Useful content fast with smartphones and Twitter.

24 Feb

Ace sharing of sharing of (?) video skills from the amazing Stephanie Dedhar Karaolis.

Coconut Minima

Video isn’t as ‘hot’ a topic as it once was in learning circles (according to Don Taylor’s Global Sentiment Survey) in large part because it’s become business as usual. In some form, it’s surely part of the repertoire of every L&D team, provider, professional, by now?

But while it may be dropping down the rankings behind shiny new technologies and concepts, a hot topic it undeniably remains. Conferences still dedicate sessions to it, we still talk about it on Twitter… The conversation (along with expectations and opportunities) is evolving and expanding.

I recently wrote a post for the Elucidat blog with some ideas for using video in learning, whatever budget and technology is available to you. You can read that post in full here.

Today I came across a Twitter discussion that both echoes and illustrates some of what I wrote in that post. Nick Welch is a…

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9 tips to help with learning innovation

2 Nov

It’s easy to talk about Learning Innovation. Loads of people are doing it, sharing ideas about it and having conversations about it. But how do we move past the ideas and actually start creating stuff that is helpful and meaningful?



Here are a few things that help me stay on track to do just that:

1. Put the audience first: understand the concerns that users have and then create stuff that addresses these concerns. Then think about user experience and the context a solution will be used in before considering tech.
2. Change behaviour by applying marketing thinking to learning. Build products and experiences around nudge theory and behavioural psychology.
3. Innovate to improve performance, but not for innovation’s sake. Make sure everything we create has a reason to exist and is helping to make something better.
4. Always be in beta. As soon as something is good enough, get it out there and see what works and what doesn’t. (Minimum Viable Product approach, if you’re playing buzzword bingo). Don’t just plan and talk about stuff – make something. Constantly test, learn and refine using data and the audience to make things better.
5. Ditch signoff and conventional project management. Agile methodologies (another one for your buzzword bingo game!) are our friends. We can’t work in a waterfall/stage gate/signoff way and still expect to deliver rapid changes and improvements that really have the user at the heart of what we do. Design is the process.
6. Inspire by sharing stories. Stories help to make messages stick (especially when people don’t care about something). Find people who have real, emotional experiences to share and then create a simple way to share these.
7. Move away from courses to resources and towards guidance. We forget as much as 65% of what we learn in training after one week. Work to connect people to the things they need to be better at doing their job, when they need them. Forget about learning. We are here to help people to do their jobs better – through products, resources and experiences.
8. Focus on design and utility. Make your experience or product seamlessly fit into the life of your user. Make it feel and look beautiful. Make it useful. Ignore your own intuition and test what you’ve done with your audience to make sure it’s useful, beautiful and meaningful to them.
9. Commit to the mission. The future of learning is an exciting place but we’re going to fight all kinds of battles on the way. One thing that can help with this is working out loud, sharing what we do and bringing people along with us on the journey. Do things together. Be brave.

Shout out to my rad team and pals who have influenced this post.

5 film script basics you can apply to work

15 Sep

Ace thoughts on what we can learn from films.

I have a novice mind when it comes to script writing, but Superman vs Batman made me realise there are millionaires who can’t write for toffee.


There are pretty simple tests I apply to watching films, and it might save you two hours if you can decide quite quickly if a film is going to suck.

There are also relevant lessons to be learned for general business communications and learning videos, which you might borrow to be more convincing.

Point #1 Subtext

In bad films you will find characters saying what they mean or explaining the story with the writers voice (exposition).

Good films in contrast explain the story or explore character traits implicitly. This means relying on the audience’s emotional intelligence to read character motivations, and inner conflict, from their actions.

The best films are those where the character’s behaviour shows you who they are. Think of the scene in the…

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Marketing = meaning

3 Aug

A while ago, @shackletonjones tweeted:

GemStGem twitter Gemma Critchley marketing learning innovation nick shackleton-jones


I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. The ‘somehow’ in that tweet has been under my skin for weeks. I agree wholeheartedly with Nick that marketing is the bridge, but how? Why?

I’ve seen it work. I’ve put marketing in place for ‘performance support‘ or ‘informal learning solutions’ (otherwise known as useful stuff that helps people do their jobs better). I’ve seen the things our team creates illuminated when cast in the glow of a clever campaign, but for ages I couldn’t articulate why.

It recently became crystal clear.

I’ve worked on quite a few projects to deliver performance support using our ‘resources not courses’ approach over the last few years.

A chap that I worked with recently on one of these projects said that very few people in our audience understood what performance support is and how it works, or what’s in it for them. Fair point, I thought.

All of a sudden, the answer was so clear: we needed to translate what we were doing in a way that would be meaningful to the audience.

We knew the resources that we were creating would be useful (thanks to the 5Di process), but if people weren’t into what we were doing – if they didn’t see what was in it for them and choose to pull on the things we created, then we would have only done half a job.

So we decided to tell a story, to show the benefits of what we’re doing, to share some examples and to give a strong call to action for people to find out more. In essence, we decided to do a marketing campaign.

