Thursday, July 15, 2010

Design burnout

Why, on every project, do I reach the point of being sick of it? It always happens when I'm almost done... is it some of kind of personality issue I have? I remember having the same feeling with papers I wrote in college. I tire of the subject matter, and I don't even want to look at it anymore. I just want it off my plate--even projects that I'm very proud of and had so much fun creating. It's a very weird feeling. I think others become more motivated as project completion nears, but I continuously find myself yearning for something new.

I get this way on conference/publication/research interests as well. I flit from one topic to another. I have no home. I can't say, "My name is Kathy, and I'm interested in X topic," because I no sooner declare it and it's no longer completely true. Is this a consequence of too many choices? Too much information? Some type of ADD? It seems the only pieces of work I never truly tire of are learning and solving problems.

Something I realized today (thanks to Ray Jimenez and my fellow "no-lecture webinar" participants) is that social media contributors are learners themselves. I felt badly about not blogging very often and that it appears no one else ventures here and reads any of this. But, this really not about other people. This blog is part of my personal learning space, and it's primary purpose is for me. It's my way of learning and reflecting. And, since learning is what I love, I know I'll continue this process in some form or fashion. I won't burn out on that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Something I preach, but don’t practice well #302: audience analysis

I know better. I may not have an ID degree, but this is not a practice used only in the learning field. It’s something we spent more than enough time on in grad school. It’s the first principle of any type of design: “Know your audience.” I know it, and I understand its importance. Yet (and I’m ashamed to admit it), as an ID, probably less than five percent of what I do on any given project is spent conducting audience analysis. And, almost all of the information I do have about my learners is secondhand (at minimum). I don’t interact with the learner population very much. In fact, I usually only hear from students during ILT pilot courses. For e-Learning courses, I don’t see or hear from them at all, unless I happen to overhear talk in the break room or cafeteria, when they’re talking openly because they don’t know who I am or what I do.

So many of the courses I design are catch-alls—attempts to meet the needs of a large, diverse audience. I can’t possibly design for each job role, so I have a vague, fleeting idea of who my audience is and how day-to-day work is accomplished. Sadly, I’m pretty out of touch. I work with SMEs who, like almost all SMEs, can’t remember what it was like to be new and green.

I tend to get caught up in content—I love to understand how things work, I like details, and I like to organize information. If I give less than five percent to audience, I probably give at least fifty to content. Content is important, but I need to put my own likes asides and spend more time with my audience. I have to put into practice what I know (and what I spent so much time and effort on in grad school). I have access to real, live potential students. I just need to get up and go see them, talk to them, watch them. Convincing them to give me time may be a challenge—our human resources are so limited, it’s hard to get anyone’s time right now. So, I have to put other skills I learned to practice—persuasion.

I suppose I’m just another casualty to aDDIE (the analysis piece is easily skimmed over to the more creative, interesting endeavors). I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s guilty of inadequate (or even nonexistent) audience analysis. I accept that for my first five years in ID, I’ve been woefully, shamefully deficient in that arena. So, now to put intentions to practice—let the rubber hit the road. I’ll be sure to report on the journey.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tool snobbery

I’ve been guilty of being a tool snob before. Thought bubbles: ‘You’re using Publisher? Yuck.’ ‘Framemaker... bleh.’ ‘InDesign is so much better than PageMaker.’ ‘PowerPoint—give me a break.’ Ok, I have continuing moments of tool snobbery. I know we’ll never all agree, so why do we get downright defensive about our favorite tools? The hunkered-down Quark fans are never going to move the InDesign, unless they have to (and they’ll grumble for months, before finally, quietly moving to the dark side and denying they thought Quark was better).

Does tool snobbery hurt our instructional design? It shouldn’t be about the tools we use. But how much does it affect what we do? In an ideal world, we would have access to all of the tools, and we could use right tool for the right project every time—and we would know which tool is best for the situation and know how to use it. In the real world, we don’t have budgets for that. We generally make the best of what we have, and when extra money is found we whip out our wish lists and cross our fingers.

What are the dangers of making do? We stick with the same tool all the time because it’s familiar, we know it, and we don’t want to or have time to learn a new one. We can also waste a lot of time trying to get a tool to do something it really wasn’t meant to do.

How can we avoid this, especially when we don’t have much choice in the tools that are available to us? I try to keep my focus on the design and not the tools, but it’s hard—I love tools. They’re neat, and I love to play. And, I may think the best design requires complex branching and pretty high-fidelity graphics, but we don’t have the tools or the time for that.

