4 of the BIGGEST Myths about Learning

In his book, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), Peter C. Brown uses cognitive psychology data to show that many of the basic things we assume about long-term memory encoding are wrong:

1. “I’d better review my notes before the test to make sure I remember everything.”

  • Myth: We “master” material by reading and re-reading a passage (or our study notes) until we understand it.
  • Truth: This type of “mastery” is an illusion.  In reality, you are just becoming fluent, or familiar with the content. For true mastery, don’t focus on cramming information “in.”  Instead, concrete learning is best encouraged when learners focus on drawing information “out” of their minds. This may feel uncomfortable, which is what Malcolm Gladwell calls desirable difficulty.  Actively retrieve what you remember through self-testing and teaching others.

2. Drill & Kill = subject mastery.

  • Myth: We learn “best” when we isolate a skill or knowledge, and drill it until we think we have it down.
  • Truth: Short-term memory ≠ Long-term memory.  Deep, lasting learning (e.g., exercise) requires effortful practice: “No pain, no gain,” as they say.  Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand—here today and gone tomorrow.

3. “I’m a visual learner.”

  • Myth: Teachers should cater instruction to student “learning styles”!  Catering learning experiences to students’ unique learning preferences (modes of instruction such as aural or visual) will help them learn best.
  • Truth: “Learning Styles” are complete bunk! (See Paul A. Kirschner’s research.) People do have multiple forms of intelligence to bring to bear on learning, (which is what Howard Gardiner’s research was talking about in the 70s).  However, it is true that people learn better when they “go wide,” drawing on multiple aptitudes and modalities, rather than limiting instruction to a single “preferred style.” (See: Dual coding.)

4. “I don’t remember things well. I’m a creative.”

  • Myth: We are only so smart.  Our IQ defines our capacity to learning and understand. Intelligence is static, which means we have relatively firm limits on how much information we can absorb.
  • Truth: By using retrieval practice as a learning strategy (not an assessment tool!), we exercise and strengthen our memory.  Research demonstrates that this improvement in memory and long-term learning is
    flexible, which:

    • Improves students’ complex thinking and application skills.
    • Improves students’ organization of knowledge.
    • Improves students’ transfer of knowledge to new concepts.
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8 Techniques to Encourage Long-Term Memory Retention

In his book, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), Peter C. Brown uses cognitive psychology data to identify 8 concrete learning techniques proven to enable learners to encode, store, and retrieve long-term memories.

Brown’s 8 Techniques from Make It Stick

1. Generation — This is the process of attempting to solve a problem before being taught the concepts or method (i.e., trial and error; experiential learning). Generation “leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt.”  While critics of generative learning often believe direct instruction is more a effective method of instruction, the reality is that while students may seem to pick up concepts faster using direct instruction, information is less engrained, and thus more-quickly forgotten.  E.g., Math teachers in Ontario, Canada loved using generative learning by presenting problems at the start of class, and letting the students try to figure them out.  “Hopefully the students will struggle.  That initial moment of struggle prepares them for what they’ll learn later.”

2. Interleaving — A method of introducing a new idea or concept, then layering in an additional concept (or concepts) over time.  Mixing up practice of similar types of problems has two benefits. 1) It requires the learner to identify the type of strategy to use in addition to simply solving the problem.  2) It helps learners’ brains differentiate between differences in the types of problems.  E.g., The author, Peter C. Brown, shares the example of two groups of baseball batters.  One practiced the same pitch in blocks. The other group was thrown consecutive different types of pitches. The later group performed better.

3. Spacing & Forgetting — Space out your study.  The idea is to provide time for your mind to forget what’s in your short-term memory and then re-encode the material.  “Practice that’s spaced out, interleaved with other learning, and varied produces better mastery, longer retention, and more versatility.  But these benefits come at a price: when practice is spaced, interleaved, and varied, it requires more effort.  You feel the increased effort, but not the benefits the effort produces.  Learning feels slower from this kind of practice, and you don’t get the rapid improvements and affirmations you’re accustomed to seeing from massed practice.”  Retrieval practice is especially effective after a lesson is complete, perhaps even a few days or weeks later.  You’ll know it’s time to go back to interleaved material when it is on the fringe of your memory.

4. Elaboration — Explain the new material in your own words.  If you are able to do this, it is a good indicator of concrete understanding of the material (E.g., Reddit’s subreddit, Explain it like I’m 5.)  Elaboration is especially effective when material is taught to someone else, which adds social motivation and feedback components.  The book says, “elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know.  The more you can explain about the way your new learning relates to your prior knowledge, the stronger your grasp of the new learning will be, and the more connections you create that will help you remember it later.”

