Saturday, December 31, 2011

Game on, 2012, game on.

I got a dog.
I taught a graduate class on game design. 
I said JFDI (the actual words ;) on stage during the closing keynote at DevLearn. 
I finally took the kiddos to Disney World. 
I sold my company. 
I signed a book deal. 
I held out hope, had my hopes dashed and had my hopes renewed. 
I signed The Book. 
I joined a choir. 
I drove 37 hours over 5 days with 3 kiddos and a puppy. 
I closed some chapters, started some new ones and left some to be continued. 
I leaned on my friends and they leaned on me. 
I laughed until I cried. 
I cried until I laughed. 
I got my first tattoo.
I took up photography and took beautiful pictures. 
I tweeted and blogged and tumblr'd and flickr'd.
I danced. A lot. And not always in my living room :)
I read the entire Game of Thrones series (so far). 
I strengthened friendships that I can't imagine living without.
I watched my kiddos grow in ways I could never have predicted.
I grew in ways I could never have predicted.
I learned. 

So let's dance, 2012. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Love means never having to say you're sorry

I have a really bad habit of apologizing for...everything. Problems big and small, things that I did directly, or things that I had nothing to do with, chances are if you are upset about something and tell me about it, I'll apologize. Its not that I walk around carrying the weight of the world; I just tend to take on responsibility for things in an attempt to alleviate the burden on everyone else. So I'll say I'm sorry for all manner of things and shift the responsibility of dealing with issues from other people to myself, as if to say "this is my fault, I'll try to fix it and make things better for you."

I've decided to stop apologizing.

It's not that I don't want to offer support or friendship or kindness, but just the simple act of apologizing misplaces responsibility when the apology isn't warranted and puts me in a position of constantly being responsible to everyone. Quite frankly, I make enough mistakes on my own without taking on other people's.

So I'm not sorry that you've made mistakes that have caused bad things to happen, or that sometimes bad things just happen, and I'm not sorry that my feelings, requests, or needs might make you feel uncomfortable or demand that you take some action and I'm not sorry that other people in your life have done you least not to the extent that I'm willing to take responsibility for it. If you need me, I'm here. I'll listen and commiserate and maybe even make poignant dartboard targets to take out your aggression on. I'll be honest with you and if you ask for my opinion, I'll give it to you straight up. But I'm not going to apologize.

I'm pretty sure I'll screw up spectacularly and often, and yes, I'll apologize when I should. Heartfelt and with intention to not make the same mistakes twice.

But I'm not going to apologize for things I didn't do anymore. And if you do hear me apologize? You'll know I really mean it.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You can't measure learning, but you can measure behavior

I'm overstating it a bit with the title of this post, because sure, you can measure knowledge acquisition by pre-testing and post-testing, or iterative assessment. I know, I know...we can measure how much someone knows because we have standardized tests! (I really hope the sarcasm is evident in text...)

I spent the last three days at the mHealth Summit in Washington, DC and 19 hours manning the Ayogo booth, talking to amazingly interesting people about the potential of games to improve health outcomes. What mattered to everyone? It wasn't what people know...amazingly, most everyone actually knows what they need to do to be healthier. The challenge is to get people to actually DO those healthy things that will help them better manage their diabetes, reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease, etc.

When it comes to health, but really when it comes to ANYTHING, there is a knowing-doing gap. We all know then why are we as a learning profession settling for assessing knowing? Knowing is not doing. The proof is in the behavior, and behavior can be easily measured.

We live in an age where everything we do is tracked. Do you carry a cell phone? Your wireless carrier knows where you take that phone all day, every day. Do you use a credit card or bank card? All of your purchases are tracked. Do you log onto the Internet? Every site that you visit is logged and recorded (yeah...I delete the history. That just means your kids won't see those sites your visiting...but your Internet service provider still knows).

All of that data, and more...everything you post on Facebook, Twitter...everything you email...anything you do is trackable now. And more ways to track behavior are being created every day...sleep monitors, pedometers, glucose monitors...there is data EVERYWHERE and its all about you. And me. And the guy sitting in traffic next to you who's using his gps.

With all of this data, we can start making predictions about future outcomes. We can target specific communities or subsets of employees, populations, learners. We can provide information to the most relevant audiences in the most appropriate places.

As learning professionals, we should be thinking more closely about the implications of that data and what it means to know so much about a person's current status and the implications for her future status. Can we change the future? Why yes...yes we can. We can observe current behaviors, predict future outcomes, and use our expertise in learning and performance improvement to change behavior to improve those future outcomes.

We have access to so much behavioral data. How do we get people to change their behavior, when we know that people operate in a world of short-term benefit over long-term reward? We're not going to change those behaviors through knowledge training...we'll only change them through behaviorally-focused training. Games, simulations, contextualized practice...immersive learning environments are the bridge between having access to data and changing behavior for better results.

We can, and already do, measure behavior in almost every aspect of our lives. Learning professionals need to stop focusing on knowledge and start focusing on behavioral change as the basis of our design practice or risk obsolescence (see: Instructional Design is Dead). Our jobs aren't about making sure people know things...they are about making sure people can do things better. We can design those experiences and measure those outcomes. If we aren't doing that, we're not doing our jobs.

Gauntlet thrown. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Achievements: what games get right and most training doesn't

I have well-defined, differing opinions on the term gamification. On the one hand, I'm a self-proclaimed games for learning advocate, I teach a graduate class on game design, and I make my living designing games. Clearly, I believe games can be an effective strategy for helping people learn and supporting the process to behavior change. On the other hand, the recent hype around gamification has caused an influx of poorly designed rewards systems to be pushed as "learning" when really they have just added an extrinsic reward layer that has been shown long-term to actually discourage the very behavior that the rewards were intended to promote. At its worst, gamification is simply a bad marketing gimmick.

As with all learning strategies, design is the key. There is well-designed classroom training, and there is bad. There is really effective e-learning, but there is also a lot of crap. And...there are good, engaging, effective and (gasp!) fun games...and lots that aren't. At its essence, the difference comes down to design.

Achievements are one of the mechanisms used in games to help players gauge their progress. Sometimes they are called badges, sometimes they are in the form of rewards in the game (access to special content, etc.). Achievements are used in games as "mini-rewards" to let players know that they are making progress towards the end goal. Maybe its simply a level up...but achievements let the players know they are making progress towards their goal, often in this context its winning the game.

Why aren't achievements used more in training? How do learners know how close they are to achieving competence in applying their knowledge toward a goal? Why don't we view the stepping stones of a learning path as a series of small wins instead of series of completions?
demotivational posters - ACHIEVEMENTS
see more Very Demotivational

Perhaps its because most training isn't provided in the context of behavioral objectives, or even business objectives. Perhaps its because training, courses and modules, and its completion, are actually viewed as the end goal. We focus very much on the battles, without communicating what constitutes winning the war.

Think about what we are rewarding when we track completion. The goal of training is to collect completion achievements. Sure, maybe you need to get 80-90% of the questions right, but then that is just some detail added to the completion goal. Our goals should not be to have people prove they sat in a class or finished an e-learning module. Our goals, the "boss level" of this game, should be performance goals, and our training opportunities simply steps along the path to support behavior change and performance improvement. If we aren't making the connections for our learners between the training they are asked to complete and how that training maps to steps of achievement as they are working towards their performance goals, how do they know what they are working towards, or how close they are to achieving it?

