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Get More “L” out of your LMS!

wheelolarninToday, leading-edge companies are achieving speed to proficiency by transforming training events into process-based learning paths, understanding that critical job skills in a complex world are not learned in a day.

On one hand this move is revolutionary, since most LMS-based training focuses on content. On the other it moves us “back to basics,” by replicating the best practices of face-to-face training and coaching in the online environment.

In this information-packed session, learning industry expert Dr. Bill Bruck will share how real-life organizations achieve speed to proficiency in a variety of ways. You will learn how to use learning paths to:

o Provide a complete training experience
o Build proficiency with on-the-job coaching
o Demonstrate Kirkpatrick Level 3 results
o Build reusable programs of study
o Monitor progress with Single Glance Dashboards

Attendees will be automatically enrolled in our interactive community where you can share ideas, challenges and solutions in an interactive environment that will remain available for 2 weeks after the webinar.

Click Here to Register to join us Wednesday, February 24 at 2 P.M. EST!

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Flawless Execution!

skierI’m hearing the term “Flawless Execution” bandied about quite a bit lately.  It seems to be a trending bit of business jargon.

On the surface, arguing against flawless execution sounds a bit like arguing against Mom and Apple Pie – who would object to such an awesome level of effectiveness?

But I think the biggest issue with flawless execution is that it’s really too pricey to be a goal for most business processes. Because we humans are error-prone creatures, any project which must be executed flawlessly requires extremely expensive backup teams, backup systems, and painstaking development of check-listed procedures.

(Think about manned space flight. Then think about Olympic athletic performance!)

The thing is, even when the investment is made at this level, we still see small flaws in performance. Olympic events are thrilling because perfection is so elusive, even for the most able on the planet.

Most of the time, flawlessness simply isn’t in the budget. But dialing down a bit, to proficiency, can bring big rewards at a much more reasonable level of investment.  Proficient individuals are able to adjust standard procedures to compensate for changes in the environment.  What does it take to produce them?   Decades of experience are helpful.  Good training, the kind which includes

  • exercises in working case studies of outlier situations and coached feedback on the learner’s response to those situations
  • manager participation in coaching the application of best practices to the learner’s actual work
  • communities of practice in which learners and veterans can “swap tales” about their challenges in applying these principles

can accelerate proficiency dramatically.

We’ve been providing a platform to launch/host/track this kind of training for a decade now.  We’d love to show you how it’s done.  Call us at 877-751-2200, or drop Bill Bruck a line at

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HyperVideo? Oooh, Shiny!

Paul Clothier recently wrote a thought-provoking article for Learning Solutions magazine called Interactive Video: The Next Big Thing in Mobile.  The article is worth checking out, if only for the tasty examples he provides – they definitely ping my “Oooh, Shiny!” meter.

The idea is video with embedded links to other video, providing a less disjointed approach to creating modules along the line of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books my kids enjoyed so much.

I guess, though, that after I ooh and ah over the terrific production values in the sample videos, I’m feeling a little curmudgeony about the whole thing.  Clothier quotes impressive statistics to make his point that people really like learning from video – but those statistics don’t actually deal with WHAT all those people are learning, or how long they retain it.  I can tell you from personal experience that YouTube has driven home for me the point that cats do a whole lot of amusing things. And, ok, I’ve written in this space before about how much I appreciate technical how-to videos when I’m trying to learn things like how to upgrade a computer.

But once we get past the glitz, we have to concede that videos, no matter how beautiful or interactive, have the same basic attributes of every other form of canned presentation.  They can present information, and hence raise awareness. If they are very good, they may cause viewers to consider a new way of looking at the material.


  • They don’t offer a way for viewers to ask questions about how the information applies in the slightly different circumstances they may face on the job
  • They don’t offer an opportunity to practice and hence develop skill in applying the information presented.
  • They are terrible as reference resources, because there’s no easy way to search for or flip to the part of the presentation which contains the information you need.

It’s nice when learners describe our presentations as “engaging.” But unless we’re simply checking compliance boxes to register that yes, our people have been exposed to the stuff they are supposed to know, presenting information is just the beginning of the training process.

So I’d prefer not to blow my budget on beautiful video. Especially now, while learners’ bandwidth is iffy, but come the day that everybody can watch anything anywhere, I’m still going to feel the same way! It takes a lot of time and money to produce excellent linear video, and undoubtedly more to do excellent hyper video.

Better to present in some cheaper, lower tech way, and spend that extra money freeing up my skilled performers to coach the ones who need to come up that ladder in exercises which require the learners to reflect on the information and apply it to a near work situation.  Additionally, I’d like to fund some follow-up with their managers, so we can monitor whether their behavior is changing in the way our training is trying to achieve.

Because in the end, that’s the metric that matters.  How much our learners enjoy or admire the beauty of our training just isn’t as important as how the entire training experience them changes their performance on the job.

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Blended Learning Objectives

In creating blended learning programs for our customers, and in teaching blended learning design to our customers, I’ve begun to think about learning objectives somewhat differently.

