Ep 5: Aaron King on the business role of L&D, performance support, and picking the right e-learning tools

Learn about how to go beyond the L&D buzzwords to create meaningful e-learning that is aligned with strategic business goals.

By Inês Pinto on Jan 3rd

In our most recent episode of Untold Stories in Learning & Development, Aaron talks about the importance of better integrating L&D departments with the overall business strategy to ensure learning and business goals are aligned. He also discusses e-learning tools and why they ultimately don’t matter as much as we think they do.

Key takeaways from this episode

  • How corporate culture needs to change to create more actionable learning
  • The importance of continuous performance support
  • Why tech doesn’t matter as much as we think to create quality e-learning
  • Going beyond the buzzwords to create meaningful e-learning

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Show notes

00:40: Introducing Aaron King
03:45: How Aaron began his career in L&D
10:45: Aaron’s company, Snack Size Learning
12:30: Aaron’s most important lesson learned along the way
14:33: The role of race and ethnicity in corporate America
20:45: The greatest milestone in corporate learning so far
22:40: The current state of e-learning tech
23:30: Why organizations need alignment between L&D and business goals
28:30: The importance of performance support and actionable learning
30:05: The quality concern in Employee-generated Learning
32:30: What is Employee-generated Learning
34:35: The next big thing in corporate learning
39:00: Tech isn’t hold us back in e-learning, we are
39:30: Going beyond the e-learning buzzwords for continuous performance support
41:55: Wrapping up

Highlights

“Everything to do with training is current state, right? Where are we at today? Future state. So, I have these two things and I have this gap. I gotta build this bridge. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing with training and development, performance support, etc. But how do we get there?”

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

“What I think is the biggest challenge is that learning designers (…) aren’t real partners to the business.”

“I think we’re not bringing the learner enough into the design process. So, we’re designing for what we think they want, but we don’t really know what they want.”

“If I want to be a great tennis player, I’ve got to practice tennis every day to stay consistent and to move forward. We don’t do that with our learners.”

Resources mentioned in this episode

Featured on this episode: Aaron King, Snack Size Learning

Aaron King’s career began in the music world as a writer and producer in the 80s and 90s. But it was only after writing his first book, Gotta Get Signed: How To Become a Hip-Hop Producer, that Aaron took his first steps in the e-learning world. He turned his book into a textbook and an e-learning course and began touring the US to teach workshops. Today, Aaron is the Chief Learning Engineer at Snack Size Learning and has created more than 200 courses for government agencies, higher education, and corporate organizations.

Connect with Aaron

? LinkedIn

?️ Snack Size Learning Website
? Snack Size Learning Twitter
? Snack Size Learning LinkedIn

Full transcript

Kasper: Good day everybody, and welcome to another episode of Untold Stories. So, today I’m joined by Aaron King. So, first I’ll tell you how we met, which is an interesting story. I published, I created a list of influencers in the world of e-learning together with my colleague Videhi, and we published that. And then, Aaron pointed out that that was a list where no people of color were included. So, he sort of challenged me on that. So, after that we had a conversation because, well I like to be educated if I don’t know something. So, we had a conversation there and from that sort of sprung the idea to invite Aaron for this podcast and sort of share that conversation with everybody. So, that is how we came on to this moment. So, Aaron, maybe you can introduce yourself a bit.

Aaron: Okay, well my name is Aaron King. I am a lot of things one is, you know, trying to be a human right. So, that’s one of my biggest attributes is being a humanist and understanding, you know, love, life, gratitude, kindness, forgiveness. That is my entire mantra as a human being. But as a professional, I work in the capacity of a education or training designer, instructional designer, e-learning developer solutions engineer, strategist. I mean, I have a lot of slashes or checks in my name in terms of, you know, how I show up in the world as a professional and doing, you know, the good work in terms of training and development. So and, and Kasper, you’re right. So, I stumbled across an article that you wrote, and I, you know, I pointed out the fact that there was no people of color in the list, and I was a little confused by it. And one of the things is, you know, I always feel like when we see something, you should say something and point it out. But also give that person an opportunity to express their intentions, and where they were coming from. And I invited you to the conversation. You showed up gracefully, which was awesome, you know, and you made some really great points and a lot of the things. And I think one of the biggest things I learned there was never judge a book by cover, right? I get to meet you. I’m like, Okay, this dude is super awesome. I didn’t realize he was doing all these other things. My bad, right? And I say, we’re all human. So, I understood in your humanity that, okay, well you didn’t really know anybody and when you wrote it, that’s not what you were thinking about. Right? And then I got to understand was like, wow, this guy is not who I, you know, maybe made him out to be in my head. He is about everyone, right? And about being all inclusive. And I think it was a great learning lesson for both of us in terms of expanding our circle, right? And now here we are.

Kasper: Yeah. So, it’s really cool to, well, to find out more about your background and learn from you, but also indeed, well we spoke the previous time also a bit about other people that, you know that and where I’m not familiar with that are working in the world of e-learning. So maybe we can expand that circle even more. So, always interested in learning more there. So yeah. But to start off, Yeah, we sort of want to dive into your, your learning and development journey. So why are you working in the world of learning and what is the reason?

