Two years ago, my family bought land north of the city. Laboring with hand tools quickly proved futile, so we acquired a tractor. The tractor’s job is to push dirt around to flatten the land for a future orchard. The challenge is that the dirt is filled with large rocks, glacial erratic boulders to be precise, so it is hard to push that dirt around. You come at a mound from the side, and it takes repeated back and forth shoving and dragging to make any headway.
It would be a lot easier if we could grab the boulders from the above and pull them up and out of the dirt.
The image of putting the throttle to “rabbit mode” and ramming at mother earth with an iron claw came to mind as I was explaining instructional design. Rather than pushing through information from start to finish, it would be a lot more effective to come down from above and lift the meaningful parts up and into daylight. Give people the chance to see the whole picture from the start. That way they know what they might find as they dig deeper into what you have to offer.
What does this look like?
When starting to plan a presentation or instructional design project, use a large scroll of paper to avoid the arbitrary hierarchy that can develop when writing a list on regular paper. Use the full lateral space to keep track of ideas and categorize them into buckets only after you have completed your research. See an example below.
When presenting, consider language that explains the buckets up front. Here’s an example.
Create graphics that show the buckets very clearly. See examples below.
Pushing dirt is really hard work. Covering vast information is taxing to the presenter and the person trying to make sense of it all. Here’s to working less and being more fruitful in the process.
FUN was the first toolkit created in what became a series: Boards in Gear, Let’s Go Legal, Strategic Planning in Nonprofits, etc. (They are all here.) It set the structure that we continue to follow. The architecture of FUN proved to be successful. In short, we put the content expert onto a short video that can be used in the three places people learn, alone, in peer groups, and in classrooms. We supplemented with downloadable resources. FUN became the curriculum used in a state contract all over Washington.
FUN has become one of my favorite traveling companions as I deliver the training in communities large and small. What have I learned from my loyal friend, FUN?
“Going to scale” forces new solutions. We based FUN on an in-person training delivered in Seattle several times a year. At the time, a leader in our community implored me to address financial concerns plaguing nonprofits: many were losing their IRS status for failing to file, and fraud was nipping away the resources our nonprofits needed to thrive. “Run a training,” I was told. There are more than 50,000 nonprofits in Washington, thus roughly 500,000 board members who need to be trained. Where should I put that training? How will training the 50 or so people who come have any impact? The result was a blended learning solution that puts the CPA on video, thus not necessarily in every training room or living room where someone is learning from FUN.
Play in the sandbox of emotion in design and delivery. At the time we created FUN, another organization offered a finance workshop with marketing language that referenced dental surgery, something like: “Do you think finance is as fun as getting a root canal? Its painful but important.” I was the only person to sign up. We took the predominant emotion many people feel with finance— fear— and both honored it and flipped it into comfort and joy. An improv actor joined the CPA on film, introducing both laughter and simplified explanations into the story. The BINGO introduced a framework everyone knows. Since storytelling is inate to us humans, we practice income statement reading with my favorite activity ever, a “Once upon a time” storytelling exercise.
Communications is a key part of curriculum design. Early on in the development of FUN, our communications partner drew a clothesline with rectangles hanging off of it. Our job was to take all of the content we generated and sort it into boxes that would hang from a central thread, essentially our thesis. This approach moved us from pushing throughcontent to observing it from above. That bird’s eye view led us to five buckets. It was so successful that “chunking” became a standard part of our instructional design process.
We created FUN to train board members across Washington about finance. Along the way, we learned ourselves what works when teaching courageous volunteers with little free time who want to do right by their organizations. Happy birthday, FUN!
We walked out of Mary Poppins Returns singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Five minutes after hearing “Nowhere to go but up,” the flying-through-the-sky song from Returns, we were remembering the elevation song from this movie’s precursor, the original Mary Poppins from 1964.
Why is that? How is it possible that we couldn’t remember a single song from Mary Poppins Returns,even five minutes after the credits rolled?
With this research question in front of us, my daughter and I set about listening to Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns songs back-to-back. As the younger of us pointed out, the music in Returns mirrors the original. There is a song for when the kids don’t want to do something, one that involves people floating to the top of a room, and of course the requisite computer-animated scene of children dropping into an inanimate object.
Our conclusion: Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins is as much a teacher as she is a nanny. She invites us and the children into the sung lesson. Here’s an example:
Spoonful of sugar(1964) Sung by Julie Andrews
Can you imagine that (2018) Sung by Emily Blunt
Mary speaks the words. ·
She explains why a spoonful of sugar works.
With the children watching, she demonstrates the magic that cleans the room.
Jane tries and succeeds.
Michael tries and struggles. She lets him struggle and figure it out until he succeeds.
Mary starts singing. Her first words questions John’s intellect and ability to “give in to imagination.”
It would be a discussion for another day to examine who is to blame: the writer, performer, director, or anyone else. However this came to be, the difference between these movies gives us lessons in learning:
Mary, in “Spoonful of Sugar” reminds us to:
Tell people what you are going to share in clear, spoken language. Bonus points if you sound as smooth as Julie Andrews.
Explain why it matters. We are asking adults to do things that may seem as fun as taking medicine. It has to be worth it!
Demonstrate what you want them to do. Whether it is a click of the fingers or something much more complex, show them what good looks like.
Let them do it, even if they don’t succeed at first. Stand to the side, and step in only if things get out of control. Like a toy cabinet that won’t stop opening and shutting.
