Thursday, December 20, 2007

My Objection to Learning Objectives

After reading this post, you will be able to:
  • Explain two of the reasons why Cammy Bean doesn't like learning objectives
  • Explain your own view of learning objectives
  • Develop an alternative approach to listing learning objectives in your next eLearning course
Introduction
I hate writing learning objectives. I see the value. I do. At least from the instructional designer's and the business's point of view. Learning objectives clarify exactly what it is you're trying to teach. But I find them painfully boring to read and to write.

Ray Sims has written a great summary on Writing Learning Objectives, with citations to some good resources, including Vicki Heath's post Learning Objectives: Writing Learning Outcomes So They Matter.

Vicki states as the first benefit of learning objectives: "Learners can focus more easily on what is important to their actual workplace performance."

Her statement is in keeping with traditional instructional design theory that says that learning objectives help learners organize their learning efforts. And yet one could argue that most learners don't even bother reading them.

As Michael Allen says in Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning: "Learners think, 'I'm supposed to do my best to learn whatever is here, so I might as well spend all my time learning it rather than reading about learning it." (p. 159)

The objectives page is one that I always click NEXT to slide right on by.

How about you? If you have ever taken an eLearning course (and be honest -- have you really taken an eLearning course?), have you taken the time to read those objectives? Really?

Write Better Objectives

One approach, as Cathy Moore demonstrates so well, is to write better objectives. See her recent post: Makeover: Turn Objectives into Motivators.

Michael Allen thinks better-written objectives are a start, but wonders if any form of the "textual listing of objectives [is] really the best way to sell anyone on learning." (p. 161)


Break the Rules
Allen urges instructional designers to break the rules: "Don't list objectives."

Pretty radical, isn't it? I called this one out as one of the top things I learned about learning in 2007.

Instead, provide some meaningful and memorable experiences using interactivity, graphics, animation, and storytelling.

photo by bb_matt


Alternatives to Listing Objectives


Here are some of Michael Allen's alternatives to listing out boring learning objectives in text bullet form:

Put the Learner to Work
(p. 161) Have the learner attempt a task. If they fail, they'll know what they are going to be able to do when they finish your program (hopefully, complete the task).

Use Drama (p. 165)
Create a scenario showing the risk of what could happen if the learner doesn't learn the content -- and the benefits that will happen when she does

Create a Game Quiz (p. 166)
Instead of a traditional, boring assessment, create a game-like quiz. Based on their performance, learners will see if they are beginners or advanced, and where their gaps in knowledge might lie. And they'll be able to see what kinds of tasks they should be able to do at the end of the course.

Check out Karl Kapp's Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning for some simple game ideas.

Have you experimented with alternatives to listing out learning objectives? Do you have any good stories? Have you had a client push back when you've tried to eliminate the learning objectives page?



Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Things That Light Up My Life

This is a geeky instructional designer moment. But here it is.

scissors

photo by tanakawho

What's been lighting up my life this week is when I hear a Subject Matter Expert say, "Let's cut that. Let's go with your Less is More."

It's music to my ears.

(With another client, however, I've had the exact opposite experience. That SME wants more content, wants more explanation, wants more jargon. Can't win 'em all, but I'll keep trying.)

What geeky instructional design moment have you had lately? What's rocking your world?

Friday, December 14, 2007

I'm a Gamer 3.0!

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I've been really into the whole topics of gamers -- who is, who isn't, and should we even use that term? I had a poll a while back, Are You A Gamer?, that sparked a good conversation.

Now a few of Karl Kapp's students "(Nicole Clark, Heather Gee, Aaron Kennelly and David Robbins) have created a fun little assessment tool called Gamer Rater that helps you determine what level of gamer you are according to Games, Gadgets and Gizmos for Learning. You progress through a series of choices you make throughout a typical day and at the end you are given a summary and a brief description of the type of gamer you are."

I'm so pleased. It turns out I am a Gamer 3.0er. Which means I've lost more than a decade, putting me somewhere in my late 20s.

A couple of issues I had with the game:

  • If you're asking friends over, would you invite them to play a board game or a video game? I'd like another option here -- invite friends over for dinner (which is probably take out) and watch the kids run around until they pass out.
  • If you want to buy a book at the store and they don't have it, would you have the employee order it or use the kiosk? I would never have bothered going to the store in the first place if I knew just what book I was buying. I would have bought it from Amazon.com.
  • If you go to the gym, do you listen to the radio or an mp3 player? My response was "gym, who has time for that?" When I do have the time, I'd rather walk in the woods and listen to the wind.
Anyway, I've got a spring in my step today feeling so young.

How 'bout you. What kind of a gamer are you? Go on, play the game.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Big Question


This month's big question from the Learning Circuits Blog: What did you learn about learning in 2007?

I learned that connecting with the blogging community has helped me get more passionate about my work as an instructional designer. I'd go so far as to say that I've reinvented myself as a learning professional. Connecting with other people creates motivation.

Which brings me to my next point. And this is definitely not one of those things that I'm learning for the first time, but here goes:

Motivation is everything!

Over the past two weeks, I've had the privilege of watching my 4 1/2 year old son learn how to write. The motivation? Santa Claus.

N: "How will Santa know what I want for Christmas?"

Me: "Well, we'll have to write him a letter."

I'd assumed this meant he would dictate and I would write. But we got home and he went for the pencils and paper and dove right in. Only a mother and Santa Claus could have read his first effort, but wow.

Last night he wrote a birthday card to my mom. Sentences. Legible. Amazing. (Am I a proud mom, or what?)

Now granted, the plastic brain of a 4 1/2 year old is pretty different than your average adult learner's brain. Nevertheless, us old folks are still primed for learning when we are motivated.

I am reminded of that college econ class that my father pressured me into taking. I was so not motivated to be there, plus the professor was a jerk. Worst grade ever.

Motivating Learners in Learning Designs

As I've been writing courses on fascinating subjects like Six Sigma and financial software training after financial software training, I've been trying to keep that motivation carrot out in front.

Some things I've been trying to apply:

  • Put it into context. Explain exactly why the learner should care about this stuff. (You'll be safer. You won't get fired. You'll do a better job. You'll make more money.)
  • Keep it short and sweet. Less is more.
  • Show, don't tell. The learner wants to know what they need to know, not the detailed legal explanation. Thanks to Cathy Moore for reminding me of that one.
  • Forget the page of bulleted learning objectives at the beginning of the course. "At the end of this course, you will know how to..." What learner really bothers reading that crap? Instead SHOW the learner what they will learn. Create a scenario, add a little drama and risk. Thanks to Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning for that tip.
So what we I learn about learning in 2008? Any guesses? I'm primed and ready.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Blog of the Week

Ego boost alert for this Bean: Donald Taylor has cited Learning Visions as Blog of the Week 13.

I'm blushing.

