Archive for March, 2013

As an e-learning designer, there are many things I love about Hollywood! Here I’ve put together four ways to help you bring a touch of tinsel-town to your training…

1. Adaptation is really about storytelling

Life of Pi is a good example. It’s a great book which lost none of its impact as a film. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Life of Pi four out of four stars, referring to it as ‘a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery.’

Just like Life of Pi, great e-learning content should inspire learners to find out more about where it came from. After watching the movie, Barack Obama went on to read Life of Pi and wrote to the author, Yann Martel, to tell him it was ‘an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.’

Both Ebert and Obama agree that Life of Pi is truly magical because of its storytelling – and a great story is the key to adapting any content into e-learning. But forgetting about God, miracles and tigers for one moment, can Hollywood help us transform a dull health and safety manual into an exciting e-learning course? Yes, it can! And here’s how…

2. ‘Go Hollywood’ with your scenarios

Hollywood teaches us that bringing a dry subject to life is all about engaging scenarios. Think about Simon Gruber’s crazy tasks for John McClane in Die Hard with a Vengeance. They really make health and safety into exciting stuff! Hollywood knows all too well that true engagement means putting the audience ‘in the story’ and involving us emotionally in the characters’ decisions.

Here’s an example. If you’re creating an assessment on what type of fire extinguisher should be used in an emergency, try ‘going Hollywood’. Depict a room on fire with other flammable objects near it and a timer ticking as the options appear on screen. You’ll find that the learner’s response is a little more ‘John McClane’ than usual!

3. Break it up and branch it out

Hollywood never tells us everything in one go – so stay away from lots of text and use shorter ‘scenes’ instead. Long paragraphs explaining a process should be broken into screens with characters and conversations between them. Star Wars would’ve been pretty boring if the whole film consisted of the rolling text at the beginning!

In fact, using branching scenarios actually allows us e-learning designers to do better than Hollywood. We all know any bombs planted in the start of a movie will be disarmed at the end by the protagonist; but imagine if we could ‘play’ the movie again to see a different situation unfold and witness how it’s handled.

With branching, we can hold the learner’s focus by introducing a situation and giving them a chance to handle it in their own way (supplying guidance only when they need it!). So e-learning should really be more like Run Lola Run – each run starts from the same situation but develops differently to produce a different outcome.

4. Roll out a red carpet of rewards

There’s one last thing that Hollywood can teach us. What is it that drives Bond or Ethan Hunt to do their tasks so heroically (and precisely)? It’s the accolade they get in the end! We should do the same with unique scores, medals and leaderboards. We all secretly enjoy a little slice of the red carpet. Make your learners put in that extra effort to take the limelight!

It may sound absurd to say we should ‘organise’ creativity. For many people, creativity and organisation are two extreme ends of a spectrum. Creative ideas are supposed to appear from nowhere when we don’t expect them. That’s just how the creative process works – which means it must be okay for creative people to be totally disorganised, right?

They certainly think so! How many times have you heard ‘creative’ people say ‘what we do is can’t be done in an organised, processed way – it’s all about letting the creative juices flow and seeing where that leads you!’ A recent study has even revealed that when creative people were approached with the question directly, only 7% said they were ‘very organised’:

So does organising creativity matter? Is there a reason to change this behaviour?

I didn’t think so, until I read Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky. You may have already heard about it or even read the book. The points that he makes have definitely convinced me to organise my creative projects, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Belsky says that we tend to admire ‘ideas’ and not the process – believing that it’s only creativity that matters. If some creative solution appeals to us, we always say: ‘Wow, what a great idea that is!’ And seconds later the regret comes… ‘I actually thought about that myself. Pity I didn’t do anything about it!’

This is revealing, because according to Belsky it’s not so much the ideas that matter but the ability to make those ideas happen that we find difficult. Reiterating Edison’s famous remark that ‘genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’, Scott explains why the 99% is so important. The formula below is his secret to making those great ideas happen:

His point is that to be effective, the creative mind has to perform according to an organised plan, instead of letting it wander away in a cloud of ideas.

According to Belsky, the relationship between organisation, creativity and overall impact is summarised by this equation:


So what happens when there’s plenty of creativity but no organisation?

