Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another Simple Message Design

An even more powerful message. In this case, the message itself must overpower the medium. Notice the simplicity. Simple is good.

Thanks go to Edward Harran for posting this on

Friday, June 26, 2009

WolframAlpha to Know Everything

Stephen Wolfram is at it again. Not satisfied to rest on his laurels after creating Mathmatica and it's several incarnations, Wolfram's company WolframAlpha is engaged in a long-term project to "make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone." WolframAlpha is built on a code base that now includes over 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code...but according to site information, it's only getting started. And they're off to a mighty fine start!

Try for yourself. Enter a couple words. The site suggests stocks, but I tried something off-chart, like "financial analysts" and learned within a second that there are about 228,300 people who claim the title of financial analyst and their numbers are growing at a rate of almost 16% annually.

Twitter, according to WolframAlpha has 360 million "page views" each day from 47 million visitors and is the 15th highest-ranked site. Hmmm, I wonder who the others are. When I enter a phrase it doesn't know how to handle ("web ranking"), Alpha gives me a list of suggestions, including some tips for good results.

  • The service answers specific questions rather than giving general topics.
  • You can only get answers about objective facts.
  • It can only answer what it knows about.
  • It only shares (and presumably has) public information.
  • It likes fewer words, but specific requests.
  • It prefers whole words.

So, given these parameters, I decided to ask some real questions, like how debt each American owes:

us debt / us population = 26,351 per person (2007 estimate)

Oh, to go back to 2007 debt levels! ;-)

WolframAlpha will also present you with relevant formulas if you search on terms and phrases like "credit card debt," "mortgage," or "amortization." It will also try to present you with diagrams and maps where relevant.

It will even tell you the "weather in Honolulu when Barack Obama was born". It was, by the way, 76 to 86 degrees and 60% humidity on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu.

In a world, WolframAlpha, you Rock! (which happens to be a surname for 0.0069% of people.

"Everyday Inventions" from Saul Griffith (TED)

Peppermint Poo?

Starts out funny, but gets a little scary when you think of the implications of building programability in to biochemical organisms...although they're really talking about building programming into materials. Still extensible, I think...and it's 3 years old. So, the question I have is did we already make the leap and are we robots yet?

Amazon Nixes NC Associates Accounts

This morning in my inbox was a notice from Amazon that as of today my Associates Account (the account through which I previously earned referral fees) has been closed.

In the words of Amazon: "This is a direct result of the unconstitutional tax collection scheme expected to be passed any day now by the North Carolina state legislature (the General Assembly) and signed by the governor. As a result, we will no longer pay any referral fees for customers referred to or after June 26." Of course, they're talking specifically about those accounts being cancelled, not the program as a whole.

Fortunately for me, I've moved to Kentucky, so I promptly opened up another account...but my unfortunate brethren in NC may not have that option. Thousands will find themselves unable to tap into this source of jingle, which pays for many blog posts and web hosting and the like.

If you wan to take action, the North Carolina General Assembly’s website is

Windows 7 Pre-Orders at 50% Discount

As part of Microsoft's push to rid the world of it's buggy Vista platform, Amazon is pushing the product with as much as a 50% reduction and offering Associates a better-than-usual referral fee on qualifying purchases.

Here's my referral link if you want to same money and help support this blog in the process. :-)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Ultimate Mashup

If you wonder where I've been the past few days ...and what happened to my post-a-day plan, well I've been Twitterized. I have been learning everything I can about Twitter and I've found that there is a quantum growth effect occurring. There is so much data on Twitter that it has become a destination of choice for all sorts of opportunists. Over the past few days, we've even seen Twitter become a vehicle for malware attacks.

But what is most intriguing isn't that those seeking to exploit are showing up; it's what is being done for good with the data. "Data?" you say. "I thought Twitter was social media." No, Twitter is a social engine. Consider what Clay Shirkey had to say at Ted recently:

Shirkey is the author of the book "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations."

Clay makes a really important point in the video. Innovation really begins after we learn to use the tools and stop being enamored with them. The same is true of design. Some of you remember the early days of PageMaker. Remember when non-designers first got their hands on multiple fonts? Been there; got the t-shirt. You know, like when you got your first credit card and couldn't stop using all that free money--same thing as the bailout, only smaller and more personally painful (we hope).