Thanks!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Instructional Design Central

Travis Jordan, a recent graduate from Utah State's Instructional Technology program, has created Instructional Design Central, a collaborative website for professionals in the fields of instructional design, and E-Learning, and performance improvement.

Instructional Design Central (IDC) is an online portal dedicated towards providing professionals, researchers, and students with instructional design (or instructional technology) resources and community collaboration.

This site links you to the following information and resources:

Travis posted a link in a Zoho Forum, which I stumbled upon thanks to a Google Alert on instructional design. Travis is looking for suggestions on ways to improve the site and community.

Travis, this looks like a great start. I'd suggest including information on which degree programs offer a distance learning option.

eLearning Guild Demo Fest: Sun MicroSystems

The eLearning Guild hosted a webinar this afternoon featuring the winners of The eLearning DemoFest which took place at the DevLearn Conference & Expo on November 7, 2007.


The Winners Were:
  • Seal Works - Ariel
  • Can Do It, LLC, 3-D Instructions
  • Sun Microsystems
  • OnPoint Digital, Sales Quenchers - mLearning
  • KPMG - Expense Reimbursement Training
  • Oxygen Education - Emag machine

I wasn't able to sit in on the full session, but what I saw was worthy of passing along, particularly the Sun Microsystems New Hire program, which uses web 2.0 technologies and gaming to create a unique onboarding experience.

Project

Sun Microsytems

Brandon Carson, instructional designer

Project: New Hire Experience “Join the Network”

Sun has put a real focus on telecommuting -- many employees don't work in an office.

Publicly available training program.

Wiki Platform

  • Using Web 2.0 tools to create a new hire experience
  • Built using the Confluence Enterprise Wiki platform
  • Brandon said they were “corrupting the real idea of a wiki”. Not truly a collaborative learning platform.
  • Strong visual aesthetic.
  • In a true wiki, anyone can get on and change content. Sun added a lot of page-level restrictions.
  • Lots of widgets on the site
  • View other users who are logged in and talk to them
  • Watch videos of CEO, corporate commercials
  • If logged in behind Sun Firewall, see Tag Cloud and more links to internal information.

Game Based Learning

Finding more effective ways to teach about Sun and the business.

Game based learning programs that teach high level info about business, mission values. “You’ve just joined Sun – now you’re an action hero!”

To get to the game, click on the PLAY icon on the home page, or just go there right now.

A click through text-based adventure game: Dawn of the Shadow Specters

  • 20 minute experience
  • Writing a relevant story and wrapping that around important content
  • Not real interactive – mostly reading the story, exploring different rooms, picking up objects

Video Type game: Rise of the Shadow Specters

  • NetGener demographic with exciting twitch speed game play.
  • Teach about business practices with more serious puzzles and gameplay. Traditional video game.
  • I think he said that it uses REAL game controllers.

More Project Facts

Response so far has been – revolutionary for Sun – lots of good feedback.

  • Average age of Sun employee is 42
  • Project cost: $150K in external vendor costs
  • Project length: Created over 4 months.
  • Development Team: 1 instructional designer, 6 game developers, 5 wiki developers, plus additional designers

View the Sun New Hire Project.

I just saw that Tracy Hamilton posted her notes from the session as well. She saw the first two presenters.

Update:
I was just looking at the Enspire Learning website, and it looks like they did the development work on the Shadow Specters Game for Sun.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Smell of Books

I can't see myself getting an Amazon Kindle. I like sitting on the couch with a book and a cup of tea, thumbing through the pages, smelling the paper and the ink.

Mark Oehlert's response to Tom Crawford on the Kindle reminded me of a New Yorker article from last month, in which Anthony Grafton concludes that paper books are an anthropological record of their times and of the people reading it. The article is mostly about Google Book Search, the massive project to "build a comprehensive index of all the books in the world." Which I think sounds like a good thing.

But Grafton points out some of the more subtle things that are lost when books are digitized.

FUTURE READING: Digitization and its discontents; Anthony Grafton; November 5, 2007; The New Yorker.

And yet we will still need our libraries and archives. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid have written of the so-called “social life of information”—the form in which you encounter a text can have a huge impact on how you use it. Original documents reward us for taking the trouble to find them by telling us things that no image can. Duguid describes watching a fellow-historian systematically sniff two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old letters in an archive. By detecting the smell of vinegar—which had been sprinkled, in the eighteenth century, on letters from towns struck by cholera, in the hope of disinfecting them—he could trace the history of disease outbreaks. Historians of the book—a new and growing tribe—read books as scouts read trails. Bindings, usually custom-made in the early centuries of printing, can tell you who owned them and what level of society they belonged to. Marginal annotations, which abounded in the centuries when readers usually went through books with pen in hand, identify the often surprising messages that individuals have found as they read. Many original writers and thinkers—Martin Luther, John Adams, Samuel Taylor Coleridge—have filled their books with notes that are indispensable to understanding their thought. Thousands of forgotten men and women have covered Bibles and prayer books, recipe collections, and political pamphlets with pointing hands, underlining, and notes that give insights into which books mattered, and why. If you want to capture how a book was packaged and what it has meant to the readers who have unwrapped it, you have to look at all the copies you can find, from original manuscripts to cheap reprints. The databases include multiple copies of some titles. But they will never provide all the copies of, say, “The Wealth of Nations” and the early responses it provoked.

Photo Credit: Books by algiamil on stock.exchng

Monday, December 03, 2007

Top Posts in 2007


Snow is falling general over Massachusetts. It's the kind of day here in New England when you turn inward and take stock of the past year. Me, I'd mostly like to take a nap.

Instead, I cracked open Google Analytics and pulled up my top 5 posts for the year (well, my top posts since September 1 when I started using Google Analytics):

The Real World, Second Life, and Facebook/MySpace
: Over the summer, I conducted a series of interviews with over 20 current college students and recent graduates. All female. I noticed some interesting trends in real-world usage of all these applications. #1: No one had even heard of Second Life.

Getting Started in Instructional Design
: in which I point to some useful resources for those just getting started in the field.

Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning: my review of Karl Kapp's recent book contribution to the training community.

Instructional Designers -- Do You Have a Degree in ID?: An ongoing survey of instructional designers.

Emerging Technologies in eLearning: Notes from a live blogged session with Gary Woodill of Brandon Hall Research.


Photo credit: IM Birchall from stock.xchng

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ken Carroll on Learning


Ken Carroll of the-eLearning-takes-on-language-sensation ChinesePod is now blogging live from Shanghai on topics as diverse as RSS and Finnegan's Wake.

Stop by and say hi.

Instructional Designers with ID Degrees = 25%

Instructional Designers are still responding to the survey I recently posted, asking instructional designers to tell us about their educational background and ID training.

We've now got 32 responses. 8 people have advanced degrees in instructional design (25%). This is up from 14.29% a few weeks ago.

