Training and Human Memory

Why do people forget things they’ve just learned? Why do college students who cram for a test forget it all a few days or months later?

I learned about human memory and how it relates to training in May when I attended the Society for Technical Communication Summit 2019 in beautiful Denver, CO. This year the Summit offered 4 different learning tracks, and I chose the training design and development track because I produce content for JOA’s global customer training programs.

One of the most memorable (pun definitely intended) takeaways was something I learned in the half-day Designing with Memory in Mind class led by Patti Shank Ph.D. Not everything is known about how human memory works, but one thing we do know is if people don’t have the ability to process what they’ve learned, it will be lost. Not only do they need to process it, they need to DEEPLY process it. Deep processing means we learn to apply our knowledge.

Patti Shank Ph.D compares shallow and deep processing like this: “Superficial learning is when you learn something for the purpose of being able to parrot it back on a test. Or when you can recite facts and define things. And it’s not bad. It’s required for us to learn facts and concepts and all these things, somewhat out of context at times, so that we can go to deeper learning, which is learning for application.”

I love these techniques taken from Patti Shank’s Design with Memory in Mind Job Aid for helping people remember what they’ve learned. We need to analyze what actually needs to be remembered and what can be looked up later in references like a manual or quick reference card. What actually needs to be remembered should be deeply processed. Techniques to help your learners engage in deep processing include asking deep questions and asking the learners to restate what they’ve learned in their own words. Deep questions include:

  • How are they different? Similar?
  • How would you use this?
  • What does this mean?
  • What is the best approach?
  • Why wouldn’t this work?

I’m considering how I can work deep processing techniques into my customer training PowerPoints and eLearning materials.

My Experience with Career Counseling

I had never been to any form of counseling until October of last year. Some people still view going to counseling as a negative thing, like you can’t handle your life on your own or you have big, dark problems. That’s really not true, and I think our culture’s perspective on counseling is changing for the better. My best friend of 10 years is a mental health therapist, and she says even therapists have therapists. Counseling is great for anyone because it provides you an outside perspective and expert guidance.

After I realized how helpful it could be, I knew I needed to start adding it to my own life. One of the areas I felt I could gain some wise counsel for is my career, so last year, I sought  a career counselor, someone who could give me pointers on how to navigate and make the most of my career. I finished the career counseling program in March. It’s been a great season of growth for me, and I want to share with you some of the tips I’ve learned, which might motivate you to see out your own career counseling professional.

Knowing Yourself

Before you can know what you should DO at any step in your career, you have to know YOURSELF. What is your personality? What are your strengths? What are your dominant cognitive functions? If you can’t answer those questions in depth, a career counselor will be really helpful to you.

There are many tests out there that can help with that. Myers Briggs is the famous one everyone has heard of, but some other tests that have been truly eye-opening for me are the Career Fit test, the Clifton Strength Finders test, and the Enneagram. I am an ESTJ borderline ESFJ. My dominant strengths are Achiever, Discipline, Woo, Communication, and Connectedness. I’m an Enneagram Type 8. These tests I have taken both as part of the counseling program and on my own over the years have helped me know myself on a much deeper level than I ever could have otherwise, which benefits every single aspect of my life, not just my career. As a bonus, discussing these tests with friends has also helped me understand others better as well.

Another aspect of knowing yourself is understanding your fears and weaknesses in relation to your career. The book I read as part of my career counseling program outlined several key fears that hold people back in their careers and how to overcome them.

Knowing the Work World

After you know yourself, you have to get to know the world of work. What are the options? How do people get where they want to go? Counseling taught me all about the careers that exist, marketing yourself, networking, the job search process, the “hidden” job market, and current tools that are out there for advancing your career.

I came away from counseling believing that this type of information is so valuable that it should be taught in high school or college. We often just expect people to automatically KNOW themselves and what they should do and how the work world works without giving them any formal education in those topics. It’s crazy to think about how much more I know about myself and my career now at 29 than I did when I was 18 and just starting college.

I would absolutely recommend investing in a career counselor, even if you think things are going along fine in your career progression. It’s incredibly useful to get back to the basics on who you are and what you are good at before you are tempted to define yourself by a job title, and get an outsiders perspective. The work world is changing fast, and a career counselor might be just what you need to keep up and feel comfortable making decisions and moving forward in your career.