The penny dropped.

Beautifully simple, blindingly obvious and laced with common sense in the way that most decent ideas usually are.

GemStGem twitter Gemma Critchley marketing learning innovationGemStGem twitter Gemma Critchley marketing learning innovation


By putting what we call ‘performance support’ into a marketing frame that speaks directly to the audience in a way that matters to them, we translate what we’re doing. It makes sense.

Marketing is tailoring.

Marketing is translation.

Marketing is sense-making.

Marketing = meaning.


Through marketing, the audience can easily engage with something that seemed foreign before. Heck, never mind just being able to engage with it; they might even actually want to.

Working in Less Obvious Ways.

15 Jul

Sound advice on dealing with the world right now.

fuchsia blue


I’m over it.

To be honest, I’ve been over it for days – the news, the TV, watching the politics and the games and the claims and the counter claims. The inauthenticity of pre-prepped speechifying. Entire massive hulking gnarly issues conveniently disappeared. The egos. The stubbornness and blindness. The platitudes and clichés. The energy it takes to sense-make in the midst of all of this.

My deep need to hold to a change narrative that involves kindness, inclusiveness, tolerance, creativity and collaboration….My lived experience that true lasting change doesn’t happen without some of these things. How very sorely tested that belief feels right now – like I’m a dreamer, an altruist, a hypothetical tree hugging cloud-starer who doesn’t understand real power and politics.
Only I do…. I just don’t have the appetite to play that game. That mean, selfish, self-serving game.. which at the same time seems necessary…. And if…

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6 Tips to Stop Talking and Start Walking Innovation

29 Jun

Just brilliant.

Innovation is a buzzword. It’s a fun buzzword but it’s still a buzzword. Innovative organisations don’t need to claim to be innovative, just as organisations that are courageous, diverse and respectful, don’t need claim they are so. Often if it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.

This is also apparent in the reverse, which is why we hear people who voted for Brexit saying, “I’m not racist, but…”. Values in business are too often aspirational, rather than real; they are a gloss of paint to cover the true form.


This post isn’t a criticism of companies that position themselves as innovative. It’s just that the innovation claim usually indicates the start of long cultural journey rather than the end of it.

People tend to treat internal and external communication as a way of making things so, as if the CEO telling his/her employees something, will flick a switch and bring a…

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I am the spirit of dark and lonely water 

14 Apr

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a real and quite irrational fear of what I call ‘organised water’. This is basically water which has pooled or been channelled somewhere it shouldn’t be: a quarry, an aqueduct, a construction site, a canal, a reservoir. There’s no reason for it, I’ve never had a bad experience with water or known anyone who has.

ladybower sinkhole sink hole reservoir scarfolk. gemma critchley. blog

This fills me with dread. Image:

I suspect most people will have their own irrational fears. You might have stayed up after watching horror films, scared to go to sleep, listening out for noises that aren’t there. Maybe even years after watching, you remember feeling frightened and won’t revisit that particular film.

Turns out it’s not just horror films that do this. I recently discovered the BFI’s public information films collection: a treasure trove of sinister warnings, glittering darkly and crackling with the threat of doom.

One of the best examples of this is Lonely Water, a film that was designed to warn kids away from playing in unsafe water. I wasn’t even born until almost a decade after it was made, but I (think I) remember seeing this, or a variation of it at primary school as a kid.

The film was made in 1973, but it has all the hallmarks of what I’d consider to be an effective video for learning today:

  • The film’s approach is rooted in the Affective Context model. It makes you feel something; the Donald Pleasence voiceover is straight out of a Halloween film and the use of the hooded figure is just disturbing enough to jolt you out of your reality.
  • It has a clear objective: to stop children from drowning by showing the dangers of ‘lonely water’.
  • It understands its audience and appeals to their fears to make the message stick.
  • It’s short – under two minutes long: something many people forget the importance of today.
  • It has a compelling narrative and sub-story, separate to the voiceover: you want to know what happens to the boy who goes swimming.

In a time when filmmaking has never been more accessible, it’s good to take a step back and look at what makes a compelling, effective film, especially when it comes to creating film for learning. It’s refreshing to see that the stuff that was terrifying in 1973 works just as well at scaring the living daylights out of me today; and that somewhere along the line, the message from the film stuck with me. That’s Affective Context in action.

It’s hard to believe it wasn’t made by Scarfolk Council, but was instead produced by the UK government.


scarfolk council BFI public information film lonely water gemma critchley



If you want to see more, the whole collection is available on the BFI Player.

Warning: may contain scenes that some viewers may find disturbing…

Putting the X into L

4 Apr

Forget bite-size learning; it’s time to go XL: design with the eXperience of the Learner in mind.

I’ve blogged a few times about user experience (UX) design and how important this is to anyone making anything for other people to use; particularly when it comes to creating stuff that is designed to help people perform at work. Learner Experience, or LX, is part of this growing trend for being more audience-focused. It’s a more specific version of UX design, but the principles are the same. This is one bandwagon I don’t mind people jumping on: it can only make things better for users, right? 

