Friday, November 21, 2014

Leadership Development: Business Writing and Communication

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently taking part in a Leadership Development Program at Franklin University. The major part of this program includes attending weekly presentations by local experts on a variety of leadership topics, and this month we heard from Tom McClain, faculty member in College of Arts Sciences and TechnologyTom has had a great deal of experience over several decades as a leader in industry. I worked with him for a few years and know him to be an excellent communicator and a man of integrity. His presentation was titled Communications Best Practices - Key Writing and Presentation Skills. I will share some of my notes from his presentation below.

Tom McClain, faculty member at Franklin University, presenting on effective business writing and communication.
Big Trends in Industry
Tom began his presentation by sharing some of the major trends that are affecting how we lead and communicate as leaders. He believes that these trends include the following:
  • Change and unpredictability both nationally and internationally. Change is constant in our modern, global society and will certainly continue.
  • Alliance and partnerships. Organizations are increasingly partnering with others.
  • Social media, infotainment. Content is created socially, is pervasive, and often entertainment-focused.
  • Patience and civility. This continues to be an important characteristic for leaders, particularly in their communication.
  • Value and cost of higher education. Higher education's value is sometimes questioned, and its const certainly continues to rise.
10 Guideposts for Rising Leaders
Tom outlined 10 Guideposts for rising leaders. These were particularly useful:
  1. Know the organizations history and accomplishments. This informs who we are.
  2. Know that the organization itself often assume the styles of their leaders. This means that leaders have great power over how the organization, particularly in how they communicate and manage the people they lead.
  3. Understand your community. Who do you serve? Who do you work with? Who do you compete with. 
  4. Resist the "walled off" syndrome. Go to and visit regularly with others in the organization, particularly at multiple levels. Be close to the people you lead.
  5. Know your organization's communication networks. This includes both formal and informal networks. 
  6. Know your business writing and presentation skills. If you can become better than average in both of these, you will have much greater power to influence.
  7. Effectively use social media technology. These tools will yield great capacity to communicate and influence.
  8. Develop media relations strengths. Know how to work with and communicate to the media. 
  9. Learn the art of the "executive speech." You will likely need to speak in a variety of places, so be prepared to speak to many different audiences.
  10. Avoid goofy business lingo fads. (I recommend watching Weird Al's  music video Mission Statement).

Writing Skills
Tom gave a series of really key tips for writing effectively. These included the following:
  • Know your audience! Tailor to their needs.
  • What is the core message? Make it succinct and easy to understand. 
  • Work on making your product inviting to read. Avoid long paragraphs.
  • Avoid filler words or phrases (now then, etc., so).
  • Choose a suitable design and stick to it. 
  • Master your own design and work it! (I liked this advice - it implies developing your own style and approach. Very encouraging.)
  • Revise and rewrite! Iteration is critical. Let things sit for a while, review them, and revise. 
  • Dont overwrite or overstate. Avoid big proclamations. 
  • Research is the foundation of good business writing. Base what you say on research.
  • Culture can shape your delivery - think of the culture you are writing to.
  • Read credible publications. This will help influence how you write.
  • Deadlines are useful - they force you to produce and you get better at producing under pressure over time.
  • Get feedback from others on your writing.

Presentation Skills
Here are some of the tips Tom gave on presentation effectiveness:
  • Know your audience. 
  • Know your subject really well. Do the research and be sure you are ready.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare!!! This is the most important step, in my opinion.
  • Know the venue. What is the setup? What is the time of the day? Make sure you are prepared for how it is arranged and also for things to go wrong.
  • Approach with care. Be prepared, and spend as much time as you would a written document. 
  • Warm your moth and your body up so that you are ready when the bell rings. As you warm up, start slowly and do more as you approach go time.
  • Make eye contact with your audience and speak clearly.
  • Decide whether or not to use visuals. Technical issues can easily occur, so be very careful about relying on technology. 
  • Break up your presentation - don't spray with information. Weave in stories, facts, and figures to break things up and engage interest.
Tom mentioned that structure is particularly important. He recommended the following general sequence:
  1. Opening statement - catch their attention and set the tone and theme of the talk.
  2. Positioning - frame what you will talk about.
  3. Main Message - Use the FEAR approach in presenting your information: facts, analogies, examples, references. 
  4. Conclusion - a short summary and a positive end.
I thought it was a timely presentation, and Tom McClain is the classic leader. Solid and poised, I am always impressed with his depth of knowledge and reflective, thoughtful manner.

