Can we use scenarios to teach concepts?

Here at action mapping central, we’re all about scenarios — realistic activities that help people practice what they need to do on the job.

“That’s all fine,” some people say. “But people need to be taught basic concepts before they can apply them. You can’t just throw people into an activity without first teaching them the concepts.”

I say that yes, we can throw them into an activity that requires knowledge that they don’t yet have. The trick is to make that knowledge available for them to draw on as they need it.

Here’s a basic example.

Measuring tape

Add fractions without knowing how to add fractions

Let’s consider the plight of people in the US, the land of feet and inches. When calculating building supplies, Americans often need to add fractions.

Our learners are American construction workers or similar people who often need to figure out the total length of two boards. We’re designing elearning.

A lot of designers would say, “First we need to show them a video on how to add fractions. Then we need to provide an example in which Pablo the friendly foreman adds the length of two different boards and explains step by step how he does it. Then we’ll let the learners do it with two other boards. This is tell, show, do, which everyone knows is the best way to teach.”

Let’s try it a different way. Let’s make me one of the learners. Math was not my best subject.

  • I’m plunged into an activity that requires me to figure out the total length of a 5-foot, 2 1/2″ board plus a 3-foot, 4 3/8″ board. I’m trying to determine if I can put them end-to-end to get the length required for my porch deck. I realize I have no clue how to calculate the total length.
  • I click the optional link called “How to add fractions.” I see a quick tutorial on how to do it in general. If I had remembered anything from math class, this tutorial probably would have been enough for me.
  • I apply what I learned in the tutorial to the problem, but I’m not sure I’m doing it right. The answer I got is one of the options, but something seems wrong about it.
  • I click the other link, called “See how to solve it.” This shows me the first step to solving the problem and then displays a “Next” link, giving me the option to see the next step. When I click “Next,” I see the next step, and I finally understand what I need to do. I go back to the problem and solve it. If I didn’t get it after seeing the first two steps, I could have kept clicking until I saw all the steps and the actual solution.
  • The course also offers a downloadable, printable job aid that includes a quick reminder of how to add fractions, so I can look at it on the job.

​This is a very different way of “teaching” stuff. Its advantage over “tell, show, do” is that it puts control in the learner’s hands. People who already know how to add fractions simply complete the activity and move along quickly, while people like me who don’t know the method stop, learn it, and then apply it.

​Since this is self-paced elearning, we could adapt it to the learner. If someone views the support materials before solving the first fraction-adding problem, we schedule another fraction-adding problem for them (and maybe another and another, depending on how they seem to perform). In contrast, the people who solve the first problem without help move on immediately to a different type of activity, because they’ve shown that they can already add fractions.

The advantages

Each person gauges for themselves how much they know, seeing and filling their own knowledge gaps. Everyone goes at their own pace, digging deep into the how-to material or skipping it. No one has to sit through a presentation about stuff they already know.

And, importantly, the designer shows that they respect the learners as functioning adults with life experience. For a lot more about that, see the recording of our recent webinar on motivation.

For research that supports this approach, see my post Throw them in the deep end and the FAQ Where’s the research support for scenarios?

Scenario design course: Seats still available

There are still seats available in the scenario design course that starts on Feb. 6. Learn to design scenarios by designing scenarios, with personal feedback from me. Sign up here.

Vote for topics

What do you want to hear about in this blog or future webinars? Enter your own ideas and vote on others’ here. To add an idea, click “Give feedback.”

Photo credit: lungstruck Flickr via Compfight cc; cropped

Video: 3 ways to motivate

How can we help learners feel autonomy, competence, and relatedness? Here’s a video of the webinar I recently ran on that topic, plus a summary of what we talked about.

Training design: 3 ways to motivate learners from Cathy Moore on Vimeo.

It’s all about self-determination

According to self-determination theory, when people are externally motivated, they simply obey someone else’s rules (“I do it because the boss is watching”). They might feel resentment or anxiety, and they probably perform the behavior just well enough to stay out of trouble.

Our goal as trainers is to get people to adopt the new behavior as their own and perform it willingly and well — we want them to become more internally motivated.

Research seems to support the idea that people are more likely to become internally motivated if we support their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. (For a lot more on that, see this PDF overview.)

