The Blend Podcast EP025 – Question Time Part 1

Brendan Cox  01:09

Who would be your dream client to create eLearning for?

Tom Payani  01:31

If Project Relearn existed and we were allowed to build (a Duolingo for soft skills focusing on emotional intelligence in young people, people’s psychology, their mental health) an app or an eLearning platform connected to that then it would be amazing. But I know you’re not going to accept the answer.

Brendan Cox  02:08

No, that’s fine. I mean if you want to say you are your own dream client….

Tom Payani  02:20

I’ve got a second answer as well. It’s a bit cheesy, but for an NGO working with people who don’t have access to education, in developing countries or in war torn countries or for refugees etc.

Something that’s very important to us and why we got into eLearning in the first place is to try and provide eLearning access for people all around the world, no matter what class or country they’re in. That’s something that’s pretty important to us full stop, I think.

Brendan Cox  02:54

So, I was just going to say Lego. I know that they really like design thinking there. And they’re really creative and I’ve always loved Lego. I like the idea of doing eLearning not just for Lego, but with Lego – a collaboration.

Tom Payani  03:14

That answer is fine as well.

Brendan Cox  03:18

I can make it deeper. I can say like for developing countries that can’t afford Lego, I’d work with them to bring, bring Lego resources and learning things together. Go first question then.

Tom Payani  03:29

Okay, what have you enjoyed most about the blend journey so far?

Brendan Cox  03:36

Oh, I’d say realising that we can actually throw ourselves to any sort of challenge. And when you’ve got two of us doing it, it’s much more fun running your own business, and much more sustainable.

Running your own business and then trying to do all on your own, which I’ve been a freelancer before is hard work because you have to regulate your own ups and downs. Whereas when there’s two of you, you can kind of the other one afloat and vice versa.

Tom Payani  04:08

I 100% agree. I was surprised that you really are greater than the sum of your parts if you’re doing it with someone else. And it’s working well with that other person in ways that are not necessarily noticeable, okay, my backgrounds in education, yours is in design and animation. Thats an obvious skill set that each of us have that can contribute to make the business better.

But for me, what’s even more or just as important is when you’re having a bad day, I’ll do the grunt work, and when I’m having a bad day, you’re going to do the admin. When you’re on your own, you don’t have that luxury. I underestimated how important that aspect of running a business was.

Brendan Cox  05:03

Yeah, I’d say that basically my top advice for anyone who wants to start a business or create their own job – do it with a partner and find someone who is passionate about what you’re doing. Make sure your values align, because then you don’t even mind what you’re actually going to do.

You can pivot as you go along the way. If you both feel strongly about the same thing, team up. This is the best way of working.

Tom Payani  05:30

When you start a business with a friend you often you hear advice that it could ruin the friendship and stuff like that. But I completely disagree with that. I think definitely start a business with a friend.

If your values align, if you both have that trust and loyalty to each other, and you’re both on the same page, you’re good mates, you have a good relationship, you know each other pretty well I think it’s a great idea to start with a friend.

Brendan Cox  05:57

Yeah. I mean, it’s like any other type of relationship, if you know the person well enough, as long as you both align on what it is you’re trying to do, It’s great.

I wouldn’t just start a business with a friend just because they’re a friend. I think surrounding yourself with people that align with what you feel strongly about and are passionate about is always going to make life easier when running a business.

My next question is:  where are some of your go-to places for inspiration when you’re trying to think of ideas and things?

Tom Payani  06:32

I think other instructional designers are always useful to look at. Doing something creative changes the wiring in my brain to help me when working. If I am doing curriculum design or creating a learning journey, and I’m struggling, then I’ll journal or I’ll do some other creative endeavor, even if it’s a different creative endeavor, because it at least gets those creative juices flowing.

I enjoy writing a lot. I’m writing a book and I’ll just dip in and out of that just force myself to be creative in one way or another. A more tangible answer to that question might be going on applications or learning platforms that I respect. Just having another look at how they function, their user experience, how they get the user from A to B, Duolingo is one we always come back to – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

There’s lots of good examples out there that already exist that I think – let’s try that in our in our own eLearning design and development.

