Friday, March 30, 2012

Lean Principles and Developing Instruction - Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit

I recently read an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review on Lean and how it might apply to knowledge work. The article, from the October 2011 edition, is titled, Applying "Lean" Principles to Knowledge Work, by Bradley R Staats and David M. Upton.  I encourage you to check it out, and take a look at HBR while you are at it.

This post will be about the second of six things the authors suggest. "Strive to make tacit knowledge explicit," they say. I think most people think that the type of work that knowledge workers deal it is fundamentally tacit. That is, it's in one guy's head, and it's not going to be able to be seen by others. I don't agree with this view. It's not going to be easy, but we need to make tacit knowledge visible.

One place to start, when we are talking about the development of instruction, is to separate the repeatable parts of a process and codify them. Here's an example. Let's imagine that we are developing a course on how to conduct a meeting for an audience of first-time team leads. There are practically an infinite number of ways we could go on this. And a lot of these would be valid approaches. And casting about, trying to decide which of these approaches is the best, well, that takes a lot of time. And when whoever the person is that reviews it sees the course, they may or may not agree with the approach. And then there will be at least one, if not several, long discussions about that approach. And all those conversations mean time, and frustration too.

So instead of that, my team and I determined what the default approach was going to be on any and all courses. We agreed that whenever possible, content needed to mirror the work environment that our students would return to. That all information should be as much like real life as possible. And content should be presented in job order.

We also reviewed a number of courses, and realized that all of the tasks that these courses taught students to do had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Every job-based task fell into this pattern. So when we were discussing the outline of a course, we would start by dividing the white board into three sections: The first for all preliminary tasks, the middle section for the main tasks, and then the last section for any tasks that would take place after the main tasks. Sometimes we would have a fourth section for troubleshooting and problem solving. This dramatically sped up our planning, and it also made it possible for us to collaborate on determining what the tasks were in those categories.

Another thing we did was to agree on the types of content and the requirements for those types of content, were included in instruction. We loosely followed the work of Ruth Clarke and Robert Mayer on content typing. We found over time that we improved our original model. But having a place to start from was a huge leg up. We all understood what type of content to choose if we wanted our student to determine if something was a member of a group or not. And we all understood what that content type (a concept in this example) required. Codifying this gave us consistent results, and made it much easier to use multiple writers on a project.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lean Principles and Developing Instruction - Rooting out Waste

I'd heard about "lean principles" in the context of a manufacturing environment, and one thing I can tell you is that developing instruction is not very much like manufacturing. So I didn't really think of how I could apply lean principles to the work of my department when I was considering how we might improve our productivity. But my instructional designer, Allison, pointed out an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review from October 2011 titled, Applying "Lean" Principles to Knowledge Work, by Bradley R Staats and David M. Upton.

I'm a huge, huge fan of the HBR. I've subscribed for years, and month in and month out there is something interesting in it that has helped me be a better manager, or has validated something I was doing instinctively. And this article couldn't have come at a better time.

Here's a definition of "lean" from Wikipedia:
Lean manufacturing, lean enterprise, or lean production, often simply, "Lean," is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, "value" is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.
Staats and Upton start by acknowledging how difficult it might be to apply lean principles to knowledge work. They state, "Most in the business world believe that knowledge work doesn't lend itself to lean principals because, unlike car assembly, it is not repetitive and can't be unambiguously defined. ...The work involves expertise and judgement that depends heavily on tacit knowledge - knowledge locked inside the worker's head."

Indeed, this is true. Frequently, when I've developed business skills or design content, both of which rely on principal based content, I hear from subject matter experts that the content "can't be taught." My reply is that difficult to do is not the same as impossible.  And because I have figured out the parts that repeat, that don't involve judgement or expertise, I can use those as a framework for the other parts of the content. 

The article suggests six things to do to incorporate "lean" into knowledge work. In this post, I'll discuss the first: Rooting out waste.

The first item dealt with rooting out waste. There are seven sources of waste:
a.     Overproduction
b.     Unnecessary transportation
c.      Unnecessary inventory
d.     Unnecessary worker motion
e.     Defects
f.      Over-processing
g.     Waiting
When I read "overproduction" I think about content where everything but the kitchen sink has been included. I frequently see what amounts to a "brain dump" coming from subject matter experts. This is not good instruction, and it's not Lean either. Instead, if the project team has a well-crafted design document, where every item included contributes to the mission of the course (instead of just being in there because the SME happens to know it), the instruction is more targeted and no overproduction is taking place. 

"Unnecessary transportation" and "Unnecessary inventory" also seem like they would have much to do with developing training materials. But instead of thinking of transportation as shipping, instead think of it as how content is moved from one part of the process to the next. How does the editor and QA know it's time to get to work on a lesson? Is content in a centralized location? Or being moved about in emails?