Only 3 respondents say that they have ever been turned down for work because of a lack of an ID degree.

Still a wide variety of backgrounds, with a heavy dose of Liberal Artists.

I asked Jon Matejcek of Dashe & Thompson what he looks for when hiring instructional designers, and he wrote:

For instructional design, we hire based almost entirely on experience (our consultants average more than 10 years’ experience).

The thing I like about those with liberal arts degrees, is that they tend to be adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity. Aside from the core ID skills, this trait seems to be one of the greatest determinants of success on our projects.


Are you adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity?

You can view the updated survey results here.

Update: As of December 3, 30% of instructional designers say they have an advanced degree.

Thanks to everyone who participated. And if you didn't respond and would like to, the survey is open indefinitely.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Blog Readability Test: What a Joke!

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My blog came in at the genius level on the readability test.

I take it to mean that it must take a genius to figure out what I'm really trying to say, since I must not be saying it all that clearly.

C'mon. Genius? I don't use big words or anything.

I suspect that Christy's muppet translation will put her blog into the genius level for its illegibility. Anyone support my theory? Brent -- you're a genius, too. What thinks you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Instructional Designers = Liberal Artists

I recently posted a survey, asking instructional designers to tell us about their educational background and ID training.

Only three out of 21 (14.29%) people working as an instructional designer have an advanced degree in instructional design. There's a few with MEds and teaching backgrounds, which gets you somewhat close to ID. But the bulk of practicing instructional designers come from liberal arts backgrounds:
  • English
  • English
  • Environmental Studies
  • English linguistics
  • Music Education
  • adult education
  • theatre
  • English Literature
  • English and Philosophy (joint)
  • Educational Technology
  • Educational Technology
  • undergrad=communications, grad=instructional design and technology
  • Accounting
  • Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication - & - Management
  • BA English, MEd
  • Industrial Relations
  • Elementary Education (BS & M.Ed.)
  • Literature and Communication Arts
  • History (Instructional Tech in grad)
  • History
I don't have time to do a full survey analysis, but you can view the survey results here.

Thanks to everyone who participated. And if you didn't respond and would like to, the survey is open indefinitely. There were some interesting comments in that post, including some information on instructional design certificate programs.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

InVision Learning: Seeking eLearning .NET Developer

We're seeking a full-time .NET Developer to join our growing company here in Westborough, Massachusetts.
Invision Learning is seeking a .Net Developer to create leading-edge interactive multimedia and web-based eLearning applications. Our company specializes in Custom Courses, Flash Templates, and Learning Portals...
If you, or someone you know, is a .NET developer looking for work in the greater Boston area, please let me know!

(You'd get to work with me -- how exciting is that?)

Update: We've now filled this position! I'll let you know if there are future opportunities.....

Monday, November 05, 2007

Instructional Design Inspiration

As I mentioned last week, I'm in the midst of designing my first custom eLearning course in quite awhile. I've gotten rusty in the practice of ID, although very adept in the research and learning part (and I can talk a pretty good game).

Now that I've been actually doing some writing, I'm having to put it all to work.

So, what's been working for me? What movers and shakers have inspired me to design differently?

Here are some of specific ideas I've taken from a few sources that (I'm hoping) will help me design a kick-ass course:

Chapter 2 of Gadgets, Games & Gizmos for Learning by Karl Kapp.

We're trying to include more game-like interactivity in this course, and this chapter is chock full of ideas. I jotted down at least four ideas for interactive exercises that we can easily build in Flash and will work great with the content I've got.

The entire book is packed full of great info. Check out my review of Gadgets, Games & Gizmos for Learning and then go get yourself a copy!


The 30-Minute Masters by Clive Shepherd. I had the chance to view an early draft of the course that's being built by Kineo, as well as the initial wiki design and the audio script that Clive wrote (with input and collaboration from a bunch of great eLearning folks).

The 30-Minute Masters is geared toward SMEs using Rapid eLearning tools, but I think it's just fine for a "professional instructional designer" needing a refresher.

My main takeaway has been to add moments for reflective learning -- pauses in the voice stream to let the learner think about his or her own experience and apply it to the workplace. Ideally, I'm trying to figure out how to make this a bit interactive. Even something as simple as having the learner type their ideas on the screen.

Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning. I'm only about 2/3 of the way through this book, but have found lots of good nuggets.

I like what he says about Learning Objectives: Don't List 'Em.

Don't bother listing them out on a text bullet page; learners have learned to skip over that stuff -- they're going to learn it anyway. Instead, try creating some drama -- write a scenario -- showing the learner what they will learn.


Tom Kuhlman's recent post on passive vs. active.

Simple ideas for using branching questions as a way to spice up your content and create more engaging experiences.





I've also been meaning to go back to B.J. Schone's Engaging Interactions for ELearning.

There's more, I'm sure. But this is what hits me off the top of my head.

Where do you look for instructional design inspiration?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Instructional Designers: Do You Have a Degree in ID?

Clive Shepherd posted today about a dinner conversation he had with Cathy Moore.

"Cathy confessed that she is sometimes denied some work opportunities because she does not have a degree in instructional design."

(Now, I can't imagine anyone turning Cathy Moore down for an ID job. Come on, guys!)

In the UK, according to Clive, virtually no one has a degree in Instructional Design. Perhaps that's where I belong. My ID education has been completely on the job and informal.

Although, I've never had trouble finding work as an instructional designer, I have certainly seen many job listings that include a Master's degree as a requirement. I figure my 12 years of experience have to count for something, so I've never let that stop me.

I'm curious what other folks' experiences has been. If you're working as an instructional designer, do you have an advanced degree? If you don't, have you ever been denied a job for the lack of one? What do you think counts more? The degree or the experience?

Clive says, "I must confess I don't really care how someone has acquired their knowledge of the subject, but I do care whether they are constantly striving to do a better job."

So here's a little survey to help us go deeper:
http://cammybean.instructionaldesign.sgizmo.com

(Click on the link to view the survey.)

Anything else to share about your experience as an instructional designer (or whatever you might call it)? Share in the comments.....

Initial survey results have been posted here.

And the survey numbers keep changing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Poll Results: Learning Visions' Readers

The poll results are in. Thanks to the 34 of you who responded.

You are:

Male 38% (13)
Female 52% (18)



Under 20 5% (2)
21-30 23% (8)
31-40 26% (9)
41-50 26% (9)
51 + 17% (6)




None of this surprises me very much. Except for the two readers who reported they are under 20.

Otherwise, the results are fairly evenly split among age group, with 79% of readers falling in the 21-50 range.

Does this better explain the results of my gaming or second life polls? Maybe. Maybe not.