5. Retrieving — “Retrieval practice—recalling facts or concepts or events from memory—is a more effective learning strategy than review by re-reading.  A single, simple quiz after reading a text or hearing a lecture produces better learning and remembering than re-reading the text or reviewing lecture notes.”  Re-reading has three strikes against it:  1) It is time consuming.  2) It doesn’t result in durable memory.  3) And it often involves a kind of unwitting self-deception, as growing familiarity with the text comes to feel like mastery of the content.  Using flashcards is an excellent and simple example of practicing retrieval.  “The act of retrieving learning from memory has two profound benefits:  1) It tells you what you know and don’t know, and therefore where to focus further study to improve the areas where you’re weak.  2) Recalling what you have learned causes your brain to reconsolidate the memory, which strengthens its connections to what you already know and makes it easier for you to recall in the future.”  Practice guide: http://pdf.retrievalpractice.org/RetrievalPracticeGuide.pdf

6. Reflection — The combination of retrieval practice and elaboration, which strengthens and adds deeper meaning to new material.  “Reflection can involve several cognitive activities that lead to stronger learning: retrieving knowledge and earlier training from memory [e.g., ‘What did she say again?’], connecting these to new experiences [e.g., ‘How does this new information fit into my existing mental model of the universe?’], and visualizing and mentally rehearsing what you might do differently next time.  [e.g., ‘How can this new information change things?’]”  Basically, analyze and apply the new material by asking yourself questions.

7. Calibration — To avoid various cognitive illusions, use an objective instrument (e.g., quiz or test) to adjust your sense of what you know and don’t know. “One of the best habits a learner can instill in herself is regular self-quizzing to recalibrate her understanding of what she does and does not know.”  “The paradox is that those students who employ the least effective study strategies [reviewing notes] overestimate their learning the most and, as a consequence of their misplaced confidence, they are not inclined to change their habits.”

8. Mnemonic Devices — Until a learner develops a deep understanding of a subject, he/she can resort to memory cues, such as mnemonic devices (e.g., memory palaces, mind/cognitive map, etc.) to improve long-term memory.  Conscious mnemonic devices can help to organize and cue the learning for ready retrieval until sustained.

Chapter Summaries

Source of images, developed by Krystyna Gadd.

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Which Decision Model Should I Use When Choosing to Adopt a New Technology?

This post outlines 8 models (or frameworks) that have helped people decide whether or not to adopt new technologies. (Note: most of these frameworks were developed by academics in the fields of information technology and marketing.)

You will be happy you read this post if you:

  • need to choose a technology for your business to adopt.
  • you are a teacher and you are trying to figure out which teaching method (technology) to use.
  • you are a tech nerd and read blogposts for fun.

Personally, I don’t believe that there will ever be a perfect model to predict human behavior.   So I tried to pick more-simple models to share here.  The more simple the model, the more generalizable it is.  The more complex the model, the more potential it has for not being useful (if it doesn’t exactly describe your situation).

My advice: First, know your audience. Then, pick a model that works for you.


1. Social-Cognitive Theory

This is perhaps the most basic model.  The process of  technology adoption looks something like this:  “Wow! A new thing! I’d better watch others model how to use it…okay, I get it.  I will now do that thing.”  (Also see: Social Learning Theory.)

Bandura, A (1977). “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change” (PDF). Psychological Review84 (2): 191–215.


2. The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM)

Simply put, if you want someone to do something, they need to believe two things: 1) they need to believe that it’s actually useful, and 2) that it won’t be a major pain to use.  Designers should keep the following questions in mind whenever they require adopting new technology:

  1. Perceived usefulness—Is the new behavior (facilitated by the new technology) genuinely useful? If it is useful, how will the learner know that?
  2. Ease of use—Is the new behavior easy to use? If it’s not easy to use, is there anything that can be done to help that?

Davis, F.D. 1989. “Perceived Usefulness, Perceived Ease of Use, and User Acceptance of Information Technology.” MIS Quarterly 13(3): 319-340.


3. Task-Technology Fit

If the characteristics of a given task is aligned with the given technology, we will perform better at the task and we will use the technology more frequently.

Goodhue,Dale L.; Thompson,Ronald L., “Task-technology fit and individual performance”, MIS Quarterly, 1995, 19, 2, 213-236.


4. Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA)

People adopt new technology based on two basic factors: personal interests (attitudes toward behavior) and social influence (subjective norm).

Ajzen, I., Fishbein, M., 1980. Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.


5. Theory of Planned Behavior

Essentially, 1) if you think adopting a certain technology is a good idea, and 2) others around you think it’s a good idea, and 3) you feel comfortable using it, you will adopt that technology.