"Inventory" could refer to out of date courses that no one has taken the time to delete from lists of offerings, so students have to scroll past them. It could refer to printing courses that could be delivered on screen or online. 

The point is, you will need to read the list with a open mind, thinking less literally, perhaps, and find the places where you can root out waste in your own process. And this is an ongoing process, not something that is done once and for all.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Five Things I Love and One Thing I Wish They'd Change

I've been asked to review e-learning and give feedback, and to be honest, I don't see much out there that is very good. The academic realm is the worst, by far. Many professors thing that e-learning = a video of them talking. Oh dear.

But even the professionally made materials can be pretty uninspiring. And then I found Wow. Here are five things I love about

1. The clips are the right size. A long one might be nine or ten minutes. They cover a topic in a single clip, and they don't have many clips that seem to be "orientation" or as someone I used to work with called it, "throat clearing."  I didn't buy the course files with my subscription, so the way I work with the material is to play the file, and stop at each step. Then I work on my own project, doing whatever was just taught. Then back to the clip. If the clips were longer, it would be much clunkier (is that a word?) to do this.

2. The content is task oriented. Because they aren't just running through menus (and yes, some people actually still train this way), I can switch back and forth from a real project to the clip. Because they are doing things I want to do. There will be a higher rate of retention for me too, because I am learning it like I will use it in the future. And I have already used the clips for "just in time" reminders of how to do something.

3. The navigation and interface is intuitive. I didn't have to have a lesson on how to use the interface. If you find yourself adding this to your project, know in your heart that there is a big fundamental problem with your interface. This isn't 1988.

4. The content is captioned. You didn't think I was going to ignore that, did you? I'm shocked at how much in the world is NOT accessible. Again, this isn't 1988. Because the content was captioned, I could buy subscriptions for my 14 team mates. Some of whom are deaf.

5. The tone of the instructors is great. They have a friendly, easy to follow approach that I liked. The instructors also come across like they actually use the software they are teaching. They seem like they are a trusted friend, someone who knows what they are doing, and they are giving you the inside scoop on the software.

One thing I do wish would change is their purchase options. I wanted to buy 14 licenses for my team -- one each. This should be easy, right? Just give them a list of email addresses, type in my credit card info and bang, you are done. Right? No. The level of service wants me to purchase, since I was purchasing for a group,  was more than I wanted to buy. Instead I was forced to give the team "gift cards" for the subscription. Please, Lynda, make it easier before I have to renew all those subscriptions!

Check out I think you will like it as much as I do!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Deadly Webinar: Three Things You Can Do to Keep From Boring Your Students To Death!

I'm sure this has happened to you: You get an email about a webinar. The topic sounds just like something you have thought about/wondered about. Oh, look! It's free! And on your lunch hour! What a great opportunity to do a little professional development and munch your sandwich. What could be better?

When the appointed hour arrives, you are settled at your desk, sandwich in hand. You log into the webinar site, and the technology works fine. The presenter begins and, after a few minutes, you begin to zone out. Between your instant messages, signing a few expense reports and vacation requests, and checking email, you suddenly realize that 20 minutes have passed and you have heard nothing. You have not a clue what they are talking about now. Oh well, they will make the slides available to download at the end. Maybe you can listen to the recorded version too. Only you never do.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too. And here's the worst part: that's how most of your participants are behaving during YOUR webinar. Here are three really simple things that you can do to make your webinars more engaging.

First, don't be afraid to give your participants pre-work to accomplish. Even if your students haven't completed the assignment, you don't have to begin from zero. A little of the information will prime your audience, and you won't have to wasted as much precious time reviewing the basics. It also sends a subtle but clear message that the participants are going to be actively involved in this engagement, and not be able to just sit there, like blobs, munching sandwiches and zoning out. 

Second, to draw your student in, tell a story, and focus on the why. I actually heard a great webinar yesterday, given by Ray Jimenez on story telling and training. Ray did a great job, and his webinar was the inspiration for this post. Ray gave several examples of how a good story really grabs your learner and makes them tune in. He used a Mercedes commercial to illustrate this. This commercial really grabbed me. I was ready to go out and buy one after watching it, and I never respond to ads like that! If only the car wasn't $100,000+! Telling stories like this is really establishing the "why" that Simon Sinek talks about.  (You can read my post about that here.)