Sample activities

To see what that might look like in activity design, we looked at a simple compliance activity and these two branching scenarios:

The activities we looked at don’t make you sit through an information presentation. You’re just plunged into each activity, as described in this blog post.

We focused on self-paced activities rather than all types of training because the activities are easiest to show on a screen during a webinar, and our time was limited. However, the concepts we discussed also apply to other formats and materials, including job aids and live training.

Autonomy

We took a quote from the paper to define autonomy as “a sense of choice, volition, and freedom from excessive external pressure toward behaving or thinking a certain way.”

When talking about practice activities, we could consider autonomy at two levels. The first, shallow level is user choice: “Now I will click this other thing in this boring click-to-reveal.” The second and more interesting is a deeper sense of freedom from feeling like someone is telling us what to think.

See the video for the lively discussion among participants about how well the sample activities supported that deeper sense of autonomy. We then summed up our recommendations as a group.

We decided we could do the following to support autonomy in self-paced activities.

  • Offer relevant scenarios with authentic choices
  • Offer optional, on-demand resources rather than assuming ignorance and forcing people to sit through presentations
  • Let people take risks
  • Show the consequence of each choice by continuing the story and letting people draw conclusions, rather than telling them, “Incorrect, blah blah blah” (see this blog post for an example)
  • Provide a clear goal for the person to achieve in the activity (beat the competition to the news story; help Hana) so they see a compelling reason to complete it

Competence

We considered three aspects of competence:

  • “I can do this!”
  • “Oops, I screwed up here, but I see how to fix it.”
  • “I’ve got the basics now. Give me something harder.”

After gauging how well the sample activities supported our need for competence, we summed up our recommendations:

  • Use scaffolding — for example, start with easier activities and then build on them
  • Show the consequence of the choice and offer constructive feedback, not the shaming red X and “Incorrect”
  • Don’t offer too-obvious options in a scenario — they insult people’s intelligence
  • Don’t obviously track people — it suggests, “We don’t trust you to learn anything”

I’d add that an intuitive interface also supports our need to feel competent, as do easy-to-use job aids and other support materials.

Relatedness

Finally, we looked at the need for relatedness. This was defined as a sense of belonging or connection with others, and feeling respected and cared for by the “teacher.”

The compliance-style activity was a little low on relatedness. However, even it managed to make us care a bit because we were trying to save a person with a name (Magda) rather than answering an abstract fact check.

The branching scenarios were rich in relatedness, and participants said they wanted to help Hana and didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of Ludo. We cared how our decisions affected people who we knew were completely fictional.

We decided that to support relatedness in our activities, we could:

  • Provide realistic characters with names
  • Create characters that aren’t perfect
  • Choose relatable situations that inspire empathy and that have emotional content
  • Have the learner collaborate with characters towards a goal
  • Choose a story that has the learner help others or be helped (or both)
  • Write realistic dialog (see some tips)

Relatable characters have names. Running out of name ideas? Try FakeNameGenerator, which creates names from all over the world (thanks, Amy, for finding that!). Another is uinames.com.

I’d also add that we can build relatedness by writing like a human being rather than a bureaucrat. You can even measure how human you sound, and contractions are your friend.

My thanks go out to all the participants, including the determined few in Australia who got up at 4 AM! Thanks for sharing your ideas, comments, and questions.

Scenario design course starts soon

If you like the discussion-rich approach I used in the webinar, you’ll like the scenario design course that starts in February. The groups are much smaller for more personal attention, and you get my private feedback on your work. Check it out!

Webinar: 3 ways to motivate learners

Let’s talk about motivation in a quick webinar on Tuesday, January 16. How can we help people feel respected, capable, and part of a community when they’re using our materials?

Three ingredients for motivation

unmotivated catOur job is to change what people do. However, we don’t want them to obey like robots — we want them to see why they should do it and happily incorporate the new behavior into their lives.

Research suggests that people are more motivated to do something if we satisfy their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. How can we support those with some simple changes to our training design?

Join our 45-minute online discussion

Let’s get together online on Tuesday, January 16, to talk about how our activity design can help or hurt people’s willingness to act. We’ll meet for free at 12 PM EST / 5 PM GMT using Zoom, which requires you to download a small app. Sign up here (seats are limited).

