In this exclusive interview with Learnnovators, Jane Bozarth shares her insights for great learning design, and explains the thinking behind her unflinching focus on the learner as a key actor in the system.

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Jane Bozarth is a veteran classroom trainer who transitioned to eLearning in the late 1990s and has never looked back. As leader of the State of North Carolina’s award-winning eLearning program, Jane specializes in finding low-cost ways of providing online training solutions. She is the author of several books, including eLearning Solutions on a Shoestring, Social Media for Trainers, and Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud.

Jane holds a doctorate in training and development. She is the recipient of many awards, including the NC State University distinguished alumni award, the NASPE Rooney award for innovation in state government practice, and the eLearning Guild Master Award for her accomplishments and contributions to the eLearning community.


Crystal Balling with Learnnovators is a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape.

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like.


1. Learnnovators: Hi Jane! Can you please tell us how you got started, and what has your journey, from trainer to instructional designer to thought leader, been like on the personal learning front?

Jane: I had a degree in English and I was hired to be a literacy tutor for a hospital where a number of health care techs were settling under new requirements to pass written texts to do their jobs. And just about the day I was hired, the person who handled leadership and supervisory training quit. So, somehow, I ended up in that job and I think – as often happens in this business – you sort of fall into a specific kind of training role. So, I was a platform trainer for a number of years and I did do a bit of supervisory management stuff, but I also did a whole lot of other more open enrollment, personal growth kinds of things. I did a lot of work on stress management, for instance, because we worked in a really stressful situation.

As I kind of outgrew that job, I moved on to become the training director for The North Carolina Department of Justice. I did a lot of self-development at that point. We had an office copy of Training Magazine and I joined a community of practice (which I’ve written about in my dissertation). So, I had some support in helping me develop and after I moved into the role in the Justice Department, I happened to also enroll in a Master’s program in North Carolina State that was focused on training and development. What they had then was sort of the first wave of online academic courses and they were really horrible. They were just scrolling pages of text – which I didn’t mind too much because I’m a reader. Even though they weren’t very good, I saw a lot of potential to solve problems in my own work. We had people scattered all over the state (550 miles from side to side) and people on different shifts. And, we were making them drive to the central office and incur travel and hotel expenses just to go through new hire orientation. So, I saw a lot of potential for better e-learning. As a result, my interest gradually shifted from classroom platform training to delivering online instruction.

And I switched my concentration in grad school from straight up training and development to technology in training. I ended up staying and doing the doctorate, based on my interest in research, on social learning in a community of practice. So, everything kind of fitted together over time. As my interest evolved, technologies came in front of me. The social learning interest grew a lot more over the years when we started seeing popular free usable social tools.

2. Learnnovators: It’s inspirational to hear the first-hand account of your husband going through the US healthcare system, and how it has helped you focus more closely on learners and their needs. This, in a way, coincides with the tenets of design thinking, where the first step in designing a solution is to ‘empathize’ with learners. What is your advice for learning designers to take this approach, and design with the learner in mind?

Jane: One of the best things you can do is try to get in the space where your learners are. I am a bit horrified when I hear that the designers are acting based only on information from managers, supervisors, HR or other stakeholders who don’t really have any connection with the workers’ reality. I mean, there are a million things that can get between a training class and a worker’s performance. So, figuring out what’s really going on, what’s really happening with that person by accessing them is, I think, critical. May be training isn’t the answer. And, that’s often the case.

There is also an interesting activity popularly used right now that I like a lot. It’s called making an empathy map. Empathy maps basically work by you putting yourself in the role of the learner. You get some chart paper and some post-it notes. You write out the name of this person and their job role. Try to imagine what this person says, thinks, feels, and actually does. Try to get in that space with them. This is also very useful when you’re considering accessibility issues. So, I see it in proper use there. I think it would be an interesting and worthwhile exercise for you to explore the empathy mapping a bit by googling for it.

3. Learnnovators: You are a huge proponent of music and its positive effects on mood and memory. Could you please give us thoughts on how music can be leveraged in a course, or for learning anything in general?

Jane: I have written an article about that in the Learning Solutions magazine. It’s about how we can use music in our learning design to affect memory and mood, and to create may be a sense of forward motion.