There are a few simple things we can do to make sure our learners/users are at the heart of everything we do: exercises like card sorting, user observation & learner journey mapping. Even just asking good questions, listening and having meaningful conversations about what people need help with and how they do things at the moment is a start.


user experience vs design, learner experience, UX, LX, Gemma Critchley


This is a useful presentation that’s packed with practical things we can do to improve the Learner Experience.

Being a learner experience designer starts with a commitment to the user: a focus on crafting experiences that are useful, simple, delightful, seamless & helpful. If that’s our starting point, we’re on the right track to making a difference. 

Let’s commit to using LX design as a way to go beyond traditional learning and towards something that really helps people.

A simulation simulator

30 Mar

Yesterday, when I was half-asleep, getting my coffee from Pret upstairs in Waterloo station in London, I noticed that South West Trains had installed what I presumed to be a train simulator on the main station concourse. I blinked. Twice. It was still there.

South West Trains Gemma Critchley gaming VR simulation learning innovation technology

I could only guess it had appeared to service those moments when you’re at a train station and just can’t work out how to achieve that ‘on a train’ feeling. Hmm.

Okay, I’m being a bit wry and not entirely fair. South West trains do a great job of getting me and thousands of other folks to and from work every day and the carriage on display was one of the new, improved South West Trains carriages that will be deployed as part of their modernisation programme. Quite a neat bit of experiential marketing, but that’s a post for another day.

Wryness aside, the simulation made me think of the ways people (in the Learning industry in particular) often misuse simulations.

I remember the time when a learning games company came to pitch to our Learning Innovation team. I’m pretty excited by the prospect of using gaming mechanics to help people develop and we’ve produced a few decent case studies that explore how this can work. So, I was keen to see how a company purely dedicated to gaming for learning approached this.

It turned out, they didn’t. What they had done was create a beautifully rendered 3D simulation that exactly replicated the working environment, and was designed to be used in that environment to help people on the job. It wasn’t a game, it was a replication of the learner’s workplace in 3D. Which, of course, begged the question:

“Why not just design performance support based on the user’s context or environment, instead of trying to recreate and simulate it?”

I also remember using a ‘second-life’ style piece of software that basically recreated a simulation of a meeting room. The most un-stimulating simulator ever? Quite possibly.

For me, it’s a no-brainer. Give people the tools and resources they need to perform better on the job. Don’t take people away from that job, recreate the environment and then expect them to remember what they learnt in a simulation.

Of course, simulations have their place and can be effective when used in the right context. But let’s call a spade a spade – or a simulation a simulation – and let’s use them in ways that help people. There are other ways of simulating situations: role playing and immersive theatre, for example. Just because something represents something you may have seen on a video game screen at some point does not make it a game. Think about the user, about why your approach might be effective. Discover the user’s need and then build the solution around this, don’t just do something ‘because it’s innovative/cool/new’.

Recent developments in virtual reality are opening up all kinds of exciting possibilities when it comes to gaming and simulations. I’m not sure where VR will take us, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be doing a virtual commute in a virtually-packed train any time soon.

As people’s appetites for learning innovation and technology increase, let’s promise each other that we will only ever make useful, helpful things that make a difference to people or that add meaning to people’s lives.




23 Mar

Snapping bubble gum between her teeth in a way that annoys even herself, Al steps out of the front door, half registering that it’s warm enough to not need a coat.

She’s wearing one anyway.

Key lodged under the plant pot by the steps, her rubber soles thwack on concrete and she’s off down the hill. Her friend Lucy is waiting at the end of the road, as promised.

Lucy carries her awkward bundle of bones in her uniform. They stretched before she was expecting them to; adolescence and all its unreasonable anger poured into a glass like a dropped can of Coke, fizz rising to the top and spilling out before she could stop it.

They call out things that feel like normal teenage words. Perhaps “Hey,” or “Yo,” definitely nothing like OMG or LOL. This happened before all that.

They pass the woods on the left. The air hums with the start of summer.

New green things unfurling, becoming tall in the silence.

Chlorophyll flooding venation, a viridescent tide swelling underfoot and overhead, sweeping everything on it, under it, in it.

Damp earth warming in the already-potent morning sunlight and fermenting like wine. Photosynthesis everywhere.

Normally they chat. Boys, girls, teachers, TV. Not today.

The woods start to thin out and a hill rises in front of them. To their left, a gap in the hedge and beyond it: fields. They stop. They both know that they can just carry on and the other will go with it. That would be easier.

Each of them half wants the other to just walk forward and carry on up the hill so they can follow, but the plan said now or never. If you could have asked them afterwards, each would probably lay claim to being the first to turn away from the inevitable and towards the unknown.

There were no witnesses so early in the morning, no dog walkers or postmen. If there had been, they would have reported no sass. No teenage bravado. No jostle to be first through the gap.

Just two friends, disappearing.


Image: @Jadhill98 on Instagram

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