In 45 lively minutes, we’ll look at elements such as:

  • Feedback: Avoid “telling” and preachiness — let them feel respected and capable of drawing the right conclusion; create relatedness by sounding like a friendly peer (here’s an example)
  • Information: Let people pull the information they need, when they need it; use scaffolding to increase difficulty — support their autonomy, let them build competence at their pace
  • “Voice” in elearning — How can we make lonely, self-paced activities feel more “human” to help people feel relatedness?

Come share your questions and ideas! This will be a discussion with lots of activity in the chat.

Check out these activities

Before the webinar, try the following activities and consider how they might help or hurt people’s sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. What works, and what doesn’t?

Consider submitting an activity or idea

Do you have some materials that could inspire discussion about motivation? Do you know about a public example that we could critique? Send them to me and maybe we’ll include them in the webinar. Obviously, you need to have permission to publicly show any materials that you send.

Maybe learn a bit about self-determination theory

The webinar is based on self-determination theory, which has been around for some time and appears to be supported by several studies. You might read this overview (PDF).

Can’t make the webinar?

Digital elves will be recording the session, and if they do their job right, I’ll post the recording on the blog. If you’re a blog subscriber, you’ll get a notification when the recording is available.

Vote for more topics

What would you like to talk about in future webinars or read about on the blog? Vote for others’ ideas or propose your own here. To add an idea, use the “Give feedback” button.

Dig deeper into activity design with the February scenario design course

The next scenario design course starts the week of Feb. 5. In four weeks of lively sessions, you’ll apply action mapping and scenario design to a project from your job and get personal feedback from me. There are online sessions for time zones in the Americas as well as Europe and South Asia. Check them out!

An Australia-friendly session of the course is tentatively scheduled for June. If you aren’t already on the alert list, sign up to be notified when the next course is open for registration.

Image credit: Unmotivated cat by katkabob

5 Tips To Encourage Employees To Comply With Compliance Training

It’s important that employees comply – for the good of their own and the organization. To do so, your compliance program needs to be engaging enough to help them internalize and apply the learning. In this article, I share 5 tips that will encourage your learners to comply with compliance training.

How To Encourage Employees To Comply With Compliance Training

There are 3 key reasons why employees dread compliance training:

    1. Compliance courses can be boring. When you throw at your learners dry concepts such as dos and don’ts and a set of guidelines you want them to follow, you’ve got to expect some boredom at the other end.
    2. Add to that the fact that they’re taking the course because you’re asking them to and you have more reasons to fear that learners may not be able to relate to, internalize, and apply the information.
    3. Besides, learners are not quite fond of the traditional going through of information followed by a quiz. If there’s nothing in the course that can engage them, nine out of ten times you’re likely to put your learners off. This will have a direct impact on the learning effectiveness and eventually your ROI on Compliance trainings.

It is evident that these aspects must be taken into consideration if we want to engage the employees effectively with the compliance mandate and instill the spirit of “why comply with compliance training”.

What Can Be Done To Make Compliance Training Engaging For Learners?

Before getting on to the tips to get your learners to engage meaningfully with compliance trainings, I would like to outline what should not be done:

    1. Don’t treat compliance training like a bitter pill that everyone should swallow (even though it will make them feel better).
    2. Don’t make the information preachy or prescriptive (adult learners hate this).
    3. Don’t use the most predictable format in eLearning – page turner and a quiz (avoid “boring” formats).

What Are The Tips That Will Encourage Employees To Comply With Compliance Training?

Instead, you can use the following tips to encourage your employees to comply.

1. Change The Tone Of Communication.

Instead of focusing on only the dos and don’ts, highlight why a given approach is mandated. As adults, we are likely to pay heed if the consequences are laid out clearly so outline the consequences of non-conformance to the learner and to the business. However, as you do so, make sure that you don’t throw legal jargon at your learners. Instead:

    1. Use the complex situations and present them in a simplified way to your learners.
    2. Put your learners in dilemma situations and ask them to choose the right thing to do.
    3. It doesn’t stop there. Show them the consequences of the decision they took and pose another challenge to check if they’ve learnt from the previous one.

2. Provide Flexibility To Learners.

Rather than making the completion of training as a “mandatory course to be completed in the next 7 days”, provide flexibility to learners. By opting for mLearning or mobile learning, you can easily provide the control to the learners encouraging to learn on the device of their choice and learning when they want to. Once they have this flexibility, they will take up that compliance course when they “want to” rather than when they “have to”.