Aaron: That’s a, so it’s, that’s something that’s difficult for me to unpack in the sense that I didn’t choose this industry as much as it chose me per se. Right. And, and I know that sounds very, very kitchy, right? Like, everybody’s like, Oh, that, you know, I’ve heard that people say things like that before. But I got in this space kind of by accident in the sense that, so I come from. Well, I’m a man who wears many hats and not because I want to, sometimes I have to because I have five kids and I don’t really like to work, but I love five kids, right? I think everybody loves to make money and everybody loves to do good things, but it’s like the working thing. It’s like, Oh, I gotta work smarter, not harder. So, I came from, originally from the music industry. So, in the 80s and 90s, I was a DJ. I was a rapper produced a bunch of records. In fact, I have six platinum records that I was a writer, producer, songwriter, et cetera, on. And I write this book in ’05 called Gotta Get Signed: How to become a hip hop producer, right? Never wrote a book before. And then just a little more backstory, I wrote the book while on deployment during Iraqi Enduring Freedom after 9/11 as a combat medic, right? So, I’m writing this book, never wrote a book before. Now, I should keep you know, kind of preface this that at the time was not a college graduate either. Dropped outta college, never finished college, knew how to make money, but you know, didn’t see the value in that. And I write this book and just the year before, I read my first book – and keep in mind I was probably 31, 32. I had never read a book outside of Cat in a Hat.

Kasper: Oh, wow.

Aaron: From end to end. You know, have ADD. Found out that, you know, I could skim things and do really well. Super intelligent, but low output in terms of academic, right? So, I read this book called Makes me Wanna Holler by an author named Nate McCall. It was a great book about this guy who came from the same type of circumstances I came from as a young black man in America. Went on to overcome all of these personal and exterior challenges and becomes a famous writer. He wrote the book in a way that I can understand it, and it was the first book that I ever picked up and started from cover to cover and completed it. Right? So, it kind of made me think about writing a book about my, you know, my experiences. And I had been in the music industry. I was a hip hop producer and a music producer and a DJ, and I talked about my struggles of what it took for me to go in that space with one, not being a musician, two, not being college educated, and three, not understanding the business of music at all. But I figured it out. I asked a lot of questions. I got to be really annoying. I’m sure there’s a laundry list of people who were like, Oh my God, this guy’s annoying as hell. But I asked, Why, why, why, why, why? Like a little kid. I figured it out. I wrote this book. I get a publishing deal with this book. I marketed the book, and what started happening was people, there was an expectation of the audience for me to go deeper, right? To teach this book. I hated school. I didn’t want to teach anything. I was probably my teacher’s worst nightmare. But I found myself in a place where I’m now teaching other artists, musicians, and people who are interested in a music career, how to be a hip hop producer, and all of the things that were in my book. So [imperceptible] who worked as a professor at FIT, which is the Fashion Institute of Technology, says, Hey, you should really make this into a course. I’m like, a what? She’s like, Yeah, you can make it into a e-learning course, all of that. She’s like, You’re good at art and design. So, I started teaching myself web design. I started teaching myself, you know, I was always an artist, but I started learning the real principles behind graphic design and all of this, and I get a copy of, I think it was Lectora and I started trying to understand how all of these pieces work. Long story short is I created a course for my book. Then I created a webinar for the book and I started going out or seminar, and I started going out and speaking about the book, making money. Um, I realized that I could turn this into a course, so I wrote it into a textbook. I wrote it into a course and made it a e-learning course. And then I ended up, I think I got a I ended up putting in on like a free version of Blackboard. And then and also I was using another program called… um it’s owned by Para… Schoology. And I started going places and people were paying me to do this. And I’m like, Wait, this is an actual career. And someone who I met while I was doing speaking engagement said, Are you an instructional designer? I’m like, What the hell is an instructional designer? They said, Well, you’ve created instruction. You’ve designed instruction. You had a strategy from the marketing. ‘Cause I sold this thing through the roof. I was selling the course at $900 a pop and I was making money hand over fist. The other part about it was  I wrote a textbook like, Who the hell does that? Right? And then there was the course that was really robust. and I said, Well, I just put myself in the shoes of the end user, the learner, and what did I wanna learn when I was out here seeking this? And no school would touch me because I wasn’t a musician and I was poor. I didn’t have money to go to school to learn business. So, I figured it out. So, I find out that this is actually a career and I start doing some research and I said, Well, maybe I want to take some of this Army money and go back to college. I had at that point been to 11 colleges and dropped out.

Kasper: Oh wow.

Aaron: And then now keep in mind now I’m about 35, 36, and I decide, okay, I’m gonna go back to college and study marketing, instructional design, e-learning development, business. And I went to college for 16 years straight. Graduated seven times. Yeah. So, that’s kind of how I got into this space. And, you know, some 200 plus courses, you know, that I’ve created for military, higher education, corporate, you know, I really don’t touch K-12, but dabble a little bit. But yeah, it’s been  a crazy ride and I got in this thing by kind of accident. I didn’t seek this out. It sought me, I guess.