My Experience Creating Marketing Comm as a Tech Comm Professional

It is widely recognized in the technical communication industry that marketing communications and technical communications are increasingly converging, and it makes good business sense. This topic was explored at the 2018 Society for Technical Communication Summit, which I attended. Check out this great presentation on why this trend is happening if you are not familiar: Content is Content: Marketing and Tech Comm are Converging.

The trend was also very recently featured in the findings of the 2017-18 Adobe Tech Comm Survey published a few weeks ago, which I participated in. The survey cites “content reuse, sharing of common assets, better search integration, and a common taxonomy” as the biggest drivers for bringing the marketing and tech comm disciplines together.

As I was networking recently, I made friends with the marketing director at a nearby Sheboygan company. She told me the technical writers there started to merge with the marketing team a few years ago because they had the technical knowledge to confirm information being published as part of marketing efforts. She currently has one technical communicator on her team.

All this evidence that the trend is happening both on a national/global scale and locally supports my own experience in the last three years at JOA. I have been helping JOA’s marketing director with marketing communications projects as needed. I have created technology descriptions for the first JOA Innovation Tour for our customers, created magazine advertisements for our technology, and most recently, created marketing print collateral brochures for our machine platforms, technologies, and services.

In transitioning to thinking like a marketer, I am exercising a writing muscle that had atrophied a bit since my college days: creativity and persuasion break the rules I otherwise live in as a technical communicator. It is very refreshing and exciting. Marketing language brings a fresh perspective on the facts of technology. I would love to learn more about copywriting and marketing writing in general.

The marketing projects I work on benefit from my technical knowledge and technical communication workflows. For example, when terminology or acronyms in marketing documents are inconsistent with technical documents I’ve been writing for years, I pick up on it immediately and question it, creating greater consistency across the literature system and breaking down silos in communication. I talk with subject matter experts (SME) as I normally would in my technical communication workflow to confirm the accuracy of technical details in a marketing brochure, but instead of just asking about the accuracy of the information, I also find myself asking questions such as:

Is this a unique JOA technology?

What benefit does this offer our customers?

Is this above and beyond what our competitors offer?

This is better in comparison to what? How should I phrase that?

What should be emphasized here?

What is going to make them want to hire JOA?

What other flexibility can we offer our customers here? If I advertise this, can we deliver on that?

I also get to spend all day designing documents using Adobe InDesign, which is one of my favorite work activities. I have fond memories of Document Design class in college. I’ve always lamented not getting to do more document design in my job, although in my early days at JOA I initiated a total redesign of over 17 documentation templates to re-brand our documentation package and bring it out of a design that looked like it was right out of the 80s. Marketing communications give me a huge opportunity to lots of what I love in terms of design work.

My advice to technical communication professionals who are being called upon to inform or contribute to marketing efforts is to embrace this change and realize your technical communication workflows and detailed product knowledge are incredibly useful on the marketing side of things and you might have a lot of fun exercising your aesthetic, persuasive, creative muscles in the process.


Contrary to the message of individualism that we sometimes get in American culture, we were designed for relationships. We were designed for relationships with family, friends, and those in our community. Sometimes your family knows you so well they aren’t objective, and your friends might just tell you what you want to hear. Having someone to meet with regularly outside of your closest circle who can speak truth and wisdom into your life is very valuable. That person can become a mentor to you.

Your mentor should be someone who you trust and has life experiences you think you can learn from, and most importantly is willing to listen, give advice, and invest in your life on a regular basis. They will have experiences your friends and family don’t have and are often older than you and further along in some particular aspect of life. They are where you would like to be and the kind of person you would like to be. Mentoring can be specific to a certain area of your life you would like to improve, whether you want to improve your career, your relationships, or your spiritual life. Everyone should have a mentor.

Now imagine someone who could gain from YOUR perspective and life experiences. Are you investing in them or are you only investing in yourself? Healthy communities are created when people both seek help from others to improve their lives and pour out help to others to improve others’ lives. This is why you should be a mentor in addition to being mentored. I personally serve as a spiritual mentor for 7th-grade girls through my church’s youth ministry. Each week, I teach the girls about spiritual topics and meet with them one-on-one to be an encouragement in their young lives. Middle school is hard enough with a stressful schedule of homework and extracurriculars, puberty, gossip and bullying, and figuring out how you fit in. The girls I mentor are also dealing with adverse childhood experiences I never had to face such as divorce, parents in prison or absent, suicide, and self-harm. While I have never gone through those adverse experiences, I can provide positive encouragement and hope each week. I would highly encourage you to find a mentor and be a mentor. It will make your life and the lives of others much richer.

