Thinking further about Visual Novels for learning (aka storytelling)

I recently enjoyed this interesting session by Training Magazine Network:

Storytelling is UNNECESSARY in Learning Lessons – Use Hyper‐Stories Instead
(https://meet50035645.adobeconnect.com/pgdcwyaopel0/).

The argument was made for short examples in learning activities, rather than long stories. This made a lot of sense, to me, given the difficulty in building narratives that remain realistic once someone starts to select different options in a role play or scenario-based learning.

In some ways this can lead to a starting question any time we might want examples or scenarios:

Will short stories, to illustrate specific points, be best or a more immersive, longer, story?

If Visual Novels are useful for long branching narratives perhaps tools like inklewriter can be of use for shorter form content and such narrative “snippets” – with inkle allowing for some basic images to be added along with the text narrative.

The role a VN (or VN style approach) could have in your learning strategy crosses over with a number of other areas, not least with the excellent work and guidance available on the Nice Media YouTube channel related to drama in/forlearning:

Trying Notion (after MS Ignite October 2021)

The legless avatars of Mesh stole the social media buzz around Microsoft’s latest round of news (mostly coming out of Ignite). However, there was a LOT of changes to existing tools and non-Mesh stuff.

Windows Weekly, as always, has done a good job of pulling things together from different press releases, blog posts, presentations, etc. Some thoughts…

Loop

One thing discussed on Windows Weekly was Loop, a new tool which the WW hosts compared to Notion. Elsewhere it has been compared to Google Wave and other tools (see the comments on this article for how this tool seems to cut across existing tools).

Well I hadn’t used Notion before so I thought I would give it a try (they have 200k followers on Twitter so I am clearly late to the party).

Notion

Free for individual use (and free trials for team use) you can access Notion here.

50+ tutorials are on the Notion YouTube channel for getting startedl.

I would say that the, individual use, Notion is really a kind of personal Wiki but with various templates and other functionality to plug in. In this regard it is likely great for small teams (or even individual freelancers) to track their work. Indeed they have a page on the website regarding Wiki use. That said I have been burned with using Wiki and other tools (inc. Google Wave) in the past that have closed and needed me to transfer content elsewhere so I would understand why people would prefer to do similar activities via MS Teams (perhaps using OneNote over the limited Teams wiki).

An email from Notion suggested “Notion can feel overwhelming at first” – and I think that is a fair acknowledgment from them.

atd’s “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring”

I recently downloaded a copy of this new atd publication, you can get your own here.

Seeing the title I presumed this was going to be very much a puff piece with atd (The Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD) jumping on the bandwagon for how there is some kind of new and exciting ‘future of work’ where L&D functions will be all conquering in up and re-skilling colleagues for bright (digital) futures. Below are some thoughts section by section as I read through the document…

False pretences

Remote work forced L&D professionals to pivot quickly from in-person training to virtual, online development while still maintaining a strong company culture, assessing and facing organizational skills gaps, and tackling other compliance, organization development, and individual development needs

Page 3 “Introduction”

I would argue that the above statement, from the paper’s introduction, is simply not true for many and in some ways is a false hypothesis for the entire paper. Many had little/no “pivot” needed due to existing models of digital learning and communications. I am also often a critic of the “company culture” idea, from what I have seen and read over the years I would say the presence of team cultures both promote and undercut any centralised idea of vision and working practices/culture. The “this is the way things are done around here” idea of a company culture rarely crosses organisational silos IMO.

L&D professionals became important stakeholders in diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion initiatives. In some organizations, L&D leaders own DEI. In other workplaces, they are consultants or critical players in DEI strategy

Page 3 “Introduction”

For the North American audience of atd, DEI has, of course, been a massive issue in the last few years. However, it should have always been central to talent-related initiatives and I have been on a few good webinars this year with long standing DEI advocates criticising much of what has emerged within the corporate world as a response to BLM and other initiatives. Of course people need to be aware of expectations (or you risk bad behaviour being normalised) but L&D approaches to DEI have been shown to be poor solutions to the issue(s).

Skills questions

Two in five HR leaders acknowledge they don’t know what skills they have in their workforce.

Page 5 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

I’ve argued before that competency models are useful in the above situation – at least for some level of developing an understanding of what to do next. A previous employer made much of their “bring your whole self to work” initiative so that no one felt uncomfortable, be it for a DEI or other reason. This was a great initiative in many ways but also raised questions, for me, about how far that can realistically go given that work has always sought the common elements between us (shared skills, knowledge and common behaviours) and avoided ‘trickier’ elements that make us all different. Ultimately recruitment really needs to be better if this a challenge – we are encouraged to apply to roles very specifically, there is little chance to really explain who we are and leverage the random non-role-specific skills and knowledge.

There is much in the report on the “skills gap” and solutions include “hiring more gig or freelance workers” – it really feels a shame to me that, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have ended up in a position where companies have failed to develop staff and the expense of up/reskilling has too often been pushed onto the worker. This is identified, to an extent, via data from Gartner:

Employers fail to future-proof skills. Labor market analysts Gartner TalentNeuron predicts that 30 percent of the skills workers needed three years ago are nearing irrelevance. The World Economic Forum places the figure at 42 percent. Skills programs are not keeping pace with shifting requirements.

