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Gaze Into The Future Of Learning With Connie Malamed


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In this exclusive interview with Learnnovators, Connie Malamed shares her insights on what constitutes great instructional design. She stresses on the importance of sharing one’s knowledge with the community, and offers valuable advice to budding learning designers who aspire to consider consulting as a career option. Equally valuable is her advice for learning designers to design their own apps. Connie’s foresights on the future of learning design are truly thought-provoking. Read on…

Crystal Balling With Learnnovators: The Future Of Learning With Connie Malamed

Connie Malamed is a learning, information design and visual communication consultant. She is the publisher of The eLearning Coach, The eLearning Coach Podcast and the Instructional Design Guru mobile app. Connie is the author of Visual Language for Designers and is currently writing a visual design book for learning designers.

  1. Learnnovators: You are known for your immense passion for sharing your knowledge and skills with others in the community, and run a wonderful blog, The eLearning Coach, with a focus on providing practical advice to those just starting out in the field as well as to experienced designers and developers. You have many fans out there (including us ☺), and many consider you their mentor. How significant is ‘sharing’ for learning designers in this age of informal and social learning? What are some of the tips that you could share with those who would like to get started? Could you share some of the best practices you follow to build, grow, and sustain your blogs and other social media platforms with high engagement?Connie: Thank you for the kind words. I think that having a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is important for learning experience designers at this time in our evolution and probably will always be important. There is too much going on simultaneously to capture it all in books and classes. By creating your own PLN via blogs, online forums, social networks, podcasts and online videos, you can learn from the greater community and individualize your experience. At first, you may not feel comfortable sharing what you’ve learned. Over time, as you engage with the community, you may become more comfortable and see natural opportunities arise.In terms of best practices, I think it’s important to come from a place of love. Love your readers or students and listen to them. Give them what they are seeking. Personally, I like to provide practical solutions to problems and answers to questions that I can’t find elsewhere. It’s also important to take risks and to move forward even when you have self-doubts. I have to overcome self-doubt on a regular basis, but this is a natural part of being human. Perhaps sharing online in a big way is not for everyone. No one should feel pressured to do this if it is not their path. They will find another way to help others.
  2. Learnnovators: You are regarded as a highly creative and innovative person who also happens to be focused and practical in your approach. How significant is creativity and innovation in learning design, given the rapid shifts happening in the space? How do you balance both the ends (innovation with productivity), and how significant is it in a business scenario? What are some of the interesting experiences that you would like to share with our readers to inspire them?Connie: Again, thank you for the kind words. I think creativity and innovation are very important, not for novelty itself, but if we use it to come up with better and more interesting solutions. This is a constant tension in the work of design. It’s not easy to be creative on demand, but it sure is awesome when you achieve it. We have to balance our creative ideas with the constraints of the environment, which includes the technology we’re using, the budget, the personnel available and the timeframe. In terms of creative inspiration, it’s important that we stop telling ourselves stories about our own creative limitations. Instead, observe the creativity of children and remember that you were like that at one time. We may lose our creative tendencies from traditional schooling and growing into adulthood, where getting the right answer and having a career are stressed more than being innovative. But I think your creative tendencies become dormant, rather than disappear. They are sleeping and can be awakened. So find ways to get into a creative flow. Do this by looking at solutions in other fields, drawing and sketching, playing games, reading design magazines and books, working outside of the office (when possible), exercising and using techniques to quiet your mind. Think of the project’s constraints as a positive rather than a negative.
  3. Learnnovators: You have been in the learning consulting business for over 15 years, helping your clients make the best business decisions. What are your specializations? How do you educate your clients about the most effective approaches to learning? What are some of the challenges you face in convincing them with respect to the shifts happening in today’s learning space? What would be your advice to budding learning designers who aspire to consider consulting as a career option?Connie: I think a crucial point for new designers to realize is that training is not the solution to every problem. Before coming up with a training course or program, do a thorough examination and analysis of the problem at hand. You will find that the problem is often a software system with poor usability, an inhibiting and rigid organizational culture or ineffective communication between people and departments. Another important thing to remember is that one training event is not sufficient for people to transfer learning to new situations. If you are seeking strong retention and learning transfer, people need distributed learning and performance support.In terms of my specializations, I work as a consultant to help organizations with broad learning strategies as well as seeing through the design and development of eLearning and mLearning, websites and visual communication. I prefer to work on projects that make a difference in the world and make the planet a better place. I usually work with wonderful clients and when they need convincing of something, I use my knowledge of learning theory and cognitive psychology to help them understand.
