An Interview With The LearnX 2012 Best Instructional Designer

Last week melissa-bordogna-400x400I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Melissa Bordogna, while we were both attending Roger Hamilton’s “Fast Forward Your Business” workshop in Brisbane.

Melissa has an impressive background in education and elearning having been the First Place Winner: Instructional Designer in the 2012 LearnX awards. She holds a MA & PhD, Human Communication Studies from Denver Uni, and also a BA, Public Relations/Communications, so she certainly has an interesting background.

I decided to ask her a few questions about current trends in elearning. You can listen to the interview below, or read the transcription:


Peter: Well hi. it’s Peter Cutforth here bringing you another Urban eLearning Podcast and today I’ve got the great pleasure and privilege of having with me, Dr. Melissa Bordogna, who has a long list of very impressive credentials: she is the co-founder of SoCoLLabs – She is the managing director of Global Education Network Technologies, she holds a PhD from the University of Denver in human communication studies, and in 2012 she won the LearnX best instructional designer. So, a very impressive CV and that’s only a small part of it.

And I bumped into Melissa at a conference called, Fast Forward Your Business, which we were both attending, and we hooked up on Twitter and thought it would be a great opportunity just to exchange some notes and passion about our respective interests in eLearning. So, welcome Melissa.

Melissa: Thank you very much Peter.

Peter: And, so that I don’t take up too much of the time that Melissa has generously made available to us, we’re just going to cover off three or four or five specific questions because Melissa has got some specific areas of expertise that seem to be right on the, cutting edge I suppose of the instructional design, human communications, and eLearning, and that whole genre of space. And one of these areas is called, Social Collaborative Enterprise Technology. So Melissa perhaps you can give us a quick burst on what that is and how that applies to life and corporate.

Melissa: Okay great. Well social enterprise platforms have been popping up for a number of years now and basically they’re kind of super intranets, but they are allowing a much more collaborative environment and bringing people together across time and space. So if you have geographically dispersed organizations and people they can stop working in silos and have break out spaces, and there’s a whole lot of support in that technology.

My interest in that, in particular, is not so much the technology itself, it’s another tool and like any tool it’s only as good as how you use it. So my interest and most recent focus, in terms of SoCoLLabs and things, is putting a framework on how to meet the people at the center, and what are the elements that create the ideal conditions to allow social collaboration to emerge, and thrive, and really supporting the human side of that not just the, you know, how it sits and how we use the technology. So, that’s where I’m going.

Peter: So it’s obviously a lot more than just collaboratively working on a Google docs doc or something like that. It’s a whole lot more than that. Is it kind of like a hybrid of social media plus learning platforms?

Melissa: Absolutely. And also things like, your documents, sharing your repositories, it’s how we can search that, it’s how the people within the organization can, you know, have their own blogs, and how we can have a social feed that comes up and you can follow people: maybe subject matter experts, maybe they’re context makers, not content makers, and being able to not only

capture that for the immediate, but also for the long term. Because we have so much wealth of knowledge within organizations, usually in one or two or a few people but when they go, that knowledge goes with them. But if we can create a community within the organization, in the truest form of the word, then we have an opportunity to build on that.

But, even more so which is really exciting to me is that while we have this technology — but if we can really work on how we do relationships, that can break down a lot of barriers. So understanding self, as well as other and you know, sometimes we all come to the world with different perspectives and different glasses on and — sometimes I might not understand where you’re coming from but if I had the tools and the support maybe some micro learning to help me understand that, “hey you’re an introvert and this is how you do things,” and I’m just taking a very simple example here you know, I may be somebody who needs to process a bit more before I can participate. Again, this whole notion of time and space is now almost irrelevant because I can go away and come back to that collaborative space and interact and provide my input. Maybe not immediately, but within, you know-

Peter: So often a lot of those interpersonal circles soft skills get stripped out in an online environment, don’t they? So we don’t get to sense that like we were as we are here face to face, we cant read body language necessarily so.

Melissa: That’s exactly it and some of these technologies, some of these platforms — the larger organizations can institute the whole platform but other smaller organizations might only have yammer or they might just have Skype. And it’s also about how to use what you have to the best of its ability but it’s also about keeping the human at the center and the purpose at the center of that.

Peter: Very cool. Well Thank you for that. So, now what are — just stepping back a little bit, what are the trends that you’re seeing in learning and development in the corporate sector in general in you perspective?

