Ask A Pro: Stu Ackerman

We work with some awesome people in the L&D world. Many of our training pros are passionate and engaged learners who are constantly pushing the boundaries of what eLearning can look like. We want to take the chance to highlight a few of those people and pick their brains for some tips and tricks on how to be a training pro.

What inspires you?

A  I’m inspired when people are excited about learning. Keeping them excited is my favorite learning challenge because that emotional buy-in means they will retain knowledge faster and longer. This doesn’t mean learning has to be gimmicky; quite the opposite, in fact. We want to present the content in such a way that we’ve highlighted its intrinsic emotional impact. There’s no formula to do this well. It takes a deep dive into the subject matter to tease out what we’re trying to convey and the most engaging way to do that without distracting from the content. In some ways, we’ve got it easy at The Cheesecake Factory. Everyone wants to learn about delicious food and drinks. In other ways, there are challenges. Not everyone naturally wants to learn about the safest way to pick up heavy boxes. Making the content personal—what does the learner stand to gain or lose—certainly helps. But taking it to the next step—making it fun and easy to remember—is what gets my juices flowing.

What do you know about Learning & Development now that you wish you knew earlier?

A My first work in L&D was in designing materials for the high end of computer training—programing, network engineering, etc.  I wish I had known when I started that a sense of humor in the material can pull a reader into otherwise dry material. I discovered that somewhat by accident. I was originally a technical illustrator when I was asked to draw a person coding on a PC. Just to see if I could get away with it, I made the user a little cartoony and gave him a propeller hat. I was certain that our editor would reject the image, but she let it slip through. In the end, I got positive feedback from the classroom instructors, not because the drawing was funny, but because it pulled the classroom out of what would otherwise have been an after-lunch food coma. Based on this, we started to get lots of requests for cartoons in the training materials. I ended up having to train myself in cartooning to add to my technical illustration abilities. In the end, formerly dry materials on FORTRAN and token rings had little bursts of humor that kept the audience paying attention. It’s a little embarrassing that I discovered something so obvious by accident, but that’s the way it happened.

What’s a brand new tip, technique or idea that has you excited?

A Right now, I’m kind of loving high speed video to compress learning. You’ve seen this in the highly-unhealthy Buzzfeed recipe videos that everyone is posting on Facebook. But some of the best examples I’ve seen go much deeper.  We’ve started to do some of this here at The Cheesecake factory. For a great example, check out the videos by a maker named Jimmy DiResta. He shows the entire process of creating highly-complex, but useful objects and devices in a short period of time. There’s no dialog or text. Yet, you come away feeling that you could build something pretty complex by yourself. After watching these videos, I got excited about attempting to construct things that I otherwise would not have tried. Here’s a link to a fun, but detailed creation of a wood-inlay chess board with storage drawers.

Have any more questions for Stu about how to be an LMS pro?
Feel free to reach out to him here or here