information. This affirmation can be as simple as adding the corresponding image to your content.


Tip 2
If you want to help other people find your shareable Creative Commons licensed work via the Internet (blog, images, sound etc) you need add the right license code. This is because the Creative Commons search engine looks for code, not pictures.


Tip 3
If you want to find content you can use, use the Creative Commons search engines to search by license type.


Tip 4
If you want images, Michelle recommends – you don’t have to be a Flickr user to search, find and copy images and… … wait for it… you can search by license type. We saw some of the available images for a simple search (“guitars”) and they were great!


Tip 5
If you are using things CC licensed by others in your work, you need to attribute the work to them. But you don’t have to literally put that attribution under everything you use. Consider putting a “credits” page at the end of your document.


Reference links:
-> Video introduction to copyright and “Creative Commons” :
-> Overview of Creative Commons license types and what they mean :
-> Get your Creative Commons license image and web-code here :
-> Creative Commons Search Engine :
-> Michelle’s ATD TK15 Presentation :
-> Get free sounds here :


Thanks for reading!



Solving the learning-context conundrum at LinkedIn

Robert Todd is Director of Learning Technologies at LinkedIn. His colleague Laura McBride is their Editor in Chief, responsible for content strategy and delivery. Both are here today to talk about a new model for digital learning content…


Robert opened the session by asking who is building digital content in their role. Many people said “yes”. But why is this?
Surely there is enough content out there? To prove his point, Robert’s team did some internet research on the topic of “giving and receiving feedback”, looking for exactly that search result. He found 65 LinkedIn posts with that exact title, 918 slideshare presentations, 3640 YouTube videos, 3606 books on Amazon, 41000 PDFs on Google … … … you get the point.


So, why are we building new content?
Maybe we want to own the content, or e think we know best, or that none of the existing content will be relevant to our organisational context.

Robert Todd agrees that getting the context right is important to creating effective eLearning, training or formal learning experiences. In fact it is key. And this is what leads to the need for a new digital learning strategy.

His own experience suggests that investment in contextually relevant, well-designed courses is far more likely to please the learner; they are far more likely to “dig it”. But context-specific learning has its problems..

  • Courses are expensive to make, requiring a lot of thought, design and content-building time
  • They are difficult to update
  • Functions and processes change, making courses irrelevant
  • If you are not close enough to the user, it’s difficult to make something really authentic
  • They push made-up high-high-context detailed situations, rather than helping people deal with their own questions and situations
  • They are not “ready” in-the-moment people actually need to learn something


So we have a conundrum based on the following dichotomy: Either its low-context, model-based job-aids, FAQs or courses that don’t engage or fit our any reality; or its overly high-context case-based simulations and courses that can’t work in practice because they are too specific to one person. There needs to be another answer… An effective blend.



Enter ?WhatIf!, the international innovation company, Todd’s first port-of-call to solve this conundrum.

They created a blend of low-context “formal” content and high-context experience-based learning consisting of fundamentals, “seeing it in the wild” and “doing it in the wild”. As the learner progresses through the experience, context was added step-by-step:

  • Walkthroughs (5 minute videos to teach basic principles) and skill-checks (online exercises to check understanding) to deliver fundamental ideas, concepts and knowledge
  • Best-practice sharing and real-world stories from the field (video format) and highly curated discussion (online) to help people see how other people applied those things in real-life
  • Field-guides (PDFs with checklists, tips and pitfalls) and mobile-based missions that learners could undertake in the field; both designed to transfer the learning to personal high-context workplace.


If you buy into this strategic approach to the conundrum of low vs. high context, McBride says you will have to think a little differently about your role as a learning person and the competencies you need to be successful.

To summarise her part of the speech:

  • You will need to become and expert on content. Not “things to be learnt” content, but what types of content work for which types of learning. You need to be a media expert to make good choices on how content is presented.
  • You will have to have a lot of dialogue with experts in-the-field and learners with specific questions. Successful learning comes from making relevant connections between those small fundamental concepts and real-life experiences.
  • If your people are going to share their stories, you have to make it easy for them. Whatever platform you use should be simple to navigate and add-to.
  • Invest time and effort in curating content, story and sharing from within the organisation.
  • Be consistent in the look and feel (or brand) or different platforms and media-types. And make it beautiful! (See also my blog post on how “form sells function”)
  • Make any formally delivered content mobile-friendly. This will certainly help in the “mission” phase.


Once again, it seems so obvious. But when I think about the training I deliver or how the majority of Belgian learning management people approach their formal learning initiatives, I think it’s worth some more consideration and effort.