3. Innovative formats.

Do away with traditional eLearning course designs where learners have to laboriously wade through high volume of content. Instead, opt for innovative approaches that will increase the engagement quotient manifold. Some of the approaches we have used include:

    • Gamification.
    • Partial gamification.
    • Scenario-based.
    • Story-based (storytorials).
    • Personalizing the experience for learners: We did this by using “avatars” that they can relate to and conveyed the message on compliance effectively.

4. Leverage On The Current Trends That Engage Learners.

Today, you can integrate microlearning and social learning easily into your compliance learning strategy.

Use the innovative, bite sized format of microlearning to get your message through more effectively. Also, use social learning to create communities of compliance practice to drive the required behavioral change.

Take a look at this short video to see how you can make your compliance courses engaging using gamification and microlearning approaches.

5. Continue The Engagement After The Formal Training.

Provide reinforcement post the formal training through Performance Support Tools (just-in-time learning aids or job aids) that are bite sized and can be made available to learners on their smartphones. This will help them retain the message and increase the probability of its application. You can use this channel to update specific aspects, highlight consequences (through case studies or real world examples), and practice sessions (real life scenarios).

I hope the article provides you with the cues that will enrich your compliance training strategy thereby increasing the engagement with your learners. If you have any queries on how you can uplift your existing learning strategy to make your compliance courses engaging and fun, do contact me.

Source: https://www.eidesign.net/5-tips-to-encourage-employees-to-comply-with-compliance-training/

Ideas l Tips l Examples

elearning2

If you have struggled to find some Adobe Captivate examples for sources of inspiration, then feel free to check out my online portfolio.  It only makes sense that potential employers, hiring managers, fellow e.Learning professionals, coworkers, etc. want to see what you’re made of, then having some work examples seems like the obvious answer.

I have been using Adobe Captivate since it’s initial launch back in 2004.  I know that dates me, but it should provide a bit of context as I describe my journey with this software.  My first nightmare occurred after working for a month on a course.  I hadn’t created a copy of it nor were there things like the ‘Adobe Captivate Cached Projects’ in existence.  When I finally reached a support person at Adobe, I was told that I was basically out of luck.  My despair reached epidemic proportions.  Since that time, I have this tic that makes me hit ‘CTRL‘S’ every 5 minutes to prevent another such debacle.

I will provide a few tips & tricks that I’ve learned over the years if anyone is in need of ways to make this software work for you.

1. If you want to create, enhance or improve the complexity of your course, animations, functionality, branching options, reporting tools, etc. simply export the course into Adobe(R) Flash(R).  If you know how to use Flash, then you’ll find this option completely liberating.  I have found that Flash is a much more stable application and one that reads Captivate files quite easily.

2. When creating a new course, do a mass import of all assets (such as icons, images, audio files, animations, etc.)  All you have to do is go over to the ‘Library’ tab and select the ‘Import‘ folder.  You can import everything that you want; saving you time, effort and hassle.

3. Rename all the assets in your ‘Library’.  Although it is a bit tedious, it will save you lots of time later on, when trying to remember where in the world that image, icon, photo or object is in  your library.

4. Take the time to set up the defaults before starting the course creation.  It really will save you lots of time later if you make sure that all of your ‘Preferences’ are set the way you want. Things like default font for captions, length of slides, etc. can be chosen before starting to build your course.

5. If you want to make universal changes to your captions, take the easy route by exporting your Project Captions.  It will export into a Word document that is formatted with your content in a ‘table’.  Simply change all your captions there and then import them back into your Captivate file.

6. Beware of the Quiz slides.  I have found that this is REALLY buggy.  I go nuts trying to get these slides to work.  It doesn’t matter what Captivate version I use, the Quiz just never seems to work the way I want.  Reporting is another nightmare.  So, I typically put the Quizzes or Knowledge Checks into a separate Captivate file.

What’s the real cost of eye candy?

When you’re designing a practice activity, such as a mini-scenario, your time and money are limited. So what should you prioritize?

A stakeholder might insist you create lots of graphics, also known as “eye candy.” However, making those images cuts into the time you need to design a challenging activity.

