Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Making Six Sigma Training Fun

So Many Ducks OK. Maybe it's not possible to make Six Sigma eLearning fun. But I've tried.

And to be honest, it wasn't quite Six Sigma, but close.

This manufacturing process training course was originally delivered as a four hour plus death-by-PowerPoint classroom session (if you could see the original PPT source content, you'd begin glazing over within a few slides).

I went out on a few limbs here and tried to design something different. Within certain parameters as defined by the client (of course).

Here's some of what I tried to incorporate in order to (we hope) create an engaging experience:

Less is More. Cut, cut, cut.

Cut my breath

Of course, SMES pushed back on this approach during story board review.

But when I hear someone telling me that this is the spot in the classroom session when the users start drooling and staring out the window, don't you think that's a good place to simplify?

Storyline. I created characters that the learner follows throughout the course. "Meet Pete and his team." Learn from this manufacturing group and how they applied these principles to their work place.

And we made it fun. Rubber Ducks! Everyone loves rubber ducks, right? Applying concepts to a fun, but real-world scenario to ensure better knowledge transfer and retention.

Got some pushback on this one, again from the SMEs. "Is it too juvenile?"

Devil DuckWhen reviewing the alpha version of the course, I made sure to have their team have actual end-users take the course and see what their responses were.

End-users thought it was fun. SMEs felt a bit threatened by this fun take on their sacred content. The juries still out.

Games! We created three or four mini-games scattered throughout the course to test concepts. Of course, we used rubber ducks whenever possible to create some fun graphics and exercises. For design inspiration, I took a few pages out of Karl Kapp's book Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning.

Using Audio. I tried to make more effective use of audio. Avoided reading text heavy pages word-for-word. But I got pushback. "Unless there's audio on every page, our user's will think it's broken..."

Better Assessment Questions. I wrote scenario based questions that were about context and concepts -- not rote memorization skills.

Navigation. I tried, but couldn't convince my client to go with open navigation. We had to go with lockouts, meaning the learner must go through the topics in order and can't advance to the next topic until the previous topic has been completed. Alas.

Overall Feedback. So far, the client likes it, but there's some uncertainty. "This is unlike anything we've done before." Which can be a good thing and a bad thing, right?

Do you think I went too far with the rubber duck motif? Did I threaten a sacred cow?

Photo Credits:


Anonymous said...


Although I like to think I'm good-humored, I am leery of "humor" or "fun" (scare quotes are deliberate) injected into training like salt water into a frozen turkey.

By that I mean you can't just smear "fun" on and make training better, as if it's some kind of cognitive Clearasil.

That said, I think the rubber duck idea sounds great. The key is having the overall model case fit the client situation. If they were a manufacturer, I'd talk about manufacturing rubber ducks. If they were an info services company, I'd focus on how we land and manage the Acme Rubber Duck outsourcing business.

Your scenario-based questions should help allay the client's fears. Six Sigma is not (as in "should not") be about decoding acronyms and stating how many babies get dropped on their heads; it's about using data to identify and solve problems worth solving.

Oh, and next time you see your experts, tell them the saga of the actual rubber ducks that fell off a cargo ship in the Pacific in 1992. The sturdy little ducks (and their turtle, beaver, and frog buddies) have been plowing round the world ever since.

Cammy Bean said...

Dave...oh good. I'm glad you're on board with my ducks!

You're absolutely right about trying to smear fun onto eLearning. When it's gratuitous, it's just goopy and gloppy and completely annoying.

By the way, that same rubber duck story inspired a children's book by Eric Carle: 10 Little Rubber Ducks

Anonymous said...

Anybody knows that rubber ducks can make a real splash.

Anonymous said...

Cammy, I think what you have done with your eLearning is GREAT! People are so boring, and completely stupid sometimes about how they can best present their material.

I really like the ideas you've put forward. As an advocate for eLearning myself, and as a professional creating eLearning, I totally know what you're talking about in regards to your clients not being 100% sure of your ideas.

