AI and Machine Learning for Business

Dialectic Book Club: AI and Machine Learning for Business

The Dialectic Book Club recently explored one of today’s hottest topics, discussing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Business by Steven Finlay, a practical and concise overview geared to managers and business people.

Finlay is a data scientist with a Ph.D. in predictive modelling, who specializes in developing machine-learning solutions in big data industries, including the financial sector.

The book begins with the basics, providing easy-to-absorb definitions of machine learning and AI and then explores the value of machine learning and how it works. It provides insights on building a predictive model and how to use such a model to make decisions, as well as ethical implications.

Dialectic team takeaways:

  1. In the short term, machine learning will add jobs, rather than suppress them.
  2. Algorithms can be biased or even racist… if the people who create them are.
  3. Algorithms are fantastic tools for analyzing vast amounts of data and making predictions about the world — such as sales forecasts — but humans are still needed to interpret and act on those predictions.

Also see our advice on getting your workplace machine-learning ready: Machine Learning, AI and Change Management: 3 Ways Leaders Can Prepare Their Organization for Success.

The Dialectic team regularly meets to discuss books that contribute insights to our work designing e-learning, organizational change and customer experiences. Next up, we’re reading Cathy Moore’s Map It: The Hands-On Guide to Strategic Training Design.

The crowd at Meeting of the Minds 4 – Big Data, Small Data and the Post-truth Era

MM4 – Big Data, Small Data and the Post-truth Era

Meeting of the Minds 4 – Big Data, Small Data and The Post-Truth Era 

Big data and modern computational capabilities have led to unprecedented predictive power. But they have also led to the rise of disinformation and a global epistemic crisis.

In MM4, Dr. Barb Adams, Dialectic’s Director of Research, will lead us in a discussion of the use of small data – that is, the use of targeted qualitative research methods to understand people, their values, and their motivations – as a partial antidote to these problems.

MM4 takes place Friday Nov. 9, 2018, 7-10 p.m.

Meeting of the Minds is a relaxed, informal gathering of smart and creative people to discuss topics from research, design, and technology.

Want to join in? Please RSVP to

Don't Make Me Think, Revisited Book

Dialectic Book Club: Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited

Introducing the Dialectic Book Club

The Dialectic team regularly meets to discuss books that we collectively read for insights into our work designing e-learning, organizational change and customer experiences.

“We read and learn together because it is our job to educate people, and those same skills can – and should – be used to continually educate ourselves,” explains Aaron Barth, Dialectic founder and president. “We always want to be innovative and be on the cutting edge of what is happening in research, design, and technology. So we read things that will keep us there and we use our learning design skills to teach ourselves new things.

“It’s about building capacity across the organization and deepening our unique integrated approach. We all read the same books regardless of our role and learn about each others’ crafts. Since we work in a integrated way – where everyone is involved to some extent at each phase of a project – that delivers superior value and outcomes to our clients.”

Don't Make Me Think, Revisited Book

Recently the book club dove into Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web And Mobile Usability, which is regarded as the bible for user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design. It’s an engaging, fun read packed with practical advice for intuitive navigation and information design, based on Krug’s 20+ years of experience as a top usability consultant.

Here are some of our takeaways:

1. If it can’t be self-evident, it needs to be self-explanatory
Krug explains that users should be able to navigate websites or apps without thinking about it. This is his first law of usability – and it’s one that we embrace in all of our designs.

2. Omit needless words
Getting your message across with less words reduces mental clutter and is more
straightforward for your audience (h/t to Strunk & White, The Elements of Style).

3. The myth of the average user
There is no such thing as the ‘average’ user. As Krug explains, “All web users are unique and all web use is basically idiosyncratic.” This is why it is so important to test your digital products with as many different people as possible.

Next up, we’re reading Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Business: A No-Nonsense Guide to Data Driven Technologies by Steven Finlay – stay tuned!

Aaron Barth Ph.D. from Dialectic working the room at a speaking engagement.