Have you identified performance goals for your organization's training curriculum? If not, what game are you asking your learners to play?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

We Are...Pointing Fingers

I still need to blog about DevLearn 2011, and I will, but an adorable little stomach virus is ravaging my household...and a reprehensible set of circumstances is ravaging my graduate school alma mater, Penn State University.

Bad people make decisions that hurt other people intentionally. Good people make decisions that hurt other people unintentionally.

Jerry Sandusky is a pedophile that molested boys that were already victims, abused his position of authority, and created an environment that allowed him to continue that pattern for years. He's clearly a bad guy.

Joe Paterno is a football coach to whom a really disturbing incident was reported, who in turn reported that incident, which resulted in inaction and subsequent offenses. He could have done more. But I'm not convinced that makes him a bad guy.

I've made decisions in my life that have hurt people unintentionally. I've always tried to do the best, be the best, with the information I have. Sometimes the information I have is incomplete, or flat out wrong...that has led me to make, in retrospect, some really bad choices. Some of those choices hurt people. I live with that every day.

When I was young, I knew something was wrong with my great-grandfather. If you would have asked me, I wouldn't have been able to name it. I just knew I was uncomfortable being around him and I never let myself be alone with him. I wouldn't sit on his lap; I wouldn't let him kiss me. I just knew something was wrong.

Then one day, the stories started to emerge about what my great-grandfather had been doing. In the end, I was the only one of the great-grandchildren who had escaped unscathed. When my parents and the other adults in my life started asking questions, I admitted that I knew something was wrong. Then the inevitable questions: "why didn't you say something? Why didn't you do something? If you would have said something, other peoples' pain could have been prevented." I know all of this is true. At the time, I didn't have the words to explain my feelings, I didn't have evidence to point to. I didn't want to cause a big drama focused on the patriarch of my family. And it WAS a big drama...many family members shunned him, one called the police, but many defended him...he was just a lonely old man, after all. A lonely old child molester, in fact.

Since then, I've had situations arise where I have stepped up. A friend in junior high who sent me a suicide note, which I turned in to my guidance counselors...another friend in high school who I reported to child protective services after I had to help her bandage the weeping open sores across her back from where her father had whipped her...when I became a teacher, a student in my class who showed up with one bruise one too many. Each of these incidences resulted in some tremendous backlash--I lost friendships, I was accused of lying, I took the heat for bad situations that people desperately wanted to ignore and deny. I like to think that I made the right decisions anyway.

There have been other situations in my life where I suspected something was wrong, but I didn't step up to stop it. I would tell myself its not my business; I'd think about the impact or fallout on me, or what it would say about me if my assumptions were wrong. I like to think of myself as a trusting person who sees the good in people, someone who is forgiving and gives second chances. It wasn't that I didn't want to make things right, it was just really unclear what the cost-benefit of shining the light on a situation would be. What if I was wrong? Would more people be hurt by my speaking out? What would the exposure mean to everyone involved? What if speaking my truth actually caused more harm than good? At some point you have to make a decision on what you believe, who you trust, and then prepare to live with the consequences of being wrong.

Joe Paterno will live with his decisions. It is so easy to Monday morning quarterback, to say what he should have done. There must have been a million thoughts that passed through his mind: are these accusations possible? If they are, who is responsible for addressing them? If they aren't, what are the repercussions of making false accusations? Who do I believe? Who do I trust? What do I do when I answer those questions for myself?

Maybe we don't recognize the monsters among us. Maybe we try too hard to see the good and ignore the bad. Maybe its just too hard to think "he's a pedophile." Maybe our inherent trust sometimes backfires spectacularly and then we're left to reflect on what we could have done differently to prevent the devastation.

Maybe we should cut the good guys a break for doing the best they can with the tools they have available, even when their best is an epic failure.

There is a difference between the man who chooses to betray trust intentionally, repeatedly, and only thinking of himself, and the people around him who, often unintentionally or with best intentions, allow that betrayal and abuse to continue. All have fault. All have responsibility. All have to live with the consequences of their actions, or inaction. But there are levels of responsibility, and there are intentions that drive decisions, that differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. Good guys screw up trying to do what they think is right. Bad guys don't care what is right.

The good news is there are a lot more good guys than bad guys. Let's try to keep that in mind.

**Additional thought (after original publication of this post): what Buzz said.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I design games; I teach game design. I spend a lot of time dissecting motivation, examining what drives behavior. I create competition and scoring structures to reinforce and reward success.

Today's announcement is all about winning.

I started Tandem Learning in February 2008 and started this blog at the same time to document my adventures as an entrepreneur. Some of my posts have been work-related, some personal, but everything I've written has represented my journey, up, down, and sideways over the past three and a half years.

Today's announcement is all about the next phase in that journey.

Last Friday, we signed the paperwork: Ayogo Games has acquired Tandem Learning.

Can I get a Hell Yeah?!?! Woohoo!!!!!
And an OMG. Seriously.

There will be lots of information coming soon about all of the awesome things that will be happening with the merging of Ayogo and Tandem, how our skills and expertise compliment and enhance each other's and the cool work we're already doing together.

But this post is my celebration. My "in your face" to the haters. My happy dance, my victory lap, my WE DID IT!!!

I started a company, I built it up, and I sold it. I set a big scary crazy goal and I achieved it. I didn't give up, I didn't give in and I didn't listen to everyone who told me I couldn't have it all. I've learned so much, about so much...this was an awesome prelude to the next phase.

This is also a thank you, to more people than I can possibly name (except can I not thank Jedd?). I can't begin to express my gratitude, in different ways to different people. For now, for this blog...thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for following along.

This, my friends, is what it looks like to level up. Game on!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


You've been conditioned for complacency and its preventing you from being awesome.

From when we are little, we learn to listen to what authority figures tell us and to do what we're told. Not only are we taught to obey, we are also taught not to question:

"Because I said so"
"You get what you get and you don't get upset"
"Settle down"

We're taught that fitting in, behaving ourselves, and following directions are desired states. We're taught to color in the lines, line up and stay in line. We're taught that compliance is good and conflict is bad. All of this is reinforced through the systems we put in place in schools, including standardized tests. Different is singled out, normative is reinforced and rewarded.

Print by VladStudio
Yet we revere those who break the mold, those who realize dreams, take risks, and make the world better. We celebrate creativity and "the new." We spend our time and our money to surround ourselves with the elegant, the beautiful, the joyous, the inspirational.

Instead of teaching people caution, fear of being different, and tempering their uniqueness, shouldn't we be encouraging courage, creativity, and risk-taking?

Can we reconcile wanting to be unique snowflakes and our desire for the comfort of belonging, being just one indistinguishable snowflake in a snowstorm? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shameless learning promotion

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I've been promoting (read: pimping) my pre-conference workshop for DevLearn 2011, titled How to Promote Learning Engagement Across the Enterprise.

I am really excited about this workshop.

Over the past several years, I've worked with organizations on adopting new learning programs and technologies, including organizational adoption consulting of emerging tech like virtual worlds. Time after time, in organization after organization, new learning technologies are introduced with the attitude "if we have it, they will use it." These initiatives aren't JUST a technology introduction...often they represent a cultural change. In the triad of organizational adoption (people, process, technology), most organizations focus on the technology first, sometimes on the process, and often the people are an afterthought.

