Category Archives: Design

Conferences can be better, a whole lot better


The conference business is booming yet every participant has some major gripe about the way conferences are run. We all think we know better. It goes with the territory.

In the beginning of the year, I looked into the future of conferences. Would they go the way of record stores and newspapers?

I concluded that:

Flipping conference presentations can vastly improve learning outcomes.

Community First! Events should focus on nurturing the L&D community of practice before content.

Many Next Practices for conferences (I’ve listed 30) are not difficult to implement.

Asked what brings them to events, nearly everyone replies “face to face.” People attend events to be with other people, to rub shoulders with colleagues from other organizations and with industry spokespeople and gurus. The cliché is that you learn more in the hallways than in the classrooms. As in the workplace, informal learning at conferences has more impact than formal learning.

The Flipped Conference session differs from the Flipped Classroom in that content delivery takes place at the conference, not before. However, presentation time is greatly condensed and is delivered in a 10-minute Ignite session up front. As with the Flipped Classroom, the bulk of face-to-face time is spent on discussion and contextualizing the lessons


The traditional building block of formal learning at conferences is a session. A typical breakout session is 45 minutes to an hour long. The session leader chooses the topic and presents a point of view (there’s a reason they call it PowerPoint) for the bulk of the session. This is an overdose of content. Most people’s attention wanders after ten or fifteen minutes. The bulk of the message falls on deaf ears.

After ten to fifteen minutes, we tune out the message. Between minute 15 and minute 50, I might as well be asleep. That’s 35 wasted minutes.

Flipping the session allocates a majority of the time to participatory events.


Next Practices for L&D Conferences

Here is a dog’s breakfast of suggestions for improving the effectiveness of conferences.

Before the Event

Provide a generic ROI proposal for attending to send to the boss, saving people the time of working out the value to be extracted from the event.

See who’s coming and set up appointments in advance.

Participants should have expectations and set explicit objectives for the event.

During the event

Encourage social networking. Announce a Twitter hashtag and encourage people to Tweet. It’s a great way to tap into the pulse of an event and to find what’s going on.

During sessions, use Twitter to gather questions and make comments. Tweeting among participants spark reflection about what’s gong on. Perhaps make the Twitter feed visible on a separate screen in presentation rooms.

After the conference

Visit the backchannel to attend a conference virtually, get to know people before the event, or catch what you did not have time to visit.

Get rid of happy sheets. One’s reaction immediately after an event says nothing about their long-term gain.

Conference goal: co-learning. Taking the message back home. Make this mandatory. Conference ends with plan for distributing ideas back to home organization and team.


Business is good. Attendance at the events I examined (eLearning Guild, Masie, Training, ATD, Learning & Technology, Educa) is rising.

John Seely Brown says every business model will be disrupted. Nonetheless, my gut tells me that L&D Conferences are here to stay for at least the next five years and perhaps infinitum.

The 20-page research report is here.

Crowdsourcing a design from 99designs

Internet Time Lab needed a logo for its iPhone app to measure emotion. At my partner’s suggestion, I turned to, “the fastest growing design marketplace in the world.” Their site says they’ve conducted 174,000 design contests and paid out $1.4 million to designers last month. I’d never heard of them.

Nine days ago, I posted a spec for what I wanted, put $149 on my credit card, and began receiving design options. 23 designers submitted a total of 62 entries. 3 withdrew their designs. 3 designers made my short list. I selected the winner last night.

Here’s the winning icon:

Look for it at Online Educa Berlin.

99designs also does brochures, web pages, t-shirts, banners, and book covers. I’ll be back.




Help me select a design for Blips, our iPhone app

Internet Time Lab needs an icon for its forthcoming mobile app. “Blips” records a person’s feelings at various times during the day and displays aggregate results on the web. The name Blips refers to the scant amount of time — a couple of Blips a day– it takes to increase one’s feelings of contentment and satisfaction.

I crowdsourced the design of the icon to 99Designs. I put up $149 and designers are submitting ideas. What do you think? If you feel strongly, leave a comment. Note that all entries are numbered.

Here’s the Web poll. If that doesn’t work, I’ve cut and pasted the contest pages below.