4. Learnnovators: We totally agree with you when you say “It’s not about forcing people to participate and trying to control every bit of conversation.” What could be three tips for organizations to avoid the pitfalls of ‘doing social’, and get started solidly on the path of social learning? 

Jane: I understand it but I think L&D has a really hard time letting go of the idea that we are here to create courses, pushing content and telling people what to think and what to do.

Social learning exists all around us. It exists in workplaces all the time and I think we should ‘support’ social learning rather than trying to just ‘do’ social learning. So, in social learning, we just need to listen a little bit better. We need to give people time and space to talk about their work, to share what they are doing in terms of their work. We need to offer support for the social learning that’s already going on. That may involve helping people figure out where to store stuff, how to tag things, and how to connect.

I think L&D is in a really unique position to know a lot of people across the organization. It’s in a position where it can help them connect with each other and be benefitted by this connection. I think this is really a valuable resource we can provide people.

5. Learnnovators: The issue of accessibility is looked at with apprehension, in L&D circles at least, wherein the thinking goes that if you make it ‘accessible’, you lose out on the opportunity to make it ‘engaging’. Also, accessibility to many means just making ‘material accessible to screen reader software’. What do you think is the value of accessibility in a corporate environment, and how do we counter such concerns? 

Jane: I think that we’ve gotten concerned about accessibility in terms of meeting a code and trying to suit the unusual exception in our workforce. Where I work, we have schools for the blind and deaf. Here, we have a library for the blind. We also have occasional rehabilitation services that help all of these people find meaningful good work. They are not the theoretical outliers to me. They are people I deal with all the time. But, beyond that, when we talk about making things accessible, we need to think about making things available to anyone who wants to learn them.

In my case, it may mean some prison guards who have to go to kiosks for their e-learning and the kiosks have no sound. So basically, we are dealing with somebody who is deaf to make that comparison. So, we need to design things for that part of our workforce, when they are not going to be able to hear content.

Similarly, many of us have eyesight corrections. We wear eye glasses or we have contact lenses or maybe we have had lasik surgery. A lot of people appreciate the ability to make things a little bigger or the ability to switch to a different kind of contrast. And giving learners control over that kind of thing, and making sure that things are labelled, making sure we use good alt tags, can make things more accessible for everybody. So, I would think about it in those terms (what does everyone in the workforce need, what would be helpful) rather than just trying make things too “code”.

6. Learnnovators: You share some wonderful strategies for running engaging virtual classes, the most prominent of them being the ‘Geometric Close’ (your way of helping participants reflect deeply on their learning, by adding their thoughts to each of the four quadrants – “What squared or agreed with what you already know”, “What did you learn today that completed a circle of knowledge”, “What action will you take as a result of the training”, and “What did you see from a new angle”). What is your advice for incorporating such reflection in an online course, or in other modes of training?

Jane: When I was in graduate school, I took a wonderful course called the ‘Reflective Practitioner’. That got me thinking about how much of our time is spent in wrapping one thing up and hurrying onto the next thing. And so, I have had a lot of focused conversations around the idea of reflective practice and it got me thinking about how reflection could work into our lives a little bit better. It’s one of the reasons I was interested in writing ‘Show Your Work’.

But I would say the first thing we need to do is to be just a bit more mindful about not rushing things. When you do finish a project, or when you are about to transition from one task to another, it may be worthwhile for you to take a minute off your schedule and reflect on what was good about the exercise that just got over, what you learnt from it and what you need to do going forward.

I used to teach a management course. It involved a lot of skill practice where you have participants practicing different kinds of difficult interactions with employees And, at the end of it all, they had to say, “This is the best thing I did and why. If I did this again tomorrow, this is how I would do it differently”. This sort of reflection forces you to come up with something meaningful. There is always something we could do differently or something we could change. This got me in a good sort of habit and a mindset.

The thing is, it’s mostly just a matter of remembering, pausing and putting it on a sticky note or taking a screenshot. Just take a breath and think for a minute. And, consider the benefits of this exercise because it can save your time in the long run. It can save you from rework. It can help you create a better final product of what you are working on. And, it can cut down on the hurry and franticness many of us experience as we are just trying to crank out the work as we’ve got deadlines.