30 Seconds of Reflection
After each of our LDP meetings, we are asked to reflect for thirty seconds on impressions and ideas we have had. Here was what I wrote: "The most critical message today was that great leaders possess both writing and presentation abilities. I believe I am reasonably strong in each of these areas, and I am working hard to refine and improve them both. I am working to make my presentations less "academic report" and more engaging and meaningful. I also want to make my writing more flexible and engaging. It still has a "boring academic" feel, which makes sense."

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Am Now a Certified Performance Technologist!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I recently applied to become a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT). This is a designation that is offered by the International Society for Performance Improvement. After several  weeks, I have received word from the reviewers and I am happy  to announce that I am now officially a CPT!

ISPI Standards
To qualify for the certification, an applicant must show that they have met each of the 10 ISPI Standards in multiple major projects. In addition, independent attestation from the people I worked with on these projects is required and verified by reviewers.
  1. Results - Focus on results and help clients to focus on results.
  2. Systematic - Look at the problem or need from multiple perspectives and at multiple levels.
  3. Value - Always work to add value in everything you do.
  4. Partner - Work collaboratively with your client, experts, and stakeholders. 
  5. Need Analyze - Use systematic analysis to identify the gaps, needs, or opportunities. 
  6. Cause Analysis - Identify systematically the root causes of the problems and gaps you have identified. 
  7. Design - Systematically select and design solutions and solution sets that are based on the gap, need, or opportunity you have identified. Include design of implementation and evaluation plans. 
  8. Develop - Develop solutions that directly conform to the design and the analysis.
  9. Implementation - Implement the solution, ensuring that it directly addresses the needs and gaps identified. 
  10. Evaluate - Evaluate the effectiveness of your solutions and plan to revise your approach as needed. 
Future Plans
I am excited to have earned this important certification, and I plan to use what I have learned in the future. I plan to continue my work in higher education, and I have found that these principles can be effectively applied to my work as program chair of the IDPT program at Franklin University. The principles have helped me to be much more effective in my work. I have also done some consulting work and teaching work with other universities and organizations, and I plan to continue to consult as opportunities arise. I once again express my gratitude for the opportunity to apply for this certification, and I am particularly grateful to the leadership at Franklin University for supporting me in applying for and earning this certification. Franklin has been an excellent employer, and I have grown through the kindness, mentoring, and support I have received at the university.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Article Review: Leadership Through Instructional Design in Higher Education

I recently read an article by Kristi Shaw entitled Leadership Through Instructional Design in Higher Education. It introduced to me the suggestion that instructional designers have unique skills that enable them to have particular success in higher education leadership. She writes:
"The qualities of instructional designers and the necessary characteristics for leadership overlap. Expert instructional designers are highly educated and many possess advanced graduate degrees. Instructional designers are experts in problem solving and critical thinking. Designers demonstrate high levels of professionalism and believe in a learning mindset. In addition, instructional designers commonly have backgrounds that enrich their leadership and design toolkit. For example, many designers have backgrounds in training, technology and education. "
I will discuss each of these concepts below. Shaw lists several key skills for higher education leadership and describes how instructional designers already possess many of these skills and abilities as a result of their education and the nature of their work.
  • Problem Solving - Leaders must have the capacity to solve complex problems, and instructional designers are in the practice of solving complex problems in their work. I have personally found that the capacities I developed as a designer and in my PhD studies in instructional technology and learning sciences can be transferred and applied to problem solving in many areas.
  • Critical Thinking - Critical thinking involves analysis (taking the whole apart), evaluation (placing value on something), creativity (synthesizing for highly contextualized solutions) and reflection (metacognition, consideration of different approaches and strategies). Designers by default take knowledge apart to make it more easily learned. They continually evaluate their own work, the work of others, and the learning of their students. They create solutions to design problems and have the capacity to consider their own processes and actions and take new approaches to their work.
  • Model Ethical Behavior - I've personally committed to ethical behavior through my commitments of faith (no lying, cheating, misrepresenting, stealing, etc.). In addition, I have committed to live by the 10 Standards espoused by the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), which standards guide me toward ethical contribution to the organizations I work for. 
  • Constant Adaptation and Learning - This means establishing a habit of continual improvement. It has been shown that higher degrees earned in higher education facilitate the habits of lifelong learning. I am continually learning in my instructional design work - I read dozens of books and many scholarly articles each year, and I attend one or more academic and professional conferences annually.
  • Analyze where an organization lies in comparison to institutional goals - This is the concept of gap analysis - identifying where goals are not being met so that improvement can be made. This is a fundamental task for instructional designers, and bridging this to organizational goals makes sense. I've bridged my analysis skills to organization and program performance issues with some success.
  • Background in the facilitation of learning and an advanced degree - This makes an individual well-suited to lead in higher education. Designers clearly have this kind of educational background. I have personally designed courses for and taught at multiple universities, and these experiences have helped me to understand the processes of learning and instruction.
Again, this was a great article, and I appreciate Dr. Shaw's insights and ideas.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Experiences at AECT 2014

