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GIFs as a Training Tool

GIFs as a training tool

Now that my children do a fair amount of communicating on Microsoft Teams, they have discovered the little GIF button in the chat section. Using built-in short videos or animations, they can communicate with their classmates quickly, and in an interesting way.


GIFs are more than just funny reactions to a group chat or a clever way to say it is Friday. These short, looped videos can be used to communicate information quickly, in an accessible way. On this week’s podcast, George Hanshaw, Director of eLearning Operations at Los Angeles Pacific University, sits down with us to talk about the application of GIFs in training.

Transcript of the Conversation with George Hanshaw

Brian Washburn: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things Learning & Development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, the Co-Founder and CEO of Endurance Learning and today i’m joined by George Hanshaw, who is the Director of eLearning Operations at Los Angeles Pacific University. He’s also a doctor of psychology. George, thank you so much for joining us today.

George Hanshaw: Thanks for the invite, Brian. I’m glad to be here.

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m super excited.  For those who subscribe to TD Magazine and who are members of ATD, I found out about you when I read an article that you wrote recently in the October issue, I think it was, of TD Magazine, about using GIFs for learning. And so that’s going to be the focus of our topic today.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: And when it comes to our topics we always like to have our guests introduce themselves by sharing a 6-word biography that, kind of, sums up their life or their career. For me, thinking about GIFs and using them as a learning tool, my 6-word biography would be “I really like quick learning experiences”. How about you, George? Is there a way that you can sum up your career in six words?

George Hanshaw: Yes. “I enjoy learning how people learn.” That’s me in a nutshell.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and that sounds like it aligns with this whole idea of being a doctor of psychology and being in the learning space.

How Do You Pronounce GIF?

Brian Washburn: I want to jump in here and really– I think perhaps one of the most important questions we can get an answer to is– is it pronounced “giff” or “jiff”?

George Hanshaw: That is the million dollar question because no matter how I answer that question, I’m either right or wrong. (CHUCKLING) Some people aren’t going to like the answer, but Oxford Dictionary talks about both.  They’ll take either way.  They’re not concerned about it. And I actually looked up how many people pronounce it “giff” or “jiff” and 72% of people pronounce it “giff”.

Brian Washburn: Uh huh.

George Hanshaw:  So the other 28% pronounce it “jiff”. But the creator actually pronounces it “jiff”. But for me, my team likes to pronounce it “giff” so guess what? I’m going with them.

Brian Washburn: Perfect.

George Hanshaw: So that’s the way we’ll roll with–.

Brian Washburn: Let’s go with the people. Power to the people.

George Hanshaw: (CHUCKLING) Yeah.

What is a GIF and How Can GIFs Be Used to Reinforce Learning?

Brian Washburn: So in October’s issue of TD Magazine you published an article about the use of GIFs as a retention tool. I’m really curious about this. First of all, can you tell us a little bit more for those who aren’t really familiar with GIFs other than maybe what they have maybe seen on Facebook or whatever, what is it? And what gave you the idea of using these short little video clips to reinforce learning?

George Hanshaw: Well GIFs in a nutshell are just short video clips – I like to say 8 seconds or less – that just continually loop, so you’re constantly seeing the GIF refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh.

When it comes to learning it’s part a sprint and it’s part a marathon. And the learning of the content should be the sprint, so we want to learn that really quickly to move it from short-term memory to long-term memory. So that’s kind of the key that everything hinges on. The marathon piece is how we apply it. So we want to spend all of our time in the application of it.

But it started quite a while ago because I was in a soldering class, because I used to teach Solder so I had to be certified, to be a high-reliability solder instructor. And I was bored to death, was kind of what happened! (CHUCKLING) So when I took the material I was supposed to teach and brought it back to where I worked – at Lockheed Martin at the time. I looked up different videos and I stumbled upon GIFs that showed — like one showed how a soldering iron is supposed to connect — was supposed to hit — and the solder hit at the same time. And it was showing what they took hours to explain in like 5 seconds. And I thought it was brilliant because I still remember that GIF to this day and that was several years ago.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I’m really so intrigued by this.

How Do You Make a GIF?

Brian Washburn: And, you know, using Facebook or texting, you can use different add-ons, like Giphy, or something like that to find something funny that you can send to people. I don’t  know how to make them. So can you talk a little bit about how this works? What do you need to do in order to create a GIF? Do you need special software? Do you need technical tools or technical skills? And how do you distribute it once you’ve created it?

Giving directions using a GIF

George Hanshaw: Oh, that’s the cool part because it’s all very simple! It starts with the design piece because when you say “ok, I’m going to make a GIF”. It’s actually a creative exercise to get you to focus and create great clarity because in 8 seconds you can’t have a lot of stuff that is “unfocused”, if you will. So it starts with the design. You pick the content or the concept that you want to show, and then you define the purpose – what would be meaningful for the audience. And then you move to the software. So I just — I do that, storyboard it and then I use Vyond, as the software, for me because it’s really simple, template-oriented. So the people on my team use some Adobe products because they’re much better than I am at creating these, so I need the simple, templatized ones that I can get out really quickly.

