Category Archives: Engagement

An Olympic Online Opportunity





At 12:49 on Wednesday 6 July 2005, I was travelling in Staffordshire to a training venue listening for the imminent announcement of who was going to ‘win’ the Olympic Games for 2012.  Now, I’m not a big sports fanatic but I couldn’t help but join in very excitedly with a big ‘WHOOP WHOOP!’ as Jacque Rogge made the announcement ….. LONDON.

Seven years later and it’s nearly here and Olympic fever has begun.  But along with the kudos comes chaos.  Now we’re hearing about all the disruption the Games are going to create.  It’s already started with Olympic organisers creating an Olympic route network meaning roadworks.

With the disruption to day to day business with journeys to work affected, higher than usual annual leave requests, pressures on transport systems and road networks, the advice given in the ‘preparing your business for the games‘ LOC publication to businesses is:

Millions of additional trips are expected on public transport and the road network in London and the UK … This could potentially disrupt your employees’ journeys, business travel, deliveries/collections, and the operations of suppliers, other contractors and freight.  To keep your businesses running, you should aim to reduce the need to travel and make essential journeys at less busy times or by using different modes or routes.

Over the past few months several delegates on my courses have talked about their organisations being encouraged to allow staff to work from home where they’re not needed to be in the office/building.

Of course, this doesn’t just mean problems for day to day working but also day to day training/learning.  Fortunately, if key people in these organisations are on the ball, they will see there is a way around some of this disruption.  Where live conversations are needed to take place, whether it’s to discuss on ongoing project or as part of a planned training course, we have the technology.  We’ve been communicating via e-mail for years.  The concept of collaborating remotely is not new but we’ve yet to embrace the live online environment.  Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown.  Perhaps it’s bad experiences of them in the past.  But now – and I mean now and not in a few months time as an afterthought – is the time to make the most of the technology at our fingertips and start working (and learning) smarter.  If we start investigating as soon as possible how best to engage our live online participants (audience is too passive a word), we’ll be on the winning team by a long shot.

We certainly do have an Olympic opportunity.

Dexter-fests, 24 and lost weekends

Why do we get so hooked?

Recently I curled up on the sofa with my other half, settled down with a mellow glass of red to enjoy an episode or two of Dexter. Now Dexter is one of my favourite US series. For those of you who don’t know anything about this series, you may think I need therapy for being so compelled to watch it. It’s about a serial killer who works for the police as a blood-spatter analyst. Yes… he’s the lead character and despite his unhealthy hobby, he’s the hero (or should it be anti-hero?). Those fans of the programme actually like him and hope he never gets caught. From watching the previous series and having to wait for a whole week to go by before catching up with the next episode, we decided to record them to watch in bulk. After some mishap with the recordings, I just had to buy the boxed set (Stay with me here…. )

The up-shot is that the two episode evening lasted all weekend. It’s a good job there was nothing more pressing to get done (the ironing could wait!).

We’ve recently started to watch 24. Well, you can imagine what happened although this time we had to be very strict with ourselves.

So what’s the point of all this? Well I started to wonder why we found it so compelling – to sit there and watch episode after episode until our eyes became square (or rather 42 inch wide-screen).

From an early age we love stories. I’ve spoken to many a parent who can almost recite Thomas the Tank Engine word for word from memory or that video of The Little Mermaid is almost unrecognisable after the trillionth time of watching. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child in November and I suspect they’ll be no different. Her Auntie Laura will likely also be caught up in the magical world of story-telling too.

It doesn’t stop though does it? The love of stories? We may grow out of the wide-eyed excitement of being read bed-time stories but the magic doesn’t stop when we grow up. It just grows with us. From Disney films to Dr. Who. From romantic comedies to dark gothic vampire tales. From the trashy, steamy novel to the complicated thrillers or classical period tales of yester-year. What keeps us so enthralled?

Telling stories began thousands of year in the past. We can see evidence of it from ancient drawings on cave walls. We can imagine travellers recounting tales of their journeys round campfires and then progress meant those words could then be recorded for generations.

