Idea Learning Group

"fun" Posts

Real-Life Branching: Navigating a Corn Ma(i)ze

Combining play with learning is something educators agree is important in childhood. Play also helps adults with learning, stress relief, and creative thinking.

We intentionally build in time for play at IdeaLearning Group. We play games, brainstorm together, and we also openly share ideas—no matter how wacky they seem at first—to discover creative, effective solutions for our clients.

In eLearning, “branching scenarios” let learners make choices, experience consequences, and ultimately get different results based on the choices they make. They’re sometimes compared to the Choose Your Own Adventure book series that many of us loved as kids. On a recent Team Day outing, we branched out in a corn maze at Sauvie Island.

The maze is very elaborate with a theme that changes every year. It includes a series of signs, numbered 1 through 10. At each juncture you have to decide whether to turn left or right. Obviously one wrong turn can result in fruitless frustration.

Before entering the maze, we stopped by the trivia station where we could choose from a dozen or so trivia cards, each with 10 questions. Every question aligns with a numbered station. Our team selected cards with four different themes: Halloween; the history of Portland; “Portlandia” the TV show; and stars/outer space. Our strategy was to cross-reference our answers at each station to ensure we were choosing the right direction.

Our real-life branching exercise emphasized many strategies that we intentionally include in our branching elearning scenarios:

Clearly articulate the goal.

Make sure the ultimate goal is something the learner wants, needs, and understands. Is it a hero adventure? What’s the reward at the end? Will the purpose of the journey be worth it all? At the corn maze, our goal was to make it out alive in a timely manner before the rain started so we could select our pumpkins afterwards.

Provide some indication of what they can expect.

Like in real life, people have roles when they’re engaged in any activity. We all have our unique approaches and strengths. Some people like to jump right in. But others want a general lay of the land first. Giving a time range is a good start, so that people know what’s expected from their commitment.

At one point Shannon exclaimed aloud, “This could take all afternoon!” before asking an attendant how long it would take. She was comforted to find out that 45 minutes was the norm. Determined to discover what was up next before arriving there, Jennie secretly read ahead on her trivia card. Amir, our visual expert, candidly snapped photos as we walked.

Build in prompts that help people make informed choices along the way.

The trick is to make the journey challenging but not overly frustrating. In elearning, the course navigation helps you get your bearings if you find yourself lost in the weeds. It’s important to make sure learners have helpful tools to use. (But we agreed not to rely on our iPhones, as tempting as it was.)

We could have gone into the maze without any prompts, but it would have taken all afternoon and resulted in a tantrum or two. (Shannon also thinks emergency exits would have been a nice addition.) The trivia cards helped keep us on track. And we learned lots of fun, interesting facts along the way. Did you know that the Portlandia statue is attached to a building in downtown Portland that’s considered “one of the most hated buildings in America”?

Other clever prompts built into the corn maze were illustrated riddle signs—like a  painting of a pig tied up to indicate “hog tied”—and music playing from atop a small bridge that you could climb for a somewhat aerial view.

Build in ways to recover if you make a mistake.

An effective branching activity lets you make mistakes, learn from them, and recover enough to get yourself back on track. Obviously a dead end in a corn maze is a good indication that you’ve made a wrong decision. At one point when we were off track, Shannon and Emily cleverly situated random corn husks and bark chips as Hansel-and-Gretel-style breadcrumbs to help us break out of the cycle. (It’s a good thing, too, because Jillian was starting to lose her cool when it was clear that we were going in circles.)

At the end of the maze, we realized that printed in teeny tiny letters at the bottom of each trivia card, upside down, were all the answers to the questions. It’s funny how none of us realized this until the very end. The opportunity to cheat was there all along, but we were either blind to it or just too focused on the journey itself.

How does your organization value “play”? Tell us your stories below.

How Accountability Affects Teamwork and Learning

“Know your audience” is the first rule of learning. When designing a learning experience, it’s not only helpful to know something about learners’ skills or backgrounds, but also their frame of mind. How invested are they in learning, especially if they need to work together? Do they seek solutions to challenges, or do they tend to take a more passive “wait and hope” approach?

Recently I facilitated a workshop with a group of preschool educators. I chose the Ladder of Accountability metaphor to help guide our discussion about peer coaching and team-building.