Ajzen, Icek (1991). “The theory of planned behavior”. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 50 (2): 179–211.


6. Disruptive Innovation

This isn’t an adoption model per se.  Rather, it is a theory, which states that if a company invests solely in retaining current customers, without keeping an eye on emerging markets and growing needs, they will be disrupted by up-and-coming competitors (and become obsolete).

I include this one as a caution when choosing to invest in a technology—before investing, make sure the vendors demonstrate that they are flexible and forward thinking.  E.g., they have a significant R&D budget, they send their people to conferences, it’s part of their culture business statements, etc.

Christensen, Clayton M. (15 December 2015). “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail”. Harvard Business Review Press. Retrieved 19 January 2018 – via Google Books.


7. Diffusions of Innovation Theory

There are 5 perceived attributes that affect whether a user adopts or rejects an innovation:

  1. Relative advantage —The degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea it supersedes.
  2. Compatibility—The degree to which an innovation is perceived to be consistent with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of the potential adopters.
  3. Complexity—The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use.
  4. Observability—The degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others.
  5. Trailability—The opportunity to experiment with the innovation on a limited basis. (Rogers, 2003)

Rogers, Everett M. 2003. Diffusion of Innovations (5th edition). Glencoe: Free Press.
Additionally, here’s a 3rd edition PDF for your reading pleasure.


8. Technology Readiness Index (Tri)

This model takes many of the previous theories and mashes it up into one, complex, multiple-item algorithm to measure readiness to embrace new technologies.  Only look into this one if you are super serious about understanding all the factors that go into technology adoption.

Parasuraman, A.: Technology readiness index (TRI): a multiple-item scale to measure readiness to embrace new technologies. Journal of Service Research 2(4), 307–320 (2000)


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How Do I Encourage Learner Retention? STORIES!!!

3 Traits of Sticky Stories

Storytelling provides powerful and unique ways for learners to encode and recall information.  There are three main reasons why our brains find stories so sticky (see Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point):

  1. Stories follow a universal framework That means less work for your brain. When you brain works less on organization, it frees up processing power to capture new information as it pours in. Regardless of where you are from in the world, every story has common elements that we expect to hear.  There is always a beginning, middle, and end.  Additionally, there’s a setup, an introduction of the players, and an environment they operate within.  Finally, there’s a point (or moral) to the story, which is usually pretty recognizable.  All these are natural mental storage components of storytelling.
  2. Stories are sequential. When the brain starts to hear a story, it shifts from using semantic or declarative memory (which favors a rote/”drill & kill” pedagogy to remember isolated facts) to a learner’s episodic memory, which naturally and chronologically stores your own lived experiences and others’ stories.  For example, if I were to tell you 7 random tips about golf, you’d need to expend mental energy trying to organize those facts somehow, possibly grouping like items or using some other strategy.  (Much of your cognitive capacity would be wasted on developing infrastructure.) But if I tell you the story of a particularly gripping golf hole, composed of 7 significant events, then the sequence of events provides a lot of the mental organization for you.  Additionally, there’s an internal logic to events in stories (e.g., sinking a, 18-foot putt for birdie can’t happen before teeing off with an exceptional wind at my back.)  In fewer words, more order = easier mental encoding.
  3. Stories have discrete characters.  Human brains love details about people, their personalities, and their character traits.  It’s especially easy to do this if we know the people in the story.  That way, we have all that background information already scattered around our brains to draw upon, a) making it easier to remember, and b) queuing up expectations about how they will behave. But like how every good joke needs a twist, a memorable story’s character confounds your expectations.

3 Universal Keys to Retention

  1. Is it unusual?  Which is easier to remember? A picture of a generic horse, or a rainbow-colored one with a jetpack strapped to its back?
  2. Is it important to you?  It’s easy to remember the daily weather report better when you have scheduled a round of golf for later that day.
  3. Is it a familiar format?  If you typically use feet to measure distance, you’re less likely to remember someone’s height if they give it to you in meters.

While this list of knowledge-retention principles is not exhaustive, if you had to remember only three for use in future presentations or trainings, these are my favs.

