Create engaging elearning with honesty

“Why can’t we just take an existing product, and put a clock in it or something?”

Create engaging elearning with honesty
One of my favourite Simpsons episodes has a moment where Homer offers the quote above as his response, when confronted with a complex blueprint for a revolutionary new product that he just can’t get his head around.

What’s this got to do with e-learning? Well, to me it comes to mind when you look at how some training providers propose games as a radical new solution to engage learners – and then come up with a bolt-on game-playing experience that combines racing cars, multiple choice questions and a third-rate set of character designs to teach learners about the Data Protection Act.

Now, this isn’t knocking games as a learning device. Properly targeted and carefully crafted, they can produce effective learning experiences ranging from simulations and skills-practice through to powerful prompts to reflection.

But I think that their popularity sometimes reflects a failure to engage with a much more fundamental, underlying issue in online learning – one of narrative credibility.

All too often, online training can suffer from the same kind of ‘narrative delusion’ that insular politicians do. ‘If we only explain what we’re proposing clearly enough, surely everyone sensible will then agree with us’ – whilst failing to genuinely acknowledge different perspectives; dissent; the fact that very serious challenges may exist and that many endeavours, initiatives and processes are – at least initially – unpopular (especially when change is involved).

Now, clearly learning providers have to present content in a positive way that helps organisations achieve their training aims. But often, when e-learning claims that it treats learners as adults/presents content from a ‘What’s In It For Me?’ perspective and acknowledges real-world complexity – it doesn’t , not really – and learners smell a rat right from the start, which undermines engagement (and whatever the narrative is) on a fundamental level. 

Similarly, if the content isn’t demonstrably useful, easy to navigate and oriented towards supporting performance rather than covering an arbitrary curriculum – people will often start looking at their watches and clicking Next.

And at that stage, all of the gimmicks in the world won’t be much use.

One answer? Radical honesty. This could present itself in any number of ways – open acknowledgement of past organisational failures; the pressures of tough targets; challenges to motivation; competitors’ strengths; or personal stress. Same basic content – different paradigm.

And then, having started off from a solid position – by telling a powerful truth to learners that resonates with the real world they live in – narratives (whether through case studies, scenarios, or – indeed – games) are in a much better place to succeed.

Here, ‘honest’ learning content can use the weight of (implicit) negative expectation to its advantage, subverting expectations and generating surprise, engagement and buy-in. ‘Oh, another corporate e-learning course – yawn…hey, wait – what did they just say?!? I think I’d better pay attention to this!’

Alternatively, you could just go with the racing cars… 

Instructional Designer D Whiston

Many thanks to guest blogger, Daniel Whiston, Award Winning Instructional Designer & Scriptwriter 

Pathway360 Content Curation, Course Creation and Social Learning Tool

Pathway360: LMS, Content Curation, Course Creation & Social Learning – Integrated

The team at WillowDNA are delighted to announce the launch of Pathway360 – the complete online learning platform for organisations of all shapes and sizes.  We’ve been working hard to create a new product that offers an integrated approach to content curation, course creation and social learning, which would be scalable for organisations of all shapes and sizes.

Pathway360 Content Curation, Course Creation and Social Learning Tool

Starting with just 100 users, Pathway360 brings the power of online learning of everyone and goes beyond the typical course catalogue approach. It’s also been a fantastic opportunity to work with our colleagues at SkillPill to bring their comprehensive micro-learning catalogue to Pathway and the award winning team at gomo, whose responsive rapid development tool is a firm favourite here at WillowDNA.


If you want to find out more, download our Pathway360 Brochure (PDF) and read about it here on our site.

Will Virtual Reality enable a truly global economy?

Listening to the latest episode of the From Scratch podcast, my friends Nigel Paine and Martin Couzins were discussing the new report from Maisie VRLearn report, focussing on current uses of Virtual Reality (VR) in learning. What struck me whilst listening to the examples Martin and Nigel shared were the opportunities of social mobility and opening of a global market for skills and capability in a VR enabled world.