My fabulous graphic chart above was created from the Create a Graph page at the Kids' Zone: Learning with NCES (National Center for Education Statistics).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Instructional Design Stress

I have to confess that although I call myself an instructional designer, it's been quite awhile since I've done anything like that.

If you've read my current job description, you know that I do a lot of other things for this small company. Over the past year, I've been focused on sales and marketing activities, project management, and content conversions -- "No ID needed, thank you." I've thought about instructional design as we've been building eLearning Templates and certainly made a lot of recommendations.

But I haven't "done" a course in ages. I haven't worked with a SME and thought about appropriate learning activities and chunked out the content. In fact, it's been almost two years since I've written a storyboard and gone through the whole process.

And now I've got a two-hour custom course on my plate. With a whole bunch of other custom projects cued up right behind it.

I'm excited. I'm eager. I'm nervous.

I've spent a lot of time in the past year thinking about ID, connecting with other training and eLearning professionals, reading books, learning about better ways of doing eLearning. I've blogged about much of what I've learned, right here.

And now I've actually got to do some better eLearning myself.

I feel some procrastination coming on. I feel the need to review a lot of books. I was delighted to see Cathy Moore's post with examples of good eLearning -- much needed inspiration.

It's time to put the pedal to the metal. Wish me luck!

Friday, October 12, 2007

College Women on Gamers: They Giggle

I came across this on Wired: Giggling Girls Fail Videogame-Related Quiz, in which college-aged women are asked a series of somewhat spoofy questions on games and gamers. The responses are generally preceded by a giggle and a "what's that?"

According to Wired, this video is from the folks at PurePwnage.com


I find these young womens' clueless responses interesting, especially in light of the rise in gaming culture and the onslaught of Gamers that is about to hit the corporate workplace (and perhaps is, right now, as we speak) -- at least according to Karl Kapp who wrote an entire book on it! (You can read my review of Gadgets, Games & Gizmos for Learning).

Will young women be speaking a different language from their male counterparts? Will they be left out of the Guild Master corporate cult?

New Survey -- What's Your Demographic?

Because people are wondering. How old are all of you? Some of you call yourselves gamers. Some of you have been in Second Life. So where do you fit into the demographic, dear readers?

You'll have to come visit the blog to respond to the new survey. It's on the blog's side bar at the top.

(All survey responses are completely and utterly confidential!)

Thanks ~

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Women Gamers on the Rise

According to an article today in Times Online (Nintendo's women gamers could transform market) , Japanese women gamers have overtaken men to become the biggest users of the Wii and DS.
"If the change repeats itself around the globe, said analysts, it could force a complete change of business model for many of the world’s largest games makers."
I don't doubt that women's use of the Wii will be on the rise, especially with games like Wii Fit on the way (although, I wonder if that's really a "game"?)
"Wii Fit, which uses an innovative floor-based sensor to register body movement, takes players through a daily regimen of yoga, balancing exercises and other fat-fighting activities."
So maybe the Guild Master Ceiling will get replaced with a Wii Ceiling?

Check out the full story: Nintendo's women gamers could transform market at Times Online.

Photocredit: "Eva" by milopeng from Flickr.

Second Life and Gaming Poll Results

I don't claim to be a researcher, nor can I claim that the results of polls conducted on this site are in the least bit statistically significant. But I am interested in the responses I've been getting.

Last week, I asked "Have you ever been in Second Life?" There were 20 responses.

Never (9) 45%
A few times -- I don't get it. (3) 15%
A few times -- I'll go back. (5) 25%
A lot. (3) 15%

Over at Mission to Learn, Jeff cites these stats and then wonders about the demographics of my site -- the answer to which I can vaguely guess at: eLearning professionals in their 30s-40s -- on average? (Perhaps another poll is needed?)

I think that all that my Second Life poll can really tell us, is that there are a lot of folks who still haven't tried Second Life...and some folks who see the potential.

I'm also interested in the results of the poll question I asked, "Are you a Gamer?" This poll -- to-date -- has had 29 responses. Again, not statistically significant I'm sure.
  • But 62% are willing to call themselves Gamers. This surprised me.
  • I fell into the NO category along with another 34%.
  • 1 person called themselves "Other", stating "I would be if I could afford the time."
I you'd like to add your two cents, and tell us what kind of Gamer you are, that poll is still open. Unfortunately, the Second Life poll is closed.

Friday, October 05, 2007

You're So Immature: e-Learning in Some Organizations

Earlier this week I was musing about messes in Messy Learning OK. Messy Training Not OK. This post had some great comments which got me thinking about maturity cycles in e-Learning among organizations.

Karl Kapp commented, "We need to create formal learning events and surround them with messy learning opportunities for people to exchange ideas and try things out but we can add just enough structure and direction to make it possible."

So that's a vision of the future of e-Learning. That's mature e-Learning.

I'm just about to kickoff a new project with a manufacturing organization to produce some custom courses. I'm gonna call them an "immature e-Learning organization." They seem to want page-turners, more or less. Games are scary. No collaboration. Nothing too "messy." When pressed, they respond "That's not in our budget" or "That's not in our plan" or "We don't have the resources for that."

Contrast this to a project Karyn Romeis is working on. She says, "One of the things I am trying to do is to include in my designs the means for learners to interact with one another and with acknowledged experts in the subject at hand." That is forward-thinking; very hip and now; very "mature" e-Learning. It includes some of those messy learning opportunities.

Vendors -- of which I am one -- are often in the position of just answering the mail. By the time a project gets to my door, the organization has often decided upon their approach. Our influence, in these cases, can be minimal. Needless to say, it can be a hard process to educate these clients.

And maybe such clients just aren't ready. Maybe they're immature. Maybe they need to go through the process of creating linear, page-turning e-Learning before they're ready to move into the here and now. Maybe they need to create old-school e-Learning before they can start adding messy to the mix.

Dan Roddy was expressing a similar frustration. He was venting about Kirkpatrick evaluations. What stood out to me in his post was this, "Perhaps, sadly, what it made me think about was just how out of the loop I am when it comes to the whole training cycle. For our clients we are simply a means to an end - nothing more than the design phase of the training - so I never get to learn how the training went down; I never get any learner feedback or statistics."

These are the challenges of being the external vendor.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I've Gone Pink For October


I'm not a pink-ish kind of a girl. But October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I've gone pink.

Web sites will Go Pink during the month of October to bring attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, get people talking about breast cancer, and raise money for research.

But to be clear, raising money isn’t the primary purpose of this web event.

The hope is that you turn your site pink (in whatever way works for your site), go out to that World Wide Web thing (in fact you’re on it right now! :) ) and educate yourself about the multiple issues related to Breast Cancer, then take that newfound knowledge and tell someone else what you’ve learned.

Learn more at pinkforoctober.

Thanks to Laura Whitehead for inspiring me to go pink. It really wasn't that bad.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Messy Learning OK. Messy Training Not OK.


