Overload, overload! Designing training, memory and the 48 hour MOOC!

I’m getting involved in another MOOC, this time it’s open only for a short time, 48 hours in fact! It’s a bit of an experiment from HT2, which is something I really like about them – trying different things to see how they work.

This MOOC is 48 Hours To Better Sales Training and focuses on the design of training programmes.

Before I get more into the MOOC itself, there’s a Google Hangout on Information Overload as part of the two days and the guest speaker is Dr. Will Thalheimer. Specific attention in the one hour hangout is being paid to memory, forgetting and information overload.

Google Hangout with Will

The conversation in the hangout was great, discussing many different things to do with training design, focused specifically on sales training. Cognitive overload and memory is something that I find really interesting as it impacts on my session and programme design, as well as something that I often deliver myself.

Will Thalheimer on the Google Hangout

Will Thalheimer on the Google Hangout

It’s interesting that one of the roles that Will takes in his consultancy is breaching the gap between research and what goes in practical training development. He helps people understand where their practices are in alignment with research, and where they aren’t.

I’ve curated some materials that focus on scientific research specifically in relation to learning styles, which you may find interesting: http://www.scoop.it/t/learning-styles-by-jo-cook

Limitations of the brain

Will said “often times these things about the brain are double edges swords. When we remember things, some things become more accessible in memory, which is great, but then other things fade in memory. This is great, because if everything was at the same level of priority, we wouldn’t be able to think!”

When we do training and people forget, we know that it’s a big issue when considering the time and financial resources involved. Will said that there are things that we can do to limit this. He explained about attention and highlighted “that we have to help people pay attention to the right cues and stimulate to be able to transfer that back to on the job performance”.

Ebbinghaus and forgetting

With regards forgetting, host Craig Taylor shared a common held belief/saying about how much we forget over time. Will highlighted that Ebbinghaus did a great service to the world and the learning industry in analysing learning and highlighting the forgetting curve. Will also said “we can’t rely on his finding for our learners. We have different learners, different content, different complexities”. All really interesting and I’ve written an HR Zone article about the Forgetting Curve, which was interesting to research and think about.

The learning environment and the real performance situation should be similar. Will focused on sales training and performance and said “to help someone to be a better sales person, put them in a the kind of real role of speaking to a customer. That’s context alignment.”

Will continued, “we know that practice is important for learners to retrieve something from memory. Often we teach too much content and don’t give enough practice.”

“Lastly we need to space learning across time. It’s a surprising learning from research – it’s shown to be one of the most important things we do to help long term memory” said Will.

Spaced learning

“Is there a difference between spaced learning and spaced reminders?” asks Craig.

Google Hangout host Craig Taylor, Solutions Architect at HT2

Google Hangout host Craig Taylor, Solutions Architect at HT2

Will responded, “From a cognitive perspective, it’s the same thing. What you are doing is bringing information into working memory and repeating it, after a delay. That has a particular effect, whether it happens during or after training. Doing it during training we are minimising the forgetting curve. In addition to minimising forgetting, we should make sure they don’t forget in the first place, we should put things in some kind of learning aid. With a sales person trying to remember features of products, we could look at having some of that externally, on a phone, in a manual or so on. Some performance support will help that.”

“There’s a spacing period and a repetition period. If you want to remember something for a month, space it over a month. But that’s not logistically feasible for most training. Research has found that if you space over a 24 hour period, and include sleep (and learning before sleep) it will help learning.”


Nick Ribeiro shared about his drumming and asked about the link between learning something physical and a behaviour. Will said that it’s about human cognition and highlighted that it was about attention and energy to the task: getting feedback for example.

Nick Ribeiro, Director of PT3, on the Google Hangout

Nick Ribeiro, Director of PT3, ont eh Google Hangout

Will highlighted that “spacing is more than a rest, it’s separating out your learning. With the physical aspect [drumming] there’s a lot going on, making movements with cues from the body and the sound are contextual. If you have a training at the front of the room, you are taking in contextual cues about the sound, the temperature in the room, the amount of caffeine in your body.”

Mistakes in sales training

“One of the biggest mistakes is trying to teach the sales person all of the product features. Ideally we would have a situation where something that the customer says would cue to a feature-set. The framing of why this is beneficial will link better to the customer that way. When delivering sales training we should think about what are the cues we want people to react to and then how we can design our training to do this.” What a great way to look at it, cue to action.

