Saturday, December 29, 2012

So long, 2012: You were a very good year

Wow, 2012. Way to bring it.

New job, new house, new coast, new climate, new amazing family and a wedding in the works. Heck, I even got a new tattoo.

For the past few years, I've really looked forward to saying goodbye to the old year and kicking off a fresh, new one. Ahh, but 2012, you are a tough act to follow.

I'll look back at this year with affection, for the changes it brought and the happiness that came with those changes. I am so very grateful.

Still, time marches on and as much as I'm reflecting on the past, I'm excited about what 2013 has to bring. As always, I've written a few to-do's for the new year:

  • Play more games. 
This one is pretty simple. Video games, board games, social games...whatever. Play more, not for work, just because I love it. (For what it's worth, I've already started on this one!)
  • Run another 5k.
I "ran" my first one this year. I'd like to do better, and I'd like to train a lot more. Looks like another round of P90X is in order...
  • Get to know my local UUs.
I'll admit it. One of the things I miss most about Pennsylvania is my church. I visited the local congregation here in Santa Barbara and it was lovely, but maybe because I'm stubborn or maybe because I was particularly missing my congregation in West Chester, I haven't gone since last summer. There was a lot of "new" that was good in 2012...this is a "new" that I want to embrace in 2013.

So here's to you, 2012, you tenacious and adventurous year! Thank you for the joy you brought, the excellent memories you leave with me, and the set up for an even better 2013. Cheers, everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sunsetting #weliveherenow

If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, you may have noticed (not sure how you couldn't) the string of various pics since June of my new coast and the accompanying hashtag #weliveherenow. The genesis was pretty simple. As John and I finished our cross-country trip from Philadelphia to Santa Barbara, as we drove the final stretch around the coastline between Ventura and Carpinteria, John looked out at the ocean, then back at me, and said it. "We live here now." 

Just another day in Carpinteria
Four little words that meant such a dramatic change in my life. It meant I was taking a real job where I wouldn't be the boss for the first time in 5 years. It meant that the ocean was on our west and not our east (you would not believe how disorienting it STILL is sometimes.) It meant that WE had made this trek, this decision to blend our families, and we were embarking on an even bigger together. It meant that every day, I would see the ocean, the mountains, the palm trees...that I would be living in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. 

For the last six months, I think I've lived in constant amazement that I am HERE. Not just here geographically, but also at this place in my life. And so we started using the hashtag to remind ourselves that this was real. 

We live here now. WE live here now. We LIVE here now. We live HERE now. We live here NOW. 
Sunset on our beach
It was never meant to signified my thankfulness. My gratitude. My newfound contentment. My happiness. 

I'm retiring the hashtag now because this is the new normal. Yes, we DO live here now. I'm sure I'll still post pics (I haven't stopped being thankful), but I'm going to stop being amazed because this is my life now. Every beautiful, amazing second of it. 
Our family
If you want to see where I live, "our beach" in Carpinteria where John proposed to on this link and scroll down. See that beach, just past the tree on the far side of the field? That's the spot.

Ok, maybe I'm gloating just a little :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Your "assessment" is probably bullshit

Every year, the first morning of DevLearn, I usually wake up with some crazy epiphany about learning and training that sticks in my brain throughout the conference. This year the revelation was "assessment is meaningless." I decided to try to spend the conference (when I wasn't presenting or hosting the Emerging Tech stage) trying to find examples of meaningful assessment.

My mission was by and large futile.

Let me start by clarifying: for adult education and training, knowledge might be important for dinner party conversation, and it might even help you in a job interview, but more than likely what you know isn't a fair representation of what you can do. Learning objectives are very different than performance objectives.

Why are we still writing learning objectives and assessing for knowledge acquisition when the only thing the business cares about is what employees can do?

If you're an instructional designer and you're writing learning objectives, please stop. STOP. What you learned in your graduate program or by reading Dick & Carey is meaningless to business objectives and business leaders don't know what the hell ADDIE is. Executives don't care if employees passed all of their knowledge checks with 100%. The bottom line is not improved by multiple choice questions. WHAT YOU ARE MEASURING AS A BENCHMARK OF LEARNING IS MAKING INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN OBSOLETE. Stop stroking your own ego. Stop trying to justify your decision to make a click-through elearning module or to drag the salesforce out of the field for two days for training by showing they all passed a multiple choice test. NO ONE BELIEVES YOU and NO ONE CARES (yes, I'm yelling).

Businesses care about performance. What are employees doing, and what do they need to do better, to improve business function. Is what you're teaching employees helping the business make more money or saving the business money? SHOW THAT. Use those words. Measure performance. Make what you do meaningful to your organization by setting performance objectives and measuring against those.  Provide performance support. Stop making the easy decisions. Make meaningful and relevant design choices.