For learning professionals, people are your customers. How can you make your customers happy? How can you gain new customers?

I'm excited about this workshop because I'm going to be talking about the part of what I do that most people don't usually get to see. Most of my speaking engagements focus on leveraging new technologies for learning and design strategies, but this session is going to focus on what happens after an organization says yes to innovation. Dare I say, great design is not enough?

I hope you'll join me in Vegas and practice some of the critical competencies that go beyond design: marketing, sales, first experience strategies, and data collection and analysis.

Its time to make like Don Draper and channel your inner sales lizard. Fedoras welcome.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Legends are people too

There has been much written this week about the loss of Steve Jobs and his life's (and death's) impact...he truly changed the world, not only through the products he created, but also through the inspiration he provided and his challenge for us to "Think Different."

The thing that has struck me as I deal with my own very real emotional response to his death is this: he was just a man. He left behind a wife and four children who are grieving for the loss of their husband, father. He put his pants on one leg at a time. Although I didn't know him, I'm guessing Steve Jobs experienced the same range of human emotions we all do: fear, love, sadness, frustration, anger, joy, essence and in many ways, Steve Jobs was no different than any of us.

Sure, Steve Jobs was in many ways very different than us. But what was it that made him so different? What is it that differentiates "us" from those we consider legends, if all of us are, at our core, the same? I'm sure there are many potential answers to this question, but here are mine:

  • Passion: Loving what you do, believing in it, not letting anyone dissuade you from accomplishing your vision
  • Intelligence: An intuitive understanding of people, processes, systems...being able to solve problems that incorporate all three
  • The ability to see "bigger": Legends focus big. Big problems, big solutions. They see things that don't exist yet
  • Marketing: The ability to get other people to see and believe in your vision to help you realize it
  • Knowing you can do it: There's an arrogance in people who truly believe they can change the world. I'm not saying the people are arrogant...they are confident, driven, and have an unwaivering optimism that they can make things better
  • Doing it: Legends do more walking than talking
Lots of people want to be see them everywhere. They call themselves thought leaders, gurus, innovators, futurists, visionaries...they do a lot of talking about what should be and spend a lot of time promoting who they are. 

What did Steve Jobs call himself? How about Mother Theresa? Ghandi? Point being...its not what people say that changes the world, its what they do. Big, focused, passionate action is what changes the world, its what makes someone legendary, and its not a secret. Steve Jobs was a man, not a superhero or a god. It was what he did that made him special.  

Can you change the world? Yes.
Can we prepare our children to change the world? Yes.
Now, will you?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Your prince isn't coming

Every night as I tuck my 5 year old in to bed, I tell her
Good night, Princess
And she giggles, and sometimes she answers back, Good night, Queen

She is my princess but not a caricature
I want to tell her, warn her
Your prince isn't coming

There is no knight in shining armor who will rescue you and with whom you'll live happily ever after
All the princes have mommy issues, daddy issues, insecurities and paralyzing fears
Princes these days are
Don Draper
Womanizers, addicts, liars, psychos, killers

Even the princes manufactured in the Disney machine
Prince Eric the dreamer, so easily manipulated
Prince Naveen, the modern day Good Time Charlie
Aladdin and Flynn, thieves
The Beast, so emotionally distant he was barely human
Prince Charming who would bore my sweet princess to death

You should not settle for a prince, I want to tell her
Knowing that one day, her prince WILL come
And he will be flawed and awkward and nothing like the man she dreamed he would be

So for now, my princess
Be a warrior like Mulan
Be a scholar like Belle
Be an entrepreneur like Tiara
Find your voice like Ariel

Your prince isn't coming
But you are a princess

Monday, September 26, 2011

Livin' La Vida Loca

I've been in a whirlwind of "stuff" that has been keeping me so extraordinarily busy that I've been thinking a lot about how to get to a better, more peaceful place. Then it struck me...I'm not really a "peaceful" kinda girl.

I've been considering happiness lately; more specifically, what makes me happy. People aspire to be "content" or "satisfied." To me? That reads: boring. My God...I can't even imagine what it must be like to feel those emotions, let alone WANT to feel them. The minute I feel content, I'm already thinking "what's next?"

I realize that leads me to live this crazy, complicated life. I realize it opens me up to be over-extended, over-scheduled, and lately....over-tired. It creates this dynamic where I never feel like I'm caught up, where I can never quite reach the finish line. That expression "I'll sleep when I'm dead"? I don't think I was supposed to take it so literally. 

The truth is...this crazy life IS my contentment. It IS my happiness. It's messy and complicated and stressful but passionate and surprising and joyful and interesting. I may not be satisfied, but I sure am having fun. 

And yes, I was just dancing in my living room to Ricky Martin. You should too. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Serendipity Versus History

Yesterday, I decided to start another blog.
New blog: more content, less commentary. More blue.

Considering that I only post to this one a few times a month, that may seem pretty silly. I was struggling with a problem I have, and for now, this seems like the best solution.

I really love Twitter. It provides me with continuing education and access to people to I value and respect anytime, and practically anywhere. I see pictures, read quotes, watch videos, and maybe most importantly, read lots and lots of articles, research studies and blog posts that in combination keep me informed and help me grow. I retweet a lot of these sources to share with others and to "save" as a record of the things that interest me.

But Twitter is a fast-paced, serendipitous stream. One of my biggest complaints about Twitter is that its really tough to review the history of what I, or anyone else, has posted. Yes, I use Favorites, but mostly that's for things that I want to come back to and read or review later. What I really wanted was more of a record, that could be tagged, archived, searched, of all of the things I come across that interest me.

I thought about just starting to add these items to this blog, but honestly, the thought of adding a stream of content to it violated my original intent: my blog is a focused area for reflection. I want to preserve what I've created for myself here and maintain consistency of content, structure and focus.

So I've set up another blog that will be a collection of things I find interesting, often (probably mostly) without commentary. I invite you to join me there as well :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Better Than Wonder Woman

I read an article the other day (that I'm not going to link to) where a female executive gave advice to women starting out in their careers. Her advice? Pick what's most important to you (career or family) and focus on that. She said that its practically impossible for women to be successful both in the boardroom and raising a family, so you have to choose. 

What a crock of shit. 

When I was a little girl, I actually didn't know if I wanted to have children. I knew that I wanted to have a career, and I didn't have a lot of role models of women who were raising a family and were successful professionally. I was always a bit geeky and Wonder Woman was my idol. When I looked at her, I saw a very successful, strong woman. She was independent, but she was also alone. I did think I had to choose. 

The day I became a mom, I did choose. I knew that my career was an indispensable part of who I was and that I would not be happy filling my days solely with play dates and mom clubs. I knew that I wanted to be a role model for my son (and later my next son, and daughter), to show him that women are just as capable of pursuing professional success as men. I knew that's the kind of mom I was...not a cookie baker or exceptional homemaker, but an executive mom. 

I knew that there would be other women who made different choices and who would judge me for mine.  There are lots of times that I look at other women with envy, for their exceptional skills at home or at work. Then I remind myself: I want to have it all. That means its not going to be perfect; it means there will be successes and failures. I can see the argument on both sides: I'd be a better mom if I didn't work so hard, or I'd be more successful if I wasn't raising children. Maybe both of those statements are true. 