Given the current political landscape, with many countries taking an isolationist stance in international relations, its an interesting juxtaposition. If larger companies can use a VR enabled recruitment process to attract the best talent from an international pool of resource, it opens access and opportunity for individuals to access a global employment market.

Currently, widespread use of Virtual Reality for recruitment, virtual team working and education may be limited to the larger organisations and providers. But in comparison to the operational costs to provide these services or support global working on a global scale, the savings make the development investment worthwhile. Connectivity and accessibility to appropriate hardware have a way to go to truly make this a global playing field, but it could indicate a direction of travel. There is certainly still huge disparity in access to good quality data networks.

However, organisations such as Learn Appeal are rolling out devices to bring connectivity to once remote communities and mobile data networks continue to drive an increase in global internet use (sources such as the 2015 Internet Usage report from the World Bank and the International Telecommunications Union report make interesting reading). It could be that we see technologies such as VR and better support for virtual working actually driving further investment into connectivity as companies fight for the best global talent.

As the report is grounded in current uses of the technology, it also helps to bring Virtual Reality into the general narrative rather than a new or emergent approach. So it helps Learning and Development, Organisational Design and Business Process Improvement and many other business units have sensible and grounded conversations on enabling technology and its impact on the business. There are economies of scale that are pulling many technologies that may have felt out of reach onto the solutions menu.

It highlights yet again the importance of learning professionals embarking on true business engagement, analysis of key business processes, associated costs and current performance measures. VR will not answer all performance issues but an informed, agnostic approach which enables true business analysis supports the future of the professional and ultimately the success of the organisations we support.

Human curation – the story continues…

Following the seismic political events of 2016, I posted a piece called ‘Human Curation – Important Now More Than Ever’.  I focused on the importance of curation to ensure we don’t become myopic and why we need curators to ensure we have as much input as possible to make full rounded and aware decisions:

“open-mindedness, curiosity, a willingness to bring the unsaid stuff out onto the table and being able to listen are critical”.

Since publishing this, I came across a fascinating article from the Harvard Business Review written by researchers at Microsoft Research, which broadens the discussion still further.  I suggested that the role of curator could be of real significance and importance to organisational adaptability and survival, so we should nurture, support and value it.  Of course, much of the work of research, data analysis and synthesis is why there is such huge investment in AI (Artificial Intelligence).  So is curation necessary if IBM Watson and the many engines that drive services from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Microsoft and make more can take care of that for us? The reality is that sat behind the algorithms are many contract staff making decisions on content and filtering, censoring, removing or adapting content.  The ‘judgment call’ is so contextual to contemporary circumstances, trends, social norms and events that it relies on a combination of technology and human action.  So rather than replace the curator, its shaping and forming a new role and skill set.  One worrying aspect of this in its current guise is the importance and support given to those who are providing these services.  The article describes a fairly negative picture of the conditions, remuneration, standards and support for those who are conducting what is a fairly sophisticated editorial role. Its worth reflecting on this in our organisations – curating the information, research, data, stories, insights and content needed for our context as well as exposing the organisation to insights of which it may be unaware takes time, business insight, rigour, curiosity and skill.  If done well, the value it will deliver to the organisation will be self evident.  So as investments go, in time saved, ideas generated, new options made available, efficiencies, improved market awareness etc its worth giving the role proper consideration, development, support and reward. I’d love to hear from anyone who works in an organisation where they can share insights into the practice on the ground.

Willow win 2016 Learning Technologies Supplier of the Year – Silver

What a night!  Debbie and I represented WillowDNA at the Learning Technologies Awards and on behalf of our incredibly talented team, accepted the award for Learning Technologies Supplier of the year – Silver.  

We could not be prouder of our incredibly talented team, they go above and beyond for our clients every day.  I think the write up from the judges says it all:

‘When WillowDNA was formed in 2005, the vision was to bring together knowledge and collaboration expertise with technical enablement. Determined to break away from tedious e-learning that constituted most people’s experience of online learning, WillowDNA wanted to create a new kind of learning company. From the creativity WillowDNA injects into its content to the innovation evident in its home-grown learning platform, Pathway Cloud LMS, it delivers all its set out to achieve. The company has shown impressive growth and undertakes deep analysis to understand and meet the needs of its clients. Impact is secured through its focus on ‘building businesses’ and partnership with providers of learning.’

