Saturday, February 28, 2009

Virtually speaking

Very cool event that I had the pleasure of contributing to on Friday: ThinkBalm hosted their Un-Lecture #3 in Second Life as part of their Innovation Community events. I was honored to be able to participate with the likes of Andrew Hughes at Designing Digitally , Robin Gomboy from G2, and Henrik Bennetsen from Stanford.  I had 10 minutes to talk about technology considerations in developing immersive learning experiences. Specifically, I shared some of the issues that our clients face in deciding what technologies to use in developing immersive learning, and evaluation criteria that we use in evaluating the appropriateness of a virtual world platform or other technology for developing these types of learning environments. 

I have spent a lot of time in Second Life, but this is the first time I've presented as my avatar, Nina Sommerfleck. And its honestly one of the only times I've used voice capabilities in Second Life. I have to say, although I think it might be more difficult to incorporate interactive activities as part of my presentations, I really liked presenting as an avatar. 

Why did I like it? First, you don't really feel the nervousness that you do when you step in front of a group of live attendees. Some of the performance anxiety just never showed up. That said, I did have a sense of the presence of attendees, both through voice and through the local text chat stream. After I was done with the core presentation of the content I had prepared, I was able to review the questions people had typed into the chat window and answer them for the group. It reminded me of workshops or panels I have attended over the past year where people reviewed their Twitter stream as a means of engaging the audience and answering questions. Another benefit was the ability for participants to IM me immediately after my presentation and ask additional questions or schedule follow-up meetings. Often during live presentations, people are nervous or shy to ask questions in front of the group, and there's a line to speak to the presenter afterwards. In this format, the level of anonymity allows for more in-depth discussion and participation during and after the event. 

What were the drawbacks? Well, I like seeing and engaging with my audience. It did seem a bit like I was talking to myself, and its hard to read the audience's reaction to modify your presentation on the fly. Technology can also be a bit of a barrier; there were a lot of people in the room, making voice discussion a bit unrealistic. Although the text chat helped, there are definitely benefits to real-time discussions that were lost in this format.

All in all, though, I'm digging the virtual presentations. I'll be doing another one on Wednesday; you can see the details here for the Learning Innovation Meetup.   

Nina might have to get herself a new suit!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Movin' on

Today is our last day in our first office. We never really liked this office fact, we barely unpacked. I think we knew all along that it was just a transitional step and that we'd be finding a better space at some point, a space that is truly ours. 

Still, I'm kinda sad to leave. We're going virtual for a bit until we figure out where we want to be (we're not making the same mistake of moving into a space just to have one) and I'm already feeling a little less grounded. With how busy we have been, real estate has not been our priority. But I'm feeling the pull of wanting our own space, a place that we love to be in as much as we love working together.

Farewell, office space. We'll miss you not for what you are, but for what you represent to us. I'm looking forward to finding the next home for Tandem Learning.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Two of my favorite people, the Hedgehogs Without Borders, bought me a gift during their travels around the lucky cat, Mojo. Supposedly, my lucky Asian kitty will bring me luck and fulfill my wishes through the back and forth waving of his squeaky left paw. 

I'm not ashamed to admit, I am totally superstitious. Mojo kitty did a great job of wish fulfillment in his first year--everything I wrote down and put under his lustrous gold exterior DID actually come true. He didn't always work for other people, but he worked for me. Then I left my old job, and Mojo got packed away in my office knicknacks. Since his triumphant return out of storage, I haven't been wishing too much. The one wish I did have (of course a SMART objective) he did not see fit to grant, at least not in the specified timeframe. And I haven't been providing him with the typical incentivizing cat fact, his squeaky arm stopped waving a few weeks ago and I've not yet rejuvinated him with a new AA battery. 

What happened to my Mojo?

You can't neglect your dreams. Writing them down, in an of itself a form of actualization, does give them power. Nurturing your crazy ambitions does help to make you realize them. I'm not so superstitious that I think Mojo can make things happen all on his own--he is a symbol of my goals. I think I'm going to bring him some catnip tomorrow morning.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hard work, optimism, and not counting chickens

The last few weeks have been a blur of work; almost every day I actually get confused what day of the week it is. The good news is, the hard work seems to be starting to pay off. Notice the words "seems to be"? Yeah, Little Miss Optimism is definitely once bitten, twice shy. 

Somewhere along the way last year, I was reminded of a very valuable lesson. Words tend to be pretty cheap. People are much better at stroking your ego then just telling you the reality of complex situations, and they are loathe to talk about the internal politics of their organizations, especially when they don't have control. Organizations as a whole are a bit commitment phobic, and the current economy has only made this worse. 

