The COVID19 pandemic is spurring more online learning

Smiling college students in a lecture

While I’ve been talking about how it took a pandemic to truly begin to show companies that remote working is a viable option for many, I’m starting to see that it also applies to online learning. In light of the spreading virus, many university and college campuses are closing down and switching over to online classes. As a result, it seems like the ripe time for online learning–especially m-learning–to be put to the test (as if it hadn’t been already) in the same way that remote working is being put to the test.

If you look to very early entries on this blog, you’ll see that there are a LOT of articles that I’ve written in the past in favor of online learning.  I don’t remember the exact statistic off the top of my head as I write this, but I remember reading that there are more active smartphones in the world than there are people, and those in third-world countries are more likely to have a mobile or smartphone than a computer and adopt mobile learning (also known as m-learning) than other places.

What prompted this post was that I was reading social media posts and responses of parents who are skeptical or worried about their children’s education having to switch online (especially college students) for the rest of the semester. As someone who has done all of her graduate credentials (three graduate certificates and a master’s degree) online from “brick and mortar” schools in the last ten years, and having taught two graduate classes online for a “brick and mortar” university, I can tell you that students will only lose out if the professor teaching doesn’t put a little bit of time into what they post on online courses.

If a professor has got a good foundation for the curriculum, it will be easy to follow. Assignments will still be due and graded, and online forums, chat groups, etc. will be MORE important. It’s a matter of how well laid-out the course is in a learning management system (LMS) and how strong the curriculum is. It’s also a matter of how well students and instructors choose to communicate. Short of being in person, it’s important to utilize all online means possible to ask questions and discuss in order to continue the learning process. To be honest, this kind of communication, in fact, is actually good training for the real world. We can’t always be in face-to-face contact with clients or co-workers globally, and using conference calls, online forums, chat groups, instant messaging, and email are all par for the course (no pun intended). This is the norm! Getting used to this not only helps to keep their education going, but it also prepares them for the “real world” and expanding their communications skills. 

I’ve been a huge advocate for online learning for at least a decade now. It can be done, and like anything else, it’s a matter for the student to be dedicated towards reading the syllabus and assignments carefully, following instructions, and putting the same amount of effort in, if not more. The success of the course lays on how the course information and lines of communication are kept open by the instructor. It’s an adjustment for those who are not used to doing things this way, but it’s been a feasible way of doing things for more than a decade, and now, more learning is being forced into seeing this as a viable option out of necessity. 

What are your thoughts? Include your comments below. 

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Structure and Semantics for Context – Simple A

Maxwell Hoffmann

Maxwell Hoffmann, circa 2013
Photo credit: D.M.Villegas

Simple A’s Maxwell Hoffman happens to be a good friend and mentor of mine. I’m lucky and honored to have him as one of my cheerleaders. Maxwell recently wrote and excellent article about structure and semantics for context in content for Simple A’s blog and for the ISTC.

His article starts,
Content becomes intelligent, flexible, and capable of scalable personalization through structure and semantics.

Content drives customer experience (CX). In order to achieve optimal CX, we need the ability to manage multiple variations of content components that are dynamically assembled as relevant experiences, based on the context of the customer’s touchpoints. We need the ability to create a content component once, then reuse and deploy it many times, in many ways. This requires structured content with an intelligence shaped by semantics.

Structuring content within a well-defined content model makes content scalable, reusable, adaptable, and measurable. We cannot create real-time, personalized conversations at scale without structured, intelligent, semantically rich and truly accessible content.

He continues the article breaking down how we can create content models based on reusable content (do I hear DITA?) and how we model content has direct impact on user and customer experience. This is the foundation of intelligent content, if you think about it.

It’s a well-written article, and I highly recommend that you take a look at it.

Structure and Semantics for Context

What do you think? Include your comments below.

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Virus puts gig economy to the test – LinkedIn

Woman blowing her nose, sick at workIt’s amazing to see how suddenly companies are taking coronavirus/COVID19 so seriously, and suddenly allowing remote work in droves. In light of this, my friend Ken Ronkowitz shared this link on LinkedIn which covers a few articles and comments about how this pandemic may show how the gig economy can truly work, and despite all the protests about remote work not being productive, it really can be.

It’s a LinkedIn article, so make sure that you log into your LinkedIn account first:

Virus puts gig economy to the test

What do you think? Will this be the “needle that broke the camel’s back” when it comes to proving remote work is viable? Or is this solely a temporary fix? Include your comments below.

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Who knew it’d be a pandemic to encourage remote work?

