Adding Informal Learning to the Mix – Start Somewhere

How much learning and professional development takes place in an organization that is never tracked, never documented in any formal way? It just happens, as individuals reach out to a variety of people and resources to answer questions, share ideas and information, learn new skills, or collaborate (and maybe someone takes notes along the way). Would there be a benefit to capturing more of that information sharing?

In a recent post on the role of the Enterprise Learning Community Manager, Jane Hart describes what it might look like for an organization to engage someone in the role of facilitating enterprise-learning in all types of ways, formal, informal, and social. While this role might be considered a facilitator of learning, it could just as well be considered a business facilitator, since learning is a key function of any successful organization.

While creating such a role may not yet be on the radar for organizations already consumed with endless training for compliance, software conversions, or any number of new initiatives, why not at least dip our toes in addressing a broader learning/performance strategy?

Suppose for example, a training department for a healthcare organization is tasked with developing classroom and e-Learning training modules for a major upgrade to their electronic medical record system. Rather than relying exclusively on formal training (whether classroom or online), why not leverage a simple social networking platform linked to the company intranet and encourage participants to share information about the upgrade informally? The training group could then monitor and facilitate the network, with an eye toward curating the information along the way to identify best practices and updated procedures.

Information could then be shared real-time by system developers, analysts, project managers, trainers, and subject matter experts. Vehicles for information sharing could include blogs, discussion forums, screencasts, wiki pages, and micro-blogging archives. Individuals tasked with training outcomes could facilitate the social network platform, gathering and curating useful content that could later be developed quickly into more formalized learning content, particularly for newer system users.

But someone will inevitably ask, what about making sure the information is accurate? What if something is posted that isn’t approved, finalized, or even correct? To answer that question, all we have to do is consider how “correct” our formal training content is at time of go-live in most organizations, given the tendency for system changes to be happening up to, during, and after the “go-live” event. In reality, training content is rarely up-to-date by the time it is formalized, approved, and published. And even if it is up-to-date initially, it won’t be for long. System and business processes change much too quickly for the training function to keep up. A more organic, social-based and collaborative approach is needed.

It’s time to think more broadly and more strategically about training, learning and performance. And taking an approach that leverages informal learning and knowledge sharing, along with more formal training content, may be a good place to start.

Posted in Knowledge vs Performance, Social Learning | 1 Comment

Exploring ZebraZapps – First Thoughts

ZebraZapps is a new cloud-based authoring and publishing tool for instructional designers, eLearning developers, and others interested in developing and publishing online interactions. It offers powerful programming capabilities without requiring the user to do any direct scripting. This input/output programming is handled through a unique system of connecting properties between objects and tables with virtual “wires”.

ZebraZapps Sample Project Authoring Area

ZebraZapps Sample Project Authoring Area

ZebraZapps offers a full set of object drawing tools, along with an integrated Run/Restart option to quickly switch between preview and edit modes. Programming logic is built through use of logic tables that can be visually tied to object properties. As a cloud-based authoring environment, the ZebraZapp creators went a step further and created a ZebraZapps “Shopps” marketplace where users can publish and share, and even sell, interactions.


While many eLearning design/development tools are oriented toward a more or less linear authoring and course development mode (content on this screen, followed by content on the next screen, and so on..), ZebraZapps makes no assumptions regarding how content and interactivity will occur on the screen. It truly provides a blank canvas for the designer/developer to sketch, design, and develop the course, module, or interactive element, and that’s a good thing.

While the numerous wires between objects and properties that start to accumulate as you develop an interaction can get messy at times, even with changing the view properties, there’s no mistaking the power and ease of being able to visually associate two properties or objects and have the programming occur on the fly. Once I became more familiar with the properties and options, dragging and dropping wired connections for actions like drag and drop, show and hide, or rollover effects, became a breeze.

I really like the low price-point for the tool, which starts at less than $10/month. It’s a great way to add the tool to your eLearning development toolbox without breaking your eLearning development budget. And having the authoring tool in the cloud means I can access and edit my projects from any computer, mac or PC, wherever I am. No need for software installs and updates.

Swap Graphics without losing Programmed Settings

Swap Graphics without losing Programmed Settings

The tool also includes a useful  object/graphic replace feature, allowing for replacing rough sketch graphics with production graphics and not lose any of the programming attached. With this feature and how smoothly it works in ZebraZapps, you can really see that the tool was produced with an iterative design perspective, a refreshing change from many other authoring or development tools.


Content developed and published in ZebraZapps is currently limited to Flash-player output. For PC-based web sites or eLearning courses that may be acceptable for some, but any tool that doesn’t provide provide for a cross-platform mobile publishing option faces a serious shortcoming. As with other tool developers, the ZebraZapps creators will likely address this shortcoming in future product updates.