Thanks for reading



JD Dillon on Breaking Down Silos to Release Organisational Potential

First things first: JD just saved my conference. My first iteration of “Practical Use of Social Media for Formal Learning” was at 10.30 this morning. At exactly 10.10 my computer battery announced it was going to run out. And yes, I had left my US adaptor in my hotel… across the road… …again. Just before it actually did die, I got everything onto JDs computer and all went well. So thanks!


So we know JD is useful, but what does he have to say about breaking down silos in an organisation to create better sharing, more sociability and more learning? When an organisation changes and grows, how do you keep people up-to-date, talking, asking questions and passing on their expertise?

His first reflection was to make an internal Wiki. His mission was to get away from individual department owned silos of protected information and centralise things. His tool of choice was “Confluence” because in addition to the classic Wiki style, people could create forums (fora?), comment and like things. If it’s good enough for Facebook…

Confluence brought some changes that JD is proud of by creating a better flow of meaningful information. And gradually, it started to change the way people thought about “social learning”. This is what JD says about making it actually happen…


First of all, you need to get some content online, so that when other come online they can see the value. If there is nothing there, people won’t see the value. In Kaplan, this consisted of 2 main approaches: 1) JD himself did some regular writing and 2) specific early-adopter-types were also (slyly, on the side) asked to get on there and add something.


Secondly, don’t assume that because people can add stuff that they can add stuff. The platform might be there, but people may need help getting skilled in sharing. For Kaplan, JD took the “BT Dare-to-Share” approach of setting up a webcam, inviting in subject matter experts and asking them questions. That created initial content for the platform and also helped people to see how it was done.


Thirdly (linked to point 2): Use video. YouTube is the success it is because video works. If experts have messages to share about how things work, this can be shared first with video. Of course, it can be supported by workflow processes, technical documents or SOPs (standard operating procedures). But the entry point of video is more user-pleasing.


Point four: Try, try, try. Don’t assume that whatever you planned to do to set up the social community will work. Just get on their and try something. But then measure the results. See what people read and what they don’t. Measure the number of hits a video gets. See what they like. See what they commented on. If it works, do it again. If it doesn’t, try something else.


Next: Build on formal learning experiences you already have to get the informal social learning ball rolling. If you have a training happening, use a platform like “Confluence” to create some discussion after the classroom moment. Make that part of the training process and you just created some content, as well as getting people active on the tool.


Useful links:
-> BT Dare to Share (video):
-> Enhance Training and Other Formal Learning with Social Media:
-> Online Community Management Best Practices and Tips:


Thanks for reading
And thanks to Kluwer for sponsoring my trip


Aaron Dignan on creating a responsive organisation

Stephen Earnest of ATD kicks-off the 2015 ATD TechKnowledge Conference. Next up is Aaron Dignan, author of the book “Game Frame”. He’s a disruptor, working with some of the world’s leading companies on digital strategy and he’s here to tell us about the responsive organisation and what it means to us…




Opening his speech, Dignan tells us about the creation of “MakerBot”, one of the world’s first financially viable 3D-printers. The maker of this printer wanted something awesome for printing real-life objects. But the 300000 dollar price-tag was simply was not viable. So he went out to make it himself. A few years later, that printer sells for 2000 dollars and the company making it has been sold for millions.


Dignan says that these sorts of innovations are so much easier in 2014 bring than they were 10 years ago. Finding the people you need to bring an idea to life and scaling up into to something viable is.. well, it’s not easy, but it’s possible. Much more than every before.


How is this possible? According to Dignan, 3 things…


Moore’s law tells us that the power of computing doubles every two years. Today, almost every smartphone user has a personal computer in their pocket that is more powerful than the one that sent a rocket to the moon.

Secondly, the platforms available today are so much better than ever before. Everyone is a potential creator, developer and entrepreneur.. their products can get to markets with ease thanks to the multitude of platforms available.

And finally, the 21st century is networked. The six degrees of separation are apparently now 2.4. If you need people or expertise, you can get them via Twitter or any number of open-source communities. In a click.


Dignan says that if we can’t harness these 3 things, a kid in a garage with an idea will put us out of business. The fundamental challenge of the next decade is to rise up to this challenge before someone else does. But we can’t just train people to be innovators and change. So what can we do?

According to Melanie Mitchell, what you need is a large network with no control, with simple values and rules. If you can nourish this environment, you will get effective “complex behaviour, sophisticated information processing and adaptation via learning or evolution”. Three examples…


Example 1: Take a lesson from ants. Really!

Drop a thousand ants in a new environment and they will organise themselves for experimentation. It starts as chaos: The ants will spread out, check it out and see what they see. No rules, just experimentation. And when they find something good, they will naturally organise themselves around that.

So get yourself a queen-ant that can recruit (make!) new ants, give them a simple set of rules to follow and leave them to it.


