Agile Mindedness in Business


If you’ve been around software development or project management circles in the past few decades, you’ve likely been exposed to agile concepts.  To make a long story very short, traditionally, teams developed software by using linear processes that involved a lot of upfront planning and left testing to the end.  As time progressed and the business landscape changed, problems associated with this waterfall-style method grew, and people started experimenting with incremental/iterative approaches.  In 2001, these lightweight methods got a name when a group of experts gathered and referred to them as “agile methodologies”.  They created the Agile Manifesto as a way to guide the development of software.

But what does any of this have to do with business?  Fast forward to the present…while agile methods came from software development, they didn’t stay there.  Agile concepts have been popular for a while and they are being applied broadly in fields outside of technology to help increase innovation and productivity.

So, what is an agile mindset and what does an agile-minded organization look like?  We connect with many individuals who have tech backgrounds, but now spend their time as professionals in other fields, entrepreneurs or business owners.  What does agility mean to them?  Via informal conversations, we’ve found that some have practiced agility in one way or another before it was termed “agile”. Also, many believe that being agile helps them in their day-to-day (even in personal endeavors as a way to organize and prioritize activities).

Here are three ways to apply an agile mindset to business:

  • Focus on customers – Customers must be heard and satisfied. In agile software development, this is done by iterating…providing valuable software often and continuously refining. Agile efforts are iterative and incremental. In the non-tech world, a way to keep customers at the forefront is to break down work and implement frequent feedback loops. If you can keep your customer engaged by providing regular deliverables and ample opportunities for input, then you’re on the right path.
  • Empower teams – Expecting communication, collaboration and ownership is critical. Agile teams don’t wait for managers to assign tasks.  In tech environments, agile teams are keenly aware of the backlog of work and they address top-priority tasks first.  They commit to finishing tasks (not just starting them), and they shoot for the highest of quality even if it slows down the process.  In non-tech environments, implementing daily standups is a useful way to encourage discussion and accountability (also called “huddles” in some environments).  These short consistent gatherings are not problem-solving or status meetings.  The goal is communication and commitment.  Team members talk about what they’ve completed since the last meeting, what they plan to work on and obstacles.  Creating visual task boards in co-located work areas also promotes transparency and shows work progress.
  • Welcome change – Having an agile mindset requires an openness to learning and adaptation. Agile technical teams do not simply tolerate change, they welcome it even if it comes late in the game.  Welcoming change is a key agile principle…groups must accept input, reflect and adjust. As an e-learning company, learning fast is imperative.  We make sure clients react to real courses on a regular basis.  Working courses are presented and tweaked continuously to avoid surprises at launch.

We’ve experienced many technological advances through the years.  Markets change quickly and business priorities shift.  Modern developments have caused individuals to change the way they live and work, and traditional frameworks often are not flexible enough to support the changes.  While agile methodologies were born in tech, an agile mindset helps non-tech businesses tackle work in respectful/collaborative ways, and with a focus on customers and improvement.

The Sea of Government RFPs


As a remote e-learning company, we serve broadly and are always looking for opportunities.  Last Fall, we registered to do business with the U.S. government.  In our October newsletter, we noted that the government buys many different types of products and services.  They aim to spend 23% of prime contract dollars on small businesses, and they’ve met that federal contracting goal five years in a row.

The opportunities are there, but so are the many procurement rules.  The government wants to guard against corruption, so it’s good that they have regulations in place.  They advertise in advance, have strict review processes and aim to level the playing field.  However, we’ve attempted to navigate those waters recently, and can say without a doubt that sifting through government Requests for Proposals (RFP) and following procurement protocols can be a challenge.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when responding to government RFPs:

