Category Archives: Elegant

Design Flourishes

I designed a business simulation a few years ago where teams compete to be the most profitable. It is a simulation of a CPA firm, so they are competing to win the audit, tax, and consulting work of various local, fictional businesses. I named the businesses after jazz musicians I was listening to at the time, which was fun for me, but not something I expected anyone else to catch. I was delighted to receive an email recently from one of the instructors sharing the news that one of her students was a jazz piano minor in college and was very enthusiastic about the jazz references in the course. It enriched the course for him.

That made my day.

Way back at the beginning of my career, I was writing worskills exams for PLATO Learning (then TRO Learning) and I remember creating a whole little fictional universe with recurring businesses. It helped make development come alive for me, and I have to believe the more engaged the designer, the better the design, and in the end the better the learning.

At some level, elegant design is about small, delightful details, whether the details themselves get noticed or not (thought it’s great when they are noticed).

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1912 Vision for Schools

I’m reading The End of Average by Todd Rose. Really interesting so far.

Early in the book he talks a little about the history of education in this country and the struggle between humanist education and Taylorist.

He includes a quote I enjoyed, from the General Education Board, funded by John D. Rockefeller, in 1912. I love the clarity of the message (if not the message!).

We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or of science. We are not to raise up from among them authors, orators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians…nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply….The task that we have set before ourselves is very simple as well as very beautiful…we will organize our children into a little community and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.

Optimal Length of Instructional Video

Someone recently pointed out this research to me. Prof Guo believes, based on the data collected from thousands of educational videos served on EdX, that six minutes is the optimal educational video length. People are willing to watch six minutes, but for every minute longer than that, the average number of minutes drops–drops not just as percentage, but in terms of the total number of minutes. If learners see that a video is 20 minutes long, they’ll quit well before six minutes (perhaps with good intentions of coming back later, but they don’t).

This is interesting for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that the governing body over learning for CPA firms recently gave the OK for firms to give formal credit for nano-learning. But to give credit, nano-learnings have to be at least 10 minutes long. EdX’s data* suggests that’s almost 70% too long!

*Of course, EdX’s data is not specific to adults learning in a professional setting. And naturally there are any number of factors in play that would make a three minute video seem interminable and a fifteen minute or even an hour long video fly by. But it’s still interesting stuff.

Granfalloons

I really enjoyed how Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul Kirschner, and Casper Hulshof in the book Urban Myths about Learning and Education, when talking about the persistence of the learning styles myth, refer to Kurt Vonnegut’s* concept of a granfalloon. A granfalloon is a group formed based on arbitrary criteria for purposes of social identity. “Visual learners,” for instance, like to think of themselves as belonging to that category of people.

We seek to belong to granfalloons as a way to define who we are, and who we aren’t.

*I love Vonnegut, by the way. Many years back I read his entire catalog in publication order. Stunning.

Psychology Books That Have Challenged My Worldview

I’m adding Peak to my list of books that are wonderful because they’ve challenged my view of who I am, how my mind works, and who we are collectively–books that make me think long after I’ve finished reading them.

The list so far:

  • The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, which taught me how much of what I am was determined at conception.
  • The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, which taught me about the role of my brain as a storyteller.
  • The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. Unlike the other books on this list, Optimist has clear political leanings, and those leanings are not consistent with my own. Still, the book has a fascinating premise and examples that challenged and influenced my thinking.
  • And now Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. This book makes a powerful case that the role of talent and IQ is nearly irrelevant compared to the role of deliberate practice. He defines the conditions under which practice makes an impact and when it merely maintains our current skill levels.

A picture emerges. Much of who we are and what we think is handed to us, not chosen by us. Without focused, deliberate effort, we don’t control who we are, we merely tell the story of the personality generated at conception. It’s so important to critically examine our own assumptions and biases.

What books have changed your worldview?

Accelerated Mobile Pages

I enjoy complaining about how modern webpages actively interfere with reading comprehension and with the user’s experience. This used to be easy to avoid just by blocking Flash and pop-ups, but with the rise of HTML 5, it’s gotten to the point where I find myself leaving some websites before they are even loaded when it becomes clear they are going to do everything in their power to distract me from the content. Ad-blocking is the only thing that seems to help.

One interesting and welcome development over the past year has been the rise of accelerated mobile pages (AMPs). Denoted by this symbol in the search engine (at least on mobile browsers):

AMPs load nearly instantly and don’t appear to let the page jump around after you start reading. Nice! I’m happy that user experience has some wins now and again.

(Speaking of user experience, props to Google for their Android keyboard. It learns. The first time I typed AMPs, above, it naturally assumed I wanted “amps,” but once I corrected it to what I wanted, every subsequent time it has given me AMPs. Nice.)

The Dark Side of Design

“Would you like the full coverage or just the basic insurance?”

“Would you like us to fill it up for you when you bring it back? We charge $3.10 a gallon, which is pretty close to gas station rates right now.”

In a way, I’m impressed with these two questions typically asked when you rent a car. Both questions must be significant revenue generators. Unfortunately, both questions generate revenue by hiding key information.

The first question fails to present the possibility that you can decline the insurance entirely, presenting your options instead as a binary choice.

The second fails to mention that the car rental firm is going to charge you for an entire tank, not just for the number of gallons they add to it. If you bring back a car with seven gallons of gas in an 18 gallon tank, you are going to pay for 18 gallons, not 11.

The way they’ve worded the questions is clever…but dishonest, I think, and an abuse of design.

The idea of presenting a binary choice when there are more options is powerful, and one that’s useful with children (do you want to wear the green shirt or the blue one today?) to prevent choice paralysis and minimize fuss. And I imagine there are instructional design and/or change management possibilities in the false binary choice. The risk with adults, though, is that once they realize you are presenting false choices, they’ll distrust everything you ask them.