Third, engage your students by asking them questions as you move along through your talk, and - here's the important part - respond to their comments by name. When Ray read my response to one of his questions and said, "Clare, great point," I was hooked! I was no longer just an anonymous participant. I was Clare, with the great point. I wanted to be recognized again, so I listened hard and tried to make good replies to his questions. Ray didn't do this once or twice, he did his all the way through his talk. It was very energizing and engaging, and contributed to the success of the talk.

I'm sure that there are more things/different things you could do to make your webinars engaging. But nothing works like involving your audience. Give these a try and let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Segmenting, Signaling, and Weeding: Improving Learning from Educational Video

It's always exciting to find out that something I have believed to be true actually is true, and there is research to support it! Today I read a wonderful journal article by Mohamed Ibrahim and Pavlo D Antoneko, both affiliated with Oaklahoma State University. The paper is titled, Effects of Segmenting, Signaling, and Weeding on Learning from Educational Video. The study used hearing students and focused on dual channel processing of video and the cognitive load problems that arise, particularly for novice learners without domain knowledge. I believe there are many good take-aways for content that is being developed for deaf learners.

Ibrahim and Antonenko tested three strategies that seem to improve knowledge retention: segmenting, signaling, and weeding.  Breaking the content into smaller pieces allows students' working memory to  Signaling means that the students are notified when a piece of content is important. Weeding refers to removing all superfluous content. 

The core problem is that when novice learners encounter video instruction, it tends to be delivered all in one big piece. It has to be swallowed whole, or not at all. In addition, if the student is a novice, without domain knowledge, then he has to try to figure out what is important and should be remembered, and then where that knowledge should be remembered. So, Ii the content is too long, for example an hour instead of 5 minutes, the student's working memory can't manage it. By contrast, when a student encounters a difficult text, the student can usually stop it, or think about it.

Segmenting is the practice of chunking the video. When the 5 minute video ends, the student must do something to get the next piece. Just this is enough to give his brain the time to consider and store the content.

Signally adresses a problem that novice learners have. Without domain knowledge, the student has to determine what is important, and what is not, and where each part of the knowledge fits, locically. Signaling notifies the student when something important is happening in the video. Not having to make this determination for themselves, when they don't yet have experience reduces the cognitive load on the student, and results in bettter retenion and learning.

Closely related is the problem of weeding. Weeding removes all superfluous material so again the student is able to understand what is important and what is not. Removing this material also reduces the cognitive load for the student.

The concepts of segmenting, signalling, weeding are critical to the instructional design model I'm assembling for teaching business skills, particularly concept and principle content types, to deaf professionals.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Video Cases Research by Ulgur Kale and Pmela Whitehouse, and What It Means to Asynchronous E-Learning

I just read a fascinating article in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education. Structuring Video Cases to Support Future Teachers' Problem Solving by Ulgur Kale and Pamela Whitehouse (you can read the entire article here) describes research done on the use of video cases with preservice teachers. I was particularly interested in what they call "ill-structured pedagogical problem solving." I think this means the messy problems that pop up in real life, when there are people involved. These kind of problems are layered, and, according to Kale and Whitehouse, what the preservice teacher can see in the problem is based on their own preferred teaching theory. In other words, what I call "The Carpenter's Problem" or if all you own is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

I'm interested in the use of video cases for teaching business skills, and this study offered me some great leads on how to structure them. Here's the summary:

1. Students have to be taught how to notice. I'm not sure that Kale and Whitehouse would exactly recognize this from their article, but it's in there. I think that most of what a person needs to learn about any subject that requires more than memorization is how to notice. The how-to-notice piece is what organizes chaos.

2. Students need a schema  for analysis and appropriate scaffolding. It is in reflecting and verbalizing the problem solving process that students are able to understand what is at hand, and their ability to reflect is enhanced. Tools that were proven useful included guiding questions, rubrics, and category codes.

3. Students need more than one schema.  Reviewing content with more than one lens (or with the help of experts with more than one analysis model) allows the students to understand the material more deeply. More points of view translate to greater ability to notice different aspects of the teaching moment.

4. Video cases should be segmented, rather than shown in entirety. Segmented video leads to better skills transfer and knowledge retention. I always felt this was true, because I can feel myself becoming fatigued. Apparently research by R.E. Meyer reveals that when students are working on ill-defined problems, the breaks between segments is particularly necessary because the cognitive and meta-cognitive demands require more time for recovery.

5. Resources should be arranged sequentially. The model for presentation would be first a video segment, and then the instructor's analysis. Then another segment, and more analysis. Presentation in this manner helps the preservice teachers to better identify the "new" material in the subsequent segments. I think having the students apply their own analysis in this manner would also be advantageous. 