Kasper: Interesting, yeah. And, so, what is your current position?

Aaron: So, I am the Chief Learning Engineer for Snack-Sized learning, which is my own company. I’m also a solutions engineer and consultant for Blackboard (the learning platform) as well as I sit on… I’m a consultant for a lot of other smaller companies and I sit on a couple of boards of, you know, things to do with hip hop pedagogy and education and that nature. So, I’m kind of –

Kasper: You still mix the two things together.

Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. I found a way to stay around the things that make me excited about getting up and being a human. Right. Everything for me is about take it in, take it in, and then push it out to, and help as many people, because a mentor told me years ago that… he said, Aaron, you can do well for yourself and do good for others simultaneously. The two are not mutually.

Kasper: Okay. That’s nice indeed. And basically in your own company, except for the consultancy, it’s mainly about creating e-learning courses for companies and institutes, correct?

Aaron: Yes. That is correct. Yes. Government agencies, higher ed, and corporations. Mostly my sweet spot is government and corporations. And I say, why? ‘Cause I was in the higher ed space. I was a professor. I think there’s a lot of rigidity there whereas there’s a little more flexibility for being creative in the corporate space and then the government. If I had to put a hierarchy to it.

Kasper: Yeah. And if you look back on the… well, you made quite a journey here. So, what is the most important lesson that you learned during that journey?

Aaron: Dynamicism. Open-mindedness.

Kasper: Open-mindedness.

Aaron: Yes. Be dynamic. Um, so when I was in the military and, you know, and I got promoted to be in charge, right? So, as an instructor it was more or less two things you needed to have, right? You needed to be flexible and ready to execute at a moment’s notice. And I call it “flexecute”, right? And to “flexecute” is to always be open-minded because things change very, very rapidly. Humans don’t change rapidly. But we have to be consistent in that and be open minded, right? For example, if I would’ve been very rigid in my belief of, you know, your intent when you wrote the article, I could have said, This guy is, you know, he’s a horrible person, blah, blah, blah. But my thing is: enter everything from a place of love, right? Let me understand where is he coming from? Who is this guy? Who are these people? What is this thing? And now take that information in, process that information, and then say, Okay, well wow, I got this wrong. And now I expanded myself, right? I’ve expanded myself, I’ve expanded my mindset, and I expand my actions in the sense that now with anything, and, especially when it comes to learning and design and how we do things. There’s 50 million ways to think. There’s 50 million ways to act, right? So, I think one of the greatest lessons I learned in this space was that: don’t die on any hill, because as soon as you decide to plant your flag in that hill, just another hill that sprung up in the back that might be equally as great, if not better, and some new information. So, always be open minded. Always be ready to change and think differently.

Kasper: And so well, we met because you’re a person of color and I’m not restart discussing that. Is that something of influence in your career? The fact that you have color, is that, do you think that’s significant or is that sort of…

Aaron: I think it’s majorly significant, right? So, I’m a guy with a man bun and a beard. I used to have a very long beard and people with, you know, because I’m ethnically ambiguous. Although, you know, I’m a brown person, but depending on my haircut and beard, I can pass for, you know, multiple races, cultures, and ethnicities – all brown people. But you know, I’ve been Dominican, Puerto Rican, Moroccan, I’ve been Pakistani depending on how my hair and my facial hair. And the thing about that is people make assumptions. I used to have a very, very long beard, right? Um, very, very thick beard. I’ve had worked in corporate, and people would ask me, Well, do you celebrate Christmas? Because they’re trying to ask me if I’m a Muslim. And yes, I, you know, I have friends who are Muslim. I was a Muslim at one point. But I’ve studied Christianity, Islam, Judaism. I am a culture person, so understanding things, religion, and what I’m saying is, I say that to say that when you work in a world where you are constantly the minority. So, for example, in my career I’ve been as high as, you know, I’ve been a vice president a couple of times, a senior vice president, and I know when I work in organizations where all monotone (meaning all one-color) people where, you know, brown and black people or ethnic people, make up a very small minority. If I speak with enthusiasm, you see, I’m kind of a hyper, positive guy. That’s my energy. I’m a lot of energy. If I speak with passion, I’m now an angry black guy. But if a white guy who is in the same position, he’s passionate. And I’ve also known that I’ve had to be three times more educated and worked three times harder than my white counterparts. And that is not fiction. It is a fact. Most people of color in the United States will tell you that has been their story, whether they wanna admit it publicly or not. But that is just the hard facts. It’s something that I’ve had to deal with ever since I was a little kid. I would, you know, people would tell me, Oh wow, you’re very articulate. Um, what, black people aren’t articulate? So, there’s an assumption that brown people, black people live a certain way or are a certain education. I’ve had people who say, I want to touch your hair, and I’m talking not when I was a kid. I’m talking at work, as a professional, in a three-piece suit, in an executive position. Oh, wow. What? You understand what I’m saying there?

Kasper: Yeah, I understand that.