Example 2: Share like an immune system.

Your immune system keeps you competitive by adding investment to experimentation. Things-whose-names-I-forget go out into your body and look for new clients, things that need their help. When they find one, they latch on and get to work quickly. And then they work some real magic: They send out a quick and strong signal to their immune system buddies saying “I’ve got something”. And what does the immune system do? It sends help quickly. Communication + responsiveness + investment. Now.


Example 3: The internet

Need I say more?


OK, got it. What next? Dignan is working to help companies transform themselves into responsive organisations. He says we need 6 things….


  • 1.Focus on purpose, not profit. This point really got my attention, thinking about my own work. Focussing on profit only leads to fear and static behaviour. You might get more of what you have today, but you won’t get anything new. When new ideas come up, you won’t have the proof required to know you will get profit, so you won’t do it. Focus on purpose and its a whole different game.


  • 2.Focus on networks, not hierarchies. 3. Focus on empowering, not controlling. These are the 2 key rules of the new world of work that we have been hearing about for several years. Team managers become network coaches, not micro-managers. And with trust in our people, we recruit and leave them to it.


  • Drop planning and work on “emergence”. Plans don’t work. As Dignan puts it: “Plans are lies committed to paper.” To allow us to deal with inevitable future change, we need is a spirit of “we don’t know”. An example of this is “cleaning the room”. We could make a awesome plan to get it all in order. But if something changes, we will fail. On the other hand, if we have one simple rule like our ant friends, we can just get to work, naturally dealing with whatever comes up. The key? The ant-queen needs to trust the cleaners.


  • Efficiency vs. Adaptivity. You need to get people comfortable with change.


  • Privacy vs Transparency. If you want to profit from networks and get that immune-system-responsiveness you need sharing. Jane Bozarth, author of the book “Show Your Work” talks regularly about the benefits of letting others know what you are doing. Later on today, I will hear JD Dillon talk about how Kaplan is working on breaking down silos and releasing organisational potential.


So, if you want a responsive organisation, you know what to do. Get to work!


Thanks for reading!



ATD TK15 wishlist

After a couple of days training in Holland and 2 very long flights, I have arrived in Las Vegas and it’s time for last-minute ATD TK15 planning. As I make my way through the massive amount of session choices for each day, I have compiled my wish-list for the week. If you can help a boy make his dreams come true, let me know…


Wish number 1: Bring some real value to the 6 people who are coming to my pre-conf workshop on “Getting Started with Social Media for Training”

6 people have trusted me with 4-hours of their time on Tuesday afternoon before TK15 goes into full-swing. In my pre-conference workshop, we will discover the value of YouTube, Padlet, Pearltrees and Socrative for training. I want them to walk out ready for action…


Wish number 2: Turn 15 dollars into 30 on the blackjack table.. .. and walk away

Last year, I took 200 dollars to the casino. I wanted to experience the casino (for the first time) but not get too sucked in. It lasted 43 minutes. I am the worst black-jack player ever.

This year, I’m taking 1 $15 chip and going all-in 🙂


Wish number 3: Get a Muppet interview for the Vegas Videos

Every time I go to a conference, I interview speakers and give mini-updates via my YouTube channel. Last year in Las Vegas I spoke with Chad Udell on the amazing possibilities of mobile and Jane Bozarth on building a community culture. At the ICE conference in Washington Anders Gronstedt talked to me about transmedia storytelling and … wait for it … I even managed to get an interview on learning with Sprokit the robot at the Smithsonian 🙂


This year, I will follow a session with Michele Lentz from Oracle on bringing the magic of Jim Henson to instructional design. And apparently a real Muppet will be present. That’s got to be worth an interview, right?


Wish number 4: Make people make more noise than ever before

It’s sad, but true: I get-off on positive auditive feedback. My wife will tell you that even if she sarcastically says “I love you” during an argument, I still take it positively.

During my previous conference sessions I have convinced participants to make enough noise that JD_Dillon thought there was a train coming through . Can this be beaten?


Wish number 5: Follow these sessions and learn something new

Having been to 4 ATD conferences over the last 3 years, it seems harder each time to find new ideas. There are some great sessions planned on wider organisational learning topics which I will follow, like:


To get the best from such a conference, it really depends on what focus you have during the week. I’m also hoping to get some new ideas as a trainer and to that end I will also follow:


Wish number 6: Make it through the week without being approached with help for any of my “party needs”

You may not know that I am apparently a US-drug-dealer magnet. I don’t know how it happens, but Denver, Dallas, Washington, Vegas, wherever… someone always tries to sell me something horrible. Credit to the last guy, who rather than outright asking “Do you need any crack, brother?” actually chatted me up for a while first with talk about the album he needed money to produce… I made it to my hotel… so far so good.