Getting people to think differently

If people want to ‘dump information’ on people Will comments “you need to dig deeper and find out what they really want, which is usually about people performing better. Just simply show them the learning and forgetting curves. If we get them up the learning curve and then four days later they forget everything, is that worth the investment?” I think this is a great way of putting it and helping people understand about the issue.

Hangout final thoughts

One key thing to take away from this is that Will said “get into the science of learning”. Love it!

48 Hour MOOC thoughts

I definitely enjoy the MOOCs that I’ve attended from HT2 using the Curatr tool, including the openness and innovation, as well as the discussions that often happen via Google Hangouts and so on.

I’m also enjoying the content of this 48 hour MOOC – yes it focuses on sales training and I happen to have an interest in this due to some client work. If you aren’t into sales training, the content is basically about good instructional design, which is excellent.


The interesting challenge on this MOOC more specifically, is the 48 hour time period. I commented within the MOOC course that this could be difficult as attending takes time. But it’s about setting aside the time and planning ahead for this, which I’ve been able to do to an extent. With good notice and promotion/marketing (internally or publicly) on these subjects the time element should be less of an issue.

What I have found challenging from a time perspective is that each evening of the two day MOOC, there is a Google hangout, 8-9pm local time. This is the time that I would usually put aside for actually reading, watching videos, commenting in the course and doing an external research to share within Curatr. I love the hangout discussion, but now I don’t have that time to actually ‘do’ the course.

What’s the answer? What about doing the hangout the day before and the day after, like an intro and a reflection? But then are we making this a four day MOOC!? Would the topics be be relevant and interesting – would I attend this session if I hadn’t started reading this in the MOOC? Alternatively, I might find this session so interesting (and it was) it encourages me to go and learn more in the MOOC. All good food for thought.


I think that there’s also a little link here to the year-long Learning Technologies MOOC, also from HT2 on the Curatr platform. I’ve already mentioned above, about the innovation from HT2, I think is a worthy point around learning technologies in itself. It’s about developing not only a platform but also how you innovate and use it.

#LTMOOC16 Technology to enhance

For the Beyond The Next Button MOOC from Curatr we are asked to research some technology and share about it. This is good as, to be honest, without being MADE to do it, I would have read some stuff and moved on. I wouldn’t have truly got involved. 


I enjoyed reading about Periscope, for live video broadcast via Twitter. This has been used a lot by Kate Graham at Learning Technologies and I look forward to using this for some live events myself.

2016-04-02 12.48.02

I had a play with it last night on my iPhone and it was pretty easy to install the app, link with Twitter and start broadcasting. It took a couple of goes to play with a few basic tools, such as how to stop broadcasting!

It took a bit more looking and Googling to follow Kate Graham’s advice to save video to the device to be used later – – Periscope broadcast videos are only live for 24 hours.

I think one of the challenging things with something like Periscope is the “live broadcast” element of it. I used a Twitter account that I no longer use, so it’s basically a test rather than going out to all my followers or that of Training Journal, which is where I want to use the technology.

However there is also benefit in Working Out Loud and I will probably do this now from @LightbulbJo so that I can get feedback from my Personal Learning Network, share what I’m learning and also encourage others to do the same.

Phone technology

The other thing I’ve been playing with is a new phone. I have a Samsung Galaxy S5 that runs on Android paying system. Great phone, love it, no need to change other than upgrade hardware soon.

For a particular client and training programme soon, I need to know the hardware they have, which is a company provided iPhone 5c. So I got one off of eBay for a hundred quid, a cheap SIM for £1 (backup phone now on a different network, which is always useful) and started playing with it.

Largely I’m  using it as a small wifi tablet and must admit is turning into my Training Journal device (I’m Deputy Editor part time).

It’s interesting to consider whether it’s useful to be comfortable using technology that’s similar but different, meaning you have to be agile and flexible in your use; or if its confusing and annoying when things are in different places!

The unexpected highlight of the new-to-me iPhone is the time lapse camera. How can I use this to record something for ages, but have a super speed version to look at? Set it up in a corner whilst I deliver a webinar to see what I do behind the scenes? Put it at a training day to show people moving around? Don’t know yet, something that has got my creative juices flowing!

Also on the MOOC…

Ian Helps shared about Biteable for video editing and I want to try this out soon.

With the amount of tools available, I love this comment:

Gosh, where to begin? I think this just emphasises the need to identify the problem first. Then maybe think of a creative solution (i.e. if tech could do anything, could it do this?). Then trial 2-3 niche tools.