But maybe MY measure of success is pursuing my professional dreams, being happy and present for my children, living the example I want to set. I can't listen to what people tell me I can, or can't, have. Those naysayers may just have a different picture of what success looks like...and that's not my picture. While I still love Wonder Woman, she's no longer my role model. She may have been strong and independent, but I wonder if she was lonely. I know now, if I want to have it all, I have to be better than Wonder Woman.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Curating digital identity: developing a personal social media policy

Earlier this summer, I got my first tattoo. I was (still am) really excited about it and immediately wrote a blog post to share it with everyone. I included a picture, explained the importance of it to me and was all ready to hit "Publish Post"...and I couldn't. It was the picture that stopped me, to be honest...the tattoo is on my ribcage and although there's nothing that you see in the picture other than my midriff and abs, I stopped because I wondered if posting the picture was appropriate for my blog where I mainly focus on topics that affect me professionally.

I had decided not to post the picture on Twitter, mainly because I thought it could potentially get me a bunch of "followers" (read: spammers)  I'd have to block anyway. Also, my Twitter account is connected to my LinkedIn account, and I didn't want the picture posted there.

I did post the picture on Facebook. My rationale was that even if you know me professionally, if you friend me on Facebook and I accept, we're agreeing that we're sharing more of the personal sides of our lives.

Now, keep in mind, this tattoo is completely visible when I'm at the pool in my swimsuit. Yet I literally thought through the implications of posting it to any of the social media tools that I use and what the impacts could be.

After going through this process and making my decisions, I realized how important it is to start getting kids thinking about their own digital identities and what information is appropriate to be shared online. I'm not just talking about avoiding child predators; I'm even thinking more subtly than losing out on a potential job or ruining relationships. Everything you post online is a representation of who you are. What other people post and say about you is an expansion on that digital identity.

My 13 year old nephew illustrated that point to me with clarity this summer during my vacation in Michigan. As I took pictures of him with my kids, he said, pleading, "Please don't tag me on Facebook." As an early teen, being seen hanging out with his little cousins wasn't exactly the reputation he was interested in curating online. Since that conversation with him, I've started asking my kids' permission before I share online any pictures of them or stories about them. There is an element of respecting other people's privacy, not just your own, that is one of the critical competencies of using social media and an important lesson for kids...and parents. People who share out information about their children's medical conditions, educational struggles, or behavioral issues are making decisions about how those children's digital identities are being formed, with potential long-term implications and impacts on their reputation.

As a professional, I'm making decisions daily on what messages, content, and personal information I share online that builds and expands my digital identity. As a parent, I'm talking to my kids about how they can start making good choices about their emerging digital identities. Forget corporate social media policies...each of us needs to develop our own social media policy to curate our digital identities and reputations. To support our personal goals, we need to develop the skills to critically assess the content we share, the context we're sharing it in, the intended audience, the channels that we're using to communicate, and the potential implications for ourselves and others in what we choose to share. For me, this means if you want to see my tattoo, you'll have to friend me on Facebook or catch me at the pool. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Activity leads to...everything

Several years ago now, I was taking on sales responsibilities as part of my job. I had never sold anything before and I had no idea how to do it. My mentor and then boss, Kevin Kruse (@kruse), wisely advised me "activity leads to sales." His point, as I understood won't sell anything if you're not actively trying to sell things. With enough activity, opportunities come your way and eventually that leads to sales. 

I've found over the years that his advice isn't just relevant to sales. Activity leads to opportunity, change, and growth. I'm not talking about random or unstructured activity...I'm advocating strategic activity, activity backed by a plan and purpose. The most successful people I know are the people who throw themselves out there, take risks, make mistakes and keep moving forward. With their activity, new options and opportunities present themselves, their plans and activities change and expand as they accomplish their goals, and they are constantly evolving. 

Evolution is the ultimate change. Change is constant, but evolution is not...evolution is a fundamental change in form or structure, a change that is an improvement, that demonstrates an adaption to context and environment. Activity is the catalyst to change, to adaption and to evolution. Without activity, there is little chance of accomplishing your goals, fewer chances to try new things, fewer opportunities to learn new skills. 

Activity leads to everything. So, what are you doing?

Thanks to Marcia Conner for the tweet that inspired this post:

@marciamarciaMarcia Conner
Achievement seems to be connected w/ action. Successful ppl keep moving. They make mistakes but don't quit. Conrad Hilton

Friday, August 26, 2011

Live events still rock & thoughts on the future of virtual events

Over the past week I attended two very different live events that epitomized where virtual events need to go in order to gain more widespread acceptance.

Geeks Celebrating Their Geekiness

The lovely Pamela Kucera & I geeking out
Last Friday, I attended the Philly Geek Awards, conceived and hosted by Geekadelphia and featuring awards for all kinds of local geek-related activities: tech start ups, film making, comic art, blogging, podcasts, viral videos, geek fashion, art, science, app development, game development...really, a veritable smorgasbord of geekery. There were mentions of Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and bacon (lots of mentions of bacon). At one point, a furry accepted an award. Besides the furry, let's just say I was with my people. It was a black-tie event, the equivalent of a geek prom. It was a blast.

Cosplay Kids Category Winners at BCC
On Sunday, I attended the Baltimore ComicCon. This is the 3rd year I've attended, and it continues to be my favorite of the ComicCons (no, I haven't been to San Diego) because of the emphasis on the writers and artists. I got to see Anthony and Conor from Kill Shakespeare, peek behind the big black curtain to glimpse Stan Lee, chat with the writer/artist for one of my son's favorite kids graphic novelists, and see more cosplay than I need to for the entire year.

What do both of these events have in common? They bring together busy communities for an opportunity to bond.

Granted, both of these events focused on people in creative full of innovators, entrepreneurs and creators. They provided an opportunity for people who busy themselves making things a chance to look around and see what their peers are making. There is immeasurable value in lifting up your head from your own work and seeing the success, hearing about the trials and failures, of others. I loved being a part of these events because they inspire me to look at my own goals and dream bigger.

Can virtual events recreate that experience of allowing creatives and creators to talk, share, bond and inspire each other? Yes. But they need to reach beyond their own user groups.

Right now, the most successful virtual events are focused on the communities and people engaged in virtual events. No surprise there, really, and its encouraging to see people eating their own dog food. But as a designer, I think about how these technologies could enable the extension of the communities that gather in person for events like the Philly Geek Awards and ComicCon on an ongoing basis. I don't think the live events will go away, nor do I want them to, but I see potential in extending out the connections made, information shared, and inspiration disseminated at these events on a more consistent and ongoing basis. We're not just a community for an annual event...we're a community all year round. We're not a community when we're face-to-face, we're a community that exists in interest and common goals no matter where we are.

Virtual worlds and event platforms can enable that type of interaction whenever you need it, not isolated to the scheduled dates and times. Pervasive community interaction already takes place in 2D tools like Facebook, but it doesn't capture the feeling of presence and engagement that 3D environments provide. It's really not possible to have a Facebook "event" and Twitter, although it provides the opportunity for live chats, is lacking the visual sharing that is such an integral part of creative communities.

