Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

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.

7 trends spotted at #LT16uk

10 Feb

What does learning look like in 2016? Plenty was said on the subject at Learning Technologies 2016.


Don’t be a meatpuppet, kids. Image: @charliekneen on Twitter

Here are 7 trends that I spotted at #LT16uk. I’ve turned them into handy calls to action, so get busy…


1. Get strategic



We don’t need to align with the strategy of our organisation, we need to BE the strategy. Andrew Jacobs talked about how to weave learning into everything we do, and how to use the right tactics to get stakeholders on board. I often see learning as an afterthought so I see where Andrew’s coming from, but I think it’s less about creating  learning as a ‘thing’ that’s part of the business and more about building good, useful, simple experiences into what work is.

2. Collaborate with purpose


Come together, right now… Image:

‘Start collaborating right now, using whatever you have’ was the message I took from Jane Hart‘s session. Jane focused on enterprise social networks like Yammer, and also gave a nod to platforms like Twitter, WhatsApp & Slack: whatever you have. For me, it’s important to give the tech a purpose and let the users see the benefits for themselves. Don’t just say: “Here’s Yammer, use it to collaborate!” Instead, say “Here’s a space to share documents, collaborate and have conversations as you go: why not give meetings, calls and emails a miss on your next project and give this a try?

3. Modernise

dilbert change

If it’s broke, fix it. For the last couple of years, our team has tried to bring learning in line with what people use outside of work. YouTube-style videos, checklists and apps have all been part of this, and the user feedback is encouraging. It was interesting to hear Emma Pace from PA Consulting sharing how she led a project to modernise learning at the firm from the ground-up; it’ll be exciting to see what happens as more organisations look to do something similar, realising that courses aren’t the answer.

4. Put everything in context

3d printer with cheese motherboard vice.jpg

Yes, this is a 3-cheese printer. Image:

Contextual computing is revolutionising our lives. Ben Hammersley talked how we can apply a learning lens to this by taking cues from the internet of things. I think we need to take that one step further: by designing performance guidance to be smart enough to understand the context of the user, we’ll be creating useful, relevant, timely stuff at the point of need. Need is the important part. Don’t be like these guys from The Stupid S**t No-one Needs and Terrible Ideas Hackathon.

5. Tell a story

cool story bro

Cool story, bro. Image:

Affective Context, a theory developed by Nick Shackleton-Jones, has been applied to what we do in our team for a while now. It was good to see David Guralnik and Julie Wedgwood exploring this in detail, and looking at ways to add meaning to information to make it stick through emotion and storytelling. I had a bit to say on this last year; you can watch the video here.

6. Continue? 3…2…1…


arcade-museum dot com

Mindfulness for work: v 2.0. Image:

You can’t move in learning now without hearing someone mention gamification. Pete Jenkins asked us to go and explore how we can make learning more compelling by using gaming mechanics in a real-world context to improve performance. I think the industry needs to go a bit deeper than this, and to define the difference between games and gaming, because at the moment there’s confusion and they’re two very different things with different applications and outcomes.

7. Use your users


Get involved, but please… Don’t be one of THOSE people. Image:

Video for learning is ubiquitous. Yet so many times I see it used in ways that people would never engage with ‘in real life’. When was the last time you did an interactive e-learning video on YouTube? So, it was refreshing to see Stephanie Dedhar chairing a session by Ian Slater from GE talk about the way they’ve put how to videos at the heart of their approach, and are focusing on user generated content by kitting-out their engineers with GoPro cameras, capturing how-to videos on the job, then sharing their short films on line.

And here are a few things I would’ve loved to see covered at Learning Tech, but didn’t:

  • Audience/user focus
  • User interface design
  • Experience design
  • Applying lessons from marketing to learning
  • Performance guidance

Did I miss these? What did you take away from #LT16uk? What do you think to my key trends? Holler at me on Twitter and let me know.


Sharing stories to support learning

3 Dec

I’m speaking today at Online Educa Berlin about how to capture and share stories that stick with people to support learning.

Why not pick up your smartphone and capture some stories of your own? Share them with me on Twitter.

Here are some tips:


  • Uncover the learning need by speaking to your audience
  • Find out what their challenges and pain-points are and turn these into interview questions
  • Select the right person for the interview – not the most ‘PR-friendly’ person

Connect & prep

  • Before the interview, connect with your interviewee – even if just a phonecall
  • Build rapport
  • Ask them to think about stories and examples
  • Share an idea of the kinds of questions you will ask
  • Explain exactly what will happen in the interview
  • Cover off questions – what to wear?
  • Building the groundwork to gain permission to share


  • Allow plenty of time for your interview – 90 minutes for 15 questions
  • Aim for 30 mins getting your subject settled and briefing (5 warm up questions)
  • 60 mins of core interview (5 key questions)
  • 30 mins to go back over questions for in-depth points
  • Ensure the interviewee frames the question as part of the answer

Questions to ask to uncover stories

Think about this example: “Tell me what a good leader is” vs. “Tell me about the best leader you’ve ever had.” The latter will uncover a story, not just a list.

