Archives for November 2014

6 Instructional Design Tips for Learner Engagement

The shift to blended and online training has become a fixture in most organizations and the next generation of “death by PowerPoint” has emerged … “death by voiceover PowerPoint.” This type of training is often seen in the form of animated PowerPoint slides with limited opportunities for interaction.

As a tried and true classroom facilitator, I would cringe at the voiceover PowerPoints that would come my way and long for the days of facilitator-led interaction. I would ask myself if this was truly learning or just a means to crunch the budget and check the box that training was delivered. If it’s the latter, why even expend resources at all?

Providing an engaging and fun experience for online learners does not need to break the budget, and will provide a greater return on investment in the long run through transformative learning. Online learning proves cost effective, reaching broad and geographically dispersed audiences; however, it should not only transform your budget and reach, it should transform behavior and performance.

The next generation of learners will expect a highly visual, multimedia, and interactive experience. The good news is that there are ways to spice up your training, engage your learners, and win over stakeholders.

Apply Tiered Learning

Apply a tiered approach to learning that includes:

  1. High-level audio-visual information
  2. Detailed text-based information
  3. Opportunities for interaction and skill application

Tier 1 provides a visual way for learners to understand some high-level basics about what the chapter or topic is all about (Figure 1). Tier 2 provides the meat—the details, strategies, tips, etc. Tier 3 includes interaction and skill application. Any point in the learning experience in which the learner can touch the content provides an opportunity to keep them engaged, increase retention, and meet learning outcomes.

Figure 1: The tiered approach to learning breaks content out conceptually

Tiered learning breaks out the content conceptually, not only from an adult learning perspective, but also from the technical perspective. Look at the content itself, and the tools used to create that content, as a puzzle. Each tier can be seen as a learning chunk—or reusable object—where the content and user experience trumps all.

The tendency in the learning field is to make the content fit one single authoring tool or LMS. Reverse engineer instead, and choose a variety of tools that will work for the content and user experience you want. I am not here to advocate for any specific tool, but you can use a combination of off-the-shelf tools and coding to create animations, text, and interactivities and then piece them together as part of a larger puzzle—or framework.

This works almost like website development. I’ve never been a fan of the “square peg/round hole” approach that tries to force content into a single tool—the foremost culprit of voiceover PowerPoint.

Use Responsive Design

Responsive online learning on mobile and tablet devices will provide increased access and use by a broader population. Younger learners have grown up with mobile devices and are increasingly comfortable with, and often prefer, the self-selective nature of mobile applications. It is, in many ways, the embodiment of self-directed learning, putting the timing, location, and choice of content completely in the hands of the learner.

This is not to be confused with mLearning where a learning experience is specifically designed for a mobile device. Responsive design essentially means that the learning works everywhere (Figure 2). For more on responsive design, see James Rasmussen’s recent article in Learning Solutions Magazine, “Learner Engagement: Tips for Responsive Design.”

Figure 2: Responsive design works everywhere, not just on mobile devices

Incorporate Immersive Scenarios

Immersive scenarios apply the concept of branching multiple-choice questions within the entire learning experience. This type of learning provides an advanced opportunity for learners to choose their own adventure.

Learners, presented with a series of challenges or scenarios, are asked to apply strategies to navigate the scenario, and, based on their response, are brought down various learning paths with the ultimate goal of selecting the best responses and accomplishing the mission. Soft-skill or process-oriented training provides an excellent opportunity to leverage immersive scenarios.

Instead of telling learners that the process is 1, 2, and 3, present them with a scenario and let them decide that it is 1, 2, and 3! Depending on the budget, this can be accomplished through a basic animation and multiple-choice questions, outcomes, and feedback, or through a more complex simulation often seen in 3-D virtual worlds (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Immersive scenarios are effective for soft-skill or process-oriented training

Mix Up Your Media and Increase Interaction

Select a theme for each lesson and use it consistently in multimedia animations. Choose from concept animation, character animation, stock imagery, and more! Use text effects and screen transitions to communicate concepts in animations. Using BIG text and purposeful movement can keep the learner engaged without sensory overload (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Providing variety in media helps to keep learners engaged