These 6 Principles in Practice

Allow me illustrate these six, retention principles in a story.  Recently, my friend Amy told me a personal story about the importance of following divine inspiration while she was on her LDS mission in Germany.  Here’s my re-telling of The Long-Lost Passenger:


Out of breath, Amy and her super-tall mission companion nearly missed their bus home after a long day of unfruitful proselytizing.  They were both feeling anxious because mission rules stated that all missionaries must be home by 9:30pm, and it was already 9:20pm. As they took their seats they were astounded to recognize a former investigator, whom they had tragically lost track of weeks earlier, standing nearby doing a crossword puzzle.  Immediately, Amy felt the distinct impression to stay on the bus and speak to the man, regardless of their curfew.  Amy glanced nervously at her watch…

Although incomplete, Amy’s story is already memorable for me because it contains the 3 universal keys to retention explained above:

  • Unusual — Amy’s story was set in a special place and time in her life; not just your everyday bus ride.
  • Important — Her story was share in response to a personal dilemma I had just been talking with her about. My mind and emotions were primed to receive it.
  • Familiar — I am very familiar with the restrictiveness of mission rules, (and coincidentally the elation of locating a lost investigator.)

Additionally, Amy’s story contains all three of Gladwell’s sticky storytelling elements:

  • A universal framework — A beginning, middle, and (we’re still waiting for the end/moral.) The setup was in telling about the long day of sharing the gospel. The players are Amy, her big companion, and the long-lost investigator doing a crossword. The environment was on a German bus.
  • Sequential — Amy shared the gospel during the day, she caught a late bus home, then she saw an old investigator once on the bus.
  • Discrete characters — My brain has already developed a complex schema of who Amy is and how she typically behaves. Additionally, it also helped me see her in the story because I could see her right in front of me. Additional details about each character (super-tall, and cross-word puzzler) made it easy for me to visualize each player.

So far, Amy’s story has illustrated the universal three keys to retention very well. However, the story’s true conclusion is missing one element that could bolster its memorability—a twist.  Amy and her companion predictably decided to make an exception to mission regulations by staying on the bus, and reconnecting with the man for a full hour before exchanging new contact information and setting up a follow-up appointment.  However, to make the story even more memorable for me, the facts could be changed to confound the listener’s expectations regarding typical missionary behavior of always acting upon spiritual promptings.  How much more compelling would the story have been if Amy had said that she ignored the prompting, and the missed opportunity still haunts her to this day!  That would have really driven home her point—never disregard a divine prompting.

Summative Quiz

What are the three universal keys to retention?

  • Rainbow-colored horses are u_u_ua_.
  • Knowing the weather forecast before paying for a round of golf is i_p_ _t_ _t.
  • Using feet to measure distance is _a_i_ia_ (to U.S. Americans).

What are the three retention benefits of storytelling?

  • Stories use a universal _r_m_w_rk.
  • Stories are naturally s_q_ _nt_ _l.
  • Stories have discrete _ha_a_ _e_s.


Note: Julie Dirksen’s amazingly-practical book, Design for How People Learn, provided much of the inspiration for this post.

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10 Ways to Quicken (Kwik’en) Your Brain

  1. Eat brain fuel [00:32:00].  You are what you eat.  Literally, what you eat becomes you. We know the foods that are good for your brain are things like avocados, blueberries, broccoli, coconut oil, salmon.  You have green, leafy vegetables.
  2. Kill ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) [00:32:30].  Dr. Daniel Amen, the brain doctor, calls bad self-talk ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). #killtheANTs.  “Your mind is like a supercomputer, and your self-talk is the program it will run…You’re mind is always eves dropping on your self-talk.” ~Unknown
  3. Exercise.  Exercise is good for your brain.  Essentially, anything good for your heart is going to be good for your head because it increases blood flow, and nutrients, and oxygen to your brain.  Regular exercise can fix a broken brain.
  4. Play with nutrition supplements.  Your brain requires a range of nutrients to perform at it’s best.  All of these may not come naturally, even in a healthy diet—especially when you’re moving fast and thinking hard. Perhaps you are deficient and need an omega-3 supplement.  Maybe you’re low in B vitamins.
  5. Surround yourself with positive peers. [00:33:00].  Who you spend time with is who you become. Are you around people who are sapping your energy? #EnergyVampires. Rather, choose to be around a positive peer group, people who teach you things, who challenge you to grow, who take you to the next level.
  6. Be in a clean space [00:34:00].  Your external world is a reflection of your internal world.  You know this anecdotally because of how you feel in a clean home, or at your clean workstation.  How do you feel when you organize your laptop or your desktop?  Clear, focused, and organized, right?  These are all examples of feeling clean from the inside-out.  That clarity goes from the outside-in as well, like clean water and clean air.  Get natural sunlight (vitamin D).  Avoid locations with toxins, pollutants, mold, and all the things that can affect your nervous system and lead to a less-effective (“broken”) brain.
  7. Sleep well [00:34:00].  Sleep the time your brain consolidates short-term and long-term memory. People who suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, or other sleep issues, fail to efficiently encode what they learned between sleep events. Additionally, significant non-memory-related problems also arise when proper sleep is disrupted. Think about your own life: What happens to decision making the next day? What happens to our ability to make the decisions to solve problems? How focused do you feel on a bad night’s sleep? How much energy do you have? How much brain fog do you have? Fix and hack your sleep. There are so many things you could do. Anything from blackout curtains, to grounding devices, to getting rid of the blue light, not touching your phone at night, and so on.
  8. Protect your brain.  Jim grew up with learning challenges due to many traumatic head traumas resulting in brain injuries.  There was an easy prevention for that—wear a helmet.  Avoid extreme sports.  Concussions cause lasting damage.  While your brain is very resilient, it’s also very fragile.
  9. Always be connecting (ABC).  Learning = creating new connections between something new and something you already know.  New learning creates neurogenesis, neuroplasticity. The more you learn, the longer you’re going to live, the more fulfilling it’s going to be.  Challenge your brain—that’s how you create new neural connections.
  10. Manage your stress.  The 10th key to maximizing brain efficiency is managing your stress (environmental, emotional, physical, relationship, work, etc.).  Most people don’t realize all the anxiety, the depression, the challenges they have from this environment, because it’s there all the time.


