Diedre Downing Creates Learning Experiences with the End in Mind | Episode 340

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As the Chief Learning Officer at StoryIQ, Diedre combines her love of data and strategic thinking with creating engaging learning experiences. With close to 20 years of teaching and facilitating experience, Diedre brings enthusiasm and a unique ability to make complex concepts accessible and relatable to all. Diedre’s expertise allows her to call upon a deep knowledge of communicating data and data-driven strategy to senior leaders and key stakeholders across industries and verticals.

 

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Full episode transcription (AI Generated)

Rob:
Engagers. And welcome to another episode of the professor game podcast. And we have. Oh, my goodness. I know I asked your name before we started.

Rob:
I’m gonna give him my best. So, Didra. No, I got it wrong. I know I got it wrong. Are you prepared to engage, and please correct me on the right pronunciation?

Diedre:
It’s Deidre. So very close.

Rob:
It’s a tricky one. Yes, yes. We’re used to seeing letters in a certain way and getting the pronunciation. And then I said, I’m gonna pronounce it how it looks, and I know it’s not how it looks, so I’m gonna. I’m gonna screw up again.

Rob:
So, Deidre, thanks for being here. Engagers. We have Deidre today with us because she is the chief learning officer at Storyiq, where she combines her love of data and strategic thinking with creating engaging learning experiences. And she has close to 20 years of teaching and facilitating experience. Deidre brings enthusiasm and unique ability to make complex concepts accessible and relatable to all.

Rob:
And her expertise allows her to call upon a deep knowledge of communicating data and data driven strategy to senior leaders and key stakeholders across industries and verticals. So, Deidre, is there anything that we’re missing from that intro that we should have mentioned in any way?

Diedre:
No, it all sounds very serious. I swear that I have more fun than you might think about. Someone who loves talking about data and database decision making.

Rob:
Well, that’s actually, that can actually be a lot of fun for many people. And there’s many ways, I’m sure, that you guys actually make it engaging and fun, actually, to bring you back into this world after being put on that huge pedestal, which I hope we started off with. What does a regular day with you look like? What are you doing? What’s up with you?

Diedre:
Sure. So I oversee all of the courses and facilitators for the company I work for, Storyiq, and we develop courses, both custom courses and out of the box courses that we deliver to our clients that really focus on communication and getting people to communicate more effectively, particularly with technical audiences. So there isn’t really a typical day. I feel like I can. Sometimes I’m jumping in and teaching classes, sometimes I’m creating courses.

Diedre:
A lot of times there’s doing research for a request from a client and a lot of working with my facilitators just to make sure that they are the best, most engaging facilitators that they can be. So it’s really all over the place, and it also includes some business development and strategy as well. We’re a small company. We wear a lot of hats here.

Rob:
Makes sense. Makes absolute sense. So Deidre, we’re going to jump right in to one of those. Sometimes some people feel these are sticky questions, but I actually love them. And I love when people make me these kind of questions as well on interviews.

Rob:
And it has to do with failure or first attempt in learning, as we like to call it, as well. We would like, you know of one time when you were using your strategies, whether it’s at story, IQ or anywhere else you’ve been working, talking about engaging learning experiences, talking about, even if you have anything around, games or anything like that, that’s cool. If not engaging learning experiences, data based decision making and all this where things just did not go, let’s say as you expected them, they just didn’t go well. And we want to be there with you. We want to feel whatever you were feeling at that point, know what lessons you took out of that.

Rob:
Again, we’re going to feel those things and take away what we can.

Diedre:
Sure. No, I think talking about failure is great because we just learned from it. It’s another opportunity to learn something new. So before I worked in the private sector, I was a high school math teacher for a decade in New York City in the mid two thousands. A lot of my learning about what works and what doesn’t work in terms of building engaging learning experience was very clearly articulated to me by teenagers that I was teaching algebra two and trigonometry two.

Diedre:
I think one of the things that I learned in that experience, because it didn’t work a couple times, was trying to gamify everything. There’s some things that just can’t be like logarithms. Sure, you can try to make them fun and you can build some experiences and competitiveness around being able to answer questions and complete tasks, but not everything can always be a game. And I think what really taught me that, and I wouldn’t say it’s like a failure. Like there are definitely some bad lessons, right, and bad games that came out of it, but I think, you know, or just like really shooting to the moon there, trying to make something competitive.