If you can't assess something meaningful, it might be better to not assess anything at all.

/drops mic. walks off stage./

Monday, December 10, 2012

A year of living (mostly) bloglessly

I started this blog to write about starting a company, everything I learned along the way. It's evolved over the first I wrote a lot about starting Tandem Learning, then I wrote a lot about virtual worlds. Learning. Games. Gender issues. Taking risks. Occasionally, my kids. My goals. Music. I've written about so many things.

There's been a lot I haven't written about. I learned (the hard way) about what happens when you reveal too much about yourself out there to the world. It's still shocking to me that sometimes people read what I write. I had to learn to balance out the personal benefit I gain from writing my thoughts down in this blog, and the potential fallout for me when people read what I write. I have opinions, no doubt. I learned that sometimes I need to keep them to myself.

This year was a particularly tough juggling act, professionally and personally, in relationship to this blog and what I wanted to share publicly. Most of the time, I erred on the side of silence. My rationale was that this was a blog started to document my professional development and the stories of my personal growth and learning this year didn't really "fit."

So now it's December, and I look back at everything I didn't write about this year...I look at whole months where I stayed silent and didn't post the things I was learning. I look back on a year when I evolved more, learned more, and took more risks than I ever have. I didn't share most of it. I didn't document that evolution. And now, I kinda wish I would have.

Blogging is what you make of it, right? Maybe this is a professional blog, but it's a personal blog, too. Sometimes the personal is going to supersede the professional and sometimes it's gonna be all work, work, work. I made a resolution at the beginning of 2012 to apologize less. That hasn't gone so well...old habits die hard. For 2013, I'm just going to be me but I'm going to write about it here, because that's how I learn. So no apologies in advance for the posts about my upcoming wedding, my continued amazement at the beauty that surrounds me every day here in Santa Barbara county, my hilarious kids that push me to be better, and my partner, my love, who has made me reconsider my stance on fairy tales. 

I'm also about to write a post on why most assessment in learning is bullshit. Because, well, that's who I am, and what this blog is, too.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


There's a lot of talk about the "creative class" and what it means to be a designer. The problem is, everyone wants to be a designer, everyone wants to be creative...people understand what that means. Being a designer means that you make things. And making...creation...has some magic to it.

We've been starting to notice this around our house. Whenever someone says something utterly ridiculous, we will say, "I'm sure that was the first time those words have ever been put together in that way." It's a moment of magic when you think that, potentially, you said something that's never been said before and it elicits a strong response (usually around here it's laughter).

I respect writers who are crafting new ideas and eliciting emotions through words; they are makers. Artists, who through music or performance or through a physical manifest of their creativity, are magical in their creation of the meaningful new. It's that concept, the "meaningful new," that differentiates makers from everyone else.

Yes, everyone else. There are the talkers, the "futurists," who imagine what might be and fancy themselves designers because they throw out big ideas into the universe. The talkers may have credit for coming up with ideas, but it is the makers who actually craft the future.

There are the documentors, the people who capture what is. They are the journalists, the recordkeepers, the scribes, the librarians; they are the people who preserve reality and hold our memories to task. Their scrapbooks and archives are imperfect and biased, but they help us reflect on where we are and help us measure how far we progress. It is the makers whose progress they are documenting.

There are the opportunists. They will sell and promote what the makers make. Without them, we may not discover and benefit from the makers. They are the communicators, the marketers, the sales people. They try to tie the emotion to the innovation, to tell the story of the new. Without the makers, they have no story to tell.

Then there are the critics, who assign value to the work the makers do. They also are communicators, but what they communicate is their opinion, nothing more. They sit in judgment, counting on others to find them credible in their opinions. Without makers continuing to risk judgment, critics would have nothing to judge.

Beebo and Gearmo, made by John Pagano
Finally, there are consumers. We all are consumers, but many people are only consumers. We buy what others design and build and create to help us at work, at home...sometimes just for enjoyment. We want the new. We want to feel like we are makers, if only because we accumulate and consume what they make.  It is a human drive, based in learning, curiosity and delight, to discover and design and create.

When I woke up this morning, I followed my usual pattern of checking Twitter. I read all kinds of opinions and judgments, saw photography documenting peoples' activities and behavior, and read many, many tweets of people trying to sell me something, either a product or their opinions. Then I got a text from my partner, who today is on the east coast. He sent me a picture of  the robot he made from found objects this morning with his son. With the magic of a creator, they designed Beebo with springs for legs and wheels for feet, with a head that swivels, eyeballs that roll, and a kitchen timer heart beat (later I found out that he had made a second one for me named Gearmo). This is what makers do. They make things that change us, inspire us and make the world better. They are the catalyst for progress.