All of this was very useful when I consider how to best teach principle (judgement) based learning, such as that I will convey in a business skills course. Right away I am thinking that we need to develop a method for observation that can be taught to students before we start in on the content area. I need to do research to see what sorts of analysis models exist now. The breaking the content into segments and structuring the analysis with the students will be the easy part, I think.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Six Things You Should be Doing to Get Yourself Hired!

Let's face it: There are a lot of us baby boomers out looking for work. And the world is an entirely different place from the last time we were in this fix. And the world of job search is a lot different too. Here are four things you should keep in mind to improve your chances of getting hired.
Number one: Apply for jobs that make sense.
When I get a resume from a seasoned professional for an entry level position, completely outside the person's area of experience, or so far below the position they held recently, it is a major red flag to me. Why are they doing this? Do they just not understand what the job I am posting involves? Are they so basically unhireable that  they will snap at anything? It's either a case of low self-esteem, cluelessness, or desperation. None of these is attractive to me.

Apply for jobs that fit your career narrative, that seem like a logical progression from what you did before. And if the job doesn't seem to fit, but there is a reason you want it (career changing would be a reason), explain how what you have done in the past leads to this.

Number two: Lead with the why, not the what.
Again I am going to refer to this Ted Talk by Simon Sinek. People will connect with you because you share the same passion that they share. That is what they are looking for. If you can do a good job with this part of the hiring process, it will make up for deficiencies other places. Your cover letter MUST do this. Just like saltine crackers are only a vehicle for peanut butter (so says my dad, and you know he is right!), so is the what just a vehicle to convey the why. Take a minute and watch this video again.

(By the way, this video is captioned. Click on the upward facing arrow on the bottom right hand side of the video viewer.)

Number Three: Edit your resume.
Everything, yes I said EVERYTHING on your resume should point to the position you are trying to gain. If you include the fact that you took a  DOS 3.0 class in 1986, ask yourself, why does this matter? You were a waitress in high school. And the connection is what? I don't want to read your job description. Really. I know what a graphic designer does. What I want to read is your design philosophy, how you have been able to be collaborative in a essentially singular activity, how you create, how you stay fresh, how you contribute.

Number Four: Make it easy on the  person doing the hiring.
This is what happens. I finally, finally, finally, get the go ahead to hire. It's been a struggle. Now I want to hire someone today, this minute, before those above me in the food chain decide to change their minds. I do not want to wait a week or a day or an hour for you to send me your portfolio, your references, or whatever I need in order to close the deal. Have your stuff ready to go, and be fast and flexible. Because if it's down to you and another guy, the first one over the finish line will win. The victory goes to the fleet of foot, my friend.

Number Five: Use your network.
When I write to someone I'm connected to on LinkedIn about a position, I've had an 80% success rate (or better) getting an interview. Without that connection, my interview rate is much, much, lower. Build up your network and use it. Write to your connection and ask about the position. If you can get to the hiring manager, better yet.

Number Six: Ask for the job.
Many years ago, I was on a hiring committee to hire an assistant director. This position was at least two steps above me, and I happened to know all three of the finalists. I had worked with all three, and I liked and respected all of them. They were all equally competent, and very equal contenders for the position. During the interviews, only one candidate came right out and asked for the job. And he was the one who got the offer.

This was a real eye opener for me, and from that time forward, if I want the job, I ask for it. If I ask for it, I have about a 75% chance to get an offer. It is like a magic thing. You have to ask.

No one really wants to be looking for a job, but if you follow these tips, I think you will have an excellent chance at shortening the process and getting on with the rest of your life. Good luck!

Monday, March 05, 2012


I've been having fun learning new stuff and putting together a new project. That and a couple of other opportunities at work have been been keeping me busy. And that has meant less blogging time. But I've missed this place for me to reflect on my work, so I'm carving out time to be here.

I am frequently asked about e-portfolios for our students. Many of our students graduate from programs like graphic design and photography, where portfolios of their work are used to show potential employers what they can do. In the past, this would be done with a paper portfolio. But these days, students are looking for something that looks more technical. that separates them from their competitors, and has a wider reach. And all that means an e-portfolio! I've also had the person who facilitates the Interpreting program approach me. Those students need a place to show their skills. That might mean an e-portfolio, too!

So, I'm building a site to compare the various products available now. I'm using my own information: resume, video, photography, and text, so you will be able to see how different sites present the same information. Also, I will add links to scholarly articles on portfolios, especially as a tool for professional development, so you can learn about best practices in using e-portfolios.

I'm including some sites you might not automatically think of when you think "e-Portfolio", as well as some products that are marketed for just that purpose. Here are the products I'm including:

Do You Buzz
Adobe PDF
Google Sites
Big Black Bag

I'll let you know when the site is up -- hopefully by April 1.