So once we’ve popped the cork on the champagne back in the office and eaten a lot of cake, we’ll be getting our heads down working on projects that include:

  • Technology enablement for Pitman Training using Pathway Cloud LMS
  • Graduate induction into the media industry for IPG Mediabrands USA and UK
  • Compliance training for major credit agency
  • Pharmaceutical product training for medical professionals on behalf of Fleishmann Hillard
  • US rollout of the IPA Foundation Certificate and live exam provision
  • Content and online diagnostics for brand new training company

As well as providing Pathway Cloud LMS, content revision and service management to our many customers, all of whom we thank dearly for helping us win this award.  So if you are busy making your plans for 2017, we’d love to talk to you and help you deliver world class learning.

Human curation – important now more than ever

p1060681Two weeks ago, TheGuardian new paper featured an article on ‘why human curation matters in an algorithm world’.  We may have just witnessed what could amount to one of the most important events is contemporary world history. Whatever your political affiliation, what’s interesting to consider is what factors, from a system and curation perspective, may have led to the result.

Facebook and Twitter have come in for some significant criticism in the days following the election.  It’s lack of editorial scrutiny, by virtue of the medium, have led to some to believe that ‘fake news’ played a key role. This is an area for significant debate and what you are probably asking right now is, as I normally write on learning and knowledge strategy, what does this have to do with any of that?   Well, not to dismiss the issue of false reporting, what has interested me is the power of the algorithm.

Facebook is built for engagement and so will provide you with content it thinks will interest you (with curation provided by its algorithm).  Through understanding your preferences, it will continue to serve content it thinks you like.  The effect of this when its letting me know what the latest gadgets are maybe a bit of a negative impact on my wallet. When this comes to something as important as choosing the next leader of world’s economic superpower, only reading content that continues to agree and affirm your point of view raises serious questions with significant consequences.

We see the same happening in an individual’s personal network on a platform such as Twitter or Snapchat – it’s likely that you will gather people around you that have similar views to yourself.  It’s human nature to want to connect with and belong to a tribe that hold the same values as us, but for both ourselves personally, the health of organisations and society, this can be troublesome. It can leave us doomed to repeat the same mistakes or continue on the same path without looking at what’s truly happening around us.

So bringing it back to organisations and learning, no one wants to be the next Blockbuster video. Without accepting changes in trends and behaviours around you, understanding customer criticism of your product/service or listening to discontent in your workforce, we give ourselves a significant blindside that can come home to roost in quite challenging ways.

This is where the role of human curation comes in – open-mindedness, curiosity, a willingness to bring the unsaid stuff out onto the table and being able to listen are critical.

It’s likely we will hear things we don’t like.  For example, when I worked some years ago for Orange Global (now France Telecom), we used to purposefully read customer complaint sites and forums. There was no attempt to try and keep things quiet, it was vital to recognise where things were not right.  It’s not always easy to hear it but whether we take notice or not, these views are being expressed and need to be acknowledged. Only through understanding all sides can we take actions to improve things and make things better. Just as in wider society, our immediate experience limits our view; often we are too close, too invested in our own beliefs to recognise that the same situation is being perceived very differently.

So ensure you have people in place that are able to be as objective as possible, are able to gather good evidence, are good researchers and display empathy. They need to follow up on the learning, knowledge and information being put out there to understanding how it’s been received, ‘take the temperature’ of the organisations and its external environment and ensure resources are refreshed to reflective that. Its easier to listen to the voices that conform and quietly get on with it, but the future of health of your organisation (and wider society) relies on us not sweeping opposing views under the carpet. Often we will be upset, even deeply disturbed or frightened by what we hear, but pretending these things do not exist gives no room for growth or understanding.