Craig Taylor, who designed and is facilitating the MOOC, shared a curated list of top technical tools: http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/

Right, back to the programme and learning more!

Outstanding MOOC – starting to build!

It’s been fun spending a little time this afternoon in searching for appropriate content and curating it in-line with my plans (blog post here) and on the Curatr platform.

In case you haven’t got to that point in the How to Create an Oustanding MOOC course yet, here are some screen grabs of what I’ve been working on.

This is when I first login as admin and see the course I’ve created, how many people have enrolled and so on. What I didn’t realise until just speaking with Craig Taylor who works at Curatr, is that a course can be secret and still open – it just means it’s not on the ‘free courses’ page of the Curatr homepage. Handy tip!


This is when I go into manage the content, with the first level and a couple of ‘objects’ that I’ve created – these are the learning contents that I want people to view, think about, and maybe comment upon:


If I click on one of the learning objects, these are the settings I can change (or input for a new one). Some of the nuances are important to understand, such as where the name and description will show up and what type of object you are putting in. In this example, I found that the content wasn’t showing. Craig helped with this, by pointing out that by sheer bad luck, I had chosen secure content, as it has the https:// at the beginning of the URL. This simply doesn’t work with iFrames, which is how this (and other platforms) often allow a magic internet window to the original content. Bit annoying, but that’s the security for their own content, which is important:


There are ways around this, the easiest being a check box (which you can’t see above) asking the user to load it into a new tab. Craig and I discussed this. Especially in the first level of a course, it’s not best for content to be loading outside of the platform. The unaware can get lost. However you could take the point of view that people are reasonably tech savvy (or this is an experience to get them there) and to trust that. The added bonus is that people are seeing the content in it’s original location so it’s easy to share.

Next: how exciting… my first look at the ‘front end’ as a viewer of the course. I’ve got a three levels now as I found a few objects I knew I wanted to sit in specific places, so quickly made them to edit later. Also though, I realise I need to change the banner picture and, much as I love the Curatr dinosaur, need to change the level pics too:


Lastly, this is one of my content pieces. But it’s not there! This was an interesting one as it was a Youtube video. Initially I just put it as a “url” link to the video on Youtube. However, again as Craig pointed out, I didn’t want the whole Youtube page to load, just the video. So I needed to get the  HTML code from the Youtube page and do that, so just the video loaded. It worked fine after that!



Outstanding MOOC – wrangling with my content design

I’m not ‘wrangling’ on the How to Create an Outstanding MOOC in the way that Craig Taylor, Sam Burrough and Martin Couzins are, meaning that they are facilitating the course. However I am wrangling with how to plan the content. On Friday I posted a blog post about using Action Mapping to help plan my content. Over the weekend I’ve been thinking about this and reflecting upon it.

Activities for the attendee

One of the key differences in a MOOC or online course like this, compared to traditional lecturing or presenting of knowledge, is that this is all about the content and the attendees. It’s about asking them questions, to get them to think, reflect, engage in and maybe produce something. The something could be video, audio, blog post or less scary things like just adding a comment to a question or piece of content. Either way, it’s about them, not me.

I think pretty much all training should be handled this way. The knowledge elements, whilst they might need to be delivered in some fashion, should always lead to activity for experiential learning. There should always be reference material to then back this up and help people in the workplace, in any manner that’s appropriate.

Questions for the MOOC

The other difference that I noticed I had done and briefly commented on in my blog post, was that the activities I was naturally designing (or brainstorming, which is what it felt more like) where largely based on questions. Again to help that deeper thinking and reflective thought.

One of the pieces of content I’ve put on my MOOC about PowerPoint slide design is an article saying that PowerPoint is bad for learning and should be banned. I want people to have some contrasting viewpoints in order to see different angles on the subject and make up their own mind. I wanted a question following this, to allow for some reflective thought. It was a small challenge to come up with something that felt right. I went through some iterations such as:

  • Do you agree with this? [Erk, this is a closed question]
  • What do you think? [Nice and open, but no direction]
  • Would this work in your organisation [Probably just lots of ‘no’s as people are here to learn it better]
  • …And a few others I can’t remember now but didn’t like!

I ended up with this as my question:

What insight do you gain from this perspective on banning PowerPoint?

