Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Learn Faster Using First Principles and the Feynman Technique - Tip #177

When Elon Musk and his team were in the process of estimating the cost of SpaceX rockets, they didn’t look at the products on the market. Instead, they identified the necessary parts and the cost of those parts’ raw materials. This unconventional way of thinking resulted in a rocket that cost only 2% of the typical price.

When you have a problem or want to learn something, how do you go about it? Research? Memorization? Or something else?

First Principles Learning

Elon Musk has a different way of looking at issues and learning. He follows a mode of inquiry he calls “first principles thinking.” In first principles thinking, you go to the foundation or root of a problem. As applied to learning, this means returning to the fundamental principles.

He is quoted as saying in Reddit: “It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

The Feynman Technique

There’s another method that’s very similar to Elon Musk’s first principles. It’s called the Feynman Technique, and it helps learners thoroughly learn concepts. The technique eschews memorization. Rather, it advocates that learners explain a subject as simply as possible, which is the measure of whether learning actually occurred or not.

The Feynman Technique has four steps. It’s explained in detail here, but here are the basics:
  1. Upon deciding on a subject you’d like to learn, take a blank sheet of paper and write the subject at the top.
  2. Then write what you know about the subject as simply as possible (simple enough to be understood by an 8 year old). This entails using common words to explain and simplify relationships and connections between ideas.
  3. Next, you’ll want to identify gaps in your knowledge about the subject and go back to the source material to re-learn it.
  4. Review your notes to make sure there are no jargons copied from the source material and then organize your notes into “a simple story that flows.” Anything that sounds confusing is an area that you still need to work on.
  5. (This step is optional but it’s the ultimate test of whether you understand the subject or not.) Transmit your learning to someone who has little knowledge about the subject.

Both Elon Musk’s first principles and the Feynman Technique will give learners a deeper understanding of any subject. They’ll really learn at a faster pace by deconstructing and then reconstructing ideas and concepts.


Drake Baer. Elon Musk Uses This Ancient Critical-Thinking Strategy To Outsmart Everybody Else. Business Insider, January 5, 2015
Quora. Elon Musk's Surprising Strategy for Thinking About Everything. Inc., February 7, 2017
Farnam Street The Feynman Technique: The Best Way to Learn Anything
Tip #82 - Role of Stories in Learning - A Map

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Monday, April 16, 2018

Build a Culture of Critical Thinking for Learning Breakthroughs - Tip #176

Just a few months ago, news broke out about reports of cyber attacks during the 2018 Winter Olympics. Internet and wifi service also went offline during the opening ceremony because of these cyber attacks. How do they do that? Let me count the ways, but the most common scam is through phishing.

Phishing is a form of cyber attack that involves malicious links in emails or fake websites to gain a user’s personal information, which a hacker uses to infiltrate a network, commit financial crimes, or threaten the user. From individuals to organizations, no one is safe from phishing scams.

An Organization’s ‘Weakest Link’

The 2018 Wombat Security State of the Phish report states that 76% of businesses reported being a victim of a phishing attack in 2017. And, in a separate study, Intel found that 97% of people worldwide are unable to identify a sophisticated phishing email.

Aside from ensuring that strict security systems are in place, one major factor in the prevention of phishing in organizations is developing the critical thinking skills of its people. Less experienced employees are more likely to include emotion and instinct in their decision making compared with their more experienced counterparts, according to one publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

According to Harold JarcheCritical thinking must be practiced. It should be encouraged in the workplace by freely sharing what I call ‘half-baked ideas’. In this way, professionals can engage in problem-solving activities at the edge of their expertise, where they should be in order to deal with complex issues.

Interestingly, when employees are trained well about recognizing and understanding phishing emails -- along with correctly executed and reported phishing tests -- susceptibility rates (or how susceptible a business is to a phishing attack) fell as low as 5%, according to PhishMe’s 2017 Enterprise Phishing Resiliency and Defense Report.

“Phishing attacks have the ability to skirt technology and target human emotion, making it imperative that organizations empower their employees to be part of the solution,” said Aaron Higbee, co-founder and chief technology officer at PhishMe.