Ask structured, open questions. Think www: Who? What? Why? Then build in the detail buy asking: Where? When? How did you feel?). Try asking people to tell you about a time when ‘X’ happened. What was the situation? What happened? What was the outcome? How did they feel?

Example questions

What’s been your most challenging moment?

Tell me about your most proud achievement – what happened? Why? What was the outcome

What was the most frustrating thing that happened on this project?


Let me know what worked for you and if you have any tips of your own to share!


29 Oct

It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.

Same goes for designing compelling, useful, helpful experiences; whether these are for customers/learners/shoppers/whoever (read: users).

We need to design experiences around what people need to do, when & in which context, rather than giving people stuff that might be useful but that might require so much sifting, sorting & sense-making that it renders it useless.

Context > Content. Every time.

I read a cracking piece on this from Dave Trott, who writes for Campaign magazine. The focus is on marketing, but the line between what we do in learning & what marketeers do is so fine, that it’s a must-read regardless of your job.

What do you think? Should we be designing content or experiences? Or both? How should this play out?

Let’s see what the users think

21 Oct

I was in a meeting today (as most of my stories start these days), talking about how we thought a game we’ve been working on might be received by users. Was it too difficult? Was it difficult enough? Had we got the balance right? What about the tutorial? Did it explain the game properly? Should we change it?


All of a sudden, like the clear ping of a well-timed bell ringing out to a particularly hungry classroom before lunch, a colleague of mine said:

“Let’s not make any assumptions. Let’s see what the users think.”

And everyone stopped hypothesising and questioning and wondering and agreed.

I’m lucky to be part of a team that works in a collegiate, collaborative and creative way and so it wasn’t a surprise that we all wanted to put our audience first. This approach has made developing the game together a real pleasure. The questions and concerns being raised on the call were genuine ones in service of wanting to deliver a good user experience and for that, I wish my laptop could do the high five emoji (go team!).

However, I know not everyone is as fortunate when it comes to having everyone on the same ‘user first’ page. So, I captured some brain snippets I find useful when trying to bring people along on an audience-centric journey. Hope you find them handy, too.

We don’t have all the answers and that’s okay

In a time when Twitter is sagging under the weight of ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’, it can be tough to hold your hands up and say “I don’t know how this will work, so we need to test it.” Especially when you’re billed as a Subject Matter Expert in meetings. But a bit of humility is not only admirable, it’s essential to ensure you’re doing things right by the user. A lot of what we do in learning, innovation, tech & digital is brand new. It’s never been done before. So we need to try things and to explain to our stakeholders that only by trying them (and potentially failing) will we ever be able to make things better.

Show, don’t tell

Okay, this is an oldie but a goodie. People spouting theory about learning innovation (some of it very decent, I grant you) are ten a penny right now. But not everyone can show how this is applied and why it works. So start small. Create a minimum viable product that shows your idea in action. Go DIY and build it yourself if you have to, or find someone else who can help. Or just find something that’s as ‘near-to-damnit’ as you can. Innovation by its nature means a lot of what we talk about hasn’t been done before, and not everyone will find it as easy to grasp as a concept as the person who had the idea will. Find a way to bring the idea to life, and then let your stakeholders see it – or even better, let them have a play. Then ask them for their feedback as users, not stakeholders. Better still, take it up a notch and invite them to see your target audience using your product and get them to gather the feedback with you. Making them part of the process rather than a passive observer can be a great way to get them on board with a ‘user first’ mentality.

You can’t argue with facts (well, you can, but it’s harder)

One of the reasons we take the MVP approach is so we can make data-driven decisions. Tracking and analysing usage data will always present a clear set of facts about how people are using our product. this can then be used to inform future decisions around changes and iternations. Tell your stakeholders this. Don’t assume they know why you’re working in this way! Working to deliver minimum viable products and then iterating on them isn’t something everyone is used to, but if you can suss out who in the room is into facts and figures and then engage them with this, it’s an in-road to get them thinking about usage and user data and how powerful this can be.

if you have any tips of your own, please feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, I’d love to hear!

Jeremiah Gardiner has some good thoughts on how you can do quick user tests as part of his Lean Brand Lab. I’d definitely recommend having a read of his blog for some inspiration.

(Image from

Cut from the team

5 Oct

Story #1 from 712 more things to write about by the San Fransisco Writer’s Grotto.

Life, death & dishes

22 Jul

I haven’t been watching a lot of ‘proper’ telly since the advent of Netflix, but finding myself with a bit of extra time on my hands in the evening of late, and being obsessed with househunting right now, I’ve been watching a lot of Location, Location, Location on All4.