  4. Learnnovators: You have received many great reviews for your book ‘Visual Language for Designers: Principles for creating graphics that people understand’. We wholeheartedly agree with Bill Brandon that it is a ‘rare combination of science and aesthetics’. Though this book is intended for e-learning practitioners, you once said that you always had instructional designers in mind while writing it. How do you think your book was effective in helping instructional designers understand the art and science of visual instructions? Connie: From the publisher’s perspective, this book was intended for graphic designers and information graphic artists. The publisher didn’t seem to understand what instructional design was. But that was okay, because as the author, I could address instructional designers also. I hope my book is helpful because it is based on cognitive research. It ties together two aspects of learning in a new way by explaining the cognitive aspect of visual perception and how to take advantage of it in visual design, with topics like: pre-attentive processing, directing the eyes, clarifying complexity and others.By the way, I’m currently writing a new book for learning designers. It will cover visual design principles and solutions for learning products. Most graphic design books cover things like the design of identity and branding, brochures, posters and packaging. We need design books geared to our industry, with its unique problems and solutions.
  5. Learnnovators: Instructional Design Guru (your reference and performance support mobile app for instructional designers) was an amazing resource you shared with the learning community. You also have been sharing your inspiration and thought process behind the making of this tool. When could we expect to see the next generation of this app (with new terms emerging in the e-learning domain)? What are your plans on future updates? What are some of the other ideas that you are presently contemplating? What are some of the other apps for learning designers to help make their job easier? What would be your advice for learning designers to design their own apps?Connie: I’ve wanted to update Instructional Design Guru for over a year now. I have a list of many new terms to put in there. It’s just a matter of finding the time to write the definitions. It’s almost as involved as writing a book because getting the definitions correct takes a long time. I’d like to make other performance support apps for instructional designers. I’d love to see eLearning designers make more apps. My advice would be to read books and articles on app design, purchase and study apps that may be similar to what you want to design and have your app concentrate on one thing. I have a few articles about this on The eLearning Coach in the Mobile section.
  6. Learnnovators: In Breaking Into Instructional Design (your free self-paced course for people who want to know more about instructional design as a career), learners receive lessons straight in their inboxes twice a week. This Spaced Rehearsal or Distributed Practice approach, though it has been known for decades as an effective learning technique, wasn’t in common practice when you started offering your course years back. How do you look at these concepts in this age of informal and social learning? What do you think the future is?Connie: I think we need to move more into distributed learning and to stop thinking of training as a one-time event. If you read the research on how much people forget after training, it’s depressing. Do a search for the “Forgetting Curve.” Once we know something like this, we need to change our approach and educate others. Sometimes it’s tough to get clients to agree to a distributed approach because they just want to check off that someone took compliance training. I think as more learning designers become aware of the latest research, through their Personal Learning Networks, it will eventually take hold. The industry and our clients move slowly. We just have to keep pushing for positive change and celebrate the small victories.
  7. Learnnovators: You have been interviewing some of the experts in the field of learning. You also interviewed Steve Portigal (author of ‘Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights’) about the best practices for interviewing an audience, recently for the eLearning Coach podcast. Your interviews are so compelling that it makes us ask you (for further refining our own interviews): “How do you make your interviews memorable experiences for your guests and the readers”?Connie: I’m really new at podcasting and have only been doing it for a year. It’s really fun to take risks like this and to get to know these fascinating people. I am a podcast junkie and have my opinions about what makes a good podcast. So I try to deliver what I think the audience would like to hear: short intros, not much chatter, a (hopefully) intelligent conversation and practical advice. Our field touches on so many others that there are an infinite number of topics to cover! And the skills you’ve developed to interview audience members and stakeholders work well for interviewing guests.Learnnovators: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights and experiences, Connie. It was wonderful interacting with you. We wish you the very best!

"Crystal Balling with Learnnovators" is a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape. 

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like. For more interviews from this series, visit http://learnnovators.com/interviews/