I've been thinking about messes a lot the past few days. I've got small kids and my house is pretty messy. It turns out that life in general is pretty messy. And now it turns out that learning is messy, too.

Janet Clarey was reporting back from the Brandon Hall Innovations in Learning Conference, including experiments with un-workshops when things don't go as you planned.

She live-blogged Stephen Downes' keynote and remarked, "This is messy learning in progress and it’s good."

Slide 22 of Stephen Downes' presentation includes a diagram: Messy vs. Neat.

So I've been thinking about messes and why messy learning makes people so uncomfortable. Especially the corporate types.

Learning is messy because we get easily distracted by shiny objects -- or rather, inspired to shoot off in different directions. Because self-directed learning doesn't always have a clear or specific performance objective.

Maybe your goal is to learn how to make a bowl on a pottery wheel, but then you end up making a real cool sculpture. Or maybe you want to learn about the life of the author of that great novel, and then end up reading about Puccini. By accident. It happens. Or maybe you actually want to learn how to do your job better.

I start a book, but I don't finish it. I start researching one topic online, but start diving down a completely different path within a matter of a few clicks. Conversations can wander.

Let's say, to go out on a limb here, that people are more-or-less comfortable with the notion that LEARNING is messy. But I don't think folks are comfortable with the notion that TEACHING or TRAINING can or should be messy.

That goes against about 800 grains.

And messy e-Learning? Forget about it. e-Learning should be all neat and tied up in a nice wrapper with a Next button that moves you through a content checklist and a great assessment at the end.

A PLE can be messy. It's personal, after all. And people are messy. Should training be messy?

This may be why the concept of informal learning is such a hard sell. Formal training, is by definition, not messy. It's formal. It's neat. It's got structure and objectives. You can measure it. It's really hard to measure a mess.

As Janet wrote in the comments to her own post, attendees were saying of the un-conference format that "structure" and "objectives" were needed.

Is a messy training program just one in which the presenter is clearly not organized? The agenda not fully thought out?

What makes for messy training/teaching?
  • The training doesn't teach what the participants want or need (failure to consult with actual learners while designing the program).
  • The instructor doesn't really know the topic and is just completely winging it.
  • Things go wrong (software fails, power goes out).
  • (A whole bunch of other things, right?)
As Michael Allen says in Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning, "you can teach someone, but you can't learn someone" (to echo something Mark Oehlert recently ranted about).

I admit that this post is a bit messy. But I'm learning.

Photo Credit: Audrey Johnson from stock.xchng.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogger's New Polling Tool

As you may know, I've been playing around with Polls on this blog.

Last week, I asked "So What Kind of Gamer Are You? and "Are You a Gamer?" (58% of the 24 respondants to date consider themselves "Gamers." Interesting....)

(If you haven't responded to those polls, please click on the links here and do so!)

Today I just noticed that Blogger has added a polling tool. Just edit your Template layout, add a New Page Element, and choose Poll. Although the poll style is sparse and not as sexy Poll Daddy's, it does the trick.

I've added a new poll to my sidebar, asking "Have you ever been in Second Life?" Come visit Learning Visions and enter your response.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Online Visual Identity

When Michele Martin changed her profile picture the other day, I realized I was a bit disoriented. Suddenly, she didn't look like the Michele I "knew."

And I saw how one dimensional our images of our online contacts (and digital friends) can be -- typically based on the same profile picture that's used in countless places. I've had the same profile picture up for months -- on my blog, in Facebook, MyBlogLog, and now here.

Truth be told, I've gotten pretty sick of that chirpy picture of me sitting in my kitchen wearing that purple sweatshirt popping up everywhere.

I do, indeed, often look like that. But that's just one view.

So I'm going to try to mix it up a bit. I've changed my profile picture in a few of my online places. I'm still smiling. But I'm wearing a different purple shirt.

For some reason, I haven't figured out how to change my Blogger Profile Picture -- so I'll still look like a green apple.

Why does this even matter? It has something to do with creating an online identity that's well-rounded. That's not just a caricature of me.

In this TED Talks video of Mena Trott, founder of Six Apart, she talks about taking a picture of herself everyday and posting them on her (private) blog. The power of the personal; building a friendlier world through blogs...

I should also show you pictures of me where I'm not smiling. Because sometimes I don't actually feel so damn chirpy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

31 Days: Days 26, 27, 28

I'm cleaning house and trying to to finish up with the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge. Although the challenge officially ended in August, the community is alive and well and coming up with new challenges and ideas. Join us at the Building a Better Blog Ning Group.

For those of you who are new to my blog, the 31 Days Challenge was started by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. He came up with a series of challenges. Michele Martin turned that challenge into a community (and lured a certain reluctant individual into the challenge).

Here's some house cleaning:

Day 26 Link Up to a "Competitor"
In my blogging world, there are no competitors -- we're just all fellow travelers, learning from each other as we go along. I'm happy to link and do so with great gusto. Task complete.

Day 27 Get a Sponsor for Your Blog
I'm not monetizing this blog, so I'm skipping this one. Task ignored.

Day 28 Write a Mission Statement for Your Blog
Ok. This feels like a good task and one that I will have to return to when I've got more energy.

We all know what a mission statement is and have probably spent hours in group meetings crafting corporate mission and vision statements. Gosh, I remember the gusto we poured into this back in the early 90's. And then we all posted our printed missions statements on our cubical walls to keep us focused and on target and walking the talk.

The challenge is to do the same for your blog. So why do you blog? And if you don't blog, why not?

I blog because I started reading all of these other great e-Learning blogs and realized that there was something pretty cool going on and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to jump in to the conversation; I wanted to learn from all of these really smart people. My mission statement will have to include some key words on e-Learning, instructional design, web 2.0 technology and learning from community.

If you've been following me for awhile and think my blog is about something else, please let me know.

Task in progress.

You can view all of my 31 Days activity here:

31 Days: Day 25
31 Days: Days 22, 23, & 24
31 Days: Days 17, 18, 19, 21 & 21
31 Days: Days 12, 13, 14, 15 & 16
31 Days: Days 8, 9, & 10
31 Days: Days 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 (I got my numbering off somewhere along the way)
31 Days: Days 1, 2 & 3



Friday, September 14, 2007

So What Kind of a Gamer Are You?

In yesterday's poll, I asked readers if they think of themselves as gamers. As of this post, 55% of respondents proudly say "yes, I AM a gamer." Maybe not so proudly. There is some hemming and hawing amongst folks. Read the comments and see for yourself.

At Phil Charron's suggestion, I'm taking this next poll a bit deeper.

Let's talk about your gaming habits. And I mean digital gaming habits. Not whether or not you like to play Boggle at home the old-school way and rope your significant other into it on a regular basis. (Hey, that sounds like a slice of heaven to me!)