So we're continuing to work hard, I'll keep having to ask what day it is, and hopefully my tempered optimism will be end up being a little less tempered.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I've been Twittering, posting on Facebook, Yammering, and IMing all day about it, but in case you didn't hear, today is officially the one year anniversary of Tandem Learning. More accurately, its the anniversary of the first day that I didn't have another form of income (I had already filed to register as a company as of Jan. 31), but that's as good of a starting point as any. 

It's been a long, strange first year. I can't believe everything that has happened. I couldn't have done this without the ridiculously awesome support of my family. I couldn't have done this, and wouldn't have wanted to because it wouldn't have been nearly as fantastic, without my fellow Tandemites. 

I could be mushy and reflect on everything that happened over the past year. I prefer to quote our unofficial motto: We told you so.

Happy anniversary to us. May there be many more. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Three cool things you need to check out

Cool thing #1: If you've been following my conference commentary over the last year, its probably no surprise that I have some pretty clear ideas of what has made a conference good and what has made conferences not so valuable. Finally, someone is ASKING for these opinions! Check out Jay Cross's blog, answer his quick survey and give your opinion too. Love the title, PowerPoint is Tyranny

Cool thing #2: Nick Wilson released his free eBook, Virtual Worlds for Business, on the Clever Zebra website. Go get it and read it. I don't agree with all of his assessments, especially on the learning opportunities of different virtual world platforms. But I am SO happy to see this information being compiled and distributed. And case studies!!! Thanks Nick--looking forward to details on the upcoming conference!

Cool thing #3: Just saw Jane Bozarth's latest blog on what ID/trainer tools people DIDN'T mention they use in their daily practice...namely, ROI tools. I'm not surprised. Not just because I just blogged about this, but because I'd be willing to guess that Jane didn't get a whole lot on how people are conducting needs analyses either. Until we start bridging this gap of best practice versus actual practice, we're failing to lead our profession.

Radio silence

Wow. It's been over a week, almost two weeks since I blogged. Why is that? Let me count the reasons, which I believe any busy start up entrepreneur will identify with:

  • Client meetings
  • Travel and a conference
  • New proposals to write
  • New marketing materials to develop
  • Twitter updates have become easier to do than blog entries
  • Year end accounting stuff
  • And the never ending demands of home ;)
All this, and I've foolishly decided to start up P90X again. Yes, me=glutton for punishment. But I have lots of things to catch up on, so brace yourself for the blog catch-up barrage!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The difference between talk and action

You can ask most anyone who knows me well...I am always coming up with ideas. I'm not so vain to believe that they are always good ideas, and logistically it would be impossible to actually do a lot of the crazy things that I think up (not to mention I'd have to give up sleep altogether, and possibly get a clone...). But occasionally I actually do think some of them are good ideas. 

So what's the real difference between a good idea and a not-so-good one? At the end of the day, its probably less about the actual greatness of the idea and much more about the execution. See, most people just talk about their ideas. Most people don't actually DO the things they talk about. Sure, there are lots of reasons, lots of excuses--money, time, knowing where to start--but action is what makes an idea great. Good execution is much more important that having a good idea. 

I read a tweet today in my twitterstream from @pcarles 
Have just launched with some friends a new - small - company in France...Not a great idea,but great people to work with. Really exciting !
And that, my friends, is what its all about. Best wishes to @pcarles and his friends in making their not so "great idea" a fantastic success...its all in the action and execution.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Classic western review of TechKnowledge 09

Alright, so I've been to a few conferences over the last many that I'm now Silver Preferred on US Airways. I've seen really well run sessions, exhibit halls and networking activities, and I've seen some epic fails. 

I started out my 2009 conference season last week in Las Vegas at ASTD's TechKnowledge. It was my first year attending this conference and I wasn't sure what to expect. Going in with no expectations, it's a little easier to make comparisons and critiques. And so, in the spirit of Clint Eastwood, I bring you the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of TechKnowledge 09.

The Good

  • Smart people presenting: I like to surround myself with people who are smarter than me, and it was easy to find them at TechKnowledge. I had invigorating and insightful conversations with people I already knew and people I just met. It says something about a conference that it's able to attract that level of attendees and presenters. 
  • Attendees willing to participate: every session that I attended, the attendees were actively participating and asking questions. This is a big change from most conferences where getting people to participate is like pulling teeth. 
  • Hands on sessions: I love the idea of hands on labs where people can actually DO something. Creation Stations and Learning Labs are a great idea. Two suggestions--most people have laptops, so can we just use them for the activities? And if I'm in a session in front of a computer, let me play and explore within the given parameters of the topic--don't lecture me while I have the opportunity to actually practice.
  • Active solicitation of feedback: a lot of conferences have the little surveys at the end of sessions. I was impressed at the encouragement to complete these forms, and it seemed most people did fill them out. Not only was feedback solicited for the sessions, but several times throughout the conference, overall feedback was asked for as well. 
  • Virtual conference: I haven't had the chance to hear how people who attended the parallel virtual conference found it to be, but I give ASTD kudos for trying. I have been amazed whenever I go to a virtual worlds conference that they don't have a virtual presence to capitalize on all of the benefits that the current technologies can bring. I think it was brilliant for ASTD to attempt this with TechKnowledge and I expect more conferences will begin to follow suit. 