There is no doubt that AI and algorithms can greatly improve the efficiency and curation of information, but let us ensure streamlining doesn’t mean blindsiding.

Learning Designer Dairies – Using Tiltbrush VR

20161017_145307 I love the concept of being able to paint and create in a 3D space, but as someone who has got motion sickness from other Virtual Reality experiences I was a little bit apprehensive about trying it out.

Using the HTC Vive

I need not have been worried, the HTC Vive headset was comfortable, stable, and clear. It was easy to manoeuvre around the space, with virtual walls marking the boundary so I wouldn’t embarrass myself tripping over a desk or chair.

Using Tiltbrush

The actual tool was really intuitive and easy to get the hang of straight away. With lots of interesting effects such as light waves, bubbles, and fairy lights to draw with. The effect was great and I enjoyed playing around with all the different strokes in the space. After a bit of playing I started thinking about actually creating something more than just squiggles. I wanted to start with some basic shapes – a sphere maybe – this was not so easy, with the paint appearing like a ribbon in the 3d space with no depth to it I ended up with lots of bits or lines of paint that didn’t really meetup. It took some time to control how the paint was going to appear from all angles – I think this would be something you would get used to though with more practice. After a bit of frustration with trying to create a sphere, I was shown examples of art work more experienced users had created. Looking through, I saw that using a white line to create a rough frame work and then building up the paint in kind of feathery layers was the way to go, great for creating feathery or furry creatures. I had another go, this time attempting a face, trying to treat the 3D paint more like actual paint, building up layers of colours etc. and starting with drawing a basic frame work to build on – I had a lot more success but still found some elements tricky – such as trying to get the eyeballs round with an iris on that sat on, or in the ball. From the front it looked ok, and from the side the face was ok, but you could see the iris’ floating in the air as a squiggle of paint rather than being on the ball. Again looking at other peoples’ attempts I think this just needs more experience, and more confidence to work larger.

What I’d like to see in Tiltbrush

For me, an extra feature that would be really helpful would be the ability to use shapes – such as spheres, cubes, oblongs and cylinders to build up a frame work first and then paint on or around them – this would have really helped with my eyeball debacle! I would love to have more time to play with this at home, but at a cost into the thousands for the headset, software and machine to run it on, that will have to sit on the back burner for a while.  But as the cost falls and availability grows for great VR tech, perhaps it won’t be too long…

World of Learning 2016 – knowledge matters

20381357438_cfdf480183_o Next week, I’ll be participating in the World of Learning conference at the NEC, Birmingham and as part of the event, I’m joining Robin Hoyle, Michelle Parry-Slater and Sukh Pabial for the fringe seminar on Industry knowledge v Institutional knowledge. This is a topic very close to our hearts at WillowDNA – with our history rooted in practical knowledge management, the exploration of what the organisation knows andwhat it needs to know has informed our work for the past 11 years.  So this meant when I got the mail asking if I would take part in the panel, I typed by response quicker than the spell check could track (so no idea what my acceptance mail actually said!) So before the event, I thought I’d share with you an extract from the ‘warm up’ blog for the session (and I also recommend you read the blog that kicked it all off, an excellent piece from Robin Hoyle) “What role does a learning and development function play when there is a ubiquity of content available to anyone with a web enabled device?  Video, social networks, published research, blogs, free courses, MOOCs, hangouts, the list of content that doesn’t require the green light from procurement goes on.  Is it best if we leave learners to self curate and orchestrate learning?   After all they are at the front line of their function. I believe these arguments have been valid for decades – after all if learning and development were simply the keepers of the training catalogue, we could have done away with it years ago!  However, Robin raises a critical point – its not just about the accumulated body of knowledge about a particular function or discipline, both external or internal.  Its all about application to real work challenges and the definition of what that challenge is and how best to address it is often not given the time and resource it needs.  Sure, you could leave it to your people to find the resources they need, but if we don’t have a clear understanding of the business goals we are addressing, how some tools and techniques may work differently in our context or whether actually someone else in the organisation has already solved this challenge, we risk leaving the organisation to waste valuable time, money and resources whilst others leap ahead.  Engaged, fulfilled employees are those who are supported by resources that help make common tasks easier, complex problems easier to solve through the support of others and make available their talents for others to tap into … So what does it take to do this?” You can take a look at the full post on the learnevents website and if you are coming to World Of Learning, make sure you some along to the panel discussion at 13.20 in Seminar Theatre 2 on Thursday 20th October.  Look forward to seeing you there.