Increase interaction by incorporating a variety of interactivities throughout the learning experience. The more the learner can touch the content, the more he or she will stay engaged. Simple ways to interact with content that spans beyond multiple-choice quizzes include branching scenarios, drag-and-drop exercises, video vignettes, images with rollover text, or callout sliders. Interactivities provide an opportunity to reinforce concepts and for learners to apply skills (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Increasing interaction events and styles provides an opportunity to reinforce concepts and for learners to apply skills

Leverage Micro eLearning

Micro eLearning modules are attractive and highly effective for a population that lives on mobile devices and learns through visual applications such as YouTube,, Vine, and other bite-sized increments. Micro eLearning opportunities complement initial and periodic training with just-in-time solutions to a range of topics and challenges. I have seen micro learning defined broadly—from taking an eight-hour classroom training down to one-hour increments, or one-hour online learning modules down to 15 minutes. However you choose to define your micro eLearning experience, I would say some rules of thumb are to avoid lengthy chapter structures (or avoid chapter structures completely), focus on a singular aspect of a very specific topic or subtopic (e.g., using gestures in public speaking), and use scenario-based learning as a primary methodology.


Gamification—not to be confused with serious gaming—takes everyday concepts and turns them into a game. Leader boards, badges, and progression through levels are just some ways to gamify the experience, increase the intrinsic motivation of learners, and provide cost-effective rewards.

Having worked with numerous government clients that support military service members and families, the concept of coins, badges, and medals was not new to me; perhaps you have had similar experience. What better way to customize the approach to the audience than creating a similar reward system in online learning!

These can be personal rewards or based on group competition. Group leader boards that indicate the individuals who rank just above and below a learner will help the learner feel like goals are attainable. In addition, personal rewards, such as coins earned for every chapter completed, and badges awarded for every module completed give the learner a sense of accomplishment. Add some competition to the mix by providing recognition for the learners who receive the most coins and badges. Read one of the latest features in Learning Solutions Magazine for tips on what works:

Reprinted from Learning Solutions magazine

Redeveloping the Individual Development Plan

Individual development plans, or IDPs, have become a staple for managers and human resources professionals alike. But the development activity is often steeped in a systematic approach — forms, deadlines, sign-offs and processes — that ultimately dilutes the value it brings to the individual employee. In a similar vein, the stress of following the IDP process and hitting the associated deadlines often leaves managers overstressed.

The advantage of such a comprehensive system in a big organization is that every employee is assured of having at least one development conversation each year. The disadvantage, however, is that too many leaders view the requirement as the ceiling, rather than the floor. What frequently results is that managers only engage in one such conversation each year, instead of using the platform as an invitation to support individual development on a regular basis.

Among other unintended consequences:

Development as a transaction: As development has become increasingly part of a system, it has taken on a very different complexion. Formalizing the process has put greater focus on forms, checklists and deadlines, transforming development into a transactional task to be crossed off to-do lists. This is in stark contrast to what most organizations want and need, which is a perpetual approach to the responsibility of developing a workforce.

Development as a de-motivator: Increasingly, organizations are realizing that development of the “See you this time next year” variety is more dangerous than no development at all. It raises expectations and ignites interest in employees. It starts to open the door to possibilities only to promptly shut it as everyone gets “back to work.” This leads to disappointment and disillusionment, which deplete engagement and motivation.

Development as a tool for misinformation: Busy managers understand how the system works. If they complete the forms on time and check all of the right boxes, they’re in the clear for another year. Compliance becomes more about filling in the proper fields and hitting “complete” than driving genuine development.

Consequently, organizations have a skewed sense of what is happening in their workforce. HR and other executives believe what’s on paper is playing out in real life. They engage in workforce planning, talent reviews, succession planning and other organizational processes — all based on a foundation of information that managers have frequently provided in a hurried fashion just to comply with administrative requirements.

Time for Change

Perhaps a starting point is to redefine the terms. While the individual initials in IDP are appropriate, the words are somewhat misguided given today’s demands.

Consider the “I,” which stands for “individual.” This term was intended to reflect a special sense that the individual employee was receiving a unique and customized development experience. But given how the process has evolved, “individual” in this regard frequently connotes a singular sense of responsibility targeted toward the managers, not the employees benefitting from development.

What if development became a group activity? What if employees used crowdsourcing to solicit feedback and ideas about experiences that might build new skills and capabilities? With this mindset, development might take on a different complexion and grow beyond the annual-event mentality.

Although the “D” stands for “development,” the word has grown into a term that is more likely to describe employee weakness or problems, not necessarily a path forward for positive improvement. The term has taken on a deficit-based tone, resulting in dwindling enthusiasm and energy for the task.

