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Storytelling and Video Solutions at ATD TechKnowledge 2018

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Storytelling and Video Solutions at ATD TechKnowledge 2018
    

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2 Feb 2018
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Storytelling. We know it’s effective in educating – Ebbinghaus forgetting curve be dammed when there a good story behind the learning. And who better to learn about storytelling than from Pixar, the studio that creates perhaps some of the most entertaining and memorable animated films. Last week in San Jose, California, Danielle Feinberg, Pixar’s Director of Photography and Lighting, discussed some of the challenges she and her colleagues face in making these great movies in the closing keynote of the ATD TechKnowledge trade show.

The animated world is one without limits, so they strive to a maintain a level of believability in their films. Of course, there are no talking fish or toys in the “real world”, but they thrive in Pixar’s worlds. To keep the audience engaged, the environments around these characters are purposely animated to be relatable and realistic. This requires significant efforts to research and reproduce details and lighting effects that keep the audience’s focus on the story. For example, In Finding Nemo, this meant analyzing the physics of how light travels through water. Ms. Feinberg and her colleagues succeeded in creating an underwater world that is credible to anyone who has snorkeled and noticed how visibility and colors fade in depth and distance and how one sees the swell and current with the movement of fish and fauna as well as floating particules. 

While that is already a full-time job, another layer of complexity is often added by the boss, who at Pixar is the director. When he or she declares a story point, a turning point in the story, it pretty much must be done, even if it creates a technical challenge. For Ms. Feinberg, this happened during the production of The Incredibles. The story point is when the teenage daughter, Violet, realizes she can harness her “incredible’ power.”  Up to that point she hid behind her long hair, but in signifying her new-found confidence to the audience, she moves her hair behind her ear thus showing her face. That may seem simple, unless you are an animator because at that point in time, long hair had not been realistically portrayed. The last thing anyone wants is for the audience to think at this moment in the film, “Gosh, that hair is really fake.” But at Pixar, the director rules, and in these instances, the way forward, according to Ms. Feinberg, is “to skip the debate and figure it out.” And with a combination of technical expertise and artistic sensibility, they did indeed figure it out.  

Pixar's Danielle Feinberg discussing storytelling, the importance of details and lighting, and the difficulties of rendering hair realistically in an animated film.

At the show it became apparent that L&D is figuring out video. There certainly were plenty of sessions and vendors ready to help make this engaging media type more mainstream.  Of course, we are operating at the other end of the spectrum in terms of budget and personnel. Pixar employs hundreds of artists, animators, and coders, and in contrast, it’s hard to find an L&D department with a videographer on staff. It should also be noted that it takes about four years (seven for Coco) for Pixar to complete a film; it’s hard to find a learning program that has the luxury of even four months.  But let’s skip the debate and see what’s out there:

D2L impressed by infusing video throughout learning programs via its Brightspace LMS. To demonstrate proficiency, learners can easily capture and share video with a PC or smartphone. A coach, mentor, or instructor can review the video, and stop and provide feedback that is synchronized with the playback.  By having native support for video, Brightspace not only knows which learners started each video, but also if they finished or where they stopped if they did not finish. Both provide valuable information for assessing the learner and the video’s quality. We also like how seamlessly videos can be shared within social discussions and included in assessments.

Panopto held a well-attended session that covered five problems that arise when using video for learning:

  • Storage. Needs add up quickly when you consider that a minute of video takes up nearly 200 MB of space.
  • Format. Who doesn’t have a smart phone, tablet and laptop? The challenge here is that each device has its preferred video format and the LMS has no idea which files to send to which devices.
  • Delivery. To work best, video should be streamed, not just transferred like presentation or document, and when it is, the playback will often stall.
  • Search. Learners complain that they not only have trouble finding a specific video, but also struggle to find the segment within that video that answers their question.
  • Workflow. From capture to publish, there are numerous steps involved and any one “bottleneck” can slow or prevent the video from being accessible to learners.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Panopto’s video content management solution can help solve these problems.

PlayerLync’s director of product management, Paul Bradley, gave a not too technical talk about xAPI and its potential. xAPI, also known as the Experience API (and also as TinCan), is the e-Learning standard that builds on SCORM but is far broader in scope. xAPI is a better choice for mobile learning, offline learning and where custom extensions might be needed. With the proliferation of inexpensive media, including video content and mobile learning, xAPI is growing in adoption. PlayerLync uses xAPI in its video learning solution, which is popular with companies in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality markets. Employees of these firms can learn much of what they need through short-clip videos, but if even a few employees start video downloads, it can clog the company’s internet access.  As valuable as is learning, one doesn’t want to interfere with point of sale transactions. Also, consider the learner perspective – Mr. Bradley shared stats that you’ll lose 49% of your viewers if the video doesn’t start within 10 seconds. By downloading videos at off peak hours and tracking viewership (and also offering up assessments), PlayerLync is able to help keep employees up to speed, in part thanks to xAPI.  

