I try in my monthly columns for Learning Solutions Magazine to offer a mix of instructional design and social learning-related topics, keeping in mind that my target audience is comprised of novices or those otherwise interested in “nuts and bolts” level information. It’s my habit at years’ end to recap what had my attention over the past 12 months and tie the themes to resolutions—things to keep in mind going forward into the new year.  

Figure 1: Personal experience heightened my attentiveness to learner issues

1. I’ll keep the learner first. My husband’s journey through the US health care system certainly helped sharpen my attentiveness to learner issues. (Figure 1) Here are a few things I am working to hone. Developing experiences that recognize the learner as an actor in a system, not just a lone individual completing a course. Remembering that job performance goes beyond a particular task in a particular moment and finding ways to better support the “whole learner.” I resolve to work to give learners a great experience regardless of ability and not let myself get caught up in just meeting the demands of “compliance.” I’ll keep an eye on the way my own biases and beliefs can send messages through my work. I’ll watch out for overt or unintended behaviors that blame the learner for not learning. And while I think I’m already pretty good about this, I’ll employ Mayer’s Select-Organize-Integrate model (November and December 2015 columns; see also “The Story in the Slide Deck”) to give the learners the best chance possible.

I resolve to remember that all learners—and all of us—are differently abled. I’ve seen too many instances of accessibility issues treated as throwaways in the name of “compliance.” Making instructional materials accessible to all should be part of the L&D practitioner’s foundation mission of improving performance. See It’s Not Just About Compliance: Accessibility in eLearning” from July 2015.

2. I’ll keep looking for ways to use new tools to solve old problems. Things in the social tools world change and morph all the time, and it’s a good thing I don’t mind trying to keep up. In all my work around social media I encourage people to look past a tool’s first popular use to whether it could solve some work problem—not just because it’s a shiny object, and not just to replicate existing practice. From my view, the biggest change in social tools over the past few years is the shift from nearly all-text approaches to the increasing use of photos and video and, now, streaming video. I did two pieces on this: September’s Social Media for Learning: Extending, Including, Supporting (Figure 2) and October’s “Social Media for Learning: What to Use When? And the Role of Community.”


Figure 2: Use photos (and video) from social tools, such as this example from Pinterest for onboarding

3. What’s it all about? The single best new tool I picked up last year was Cammy Bean’s suggestion to have the SME walk you through the story in the slide deck. It helps them get past the factoids and bullets and bits of information. (Figure 3) I also found it helped me frame conversations around my new endeavors—showing work, working out loud. Getting people to tell you their stories helps you get at not just what they do but how they get things done—often a mix of self-directed learning and leveraging social connections.


Figure 3: Find your 20 percent

4. I’ll think bigger. I offered up something very different in one of the columns and it ended up being the most popular online piece I’ve ever published anywhere. Performance Matters, or, Guy Walks Into a Brain Tumor Clinic told the story of my husband’s journey through surgery to remove a brain tumor and his subsequent challenges with recovery, much of which involved relearning old skills, or learning to do them differently. The column resonated with many people who had experienced similar challenges dealing with the healthcare system, and it got the attention of L&D practitioners who sometimes have a hard time seeing past the task of designing a compliance tutorial to be launched in 60 days. What we do matters, and it’s important to understand it in the larger context of real performance that affects real people, sometimes far beyond the actual worker in our target audience. I’ll look for more experiences of the reality of learners moving about in the world, and the ways in which we can support them.

Some other things worth revisiting from 2015? The need to articulate the right objective and state the real desired outcome. (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Don’t be surprised when people (or horses) do exactly what you taught them to do.

And finally: Remembering that our role goes beyond building courses and other experiences, but is about helping people learn. Learning happens all day, every day, in ways that are as often as not accidental. In 2016 I resolve to find ways of throwing more rocks in the learner’s path, to cause serendipity wherever I can.