Brendan Cox  07:53

Okay, good answer. I get inspiration by looking at stuff that has nothing to do with eLearning. I look at movies and behind the scenes stuff like TV shows and films. I like watching documentaries. If I’m stuck on a project or if I’m looking for ideas, I’ll let myself completely go down a rabbit hole on the internet.

While I’ll search for something that’s linked to what I’m thinking I’ll just follow my instincts then I’ll start again. But in a different direction. It’s funny how many things actually end up that don’t feel related. When you combine two things together, it can actually sort of trigger a new idea. What I’m saying is you throw in as many ingredients as I can and pick and choose out of that to make something new.

Tom Payani  08:58

Yeah, and your answers reminded me of something else actually. Something that we both have in common and a big part of our friendship is based on film. When discussing ideas for eLearning we always use film references and tropes from films and narrative structures from films to help inspire us.

Brendan Cox  09:20

I was trying to think of other things like video games. I love playing video games and whenever I’m looking for inspiration, I look for places from a visual perspective. I just keep going off in rabbit holes looking at various styles and what I’ll do is I’ll make notes on what is I like about it.

I think about what I like about the character. I like the eyes on this person. I like the colour scheme. I like the texture palette. I like the shapes. I like the geometry, this kind of stuff. Then when I put together a mood board or something, I’ll have not just the images, but also why I like each bit.

Then for planning a learner journey, I’ll often look at TV films and video games in terms of the adventure the person’s going on. What sort of narrative elements can I bring into it? Like I’ve been playing one recently; everyone you help along the way on the final mission, comes back to help you.

It is like a narrative callback like, Lord of the Rings, where you’ve got everyone that they come in contact with come back in the final battle. It’s that sort of layering that I really like. I think that sits really nicely when you start adding it into eLearning.

Tom Payani  10:47

Yeah, it adds depth to the narrative of the eLearning.

Alright, what is the biggest challenge we will see an eLearning in the next 18 months?

Brendan Cox  11:00

Everyone’s heard of eLearning now. They understand they need to do it. I think the big challenge is educating everybody about the correct way of going about it. Because it can have a lot of value if it’s done properly, and you set goals properly, and you establish what it is you’re trying to do and actually focus on that.

But I think a lot of what’s happened with COVID, and everyone working remote, is that everyone’s been told they have to do remote work and eLearning. So there’ll be a rush to just make something digital. I think making sure that you’re going in the right direction before you jump straight in with solutions and start just making lots of content.

Over the next few years, there’s going to be a ton of eLearning made that’s basically useless, and just waste people’s time and resources. I think the main challenge is getting people to slow down and do that discovery or needs analysis stage of eLearning. Doing the analysis bit at the beginning is where the value comes with eLearning. If you don’t do that. It’s just a waste of time.

Tom Payani  12:09

I mean, it’s not exactly the same question. But in terms of the biggest change, I think we’re going to see augmented reality (AR) become a lot more popular in the next year to 18 months. That’s my prediction. I think that will become more popular before virtual reality (VR), because augmented reality (AR) can be done through a mobile device.

Brendan Cox  12:30

There’s access to augmented reality (AR) software now like Adobe Aero we’ve been exploring. Now it’s time to see what practical applications there are that are easily accessible because there’s different types. In some scenarios, augmented reality (AR) is amazing. If you’re on an oil rig, and you want to teach someone how to do something that’s really dangerous that they have to get right first time, you can build a bespoke piece of eLearning with augmented reality (AR) that shows you exactly what needs to be done.

Tom Payani  13:04

Yeah, health and safety training, oil rig construction sites, pilots etc.

Brendan Cox  13:10

It’s perfect for that. But it is expensive to make bespoke stuff. What I’m interested in is seeing if we apply better creativity and a little bit of linear thinking to using accessible software that’s not completely bespoke, like Adobe Aero.

What value can we add to the learning with that, and I think that’s going to be interesting to explore. Because there’s definitely an argument that it doesn’t have to uniquely be done in AR but AR adds an element of engagement to it. I think that’s going to be interesting.

