Digital Minimalism, Essentialism, and Learning with Christiana Houck

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In the Journal, Computers and Human Behavior, a study on divided attention and social media stated “The fundamental tenet of cognitive load theory is that the quality of instructional design will be raised if greater consideration is given to the role and limitations of working memory”.

So in the Age of Distraction, what is our current working memory? In the summer of 2015, Microsoft published a report that argued the widespread usage of smartphones has led to the deterioration of attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds. That was four years ago. Is it less now?

Therefore, this exploration of Digital Minimalism, Essentialism, and Learning was a very timely – and personal – exploration into our relationships with technology. Our guest Christiana Houck recently made a journey in to minimalism and has integrated it into her digital lifestyle as well.

Our conversation began with defining Minimalism. Minimalism’s focus is on paring down materials and environment to get rid of the clutter. Essentialism is a bit different. Essentialism’s focus is to direct energy only on the things that matter; concentrate on less, but better. It’s differentiating between the background noise and the relevant, now an art or skill as technology continues to be more pervasive in our lives.

So in this TLDCast, we had an informal discussion about Christiana Houck’s background and her journey into a Minimalist mindset. Christiana is a Learning Solutions Director for a large gaming company and is responsible for training dozens of technicians to support their gaming machines that are located all over the world. Gaming machines, in particular, slot machines, are geared for distraction, and that irony is not lost on Christiana.

We discussed the three Digital Minimalist principles:

  1. Technology use should be intentional not habitual.
  2. Technology is for making stuff not feeling better.
  3. Technology should never come before people.

We also talked about the considerations Instructional Designers may have in building their training. For example, Christian deTorres commented:

To address user distraction: Chunk training into smaller modules. I open up with scenarios and short quizzes that most people get wrong–which I feel perks them up as they realize this isn’t something they already know.

What are your thoughts on Digital Minimalism? Have you found your digital habits evolving to allow you more mental capacity for reflection and contemplation? We’d love to hear your comments, so please comment below or join us in our Slack group at

Some comments from Chat:

Minimalism is great if essential applications are not silenced. There have been cases I have missed important events do to minimalism. Just be mindful of how to apply the concept. — Brad Imler

Managing notifications can minimize a lot of stress and definitely increase focus.  But we will miss them.  Because the notification gives us a tiny shot of dopamine.  And then we look at the screen and get a little bigger shot.  And that is some good stuff! — Betty Dannewitz

Some e-learning apps push notifications (reminders) which can distract the trainees. We need to evaluate if push notifications are effective. — Brad Imler

To address user distraction: Chunk training into smaller modules. I open up with scenarios and short quizzes that most people get wrong–which I feel perks them up as they realize this isn’t something they already know. — Christian deTorres

One rule I do follow is I do not have my work email on my phone and I never will — Cara North

How Disconnection Boosts Your Creativity

Sonia Furini with 5 Key Tactics for Great Client/Vendor Relationships

In today’s TLDCast episode, with spoke with Virtual Learning Collaborative Director Sonia Furini about 5 Tactics for Great Client/Vendor Relationships.

The 5 Tactics are:

  • Partnership
  • Communication
  • Honesty
  • Availability
  • Agility


Sonia emphasized that you’ll know in the first five minutes if a client/vendor relationship is going to work. The relationship has to be one of a partnership, where both parties are focused on working together to be successful. Collaborative, cooperative, and team-oriented elements are what makes a Partnership work. And it’s especially important to define expectations across the board.


There may not be a more critical component to the relationship with your client than Communication. Be responsive, set realistic expectations, and be consistent about communicating with your client. Make sure your client understands that you’re there for them. And not just across single interactions, but all of them. Set a communication cadence, be proactive, set reminders for yourself and have a plan. Be as thorough as possible; you are in service of your client, make sure your client feels that experience.


It goes without saying that you need to be honest. Be transparent about your needs and interactions. Ask for what you need, take ownership of your responsibilities and maintain as much clarity about projects as possible. Ensure you have the capacity to properly partner with your client. If not, let them know as soon as possible.


Be there for your client. That’s what you’re getting compensated for. Establish and set the pace. Provide some predictability for your customers to ease any anxiety about whether or not you’ll be available. Be true to your behavior, as well as consistent. And watch that volume! Focus on the relationship; you’re needed.