Z and the bots 
What are you making?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is augmented reality the new QR code?

A few weeks ago, I saw this title to an article "Augmented reality is the new QR code" and before I even read the article I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Although the article is more of a feel-good piece about how augmented reality is usurping QR codes, let's be many QR codes were actively being used that are now being made obsolete?

I realize that I'm running the risk of ruining my "crazy emerging tech for learning girl" reputation, but I've been here before and I've learned some lessons. When a new technology starts looking for a problem to solve, it better solve that problem elegantly and quickly or the technology faces a pretty uncertain destiny.

Yes, I'm talking about you, virtual worlds...

I love innovation and I love experimenting with the potential of new technologies. I have been known on more than one occasion to quote the catchy adage that Henry Ford probably never said: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." I'm not about to rally against innovation. What I have a problem with is people making up issues to solve just because a new technology is on the scene.

I encountered this often when I was working in pharmaceutical sales training. You may (or may not?) be surprised at how often new medical conditions were marketed because a pharmaceutical company created a molecule that could treat it. Restless leg syndrome? Social anxiety disorder? While these conditions are certainly extreme enough to warrant treatment in some patients, I often questioned the threshold at which pharmaceutical intervention is warranted. No drug has zero side effects and any time we take medication, we are making the choice that the impact of the treatment outweighs the cost to our bodies. 

The same is true, albeit typically with less life and death impact, with new technologies introduced for learning. The issue with virtual worlds, to over simplify and grossly generalize, was that they were a new social communication tool that could address issues that no other technology could address as well, but the cost and learning curve were too steep to make virtual worlds a good investment of time and resources. Virtual worlds never tipped the cost: benefit ratio in their favor. 

Neither did QR codes. 

And now, although I am encouraged when I see augmented reality examples like IKEA that make total sense, I wonder if augmented reality will suffer the same fate. Is there enough of a need for us to augment reality, once the novelty wears off? Do we need reality to be more real and richly informed? How will our brains adapt to processing a new layer of sensory data over our already sensory-overloaded experiences in the "real" world? 

Innovation works when a need is filled in a new and intuitive way. We want things faster, easier and better. We want things that are social. We want things that only require incremental changes to our existing habits. We want things that help us achieve our goals or satisfy our basic human needs. We want things that help us solve our problems. 

If a new technology doesn't do these things, it won't achieve mainstream adoption. So come on, augmented're definitely "oooh! shiny!" show me what else you've got. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

So that's what she's been up job! new house! new coast!

Life has a funny way of working out sometimes, and you just never know what's around the corner.

I've been quiet on the blogging front, and in social media in general, because there's just been too much life going on. Really, seriously...a lot. 

Movin' on up
First, I've taken a position at as Senior Product Manager for lyndaCampus. It's a big change for me, getting back inside an organization again, but I am thrilled about the opportunity to work for a company that gets it. Learning is (and should be) intrinsically motivated and provides content to enable people to learn what they need, when they need it. I'll be focusing on the higher ed and K12 markets and exploring how educators can flip their classroom, how on-demand instruction can change the dynamic of educational institutions and helping better serve the needs of educators and learners. 

Carpinteria mural
Second, I'm moving to California. To tell you the truth, if you would have asked me 6 months ago if I'd ever move to the west coast, I'd probably have laughed. A midwest girl at heart, I adopted Philly as mine and really never thought I'd leave the mid-Atlantic. From DC to Baltimore, NYC to Boston...I love me some east coast. But when I came out to visit for the first time in Carpinteria, just south of Santa Barbara on the 101, I fell in love. In any direction I look, there are mountains or ocean. NO LIE. It's like 75 degrees and sunny every day, and I hear that's all year round. So yes...I've added "learn to surf" to my list of to-do's this year. 

There are lots of other details...moving my crazy awesome mixed family across the country with kids and dogs and buying a house and selling a house and everything...just everything. Well, its been a lot. 

What about games and immersive learning and all that good stuff? Well, the book is still coming (slower than expected, in no small part because of all of the above) and I'll still be blogging and late this year, I'm chairing a games conference with Karl Kapp and hosted by the good folks at ASTD. You'll see me at DevLearn, hosting the Emerging Technology stage. I'm finishing up teaching a graduate course at Harrisburg University this summer, and hoping to continue teaching long after. Other exciting news is sure to be on the horizon, so stay tuned. I'm not much for sitting still and new epic adventures keep on presenting themselves. 

