Engaging Your Learners in 2012

No one wants to watch a movie in which the director yells “Lights, Camera…Multiple Choice Question” We are more excited with movies directed with the words “Lights, Camera, Action.” Multiple choice questions don’t reflect reality. In real-life we are seldom confronted with a multiple choice question, we are confronted with problems, decisions, and the need to be innovative. Not the need to choose the best answer out of four choices.
Action is what we want, it is what motivates humans. Kids can’t sit still, they need to move. We want to watch sports with activity and movement. Our jobs demand active thinking, complex decision making, and activity. Why should our learning design be inactive? Why should our online courses start with something as boring and pedantic as a learning objective? Why do we commonly create instruction with the page-of-text, page-of-text, page-of-text, multiple-choice-question format?
For the month of January as the New Year kicks off, I want learning and development professionals to think about action, activity, and innovation. I want us to make a conscious effort to force learners to do something. ..anything to get them mentally or even physically moving. Challenge your learners to interact with the e-learning and classroom instruction that you create.
Here are three tips to help you get started; some are borrowed from the field of video games which is an awesome place to look for inspiration for learning and development professionals. A term I like to use (while some others don’t) is gamification. We need to add gamification to our learning—more about that in a subsequent post.
So here is the list:


Start your learning with a challenge instead of a list of objectives or a lecture. Rather than state, “there are three things you should know about fraudulent claims”—start the training with, the statement “A potentially fraudulent claim has just been filed, you have 20 screens and 30 minutes to learn what to do. Proceed with caution.” As the challenge unfolds and you provide information to the learner, you should be providing more and more learning opportunities, introduce the fraud detection worksheet. Incorporate policy points into the feedback you provide the learner, add in exceptions. Too many courses are too easy. Yes, I said it…too easy. Humans don’t like or respect tasks that are too easy. Yet too many learning courses are built to the lowest common denominator. Create courses that challenger learners, they’ll learn more, remember more and, as a result, be able to do more.

Create training where more than one answer is possible, feasible, and acceptable. Rarely in life are answers cut and dried. There are typically shades of gray that must be dealt with and reconciled. In most e-learning, there are absolutely right and absolutely wrong answers. How does that prepare a learner for what she will encounter on the job? Present a situation where the customer is half-right and half-wrong…what do you do? Or an ethical situation which is filled with gray. Training needs to be more nuanced than its current form. Provide alternative endings, provide different levels of “correct” …don’t keep giving one right answer.
Thir Third
Force the learners to perform the activity they are learning about. Make them enter a customer order, make them calm down an irate customer, make them close out an account. Make them operate the machinery. If you want someone to learn to do something, they must practice doing it! We can’t tell them about being a good leader and then hope they’ll be a good leader, they have to practice being a good leader, or sales person or accountant. Practice is needed to improve performance. Athletes don’t just read about competition, they practice, work on fundamentals, play scrimmages, and then perform. In training situations, the learner reads about negotiation skills, takes a multiple choice test about negotiation skills, and then is asked to go negotiate with a customer. That’s it–no practice, no scrimmage. Immediately they go to the real thing. This is not good.

So, as the New Year starts, think about what you, as a learning and development professional, can do to engage the people for whom you are building instruction. Don’t passively hand them content, instead make them do something in 2012. Your action item from this post is to create at least one challenge or action oriented activities for your learners in the next 3 months.

25 of the Best Websites, Apps, and Plugins to Help Students Succeed

Tech savvy students today have a plethora of possible technologies that can help them become better students. These include new websites, applications, browser plugins and other innovative advancements. The following are our favorite tools to help students improve their grades, efficiency, and lives. Enjoy!

1. Cramster.com

Cramster.com is an online community offering homework help to high school and college students. Cramster facilitates communication between students. It also has expert homework help and interactive textbook guides available with a premium membership. Cramster also runs the Facebook app Courses 2.0, which allows students to share their class schedule and form study groups with others in the same classes.