Clay goes on to identify four key (revolutionary) events in the history of media: the invention of the printing press; telegraph & telephone; recorded media (photos, sound, and movies); television and radio. The irony is that the Internet on a whole is a sort of mashup of these technologies....and now we're mashing the mashup. The result is that we now have these dynamic ways to have real-time conversations irrespective of place.

The next wave is real-time collaboration. We have seen a number of incremental steps in this direction: file sharing, content management systems, real-time document collaboration, and the new kid in the collaboration hash: Google Wave. In my opinion, this (paradigm) will change everything.

A Formula for Innovation

Whenever you're up against a tough problem, whether you're designing visual information, social networks, or interactive learning, you'll find that these simple rules apply universally:

1. Don't fall in love with the's just a tool and someday you'll move on.
2. Don't fall in love with a single design. Everything has a time and a place.
3. Spend quality brain energy looking at the problem and be sure you understand it; validate that with others.
4. Ask others for input on how to solve the problem.
5. Listen intently. Ask questions as needed.
6. Make sure you hear what people are saying (listen for the patterns).
7. Put it all out of your mind long enough to take a nap.

I'm a firm believer that our brain organizes the stuff in our heads while we sleep. If you let me "sleep on it," oftimes, I can give you an answer in the morning. (If you followed the last link, do you see the irony? Meatloaf's micro-opera was all about a social contract.)

Problem solving and innovation are highly relevant to the conversation. They are the new social skills that we must bring to the table. We are, suddenly thrust into a world where our abilities matter more than our pedigree, our social status, our funding, or our location. It is here. We are used to it. Adapt.

The Twitter Social Engine doesn't need all of its parts to move for new realities to be effected. As these diagrams illustrate, there are many ways to look at the Twitterverse.

Today, about 17 minutes after it was first reported, I knew that Michael Jackson had been taken to the hospital. That's the viral effect of Twitter. Within a few more minutes, I saw the first tweet that he had died of cardiac arrest...then it snowed RTs. I probably knew before my local news station did. Real-time, in-your-face pop culture.

Now, I've never had star fever, so it matters less to me that Michael Jackson died today than if I learned that my neighbor's mean dog got out. One has immediate relevance. The difference is, unless one of my neighbors tweets it, I may not know about the mean dog's escape until I go outside.

Twitter is a sleeping giant. We are at a crucial juncture, when the novelty is wearing off and the wolfs are beginning to circle. Data is valuable and powerful, but it can be used for good or for evil.

Choose wisely.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Social Linkage

You may have encountered the interesting little list of blog links at the bottom of someone elses' blog and thought to yourself "that's do I do it?"

Quite simply, the Add This! API is all you need...and here are the details you need to do it:

There are other options too, such as

Implications for spot learning include the opportunity to help content go viral.

One more tip: If you're just getting started with a brand, you may want to use NameChk to verify if your brand name is already taken in the most viable social networks.

Authoring Tool: SCATE Ignite

scate ignite (priced from $50 to $400 for various versions) integrates many of the components you need to create simple, effective messages such as the one in the previous post.

A/V Messaging Example: Rypple

Here's a good example of a quick, effective message where the visuals support the audio, which is where the real message is. Sometimes, that's all you have. No direct interaction; just audio and visuals. You're doing an elevator pitch. You've got under 2 minutes. If you can get the visiting brain to retain the content, you win mindshare.

What I like about this is that the visual component really supports retention of the message--and it's SIMPLE. PowerPoint + a few graphics + audio piped through any of a dozen tools can produce this.

BTW, the product is Rypple, an anonymous, quick survey tool with a simple design and premise; this video hosted on Vimeo, a video hosting service that lets you set up a free account.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Captivate 3.0 Quick Reference


If you're still using Captivate 3.0, you might find this quick reference card handy. My company owns the rights...and you hereby have permission to download the file, print it, and use it for your learning or that of others; you just can't sell it or create derivative works without permission.

Let me know if you find this helpful. I've been thinking of doing one for 4.0, but just haven't gotten around to it yet.

What should you Tweet?

If you're asking yourself "What should I tweet?," this might be the clip to watch.

Tim O'Reilly, co-author (with Sarah Milstein) of "The Twitter Book" talks about the social implications of Twitter.