About 5 blocks from my new house

That is, if I can drag myself away from the beach...

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Shamification of Gamification

I'm late in getting out my post for the blog tour for Karl Kapp's new book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, and he kindly did not call me out on that last has a way of messing with your timing sometimes. In preparation for this post, I've been reading what everyone else on the tour has been writing and trying to think of what I felt most passionately about writing. I was most interested in reading what Kathy Sierra and Clark Quinn have written, as I know where they both stand on the term "gamification," because honestly I haven't been a big fan myself.

When Karl asked me to contribute a chapter to the book and he told me the title, I'll admit I was conflicted and I told him. After all, my favorite article on gamification, written by Ian Bogost, was titled Gamification is Bullshit. Karl explained his desire to "take back the word" from the marketers and use it to our advantage. Just like my policy with my kids on using curse words, I had to remind myself that there are no inherently bad words, just words that can be used to hurt people. Somewhere along the line, gamification has become (in some circles) a four-letter word. And I'll tell you why: bad design.

It should be no surprise...any time a buzz word emerges, the bad design deluge follows. E-learning? yes. Mobile learning? yes. Virtual learning? yes.

And now, gamification. Sadly, again, yes.

Game design is not actually easy. Good game design is difficult, great game design is rare. To think that you can slap a reward mechanism on any system or pattern of behavior and suddenly its a game is naive.  To think that you can give people badges to reinforce behavior and that will translate into long-term learning and behavior change, or overall performance improvement? Really? It's not how humans learn, and its certainly not how we change.

The discussion of extrinsic motivators actually harming intrinsic motivation is critical here...we know, ultimately, people do what they want, not what they are "supposed" to do. Intrinsic motivation drives behavior long-term. Game design that can apply extrinsic motivation until intrinsic motivation is developed is what the goal of gamification SHOULD be; the reality is that badly designed gamification can actually cause learners to stop performing the desired behaviors once the rewards of the game are removed...the exact opposite of what we want to achieve.

This is why the casual use of gamification is so dangerous: the downside of bad design isn't benign or a simple waste of money. The downside of bad design is causing people to NOT do the things that will help improve their performance and achieve organizational goals. Just like medical school students are taught, the goal of gamification should be "First do no harm." The stakes are higher for bad design for the gamification of learning than for bad mobile learning or bad e-learning, and so, I'm taking my responsibility in talking about game design for learning all that much more seriously.

My chapter in Karl's book is on alternate reality games (ARGs) for learning. ARGs are an interesting blend of RPG design and gamification of "life"...they mix storyline with real-life tasks that you must complete to succeed in the game. For corporate learning, that looks like the recreation of the learners' work environment through the storyline, with the rewards/scoring mirroring how they would be evaluated and rewarded for performing successfully in their jobs. Creating an immersive learning environment that allows learners to practice in authentic contexts and rewards successful that gamification? Yes. Do I think a well-designed ARG is an example of a positive use of gamification for learning? Again, yes. And therein lies the rub.

I can't throw out the baby with the bath water. Yes, much current gamification is poorly designed and potentially harmful to accomplishing the goals its supposed to address, but there is potential for good design and learning and performance improvement when the design gets it right. We shouldn't be shaming people for embracing the concept of gamification; we should be educating people on what good game and gamification design looks like so that they can spot the bad design. As a designer of games for learning, I've worked hard to get to a place where I can talk to organizations openly about the potential of games for learning and performance improvement. It was inevitable, once that door was opened, that the snake oil salesmen would start clouding the market...and so they have.

Let's focus on the challenge of educating the market, not vilifying a word. After all, it is kinda catchy...and aren't games supposed to be challenging in order to be fun?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Geek of the Week!

When I was young, I never considered myself a geek. Sure, I spent an entire summer playing PacMan on my Atari 2600 and had calluses on my palm from the Centipede rollerball control. Yes, I was reading Shakespeare and the Lord of the Rings trilogy while my friends were reading Teen Beat magazine. My favorite toy was my remote controlled Batmobile while my friends played with Barbies.

I knew I was different, I just didn't know there was a name for it: Geek.

When I was approached by Mary a few months ago about being Geek of the Week, I was both honored and nervous. Now that I'm older, I wear the title of geek like a badge of honor. The term "geek" isn't a negative refers to my tribe, the people who "get" me, who know what I'll be doing on May 4th and who don't have to ask which is my favorite Star Wars movie. Geeks will happily debate which are the better genre of zombies but know there's no debating the best genre of vampires. Geeks can answer all of your tech questions (or know how to find the answers...lmgtfy). Geeks might be highly opinionated, but at the same time, we don't judge...because we get it. We're geeks.