The cost of eye candy is often a too-easy activity. When I’m cranky, I’d say a lot of elearning suffers from this. It’s strong for the eyes but weak for the brain.

What would happen if we invested less in eye candy and more in designing deep challenges? Would this really bring about the apocalypse, as some stakeholders appear to think?

Let’s compare two activities

I created two activities to help instructional designers practice the initial conversation with their client. The goal is to steer the conversation away from “Make me a course” and toward “Help me solve this performance problem.” What happened when I spent hours creating graphics for one of the activities?

Activity 1: Graphics and slides ate my brain

I made this first activity many years ago using Keynote (like PowerPoint) and converting it to HTML5. The process was similar to using a slide-based tool.

Give it some time to load; it’s old and a little stiff. If you’re reading this in email or a feed reader, you may need to go to the blog site.

 
This is a weak activity. It’s way too easy and shallow. It was also a pain to build, requiring a separate flowchart to keep track of the branching. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me six hours to write and produce this, even though it has only six decision points. You can read more about the development in the original blog post.

Activity 2: Just one photo and lots more brain

Here’s the same type of conversation, but developed with just one photo and lots more branching. Can you win the client and avoid an information dump? Click the image to play the activity.

Screenshot of scenario-based training for instructional designers

I spent eight hours writing and producing this, two hours more than I spent developing the much simpler scenario. The simpler scenario has only six decision points and can be clicked through in seconds. This activity has 57 decision points, requires actual thought, and encourages exploration.

I saved time by using a tool that makes it easy to manage branches and that combines writing and production (I first used BranchTrack and then switched to Twine for more control over the look and feel).

Another big savings came from not searching for multiple images showing Ann and Luis with subtly different expressions. Since many stock photos show overacted expressions, I probably would have ended up doing a custom photo shoot with some friends, cutting drastically into my design time and spending others’ time as well. However, for the type of discussion in the scenario, seeing every eyebrow twitch isn’t necessary, so photos aren’t necessary.

It’s not just the tool, it’s the priorities.

Using the right tool definitely helped — it was far easier to manage the branching in Twine.

However, for the second activity, I also decided that I didn’t need to find multiple photos, create an order-taker meter, and strain my limited graphic design skills to arrange everything on the slide. I quickly found one stock photo, lightened it a bit, and spent the rest of my time writing a more subtle, realistic challenge.

Test it on your learners!

You might be thinking, “But everyone expects our stuff to look snazzy!” Maybe they’re used to bling, but they could discover that they prefer more substance.

Try testing a subtle, text-only decision-making activity on some learners. Maybe try a branching scenario that requires them to deal with an employee called Bob, whose “Just kidding!” snarky comments are inspiring complaints, but don’t include photos of Bob or anyone else. If it’s a strong activity, people will immediately dig into it, chasing after the best ending. When they’re done, ask them, “Do you care that you never saw a photo of Bob?”

I do that in my scenario design course. I send participants to a downright ugly text-only scenario without any preparation. When they come back to the discussion, they want to talk about the ending they got. When I ask if they cared that there was no picture of the person in the story, almost everyone says they didn’t care. They were too interested in solving the problem. They easily imagined the person, and some say that a picture would actually interfere.

I’ve seen it work.

I’ve also seen this work in the field, with cross-cultural training in the US Army. You might be familiar with the graphically rich Haji Kamal activity. That was one part of a large project. We also developed several other branching scenarios that were just text printed on paper, with directions like “Turn to page 9” next to an option. The paper scenarios were popular with the same demographic, at one point inspiring so much discussion that the bell rang to end class and they didn’t want to leave.

So before you believe “They’ll reject it if it doesn’t have slick graphics!” test a strong text-only scenario on your learners.

Photos can add problems

Unnecessary photos of people can even create problems. Each person in a photo is a specific race, age, and gender, which someone might interpret in ways we don’t intend. Each person is wearing clothes that can quickly look dated or are too culturally specific. I’ve heard that many stock photos look “too American.”

What I’m not saying

I’m not saying, “Lots of eye candy is a sign of a fluffy activity” or “Lack of eye candy is a sign of a challenging activity.” I’m saying that we all have a limited budget of time and money. The amount of that budget that we spend on bling takes away from what we could spend on writing challenging, subtle activities.