Consider this a challenge to my creative friends. We push the boundaries and pride ourselves in creating new things. Shouldn't we be the ones to embrace the most progressive technologies for establishing and growing our communities?

Monday, August 22, 2011

And now for something completely different...10 women musicians you should listen to instead of Adele

For those of you who read my blog for emerging technology applications for learning, or for my reflections on being a female entrepreneur, be warned: this is a post from my inner (and not so secret) music snob.

I'm not a fan of Adele. She has a beautiful voice, to be sure. Her music is deeply emotional and soulful, absolutely. But I cannot stand the whiney, sometimes vindictive, passive aggressive lyrics that reinforce women as victims. I'll even give Adele herself a pass, I mean, she's only 23 and how much do you know about relationships, yourself, or anything really, at that age? 

So its not really Adele I don't like. Its the cult of Adele, the masses who are buying into the negative stereotypes of the roles of women in relationships. Frankly, I find it depressing. And then yesterday, the last straw that prompted me to write all of this down...I heard Adele's cover of The Cure's Love Song. Oh. Hell. No. For me, The Cure is the essence of my formative years of musical taste and my emotional development...along with New Order and The Smiths, they form the "holy trinity" of my musical identity. The Cure have a reputation for being "depressing" but with the exception of their Disintegration album, the rumors of their music being broody and melancholy have been greatly exaggerated. But hearing Adele singing Love Song? THAT was depressing. 

In recent years, I've become a much bigger fan of female musicians and have felt a stronger connection to their music. In the interest of not just complaining about how Adele fans are perpetuating negative stereotypes of women, I'd like to offer some alternative female artists to consider if you're seeking a soundtrack to your break up, your anger at the man who's done you wrong, or just some straight up girl power. 
  • Amanda Palmer: I'm going to start with my absolute favorite, the artist who I'm fangirl crazy for, and who grounds me whenever I need a kick in the pants. Her solo work is amazing, but go ahead and listen to the Dresden Dolls stuff as well. Oh, and of course, Evelyn Evelyn. There's no one who can rock the ukelele like AFP. For a start, try Astronaut. Then watch In My Mind. And then maybe a little Map of Tasmania (if you're not easily offended).
  • Bitter Ruin: I "discovered" this band at an Amanda Palmer late night cabaret show last fall. Their music is so good, and Georgia's voice is so hauntingly beautiful, that they've made it into heavy rotation on my personal playlists. Plus Ben is adorable in the best possible way. Their new video, Trust, is a good place to start.
  • Feist: You probably heard 1234 on the radio, but listen to more of Feist and you get the sense that you're in the company of your best girlfriend who understands just how you feel. My favorite is How My Heart Behaves. And she's got a new album coming get that too.
  • Florence + the Machine: Soulful voice, amazing lyrics, and the ability to capture the essence of complex but hopeful emotion. Cosmic Love makes me happy happy happy.
  • Regina Spektor: Probably the most underappreciated musician on this list, Regina's voice is phenominal and makes you feel her lyrics deeply. Start with Fidelity then keep going.
  • Neko Case: To be honest, I need to listen to Neko Case more than I do. Correction: I need to listen to more Neko Case songs than I do. I'm stuck on This Tornado Loves You
  • Amy Winehouse: I'm so sad she's gone. Her songs represented themes as tragic as her life. Move beyond Rehab and listen to Tears Dry On Their Own.
  • Zee Avi: If you haven't heard of Zee Avi, you're welcome. She's a powerhouse in a tiny package. Listen to Monte for a sample.
  • Colbie Caillat: I had to include my guilty pleasure on this list. Seriously, she's mushy, chick pop wallowing goodness. My inner music snob is embarrassed to include her, but include her I must. I Won't will get Colbie added to your guilty pleasure list too.
  • Patsy Cline: If you haven't listened to a Patsy Cline album, what is wrong with you? :) Seriously...this woman paved the way for heartbreak songs from the woman's point of view. No one does it better. No one. Listen to She's Got You right now. Do it. 
Honorable Mentions, individual songs:
10,000 Maniacs, Verdi Cries
Kirsty MacColl, In These Shoes

Am I missing anyone? 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ARG Design: My session today at the Distance Teaching & Learning conference

I'm in BEAUTIFUL Madison, Wisconsin and getting ready to present this afternoon on alternate reality game (ARG) design. I'm particularly excited about today's half-day session because most of the participants are currently working in colleges and universities, and the prospect of incorporating gaming into academic curriculum is fantastic. Having spent the last two days onsite with a corporate client reviewing the design of an ARG to train their employees on the new functionality of their soon to be released ecommerce site, I'm coming into today with recent, relevant feedback and questions on how ARGs can support education and training.

While I don't think I'll be able to transfer everything I know today in the 3-hour time slot, I'm hoping to hit on some of the basics of learning game design: the issue to be addressed (learning or performance goal), storyline, character development, scoring, and user experience.

I'll be covering these topics in the course I'm teaching this fall at Harrisburg University in much more detail (and if you're interested in registering, its a mixed live/virtual class so come join us!). As I've been developing the curriculum for that course and for writing the immersive learning design book, I've been wondering...what would do learning professionals WANT to know about these topics? If you were taking a class, or reading a book, what would you want to walk away knowing and being able to do? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Coming in 2012: Immersive Learning Design (my first book!)

It's official!

As I type this, my book contract with ASTD is in the post and I'm mentally preparing for the next few months of writing my first book to be published next year: Immersive Learning Design.

I've been blogging since starting Tandem Learning, I've written articles about the many shades of immersive learning (games, simulations, virtual worlds), and I've presented at more conferences than I could easily count. But a book is a different level of reflection for me and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to take on the challenge of documenting what I actually *do.*

The goal of the book is three-fold:

  • define immersive learning as a category of design that incorporates elements of games, simulations, virtual worlds and other immersive technologies, 
  • describe the design process for immersive learning experiences and differentiate immersive design from traditional instructional design, and
  • detail examples of how organizations have been applying immersive learning design to address business issues and corporate learning needs.
I'm sure as I get deeper into the weeds of writing, I'll be posting more about the book, asking questions of others who specialize in immersive learning design, and recruiting organizations who are willing to share their stories of immersive learning design implementations. In the meantime, I'm gonna start limbering up my typing fingers!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The F word as a strategic advantage

I want to talk about the "F" word. The one that makes many learning professionals cringe, the one that risks you or your ideas being taken seriously, the one that people want to say but imagine that by using it they will risk credibility and perhaps even look foolish. Yes, I'm talking about FUN.

We all want to have fun...I'd venture to say we all want to have more fun than we're having now. We dream of our work being more fun, of having fun on vacation, even just infusing a little fun into everyday tasks. Its true that fun is subjective; what someone may consider a chore, others might get great joy from (for example, driving...I love it! other people, not so much...).

Fun is also an attitude. You know that expression "you make your own fun"? Truer words never spoken. Everyone knows someone who's a soon as he or she walks into a room, all the air is sucked out. We also all know someone who is like a ray of sunshine, who we love to be around because of the energy and attitude that the person infuses into even the most mundane tasks. I had a cousin who could make even standing in line at the bank fun. We gravitate towards those people because we want to have fun, be happy, and enjoy life.