If I had to identify the one overarching characteristic of being a geek, its passionate interest. Whether its science fiction, technology, comic books, robots, beer or bacon...geeks love to learn. We love to talk about what we essence, we love to teach. We find joy in what we do...geeks are the smartest, happiest, most confident, and most passionate people I know.

Geeking out with the Ghostbusters in Old City
Philadelphia has embraced our geeks with pride and enthusiasm. From the Philadelphia Science Festival to Philly Tech Week, our amazing blogger community, our foodies, our artists, our sports fanatics and our film community, Philadelphia is a mecca for geeks. Just last week, having an impromptu prom night dinner in Old City, we ran into the Philadelphia Ghostbusters (I mean really? How great is THAT?). And this summer, I'm looking forward to the second annual Philly Geek Awards, a celebration of all things geek in our fine city.

So thank you Geekadelphia for making me Geek of the Week. It's an honor and a privilege to walk among you. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Defining learning experience design

I'm finishing up my book, Immersive Learning, and its by far one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Not just because writing a book is hard (it is) but because its been the perfect storm of personal and professional chaos, transition and shifting of responsibilities in my adult life, and all the while I'm trying to balance these things with writing a book...its been a challenge.

Today I got wrapped up in a conversation with some of my professional peers about experience design. I thought, hey! this is what I'm writing about! Except, it really wasn't.

The problem is that the word "experience" is used a lot lately to refer to lots of different things. When I talk about experience design, I'm talking about designing FOR experience, to provide opportunities for learners to apply their knowledge, fail, try again, see the outcomes of bad decisions, and try again, and again, and again. When I talk about experience design, I'm talking about designing for authentic practice, designing for failure. I'm referring to designing to help learners get more experience.

Where this gets tricky is that many people use experience to talk about what its like to go through training. Think of it as the roadmap, or the designer as an event planner. Think about creating a seamless experience for your audience, in our case, your learners. In this case, the hard work is shouldered by the designer to anticipate what would facilitate a better "experience" for the learner. This is commonly called User Experience Design, or UX Design, and believe me, its important, vital, to the success of learning engagement and usability of, well, anything we engage with digitally (and analog as well, but let's stick to e-learning for now).

I'm not valuing one over the other, but there is an important difference between designing a seamless experience for a learner and designing to create opportunities for learners to gain experience doing something. Its why I typically refer to what I do as immersive learning, not experience design (even though I AM designing learning experiences). It might be semantics, but these delineations are critical to talking about the different motivations and intended outcomes of how we engage in the design process.

Think about what YOU mean when you talk about experience design. Are you talking about the usability and engagement path for the learner, or are you talking about creating opportunities for practice and failure to guide learners towards performance improvement and behavior change (ie, immersive learning)? Let's define these goals and design practices clearly so that we can speak the same language even in our own field; if learning professionals can't articulate the differences amongst ourselves, what hope do we have of describing our skills, "experience" ;) and design expertise to the rest of the world?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Competencies as achievements in the game of life

As another follow up to my participation at TechKnowledge this year, I tackled some big ol' buzz words today on the Ayogo blog: learning experiences, activity streams, and game mechanics. 

My brain works at intersections and these are three major concepts that seem to be moving towards a perhaps inevitable conclusion: technology already exists to build personalized curriculum, but the challenge is, can we DESIGN to support it? 

Looking forward to your thoughts...and more panel discussions with my co-conspirators, Aaron Silvers and Reuben Tozman

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The magic of attention and focus

Last week I attended and spoke at ASTD's TechKnowledge in Las Vegas, sitting on two panels: gamification, and learning experience design and activity streams. (If you just read that and thought "I have no idea what she's talking about," you're not alone...I'll be blogging about those topics in more detail soon.)

Yes, Teller speaks
For once, though, I actually did something in Vegas that wasn't conference related: I went to see Penn & Teller. A group of us all coordinated before the conference to get a block of tickets in the VIP section, which put us in prime position to be part of the show. If you haven't ever seen Penn & Teller, they involve the audience in many of their acts and often pull people up on stage. We must have been primed for magic, because four of us were selected at various points to assist with the show.

And I got to go up on stage for one of the acts.

About halfway through the show, Penn came into the audience, looked at me and asked, "do you wear contacts?" Now, you don't get pulled on stage at any magic show and think that it's going to be uneventful, but particularly at a Penn & Teller show, you know they are going to mess with you. Add to that, as I'm walking up on stage, that Penn is explaining to the audience that the trick they are about to perform is going to happen IN MY MIND. And the entire audience is going to get to watch. Great.