Judging the 2nd Annual Sheboygan County Athena Leadership Awards

This year I had the privilege of serving as a judge for the 2nd Annual Sheboygan County Athena Leadership Awards. I am still humbled and honored to have been voted one of the top 5 finalists out of 25 incredible nominees last year. Many of these women are the kind of women I aspire to be, so to be honored alongside them was incredible. I am still thankful for the recognition and opportunity to meet so many amazing women in my community.


Here is some info about the award from the Athena Award website if you are not familiar with it:

“The ATHENA Leadership Award is presented to a woman —or man— who is honored for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.

Since the program’s inception in 1982, more than 7,000 exemplary leaders in over 500 communities have received the prestigious ATHENA Award in the United States, Bermuda, Canada, China, Greece, India, Russia, Unite Arab Emirates and United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Leadership Award Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

ATHENA Leadership Award recipients are individuals who:

  • Have achieved the highest level of professional excellence.
  • Contribute time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community.
  • Actively assist others, particularly women, in realizing their full leadership potential.


While reading the nominee forms and recommendation letters as part of my judging duties, I was thankful to get a window into the lives of the nominees. Getting to know more of the movers and shakers around here made Sheboygan feel even more like a close-knit, vibrant, caring, community to me. I can’t go anywhere in Sheboygan without seeing someone I know, and often when I’m meeting a new person, we will have mutual friends. It makes it feel like a small world in a good way in this county of 116,000. There are truly some amazing project and people here. See you at the awards on November 15!

SAFE Coalition for Human Rights Conference 2018 Experience

The SAFE Coalition for Human Rights Conference 2018 held at the historic Palmer House hotel in the heart of Chicago brought together a variety of respected abolitionists from all over the world. This conference made me realize more than ever that the fight against human trafficking is very interdisciplinary: law enforcement, politicians, educators, non-profit leaders, healthcare professionals, first responders, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and more are all on the front lines of this fight. There are many different types of professionals working on the issue from different angles and meeting different needs. I made friends with a lot of amazing people from around the world, some of whom have received national and international awards for their efforts.

One of the most impactful points of the conference came from someone I wouldn’t have expected: a finance professional working on anti-human trafficking for the US government. He said in the anti-trafficking world, we talk a lot of about stopping trafficking, but how do we actually do that? We need traffickers to WANT to stop trafficking for it to ever truly stop. Why do traffickers do what they do? Money. Selling human beings is profitable. He said we must disrupt the human trafficking market so much that the market risk is too high for it to be profitable anymore. When, the one-stop-shop for sex buyers, was shut down earlier this year, approximately 70% of traffickers’ revenue stream was disrupted he said. Traffickers are hurting. He and his team participate in undercover group chats with real traffickers, and they were all discussing taking legal action because the closure was affecting their business so much. This really opened my eyes to the fact that the power to end human trafficking really lies in attacking their profits. Every other anti-trafficking effort either seeks to prevent people from falling into this evil or restore people once they have been traumatized by this evil. In other words, it’s taking some people out of the human trafficking cycle but the cycle will still exist as long as there are profits to be made.

I’m not a humanist. I believe humans are all inherently flawed and will always find ways to abuse each other as we have seen throughout history. I believe hope is found in realizing you have the power to change someone else’s reality by your choices to love them. No matter what great advances are made in anti-trafficking around the world, we cannot definitively say no one will ever traffick another human again. We CAN each say I will do everything I can to prevent it from happening to those in my sphere of influence and restore those in my sphere of influence to a healthy life. I came away from the conference energized and with a greater understanding of where my work in my corner of the world fits into the global fight.

How to Build Collaboration into the Life of your Non-Profit: Look for Shared Mission

Collaboration between non-profits is essential to serving the community better in a more unified way. We who work or volunteer in non-profits all have fantastic intentions to love and serve the community, but sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot and limit our potential for impact by not working together on projects that fit within the scope of our individual missions.

This idea was solidified in my mind during a presentation Young Non-Profit Professionals Network hosted this month featuring a group of seasoned fundraisers from Lakeland University in Sheboygan. One of the fundraisers asserted that Sheboygan County has too many non-profits, and we need to work together to be effective. I balked at first at the statement that we have “too many” as if it is a bad thing that lots of people are wanting to help the community through various causes. Then I started to understand her point that when we are divided so much that we can’t effectively conquer the issues in our community, that’s a problem.

