It Took a Meteor Shower to See a Good Training Technique

One of my Facebook friends recently posted this NASA article about the meteor shower over the next three days (Aug 11-13, 2012):

The meteor shower sounds very cool, but I noticed something else, too.  The design of the article could be used in one of my training projects… and it’s simple but neat.

Linked in the article is a YouTube video of the written article.  I read the article first, and then I clicked on the video for it.  I recognized the article was the narrative of the video after just a few moments. The video was really good, too. It’s about 3.25 minutes and is interesting and well done.

Here are the things I love about this style:

  • It’s printable.
  • It gives a user options for their experience  (Do I want to read or watch the video?).
  • It is multi-sensory – audio and video combined made a comprehensive experience.
  • It’s simple to design and build – for the most part, at least 🙂
  • It reduces a lot of the technical risk associated with eLearning. It’s simply HTML.
  • It’s already mobile-ready!

It could be disappointing to read the article first and then click on the video – only to find out it’s nothing different than what you just read. I really didn’t mind, but it did make me think about it. If I use a style like this for some parts of my training program, I would probably add a note to the top of the page, indicating what to expect. Would it matter to you?


When Good Web Conferences Go Bad – 10 Lessons Learned for Hosts (and a few for Attendees)

I was really looking forward to a webinar I recently attended; however, because of technical issues, it was a rather painful session to have attended.  I will write about the content soon, but I feel I should address a few lessons learned yesterday about web conferences. It’s good timing; I’ll be hosting two sessions soon. This session was a startling reminder of how important hosting is. I feel bad for

What crashed the web conference?

Lots of interactivity, lots of people, and lots of confusion were all factors that wreaked havoc on the web conference.

the presenter and the group; it’s atypical of their work.  I will also just throw my opinion out there – WebEx, BlackBoard, et al, please build in a second chat that is labeled as a technical chat tool (or an “I can’t hear” button). It would be super helpful!

There was a significant lag, suggesting there wasn’t enough bandwidth for the event. At first it was fine. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to the presentation, due to advertising other web conferences. For about 10 minutes into the presentation, things were fine. Then attendees were asked to use the writing tools to mark true or false on slides with a written scenario by using the text tool to write our initials on the proper side of the slide. The annotation tools didn’t work at first, because I don’t think they were turned on. Once the Whiteboard options were enabled, getting the text tool to write my initials took a little trial-and-error. A lot of people drew all over the slides. Some used chat instead.

Then, the interactivity caused a severe lag in the slides, and VoIP (voice over IP) failed, so for a little bit, I had no sound.  I would see the slides go blank, and then suddenly a slide would appear with a bunch of drawing/writing gibberish all over it (annotation/drawing tools in Blackboard).

The chat became hard to use when problems occurred.

Some attendees helped, some tried rejoining, some shared their troubles, some asked questions about the presentation. Chat became hard to follow.

We had just begun discussing interactivity, so I actually waited for about two minutes, thinking that the mishap was part of his presentation! When no magic happened, I realized something was wrong. I tried to use chat, but it was chaotic. I saw dozens and dozens of chats about audio, mixed in with hundreds of answers to the true/false questions from the presentation. It took me about 5 minutes to get the number, dial in, plug in the session ID and get my phone set up.  When I got dialed back in, the presenter hadn’t skipped a beat, but his slides had. They wouldn’t load, even after the whiteboard tools were shut off. I provided the hyperlink to the presentation via chat, because people were becoming irate about not seeing the lesson.  I had to take a couple minutes to jot down web conference notes – meaning I was not listening to the presenter. 

Host Lessons

  1. Absolute Rule #1:  Prepare for contingencies. If a host has no Plan B for each thing they do (even for showing the presentation!), it will be a long, painful hour when bad things happen.
    1. Offer the presentation before the session starts, and remind attendees to print it out prior to the session. Have the link available in case something happens.
    2. If the audio fails, have a slide available with the session information and instructions to get dialed in.
    3. If you plan interactivity, plan on having a backup tool.  Try not to re-purpose tools (see #4 below).
  2. Be on time. This web conference started late due to technical issues, and then the first 12 minutes were spent plugging other web conferences. After all that, the presentation failed, and attendees became frustrated.
  3. When using web conference interactivity tools, you must:
    1. use the right tool for the job. To answer a true or false question, we were asked to write our initials on the screen. It may have been easier to use the built-in yes/no feature. Plan this with your presenter.
    2. explain the tools to the presenter
    3. explain the tools you expect the audience to use
    4. remember to turn on the tools needed for a web conference
    5. remember to shut off tools when not in use
  4. Do not use chat for multiple purposes! In this session, chat was used for technical issues, answering true/false questions from the screen, and to write in questions to the presenter. It was hard to find anything in chat.
  5. Mass exodus occurs fast. After 10 minutes into the problems, the room went from 729 attendees down to 545.
  6. Bandwidth is important, especially if more than 500 people show up. I hate to say it, but using VoIP at the host level becomes another layer of risk when talking  bandwidth and IT stuff. Consider simply dialing in (as a host), while leaving VoIP an option for attendees.
  7. Communicate to the audience when something goes wrong and how they can correct problems on their end. VoIP failed, and there were hundreds of people using it. It was hard to remember how to dial in. Chat was going crazy, so anything posted there instantly scrolled off the screen. Taking a moment to write the dial-in options on the screen would have helped.
  8. Mob mentality happens fast. When chat is left open to the audience and something goes wrong, expect angry chats. Then expect appalled chats, followed by defensive chats. In this situation, angry, appalled, defensive (and some perfectly okay) folks also had drawing tools available for a good portion of the slideshow, so they drew on each slide until the tools were shut off.
  9. Be sure to have the website where folks can print the presentation ready to copy/paste into chat or type on the screen. If your presentation fails in a web session, this will get your attendees back on track.
  10. Be sure to communicate the slide number being presented. It became pretty important when I dialed-in and switched to a paper printout.