Melissa: Well I think it’s really interesting. I think you still have a place for eLearning in the traditional sense, but I think what we are also finding is that the world is moving so fast that we need sometimes more agile learning solutions: quicker, faster before the business moves on or the market moves on and things like that.

So what I’m finding is that, between that and the social learning space and things, in the L&D environment they’re trying to — or they’re starting to realize that they need to reinvent themselves and so I think we’re going to see more trends where, instead of having traditional trainers you have much more of community managers and facilitators drawing that knowledge from the subject matter experts or helping them maybe create their own podcast for internal audience or whatever it happens to be. We’re going to need to understand that we need to let go a little bit of control and also that everything can’t be polished as it is. It’s one thing to polish when it goes out to your end client but for internal purposes and for speed, we need to loosen those reigns a bit.

Peter: Yes and it’s an interesting continuum and dynamic between speed to market and polish. And I think that’s where some of the smaller more agile SME type start up type organizations are actually winning hands down over the bigger, more hierarchical, older style, large corporates where they have to go through multiple chains of command to get the press release approved. And by the time its gone out, it’s way too late.

Melissa: And just within eLearning projects I have been involved in a number of projects. One in particular with a large multinational — with the Australian aspect of it, and it was a multimillion dollar project we got three quarters of the way through it was going along swimmingly, there was not a problem, and it was addressing a particular need that they had, but the international organization reorganized and just went in a completely different direction and everybody inside was like, “oh gosh were not following this. So this is dropped.”

Peter: Just like that-

Melissa: And a few years of work…

Peter: …so much work and investment went out the window.

Melissa: That’s right. That’s right.

Peter: So now continuing on then with — with your passion in, in this area, what are the things that you would say get you excited about eLearning that you think are going to be trends in the next five years?

Melissa: In the eLearning space I think what we need to recognize, that we need to redefine what eLearning is a little bit more than your standard SCORM objects that sit in an LMS. While that is one mode, I think — at the heart of it I’m an educator, and so I look at what the objective is and where we’re trying to get our learners to and the outcomes we are trying to achieve and that’s center stage. And so I like to use whatever tools are available, and I think the webinar is underutilized, I think that we need to look at gamification a bit more and not in the superficial sense.

I follow the work of professor Carl Kock, and he looks at both structural and content gamification and I’m all about — for those of you who aren’t — who think gamification equals games, that’s not necessarily the case. It’s looking and using aspects of games to engage and motivate and all these things because there’s a lot to support the motivation of people and for me it’s about moving that motivation from an external point to an internal point of motivation for the learner. And so for me, one of the things I’m really passionate about getting through and weaving my designs, my eLearning designs, is story, narrative. We relate to that, we relate to that marketing, we relate to in our lives, we have this human interest right. And then we can relate and internalize a lot better by story, and as an extension avatars, and things like that. So, in terms of — sorry I can’t quite remember the question but — my passion is about engagement. It’s all about engagement.

Peter: Yes. Which is great and certainly blending stories into what otherwise might be somewhat dry material, is quite an art, isn’t it, to be able to do that. We also talked just before we started this recording about your interest in social learning, and also this concept of the flipped classroom so perhaps you could unpack those two a little bit for us.

Melissa: Sure, sure. The social learning aspect is oftentimes what happens and what sticks with us most of all. So it’s what we learn when we’re having a conversation and maybe then go apply and think about, and reflect on. It’s watching somebody model how to do something in the workplace and then going back and having a go at it. And, so much of that informal or social learning naturally happens and I think there’s a train of thought of wondering, how do we capture that, and direct that?

Peter: It’s really the apprenticeship model isn’t it?-

Melissa: To a certain degree.

Peter: -brought into a contemporary environment.

Melissa: To a certain degree it is. And it’s really interesting because people want to try to manufacture that and I don’t know if that is something that is — I’m still playing with these ideas. I’m not sure if that is something that can be manufactured, but in through social collaboration I think thats something that is a natural byproduct. And that’s, again something I’m playing with.

Jane Hart — who has a lot of work out there in that area — she is a fore runner in that, so if people were interested in looking at her and stuff. In terms of flip classroom, that’s been around for a number of years now. Two teachers in the states came up with this. It’s really about flipping, not only instruction, but assessment, on its head where instead of going and attending a lecture and then going away and maybe applying to a tutorial or whatever. The students would have the opportunity to engage with material — a lot of times it’s video — prior to the in class time and then when they get to the in class time that is then spent, through application and exercise — you know, and things along those lines.