This is good for newbies, particularly...and those who are interested in the social value of Twitter.

Key Take-Away: "Create more value than you capture."

Adaptive Learning?

So, I came across this "adaptive learning" platform called Apparently they've acquired a product called iKnow that attempts to predict when you will forget something. Interesting concept, but I wonder if it really deals with performance issues.

I'm of a mind that learning is validated through doing, not simply through recall of information. Nonetheless, an interesting video, even if it is a product plug:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Audio Recording

One of the best ways to enhance the experience of your spot learning content is to add audio. But like anything else, audio can be done well or it can be done poorly...and poor quality audio is distracting. You want the learning experience to be enhanced by the addition of the audio; you don't want the audio to take center stage because of it's poor quality.

From my own experience recording adequate audio is a matter of practice, planning, preparation, persistence, and post-production.

Practice - if you're acting as your own audio talent, get some seat time and know your voice; every amateur has areas they need to improve upon and by listening carefully and objectively, you can find those. Usually enunciation, p-pops, and breathing are the challenges. Also pacing...don't be afraid to pause; and try to sound as natural as possible. I will "hear" a character in my head before I read; that way, I get the tone of the piece set, whether it's instructional, markety, or just fun.
Planning - create a script, even if you think you can wing it. If you're doing a screen recording, you may need to place your script near the screen while you "perform."

Preparation - if you are acting as your own talent and your own director, you are asking for trouble, but some people pull it off. You have to be objective with yourself and have an ear for quality--if you can't do that with yourself, you have a resource need. You also need to set up your environment to be relatively free of ambient sound. Do a bunch of sound checks and systematically eliminate any "white noise" such as air conditioners, computer fans, etc.

Persistence - take one, take two, take three...take twelve. It doesn't matter. You have to go as long as it takes to get the quality you need. I tend to record every line at least 3 times and I'll probably listen to each of those twice. Also, multiple takes probably have to be done at the same time of day. Your voice can change through the day. Coffee, lack of sleep, and of course, yelling the night before can all impact your voice. Warm water or herbal tea may sooth an errant throat if you don't have time to wait. Don't forget to leave enough of a pause for editing.

Post-Production - Adobe SoundBooth and many other products do a good job of allowing you to remove sounds, but nothing beats a clean recording! I haven't mastered Audacity for post-production filtering, but it's great as a simple tool for removing breath marks (copy in a slice of ambient sound from another part of the file onto those), and slicing and dicing.

There are full-fledged training programs that will help you become better with audio. Here are a couple resources that may speed you along your journey a little more.

Twitter Search

The popularity of social media tools such as Twitter is (IMHO) a testimony to the draw of spot learning. Thanks to Jane Hart pointing it out, here's a great video from the folks at CommonCraft that demystifies Twitter Search.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Where Spot Learning Goes

Learning Spots, like any other form of communication, are useless without learners, viewers, or readers.

Here is a list of 311 SEO Tools, Social Bookmarking Sites, Social News Sites, Social Networking Sites & Social Media Sites that was put together by Brendan Picha, a Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Consultant.

...and if that doesn't intrigue you enough, the same guy produced a listing of 122 Social Media sites listed by page rank.

Want to find out where your name is available? NameChk takes it one step further and lets you verify the name on 122 social media sites.

Spot on!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What is "Spot Learning?"

I first encountered the term "spot learning" in an article by Lisa Neal in her online eLearn Magazine. Attributed to Jonathan Levy, of Harvard B school fame, it was meant to refer to learning that happens at the point of need...the spot. I was drawn to the term, as it has occurred to me many times over the years that the point of need is where the learning must be available, whether the learning is embedded, separately available, or overlaid in the context of performance or achievement.

Hyperlinking is like thinking...

It is the very need for proximity that made hyperlinking such a powerful paradigm. In the late 1990's, I worked at IBM testing and developing some of the documentation for a product called "Linkway," an early PC context management tool similar to Hypercard that let you tie information together in much the same way that simple HTML lets you create associations. Linkway was fabulously ahead of it's time…and could well have served as the basis for many corporate e-learning implementations were it not for its limited distribution and marketing focused on the educational sector.