I thought it was open enough to get a thoughtful discursive answer, and maybe a hint of the curiosity of deeper learning, but not so much as to scare people off at the beginning of the MOOC.

This way of using questions, rather than the more traditional activities I might do in a group with face to face or live online delivery, was quite different. In some ways, it’s quite liberating as I can rely on the good quality content that I have curated (or gathered) and asking questions. I don’t necessarily have to come up with different activities, as the social element will do some of that.

I will still have some other activities, probably as the “end of level gate” to get people to DO something that’s real to them – such as finding resources to share, or critiquing their own slide deck and sharing with others. Not sure yet!

Final reflection (for now!)

Designing a MOOC or online course in this manner is about the structure of what people will do at each stage (or level) and the overall end result (assuming they work all the way through – yes I know that’s another discussion). It’s about questions for stimulating thought and some activities to generate action. Will I develop the whole MOOC in this online course? Maybe, if I have time (I certainly have inclination). Maybe not, as it does take time. The most important thing in me doing this, is to apply the principles we’ve been discussing and to share this learning with others in the future.

How on earth you do you plan a MOOC?

I don’t know! But I’m going to find out. That’s why I’m attending the MOOC on how to make Outstanding MOOCs! Not sure what one is? Read my other blog post.

I’ve worked my way through the levels so far and am at the point where I have my own Curatr MOOC space and need to start building it. There are some videos in the MOOC that help with getting around the basics of building the site and I’m keen to get going. I’ve had a tiny little play but I know what I need to do is plan the content. So rather than jumping in head first to just build away, I’ve followed my own advice and done some thinking and planning.

Process or model?

I like to use Action Mapping, designed by Cathy Moore, as I find it a great way in L&D to focus on more than knowledge pieces of lecture training. I’m not going through the whole process in the most authentic way, but I am using it to help shape my thinking.

In order to do that though, I needed to get some of my “solutioneering” out of the way, some of my ideas and thoughts on paper out of the working space in my head so I could concentrate on my planning:


Action Mapping means we have to understand the business goal. If you like, this is the return on investment. What does the business gain from you doing this learning intervention? Maybe you work in charity, further or higher education or something else. You might not feel that it’s about “selling widgets”, but ultimately it all comes down to money and measurement. There are budgets, there are measures to do with things like reducing health and safety incidents or whatever it might be. There is ALWAYS a business goal.

In this instance, I’m making my MOOC about creating great presentation slides. I don’t have a specific business need around this as I’m not developing it for a real organisation. However I did brainstorm some things around what the business change might be in this instance and what measure it:


Action Mapping then focuses on what things people actually need to DO to get to the goal, and it completely ignores the “they need to KNOW this” piece. So, I had my ‘tentative’ business goal of “Create Awesome PowerPoint Slides” and I thought about all the ‘actions’ people need to take in order to achieve that.

The next step with Action Mapping is to understand why people aren’t already doing those things, in four categories: Knowledge, Skills, Motivation, Environment. So the orange letters against each action are my thoughts on why someone might not do this. In reality this would be working with subject matter experts to understand this in detail and deciding if training really is the right option, or whether it really needs to be something else, like job aids or Manager performance support or whatever:


So then it’s focusing on activities that help learners experientially up-skill towards the business goal. Again, it’s not focused on what people need to ‘know’ it’s about what they are going to ‘do’. The below images are really more for my own planning, but I took each action, from the blue writing above, and came up with some activities in the way of questions to use in the MOOC:







MOOC Design

So am I now completely ready to build my MOOC in Curatr? No!

Do I have all the materials together? Not at all, that’s a different step.

Do I know things like how many levels I’m going to have? No, though I guess I might use my activities as a base for the levels.

Do I feel more confident to start building? Yes!

Outstanding MOOC gate blog

This is a blog piece which are some reflective thoughts and also the “end of level gate” to complete in order to move on with the Outstanding MOOC I’m attending.

The technology part of MOOCs, and any activity, is what distracts when is not working well. It gets in the way of learning, conversing, deeper thought and just enjoying what you are doing.

Case in point today trying to continue with the MOOC on the train using my phone. The activity to complete the level would not work on the phone and I couldn’t continue. This has been fedback and will be logged at.


No keyboard to type with in the above picture.


… And no way to scroll and select ok when trying to upload an image instead.

So I decided to link to a blog post as a way of moving forward.

Second point of annoyance…. All the fields to complete :


Some of these don’t make the most obvious sense to me in the moment.