7. Learnnovators: The story of how you responded to a client’s question in four minutes flat by drawing on your social media connections is both inspiring and aspirational. To this end, you also share the Value Creation Framework (by Etienne Wenger, Beverly Traynor, and Maarten De Laat), and how you use it to help people look beyond the ‘magic metric’. What other ways can we use to address the concerns of those who want ‘proof’ that generous sharing and quality interactions on social media work in the long run?   

Jane: You know one of the reasons I wrote ‘Show Your Work’ is to address the problem with capturing organizational knowledge. We are very good at documenting, communicating and sharing things that have been quantified… things like, how many meetings we went to, how many classes we taught, how many customer contacts we made, and how many transactions we processed. We tend to count that kind of thing and I don’t think we are very good at reporting the ‘how’ of some things we do. So, I think we should become better able to say, “This is how I learnt that, this is how I did that, these were the obstacles I encountered and how I overcame them and also, these are the people I know who helped me with this, this is where I developed this ability, these are the social contacts I drew upon, these are the resources that have been developed over years that somebody else worked on before me”.

I got a call one day from our vocational rehabilitation services seeking a clarification. I was able to draw on my Twitter network to get an answer literally in minutes. It could have taken me all day to get the answer, or worse, I could’ve gone without getting the answer as in old days. So, when I got the answer, I took a screenshot of it and dropped it into the weekly reports that otherwise were asking me to quantify and count things.

So, I have gotten into a habit of capturing and sharing. I think becoming more mindful of these kinds of moments and being sure to show them back is important. In the white paper from Wenger, Traynor, and De Laat (whom you’ve referenced in your question), there are forty pages dedicated to how we can help employees better capture their experiences.

8. Learnnovators: You describe the blissful serendipity, the ‘ah-a’ moment, that took place when you were at a ukulele jam. You go on to explain how serendipity can be ‘built in’ at various intersections of a learner’s journey. What is your advice for organizations to build such moments in the workflow of their employees?   

Jane: My answer to this is the same answer I would give if you were to ask me how we can support social learning or collaboration in organizations. We’ve got to stop expecting things to occur according to algorithms and very highly scheduled processes. If we want to encourage serendipity in organizations, we have to give people time for researching, and talking and chatting with other people.

Very often, we stumble across a piece of information in a completely unrelated conversation. But this doesn’t happen if we aren’t able to meet other people who do what we do, and who might have information we need. So, we need to figure out how we can help people connect socially, either through social tools across the organization, or through building in some face to face opportunities.

If you are in a smaller organization, you have people in centralized locations. Give them libraries or spaces where they can meet and encounter each other in terms of serendipity. When I wrote about this, I said, ”We have to put stones in people’s paths for them to trip on, and get caught on, so they can make those serendipitous connections.”

9. Learnnovators: Your most recent book “Show Your Work” is hugely popular, offering insights on the myriads of ways people can share their work and learn from each other. What prompted you to write it? And, if you were to give our readers one key take-away from the book, what would that be? 

Jane: My initial interest in knowledge management came during my graduate work. My dissertation was on social learning and a lot of connected literature that ties to how we share knowledge across organizations. What most of the better-known authors like Wenger will tell you is that knowledge is embedded in our work practices. It’s not something we can just extract and document. It happens as you go by your work and as you are at your work. It’s not necessarily something that we can just write down.

Over time, you develop a sense of how something works or how you get it done. You bring to bear everything you ever knew upon the next new problem. So, that’s where my interest came from. And, these organizations were terrible at it. Over and over again, we see employees document everything they know and the day they retire or leave for another job, we have all this documentation and yet, nobody can step in and do that job. We see people struggle over and over to, say, complete a project and to find out if somebody in another work area has already done it or has done something very similar, so they could help them with this. This just seems to be a maddening problem in organizations, of trying to capture knowledge, so a lot of my interest in writing the book came from there. We have much better practices or ways of capturing that kind of stuff.

Wenger wrote about apprenticeships, where people would have someone physically present all day long, helping them learn to do a job. Well, we can’t always do that. We’ve got quick tools for taking a screenshot, for recording a two-minute video, and for documenting and sharing what we are doing.

