3 Lessons I Learned from a (Lousy) 4th Grade Teacher

I’ll just come out and say it: my son’s 4th grade teacher was lousy and by “lousy” I mean that she was, amongst many other things:

  • Powerless: Every challenge was met with a shoulder shrug and, “…well, there’ nothing I can do, because that’s a District policy…”
  • A Word Pusher: Lessons were frequently delivered from HER perspective – most often as a lecture – with little participation from the children.
  • Overly Punitive: Drew a few army men on the back of your math homework? Big mistake. Now you’ve been assigned additional homework as punishment.

It’s probably easy to see why my husband and I were left feeling annoyed, aggravated, and alienated.

Fresh for my latest skirmish with the teacher, I decided to participate in one of David Anderson‘s eLearning design challenges, in part to channel my frustration into something more productive. The result is the learning geek equivalent of a “Burn Book.” It’s raw. It’s sarcastic. It’s take no prisoners.

Building_Effective_Parent_Teacher

I hesitated to share this post and this project with the world since it is SO filled with snarkasm (albeit without exaggerating or embellishing upon our experience). And I want to be VERY clear on this point, it’s not my intention to cast a negative light on teachers or teaching. I’m very fortunate to count many friends and family as teachers, and it is their high-standards that have served to inspire my own love for learning. I think it’s fair to say that almost every teacher I know is skilled, open-minded, hard-working, and dedicated to bettering their students lives – a fact I believe to be true of most folks who enter such a challenging profession.

That being said, the reason I decided to share this experience and my sarcastic response, is that I see a lot of the same lousy behaviors in many of the L&D organizations I serve: powerlessness (learned helplessness), word pushing (lecture), and a tendency towards positioning learning as a form of punishment. It’s no surprise since a traditional “school” model of students in chairs, studying and taking tests is how so many of us contextualize “learning.” In the corporate world, we spend a good deal of our time butting heads with executives and SMEs who seem to think that people only learn when they’ve been “taught.” So given what we’re up against, how do we avoid being lousy teachers?

My Lessons Learned

1. Powerless. Is there another department in a typical corporate setting that’s more often seen, by itself and others, as “powerless” then the Training Department? (Okay, maybe the Facilities folks get less love than we do, but it’s a close call…).

When I think of a typical corporate L&D organization, I think about how we often exist in complicated dotted-line reporting relationships to other units such as OD and HR, or how we work directly for specific lines of business (e.g., Sales, Marketing, etc.), for whom training is a necessary evil – a costly means to an end. Such complex arrangements may deprive us of the organizational clout needed to make sweeping changes. Over time, our lack of clout leads us to present ourselves to business partners as victims of the corporate machine: “We’re only allowed to use the branded template” or “We have to include a quiz because that’s the way all of our eLearning is done.” Words like that don’t inspire much confidence, do they?

Assuming your workplace isn’t an entirely toxic environment, you may have more opportunities to influence change. Okay, so influence isn’t as satisfying as being a “change maker” – but it’s a lot better than stewing in your own juices! Where to start? When it comes to reclaiming some power, sometimes you’ve got to fake it until you make it:

  • Think like a learning expert.
  • Talk about benefits to the business (i.e. use more consultative language).
  • Do more prototyping of your ideas to build buy-in with your SMEs.
  • Use more showing and less telling.
  • Present evidence and gather examples from other industries that support your assertions and recommendations.

These are simple ways of projecting a more professional and positive persona, and they can potentially help to boost your credibility. By chipping away at the big changes using smaller changes like ditching the mandatory quiz, writing in a more relaxed/conversation tone, using graphics or creative treatments that are accessible and beautiful, you can help you exert a little more influence over the method – if not set the stage for better results. And over time, a few small wins can add up to greater influence and, maybe eventually, the power you need to be a more effective and valued business partner.

2. A Word Pusher. Imagine I’m a SME and I’ve told you that one of my requirements for our project is that every word of my content must be read by the learner. Disable the next button, I say. FORCE the learner to sit on that screen for at least 2 minutes before they can advance. Add more quiz questions. Make it so they have to pass the quiz with an 80% or higher before they can get credit for the course. If you’re groaning right about now, it’s probably because you can sense the uphill battle looming. If you’re feeling powerless (see above) it might seem easier to just meet my demands and move on, right?

Pushing content (words) at people is one approach to communication, but is it effective? Largely it’s not. But busy SMEs and executives don’t know that. They spend a great deal of their time attempting to control chaos, minimize risk, and strengthen the bottom line. Clear, highly detailed communication is seen as an enabler of performance and the foundation for how they’re measured. The good news? Understanding that is your “in” to stopping the vicious cycle of lecture as “learning.”

Along with applying the techniques I just reviewed for addressing powerlessness, here are some of my favorite resources:

3. Overly Punitive. Ever been forced to go to a training class you thought was a waste of time? You may have heard things from fellow participants like, “My boss sent me” or “I have other things I should be doing.” Invariably people sit with arms crossed, blank expressions, texting on their phones, maybe even answering emails on their laptops.

When people fail to perform, I’ve found that sending them to training is probably one of the least helpful things you can do. It’s not usually a lack of practice, knowledge, understanding, nor an inability to appreciate the importance of their actions. In short, almost none of the things that one could meaningfully address with a typical training intervention.