Everyone needs to have workarounds. Unexpected pop-ups are unavoidable, so it’s important to remain malleable and expect changes. Adapting to this dynamic can successfully assist you in building trust with your client, making you look more reliable and trustworthy.

Vendor/Client relationships are all about treating people right, being fair and wanting the best results for all, not just for yourself. Making progress toward growth and improvement are key factors in finding success with your relationship, and it’s always important to find solutions that benefit both sides.

Here are the top four questions asked during the broadcast (links go directly to the video):

What is your favorite vendor relationship story to tell?

Who do you consider a vendor?

How do you manage What happens when the vendor (or the client) gets in over their head?

How do you keep your vendors on task, I find my project plans bleed out months trying to get what I need from my vendors 🙁

Quotes from chat:

Can you really partner with a vendor though? I’ve typically viewed that language as red flagish. I know that it’s operationalized differently but sometimes the vendor doesn’t always have the buyer’s best intentions in mind. — Cara North


Sometimes the challenge is that the client doesn’t sense that I’m not idle when I’m not working on THEIR project – that can result in some quick adjustments when deadlines slither around. 😉 — Kim Lindsey


Love that! “The truth sometimes hurts but it always heals” :slightly_smiling_face: — Kim Lindsey


In the instance where a late reviewer comes in….i may have a clause in my contract about additional review cycles…just saying, that can sometimes balloon out! — Kate Daniel


I think Marco Faccini said this and I love it for this conversation, “I don’t want to be a know it all, I want to be a learn it all”. — Cara North


Some additional links for your consideration:

Sonia’s Linkedin Profile:

Link to Crowdcast recording:
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Link to the podcast

Community Discussion: Do You Need An Instructional Design Degree?

Today our TLDCast discussion was focused on whether or not an instructional design degree is required to be successful in L&D. We had a nice split of guests: two of them had L&D related degrees and two didn’t — but had degrees outside of our industry. Also, we had one guest that doesn’t have a degree and is currently working on getting his undergrad.

The guests were:
Bethany Paterson – has non-L&D Degree
Alan Natachu – has non-L&D Degree
Alex Godinez – currently enrolled in a degree program, no previous degree
Cara North – L&D Degree
Chris Stadler – L&D Degree

So Why the Conundrum?

Instructional Design has been around for some 75 years, but many still wonder what instructional designers — who are only now just gaining acceptance in higher ed and corporate training — do.

Is it the changing landscape of the role that lends itself to this idea that it’s easy to circumvent a related degree? Is the nature of this career going to completely shift so that it’s a combination of fields, versus one that is specifically L&D?

An Instructional Design Degree is Not Vital

What we found in this conversation is that there are is no single path to success that is superior to others. Bethany and Alan both are successful Instructional Designers without a related L&D degree.

Bethany has a degree in medical anthropology. Her academic strength is in research and analytics. She’s found success with a large coffee distributor in the UK by using these skills to create and optimize training.

Alan received his degree in creative writing and has a background in film-making and acting. He’s found success in building storyboards and creating learning sequences that help his students succeed.

They both agree that having a degree is important, but you don’t necessarily need an L&D related one — at least to get started in this industry. They use resources like conferences, webinars, and networking to supplement what they already know.

Similarly, Tom Kuhlmann of Articulate has posted on his blog that “You don’t need a formal degree to learn the skills required to build good eLearning courses. There are many books and resources available that will provide the same information you’d get in any formal program. Combine that with the easy authoring tools and rich informal learning networks available today and you’re all set. Besides many people with degrees tell me they didn’t learn how to apply what they learned in their programs.”

A Degree Definitely Helps

Cara North has had a fascinating trajectory in Learning and Development. After an undergrad degree in Journalism and Poli Sci, she moved on to an MA in Workforce Development and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Educational Studies. She admits this path isn’t easy, but having an academic knowledge of Instructional Design principles allows her to cover a wider breadth of L&D concepts and challenges more quickly. And supplementing that with association resources and social networking enhances her professional development even more.

Chris Stadler has a fascinating background as well. His undergrad is in computer science and he has an M.S. in Instructional Technology. The combination of both degrees has been potent: He is currently the Director of Learning and Development at a large biopharmaceutical company. Like Cara, he also utilizes external resources to maintain his professional development and stay on top of what’s happening in L&D. It’s obvious that his academic achievements were well worth the effort.

Having An Impact

One of the most interesting parts of this broadcast was the inclusion of Alex Godinez. Alex is currently working on getting his degree in Communications to supplement his role as a Senior Member Relationship Trainer at a large credit union.

