The New York Times’ Snow Fall Project and the possibilities for future learning creation

7 Jan

Just before Christmas, I began to read tweets exclaiming the New York Times“Snow Fall” project. The project not only told the amazing story of skiers and snowboarders trapped beneath an avalanche, but told that story in a groundbreaking way. Rather than the traditional newspaper approach of text and photographs, the “Snow Fall” project sought to combine text, photographs, video, and interactive graphics to create one seamless story.

Snow Fall

As the Poynter reported, the project was “a real step up not just in visual design but in coherent storytelling.” In an interview with the Poynter, Steve Duenes, the Graphics Director at the New York Times, said that the goal of the project was to “find ways to allow readers to read into, and then through multimedia, and then out of multimedia. So it didn’t feel like you were taking a detour, but the multimedia was part of the one narrative flow.”

As a learning professional who believes in the power of storytelling and creates a lot of multimedia materials (e-learning, videos, job aids, infographics, quick-reference guides etc …), the goal and success of the “Snow Fall” project is eye-opening. In my experience, the typical approach is to create material that either complements a training course or is the course (e-learning). To combine multimedia materials in one seamless narrative (course) suggests a different path. Without doubt in 2013, I’ll be thinking about to how to use the “Snow Fall” project as a template for course creation.


Lessons Learned in 2012 – No. 3: Anything can happen (and usually does)

31 Dec

This year I’ve created a range of training materials for projects that have usually involved some aspect of change, whether that has been a software upgrade or a new piece of technology. At times, it has been an exhilarating experience, where I’ve felt at the hub of change. In fact, I believe you could easily make the argument that training is the most important part of any change management process.

However, while I’ve become an expert in designing training materials that help the learner with change, I’ve also become comfortable working in an ever-changing project environment. In healthcare, projects rarely go to plan, anything can happen and usually does. The best example of this was the flood in the emergency department at Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) during November, 2012. The flood happened in the morning of the second week of training on the Vocera communication device. After weeks of scheduling classes, creating and printing posters, developing training scenarios, and revising lesson plans the project was put on hold. Deflating, yes. But at the same time quite the experience!

Next week, training restarts. I’m taking the “anything can happen (and usually does)” approach.

Here is my favourite write-up of the flood from the Emergency Department at SMH:

Six members of the ED Team shared moments from their experience of being on the ground when disaster struck in Surrey Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department. Team members include: Julie Dufton, ED Manager, Tracey Aune, ED Coordinator, Lesley Young, Clinical Nurse Educator, Jessica Kromhoff, Project Lead RN, Sue Davis Clerical Supervisor and Clare Havers, Clinical Nurse Educator.

There was a persistent note of passion, pride, gratitude and a little residual shock that resonated in their voices as they shared details of that morning.

“I was gathering a report for the bed meeting when I received a call from Caitlin about a water leak in the acute room of the ED,” said Tracey Aune. “Thirty seconds later I walked into the unit to see water pouring out of the corner of the glass window.”

“I felt a moment of panic inside and then the need to act kicked in,” Tracey said. She joined others in grabbing stretchers (most patients were bed-ridden, some with cardiac monitors) in the acute area of the ED and quickly moving patients into the corridor to safety.

“There was a long line-up of stretchers down the hallway and I had the last stretcher in the line. I suddenly looked back and saw the wall break and water come gushing in. The water broke through the wall with such force it swept away everything in its path and almost immediately the water was up my knees.”

“It was like a Tsunami,” said Jessica. “When I heard the Code Orange called I came to the ED and walked into the water. Furniture and other items came floating towards me. We were anxious that the whole wall might give way.”

Clare, who saw the glass window collapse, called a Code Orange (for Disaster) and then called the fire department and RCMP.

She also used the Vocera, a new hands-free personal communications device to alert all the ED staff on shift of the emergency. “We’ve been testing this new system for use in the new ED and what a test this was in seeing how it would work in a real life situation,” Clare said.” It worked great.”

Lesley was just about to leave the ED when she saw the first trickle of water. She thought maybe a toilet had overflowed.

“Then the window gave way,” Lesley said. She took on the role of directing people out of the ED and moving them as far down the corridor away from the ED as they could go. “We just kept moving until we hit doors.”

There could have been utter chaos in the department, but instead there was a calm urgency in the directions given and the subsequent actions taken. “Everyone listened and people were doing whatever they could to help. Some were damming areas, others were using towels to sop up the water and porters were pushing water down the hallway to get it out of the ED,” said Sue.

“And it wasn’t just the front line but also leaders who helped us through this,” said Tracey, adding that people came from other departments as well to see what they could do to help.

While the first group of patients was being transported to another area, water flooded the entire ED, and other ED patients outside of the acute area started to become concerned.

“It was really important for us to reassure the patients who were wondering what was happening and who were waiting to be moved. Some were petrified and we kept talking to them to let them know they would be okay and it helped them relax a bit,” Lesley said.

Once all the patients were safe, staff went back into the water to get patient charts, equipment and whatever else they could think of that they would need to continue taking care of their patients.

“Then came the task of figuring out who is who and who needed to be on a cardiac monitor and who needed to be moved to a unit,” Tracey said.

“The site response was amazing,” said Julie. “From the initial response to the Code Orange to moving patients to the wards, everyone pitched in to support us. It was a massive team effort.”

“I’m very proud of our ED team and our entire site and grateful to our local emergency services for their extraordinary response to this disaster,” she added.

“The reaction and response was really amazing,” added Lesley. “It was like there was a central consciousness shared by everyone.”

Lessons Learned in 2012 – No. 2: Editing isn’t a quick proofread

28 Dec

Have you ever been asked by your coworker if you have a spare 5 minutes to edit their document? I’m someone who always likes to say yes to this question. A second set of eyes can really help to make the final product much better.

