Archive for September, 2007

Visual DNA

For many people, art seems to be a completely subjective medium. What works for some is completely strange for others. Imagini uses those preferences to compare you to others and see what that says about you. Here’s the results from mine:

While I’m not convinced of the validity of the interpretive descriptions they do, the selection of the visuals definitely communicate a bit more about me. For more about the use of the visual arts for communication, be sure to check out VizThink and register for our upcoming conference.

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Two New Required Classes

One more thing that came up in one of the recent sessions I gave…we need to create two more required classes in our high schools and colleges (maybe even in our grade schools) including “How to Search” and “Critical Thinking”. Frankly, given the state of our entire population, we should even be offering this at work until we’ve got all of the adult population through it too.

Quickly finding information is essential to success in current jobs. However, it’s not just knowing where to look or how to look for the information, it’s also about knowing how to evaluate the quality, validity, and bias of the content. (And, yes, all content is biased, even raw data).

People always get wrapped up in how many errors there are in Wikipedia and how the content was written with a bias. Of course there are errors and of course there’s bias. Your local paper is also filled with both. So is the Wall Street Journal, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and every history book ever written. No one’s perfect, so errors are bound to appear. In my career I’ve had dozens of different people look at various documents and errors still slip through. It’s also impossible not to have bias. Everybody writes with bias. Even writers who claim they tell “both sides of the story” are likely missing a third (or even a fourth or fifth) side. So, it’s less about looking for the perfect source as it is to understand the common errors and the bias with which a piece was written.

Look at the sources. Compare the opinions. Make up your own mind about the quality and validity of content…that’s critical thinking. And it’s critically important that we all learn to use these skills more effectively in everything we do.

The Death of the Classroom

I just got done giving 3 presentations at the Brandon-Hall Conference. While each of them were different, there were a couple consistent themes. First, I said that the top two most effective (and possibly the only effective) technologies for learning were simulation and performance support. Recent capabilities finally allow us to create powerful simulations and performance support tools that eliminate the need for transfer and provide the information where, when, and how I need it. Second, I stated that as this caught on the traditional classroom should die a slow and painful death.

To me this seemed quite obvious and there seemed to be at least a few heads nodding. Turns out, this may have been one of the most controversial things I’ve said in a long time. I didn’t realize how much personal ownership people felt in the role of the traditional classroom in learning. Certainly, it was meant to be sensational to get people thinking, but it was also intended to propose alternative approaches for learning specifically simulation and performance support.

First a few clarifications…First, when I refer to the “traditional classroom”, I’m talking about stand-and-deliver lectures and presentations. These are no longer effective, and I would argue that they were never effective. Lectures are too far away from the actions and behavior we want to create to ever be effective. Lectures are so far away, we spend time talking about things like session frequency, length, and repetition all of which are approaches to reduce transfer. Simulations and Performance Support both dramatically reduce or completely eliminate the need for transfer.

Second, yes, it’s true, as several astute people pointed out, simulations can be run very effectively in the classroom. So, this is not about the death of the classroom per se as it is the death of the lecture. The rooms will still be needed. The teacher is still essential. What changes is the approach from lecture to experience and the role of the teacher in helping that happen.

Third, when I refer to Performance Support, I’m talking about any on-the-job tool or person that provides knowledge, learning and development that helps the work get done. This could be a job aid, a search engine, a mentor, a coach, a good product design (read Don Norman’s book), a help system, peer-to-peer, or just about anything else that helps a person do their job while they are doing their job.

Notice the consistency between simulation and performance support…the learner is actually doing something. More importantly, they are learning by doing what it is they need to do. I would (maybe just as controversially) posit that if it can’t be taught through simulation or performance support, then it doesn’t need to be learned. Except for academia itself, the only real need for learning is to change actions and behavior. (Note: I don’t want to downplay the importance of learning for learning’s sake, just that in business, our goal for learning is to help people do something and that should be our focus).

Having said all that, there’s one exception, or maybe, better, one addition that I need to add to my rant. The value of getting together, face-to-face, live, in person can never be replaced. No technologies have been able to substitute for that…no chat, e-mail, podcast, blog, video conference, or other communication technology (not even the new “presence” technologies) can ever replace the value of being to face-to-face with friends, family, and colleagues. Many thanks to my friends, colleagues, and other attendees for pointing this out. May we all experience learning through great conversations!

