L&D Lessons from Volleyball

As a recent observer at a volleyball practice, it occurred to me that there are definite lessons to be learned from athletic training that also translate to the work we do in Learning and Development. In volleyball practice, skills to be learned are taught, but also practiced again and again during the training.

One of the major struggles in the training and education world today is this notion of “application.” We attend training classes, watch videos, listen to a colleague tell us how to perform a specific job. However, where the rubber meets the road is in the learner’s ability to apply. Can and are employees really applying what they’ve learned to their role and position?

As you’re likely aware, even academic institutions struggle in this area. Recent graduates of universities, with diploma in hand, dive into the work world, only to find that the real world is quite different from “sitting and getting” in a higher ed class. Some employers report that some recent graduates are “not able to do” even with a college degree. The old adage of “knowing is not doing” becomes very real, very quickly.

In the same vein, corporate organizations have also struggled with application. Although employees may learn knowledge while in class, when they return to work, application is never a guarantee. Add the additional challenge of the forgetting curve, and you can see how problematic this can become.

Neuroscience reminds us that spaced repetition over time and consistent practice “doing” something with what one is learning helps sharpen focus, attention, learning, and application. For example, learners need to do talk about what they’re learning, write about it, apply it, receive corrective feedback, and then try it again.

Does this technique sound familiar?

This is exactly what we observe in athletic practices, and is similar to what I observed at volleyball practice. For volleyball, each skill was broken down into sub-parts, modeled first by an expert for all to see. Then the group practiced each sub-part of the skill together as a group, and then practiced on their own while receiving individual correction and feedback from coaches. After receiving correction, the players applied each skill and technique again and again. This practice continued over spaced intervals throughout the volleyball season. So notice how learning a skill is not a “one-time, learn it in a day” training event – similar to how we used to schedule corporate training classes or webinar instruction for employees.

The latest learning and development phrase of “flip and drip” comes a bit closer to improving how we provide corporate training. The idea of using flipped classrooms encourages learners to complete pre-work tasks that are more passive such as viewing a video or reading material before coming to class, and then reserve in-class time for more interactive activities, application, and discussion. The “drip” piece implies that after leaving the training, quizzes and reminders of content are pushed out to learners through apps to mobile devices or other venues as repetitive reminders for application.

So the next time you see the “volleyball” of training coming your way over the net, avoid the temptation to use training in the traditional way of “telling” or “talking” at learners for a one-time event. Because if your goal is ultimately, learner application, it’s going to require a different approach to “win” on the ball court of workplace learning.

What say you?

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The Changing Role of Visuals

web conferencing

Back in the late 1980’s, presenters with live audiences had limited choices when it came to visuals. If you wanted to use a visual aid in your presentation, you were confined to props, displaying a transparency on an overhead projector, or referencing some type of visual on a large poster. Visuals were clearly supplemental and played second fiddle to the main speaker. Regardless of whether you were presenting to teach, inform, persuade, or entertain, visual aids were the secondary messenger and the speaker was primary.

For example, if a presenter claimed something should be done about the high cost of healthcare in the 1980’s, they would likely reveal a poster with a table chart depicting how health care costs have risen dramatically over the past several years. The visual would offer supporting evidence with accurate statistics from a credible source to support their claim that health care costs were rising. Then, when the presenter was ready to move to another point, the poster was covered. In other words, visuals were used to clarify points at the time the content called out for more clarity. Once the point was made, the visual was removed and the speaker became the focus of attention once more.

Flash forward to the advent of web conferencing nearly 20 years ago, where this operating principle got turned on its head. Suddenly, a constant barrage of slides became “the presenter,” while the audio commentator of speaker took the back seat. Visuals were shown at all times throughout the presentation, which also became common place with PowerPoint slide presentations as well. Slides visuals took over as the primary messenger, and the speaker’s audio became secondary. Why? Visuals simply steal the show. As John Medina in his book, Brain Rules says, “the visual sense trumps all other senses.” Unfortunately, to make matters worse, stagnant slides in the early days of web conferencing displayed for long chunks of time, while presenters often droned on with audio commentary.

The result?

Paper airplanes flying around workplace cubicles during webinars.

Today we’ve seen how dramatically web conferencing, webinars, and virtual classrooms have evolved. Yet the challenge to continually engage attendees remains as strong as ever. One shift is the improved quality and ease of video and integrated webcams. We see this adoption of streaming live video growing. In fact, some presenters stay on camera through the entire webinar presentation, in addition to subjecting viewers to continual slides. Although we’ve made improvements over the past decades in the number of slides shown, as well as shortened the amount of time they remain static, a new challenge has emerged.

When presenters leave their webcams on for the entirety of a webinar, in addition to showing multiple succession of slide visuals, viewers experience competing visual stimuli. Where to look? The disadvantage is that by focusing on the speaker’s video, for example, absorption from the content of the slide takes a hit. From what we know about research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, this type of attending and processing involves task switching, holding content in working memory, and likely, some cognitive load if the content is complex. The challenge is that viewers will likely not successfully absorb all slide content, while simultaneously watching and listening to the video of the speaker. Virtual attendees cannot attend to both and do them well.