Cultivating Critical Thinking in the Organization

Fortunately, critical thinking is a skill that can be developed and nurtured. With proper training and more experience, employees will be able to have a well-organized thought process and be able to validate information and ideas based on sound logic and verifiable evidence. Here are some ideas:
  • Interaction and sharing - Asking questions and encouraging employees to offer solutions to problems provokes and helps them use their critical thinking skills.
  • What Would You Do? (WWYD) - Allow employees to reflect because reflection helps them connect the dots.
  • Interactive stories - Aside from building empathy and teaching lessons, an interactive story also challenges employees’ critical thinking.


Doug Olenick. 2018 Winter Olympics being used as phishing attack bait
Wombat Security Technologies. 2018 State of the Phish
Intel Security. 97% of People Globally Unable to Correctly Identify Phishing Emails
Harold Jarche. Thinking Critically
Chen, D., Moskowitz, T. J., & Shue, K. (2016). Decision-Making Under The Gambler's Fallacy. Cambridge, MA: NBER Working Paper Series
PhishMe. Enterprise Phishing Resiliency and Defense Report
Tip #41 - How to Weave Hard Facts and Emotions into your eLearning Lessons
Tip #51 - How to Mold Smarter Learners by Using Patterns
Tip #69 - Reflections Impact Performance
Tip #118 - Content That Lives Within a Story Lasts Forever

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

3 Ways to Learn Better in the Modern Era - Tip #175

We’re living in the sci-fi of yesteryears, where robots do the work that humans did. For instance, there’s a 3-foot-tall robot named Elvis at the Renaissance Hotel in Las Vegas. Elvis brings a toothbrush or toothpaste, an extra towel, or a newspaper to hotel guests.

While Elvis hasn’t relieved any hotel staff, the idea of AI (artificial intelligence) replacing humans at their jobs is a valid concern among employees. And, it isn’t a far-fetched reality: A University of Redlands Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis (ISEA) study states that 65% of jobs in Las Vegas could be automated in the next one to two decades.

However, rather than worrying, I advise workers and training professionals to focus instead on the opportunity to re-train and acquire skills that machines can’t handle, e.g., jobs that require creativity, social skills, and physical dexterity and mobility. Here are my thoughts on how adult learners can learn and thrive better in a fast-paced workplace.

Experience Sharing and Expertise

Microlearning’s idea of expertise is “what we know and can do now” and it essentially requires workers and learners to continually contribute and test their knowledge against the uncertainties and unknowns in work situations (Contributor-Expert model). 

This entails a shift from skills thinking to capabilities thinking. Whereas “skills are bounded within a specific context” (what),  capabilities is about “learning the context” (why). Capabilities are “curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and social and emotional intelligence.” Through capabilities thinking, workers and learners can find the right knowledge and use the appropriate skills to address issues, thus enabling them to learn quickly and more effectively cope with the demands of work.


Because workers aim to fix, solve and improve work issues, work then is a diagnostic process.

The Diagnostic Process is where experience sharing and expertise are not only essential but already a natural way of learning and fixing, solving and improving work.

This kind of “social reflection” becomes crucial to ever-evolving work situations. While in social reflection mode, the desire to fix a problem is a key motivation and learners are mentally open for answers. It is in this mode of reflection that a learner is predisposed to learning and ready to take actions which leads to faster decisions.

Furthermore, Harold Jarche believes learners must be adept at their own learning. Training as we know today will cease to be the effective way to confront uncertainties in the faster and more complex world.

For microlearning to make an impact, we have to address the demands of the real world rather than focusing on the static mode of recreated worlds.


One way to help workers find fast answers and solutions is through the use of micro-questions in the content and solutions.
Target Question directs learners toward the result: What do I want to change, fix, or improve? What’s the expected/desired outcome?
Recall Question aids in remembering experiences, making decisions and taking actions: “What do I know about this? How should I proceed?”
Feedback Question allows for pause and reflection: “How do I know the solution works?”
In addition to uncovering both benefits and negative consequences, micro-questions help learners “think it through.” By “thinking through,” learners find the answers and solutions they need. For trainers and designers, asking and answering micro-questions will help make it easier to write content for micro-actions.