Freedom Cry has been committed to collaboration with other non-profits from the beginning, with our mission statement communicating this goal: working IN PARTNERSHIP with our community and others to break the cycle of human trafficking in Sheboygan County, WI through prevention and support resources. One example of how we collaborated with other organizations happened in June of 2017 when the Hope’s Hearts project was born. Freedom Cry reached out to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Horizons4Girls, and the STARS program to collaborate on launching this project. It worked really well. The project got off to a great start and is still going strong a year later. To read more about Hope’s Hearts, please go to our website

Another great Hope’s Hearts project collaboration was born a few weeks ago. I met the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Sheboygan as she presented to the Charitable Giving Committee at JOA of which I am a part. The director mentioned in her presentation that the organization likes to work together with other organizations to provide activities for their adult mentors to do with the youth they mentor, especially because male mentors feel less awkward out in public with children if they have a shared activity to do together. I immediately recognized this as a golden opportunity for Freedom Cry to collaborate with them, so after the meeting I connected the executive director with leaders at Freedom Cry and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center to see if we could have Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors and youth come to the Art Center to work on Hope’s Hearts together. To convince the executive director, I explained how Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Hope’s Hearts project have very similar missions to build up and encourage hurting youth. I communicated to them that we are all working toward a very similar goal but just coming at it from different angles. Mentoring at-risk (or better put at-hope) youth is ESSENTIAL to preventing human trafficking because traffickers prey on the vulnerability that comes from instability and trauma in a young person’s life. The executive director agreed to come and check out what we are doing with Hope’s Hearts to see what a collaboration with us would look like.

After reflecting on these successful collaborations, I’m even more inspired to keep looking for mission overlaps and collaboration opportunities as I’m out in the world networking with other non-profit leaders.

Why You Should Join a Committee

Being on a committee can sound intimidating or like it will involve a lot of boring meetings, but it is really beneficial to your career and actually fun if you make it. Take advantage if someone invites you to join one!

I am on two committees: the JOA Charitable Giving Committee at work and the Society for Technical Communication Scholarship Committee. I joined both of these committees this year. These are the awesome benefits I’ve found:

Develop new relationships

We know that 80% of getting jobs is networking, and developing new, quality relationships in the work world is always good, so why not develop some new relationships on a committee? Usually, you will meet new coworkers or friends or work with people that you wouldn’t otherwise work with. Working together toward a common goal always makes you feel more connected and provides bonding experiences.

Expand your skills

Really engaging in the meetings and thinking of new or better ways to drive the goals of the committee forward will definitely expand your collaboration, communication, analyzation, and problem-solving skills. For example, recently one of the committees I am on was struggling to handle all the requests pouring in for us to look at, so I suggested we develop a rubric of criteria that would allow us to evaluate each request in an efficient manner to save time at meetings and take the pressure off the committee chair. We brainstormed the criteria together, and I developed the rubric document. The next meeting went much more smoothly as we were able to start getting requests off the table. It made me feel great that I could use my technical writer mind in a room full of my coworkers to bring a solution to the table that they probably wouldn’t have thought of.

Feel more connected to the life of the organization or community

The goals of many committees are to impact other people directly in some way, and that’s an awesome feeling. Committees have a great way of making you feel as though you are impacting the company or organization you work for or the greater community in some capacity which builds a great sense of purpose and belonging. You also end up feeling much more invested in the health and goals of your organization or community and you’ll want to see it continue to improve.

Society for Technical Communication Summit 2018 Experience

As I walked through the sparkling, modern Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, huge hallways and ballrooms opened up before me with towering windows revealing palm trees outside. Just as I felt simultaneously small and refreshed by the wide open spaces in this new environment, I felt my perspective on the technical communication industry widening even as I keenly felt my small presence within it. Six years working full time as a technical writer at a small engineering company in Sheboygan Falls, WI hadn’t exposed me to a whole lot of other people working in my field. I knew attending this conference would help open my eyes; it did deliver on that expectation. Through the education sessions and my interactions with fellow writers, I began to understand where my company and way of doing my job fit into the industry as a whole. I learned how the type of company I work for, the software we use, our workflows, and how our challenges were the same or different from others’ challenges.

I loved the immediate comradery and constant connection with other conference attendees throughout the day as we ate, drank, and navigated the resort together. I used every opportunity, even waiting in line, to meet new people and ask questions. I met with representatives from vendors and consultants who really knew their stuff and could help my company, which felt empowering. Issues I’d been having for years suddenly looked like they could be solved with the snappy-looking software packages presented by smiling faces who understood my pain.