..and speaking of the hotel, I definitely owe fellow-speak Bianca Woods a beer. I was booked at Caesar’s Palace for over $200 a night, but she told me about the Flamingo just across the street. I have already saved $150 a night on the room. Which, by the way, is still awesome! Thanks Bianca!


Tune in for updates throughout the week.

Go Learning Geeks!



Forms sells function

“Form follows function.” Designers have said this for years. And in the learning world, it is equally true: The learning initiative or environment (form) must be shaped to achieve its goals (function).


But the most successful product developers know another truth: “Form sells function”. The product can be designed to be perfectly functional, but if it doesn’t look beautiful, no-one will buy it. Case in point: Smart watches. For a few years now, it has been possible to buy a watch that allows you to surf the internet, play media and control your smartphone. But they aren’t beautiful, so only the geeks buy them. As Apple brings out its own smart-watch, you can expect a change in this market. Because it will be beautiful.


What does this mean for the learning world? If we follow the watch analogy through we see that, yes, effective learning professionals create functional initiatives. But when it comes to something new, do they forget that form sells function? Or are they making beautiful products like Apple?


If you are working on a new approach to learning in your organisation, don’t forget that your buyer is not the learning geek who will immediately see the functionality of your new product. The buyer is someone who is used to his “perfectly functional watch” and “can’t see why I’d need a new one”. So you have to make it beautiful too.


To make things beautiful, we can learn from both the designer and the marketer. Design creates beautiful objects; marketing creates a beautiful brand or experience. Design makes sure that what is in the box is awesome; marketing gets you to the box. Design ensures that what you take out of the box is durable and effective; marketing creates the unboxing experience.


If you are starting the New Year full of functional learning resolutions, please don’t forget to put some beauty in the form.


Thanks for reading



Le cerveau: Maitre d’apprentissage souvent négligé

Depuis quelques années déjà, les neuroscientifiques sont présents lors des conférences de l’ASTD. Cette année encore, armés de leurs études et statistiques, ils nous ont bombardés d’informations sur l’importance du rôle du cerveau dans l’apprentissage. Souvent difficiles à comprendre, leurs présentations hypra-factuelles ont néanmoins eu un bel impact. Cette année, ASTD a créé un nouveau chemin menant à la science de l’apprentissage ; et même les conférenciers dans d’autres disciplines ont régulièrement fait référence à « ce que dit la recherche sur le cerveau » par rapport au changement, la gestion, la formation, l’énergie, etc.


David Rock et Josh Davis du « NeuroLeadership Institute » ont une fois de plus remplis les salles lors de leurs conférences sur les thèmes de la mémoire et du coaching. De mon point de vue, ces deux conférences ont été nettement plus abordables, moins factuelles et plus centrées sur le message clé suivant : si vous souhaitez réellement créer de l’apprentissage ou du changement, vous devez prendre en compte le cerveau. Il faut être conscient du son fonctionnement et appliquer 10 conseils pratiques.


Josh Davis et le rôle de notre hippocampe


D’après Davis, la plupart des formations ne sont pas efficaces. Il accepte bien sûr qu’entre 9h et 17h nous sommes capables d’acquérir beaucoup d’idées pertinentes. Et nous, les formateurs, nous avons tous vu des participants motivés à la fin d’une journée et remplis d’objectifs positifs pour le futur. Néanmoins, si l’on n’a pas correctement activé l’hippocampe du cerveau, ces mêmes participants ne feront rien de leurs bonnes intentions et oublieront une grande partie des idées apprises.


L’hippocampe est responsable des connexions neuronales qui créent la mémoire et les habitudes. Il gère notre attention, joue un rôle dans nos émotions et génère des liens entre différentes parties du cerveau. En tant que formateurs, nous pouvons intégrer 5 points spécifiques dans nos activités afin que les participants bénéficient des bienfaits de l’hippocampe :