Also, obviously, some activities absolutely require graphics, such as questions like, “Which end of this widget needs realignment?” And more emotionally-rich scenarios need real photos of people with subtle expressions or even video, because in the real world we’d base our decisions partly on the emotion that people seem to be expressing.

I’m also not talking about information presentations, which can easily require graphics. I’m talking about practice activities that require people to make realistic decisions, which I think should be the bulk of what we create, once we’ve determined that training is really the solution.

What do you think? Are you pressured to include more eye candy than you think is useful? Have you tested a text-only practice activity? Let us know in the comments.

Meeting room photo by Complete Interior Design via Compfight cc


Scenario design courses open for registration

Get the most from action mapping and learn to design challenging activities in my live, online course. You’ll build skills that will help you create challenging, realistic mini-scenarios and branching scenarios, and you’ll immediately apply what you’re learning to a real project on your job.

Sessions are scheduled for many time zones, including Australia and New Zealand. The course tends to sell out, so you might check it out now so you don’t miss out.

Scenario example: Chainsaw training!

What’s the best way to teach people to cut down a tree? Probably the best way isn’t the approach recommended in this scenario. However, the scenario isn’t supposed to be realistic. I wrote it to make a point.

Try the scenario below. Do you agree with my point?

(The scenario is embedded in the blog post. If you’re reading this in email or a feed reader and don’t see a clickable interaction, go to the blog post to play it.)


Photo by Stewart Black cc. Scenario was developed in Twine.

Spoiler alert! Play the scenario before you read on.

If you’re familiar with action mapping, you probably saw what I was trying to do. The best ending to the scenario required you to do some (extremely quick) analysis of why it’s hard to cut down a tree without squashing your house or car.

The analysis asks, “What decisions do people have to make? Why are those decisions tricky? How can we help people practice making the decisions in a safe place?”

Then your design focused on helping people practice the tricky things that would directly support the goal of reduced property damage. You didn’t push information into their heads and then see if they could recognize it on a test.

Of course, it’s important for customers to know the obvious stuff, like how to hold the saw when you’re cutting into a tree. We’d certainly cover that in the videos. Unfortunately, it’s tempting to focus only on that obvious stuff. The result would be “How to Use a Chainsaw” and not what we really need, which is “How to Use a Chainsaw without Destroying Your House.”

I learned to cut down trees the way most people probably should: A more experienced person went into my woods with me. He helped me analyze each tree, set up the winch and rope, plan the cut, and adjust when things began to veer horribly out of control. But if that weren’t possible, I’d look for training that let me practice the decisions in a safe place.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

More scenario examples

I’ve set up a scenario design headquarters on my site. In that section, you’ll find more scenario examples, along with a research summary, a link to all scenario posts, and some tips on using Twine, the free editor I used to create the scenario in this post.

Related posts

For more on letting people learn from their mistakes, you might check out these posts:

Makeover: How to write challenging scenario questions

We’ve all seen scenario questions that are too boring or easy. In fact, here’s one:

A member of your team is often an hour late to work on Monday mornings. What should you do?

A. Ask the team member why they’re late.
B. Refer the team member to the Employee Assistance Program for counseling.
C. Dock the team member’s pay for the missed hour of work.

How could we improve this question? Let’s look at some ideas. (We’ll look at a lot more ideas for strong scenarios in the scenario design workshops I’m giving soon in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Sydney.)

1. Focus on a specific, real performance problem

Our scenario question is weak because it isn’t based on an analysis of what’s really going wrong. Instead, it’s based on assumptions about what people are probably doing wrong.

So our first step in the makeover is to look more closely at the actual performance problem.

Girl walking on railroad trackLet’s say that our business goal is this: “Employee retention will improve 10% by 2016 as all managers use the Friendly Face at Work management model.”

We set this goal because employee turnover is high, and during exit interviews, people said managers were too harsh. We then paid a consultant $70,000 to tell us to use his patented Friendly Face at Work model.

In action mapping, every activity we write supports a specific, real-world behavior that people should perform but are messing up somehow.

In this case, the behaviors we want to see are the behaviors in the consultant’s model. The one we’re focusing on now is, “When a team member consistently fails to reach a standard, encourage them to share why they’re struggling.”

Our managers aren’t doing this. Why not?

