Thursday, September 30, 2010

Attack of the Classic Games: SIEGE ARG

So excited to be attending and speaking at the SIEGE conference this weekend--even more excited about the work we have done to put together an ARG with the collaborative efforts of Silly Monkey, Getting Girls in the Game, and Design Marbles.

Tomorrow, we'll be proud to announce the Attack of the Classic Games ARG.

This ARG is a bit different, since it will be mainly played during the actual conference. There will be online components and lots of onsite play. I'm looking forward to seeing what a conference full of gamers do in comparison with the learning audiences we usually design for.

And I'm really looking forward to hearing Nolan Bushnell speak!

Monday, September 20, 2010

What Tandem Learning does: the short version

I've been asked a lot over the last few years "what does Tandem Learning do?" and the question always makes me pause. There are short answers: "we're a learning design company" "we focus on immersive, experiential learning design" "we're a learning company that leverages the latest technologies" "we're experts in applying game theory to learning experiences." But those answers don't really explain what we do, or at least, most people look back at me blankly and I'm compelled to keep talking.

Over the past few weeks we've been working on updating our marketing materials to more closely reflect the work that we do and the value we bring. Its a difficult exercise to define these things succinctly when we do such a wide variety of work. After much discussion and editing and back and forth, our website introduces us as:

Tandem Learning strives to understand our client's unique learning needs, interests and aspirations. We infuse each project with insightful, strategic, and creative instructional and game design.  Our respect for learner experience, together with our passion for quality immersive learning and serious games, allows us to deliver the maximum benefit to the people who matter most — our clients.

Our purpose is to help you go from the training you have to the learning that will inspire your organization. 

And I think this is a great foundation. Yes, we build games, ARGs, do consulting and design immersive learning curriculum online and for mobile devices. Yes, we are constantly exploring the latest technologies and seeing how they can be leveraged for learning. Yes, you're more likely to see us talking about Sony Move than the latest update to Captivate. There's a reason for that.

We are a company that helps organizations design immersive, experiential learning that allows employees to practice what they have learned and leverages the technologies their employees are already using. We design the types of training organizations want when they realize the e-learning modules they've been building aren't actually changing learner behavior. No, we don't sell a one-methodology-fits-all rapid development tool, although some of our solutions are fast and budget-friendly--they're just more sophisticated to address unique learning needs.

It turns out that "inspiring, sophisticated learning experience designers" is a description that requires a little more explanation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A week without social media: what is Harrisburg University learning?

If you haven't cut off social media yourself, you have probably heard about the social media blackout imposed at Harrisburg University this week.

To be honest, I was surprised about the blackout for two reasons. First, I know these guys! I'm serving on advisory boards, presented at both LEEF conferences, and have plans to do more with them in the future. So I know they aren't crazy. And second? They are a technology-focused university. The whole building is wired and designed like a tech-girl's dream. All of their degree programs are technology-related.

This seems like the university least likely to cut their students off from social media.

Knowing the brilliant people who are moving Harrisburg University forward has its advantages when the topic starts trending on Twitter. I decided to reach out to two of my friends to get the scoop on their week off from social media.

Speaking to Charles Palmer (@charlespalmer), Exec. Dir. Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies/Assoc. Prof. of Multimedia, I could tell just two days in that there had already been an impact on him personally. "I feel like I'm missing out on conversations," Charles admitted after telling me that he was also imposing the blackout at home. "I miss Twitter, but I'm realizing that I use Facebook as a distraction.

Andy Petroski (@apetroski), Director of Learning Technologies and Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies, shared this about his experience so far:

For me personally, it’s had a big impact on me sharing out resources to my network.  There have been at least a dozen times over the past 1 ½ days when I would have shared resources via Twitter and was not able to (via the desktop).  Usually, the activity of sharing via Twitter also results in my finding resources from my network as well.  I’ve also received LinkedIn group notifications of resources and discussions that I’ve been unable to review.  Those resources are often valuable and have an impact on my work.  I’ve marked them for later reading (or the evening or next week) for now.

Charles shared some of the students' perspectives as well. The reaction started out as uproar on Friday when they first found out, but has settled into one of two camps: students who are accepting it and students who are figuring out how to circumvent the system. Both of those experiences may be valuable...either from an actively reflective perspective of how technology impacts our lives, or simply from the standpoint that these future technology professionals are gaining valuable experience about working around (or enforcing) network security. Ironically, Harrisburg University's Social Media Summit is this week. I'm sure the blackout will spark much of the conversation there, as it has been all over the world.

I think the big question is, what's the point?

Unplugging from social media may actually help students better assess how these tools can, and should, be used. By removing social media from the equation, students may become consciously aware of how they use these tools to communicate, build relationship, work, and learn. Taking a break might help them realize which tools are actually valuable and why they are valuable. As these students enter organizations, this reflective exercise may help them better understand how organizational dynamics are impacted by social media and help them lead organizations in implementing appropriate tools, processes, and policies to support effective use. 