I wish I had video of what the audience could see as I was on stage, but for obvious reasons, Penn & Teller don't allow video or photography. So I'll describe to you what was going on in my mind...where all the magic happened.

When I got on stage, Penn told me to stand on an X in the middle of the stage. The auditorium lights dimmed and a REALLY BRIGHT spotlight was pointed directly at me, which meant that I couldn't see the audience at all and created a very surreal sensation of being alone with Penn & Teller on stage. Even if I was afraid of being on stage in front of a large audience (obviously I'm not), this simple lighting adjustment took the audience completely out of my attention.

Penn started telling me, and the audience, what was going to happen. He spoke fast, and if you've heard Penn Jillette speak, you know he has a deep, booming voice. He said that he was going to give me a series of commands, and that he would be asking me to open and close my eyes. When I closed my eyes, he and Teller would be placing their fingers on my eyelids (the reason why me not wearing contacts was important) and that they would also be touching my arms, my shoulders, etc. Then Penn started giving me instructions, saying my name with every command.

Penn not only has a commanding voice,
but an impressive presence (and one cool nail)
"Koreen, I want you to hold out your hands and we're going to hold your wrists. Hold on to this ring with both hands like its a steering wheel. Close your eyes, Koreen (they put their fingers on my eyelids). Visualize the ring in your hands. Listen to my voice, Koreen. See the map in your mind of where I am based on my voice. Now, Koreen, take the ring and place it over my head (I did).

And on and on it went. Opening my eyes, closing my eyes. Holding the ring, visualizing the ring. Feeling them touching my arms and shoulders. Following their instructions. Penn holding my attention on his words by saying my name over and over. At some point, I knew that it was Teller that had his fingertips on both of my eyelids. It didn't matter; my brain was focused, trying to follow directions and not embarrass myself in front of the audience that I knew was there but I couldn't see. The main "trick" was that the ring would move from not feeling like it was around my arm to "magically" hanging from around my arm.

Yes, as I was standing there up on stage, it felt like magic. My mind couldn't comprehend, with the limited data set that I had (mostly tactile), how the ring went from being in my hands or on top of my arm, to being around my arm. I didn't have a severed limb and I didn't feel the ring go through, was magic. I did "get" some of what they were doing that the audience could see but I couldn't. I knew that Teller was doing most of the touching and Penn was constantly keeping my auditory attention. Honestly, it was all I could do to keep up.

The best/worst part, and no one had this information but me, was at one point, Penn told me to do something with my left hand while my eyes were closed. I realize that for most people, this would be no big deal, but I have evidently grown up with the absolute inability to remember which is my right or left hand without making the 'L' with my forefinger and thumb. When Penn said the command, I literally had a moment of panic that I didn't know which hand was my left, that I was going to use the wrong hand and mess up the trick and embarrass myself on stage. Luckily, 50/50 odds are pretty decent for Vegas and I picked the correct left.

Then it was over, the rings magically around my arms, not, then again. As I walked off the stage and back to my seat, my mind was reeling with every moment of the experience: what did I see, hear, feel...what did I know? I knew the audience had seen the "trick," but it didn't matter...all the magic HAD happened in my mind.

I have no idea where I originally heard the phrase "perception shapes reality" but its what I kept coming back to as I deconstructed my 5 minutes as a magic act assistant. For me, despite what was really happening on stage, my mind was processing the experience from the data that was available to me. My perception was that the rings suddenly appearing around my arms was magic. I had no other explanation and my mind couldn't piece together other alternatives in the time that I was on stage. From the perception of the audience, however, I had just been fooled into thinking it was magic. It was clear to me that there was a lot more going on than I knew about and the rings around my arms weren't there by magic; it was only through the strategic filtering of information to me did that become my perception.

Someone asked me after the show if I knew what was going on. Did I know that they were limiting information to me to make me believe something that wasn't true? Yes. Did I know at certain instances that Teller was touching me to distract me and Penn kept saying my name and giving me instructions to keep me focused on the things he wanted to focus my attention on so that I wouldn't pay attention to other things? Yes. Did I know that I was the only one in the room that didn't know the truth? Yes.

So why didn't I say anything? Why didn't I question? Why didn't I call them out?

I didn't want to ruin the trick, for me or for the audience. I wanted to feel the magic, even though I knew it wasn't real. I wanted that sensation of experiencing the wondrous, the unbelievable. I was motivated to play along because I knew that I would learn more through my suspension of disbelief. I was curious to see what happened if I played along.

So what has this taught me about immersive learning?