One-day Workshop: Beat Your Bias and Build a Better Team

Aaron Barth, Dialectic’s founder and president, is speaking at a one-day interactive training workshop, Beat Your Bias and Build a Better Team, presented by The Accelerator Centre and PwC Sept. 20 in Kitchener, Ontario. Barth will present alongside Michelle Rhodes, Director, Change Management and Business Transformation Consulting at PwC, and Jackie Lauer, Mentor, Leadership/Culture & HR at The Accelerator Centre. Designed for entrepreneurs, educators, and industry professionals, this workshop will demonstrate the value of combating unconscious bias in the workplace and provide practical advice on implementing best practices that are key to fostering diversity in a sustainable and meaningful way. Participants will gain the opportunity to:
  • explore their own biases
  • learn how those biases impact decision making
  • identify strategies to combat those challenges
  • implement change within their own organizations
Learn more and register. Book Aaron for your next event.
Whiteboard for What's in Your Recipe for an Amazing Guelph

The Power of a Whiteboard

It takes a village to build a future and Dialectic is proud to play a role in the evolution of the Guelph Community Plan

Dialectic and the City of Guelph are collaborating on a “travelling whiteboard” project to crowd-source community input that will help shape a collective vision for the city’s future.

What’s in your recipe for an amazing Guelph?

Guelph is poised to grow from around 130,000 today to 170,000 by 2030. In anticipation of this, the city is gathering input to develop Guelph’s Community Plan.

Dialectic is sponsoring the whiteboard project as an interactive way to source ideas at community events, starting with the Taste Real Local Food Fest June 24, with the question: “What’s in your recipe for an amazing Guelph?”

Information collected on the whiteboard is shared with city staff and stakeholders and will be analyzed to determine the follow-up questions. Input to the first question included:

  • “Keep downtown vibrant and ‘local’”
  • “Friendly neighbours”
  • “Less cars *more public transit*”
  • “More bike lanes to connect suburbs to downtown”
  • “Expand the green belt and blue belt”
  • “Vibrant creative events”

The whiteboard also appeared at the West Willow Village Fall Fair Sept. 22 at Margaret Greene Park – an opportunity to cast a ‘dotmocracy’ vote about what’s most important to inform Guelph’s Community Plan.

In October, the whiteboard travelled to the University of Guelph, where students, faculty and staff provided “deep dive” insights about the four key themes that had emerged throughout the previous two events. See the U of G event in action (video).

Whiteboard word cloud

The whiteboard project also involves the storytelling prowess of local video production company Ward 1 Studios (check out their video on the Guelph Community Plan) and non-profit group Diyode Community Workshop, which made the travelling stand for the whiteboard.



Alex Shave portrait

Profile: Alex Shave

Alex Shave is a creative designer and researcher whose engaging, narrative-driven experiences empower audiences to make connections between big ideas and their day-to-day work. By combining the best of today’s digital technology with timeless storytelling methods and structures, Alex delivers experiences that resonate with audiences and inspire authentic emotional investment.

Alex cut his teeth in data-driven storytelling thanks to marketing roles in community-oriented non-profits and ethical retailers. His formal education includes a B.A. in Environmental Policy & Practice and Political Science at the University of Toronto, and a certificate in Project Management from Humber College. When not at Dialectic, Alex enjoys making music, canoeing, and hanging out with his dog Cleo.

Jake Stallard portrait

Profile: Jake Stallard

Jake Stallard is Dialectic’s Interactive Media Designer, contributing to the success of projects such as the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report.

An award-winning designer, Jake has a passion for clean, functional design and takes an analytical approach to create focused solutions. He joined Dialectic in a full-time capacity in spring 2018, bringing a wealth of editorial and in-house design experience acquired since graduating from the Advertising program at Conestoga College in 2004.

Whether working within a client’s brand guidelines or free from restrictions, Jake brings function, purpose and creativity to elevate every project. Outside of work, his creativity finds an outlet in playing bass guitar and recording music.

Image from Vitalogue e-learning game

Game Jam: Designing Learning for the Real World

Experience is the most powerful teacher.

We figure out whether our decisions are good or bad, right or wrong from experiencing the consequences of our actions, judging whether it ‘worked’ or not and then adjusting our behaviour accordingly.

However, not all experience must be hard won in real-life situations, where mistakes have serious consequences. At Dialectic we apply those same principles to designing game-based e-learning for real-life success.

Our groundbreaking approach to game design for powerful e-learning has its roots in the Game Jam we held in October, 2017, engaging the designers and students from the Game Design and Development Program at Wilfrid Laurier University. During a half-day creative exploration, we collaborated to generate foundational ideas about the gaming experience.