What bothers me most about the concept of fun is how it is handedly dismissed in many professional environments. For years, I couldn't talk about games for learning to potential clients, or at least I didn't call them games. Why? As soon as they heard the word "game," they dismissed anything else I had to say. Most companies wanted "serious" training and the idea of learning through a game, or for learners to be having fun...*gasp*! Well it was just never going to fly, because learning was already devalued in most organizations as a cost center, and then start calling it FUN?? Anyone who wanted to be taken seriously was not going to start throwing around the F word.

Within the last 9 months, I've seen a shift in the market. I get requests for proposals from companies who are specifically looking for games for learning. Many are still tentative, nervous; they've heard about badges and gamification but they aren't sure what that means for their training initiatives or how game dynamics might improve learner motivation and engagement. Most organizations approach games very seriously, sometimes to the point of taking all the potential for fun right out of them.

Fun can be serious and challenging and look an awful lot like work, just ask any athlete. The attitude, the expectation that even when we face our most difficult challenges and most serious subject matter, that human beings strive to be happier and have more fun...these ideas don't have to be in conflict. Nathan Verrill recently gave the keynote at LEEF titled "Work is not the enemy of fun." He talked about how immersive games can be designed to address even the most serious social and business issues while fostering opportunities for fun to get (and keep) people's attention. Jonathan Richman made one of the most resonating points about marketing in a presentation at ePatient Connections last fall: you aren't just competing for attention with your're competing with LOLCats. These presentations reinforced my opinion that in a world where there are so many distractions, competing media streams, and ways that we can choose to entertain ourselves, our business goals, and for learning professionals, our learning goals, must be addressed with strategies that account for human motivational drivers and the environmental context that we're operating in.

My conclusion? Fun is the new strategic advantage.

Organizations should be embracing fun. Organizations who close their eyes to this necessity the will suffer for it because employees and even customers will seek out fun where it exists. You want to attract and retain the best talent? Create a workplace that they are happy to jump into every day. You want people to be engaged in learning activities? Design relevant training that people look forward to participating in. You want to attract and retain more customers? Create a company that's a pleasure to do business with.

After all, who doesn't want to have more fun?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Air guitar as experiential learning

This past Saturday I attended the Philadelphia regional Air Guitar competition, the winner of which will be performing in the finals in Chicago on July 23rd (Congrats to Windhammer!).

Windhammer shot courtesy of Ben Hider
This was my first time seeing an Air Guitar show and I'd love to explain the awesomeness, but I'm not sure it can be captured in a blog post. I will say that my sides hurt from laughing and cheering for 3 hours straight and I would HIGHLY recommend if you have an opportunity to see a competition for yourself, you should go. Just go.

Performances in the competition were scored (very loosely) on three criteria: technical merit, stage presence, and "airness." Technical merit is how well you played your air guitar (including remembering you've actually got an imaginary guitar in your hands, catching it if you throw it in the air, etc). Stage presence included use of the stage, showmanship, and performance aspects. "Airness," as it were, is that unexplainable quality that melts your face off as you watch a performance. Scoring was explained in figure skating terms, ranging from 4.0 - 6.0, although I think the lowest score actually given was a 5.0.

What struck me about the air guitar performances, which ranged from over the top, heavily costumed and prop-heavy to straight up rock 'n roll badassness, was how much playing air guitar actually reminded me of simulation and experiential learning design. Granted, none of the performers will likely ever go on to become rockstars playing actual guitars. But the air guitar competition gave them the opportunity to role play what it would be like to be on stage, rocking out a guitar solo. There were a couple performances during which I sometimes actually forgot that they weren't playing real guitars. That level of immersion, of getting learners into character and practicing a role, is exactly the goal of immersive learning design.

Immersive learning design requires technical merit and stage presence, but its the "airness" that is the key. Making the learners feel like they are actually performing and the "realness" of the learning experience is what we all should be striving to design.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Innovations in E-Learning 2011: Conference Reflections

I'm not the best conference attendee. I am really selective about which sessions I'll attend and I find that most of the most valuable conversations I have actually happen outside of the sessions. I actually only attended a couple sessions, missing several that I was interested in, so this is not a post that is going to provide you with an overview of the conference. If you'd like that, Wendy Wickham did a smashing job of that here (including her notes on my session on ARGs).

With that caveat, I had some observations on the Innovations in E-Learning symposium last week that I wanted to document as a starting point for my evolving thoughts around where the training industry is currently, and where it might go.
  • People are still all wrapped up in "devices": There are altogether too many people who are still focused on the "cool" technology. To which I say, get over it. If ANY of these technologies are going to be useful for workplace learning, their creation and design should be guided by business needs. As far as I can tell, most of them are still being led by "wouldn't it be cool if?" thinking. 
  • Invest in Windex: If many of the new technologies showcased really are the future of prepared for a lot of glass. ("What?" you say. "Glass??") Yes, glass. Evidently our future looks like big touchable screens all over the place. Its a germaphobe's worst nightmare. All joking aside...I don't buy it. From a purely practical standpoint, there's no way that I'm outfitting my house with "smart" technology that my 3 kiddos and adorable puppy are going to render useless with their grimy little paws. And I LOVE new technology. I love the futuristic thinking, but the practical realities of life may put the brakes on many of these ideas.
  • Speaking of practical realities...: There was a session I attended during which I expressed my disbelief (on Twitter) that a systems model of learning, with interchangeable SCOs (shareable content objects), was being described as "the future of learning." I am admittedly completely biased on this subject: I do not believe that people learn through linear systems of interchangeable "chunks" of information that are linked together. Mainly, its because I believe that people learn through context, not content, and that the reason why we as a learning industry are moving towards immersive learning, games, social learning, etc. is because we have seen and realize the limitations of content delivery systems in changing people's behaviors. I do believe that there is a place for content delivery, but its a small, perhaps initial, part of the learning experience. I respected the obvious thought that went into developing a prototype of this SCO delivery system, what bothered me was the lack of explanation of how the system would work in context of broader learning goals and environments. Where's realistic practice? Where's coaching, mentoring, and communities of practice? There was talk of motivation, but the example shown looked like a scaffolded, incremental improvement model. At the risk of being the grumpy old lady shaking her fist and telling those darn kids to get off my lawn, we (the learning industry) tried to make purely SCO-based learning systems work in the late 90s, early 2000s. Its an appealing thought, for sure...developing a system that facilitates systematic learning for everyone. I just don't believe that's how we truly learn. 
  • How can we better bridge academia and workplace learning?: No surprise that I was thrilled to see Chris Dede's keynote on immersive learning environments in virtual worlds; the work he's doing is amazing. Unfortunately, there's a big bridge to cross between the work being done in academia and the business problems that new learning technologies such as virtual worlds can help solve. There ARE organizations that are designing learning and collaborative experiences in virtual worlds that are addressing real organizational issues. I'd like to see more of those stories in conjunction with the academic exploration of these technologies to help close the gap of understanding how new technologies can help organizations today.
  • What is the problem you're trying to solve?: Here is the crux of my observations at the conference: it was like seeing a bunch of solutions in search of a problem. I didn't hear a lot about the organizational issues to be addressed, but did hear a lot about what the "future" looks, social, virtual, game-based, augmented...these are all the waters I swim in with my projects and clients every day. What I think everyone struggles with is how to justify the "new" and that's because there haven't been a lot of case studies, examples, business problems that these new technologies have effectively tackled.
My conclusions? Its time for case studies. Its time for strategies to address organizational issues. Its time to focus on the design elements that will make these new technologies successful. Let's accept the fact that the future is mobile, social, virtual, game-based and augmented, is. I don't think the future is made of glass; I think the future is organizations implementing these new technologies to solve business issues in new and effective ways. Right now, I'm over "oooh shiny"--there's something new and shiny every day. Right now, I want real examples and real stories and yes, real data.