It is early March 2020. At this writing, the coronavirus (also known as COVID19) pandemic is slowly taking over, and people are starting to realize that they need to take it seriously. Unlike other pandemics in the past (last big one was “Spanish Flu” 100 years ago), we do have the knowledge and means to prevent it from spreading too much with basic sanitary hygiene like washing your hands and not touching other surfaces and hands that infected people might have also touched.

It is in light of this that I’m getting many of my tech comm friends pinging me on social media about remote work, as in, “Hey, I know you are an advocate for remote work, and more companies are sending people home in fear of the coronavirus.” Yep, so I’ve seen!  Who knew that it would take a pandemic to encourage remote work?

While there are jobs out there where you do need to show up, most technical communications jobs are really not among them. I’ve worked on virtual teams of technical writers, content strategists, UX designers, programmers, project managers, visual designers, and we did just fine. It’s all about communication and having the appropriate tools, but I’ll go into that more in a moment. Let’s look at some other factors that show that remote work is super viable.  

I could have told you that remote work was better for health reasons long ago. First, we can keep our germs to ourselves more by staying home. This doesn’t mean that we never leave our homes, but because we only go out to shop or get errands done, we’re not exposed to as many things as most. Yes, it only takes one germ to get ‘ya, but your risk is significantly minimized. I used to get really bad bronchial infections, colds, and other things when I worked in offices, no matter how much hand sanitizer I used and how many Clorox anti-bacterial wipes I used on my equipment.  Once I worked from home, that happened less often.  If workers don’t get sick as often, then their health benefits are not as expensive and there’s more time working. That benefits employers as much as it does workers. 

Costs of working from home is significantly less. I think I read a statistic–I think Chris Herd put it on LinkedIn recently (he’s another big remote advocate like me) that it costs something like $18,000+ per worker per year (or something like that) to pay for office space. I don’t think that included internet/wifi connectivity, water/electricity/heating/cooling, telephony, or any other things that you have in an office. Working from home, that costs about 1/10th of that per year. Additionally, there’s the cost of commuting by car or public transit, or even eating out for lunch. Those costs in not only money but time also take away from the “bottom line”–they add up very quickly. 

Remote workers also reap mental health benefits from working from home. In most cases, there have been studies that show that working from home is more productive as there are less disturbances, allowing workers to better focus on their work.  They can use that free time to get a gym workout in, talk to their kids, make a healthier meal than take out, or just…whatever. The balance between work and home is better because there’s more “home” time involved.  Less stress means happier workers. 

Now, I know there are those who say that they like having to work around people. Good for you! But I know this tech comm bunch–most of us (including myself) are introverts. (I know, I don’t seem like one, but I am an extroverted introvert.) We don’t have to deal with people ALL THE TIME. What about that one co-worker you would prefer not to talk to unless you have to? When you are in the office, you are forced into seeing your office colleagues all day, whether you like them or not. You see them more than you see your family, in some cases. If you have great colleagues, good for you. I’ve been in bad groups and good groups. I would rather control my face time with all of them. Remote work lets me do that.  We live in an age where we can video conference, audio conference, make phone calls, email, and instant message people. There are shared drives and BaseCamp and Microsoft Teams and Jira/Confluence and other tools that help with the collaboration. As I said, I’ve been on teams where everyone was spread out globally, and with consistent, concise, and frequent communication using most of the tools listed above, we would make great things happen. 


Now, companies are forced into trying it for the sake of world health. I’m willing to bet that many companies that previously didn’t have any kind of telecommuting or remote options that are now forced to consider it are going to get a shocking surprise at how well things will work. Remote work was supposed to be something that was going to be very commonplace by 2020, and it still isn’t. (Thanks, Marissa Meyer.) 

I’m looking for a new remote position right now, as a matter of fact. I am suited for it. I prefer it. I get more work done. I am able to keep after my health better. My mental state is better. I can take care of my family better. I’m more comfortable working in my own setup, and saving money on commuting and other working-at-an-office costs. Some of my best work has been done when I worked from home. 

Will this be the huge wake up call that we advocates of remote work have been waiting for? Time will tell. 

What do you think? Include your comments below.  

PS – You might also want to do a search in this blog on the word “remote” and see several articles that I’ve shared and other insights as well. 😉

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What is conversation design?

Scotty talking to a computer mouse.

When going back in time in Star Trek IV, Chief Engineer Scott forgot that there wasn’t AI in the late 1980s.








Thanks to Donn DeBoard for posting this on his LinkedIn feed. This is a really good site for something that all technical communications professionals should be looking at, even if they don’t do something related to it now. This is what the future is going to look like, and we are the pioneers.