Aaron: Those things exist and I think we are at a place in humanity where none of that really should matter anymore. It should be about what you bring to the table. I don’t care who you love, I don’t care… And when I say I don’t care, meaning: who you love is your business, right?

Kasper: Mm-hmm.

Aaron: Your… who you pray to is your business. I respect that because I respect you. Who, where you know, your culture, your norms, that’s what I want you to bring to the table. That’s what makes you, you. It doesn’t change or determine how I feel about your professionalism, your work ethic, and your talent.

Kasper: No. Correct. No, I agree with that. And that’s all, that’s the interesting thing because when I created a list of which led to us meeting each other, it was never a consideration. But what it’s so… I wasn’t discriminating people because of their color, but probably I’m more living in sort of a bubble which is, where the influence of people of color is just less. Although if I look at my company, Easygenerator, so we are more than 50 nationalities working there. A lot of people of color. So, we have an office in Dubai, so a lot of people from Asia work there. But also, yeah, basically from all over the place; Africa… We have, I think there are only like 10 people from the Netherlands in the whole company, so it’s really, really mixed. So, something I really like, but nevertheless, you are living in a short of a bubble. And that’s also why I want to have conversations like this to sort of see well to peek into another bubble and learn from that. So, well,

Aaron: Well, you make a excellent point, right, with that Kasper, because see, here in America, we live in the American bubble, right? And one of the things that I learned about, you know, traveling internationally and working, you know, with people from, you know, from a global perspective, right? Outside of the US the division of black and white is very, very different in the sense of it’s not the same. Where America kind of promotes that you and them and that. Whereas when you talk to people from other countries, it’s not really about color, race, ethnicity. It’s something completely different. And I got to see that, you know, working in Russia or working, you know, in Latin America or working outside of the, in Europe and working out of the US. And it’s a completely different thing. I think it’s something that’s almost a cultural norm in corporate America, in the US. That sounds a little contradictory, but at the same time, I think it’s just part of that paradigm where we are in a bubble too. It’s not just you, we’re in a bubble. I’m in a bubble.

Kasper: No, no. Yeah. But that’s nice to sort of to glance into other bubbles as well. Yeah, let’s begin back to the world of learning. So, if you look at the world of learning, so you’re now there for quite a long time. So, what do you think is like the greatest milestone in corporate learning? If you have to sort of judge that. What is the one thing that sends out that we achieves over the last decades?

Aaron: Adaptive learning, real adaptive learning. Being able to use machine learning and artificial intelligence, metacognition, being able to measure competence and confidence and mastery of learning. I think that is going to be the next big thing. It is here now, but it’s not scaled, right? There’s a few companies out there, and I’m not gonna do any marketing for them for freeon your show about it, but there are some things out there that are really great. One of my biggest things is that, I believe that all adults bring something to the table. No one starts at zero, right? No one has no knowledge. So, if we can get in and use machine learning and artificial intelligence in a way that measures what you know and teaches you what you need to know, because everything to do with training is current state, right? Where are we at today? Future state. So, I have these two things and I have this gap. I gotta build this bridge. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing with training and development, performance support, et cetera. But how do we get there? Because if we say that there’s five things, five key points that we need to know for mastery, right? My learner comes in, they only need one, and they need part of four. Why am I going through all five? I hear that all the time. For years and years as a consultant, people say, Man, I can’t believe I spent two days in this training for no damn reason. It’s a waste of my time. So, let’s achieve mastery using tech. I think that’s the next big revolution.

Kasper: And do you think that we’re there? Because I know a couple of adaptive tools that are already out there for more than a decade, but most of the adaptiveness actually has to be created by the intructional designers. So, and then it’s a lot work to make that happen.

Aaron: Yes.

Kasper: So, the question is, do you think that technology is now that far that it can take over and that it can actually facilitate adaptive learning so, it will actually start happening?

Aaron: I don’t think the tech is all the way there yet. Because you’re right, Kasper. What needs to happen is there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done by the instructional designer to build. Because one of the things that I taught previously for ATD was instructional design for adaptive learning, right? How to prepare the content so that it works with the tech.

Kasper: Yeah. But you have endless branches and stuff like that, so it becomes really complex.

Aaron: It is, and I think we’re getting there. We’re not all the way there yet, but I think where we’re at is a comfortable place in the sense that we are gonna take some of the pain off of, associated with learning and more specifically learning that has to do with regulations and mandatory learning, right? That same thing that we, you know, that same training that I gotta take every year about cybersecurity. I didn’t break any rules last year. I’m taking the same training, it’s forced upon me. So, we have to start thinking differently of how we get to mastery and then what’s mandatory and how we do that. So, I think it’s kind of a combination of both, right? The design, the technique, the time put in, and then how well does the tech.

Kasper: Yeah. Okay, cool. Now basically tech is still a bit of a hurdle there. Do you see other like major hurdles in the world of corporate learning that we need to tackle?