I think that if there is a single takeaway about that, I would say, don’t save things to your C drive. Get out of that habit of saving things in places only you will ever see them again. Don’t let things get buried in e-mail, or in some place where no one else can find them. Learn to use shared approaches, collaborative tools, links, instead of attaching things. Think about what happens to an e-mail. I write some great documentation and send it to you as an attachment and that’s the end of it. If, on the other hand, I put it somewhere and tag it well, more people than just you and me can use it and learn from it. So, I think, the single biggest takeaway is, put it somewhere, where it can be found.

10. Learnnovators: Could you please share your experiences as a moderator of the Twitter chat – #lrnchat? How did the #lrnchat team come up with the question “What did you learn today?”, and what is its significance in today’s context?   

Jane: I am so glad you asked about #lrnchat. We don’t get asked about that very much. I need to give credit where it’s due. The originator was actually Marcia Conner. I was not there in the early years of #lrnchat. It was Marcia and some of her colleagues who came up with the question “What did you learn today?” You know, that sets the tone for the chat that is intended to get people thinking and reflecting a little bit on what they did today. It’s a good way to force reflection. I think we’re getting better at that. Learners have started better articulating that kind of thing because they are seeking out their own learning. I mean, they go to YouTube really quickly or they watch their kids go to Khan Academy. I think we are a little more cognizant of our own learning than we used to be. So, we usually get good answers to that question.

We want #lrnchat to be about learning, not about teaching. So, we try really hard to keep the conversation focused on what happens when people are learning something, what their energy is like, and what keeps them away from it, and so on. Rather than focusing on how to present content and how to train people, we focus on learning. And so, we try to stay away from topics or questions that will encourage answers like, “Why I like Icebreakers or why I like Flipchart or what my favorite brands of smelly markers are”. We try not to do these sort of things. For one thing, it’s not of interest to me. Also, there are plenty of other chats that do that. There are a lot of L&D chats that have sprung up. Some have stuck around and some have not lasted.

One thing I would like for people to know about #lrnchat is how much work it is. It’s a lot of work when we have to come up with fifty topics and six questions a year. Yeah, fifty topics, because we take Thanksgiving and Christmas off. Sometimes, we recycle from older #lrnchat, but even then, we usually have to do some tweaking. It’s an enormous amount of work. I think people don’t understand what it takes to keep it going. Moderators have come and gone over the years, because we get burned out, and there are work responsibilities or something. But, we’re really glad that we still get a lot of attention. We do fun things, sometimes we do a live collaborative document event. We usually broadcast live together.

11. Learnnovators: You point out the shortcomings associated with Kirkpatrick’s taxonomy for evaluating learning, and offer Brinkerhoff’s or Stufflebeam’s systems as well-rounded alternatives to assess training formatively (to allow for the needed course correction). Could you elaborate on this a bit please? Which system would you suggest a learning designer should choose over the other, and why? 

Jane: I knew Donald Kirkpatrick when he was alive. He wrote a magazine article in the 1950s and a lot of people have ridden that train away. I don’t think there is anything wrong with evaluating what you do. But I would say that there are many people who have had some concerns about the Kirkpatrick taxonomy. And that’s really what it is; it’s not a theory. It’s a taxonomy and Don Kirkpatrick himself said about it was that he feels like people put the cart before the horse. What he was really getting at was that you should sit down and say, “Okay, what do we really want to see in this organization? What is it that we mean to change, what is it we want to see done differently? What is it we feel would show us outcomes that are better than the outcomes we are getting now”. And then we say, “Okay, how can we have that happen at work, how can we know that people can enjoy doing that work?” So, basically, he talks about working backwards through the taxonomy when you’re thinking about designing programs.

There’s a lot of focus on the Kirkpatrick taxonomy. The way it is being applied or utilized is that there is so much evaluation by autopsy. That is, if you go through what they learnt, you will ask questions such as, “Did they like it?, Can they pass the test on it?, Are they applying what they learnt?, Is it making a difference?”. All this is fine, but it all happens after the fact. It can tell us that something is wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us what went wrong. So, I think overcoming that can be helped if you build an evaluation as you go… you don’t just wait for the final result that’s near the end of the process. You learn to do more of a formative evaluation rather than a summative evaluation.

