Supporting learning in the workplace through social media

How trainers can use social media


On my usual trawl through my Twitter stream, I came across a Tweet by Cammy Bean sharing a great interview she had with Jane Bozarth.

The interview lasts about an hour but it flew by. The interview is primarily to promote Jane’s new book “ Social Media for Trainers: techniques for enhancing and extending learning”. I was so impressed with how this could really help classroom trainers who are keen to start introducing social media into their programmes but are wondering exactly how to do it, that I went straight to Amazon to buy a copy. Unfortunately, it isn’t out yet here in the UK but I’ve put my order in.

From the interview though, one key point was close to my heart:
Jane says that “it’s naive and vain for us (trainers) to think that what really made a difference in an employee’s success or failure is the three weeks spent in a classroom with us…. What really makes or breaks an employee’s success in an organisation and up to whether they stay with you has a lot to do with what goes on in that workplace and we need to find a way to be more present there” She also mentioned that if trainers intend to be viable for another 20 years – we’d better.

I have often been disappointed in my past life as an IT trainer, that I couldn’t be there to support my learners after they left the 3 hours, sessions. They were mine for 3 hours (sometimes 6 if they decided to enroll on a double session) and there was an awful lot crammed in for them to try and remember. I knew most of them wouldn’t even touch the applications for ages. Yes, we sent them away with user manuals and the number of the help desk, but I really wanted to do more. There was just no scope for that. The trainers had to be out there, delivering 4 out of 5 days.

When I delivered training for an external training provider, we rarely had the opportunity to offer support to our learners in the work place. The learners were mine for days at a time with even more for them to try and remember when they went back to their organisations. There wasn’t any formal support offered when they’re back in the workplace but I just can’t stop there – I offer my Twitter address, Facebook page, or email and am always happy to answer any questions or talk round a problem. This is where social media is a valuable asset. And even better if we can get to talk to each other too and share ideas. If I can do this for people coming from all sorts of companies, just think how much more valuable social media can be within one organisation to provide workplace support.

We need to look beyond training and more to learning by providing more performance support to help people when they need us most.

What support do you or can you offer your learners after they leave the formal course?

Engaging e-learning – as easy as CSI!

Photo by George Prentzas on Unsplash

Creating engaging eLearning: Part 3

I’ve never been really interested in computer games in the past but then, what I classed as computer games was PacMan! The only box I was interested in sitting in front of was the TV – that seemed much more fun and engrossing.

Moreover, my imagination was captured more by superb writings of great authors. I was whisked away into a dark world of love and torment of Cathy and Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights; cryptic clues, excitement and intrigue of any Tom Clancy novel; to the zany adventures of Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy …… “so-long and thanks for the fish”. I was totally absorbed and read for days on end – often into the early hours. That’s how absorbed I was. I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about in computer games.

That was until recently. Now – I’m a big CSI fan, so when I discovered a CSI game for my Wii, a team of wild horses couldn’t stop me from grabbing it. I know CSI is far fetched but it is fascinating. Well….. that was it ….. for that weekend the remote had to be prised from my hot, sticky hands. I couldn’t wait for my husband to go to London so I could play unhindered and unchastised. One time right up until 3am! Now that’s sad!

What kept me so engrossed? So engrossed I didn’t notice how long I was actually playing? It was the pure fact that I became part of the CSI team. I searched scenes of crime for any piece of possible evidence. I interviewed suspects by choosing from a selection of questions. I put the clues together, reviewed the evidence and asked Brass for search warrants. Sometimes, these warrants weren’t issued because I hadn’t enough evidence – so I had to go back and search the scenes again, interview again, review the evidence again.


Taking inspiration into eLearning design

What can eLearning designers learn from this? Looking further into how we can put the learning back into eLearning let’s consider that for a moment.

Well, firstly, I was dropped in at the deep end immediately. I wasn’t sat in a virtual room with pages upon pages of rules and regulations, examples and theories before I could get out at the scene. I worked through the problem, analysing and making decisions as I went. I didn’t get all the answers right and had to revisit some, occasionally having to start again. But, hey, I could afford to make mistakes – it was a safe environment.