  • They want to hear from you – Under certain circumstances, they are obligated by law to work with small businesses. So, they want individuals to find and respond to their requests.  The people we’ve contacted are excited to hear from us and open to addressing questions as a way to encourage qualified organizations to submit proposals.
  • Responding to RFPs is time consuming – Have a plan of attack and be organized. Aside from having a template on the ready, make sure your content, tools and teams are identified and prepared.  If multiple individuals are working on a request, make sure task assignments are clear.  Proposal management software can help automate tasks, keep content accessible and provide insights.
  • Following rules and being on time is important – Once an RFP’s due date has expired and the solicitation is closed, often the first step in the evaluation process is to account for all proposals and make sure they adhere to certain standards. Submitting proposals on time, in the correct format and with all required documents is imperative.  You will not move along in the process without meeting the minimums.
  • Qualifications and financial fitness matters – Having an eye for details is critical when responding to any RFP. Make sure you understand the specifications and can meet them.  Buyers will want to know that you are able to deliver high-quality work in cost-effective ways, and are also fiscally sound.  Accounts payable can be slow with the government…often 30-60 days out.  They will want to be certain that vendors can cover payroll and other expenses while invoices are being processed and paid.

If you need online training for your government project, we’re happy to partner.  If you are interested in learning more about how to work with federal, state and local government, your local Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) is a good place to start.  Per the Small Business Administration, PTAC’s charge is to provide in-person counseling and training services for small business owners.

Colorado PTAC was a wonderful resource when we began to inquire about working with the government.  They have multiple locations in Colorado and offer many services.  They helped us register, pointed us to online information and also provided system training free of charge.

Ghosting: Are Your People Disappearing?


You’ve interviewed many candidates and selected an ideal person for your position.  Knowledgeable, experienced, communicative…everything you need to fill the role.

On Day 1, your perfect employee doesn’t show.  You’ve been ghosted!  In today’s competitive landscape, and with unemployment rates at all-time lows, ghosting has moved from the dating scene to the workplace.  Ghosting can include a candidate not showing up for an interview, an employee skipping a first day of work, or a sudden resignation (effective immediately).

The Problem for Employers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate hit 4% last month.  Employers must recruit in a competitive job market where many workers stay in their jobs less then 5 years.

To add to the problem, employee turnover is expensive!  The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation noted in their 2008 guide (Retaining Talent: A Guide to Analyzing and Managing Employee Turnover) that TOTAL costs associated with turnovers range from 90% to 200% of annual salary.

Because at-will employment goes both ways there may be little recourse if an employee leaves without notice.  Individuals can be terminated for any reason (or without a reason) as long as it’s non-discriminatory, and employees can resign in the same way which makes it easy to simply go silent.

What can be done?

  • Examine your organization’s culture – A company’s culture is the personality of the organization…a combination of its values, beliefs and practices. Assess if your culture could be getting in the way of hiring and retaining employees. Changing culture isn’t easy, but establishing an understanding of the current state and where you want to go is an important first step in change.
  • Focus on engagement early – Connect with employees before they start. Pre-boarding activities prepare the new hire and keep the momentum going.  Once the employee starts, structured onboarding activities in organizations are often limited.  Lengthening the onboarding period shows that learning and development is important.
  • Invest in employee development – Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce according to a Pew Research report, and millennials rank “professional or career growth and development opportunities” higher than other generations. Finding creative ways to enable learning and growth is critical.
  • Implement stay interviews and regular opportunities to communicate – An exit interview is unlikely to happen if you’re ghosted. And if it does, that’s not the ideal time to identify or solve problems.  Scheduling consistent meetings throughout an employee’s tenure is a good way to gauge feelings and improve communications.  Stay interviews allow employers to build trust and identify issues before they become insurmountable.
  • Be prepared, not surprised – Ghosting may be with us during tight job markets and low unemployment. Re-visit hiring practices to make sure existing policies are not harmful to your organization.  Also, document processes and implement training programs. This helps prepare new hires and also helps companies quickly recover from a candidate’s sudden change of heart.