2. iStudiez Pro

The iStudiez Pro iPhone app is a sophisticated and very customizable planner to help you keep track of all your class information and time commitments. In addition to creating nearly any style of schedule, you can link information such as the professor’s email and office hours to each class. iStudiez Pro allows you to code time commitments by color and icon.

3. ipl2

ipl2 is a free website that features lists of trusted links on a variety of academic topics, including research and writing, literary criticism, and United States history. Also available at ipl2 are a 24/7 “ask a librarian” service and areas of the site tailored to kids and teens.

4. ScrapBook for Firefox

ScrapBook is an extension for the web browser Firefox that saves entire web pages or blurbs from web pages to your desktop, along with the page’s address. With ScrapBook you can easily locate information found online even when you are not connected to the Internet, and you can write bibliographies much more quickly with all your sources organized in one place.

5. Evernote

Evernote is a free app available for the Android, iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. With Evernote, you can take notes in text, image, or audio recording. Any notes you make are automatically available on the Internet and on your home computer, so you can access them whenever you need to.

6. Information Literacy

Information Literacy, at http://www.webs.uidaho.edu/info_literacy/, is a tool to learn web research skills. The site helps students search for, evaluate, and share academic information on the web. It features learning modules that are easy for web beginners to navigate.

7. Mint

The Mint app for Android and iPhone helps students manage their budget, leaving them more time for academic pursuits. Mint offers tools to help you keep track of spending, keep debt under control, and manage savings and investments.

8. Grade Genie

Grade Genie at www.gradegenie.com is a free online community that allows students and professors to share their work and study materials with others. It also offers students the opportunity to earn money by organizing get-togethers to spread the work about Grade Genie.

9. Cram

Though pricier than some other apps on this list, Cram for iPhone can be in invaluable study tool. It allows users to create a variety of study aids, from quizzes to flash cards, to cram for tests on the go. Students can also share the tools they create with friends.

10. SparkNotes

SparkNotes offers study materials on a wide range of subjects, including literature, science and math, psychology and sociology, and even drama. It also has standardized test prep materials, a blog about academic life, college advice, and message boards to network with other students. Video guides to works of literature are also available.

11. Kaka Flashcards

This free Android app features downloadable flash cards on a variety of subjects, and also allows you to make your own. It offers the benefits of flashcards without the hassle of carrying around a stack of index cards and allows for effective studying on the go.

12. Dictionary.com

Dictionary.com and its sister site Thesaurus.com are free services available on the web and the iPhone. In addition to a dictionary and thesaurus, the site features a word of the day and etymological information.

13. Margins

Margins for the iPhone and iPod Touch allow students to jot notes down in one place rather than in the margins of books. Margins not only keeps books free of scribbling so they are easier to resell when the semester is over, but also keeps notes organized by book and page and easily searchable.

14. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is a free online collection of literature in the public domain. Many classics taught in school are available for free, so students can save significantly on books. Project Gutenberg texts can be downloaded to an iPhone or e-reader.

15. Class Buddy

Class Buddy and the pay version Class Buddy Pro help students keep track of class schedules and grades. The Pro version adds functionality to enter grades for individual assignments, keeping a running tally of performance in each class throughout the quarter, semester, or year.

16. Cliff’s Notes

A longtime favorite of students in their analog form, Cliff’s Notes literature guides are now available as an app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. The app features interactive quizzes and audio materials as well as comprehensive textual materials on great works of literature.

17. Grade Fund

Grade Fund allows students to earn money for good grades, helping them cover academic costs and save for higher education. Grade Fund links students with sponsors willing to pay cash as an incentive for academic excellence. Students invite sponsors and upload their transcripts to earn money for themselves or their school.

18. ShareNotes.com

ShareNotes.com offers users the choice of downloading other students’ class notes or selling their own for extra cash. ShareNotes has an extensive database of class notes from over 100 schools and monitors posted material for quality and plagiarism. In addition to cash, users earn points for everything they do on ShareNotes.com that they can spend on rewards.