We started with an activity in which the participants completed a simple task together. Although on the surface the exercise seemed easy to accomplish, it was actually deceptively difficult. They attempted to do the task several times together, only to discover that the result was exactly the opposite from what they expected.

The group was permitted to talk to each other to solve the challenge. It’s amazing how differently people respond! Those who have not completely bought in to the experience will often make excuses, blame and complain, or just wait for someone else to figure it out. And those who are allies in the experience tend to own the situation. They seek solutions…they find constructive ways to make it happen.

So what do you do with the information you discover about people on the Ladder of Accountability? Knowing where your learners stand on the ladder will greatly inform the approach you take to build a meaningful curriculum or modify one to better suit the audience, no matter what type of learning experience you’re creating.

Posing a challenging activity is a great way to find out how accountable your learners are. It’s about awareness of where people are coming from. Obviously the ladder is there to be climbed. If you find yourself hanging around on a lower rung with others who make excuses or wait and hope for a solution to materialize, think about stepping up to a higher level to make more of a team effort.

I introduced a three-part process for giving peer feedback: Describe the situation, the behavior and the outcome. I was so impressed when one of the clients demonstrated her new coaching skill when she flew a paper airplane toward me. Inside it simply read “Great job Jillian.” She then used the Situation, Behavior, Outcome model to tell me specifically what she liked about the training, and how she would be applying it in her job.

After the session, other participants reported that they felt emotionally engaged, that they enjoyed the physical activity as a complement to the more academic content we discussed, as well as the opportunity to practice solving a challenge together.

To me, this feedback supports an important phase in the IdeaLearning Group’s process that we use to frame our curriculum: Think, Feel, Move. We believe in supporting a variety of learning approaches, from jumping right in to reading instructions first. We believe humor is an important part of the learning experience. And we understand the strong connection between movement and learning.

What we love at IdeaLearning Group

In honor of Valentine’s day, a list of the things we truly love and that inspire us at IdeaLearning Group.

1. Making learning that looks beautiful and works beautifully
2. Having a positive impact and making a difference
3. The aha moment when learners get it
4. Visuals
5. Making learning a memorable experience
6. Games
7. Clients that are willing to try something new
8. Collaboration
9. Art
10. Chocolate chip cookies

2011: A year of opportunities

As 2011 comes to a close, we reflect on the progress IdeaLearning Group has made this year and we just keep smiling.

IdeaLearning Group team

Shannon & Jillian from IdeaLearning Group

Throughout the year, we met new clients –  a good half dozen – and built strong relationships with them. It’s fun for us to discover their unique culture, brand, and learning needs. Getting to know new people and businesses is exciting and keeps us energized.

A new instructional design project took us to Germany and Denmark, where we spent most of August side-by-side with our client. We spent long days working and evenings absorbing the local culture, food, and festivities.

We also welcomed existing clients back for new work that deepened our knowledge of their strategy, leadership, products, and staff. Being rehired by a client is the ultimate compliment; we are so grateful.

Throughout the year, we were fortunate enough to partner with some fantastically talented local contractors. Many thanks to Annie and the Actual Industries team for their phenomenal video production skills, Amir for jumping in feet-first on a huge elearning project with a very tight timeline, and Robin for designing amazing info-graphics. Huge thanks also to Denise, Sue, Scott, Rachel, Jennie, Beth, Melissa, and Ajay for support and subject matter expertise along the way.

After spending a very busy year building employee development tools for others, we invested in our own professional development. We packed our bags and headed to Las Vegas to attend elearning Guild’s DevLearn conference. It was a mind-expanding experience and we still find ourselves referring to the great ideas we discovered there.

IdeaLearning Group will be turning three in just a few months. Our business is far more successful than we had imagined possible in such a short amount of time. Watch out 2012, we will continue to work hard, learn big, and push the boundaries of creativity.

We wish you a very happy holiday and New Year.

NEW BUSINESS Contact us with business inquiries or to discuss your project needs and vision.
CAREERS We always enjoy connecting with talented professionals in the learning and development field.
CONNECT 503.208.3256
LOCATION 2701 NW Vaughn St #103
Portland, OR 97210

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