  1. Eat brain fuel.
  2. Kill ANTs (automatic negative thoughts).
  3. Exercise.
  4. Play with nutrition supplements.
  5. Surround yourself with positive peers.
  6. Be in a clean space.
  7. Sleep well.
  8. Protect your brain.
  9. ABC (Always be connecting to new ideas)
  10. Manage your stress.

Jim Kwik is a memory expert.

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3 Reasons To Stop Using Buzzwords

Buzzwords (wikipedia) are trite, pithy words and phrases that people sometimes borrow to make their own ideas seem more convincing. While some have found success using these terms in appropriate contexts, I see three problems with their overuse:


1) They can make you sound ignorant.

Too often, people use a popular word or phrase without fully understanding its meaning. Some people have such strong emotions on a topic that they venture to use a buzzword they do not completely understand in order to make their argument seem more convincing. In a fervor to make their point, some buzzword misusers actually convince themselves that they do, in fact, have mastery over the word or phrase. (E.g., DYNAMIC SOLUTIONS, HOLISTIC APPROACH, AGILE BEST PRACTICES, etc.)


Mildly Retarded Consultant

Dilbert by Scott Adams, Oct 8th, 2006, URL


2) You can come off as either lazy or aloof.

Before they became”buzzwords,” these specific words and phrases communicated tremendous meaning when explained in context, or used to summarize an in-depth discussion. However, buzzwords are now often used in place of actual explanations. Instead of being used to effectively communicate ideas, buzzwords have become substitutes for when the user is under-prepared. E.g., [I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, so] I’ll SPIN/MOCK UP something before our next meeting.” These buzzwords are especially annoying when used to describe words abstract in meaning, and difficult to act upon. (E.g., any discussion about CULTURE or SYNERGY or BREAKING DOWN SILOS or PUTTING OUT FIRES, when the speaker doesn’t actually understand what it is or how to affect it.)

It is worth noting that lazy use of buzzwords can have a disastrous side-effect on relationships; it can demonstrate that the user doesn’t care enough about his or her audience to meaningfully express him/herself. At times, buzzwords are literally used as euphemisms for “I don’t care about this conversation.” E.g., “Let’s KICK THIS CONVERSATION DOWN THE ROAD (or PUT A PIN IN IT).”


3) You appear self-important.

Many buzzwords are first read in business best-sellers. (E.g., Steven Covey’s 6th Habit popularized the buzzword SYNERGY, or Clayton Christensen’s DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION.) Once a word or phrase is discovered to be useful its user, it is quickly adopted by the masses. Usefulness could mean anything from ending conversations more efficiently to make the user’s time seem more precious, or making the user seem well-read/trendy in the eyes of his or her peers, which might lead to greater renown and promotions. Additionally, there are no significant, negative consequences for the misuse of buzzwords due to the Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon. Thus, buzzwords are experimented with whenever possible—ofttimes inappropriately. When buzzwords are used too often or inappropriately it becomes apparent that the user cares more about self-aggrandizement (elevating his or her own status), than about meaningful communication.




The probability of misusing (including overuse of) buzzwords is high. And the resulting negative consequences far outweigh the potential benefits. Buzzwords are often used as a substitute for meaningful conversation, out of pure laziness, and as a selfish expression of praise seeking. It is not only annoying when people are insincere in their communication in these ways, but it also devastates effective teamwork and productivity. Don’t take the easy way out. If at all possible, replace buzzwords with a more genuine and meaningful forms of communication. You’ll definitely increase PERSONAL ROI.