Show me THOSE innovations. If you can, I promise to pass them on.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Walking with a Purpose

On Tuesday night, I had the honor of being art.

My jacket: Data Mind, with the artist, Courtney Mazza
In April I had been invited by Regina Holliday to participate in The Walking Gallery and wear a mural on one of my jackets that represented a message related to patient rights. I was humbled to be invited, and maybe a little surprised. Although I have worked extensively in the pharma and healthcare industries, my career has focused on education and engagement of the providers in these industries...not as much on the patients.

I met Regina at the ePatient Connections conference in October 2010. We talked at the first evening's reception about kids, single mom travel issues, and we started following each other on Twitter. Regina was attending the conference to create paintings during the conference that were to be auctioned off on the last day. Just before the auction, Regina spoke.

Maybe you've met someone like Regina before. Someone who you meet casually and like immediately, without any idea who they are and what they are capable of. When Regina took the stage, I don't think most people knew what was about to hit them. She is a powerhouse, a force, and no one in that room was immune to the power of her message.

Regina's story is everyone's story as much as it is uniquely hers. Her husband hadn't been feeling well, was repeatedly misdiagnosed, and when it finally became clear what was wrong, there wasn't much time. He had Stage 4 kidney cancer. They had two young sons, the oldest of which is autistic. They were repeatedly treated as less than human by a healthcare system that is cumbersome, expensive, and doesn't put patients and families first. Regina's story of her husband's diagnosis, treatment, and death is sad, tragic and could have been much, much different.

She could have accepted what happened. She could have fallen apart. She could have become angry and bitter. She could have just moved on.

Instead, Regina has taken her story, her pain, and her outrage and used the gift of her art to inspire others to action. The truth? We don't have to accept the status quo. All of us are patients, caregivers, and people. We don't have to accept callous treatment from a system that perpetuates our depersonalization, our dehumanization. Yes, Regina is advocating for changes in the healthcare system, but her message isn't limited to patient rights. In education, in practically any government agency...we accept the limitations of the system. We live with red tape and outdated processes and cumbersome systems and we drudge through, thinking we have no right to better. We all deserve better.

Regina has a powerful voice and message, but she can't do it alone. She asked me, and many, many others, to help her communicate this message as part of The Walking Gallery. We are all patients. We are all caregivers. We are all people. We should not settle for being treated like insignificant cogs in a wheel, like numbers on a spreadsheet. Her story is all of our stories.

I wore my jacket proudly in The Walking Gallery. I'll wear it proudly at other conferences and events. I'll tell Regina's story, and my story too. I will tell you not to accept the status quo. And I'll ask you to pass that message on. One story, one jacket, one person can start a revolution. Thank you, Regina, for reminding all of us that we deserve better and for sharing your story and message. You have stood up in the face of adversity and inspired us to fight for change. I carry that responsibility with honor.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sometimes its tough to blog

There are lines that become blurry when you blog about your business and you're an entrepreneur for whom business is personal. When I started this blog, I wrote about starting this company, the issues and challenges. Over the years, it became more difficult to be that open, not because I didn't want to share what I was learning or reflect on the process, but because that process involved other people. Writing is a deeply personal activity for me, a chance to reflect and synthesize and deconstruct. The point at which that thinking involves other people, however, becomes a decision point as to whether or not MY reflection and learning can negatively impact others. 

The act of writing, publishing, is an act of responsibility. There are times when I struggle with the balance of my own reasons for blogging and respecting the privacy of other people in my life. Sometimes that means that I'll just write about purely work or professional topics. Sometimes that means that I'll write personal stuff but try not to write about anyone else. 

Sometimes that means that I stop blogging for awhile. 

Today I wrote for hours, reflecting on the current state of my personal and professional lives. It has been weeks since I've posted something here and I had finally caught my breath and wrote it all down, how I was feeling, what I was thinking. It was awesome. But I couldn't hit publish. I sat and looked at what I had written and then I deleted it. I deleted it because sometimes you have to just write for you. Sometimes there isn't a good reason to let the world into your thought process. Sometimes its just vanity to reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes you need to not just be a writer, but an editor too. 

I think there is a balance to strike between the personal and professional. I love to read a great professional reflective post, but I also love to read about someone's personal journey. It reminds me that we're all just figuring our way through this crazy maze. But these days, when everything you publish online is saved, cached, and accessible in the Library of Congress, I think privacy is sometimes overlooked. I value my privacy and I respect the privacy of others. So I hit delete, and I'm writing this post instead. 

Be kind to one another, everybody. These are exciting times and we're all in this together. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shared history

Today is my birthday, but it's also my sister Amie's birthday. In an unlikely twist of fate, she and I were born on the same day, exactly one year apart.

She was my first, and will always be my best, birthday present.

I've never taken my sister for granted. Over the years, maybe because we were so close in age, we really were friends, not just sisters. She's absolutely the funniest person I know. She's also unfailingly kind, insightful, and giving. She's thoughtful. She's loyal and protective of the people she loves. And she's sister, who I am so lucky to have in my life.

Today as I was getting ready to make the annual call to sing her our song:

I got a little nostalgic about what this amazing woman has done for me over the years. Despite the fact that she was a relentless tease when we were little ;), she was always the outgoing one, introducing me to new kids on the playground or encouraging me to try something new with her. As we got older, we stuck together...lots of moving meant that we always had each other, even as we each made our own friends and pursued our own interests.

Amie painted this for me (that's me on a donkey)
In high school she ran like a deer (I ran more like a hedgehog) and crushed it on the golf team; I was more of the music and theater girl. But our differences made us closer in the important ways. We shared a room for most of high school and got so used to being together that when we moved into a house where we could have our own rooms, sometimes she'd come sleep on my floor just because she missed me. Amie is a phenomenal artist and one of the best writers I know...her Facebook posts are so funny that she has people who've friended her who she's never met, just because they want to read her hilarious updates. But its not just her writing...she's always funny. One night when I was in 6th grade, I was really sick and Amie decided to put on a show for me to make me feel better. She blared Bette Davis Eyes and did a dance that, to this day, made me laugh harder than I've ever laughed in my life (there were some hand/eye gestures that, if YouTube had been around back then, would have made her a viral video bazillionaire).

Although I am the older sister, Amie was always the scrappy one. When my on-again, off-again boyfriend in high school was suddenly "off" again, she waited for him to get out of work at his car with a baseball bat and informed him that if he ever messed with me again, she'd use it. When she finished Army boot camp and showed me the video of her in the gas chamber...I was in awe. That was my little sissy. I don't think she probably knows how proud of her I am, how proud I am that she is my sister. And how happy I am that she's stuck with me forever.