According to Josh Bersin (Deloitte Review Issue 16), “…an irresistible organization is one that employees would never want to leave. What better way to create such a place than to give people lots of opportunities to grow and advance?”  While employers can’t completely eliminate the ghosting phenomenon, there are things that can be done to improve culture, increase communications and make employees want to stick around.

Getting Started with Audio Recording

When done correctly, using audio to narrate e-learning can have a big impact on engaging learners. Are you looking to add audio narration to your next course and don’t know where to start? Here we’re going to hook you up with tips for recording high-quality voiceover.

Audio Clipped

Organize Your Recording Space

Most of us don’t have a professional recording studio, but you can set up your space to eliminate unwanted sound. Some basics:

  • Close doors and windows in your room.
  • Record in an area that will dampen sound and avoid sound “bouncing”. Carpeted rooms will cut down on echo. Place fabric or foam around your recording area to absorb sound.
  • Turn off buzzing fluorescent lights.

Use Good Equipment

While you don’t need spend thousands on audio gadgets, minor investments in equipment can make a major difference in quality.


Spending a bit on a microphone is worth the money. Popular options to consider are the Blue Snowball and Samson Meteor. For a few dollars more, the Blue Yeti mic gets great reviews.

Pop Filter

When saying certain words (typically that start with “P’s” and “B’s”), your recording might pick up undesirable popping sounds. To avoid this, use a pop filter – a fabric screen placed between your mouth and the mic.

Audio Software

Even if your recording is good from the start, you may want to edit out long periods of silence or adjust noise levels. A good product for recording and editing audio is Audacity. The best part is that it’s free! It is a robust tool, but don’t let that scare you away. You can get the job done without knowing all of the bells and whistles.

Record Like a Pro

Before you hit the record button, we recommend a few prep steps:

  • Write a script…even if you don’t think you need one! You will significantly reduce recording and editing time.
  • Position the mic correctly. As a general guideline, the mic should be about 6 inches from your mouth.
  • Test that the mic is recording at a good level. Record a short demo first to make sure it sounds OK.

As you are recording:

  • Be upright. By standing or sitting up straight, your body will feel more activated.
  • Pause in between sections. Take a deep breath, turn pages, and refocus. You can edit silence out later.
  • If you stumble, stop and repeat the last full sentence. Again, you can edit out the bad portions.
  • Keep water nearby. Periodically sip on water to clear your throat.
  • Match your tone with the spirit of the content. People will tune out if your voice is putting them to sleep. In most cases, you’ll want to use an upbeat tone. This might feel like you are exaggerating, but keep in mind you are “performing”.
  • Listen to your recording with headphones. You’ll be better able to hear noise issues through headphones than your computer speakers.

Organizing your space, using good equipment, and following these recording tips will make for a smooth recording experience that makes your learners tune in!

ARgggh! The Fuss About Augmented Reality.


This starts with the purchase of a bottle of 19 Crimes wine, per a friend’s recommendation.  The liquor store attendant asked, “Have you checked out the app?”  No, but now curiosity set in.  A quick search reveals that if you download the “Living Wine Labels” app and point it at the wine label, cool things happen.  The bottle comes alive as the men tell tales of their exile to Australia for violation of one of the 19 crimes punishable by transportation.

Augmented Reality (AR) isn’t exactly new.  Google has been playing with it for years, and Apple came out with ARKit in 2017 to help developers build AR apps for iOS phones and tablets.  The idea of placing not-so-real objects in real worlds isn’t revolutionary.  IKEA does it, Lowe’s does it…it’s been done.  So, why the fuss?

Besides the cool factor, AR is useful in a wide variety of industries.  With AR technology, devices enhance reality by placing simulated objects in the physical world.  This is typically done via a mobile device’s camera. You can interact with virtual objects by looking at your phone or tablet’s display.