  • Nous devons faire en sorte que l’attention des participants n’est pas divisée. Un formateur dynamique qui pense que les participants peuvent faire plusieurs choses à la fois pendant longtemps a tort. Ceux-ci s’amusent peut-être ; ils ne voient pas passer le temps. Cependant, ils n’intègrent pas les nouvelles idées aussi bien qu’un participant qui ne fait qu’une chose à la fois pour une durée de 20 minutes maximum.
  • La métacognition renforce les liens entre les neurones. Par exemple, nous avons plus de chances de retenir un nouveau mot si on l’aborde de multiples façons (Comment l’épèle-t-on ? A quoi ressemble-t-il sur le papier ? Comment bouge notre bouche quand on le dit ?). Nous devons donc intégrer dans nos formations des moments où les participants réfléchissent à comment ils réfléchissent.
  • Les fameux moments de « ah-ha » dans les formations ont une réelle importance. L’émotion liée à la satisfaction d’avoir (enfin) compris la matière renforce notre capacité à se rappeler cette information plus tard. Lâcher des participants dans une expérience un peu frustrante qui les oblige à trouver la clé peut fortement stimuler l’hippocampe. Mais attention, une frustration trop longue ou trop émotionnelle aura l’effet inverse.
  • Pendant les formations, si l’on veut suffisamment ancrer une nouvelle idée, il faut intégrer des moments de récupération de ces idées. N’attendez pas trop longtemps pour vérifier si les participants sont capables de se rappeler ce qu’ils ont vu. Un quiz ludique une heure plus tard peut renforcer nos nouvelles connexions neuronales pour le futur.
  • Enfin, il faut créer de l’espace dans le processus d’apprentissage. Un changement de lieu, un moment de relaxation, voire même du sommeil ou de l’exercice peuvent rafraîchir le cerveau, augmenter notre créativité et ancrer les nouvelles idées.



David Rock et le coaching réussi

Fondateur et CEO du « NeuroLeadership Institute », David Rock est considéré comme une des stars des conférences d’ASTD. Et le travail des coaches ne le satisfait pas.


D’après Rock, seulement 1 coaching sur 20 est réussi. Le coach pense que le travail est efficace, mais si la neuroscience est négligée, notre comportement ne change pas, les nouvelles habitudes ne s’ancrent pas et la performance n’est pas améliorée. Pour réussir, il faut créer « un état vers » qui peut nous ouvrir à des moments de réelle compréhension. Sans ces moments, il n’y aura pas d’action ni de nouvelles habitudes.


Pour nous protéger, le cerveau doit constamment décider si l’on peut aller vers quelque chose, ou s’il est mieux de l’éviter. Même si la possibilité d’être mangé par un prédateur n’existe plus, notre cerveau est quand même prêt à courir, se cacher ou se battre contre ce qu’il perçoit comme un danger. Un coach qui veut captiver et stimuler le cerveau de son interlocuteur doit veiller à faire 5 choses, que Rock nous présente sous forme de son « SCARF » :

  • Chacun de nous veut se sentir sûr de son propre « statut » (S). Au début de nos activités de coaching, nous devons renforcer cette idée de statut. Nous ne pouvons pas nous permettre d’attaquer l’autre. Même suggérer que la personne a « un problème » ou qu’elle « ne réussit pas » peut créer un manque d’estime de soi. Il faut présenter le coaching comme une approche positive et renforcer l’idée que la personne a tout ce qu’il lui faut pour réussir.
  • La « certitude » (C) dans nos activités de coaching met le cerveau à l’aise. Simplement bien annoncer la durée du coaching, la manière dont nous allons travailler et ce que l’autre peut attendre de nous peut augmenter cette certitude. La clarté à chaque moment est cruciale.
  • Le cerveau ne veut pas se sentir coincé contre un mur ou poussé dans une direction ou l’autre. « L’autonomie » (A) de la personne doit être renforcée par le coach. C’est celle-ci qui va trouver ses propres solutions. C’est elle aussi qui décidera que faire et qui prendra la responsabilité pour le changement.
  • Un sentiment « connexion » (ang : relatedness – R) entre coach et personne coachée se base sur la compréhension et l’empathie. Le coach qui pose des questions ouvertes, laisse s’exprimer l’autre et l’écoute activement a plus de chance de créer le sentiment que « l’on se comprend ». De plus, même si tout le monde pourrait coacher quelqu’un, un coach avec de l’expérience et un vécu de la situation pourrait être perçu comme plus sympathique et plus « comme moi ».
  • La « justesse » (ang : fairness – F) est primordiale dans le succès du coaching. Si la personne coachée sent qu’elle n’est pas comprise ou, pire, que ce qui se passe n’est pas juste, elle va vouloir s’en fuir. Donner le temps à l’autre pour s’exprimer, être correct dans ce qui est dit et bien faire la distinction entre « avis » et « faits » peut créer plus de justesse dans le processus.


Depuis la conférence, mon propre travail en tant que formateur et coach a déjà changé. Partant de l’hypothèse que Davis, Rock et les neuroscientifiques ont raison, je veille à implémenter les idées évoquées ci-dessus. J’attends avec impatience de voir les résultats !



ASTD2014 summary: Remember the brain, revamp training and sharpen the saw

2 weeks ago, I was once again on full-DAN-speed at the ASTD International Conference and Exhibition. This time, the stomping-ground was Washington DC with over 9000 attendees coming to hear 250 speakers from 57 countries.

