#SexMyths – Effective Sex Education and Teen Pregnancy Prevention

Update: I’ve been told that this should be marked NSFW because of the YouTube videos that get suggested at the end. Use your best judgment. :)

Props to United Way of Greater Milwaukee, which has achieved its goal of reducing teen pregnancy in Milwaukee by 50%… three years early… partially through the use of interactive videos like this one:

There are so many great things for learning design and development here:

  • authenticity
  • humor
  • use of simple technology to support interactivity
  • short (maybe even too short, at times) snippets of compelling, relevant information
  • content and structure that pull the learner toward the next topic — you can’t watch just one

And most of all… there are lots of ways to make sex education engaging, but results like these require you to tackle a real cause of a problem. The creators of this campaign have clearly done that, choosing to focus on debunking the sex myths that kids learn from their peers, rather than illustrations of fallopian tubes. Well done.


My Summer of Experiential Learning

This summer, I had two formal learning experiences that were very different from my norm. They were hands (and feet) on, they were exciting, they were visceral, and each one was because of a major, new hobby.

Experience #1: Steep Snow Climbing School

Most readers know from my shameless fundraising on this blog that I made a summit attempt on Mt. Hood early this summer. It was an amazing experience, and a big part of that was  Steep Snow Climbing School – required training for climbing with Timberline Mountain Guides.

The day before our scheduled attempt, we sorted out our gear and made our way to a ravine on the side of the mountain, where there were steep enough slopes to simulate the kind of climbing we would be doing near the summit. As we approached, our instructor spread out his arms to encompass the snow, the mountain, the trees, and the rocks, and exclaimed, “This is our classroom!” And it was.


All day we practiced methods of hiking in snow. With and without crampons. With and without iceaxes. With and without ropes. We threw ourselves down the slope to practice self-arresting from falls. We learned to communicate as a team as we moved in ropes. We got to know each other and our mountain guides. We learned how to breathe better and how to rest with each step…all under the watch of the mountain we would attempt to master starting at midnight.


The result: I made it to 10,200-ish feet on Mt. Hood and I’m headed back in spring next year with the summit in my crosshairs. (If you’re interested, the full story is here.) And happily, I did finally bag my first summit later in the summer: Mount St. Helens.

Experience #2: Basic Rider Training

Early this summer, I realized that I spend far too much time commuting (almost 2 hours per day by walking, bus, and train) and decided to get a scooter.

In Oregon, driving anything over 50cc requires a motorcycle license, which requires a 2 1/2-day Basic Rider Training from TEAM Oregon. The class is 60% classroom and 40% range, with tests in both at the end. In both cases, everything is taught from a very basic level; it’s hard to feel stupid (unless you get stressed and try to make things too difficult, as I tended to do on the range).

Bit by bit, we built up our skills with constant feedback from the instructors, each exercise building on the one before. After the riding test, our instructors built a four-way intersection with cones, surrounded by a loop, and just told us to ride, make decisions, and interact with each other as roadway users. It was a powerful reminder that the real test was not over, was not predictable, and was much higher-stakes than the one we had just taken. I can’t think of a better segue into driving in real-world conditions.

The instructors were strict — no, hellastrict — about tardiness and doing anything whatsoever that would be illegal (such as using a camera or phone while on a motorcycle), so I didn’t get any pics of the class while I was in it. But the result was that I successfully obtained my motorcycle endorsement, and now I have new wheels for commuting and fun.


So…why has this post sat in my Drafts folder for months? It’s been a busy fall with my new teaching role and all, but the main reason I’ve not posted this before is that I hadn’t written much of a so what? to share with you. I may have finally cobbled one together, and here it is.

Each of these experiences was followed by some experiential learning that wasn’t formal at all. In the case of mountaineering, it was the experience of reaching Devil’s Kitchen, looking up at the remaining 1000-ish ft. of Mt. Hood, and simultaneously feeling incredible pride at what I had achieved, and full knowledge that I didn’t have enough left in me to reach the summit. In the case of riding, it was not long after the heavy Portland rain started this fall, when the brakes locked up on my scooter and my shoulder came into contact with something hard enough to fracture my humerus. Those experiences taught all new lessons.

But the formal learning experiences stand out because so little formal learning is experiential any more, at least in my life. They reinforced to me the power of real and realistic practice, the power of confidence built on that practice, the power of tactile experience, and the power of good experience design for learning — no, for performance.

