Saturday, December 31, 2011

Brainstorming needs Energy!

One of the current trends in corporate ideating is that everyone should be nice and polite and respect all ideas during a "brainstorming" session. To that, I say, "Hogwash!"

Let's dissect the word "brainstorming". Brain is to supposedly use one's brain in some act. In this case the act of "storming". Storming is the act of having a violent weather occurrence. This could imply lightning, rain, snow, thunder, hail, wind, etc.

That kind of weather can make the brain tired and weary.  Not a good thing in and of itself...

I would call brainstorming the act of polite confrontation in order to bring about an idea worth putting time and effort into. If the idea is mush and pap and everyone thinks what  a great thing they've done, then that kind of brainstorming is akin to looking at a mirror when you're completelyt sunburned with your skin peeling off in huge splotches and saying, "Wow, I look great!"

Back in the 80's, I learned brainstorming from a manager at Marsh & McLennan. He said if we don't have fire we can't bake a cake. The cake, in our case, was the idea or process we were trying to make better. We had contentious, fun, tough and very productive sessions. Everyone got a chance to be heard but only if they had something intelligent to say. Not all ideas are worth listening to and the ones who throw random thoughts out without the ability to defend or validate them are just wasting everyone's time.

The goal was not to shut people up. No, it was to force people to think critically and not just throw out idiocies. Ideas or recommendations were questioned and not always gently. The more outlandish an idea the more they would have to prove its relevance and validity.

And, let's not forget that in business, unlike government, ideas matter. Costs are not unlimitted and we have to earn our keep, not collect it. A very different mindset and one I've taught to public employees for many years in my consulting.

Ideas need fire in order to make them real and cooked. Without fire we simply have a meeting of agreement as to the fact that nothing of worth will probably get done. 

Some rules for a brainstorming meeting:

  • Invite people into the meeting who have a clue or a reason for being there. Just because the air is free doesn't mean everyone should be invited. The exception may be to train someone in the art and cooking of a brainstorm.
  • Never be rude or violent. But do be aggressive in your questioning or defense of an idea. If you're not willing to defend it as the idea maker, and the stake-holder is not willing to question toughly, nothing much will be accomplished other than praise for the non0involved when nothing happens.
  • Keep the meetings short, 30 minutes or less. Long meetings waste everyone's time and people lose track of why they're there in the first place.
  • Have someone assume the role of "devil's advocate". Make that person the questioner, the challenger of ideas. This is the person that puts a little heat in the oven. The cake will either rise or collapse. It's much better to have a cake collapse up-front before you try to sell it. 
  • Set clear goals and objectives for the session. 
  • Act on what was decided upon.
  • Get back together and review the results, both good and bad.

I know some may be thinking, "This is barbaric!". Actually, it isn't. It is simply applying some energy in order to make something happen. Remember, you can't really cook a fried egg without heat. And, you can't have great ideas without energy, passion and intention.

And with that note, I close 2012, with a smile and a wish for all of you to have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. Don't be mediocre for that is just a living purgatory. Try to excel and enjoy the fruits of your knowledge and earnings.  Cherish your friends and family and above all, live a good life that allows you to go to bed everynight thinking, "I did well today!"

See you all next year! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

When one loses a friend... Terrence Wing

At about 9pm on December 1, 2011., I received a call from Michelle Winkley, a colleage and associate from the ASTD chapter in Los Angeles. She asked if I had seen Terrence Wing's Facebook page? I told her I hadn't been on Facebook all day. She then asked if I had spoken with Marie? At the moment, I hadn't equated Marie with Terrence and replied no. She informed me that Terrence had passed away earlier that afternoon from a heart attack. My first response was, "Are you kidding?" I was incredulous. Her voice showed no humor and I knew it was real...My entry into shock was a quick one...

I called from my home office to my wife and said, "Terrence just passed away..." My wife replied, "Terrence who?"