I’ve written about people like Stufflebeam who talk about a program evaluation tool. That’s for when you’ve got a whole leadership academy or an entire customer service curricula that you are trying to measure. That’s really for measuring an entire endeavor. But I’ll share one of the things that Brinkerhoff has said, and I think that it is important, because the thing is, we get caught up in evaluating single instances. We have one course and then we evaluate it over time, but it’s just one class on, say Excel, or Leadership 101. The problem with doing that is, as Brinkerhoff puts it nicely, you’re evaluating the wedding instead of the marriage. That is, if we want to do better evaluation, we need to learn to do long term evaluation, better post evaluation work, and we need to look at it in the context of entire systems and not just try to isolate this one class out of many and say, well it went great on Tuesday and everybody gave it a bunch of 5’s on a scale of 5.

12. Learnnovators: You run several highly popular Pinterest boards, and have successfully demonstrated that it can be a great medium to work out loud as well. What other non-typical tools do you think are good for learning and working out loud?  

Jane: You call it a non-typical tool, but I see it being used more now than it was when I started. I see a lot of people using it for shared bookmarking for course resources or reading list or ideas that people can collaborate around. So, I see it getting used a lot. At the moment, I am spending a lot of time in my own work, looking at social media as it’s used in recruiting and I’m seeing a lot of really interesting stuff happening lately on Instagram.

For instance, you want to take a look at how Arby’s food chain brands itself. It has some wonderfully funny and interesting people running their social media stuff. And, their Instagram account is just delicious. It gives you a real sense of what the company is, who works there and what kind of groove you would be in, if you were associated with it. I really like it a lot.

There’s a company that asks employees early in the year what their goals are. They write them down and take pictures of them. They post them in Instagram and then, as they complete those goals, they cross them off and take another picture. At the end of the year, they go back and revisit what they’ve done and that’s a lot of fun. So, I see a lot of engaging activity going on with Instagram. It’s a very popular tool, lots of people like it. I think it certainly enjoys great appeal with the younger generation that some of the other tools don’t.

I like Snapchat a lot, but to be honest with you, I don’t see companies leaping toward using it as a training tool anytime soon. I think, there’s been too much press about the history of it. But I think it’s still a little too confusing and that’s not really Snapchat’s fault. I think it’s just a different kind of tool. We have lot of potential with photo based tools. Pinterest was the first of its kind and I am seeing a lot of potential with it. Because we all have phones with cameras. We are very comfortable with that. So, I think we are going to see some more interesting fun stuff happening on that front.

13. Learnnovators: You say “When we articulate our thinking / decisions, we learn from that” and “Share is the new save”. Could you please elaborate on these a bit? 

Jane: When we articulate our thinking decisions, we learn from that” is actually not mine. There was a study at Vanderbilt University in the late 2000s, may be 2008, asking children to do some pattern matching test. And, they divided the kids into three groups. Each group was given a color box. The first group was asked to predict what would be next in it in the sequence. This group was asked to just state their answer and sit quietly. The second group was asked to state their answer and think about why they had chosen that answer. And the third group was asked to state their answers and explain their rationale to their mothers. In a subsequent test, the last group of children did better.

If we can articulate our decisions, it helps us learn from those decisions. And, I think we all are kind of in touch with that. You get very busy, you go through the day, you figure out something, you solve something and you just kind of move onto the next thing. You know, stopping and reflecting, writing it down, taking a picture, explaining it to somebody, like I said early in one of the questions, helps us learn better. That will be a far more valuable conversation than going around in the room and saying, “I made seventeen phone calls and I made fourteen contacts and I processed seventeen clients. I mean, I just don’t see how that kind of information is going to be useful to other people. So, thinking about that is important and as I mentioned about share vs save earlier, if we could quit saving everything to our C drive and start putting it somewhere, where it is more findable, it would make things much more valuable to everyone around us. Making it discoverable would help everybody out and it includes organizations as well.

Learnnovators: Thanks so much for sharing your valuable insights and experiences, Jane. We wish you the very best!

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