My new skills came from my own hard work and from the feedback from my CSI mentor who was there for any assistance I may have needed (although, the stubborn competitive streak in me meant it was rarely sought). I was able to remind myself what suspects said from the personal profiles built up as they were interviewed. I was given encouragement and praise where needed which built up my desire to succeed. What I didn’t get was a multiple choice quiz at the end – phew!

Now I’m not saying this has made me a fully qualified member of the CSI team to be let loose on real scenes of crime. After all – it is only a game. Just think what we could do if we took this across into realistic work situations and absorb our learners as deeply. It CAN be done. With a little imagination. Oh, and hard work of course. But – wow – what a difference it would make.

So how can we do this if we haven’t got access to simulation gaming technology?

More and more people are realising leaving that multiple choice quiz to the end of the e-learning doesn’t exactly test application. All it does is test immediate recall. So we chop it up a bit. What tends to happen now is eLearning is divided up into smaller chunks of information followed by a little practice quiz. Yes, it is a little better but it is still providing information up front with no opportunity to analyse and apply.

If there is one thing to learn from gaming it is to allow people to think for themselves first and try things out. “That’s all very well and good” I hear you say, “but learners still need information to work with and learn from”. This is true but it will be as feedback. More about feedback in future posts in this series.

Using normal rapid authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate, Articulate or Lectora, we can tell a story through pictures, voice-overs and/or speech bubbles. It is important to bring your learners into the heart of the action. Make them believe they are living the situation.

Your scenarios can built up over a number of slides while you introduce characters in the team. Give them a voice and make them ‘real’ with real problems to work through. Still images work perfectly for this. Your learners’ engagement will be with their minds as the visuals bring the situation to life. Short scenario-based questions can be like building pictures in your learners’ imaginations.

Stories have always worked well in the classroom so come on people – you can use them in e-learning too.

What does this do? It makes it real. It makes it believable. It makes it relevant and it will help people remember what they are supposed to do to do their job – not to regurgitate a piece of legislation.

Let’s rise up and rid the world of boring eLearning where we put the learner at the heart of the action. Stay tuned for future posts in this series on creating engaging eLearning where I will share some tips on learning through feedback.

Has mobile technology impacted how we email?

After recently reading an interesting article on Mashable about whether emailing habits have changed with the introduction mobile technology I thought I’d share my experiences since the purchase of my first smart phone (iPhone) in March this year. I certainly check more regularly. What’s really sad is when I check personal email, I usually check work. Do I need more of a work life balance? I guess so.

As for writing more e-mails – I usually wait until I’m back on my laptop unless an urgent response is needed. This is purely because I still can’t get on with these fiddley keyboards but am getting better. At the moment I’m writing this from my WordPress app on my iPhone. It’s slow going for a touch typist and I make more typos but I’m sure I’ll get better at it.

The big difference this new gadget has made is that I am constantly online. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I have a feeling it is feeding my addiction. I have no need to worry that I am alienating myself from my husband as I read through my RSS feeds, checking email, Tweeting or Facebooking – he’s doing exactly the same on the other sofa on his iPhone. Now that IS sad!


Putting the learning back in eLearning

Creating engaging eLearning Part 2

What do most people complain about when faced with the prospect of ‘doing a bit of eLearning’?

Boring – mind numbing and tedious. Slide after slide of text – why do we do that? Why do we reproduce pages of text in an authoring tool when that same information has already been produced and is sat in a Word document or PDF somewhere on the intranet? Are these walls of text there just to provide an excuse to have a multiple choice quiz at the end to ‘test’ their knowledge? Why do we give ourselves that extra work?

Last week I compared retail design to eLearning design. In this article I am going to explore more about what we need to consider when creating eLearning so it’s a great learning experience.

If we decide that it IS important for them to read the company policy then why not provide a link to it or make sure they know where to get to it and save the duplication? Better still, if it’s ‘e-information’ you want to create – be up-front about it and, please, put a little more thought into how engaging it looks for readability on screen.

A lot can be learned from all those remarkable SlideShare presentations and YouTube snippets. But if we are talking eLearning – now that’s a whole different ball game. Learning is about experiencing, thinking, doing and making decisions.