Having attended now 3 years in-a-row, I decided not to spend too much time on learning agility, why mobile is awesome, or why L+D needs to change its approach and pretty-much ignored the fact that its all about going social and that we musn’t forget the 70:20:10 model if we want to unleash learning…  I agree with those messages and I think they are valuable. But there’s only so much you can hear about it in a conference.

(If you want to read about those topics, check out the tabs on ASTD2013 and TK14)



What I did get out of ASTD2014 was all about bringing more brain-power and general awesomeness to my own training and work/life balance…


I’ve been training for over 12 years. My clients say I do a great job and I’m sure I am doing something right. But at ASTD2014, I got some really valuable information about how to improve. Having been back at training work for a few weeks now, I’ve already been putting things (slowly) into place. I find that this has made me feel a lot better about what I am doing and brought a lot more energy to my training process. I have my fingers crossed that it is actually having more impact 🙂



Don’t forget how the brain works if you want to create better learning.

In previous conference years, I found the stuff on neuro-ccience to be filled with too much data. I can see that there is a lot to learn about how the brain works, but have always left wondering what is the concrete take-away from all that data.

This year, A(S)TD had created a new learning track on “The Science of Learning” – so I figured its not just a trend and I must be the only one not yet seeing the point. I found that the sessions were more accessible and outlined more the bottom-line and key points:

  • Josh Davis told us that if you want to make learning stick, you have to work with the hippocampus. I have been trying to reduce session time on specific topics or activity types to smaller chunks of 20 minutes and have been experimenting with associative-thinking to reinforce memory.
  • Between those sessions, I have tried to create some energy microbursts to refresh people. I used to be a little suspicious of doing random things in a training room (example: Brain-Gym). I thought they had no added-value to the content/topic. But I have seen that a deliberately timed mini-joke moment between activities and a little bit of movement can re-boost participants. Also, instead of simply asking participants to summarise what they learnt in a session, I have tried getting them to close their eyes and imagine saying it to a loved-one. Apparently, this positive emotion will reinforce the new ideas in the brain.
  • I have worked harder to formalise meta-cognition moments in training, sometimes using simple tools like ChatterPix (that I have advertised in my own session on social-media for formal learning) to ask participants to think about how they are learning. I am also experimenting with other memory-techniques related to use of multiple senses.
  • I have worked more on repetition and spacing across several training days to help reinforce the links between learning points. This has been done with formal (but fun) quizzing on content and intro/wrap of sessions that remind general purpose and structure of the training.
  • David Rock mentioned in his session on coaching that having a little more personal reflection time in the learning process helped to reinforce the learning in question. I went back to an old strategy of asking training participants to write a “personal promise” at the end of day 1. They like it (I didn’t think they would).
  • My own experiments with Mind Palaces has proven to be lots of fun over the last week and I realise that I AM able to remember huge amounts of precise and well-ordered ideas and information. I will be blogging on the application of this to training in the near future..



Over the summer, I will be working on turning formal learning (training) into story-based sessions. And revamping my materials.

As you know, I’ve experimented a lot with social media for training – this year I again presented this topic at ASTD. I told the participants I was an “experimentor” and that even when I didn’t know what results I would get, I was willing to try. * After ASTD2014, I have plenty of new ideas and I’m looking forward to taking the time this summer to get started on revamping my training activities and materials…

  • I found both Katie Stroud’s session on “Converting Learning in Story” and Anders Gronstedt’s session on “Transmedia Storytelling” to be really inspiring. I already tend to use little chunks of personal story in training to get my point across. In the future, I will try to fully integrate a thin-red-line of story into the learning process (see Katie Stroud post) and then think of different ways to bring this across via diverse training activities. I think using a blend of media before, during and after training, as well as actual story-telling, participant discussion around stories/characters (and maybe even sock-puppets!) might bring added-value by working on emotion, creativity and memory.
  • I have already used video to introduce training or to share a key learning point (example: Awesome Communication tip number 1) and I am satisfied with the results. I plan to further revamp my training materials in 2 ways using video + the Aurasma augmented reality app : The first thing is to take the time to create short videos that summarise main learning points and make these augmented-reality-scannable in my materials (as I showed in session ASTD2014 M115); my second idea is to ask participants to make these short videos themselves during training and then integrate THOSE videos into their own materials using Aurasma. Personalised video-enhanced training materials??!! Awesome! I will blog on this later.
  • I have always made an effort to focus my key training messages on the 3 most important questions. Following Sally Hogshead’s fun session on personal branding and personality, I think I am going to look for ways to get participants to be more mindful this themselves and to look at how they can communicate and position these key messages for themselves and others during and after training. I want to find some way to integrate that into their own personal materials and learning/memory process. Instead of them focussing on the facts of what has been learnt, I will encourage them at all times to rebrand their learning points. Blog to follow…


* As a side-note, it turns out I am more than an “experimentor”. Read this post on creating your own personal anthem to find out what Sally Hogshead taught me at ASTD.