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Infographic: 5 Fixes for IDs

five fixes for instructional designers infographic

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When Needs Analysis Fails: Five Simple Fixes for Instructional Designers



Before I share with you my five tips for success, there is some voluntary pre-reading. Hidden below, I’ve authored a cringe-worthy needs analysis interaction between you (the instructional designer) and a project manager (PM). The text is hidden because it may trigger PTSD for some IDs. Consider yourself warned. Toggle the arrow above to begin.

Five Fixes For Instructional Designers

train_wreck_at_montparnasse_1895_failA tiny piece of me died while composing that conversation; what a train wreck! Obviously, it was a bit exaggerated. PMs aren’t actually the small-minded demons I made them out to be. (But it can sometimes be perceived that way by IDs. Perhaps later I’ll post the same encounter from a PM’s perspective!)

While the blame for this miserable needs analysis meeting doesn’t rest solely on the ID’s shoulders, the following five techniques are designed to help the ID improve that conversation. After sharing my observations, I’d love to hear any additional feedback, observations, and personal experiences you’d care to share in the comment section.

1) Focus on building trust.

The first two things you need to know are:

  1. The field of corporate instructional design is a service industry.
  2. The road to trust is a long (and submissive) one.

If you want a customer’s  business—contrary to rational thought—a successful ID must espouse the old marketing slogan, “the customer is always right.” The following corollary is also true, “An ID is only be “right” when the paying customer thinks it so.” The assumption here is that you want the customer’s business. Some customers are terrible for business, in which case you should politely drop them as clients. However, if you want a particular client’s business, you’re going to have to occasionally leave your expertise at the door and play by their rules. Bottomline: Your expertise will only be valued once trust has been established.

Before trust can be earned, IDs ought to think of themselves as indentured servants to their clients or project managers. Creative freedom is a luxury that is earned, not assumed. Sound like a dreary life? That depends on your perspective. Happy IDs initially derive job satisfaction the same way golf caddies do when working with professional golfers. The same goes for the relationship between medieval squires and their knights. These professions find happiness by making their superiors look good, even when they boldly (and often ignorantly) dismiss the expert counsel given them. This metaphor of sovereign fealty is particularly important for IDs who are working with project managers for the first time. This includes burgeoning ID contractors, as well as experienced, in-house IDs who are new to a company.

Novice IDs, leave your grad school design theories and preconceived notions of establishing a common project goal at the door. Despite it being a best practice, most project managers (those whose job it is to relay messages from their higher ups) do not want your “better way of doing things” bungling their sacred scope, schedule, and/or budget. If you want your project ideas to eventually be heard, having the trust of the sponsoring client means everything. Trust is earned as you consistently deliver projects on scope, on time, and on budget. Bonus points for exceeding expectations in any of those categories. See my previous post illustrating how to build trust with your PM.

Bottomline: The more trust you earn, the more creative control the PM/ClientPOC will relinquish for future projects. Only after customers are convinced that you can make them look good are they willing to be open to your crazy, new ideas from the start of a project.

2) Develop a service-minded culture within your team.


Like these poor customer service reps, IDs are too often perceived by project managers as potential obstacles or even enemies rather than adoring vassals. It’s your job to change their mind. To prevent the perpetuation of this stigma, IDs ought to establish a culture of service within their team or organization. Here are a few ways an organization can be seen as service-minded by their clients.

  • Publish a mission statement for customers to see with service as a core value. Externally promote your service-oriented brand before engagement on each project. Email your project manager a link to your department’s values along with a personal note of support.
  • Internally incentivize excellent service. Possibly establish a review survey that results in rewards if you measure up. Offer social praise in office memos or plaques. Etc.
  • Invest in team building. Take the opportunity to define your roles. Potential miscommunications can be averted by having team members articulating their own role and the roles of all others on the team. This way you can work it out before toes get stepped on.
  • Rethink your organization’s name. Perhaps you could colloquially call yourself a “service shop” instead of a “department.” A shop is where people take orders to quickly solve others’ problems. A department is a bureaucratic machine designed to resist your interests.

3) Use cooperative language.


Even the most subtle of communications can promote partnership or divisiveness.

  • In any meetings, try to adjust your seating so that you are angled essentially anywhere other than directly opposite your business”partner”.
  • Use 3rd-person pronouns to promote partnership. First and second-person pronouns, like”me” and “you”, can perpetuate a competitive mentality. Use third-person pronouns (“we”) to invoke feelings of cooperation and unity. Rarely, in the scenario above, do the ID or client refer to their partnership as “we”.
  • Avoid using “war” vocabulary in all communications, especially with/about your point of contact. (E.g., “battle, fight, lose, attack, take flak, defend, capture, combat, lose ground, etc.) In all your communications, use positive, synergistic language that engenders the idea of cooperation and service.