I played with it a number of times when I was teaching university, eMarketing actually, and that was interesting because there was a number of challenges in and of itself. Because you know, when your students aren’t reading their textbook sometimes they decide they’re not going to watch videos either. But, it’s funny — anyways it’s a good experience and I think there’s a lot of people out there doing it really really well. And you can apply that up through corporate.

Peter: Sure, yes absolutely. Now, one of your core competencies obviously is in instructional design. If you had to boil down the important principals in instructional design in a contemporary environment, what sorts of things would you point to as being; these are the key important things these days in designing a course for optimal adult learning.

Melissa: It’s a really good question and it’s a little bit of a challenging one at times.

I can tell you my approach to design really and, I look at, when your subject matter experts give you a mound of information and it may or may not be organized in any way-

Peter: Mostly not!!

Melissa: -Mostly not! you know, a hundred slide PowerPoint deck that you’re like, “how does that content relate to that one?” I look for the journey, I look for the story, because I structure everything as, I’m taking people on a journey and what makes sense in terms of what come first or second. Or maybe I’ll look and it and I say, maybe it isn’t a linear journey maybe it’s a — let me explore these different areas and that really — design and content inform each other. And you know it’s a back and forth.

And so I think it’s really, looking at that, but also as everyone else should be doing: looking at the ultimate objective and where you’re trying to take those learners. So, first the objective — I kind of started in the middle with the fun part [laughing] — first the objective and then put it all out before you and say okay, “if that’s the objective, how do I tell the story? What’s that format of the story,” and then after I kind of get that structure down, I go back and I say, “now where can we engage more? Where can we interact more? Where can it be more — multimedia then just, let me read something?” And looking at that as well.

Peter: So, what I’m hearing is the old training mantra of, “tell them what your going to tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.” It’s really getting a little tatty around the edges now perhaps. That it’s better to — if we can weave a story, because all of us relate to a stories, and particularly if that picks up on some emotive aspects. So for instance I guess, if you were doing a sort of, an online induction for a company where you might have the CEO’s address and you’ve got your mission vision values and then your go into all your, all your compliance stuff, but you would be looking to try and pull out that story of: what is the company, what is the roots of it, what makes it tick, what makes it different? And weaving a story around that. Is that the distinction that you’re referring to?

Melissa: I think that that’s certainly part of it, and the mantra of, “tell them what you’re going to tell them” etcetera — I think it’s still relevant because it — there is something about repetition, but it’s how you do the repeating you know — in there. I think that’s one way of doing it. But I like allegory as well, and the reliability of allegory. But again it’s — this is the funny thing about design and even when you’re painting a painting it can go any which way and it doesn’t necessarily mean that one way’s the best way. It’s just, it is a way and as long as you can show that it’s going to meet the learners needs and the objectives of the organization, there might be more than one journey or more than one path to that.

Peter: Sure, yeah exactly. Well, that has been fabulous and it would be great to actually do this every year because we know that if we sat — if we project forward ten years, and we covered these same questions, we’d probably be having very very different answers. [laughing]

Melissa: Absolutely.

Peter: [laughing] And so there’s nothing more certain in our field than change. And it’s happening at the speed of light. And so, kudos to you for being so much on the cutting edge of it. That must be exciting.

Melissa: Thank you, thank you.

Peter: And yes. I wish you all the best in filling your brain with- [laughing]

Melissa: [laughing] Thank you very much.

Peter: -more ideas and trying to bring them, and implement them for your clients as you obviously do so successfully. So now, just for our listeners who are listening here and are interested in what Melissa’s had to say, where would they go to find out more about you, and what you teach, and what you do?

Melissa: Absolutely, well looking me up on LinkedIn is probably the best option,

Peter: Which is spelt?

Melissa: B-O-R-D-O-G-N-A with a “g”!

Peter: It’s the G that’s the key. [laughing]

Melissa: That’s Italian derivative. And that’s probably the best place but you can find me on twitter @DrMelisBordogna and go from there.

Peter: Excellent. Well thanks so much for your time.

Melissa: Thank you.

Peter: It’s been a great privilege to hear your pearls of wisdom and to meet you, so, I’m sure our listeners will enjoy the content that you’ve shared.

Melissa: Well thank you very much for having me Peter. Thank you.

Peter: Most welcome.


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