Instead, I want to know about your regular computer/digital game playing habits. And by regular, I mean that you access and play these games at least one a week.

So answer the questions, and take some time to comment. It's fun! It's almost like a game!



And be sure to response to the first poll "Are You a Gamer?"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Work is Going to Be a Game"

Gamasutra: The Academics Speak: Is There Life After World of Warcraft?

On page 3 of the article, there's an interview with Jeff McNeil, a PhD candidate at University of Hawaii, Manoa (Random sidenote about me: I went to highschool right down the street from UH and had daily swim practice at the UH pool).

McNeil says,
The Wall Street Journal just had a great article which said “Work is going to be a game.” Game-like features help us to manage this level of complexity that we can’t keep up with anymore. Students, right now, have more decisions, choices and control than ever before. And yet school hasn’t changed.

Pretty soon, we’re going to be saying goodbye to classrooms where students put their hand up and get a single question in an hour… It’s just not enough interactivity. And once the value of game design is discovered, well, you’re going to see changes in the way that we think about, play, and buy games – whether they’re single player, MMO, or whatever else is just around the corner.

It’s a lot of work, making curricula game-like but it’s also quite fascinating. This is how educators can become re-invigorated in their discipline. Some are seeing it. Some are doing it. Harvard’s Chris Dede is doing it, and has been extremely successful.

There is an eLearningPulse!

The e-Learning industry is alive and well.

I jumped the gun a few weeks ago and unveiled the new one-stop shop for all things e-Learning (with or without the hyphen or the capital L -- you decide).

But now it's official: there is an eLearning Pulse.
eLearningPulse is "Your daily source for all things eLearning". This site provides free resources to the eLearning development community, including news, discussion forums, job postings, and more.

Thanks to Ben Edwards of Redbird Software and B.J. Schone of eLearning Weekly for putting this together.

Are You A Gamer?

In the spirit of continuing the great conversation that we've been having in the comments on recent review posts (see Women, Gaming & the Guild Master Ceiling and my first review post) of Karl Kapp's Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning -- and in the spirit of experimenting with polling tools (thanks to Soha El-Borno of the Wild Apricot Blog, I thought I'd try a quick, down and dirty poll.

Obviously, this poll won't tell us that much. But perhaps leave a comment to explain your vote.

I used Poll Daddy to create this. It took about 2 seconds.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Women, Gaming & the Guild Master Ceiling

This post is an addendum to my first review of Karl Kapp's book, Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning.

A basic premise of the book is that gamers are on their way into the workplace and will be changing how we do business. Karl and I have had lively discussions about whether or not girls are gamers. Of course they are. But I would argue not in the same numbers as the boys.

Karl sites statistics that "Seventy percent of the players of the social interaction game The Sims are women under twenty-five," and that the number one game from May 2004-July 2006 was Princess Fashion Boutique.
"Gamer traits are cross-gender traits, because young girls play video games and are growing up in a culture influenced by those games." (p. 25)
Yes, girls play Princess Fashion Boutique in record numbers. And this will change how they think and learn to some degree. Young girls are digital natives. But gamers?

Recently, I conducted a series of interviews with college-aged women. They all had gadgets, relied heavily on their laptops, checked Facebook constantly, and considered themselves "digital natives." But very few of them were/are active game players and, as a rule, did not consider themselves gamers.

I'm concerned that women will be excluded if such a focus is put on gaming skills -- or at least the gamer label. Have you heard the urban legend regarding the big executive who was hired because he was a World of Warcraft Guild Master who had attained some really high level?

The traditional Glass Ceiling will be replaced with a new, but invisible and invincible Guild Master Ceiling.

This past Saturday, there was a Women In Games International (WIGI) Summit at the Austin Convention Center.

In Gamasutra, John Henderson has posted about a summary of a presentation by Dona Bailey. Dona was an early Atari employee (and the only woman at the time) and spoke about women in the gaming industry and provided some specific ideas for getting girls and women more involved in games and gaming.

DebySue Wolfcale, senior brand manager for Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) participated in a panel on Diversity in the Workplace.
As for how to include more women, Wolfcale said her employer, SOE, has realized women players make up a significant part of massively-multiplayer games, the sort they make, and for their sake female game developers are necessary to build the games to attract and keep women playing them.

Furthermore, women are often in roles that hold communities of players together, Wolfcale said, acting as socialite players and leaders of player groups, or guilds. “If we want people to keep playing and paying,” she said, “we have to make sure we're building games that attract women.”
I don't have a conclusion here. I'm just raising some questions.

Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning



Welcome to stop #3 of The Karl Kapp Games, Gadgets, and Gizmos Virtual World Book Tour.

I've grown up with the mentality that it's cheating if I don't read a book from cover to cover. But I have to admit that I used a few cheat codes to read this book. (I just didn't have a lot of time given that I was stop #3 on the tour!)

I suspect the concept of cheats is going to resonate a lot with Boomers and Gen-Xers as a foreign, but thrilling concept. (See Chapter 5: Cheaters Never Win...Or Do They?) It sure did with Tom King over at stop #2 of the book tour....his was just the clever approach I was going to take in beginning this book review. Tom beat me to the punch.

I'm a linear reader in recovery and have been actively learning how to skim books and not feel guilty about it. For this exercise, I was a good doobie, and I read all of Chapter 1, which gives a great background on Boomers, Gamers and the differences between the two.

Then I read the descriptions of each chapter and decided on which ones I would focus. I circled Chapter 6 (moving from creating rigid course structures to small, easily searched nuggets) and Chapter 8 (gamers' expectations of bosses/teachers).

My plan failed me and I just started reading Chapter 2: It's in the Game. (Hey, I can only stray so far from my linear, conforming roots!)

Be sure to read Chapter 2 if you're about to start a new project and need some juice before you start brainstorming. Lots of practical ideas and examples for turning basic teaching points into learning games -- from casual games to teach facts and concepts, to detailed simulations that teach procedures and problem solving. Although I'm not in active instructional design mode for any projects right now, I did jot a bunch of ideas.

Then I started jumping ahead and reading the summary of each chapter. The summaries usually intrigued me enough to go back and read/skim the entire chapter.

Ultimately, I think I actually did read the entire book. Cheat codes and all.

Here's some more thoughts....

Are You a Gamer?

If you were born anytime after 1960, then, technically, you are a gamer.
"A gamer is someone who has grown up in the generation influenced and shaped by video games and technology." (p. 14)
It's not whether or not you played games or still do, it's simply the fact that you were shaped by a popular culture that was shaped by video games.

Karl chunks groups out based on year of birth...roughly a decade at a time. Gamer 1.0s were born between 1960-1970. That's me. But I really don't feel like much of a "gamer." Compared to a Gamer 4.0 (those born between 1991-2000), I'm a bit of an ape (no offense to apes, mind you).