100 x 0 = 0

Uh oh. This makes it clear that, even though somebody may have lots of ideas, if you’re not organised you’ll fail to reach the finish line. Now consider half as much creativity, and just a little more organisation:

50 x 2 = 100

There it is! Belsky‘s equation explains why sometimes the not-so-creative ideas have worked. Look at Apple, for example. This brand is famous for ideas and creativity – but it also focuses on organisation. The only way Apple can keep producing remarkable new products is to keep those creative people on a tight leash.

It’s not really that difficult for creative individuals to stay organised – even if they say it is – and making the effort is worth it. Waiting for those perfectly formed inventions to fall from the sky might be alluring, but wouldn’t you rather impose a little discipline and start making all ideas actually happen?

If you’d like to know more about “Making Ideas Happen”, visit the link below to see Scott Belsky talking about it:

No doubt many of you reading this will be aware of the food scandal that’s currently going on within our supermarkets, rocking a nation of meat-lovers. Revelations that many supposed ‘beef’ products on sale on our shelves contain a percentage of horse meat have shocked and caused outrage amongst consumers.

Personally, I have to admit that as long as there’s no health hazard posed, I’m not overly worried if I’m eating a horseburger; in fact there’s even a sense of personal gain as I’ve most likely expanded my gastronomic horizons, albeit unknowingly.

But how was the ‘horsegate’ scandal allowed to happen in the first place? Is it that the correct procedures aren’t in place amongst supermarkets and food producers, or that perhaps in some cases they simply weren’t followed? Or could it be that, perhaps, workers in the supply chain lacked adequate training to be able to follow them effectively in the first place? I don’t profess to know the answer, but I’m quite certain of one thing: UK supermarkets and food suppliers will surely be stepping up their staff training to ensure that this doesn’t happen again!

For any business that has procedures and processes in place, it’s essential that training needs are realised and effective programmes are put in place to ensure that these are followed.

Let’s take the example of a current project that we’re working on here at Saffron. We’ve just embarked on an exciting new project to develop a suite of engaging e-learning courses for an organisation to support a key stage in the process of awarding research funding to academic institutions. It involves a great deal of consideration and evaluation amongst what are known as ‘peer reviewers’ in order to decide which institutions should be awarded funding based on the individual merit of their proposal.

I’m not saying for one minute that there is any link between ‘horsegate’ and peer reviews; but what’s key to take away here is the necessity for such training to ensure that important processes are reinforced.

This particular organisation approached us because they successfully identified a key training need to support such an important part of their work, and decided to deliver this through e-learning. Perhaps food producers and retailers alike will also soon begin to identify new training needs – most likely they already have. But how is this done effectively? How do organisations ensure that they are truly addressing the key training requirements? By carrying out an effective Training Needs Analysis (TNA) – that’s how!

A successful TNA allows an organisation to review the learning and development needs amongst its staff. In most cases, it requires a great degree of research and a number of methods are normally employed to ensure that the process is effective.

To finish off this blog, I’ve put together three key tips that will be sure to help you in your TNA activities:

  1. Ask probing questions

    Find out what different teams need by asking insightful questions. Don’t necessarily ask managers and employees what training they think they need, but ask them what they feel they will need to achieve their targets or deliverables. What’s been most challenging for them in the last few months? Aim to get specific examples, not just vague generalisations.

  2. Review search terms on your Learning Management System (LMS) or intranet

    Reviewing the key search terms within your LMS gets to the heart of what your staff are concerned about and the training that they need. When the Head of Google Learning Labs did this recently and evaluated the top terms in their learning portal and compared this with the other information they gained from their TNA activities, they found that they ‘correlated exactly’. Take a look yourself here (at around 15 minutes in).

  3. Review key business metrics and trends

    Key signs within your organisation can come from your business metrics and trends. Investigate these: Are sales lower because staff feel they lack the necessary skills to carry out their job effectively? And are people leaving because the training is not adequate in their role? Delve deeper and identify if there is a training need that needs to be addressed. Issues such as these can indicate that there may be more serious training issues bubbling under the surface.

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