Page 6 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

This supposed pace of change is used as an argument against competency/capability models as requirements change too quickly. However, I remain dubious that such skills are disappearing/changing. Even “digital skills”, mentioned on the same page as the above quote, often build upon existing skills. We are rarely talking about ripping up the rulebook and starting again from nothing.

L&D operations

TD functions overlook the value of internal partnerships, “Only 40 percent of TD professionals collaborate extensively—most often working with HR, business or strategic planning teams, or business function leaders. Although reskilling and upskilling has strong benefits for the organizations, the report showed that only 38 percent of TD professionals partner with senior executives to assess skills gap needs.”

Page 7 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

Whenever I see numbers/arguments like the above I do wonder how talent development and L&D departments get into such positions. Obviously silos exist, and L&D can be side-lined into marginal roles but you always have a route to the top via reporting structures so, at some point, you should be getting (some of) the correct information to partner with people to improve the organisations performance.

The following section on “Invest in Your L&D Professionals” is fair enough. The data from the industry, that has come through in various reports over the years, that suggests L&D staff are undervalued and not invested in is always a worry. Ideally L&D pros should be leading the way, clearly showing others how they are engaging with learning, bringing benefits back to practice, etc. There is some irony, however, in a paper talking about the rapid speed of tech/digital skill changes to then be selling their own capability model and certificates. The assumption, presumably, is that you need to be doing these atd programmes on a regular basis.

“Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

This section is fine, although I would argue this is nothing new and “learners” should really be ‘workers’ or just ‘people’. It might be the more socialist elements of my mentality but the logic that employers do not have a part to play for everyone (including L&D themselves) to develop is just alien to me. That said, if someone is happy ticking along in a role that is fine – however, they would need to be demonstrating high performance and be aware that a lack of engagement with opportunities might, one day, put their position at risk.

The report finds that 73 percent of high-performing companies have internal mobility strategies.

Page 19 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

The above is one of the more interesting stats – taken from HCI’s Talent Pulse 7.4 Recruiting from Within and Developing Internal Mobility Strategies – and is probably one of the things that could be taken away for (at least bigger) organisations to use internally in justifying talent management initiatives.

I did a bit of work a while ago around L&D for workforce planning consultancy so I tend to to advocate for such talent initiatives, having seen it done well, and therefore it is good to see the report encourage “a strategic workforce plan” to be in place. Career paths are also something that is encouraged, whilst my experience would suggest the ease that these can be created varies a lot between industry it is nonetheless good to seem them called for.

False conclusions

This data supports the need for TD pros to increase learning events and provide them in different formats (mobile learning, microlearning, gamification)

Page 21 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

Wow, “events” is not what we should be talking about. Proper re and upskilling are hard to support and hard for the individual to go through. What should be on offer is appropriate experiences for the roles you need with as much personalisation as possible for the different knowledge and skill starting points of your people (be they new hire or not).

Unfortunately the report is also somewhat ‘industry report eats itself’ at this point, justifying arguments based on reports from LinkedIn, Deloitte and others including atd’s own blogs.

The following “Recommendations” section starts with:

The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.

Page 22 “The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.”

This is pretty much what I was expecting from the paper (see my intro above) but the argument is confusing (or I’m being stupid). “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring” yet “only 16 percent of organizations invest in the professional development of their L&D teams to a high extent”. Therefore, the paper is trying to justifying talent management and new L&D approaches but organisations do not seem to be on board. Thus it is indeed a puff piece to make L&D folks feel important whilst it would seem many remain not important in their organisations?

Should learning pros shift from sector specific tools? #3 : “creator” all-in-one platforms (over an LMS)

A bit of background on the learning side

This bit is an attempt to think where we (i.e. the learning industry/industries) currently are with ‘platforms’…

Learning management systems (LMSs), love them or hate them, remain the core component of many learning environments – be that workplace learning and development (L&D) or in education (where virtual learning environment, or VLE, may be the preferred term dependent on geography). Many LMS/VLE are built, at least initially, from the point that a common product, a ‘course’, is at their heart.

Even the rise of the Learning Experience Platform (LxP/LXP) has not shifted the need, for many, of an LMS. Indeed the lines that separate an LMS and an LXP are blurred at best – “there is no hard and fast distinction“. Continuing use cases for an LMS include that they often remain the single source of truth for compliance records, the ‘one stop shop’ for organisational learning opportunities, a walled garden for education and much more. Whilst LMS/LXP/VLEs come in many shapes and sizes they have, in many ways, replaced or reinforced the ‘learning by location’ model – i.e. you used to learn in a classroom now you learn in/via this technology or simply register for in-person events via it.