And lo, it came to pass that I was subject to many adverts thanks to this. One of which is the most creative and captivating TV spot I’ve seen in a while: the new Finish Dishwasher tablets ad by those purveyors of creative wonder at Wieden+Kennedy:

There’s a whiff of Guinness and IKEA about the treatment. The voiceover in particular is reminiscent of the ‘tick follows tock’ in the iconic surfer campaign by AMV-BBDO:

It’s not a bad thing, though: it’s pretty hypnotic and the “Dishes” refrain gives the ad a compelling momentum.

I love the creative execution, the fact that you get the dishwasher’s point of view and narration, and that bizarre, Alice In Wonderland-esque, slightly nightmarish vision of the upside-down dishes being paired with milestone moments. It’s almost a reflection on how those occasions that are often the ‘biggest days of our lives’ aren’t even worth differentiating in the eyes of others.

Yes, I’m fully aware that a dishwasher tablet advert with existential aspirations is making me question how important everything in life really is. Sorry, not sorry. That’s what good advertising should have the power to do.

I’ll be interested to see how the concept plays out as a campaign. Potential, but it takes a bold agency and an even bolder client to not dilute the message as it flows through the channels.

All in all: powerful, playful stuff.

Heck, I don’t even have a dishwasher but this ad has made me wish I did so I could buy Finish for it!

A learner’s strongest motivator is their identity

22 Jul

Really interesting take on how identity links with motivation and gamification in learning. Now, what would Charlie do…?

There’s been quite a bit of debate at work recently around gamification in learning. Specifically, is it good or bad, and should we be using it in some way to motivate learners to engage with our resources? This is in the context of some initial forays into the gamified-informal-learning space and we are yet to see results, mainly because we’re still at the early stages into the experiment.

The discussion is yet to reach a conclusion, but in a meeting this week my thoughts started to coalesce around the idea of identity which may have far-reaching consequences for how I approach my work in future.

There has already been convincing research into the power of social proof in motivation. ‘Brain Science for Dummies’ says something like, we have evolved as a species with powerful instincts. to form groups. Strength in numbers was the only way to survive vicious attacks from wild-beasts. And the…

View original post 761 more words

Real Fast Food – What and Why?

6 May

Excellent idea from my pal and foodie inspiration Pete. Trying the fish fingers tonight!

All Of 'Real Fast Food'

I moved out of home at the age of 21, and I wasn’t a very good cook; I could make ‘Bolognese’ (brown meat, add tomatoes, boil), pasta (overcooked), a fry up, and was an expert at dicing a selection of things from the fridge and putting them in a pan, possibly with a few whisked eggs poured over the top but, beyond those utilitarian actions, I didn’t really know what I was doing.


When I wound up in a tiny flat in Hackney with my girlfriend (now wife) who was a good cook herself, I felt it was time to expand the repertoire a little. I popped into the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town and, after a brief flick through a few titles, alighted upon the book that best fitted my criteria of ‘cheap as possible, with lots of recipes, written by someone you’ve heard of’: Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Fast Food’.


View original post 297 more words

Alanis Morissette invented emojis

23 Apr


Whilst cooking tea and listening to my 90s girl power mixtape tonight, I realised that Alanis Morissette didn’t just revolutionise female teen angst; she also basically invented emojis. Want proof? Read on, friends…

Hand In My Pocket” ✋🏼👖

I’m broke 💔 but I’m happy 😊
I’m poor 💸 but I’m kind 💕
I’m short 👠 but I’m healthy 🍏, yeah
I’m high 👽 but I’m grounded 🍄
I’m sane👌🏼but I’m overwhelmed 😱
I’m lost❓but I’m hopeful baby 👶🏼
What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine fine fine 👌🏼👌🏼👌🏼
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket✋🏼👖
And the other one is giving a high five 🙌🏼
I feel drunk 🍻 but I’m sober 😐
I’m young 👶🏼 and I’m underpaid💰
I’m tired 😴 but I’m working 👯, yeah
I care 👭 but I’m restless 🏃
I’m here ⬇️ but I’m really gone 💨
I’m wrong 🚫 and I’m sorry😔baby 👶🏼

What it all comes down⬇️ to
Is that everything’s gonna be quite alright 👌🏼
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket✋🏼👖
And the other one is flicking a cigarette 🚬
And what it all comes down ⬇️ to
Is that I haven’t got it all figured out 💭 just yet
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket ✋🏼👖
And the other one is giving the peace sign ✌🏼️
I’m free🍃 but I’m focused 👀
I’m green 💚 but I’m wise 📚
I’m hard 👊🏼 but I’m friendly 👭 baby
I’m sad 😥 but I’m laughing 😂
I’m brave 🙅 but I’m chickenshit 🐓💩
I’m sick 😷 but I’m pretty baby 💁

And what it all boils 🍳 down to
Is that no one’s really got it figured out 📖 just yet
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket ✋🏼👖
And the other one is playing the piano 🎹
And what it all comes down to my friends 👫👫
Is that everything’s just fine fine fine
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket ✋🏼👖
And the other one is hailing a taxi cab 🚕


%d bloggers like this: