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ASTDTK14: Experimenting and Engaging to Create Effective Learning

As the days distance me from Las Vegas and the ASTD Techknowledge Conference, the eternal presenter in me is looking for the message, the one big takeaway, the answer to the 3 most important questions: “What is the point? What do you want from me? What’s in it for me?”

My answer today is that learning effectiveness is all about experimenting with learning initiatives and engaging the learner…


Both innovation and even real knowledge come from experimentation

In the opening keynote at TK14, Jeff Dyer told us that one of the keys to innovation is experimentation: We have to try new things if we want to get new results. If, as Donald H Taylor told us in Brussels last October, “the goal of learning is to be … agile enough to keep up with an ever changing environment”, then we need to stop throwing traditional training solutions at our business problems and approach things differently: Using open “what if?” questions and associative thinking, we must create hypotheses for the causes of business problems (and their solutions) and then set about designing new learning experiments that can test the validity of those hypotheses and lead to effective results. This approach to dealing with problems is key to any science or research process. But the learning function is not often seen as science and research…

Rueben Tozman said we must start by thinking about business in the same terms as our customers … and then define data models that tie behaviour, processes and learning activities to bottom line results. Based on those models, we can create data-driven-learning initiatives that can truly assess the situation and improve it. Too much of what we do in L+D (particularly training) is either unmeasurable or unmeasured. At the best, we can only say how people reacted to a training, but we cannot say that performance issue “X” is due to reasons “A”, “B” or “C” or that “A”, “B” or “C” can be resolved by specific (and effectively measured) learning initiatives “1”, “2” or “3”. While the rest of the business reports on almost everything, learning stumbles along on hope and faith.

To help us out, things are changing in the world of learning measurements. The traditional LMS and its “who followed what training” statistics will be replaced with advanced learning record systems, using experiential APIs like Tin Can, that could link pretty much any learning or performance activity to a data model that provides real insight to the learning profession.

And so my first conclusion is as follows: Know what makes the business run, be open to something new and be able to design data-driven learning experiments to assess effectiveness and really improve performance.


When it comes to creating something new, think “engagement”

Technology conferences tend to focus on new approaches to learning; TK14 was no exception. Starting with quite basic “enhancement strategies and tools” like QR codes for training, video learning initiatives and social media for formal learning and moving past transmedia storytelling to more granular MOOC-based learning strategies or attempts to gamify the learning experience, the thin red line of it all was “engagement”.

Amy Jo Martin kicked-off TK14 day 2 with a message about engagement and sentiment: “What connects people to you is not what you do, but why you do it”. * Extrapolating, I thought about why learners engage with other learners, materials or specific formal initiatives: They do it because they want to improve, to find solutions, to get good at something and because they “dig” it. In all our efforts to support this, we need to keep that basic engagement alive.

* This week, the London Learning Technologies Conference was opened by Brian Solis, known for his message about “the secret ingredient to engagement: empathy” and the importance of the user-experience.

Jane Bozarth and Mark Oehlert said that learning communities exist everywhere and our job is not to convince people of their value, but rather to convince them to see the value of “formalising” community activities at work using specific platforms (like Yammer or LinkedIn) and more open sharing or learning narration. If we start small, think big and move fast (Oehlert – video) with community activities, we can create a river of information flow that has real value for the organisation.

What really stood out for me (and kept me awake at night!) was the unique and numerous possibilities of mobile, as outlined by Chad Udell. Coming to Vegas as a mobile learning cynic, I was thinking only of more boring e-learning delivered on small screens. Leaving, I am convinced that since more-and-more people love to play with their phones and phones can do more-and-more things, there are real opportunities to engage and create learning effectiveness. Bring on the mobile revolution!

What did I miss at TK14 on “engagement”? Augmented Reality. I am running my own experiments with Aurasma for training, orientation exercises and onboarding experiences and I know that David Kelly shared his experience with Google Glass at LT14uk. I am sure that in the future such tools will allow us to shorten the distance between the learner’s own reality and more layers of knowledge, skills and future enhanced performance. Fingers crossed for ASTD ICE 2014 in May…

Either way, my second conclusion is simple? Let’s find better ways to make the learning experience awesome, natural and effective.