In the real world, hyperlinking is used to tie content together that the author wants to link...usually mirroring the content the author has available...not the content that is necessarily relevant to the learner. Authors, if they are thinking of the learner, must check their ego at the door and link to content of true relevance...or even better, leverage platforms that allow for contextual relevance. Different learners need different levels of support...and different kinds of links. Too often, authors use links rather to promote their own work. Contextual relevance engines could produce links in the context of the learner, so based on my knowledge and interests, I might see references to "Google Wave" in the context of user, developer, investor, or curious lurker.

The Trend toward Blended and Social Learning

In my current professional role, I'm very focused on identifying opportunities for embedding learning and supporting blended learning through the addition of technology to classroom learning (most of which is virtual classroom learning supported by technology). Increasingly, we see the learner as the conveyor of knowledge through the use of collaborative learning tools, such as SharePoint. In fact, our standard for designing competency development experiences for trainers is to engage the learner as a content collaborator so that no offering is ever fully a traditional trainer-led event. Instead, each "experience" is crafted in part by the participants; this leads to a much more rich and engaging learning paradigm...but that's the course model.

Spot learning is about "snippets" of learning. Just as code snippets can be used and re-used, spot learning can be invoked from the point of need and might be created by anyone. It can be used in the classroom, whether virtual or face-to-face, in e-learning, or as part of a self-exploration initiated by a web search.

In this blog, I'll try to focus on those ideas, competencies, and skills you need to be successful in building learning "spots."

So, "spot learning" is about the components that make up:
  • e-learning
  • blended learning
  • performance support
  • rich media messaging
  • edutainment

...and more.

The ir-Relevance of the Learning Function

"The business" has always come to the "Learning Function" with specific requests, but in this economy, we're seeing more people coming to the Learning Function for components of learning and not the overall learning solution. The problem is that sometimes the Learning Function cannot respond quickly enough to the business need. We in the Learning Function have quality standards and processes and maxims for evaluation that our business partners may not want and frankly, may not always need. Their learners are already motivated (one of the core tenants of Malcolm Knowles foundational work) by the need to succeed. They will learn, despite of our standards or lack thereof. Granted, some things need to be measured and tracked, but if the choice is between raising the competency in a timely manner and providing evaluation, laser tight designs, and tracking, it may well be better for "the business to produce quick and dirty solutions that work.

Pushing the baseline creation of learning closer to the SME and facilitating the creation of effective "learning spots" through tools has been the harbinger of product success for companies like Adobe, Articulate and well, Harbinger, whose products facilitate content creation with simplified tools--and in the hands of bad designers, they can produce really ugly learning. Still, they are growing in popularity because:

  • training budgets are shrinking
  • time-to-learner isn't acceptable for business partners
  • training and marketing are kissing some business people already know messaging
  • oft-times, novices, given the opportunity, produce more engaging learning experiences than "professionals"

A New Model for the Old School

In the business world I see us evolving toward, the accumulation of learning snippets into a courses is done by learning professionals, whose core competency is not in the subject matter, but rather in the coordination of materials and resources to facilitate learning. In the real world, most learning snippets never see the "light of course."

Perhaps that's only because the various business groups don't always play nicely. We have several bodies of knowledge and areas of competency that are required in the construction of effective learning, and through collaboration, we should be able to create effective, engaging, instructionally-sound solutions:

  • subject-matter expertise
  • creative, engaging messaging
  • media creation
  • coordination of resources for learning
  • real-time facilitation

This calls for something like a production model, but only with more competency at each level.

The Role of the Learning Function

It is at the intersection of these competencies that effective learning is enabled. In my view, many businesses would do well to throw out their Learning Function and create a cross-functional model where business partners are responsible for disseminating knowledge throughout the organization and the Learning Function plays a consultative role. It wouldn't work in every corporate environ, but it already does in some.

Instead of producing all the learning, the Learning Function would focus on developing the infrastructure and competency for producing the learning. They would train SMEs and classroom trainers to produce effective "spot learning" content. Candidly, some of the most critical learning would be produced by the Learning Function in tightly-constructed, high-value learning products, but more of it will emerge from the trenches, crafted with basic understanding of how learning occurs…and maybe, by driving better understanding of how to construct effective spot learning, we will enable some of the most innovative, determined minds in our organizations to become both better producers and consumers of learning.