Boldly Go


I actually own this.

I like Star Trek. I like it a lot, and I like it unironically. I actually own the pin pictured here, and the only disappointing thing about it is that I cannot use it to contact the bridge. Somewhere, there’s a VHS tape of me pretending to be a Vulcan in front of a blue screen at Universal Studios Orlando.

So, I’m a fan. One of the primary reasons I like Star Trek is its sunny optimism about the future. In the Federation, we’ve all worked our way to the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and we’re just enjoying the view with a replicated cup of Earl Grey.

People often reference the peacefulness of the United Federation of Planets or the lack of money and competition when discussing the Star Trek utopia, but the computer is a big part of this halcyon vision. On the shows, it is a constant benevolent presence that is often in stark contrast to our daily experience with computers. It is flexible and adaptable, accepting inputs in a variety of formats, and always providing outputs in a useful and meaningful format. Despite its omniscience, the computer is nonthreatening and discreet.

It appears they do training on the holodeck. I wonder if they have boring regulatory training with a holographically produced instructor?

You can buy the pin here.

Off Topic for #edcmooc

In happier MOOC news, I’m participating in the outstanding E-Learning and Digital Cultures course. Participants are asked to share the perspectives on the course through a blog or other format, so I’ll be doing that here.

This is Not the Course You’re Looking For

I was participating in the short-lived and ill-fated Fundamentals of Online Education course on before it was shut down. Inside Higher Ed has a good overview of what happened with the course. As the article notes, there were problems with the group assignment process, but that was really just the beginning of the problems in the course.

I was concerned when I started viewing the videos. I didn’t think to get a screen capture, but the slides were poorly designed, with an unrelated graphic element taking up the top third of the screen, a difficult-to-read display font, and a lot of text. The instructor essentially read the slides. The material was presented as a very limited overview of concepts. Various learning theories were presented without any discussion of whether or how they were scientifically supported or any controversy or disagreements (also, are we really still teaching people about learning styles?).

An acquaintance of mine told me recently how she left her learning and development master’s program for a degree in liberal studies after seeing the adult learning professors fail to adhere to everyone of their espoused best practices. This course was quite a bit like that.

It’s easy to criticize the work of others, and I’m certain that developing a MOOC is challenging. But it’s not an impossible task – Kevin Werbach led a great course on Gamification. And it’s not unreasonable to expect an expert in the development of learning experiences to provide a good learning experience. The instructor has emailed the students indicating that the course may return after retooling. I hope those efforts don’t stop with group assignment.


I am mildly obsessed with dabbawallas. Several months ago, I was watching the India special of Top Gear when they described Mumbai’s mind-boggling businessman’s lunch delivery service. They mentioned the dabbawallas’ error rate is 1 in 16 million – in other words, they deliver a meal to the wrong place or fail to deliver in 1 in 16 million deliveries.

This is a better than six sigma accuracy rate in a massive, chaotic city in a developing country for a process with very little automation carried out by often-illiterate laborers. Their process is simple, repeatable, and relies on the knowledge and resourcefulness of the wallas (who have to use shortcuts or less-traveled routes to overcome traffic jams). Their success is a reminder that we don’t have design every process or procedure to the smallest detail to get consistent results, and that we can rely on the judgement and knowledge of non-professional workers.


There’s a short article in USA Today about retailers using apps to help shoppers find items in their stores (link). The article mentions that an estimated 20% of retail sales are lost because shoppers can’t find items! I was thinking about how people are becoming more and more accustomed to on-demand performance support in their daily lives, and about how much productivity and efficiency we’re losing when (20%?) when we don’t provide that in the workplace.

And then it occurred to me – the places that really needs this kind of app are hospitals! Typically cobbled together over decades from buildings of different sizes and aesthetics, hospitals are always tough to navigate. Wayfinding is a perpetual challenge for hospitals and the current state of the art is offering maps, trying to optimize signage and encouraging staff members to walk patients and visitors to their destination. The effectiveness of these methods are spotty (just as they are in the [much simpler] retail environment). An accurate wayfinding app could be a terrific boon to satisfaction in the hospital environment.