Experimenting and engaging – that is the message for me from ASTD TK14.


See you next time!




Google’s experience with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs are gaining popularity. During session SU111 of day 1 at ASTD2013, Julia Wilkowski and Phil Wagner took us thought their experiences designing and delivering MOOCs at Google.


A colleague of mine just followed a MOOC on Gamification with @kwerb and Coursera. She had a great opportunity to gather a lot of information and learning on a new topic that really interested her. (You can read my mini Twitter interview with her on this post) In Belgium, we just had a great MOOC on how to use Internet for learning. But if you want to set and run your own MOOC what are the key steps to take? How can you ensure success? What are the key competences required of a MOOC facilitator? What are the challenges for MOOC participants to really learning? And are MOOCs only interesting for large multi-site organisations? Let’s see what Julia and Phil had to say…


Why is Google interested in MOOCs?

Google’s mission is to organise and make available all of the world’s information. Clearly MOOCing is linked to that. But why is it interesting? What is the added-value?

When the very first MOOC went online, over 100 thousand people got involved. Some of the online students did better in the course than the people who followed it IRL at Stanford. Why? Google’s own evaluations showed massive satisfaction from the learning population. They loved the format. They saw more search results related to the content during and after the MOOC (engagement)…


What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a massive open online course. To be massive, you have to have at least 100 learning participants and maybe as many as 10000. MOOCs have instructors, instruction (content) goals and schedules. It may be as simple as delivering knowledge to the masses, or it may include discussion forums or Q/A sessions with experts, testing and certification. At Google, they used several of their own branded tools to create interactive, measurable learning activities (eg Google Hangouts and YouTube). MOOCs can be used to learn specific knowledge and skills, but may also be an opportunity to have crowds of people learn together to solve complex human problems, like traffic problems in Tokyo.


What do Google do to get MOOC success? What can YOU do?

  • Have diversity of content offerings/platforms. It is important to give MOOC students choice about how they learn.
  • Measure hits on various content (using Google analytics, for example)
  • Give feedback as quickly as possible, by creating challenges for students to self-test their own learning as they go through the course
  • Google saw that not everyone likes complete freedom in the way they follow through content. In order to account for people who need a little more structure, they offered a “scaffolding” or learning structure/order to follow. Those who found it easily to choose for themselves were not obliged to follow the structure.
  • Let people self-evaluate their learning as they go. Google of course gave people the right answers to things as they were learning, but they also encouraged people to meta-evaluate their own learning approach during the MOOC.
  • Offer an equal amount of text-based learning and video-based learning. In Google’s first evaluations, they saw that the number of hits per lesson was split roughly 50:50 text:visual. We often assume that one or the other would have more impact/success for certain learners or content, but Google continues to develop them both.
  • Work hard to create a good community within learning participants. Google have seen that the completion rate of MOOC courses are significantly higher when there is a sense of community with connection and accountability towards other learners. Include the community aspect in your MOOC.
  • Break learning activities into short chunks. For example, a video should not be more than 5 minutes long.
  • Follow up acquisition of knowledge (lessons) with experimentation and self-testing moments. Julia Wilkowski is convinced this increases completion rates and general engagement.
  • Have a facilitator once the MOOC is online. Look out for spam and stoke the fire for success.


How can normal non-Google people get started with MOOC building?

One of Google’s strategic interests is the ability to easily scale solutions. For that reason, they have created (and open-sourced) Google Course Builder. This free tool can be used right out-of-the-box to make simple MOOCs with content you already have. Phil Wagner repeats: “It could be online this afternoon.” But if you want to make it more sexy or if you have coding experience and time, it is completely open-source.


Great first session with Julia and Phil. Met Rick Lozano IRL and feeling energised for more 😉

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to tune into the ASTD2013 Daily Dallas Weather Reports on during the conference…