Encoding, Remembering, Retrieving… Learning is super curvy!

My newsletter, The Learning Curve, is aptly named and here’s why:

The initial moment of learning — of encoding — is incredibly mysterious and complex. 

This is from John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Medina goes on to say, 

..the little we do know suggests that when information enters our head, our brain acts like a blender left running with the lid off. The information is chopped into discrete pieces and splattered all over the insides of our mind. This happens instantly. 

Talk about painting a vivid picture! No doubt I’ll remember how encoding works, and am even more curious to learn how the brain “cleans up” this incredible mess! In Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning, authors Agarwal and Bain describe encoding as a process by which we “absorb knowledge like a sponge.” To improve the effectiveness of encoding however, Medina tells us, 

...there is no question that multiple cues, dished up via different senses, enhance learning. They speed up responses, increase accuracy, improve stimulation detection, and enrich encoding at the moment of learning. 

Agarwal and Bain, on the other hand, are proponents of retrieval practice. 


Giving a Presentation or Teaching Online? Engagement is NOT Just About the Strategies Part II

Part I of this series on virtual audience engagement describes engagement and the “YOU” factors that contribute to participant or student engagement in virtual presentation, professional development workshops, webinars, or online courses.

Moving past the personal factors, what is an online teacher or presenter to do to keep our audiences engaged?

The good news is there is a lot we can do.

The bad news is there is a lot we can do.

The trick is selecting the right strategies and applying them with intention and purpose.


Giving a Presentation or Teaching Online? Engagement is NOT Just About the Strategies

Are you teaching or giving presentations online these days? Aren’t we all! Higher ed courses, professional development courses, conference presentations, or even facilitating online meetings – we’re even attending online happy hours, graduation parties, and weddings!

And we’re getting tired. Tired of connecting in a virtual world, tired of worrying about how our faces and backgrounds look in our webcams, and just plain tired of sitting in our spaces staring at our screens.

So, we go online and search for strategies. We ask colleagues for activities, in search of that magic protocol or brilliant new tech tool that will wow our audiences and get them excited about screen time. But the truth is, if you step back a moment and consider your own mindset about audience engagement and the purpose of focusing on engagement, you’ll find there’s a lot more to it. Let’s give it a try, shall we?


New Year, New Newsletter: What is Professional Learning?

Happy New Year! Each year, just like many of you, I make… and usually break… the same resolutions, with the exception of one: I learn.

In 2018, I learned how to create and launch my new website. That year, I also learned more about educational equity and culturally responsive education, communication, and leadership. In 2019, I studied negotiation skills, learned more about the science of learning, and added to my Excel, PowerPoint, and data visualization skills. All of this “professional learning” informs my work on various projects and helps improve my professional practice. 

To learn all of this, here’s what I did (along with a few example favorites):


Welcome to Custom Professional Learning!

Learning graphic

A successful blogger once told me not to return from a blogging hiatus with “Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve written.” So, I’m definitely NOT starting this article with that!  😉 How’s this?

This blog and site are dedicated to the power and promise of professional learning.  

New site, new name!

The site certainly looks different than it did the last time you visited. I have a new business name, new logo, new colors, and new pictures. The site was long overdue for a makeover – but I’m no web designer. However, I wanted something customized and flexible. So… I set about to learn web design. Why am I sharing this? You’ll have to wait for the next post to find that out!

More importantly, it’s time for new content. This blog began with a strong focus on program evaluation, with articles on education, survey design, presentations, and data visualization. That will continue, but with a theme that ties all of these fields (my professional interests) together: professional learning.

You might know professional learning by another name – professional development, staff development, inservice, continuing education, or training. These terms have more nuanced definitions and different meanings in different fields. Also, you may or may not receive formal credit for licensure for participating in them. 

Now, no matter what name we use, let’s recognize that professional learning can be much more than those formal sessions and seminars arranged by our organizations. It can be attending conferences, taking online courses, and listening to podcasts whenever we want to. It can be reading books, journal articles, and blogs. It can be collaborating with colleagues on projects and learning from each other’s expertise and talents. It can be following and interacting with others on social media, and participating in twitter chats and other online hangouts.

What’s my point?


Anything that serves to increase our knowledge, understanding, or capacity for our work is professional learning


Presentation Principles: Crowdsourcing Audience Feedback

Presentation Principle: Capitalize on the collective wisdom in the room.

Presentations aren’t just about the presenter and there are many reasons to maintain humility as a presenter. Certainly, it will endear you to the audience. Positioning yourself as a co-learner with your audience members, and not the only “expert” in the room opens up the possibility of having your presentations serve as learning experiences upon which you can build to advance your practice.

I first taught my course – Audience Engagement Strategies for Potent Presentations – as a pre-conference professional development course  at Evaluation 2015, the annual conference of the American Evaluation Association. This course became one of my favorite presentations ever.

Two interactive strategies during the course allowed participants to interact with each other, and also supplied me with important feedback.


Presentation Principles: Two simple strategies for audience engagement and all YOU have to do is ask questions!

Presentation Principle: Keeping an audience engaged throughout the presentation is one key to success.

Do you want to read about two super easy audience engagement strategies you can immediately incorporate into your presentation practice? OK then, here we go!

I’ve written about audience engagement strategies many times (see here, here, and here)…but the two strategies I’ll share today are even easier than most and require no special equipment or materials. All you need to do is remember to use them.  (more…)

Presentation Principles: A Q&A on the Q&A

You’re ready for the big day. You have your best content all set to go, well-designed visuals, and a plan for successful delivery including how to engage your audience. You’ve practiced in the mirror, on your family, and on your pets, and they have all given you the go-ahead for your presentation. The night before, however, you wake up at 3:17am in a cold sweat thinking, “How will I handle the Q&A?”  (more…)

When a Direct Question is NOT the Right Question

Who hasn’t answered the question, “What did you learn?” after attending a professional development session? As a PD facilitator and evaluator, I’ve certainly used feedback forms with this very question. After all, measuring participant learning is fundamental to PD evaluation.

In this post, I’ll share examples of actual data from PD evaluation in which we asked the direct question, “What did you learn?” I’ll then explain why this is a difficult question for PD participants to answer, resulting in unhelpful data. Next, I’ll offer a potential solution in the form of a different set of questions for PD evaluators to use in exploring the construct of participant learning. Finally, I’ll show where participant learning fits into the bigger picture of PD evaluation.  (more…)

On Being Part of the 90% {sigh}

I‘m not proud of this, but I must admit, I’m a 90%er. A drop-out. A MOOC drop-out, that is. In the bottom 10% of my class. According to my stats, readers of this blog were excited about the post “Can a DataViz Novice Become a Slide Snob?” in which I announced that I had registered for the popular Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization.” In fact, that link was the most clicked link from this blog thus far.  (more…)