Currently, retailers use AR to help you imagine what furniture will look like in your living room, which paint color will pop in your music room, or what makeup will look best on your face.  This is done in different ways.  The AR trigger can be a marker on a product (like a QR code) or a GPS-based input in the device itself.  Or it could be a scanned image (the wall you want to paint) or a human interaction on a projected image.

Here are a couple of video demos of AR used in manufacturing:

There are many opportunities to use AR advances in retail, science/technology, healthcare and education.  Can you think of ways to augment your reality?

Improving Accessibility Through Video Captions

Have you noticed that captions (a.k.a. subtitles) in social media videos have become more common? Captioning videos has historically been used in e-learning to improve accessibility for learners with hearing impairments. Beyond accessibility, evidence is emerging that captions improve engagement and comprehension (hence why you are seeing more videos with captions on Facebook). In short, there are compelling reasons to add captions to educational videos.

Video Closed Captions

Developers can use e-learning software such as Camtasia and Storyline to add captions to videos and courses. Many tools include built-in editors which allow you to import / create and sync captions with the spoken narrative. For a 2-minute video this isn’t time-intensive, but for longer videos it can be a time investment.

We just completed a project using YouTube’s built-in captioning feature and were amazed at how quick and easy it was. Here’s how it works:

  • Upload Video – Upload your video to YouTube, making sure to select the video’s language (this is necessary for the translation to start).
  • Enable Captions – A few minutes after the video uploads, you enable captions in your Video Manager. The system transcribes the narration, along with the timing of when words display.
  • Edit the Transcribed Narration –  The transcribed narration isn’t perfect, so you may need to edit certain words, punctuation, or acronyms. Some things we had to adjust were:
    • Editing the uppercase first letter of sentences and adding periods at end.
    • Modifying less-well-known acronyms (for example, the acronym IRWE, pronounced “erwee”, was transcribed as “early”).
YouTube’s Caption Editor

What really shined most was the automated transcription: it was the highest quality and most efficient we’ve ever experienced. We hardly noticed the time it took to make the minor edits. Further, you can download the transcription file for further use (such as creating a printable transcript). Most importantly, these videos are accessible by learners with hearing impairments.

Captioning videos is just one way to increase the accessibility of learning materials to learners who have visual or hearing impairments. Accessibility in e-learning goes beyond captions, though. It includes using descriptive or alt text for images and tables, using PDFs that are searchable, and choosing appropriate fonts and colors.

Thankfully, e-learning development tools continue to enhance features that enable accessibility. Given the benefits of improved accessibility and engagement, captioning your next video project is well worth the time!

What is a Classroom: 5 Reasons to Implement an LMS in your Organization

The other day an Apple commercial caught my eye.  The camera followed a young girl as she biked around a city with her iPad Pro.  She used her device to write, draw, send messages, read comics, etc.  And when asked, “Whatcha doin’ on your computer?”, she answered, “What’s a computer?”

I don’t normally pay attention to commercials, so it’s a miracle that this made it onto my radar.  It resonated with me because that’s often the response I get when I mention Learning Management Systems (LMS).  In mid-to-large organizations, they’re ubiquitous and even frequent users will ask, “What’s an LMS”?

When it comes to electronic instructional design and development, LMSs are important.  The software helps with the management, tracking and delivery of e-learning programs.  Many also embed social elements of learning, allowing participants to get questions answered, rate courses and even generate learning content. If you work in an information-intensive organization, there’s a good chance you’ve used one.

