Posted by: talesfromtheid | March 31, 2018

Joyful Learning

This is one of the most joyful instructional videos I have ever seen so I had to share it with you here. These guys are having so much fun learning licks from each other. They are blurring the line between teaching and learning, and between learning and play.

Posted by: talesfromtheid | February 11, 2018

Teach Like a Champion 2.0

Back in July of 2015, I read Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion 2.0, and instantly became obsessed with it.

Lemov is the managing director of the Uncommon Schools–a set of charter schools in Boston, New Jersey, and New York. His book project started as “The Taxonomy of Effective Teaching.” Lemov noticed that there were some schools located in impoverished neighborhoods which, despite expectations, had the majority of its students score high on standardized tests. He wondered what it was about those schools that allowed them to succeed where so many others failed, and he had a hunch that their success was due to effective teaching. So he started visiting classrooms in these schools, often with a video camera, observing “champion” teachers in action, trying to identify specific things they did that made their students so successful. In the current “2.0” edition of his book, he identifies 62 techniques.

Lemov has done the industry a huge service by not only cataloging specific techniques that expert teachers use, but also by naming them, potentially giving us all a shared vocabulary in which to talk about what teachers do. By giving techniques names, Lemov also makes it easier for us to create instructional designs that reference these techniques.

And beyond that, there are just so many great insights–almost on every page–about the actual art of teaching a class. Though the book is not primarily aimed either at adult education or instructional designers, I think it has useful things to say to both of those audiences nevertheless.

If you are a trainer or an instructional designer who designs workshops or classroom training for your organization, this book is worth your time.

Here’s a good video of Lemov discussing many of the ideas from the first edition of his book. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start so I’ve set this link to skip the first few minutes so you can get right to the good stuff, which is almost all of the rest of the video.


Posted by: talesfromtheid | January 28, 2018

Insights from Jacob Collier

I see it’s been several years since I posted to this blog, so first, a quick update. I’m not consulting at the moment, since I accepted a full-time position with the US Dept. of Energy, where I am designing and developing safety training for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

But that’s not what drove me back to post to this blog. What brought me back here is a desire to share the insights offered by a remarkable young musician in a number of short interview clips posted to YouTube. The musician in question is Jacob Collier. As of this writing in 2018, he’s just 24 years old. Before I go on, if you’re not already familiar with Collier’s music, take a few minutes to watch his incredible arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s song, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”:

As you can see, he sings all the parts, plays all the instruments, recorded the whole thing himself, and did all the video production. When he recorded that song, he was only 19 years old!

As I poked around on the internet to learn more about him, I discovered that in addition to his musical skills, he has a poise and wisdom well beyond his years. What particularly caught my attention were those times when fans would ask him about music education. He’s very articulate about his views on education and I thought readers of this blog would find them interesting and valuable.

So, here are few clips focusing specifically on Collier’s advice and views about education.

Jacob Collier on Music Education:

Jacob Collier Gives A Music Teacher Advice:

Jacob Collier on Musical Storytelling:

Jacob Collier Answers a Young Fan’s Question: “How Do I Get As Good As You?”:

Jacob Collier on Inverting Intentions:

Jacob Collier on Polyrhythm and Experiential Learning:


Posted by: talesfromtheid | October 28, 2013

Re-engaging with Tales from the ID

After I joined Lam Research, I discovered that the company’s SharePoint implementation allowed employees to create their own blogs. So I set up a blog for myself (“The Laminated ID“) and began pioneering the art of blogging internally at Lam (almost no one else was doing it).

Blogging internally has many advantages over blogging at a public site like WordPress, though it also has some disadvantages. Obviously, the biggest disadvantage is that only other Lam employees could see my posts because The Laminated ID was hidden behind the Lam corporate firewall. But that was also its strength. I could post about the projects I was working on and I could show real examples without having to worry about giving away proprietary secrets. It was liberating.

Unfortunately, as I took up blogging internally at Lam, I let my public blog go silent, and that’s why there hasn’t been much activity here for the past 3 years.

I left Lam last month, though, so I plan to shift my blogging activity back to Tales From The ID while I re-engage in my consulting work and seek new opportunities at other companies.