Product documentation is sketchy, though there are a number of video tutorials that help with getting started. Also a ZebraZapps Wiki is available and will continue to be updated over time. I also found the technical support response via email to be timely and helpful. Still, for a completely new tool that is seeking to capture a broad audience, particularly non-programmers, I found the product documentation and getting-started resources fairly weak overall.  While ZebraZapps seems easy to use for building very simple interactive elements, many designers, particularly those used to working with more typical point and click tools, may require a significant learning curve, or at least a lot of practice, to move beyond the basics.

While the cloud-based authoring provides a great deal of flexibility, in my experience the tool locked up on at least a couple occasions, requiring me to close and restart the program. The cloud-based feature is undoubtedly one of the reasons there’s a default auto-save feature.

One area I think could be improved is the management of the wires and message centers. While you can select different views to view none, some, or all of the wires or message centers, the screen space can quickly become cluttered and difficult to distinguish between objects and properties. The challenge of managing your screen real estate becomes more apparent as the complexity of your project grows.

Plan Pricing and Options

ZebraZapps authors can sign up for a free 60-day trial, a great way to get started. After that, the price for the basic Creator option is just $8.99/month. For that price you can develop and publish interactions up to a specified file storage/transfer limit. However, both the authored content and the published interactions live in the cloud. Future account options will be added for Professional and Enterprise level users, offering additional features such as private publishing, LMS publishing, desktop editor, and more. Pricing for those expanded account options is not yet available.

ZebraZapps also allows individuals access to embed links to free or purchased completed interactions as a sort of learning resource marketplace.


So far, I’ve found ZebraZapps to be a powerful design and development tool that makes a great addition to the eLearning developer’s toolbox. And although essentially no scripting is involved by the user, to move beyond simple point and click interactions and leverage the more powerful logic and interactive features requires thinking like a programmer as well as designer. To that end, I think more comprehensive training and user-friendly documentation and project examples would go a long way to helping users make effective use of this powerful new tool.

Posted in eLearning, Gaming, Instructional Design | 2 Comments

Story-Driven Games

I finally finished playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, after the final credits rolled, I took a look at some of the bonus content, where members of the Naughty Dog development team were interviewed and discussed their process and philosophy for developing the game. Two things struck me about their comments and about the game itself:

Building a cinematic-quality 3D adventure game like Drake’s Fortune is a huge undertaking involving a highly skilled team of designers, programmers, producers, actors, animators, sound engineers, the list goes on. Games like these are great examples of the emerging blending of hollywood movie production values with online gaming.

But what also was interesting in listening to the comments of the game designers and producers was their emphasis on character and story development. While Uncharted undoubetdly falls into the adventure first-person shooter variety, it clearly goes beyond to include a storyline that evolves, and characters you actually care about, as you continue through the game. They also emphasized using video cuts placed as seemlessly as possible within the game action itself, one of the marks of next generation games, where cinematic action occurs around your character as you interact within the environment using your game controller.

As I think about the challenge with developing engaging, meaningful elearning interactions in corporate learning environments, I wonder about the possibilities of incorporating more story-driven elements in elearning projects. Instead of inserting typical training scenarios into a course, why not tell a single story, engaging the learner or learners throughout? Even using current elearning development tools and platforms, we should be able to do more to engage learners in their elearning experiences.

Posted in Gaming | Leave a comment

The Cost of Life: When Games Get Serious

Toolkit - Social Issue GamesThe Toolkit 4 Making Social Issue Games produced by Games for Change is a terrific primer on the state of the industry on serious or social issue games development. This toolkit provides a series of video presentations by leading proponents in the serious games arena and is a great way to start thinking about what’s out there and what’s possible.

AyitiIn one of the presentations within the toolkit Barry Joseph, Director of the Online Leadership Program for Global Kids, talked about the planning and production of a game called Ayiti, the Cost of Life. “Ayiti” is the Creole word for “Haiti.

In the game itself you have a family in a village in Haiti and you need to guide them through a series of activities over the course of four years where the family members try to earn money on the farm or at various jobs, you try to provide education for the children, stay healthy as long as possible, and generally confront the “cost of life.”

There are some remarkable aspects to this game and it’s development process that go far beyond just the programming and playability factor. Here’s a few things that I took away from reviewing the presentation by Joseph on the development of the game, as well as from playing the game itself:

Youth Inspired
Urban students participating in a Global Kids initiative identified the key idea of the game to address Health and Education as a global human right. They chose the place the setting of the game in the country of Haiti, which has the highest rate of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere, and where only half of primary school-age children are enrolled in school.