Coaching, mentoring and other less formal and location defined learning experiences are supported to differing degrees by the wide range of LMS/VLE/LXP that are out there in the market. The learning sector in the last c.20 years has arguably fluctuated somewhat in how much an LMS should be an ‘all-in-one’ tool with, at times, it being simply a launch pad for SCORM and other content whilst at other times there has been a push for talent management, discussion, social learning, knowledge management and much more (that have separate specialist tools/markets) to be included in core LMS functionality. Today we tend to see platforms that may not offer all this functionality but will integrate with other tools, for example via integrations, APIs, etc. These integrations often developed via acquisitions by the tech vendors themselves.

Creator platforms

So on to the point of this blog – some reflection on another market segment I am new to, having only just realised in the last couple of weeks that such things exist.

Previously I presumed most people monetize their ‘creator’ work through the relevant platform (YouTube, a photo site, WordPress or whatever) in combination with services such as Patreon. However, there appears to be another model that has developed via ‘creator platforms’.

Podia is one of the tools that clearly see themselves in this space. They split their own functionality “sell your work” and “market your work” functionality, interesting the sell aspects include online courses, webinars and other functionality that will be familiar to many learning pros. The below video is seemingly a pretty honest self-assessment on their part, comparing themselves to another major player in this space (do let me know if there are other tools worth looking at):

So is Podia an option for learning pros?

As is often the case, it really depends on what you already have and use. However, if you were looking to break from, say, a Moodle with sales plugins, with separate CRM, video hosting, etc to move into a (potentially) simpler all-in-one solution this seems like a realistic option.

Your online course, your way.

Choose from a variety of online courses that fit your business and customers’ needs; we support every file type, host all of the content, and never place limits on how much content you can upload and sell to your students.

https://www.podia.com/features/sell-online-courses

Is Podia really a learning platform?

In many ways Podia is quite a traditional solution for learning pros in that a “course” remains a unit of transaction, i.e. you buy access to a course. The platform lets you sell these via one of a number of temporal-based formats such as standalone, timed release, cohort based, etc.

In terms of content you are effectively talking about adding links to content and uploading media. This is clearly not SCORM focused like a traditional LMS but is no different to how many LMS are used, for example the traditional complaint that university online learning platforms are used as “file stores”. That said, Podia as a file store approach is quite appealing considering there are “zero limits on content…as much as you want to as many people as you can.” Many of us will have horror stories about eLearning systems falling over in the past when used at scale so Podia seems to have a lot of potential here.

There are other functionality options beyond static content, including borrowing from the traditional approaches of the learning space:

Ensure your course students are truly understanding your material with a multiple-choice quiz at the end of your lessons.

https://www.podia.com/features/sell-online-courses

Obviously a MCQ is far from ensuring ‘true understanding’ but I guess it at least separates a tool like Podia from something like, say, WordPress for hosting your content (yes, I know there are lots of WordPress plugins!).

Beyond the content and MCQs the more interesting element may well be that more social learning is possible via community elements and webinar integration. It is perhaps worth noting here though that Podia’s “all-in-one” would still need to connect external accounts for the webinar functionality itself:

Podia integrates with both YouTube Live (all plans) and Zoom (Shaker/Earthquaker) to let you offer webinars to your audience.

https://www.podia.com/features/sell-webinars

Conclusions

Overall, these platforms seem to offer another option for those who work in learning. By creating a ‘community’ around our work there is a different model here than the traditional LMS – be it if these were used internally to an org or for the sales-based models they are clearly intended. One market that clearly could look in this direction would be Membership based organisations who effectively have existing communities and are, in some ways, the traditional “creator” organisations due to their model of sharing useful resources, links, courses, encouraging knowledge sharing, etc for bodies interested in a topic. If the costs are worthwhile for such an organisation will clearly depend on the alternatives and existing IT setup, resources, platforms in use, etc.

Should learning pros shift from sector specific tools? #2 : Weet for video based communication

That I have not been to any conferences or other in-person events for at least a couple of years might be why I seem to be stumbling across a few new tools of late. In the last couple of weeks this has included Weet.

Are you already using Weet for learning related projects? If so, let me know.

Weet offers browser based video recording with very easy webcam over screen share functionality. Obviously similar functionality exists in Teams, Zoom and elsewhere – indeed one of my few paid for apps is Screencastify which has some similar functionality. Where Weet is powerful is that the webcam video can make use of their virtual backgrounds (ala Teams and Zoom) within the browser based recording.

Weet themselves do a good job here for explaining its benefits for learning so education/learning is clearly a market they are aiming for. Therefore, they are targeting market share from some of the more sector specific tools such as Camtasia.

The Teams integration (I haven’t tried this) offers an easy way to communicate, share video, etc without having to do the slightly counter-intuitive Teams approach of having single person “meetings” to record video messages.

A very nice feature of Weet is that even on the free plan you can download your recordings. Therefore, if you have concerns over their hosting (which can be a private or public link) you can download and host/share on/via your own systems. The free plan caps you at a 8 minute video which, in all honesty, is probably as long as most videos should be anyway.

Obviously lots of use cases as part of async communication – in education video based feedback would be an obvious example.

Here’s a quick video I did for my LinkedIn profile.

More generally, are we seeing a move back towards browser based tools? It feels a little like this to me, with less emphasis on Apps, or maybe I am just imagining that?