If you or your company needs a good instructional designer, either for a specific project or to join your staff, please contact me. I’m available. You can click the My Resume tab next to my picture in the banner at the top of this page to download my current resume.

I’ve been invited to speak at the upcoming International Electronic Design Education Conference. My talk (“E-learning Interaction Design”) is scheduled for 3:00 – 3:30 PM, March 16, 2011. The Conference takes place at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Santa Clara, CA. More details at the conference website:

Posted by: talesfromtheid | September 19, 2010

Joining Lam Research

A few years ago, when I was working at the San Francisco instructional design firm, VitesseLearning, I was very aware that the caliber of the instructional designers on staff there was very, very high. I learned a ton while working there and in many ways regard my time at Vitesse as a very formative experience that raised my game, taking me from talented amateur to professional instructional designer in a surprisingly short time.

Flash-forward to 2010. I’m working a project for a small South San Francisco biotech company. There are five of us on the consulting team, and three of us, including the project manager, are ex-Vitessians. As Phase One of the project winds downs, the project manager tells me that another ex-Vitessian is working full-time now at Lam Research, and that his group is looking to hire a full-time instructional designer. I thanked my project manager for the tip and contacted my former colleague about the opportunity. In July we had a couple of phone conversations, and his enthusiasm for the company convinced me that I should apply for the job. A phone interview and two in-person interviews followed, and in early September I began working for Lam Research’s Global Learning & Development group as their newest, full-time senior instructional designer.

Landing a good full-time, salaried position in the current job market can be kind of tough. I’d actually been looking, on and off, for several years, whenever working as an independent consultant seemed to be leading me into poverty. But, while I suspect my skills and portfolio helped seal the deal, I don’t believe I would even have been considered if it weren’t for the support I received from the inside from my former colleague from Vitesse.

The lesson I take away from this experience is that if you are looking for a job, one of the most important things you can do is to leverage your professional network.

Posted by: talesfromtheid | June 13, 2010

The Alex Studies

Irene Maxine Pepperberg The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999. 345 pp.

Alternately fascinating and boring, this detailed summary of Pepperberg’s 20+ years of careful research into the cognitive and communicative capabilities of her avian subjects is primarily aimed at other scientists. It is not an especially difficult read—though I admit I did merely skim or outright skip over much of chapters 15 (signal analysis of parrot speech formants) and 16 (physiology of how parrots produce their vocalizations)—but it is a fairly dry, academic presentation.

Her results are quite interesting, though. Parrots have cognitive capacities that in many instances equal those of the Great Apes, which is certainly not a result one expects. “Bird-brain” may have to take on a new meaning synonomous with “smart.” Her main subject, “Alex,” can answer questions about quantity, color, shape, relative sameness or differentness of objects, and even about the absence of sameness or difference.

Of special interest is the method she used to train her subject birds. She developed her method, which she calls “Model/Rival” and abbreviates “M/R”, based upon studies of how the birds learned in their natural environment. In Model/Rival training sessions, a human trainer interacts with a human partner in the presence of the bird. The trainer asks the other human a question, such as “What color?” or “How many?” while presenting one or more objects. The other human acts both as the model for the bird and as a rival for the trainer’s attention. This Model/Rival either answers the question correctly (modeling the behavior for the bird), or answers it incorrectly and gets scolded. Trainer and model switch roles frequently, to prevent the bird from associating a question with a particular person.

This training method has been very successful, and I wonder if it would make an effective pattern for use in e-learning aimed at humans. I hope to try it out some day: “You and your annoying co-worker Bob are both bucking for the same promotion. Your boss will promote whichever one of you demonstrates the greater mastery over this material. Click Begin when you are ready to compete with Bob by answering the following questions. Don’t take too long, though, because if you don’t answer quickly enough, Bob will chime in with his answer.”

Well, maybe something like that anyway.

Posted by: talesfromtheid | June 9, 2010

The Ageing Brain

Lawrence Whalley The Ageing Brain
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2001, 162 pp.