Allego offers a mobile video sales learning platform that relies heavily on learner or in this case sales-rep-generated video. Self-directed or prescribed learning plans draw on content organized in channels to help with onboarding, message consistency, certification, best practices etc. Sales reps can practice their pitches and when good enough submit them to their manager or coach for feedback. When reps have a successful customer meeting or learn something new about a competitor, they can pull out their phone and record and share the information with their colleagues. Given the need to provide high quality, agile sales training, we’re not surprised to hear Allego is one of the fastest growing software companies on the Inc. 500 list of private firms.

Sara Frost, VP of Learning and Development at State Street Bank, demonstrated their implementation of Videonitch’s platform, which has transformed how their organization trains its sales teams. Ms. Frost has a team of three people to manage the program – a manager who works with the divisions to uncover the business needs, a videographer who creates and edits the videos, and an administrator to manage the system. Since most of the content consists of subject matter experts (SMEs) describing their products, how they sell, or some other best practice, there is no need for actors or expensive production.  In fact, the SMEs provide a level of authenticity that would be hard to match with outside talent.  State Street finds an interview format works best and has also created a short video on how to create a good video. The company has nearly 200 videos live on the Videonitch platform and reports that its learners, from 20+ countries, are very happy with the search and browse features as well as the ability to rate and share the videos.

Inkling is helping tax preparer H&R Block move from paper-based training to online manuals. With 100,000 learners in the U.S. alone, the paper-based system was expensive and cumbersome, as making changes to the materials mid-tax-season was never easy. With Inkling, not only is the production and administration process simplified, but the learners can actually search and find content, including their notes and highlights. That was almost impossible with the six pounds of paper manuals used in prior years. With Year One under its belt, H&R Block plans to use Inking’s advanced features to add in more engaging content, including videos.

For the more budget conscious, Mentor demonstrated its Evaluation Platform, which allows learners to submit videos, audio recordings and documents. The instructors or reviewers can then voice annotate their feedback, and also use their extensive set of markup tools, all of which are synchronized with the playback of the video. The platform has been integrated with many brand name LMSs, and the company offers a free trial and publishes pricing on its website.  

Degreed discussed how its platform is helping create the conditions for learning that can elevate employee engagement and close skill gaps and increase organizational agility. (We cover Degreed in our recent LXP reports and think this company is the leader in this space.)  By recognizing that most learning is not formal, Degreed helps every learner get credit for all of their learning, ranging from degree and certification programs down to reading a blog or watching a short clip on YouTube. By analyzing learner’s needs based on their roles, career goals, company needs as well as the learner’s action, Degreed surfaces relevant content and delivers it to the learner, which helps solve one of the modern learner’s biggest problems – the content I need is too hard to find.

Next door Skillsoft was showing off its learning experience platform, Percipio, which we also covered in our LXP reports. Percipio learners get access to hundreds of channels of content populated by Skillsoft’s huge content library, which is being reformulated into shorter segment videos. I like that one can choose to watch a video, listen to an audio book, or read an article on just about any topic. Skillsoft recently introduced the ability for organizations to load their own and third-party content into Percipio, making it much more of a one-stop shop for the learner. In the market for less than a year, Percipio is already a serious challenger to Degreed and the other LXPs.

While we reviewed Adobe’s Captivate Prime LMS recently, it was great to stop by their booth and hear from Pooja Jaisingh some additional use cases for what is a relatively newcomer LMS.  Users of Adobe’s authoring tool, Captivate, are probably aware that their approach to responsive design employs what they call Fluidic boxes – there were two sessions at the show. On the LMS side, their Fluidic player extends the reach of learning content and management in some pretty cool ways.  It handles not only e-Learning modules, but also video and documents, and can be embedded into a web site or an app.  The result is that learning can be brought more readily into an organization’s workflow, which we believe is a winning strategy.

Matt Pierce from Do-It-Yourself tool provider TechSmith led an engaging session on how to create great videos on a budget. In terms of hardware, you really just need a tripod and good quality microphone – less than $100 for the pair. The smart phone’s video camera will suffice for most, and, if you need lights or sound proofing, a few dollars at your local hardware store should provide for an adequate solution. The theme of Mr. Pierce’s talk was that you don’t need to spend money to make an informative video, but you do need to spend some time ensuring the story you are telling will resonate with your audience. In addition to considering your learning objectives and how these are relevant to your learners, he suggests including surprises and humor. In terms of videography best practices, focus on faces and employ more cuts than you think you need – just watch an ad or a broadcast show and notice how often the camera angle changes. Finally, audio can make a huge difference; it sets the mood, and in keeping with your budget, search for royalty free music on YouTube.

While ATD TechKnowledge is a much smaller show than ATD’s annual International Conference, it still attracts A-List learning vendors, features great talks on relevant matters, and is the place to be to find out the latest on learning tech for the corporate world. I was glad I knew the way to San Jose.