Diedre:
But I think one of the things that all of those experiences really taught me is that you need to make every experience practical and accessible. And just because it’s quote unquote fun doesn’t mean that you’re actually meeting the objectives that you want your students to or that they can reciprocate, do on their own in the future.

Rob:
So perhaps if I may sort of pinch you a little bit into that. Was there a time when you were trying to do something like one of those times and you’re trying to gamify something and just didn’t go well? Do you have any recollection of some of that? Because, again, we want to take a experience as you were, as you and your company very well discloses. It’s when we experience things, and the closest thing we can do here is experience your story.

Rob:
So can you give us a little bit of a few more hints on how that looked like and what were the things you were thinking at that time?

Diedre:
Sure. I mean, I guess, you know, something that is perhaps more relevant is building learning experiences. Recently is building out a new case study for a client. We like to build our classes around a challenge that we’re all solving together. And in this case, I made the challenge too complicated.

Diedre:
So the background on it was, we were representing a company that was an online cooking store, and I made this in a hurry. And I. There were some elements to it that were just not particularly believable. Like, if you were ordering multiple items, they were shipped separately with separate shipping costs. And we sort of all know from experience that’s not how ordering things online works.

Diedre:
And so there are a couple shortcuts that I think we took with this initial case study that really got called out, and the focus of the class sort of turned a little bit more to, hey, this is not a relatable or true situation. And it really took away from what we were supposed to be doing, which was working on our database decision making. So I think cutting corners and just trying to be like, hey, people will go with me. They’ll go on this journey with me was a bad assumption. And that’s definitely a place of failure recently.

Rob:
Amazing. Amazing. That makes a lot of sense. And sometimes it’s about realizing and being humbled by experience. It’s not that we’re all humble enough or not.

Rob:
It’s just sometimes the experience humbles us once more, as life likes to remind us every now and then. So that is amazing. Thank you for that, Deidre. And let’s actually shift it and go for a time where things did go well. One of those proud moments, perhaps, where you are trying to do something and you are very proud and want to show off some of those results.

Rob:
We want to be there and share some of those success factors.

Diedre:
Sure. I mean, I think there are. There’s. I’m not quite sure if your listeners are mainly people who are engaging with adults or with child learners. That’s a weird phrase.

Diedre:
With school age kids. There we go. But I think in any feeling of success, it’s like when you get that, oh, I got it moment and you realize that what you’ve spent time trying to teach and get people to learn is really clicking. And I recently was teaching a class with a bunch of very technical supply planners. Demand planners.

Diedre:
Sorry. Demand planners is the right term. So really thinking about logistics and nuts and bolts of this industry that they work in, and they were really skeptical of the content we were teaching them. And so it was on data storytelling. So really thinking about how you’re communicating and building stories with data.

Diedre:
And it was a tough audience, and it was in person, which is, you know, rare these days. And it was really great to see them jump into our final activity, which is kind of a, in this instance, I picked a silly one. It’s you’re helping an artisanal ice cream store owner build their business and just really watching the skepticism melt away, no pun intended, and really getting excited about being creative and stepping out of their comfort zone and then bringing back to, like, all right, if this is on a spectrum, this was certainly too far from what you can do in your professional life, but what can you do? Like, what can you bring into your day to day practice and just having people really talk about what they learned and where it’s practical? It was really great because, you know, walking out of a hard room with a success story is always a good feeling.

Rob:
Yes, it definitely does feel good. I can attest to that. And is there anything in particular you would say that you, of course, looking back, is always 2020 that you saw now that you finished it? Like, oh, I just. Now I realize that this was one of the things I did well that allowed me to get there.

Diedre:
I think it’s really meeting people where they’re at and allowing people to be skeptical or critical of whatever it is you’re about to teach them and hearing that out and then thinking about ways that you can, if appropriate, debunk that or show them different opportunities. And so I think really a turning point in that situation was just letting everyone tell me where their skepticism was. We made a list and put it up on a chart paper. And referring back to that and thinking about, okay, maybe this technique doesn’t work here, but it would work here. People reminding people that things are really practical in their day to day, even if it doesn’t feel like it the first time around.

Rob:
Huh. Good. Good. Making things. Sure.

Rob:
These things, especially in adult learning, as you were mentioning, is kept in a sense that they will be able to apply this almost tomorrow or even today sometimes. Right?