Alex notes that his academic work is already having an impact on his organization. It really isn’t just about having that piece of paper (a diploma), it’s also about having a level of achievement that allows you to have a larger impact on the individuals you’re trying to help.

It’s Worth It

The general consensus of our guests is that having an Instructional Design degree is and would be worth it. If cost weren’t an issue, both Bethany and Alan would pursue an L&D degree of some sort. And both Cara and Chris are happy with what they’ve achieved.

Chat quotes

There were some really interesting Chat messages in this episode. Posted below are some noteworthy messages – both for and against having a degree.

Also, take a look at the types of degrees and backgrounds the audience has. There is a tremendous amount of diversity in the chat. Very impressive!

Here are the quotes:

“Started and never finished…both programs didn’t real live up to expectations. The methods of instruction didn’t even model the theories and ideas we were studying. I just didn’t see value – not so much in the degree itself, but in the experience.” — Christopher Yellen

“Degree can be worth it, but not 100% necessary.” — Eric Rowland

“I love my education because I loved what I was studying. But did I need it to do what I do? No. My certifications have made more of a difference. — Tracie Cantu

“College program helped me build my network/connections and built my foundation of knowledge. Lots easier to network today. I graduated early 90s” — Eric Brott

“I would be a PERMANENT student if I didn’t have to worry about $$$” — Tracie Cantu

“I decided on my masters degree in ID, because I didn’t want to lose my student job running a pool hall” — Quetzalcoatl Cortes

“I work a lot with medical content and meetings with clients have everyone with a PhD in it… that’s the only time I say I have one (other than when dealing with a judgmental person in a bank trying to figure out my marital status)” — Dominika Bijos

“Good learning design includes a good narrative – that is what helps us connect to the content. Love seeing creative writers and videographers in the field!” — Christina Archer

“A friend I know had to remove his two PhDs off of his resume in order to get a job in corp. I guess there’s a stigma there as well.” — Quetzalcoatl Cortes

“my alma matter just released a PhD program designed for working for professionals…. and it is so tempting, but I don’t want to pay for it” — Christina Archer

Do you have a degree? Has it helped you in your career in L&D? Please feel free to leave a comment below or in our Slack group at

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You can also find an audio only version of this broadcast in our podcast! Go to itunes, google podcasts, spotify, and everywhere podcasts can be found and search for TLDC. Or you can listen below:

Relevant Links:


A Change Management Case Study with Host Kristen Hayden Safdie and Guest Deborah Decker

How do we develop an agile workforce and create that adaptability within our employees?

On Monday, April 1st, Kristen Hayden Safdie hosted her first in a series of Case Study TLDCasts. Her guest was Deborah Decker, eLearning Expert and Learning Advisor for Southern California Edison.

Southern California Edison is a 130 year old company that is currently experiencing change management challenges. Like many organizations, technology is impacting its workforce, and strategies to implement a culture of continuous improvement are vital to its continuing success.

The Prosci Change Methodology

Southern California Edison decided to utilize the Prosci Change Methodology as a solution, and allocated resources to support instructor led training. However, the decision to custom develop an accompanying eLearning course was made so that it better fit the organization’s population.

Deborah Decker created the course using Articulate Rise. The idea was to create a single course that covered three phases: Pre-change, During change, and Post-change. Using SME’s and working together with a team of Organizational Development Professionals, they implemented a multi-faceted change management course to help Southern California Edison continue to succeed.

This TLDCast was an excellent conversation on what is becoming a common problem for many businesses. Kristen and Deborah do an excellent job retelling and exploring the case study, and you’ll learn what Deborah felt they did well and where they could do better next time.


Crowdcast recording:
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Prosci Change Management:

Articulate Rise:

John Kissinger:

The Top 10 TLDCasts of 2018

Compiling the 2018 Top 10 TLDCasts was an interesting exercise in understanding what drives an audience to TLDCast. “Name recognition” and “topic covered” tend to be the primary reasons TLDCasts fill up. There’s also something to be said for “day of the week” as well.

Of this Top 10, there are some interesting things to note:

  • 8 out of 10 feature female guests
  • 3 out of 10 feature Melissa Milloway
  • 5 episodes took place during Q1 2018
  • Nearly half of the top 10 featured guest hosts
  • The majority of these sessions focused on instructional design topics
  • Definitely more of an emphasis on practitioner subject matter
  • Most popular day is Thursday, least popular is Monday

There’s more to learn from this series, and a great way to get started on understanding how our Community ticks.