Read this page and its subsequent pages from Google about conversation design:

What do you think of conversation design? Include your comments below.


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Maybe It’s Not Content Management Anymore. Maybe It’s Context Management/Associations Now

Maybe It’s Not Content Management Anymore. Maybe It’s Context Management.

Thanks to Tina Howe for sharing this on her Twitter feed.

Just from the title alone, the concept is a little mind-blowing.  How would you abandon content management after so many years? Heck, there are still many who haven’t grasped that concept in the first place!

But once you read the entire article, it makes total sense. Content types have been growing steadily, especially in the last 10 to 15 years or so, and with that, you have many different kinds of content that need specialized machinations in order to create the management of that content and how it interacts with other content.  It reminds me a little bit about hypertext theory, but amplified. Hypertext theory has to do with the paths one takes to get from point A to the desired point B when there could be multiple points A and multiple points B and endless combinations. Add the complexity of different things beyond text, images and video and consider bots, AI, and other newer tech that has come into the picture. They all have to play nicely together, but they also need to be organized in a way that the transitions from various points A to points B to points C need to be seamless.

Take a read, and let me know what you think in the comments below.



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A Framework for Thinking about Documentation Quality/STC Intercom

My friend and STC colleague, Steve Jong, has written an excellent piece for this month’s STC Intercom magazine that’s definitely worth read.

As I’m about to start on my new gig soon (red tape holding it up right now), this is a topic that’s been very much on my mind, so the timeliness of the article is great. I like how Steve has broken it down based on the audience types and their needs. After all, it’s practically the mantra of all technical communicators to ask, “Who’s the audience?” so that we can cater our work appropriately. One always hears about the “faster, better, cheaper” of documentation, but Steve breaks it down on how that can actually work based on setting realistic goals based on your audience without losing quality in the process.  I know that’s a goal of mine going into any project that I do!

As this article is openly available, I urge you to take a look, and really savor the information. I think it will either reinforce what you might instinctively know as a technical communicator, or it will clue you in to some things that you might not have thought about.

See the link below, and let me know what you think in the comments.

A Framework for Thinking about Documentation Quality

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Essential Remote Work Statistics for You to Know in 2020

Was remote work included in your New Year’s Resolution? Is finding a remote job on your radar? Are you wondering about the current state of remote work so you can plan your next move? Whatever your strategies are regarding remote work and location-independence, knowing the trends and current information will help you fulfill your goals.

Thanks to Jennifer Heller Meservey for posting this on LinkedIn.  Remote work continues to get attention, and this is a great article showing some of the more positive statistics as to why it works as well as it does. I know that as soon as I started working remotely again after being in an office for six months, I felt much more productive and relaxed.

What are your thoughts about the stats presented? Include your comments below.


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When being a Yes person doesn’t work

Pirate saying Well, Yes, but actually NoI know I’ve been away from this blog far too much in the past year. Well, things have been busy, and confusing, and complicated, to say the least. I’ll leave it at that right now.

I started writing this article at the end of 2019, when things weren’t going so well. I set it aside, thinking that a few weeks of cooling down would help. It has, and yet as I went through to edit this to publish now, I find that my cooler head did prevail even in the heat of the moment.

The end of the year is always a time for reflection of what’s gone on in the past year–for better or worse. For 2019, 31 December 2019 was not only the end of the year, but also the end of a decade–the decade when I let tech comm into my life, in fact. Oh, there’s been lots of other things that have gone on, for sure. Heck, if it was a complicated year, it’s definitely been a complicated decade for me.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is professional character–again, for better or worse. And for myself, I’ve concluded that I’m not a “Yes man” type of person.

First of all, if it isn’t obvious, I’m a woman, not a man. Despite certain gains for women in the past decade, especially in tech, there are still stigmas that are associated with being a woman. This is especially true when it comes to work-life balance and well, just how women express themselves. I’m quickly reminded of an interview done recently by Howard Stern of Hillary Clinton. While she is a generation ahead of me, I found much of what she talked about in how she handled her career and her press still rings true for women today. You can’t be emotional. You can’t bend. You have to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove yourself. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t yield to certain things. If a man reacted expressively about something, nothing would happen, but if a woman did…you get the idea. I still see that in the office. I see women still being passive, even if they think they are assertive or aggressive. I know this of myself.

I’m also reminded of the many talks of entrepreneur Tabitha Coffey who speaks about how women’s power is so often taken away from them in business, and that we shouldn’t let anyone take that away from us.