Internet Time Blog 2012-11-02 00:03:56

October 26, 2012, 12:26 p.m. ET

So Much Training, So Little to Show for It

An expert on corporate programs reveals why they often are a waste of time and money

In this lopsided Wall Street Journal article, a professor slams training for all the wrong reasons. For one thing, he disregards experiential learning on the job and seems to think that training always takes place away from the job. He touts the need for a thorough needs analysis which defines who will take what topic and be tested on it. That might have worked before jobs became complex. It’s tough to pull off when the future is unpredictable and work involves dealing with novel situations. He laughs off companies that believe technology will solve all training problems. I’ve been in the learning business for forty years and have yet to meet someone who thinks tech will solve all training problems. I couldn’t resist leaving a snarky comment:
Dr Salas focuses on training that takes place away from the job. He’s looking in the wrong place. Most corporate learning takes place informally in the course of doing the job, not in training courses away from the job. These days, many organizations support what’s known as the 70-20-10 model that says 70% of learning is experiential, 20% guided by others (often managers and supervisors) and a mere 10% via formal instruction. Salas offers common sense advice on making the 10% work better. There’s a lot bigger bang for the buck in making the learning ecosystem supportive of learner-directed “pull” learning. The school system is one of the few institutions where lectures, courses conducted in artificial environments away from the context of what’s to be learned, and one-way “push” learning are the norm. Corporate learning has its flaws, to be sure, but they are minuscule when compared to the practices that are commonplace in schools and colleges. Most corporate trainers know more about learning theory than the grad students who lecture in colleges. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Management 3.0 from Jurgen Appelo

Jurgen Appelo plays with more models of how things ought to work than anyone I else I know. His book Management 3.0 presents, assesses, and sometimes interconnects with agile, people-oriented processes relentlessly. I’m a fan. See his blog. And this presentation:

Jurgen and I met at the Stoos gathering. I just bought his latest, How to Change the World, to read on vacation.
Here’s the Stoos bookshelf. This is about as close to a definition of the spirit of Stoos as you’re going to get.

Clear up the cloudiness about cloud computing

Cloud computing.

Some people think their credit card information and Amazon preferences are stored a mile overhead in a cumulus cloud. It’s not that mysterious.

Just think of the cloud as a humongous computer that is connected to endless warehouses of rack-mounted servers spread around the globe. Is it safe? Like walking across the street in Manhattan, it’s perfectly safe if you know what you are doing. You don’t need to see inside the cloud. All that’s required is faith when you put things in, they will emerge where and how you want them to.

Four years ago at the Expo 2.0 conference, I was among those asked “What is cloud computing?”

“At the Web 2.0 Expo, we asked Tim O’Reilly, Dan Farber, Matt Mullenweg, Jay Cross, Brian Solis, Kevin Marks, Steve Gillmor, Jeremy Tanner, Maggie Fox, Tom McGovern, Sam Lawrence, Stowe Boyd, David Tebbutt, Dave McClure, Chris Carfi, Vamshi Krishna and Rod Boothby the same question: What is Cloud Computing?

Looking back, things haven’t changed. Millions of words later, the cloud is what it always was.

To my amazement, 332,156 people have watched the video.

My broadest exposure on the net is a minute-long comment I made four years ago.




The game of course

The largest obstacle holding L&D professionals back from taking advantage of network technologies, distributed networks, social connections, peer interaction, and informal learning may be their bedrock belief that learning = courses.

What’s a course? Where did courses come from?

The word course derives from twelfth-century French for running or moving forward. Over time, it morphed into meaning the circuit that was being run on, as in racecourse. In the fourteen century, academics started using the term to mean a planned series of study. Today, a course is a standard unit of measure of learning. Vendors sell training by the course. Students complete certain courses to earn a degree.

Courses are usually formal, in that the curriculum is defined by an outside authority. Courses are usually delivered in the same format regardless of the difficulty or breadth of the content, as for instance the 50-minute classes we endured in school and college. A cut-off score on a test supposedly verifies that the course’s lessons were learned.

Some people erroneously equate courses and learning. You need to learn something, you better take a course.