The Ultimate Survival Tool

There’s only one way to survive in the modern workplace brought about by the “new Industrial Revolution”. That is to learn how to learn. “Learning to learn” is “one of the most important talents of the modern era, the skill that precedes all other skills,” says Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of “Learn Better.”


Tekla S. Perry. CES 2018: Delivery Robots are Full-Time Employees at a Las Vegas Hotel. IEEE Spectrum, Jan. 12, 2018
Jess Chen. Future job automation to hit hardest in low wage metropolitan areas like Las Vegas, Orlando and Riverside-San Bernardino. ISEA Publish, May 3, 2017
Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee. Brynjolfsson and McAfee: The jobs that AI can't replace. BBC, Sept. 13, 2015
John Hagel III and John Seely Brown. Help Employees Create Knowledge — Not Just Share It. Harvard Business Review, Aug. 15, 2017
Anne Murphy Paul. Discovering Better Ways to Learn as an Adult. KQED News, Aug. 9, 2017
Harold Jarche. The uncertain future of training. May 8, 2017
Tip #93 - Expertise: Why The Odds are Stacked Against Novices
Tip #142 - Why a Reflection Pause is Critical to Performance
Tip #165 - Why Avoid Comparing Microlearning with Instructional Design

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Why Story Lessons Are the Most Engaging Learning for Millennials - Tip #174

As a child, you probably had a grandmother who told you stories. How did she captivate you with her tales?

Now, think about your social media habits. You’ve probably shared a cool pic or an interesting article recently. You might also have liked and commented on your friend’s social media posts.

Both of these scenarios depict storytelling, albeit in different modes.

Our grandmother’s storytelling is quite different from how we tell our stories today. In a world connected by the internet, storytelling is happening at an accelerated rate, thanks mostly to social media networks, which have made it easier for us to share stories.

In what forms are stories shared?

Stories in social media come in a variety of formats.
  • Text (e.g., posts and image captions)
  • Photos and albums
  • Videos (livestream, GIFs, etc.)
  • Games
  • Hashtags
  • Snapchat Stories, Instagram Stories, YouTube Reels, and other story formats
  • and more...
What does this mean to learning and training?

Millennials, or those born after 1982, will compose 75 percent of the workforce by 2030, according  to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are a generation that’s used to the internet-digital natives who are always connected anywhere, anytime.


Phones and other mobile devices have become the millennials’ primary tools for connecting and collaborating with peers and others. The key thing to remember is that if your learning and training design does not include a way for learners to collaborate or exchange ideas pre-, post- or during learning, you may not be providing them new opportunities and skills for learning.

Consider integrating communication and collaboration tools into millennial training and development. Try to incorporate tools they’re already using, like Slack and Facebook, or something similar.

Knowledge network

Knowledge flows rather than knowledge stocks will provide organizations with the strategic advantage. According to John Hagel, “Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important.” So, take advantage of the opportunity to use this flow of network and sources of knowledge as a medium, rather than relying on instruction-type training (e.g., classroom).

Story sharing

There’s an interesting finding in The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016. According to the study, personal values/morals have the greatest influence on decisions of millennials, who value and prioritize sense of purpose rather than the growth or profit of an organization. These study results tell us that the lessons we share in training and development must not only align with company vision but also with the millennials’ personal values.

And, with story sharing being more powerful today in learning than in formal training, let us encourage and enable learners to ask questions and share what they know.

How will you leverage these learnings? Tell me in the comments below.


Alastair Mitchell, The Rise of the Millennial Workforce. Wired, August 2013
John Hagel. Defining the Big Shift. August 2, 2009
Deloitte. Values do not change for Millennials as they progress professionally: The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016
Tip #75 - Insight Sharing - How They "Meet and Mate"
Tip #111 - Why Stories Drive Social Learning

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The “Secret Sauce” of Virtual Collaboration - Tip #173

There’s an interesting study released in 2017 about remote workers. Titled “The Human Face of Remote Working,” it discovered that remote workers seek a human connection. Through collaborative technologies, they build better co-worker relationships and are more empathic.