So, maybe it’s not so much about the death of the classroom itself, but the death of the lecture. The technology is finally here to make that happen. Now the question is how do we use the technology for the benefit of people.
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Serious Games Presentation

We’re just minutes away from my presentation on Serious Games: Present and Future. The presentation has been posted as a PDF here. It’s about 2 Meg even with compressed images. Thanks to all of the people who provided examples and pictures for this presentation.

Innovations Outside of Learning

I’m blogging live from the Brandon-Hall’s Innovations in Learning Conference in Santa Clara, CA. I was honored to give the opening address to the pre-conference for over 130 people. My topic was Innovations Outside of Learning: How External Forces Are Changing Our World. In the presentation, I covered the Top 9 non-learning innovations that were impacting learning.

You can check out a PDF of the presentation here. A video version might be available at some point. I’d love to hear your thoughts to see if you agree or what technologies you would add/remove.

Increasing the Odds

As many of you know, I spent most of last year in Saratoga Springs. I went back late this summer to visit a great set of friends from my time there. While the water (it is named for that after all) is what it was once known for, horse racing is one of the things it is still known for. Yes, technically you can still drink from the springs, but how anybody ever considered something that tastes that awful to be healthy, I’ll never understand.

Horse racing in Saratoga is approaching 145 years old. That’s a pretty long tradition, in the U.S. anyway. For those who have never been to a race, it seems pretty basic…horses run, you bet on the winner, if you guess right you win. However, when you go to figure out and place your first bet, you learn what 145 years of organic growth causes…enormous complexity and completely unique terminology. Even the most basic bets–1st, 2nd, and 3rd which are known as Win (obvious), Place, and Show–get more complicated when you layer in boxes, daily doubles, exatcas, trifectas, quinellas (huh?), pick four, and pick six, and that’s only the beginning.

How do you pick the horse? How does the horse’s previous performance matter? How many races have they run? What kind of track’s did they run on? What were the conditions? How did they do? How fast were they? How long were the races? Is it the jockey? Is it the trainer? Is it the owner? What about the horse’s lineage? How’s the horse’s short distance speed vs. long distance? Grass vs. dirt? When was the horse’s last race? How does the horse behave in the paddock (i.e. the staging area)? Has the horse raced at this track before? To horse racing veterans, all of these factor into their bets. Their forms for each horse look something like this:

However, for newbies (like me) that amount of data is way too overwhelming. So the New York Racing Association puts together another form about 1/3 the size that probably should be called Horse Racing for Dummies (but that probably already exists). These forms make excellent use of visuals to simplify the process of selecting a horse. Pictured below, somebody selected the 7 most important categories that will determine a horse’s success. Are they the most important? I don’t really know. Hopefully, somebody ran a regression analysis or something to figure it out. Anyway, if the horse performed in that category, they get an icon. Of course it’s still up to the bettor to determine how to weight the 7 categories, but it certainly makes the process much easier.

For this bettor, in my 4 trips to the track, this form has allowed me to come out even each day after betting on 8 or so races each time. OK, so coming out even may not speak for this being the best process to win lots of money, but I think not losing lots of money is better than most of the people there. And best of all, you still have a fun afternoon with friends.

For more information on Visual Thinking approaches like this, check out

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New Southwest Seating Plan

OK, so Southwest finally took my advice! Back in early December 2006 I blogged about Open Seating on Southwest Air Pt 1 & Pt 2. I was complaining about the cattle call set up for Southwest and how people will stand in line for hours even when there’s no plane at the gate and it’s been delayed for two hours just to save their place in line for open seating. I gave a bunch of ideas how to fix it, and they actually took one of my ideas!

OK, so it probably wasn’t the most original idea ever, but I think it will make things better. In Pt 2, I suggested they assign numbers to people and have them line up by number. That would eliminate people standing for hours in the cattle gates waiting for the plane and that’s exactly what they’ve done! Check out this quick performance support piece on the new way to board the plane. (Nice visuals too, with the usual Southwest sense of humor). Somebody should have told them that performance support pieces are better when available in the moment rather than hours or days before they’re needed, but, hey, it’s a good attempt.

I’m flying Southwest in a few weeks, so, if they’ve implemented it by then, I’ll report back on how it went.

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