Of course a lot of credit goes to the songwriters. The Sherman Brothers wrote lyrics that masterfully fit into our contextual experience. I can understand “let’s go fly a kite” and “love to laugh” without trying hard. “Turning turtle?” Not so much. Effective teaching is a magical combination of content and delivery. And that’s no tommy rot.
It would be hard to imagine a more ridiculous purchase. Straight out of a trainer tools magazine, a $39.95 mayonnaise jar complete with golf balls, pebbles and sand. The prop was designed to demonstrate time management. I couldn’t toss the catalog into the recycle bin fast enough.
And yet a mere two hours later, our learning team gathered to talk about our new micro-learning strategy, and there I was talking about the mayo jar. Luckily I didn’t have to spend $39.95 to evoke the image of the mayo jar and the philosophical question of when it is actually full.
You see, if you imagine our learning program to be a mayo jar, it is full of golf balls: webinars or workshops that require registration and a commitment of time. We run 150+ of these a year (with an amazing staff of 3). We even have the super bouncy balls of our trade: conferences. As much as they flex and squish into different shapes and sizes, they take up even more room than the golf balls. The jar seems full.
But there is still space for the kidney beans. Those are the many five-to-ten minute videos that we produce on key elements of content. We have the five “chunks” of board success, and the five buckets of finance knowledge. We’ve got resources on strategic planning and nonprofit law. These take up less room than the golf balls, yet you can still see small pockets of space.
That’s where the grains of rice come in. These are the short 1-2 minute lessons on one idea that fill the gaps left by everything else we offer. Captured on short videos, they include the ideas that people hear in workshops yet need to hear again to be able to apply them. They are the tips that we wish we had time to share in webinars. They are our content innovations too late to get into the professionally produced, longer videos. They are what folks have asked us to explain, as well as the “why this matters” intro videos that we upload to social media.
Over the next two weeks, we will be installing “WN Studios” in an unrented space near our office. We will start by filming video clips to be used in our newest initiative, Next Level Nonprofits. We’ll be tracking data to see if people actually watch the videos, and ultimately if they report back that they made a difference.
By this time next year, our mayo jar will indeed be completely full. I would bet $39.95 on it, but we already spent that on the tripod.
Mark Nilles (Humentum) and I have been working on an ebook on conferences. Read the first Chapter now and look for the full ebook in January. Sign up to make sure you receive it when it comes out!
The 2nd annual “Train the Trainer Series“ starts February 26. Based in Seattle, this popular two-part series features Guila Muir and Tracy Flynn teaching participants from across Washington how to deliver an awesome workshop every time. Just in time for conference season!
The waning days of summer are upon us. The clouds have rolled in, and the smoke has cleared. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, there’s comfort in donning fleece and staying inside while the rains freshen the air.
One of the highlights of my summer was working with two groups developing a learning strategy. They wanted to take the pieces that they had—curriculum, partnerships, experts, and ideas—and turn them into a coherent program of activities that made a bigger and more lasting difference for more people.
What a great opportunity to play Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match! (I first introduced this idea here.) Mix-and-Match takes the key elements of a learning program and invites us to combine them in ways that expand the times and spaces in which we can engage people. It forces us to think outside of the usual workshop model. It also forces us to consider practice more than we otherwise do. You have to do something with all of those orange parallelograms!
Most learning programs do okay with synchronous learning, meaning learning where the teacher and student are participating at the same time. Take a typical workshop or webinar. It may look something like this:
A good workshop has practice built in. (For more on how to do this, buy Guila Muir’s book.) How about webinars? What do we do about practice? We can’t just forget about it–that orange parallelogram needs to go somewhere! Here’s some ideas… Include practice in the webinar, even if you are giving assignments for people to do later on. Provide boosting activities after the webinar so that they remember to exercise what they learned.
Let’s make this a bit harder.
Workshops and webinars are pretty straight forward. Let’s push on how we can better reach the people we just can’t get to a scheduled event. Let’s explore asynchronous options, those where the teacher and student are not participating at the same time.
On-demandlearning happens when you post a video or some other learning content on a website:
Where are folks going to be able to practice? How are we going to deploy the orange parallelogram? Here are some ideas:
Office hours: There are many forms of this (from phone calls to Facebook groups), but at its core it means that the teacher participates in applying the content separate from the presentation of content. (A master at this is Maryn Boess of GrantsMagic.)
Peer or networks: Schedule–or otherwise support– practice in board or staff meetings, service club meetings, or any other time when people already gather. (At Washington Nonprofits, we do this through Nonprofit Conversations.)
Tool or micro-learning: Give the people learning something (worksheet, checklist, case study, scenarios) that challenges them to apply learning to their situation. Give them a short video that describes how they can practice. Set up the activity for them to try.
These are just a few ideas. Imagine if we really let lose imagining how Mix-and-Match might be used to design conferences, publications, and so much more.
Download your own set of shapes. Cut out the shapes. Lay them out on a table and see how many different learning events you can create using these building blocks. Some ideas:
Take a strategic topic that you want people to learn about and figure out five different ways that you can deliver it.
Explore time: scheduled learning vs. unscheduled learning. How can you expand opportunities to learn outside of scheduled events?
Explore practice. Where does it show up in the programs you offer or partner with? Where else could it show up? This is often the most overlooked element within learning programs.
Invite others to play with you! Your webmaster may have ideas on how to expand on-demand learning. Your membership person may have ideas on how to use affinity groups within the membership program. Your policy person may have real activities that need practicing, around which you can build a program.
Want more on learning strategy?
I will be teaching a workshop on curriculum design this fall.