  • Be honest with your audience, even when you're going to mess with their beliefs. If they know what they are getting into, they are more likely to trust the process. 
  • Yes, people's perception shapes their reality. I got a crash course in how limiting your data skews your ability to come to the best, most logical, conclusion. 
  • You learn more from the process than the outcome. Even when I found out later there were two rings, it didn't matter. The experience taught me about myself and was more important, ultimately, than the mechanics of the trick.
  • Our brains are magical, but they have their limitations. We're just not built to handle multiple stimuli at the same time and so we start practicing selective attention. As learning designers, we sometimes use terms like "cognitive overhead" or "seductive augmentation." These are fancy ways of saying, stop distracting people from the important stuff with attention-sucking stuff that isn't important. Our attention is valuable, design to keep it focused where it should be. 
  • Sometimes people WANT to believe the lie. Yep, I knew they were tricking me. It didn't matter. I wanted to be tricked. 
I had seen Penn & Teller before, when I was in college. Twenty years later, they are still amazing. After the show, they hang out in the lobby, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Teller paid me an amazing compliment (yes, he speaks!) and Penn greeted me by name. It seems that attention thing works both ways. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

New tools, same old problems: curation and media literacy

I've been trying to find, to no avail, the source for the quote: "If it isn't written down, it didn't happen."
And of course, the flip-side, "If it's written down, it must be true."

In light of Apple's announcement on their iBooks Author program and the release of iBooks 2, there's been a flurry of discussion of how this is the nail in the textbook industry's coffin. Maybe...but likely not.

The truth is, we NEED curators, and that's what the textbook industry is. For all of their (many) faults, textbooks try to collect and document information to provide a basis for what constitutes being educated. (I'm resisting adding quotes around the key words in that sentence...) As long as we are depending on others to do the curation for us, we are subject to their biases. When I wrote my Master's thesis on media literacy, I had no idea that it would become exponentially more important to develop those critical thinking and analysis skills; at the time, I was focused on subliminal gender and political biases perpetrated through marketing and journalism. I focused my media literacy curriculum on questioning the source and asking questions like:

  • what information is being communicated? 
  • why are they choosing to communicate that information? 
  • what information is being left out? 
  • how do the intrinsic biases of the people making those decisions shape what others are being led to believe?
  • who has differing viewpoints or counter information? 
  • what information are the authors basing their message on?
  • how does it benefit the author for you to believe his/her message?
I could go on and on. 

The point is, EVERY communication is biased, but where journalism, media agencies, and even educational curriculum developers (eg, textbook publishers) are concerned, we are not usually taught to consider the source. 

We should always consider the source. We all need to become curators.

Even more challenging is our brain's awesome and frightening ability to create fabricated memories based on our biases. We need documentation and curation to prevent not just the biases of others, but our own personal biases, from rewriting history.

Not all opinions are created equal and not all "facts" or "truth" are created equal either. The goal of "fair and balanced" shouldn't just apply to political journalism, it should apply to any content we consume. Collect data, consider the source, examine the biases...don't confuse opinion with fact.

As the opportunity for curation and publication becomes more readily available, the need for media literacy, critical analysis of content, and curation skills become increasingly important. I'm thrilled that tools are becoming available that are challenging the stranglehold of textbook publishers. But the bigger question is, are we prepared for the responsibility inherent in the use of those tools? 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My guest post on the Ayogo blog: community management, bullies and taking action

A few times a month, I'll be writing games and learning-related ruminations for the Ayogo blog. Kicking off this year, today's post on learning community management, and specifically on how to handle online bullying, encapsulates some of my thinking around how a few bad apples can ruin the online community bunch and how that can impact opportunities for learning.

Community management shouldn't be passive. Ignoring bullying behaviors leads to the demise of learning communities because learning requires taking risks and people don't take risks if they don't feel safe. Check out my post to read more.

Then, if you're in the US, call your Congressional Representatives and Senators and find out their position on SOPA and PIPA. Send them emails and tweet to their accounts. Blackouts may work if you're a large organization with lots of publicity, but for the rest of us, its our voices that will raise awareness and get results. Don't be silent; take responsibility for our Internet community.

If you need the contact info for your Representatives and Senators, find them here:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ignorance is bliss, knowledge is power & the fear of hypocrisy

First post of the new year, and I'm not starting out lightly...

Earlier this week, my friend Brian McGowan posted this tweet:

I spend a lot of time thinking about behavioral change, organizational change and performance improvement as an immersive learning designer, and lately even more than usual as I finish my book. We even designed a game on personal resilience in The Change Game. Suffice it to say, expertise in change and resistance is required for what I do every day.

I just never considered fear of hypocrisy as a motivation for intentional ignorance.