Even the “P” — “plan” — has lost its intended meaning to some extent. Because the word is generally overused in business, many leaders spend just as much time “planning” as “doing.” The problem with this is traditional plans no longer are an accurate reflection of the speed of business. By the time the ink on a plan has dried, something likely needs to be changed.

Although these words may have lost their meaning, the term IDP can live on — with a refresh in the words used. By doing this, organizations may be able to reinvigorate enthusiasm for the practice.

How about this: iterative dialogue around possibilities?


A New Approach

Transforming static annual individual development plans into vibrant, iterative dialogues around possibilities demands that leaders and employees alike adopt a new mindset and set of priorities.

Start a new conversation: Current development processes are dictate-based, characterized by paperwork, processes and a sense that there’s a start and an end.

By contrast, dialogue-based development is characterized by questions that create an evolving joint understanding between managers and employees. It sets the expectation that every employee can learn and grow with sincere interest, curiosity and trust. Instead of concentrating on forms, the most effective leaders connect with people.

Substitute development “Post-its” for development plans: Development-related documentation is necessary for leaders to remember, track and hold people accountable for their goals and intentions. But it shouldn’t be a free-for-all. Neither should it be a straitjacket, which is how many plans feel to employees.

In many organizations, significant time and energy are invested in selecting goals, making them specific, measureable, assignable or attainable, and realistic and timely. Time is spent completing complex forms and cross-referencing various systems. The process is tiring, and the result is thinking that’s frequently concrete because it’s set up in a way that makes it hard to make changes. In many instances, it’s easier to ditch development rather than repeat an overly complex process.

A small change that can create disproportionate results is to scrap the plan and break out the Post-it notes. Leaders and employees will appreciate the simplification. Different objectives, strategies and actions can be captured on separate Post-its. They can be moved around and re-sequenced easily when needed. This is often a smoother approach; it energizes the process, allowing iteration to occur. And it better meets the cadence and rate of change present in today’s corporate environment.

Promote possibility thinking: Possibility can be defined as “a thing that may be chosen out of several possible alternatives.” The key word is “several.” But busy managers aim to streamline the process and make it more efficient. In the process, they work with employees to quickly identify the right goal, strategy, approach, course or experience. They gravitate toward convergent thinking  when divergent thinking is what’s really necessary. Possibility thinking requires that “quick” gives way to “quantity,” which ultimately leads to better quality outcomes of the development practice.

Leaders should encourage employees to generate lots of ideas for how they might like to grow, the work they might like to do and the strategies that might bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be. Employees should cultivate the ability to entertain unrestricted thinking as they generate a variety of experiences likely to help them achieve their development goals. Using this approach is likely to activate greater creativity, engagement and motivation to push forward on the development plan.

Generating more ideas doesn’t need to mean more work for already overburdened managers. It isn’t reserved for managers and employees — broad collaboration is required. Employees should take the lead, using their own peer networks, generally made up of individuals who know them, their skills, talents and aspirations far better than their managers would.

Distribute development: Concentrating development conversations around an annual deadline makes it a one-and-done activity, in which the ideas outlined in the plan frequently gather dust in a file folder or on a computer server. Breaking this cycle means transporting development into the fabric of the employee’s work itself.

In this regard, leaders should aim to become developmental “multitaskers.” They should look to make the most of common interactions already occurring among themselves and their employees.

For instance, when a manager is driving to a client meeting with an employee, check in on how development possibilities are proceeding. Also, invite team members to share development updates during regular status meetings, include quick development check-ins during one-on-one meetings, link ongoing coaching and feedback conversations to development, and then debrief learning experiences by connecting the dots back to development objectives.

Ultimately, the switch from the individual development plan to iterative dialogue around possibilities means moving from an annual, transactional, procedural approach to something that happens on an ongoing basis and is embedded in the workflow, delivering better human resources and business results alike.

Reprinted from Talent Management magazine

Going Up: 2014 Training Salary Survey Results

Continuing last year’s resurgence, average training salaries rose 3.4 percent to $81,334 in 2013-2014, according to Training magazine’s Annual Salary Survey of nearly 1,100 readers. The average increase in salary in the last 12 months (not including a promotion or change of employer) increased slightly from 2.74 percent in 2012-2013 to 2.86 percent in 2013-2014.