All of the education sessions I chose to attend were interesting, but here are some of my favorites:

Add UX Methodologies to your Portfolio

It was the first day of the conference for me, and I was eager to make new connections, so I arrived at this 8-hour session early and sat in the front. This worked out well for me as I was picked to be part of the usability test simulation and got a free book to boot. I was instructed to come up to the front and sit down in front of a computer with a poorly designed expense report software. The instructor gave me a list of instructions on what tasks to perform on the software as the rest of the class observed and took notes. The instructor stayed calm even in the midst of technical difficulties and asked me a bunch of open-ended questions to find out what I was experiencing while trying to complete the tasks. Through this process, I realized how nuanced usability is and how our user experience creates a negative or positive feeling toward having to complete work with that software in the future. Making products fun and easy to use is crucial to whether or not users will be excited to come back to using them. I became inspired to work on making our customer documentation more appealing and easy to use.

Tech Writing Meets Translation: Tips and Tricks

This might have been my favorite class, especially because my company is trying to cut down on translation costs. Filled with practical insights, this class gave some great tips I felt like I could start using as soon as I got back to work. Sometimes what you learn as a technical writing student is actually not best practice for translation. For example, I learned to only spell out what acronyms mean the first time the acronym is used in a document, assuming that from then on readers will understand it. However, we have to think about how users actually use our content. They search for what they need and only read that section as opposed to reading the whole chapter or document in a sitting, so we need to explain relevant acronyms in every major section they are used. The session was filled with other such useful tidbits that never would have occurred to me.

Future of Technical Communication: Findings from Adobe Tech Comm Survey 2018 Adobe

I remembered getting the Adobe Tech Comm Survey to my inbox at work, so I was excited when I realized that an expert from Adobe would be at the conference to present the results. This session helped me understand both where my skills and the work processes in my company sit within the industry and also where the industry is going in terms of publishing outputs and responding to technological developments such as artificial intelligence. I found out that the way I do things at work is very common in the industry, but that we could be more on the cutting edge than we are now.

After a relaxing week and a half exploring Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Key West on vacation, I got back to work and started reviewing my notes and forming a plan for how to present my learnings to the rest of my team. I knew some ideas were bigger than others and would require more time and money investment. I also knew that there might be resistance to some ideas simply because of how big of a change they would mean for our work processes, but I also felt inspired to present my ideas well to give them the best chance of taking root. Gaining the perspective, tools, and inspiration to make waves at work was definitely the greatest benefit of attending the STC Summit 2018.

Coastal Young Professionals Week Experience 2018

Coastal Young Professionals Week in Sheboygan is always a great time of connecting with other young professionals and learning. The annual week of events includes an awards ceremony, education sessions on various topics interesting to young professionals, tours of local companies, and exercise classes. I would highly recommend young professionals in Sheboygan County attend some of the events offered as they have been really beneficial to me in past years.

The first event I attended was the Next Wave Young Professional Awards held at Acuity. I was nominated for community volunteer of the year, and while I didn’t win that title, I won a Next Wave Award, meaning I was selected as one of their Top 10 Young Professionals from the group of 31 nominees. It was really awesome of JOA to sponsor 10 people to come with me to this event as it really helped me feel supported.

The second event I attended was actually one I was invited to participate in as a speaker. Coastal Young Professionals Network chose to hold a trolley tour event with a focus on trafficking and drugs, how they are related, and how they are affecting our relatively safe community. I was chosen to speak on the topic of what we can do about it, so I spoke on Freedom Cry’s mission and how people can get involved in our projects. It was a great afternoon filled with creating awareness, making new connections, exploring the county and listening to three other speakers on the topic, one of which is our local human trafficking detective, Tamara Remington.

The third event I attended was a class made specifically for women on how to negotiate salary and other aspects of employment in the hiring process or when you wish to change your job or get a promotion within the organization. We had some fabulous wine and appetizers at Lakeview Wine Bar that has beautiful views of Lake Michigan and is one of my favorite spots in the whole county. We did some negotiating activities and heard from an HR executive at Sargento. The biggest takeaway from that class for me was just that we need to evaluate our wants and needs before going into a negotiation of any kind, be open and honest about our circumstances in life up front and what those needs are, and if we don’t know something, simply ask questions. The hiring process can be a scary thing if you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells and don’t feel empowered to be open, honest, and ask questions early on in the hiring process, so it was great to get that affirmation from a woman who has done hundreds if not thousands of negotiations over the course of her career.

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