Diedre:
Right. That’s the goal, right? We’re all time poor, so making sure we’re making the most out of everyone’s time. If you’re teaching kids too, it’s the same thing. No one wants to just sit around and hear something for the sake of it.

Diedre:
They want to know why they’re learning it and how it’s going to be useful for them other than just to pass tests.

Rob:
And don’t be surprised by how important it can be to some passing of the test as well. But anyways, anyways, that makes a lot of sense. So, Deidre, after all this, you know, you’ve had plenty of experience. You’ve been doing many of these things for many, many years now as well. Are there any best practices?

Rob:
Anything that you would say, well, you know, do this or that and it’ll definitely help at least you take you further on your journey on making these things exciting, engaging, better in one way or another.

Diedre:
Yeah, I think a real pitfall for instructional designers is feeling like we need to be experts and then making everyone in the room leave an expert. And this is true, I would say, when I was teaching high school math, but also teaching adults, really getting away from the practical aspects of what you’re trying to teach and focusing on the things you need to memorize or things that you might never be asked again. And that can really bog down what you’re trying to teach people. So I like to take a step back and think about where would I be bored if I were part of this class or what would I not remember? And it would be fine.

Diedre:
I’d still be able to use these new skills and remember the key concepts and really just ruthlessly cutting down the content you want to share and making the activities even more simple than it feels like you should to make sure that there’s time and ability for people to grasp what they’re doing and how they would use it in their own context.

Rob:
Makes a lot of sense. That’s brilliant. That’s a very good practice to keep in mind. And we talked about good practices. We’ve talked about the good and the bad sort of things that have happened in your journey.

Rob:
Do you have some sort of process, like when you’re creating these engaging experiences, especially in a difficult. I don’t know. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times in the podcast. I did have a stint on being a professor of quantitative methods, which is one of the most unexciting subjects for at least most of my business students. So a difficult topic, like it can be data in general.

Rob:
Do you have any process when you’re creating this or any other experiences? How do you go about it? You need to create a new one. How do you start? Where does that lead?

Diedre:
I like to step back and think about what do people need to learn or be able to do when they’re out of this class? I know that sounds really simple, but sometimes we get really caught up in like, okay, where do we start? What’s a great title? What’s a great activity? But really stepping back and saying, all right, what do people need to do in their day to day life?

Diedre:
Involving this and then creating a final project or challenge around that is really generally my starting point. So if I need people by the end of this to, let’s say, create a data story on this topic, really breaking down, what does that mean and what does that look like from the end process? So, making sure that there are ample opportunities for people to practice the concepts from class, making sure that it’s scaffold and that there are on ramps and off ramps, particularly for adult learners, you really want to make sure that you are honoring their autonomy. Right. There are things that sometimes you already know and you don’t want to be a part of and you want to skip ahead.

Diedre:
So making sure there’s opportunities for people to jump ahead where I know that the content might be already known to some of the participants. So I think the practice of thinking about what do you want people to get out of this? How is it practical? Is really my starting point. And if I were gamifying things in a traditional manner, I’d actually really think about what wins the game.

Diedre:
Right? Is it points? Okay, well, where do those points come from? Like, is it your knowledge? Is it your ability to recall certain facts or parts of a diagram?

Diedre:
What are you really valuing in terms of what people are walking away with, and how do you assign points to that to make sure that the gamification is in line with what you really want people to be able to do at the end.

Rob:
Brilliant. Thank you very much for opening up your insides, your brain, into what you actually do to create these experiences. Thank you very much. That’s very appreciated, especially given such a great experience that you do certainly have indeed. Ray, we’re getting into some of the questions where we like to get into recommendations and understanding a little bit more of what you would see in the future, so to speak.

Rob:
And the first one is, after hearing these questions, sort of hanging out in the podcast for a bit, does anybody come to your mind if I say, well, would you recommend somebody to be a feature guest, or who would you like to listen to in a future interview on Professor Gaime? Does anybody come to your mind?

Diedre:
So I thought about this question a fair amount the other day, and one name kept coming back over and over again. And it’s probably not a name that any of your listeners have heard, but Sarah Pendergast, who is a former math teacher that I used to work with at a school. She now oversees the maker labs for school in Ohio. So she was really into 3d printing before it became popular all over the place. She would do tons of gamification.