“Nearly all (98%) of employees said that collaborative technologies make it easier to get to know, or build relationships with co-workers and nearly half said that they know colleagues more personally thanks to video conferencing.”

When it comes to training and development, this means leveraging the collaborative technologies already in place to create more opportunities for meaningful interaction between trainer and learners, as well as among learners themselves.

How do we do this? As with other things in this internet age, Google has the answer.

Project Aristotle

Back in 2012, Google launched an initiative called Project Aristotle. The goal was to find out the “secret sauce” behind the success (or failure) of teams. Google had 180 teams from all over the company, and so researchers were able to collect a lot of data.

‘‘We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference,” Abeer Dubey, Google’s director of People Analytics shared. “The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

So, what mattered? What made some teams soar while others stumble?

The ‘Secret Sauce’ of Successful Teams

It really boils down to two things: “conversational turn taking” and “social sensitivity.”

Conversational turn taking means that each member of the team had equal time to express their views as the rest listened. To achieve this, team environment must be psychologically safe. Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines “psychological safety” as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well. But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined,’’ said Anita Woolley, lead author of this research that aimed to find out if there’s a collective I.Q. in human groups.

Tip: Catch learners attention with story arguments and encourage them to express their sentiments with story questions.

Social sensitivity, on the other hand, is being skilled at recognizing how others felt based on verbal and nonverbal cues, as well as being able to empathize with other members of the team.

Tip: To encourage this, create a virtual water cooler, party or social networking features. This will enable individuals to connect with each other on a more personal and emotional level. This informal connection will reinforce social bonds that will make collaboration easier.

With virtual collaboration fast becoming the norm in the modern workforce, it’s important to keep in mind what makes a team really click. “The whole is more than the sum” pretty much summarizes what true collaboration means. It’s the “secret sauce” to spectacular success and innovation.

References The Human Face of Remote Work Study. March 21, 2017
Charles Duhigg. What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. The New York Times, February 25, 2016
Erica Dhawan. The Secret Weapon For Collaboration. Forbes, April 14, 2016
Anita Williams Woolley, et al. Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Science 330, 686 (2010)
Tip #43 - How to Use Questions to Immerse Learners in Your Lesson
Tip #117 - 5 Story Arguments that Compel Learners to Pay Attention
Tip #137 - How to Be a Kung Fu Webinar and Virtual Trainer Master

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Monday, March 12, 2018

3 Examples of Microlearning Lesson Storyboards - Tip #172

One of the challenges in Microlearning is how to smartly reduce big, bloated, and overloaded courses. These courses are the typical “click-and-read” eLearning, lengthy classroom programs and long references.

This tip and guide presents the key steps in Microlearning Lesson conversion and three example storyboards of Micro-Lessons.

These are the steps we cover in the Microlearning Workshop and the book on Microlearning.

You will learn valuable insights on how to smartly reduce your lessons into useful and smaller lesson content aimed for Microlearning.

What Are the Parts of a Micro-Lesson?

  1. Select the must-do and must-learn - this is content that has significant impacts on the workflow and requires the workers’ immediate attention
  2. Use events - these are situations or issues that get the workers' and learners’ attention the most
  3. Add context - always explain factual content with real-life applications
  4. Ask micro-questions - this creates a feedback loop that helps the worker reflect on the testing of ideas and solutions
  5. Ask application questions - these are micro-questions intended to reinforce the workers’ and learners’ need to find ways of applying ideas on the job
  6. Replace learning objectives with target questions - this is necessary for instructional designers and SMEs to clearly define what they want their learners to learn
  7. Create learn-on-need references - these are tips, FAQs, guides, hints and others that help accelerate actions. It is a link for easy access of workers and learners who may wish to review the linear goals of the lesson
  8. Share the lesson - workers and learners are encouraged to share “what we know and can do now” for experience sharing and expertise development

Examples of Microlearning Lesson

Click each image for the enlarged view.