The typical approach to thinking about learning objectives relies on a hierarchy of cognitive complexity, such as those provided by Gagne, Bloom, and others. I’ve found that certainly the degree of cognitive complexity is important – if the task requires an understanding of underlying principles, or making decisions in complex situations in the absence of clear guidelines, then critical thinking is essential.

However, I’m also finding there is another dimension that is equally important in selecting the appropriate activities to address learning objectives: something we might call the “activity type.” Simplistically put, if the task the person is being taught to perform is a writing task, then it might be smart to include learning activities involving writing and receiving feedback on them. I mean this sounds pretty simple, but I cannot tell you the number of times we look at existing learning programs and find huge mis-alignment between the type of activity customers are preparing learners for and the type of learning activities they provide.

The basic blended learning activity types I’ve been using recently include Recall, Think, Do, Listen, Speak, and Write. It ain’t Gagne, but this simplistic taxonomy helps me to determine what type of learning activities we need. Coached assignment? Writing sample? Role play (on telephone or in person)? The activity type tells me what type of activity to use.

Your thoughts?

Chief Learning Officer’s Ladan Nikravan opened a conversation on their Linkedin forum  recently, asking   “What is the classroom’s place in learning in 2013?”

It’s a fair question, but I have to say I was surprised by some of the answers offered.  Some of the respondents seem to assume that the sole alternative to the face-to-face classroom is the lonely individual on the laptop, paging through an e-learning module which permits them interaction only with content.

I suppose that view is not all that surprising – as recently as 2011 , 41 percent of learning executives indicated they continue to use classroom training as the primary learning delivery method. Formal on-the-job training tied asynchronous e-learning for the second highest ranked instructional delivery method (18 percent), followed by synchronous e-learning (11 percent), text-based training (4 percent), satellite video (4 percent) and portable technology (1 percent). (See

But wow,  we’ve had online social learning modalities for a while now!    Why are people so convinced that experiences have to be face-to-face to be social?

In an age in which most knowledge workers are required to communicate effectively with colleagues using email, documents posted to reference libraries, instant messaging, and even the occasional tweet or blog post,  keeping the learning experience close to the task requirements really does mean having people interact online so that they can practice the skills they need on the job.

I am completely in sympathy with those who point to the myriad benefits of the face-to-face classroom. If only because of the years of training all of us have in how to learn in the classroom environment, ILT is frequently the most comfortable (if also the most expensive) option, and sometimes, it is also the best place to provide people with the opportunity to develop and practice skills around personal interaction.  But it’s absolutely NOT the only option which gives learners a chance to learn from one another, nor is it the only one which provides for networking opportunities.

We have more effective ways than ever of blending learning experiences so that we can complement classroom interactions with exercises which encourage reflection  and asynchronous discussions which encourage universal participation.  Training effectiveness, now, more than ever, can be achieved by blending these experiences optimally–but only if we step away from black-and-white classroom-vs-elearning thinking in our course design.

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Trust in the Learning Organization

There’s a lively discussion in the CLO LinkedIn group about how to build trust in our organizations.  It’s heartening to see how many people in the learning community have thought deeply about this issue.

And it makes sense, because as learning professionals, we exercise significant influence over the propagation of our organization’s culture.  The learning experiences we facilitate for our coworkers speak not only of our own vision, but of that of the organization writ large.  What are we communicating, and how does that communication promote trust?

  • Are our materials current, reflecting accurately the situation in the field?
  • Are our materials relevant, dealing with issues central to our colleagues?
  • Are learners freed from line responsibility while in training, so they can concentrate on what they are learning?
  • Is there followup to see how learners are faring in implementing new skills on the job?
  • Are learners’ managers involved with the training process?

I could probably come up with a dozen more questions, all of which get to the extent to which our learning organizations demonstrate competence in our field, and respect for our learners.   We can’t build trust without these elements.  And who pays attention to training deemed untrustworthy? Who should?


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The news that there will be no more telecommuting at Yahoo again raises the question of what it takes to build a highly effective workforce.

I’m sorry they took a blanket approach at Yahoo.  It seems clear that something  is lost when people don’t run into one another in the halls, and in the cafeteria, but also that there are times when one needs to be heads-down on a project and avoiding the distraction other people provide.  Creating an office environment which supports both modes is a challenge which often goes unmet.

I think that’s true for learning situations, as well.   I’m a big believer in social learning – that we humans learn best within a context of other humans comparing notes on how things work.  But sometimes, we need to be heads down, concentrating on written material.  Sometimes, we need to be alone in our own heads, reflecting on what we’ve learned, making the connections to the other things we know.  That’s what writing papers was about in school.  And it’s often what writing analyses and recommendations is about at work.

When I’m training somebody, I’m usually doing it via computer. And I often recommend that they see whether they might work from home for the training.  Because I have a MUCH better chance of full learner focus when there won’t be co-workers stopping by to drop something on my learner’s desk.

I find it interesting that some of the discussion centers around whether a given individual is equipped with the skills which enable productive work when unsupervised.  Self-management skills are indeed critical to success in this environment.  Are they something the organization might be able to nourish?