Gamer 1.0ers overlaps with Generation Xers (born between 1965-1979). I was born in 1968. I'm a Gen Xer and a Gamer 1.0er.

Gen Xers are digital immigrants; they did not grow up with the dual technologies of the Internet and video games. But then Karl says this:
"The first generation to be fully immersed in video games and the Internet is the gamer generation." (p. 28)
So, Karl, am I of the gamer generation or am I not?

I feel like I'm floating in this liquid generational gap between the boomers and the gamers...

Workplace Change
"So even if boomers do not leave the workplace en masse, they will most likely be leaving your organization, taking with them a vast amount of knowledge and possibly costing your company dearly if you don't prepare now." (p. 6)
This strikes me as completely foreign. At my current company, I am the OLDEST employee at 39. No boomers here. We're a small company, founded by a couple of Gamers 2.0ers. I'm the Gen Xer who can hardly work a video control to save her life.

Just ask my CTO, who was recently peering over my shoulder as I struggled to figure out how to play a Flash Game. "Wow, you're really not very good at this, are you?"

Cheat Codes & Gaming the System
"But to gamers, cheat codes are not cheating. They are more like help codes." (p. 158)
Bending the rules is fine, if it's not strictly disallowed.
"Successful people learn the unwritten rules of engagement and push those rules, work around those rules, and subvert those rules until they are highly successful." (p. 153)
I agree. And some of them also go on to do illegal and highly unethical or questionable things.

It's a fine line, and Karl makes sure to mention that management must also guide the use of corporate cheats to the ethical benefit of organizations, employees and customers.

Karl recounts a workshop he ran one summer to teach business concepts to middle school kids using the game Railroad Tycoon. The first level objective was to build a park with high customer satisfaction ratings.

One group's satisfaction ratings were through the roof. It turned out they were drowning the unhappy guests, which the game allowed them to do. "It was a little disturbing to me, but to them it was part of the game." (p.157)

Gamers learn to play by the letter of the rules and not the intent. But they're still playing by the rules.

OK. Well, I think "bending the rules" is good. Thinking creatively is good. Working at the edge is good.

But my god. It's bad enough having a boomer in the White House.

Implications for Instructional Design
"Games have a different expectation. They desire instant (or almost instant) learning delivered in an informal manner. They do not want to log into the corporate learning management system, navigate to the desired course, and then page through forty screens to find that one desired piece of information." (p. 165)
Hallelujah! So when can I stop writing these courses? And yet, I'm scared to admit that I don't know if I've got what it takes to do what this generational shift requires. That's way more creativity than I may have in me.

Can someone just write me a page-turner of a course to teach me how to be an instructional designer for the new millenium?

Corporate training departments are set up for the old-school boomer approach to training. Selling a different approach is hard. "We don't have the budget for that." "That's not in our plan." These are actual objections I've heard from clients when I've tried to discuss some alternatives.

And, hey, many e-Learning vendors are vested in the "old boomer" model of training. It's primarily what pays my salary and keeps my company in business. At least this year.

It's a big shift for instructional design. We're no longer talking about designing "courses"; instead we need to talk about helping companies design different strategies (and using games, blogs, wikis, instant messaging -- the gamers' learning tools), about crafting a strategic approach to learning and performance support throughout an organization.

I think we'll need to just send this book along to any prospects before we head out on a sales calls.

Some More Things You Should Know

This book is not just about gadgets, games and gizmos. It's also about using blogs and wikis and other collaborative tools for workplace learning and knowledge sharing.

This book isn't just for learning professionals. Managers, HR, recruiting officers, and consultants working with clients on organizational change initiatives should read it. Karl's provided some great roadmaps for implementing a Knowledge Transfer Process within an organization (see Chapter 11: Getting to the Next Level), with lots of specific examples and practical tips.

The Future

Knowledge Transfer will be an ongoing issue. As the boomers fade away and are completely replaced by a workforce of gamers who change jobs frequently, there will be a constant knowledge drain. It'll be essential that companies have systems in place to capture knowledge as it's being created.

You can read more about Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning at Karl's website. And be sure to buy a copy (or better yet, have your company buy it) for your collection.

GAME OVER

Update: As soon as I published this, I saw a post in my reader from Richard Nantel, CEO at Brandon Hall Research: The Myth of Boomer Retirement. If boomers aren't going to be retiring and leaving the workforce in droves as predicted, then will the knowledge transfer gap be an issue? Do we actually have a lot more time to figure this out?


Friday, September 07, 2007

Engaging Interactions for e-Learning

B.J. Schone has just graced the e-Learning community with another great -- and free! -- resource: Engaging Interactions for e-Learning. I was honored to have been among those asked to review this eBook before it went "to press".

Be sure to stay tuned to B.J.'s other blog where he'll be posting about each of the 25 interactions in the book, hoping to continue the conversation.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Continuing in Second Life

I'm still at it. Slogging away in Second Life. Since I last posted, I've been back "in-world" a couple of times.

I finally learned how to fly with relative ease (it's as simple as using the page-up and page-down keys to change altitude....duh).

Today I spent some time going back through the basic navigation tutorials on SL Orientation Island. As with any new learning experience, I find I need to dive in and learn what I don't know. Then I can go back in and focus on the "assignments" -- gaining the skills I've realized I'll need.

Today I spent some time exploring NOAA/ESRL, which is an island set up by the National Weather Service (U.S. Department of Commerce).

(http://slurl.com/secondlife/Meteora/128/128/0 -- if you're in Second Life you can also try searching for Meteora or NOAA Virtual Island).

That's me on a glacier on the NOAA island. At the glacier station you can "animate" the glacier and see how the formation changes as the glacier melts.

I hovered above a map of the U.S. which showed current weather across the country. I rode a weather balloon into the atmosphere and took a plane ride through the eye of a hurricane. Topped it off with a ride in a submarine and an underwater stroll. Whales and dolphins and jelly fish swam by. Very cool.

My favorite station on the NOAA island was the Tsunami area. It's a virtual click-to-learn exercise. You click on the Tsunami sign and get the first "page" of the lesson -- how tsunamis are formed underwater. Then you go underwater and see how the plates shift. Each click takes you through the next phase, until finally you are encouraged to run to high ground as a huge tsunami crashes in on the beach destroying the houses.

Talk about experiential learning.

If, like me, you've been reluctant to try Second Life, I can only say just do it and see for yourself.

In my first second life experience, I was called a bitch. My second Second Life experience was much better. And when Karl Kapp invited me on a tour of SL, I was delighted. It makes a big difference to someone like me to have a guide.

All this to say, I'm keeping an open mind.

Building Community


The office park in which I work is right next to a big slab of conservation land. When time permits, my favorite lunchtime activity is to escape out to the woods and go for a walk. It clears my head, gets my heart pumping a bit, and gives me some much needed solitude.