No one suspected anything would ever happen to Terrence at the young age of 42. I certainly didn't.  Over the past few years he and I had formed a great friendship and we shared many things in common. We worked on projects, shows, events, and a webcast together.  It was always a pleasant experience.  We talked for hours about politics, eLearning, social media, the military (he was a Captain in the Army) and just about anything else two friends could talk about.

He and I grew up in Queens, NY about 15 years apart. Both came to Los Angeles for different reasons and both had passions in Training, technology and social media. I met him through Trish Uhl who thought we'd make good associates. She was right. I reached out to Terrence via Twitter and we set up a time to have breakfast together in Santa Monica.

Our first meeting was absolutely hilarious! When we met I said, "Hmm, I thougt you were Chinese?" He laughed. "Nope, from the Isalnds" he said. Leslie, my wife, said, "You must be part Chinese...He was laughing.So were we. His picture on Twitter, to us, could have gone either way and "Terrence Wing"  sounded like an Asian name. So much for pre-conceptions. <smile>

In that breakfast, a friendship was formed instantly.

Shortly after that we did some work together and I dragged him into doing voice-over for a course we were doing for GE. He had never done voice-over before but thought it would be fun. And from there we had lots of business and personal interaction.

Two years ago I started an audio podcast named eLearnChat. It wasn't working because YouTube just didn't lend itself to audio podcasts. Also, the audio format just lacked that interactive feel I was looking for. I did some research, invested money to build a small studio and looked for a co-host for the new eLearnChat show. I didn't really look for a host, I called Terrence and asked if he'd join me. The response, after a micro-second of deliberation, was instant from him, "YES!"  And we filmed 39 shows together. Wow! We had a lot of fun doing the shows and I'm convinced he liked the show more than I did.

Last Wednesday, we were talking about new plans for the show, new guests, new ideas. We were having fun trying to make the show more fun for 2012. We also discussed seminars, shows and where to have lunch next...

In the years I've known Terrence I would say he was my newest "old" friend. He was like someone I knew forever and it was an incredibly comfortable relationship... A relationship that ended too soon...

Terrence was one of those people that wanted everyone to succeed, to do better. He made it a point to always recommend someone for something. I think that made him happy. He had a great work ethic and an enormous passion for what he believed in: social learning and media, Training,video and technology. And he placed people first at all times. It was always a fight to see who grabbed the bill first at a meal...

Terrence and I talked several times a week and always had a good time on the show and at shows.  I feel a real black hole in my heart right now. But I know he's at peace and probably starting some sort of initiative for social media in heaven.  He's like that, you know... :)

Terrence leaves behind his sweet wife, Marie. He also leaves behind a lot of people whom he touched with his ideas and that smile, always that smile...

May you rest in peace, Terrence. You won't be forgotten... I salute you, Captain Wing. Thank you for your friendship.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your LMS "IS" the "MENU"

About 15 years ago I started working with Learning Management Systems. In that time much has changed and a lot has remained the same.  One thing that has remained the same and is often a point of confusion is that when you have an LMS, the LMS is the menu for your course.

In all these years, I have yet to meet an instructional designer or eLearning developer that realizes that the LMS is the Menu!

What does this mena?

When you design a course, it is usually organized as follows for larger courses:
  • Course - this is the course name
    • Introduction
    • Module 1
      • Lesson 1
      • Lesson 2
      • Lesson ...n
    • Module 2
      • Lesson 1
      • Lesson 2
      • Lesson ...n
    • Module ...n
    • Course Summany
    • Assessment

A shorter course may be simpler and have the following:
  • Course
    • Lesson 1
    • Lesson 2
    • Lesson ...n
    • Assessment (there could be an assessment at the end of each lesson and a Course assessment at the end of the course as well)
In many cases, the Instructional Designer and/or elearning developer creates one HUGE piece with everything in it. Or several pieces all launched by a Main Menu embedded in each lesson. This Main Menu then either branches to the section in the piece or launches a separate piece.

Sounds OK, right?

Well, not really...