Therefore, it is the presenter or the facilitator’s job to guide the viewer where to look. By turning off the webcam at strategic points, attendees can be directed to focus on the slides only, for example. By turning off slide display or displaying a fully colored, blank slide (explaining why it’s blank) or a slide with minimal content, attendees’ attention can be directed to the speaker’s video.

The lesson here is that just as a film director works with a cinematographer to direct where the audience should focus in a production, so also, we should carefully and thoughtfully determine when and where to best turn our webcam on and when to project slides. Video works great to introduce the presenter at the beginning, as well as during question and answer periods, for example.

Some web conferencing platforms now even allow for frames to be adjusted to consume more real estate, and then be reduced in size later. This is yet another tool at our disposal for helping communicate what the primary messenger is and what should be supplementary at any given time.

Using visuals to enhance and clarify our presentation should not be a 3-ring circus, but instead, a well crafted and directed production that considers the attendee first and foremost.

What say you?

Is Dead Air Deadly in Web Conferencing?

With the proliferation of web conferencing, more and more businesses and institutions are beginning to use webinars and web conferencing for meetings, interviews, marketing, and education and training.

I remember in 1999 when the company I worked for at the time received our first web conferencing platform. It was called Placeware, and had the capability to connect users over distance showcasing both visual slides and audio. Because VoIP was not perfected back then, we used audio bridging via the phone instead. Surprisingly, this early model offered the ability to use break-out audio rooms. But it was not simple. Attendees were required to punch a series of numbers into the phone to be “partitioned” into separate audio conference rooms and then had to punch in a different number combination to return to the virtual “main room” after discussions.

Flash forward to today where our web conferencing tools provide many more affordances. For example, facilitating break-out rooms are a breeze now comparatively. With Adobe Connect, you merely press a button to prepare participants for break-outs, attendees are automatically divided into groups, facilitators can send broadcast messages to all, facilitators can easily pop into groups by dragging their own name into a group, and break-out groups can work on white boards that display for all to see when attendees re-join the main room. With video capability now easily incorporated into platforms like WebEx, GoToWebinar, and Adobe Connect, we have the added ability to introduce our visual personalities and presence to attendees. It will be exciting to see where web conferencing takes us in the next decade!

Since web conferencing is growing, it’s fitting for us to discuss efficiencies and effectiveness with these tools. This year and last year, I’ve heard a few professionals comment that instructors and facilitators of web conferencing should never allow dead air or silence during a webinar. You may have heard that as well. They reasoned that “dead air” is deadly to viewers and can cause attendees to wonder if a connection is lost.

Do you think silence in a webinar is cause for alarm? Let’s look at this more closely.

First, let’s identify where the term “dead air” originated. This is terminology which emerged from radio. If listeners heard silence over the radio, it was seen as deadly because listeners would obviously not have the benefit of knowing the full context. As a result, listeners might turn off the radio or change the station. If the silence occurred while a listener was tuned into a station, they might wonder what happened to their connection and leave. Yet radio is very different from web conferencing. Radio employs only one sense – auditory. There is no visual anchor. Web conferencing, on the other hand, employs both visual and audio senses. So it is unfair to compare apples and oranges. Even with brief, limited moments of silence in web conferencing, attendees are still anchored to a visual connection (unless, of course, they do lose the Internet connection).

Radio listeners also interact differently than webinar attendees. They may tune in or leave a radio program at any time. Yet in the context of web conferencing, attendees usually commit to the allocated time of the webinar (1 hour or more). These viewers often attend live for the duration or listen/view the webinar’s recording later.

Additionally, if we examine webinars from a learning perspective, short stints of silence prefaced by statements of “I’ll pause briefly here so you can study this visual,” can actually be useful to learning. They allow learners to better absorb visual content in some cases. From a cognitive load and learning sciences perspective, when learners are bombarded with trying to read text on a slide and hear audio commentary at the same time, they cannot do both well. A pause to allow learners to review a slide in silence allows them to focus, be attentive, and absorb content more fully without distracting and competing audio. Does this mean facilitators should pause for every slide? Absolutely not. Pause when the learner needs time to process, study a visual before hearing the explanation, or complete a short assignment during the webinar.

That said, silence should always be prefaced with an expectation-setting statement. Say you are going to pause briefly and why, as well as explain what learners are expected to do during that time (a short assignment, write on the white board, send a message in the chat queue, study a visual, answer a brief quiz, respond to a poll question, etc.) And yes, pauses should be brief and not lengthy.

After an onslaught of constant chatter, listeners can also begin to habituate which means they start to pay less attention to the stimulus because it is no longer novel. An occasional pregnant pause offers a refreshing “breath”/break in the litany of speech–breaking the constant talking pattern and allowing some breathing room cognitively for learners.

So limited and brief periods of silence throughout web conferencing, prefaced by statements that set the expectation, “I’ll pause briefly so you can study this visual for a moment” can actually be useful.

Dead air may be deadly on radio, but in web conferencing, it may actually “give life.”