In point of fact, very little adult learning occurs in courses. People learn from experience, from solving problems, from asking questions, from mimicking others, and from trying various things until they hit upon the thing that works for them. Most adults studiously avoid taking courses. They resent them.

Few experienced people in business can dedicate a full hour to anything, particularly if they only want to learn two minutes of information embedded somewhere in the middle of a fifty-minute course. They have their own agendas; they have work to do. They lack the patience to wade through recitations of what they already know and lessons on things they don’t deem relevant to their work. They know what they want to know and that’s all they’re motivated to learn. It’s like walking into a discount superstore to buy a bag of licorice and finding the only size of licorice they sell is the three gallon 24-pack. It’s often easier to just go without.

In the past, I’ve sounded a wake-up call that most learning does not take place in courses. If that’s all we’re offering, we aren’t serving our internal customers. When this message fell on deaf ears, I wrote that courses are dead. I think I underplayed the message. Actually, courses are a ticking time bomb. If courses are the only way you enable experienced workers to learn what they need to know in order to excel, you’re not fulfilling your professional responsibilities. Tech-savvy hactivists are replacing the passive and obedient older workforce we’ve been accustomed to. Real soon now, you’ll be confronted with workers who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more. If you don’t hack the system, they will.

Courses are boxes, and everyone but the new kids on the block believes it’s good to think outside of the box.

A major obstacle confronting L&D people participating in Internet Time Alliance workshops on social and informal learning is the difficulty of letting go of the course concept and the sense of control it gives designers, planners, and instructors. Harold and Jane explain that informal learning entails sharing control of learning with learners. Some participants can’t get their heads around this. They ask how we can be assured that people learn the right stuff, measure outcomes, and  certify completion.
At least half of the organizations we talk with are hamstrung by their slavish belief that courses = learning. (Never mind that you don’t measure what’s going on in courses, either).

Are you up for a challenge?

Join me next week for a simple game.

Set-up and rules:

First, load up on the spirit of social, informal, experiential, network-assisted learning by attending Harold and Jane’s workshops, listening to Clark or Charles’ presentations, reading our blogs and books, and/or drinking the Social Business zeitgeist from Fast Company, Andy McAfee, Working Smarter Daily, or McKinsey & Co.

Next, seat four to six people around a poker table or small conference table. At least half the players should be trainers, instructional designers, or HR professionals.

Players stack 4 quarters in front of their place at the table.

The dealer/convener opens a conversation about how workers or managers in their company could more effectively learn a particular skill. The conversation may ramble into talk of incentives and measurement, but players should guide it back to the theme of how employees can get better at that particular skill. The objective is to avoid the language of top-down courses and formal learning.

Players make suggestions one to three paragraphs in length, one after another, beginning with the player to the left of the dealer. It’s fair to build on one another’s ideas. The talking stick passes counter-clockwise at the end of each turn.

A player who says “COURSE” or “INSTRUCTOR” or “TEACHER” or “TEST” or “GRADES” puts a quarter in the pot for each occurrence.

Players with competitive natures usually wait until a person has said their three paragraphs, hoping they’ll blurt out several of the forbidden terms in one turn (which will cost them several quarters).

Play continues until only one person still has quarters; that person takes the pot.

Let’s see if you can prescribe a learning solution without resorting to the controlling world of courses.

Join me next week on Google+. I’ll deal. Up to ten of us can play. We’ll webcast the event.

Email me in advance at [email protected], subject: game. Google+, our gaming platform, works best when I invite participants in advance by email.

Time: 10 am Pacific time, Wednesday, August 15th. I’m +jaycross on Google+. If you haven’t used G+ yet, download the app in advance and set it up. This is not rocket science but you’ll miss the beginning of the game if you wait until the last minute. If you haven’t tried Google+, well, you should.


Bomb image by mcol, courtesy Open Clip Art Library

Simplify Learning

Ideas from Jane Hart’s online chat on June 4 in the Social Learning Centre.

Q1) Harold in his blog post says ”For too long our organizations have suffered from the disease of complication. It’s time to simplify.” Let’s look at how we can simplify learning solutions. How can we help people keep up to date with what’s happening INSIDE their organisation – in simple ways?