Finally, I am thinking more about work-life balance and trying to “sharpen the saw”.

One of the things I like most about the A(S)TD conferences is the key-note speeches. Many people find them less informative than the concurrent sessions, but I like them. Even if this year we had the special surprise of an American military general talking to an international audience about “killing the bad guys” (!!), the main points of Huffington and Caroll’s keynotes were excellent. I am trying to keep them in mind back home in Sombreffe:

  • As a hyper-connected super-speedy worksaholic guy, I sometimes get swept away in the digital movement of information and constant actions. Arianna Huffington told us her burn-out story and encouraged us to shut-down and tune-out if we want to thrive. Having plenty to say myself about burn-out causes, symptoms and positive action, and being already tired from the travel and conference action, I found it very important to listen well to her speech. Despite fiercely blogging the A(S)TD sessions for Kluwer during the conference, since returning I have made an effort to slow-down and do one thing at a time. I’m even getting a little more sleep and garden time.
  • Kevin Caroll was impossible to blog, so no link here! Talking at a million miles an hour, he told us his personal story of opportunity, growth and play. Again, I was inspired. Caroll suggested that if we try to follow our own path, we can only go to good places. As someone who tends to try a lot to please everyone else, I’ve been trying to relax a little more both at work and home. I already see that I (and training participants) are having more fun at work. At home, I make a huge effort to bring play-breaks into my days. More time throwing a frisbee with the girls, more games in the house and trying to turn everything into a little bit more fun. Feels good! And surprisingly, I seem to be getting random opportunities for conference work thrown at me left, right and centre. It seems if you relax a little, the Universe gives you what you want..


So voila, my summary of ASTD2014. I’m already impatient for Florida next year 🙂


ps – I did also follow an awesome session from Jane Bozarth on the value of showing your work and how to do it but couldn’t see how to fit it in this summary. Love you Jane!





How to convert your learning into story, step-by-step

Following a sweet true-story-based and lovely introduction from Aaron Stroud, his wife Katie takes the stage to tell us about story for learning during session W202 of ASTD2014. She said that when she researched the topic herself, she found a lot of information about the importance of story and it’s benefits, but not much about how to actually go about developing a story for learning purposes. I’m glad to hear this, because I had the same experience. Of course, I have lots of little story-examples that I occasionally use to illustrate a point in training. They work well, people remember them and they can create some thought, humour and emotion. But what I want from this session is to find out HOW to turn a process of learning activities into a thin-red line that can enhance the learning experience across the training…


Katie started by telling her own rags to riches story * When listening, I was drawn to hear more and I started to like her more. (My neighbour said it didn’t really do anything for her). Stroud said that story activates the brain. It touches the senses and emotions. Because more of the brain is activated, it is more likely to be remembers and integrated.

* There are many other types of story (boy meets girls, Hero’s Journey …) which we are not necessarily going to see here.


To start making your story, you need first to define the problem in story-terms

  • Background – my story is about an IT consultancy company. People have strong technical skills, but they aren’t capturing new opportunities that arise for time-to-time.
  • Setting – in my world, the employees of this company are distant from their own company colleagues. They work on client-sites. The client’s building is very quiet, badly lit and “dry”. The workers on the client site don’t really talk to each other much.
  • Conflict (the problem that stops us from success) – there is no time to talk, our hero is nervous and introverted. He doesn’t feel connected to or supported by his company while he is at his client-site. He doesn’t really feel like he can “win” or grow. He is unsure about how to proceed.
  • Climax (the reward moment, when it all works out)
  • Resolution


Then add detail about the suffering that is going on in the story

  • Place it – where does the problem happen? My hero is at his desk, “hiding behind his computer”.
  • Define it – what exactly is the problem. My guy gets a question from someone (his client) that he wasn’t expecting. It’s not part of his job and he feels uncomfortable dealing with it. Given his slightly introverted nature, it feels like unwelcome noise in his ears. “Please leave me alone to work”, he thinks.
  • Scope it – what is the extent of this problem? For my guy, it’s not the first time he has felt like this. In fact, it happens in other social scenarios too. When he is with his few own good friends, everything is fine (albeit a bit geeky!). But when he has to talk to strangers (or a girl!) he doesn’t really know what to say.
  • Solve it – define how it would be if everything was fine. My hero would breathe gently, relax, smile and look up (come out) from his computer to give his full attention to the client get to know what’s going on and then be able to confidently send an email to his business development manager detailing the situation, values and needs of the client.