The whole purpose of the LMS is to:
  1. Organize
  2. Launch
  3. Track, and
  4. Analyze
If you structure a course in the LMS as strictly one launchable unit (SCO), you lose the visibility of what the learners are doing. You also lose the ability to analyze completion and performance.

When designing a course that will reside on an LMS, think of the LMS as the Main Menu of the course. Your LMS could be organized as follows:
  • Course (the name of the course you will be taking in the LMS)
    • Introduction (a short lesson that introduces the material that follows)
    • Module 1 (a divider in the LMS that describes the lessons to follow)
      • Lesson 1 (a discreet lesson that covers specific information in this Course/Module)
      • Lesson 2 (another discreet lesson that covers specific information in this Course/Module)
    • Assessment (either a Course/Module/Lesson assessment)
Each Lesson and Assessment can be launched independently of each other. Dependencies can be set up to ensure proper sequencing of the content for the learner (i.e. Intro must be taken before Module 1 is taken. Module 1 needs to be completed before Module 2 is started, etc).

By launching smaller objects (lessons), you now have the ability to track a learner through the Training process and to ensure performance levels are met.

Launching smaller objects also allows for more efficient course design and "chunkable" learning content versus massive courses and lessons. When was the last time you enjoyed seeing "Page 1 of 545" in a course?  Much more palatable for the learner to take smaller lessons when time permits...

It's very easy to define LMS course structures. Once you get the hang of it, it will make your instructional design process much easier as well. Sure, the LMS is not the prettiest of menus, but it does help an organization "organize" learning in a much more productive and digestible format for the learners.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them here.  Thanks!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tools, tools, they're only tools!!!

As humans we have an instinctual need to belong. Whether it's a tribe, a religion, a team or any of a thousand others entities we can belong too, we like to belong... And so it is with eLearning development tools (or for that matter any kind of software tools).

As with all things, belonging can be a double-edged sword. When people "adopt" software tools and become zealots for the tools, it's usually harmless. But that zeal for a specific tool can also be blinding.

I've been involved with computers since my first programming class in college back in '72 (that's 1972 when computers were huge and speeds were sloooow).  I've worked as a programmer, systems analyst, instructional designer, director, V.P and business owner. I've seen hundreds of tools come and go both in programming and authoring. Attachments to any tool may be hazardous to your mental well-being!

When RELATE became an eLearning vendor, after years of implementing ERP systems, it was quite a change in terms of the quality of software used to develop courses. Tools were not quite at the "professional" level we were used to, but they were adequate.  In those days we used the following tools:

  • Macromedia Authorware
  • Aimtech IconAuthor
  • Allen Communications Quest
  • Asymetrix Toolbook
Any of these tools was more capable and powerful than the tools currently on the market. But they all required more expertise in order to be a proficient developer. Knowledge of programming was also a great plus in those days as these tools had programming or scripting languages as part of their toolset.

Wait, wait, before you start screaming that all the current tools also have the ability to write HTML or Flash or whatever, those are external languages to the authoring tools themselves. Proficiency is now needed across many more tools than was needed before...

Today we have tools that seem more watered down in many ways. They are aimed at instructional designers vs. developers, which would explain why the tools are less technical.  Tools like Adobe Captivate allow extension to be written in Flash in the form of widgets, which usually need programmer intervention to make them work. Tools like Lectora can be enhanced using JavaScript, HTML or other web-based programming standards. Again, programming intervention is required.

Ultimately, a tool is a tool. Getting attached to any tool as the "end all" tool is, in today's rapidly changing economy and marketplace, somewhat suicidal.  Of all the tools I mentioned above, only Toolbook is still around and it's largely unused by many. All of the attachments, praises and good capabilities of those tools meant nothing as the markets, or perceptions of the markets by the vendors, changed.

Tools are just that: tools!

If you were building a house, you would have a large set of tools. Many hammers, screwdrivers, saws, drills, planes, wrenches, etc. The more tools you have, the more you are able to deal with tasks at hand in a flexible manner. Less tools would necessitate finding many workarounds and take much more time.

eLearning development is like buying a house. You need graphics, audio, video, text, animations, and something to somehow tie all of that together. One tool can rarely do all of that though some try. For example, if your project requires some soft-skills training you could do a combination of Trivantis and Adobe Captivate. You may use PowerPoint and Captivate. You might use Articulate and TechSmith Camtasia. The combinations are endless.