Apprenticeships and why technology enabled learning matters

We recently published a paper on the impact of the apprenticeship levy. It is possible that Brexit will delay the launch of the levy but organisations with a wage bill of more than £3m are certain to be asked to contribute to the investment in apprenticeship schemes in the near future. The aim is to create more than three million new ‘high quality’ apprenticeships. So what will be the hallmarks of a high quality programme? How will it engage and support young people in obtaining the requisite work experience and access to great quality training that they’ll need to thrive? The levy works two ways; to fund the schemes and to incentivise companies to make use of their investment by appointing Apprentices themselves as part of their recruitment strategy. Companies as diverse as PwC and Penguin[1] have announced their intention to scrap their graduate-only recruitment schemes.  Conversely, the apprenticeship schemes themselves are increasingly including this as a route to highly-regarded degrees without the debt burden.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The Department for Education needs to chart and follow a course from having a lot of apprenticeships to having the right apprenticeships in order to help improve the UK’s productivity and achieve value for money, in return for the costs of the programme.”

Increasingly, quality is seen as the most significant feature and there is considerable emphasis on standards and the Trailblazers. But having created the standard, enabling companies to work seamlessly with educating bodies and awarding organisations with the apprentice at the heart is key to this. Having apprenticeships working in diverse locations with tailored programmes is not easy. The original quality of each apprenticeship is fundamental and so is the ability to structure the learning with the working environment. Equally, apprentices need to know how they fit, how they are doing, to be able to collaborate with other apprentices potentially in different locations and to be able to tap into help as and when needed. Features to look out for in enabling technology: A common interface for the apprentice, the training organisation and the line manager.

  • Clear steps for the apprentice to follow as their journey to qualification unfolds
  • An ability to seed the learning paths with assignments that reflect their learning in the workplace.
  • Assignment capability that allow the apprentice to upload evidence in any format for review, feedback and assessment
  • Capability for the End Point Assessment (EPA) body to evaluate the outcome
  • Opportunities for apprentices to collaborate with others

The reality for many FE Colleges and others is that the internal software used on campus  is fit for that purpose but does not necessarily translate well when used across different companies. Those that adopt software that bridges that gap will stand out. [1]

Learning Live preview – why lecture free is important

Last week I created a quick Adobe Spark view on why I love Learning Live, partly to thank the LPi for their support and the opportunity to take part, but also because as an event, I think it’s more important than ever.

As our relationships with the workplace, technology and our environment continue to shift and intertwine, it demands that we work together to shape the future of the profession to flex and adapt.  Learning professionals need to be polymaths because individuals and organisations are learning all the time, not at scheduled events or in defined e-learning.  Formal orchestrated learning has its place, just as communities and coaching do but when regarded as very separate, distinct entities, we limit our effectiveness and relevance.  We need to add value, insights, inspiration and performance impact in the flow of work It’s why the learning community with its variety of experience, approaches, favoured models, best tech, most effective engagement methods needs to work together to set out the new learning agenda.  That needs space – space to discuss, challenge, map out, draw, speak, plan, take action.  Learning Live is about working together, celebrating the diaspora of experience and giving these important conversations room to breathe, so this doesn’t stay in the realms of theory.  During my practical session tomorrow on using value chains to understand real business need, I my attendees leave with a tool they can use to create a complete view of performance.  But more than this, I hope it helps even in a small way to help shape the definition of the new learning professional. I’ll be blogging and sharing my experience from the event, so hope to see you back here for more on the future of performance.