“I’d rather be in the classroom!”

Before we even start thinking about eLearning, perhaps we should first remind ourselves what good learning really is. Let’s think about classroom learning – and I mention classroom learning because that’s what most learners cite as a preference instead of ‘doing some eLearning’.

Why is It they prefer classroom?  Is it because a good classroom experience no longer consists of ‘death by PowerPoint’? Good classroom design and delivery involves the learner from the beginning. It includes critical thinking, scenario activities that are realistic and work related with a good balance of questioning and information.

All these are delivered skillfully by the facilitator drawing out learners’ opinions, thoughts and ideas. It involves opportunities for learners to apply their knowledge with practice and checking activities on work based projects or case studies. It allows them to apply critical thinking – not just answering multiple choice questions. Great classroom learning provides learners with the opportunities to collaborate discuss and share experiences as well as providing each other with support.

My question is why does this have to stop when we are designing eLearning? Why is it that all we know as learning specialists is forgotten or ignored when we are tasked with creating eLearning? It seems the learning has been taken out of eLearning (if it was ever there in the first place). Instead, we have been focusing too much on the ‘e’.

As learning designers, we can easily come up with superb, engaging activities that make the learners think critically such as scenarios, role plays, analysing data, and exercises. We know how to ask the right sort of guided questions to help our learners think more carefully about their answers. We know it is important to break down the activities in the classroom to bite sized chunks so they refocus and are able to work with each other in teams. The good news is we CAN make this happen in eLearning. We just need to be a little more creative in our thinking.

What would happen if we sat our learners down in a room and made them sit through dozens of screens of bullet points spewing out copious amounts of information? Or worse: being read to by the tutor? (Please don’t tell me you do that in your classrooms!)


“But we have built interaction in!”

OK, so what if we give the learners the power to stop us and rewind as many time as they need? Will that help them? I think not! How soon would they fall asleep? Pretty likely if you ask me! If we are lucky, they may stay to the end only to be faced with a few pages of multiple choice questions. That hardly tests their application of the theory to anything meaningful.

Most of us know how frustrating this experience can be so we try and improve it. We know that interaction is the key to good eLearning but our idea of interaction is clicking a button to move a screen forward.

We might go a little further and acknowledge that learners don’t want to see copious amounts of text on a screen all at once. So we hide it behind roll-overs. Now the interaction is a click combined with a slight movement of the mouse to reveal……. wait for it …….. more information.

Whilst this is acceptable in small doses it is still only information. True – it does make it more visually interesting but there is no real critical thought. OK, OK! Some people may learn like that but where is the application – where is their decision making?

We think that by ‘tarting’ up the slides so information is hidden behind cleverly thought up graphics or charts, this makes it ‘engaging’….. think again. It is a little like handing out envelopes in class for learners to open one by one just to discover a few more facts. Admittedly, it’s a little more fun than death by PowerPoint – but only just.

There is, however, light at then end of this eLearning tunnel. If we would normally ask guided questions in a classroom to gain an opinion we can do exactly the same in an eLearning module. The difference being that instead of waiting for someone to answer, we may have to give some realistic options for the learners to choose. In part three I’ll be looking at ideas for creating exciting and engaging eLearning and continuing on I’ll explore ideas on how we can think more creatively when introducing activities in eLearning, how we can help get the most out of our learners and encourage motivation.

Part 3: Engaging eLearning- as easy as CSI

Can eLearning designers learn from retail designers?

Creating engaging eLearning Part 1

Last night I was catching up with ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ where she was trying to help a dwindling DIY business based in a sizable village. On her arrival she was met with a busy shop front with all sorts of bric-a-brac displayed haphazardly outside. The windows were packed with notices of all shapes and sizes – that is if you could see them through the grime.

Once inside the shop, Mary was immediately faced with clutter, this DIY shop didn’t seem to know it was DIY store at all with greetings cards, ladies comfy shoes, toys and very dodgy ‘china’ products filling every nook and cranny of space. The result? Confusion and an urge to get out of there fast. What’s more, the staff didn’t seem to know anything about the products they sold so they couldn’t provide the customer with any help or advice.