Yes, you may be able to do all in one tool, but is that one tool the best one for the job? Often, a tool can do everything but in a mediocre way.

Like a building contractor, having lots of tools in your eLearning arsenal is a good thing.  Development today is much buggier than it was back then and rarely does any one tool fit all the needs possible. Some tools require half of your time finding workarounds or fixing problems within the tool. Other tools do more but badly. And not all tools will be around tomorrow.

Budget permitting, get as many tools as you can for your development efforts. Mix and match them. Use the best tool for the job. And above all,  don't become co-dependent or overly attached to any tool. Remember, they're just tools!

Friday, June 24, 2011

What Makes a Professional eLearning Consultant?

In my travels I meet lots of "thought leaders" and other types who claim mastery at one thing or another. Sadly, the claims are often not backed by any real substance.

So what makes for a good professional eLearning consultant?

When I first got into the business world, circa the time of the dinosaurs, I was told by someone that a "consultant" was not a "contractor".  Then they proceeded to tell me how much they hated consultants because they delayed the Sales process (this person was a Sales manager). But his comment made me reflect on the differences between a "consultant" and a "contractor".

A "consultant" is a professional with expertise in certain areas. Consultants usually have 5-10 years experience, usually come from Management or vendor positions and have solid knowledge of vertical markets (i.e. Finance, Insurance, Manufacturing, etc.) A consultant is not just a "learnng" expert, they are a business, process and, incidentally, a learning expert. 

A contractor is someone that is hired to do task-specific things. They tend to be operational, technical or more production oriented. They are not consultants in that they do not have a broad range of experience or the Managerial background.

Being either a consultant or a contractor is OK. But often these get confused and the results can be quite varying.

For example, a consultant may know how to implement a global eLearning solution but not be able to author a course with an eLearning tool. A contractor may be able to author but not really know how it all ties together. That's a high level differentiator between consultants and contractors.  There are, of course, exceptions to this as some contractor can be consultants and vice-versa.

Getting back to our original topic, what makes for a real professional consultant?

In order to become a consultant, I'm not going to focus on contractors from this point on, you need to have the following:

  • Business experience. This means a broad understanding of how Learning can best be used within the corporation to improve that entity's bottom-line.  If you're wondering what the "bottom-line" is you're probably a contractor...
  • Vertical knowledge. If you work for a bank, make it a point to understand the processes, rules, regulations and departments that make up your specific Financial institution. The more you know about operations the more successful you will be as a consultant.  For example, if you have to provide Customer Service training for bank tellers, you would need to udnerstand how tellers interacts with customers, the computer systems they use, the audit processes that keep them honest, etc.  No matter what industry you work in, become an "expert" in that industry.  By the way, don't become a "thought leader", thoughts were not meant to be led around, they were meant to be acted upon...
  • Operational expertise. eLearning professionals often only know their core area: authoring tools, instructional design, multimedia, etc.  But beyond that, many don't know or strive to understand how to parlay that knowledge into the goals of their organization. Become familiar with the way your company runs (operations). Enlarge your viewpoint from a task-oriented one to a departmental and then to a global one. For example, if you work in a manufacturing company, become familiar with the roles and responsibilities of the different departments and the personnel in them. You may be in Training but become aware of what's in the warehouse or shop floor, look at the product creation process starting from conception all the way to a finished product and all the steps and hand-offs in-between.
  • Educate yourself. I know, you're thinking you already have a BA. BS or Masters in Training, HR or whatever. That's fine. But educate yourself in things like Systems Analysis, Project Management, Operational Management, etc. Get out of your comfort zone and go around your building and interview people to understand what they do and how it ties into what others do.  A knowledge of Systems will help you more logically analyze requirements.
  • Think like a business owner. In other words, don't just offer a Training or eLearning solution, offer a business solution that improves productivity, service, efficiency, revenue, etc.  All too often we are content just making a salary. But guess what? People who just make a salary are usually laid off first because they're not a crucial part of the organization. They do their "job" but don't add much value. Are you one of those people? If so, see the previous step and get on it before you're wondering what happend..
  • Be curious. If you have no curiosity, you will never survive as a consultant because you won't know what questions to ask or how to interpret the answers to the ones you did ask. Be curious as to how things run, how people function, how systems work, etc. Curiosity may kill the cat but it creates a great consultant. 