Brian Washburn:  So you can use things like Vyond, which is readily available. It’s a cloud-based tool. Some of your teammates use Adobe products. Can you use something as simple as, something like Camtasia or even just a built-in video tool that comes with Windows.

George Hanshaw: Absolutely. And that all just depends. You can use just about any video tool. The whole thing hinges on making it short, to the point, and something that’s memorable. So if you can do that using Loom, Camtasia, Screencastify, then absolutely go for it.

How Do You Distribute a GIF?

Brian Washburn: And do you distribute it as a GIF file? Is it an MPEG4 file? What –?

George Hanshaw: You know what I’ve found that works — it’s a GIF file – .gif. And if you put it in an email — so let’s say you’re using gmail, you just put it in the email so as soon as the email is opened they see the GIF.

Brian Washburn: Ok.

Providing specific instructions in a GIF

George Hanshaw: They don’t have to click anything. We use Slack so we just put it right in the workspace. So all of our training that we do in Slack is — well not all of it, but there’s quite a bit of GIFs that we use to prep people for training that’s coming up. If you use Microsoft Teams, you can just put it in Microsoft Teams, so whatever workspace or email that you use, so it’s very flexible.

How to Use GIFs as a Training Tool

Brian Washburn:  Now we’ve talked a little bit about the mechanics of how they’re created. We talked about how you use them or why you might use them. But can you paint us a picture and bring it from the conceptual to the practical? What are several examples of these that you’ve actually used with success?

George Hanshaw:  You know, one of the neatest ones is I was changing the brakes on my own car, right, this past weekend and i was looking at a YouTube video. You know, thats kind of like micro-learning, so that’s shrunken learning as well.

Brian Washburn: Sure.

George Hanshaw: But then I clicked on a link and it went to an actual GIF that showed me how to remove this certain type of screw that they had. And it was like 5 seconds and I looked at that and said “oh, that’s how you do it..ok”

Sharing a message about production value

So you can see how that can work in the manufacturing world, as far as directions. The fast-food restaurant – just a graphical way to show things and different trainings will work and it will stick. Leadership – if you want to go right directly into behavioral practices – you can create things like feedback or how to deliver feedback.

Things like that can be done in a GIF just to make one certain point.  So we kind of think of it as a campaign. The GIFs take one point of this larger training that you’re building and it places learners’ focus right on that piece. Whether it’s changing brakes or changing behaviors in a leadership role, it all works.

Brian Washburn: I love how you’ve framed this from the start. So you mentioned that you want to do, kind of, the sprint stuff. So that could be the eLearning module, it could be a class-based thing, it could be something that’s virtual. And then you have the marathon, which is the follow-up, and that’s where the GIFs can come in. So this is part of an overall learning strategy, which I think is fantastic.

George, thank you so much for giving voice to another tool. And this goes beyond micro-learning, and it’s a micro-micro-learning. But it’s another tool in the belt that we should be using and exploring as long as it fits the objectives for our learning program. I really appreciate this.  Before we go we do have one last segment here, where we’d like to make sure that our listeners get to know you just a little bit more with a speed round of questions.  Are you ready for the speed round?

Get to Know George Hanshaw

George Hanshaw: I’m ready. Let’s do it! (CHUCKLING)

Brian Washburn:  (CHUCKLING) Let’s do it. So when it comes to presentations what is your go-to food before you do a presentation?

George Hanshaw: I love this one. Water or coffee, ‘cause a tiger only hunts when they’re hungry.

Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING) Nice. How about a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

George Hanshaw: Knowbly software.

Brian Washburn: Oh, what is Knowbly software?

George Hanshaw: Knowbly software – its a very quick and easy way to make interactive content, whether it’s flashcards, hotspots, annotated video, whatever it may be. So I love Knowbly software.

Brian Washburn: I had not heard of it. Thank you for sharing that one. How about something that you’ve either read recently or listened to recently that other folks in the field should be paying attention to?

George Hanshaw: You know, I’ve had a lot. In terms of leadership, “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink.  “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. “Beginner’s Pluck” by Liz Forkin Bohannon. And if you’re talking about learning, “Make It Stick” by Peter Brown and “Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

Brian Washburn: Wow! You have a whole library there.

George Hanshaw: I love — I’m constantly reading and learning something. (CHUCKLING)

Brian Washburn: I love it. I love it. And before we go, do you have any shameless plugs that you’d like to share with folks?

George Hanshaw: Just if anyone is looking for degrees or professional development. And I’m at if anybody wants to reach me.

Brian Washburn: Alright, excellent. And when it comes to what you’re teaching at LAPU what kind of classes are you teaching?

George Hanshaw: You know we do either masters or undergraduate. We even have an AA degree but we’re also now into the professional development aspect so by the beginning of the new year you’re going to see a lot of materials coming for leadership, leading virtual teams, all sorts of that stuff.  We’re — you will see some GIFs in there too! (CHUCKLING)

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING) Nice. Bringing it back to the topic. Thank you so much, George, for joining us today. And thank you everyone else for listening to another episode here of Train Like You Listen, which is a weekly podcast that you can find on iTunes, on Spotify, on iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear go ahead and give us a rating. That’s how other people find out about us. Until next time, happy training!

This week’s podcast about GIFs as a Training Tool is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.

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