Okay, my question. What sector or industry do you feel has the biggest opportunity for applying new eLearning there hasn’t already?

Tom Payani  13:55

I think anything connected with cloud computing, or big data, anything in that sort of sphere really just because it’s going to become more and more prevalent in general.

In a broader context for young people, I would say coding, giving young people the opportunities to learn basic coding. Coding as a skill is going to become more and more important in general in the same way. When we were at school, the core subjects were like English, Maths, Science and I think coding is going to become a core subject in that sense within our lifetime.

Brendan Cox  14:32

I think there’s a massive opportunity to develop the soft skills because I think no one’s touched it, really. And there’s all these apps for doing meditation and wellness stuff. There’s a massive opportunity to actually teach kids early on that this is important.

Tom Payani  15:08

I think what you’re saying is more important, for sure. Like, if I could choose where the attention should be, I agree with you.

I think something else that will become normalised to an extent is the idea of workforce or employee analytics, like a dashboard that employees have. For example, if you go to work, and you sit in front of your computer, and you write certain number of emails, you get points, or you complete a task you’re supposed to do for human resources.

It’s gamified in some way – tasks that the employees do will also be connected to some sort of company dashboard, with gamification and you have points, rewards are connected, you have social proof with other workers, that sort of thing.

Next question. What is your favourite thing about working with me? Also, how am I most annoying to you?

Brendan Cox  16:38

The best thing for me is the bouncing of ideas back and forth, because I can validate an idea really, really fast. And I really enjoy that. It’s surprising how often we get to a solution quickly. That’s what I like the most.

Did you say the most annoying thing as well?

Tom Payani  16:57

Yeah, so you’ve said something you like about working with me? What’s something you don’t like?

Brendan Cox  17:02

The web cam on your laptop looks up so it looks like you’re talking down to me.

Tom Payani  17:15

Is there an analogy there. Do I talk down to you? Haha.

Brendan Cox  17:22

It’s really awkward, like holding a conversation with someone on an escalator. The person above just feels a bit intimidating. So I’d say that’s the main problem.

Tom Payani  17:36

There are lots of things I like about working with you. I think one thing that really stands out is your creativity makes me more creative. I think when we’re bouncing ideas off each other and trying to come up with ideas for eLearning, for training, how to map out learner journeys and stuff like that it’s easy when we’re bouncing back and forth together doing it.

Before you know it, we’ve got quite well formed ideas very quickly, just because we’ve done it so many times. We’re on the same wavelength with this type of thing. Firstly, it’d be impossible to do it on my own. Secondly, we’ve talking about being greater than the sum of our parts. I think that’s a good example of that.

Most annoying you’re more likeable than me. So I guess that’s quite annoying. People always like you the most.

Brendan Cox  18:40

So swiftly moving on. What’s one of the most useful practical things that you’ve found since starting Blend?

Tom Payani  19:20

The first thing that comes into my head is a methodology and it would be the 80/20 principle. That combined with ‘done is better than perfect’. Not overthinking something to the point where it paralyses you. Not over-worrying about a project or an idea.

Just getting it done. Iterating, iterating iterating. Just keep moving forward, even if you’re not 100%. Even if you don’t think it’s perfect. Because when is it ever going to be perfect? And the more you just move forward and iterate something, you’re going to get pretty close to what you wanted in the first place. If that makes sense?

Brendan Cox  19:58

Yeah. That’s  kind of why I was going to say. Basically, test early and often. What we found is the longer we’ve been doing Blend is that if we get an idea, we test it straightaway. Then it makes everything so much more agile.

It makes projects more agile and working with clients more agile is cool, because it means that we can get to the nitty gritty a lot faster. So I’d say that one. Definitely.

Tom Payani  20:33

I think we should do a part two of this because it’s quite fun.

Brendan Cox  20:38

Yeah. Okay.

Tom Payani  20:38

So let’s leave it there for today because I need to think of some more questions for next time.

Intro/Outro  21:01

Thanks for listening to the blend podcast. It’s available on Spotify, Google and Apple. You can find blend interactive content on LinkedIn, or Don’t forget to like and subscribe. See you next time.

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