This book is part of the “Maps of the Mind” series, edited by Steven Rose. Other books I’ve read in this series, including James McGaugh’s Memory and Emotion: The Making of Lasting Memories and Rusiko Bourtchouladze’s Memories Are Made of This, have been excellent. So it was with high expectations that I started to read this book. Alas, it’s not especially well-written. I’ve read better books on aging (e.g., William Clark’s very good A Means To An End), and better books on Alzheimer’s disease (particularly William Shankle and Daniel Aman’s excellent Preventing Alzheimer’s).

Whalley focuses mainly on cerebrovascular disease (especially stroke) and Alzheimer’s disease. But his prose is that of a scientist—overly passive and couched in long sentences in which the point is often easy to lose.  This book just isn’t as clear or as organized as other books in this otherwise excellent series have been.

Posted by: talesfromtheid | May 30, 2010

Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain

Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffrey Caine: Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Virginia, 1991. 180 pp.

Like a lot of education books I’ve read, this one often devolved into a codification of simple common sense. However, the approach, while not often producing detailed or specific recommendations, was interesting. As we discover more about how the brain learns, books of this sort should become more useful.

Posted by: talesfromtheid | May 25, 2010

Memories Are Made of This

Rusiko Bourtchouladze: Memories Are Made of This
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002. Phoenix paperback, 2003. 232 pp.

Instructional theorists have all kinds of ideas about how people learn, about how to train people, and how to present information to enable the best learning and retention. But we don’t really know how the brain works. It’s as if we tried to learn how a car works by examining working automobiles, but without ever opening up the hood to see the engine. We’d be able to learn a few things—how the steering wheel works, the functions of the brake, clutch, and gas pedals, and so on—but would we ever be able to derive the principles of the internal combustion engine this way? In order to build a car, or even tune up the performance of an existing car, we’d really want to understand how the engine works.

Fortunately, judging from the number of books on the subject in the science section at my local bookstore, brain research is a hot topic. Many books, aimed at the lay reader, attempt to summarize what is known about the mind’s engine: the human brain.

Rusiko Bourtchouladze’s book, Memories Are Made of This, is a case in point. Bourtchouladze is the Director, Model Systems Department, at Helicon Therapeutics and a visiting scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Her research interest is in understanding the “biological building blocks of memory,” which is actually the subtitle of her book. Memories Are Made of This is part of the “Maps of the Mind” series edited by neurologist Steven Rose. Bourtchouladze’s book is the second book that I’ve read from this series, the other being James McGaugh’s Memory and Emotion: The Making of Lasting Memories. Both books were very interesting. “Maps of the Mind” looks like a series worth investigating further.

Bourtchouladze takes us chronologically through the history of ideas and research about memory. Beginning with ancient cultures who thought writing was a bad idea because it would allow men’s memories to atrophe, she gets us quickly to Ebbinghaus’s pioneering research into the memorization of nonsense syllables, and on into her own current research into the way genes code for the biological mechanisms of memory. Throughout this journey, she focuses on the experiments, so that we learn not only what is known about memory, but how we know it.

After a review of many high-level basics that would be familiar to most instructional designers who’ve taken an introductory instructional theory class, Bourtchouladze gets to the main thrust of her book: the biological basis of memory. Here, the key neurological components are the hippocampus and the amygdala. Bourtchouladze relates the many ingenious experiments with mice that established the central role of the hippocampus in spatial learning. Similarly, she covers in some detail the experiments which show the amygdala’s  role in emotional learning.

In the final section of the book, she explains a little about her recent research into the connection between gene expression and the biological mechanisms of memory.

In any book which tries to condense extremely detailed, complex science down to a nontechnical level, there is the risk that so much detail will be lost as to make the discussion that’s left practically meaningless. That does happen on occassion in Memories Are Made of This, especially in the genetics section at the end. But by and large, Bourtchouladze does an admirable job of explaining the science without overwhelming the reader.

As instructional technologists work on the problem of learning from the top down, and neuroscientists like Bourtchouladze tackle the problem from the bottom up, we can look forward to the day when the knowledge uncovered by the two groups meets in the middle. Then we’ll have a complete end-to-end understanding of how learning happens, from presentation straight down to the neurological and neurochemical changes that the learning induces in the learner’s brain. We’ll finally know how the engine works. Then we can begin the work of turbocharging it in earnest.

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