There are many other things that go into becoming a great consultant, but that would require a book, or two. Here is one final thing for you to consider:

Are you a consultant or a contractor?

There is nothing wrong with being one or the other. The skill sets needed are different. Above all be honest with yourself. Not everyone has what it takes to be a great consultant or a great contractor. Find the one you feel best fits you and then do what it takes to be the BEST you can be at it.

I saw a bumper-sticker years ago which said, "Unless you're the lead dog, the scenery never changes." It's your choice to lead, follow or get out of the way. A good consultant usually leads their clients.

Happy learning!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Emo Nation and Learning

It doesn't take much effort to realize that we are rapidly becoming a nation of EMOs (emotionals). Logic, common-sense and rigor seem to be things of the past...

What makes us an Emo Nation? The answer is all around us:
  • we "react" emotionally to most things, seldom stopping to analyze the root of our reactions. This of course is dangerous and EMOs can be easily manipulated for political and other reasons to "react"  in ways we may not consider desirable.
  • we vote emotionally as evidenced by the dearth of skill, honesty and ethics in our political system.
  • we meet and date emotionally with an unquenchable desire to make our emotions feel well, or normal; whatever normalcy might mean to an EMO.  EMO love is usually fraught with petty emotions, short-lived marriages and unwanted kids.
  • we learn emotionally. While this sounds good, it really isn't. That means all that is learned by an EMO is done so through the filter of emotions. These emotions can be unbridled, usually quite illogical and almost always irrational. 
In a society where being EMO is rapidly becoming the norm, how do you train people effectively? I'm not sure I have the answer and this may be more of a question I'm asking. But I will endeavor some ideas for discussion...

An EMO is not in a state of mind that is conducive to learning. 

When someone is completely emotional, driven by a disconnect between the regions of the brain that control logic, impulsivity and judgement with those that harbor feelings, emotions and memory, the results are usually not ideal. The only real way to train an EMO is to reduce the emotional state so that learning can be introduced. Easier said than done And how exactly does one do that? Well:

  • Meds are an option. Problem is that they have many side-effects and there are no real tests to determine which med better suits an individual over another. Some meds enhance the emotions and others quiet them (sometimes too much).
  • There are methods of re-programming the brain but these are costly and often can border on the Orwellian.
  • There are disciplines which force us to become immersed in something other than ourselves. Most sports, martial arts, dance, etc. are good for this and possibly the most effective of all. The mind-body balance not only helps the hormonal EMOs but also the ones suffering from neuro-transmitter disconnects.

And there are probably many more ways to help an EMO become less so or actually in control of themselves.

Training a work-force that is rapidly becoming more EMO and, as a result, less logical and less productive, is really a quite challenging task. Businesses often see the EMO behavior in the following:

  • Uncontrolled Internet behaviors with chat, social media and just about any other on-line medium.
  • Lack of discretion, privacy, respect, consideration or general Business etiquette when sending e-mails to others.
  • Lack of work ethic, feeling of entitlement, laziness, unmotivated, and other seemingly hapless behaviors.
  • Disruption of teams in large or smaller numbers resulting in much loss of time and money.
  • Lack of focus, resulting in a lack of achievement and productivity.

You get the picture: EMOs cost us a lot of time and money in both management and productivity. And yet, as the pool of qualified candidates decreases, the number of EMOs increases exponentially.