However, the word “edit” tends to mean different things to different people. One thing I’ve learned this year is that where I work the definition of “to edit” doesn’t mean to quickly proofread. Instead, when I start to edit a document I follow the steps outlined in Writing Revisable Manuals. See

For the first draft of a document, I look for the following:

• Completeness and accuracy
• Appropriate organization
• Logic and coherence
• General writing style
• General conformance with the prior documentation, style guide, and style sheet

Typically, I read each section of a document at least twice. Once to get familiar with the content, and a second time to identify and mark errors.

For later drafts, I focus on:

• Style and grammar
• Spelling
• Punctuation
• Usage
• Formatting
• Typographics

Only at this point is the editing process complete.

Lessons Learned in 2012 – No. 1: Style Guide

27 Dec

There is nothing like the end of the year to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. As an exercise, reflection not only tests your memory recall, but enables you to learn from experience. So, in this vein, I’ve put together a list of my lessons learned from 2012.

The first lesson is about the need to develop a style guide that can be applied to all training material that your team produces. Throughout the year, I’ve worked on training videos, procedure guides, quick references guides and cards, but rather than a list of standards or a style guide to create a consistent looking product, I’ve relied on a combination of Microsoft’s Manual of Style for Technical Publications and prior documentation. As you can imagine, this combination has caused debate, from varying font sizes to whether or not bullet points should be indented.

MS Manual of Style

For me, although I create various formats of training material, I believe it is necessary to have a style guide that produces a consistent look and feel to the content. In my mind, a video demonstrating the steps to connect to VPN should use the same language as a quick reference covering the same topic.

So next year, I’m determined to put together a style guide that covers all bases to make life a little easier and less confusing.

My Top 10 Tweets of 2012

11 Dec

Twitter is such an important part of my PLN that this year I thought it would be a good idea to collate my top 10 tweets of 2012. These tweets are not my own tweets, but tweets that I have either RT or made a favourite.

1. 1

In the year of Storyline and Captivate 6, an interesting observation that shapes my instructional design decisions.

2. 2

I’ve noticed a move away from e-learning and towards video creation. A great blog post explaining why.!/2012/08/why-video-trumps-e-learning.html

3. 3

This video will change your life (well help you explain to your manager the need for an extension to a deadline).

4. 4

Another fantastic observation about a trend in L&D departments this year.

5. 5

Sometimes we need big ideas to inspire. This is a big idea this inspires me about the future of learning.

6. 6

I love tweets that point to great examples of work. Here is an example of how to use Prezi that is just “wow”!

7. 7

Susan Cain’s argument about “the power of introverts” is a revelation for me, especially in the context of working in a North American workplace.

8. 8

This tweet was an eye opener. Time to rethink gender and technology.

9. 9

I don’t get to go to conferences, but hashtags and live-tweeting have made me feel that I have attended several this year.

10. 10

Going to work is like reliving my childhood (sometimes).

And one extra, because sometimes Twitter delivers gems like this:


When disaster strikes: The ultimate test of transfer-of-learning techniques

20 Nov

Yesterday disaster struck Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) as water flooded the Emergency Department. What happened just after 8am on Monday morning had particular pertinency to me. For the past month I have been working with a great team on developing training on Vocera communication devices for staff in the Emergency Department at SMH. This week we entered our second week of Vocera “go-live” project implementation. The flood not only shut down the Emergency Department, but has put our “go-live” plans on hold.

Although naturally I feel a little washed out (sorry for the pun!) by the disaster, the flood became the ultimate test of the transfer-of-learning techniques that we devised for training. Not only was the impending disaster (“Code Orange”) announced on the Vocera device as instructed in class, but in the photographs that I’ve seen in the press, staff were wearing their Vocera devices as instructed (approximately 6 inches below the chin).

Photograph from Vancouver Sun

Austerity Measures: Reducing the duration of MS Office 2010 “What’s New” Training

16 Nov

Currently we are running an MS Office 2010 “What’s New” training course that is approximately 7 hours long (1 day course) and covers Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. The course begins with a “What’s Common” section that is 1 hour-long. This section covers the common features across Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint, such as the ribbon and backstage view. See course outline below:

Feedback from the attendees indicated that although they were happy with the course, the duration of training was too long. Personally I noticed energy levels dropping during the afternoon, when the instructor covered Outlook and PowerPoint.

So how could we reduce the duration of training without compromising the course?

I believe that the duration of the course could be reduced to either ½ day or 2 hours. However, either approach would mean significant cuts to the content of the course outline.
If the duration of the course was reduced to ½ day that would mean either removing the Outlook and PowerPoint sections of the course or targeting specific content across Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint sections to remove. I would keep the “What’s Common” section intact.

If the course was reduced to 2 hours that would mean keeping the “What’s Common” section and either spending 1 hour on Word or alternatively 15 minutes each on a key aspect of Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint.

If these cuts to the course outline were enacted, learners would have less classroom time in which to learn what’s new in MS Office 2010. However, reducing the course from 1 day to ½ day or 2 hours may appeal to more learners who are unable to commit to 1 day training.

Reducing the duration of the course may also mean that learners only receive training that is directly applicable to their work. For example, the current course covers Pivot Tables in Excel. Not all learners when asked use Pivot Tables in their day-to-day work.

I would recommend reducing the duration of the course down to ½ day. This would appeal to more learners unable to commit to 1 day training and keep energy levels up during the whole training course.

How to reduce the duration needs further investigation. Removing the Outlook and PowerPoint sections could compromise the integrity of offering a “What’s New” in MS Office 2010 training course. The alternative of targeting specific content for removal from the course outline may be the best approach.