4) Esse quam videri.


While the ID in the “fictional” story above appeared to demonstrate respect for the customer’s needs, he/she unfortunately did it in word alone. The ID would think one thing, then say something completely different. Duplicity is toxic to relationships.  Despite your sense of justice and rationale screaming one thing, I promise you’ll be happier if you:

  • Stop mentally belittling those with whom you work.
  • Relax your expectations of others and focus on what you can control.
  • Work at having integrity in your dealings with others. Mean what you say.
  • If you are about to say something mean or untrue, hold your tongue. Instead, identify and call out the best in everyone. Eventually, your thought processes will adapt and finding good in others will become a habit.
  • Watch out for the tell-tale signs of duplicitousness in yourself:
    • If you catch yourself thinking one thing and saying another.
    • If you speak poorly about clients behind their backs.
    • If you regularly tell yourself that you hate what you do.
    • If you feel trapped—like there’s no one you can talk to about your work problems.

If you’ve observed any of these cancers in yourself, you’ve got to change—either yourself or your environment (i.e., get a new job). Now, I’m not a quitter. But I do advocate it in some circumstances.Some people aren’t at a place in life where they can be performance ponies for their companies. Yes, I just called employees who haven’t yet earned trust broken show horses. Granted, some stallions were dealt a poor hand. Some simply don’t have the skills (yet) to cope in a standard workforce environment. And some horses were born to be wild. I’ve seen enough Millennials struggle in business (and tragic horse films like Buck, and Man from Snowy River) to know—if you can’t be controlled, you get put down. So do yourself a favor, shape up or ship out. If you can’t adapt, don’t stay in a joyless job. Start making moves now to get yourself out of that toxic environment into a place where you can choose to be happy.

5) Develop Patience.

Many workers who hop from job-to-job, who search for a place where they “make a difference,” never find it. In many cases, the problem is sadly with them. In many instances, these good folks fail to realize that it takes more that 8 months with a company to start to feel like you are making an impact. Here are some tips that helped me cross that dessert:

  • I sought out a mentor. Others have been where you are and have gotten through it. Their perspective can be like life-sustaining water in a dessert. But unlike the dessert, there are potential mentors everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to turn to a non-human coping mechanism of choice (e.g., video games, social media, media binging, drugs or alcohol, pornography, anything that offers you that both numbing and elating dopamine rush). Connecting with a human helped me non-destructively cope with my frustrations. (FYI, mentoring/coaching never decreased the actual problem. But, with his help, I was able to view it in it’s proper perspective and push forward with hope in a better future.)
  • I aligned my efforts with my organization’s strategy. You may feel like you’re not helping because you’re not. You may be spending most of your time at work doing things you think are important. But if you really want to be noticed and “make a difference,” you’ll need to strategically shift your time and energy to doing things that align with the mission of your org. (It’s employees who are able to see how they can best contribute to the organization’s overall strategy on a daily basis that are typically first in line for promotions.)
  • I learned/improved a skill set. Maybe you don’t have the chops to contribute yet. (I know that may cause cognitive dissonance for some Millennials with huge egos bred into them.) I’m sorry. But we can all do our jobs more effectively. Intrinsically motivated workers can find great satisfaction in applying lean sigma six principles to their personal sphere.
  • I learned “it’s not always about me.” We need to connect with others at work. This means doing what it takes to value others. Find out about their lives. Ask how you can help them. I read yesterday on Reddit about a study that claims that two-year-olds find the same value in helping others as they do in helping themselves. Let’s re-discover that.


Instructional design is a terrific field with tremendous potential to help people and organizations. And like any profession, if you want to achieve greatness, you’ve got to pay your dues. (E.g., Lawyers don’t join firms and immediately become partners.) Freedom and autonomy at work come only after you’ve proven yourself to be a reliable asset to those you serve. During that necessary period of servitude, don’t be an academic know-it-all. Don’t miss the mark by valuing what’s “right” above your relationship with the client. Be service minded. Speak well, act well, and you will do well.

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How to Build Trust with Your Project Manager

TL;DR — The more trust you earn, the more creative control the PM/clientPOC will relinquish for future projects. Only after customers are convinced that you can make them look good are they willing to be open to your crazy, new ideas from a project’s inception.