I have my own theories by analysing my own love of a good story and would like to share what I like them here.

    immediate connection with the characters
    emotional – being able to feel sadness, happiness, fear the characters are feeling
    a compelling storyline
    mystery that keeps you guessing what might happen next
    challenging where you put yourself in the character’s shoes to work out the next step
    sparking imagination through descriptive writing if reading the story
    visually stimulating through clever direction and cinematography

In short – I need to believe I could be there. I need to live it and be totally immersed even if it might be the most fantastic tale of hobgoblins and superheroes.

In order to satisfy my own curiosity, I set about doing a little (and I mean a little) research into why storytelling has such an impact on us. What I found was fascinating – and it’s only the tip of the storytelling iceberg.

In a New Scientist article by Richard Fisher, entitled ‘the evolving art of storytelling’ he explored the effect an immersive experience of a good book or movie has on our brains. He found that according to neuroscientists and psychologists, areas of our brains react to the emotions the characters are feeling as if we were ‘in their shoes’. Our brains behave in such a way as if we were experiencing the fiction as if it were our real-world experiences. The reason stories have such a powerful effect is the release of chemicals serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine such compelling stories trigger in our brains. Fisher goes on to review ‘The Art of Immersion’ (available on Kindle) by Frank Rose, which investigates storytelling and how it’s evolved with technology and something those of us who are looking to design experiences in our e-learning and engage our learners might find worth a look (note to self – order this book).

In another article ‘Mind Reading: the science of storytelling’ which referenced the same research reports further that our brains will react the same way regardless whether we are reading the story or watching an action video but the most potent of all is that of the ’emotionally charged story’.

What I found rassuring was because of the chemical triggers in the brain this “explains why we can be lured into watching back-to-back episodes of series” and that “we are empathetically engaged. We are treating this as if it is our real family. We can’t help but care for these people”. So, there you have it. Proof that I’m not really that sad. I may have an addictive personality but the only drugs I may be addicted to are serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine! Although I’m not sure whether I’d like to think a serial killer blood-spatter analyst as family.

A picture paints a thousand words

Creating engaging eLearning

Every now and then I drop in a post about creating engaging eLearning. One of my passions is to help improve eLearning’s reputation by encouraging people to create better quality material. Here is another as part of the series.

Increasingly those of us who are involved in putting together any sort of visual material whether it’s slides for live sessions, eLearning screens, Slideshares, classroom presentations are finding it necessary to have a reasonable knowledge the basics of graphic design and marketing. Graphic design because we need to make an impact with visuals appropriately but marketing because we are actually ‘selling’ our content through visuals.

One simple rule but a very effective one that will help anyone starting out on their journey to engage with visuals is the ‘rule of thirds’. As a little task to my readers out there, just do a little Googling on the subject and you’ll be amazed what you find and perhaps it might explanation why we’re drawn to some photos and not others. Those photographers out there may already be aware of it or perhaps you have a natural eye and didn’t even know the principle your were automatically applying to your compositions. I often recommend those on my courses to take a closer and more analytic look at those adverts as they take the morning bus ride. Note the composition. How have the people in the pictures been placed? How much text is displayed and what influence does the font style (typography) have on the message being conveyed? How much ‘white space’ is there and how does it help the message? We can learn a lot from advertisers and photographers.

We can also be creative in how we combine text and images. Have a little think for a moment….. as we go through our daily lives, on what objects do we see text written? Where are they positioned and how is colour being used to ‘gel’ the composition?

In an office environment there are notepads, folders, computer screens, laptops, diaries, labels, post-it notes.
In a kitchen there are cans, menus, order pads, jam-jars, packets of food.
In a hospital there are prescription pads, medicine bottles, medical record sheets, signage, x-ray panels.

No matter what our topic is for either presentations, live online sessions or eLearning screens, we have a plethora of objects to choose from. Taking a piece of eLearning for example, if our topic was about chairing meetings the agenda for the session could very appropriately be displayed on an image of an official agenda sheet. We could, perhaps, type a question in a handwriting font on a spiral notebook or even use a post-it note to display each possible option in answer to a question. Next time you look at the news on TV, pay more attention to the graphics they use when presenting any statistical information and pinch any ideas you can.

Ditch those PowerPoint templates and our only limitation is our imagination.

For previous posts in this series see:

Can eLearning designers learn from retail designers
Putting the learning back in e-learning
Creating engaging eLearning – as easy as CSI
What hope is there for eLearning?