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been spending the last several days at the AECT 2014 International Convention. This year was an outstanding experience, and I was surprised by the sense of mission, vision, energy, and excitement among the faculty and the organization's leadership. It was an outstanding experience.

I will highlight some of my experiences below. I also tweeted throughout the conference, and you can review my AECT 2014 tweets here.

The conference hotel was the Hyatt Regency in Jacksonville, Florida. A very nice place.

I roomed with my great friend Dr. Greg Francom. We had a great time, and I appreciate his kindness and friendship. Here he is by the river just outside the hotel.

Me just outside the hotel.

Beth Oyarzun and Sheri Anderson, finalists in the Pacificorp Design and Development Competition. I had the privilege of serving as their mentor for the competition. They did an excellent job.
All of the finalists in the Pacificorp Design and Development Competition.

My shoes during one of the presentations.
Keynote presentation by Dr. Johannes Cronjes. Some of his writing has had a great influence on my thinking in instructional design, and I enjoyed hearing from him. (That is him in the top-left of the picture. My good friend Mike Rook is on the bottom-right interacting with Dr. Cronjes' highly interactive keynote presentation). 

I participated in a discussion on the future of instructional design programs. I presented my thoughts, which I blogged about earlier here. It was really fun interacting with the other presenters, and I enjoyed sharing my thoughts.

I ran into Caglar Yildirim who was presenting a poster on teaching 21st Century skills (which I call the skills of knowledge work) using a marshmallow challenge. I liked how he visualized some of these skills in this image.

I ran into my scholarly hero Dr. David Merrill. It was great to see him and chat with him for a few minutes. He remains very active in the field, and I hope to emulate his creativity, courage, and drive as a scholar. A good man.

I attended a presentation by Dr. Charles Reigeluth on the 6 core changes that must take place for a paradigmatic shift in K12 (and I believe also in higher education) education. He is certainly a visionary leader and I appreciated the presentation. I later won a copy of his new book Reinventing Schools at a raffle. I've skimmed it and have enjoyed it thus far.
Conversation with Anthony Pina
Last night I had a brief conversation with Anthony Pina, the Dean of Online Education at Sullivan University. He shared several insights related to administration of online education in higher ed. It was an illuminating conversation, and I will certainly begin learning more about this area.

Again, this was a great conference experience, and I am excited to be a member of this association. I plan on continuing my involvement and appreciate the many wonderful opportunities AECT has given me as first as a graduate student and now as a scholar and educator.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