In converting big, bloated, and boring courses to a micro-lesson, always keep in mind the 8 parts mentioned above. The main goal is to bring learning closer to work. Use real-life incidents or situations and ask questions that raise the value, provoke the emotion and make it easier for your learners to apply the lesson in real-life, while doing work.

Related Blogs

Tip #84 - Remove the Sting of Compliance Courses: Make Them Short, Succinct, and Easy to Learn
Tip #108 - How to Create 5-Slide Microlearning - Tiny, Succinct, Fast

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When to Use "Face Time" and When to Use Webinars and Virtual Meetings - Tip #171

Online learning affords learners more independence in learning content at their own pace. However, the need for expert guidance is still a critical factor in the learning process. An expert can read a learner’s performance and provide immediate feedback. A trainer’s expertise helps them see patterns that determine what the learner needs--things a computer just can’t do. Thus, "face time" with learners is more important in online learning than ever. But, it can also be easy to overdo.

"Face Time": Scarce Resource or Default?

"Face time" energizes online learning but only if used effectively. There’s such a thing as “hangout creep”--we know it better as “cognitive overload,” a failure of attention. There can be so many things going on during video face-to-face time that learners can get easily distracted. That’s why it’s essential to treat "face time" as something scarce and precious, and “balance it with something equally important: quiet heads-down time.”

Using “Face Time” Effectively

Preparation is key in making the most of your "face time" with learners. This means spending time to think about the training’s goals and what you want you and your learners to take away from your time together. So, ask yourself: What is the best use of face-to-face time in my online course?

A useful tactic is to provide resources ahead of time. This eliminates silent reading or the time used to go over a doc “together” over video. Learners can review the resources beforehand and you can use “face time” for something more valuable, like Q&A, experimentation, etc. This may sound familiar if you’ve come across the concept of “Flipped Classroom.”

What Zone are Your Learners In?

Source: Sam Kaner’s Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making

Group dynamics still apply when conducting “face time” with learners. So, it’s important to "read the room" and know what zone you’re in. The image above illustrates Sam Kaner’s five zones, also known as the Diamond of Participation.

Divergence Zone
This is the idea generation phase, characterized by learners being open to and sharing ideas. It’s where learners express multiple perspectives and divergent opinions.

Tip: Create a comfortable environment. Try using icebreaker questions or encourage learners to come early to play or familiarize with the webinar tools like chat or annotation tools.

Groan Zone
In the Divergence Zone, individuals shared their ideas. In the Groan Zone, learners struggle to integrate what they learn. Success here means the group generates new ideas as a whole.

Tip: Ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions or start curiosity conversations. Package them in fun mini-activities.

Convergence Zone
Whereas there was a lot of uncertainty and struggle in the Groan Zone, the Convergence Zone is where clarity builds, and meaning and decision making are made.

Tip: Use the whiteboard (or other tool) and allow learners to brainstorm. Encourage and guide them to arrive at their own conclusions or resolutions.


Francesca Burns. The Importance of “Face Time” in Teaching is Crucial. The New York Times The Opinion Pages Room for Debate, udpated June 27, 2014
Brie Anne Demkiw. Hangout Life. Automattic Design, February 13, 2018
Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps. Virtual Teams: People Working Across Boundaries with Technology. John Wiley & Sons, 2008
Tip #100 - Spur Learning Through “Curiosity Conversations”
Tip #102 - Cognitive Tunnelling: How to Achieve Focus Through Stories
Tip #143 - How to Use questions to Immerse Larners in Your Lesson
Tip #150 - Using Intuitive and Deliberate Learning in Story Lessons
Sam Kaner. Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, 3rd Edition. Jossey-Bass, 2014
Tip #156 - Five Sure Ways to Prepare for High-Impact Webinars
Tip #159 - 21 Things To Do Before a Webinar
Tip #162 - How to Create Context-Setting Learning Objectives

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"