Diedre:
She created really great courses around, let’s say, like bridge building to get kids competitive, but also learning, you know, about the physics of and mechanics of building something. And I think Sarah is just an amazing potential guest because she’s able to make everything fun and hands on, and she’s just great. Whether it’s teaching adults how to do that kind of stuff and bring that into our classrooms or interacting with children, I think she’s a. It’s a really fantastic area to help your listeners perhaps dive into this idea of being a maker. And how do you create all of your experiences around making something and doing nice?

Rob:
She sounds like a fantastic guest, indeed. So thank you for that recommendation and keeping up with that. How about a book? Which if you had to choose a book, which book would it be? And of course, why, sure.

Diedre:
I think it’s practical for both instructors of children and adults. There’s this great, very easy to read book by Elian Hughes and Dave Foxell, who created. It’s called the two hour workshop blueprint, and it really is a fantastic, just sort of guide to. All right. If you need people to do something quickly and easily and in a way that makes sense to them, follow this sort of formula.

Diedre:
And we know that all learning experiences aren’t formulaic, but there’s some really great ideas in there and how you can bring some engagement in ways that, again, you can gamify without it being over the top or cheesy. So I would definitely recommend the two hour workshop blueprint to anyone who’s looking for building fast learning experiences that are fun and experiential.

Rob:
Sounds exciting and sounds like a bit of a cheat sheet to go faster in that sense, which is something that, it’s not about taking the shortcuts only, but sometimes it is something that you need. Sometimes you need to do something, need to do it quick. So brilliant for sure.

Diedre:
It’s also possible your listeners know Leanne Hughes. She hosts the first time facilitator podcast, also a great podcast for learning some great tips and frameworks and getting other people’s stories around facilitation and their experiences.

Rob:
Sounds very cool. I’ll definitely try to sneak in some time in my podcast listening to take a look at that, because facilitation is something I’m always interested in improving, at least in my personal or professional life, so to speak. And now let’s talk about you. How about you? What would you say is your superpower, that thing that you do at least better than most?

Rob:
And the way I like to say this is some superheroes, like, are super strong or fly or whatever. Doesn’t have to be exclusive. Maybe it is, I don’t know. But your superpower is just that thing that you do great that stands out from at least from the crowds.

Diedre:
I think my super skill, which I feel like I want to trademark that term, sounds really good. Saying it together, right. Is really being able to explain complex things in a way that non subject matter experts can understand, and that can be all kinds of things. Like, it’s just an ability to sort of understand the essence of what someone’s trying to say and help them clarify and what that is for someone in all audiences to be able to understand.

Rob:
Certainly very useful and important in a learning setting. I can attest to that.

Diedre:
Well, it was a learned experience teaching high schoolers for a decade, you know, right away whether or not what you’ve said makes any sense at all. Right? Their faces tell you immediately. So it was certainly something that took a lot of practice, and it was certainly difficult at first, was something that I was what I would call a subject matter expert on, of higher level math. And being able to reach a population that might not be interested in that and make it accessible.

Diedre:
Got tons of practice with that.

Rob:
Practice doesn’t make perfect. I don’t really like that phrase, but it does get you closer to being perfect. So, of course, definitely that experience is. I’m sure it helped a lot. Hone down your skills in that sense.

Rob:
And you mentioned Leanne several times. I was just about to ask Leanne, so I’m not asking Leanne. I’m asking Deidre.

Diedre:
Her name’s a little easier to say, so I would get it.

Rob:
Makes sense. Makes sense. Dietra, what would you say is your favorite game?

Diedre:
This might sound crazy, but my favorite game is Yahtzee, and my husband and I play it almost every day, which sounds like a lot of Yahtzee, we’ve got this ongoing competition. We buy the books that have 100 pages for keeping score in there and just keep track of who’s winning in each one. But what I love about Yahtzee is that it is really easy to travel with. So you can throw it in your pocket and you’re like, all right, we’ve got 15 minutes while we wait for something and you can play. And it makes me think about probability, which again, I’m a huge math nerd.

Diedre:
And so I really like that it’s some low stakes, data driven decision making. So if you don’t play Yahtzee, I highly recommend picking it up because it is fun and easy and portable and compet just the right length game, too. You’re not like committing 3 hours of Your life to it. If you’ve got ten minutes, you can play Yahtzee.

Rob:
Sounds like a good one. And again, when you play games so often, so much, you start to have a deeper understanding and something else happens, I would argue in your understanding and your playing of the game where it’s not like the typical game. You, oh, you learn this game, you play it, you have fun. It starts, at least in my mind, it starts going a lot deeper in that sense. Hopefully that has been the case for you, too.