Here are just a few of the reasons to implement a Learning Management System for training:

  • Track Progress and Performance – Do you want to know how far a participant is in a course or how quickly they are moving along? An LMS measures progress and allows trainers to address any difficulties that surface (answer questions, provide additional options/resources, etc.).  Learning analytics tracked in LMSs are valuable tools for employees and managers, and also ensure that organizations stay compliant with appropriate laws and regulations.
  • Centralize Access to Learning Materials – If convenience is a need, then anytime/anywhere learning should be a strong consideration for your company. With an e-learning delivery model, learners access courses on demand…at all hours and without having to coordinate with others.
  • Integrate xAPI – Many LMS platforms are preparing to use The Experience API (xAPI). This e-learning software specification allows for the collection of data on a wide range of learning experiences (online or offline).  With xAPI, tracking learning is no longer limited to e-learning courses within a single platform.  It can capture mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds and real-world activities to give a more holistic view of learning outcomes.
  • Expedite Maintenance and Distribution– In modern organizations, change happens quickly. That is especially true when it comes to regulations for new industries.  If compliance training is important, then having a central system with content that’s easy to create/update is a necessity.
  • Bundle Content – LMSs give the ability to bundle courses and content in meaningful ways to develop skills. You can build out material that will sequence the delivery of content toward achievement of a certain skill, and add pacing so that it comes at the right time for the learner.

As humans, we feel the need to make sense of the world by categorizing.  It used to be that learning happened in straightforward ways; via experience, self-study or classroom teachings.  Now, learning can take place through virtual rooms, via tablets or phones, on computers, or by playing VR games.  Whether you call it micro-learning, personalized learning, m-learning – or the many other flavors of classification we use to differentiate learning techniques and to facilitate conversations – learning is learning.  The point is to gain knowledge and increase skills. In many corporate settings, LMSs have replaced traditional training centers to become the modern classroom.

Choosing a Training Delivery Method

Welcome to 2018! In the last post, we reviewed 4 common ways to deliver training. But often, knowing the differences between training delivery methods isn’t always helpful in terms of actually selecting the right one for a situation. We will tackle that briefly here.

On the job training – or one-one-one training at the job site—is best used when:

  • The number of employees that need training at one time is very small
  • The need to train is infrequent
  • The trainer is skilled at performing the tasks AND an effective teacher

Classroom training / virtual classroom training – or training that is held in a physical or virtual classroom – is well-suited when:

  • A physical or technical environment is readily accessible
  • Interaction between participants is vital to learning (and yes, interaction is possible in virtual environments!)
  • Many participants need to be trained at the same time

E-learning – training that is delivered electronically through computers, tablets, and mobile devices – is a great option when:

  • Learners need training at different times (e.g., a “rolling” training schedule associated with newcomers, or even learners with different schedules)
  • The number of learners is sizeable. While it might not be the primary reason to offer e-learning, you achieve more economies of scale with a larger learner base
  • Participants are geographically dispersed
  • Consistency with the delivery of content is critical
  • Participant skill levels vary dramatically

Blended Learning – training that combines classroom and e-learning – is a great consideration when:

  • Content can be “chunked”, or broken down in smaller pieces
  • The experience would benefit from both face-to-face and online collaboration between learners and the instructor
  • There is a desire to move to e-learning delivery but not abandon instructor-led training altogether
  • You want to provide pre-and post-classroom content, exercises, or interactions between learners

These are only general guidelines to apply to your situation, of course.

The great news is that there is no ONE, BEST training delivery method for organizations today. Technology continues to introduce new and exciting possibilities to enhance and extend learning opportunities. The key to success is less about the method you select, but how the learning is designed. Good instructional design based on adult learning principles wins the day every time.

4 Common Ways to Deliver Training in Organizations

We are nearing the end of 2017, and many managers are making plans for training in the upcoming year. During this time of year especially, managers often ask me: What are my options for training employees, customers, and clients? How do I pick the best one? In this post, I give a summary of the most commonly used training methods and their features.

On-the-job training (OJT) is one method, which dates to early work apprenticeship programs. OJT is typically one-on-one training at the site where work is performed. The trainee watches another skilled person (a “trainer”) who demonstrates and explains. OJT is often inexpensive and realistic because it takes place on the job. However, it takes the trainer (and other resources) out of production while it occurs. When the trainer isn’t skilled at teaching, this approach can be highly ineffective.