A few months ago, I was sharing my walk with a coworker. We came across a big pile of bricks and decided to make something. He made a wall and I built a circle.

The next time I went back into the woods, our sculpture had been altered. Someone had made an exclamation point out of bricks, right in the middle of the circle.

I changed the circle to a yin/yang sign.

For the next month or so, every time I went back into the woods there was something different. It was always a thrill to see what would be there. A heart. I changed it into a question mark. A bullseye. I built a stonehenge structure.

We were communicating, this faceless person and I. We were collaborating. Invisibly.

Last week I was out in the woods (it had been way too long), and a family was playing with the bricks. Four kids and two parents. Stacking and sorting, making shapes and playing. I smiled at them and walked on by.

I don't think they were my original invisible community. But they had become a part of it.

Being a part of the Building a Better Blog community has given me that same thrill. But we have pictures, so we're not so invisible.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

31 Days: Day 25 (Go Shopping)

Day 25: Go Shopping

For day 25 of the Blogging Challenge, the task at hand was to go shopping. Go to a mall and spend 30 minutes observing shopping patterns, merchandising schemes, etc.

My life in no way supports random trips to the shopping mall, so instead I'll look at my current shopping habits and needs: I need to get in and out of the store as quickly as I can, getting exactly what I need. Often I have two small kids in tow or I'm trying to check ten things off a list during my lunch hour.

I like to go to stores where I know the layout. I've got my system down and can't tolerate spending a precious ten minutes searching for the bread aisle or trying to find the peanut butter.

If you think about blogs and websites in general, we come to expect similar layouts and experiences from blog to blog. I look for a subscription button somewhere in the sidebar. A link to learn more about the blog's author. I like to know how long this blog has been around. The rest is either gravy or distraction. Too much clutter means I spend more time searching for the basics.

I almost always go to the grocery store that's nearest to my house. It's a bit more expensive than the store in the next town, but it's smaller and easier to get through. The aisles are shorter and there are fewer products on the shelves. They have just what I need. Or at least, just what I expect.

As I think about my own blog-reading habits, I see the same patterns. I rely on my feed reader to get me the information I need and want. Lately, I haven't had the time to go on random blog browsing sessions.

Right now I need a smaller blog store. I think I need to trim down what's in my feed reader. A good aggregator (like Stephen Downes) will get me the info I need so I'm not missing the really juicy stuff.

As I avoid the bigger stores these days, I've also noticed myself avoiding the longer posts in my feed reader. When posts are really long, I start skimming. I may even just skip it completely, thinking I'll come back to it later when my brain is less full. Yeah right. I'm sure many of you are the same.

Keeping blog posts short will ensure they get read more. A challenge to all writers. And a big challenge to me, who can ramble on like no other....

Another big shopping challenge is navigating the checkout aisle. All those candy bars in reach of the hands of little children who are riding in the shopping cart that's shaped like a car because you're trying to keep them entertained while you get the groceries. (You've seen harried young mothers attempting this feat, right?) I'm sure this relates to blogging -- the enticing thrill of a delicious looking link that can send you off in a myriad of directions....

Darren did a great summary of his lessons learned while shopping as did Michele Martin.

Do you have any great shopping tips that can be applied to blogging? Are you a browser? A shop-aholic? Or a speed shopper? Do you notice similar patterns in your blogging?

Photocredit: Shopping Cart by sanja gjenero courtesy of stock.xchng

Friday, August 31, 2007

31 Days: Days 22, 23 & 24


I've been seriously lagging in this 31 Day Blog Challenge. For me, the Challenge has worn thin.

The tasks are relentless -- every single day there's something new to do. And yet I feel compelled to continue and fulfill my duty to my fellow Challenge Participants.

Rather than tackle the last nine days in one really long post, I think I'll chunk things out a bit. For my sanity as well as yours.

Day 22: Catch Readers Up on the Basics of Your Blog

As your readership grows, new folks will be wandering in. The idea behind this task is make sure your new readers know what you're all about.

Some key questions Darren suggests you write about: Why did you start your blog? How is it designed to be used? How can readers connect/subscribe? How can readers get more involved? Where should new readers start?

I recently did this in my About Learning Visions page, which is now displayed prominently at the top of my sidebar.

The idea would be to periodically (say every couple of months) write a post answering one or two of the questions above to let any new readers know just what you're all about as a blogger. I'll keep this mind.

Task sort of completed, but one to think about in an ongoing fashion.


Day 23: Go on a Dead Link Hunt

Also known as "Link Rot", this is the phenomenon when items that you link to return the dreaded "Page not Found Error". So the answer is to periodically check your site to make sure that all your links are still valid and active.

Rather than go through each page and test each link manually, there are a number of tools you can use that will spider your site and check for links.

I tried Dead-Links.com and at first couldn't seem to get it to work for my Blogger blog. It only got as far as my main page and returned a link not found error. I came back again today and tried again. This time it seemed to "work." Dead-Links found what were supposedly a bunch of dead links, but I clicked on most of them and they worked just fine.

When Dead-Links wasn't working at first, I tried Google Webmaster tools. This was new to me and a nice discovery. Turns out there's a lot of tools in there, including a view of who's linking to you. I found a number of blogs that had linked to mine without my ever knowing!

If you're using Google Webmaster to check for dead links, you'll first need to claim and verify your site. I had to add a wee bit of code into my blog template. Once you've done that, go to the Diagnostics tab and choose "Web Crawl".

As far as I can tell, Google didn't find any dead links on my site. But this may simply be a dumb user not fully understanding the data I see.

So I think I can say task completed and also complete waste of my time.

Day 24: Do a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Audit
This is exactly the kind of task I hate and as Darren notes, definitely makes my head spin. The idea here is to make sure you're writing your posts in the best possible way to ensure they get picked up by the most readers and you get more hits and a better ranking.

Darren has a good post on the topic: Search Engine Optimization for Blogs -- SEO that you should read if you're interested in maximizing your search results.

"My main advice to people wanting to optimize their blogs for Search Engines is to keep it simple. Start with quality content on a specific topic and then tweak it using the best current advice going around."
I'll keep it as simple as that.

Task completed (in a completely half-assed way).


If you're just tuning in and would like to track my progress (or lack thereof) in the other days of the challenge, you can read more:

31 Days: Days 17, 18, 19 & 21
31 Days: Days 12, 13, 14, 15 & 16
31 Days: Days 8, 9, & 10
31 Days: Days 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 (I got my numbering off somewhere along the way)
31 Days: Days 1, 2 & 3

And check in with the other 31 Day Bloggers who are taking part in the great Chocolate Challenge:

Tim Davies
Eklavya
Kate Foy
Christine Martell
Michele Martin
Frances McLean
Alex Miller
Kate Quinn
Sue Waters
Laura Whitehead
Al Upton and the miniLegends