The end result is Vitalogue, an interactive, scenario-based story designed to increase knowledge of advance care planning among healthcare professionals. Vitalogue is a scrolling, comic-book style choose-your-own-adventure game to navigate key concepts. Each decision made along the way is weighted with a score, and, in the end, people discover whether their choices led to a good outcome for the main character of the story.

Combining carefully constructed content with an engaging design helps learners understand how to bring about best-case outcomes on a daily basis.

The outcome is a contextually rich education experience, while the gaming component promotes engagement and practical learning – ideal for applying abstract concepts and principles to novel situations.

Learners have the opportunity to practice the skills in real-world contexts, not merely learn more information in a way that is divorced from its application.

Vitalogue is a collaboration between St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph, Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington, and Hospice of Waterloo Region. Watch for the official release in May 2018.

Have a look behind the scenes at the making of Vitalogue:

Woman using an e-learning module

How to Make Your e-Learning Resonate

The number of companies focused on implementing a strong e-learning strategy is growing.

And we don’t blame them.

Not only does it increase performance and productivity, but e-learning also saves 20% more in the first year of implementation compared to traditional classroom training.

But a switch to digital learning is not just about employee performance. It’s also business results. E-learning generates 26% more revenue per employee when combined with on-the-job training.

These numbers don’t work with traditional styles of e-learning modules. It’s now about engaging employees and learning how they digest information and translate it to useful skills. It’s about changing the narrative from mundane training days to one that gets your employees excited to learn.

  1. Start with your company’s business goals
    To design e-learning that resonates, start by focusing on your company’s business goals. Whether it’s raising sales, increasing customer satisfaction, or improving your company’s culture, clarify how the business will be improved by developing more e-learning experiences. Then tell your employees about it. Knowing exactly how the time and energy they will invest in e-learning will impact the business as a whole will motivate them to engage with the material more deeply.
  2. Focus on what people need to DO, not on what they need to know
    Next, dig into your design by answering this question: What do people need to do differently to achieve our business goals? This focus on action will help you target changes in behaviour that will produce real results.
    Notice that the question is not, What do people need to know or understand to achieve our business goals? Concentrating on knowledge and information is likely to lead to click-through info-dumps that will bore people to tears and provide zero business benefit. Put that stuff in job-aids and other performance supports instead, and make them available both inside and outside the e-learning environment so your people can dip in and out of them as needed.
  3. Practice, practice, practice
    When it comes time to start building your e-learning experiences, spend the lion’s share of your design time on creating challenging activities that require people to practice new skills in interesting, real-world scenarios that match the demands of their actual work. Make them hard, but fun. And vary the context of the scenario from activity to activity. This will help people abstract to the general principles you’re trying to teach them.
    Hard-but-fun simulations like this have a higher probability of landing with your teams than traditional “info-blast and quiz” e-learning because they are directly applicable to their day-to-day work and life. The adult learning principle at work here relevance: working professionals must see how training immediately applies to their job, and addresses an immediate need of theirs, in order to be motivated to do it. Moreover, this kind of instructional architecture has been shown to improve the extent to which skills from the training environment transfer back to the workplace.
  4. Test your designs
    Finally, test your designs early and often. Work up basic prototypes and get them in front of employees fast. Involving your target audience in the testing process will not only improve your designs – it will create deeper engagement with the final products. That’s because of the Ikea Effect, which is the cognitive bias causes us to place higher value on things that we help create.
    Use your phone to video record your user tests (I actually recommend using two cameras – one for over-the-shoulder, to help find clues to improve the user interface, and one straight-on, to capture users’ emotional reactions) to get data to improve the user experience and your instructional methods. Ask people to think out loud during the test and describe what they are experiencing. Then sift through the results to identify golden nuggets of insight that will transform your e-learning from good to great.

Employees want to learn and to constantly be engaged. 46% of millennials left their last job due to lack of career growth. And 42% of them said they are likely to leave an employer if they are not learning fast enough. These numbers won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Creating e-learning that resonates could be the difference between an employee that takes the training and utilizes it to improve your business, and one that barely engages with it and ends up slowing down your growth.