19. myHomework

This free iPhone app allows students to organize assignments and due dates. Assignments can be color coded and viewed as a list or on a daily or monthly calendar. The app also alerts you to upcoming deadlines to help you stay on track.

20. Campus Books

Campus Books features a search tool to help you find the best price on textbooks and helps you sell or donate books you no longer need. Through Campus Books, you have the opportunity to rent or buy textbooks from retail websites or other students. Campus Books is also available as an iPhone app.

21. PI83 Graphing Calculator

For those with an iPhone, this app eliminates the need to buy an expensive TI83 graphing calculator. Like the TI83, the PI83 creates graphs and solves algebraic, trigonometric, and statistical problems. At only 99 cents as opposed to the $100 or so that a graphing calculator can run, the PI83 can save students significant money for other school supplies.

22. BigWords.com

BigWords.com is a textbook price comparison tool available on the Internet and the iPhone. The iPhone app allows students to compare prices while out at the bookstore to make sure they are getting the best price for books on their required reading list.

23. MyNoteIt.com

MyNoteIt.com is a comprehensive social network for students. You can share class notes with others, form online groups with other students in your classes, and create a class schedule, assignment calendar, and to-do list to stay organized. The site also sends reminders about upcoming assignment deadlines, tests, and quizzes.

24. Android Agenda Widget

The Android Agenda Widget is a free app that syncs content from a variety of calendars to help you keep track of all your daily commitments. It comes in ten different sizes and the display is attractive, easy to use, and very customizable, with a large selection of skins, color schemes, and text styles.

25. YouNote Lite

YouNote Light is a free iPhone or iPad app that lets you take text, audio, picture, or web notes and access them whenever you need to on your mobile device or home computer. You can organize notes through tags, color coding, and other categories to find what you need easily.

Textbook Errors and Other Egregious Fallacies Taught In School

Staying on top of all your classes at school isn’t easy at the best of times. Studying, writing papers, passing tests, keeping track of all those facts and figures from five or more subjects at a time — it’s all some students can do to keep up. So how much harder must it be to manage one’s studies when faced with the added task of sorting out fact from fiction in the textbooks themselves? And yet this is a problem in textbooks and other teaching materials at all grade levels, in every subject, all over the country. Below are some of the most disgraceful examples of textbooks publishing false, misleading, and otherwise objectionable information.

Science or Guesswork?

In 2002, CNN reported on the results of a study conducted by physics professor John Hubisz to ascertain the accuracy of the information being presented in middle school science books.[1] Hubisz and a team of other professors examined dozens of textbooks and uncovered a startling amount of information that was unclear, contradictory, or blatantly incorrect. One textbook included a map that showed the Earth’s equator running through Florida and Texas, 1,500 miles north of its actual position. Another declared that humans were incapable of hearing sound below 400 hertz; in fact, the human hearing range is approximately 20-20,000 hertz.[2] A third textbook depicted the Statue of Liberty holding her torch in the wrong hand. After completing the study, Hubisz set up a website, www.science-house.org/middleschool/, where teachers can post errors they find in textbooks. But he also told CNN that while some publishers are receptive to the criticisms and willing to fix the errors, many are not.

Specious History

Some textbook errors aren’t merely inaccurate, they’re misleading and contentious. In October 2010, The Virginian Pilot reported that the book Our Virginia: Past and Present, an elementary school textbook used in schools throughout the state, contained some very uncomfortable misinformdation: a passage “claiming that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South during the Civil War.”[3] The error was found by Carol Sheriff, a professor at the College of William and Mary, who then pointed out that blacks weren’t allowed to serve in the Confederate army until the very end of the war. Professor Bruce Levine of the University of Illinois confirms this, saying

“Jefferson Davis barked this would ‘revolt and disgust the whole South.’ All of this stuff is easily documentable. The facts of the matter aren’t really murky.”