Some people might call it self deception, or denial...but those things are different. Those labels refer to people who actually know something but convince themselves that what they know isn't true. There are a number of reasons why someone would deny something they know to be true and not being a psychologist, I'm not going to examine those motivations. While self deception might be interesting to explore as an obstacle to change, I'm more interested as to why someone would intentionally choose not to collect the information they should have to make an informed decision.

Brian's tweet, and the subsequent exchange with Julie Dirksen, got me thinking about what that decision-making process might look like. As a rough pass, I've flowcharted it here:

I'll walk you through my logic...

If you have a question, you have a choice: seek the answer to the question or don't. I won't get into the validity of different data sources...let's just assume that you have a limited set of resources to pull data from and getting informed means that you look at all of them, and staying ignorant means that you don't look at all of them (ignorance then can refer to collecting data from only one, or a known biased, source).

After you decide to research the answer to your question, or not, you have a choice: change what I'm doing, or stay the course. Either way, there's a chance that you will succeed and a chance that you will fail. For the sake of this discussion, I'm also not going to explore the likelihood of success or failure based on your level of being informed versus ignorant...there is probably data out there that shows a higher likelihood that you will be successful if you're informed, but I'm focusing more on motivation and perception here, not the actual validity of the decision.

Whether you decide to change or not change, if you made an informed decision and are successful, your perception will justify your motivation to make an informed decision: knowledge is power. If you decide to change while remaining ignorant and are successful, you'll likely think of yourself as lucky, or perhaps even credit your own intuition or intelligence on making the "right" decision, which would reinforce risk-taking behavior. If you decide not to change and are successful, then you'll also likely credit your own intuition and intelligence, but instead of reinforcing risk-taking, you're reinforcing resistance to change.

So, what if you fail? Here's where I think things get interesting. If you change and fail, and if you were informed, you might blame bad data on the decision to change. You might also blame things like lack of experience, lack of knowledge on how to operate in the new environment, or not anticipating the full impact of the other words, you'll likely think that you weren't informed enough. The same rationale holds true for the decision to not change that results in failure, but with a twist...if I was informed and decided not to change, was it because the data told me not to change or was it because I ignored the data that informed me I should change? And if I knew that I should change, and I didn't, does that make me a hypocrite?

But, if you fail, and you were ignorant? You can default to "I didn't know!" Informed failure requires the person to take responsibility for the outcome; ignorant failure allows the person to divert responsibility.

Organizationally, and in regards to learning innovation specifically, I hear a lot of objections to exploring new design strategies that sound like "our people aren't technology savvy" or "we don't have the money for those types of initiatives" or "our company isn't ready for that." But are you sure? I'm guessing your people are much more technology savvy than you think, that "these types of initiatives" are a lot less expensive than you imagine, and that while your company may not be ready for change, companies that don't change don't succeed.

On a personal note, it takes a certain type of emotional fortitude to deal with the data that research may turn up, and some people, and some organizations, truly don't want to have to face the decision to change. As part of the Twitter conversation with Brian and Julie, Julie shared a link to an article on self-deception, and research was shared out that showed "ignorance is bliss," that people who remain ignorant are happier. I don't disagree with that; shirking the responsibility of knowledge puts you in a childlike position of letting others make the informed decisions for you. There are lots of times I'd love to "not know" much work there is to be done to fix broken systems, how much injustice exists in the world, how many problems there are to tackle, big and small. I'm sure life would be easier and I'd get more sleep.

But then I read a comment on the Noam Chomsky interview on self-deception and I believe the same  applies to intentional ignorance. Choosing to be uninformed is bigger than just displacing responsibility of action; deciding to be ignorant defines who you are, either as an individual, as an organization, or as a society. The brackets are my addition, with apologies to Richard for applying his thoughts to a different, but related, topic:

It is interesting that people respond with indignation to the idea of liars {the ignorant} being happier. Some commentators said it was obviously not the case.
Ah, for me the question is rather, what is the pay off for living without self deception {ignorance}?
Could it be self-respect, the ability to appreciate beauty even in a flawed world, resiliency and fortitude, and dare I say it, spiritual maturity?
May. 07 2011 04:52 PM

I do believe that knowledge is power and with great power comes great responsibility (attribution to Voltaire and Stan Lee). While it may not make us happier to be informed, I believe it makes us better. Fear of hypocrisy is a poor excuse for remaining ignorant; better to resolve yourself to informed action than remain in the dark. An informed society is a higher functioning society, an informed organization is a higher performing organization, and an informed person is a more responsible decision-maker.

In 2012, may you be better informed and ready for the changes ahead, because there are always changes ahead...