A second method is classroom training. Training occurs away from work – in a classroom, conference room, or other location. Classroom training can use lecture, discussion, and audio-visual materials, and participants interact face to face. Web-conferencing technology can support delivery in virtual classrooms. Virtual classroom training uses features such as breakout rooms, hand-raising, and video to simulate face to face interaction. Regardless of whether it is in person or virtual, a trainer leads the delivery experience for the group.

According to the 2017 ATD State of the Industry, 88% of organizations use the third approach – E-learning. Definitions of e-learning abound, but I prefer the definition used in this article:

A good, broad way to think about e-learning is as the use of electronic devices (computers, tablets, or phones) to deliver educational or training content to learners.

Part of e-learning’s popularity is because of the benefits. To name just a few, e-learning:

  • is available anytime, anywhere
  • can track learner progress
  • teaches consistently and at a lower cost
  • is easier to maintain and distribute when changes occur

I said earlier that e-learning definitions are numerous, and some people consider virtual classroom training as a form of e-learning because they are both enabled by technology (the “e” in e-learning, if you will). To me, the distinction is that virtual classroom training has a set place and time, and the learner typically has less control over the pace and sequence of the experience. In e-learning as I think of it, learners have more control over when and where learning occurs.

I should also mention that blended learning is also a viable and increasingly popular delivery method. As the name indicates, this approach combines multiple delivery methods to teach a topic. For example, a program might include a few e-learning courses, followed by a classroom training session, followed by on-the-job training.

That’s the landscape of common training delivery methods used in organizations today. Each has a rich history and are proven methods…when designed and implemented well.

But which is the right method to choose? I’ll tackle this question in part 2 of this post.

Gamification: Gimmick or Actual Learning?

I am one of those people who likes to learn for the sake of learning.  To me, learning is fun and I don’t have to be encouraged to do it.  If I’m curious about something, I jump into research and try to find out as much as I can about the topic at hand.  That’s why when the term “gamification” surfaced years ago, I was skeptical.  “Is that really even a word?”, I thought.  Adults don’t need to be coaxed to learn.  Why would something have to simulate a game in order for it to be interesting?

As it turns out, gamification is a word.  Merriam-Webster defines it as “the process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation.”  And while adults don’t necessarily need to be cajoled into learning since they’re curious and bring a wealth of experience to learning situations, there is something to be said for making learning more interactive.  Gamification, and its close cousin “serious games”, can boost learner engagement and post-training job performance.

The following can be elevated when gamification techniques are used:

  1. Fun. We live in a society that provides plenty of opportunities for distraction.  Adding an element of fun to e-learning can be a necessity in order to keep learners happy and engaged in a world that competes for their attention. Inserting leaderboards following a learning activity, for example, can add friendly competition to an otherwise dull topic.
  2. Retention.  Repetition helps knowledge retention. By adding game-like exercises and simulations to courses, learners are encouraged to practice skills.  Doing this frequently in order to recap reinforces the information and encourages retention.  According to research by Capterra and TalentLMS, 83% of LMS users reported their students retained course content better using gamification.
  3. Motivation.  Many people like to play games and compete, which makes gamification a natural way to enhance motivation to engage with the learning experience.  By implementing reward systems that include points, levels or prizes, e-learning designers move participants towards completion.  This is particularly true for those gamer types who are characterized by their fondness for achievement over exploration or socialization.
  4. Feedback.  Learning Management Systems (LMS) include tracking functionality.  This facilitates the reporting of scores/progress and encourages advancement.  When the internet was in its infancy and load speeds were slower, we were more patient.  But the expectation for top speeds has grown.  According to Kissmetrics, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less. Immediate feedback not only feeds our need for instant gratification, but it provides just-in-time information regarding mistakes that allows for quick learning.

Gimmick or learning? When designed well, gamification is no gimmick. Fun, retention, motivation and feedback are just a few reasons to consider adding game elements to serious e-learning courses.