Wendy’s different kettle of fish

Wendy Wickham, In the Middle of the Curve, has derailed my morning with her current dilemma.  In her post, “Teaching People to Fish,” she talks about her challenge: people within and outside her department wanting to “convert their 100+ slide, information-heavy PowerPoints into 100+ slide, information-heavy Captivate projects.”

They're not fish, and work isn't a kettleSo they can put the on the LMS.  So people can learn.

(When I say I got derailed, I mean I found Wendy’s dilemma so compelling that I pushed other stuff aside.  She didn’t throw the switch and isn’t responsible, except insofar as her problem resonated with me.)

She asks for thoughts from her readers.  Mine ricochet all over the place (maybe I need to edit?), so I’m scribbling here on my own whiteboard rather than cluttering up her comments.  No particular order, and no particular value to any of my thoughts:

Wendy says that “having hundreds of dull click-to-death tutorials sullying my LMS makes me more than a little crazy.”  Sadly, this is Gresham’s Law, applied to training: bad courseware drives out good.  Sooner or later, though, you’re not in control of the LMS.  It’s natural to take pride and feel ownership — my password in an early system I managed was “tsar.”  My hunch is that someone can tell you to put the stuff in, though, so accept what you can’t change and work on what you can.

Among the things she thinks need to happen:

  • Making the subject-matter experts more independent, which probably includes…
  • Teaching them how to use Captivate, as well as…
  • Developing a support system beyond ‘call the help desk” or “here’s my card.”

Wendy has no illusions that she can move people from drown-them-with-detail to “fully-realized game with important decisions” instantaneously (or, if you ask me, this year).

What do I think would help?  Wouldn’t it be great if the subject-matter experts came to accept a few concepts like:

  1. Talking isn’t training; listening isn’t learning.
  2. The key question isn’t “what should they know?” but “what should they do?”
  3. Give meaning before details.
  4. “Bear with me” means “I’m talking too much.”

I see several ways to approach this.  For subject-matter experts who are genuinely interested in having people learn, a copy of Bob Mager’s What Every Manager Should Know about Training is worth at least two weeks of workshops from ASTD or ISPI.  Mager smuggled performance improvement into your consciousness in his trademarked readable style.  If you can’t read its 139 pages inside of three hours, your lips are moving.

In one-on-one settings, you might try asking the expert (regarding a deluge of 100 PowerPoint slides): “Is this how you learn?”  (The follow-up questions are, “Is this really how you learn?” and “Tell me what you’ve learned this way.”)

Still, that’s theory.  What about the practice?  The ideal to me is to demonstrate the sense and the effectiveness of a different approach.

I’m leery of the curse of recursion, so in a course on Captivate, my sample topic would not be “how to use Captivate.”  (See how confusing that gets?  I mean, in my how-to-use Captivate course, the examples would not be from a make-believe course in how to use Captivate.)  Whatever my topic — one technical enough for an expert to admit it was technical — I’d combine the near-transfer details of using Captivate with the far-transfer challenge of instructional design.

In fact, that may be a fruitful path.  The late Ron Zemke of Training magazine wrote a series of articles he called “bluffer’s guides.” While he pretended that what he wrote was not nearly enough about the topic (producing training videos, managing computer-based instruction), his real purpose was to communicate useful principles by example.

So, some things I might try in The Bluffer’s Guide to Effective Training:

  • Offload excess detail and nice-to-know material.  I’d include hyperlinks under titles like “for more about Product X” or “Examples of Process Y.”
  • Explain when to use job aids, and give examples of them.  The idea here is that you store the skill or knowledge in the job aid; the training gives practice in applying the job aid.  Less time to develop, faster results, less cognitive load.  (Works great, less filling.)
  • Articulate and apply rules for effective presentations.  This one based on John Medina’s Brain Rules is on the lengthy side (132 slides) but not exactly death by PowerPoint.

Depending on the experts, you might even whip up a guide to help them clarify the outcomes they want their training to have.  An online guide, with decision support taking the form of options that someone clicks to explore alternatives or see examples.

Earlier this year, I had to make a presentation on a relatively dry topic.  I challenged myself to make extensive use of visuals, and to minimize the textual information.  Creating it probably took me three times longer than a more traditional presentation would have (I’m an analytical, text-ophilic guy.)

That’s another point to convey to the experts: working in a new way (whether you’re trying to master Captivate, or creating your first web menus using CSS) is tough. As Bill Deterline said, things take longer than they do.  The question as always is, what’s the outcome?

(If you’ve got other ideas, I’m sure Wendy will welcome them.)

Photo of a whale shark (among many other seagoing experts) at the Churaumi Aquarium by Dolmang / SJ Yang.