Now I'm not suggesting that everyone should be a cold, logical Spock. No. no, that has its own series of issues which could rival those of EMOs. I am suggesting that educating and training EMOs is a major requirement in order for us to make what we have in our job pool productive and useful members of society.

Think about ways you deal with EMOs; ways in which you make them successful in spite of themselves. While challenging, it can and is being done everywhere.

Just remember this, EMOs are growing in numbers and they come with a wide array of issues and challenges. Be aware of your options and of how uncontrolled emotions can affect your processes, your interrelationships and your environment on the whole.

Oh, and if you're an EMO, I'm not talking about you...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Magazines digitally? YES!!!

I embraced digital reading over a decade ago with my first Pocket PC. I had the PALM reader (now and read any and every book I could digitally. I loved being able to put 10, 20, 50 books on my device and take-off to parts near and far without the heavy weight of books in hand.

Fast-forward to today and the digital experience has gotten so much better. Now I mostly read on my iPad 2. I use the following readers:

  1. Kindle for iPad (also use the Windows version). Worst reader ever developed. It is amazing that Amazon, with all their money, can't invest in a decent reader that allows font changes, color selections, etc. Truly a non-ergonomic, badly conceived reader. And sadly, most of my books are on Kindle because of their selection and price.
  2. eReader from This is a great reader and I have hundreds of books purchased from them. But the problem is that they don't have a great selection and current books are usually not available for a while, if at all. Amazon, if you're reading this, look at how well they designed a reader and bow your heads in shame...
  3. Stanza (owned by Amazon). Now go figure, this is probably the best reader of all. Amazon owns it but doesn't make it Kindle compatible. Frustration noted. Why have the best reader and put all your books on the worst one? An enigma, for sure...
  4. Zinio for iPad (Windows too). Who? Zinio, that's who!!! Zinio is a magazine reader and e-commerce site. They have thousands of magazines and deliver a no-frills, scanned version of the actual magazine, ads and all. I don't particularly like the small fonts and convoluted interfaces of some of the "next generation magazines" out there. Zinio's approach is different. They allow you to use fingers gestures to expand, zoom, scroll, pan around a page. It's easy and it works beautifully! I haven't purchased a paper magazine in over a year; that's how much I enjoy Zinio!
 Here's a link to the Zinio site:

Here is a YouTube review by Larry Greenberg: Zinio video review

I don't think magazines ever looked this good! Let me know what you think. It runs on iPad, Windows and Macs.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


It's nice of you to visit my new blog.  Thanks for being here!

I know some of you may be wondering why it's called, "Half Empty Learning", instead of something like, "Half Full Learning"? The answer is simple: I don't like feeling full. I prefer feeling a little empty, with more room to grow and learn. For those who know me, I'm not talking about growing physically; I'm already big enough in that category...

Here you'll find random observations, advice, reports and whatever else flits into my not quite full mind...

In the meantime, if you'd like to see some of the podcasts I already do, follow the links below:

eLearnChat podcast

SchreckTeck podcast

Adobe Captivate channel

The video podcasts are a lot of fun and I get to work with great people like Gina Schreck and Terrence Wing, whom I both met directly, or indirectly, through Twitter.  More on that in a later blog.

OK, I've taken enough of your time for now. See you next time!


It's nice of you to visit my new blog.  Thanks for being here!

I know some of you may be wondering why it's called, "Half Empty Learning", instead of something like, "Half Full Learning"? The answer is simple: I don't like feeling full. I prefer feeling a little empty, with more room to grow and learn. For those who know me, I'm not talking about growing physically; I'm already big enough in that category...

Here you'll find random observations, advice, reports and whatever else flits into my not quite full mind...

In the meantime, if you'd like to see some of the podcasts I already do, follow the links below:

eLearnChat podcast

SchreckTeck podcast

Adobe Captivate channel

The video podcasts are a lot of fun and I get to work with great people like Gina Schreck and Terrence Wing, whom I both met directly, or indirectly, through Twitter.  More on that in a later blog.

OK, I've taken enough of your time for now. See you next time!