One of the beauties of eLearning is that it is flexible and can be changed! (not that that is your preference when you've put all this work in... but, you know...).

Good luck with all this, and I hope they come to their senses!!

Dr. Christiana said...

I would enjoy a class that involved rubber ducks! I am a MAJOR fan of FISH! It's not much more adult than rubber duckies. Sometimes, I think learners like to "get away" and have some fun in training.

More on FISH!: http://www.charthouse.com/content.aspx?name=home2

John David Roberts said...


Let me say "thank you" for training folks everywhere. Because you helped change the client's view of what they're doing - from rebuilding okay training, which only requires project management, to leveraging the medium for better training, which requires that they think and use their imaginations.

Even if you warn clients that together we're all in for a shakedown cruise that will change your assumptions about using elearning, it's hard for clients to hear that. Yeah, you touched a nerve here. It's a thankless task. So again, thank you.

And ducks? I recently heard a science news story that suggests that the evolutionary purpose of laughter is to say to the social group "this isn't aggression, this is safe." Some scientists believe they've found another large primate, besides us, that does it. That's what laughter tells us about humor, which is essentially a brain to brain communication with high levels of recognition and trust. I think that's what "it's fun" feedback may mean. So if target learners think it's fun, then they are also likely disarmed enough to learn. They trust you.

Quack quack. John

Vineetha said...

Hi Cammy,

I think your ideas are great. Learning should never be about just sitting back and looking at slides while listening to a voice droning on about just theories without being set in context. The kind of content you've mentioned definitely needs to be set in a scenario that learners can identify with and the scenario-based games you've used should be spot-on! Wait a while..the client should be coming back to you for more "fun" courses! :)

Clark said...

Cammy, your approach is just ducky! Seriously, you're putting in principles I keep trying to get accomplished: lean and mean, humorous, storyline, etc. Great stuff. I'm particularly thrilled with using scenarios (naturally :). Now, if only you had some comic strips or graphic novel stuff...

Keep pushing, and getting the user's experience is a great technique to convince the skeptics.

Wendy said...

Thank you thank you thank you for the case study.

In response to your comment on my blog - it's all about applying the results of our navel-gazing, not just the act of navel-gazing that gives the navel-gazing value.

The more folks who do and share, the more who can do, the more we can convince others (our SMEs, who may not appreciate ducks or fish or small flying chickens) that we really know what we are doing (even if we're just winging it too).

Anonymous said...

Cammy, I like your approach and know that it works. Most instructional designers are in the unfortunate position of having to unlearn everything they have learned if they want to actually design learning. Also, as I see you are aware, somewhere along the line we separated the design of something from the delivery of that same thing, and the two group actually have different goals. So it goes in the world we live in. I will wager you that anyone attending 4 years of instructional design programs did not even once consider how to make learning fun. Yet that is the quickest way to help people learn something. Ironic, like most things in organizations. Keep it up, the weirder the looks you get, the more it is working.

Cammy Bean said...

Thanks, everyone, for your support and comments! If I had the time right now I'd send you all a follow up email with some insightful comment, but I'm on huge deadline (maternity leave starts tomorrow)...

I'll keep pushing the envelope on my end where possible. That's the message I'm getting from all of you...and I hope you can do the same in your spheres!

It's a revolution...

Anonymous said...

Humor is good. Jokes not so much.

Maternity leave, of course, is good if you've got a few weeks to prepare...which means sitting in a hot bath with a bunch of rubber ducks.
Kudos on your work - it sounds great and a lot like giving birth. Best wishes for that work too!

Anonymous said...

Ducky idea!... the only snag may be whether or not the concept hits the mark. If its too vague then it may require to much thought, and if that's the case it may just may fall flat... either way very noble of you in your efforts to make lean six sigma training fun... that's just advice, but from a personal standpoint, if there were waddling ducks at my six sigma training, I would have been delighted. Here's knowledgeable site on the subject if anyone is interested: http://www.statamatrix.com. Stay ducky with it!