8 Ways to Learn More About Instructional Design

I was recently asked by email how to learn more about instructional design. Here are 7 ideas:
  1. Wikipedia - There are some good introductory articles on Wikipedia, including these on instructional design, instructional/educational technology, ADDIE Model, and first principles of instruction.
  2. Blogs - I am constantly blogging on instructional design and related topics, and there a lot of other great blogs out there, including Dave Merrill's blog on First Principles and George Joeckel's Design Blog.
  3. YouTube - There are some good videos out there that introduce instructional design. Here is one I created that describes what an instructional designer does.
  4. Online Groups - there are a lot of different LinkedIn groups dedicated to instructional design. If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you can see those I am a member of.
  5. Associations - There are some great associations out there, and joining them is a great way to learn more about instructional design. I am a member of the International Society of Performance Improvement, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, and the Association for Talent Development. I gain a lot of knowledge through attending their meetings and reading their publications.
  6. Articles - there are literally tens of thousands of articles on instructional design. I've written several on the practical use of design principles, which you can find here. There are also tons available in library search services and on
  7. Books - I would look at some of the great books out there. A good starter is The Systematic Design of Instruction by Dick Carey and Carey. You can also see my list of books I read to find other design books. Eventually, I hope to write my own introduction to instructional design book. .
  8. Get the Degree - If you are really excited about the field, you should earn a degree or a certificate in the field. We have both of these where I work at Franklin University.
I hope this is a helpful list of ways to learn about instructional design!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

(A Parenthetical Statement on Following Your Passion)

(By the way, although following your passion is vital to happiness, success, and fulfillment in life, there will always be things that you have to do that you are not passionate about. For example, I am passionate about learning and teaching, and I am fortunate to be able to work in higher education as a faculty member. However, even in my current dream job I find that I still have to do many things that I don’t want to do. These usually have two characteristics: (a) I am not passionate about doing them, and (b) they are really just a hoop to jump through and have no actual meaning or substantive contribution in improving the world and the people in it. My approach for these kinds of things as follows: just get it DONE. Do an adequate job, one that meets the needs and requirements, but nothing more. Save your passion, excitement, energy, and willpower for the things that are truly important in life. I have found that when the result of this work is reviewed by the individual requesting it, almost 100% of the time it is adequate. In this manner, I avoid the irritation of having to waste my energy, attention, and focus on something I don't care about, I avoid going beyond what was expected, and I have a lot more time to do the things that I care about and that can have a positive impact on others. Okay, this is a long parenthetical statement. The point is this: when you have to do something stupid that you don’t care about, get it done, and get on with what you are passionate about. Okay, back to work.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Plans at the AECT 2014 International Convention

I will be attending the AECT 2014 International Convention this coming week in Jacksonville, Florida. I have attended AECT's conference many times in the past (I blog about my 2012 experience here) and have always enjoyed seeing friends and associates at the conference.

For this year's convention, I will be participating in a panel discussion on the future of instructional design programs with several excellent researchers. It should be an interesting experience, and I hope to contribute to the discussion.

I was also asked by a group in AECT to serve as a mentor for two doctoral students, Beth Oyarzun and and Sheri Anderson, who are competing in AECT's Pacificorp Design and Development Competition They have worked very hard and have moved through the first two phases of the competition and are now finalists competing against two other teams. It should be an exciting event!

What I Will Focus On
My interests over the last 2 years have broadened (see side-thoughts below), and I hope to attend sessions about leadership, community of practice, performance support, and mobile learning. I definitely look forward to attending the conference and am excited to be in beautiful Jacksonville!

*      *      *      *
A side-thought on scholarly activity: In the research world, it appears that many (most?) scholars seem to dive very deep into one specific area and research that area to provide new knowledge. I have been doing this for the past few years in the realm of instructional theory, particularly the practical application of Merrill's First Principles of Instruction. And while my interest in this area continues, I have found that I am fascinated with understanding the bigger picture, the system in which instruction and learning takes place. I've broadened my interests to include human performance technology, leadership, management and organizational and individual psychology. I have read dozens of books in these areas over the last couple of years (see my Books I Read section), and I find it to be very fulfilling.

Another side-thought: I have found that the knowledge I gained in my Masters and PhD programs - systems thinking, systematic thinking, design thinking, research, etc. - has given me a foundation or a structure into which I can organize and apply much of the new knowledge I am gaining. There is a certain capacity that is built through the difficulty and rewards of rigorous graduate work that enables an individual to acquire and organize knowledge in very meaningful ways. I am therefore exceedingly grateful for my doctoral experience and am excited to continue to learn, grow, develop, and improve.