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Michael Echols at Chief Learning Officer has a post this week urging learning leaders to do the research to check whether “best practices”  for improving performance which are articles of faith in their organizations are more than myths.  It’s shocking how much of what guides common practice has no actual scientific basis, but is merely “the way we do it here.”

Some best practices really do depend on corporate culture– what works for some organizations may not work in others. Others, though, depend on more universal parameters, like, say, human cognitive function, and hence can be widely applied in different organizations.

Way back in 2003, Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer published e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, an extremely practical book which reviewed the research on how various design elements in e-learning modules affect learner retention, and distilled that research into best practices for authoring these modules.

Ten years later, we’re still seeing uneven adoption of good design. For example, we’ve known for at least a decade that learners retain less when we have the audio narration channel “reading” the text on the page. For reasons probably related to limits to the aural and visual cognitive channels (not to mention that the speed with which individuals can read text is generally different from the rate at which they can understand the spoken word!) we have study after study which demonstrates that it is better for retention when the audio channel is used to elaborate on the information presented to the video channel, not replicate it. Nevertheless, the how-to videos Adobe publishes for use of their Captivate authoring software not only “narrate” the text on the page, but use a robotic voice which mispronounces both technical and not-so-technical words!

When a major vendor to the profession demonstrates unawareness of good design, (or, at the very least, the willingness to compromise design in the interest of showing off spiffy new features like that robotic voice!) I think we have a problem. I suppose it’s probably not the worst thing for those of us involved in instructional design to have to take Really Bad Training every once in a while, in order to equip ourselves to empathize with our learners. But we’ve been building multi-media computer-based training for a while now. It’s time that designers getting the basics right was something our learners, and the organizations which pay us all, could count on.

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Bill is going to share his 10 principles today — 2p.m. Eastern. It’s free, come check out our latest thinking…

10 principles for selecting the right Learning Management System

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Trust in the Collaboration Economy

The Kellogg School of Management devoted its Fall 2012 alumni magazine issue to “The Collaboration Economy” and the school’s commitment to thought leadership within it.

Kellogg has LONG been identified with a collaborative approach to the teaching and learning of management skills, so this is an obvious fit. As a loyal alumna who has been part of that economy for the last decade or so, I am pleased to see this focus. I’ve met Sally Blount, Kellogg’s new dean, and think highly of her – she’s very sharp, a dynamic speaker, and seems to have her mind around an extremely dynamic environment. So I was disappointed to see that in her article describing Kellogg’s focus on aligning with and driving the collaboration economy, that she repeats the notion popularized by our least critical technology enthusiasts — that trust is something that is somehow embedded within collaborative technology. As a professional in this field, I have sad experience with the powerlessness of collaborative technology to build trust where trust is not already part of the culture of the humans using it to work together.

She writes:

The Collaboration Economy is also rooted in an emerging human culture of access, openness and trust. When people enter the digital world through their computers, smartphones and other devices, they ask questions, share information, and reach agreements with a fluidity seldom seen before in human history

A new global culture is emerging that transcends national, ethnic, and organizational boundaries – the old institutions that used to develop and regulate our shared, taken-for-ranted rules for interaction. It is a culture that assumes 24/7 electronic access—for emailing tweeting, posting, and texting.

This new culture is particularly powerful in the norms of trust that it engenders. Markets require trust to operate effectively, and the old rules of building trust over long periods of time have softened. Over the Internet, parties with limited histories of personal interaction readily connect, communicate, and take risks together.

Perhaps one of the earliest and best examples of this phenomenon is the “open source movement,” founded in 1998 by a group of free software advocates. Through that movement, the Linux operating system was created and is now widely adopted by corporate computing managers as a hig-performance, lower-cost alternative to propriety software from Microsoft, Sun, and others.

Kellogg is where I learned about how fundamental trust is to the efficient functioning of markets – it’s where we explored what happens in the Real World when the “perfect information” assumed by economists isn’t available, and people have to make leaps of faith.

I would argue that what the technology can do in the facilitation of building trusting relationship is not much in its role in facilitating the meeting of people who might find something they can do together. It’s that it makes transparent the reputations of these people. It’s nice to be able to ask questions and share information – what’s even better is that if the information is incorrect, or incomplete, it’s possible to find out quickly and adjust one’s level of trust. What made, and makes Linux such a success is the alignment of the contributors (everyone is in it to make better-working software) and the transparency inherent in software – if your code isn’t very good, people find out right away, and maybe fix what didn’t work so well, and possibly avoid your contributions in the future.

It seems to me that technology can indeed quicken the pace of our experiments with trust, teaching us faster who can be relied upon to follow through and who cannot. It makes it possible, in some situations, to take smaller risks to begin with – when I break a project up into phases, I can judge my collaborators’ performance on phase I before committing to phase II. It is also driving a cultural change in which we have started to expect a higher level of accountability when things go wrong—when the project plan for our joint venture is readable to the entire team, it’s quite clear who it is who is missing their dates!

In the end, though, the path to success in the collaborative economy for any organization is the development of a track record of excellent performance. Technology gives our markets many new windows for observing us, so we need to shine more brightly than before.

Valerie Bock
KGSM ‘82

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