Aaron: Culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, man, every morning. I think what we do is that I think most corporations still… and I was on a call maybe like last week for a big, big, big company, and I’m talking big company. And the CEO says on the call, the learner’s not really that important. And first of all, I stopped, I placed myself on mute. I messaged the people who I was on the call with that were on my team. And this is, you know, this wasn’t a Blackboard customer, this was just because I do consulting out in the world. So, I reach out to my team on the other side and it’s like, Did he just say that? Yeah. And I’m not gonna put anybody out there, but I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. But then it speaks to the thing, it speaks to the understanding that unless Learning & Development becomes a part of the DNA of the organization, a part of that everyday, you know, drinking water, if you will, right? Then it seems to be a thing that we can get rid of or something that we can… a scapegoat that we can blame things on. What I think is the biggest challenge is that learning designers, whether they call themselves instructional designers, e-learning developers, LXD, or whatever the new term is gonna be next, aren’t real partners to the business in sense that they’re not sitting in the strategy… They should be in the strategic business goals meeting year over year. Right? Or quarterly. They shouldn’t be handed: Here’s your instructions. Go do the work. Because then, we’re missing the mark a lot of the times. There’s no performance, there’s no… You know, I know organizations that collect historical data, but don’t do anything with the data. So, are you designing training based off the data? No. Then why do you collect the data? Oh, I think it was a great idea to collect it. So, there’s so many different things, but I think it all stems down to the fact that when you start a business, right? One of the things I love about accountancy is whether the business is opening or closing, you still need an accountant going both ways. The accountant is always a part, finance is always a part of any business, whether it’s Microsoft or an orange stand on the side of the road. Accountancy is part of that. So, Learning & Development should be an equal part of that. Right, because either we wanna save money or we wanna save time or both, right? So, if that’s the case, then we should be a partner and all of our instruction should be tied and rolled up to the business goals of the organization. And there should be support mechanisms in there. There should be accountability in there, and there should definitely be performance support post-training, which you never. Or rarely see. I shouldn’t say never; rarely see.

Kasper: Okay. Clear. Are you familiar with the work of Kathy Moore? Because she’s all about aligning learning with business goals and things like that.

Aaron: Yes. Uh, yes. I am very familiar with her work. I believe she has a book, I can’t think of the name of it.

Kasper: Action mapping.

Aaron: Yeah, action mapping. Yeah. I haven’t read it. I do own the book. I did purchase it. I haven’t read it ‘cause I have, at this point, I have a couple of mentors just in, you know, for different purposes and I believe that I’m probably gonna live till I’m about 150 years old just so I can finish my reading list, right? I just have that much reading and I do wanna read it, but I, from what I understand about her work and I’ve inquired about some of her work, is that’s her, you know, that’s her thing, right? And she’s 100% correct.

Kasper: Well, yeah. Basically two things I think. So, it’s aligning learning with the business goals because if you are if you learn something that is not aligned with the goals, there’s no point in it.And the second thing, learning is not about acquiring knowledge, but about being able to perform, to act. So, that’s also what you said with the performance support thing. It’s also part of her thing. So, she actually changed recently the Five Moments of Learning Needs. I’m not sure if you know them, but they are like so something new happened, you have to learn something. And when there’s more information, stuff like that. And one of the five moments is when you have to apply that she changed it to the four and added “and apply it” after every other thing. So, when there’s more information, learn about it and apply it. So, I really like that.

Aaron: I had this conversation literally yesterday. So, I’m advising a group where we’re working, doing things in the music industry, building, we’re building some applications and some other programming around that kind of thing about being able to have, it’s great, theoretical knowledge is awesome, right? Of: how do I know how to copyright my song? That’s great, right? But if I don’t ever copyright my song and take the action then I’m not protected. I know people will tell you all day long hell how to do it right. And, but if I don’t register that song and then I don’t do the steps that are necessary to create revenue for myself, then I have the greatest song that someone else is making money off.

Kasper: Yeah. And you have the knowledge, but you don’t have the benefits…

Aaron: I know a lot of guys who, who in theory can, can box. They could fight, right? They’ve read a lot of books, they watch videos. But you wanna see how great of a fighter you are? Get in the ring or get into a fight, because as soon as you get punched in the face, all of that theoretical knowledge falls to the map. I mean, it is what it is.

Kasper: Yeah. That’s really interesting because at the moment we are sort of , so with Easygenerator we allow people who do not have an instructional design background to create, we facilitate them to create learning. So, that’s what we do. And the biggest challenge of course then is the quality of the content. Because they don’t have that design background or education background. So, currently we indeed are trying to build sort of an AI coach that looks over their shoulder and teaches them. But then also you have like all the rules and all the observations you can do, but the question is how does that coach act on it? So, when you see something happening in the tool… By the way so, it’s a piece of software that will analyze that. So, there are triggers, but what are you doing? So, it’s exactly the question you just raised so: you have all the knowledge, but indeed, if you get punched to the face, how do you respond? That seemed really interesting.