The Bad
  • Conference guide: it's just a little thing, but I didn't think the guide was well laid out. It was confusing to try to plan which sessions to attend. A simple chart, color-coding by topics...all basic information design that would have been extremely helpful.
  • Expo floor: I was so disappointed by the expo floor. The expo was small, and of the vendors that were there, I wasn't overly impressed by the innovation. I would have expected to see much more cutting edge technology on display at a tech conference. Of the four short rows of booths, one was more than half empty. As a vendor, I was really happy with my decision not to purchase a booth. That does not bode well for my involvement as a vendor at future ASTD conferences.
  • Limited networking opportunities: There was an ice cream social. There was breakfast and drinks. That's about it. I would have loved to have seen more opportunities to meet other attendees with similar interests. 
  • Overuse of the term "virtual": This is a particular pet-peeve. I went to one session that discussed the use of virtual worlds for learning, but it was mainly focused on Second Life and the questions raised in the audience were regrettably not answered appropriately for a corporate audience. For the record, there are well over 50 virtual world platforms, not to mention options to integrate Flash with multiplayer servers. Every other session I attended that had "virtual" in the title was really referring to web meetings. It was painfully obvious that there was no one at the conference who knew very much about virtual worlds and their applications and challenges for enterprise implementations. Again, for a technology conference, this was a huge disappointment.
  • Lecture-style sessions: I've got to keep beating this drum until someone listens to me. How many learning professionals really think that the best way to get people to learn is by lecturing to them? And yet, learning conference after learning conference that I attend, the majority of the sessions are lectures. C'mon people! When are we going to start practicing what we preach?
The Ugly
  • Wifi access: This is just inexcusable. I was shocked at the lack of wifi access throughout the conference. A TECHNOLOGY conference. We are all knowledge workers, most of us mobile. Not having adequate wifi access during the conference was unacceptable.
  • Lack of cutting edge technology: ok, maybe finding the latest new technologies to showcase is a bit more difficult than getting wifi access at a conference, but its pretty important if "tech" is in the name of your conference. I really was hoping to be exposed to new technologies and see how people were applying them to learning. I've seen more new technology shown at industry specific conferences like SPBT and I/ITSEC. If this is really going to be billed as a technology conference, I'd like to see something more groundbreaking featured than PowerPoint. Oh, and again, Second Life doesn't count unless you can show me how to apply it to enterprise integrations.
  • Lack of practical focus of sessions: one way of getting around vendors promoting their services in sessions is to have more people on the academic side presenting. So what do you lose with this strategy? Information on the practical applications of the information presented. The majority of the sessions I attended, and feedback I heard from other attendees, is that either sessions were too theory-based with no guidance for how to apply the theory or that the sessions were too case study-based and couldn't easily be applied to varied contexts. Either way, as an attendee, I'm leaving the conference with information that I'm not sure what to do with. If the goal of most conferences is to provide information to attendees that they can go back and apply in their companies, relying on mainly academic speakers is not going to suffice. Sure, I'm a vendor, and maybe a bit biased, but you know what? I work with a variety of companies across industries and I know what the challenges are for implementing simulations, serious games, and virtual worlds in an organization. Other vendors know a lot about the challenges and strategies of implementing their products and services. Its not promotion, its expertise, and for those willing to share expertise at a conference perhaps its worth the occasional promotional comment. At least there's a greater likelihood that attendees could leave knowing a lot more about the realities of learning technology implementations in their organizations instead of just theories.
  • Lack of integration of Web 2.0 and social networking tools: even some of the most poorly run conferences I've attended have set up pre-conference networking sites for attendees. This would have been especially helpful at TechKnowledge, particularly if people had the ability to network with the virtual conference attendees as well. During the conference, despite the best efforts of Michelle Lentz and others to build the twitterstream, your best bet to meet up with someone was to bump into them or already have their cell phone number. There were lots of ideas presented in sessions about how to integrate these tools into learning, but very little evidence of their integration at the conference. 
Typically I live blog some of the sessions I attend, but wireless access being non-existent prevented me from doing so this time. I would like to give a shout out to Tony Karrer for integrating tweets with his keynote (very cool) and keeping me awake even in Vegas at 8 am (though I don't think I agree that everyone starting a blog is a good way to move technology integration and adoption forward...). Ironically, my favorite session was also at 8 am; you should check out Mark Oehlert's session slides here and his notes on the conference here

Putting the gun back in the holster for now, but expect to hear more thoughts after Training 2009 in Atlanta next week.