10L: Sophie Costin

About Sophie

Sophie has a proven track record of designing solutions that deliver real impact through behaviour change. Over the last 10 years she’s worked with some of the world’s largest companies, to help them define their learning needs and create interventions that help overcome them. With a background in learning consultancy and design, over the years Sophie’s worked on award winning courses using immersive technologies, serious games, classroom/digital blends, drama video and animation. She currently heads up the learning design team at immersive learning company, Make Real.

So, what do you do dear?  Describe your work to an elderly relative

I make training for big companies. So, for example, if a major bank decides they need to get better at customer service, I’d help them identify what their staff need training on and what that training should look like. The company I work for tends to use the latest technologies, like Virtual Reality, for the training we create.

What was your favourite learning experience (Could be work, personal, school…anything is valid)? What were you trying to do? Why did it work so well for you?

I got into learning design through a graduate training scheme about 10 years ago. It was an amazing year. There were four of us and we had some of the most kind, creative and accomplished people in the business dedicated to mentoring and teaching us. They always made sure we had an opportunity to put the theory into practice right away and then provided us with really clear feedback on how to improve. To this day I’m so grateful for how generous they were with their time and knowledge. (I’m also aware of the irony that this wasn’t a digital learning experience.)

Enough already…What one thing do you wish people in your industry or profession would stop doing? (What gets your goat?)

‘By the end of this training you will be able to…’  There’s no need to open training like this. It’s soul destroying. If we’re going to go all Gagne on this, the first step is actually ‘gain attention’ not ‘destroy soul while informing learners of objectives’. It really dehumanises training and, digital training especially, needs a good dose of humanity to get people to pay attention. 

Same again please…What has changed for the better in your professional world as a result of COVID working practices? Should it be retained for the future (whenever that might be and whatever it might look like)? 

Not defaulting to classroom sessions as the training standard. In the short-term, this has resulted in a lot of people defaulting to remote classroom sessions instead. But as the panic of last year subsides, I think this will result in more impactful and creative solutions coming forward.

We’re already starting to see the green shoots of this – our clients spent last year desperately trying to make their training viable under the new conditions, but this year they’ve had a bit more time to take stock and start to experiment with how to make it desirable, not just viable. This has resulted in some really interesting ‘outside the box’ thinking. I like to think we’re heading into a bit of a golden age of training, but we’ll see.  

From the good old days…What do you miss most about working life from the pre-COVID world? Do you think it will return? 

Chewing fat (metaphorical fat only – I’m a vegetarian). That time in between where you just need to kill some time and it gives you the chance to get to know another person. Whether that’s travelling with a colleague or lunch with a client where there’s nothing else to do but find out more about them. It’s so valuable and edifying. I miss it.

As a business we’ve pivoted pretty well to work remotely and it’s actually had some positive effects. But I also haven’t really found an alternative for design workshops that’s as good as everyone getting in a room and talking a design through without distractions. I don’t know that this will return any time soon though. Which is a shame because I also really miss Post-it Notes.  

Theft is the sincerest form of flattery…Which part of which other industry or profession do you think we should learn from and adopt (or just steal)?

I play a lot of games, so I’m always looking for things I can borrow/steal/take inspiration from there. That could be anything from a specific mechanic or interaction that was really enjoyable or a visual style or a surprising way of presenting a story. In fact, it’s not just games. If I’m honest I spend a lot of my free time consuming media and saying ‘I can use this in a course!’. There’s so many great examples out there of things that can surprise, delight and hold an audience’s attention and that’s primarily what we should be looking to do as learning designers. 

On the flip side, I like to keep up with various academic publications that focus on behaviour change. I try to keep track of the different experiments that are being conducted to, for example, use technology to make people more empathic and use the structure of that research to inform my designs. Science and art working together in harmony, that’s what we need!

You know who would be great for this…Which famous person (live or historical) do you want to join your team and why?

Lisa Simpson all the way. I think to be a good learning designer, you need to wear a lot of hats. For me a big part of that is just being a nerd and finding the ‘interesting’ in things that others might have missed. You also need a healthy dose of creativity and determination to communicate that back in a way that other people care about. Lisa Simpson has bucket loads of all those things. Was I allowed a fictional character? I’m having one.

If only I had…What did you learn from your most recent mistake?

I’ve just got off a post-project review. We’re always looking for ways to improve and to provide people with a space to reflect without feeling there’s any sense of blame. My biggest learning from that project was when I came back from holiday, a new process had been suggested for handling some videos. It didn’t feel right to me, but it was all underway and I still have a holiday brain engaged. It ended up taking a lot longer and not getting us where we needed to be. So lesson learnt: trust your instinct, speak up, kick the tyres and do your due diligence is something doesn’t seem right. It can save a lot of time in the long run.

There can be only one…Which one tool or piece of kit would you keep if you could only use one from now on?

I don’t think there’s one tool or piece of kit I couldn’t be without, but I couldn’t do my job without the talented and dedicated team I’m lucky enough to work with at Make Real and with the clients we partner with. Also, I wouldn’t want to. The people you work with can be so inspiring and drive so much creativity. It’s always the people on a project that make the biggest difference to the final outcome… also maybe Post-it Notes.

The picture of success…Which image or picture is a good representation of how you would like to develop your practice over the next five years?

Captain James T. with many Tribbles

The next five years are going to be all about scaling up immersive learning. This is as much a cultural shift that needs to happen as opposed to companies needing to acquire any specific hardware. A lot of this technology is already much more accessible than people might think. Over the next five years, I’d like to help immersive learning be more Tribble. Any Star Trek fans in? No? OK. 

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