Aaron: Exactly. I’m a great boxer until you punch me in the face. And then now everything I’ve learned is done right? So, I say go out and get punched. If you wanna become a fighter, go out and fight. So, when I was a sergeant, people would say, Well, sergeant, how do you do more push-ups? Is there an exercise? Is there a trick? No, you wanna get better at doing push-ups? You do push-ups. That’s the only way through it. You wanna become better at instructional design and e-learning development, you develop. I think one of my biggest challenges when I was seeking my education in this is that as a creative person, I kicked butt when it came to how things look and feel and that kind of thing. And I could create all of this awesome mechanically things. Like, I was the guy who could dunk backwards, right? Or do all the tricks. But I had no, no fundamentals of basketball or didn’t know why I was doing these things. So, I got my first master’s degree in design, right? Education Media Design and Technology. But then I was like, Well, why am I doing these things? So, then I went and got a master’s in Instructional Design to know the why behind it. So, I see where you’re going with the tool is that, yeah, all of these people since COVID have been thrusted in the e-learning developer space. And some of them can really create cool stuff. But then is it backed up by sound in instructional practice?

Kasper: Oh, with this it’s even different. So the pitch of Easygenerator is completely different. It is a bit probably against what you do, but I developed a lot of e-learning. But the thing is that if you develop an e-learning course, you have to interview people that actually have the knowledge and then you have to sort of incorporate the knowledge in the course. That process takes all of time and is, with that, expensive. So, that’s the one thing. And the second thing is that, and that is the main thing: because you are the owner of the course, if something changes in the business, if they do some these things in a different way, you are not aware. So, it’s really hard for you to keep your course up to date.

Aaron: That’s good point.

Kasper: Yeah. That’s the problem we want to solve. Yeah. Nobody ever considers maintenance with e-learning.

Aaron: No, they don’t. It’s one and done.

Kasper: Yeah. My conclusion always was that we spend a lot of time and money teaching people outdated stuff. That’s what we do, and I don’t like that. And that’s why we have…

Aaron: You got it. That’s it. We teach it. We spend a lot of time and money teaching. That is my argument for life. I say, Okay, when you go to college and if you go, if you think of higher education for a second, right? And you go, Okay, I wrote a textbook. By the time it’s been aligned to the syllabus, the instructional goals, published, edited, etc., etc., by the time you get it to the learner, the knowledge is already old by three years.

Kasper: Correct, yeah. You need to create content at the speed of the business as one of our customer says.

Aaron: I like that.

Kasper: And so what we do is that we sort of hand very simple tool to the people in the business so they can create content themselves, so they don’t have any instructional design knowledge.

Aaron: So, it’s about empowerment.

Kasper: Sorry?

Aaron: So, it’s about empowering them.

Kasper: Yeah, it is. It’s knowledge sharing, it’s empowering. It’s, yeah, that’s what we do. And with that, of course, instructional designers are sometimes part of the process, guiding them. We have a support team that can help them out, but now the next step is sort of, that’s the holy grail, that our tool will actually help them out. So, we have like, oh, basically we build you into our tool. So, somebody which their knowledge can use that knowledge in order to create a proper course.

Aaron: That is awesome. I love that. I love that.

Kasper: Okay. Talking about that. So, that’s one of my biggest challenges, sort of the holy grail to create that. So, what do you think is the biggest challenge, let’s say in five years time, if you look at the world of corporate learning. So, what is the next big thing? So, you said adaptive learning is the next step. So, what will be on the horizon in five years time?

Aaron: I think we’re gonna still be dealing with some of this challenges that we have now, right? The non-existent collaboration between the learning development office or learning development department with the business. Right? Business goals. Business strategy. I think we’re gonna still be dealing with that because I still don’t see a way forward in terms of no one leading the charge on that, right? Because I think each individual organization has these cultural things that need to be solved from a business transformation perspective rather than the training development. There’s certain things that training and development can’t solve for, and we’re never the solution. We support the solution. That’s what we do. We support a business decision. So, I think we’re gonna still be having challenges there. I think we’re still gonna be dealing with that next shiny thing, right? Everybody’s saying, Oh, AR, VR is going to be the solution, right? But I can have the latest tool on how to build a house. That’s great. You know, here’s the new shiny hammer. But if I don’t know why I’m building the house or building the house soundly, it doesn’t make a difference what new tool I have. I think we’re gonna still be chasing our tails because everybody’s like, Oh, AR, VR is the next thing. And yes, it’s a great revolution, but it still doesn’t solve some of the basic problems. I think what L&D need to do is go back and make a bigger push for aligning the two. Um, you know, focusing on learner centrism, 100%. You know, changing and transforming the mindsets of stakeholders and C-Suite and the organizations in a way that they realize that learning is going to be a part of what they do, not an add-on. I think, I don’t see any new challenges, unless maybe… And I don’t really see this as a challenge ‘cause I think I hear a lot of talk about, well now we have four generations of people, you know, in the workspace simultaneously, right? So, we have Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. I think Gen Z’s they’re kind of more me, me, me, me in the sense of…. not selfishness, but the sense of instant gratification because they’re used to everything being right here, happening right now in real time. But I don’t know if that’s a challenge or pain point as it is an opportunity for us to get out of our own way and do things differently. Speed, like you said, creating learning at the speed of the business. And then kind of taken from like Clark Quinn, who’s, you know, someone who I really admire. Um, ‘cause I’m actually rereading one of his books that I haven’t read in years. But I think being able to see these opportunities as a way to bring them, those younger people, into the space. Well, what do you wanna see? What do you need to see? I think we’re not bringing the learner enough into the design process. So, we’re designing for what we think they want, but we don’t really know what they want. I’m not seeing a lot of observations. I don’t see a lot of, you know peer groups or, you know, things like that where I’m making the learner part of the analysis, and design, and development processes. I’m just kind of creating it based off, in a vacuum, based off of marching in orders given to me by someone else.