School officials maintained that their textbook reviewing process is typically quite reliable, and this mistake was an unfortunate but unusual exception. But many teachers and other academics, including many who have been a part of the reviewing process, disagree, saying that the sheer length of the many textbooks they have to review prohibits them from catching every error or even, in some cases, arriving at an informed decision about a given book.

It’s Not Fallacious; It’s Tradition

There is no excuse or explanation for some textbook errors (like the one that showed a picture of a compass with East and West on the wrong sides[4]), but sometimes the misinformation stems, very obviously, from the fact that the book’s author didn’t do his or her own research. There are a lot of myths floating around in the popular culture, and many of them find their way into textbooks as facts. Fearon’s Biology, a high school science book, has quite an impressive collection of myths-presented-as-science, from describing the first life on earth not as microscopic bacteria, but as “tiny green specks,”[5] to promulgating the false belief that all organisms can move on their own. Most outrageous of all, however, is the book’s lesson about “a biologist named Frankenstein.” According to Fearon’s Biology, “Frankenstein pieced together the parts of dead bodies. Finally he brought a creature to life. But Frankenstein’s creation was an eight-foot monster. Eventually the monster destroyed the biologist.”[6] It is left to the readers to discover on their own that Frankenstein is the eponymous character of Mary Shelley’s novel, and that there is no real biology to speak of in that work of fiction. But all of these ideas — tiny specks, mad scientists — are part of the popular imagination, errors that go back so far that they’ve become traditional.

Not Exactly

Science, and biology in particular, seems to be a frequent victim of flagrant misinformation in the textbook industry. Apparently no lesson plan is safe from the vague wording, bizarre leaps of logic, or downright incorrect presentation of facts. In 2005, The Weekly Standard reported: “several centuries ago, some ‘very light-skinned’ people were shipwrecked on a tropical island. After ‘many years under the tropical sun,’ this light-skinned population became ‘dark-skinned,’ says Biology: The Study of Life, a high-school textbook published in 1998 by Prentice Hall, an imprint of Pearson Education.”[7] The Standard interviewed Nina Jablonski, a professor of anthropology at the California Academy of the Sciences, who called the passage from the book “downright bizarre” and explained that it takes at least 15,000 years for the change in skin color described in the book to manifest. “Many years” may not be technically incorrect, but it is also less than scientifically precise or academically helpful. Wendy Spiegel, a spokesperson for Pearson education, admitted that the book’s depiction of evolution was misleading, but went on to assure the reporter that the teacher’s lesson guide explained the process accurately.[8] Half-right is better than entirely wrong, but it does leave one wondering if the students were held accountable when they got that question wrong on the test.

Historically Confusing

Another common problem in textbooks is that the authors have had to cater to a number of demanding, sometimes conflicting directives from state curriculum boards, while also organizing and presenting the material in a way that is as innocuous as possible. Textbook authors and publishers alike have learned hard lessons about offending ethnic, religious, or affirmative action groups or upsetting special interest organizations. As a result, factual errors in the text sometimes come about due to an overzealous process of watering down the truth to the point of losing important points of interest. For example, a review of the high school world history textbook Patterns of Interaction found that “The book’s suggestion that the Iroquois Federation was crucial to America’s founding is an example of political correctness”; that “The summary of the causes of the French Revolution is inadequate, and it is ‘ludicrous’ to say that Marie Antoinette was a major cause”; that “the description of September 11, 2001, does not ‘hint who the terrorists were, or what they were trying to accomplish,’” and that it “incorrectly describ[es] the pre-World War II emperor of Japan as ‘an absolute ruler whose divine will was law,’”[9] among other complaints. These are mistakes born not of a lack of research or understanding of the material, but of the authors’ and publishers’ fear that writing the whole truth might get them in trouble.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math