Some 42 percent of respondents said their salary was low relative to their responsibilities, while another 48 percent said it was equitable. Only 10 percent (up from 9 percent last year) believe they are well paid relative to their responsibilities. Some 55 percent (the same as last year) of respondents said they received a bonus in 2013, and 59 percent are eligible for one this year. The average cash bonus was $9,866, down slightly from $10,089, in 2013-2014.

As in 2012-2013, only 3 percent said employers asked them to take a pay cut. Some 45 percent of respondents said their organization cut budgets in the last 12 months, 2 percent less than in 2012-2013. Travel was slashed by 41 percent of respondents, the same as in 2012-2013.

Some 14 percent froze salaries vs. 18 percent in 2012-2013. And 7.8 percent eliminated bonuses compared with 8.2 percent the year before. Employee layoffs decreased a bit, from 26 percent to 24 percent.

Most training professionals continue to enjoy what they do for a living, with nearly 74 percent saying they wouldn’t choose another career if they could do it all over again. Of those who preferred other careers, answers ranged from “something in the medical field,” veterinarian, and computer programmer to cartographer, radio DJ, and fishing guide.

Click here to download the Training Magazine salary survey.

Reprinted from Training Magazine

The Accelerated Millennial Manager

Today’s fast-paced world means you have to embrace speed, or you’re at the risk of falling behind. According to British psychologist Richard Wiseman, the overall pace of life has increased by 10 percent worldwide since the mid-90s. In a few places, it has even increased by 20 to 30 percent. In some ways this is good — we’re constantly innovating, collaborating, taking the next step — but in other ways, we’re missing out.

Last week, I was running late to meet a friend for brunch and found myself running for a cab, running out of the cab, running into the restaurant. When I got there, my friend asked me if I had remembered the coupon we were planning to use. No. Did I see them filming the movie outside the restaurant? No. Did my cab driver take Lakeshore Drive? I didn’t pay attention. The fast-track accelerates our lives, yes, but we could be missing fundamental moments along the way.

I reached out to Diane Thielfoldt, Devon Scheef and Taylor Fitzpatrick from The Learning Café to talk about the fast-paced business environment and how that’s affecting millennials. The Learning Café’s Accelerated Millennial Manager study, which was conducted from 2011-2013 based on data from 400 millennial managers, discusses the issue and how millennials are often missing key training steps by taking the fast-track to leadership. Just like I forgot the coupon and didn’t stop to notice a camera crew outside the restaurant, millennials could be missing key milestones as they race to the top.

Below are excerpts of our interview. Thielfoldt and Scheef are co-founders of The Learning Café; they’re boomers. Taylor Fitzpatrick is the “millennial voice” at the company, managing their content.

Q. What is it going to take to prepare millennials for leadership?

Scheef and Thielfoldt: Get in sync with their urgency and their needs. It’s going to take a shift in perceptions — millennials (and millennial managers) aren’t the “new kids on the block” anymore — they’re parents, politicians, community members.

It’s going to take more involved managers of future millennial managers. Millennial seek and appreciate directed coaching versus self-discovery. Frankly, they don’t always have something to self-discover related to new skills they’re trying for the first time. Their bosses should be very practical with “do this, not that and here’s why” style of advice.

Fitzpatrick: In many ways we [millennials] are already prepared (and eager) for leadership. We are confident, determined, committed … We understand the value of inspiring a team — versus dictating to one — and long for the opportunity to strut our stuff. We already possess what good leaders are made of — we just need a little direction. With clear expectations, consistent feedback, and coaching (or even better — mentoring) from our “elders,” we can help take any organization to the next level.

Q. What should learning leaders be doing to better support millennial managers?

Scheef and Thielfoldt:  Find action-packed, on-the-job, practice opportunities so they get a clear view of what managers really do — first-hand. Get them connected! Provide exposure to role-model leaders of all generations at all levels. Find opportunities to build millennial credibility before they assume management roles. For example, visible projects that help them develop influence and communication skills and give them the bigger picture. Millennial managers benefit from specificity and are grateful (not insulted) by directions, information and coaching on how to do things. Provide scripts or talk tracks — for example when giving feedback, write out what to say and how to say it.