Starting Soon: Strategies for eLearning at Portland State University

It’s been a busy summer (more on that soon), and one of the most exciting things about it is that I’ve been designing and preparing to teach a new course at Portland State University. It’s called Strategies for eLearning, and it’s part of their certificate program in elearning instructional design.

We’re going to do some really cool work in generating strategies for technology-based learning and performance solutions. Along with the Designing eLearning and Developing eLearning classes, as well as a variety of special topics, this is a great program for anyone getting into corporate instructional design, designers who have been there for a while who want to broaden their repertoire, and anyone who is reskilling from designing instructor-led training.

If you’re in the Portland area, check it out and contact Toni Plato for more information. Class starts 9/30 — this coming Monday!

FocusAssist by Mindflash: A New Low in Elearning Development Tools

Wow. Just wow. eyes

The training industry has inflicted some pretty worthless crap on itself and its learners over the years. Emphasis on seat times over actual learning. Emphasis on learning over performance. Course completions over achievement. Training as punishment. Content shoehorned into rapid development templates. Software that promotes universally bad design choices.

But this. This takes the cake. On Learning Solutions Magazine:

Mindflash has introduced an exciting new feature to its iPad eLearning application that is designed to help companies dramatically increase the effectiveness of their online training courses. The capability, dubbed FocusAssist, monitors trainee attention and pauses a training course in the Mindflash application when trainees look away.

Wait. What? Oy. It’s almost hard to know where to start with this, but I’ll take a shot.

First, what kind of content needs to be paused? It seems that Mindflash is assuming that the learner is a passive recipient of the “training”, which is a terrible model, whether your objective is engagement, knowledge retention, or skill building. Content that is interactive — that requires decision-making or at least input from the learner — pauses by default when the learner’s attention isn’t there. It can’t continue without input.

Or let’s say that the content is being delivered through an automatically playing method, such as video, and it’s compelling enough to actually engage my mind. That’s certainly a kind of interactivity. If that’s the case, I’m going to pause it myself once my attention wanes or is needed elsewhere, because I won’t want to miss what’s next. No ocular police needed.

Second, since when does staring at a screen increase effectiveness of the training experience and understanding of the content — both claims that are made in this press release? C’mon, folks. We know better than that. We know that measuring the time people spend in training is about as meaningful as weighing them, and this is just a high-tech way to make sure they’re “in training” every second that they’re supposed to be. And what’s really scary is that this is being specifically marketed towards high-stakes fields such as health care and law enforcement (according to the link above and this article in Businessweek — be sure to note the picture). Those are the fields in which performance could literally be a matter of life and death; do you care about where your surgeon’s eyes were during her elearning? Or do you hope that she’s had lots of real and realistic practice?

Finally, this kind of “innovation” only invites gaming the system. Such as, for example, turning the volume down on your iPad, propping an iPad Mini up in front of the screen, and firing up Jackie Brown. Just sayin’. That would keep my eyes on the screen and a look of engagement on my face. In fact, as a learner, even if I were interested in the training to begin with, I’d do that just because the organization that inflicted this “feature” on me was treating me like a toddler. (No, wait, scratch that. I treat my toddlers with more trust and dignity. Because I’m trying to teach them to be worthy of it. Too bad we apparently can’t do the same with adults.)

Or maybe instead, I would take a nap with this mask on. (Go ahead, download it. CC0.)

Or maybe I’d just grab my keys, go for a ride, and leave this Judy propped up in my chair to take the training instead. (She’s kind of an airhead, but she’s a doll to take my place.)

If all they want is eyes on screens, I can think of a dozen ways to give that to them while checking out with my brain and frankly, I’m not even half as creative as some of my learners. So yes, this burns me up on behalf of them. Learners deserve for us to respect their time and intelligence and create something authentic, relevant, and effective.

But what pisses me off even more is that this is an insult to designers. This is a tech company telling us that we are unable to do all of those things. That we are unable to create experiences that resonate with our audience. That we are unable to engagify. That we are unable to realistically asses knowledge and performance. That we are unable to create systems that deliver content that is customized to our learners’ needs. That we are unable, in effect, to do our jobs.

I do not believe that these things are true.

Do you?