What say you?

 

Leveraging Video for Learning

projector-361784_1280In today’s digital age, where technology is advancing exponentially, new opportunities for communicating across time and space are changing like never before. The use of video as a medium for communicating and connecting is exploding. In the midst of this rapid growth, video can be a great asset for learning and teaching. Let’s examine some of the benefits to leveraging video for learning which includes the ability to re-play and review content, establish instructor presence, and visually demonstrate how to do something.

First, video affords learners the opportunity to re-play and review content, as needed. For example, videos of recorded lectures, instructors’ introductions, or an employee assignment from a corporate trainer can all be paused, played and re-played for present and future generations to come. Video permanently records the learning. Many interactive videos also include built-in automatic pauses with intermittent quizzes as a way of administering knowledge checks and corrective feedback to accompany learning. Including repetition over spaced intervals of learning is also important, and can be administered through video. As educational neuroscientist Janet Zadina attests, repetition results in the repeated firing of brain networks and is a critical component for most learning.

Second, video helps to establish a sense of instructor presence. One of video’s greatest assets is its ability to convey affect, personality, and human presence virtually. In online learning, the absence of a “guide on the side” can impact progress and deeper levels of knowledge construction and application. However, a facilitator whose presence guides the learning, challenges learners, and encourages attendees can facilitate deeper thinking and learning. Anytime an online course or workshop is offered to employees, it’s important to establish this sense of instructor presence. There are other ways to provide presence without video; i.e., threaded discussion boards, course announcements, audio or written feedback on learning assignments, etc. However, both recorded and live video can be ways to establish presence. Recorded video can be used for instructor introductions, to record an instructor’s response to previously submitted learner questions, to facilitate online pre-work before attending training, or to provide opportunities to hear experts or best practices online.

Live video, then, also has its place. Occasional use of live video in a synchronous web conferencing platform by both instructor and attendees, for example, can be used to convey personalities, leverage connection among learners, and provide visual connection cues in a virtual space. Feeling instructor support in training or learning workshops, whether you are in professional development, higher education, or corporate training helps to aid the learning process.

Third, video provides performance support by demonstrating how to complete or do something at the moment of need. When my husband wanted to complete home fix-up tasks like caulking the sink, bathtub faucet and counters, he found helpful videos on YouTube to learn the tips and tricks from experts who caulk professionally. When children need to learn how to create a hairstyle from Star Wars’ characters for Halloween costumes, they search for a “how to” video. Video provides both the visual and audio cues to understand and apply the “how” “where” and “what” for an immediate task at hand. Traditional print instructions are helpful to some, of course, but cognitive resources can be taxed more with print. But the powerful blend of hearing, seeing, and doing result in greater probability of transfer to long-term memory for cognitive storage and retrieval.

Overall, there are multiple benefits to leveraging video for learning. Just a few of those include the ability to re-play videos and reinforce spaced repetition of content, to foster instructor presence across time and space, and to leverage both visual and audio cues to efficiently teach how to do something at the time of need.

How have you used video to learn? What say you?

 

 

The Rise of Online Video Tutorials

Need to make a quilt, but need some guidance? Youtube can help. Interested in learning the secrets to performing on stage from someone who has been there? Masterclass.com is your answer. Wish you could learn how to better prepare for acting auditions? Check out curious.com. Want to learn how to set up a video shoot? Visit lynda.com.

Video tutorials are on the rise with competitors targeting both corporate and academic sectors. Essentially, these are courses you watch. Leveraging the popularity and convenience of learning anytime and anywhere, why wouldn’t you consider purchasing a subscription for you or your staff to view video tutorials on your topics of choice? The beauty of video tutorials is that they are available when and where you need them, and yes, right at your fingertips.

There are certainly benefits to learning via video. Some of the obvious ones include the ability to easily replay them, their on-demand access, the opportunity to pause when needed, and the luxury to complete them at one’s own pace. The challenge may be ensuring learners’ real-world application of concepts and principles as close to the time of learning as possible. Additionally, the ability to talk and write about what one has learned is essential for transferring new mental models from working memory to long-term memory. However, these activities are not always included with online video tutorials.

Each provider of video tutorials offers their own niche for potential buyers of lifelong learning. For example, curious.com, offers brief previews for free so you can get a taste of their offerings as diverse as media negotiation to body language for public speaking. Lynda.com offers video tutorials on a variety of subjects as well, also providing handouts and outlines and the opportunity to take notes online. Masterclass.com affords the opportunity to interface and learn from celebrities the likes of Serena Williams or James Patterson to teach you tennis or how to be a novelist respectively. For educators and students, atomiclearning.com offers videos for K12 and Higher Ed faculty, staff, and students, including how to use popular software for teaching and learning.

In today’s digital age, learning from video tutorials is clearly exploding. Video’s accessibility, the ability to chunk visual content, and self-directed replay and review all combine together to make them, well, . . . absolutely irresistible. Let’s do our part to ensure that they are the best video instruction possible so we can set the standard for quality instruction via video.

What say you?