There are countless stories I could tell you about her, but she could tell those stories better herself, I'm sure. She's the family storyteller. There is something powerful about shared history, shared grounds you, supports you, makes you feel safe. Amie has listened to me, given me tough love, and made fun of me my whole life (minus that first year). She inspires me and I miss her desperately, especially today.

So happy birthday sissy and my best friend. And yes, I know, I'll ALWAYS be older...I know you'd want me to add that in :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

False advertising

I've been amused to see the CFCC filing a complaint with the FCC against "Your Baby Can Read." Besides the issue of why you'd even want your baby to read, what amazes me is that people STILL set aside what they know to be true (eg, babies can't read) because they want to believe that they can make their lives better through a quick fix (eg, drinking Vitaminwater). It holds true that a fool and his money are easily parted.

People can claim anything. I run into this a lot in my business...I've been working in virtual worlds for three years now, and I can count on one hand the number of people I know who are both experts in adult learning, organizational change AND virtual worlds. There just aren't that many people who have that knowledge and depth of expertise.

I do, however, run into people all of the time who claim they design for virtual worlds or immersive environments. If you knew what you were looking for, or scratched beneath the surface even a little bit, you'd find they don't know what they are talking about. But people LOVE to hear the marketing messages and see the shiny packaging, even if it turns out to be a lot of hype with no substance.

Do yourself a favor. If you are going to pay money for something, do a little research to make sure you're not just buying the marketing message. There are experts out there who actually DO know what they are talking about, have experience doing it, and aren't just saying the buzzwords in an appealing arrangement.

Oh, and do us all a favor and don't call yourself a thought leader

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Virtual worlds 2.0: don't call it a comeback

It's not just my gut that's been telling me that virtual worlds are emerging from the Trough of Disillusionment and moving into the Slope of Enlightenment on Gartner's Hype Cycle.

On the corporate front, I've just finished up Phase 1 of a consulting engagement focused on developing an organizational adoption plan for a large, global company that is utilizing a virtual world platform as an emerging tool for delivering immersive learning and fostering collaboration and idea sharing among employees spread around the world. It is extremely encouraging to see companies moving out of the "technology implementation" stage and into the "organizational implementation" stage; this signifies a movement of virtual worlds out of the IT departments and into human resources, training, and other departments focused on internal communication. Organizations who have been thinking about or starting to implement virtual worlds have spent a lot of time focused on getting the technology to work and integrate with their existing corporate systems for the past two years; we're moving out of that focus now and into questions of how virtual worlds can best be leveraged. That's an exciting trend for those of us who've been focused on immersive design and how virtual worlds can support different communication and collaboration dynamics.

Another sign that virtual worlds are headed for mainstream adoption are emerging best practice examples of their use for training and learning. Just today, Proton Media announced a partnership with PPD to develop a Virtual Clinical Trial training solution. I've been working with clients recently on virtual preceptorships, virtual apprenticeships, and developing virtual sales territories. There are more and more conversations emerging of using these "mirror worlds" for realistic practice and this trend will continue.

Aaron Silvers blogged this week about his experience at GameTech 2011 where there was more talk about virtual worlds than games. In February, Aaron and I had talked about the current state of virtual worlds  at TechKnowledge 2011 (where I had presented two sessions on virtual worlds for learning). I had been arguing that they were re-emerging from a lag in interest and I think his observations on GameTech confirm that in the government, virtual worlds are certainly garnering renewed attention as a learning tool.

Earlier this week I did a quick search for "virtual worlds" on my blog and found that in the last three years, I've written 32 blog posts related to virtual world topics. I was pretty surprised. Although I've spent a lot of time thinking and speaking about immersive learning design since starting this blog, I don't think I realized how much I'd actually written down. In December 2009, I wrote a post titled "Virtual World 2.0...a few humble predictions" where I made some assumptions about the emerging characteristics of virtual worlds that would lead them to mainstream adoption. I did pretty good on my prediction scorecard:

  • Browser-based: almost all virtual worlds are moving in this direction, with minimal plug-ins and more consistent web navigational standards
  • Less user-generated content: the most successful serious virtual worlds have provided packaged experiences (eg. Protosphere, VenueGen, web.alive, VastPark)
  • Open source: OpenSim continues to strengthen and expand its reach
  • Integration with other tools (mobile, augmented reality, existing workplace systems like Sharepoint): this has happened on many levels and in different ways across platforms, but the system integration features may be the key to pushing virtual worlds to mainstream adoption
  • More seamless user-experience and navigation: point-and-click navigation is practically standard in the most popular serious virtual worlds. Oh, and have you seen Kinect?
Virtual worlds have been moving through a natural evolution and are beginning to emerge as a valuable tool in corporate and government learning, communication, and collaboration. Our thinking now needs to evolve as well; its no longer a question of if, but when. For organizations who understand this, the real question is, "how can you prepare to successfully adopt and integrate immersive and experiential learning?" 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Learning, and the opportunity and risk of living publicly

We are in the age of living publicly.

Social media has enabled us to broadcast and publish our work, our thoughts, our pictures, and our "updates" not just to people we know, but to the entire world. This brings with it an enormous opportunity and also tremendous risk, sometimes at the same time.

Take, for example, Rebecca Black.

If you haven't yet seen the Friday video by Rebecca Black, or heard all of the news stories about her and the video, take a minute and watch it now.

Its not a good song or video (although I would bet you money you'll find yourself singing the catchy hook later today) fact, its pretty awful. BUT SHE'S 13. I never fancied myself a musician, but I did think I was a pretty fantastic writer when I was a teenager. When I look back on what I wrote? Wow, I was terrible. I'm thankful that all of my writing was confined to spiral notebooks and the broadest audience was my friends and family who encouraged me to keep writing, but never gave me false praise or soul-crushing criticism. I was allowed to practice and improve, and in some cases, realize that I wasn't all that good and I didn't have the passion to work harder to become good.

That's the beauty of learning. To really learn something, to become an expert, you have to practice. You have to have a safe place to try and experiment and fail and improve and stick with it and, eventually, get better. Becoming really good at something requires dedication and practice. Sure, some people start out with natural abilities or inclinations that might make learning something easier. But there are very few things that you can't learn and be really good at if you keep practicing.

Rebecca Black may have never become a great singer, songwriter, or musician. Maybe she would have (maybe she still will). But what impact has the public lambasting of her video had on her learning, her motivation, and her development?

Criticism is hard to hear. None of us really like to hear that we're bad at something...we thrive in environments where we get positive reinforcement. On the other hand, constructive feedback is necessary if we want to get better at something.

We live in an age that allows us to get instant, unfiltered feedback on anything that we do. It may be a realistic environment, but it can be hostile and often not constructive. Now, more than ever, we need the ability to practice, to find opportunities for constructive criticism in safe environments, and to refine and hone our skills before we put ourselves out in the public eye.

In learning terms, this means that coaching, mentoring, and communities of practice will play increasingly critical roles in our development. It means that immersive and experiential learning environments will become those safe havens where we can practice safely before we're ready for prime time. It means that we all need to develop the ability to manage our public versus private identities in ways that we haven't had to even think about in the past.

I hope Rebecca Black has a long, happy, and successful life in whatever she decides to pursue. At 13, she has learned, and illustrated to many, the power of social media. But with great power comes great responsibility...and we all need to be taking (and teaching) responsibility to ensure that the opportunities afforded by social media outweigh the risks.