Kasper: Yeah. That’s interesting what you say because my history in learning dates back quite a while, so I started out when we were still calling it computer-based training with CD-ROMs.

Aaron: CBT!

Kasper: Yeah. And at first we had a challenge: we couldn’t play video and it was the way too expensive play videos. You had all kind of technical limitations and finally we had that, and then we got the web. Then we couldn’t play video again because there wasn’t bandwidth and we had to go back again. So, my feeling really now is that most of the technical limitations are gone and basically you can do anything. So, what you are saying is interesting. So, it’s not like big next shiny thing that you want. It’s us; we are the limitation in how we use all those stuff that we have in a way that is actually meaningful.

Aaron: Yes. Meaningful and very, very specific. One of the things I love about microlearning is it does… that is the theme of it. But I don’t think most people do microlearning, you know, correctly. And I mean, that’s a whole other, you know, pain point to me.

Kasper: Yes. We, we can have another podcast from that.

Aaron: Yes. But I do think that that is kind of the way forward. It’s interesting where five years we go, five years back, everybody’s like gamification, gamification. And you know Karl Kapp –  another, love this, love him, very, very, very fond of his work. And when we start talking about gamification or gamified learning or, you know, I’ve had that conversation with at least 200 clients about explaining it beyond the buzzword, right? And the rationale for doing so.

Kasper: Yeah. So what does actually mean?

Aaron: Yeah, exactly. What does it mean? And then, what are the implications for the learner? Why? It’s great that we have it, but why are we doing it? And then to what end? And again, if it doesn’t, my thing is like, if you come to me as a learner and you are a five. And in order to meet the business goal, I need you to be a consistent and solid seven. What do I need to what to fill that space of two? What do I need to continually give you performance support in that moment of need? Or how do I need to make this work in a way that by the time I’m done with you, not only are you transformed at the end of this. But it’s an ongoing process of keeping you consistent, right? They say, like in sports, if you stop playing basketball, you know, Oh, you got old and you stopped playing basketball. Or do you get old because you stopped playing? Right? So, with the learner, why did we give it? Why is it one, it’s a one-night stand, right? Hey, it was nice meeting you. We had a great time. See you never, right? And now what you’ve taught me, it’s not being supported. It’s not being backed up, it’s not ongoing. Right? Because if I wanna be a great, you know, tennis player, I gotta practice tennis every day to stay consistent and to move forward. We don’t do that with our learners. It’s definitely a one-night stand.

Kasper: Okay, good point. Okay. Thank you for that. So, I always wrap the podcast up with a bit of knowledge sharing. So, three questions there. So, the first one, who is your ultimate learning hero? Do you have one?

Aaron: No, I have, I’m more like the Justice League of, you know, in this space, right? I have quite a few, right? Like, like I said, Karl Kapp, Will Thalheimer, I’m probably saying his last name wrong. I’ve known Will for a while, but I, you know, I’m not the greatest with getting people’s names correct. But the intent is good, right?

Kasper: I think you pronounced it correctly.

Aaron: Um, I would say Clark Quinn, you know. And I then I have a lot of friends out there who are my peers that I think are phenomenal. Like, you know, like Myra Roland, Hadia Norden, Alex Salas. I mean, there’s a lot of people, you know, Nelson Santiago.. I mean, I can name… My thing is, it takes a village, right?

Kasper: Mm-hmm.

Aaron: And all of these people bring something special to the table. I believe that even folks that you know, who are coming into the game new with fresh perspectives bring so much because now they’re not fixed to this certain way of thinking. It’s almost like when you have a little kid, they’re a sponge, right? Before we become, you know, five or six years old in the world. That’s kind of, we realize that the world isn’t what we believed it to be. ‘Cause we start really to see like, when we’re in between, you know, being able to talk and five years old. We are in our most open-minded and absorbent of information. When people come into this game, those are the people I like to work with because they’re not rigid in their thinking and. But we have to take that with kid gloves too, right? We have to be very, we have to hold it like it’s the Declaration of Independence and carry it lightly because some of our influences can be pushed, impressed upon them. You don’t want people to have new bad habits or whatever. I want people to always stay open minded and say, Hey, there’s other ways and let’s explore, let’s figure it out. And I mean, and I have to say, now you are part of my super friends, right? So, I have to add, you know, Kasper Spiro to that because you opened my mind up to a different way of doing things.

Kasper: Well, thank you for that compliment.

Aaron: You know, for me it’s the fruit basket of knowledge, right? I want some grapes, I want some bananas, I want some apples. Some, maybe some, you know, some kiwi, right?