The study of mathematics is supposed to be nothing if not precise. The entire point of any mathematical equation is to get the same answer every time; consistency is what makes math the most reliable way to measure, well, everything. So when the Texas State Board of Education found a total of 109,263 errors in the math textbooks being reviewed for use in the 2008 school year, it was seen as a pretty serious problem. The Board went back to the publishers and told them that they had until spring to fix the errors, after which point each publisher would be susceptible to a fine of up to $5,000 per error found.[10] Of course, not all of the errors were in the arithmetic; some textbooks had accidentally printed the answers to the quizzes at the end of each chapter, while others had incorrect translations from the English to the Spanish versions. But, a hefty number of the errors were in the numbers themselves. All of the publishers’ books had errors, but leading textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin took the cake: 86,026 errors across its series of books, accounting for 79% of the total discovered by the Board. “It looks like one publisher won the sweepstakes,” said Board member, Bob Craig. “How can you make 86,000 errors in your textbooks? How do you do that?”[11]


[1] http://archives.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science/11/03/badbooks/

[2] http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2003/ChrisDAmbrose.shtml

[3] http://hamptonroads.com/2010/10/error-sparks-concerns-over-textbook-selection-process

[4] http://archives.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science/11/03/badbooks/

[5] http://www.colleges.com/Umagazine/articles/campusclips/textbooks.html

[6] http://www.colleges.com/Umagazine/articles/campusclips/textbooks.html

[7] http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/563mgsyh.asp

[8] http://mathforum.org/kb/thread.jspa?forumID=66&threadID=191067&messageID=713878

[9] http://www.edexcellence.net/doc/Historytextbooks[02-06-04].pdf

[10] http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/111607dntextextbooks.268c6c7.html

[11] http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/2002/12/22/2002-12-22_schoolbooks_flubbing_facts_t.html

5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children

This is a guest post from Natalie Peace of PeaceAndProfit.com.
She is the author of 30 Keys to Building a Multi-Million Dollar Business: What They Didn’t Teach Me in Business School. Natalie is an entrepreneur, business coach, and she’s currently writing a book on how to start a wildly successful business.
Looking at the businesses I’ve built, managed, and sold (worth $2 million) by the age of 30, I’ve been reflecting lately on what set the foundation for my achievements so that I can help others experience financial security and abundance. I believe my success is the result of an unusual childhood, and a few unique things my parents did to set me up for success.

1. Give incentive to learn from the masters

My father actually paid me $2 to listen to each chapter of an audiobook and then summarize the main points in my own words, so I wound up listening to dozens of audiobooks throughout my childhood. (I didn’t get paid for chores as they were simply expected of me.) The trick was that he would choose books on management, wealth building, and personal growth.

I was four years old when he started this, and as a result I became fascinated with human potential and manifesting wealth long before I was even old enough to have a paper route or babysitting job. All this knowledge seeped into my young, fertile brain and shaped my subconscious, priming me to be a confident entrepreneur and manager. People often tell me about great, classic books they read by people like Napoleon Hill, Og Mandino, Denis Waitley, and Zig Ziglar and I smile, fondly recalling my experience listening to those masters.

2. Encourage questions

Both of my parents went out of their way to make sure I felt heard, understood and valued. They would explain to me what was interesting and important about anything I was saying and would then expand on the topic with their own knowledge. And they were always willing to answer the million “why” questions I asked, with real answers. They never responded “because I said so.

3. Provide unconditional love

Researcher Brené Brown talks about the concept of teaching children that they are worthy of love and belonging, rather than telling them they’re perfect. This is a big distinction, and I believe I’m a good example of why this works. There will be days when the world is going to chew you up and spit you out. People are going to laugh at you and call you names, and they will reject you and your ideas. Knowing all of this will happen to your child and insisting that they are perfect no matter what will not help them.