Global Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to building leadership and global citizenship skills in urban young people partnered with game developer Gamelab, through funding provided my Microsoft, during a year-long iniative to design and develop the entire curriculum and game experience. Global Kids also developed workshops with support materials for teachers that help young people integrate and act upon what they encounter in the game.

Learning by Engagement
The game is a great example of social issue games where instead of just learning about social issue statistics, or seeing images or even watching video presentations, you are immersed in the challenge itself. While playing the game I was faced with making very difficult choices like, the father needs to work in the factory to make money to help his family survive, but he has come down with tuberculosis. Or there is only enough money to send one of the three children to the local school, and the other children have to work on the farm, or the family and community is devastated by a hurricane and have to rebuild their lives.

The game is challenging, both on a social level and in the gameplay itself. It’s difficult to win, as it should be, since it’s based on very real and terribly difficult challenges families living in poverty in Haiti face every day.

Posted in Serious Games | Leave a comment

Conversations on Social Learning

I recently joined the Corporate Learning Trends & Innovation social network and was able to catch a couple sessions of their April online event: Conversations about Learning in Organizations, that’s taking place today and tomorrow (April 21, 22).

What was great about this event, besides that it was free, was that I could simply log in from my desktop at work and take in the sessions I had time for, and listen to conversations moderated by many thought leaders in the learning and performance industry.

Rather than formal presentations, these sessions were simply moderated conversations, decidedly vendor neutral, that brought together a broad range of viewpoints, and provided time to wrestle with issues of defining terms, understanding broader implications, and basically wrestling with the notion of how organizations can shift from a formal learning model to one that levels the playing field and fosters informal learning.

A few themes that stood out in the sessions I attended:

  • Shifting from formal learning to social (informal). How do we as learning and performance professionals help make that shift occur?
  • Need to address issues/topics that really matter to people and to businesses.
  • Getting out of the silos. Learning and performance needs to bridge the gap with other parts of the business. The CEO doesn’t care about the instructional design methodology that’s use. They care about if the T & D function improves the bottom line. Part of this involves the need to shift between the instructional design methodology side to the business process side, and being able to communicate effectively on both sides.
  • Combining social, formal, performance support, CM/KM/LM systems, and mobile learning into an overall strategy.

These were some of the issues discussed, and there was much more. This was first time I’ve attended an online event built around conversations, rather than formal presentations, and I would say the experience, ideas generated, and rich dialog was more valuable than alot of the formal presentations on similar topics that I’ve attended, online or in person, even with a few technical glitches thrown in.

Posted in Social Learning | Leave a comment

Wikis for Management of Learning Projects

Stewart Mader on his Future Changes blog includes this brief video on using a corporate wiki to manage and track projects,that provides a summary of one of the more useful functions for a wiki I’ve found while working on learning-related projects at Nemours.

A couple years ago I participated on a team that developed a internal project management certification program based on PMI principles, but adapted to the Nemours culture. Along with an internal project management blended learning curriculum, we developed a series of project management templates (using Word of course) for project managers to use for initiating, tracking and managing projects.

At the same time our company web development department provided our learning team with access to a Confluence wiki space that we started using on a limited bases for sharing documents and team information. I decided to push the use of the wiki further by adapting the project management templates to wiki pages that enabled me to easily track various learning development projects almost entirely within a dedicated wiki space. It took a bit of extra planning at the outset to setup the wiki space, but once created, it was a snap to update project status reports, to share those reports with colleagues and subject matter experts, all within a lightweight web-based framework.

Finding Information and Documents Fast

An additional benefit I’ve found more recently is how easy it is to retrieve project documentation once it’s been developed in a wiki. It becomes as simple as doing a keyword search and within seconds locating project pages and links. Finding the right project documentation on a shared drive from a couple years back would often take considerably longer.

While wikis have many advantages for managing learning projects and other group tasks, in my experience they are never as easy to use effectively as the wiki evangelists claim. Like other web tools, it takes practice, and sometimes trial and error, to learn to use them effectively.

Posted in Wikis | 2 Comments

Games for Health

As a followup to my last post, I came across this site for the Games for Health Conference, 2009.  Founded by the Serious Games Initiative, the Games for Health Conferences focuses on enabling researchers, medical professionals, and game developers come together and think about ways game technologies can impact healthcare.

It’s interesting to note that there are some major players behind the serious games intiative, including, for example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that is funding a $8.25 million national program to “enhance the quality and impact of interactive games used to improve health.”

It’s telling to see that it’s not just corporate sponsors that are lo0king to interactive gaming as a key trend in learning development, but serious funders including national-level foundations.  It will be interesting to see what models of game-based interactions for healthcare training and development may emerge from these kinds of efforts.

information about the impact games and game technologies can have on health care and policy

Posted in Serious Games | 3 Comments