Rob:
And Deidre. We every now and then have a little bit of time to make a random question to our guests, and I will actually go through this now let’s find one. I always filter this before even oftentimes we don’t get time to do this question, but I filter them beforehand because sometimes the experiences don’t match with the question. So I want to make sure that they always do. And here we have a question from Joaquin Rojas.

Rob:
He’s asking us if you have anything that could be called the three most powerful elements of a great learning game or a learning experience. We would probably say, in your case.

Diedre:
Okay, the three most powerful components to a gamified or learning experience. All right. I think one is that it needs to be collaborative. So by that, I mean in a game or in a learning experience, what you learn individually and the experience you have individually is very different than when you’re paired with two or three other people. And so building an experience where you have to have an element of teamwork and collaboration, I think, really helps cement the experience in people’s minds and again, ultimately, like what they want to walk away with, learning.

Diedre:
So collaboration slash teamwork is one there also, I think, has to be an element of friendly competition. So whether that is, you know, scoring points, which is, I would feel like, pretty competitive, or also just knowing that your peers and colleagues are going to give you feedback at the end. And so there’s this. Okay, I need to make sure that I’m doing whatever this activity is really well because I’m going to get. People are going to see it.

Diedre:
There’s that, like, little bit of, like, stress that is good for pushing work a little bit further, pushing you a little bit harder, but not so stressful that you’re in the bathroom crying because you need to create this crazy presentation in 15 minutes. That’s certainly not the case. Right. So it’s a delicate balance of friendly competition among the teams and players.

Rob:
Fantastic. Fantastic. Thank you for those recommendations, for sure, Deidre. And of course, before we let you go, let us know if you have any final piece of advice. Anything else you want to say that we didn’t ask?

Rob:
Of course. Also let us know where we can find out more about you and the great work you guys are doing at Storyiq and anything else you want to invite us into.

Diedre:
Sure. I mean, first, I’d just like to say that I’ve been really interested in, as we switch to a much more virtual learning experience, all the different tools that can be used for gamification and for even just teamwork. We at my company try to do like a monthly social online game because we’re all fully remote. And so just things that you can still play now and be apart from people, I think is really great for bringing that competitive spirit and also teamwork together. So I love thinking about games and how that brings people together.

Diedre:
So this is a great podcast for that. I do my work for a company called Storyiq, and thank you very much.

Rob:
For that before you continue.

Diedre:
Oh, yeah, sure, sure. Yeah. So my work now is for a company called Storyiq, and we’re constantly just trying to build experiences that meet people where they’re at in terms of their what I like to using air quotes here, your business, adulting. So it’s like the stuff you didn’t learn in school, good communication, how to make data driven decisions, how to present really thoughtfully and impactfully these skills that are often just assumed that you have. But many people get very scared and very self conscious about them.

Diedre:
So we’re constantly looking for people to tell us what’s hard for them so that we can make either micro experiences that fill those needs or think about building a longer term course that really builds those skills and lets people feel confident in these elements of their work that are going to help them gain influence, but also things that they’re just expected sometimes to know but no one teaches.

Rob:
Sounds amazing. Sounds amazing. And where can we find out more about all this?

Diedre:
Oh, sure, sorry. So our website is storyiq.com. Storyiq.com. And you can always certainly reach out to me. The only social media that I am active on is LinkedIn.

Diedre:
So you can find me. Was it LinkedIn.com slash in Deirdre downing? D I e d r e d o w n I n g amazing.

Rob:
We’ll certainly have that on the podcast. Show notes. So, engagers, if you want to go to professorgaine.com, comma, you type down Deidre. So as she spelled it out very correctly, d I e d r e, you’ll definitely find show notes to this episode and the links to everything that we’ve been discussing. However, Deidre, however, engagers, as you know, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over.

Rob:
Engagers, it is fantastic to have you around, and you know that this podcast really makes sense because of you. So how about we connect on LinkedIn so you can let me know what you think about the podcast? Who would you like to have as a guest? If you have any questions, what we can even help you with, you can find us as Professor Game on LinkedIn. We’re always sharing content on the podcast gamification game, inspired solutions.

Rob:
And remember, go ahead and find us as Professor Game on LinkedIn. And before you click continue, please go ahead and subscribe or follow. This is absolutely for free using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game. See you there.

End of transcription

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