PM Trudeau brilliantly outmaneuvers Pres. Trump’s unpredictable handshake style. (Feb 13)

Are you an instructional designer? Are you’re getting stepped on by your project manager (PM) at work? Begin the process of receiving the respect you deserve by developing trust with your PM. Below is an example of a (slightly manipulative) process that instructional designers (IDs) with < 10 years in the field can use to build trust with their project managers:

  1. Speak up. Take mental ownership of your part of the business relationship. Don’t blame your project manager for your unhappiness. A new study by VitalSmarts suggests that you’re the one to blame for your co-workers bad behavior (infographic). If your relationship lacks trust, don’t just dismiss it by saying things like, “if she would only…” or “if he wouldn’t always…”. This festering distrust is an obstacle to your personal productivity and happiness. Furthermore, it’s responsibility to deal with it. To resolve the issue once and for all, Kerry Patterson (one of the founders of VitalSmarts) would tell you to speak up honestly, directly and professionally. Consider following his dos and don’ts to help navigate that conversation.
  2. Survive. In highly-effective teams and relationships, people are open to giving and receiving input from other team members. Ego and competition take a backseat to shared vision and synergy. However, this ideal is unlikely to exist at your job. (Apologies for my cynicism, but am I wrong?) If you have already observed distrust among team members, especially with your PM, and haven’t yet had an opportunity to follow step one,  do it asap. In the mean time, lay the groundwork for speaking up by laying low and following a self-preservation strategy. While this suggestion may seem contradictory to the first step, it’s only temporary and can prevent disastrous clashes between you and your PM. By submitting to “the man’s” will you demonstrate your humility and dependability as an employee. You put the PM at ease and prime the pump for your PM to be emotionally prepared to have that crucial conversation. Remember, at the end of the day it’s the PM’s job to make sure team projects run smoothly. The theory of psychological egoism suggests that your PM doesn’t care about you—only that you do your job. Let the PM do his/her job just as they expect you to do yours and you’ll survive the short term.
  3. Under-Promise & Over-Deliver (UPOD). At some point, you’ll be approached by your PM regarding project parameters (scope, schedule, budget). Typically, the PM will consult you on project estimates. Occasionally, you may be afforded the luxury of tagging along with the PM and offer input at a scoping meeting with the client. In these cases, remember to UPOD—especially in either the schedule and budget categories. Don’t mess with the scope at all for the first three projects you work on together. When terms are handed down to the PM by the client, it’s may be the result of having previously blown one or more of those expectations. It could also simply be due to normal external pressures.
  4. Request Feedback. Once you have made the PM/point-of-contact (POC) look good on a number of occasions, ask them for the client’s feedback on past projects if it hasn’t already been offered. (PMs who are effective leaders quickly passed along kudos. Less-effective ones will gobble the glory for themselves, while the efforts of the content creators go unappreciated. It happens. Be ready for that. Then find a professional way to deal with it.) Regardless of your PM’s personality, the feedback past projects should be good as long as you are delivering as expected.
  5. Plant Seeds. At this point, start planting seeds that you might have some scope improvements for future projects that the clients might love even more. Do this by citing how you could have made the changes to previous projects.  Spin it as if you had just thought of the idea and haven’t been stewing about all along. With the PM fantasizing about the accolades he/she (or you all) will receive, you’ve got them primed for the next big step.
  6. Speak up (ver. 2). The next time a suggestion for a project improvement occurs to you, bring it immediately to the PM/clientPOC and get the green light. Remember to emphasize that your suggestion won’t negatively effect the schedule or budget. If they shut you down, bide your time. Never go rogue. Patiently continue to UPOD. If you do manage to convince them, your moment of truth has arrived. Don’t blow it.
  7. Take Small Bites. Now that you have your PM’s ear, combat the temptation to over contribute. This fragile peace you’ve established with the PM requires careful cultivation. Rinse and repeat over a few more projects until you have solidify your PM/client’s trust. I’ve seen this only a few times in my career, but when it happens it’s a beautiful thing. Your PM/POC will come to you and say, “your last project was a smash hit! We want to give you complete creative control on this next project.” (Resist thinking, “well, if you had handed over design control to the person in the company with the degree—me—in the first place, we could have all gotten here sooner!” Rather, simply revel in the moment. It may not come again for a while.)
  8. Synergy. Once the flood gates have opened, that’s when you will be invited to needs analysis meetings and actually listened to when you offer suggestions like, “we need to gather additional data.”


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Video Cloning in After Effects

Video Summary: Cloning is all in the planning and post-production. First, you shoot all the “pieces” you need. Then all the pieces are cut using the After Effects pen tool and composite them together using layers. Once the pieces are put together, you make them look pretty and believable by adjusting coloring, and adding camera shake.

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