Now define the characters

  • Hero – the person in the story that is going through the problem and will come out differently at the end. He may also save a victim. My guy is Paul. He is an IT developer. He is usually quite quiet and tends to feel most comfortable with people he knows, talking about things he understands well. He has been working for 5 years since school and doesn’t feel like a “high-potential”.
  • Victim – the one who is really “dying” in the situation. He needs help. He may even be attacked by a villain. I thought about a “rubbish guy who has no friends”. He always eats alone. He will never grow in his function. Our hero doesn’t want to end up like him in 5 more years.
  • Supporting characters – the other people in the environment that have some kind of impact in the story (or competence problem/solution). I have the onsite client who is a normal business man who just wants good solutions. Friendly, to the normal extent. We have the client receptionist who is a nice young lady who has all the kinds of skills that our her ones, but doesn’t need them in her work. And we have an extrovert sales-guy from our hero’s firm, who is pushing (in a nice way) for more leads.
  • Villain – the person (or “thing”) who has the behaviours that are going no to hinder the hero in his quest for success. In my story, this is the IT developer from a competing company. He’s not a bad guy at all, but if our hero doesn’t achieve his goal, this guy will.


Katie proposes that you don’t use real people from your business in the story, but focus on character types, personalities, (in)competence etc.. There are some classic personality types you can bear in mind: Dominating people, passive people, manipulators… She also noted that you don’t need to literally translate the story. In my case, I could have taken the story entirely out of the IT world and just used a “boy meets girl, but can’t get to know her” story as an analogy. Given the wish to integrate this story into a training with an existing client in the IT sector, I preferred to “keep it real”.


Choose the story model you need to make your point

With the background in mind, each story has to have 4 phases: Setting, conflict, climax and resolution. But they don’t have to be presented in that order, or in the same way. There are 4 models ways to proceed.

  • The first model under consideration is used for introducing something new in your training, like a skill or attitude. Here you need to focus on the climax phase at the beginning of the story. You talk about the moment when the problem is being solved. This will help to introduce the behaviours and attitude required to achieve success. Of course, in this story model, we may go back in time to the status-quo as the story/training evolves.
  • For technical skills training, you need to put a lot of time into characters early. This will create more empathy from the learners. How you proceed through the story phases noted above is flexible from there on.
  • If you are trying to get better adoption of something new (process, solution, tools) where there is resistance, you need to focus on the resolution phase first. This will help to build the feeling of potential benefits (of the new thing) for the learner and build an image of a better world when the change is completed. Yo ur can compare this to the visualisation exercise seen in Juanita Coble’s session.
  • If your issue is creating memory, you need to focus first more on the territory of the story (background and setting), using good memory-enhancing skills. If you can do this in a visual way like Hans Rosling does, you’ll definitely achieve this!


Can everyone create a good story?

Having gone through the exercises in the session, I have the feeling that there may be one major barrier for instructional designers and trainers to actually get started with this. Personally, I am loving it and finding it very easy. I like new ideas, I find it easy to think of analogies, be a little out of the box and go through the steps. But not everyone can do this, or like it. * During the session, many participants were asking closed (yes/no) questions to the speaker. For example: “Could the villain be “time” rather than a person?” The fact that they didn’t just say “I think the villain could be time, rather than a person” seemed implied to me that people were feeling uncertain about their ideas, needing reassurance.

* Interestingly, whilst taking us throughout the steps, Katie used story to introduce us to a friend of hers (Eric) who hates to learn new things and finds it difficult to do what she asks. He suffers, he pulls his hair out and doesn’t know what to do. Very clever meta-approach to her session!


OK, so where exactly is THE story?

If you read this blog and think I still don’t have a story, you may have missed the point. We are not writing a novel here. No-one in a learning environment today would read it if we did that anyway! We are also not talking about making a full “Who moved my cheese?” type training workshop, bade exclusively on the story. The story IS the characters, the setting, the conflict, climax and resolution. How and when you present during training it is up to you:

  • Occasionally, you might actually tell a part of the story as an introduction to a training moment
  • You might have a PowerPoint slide with one of the characters + a speech-bubble mentioning a problem he or she has, which you use this to generate discussion about the required approach to the situation
  • You might do a role-play at one moment where the trainer or a participant plays one of the characters so that another participant can show us how the hero should act
  • You could implement some of the ideas from Anders Gronstedt’s session on TransMedia Storytelling


…and if you do the things and do them well, you will have a thin-red-story-based-line which learning participants can relate to, may feel emotional about, are more likely to remember and more likely to learn from.


Good luck!