More often it’s a case of employees not equipped with adequate tools and resources, or who are encumbered with a process that’s heavy with exception-handling and dynamic decision-making and an operating environment that refuses to recognize those realities. Assigning training is not only ineffective, but also demoralizing, humiliating (since it often dismisses their existing level of expertise), and doesn’t fundamentally address the barriers that stand in the way of performance.

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And last but not least, whether you’re stuck in a power vacuum, overwhelmed by words, or battling the organizational view of learning as a cure-all/punishment, this experience taught me that finding an outlet for your frustration is cathartic. Write about your challenges in a blog, share helpful links on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, attend conferences, webinars, luncheons – whatever it takes to connect with and learn from your peers…and maybe, if you’re up for it, use the tools of your trade to make things better…and not just snarkier. (wink, wink)

 

3 Big Ideas: Mashing-up Substance with Style

Big Idea #1: Repurpose the Substance

I love to write. Over the past few years my blog has given me a convenient, creative outlet for sharing my ideas, exploring the potential of other people’s ideas applied to my own challenges, and poking fun at the little ironies that make up this “industry” we call Learning and Development. But as much as I love writing, blogs kind of suck at being a quick resource for finding information to address a specific need. There’s still too much culling through the muck with keywords and skimming and scrolling to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Big Idea #2: Refresh the Style

I also love reading digital magazines – especially about design. Late at night, while the rest of the country watches Dancing with the American X-Factor Boo-Boo (or whatever the heck it is that people watch on TV these days…), you’ll either find me working, writing, or gleefully consuming interactive content on my iPad.  In particular, I am endlessly inspired by the vivid color palettes, creative typography, and vibrant imagery that digital magazine designers use to bring what was once static content to life by wrapping it in context. Want to see how the photographer staged that shot? Click the link and watch a video of the photo shoot. Want to get step-by-step instructions on how to makeover a room in your house? Click on the before & after photos for tips. Brilliant!

Big Idea #3: Rejoice in the Mash-Up

One night as I poured over a home design ‘makeover’ magazine, I  couldn’t help but wonder: “Wouldn’t it be more fun and engaging to learn and explore other types of content like this? What if I had more tools that were attractive, targeted, and chock full’o good information that I could explore at my leisure (and from my iPad)?”

Thus, with a copy of Articulate Storyline, an archive of handy ‘how-to’ blog posts full of Screenrs from many fellow designers, and the goal of presenting this great information in a fresh way that helps new and experienced designers address specific visual design challenges. the idea of creating a sleek, digital magazine inspired eLearning mash-up was born.

Not sure if you have the appetite for design risk-taking? Take my quiz and get a temperature check and some recommendations.

Want to get some pointers on using emphasis to strengthen your visual designs? Or how about some tips on dealing with dull visuals? The Rapid e-learning Visual Design Makeover Manual can help with that too.

RCGpresents

I hope sharing this work gives you some fresh ideas for the new year ahead and serves to remind all of us that our designs are only limited by our imaginations. In the new year, let’s try to take some calculated design risks and have a little fun along the way.

A very big thanks to @elearningart, @elearning (aka David Anderson of Articulate), Tracy Parish, @lindalor, @joe_deegan, @tomkuhlmann, and @LearnNuggets (aka Kevin Thorn) for sharing their knowledge with the world and for offering their invaluable input on how to execute my substance-meets-style magazine mash-up.

 

How NOT to Design a Sales Training Video

As part of my ongoing fascination with all that is cheesy and overwrought in the world of corporate training videos, I’m pleased to present this beauty from Pier 1 Imports which combines sales process training with rap. Yes, you heard me. Rap.

WARNING: You can’t unsee this, nor can you resist the surprisingly catchy chorus of “Let’s engage the customer/Let’s make a sale…”.

Credibility and the Training Team – 3 Behaviors to Avoid

All too often, training teams are dusting off their superhero costumes in the quest to design and develop timely, relevant learning.

Has this happened to your team recently?

  • A request for a full-scale project with little time and almost no budget.
  • Rolling out a curriculum while new processes, systems, or products are still in development.
  • A change in business direction puts your training deliverables and deadlines into a tailspin.

I’m sure you’re nodding “yes” at all of the above. These business realities place pressure on training teams – not only must we advocate for learners while keeping the needs of the business in mind, we must do all these things with imperfect information and few resources.

It can be tough, and the easy reaction may be to become frustrated and perhaps even indulge in certain behaviors that undermine our overall credibility as training business partners.

Read the rest of this post on the Impact Instruction blog.

Keeping it real: Strategies for adding more authenticity to your training

Have you ever read a sales or marketing script used for training and thought to yourself, “Who actually says this stuff?” or “No caller is ever that polite and forthcoming.”?  You’re not alone in being skeptical. Most of us are understandably reluctant to embrace words, processes or ideas that don’t ring true.  When the tone, message, or content of training lacks authenticity, learners quickly tune out.  And, if your training doesn’t engage learners in a way that allows them to learn through experiencing the consequences of their choices, what’s the point of training them at all?

So how can you incorporate training strategies that ensure the learning experience reaches learners in a way that authentically connects to their real-world experiences?  Read the rest of my post on the Impact Instruction Group blog.