Of course, Charles admitted, they might not learn much at all. A week isn't a big enough window to change behavior, and they don't have any misconceptions that it will. But Charles mentioned that this initial experiment may lay the foundation for a larger, more comprehensive future experiment where real research can be conducted. 

In speaking with Charles and Andy, I think the real value of this experiment is not what the outcomes are this week. People have become so engrossed in social media as a communication tool that they sometimes neglect other, perhaps more valuable, forms of communication. This week provides a chance to do some comparative analysis. Giving students an opportunity to experience an unplugged existence provides a chance for critical and intentional behavioral reflection on how they are using social media. As learning professionals, we often ask students to critically reflect, but don't always provide the space or environment to facilitate that reflection. Even a week without social media could provide valuable insight into how students gain value, or not, from social media tools.

In the case of Charles and Facebook? It sounds like I'll be seeing less status updates. But I'll be happy to see him and Andy back in my Twitterstream. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Bloomfire interview: What book has inspired you?

I was so flattered to be approached for an interview by the brilliantly innovative guys at Bloomfire for an interview on their blog. The key question Nemo Chu posed to me was "what book has inspired the way I approach corporate training?"

You can see my full interview here.

It's a great question, and I'd love to hear what books have inspired you or changed the way you look at training, learning, design...

Monday, September 6, 2010

The problem with selling training

You could talk to any company that offers training products or services or corporate training professionals and hear the same laments about the challenges of selling training:

Organizations don't value training
Companies focus too much on sales and marketing and not enough on developing employees
The economy is bad and training is the first thing to go

I don't agree.

There are definitely challenges in selling training products and services, whether its inside and organization or as a training vendor, but I don't blame the economy or organizations themselves, per se. We have a perception problem in the training industry. Some of it is the nature of learning and some of it is quite simply our own fault.

The nature of learning itself is a problem with selling training. Human beings are always learning. Our learning isn't tied to a workshop or an e-learning module. We learn all day, every day...our intelligence is the collection and synthesis of our unique experiences. We don't really ever stop learning. Even if we don't consciously acknowledge this, we know this. And so, its no wonder that, if money is tight or resources are limited, that training is an easy budget to cut. Rightly so, the unstated belief is "people will continue to learn what they really need to know in order to be successful, with or without formal training."And organizations act accordingly.

The much, much bigger problem with selling training is what we're actually trying to sell. Have you seen the crap that gets passed off in training in most organizations? Is it any wonder that executives don't have a problem cutting the budget for that?!? How many of us who design training would look forward to going through an Articulate module? Attending a typical workshop? Um, not me. In fact, if I was the CEO making budget cuts, that type of training would be an easy decision. AND I VALUE TRAINING! The problem is that most training is designed fast and cheap, and so that's the value that's placed on it.

Let's say I'm an executive at a large company. I want my people to be well-trained...of course I do. I don't know anything about designing training. I know, intrinsically, that people who are motivated will learn what they need to to be successful. I remember my training....booooorrrrring. I remember that I learned the most by doing my job, finding a highly skilled mentor, and interacting with my peers.

And then the Director of Training walks in. She's well credentialed and has many years experience. She's asking for money to develop sales training. Here's probably what I'm thinking:

Gee, that makes sense...we need to make sure our sales people are successful and have the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to outsell our competitors. 
But, ugh. We have limited resources.
You know, we hired these people to do a job and we hire the best people out there. Shouldn't they already know how to sell? 
We have some of the best sales people I've ever can we teach the people who aren't doing as well what these superstars know?
Did I ever learn anything about sales from an e-learning module or workshop? No...I learned it by getting out there and doing it. I learned from watching people who were the best and then doing what they did.
I know the last time we spent money on sales training, everybody sat in workshops that cost a fortune and I didn't see any ROI analysis after those workshops were done. I also heard mixed feedback...some people said the workshops were good, but I also heard complaints about being out of the field, not enough real-world examples, and people didn't get to practice enough. Also, they kept complaining about the temperature in the classroom and they wanted more snacks.
Ok, but she's not asking for workshops...she wants to create online learning. I've seen those e-learning modules. Torture. Click, click, click. I don't want to make our sales people have to sit through that! Plus, they don't get to interact with each other. I don't see how that is going to help anyone get better at selling our (products, services, brand). 
I can't NOT invest in sales training if we have a need. But I don't see how this is going to help our sales people improve our bottom line. Still, she's the training expert, so I need to put trust in her that this is the best we can do.

Then the inevitable conclusion...I allocate some minimal amount of budget and the Training Director has to figure out what crap she can develop with the little money she has.

And the cycle continues.

If training professionals continue to settle for producing "fast and cheap" training to check the box, we'll never change the hearts and minds of the executives holding the purse strings. If we can't advocate for the difference between good design and placeholder training, we will continue to be undervalued. If we don't demonstrate good examples of how social learning can be supported, how technology can be appropriately leveraged, and how we can create immersive learning experiences that allow employees to practice real-life skills in a training environment...then the cycle will continue.

So let's stop blaming the economy. Let's stop blaming executives that don't value training.

Let's take a long, hard look at what value we're bringing to the training "table." If you're not proving your value, you won't be valued.