2. Find out WHY people are messing up

In our analysis, we discover that managers already know they should ask a struggling employee what’s up. The real problem is that they don’t ask because they worry about sounding intrusive.

They’d be more comfortable if we helped them phrase the question appropriately. That’s the behavior they should be practicing: asking the question.

3. Find out in what CONTEXT people are messing up

The first draft of our question is boring because it’s so generic. Nothing in the real world is that simple. So with our subject matter expert (SME), we’ll add some realistic complexity. Here’s one possible rewrite,

Jake has worked on your team for two years. In the last two months, he’s arrived an hour late on most Mondays. He doesn’t seem as cheerful as he used to be, and a couple of times you’ve noticed that his eyes appear bloodshot. You’re pretty sure he’s married and you remember signing a congratulations card for his new baby about seven months ago, but you haven’t heard anything since then.

You ask Jake to come into your office after lunch. When he arrives, his eyes look bloodshot again, and he fidgets with his hands.

How do you start the conversation?

A. “You’ve been a great member of the team for two years, so I’m surprised that you’ve started coming in late. Is something going on?”

B. “I’ve noticed that you’re coming in late on Mondays, and I’d like to help you get back on track. What can we do to help you get here on time?”

C. “I want you to know that no matter what the situation might be, I’m here to help. Could you help me understand why you’ve been coming in late?”

This still isn’t the best question in the world, but it’s at least more subtle and realistic than the first draft. And, importantly, it focuses on what managers really need to practice: how to phrase the difficult question.

Tweaks for context

In addition to changing the focus of the challenge, we made the following tweaks:

  • We gave people names, which in a way also gives them a face as readers pull up a “Jake” from the database of people in their brain. My Jake probably doesn’t look like yours, but he has a face.
  • We provided cues that may or may not be relevant — the bloodshot eyes, the changed mood, the baby that we haven’t heard about lately. No management challenge takes place in a vacuum.
  • We put people’s words in quotation marks, adding voices to make it more real (and, in this case, to model specifically how the question should be asked).

Finally, another cue that we wrote a more challenging question is that it’s not obvious (to me, at least) which answer is correct. We have to understand the consultant’s Friendly Faces at Work model to know how we’re supposed to phrase the question.

If we can write scenario questions without the help of a SME, we’re probably writing questions that are too easy. The SME will help us write a subtle question and help us make clear through feedback which option is correct.

Scenarios require a lot of SME help, so you might want to prepare a steady supply of donuts or chocolate for your expert. In the scenario design workshop, we’ll also look at ways to quickly and efficiently get the expertise out of your SME’s brain and into a scenario.

What do you think? What has helped you write more challenging scenarios? Let us know in the comments.

All photos in this post (c) iStock


Design challenging scenarios that your learners love with my workshops this September and October in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Sydney. The first workshop is on Sept. 19 and spaces are limited, so please check out the details and make your plans!

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Branching scenarios: How many decision points?

You’ve decided a branching scenario will be part of your project. But how long should it be?

First, I’m assuming that we’re talking about an exploratory or “learning” scenario, meaning a story in which learners make decisions without a lot of hand-holding and learn from the consequences of their decisions. I’m also assuming that the skill you want learners to develop is relatively complex, such as managing a conversation to create the best results.

Aim for 7 decision points in most paths

As a general rule I recommend that each path include at least 7 decision points, meaning even if I make a not-great decision, I continue down a path that includes more decisions, including ones that could lead me to a better path, and when I reach the end of the story, I’ve made about 7 (challenging! relevant!) decisions at least.

Of course, the optimal depth for an exploratory scenario will depend on a lot of factors, including the complexity of the skill you want learners to master, their attention span and tastes, and the amount of development time you have.

What about bad decisions?

In some situations, you’ll want to have short paths that go quickly to failure if there are common but egregious mistakes being made by learners in the real world.

Scenario flowchartTo see an example, try the AutoLoon Ethics Training scenario, which simulates the discussion between an instructional designer and a client who wants an information dump.

I included some short, 3-decision paths that go quickly to failure. I wanted to make clear that some common decisions made by instructional designers can quickly doom a project. Longer paths in the scenario include 10-12 decision points.

Click the image in this post to see a larger view of the flowchart, or view the inner workings of the scenario on the BranchTrack site.

