Today is the second day of a working session I’ve had for a larger-scale, longer-term project — It will take up most of my day. The project team is made up of learning & development professionals, instructional designers, assessment experts, and subject matter specialists from several different groups. Our broader objective is to re-design some of our online training to make it more interactive, and more relevant to the learners at certain moments in their careers.
Collaboration is key in “corporate America,” and it is especially valued in my current role. I’m not entirely used to or ready for working sessions. I tend to think that spending many hours in a room with several people working together to produce one product is guaranteed to get side-tracked and may not be as efficient in the end. But I’m always up for thinking through things with others, and it’s something that I’m used to thanks to graduate school.
In graduate school several fellow graduate students and I got together several times a week to work together. We bounced ideas off of each other, read each others’ work, provided feedback, and copy edited for each other. But the work – although done in the presence of each other — was still a very solitary experience.
Today we are tasked with deciding upon the overall topics, treatment, and narrative structure of an elearn. We’ve all come prepared with our “homework” completed — Excel sheets and binders that contain all of the relevant policies, standards and processes that we need to account for.
In academia there’s no shortage of opinions. But standing up (even if seated in a comfy seminar room chair) and being able to present a point of view on a film, book or bit of theory, is something that I truly enjoyed. The process is no different here today, but the goal is. We’re on a deadline and we have to rely on each other to get discreet aspects of this project done and done well. I can’t just return home after class and write up the ideas we formed as a group on my laptop. And each of us brings a different, specialized experience. It’s a true collaboration.
Things shift rapidly in these working sessions. People multi-task as discreetly as they can while others have meetings they cannot move, so they enter and leave as needed. I know that I have to represent my team while other team members have to take other calls. And I need to be well-versed in several different policies, standards, and guidelines as well as remember the requests of the stakeholders who own those policies. It’s a lot to keep in your head.
We get started, and by the end it’s transformative. Mostly I think if I had approached this project as a chapter in my dissertation or an article, it would have taken months to accomplish what we did together in a few hours.
I’ve had that wonderful and energizing experience of teaching your take on a work or your new research to a class and having the whole classroom of students think through your ideas with you. It’s something extraordinary! But with my classroom experience I still had to perform double duty – make sure the students walked away with a good understanding of my new concept or research as well as the foundational or historical concept and then afterwards try to remember and recapture those moments in order to integrate them into my own work. I hadn’t experienced a truly creative and organized working session as I have here.
So we start with the whiteboard – something I never truly appreciated again, until now. Here are the key topics we want to address if we can in this scenario. Remember we need to have decision points for the learner to react to in each. But it should feel natural, seamless without those public service announcements or stilted conversations. Let the locations and the characters interact as they would in real-life.
“How many characters do we need? Where are they located? What are their roles? How do they know each other? Who are they? Let’s give them names. Yes, of course we can change them later. Are they male or female? What race or ethnicity? How old? Do we want them to get it right or wrong? How wrong? If they get it wrong – what could the learner infer? What would our regulators think?”
As we all clamor and come up with this, some of us – our dedicated note takers — are writing, clarifying, questioning, re-writing on the whiteboard and then making sure we are all in agreement before we move on. I check myself: Are we writing the next great American movie or maybe TV series? Then, the voice of a seasoned learning professional comes in, “We want to remember that while it’s great to focus on the screen development of the characters like a movie, we want people to not dissociate from this. We need them to personalize it, understand that their own actions and behaviors can make a difference. And we need to have them make decisions.”
Back from a break and someone suggests while motioning to the whiteboard. “How about we implement the top three types of interactivity we discussed yesterday. We’ll identify them in each of these colors, continue the narrative thread here, but we need to make sure we have at least one or two of them identified per section.”
By the time 3 PM arrives, we’ve covered all of the key topics we need to address. We’ve given names to the characters, sketched out their back-stories and thought through who may come into play in the next set of learning assets. And we’ve come up with really innovative ways to have the learner make decisions and get feedback on their responses.
It’s not always like this. But when you do get to experience something like this – it makes you appreciate it all the more.
For the rest of the afternoon, I need to make sure I read and respond to the emails that came in after the scheduled breaks we’ve had, prepare and attend the meetings I need to, and then focus on my deliverables. What do I need to do to complete this one or make progress on that one? And I’m ready for it and do it – it’s been a productive day.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PwC.