No one is perfect. We don’t need to be! Instead, we can learn to hear feedback from others through a filter that says we’re completely lovable as we are. If we know for certain we are lovable regardless of what people do or say to us, we can then hear criticism and search it objectively for meaningful clues on how we can improve. My mom has always shown me a great deal of love and affection, and it’s certainly one of the biggest secrets of my success.

4. Show the importance of a strong work ethic

When I was a teenager, Dad had me mowing his yard, which was a sprawling acreage back then. Of course I had more fun things to do than household chores, so I got it done as quickly as possible. One day when I had finished, he thanked me and told me he wanted to tell the neighbors about my mowing skills, so they would hire me to do their yards as well.

The prospect of making cash appealed to me, so I was all ears. My dad then said, “Let’s take a look at the yard now. Are you happy with how it looks? Would you sign your name to this job, proudly telling people you did it?” As I surveyed my hasty mowing efforts, it was plain to see that I had left behind several tufts and swatches of grass. I realized that no one who’d seen this would hire me to take care of their yard. My dad could have yelled at me for being lazy, but he chose instead to demonstrate the benefit of a solid work ethic.

5. Teach kids to be powerful

I was not allowed to indulge myself in negative self-talk. I was shown how to cancel negative beliefs (like “I can’t do this”), and replace them with positive ones, focusing on the desired outcome. I started doing visualization exercises and focusing on goal-setting at the age of five, beginning with small goals like teaching my dog how to sit and saving up to buy a bike. When I had success achieving these goals, it gave me the confidence to reach for bigger things, with the belief that I would attain them.

I was encouraged to set goals in all areas of my life — when I was six, I wanted the training wheels off my bike and knew it would take practice to get there. When I was 12, I set a goal to take a babysitting course so I could earn money. When I was 13, I set a goal of being a really good friend.

You can help your kids set goals in areas they’re genuinely interested in, as well as set goals they would probably achieve anyway (like passing second grade). Get them to write down these goals somewhere they’ll see them every day, and check them off when they’re complete. When I did this as a kid, it gave me enormous satisfaction. (It still does today!)

As a result of a somewhat unique upbringing — thank you, Mom and Dad! — I don’t have a fear of success, and I know that creating abundant wealth is possible. What other unusual and effective parenting methods have you used or observed to set kids up for success? 

Choosing the Right College/University for Your Child

The time comes when every parent has to assist their child in making the right choice of university or college. This all important decision should not be left until the last moment but requires considerable time, thought, and research. When you consider the fact that three to four years of your child’s life plus an investment of thousands of dollars into his/her education is required, it is prudent to get involved as a parent.

So how do you ensure that you’re making the right decision?

The first thing that parents need to do is know your child. You should know what his interests and gifting are. If your child loves the Arts, then you cannot be, or should not be forcing him to pursue the Sciences. You should also know whether or not your teen works best independently or in a group setting; or whether he learns better in a small classroom setting. Is your teen easily distracted and lacks self-discipline or is he focused and disciplined? All these factors will play a major part in your choice of college or university.

Secondly, much research has to be done on the programs that your child is interested in and compare and contrast each college/university’s offering of that program. Which ones are best geared towards his career goals and which subjects are a better fit for what he’s interested in.

Thirdly, cost is usually a significant factor in coming to a decision. Therefore, after narrowing the choices down based on the first two factors, you must compare the cost of your child studying at one particular college as against another. In addition to tuition, your finances will determine whether or not your child can attend a local college/university or one away from home. Can he attend the more expensive Ivy League university or will it be more affordable for him to attend an equally reputable but less expensive one?

Fourthly, it is also a good thing to consider campus spirit as you’d want your teen to enjoy campus life. What clubs does each university/college offer and what opportunities are there for self-development or for community service?

Lastly, it is good to visit the various campuses and get a feel of the environment in which your teen will be. On campus tours, you’ll meet professors and lecturers and hear directly from them on their accessibility.

This is indeed one of the most exciting times in a parents and teens life and after all the research is done, both parties should feel comfortable and happy with the decision made.