It’s a constant juggling act—what would be the best design for the learner + what we have the time and/or capability to create + what I’d like to try as a designer + what the sponsor wants + what will work in the learner’s environment. The tool is a piece of the act, but it isn’t the whole show. If PowerPoint will work, then use PowerPoint. If an interactive PDF will work, then use it. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my tool snobbery, but I need to put it aside at times. I need to find a convenient place to put it though.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Keynotes and how rhetoric ruined my life

In grad school, this was the common saying: "Rhetoric will ruin your life." Well, it does. I never attended a conference pre-rhetoric classes, so I don't know of anything else. Keynote speakers always interest me. At LS2010, we had three different keynotes, and honestly, before the conference, I hadn't heard much about of any of them. I just knew they each had written/published a book, a fact, in and of itself, doesn't provide any substantial credibility to me. They're not in the learning industry, at least not directly. Sir Ken Robinson, the first keynote speaker, kicked off the conference, and his was the only session that didn't set off any major alarms in my internal "Oh, really?" system. I had just come from a Breakfast Byte session where I listened (sadly, much too fuzzy sleepy to participate) to a discussion of schemas and how we use them to deterime how we accept new information: it fits in with our current schema and we accept it; it challenges our schema and we adapt or change our schema to account for this new info; or, it goes so far against our schema that we reject it outright. Maybe Ken's speech seemed to fit my schema, so I wasn't as analytical. I'd be interested to read a critique of the session.

I never have much confidence that I'll get much from a keynote session. It seems like the speakers talk in absolutes--lots of Big T statements. I guess we don't want to listen to a bunch of qualifiers (in which case, I would stink as a keynote speaker), so speakers tend to take a strong stand and speak with authority as though we should agree with everything. It's scary when I see ideas or models taken as wholesale truth and blindly absorbed and followed--whether it be keynote speaking or ADDIE. Who is conveying this information? Are their statements supported or just opinions? What emotions are they trying to invoke to move you toward action? Do you really agree, or are they just a charasmatic smooth talker? It's easy to get wrapped up in charisma--I do it too. At some point, during or after, just think please.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reflections from #LS2010

The seven-hour drive back from the conference all by myself was a great time to reflect on my experiences at Learning Solutions 10. At other conferences I've attended, I've been there with colleagues. This time I was all on my own, which forced me to be more outgoing than I normally would be--which, to others, probably isn't incredibly outgoing, but I really tried. And, as a result, I met some awesome people. In the past, I've had very positive experiences at conferences, and left energized and psyched. I had that experience again, but this time there was an extra plus: I have a better understanding of me as an ID and the team I work with. As a team, we've come so far in the five years I've been there, and I've come so far as an individual ID.

I have several thoughts on what I'm taking away from the conference, but this was a major "Ah-ha!" from the solitary drive yesterday. Between Wednesday's Breakfast Byte ("The Art and Science of Storyboarding") and session 506 ("Leadership Techniques to Enable Subject Matter Expert Collaboration" with Jon Aleckson), I've been contemplating how I work with SMEs and other stakeholders. In the storyboarding session, we discussed how we handle SME storyboard review. I mentioned that I've stopped having SMEs look at storyboards. I let them focus on the content, and all the other stuff in my storyboard docs get in the way of the content. Someone asked me, "Aren't they surprised when they see the course?" Well, yes and no. On a recent project, I was working on an eLeanring course and subsequent instructor-led course with the same SMEs. After they signed off on the content for the eLearning, I took it and ran with it with my development team. I was continuing to meet with them on the ILT, so I kept them updated on what we were doing. So, they weren't totally surprised at the end result.

I think what made a difference was with this SME group, we shared a good deal of mutual respect. Until the 506 session, I never really articulated it that way. I just felt my SMEs trusted me. I had worked with one SME before on another project, and I think he was able to understand what I brought to the project as an ID. I'm not sure if it was his attitude/confidence in me that affected the other SMEs, but it made the project go much more smoothly. I have to think on this more and try to determine what I'm doing on projects to encourage this mutual respect. It wasn't always like that for me--I've had some projects where the SMEs and sponsors have been headstrong, showing very little respect to my professional ability and dictating how, in their minds, it should be done. I've had much better experiences recently, so I want to ponder if I've changed my approach (subconsciously) or if maybe my SMEs are getting nicer. If I figure something out, I'll be sure to post it.