Here’s the Top 10:

#1 February 6, 2018 – Bryan Jones elearning art:

#2 March 7, 2018 – Cathy Moore:

#3 July 12, 2018 – Melissa Milloway on xAPI with host Cara North:

#4 March 9, 2018 – Women on Work Panel:

#5 March 23, 2018 – Lee LeFever:

#6 October 3, 2018 – Women in L&D (WiLD) with guest Stella Lee:

#7 January 8, 2018 – Melissa Milloway:

#8 September 4, 2018 – Carla Torgerson:

#9 July 5, 2018 – Megan Torrance & Connie Malamed:

#10 December 13, 2018 – Myra Roldan:

Going forward, I’d like to explore how to drive more value from TLDCasts. Could we measure it by interactivity within a session? or by replays?

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback for us, please comment below or send an email to

2019 Corporate Training Resolutions

Making resolutions for corporate training that work for both you and your employees can be challenging, but it does not always have to be that way. After making a few adjustments in your approach to corporate learning, you will see a tremendous improvement in not only your employees work ethic but also positive culture changes in the career environment.

Here are a few of the top corporate training resolutions for 2019 you may want to consider:

Make Re-Assessments of Training Solutions.

By taking a closer look into your current strategy for corporate training of new employees, you will be able to pinpoint what training resolutions you want to implement into your training developments. You will also be able to make judgments on what may not be the best fit for your company, as some employees respond very well to lectures, while others prefer more hands-on training solutions for the job. A great way of seeing what kind of changes would be best for your employees is to have them submit anonymous surveys to the Human Resources or Training Department.

Focus on Employee Engagement.

With attention spans decreasing, it is important to keep your employees involved and connected with their training. Allowing them to have things like a custom learning solution leads to increased engagement and improved motivation. With additional enhancements available, such as gamification and simulations, your employees are more invested in their training.

Provide More Learning Opportunities to Make Better Employees.

Even employees who have been with your company for years need continuous training. Technologies and systems are always evolving, causing a change in the way things are being done in your workplace. With minimal training efforts, you may find you have to take additional time with certain employees to upgrade their understanding of any major changes. Instead of resorting to constantly reprimanding, or giving unnecessary disciplinary actions of employees over mistakes that are minor and that may not truly be devastating to the company, it would be most beneficial to utilize more positive and effective training opportunities to help them learn and correct their mistakes without bringing down their morale.

Incorporate Digital Technology into Your Training.

This will work out great for your employees who seem to be more hands-on learners. Not all people are great at receiving and retaining information just by listening to a long lecture for half a day, and being told to take notes. Incorporating things such as elearning solutions can not only help stimulate your learners but will also promote higher retention of knowledge. You can also make training programs accessible by having your employees engage in elearning solutions, or even by utilizing the ease of mobile applications. The employees will more than likely retain the information they are being provided due to them actually going through the motions of their job, and the fun competition that may be involved.

Design Your Training Program to Provide a Stronger Team & Improve Retention

One of the biggest complaints of employees is that they feel they have not received adequate training. It is important to make sure to prepare your employees with every single step that is deemed important and necessary when they begin to work after training. Employees should never feel as though they are being “thrown to the wolves, only to be eaten alive.” They should feel highly confident about understanding exactly what their job is, allowing them to provide the efficiency that you are expecting from them. Doing this will allow your employees to have a sense of security within their position in the workplace, which in turn will help to eliminate the need for them to look elsewhere for employment, or to simply quit the job right after training. The feeling of not knowing how to do your job while being continuously disciplined for what seems like every little thing plays an important role in the overall success of your company. When employees feel inadequate it can eventually lead to the company becoming understaffed due to turnover, resulting in possibly a collapse of the business.

Being in the roles of leadership, it can be easy to become overly focused on money, financial goals, and bottom lines; however, you cannot forget the needs and concerns of your employees. After all, they are the wheels on your corporate vehicle, and without them, it would be impossible to keep the company going. Hopefully, the tips provided above will improve the corporate training experience for your employees and bring you an increase in both staff satisfaction and the ongoing success of your company overall.

Designing Digitally, Inc. is a developer of custom online learning solutions designed to improve corporate training. You can find more helpful resources on our website or contact one of our team members today.