Fitzpatrick: If they are not already, learning leaders must adapt the way essential material is presented. Gone is the way of the blackboard. Our generation is information hungry and won’t wait for a classroom to find our answers. If we are struggling, we turn to the most reliable source we know: Google. But Google is not all knowing when it comes to individual organizations. It is up to learning leaders to anticipate the questions their millennial managers will have, the struggles they will face, and then present the solutions in bite-sized chunks they can digest on their lunch break.

Q. What are some strengths that millennial managers have to offer?

Scheef and Thielfoldt:  In our research, there was widespread admiration for millennial managers’ ability to:

  • Deploy technology to help their teams work better, faster — not tech for tech’s sake; tech to improve efficiency.
  • Rapidly switch attention from task to task.
  • Seamlessly connect and network with team members at a personal level.
  • Flexibly change direction and flex plans without drama or nay-saying.
  • Create and innovate in collaboration with others.

Fitzpatrick: As the next generation of pillars within our organization, we do not take our job lightly. We recognize that success is not an independent achievement. It is every member of our team, working as hard as they can, that propels our organization forward. Our role is to motivate, inspire and connect on a personal level with each team member to ensure their job satisfaction leads to quality performance. We are genuinely invested in their individual success.

We also harness our understanding of technology and an “open-source” mindset to push the envelope of innovation and creative problem solving. We foster open-dialog environments and understand the next “big idea” may come from Chet in the mailroom, not necessarily our CEO. It is this inclusive mindset that helps us embrace diversity and break down the walls stereotypes create.

Q. What are some weaknesses? How can they be overcome?

Scheef and Thielfoldt:  Our research pointed out that both millennials and other generations identify millennial management challenges as:

Supervising and relating to older team members.
Other generations said: Be especially sensitive to being visible and available; prove you can work hard; ask questions and show yourself to be an active learner.

Making a transition to managing and executing on fundamental management skills (performance discussions and delegation for example).
Other generations said: Step up to tough conversations; get feedback on your feedback.

Productively dealing with hierarchy, bureaucracy and the status quo.
Other generations said: Millennial managers need coaching on the “why” and the business’s history. Connect them with successful change agents so they can see how to influence and get their ideas heard.

Fitzpatrick: We are a purpose-driven generation. Often viewed as “flaky” or “disloyal,” we will not invest our lives in something we do not believe in. That being said, if provided with a purpose we do believe in, there is nothing that can stop us.

We have an intentional disregard for “the way things have always been.” We often underestimate the time that has been spent crafting organizational approach to certain challenges as we are always seeking a better way to accomplish what is set before us. If you want to make the most of this drive, give us a challenge the company has long since struggled with and watch our creative wheels spin the perfect solution.

HR Executives Tie Higher Health, Labor Costs to ACA

The HIX marketplace may offer Americans more choice when it comes to health insurance, particularly as public exchange options expand, but it continues to complicate life for HR professionals. A recent survey of chief human resource officers casts the Affordable Care Act as a whipping post for anything from higher employee health care and labor costs, as well as lower quality of care, to a number of related problems.

Of 560 CHROs who were sent a survey by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, 213 answered two sets of questions about their perceptions of the ACA and resulting need for action. Actions tied to the ACA included higher employee contributions toward health insurance (52%) and a crackdown on coverage eligibility (11%), as well as covered lives being steered to private (1%) or public exchanges (0.5%).

Industry practitioners also tied the ACA to lower health care quality (33.8%), health care inefficiency (37%), poor health care delivery (31.6%), less innovation in health care and health systems (32% and 30%, respectively), and a decrease in transparency of health care delivery (20%).

In addition, researchers observe that the ACA has accelerated the trend toward consumer directed health plans, with 73% of respondents reporting that they either offer or plan to offer this option. Just 10% of employers who were previously surveyed offered CDHPs in 2007.

The survey confirmed widespread concern about the ACA’s impact on part-time employees based on the law’s definition of full-time work being at least 30 hours a week. Nearly 30% of the respondents had this threshold in mind in anticipation of employer mandate penalties. “We frequently had people that worked 32-34 hours, and if enough of them did so, it would put us at risk for fines,” reported one CHRO who was surveyed. “Therefore, we now limit workers to 27 hours to ensure that we minimize the number that might exceed 30 hours.”

While the researchers say the ACA has increased access to health care, they note that it’s too early to assess the impact on quality but add that “cost increases are being borne by the individuals that already had health insurance through their employers.”

Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Reprinted from Employee Benefit News

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