Attendee Lessons Learned

  1. Print the presentation handout before the session, if it’s available. I remembered to do this, and it helped tremendously. It’s good for taking notes and for visual issues during a session.
  2. Join the meeting a couple-few minutes early, so that you can work out any issues when joining.
  3. Jot down the session dial-in info, in case you need to switch to the phone.
  4. Using a paper presentation and dial-in isn’t so bad. I wound up sitting outside for part of the time.  It was a gorgeous day!
  5. If things go wrong, try to be helpful. Try to keep your comments professional.
  6. If you have a link to a page or resource, provide it in chat for others to grab. I was surprised at how much other attendees added.
  7. If drawing tools are available, resist the temptation to write/draw on every slide.

Through the chaos, the presenter did a very good job working through the problems.  I think this experience will help me prepare for my next hosting duties.

Gamification Webinar from TMN

I just attended Gary VanAntwerp’s web conference on gamification, hosted by the Training Magazine Network ( The .pdf from the presentation is available for download, and the recording should be available by tomorrow. There were a few audio glitches (groan, haven’t we all been there?), but otherwise it was good. Here’s my takeaway of the event.

What Is Gamification?

Dice have been around for thousands of years. Gamification is so new, I had to add it to my autocorrect dictionary when I typed the title of this page! Gamification is “the current application of using game mechanics and game thinking in a non-game environment to increase fun and engagement.” Visit the wiki at

The concept of incentivizing has been around for a long time. Whether store incentives (reward points) or beer pong, adding incentives entices people.

Why Gamification?

  1. People love games and competition. That could be why dice are so old.
  2. Google data predicts that gamification is in its infancy, and it is trending in 2012.
  3. People want a balance of choice and control, so they feel in charge and to feel it is easy to make a decision.

Game Design & Mechanics

To design a game in a non-game environment, you must think about the game design and the game mechanics.

Game Design

  • Perceived Affordance:  Perceiving to know about an object based on perceived knowledge of the object type… assuming we know how to use a button on a web page because we recognize a button shape, 3D button-like qualities, and other commonalities. We expect a button to act a certain way when we recognize it. When we aren’t sure it’s a button (or if it looks like a button and turns out to be something else), we don’t like it. It was found that Three Mile Island had bad design like this. A light that looked like it indicated a closed valve, but it indicated the status of the solenoid, so nobody diagnosed the problem was a valve stuck open for hours.
  • Flow:  You’re in the flow if a user is applying just enough skill to overcome just enough of a challenge. If they need too much skill, it builds anxiety.  If it’s not challenging enough, it’s boring. With the right flow, people lose their sense of time; they become immersed in game play.
  • Goals:  have them, and let people create their own goals.
  • Attention:  People have an average 7 minute span of attention. At that interval, build in something surprising or change direction.
  • Time:  Even with the attention thing, be wary of the total time and how people are able to use their time to play.
  • Risk:  Risk is good.  People like betting points, but be wary:  people also don’t like to be at the bottom of a leader board or to lose it all.
  • Social Interaction: People are coming to like this and expect it. It is a good opportunity to branch out to communication connections that are already available, like support chats, twitter feeds, and other modes to communicate that help personalize the experience.

Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are really the interactions taken from game play.

  • Signals & Feedback:  encouragement and help when needed; guidance
  • Keep Score:  People love to earn miles points, rewards points, stars, and more. Even the number of people in a webinar could be a trackable score with a goal or reward.  Badges are good for status.
  • Progression:  People love levels and reaching the next level. You can also use points or percentages towards a goal. One interesting example was LinkedIn.  They have the progress bar for completing your profile, but it starts at 10%, which could encourage you to continue what you have already started.
  • Quests or Challenges:  This will help build direction and still make a user feel that they are still in control.
  • Rewards (not cash): Status rewards, like a special title or a badge, provide bragging rights. Access, like unlocking a new tool or level, makes the experience feel private or special. Power, like unlocking the ability to change something or control something, provides a further sense of control. Stuff, like gifts or freebies for participating, are good for employee incentives.

Examples of Gamification

Thanks to Gary and for putting on another good web conference.  I’ve attended a few now, and they are usually really good.  I got a lot out of this one!