This is where I get to talk about being a “Yes” person. Now, you often hear in business–and in life–that you should try to say “yes” to more opportunities and more “yes” to life, because you’ll benefit in the long run. I understand that philosophy, and on many levels, I do try to adopt that attitude when I can.

However, there is a power to saying “no” to things as well. Again, as a woman, it’s not about life choices like, “I don’t want to date you,” or “I don’t want to have kids,”, etc. but even the small “no” in business where it takes away that “power” within us. What I mean by this is when you feel like your confidence, intelligence, and worth in business–and life–are taken away from you. When you get constant pushback when you know that something isn’t right.

I’ve discovered, in this respect, that I am a “no” person. If I’m approached to do something, I need to weigh out whether I can truly do it and do a good job at it, or not. Sometimes, I’ll take the chance or know confidently that it’s a “yes”, or even a “Yes, I’ll give it a wholehearted try”. But there are times that I feel like I know something’s wrong because it’s being done wrong or it’s being done for the wrong reasons, and I can’t just let it be.

I’m human–I know I’m not always right, but I’m often right. I try to research things as best as I can, and I’m not an inexperienced youngster either. Especially in the field of tech comm, I know that even after almost a decade of immersing myself in the field, I have a LOT to learn, but I’ve also gained SO much knowledge over the last decade. I DO know my stuff, and I speak about what I know confidently. I don’t talk about what I don’t know. And I’m willing to hear another perspective or learn about something new. That’s never changed.

I think the point I’m trying to say is that I’m not afraid to “upset the cart” if I know that things are not going right and they need to be corrected. When I encounter a situation of the old saying of “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” then I want to make sure that I get a thirsty horse or figure out if the water is bad! I’m not going to “spin my wheels” doing something that will not end with positive results. I try to make the change happen, and when you get pushback time after time, well…it’s frustrating. If I was a guy, I could huff and puff and blow up with little consequence. But for me, if I bottle up–reserving my frustrated words, say nothing while suppressing anger, then I’m weak. And if I were to blow up like a guy–forget it. You can’t win.

I refuse to feel weak anymore. When I originally wrote this article, I was in a weak and unstable position, which I’m no longer in. I know better. I know I have support from those who do understand me and do believe in me, and appreciate when I change things because they need to be changed. They know I have viable ambitions and can asset myself appropriately. They appreciate that I don’t roll over and just “yes” to everything given to me, and I weigh things carefully before saying “no”.

I find my son has this trait too–he won’t do something unless he understands why and it makes sense to him. Perhaps this is an Aspie thing. I don’t see it as being inflexible, but rather I don’t do things simply for the sake of doing them. What I do needs to have some purpose at the some level, and some logic. If I know from experience that if a project is being approached the wrong way, and I’ve tried to reach a workable compromise or re-approach with no success, then I feel that power is taken away from me. I’m defeated and miserable doing things the wrong way. It almost feels immoral in my heart.

So, I will never be a “yes” woman. I will always try to champion the customer or end user, champion better content and UX, and champion best practices. When those aren’t in place, and a supportive, viable structure to help me achieve those things is not available, that’s not what’s best for me. I deserve better, the customers/end users that I champion deserve better, and I will continually strive for better wherever I go. I will know when “no” gives me the power to do the right thing, and push forward with that. And that will provide me with the right kind of “yes”.

Are you a “yes” person or a “no” person? Include your comments below.

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The Future of Startups

More businesses are starting out bringing on the best talent they can find—wherever they may be based.

Workers looking at a conference call screen

When Matt Mullenweg started his semi-eponymous web development company Automattic in 2005, he took what was then considered a very unconventional, even unwise, approach. Rather than opening an office and luring talented people to Houston—where he was, and still is, based—he hired people from around the world with the skills he needed. And then he let them work from home.

The Future of Startups – WSJ

While this was a paid promotional piece for UpWork in the Wall Street Journal, it’s still a good article. Remote is becoming a necessity to reach out to get the best talent. We all don’t have the ability to move around to follow where jobs are.  I live in a situation where I live between two major metropolises where many jobs are, but they are too far to commute–especially for a mom of a special needs kid (okay, he’s a young adult now, but that doesn’t change things much). I also work in a field where much of the work is solo–it’s writing and coding and thinking, which requires quieter environments. Does this mean that I’m not a team player? Of course not! Just like in the office, due to advances in technology, I can easy call, IM, text, email, or have an online conference call complete with video and audio and sharing computer screens globally.  Matt Mullenweg has built one of the largest and most respected tech companies based on this–why can’t others? Are they afraid of losing control, or are they afraid of having happier and smarter workers? Either way, the flexibility of remote work is still a strongly viable way to go.


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