To convince the shop owner there was need to change, they paid a visit to a well know DIY chainstore. What a difference. From the outside it was clear what the store did. Window displays were engaging and enticing. Once inside there were clear lanes well signposted and colour coded and staff were easily identified and conversant in their products but most of all there was….


Space to breathe, space to decide where to go, space to see things clearly.

The proprietor of the little DIY store didn’t get it…. look at all this wasted space…. imagine what else they could pack in and potentially sell. He really didn’t get it.

As I sat and watched I realised exactly the same was happening with eLearning. The little DIY store, poorly designed and set out was like poorly thought out, poorly designed elearning that is crammed full of information the learner doesn’t need for the task at hand. No space to breathe, confusing navigation and an urge to fill every bit of white space with something no matter how irrelevant.

Good eLearning is like the large DIY store – clear signage, lots of white space, clear navigation and time to think and choose the right route.

That’s where the analogy stops – I’m not saying the small organisations create poor eLearning or that large organisations create great eLearning – far from it. It is more to do with the ability and creativity of the designer not the size of the organisation.

So what can eLearning designers learn from this programme? 

Here are 10 top tips

1. Have a clear objective – know what you want to deliver
2. Think creatively
3. Give your learners space
4. Keep the information relevant to the task at hand
5. Give careful thought to aesthetics – learn some basic graphic design principles
6. Less is more
7. Set clear navigation
9. Allow your learner to think for themselves not confuse them with clutter
10. Provide help and support when needed

To quote Mary, “if you create a space that your customers enjoy being – they will enjoy buying” which is exactly what we need to achieve with great engaging eLearning.

What ideas do you have that we can borrow from retail?

Part 2: Putting the learning back in eLearning

Blaming the trainer?

If you can, do; if you can’t, teach. That phrase has always sat uneasy with me. I first heard it from a fellow student while studying art in Herefordshire College of Art and Design. He was referring to how the tutors at the college wouldn’t be there if they were any good at their calling. I always felt that was rather unfair – it is so hard to make a living as an artist (you only seem to make any decent money after you’re dead!).

Recent reports have brought into question the quality of L&D departments which reminded me of that phrase – and again, it sat uneasy with me. I think trainers are being given a rum deal from the anti L&D fraternity. It is clear that things need to change but is it really all the fault of L&D? Clive Shepherd, in his recent post “Rather than getting depressed, get going”, looks further than L&D at possible causes. In fact, I started penning this  before Clive’s was posted but he is so much more eloquent than I.

I know I may be biased, but I also feel the need to come to the defense of our trainers out there so I’ll continue with what I started before I read Clive’s post.

The speed of change is such that trainers do risk becoming the dinosaurs of the learning profession (see “Trainers of the Future” by Nick Shackleton Jones). If they continue to stick their heads in the sand (mixed metaphor but you get the gist) and fail to adapt their skills to become more learning facilitators rather than trainers they do themselves no favours. The future is more about helping people learn to learn and to support performance – and continue doing so.

I have heard first hand from trainers saying that they have been given the directive to design and deliver a training programme when they aren’t sure there is actually a training need. They try and convince the powers that be that it isn’t possible to deliver the amount of subject matter to an audience that large in such a short space of time but have no choice but to ‘work miracles’. They know they are not providing the best learning experience that they could deliver given half the chance, all too often they have their hands tied. I feel their frustration, they are full of enthusiasm to put new approaches into action only to realise that without the support of others in their organisation they will find it like swimming through treacle.

Nick Shackleton-Jones’ post also refers to trainers becoming more active in seeking out ‘the good stuff’. It is true we can’t carry on delivering the same old same old when information is at our fingertips (YouTube, Google, Twitter). I also believe that ‘learning professionals have a central role to play in the organisations of the future’.

However it is also the responsibility of the Company Owners, Directors, Team Leaders, Managers and Supervisors to provide the necessary support. They must empower learning professionals to create a streamlined learning culture, after all it’s their organisation that will benefit in the long run.

Let’s cut trainers some slack and give them the support they need to move forward.