Let them go back

In an exploratory scenario, I think it’s best to let learners go back to the previous decision. This encourages them to explore, and it lets you include short, “bad” paths while still making the scenario interesting.

Have some learners review an early draft

The challenge for us as designers is that we’re so deep into the story and we’ve thought through so many possibilities that the scenarios we write can look more complex to us than they do to learners.

It could be a good idea to have a handful of typical learners complete an early draft of the scenario and talk about it with you, so you can get their perspective. It can be useful to do this in a small group, so learners talk with each other and possibly debate things, giving you a sense of how much the scenario is making them think.


London workshop on June 6

Please join me and Norman Lamont in London on June 6 for the one-day, hands-on workshop “Training design for business results.” It’s action mapping on steroids. You’ll get in-depth practice applying activity-centered design to one of your projects. Learn more about the workshop.

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3 powerful ideas you should steal from marketing

Marketers and trainers have the same goals: They want people to do something. But they achieve those goals in vastly different ways, and I think marketers often do it better. Let’s look at some techniques we can steal from a successful marketing video.

This post includes two embeds that probably won’t appear if you’re reading it through email or an RSS reader. I recommend you view this post in the blog.

Here’s our role model, the immensely popular commercial for the Dollar Shave Club. Not allowed to watch YouTube? Watch the same video here on Vimeo.

Put on your headphones — inappropriate language is bleeped out but could still offend.

The video was so effective that the influx of traffic knocked the Dollar Shave Club site offline. The commercial has been featured in several publications as an example of highly effective, low-budget marketing.

Now for the “training” version

What does the Dollar Shave Club guy want us to do? He wants us to go to his site and sign up for his service. Let’s look at how an instructional designer might try to inspire the same action.

Here’s the training version, without audio. Many elearning developers would have a narrator read the screen to you, but I couldn’t make myself do it.

 
What does the Dollar Shave Club guy do differently?

Here are just a few differences.

1. “I think you’re smart.”

The Dollar Shave Club guy uses a fast pace, he mocks other commercials because he knows we see them as dumb, and he lets us draw conclusions rather than telling us everything explicitly. He says, “I think you’re smart,” and that makes us like him.

The training version plods and spoon-feeds us predigested information. It doesn’t let us draw any conclusions on our own. It says, “I think you’re dumb, so dumb that I have to lead you by the nose through the most basic of information.” Who wants to be told they’re dumb?

2. “I’m an actual human being with a personality.”

The Dollar Shave Club guy really is the Dollar Shave Club guy. He’s talking about his business. He’s also an underdog in the world of shaving products, and we tend to root for underdogs.

Who’s the person behind the training version? There’s no one there. It’s the tiresome Omniscient One, the faceless, personality-free voice of the nobody who knows everything. It’s no underdog, it’s Big Brother.

Also, in the video we meet Alejandra, a person who’s real and therefore memorable. In the training version, she’s replaced by a forgettable abstraction, an “order fulfillment position.”

3. Surprise!

The Dollar Shave Club commercial is one huge surprise filled with many smaller surprises. Big surprise: “This can’t be a real ad! Wait, it is!” Smaller surprises: Everything else.

The training version, like most training materials, has zero surprises. It’s a dry, predictable conveyor belt of dry, predictable information.

Objections

You or your stakeholders might already be saying the following.

“We don’t have that kind of budget!” It’s not the budget, it’s the ideas. I’m not saying, “Produce a funny video commercial.” I’m saying, “Treat your audience like they’re smart,” “Use a real person with a personality,” and “Don’t be so predictable.”

“But we’re not selling anything. The comparison is unfair.” Marketers want to inspire a specific action. It can be “Buy the razor,” but it can also be “Sign up for our email list” or “Test drive our car.” Just like marketers, we want people to do something. We want them to encrypt emails, use the 5-step Difficult Conversations model, stop standing on chairs to reach high shelves… Marketing has tested a bajillion ways to get people to act, and we should steal the good ones.

“Obscenities are a low form of humor and we could never use them.” I’m not suggesting you use any obscenities. I’m suggesting you look at the larger picture, such as the three ideas listed above that separate lively marketing from conventional training.

What do you think? What ideas can we steal from marketing? Do you know of any elearning that applies any of these principles? Let us know in the comments!

If you thought the commercial was funny and would like to use humor in your materials, you might like my post How humor helps.

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