Kasper: Clear. And is there like one book you would advise people to read or a blog or a podcast to follow? Things that add real value, give you a lot of value, that other people should dive into?

Aaron: My thoughts would be this. I don’t prescribe to one train of thought. I believe that you should seek knowledge always, right? Never be stagnant. As I was mentioning earlier about Clark Quinn’s book about, you know, The revolution of Training, and I don’t remember the title offhand, even though I’m a halfway through it for the second time. The important thing is, is that: make a reading list, get recommendations from other people, read all the books if you can. Go to the webinars, listen to a variety of different blogs, podcasts. If you’re an instructional designer, learn as many tools as you can. You know, I know people, Well, I used to teach Storyline and Captivate. I don’t, I barely ever used them because when I started designing e-learning originally I didn’t use any of those things. I used HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, and I used Adobe Animate, which was Adobe um… before it was Adobe Animate, it was Adobe Flash. So, whatever it was, it was never about the tools. Tools are great and you should learn tools and find the tool. You know, even a carpenter is gonna use a DeWalt drill over maybe a Ryobi based off of convenience and comfort. But even if you have the best tools, if you’re still creating crap learning, it doesn’t make a difference. So, learn all the tools, find the tool that you’re most comfortable with.

Kasper: So, I sort of want to move to the last question I have, and that is, who do you think I should talk to next? So, I always invite somebody to ask, to propose the next guest for the podcast.

Aaron: So, I’m gonna say, and this kind of speaks to the point of what I was I was trying to make in the post from LinkedIn that we were referring to. I think you should either talk to Hadiya Nuriddin love her to death, has her own e-learning company, is a instructional designer, e-learning developer, book author of you know, she has a book about, you know, telling stories as part of the design process, which is phenomenal, right? Uh, so her book is, is amazing. Her work is amazing. Her talent is amazing. I think she’s a fantastic overall human being. A black woman who’s doing her own thing. Um, also another woman of color I think would be great is Elmyra Rolden. She is just an amazing person in learning and development altogether, right? Has done all the jobs. Um, I think the energy that she brings, she’s a person of color as well, you know, Puerto Rican woman who brings the same type of energy to the table and expertise. And you know, when I look at people in terms of who they are, it goes beyond what they can do in Learning & Development. It has to do with that inner light of humanity, right? What kind of person are they when they show up? Are they being one, altruistic? Two, are, is it about love and kindness, right? Everything I live for is about love and kindness, right? At the end of the day, it’s: how much love can we spread? And I think both of those ladies are just as human beings are fantastic people, but as professionals in the Learning & Development space bring a level of expertise from a different perspective. Their work is bar, you know, bar none, and their intent is to spread knowledge, to spread love, to spread kindness. And I think they are both worthy of a ton of praise, in my opinion.

Kasper: Okay, cool. So then I’m already looking forward to those conversations. So, thanks for that. And thank you for making time to talk to me and really enjoyed it. So, we’ll be in touch, Aaron, I’m sure.

Aaron: Oh, it has been my pleasure, and I am very, very honored to be here. So, thanks to you and I mean, hell, who would’ve thought I would’ve met a great person from, you know, me pointing out something that I didn’t agree with, right? See, and that’s the theme here is never judge a book by its cover and always be open-minded, right? I was wrong. I was wrong about you. I was wrong about your intent. Um, although the article did, you know, point that out, but, sometimes you gotta… Life is an iceberg, right? What you see on the surface is not what you know is below the surface. So, we always have to be understanding of that, and I appreciate the opportunity,

Kasper: But yeah, I don’t mind that at all. So, in my company we have a couple of business values and one of them is “we challenge.” So, we want everybody to challenge everything. If they think we can do something in a better way or if they even doubt that it’s the best way we can do it. And that’s the only way, and you can challenge anything from everyone as long as you do it respectful. That’s the only condition we have. And that is so important to keep your company developing, to keep yourself on your toes. And I actually, so regardless of the position, everybody will challenge me all the time, but I love that. Yeah.

Aaron: Well that, that says a lot about you and about ego and it says a lot about, you know, your humanity, right? Always be willing to know that, hey, this is my way, but it’s not always necessarily the best or right way.

Kasper: You can always do better. It’s one of the things…

Aaron: Yeah. My thing is when you know better, you do better. And I think that’s a fact, right? When, when you get up in the morning, what is your daily intention, right? And I try to, Hey, did I live up? There’s the self and the aspirational self. Did I live up to the aspirations of how I wanna show up? And I applaud you, sir, ‘cause, you know, you seem to be living your values and, you know, I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. So, I appreciate it. Definitely would love to continue the conversations offline because there’s quite a few things that I’m interested in what you guys are doing with the Easygenerator and just your global footprint, you know, and how I can be at evangelist for that as well. Um, I think you guys are doing some really good work over there.

Kasper: Well, thank you.

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About the author

Inês Pinto is the content manager at Easygenerator. Originally from Portugal, she grew up in Canada and the US before returning to Europe to complete her university studies. She currently resides in Rotterdam with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.

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