Does Apophis Use PowerPoint?

It seems like the debate over “good” and “bad” elearning authoring tools is heating up again. Over the past few weeks I have seen the topic come up across several social media platforms. I think it has been triggered by the release of Articulate Storyline. The usual point of contention in these discussions is PowerPoint, and whether “good” elearning can be developed in that software (spoiler alert: yes!).

PowerPoint is limited – you cannot do everything that custom Flash development can. But you can still powerfully educate and inform, and even move people. One of the biggest proponents of PowerPoint in my life is my 9-year-old daughter. This Mother’s Day she made a PowerPoint presentation for me. The presentation is not about mothers, or even about me. It is about the ancient Egyptian pantheon.

Hieroglyphs and the gods and godess too (this is a PowerPoint show [.ppsx] file)

I may have to have a talk with her about her use of transitions.

Sincerest Form of Flattery

I’m still relatively new in my job, and the job is a new one for the organization. This means that there are still many people who do not know who I am or how I can help them. I’ve been holding meetings (lots and lots of meetings) to get the word out, but recently I got a terrific idea for how to market my services.

Inspired by Nicole Legault, I created an infographic to describe my role. I could use it to demonstrate my design skills, as well as leave colleagues with some key information about elearning, me and my role. Read the rest of this entry

The Conversation of Ultimate Disambiguation

ImageAs an instructional designer, I’m having many conversations lately with people to explain why I’m not going to do what they want. These conversations are happening because we’re making a big leap in the quality of our elearning offerings. We’re making the transition from order-takers to designers, and my director has tasked me with leading that charge. What people often want me to do is to take the PowerPoint file that they have carefully prepared, add the multiple choice questions they have written, and upload it to our LMS.

Instead, I’m treating that PPT as a jumping-off point. I’m asking many questions – and sometimes suggesting other, non-elearning solutions. The most important question I’m asking is, “What problem are you trying to solve?” And often that answer indicates that elearning is not the best (or at least not on its own) way to solve that problem.

Elearning has a strange reputation in this organization. Everybody dreads “LMS modules” but committees and managers repeatedly identify them as a way to solve behavioral, cultural or procedural problems. It is as if people simultaneously believe that elearning can teach nothing and solve everything. So I have to begin with education about what elearning is and what is can (and cannot) do well. In an organization of over 8,000 people, that has to be done over and over, often group by group and even person by person.

And it involves saying “no” politely, diplomatically, constructively, and repeatedly.

Why Draw Something Counts as Work

CNET reported today that the Draw Something, the social drawing game, is rapidly decreasing in popularity. When the same word pops up for the 15th time, it isn’t hard to understand why people might be moving on to other diversions. But I’m still pretty hooked on it, and I’m finding that it has some elearning relevance, to boot.

Draw Something forces you to create a quick visual graphic for a short word or phrase, and then asks your friend to guess the word or phrase based on your drawing. How does this help you design better elearning?

Practice Visual Thinking – Converting the word into a quickly drawn picture requires creativity and visual thinking. How do you show “wildfire” on a tiny screen with about half a dozen colors? In that case, I drew a forest, then added fire and smoke to it. One of the central questions in elearning design is, “how can I show this rather than tell it?” Draw Something asks you that question every time you play a turn. 

Learn How Others Think Visually – A not-insignificant part of instructional design is making guesses – guesses informed by education, training and experience, but guesses nevertheless. Draw Sometime provides anecdotal information about how others think visually and what components of an idea are the most relevant and meaningful to them. When I guess someone’s drawing, I (naturally) think about how I would have drawn that item and contrast our approaches. 

So… taking Draw Something turns is professional development, right?

The First Department They Cut…

"We're here to tell you that your position has been eliminated."Earlier this year, my job in a training department was eliminated (along with several others). Fortunately, my skill set and professional connections helped me get re-employed very quickly. My new role is very elearning focused, and I’m excited to delve more deeply into this field. Read the rest of this entry