Tag Archives: Instructional design

How to change course mid-stream

2 Oct

Change is perhaps the keyword in regards to instructional design. Typically we design courses, forging various strategies to enhance learning transfer all in the name of change. However, sometimes as an instructional designer change itself is hard to do.

Take for example a course that I have been auditing over the last couple of weeks. The course had been designed months in advance. The lesson plans had been signed-off and the trainers approved. Yet, when the course was implemented, something didn’t feel right. Although the trainers covered the content expertly, middling feedback from learners caused concern.

Interestingly the feedback centred on the trainers covering too much content and not providing enough context. Learners wanted to know what change would mean to them and where they worked, but not what change meant overall.

Based on this feedback we began to redesign the course mid-stream (half-way through an intense two-week training period). Instead of content, we started with scenarios. Via these scenarios learners became more engaged in the course, embracing change with greater confidence.

Is redesigning a course mid-stream easy to do? Of course not, you’ll face uncertainty and doubt. But when you listen to the final feedback of your learners, the change is worthwhile.

How do you turn a flow diagram into something more meaningful?

17 Aug

I’m working on a really fascinating mobile communication project at the moment, however, I have a training problem. Although there is plenty of pre-existing training material, perhaps the most important document is an unhelpful flow diagram.

Flow diagrams are great for business analysis who need to understand business processes or networks. But for the average hospital worker on the floor of a busy ward, a flow diagram can be more of a hinderance than a help.

So, as an instructional designer, how do you turn a flow diagram into something more meaningful?

I’m grappling with this question right now with approximately 3 weeks until the project goes live. My initial thoughts are these:

  • It has to be on one page
  • It has to be easy to understand
  • It has to capture a sense of flow
  • It has to be visually appealing.

If anyone has any great ideas or examples, please leave a comment.

Problems with Memory and Instructional Design

26 Mar

The other week I took a one day project management course that finished with an exam at the end of the day. The course was very intensive. We covered approximately one-hundred pages of content that contained several different project management theories and methods. Then we were tested on the content in a multiple-choice exam which learners were required to correctly answer 75% of the questions in order to complete the course.

I’ll start by saying that I really enjoyed the course and the instructor was excellent. However, I did have a problem with the instructional design of the course, in that it stifled rather than facilitated learning.

First, the requirement to pass the exam meant that the instructor had to cover everything that would be on the exam. This left little time for class discussion and instead resulted in the instructor lecturing the class for the majority of the day. Although I found the instructor engaging, a lecture format and only one group activity over a six-hour period did not produce a great learning experience.

Second, as a learner, my main concern throughout the day was to pass the exam. A pass would measure the success of me as a learner. So with the lecture format of the class, I needed to absorb as much information as possible and hopefully be able to draw on my memory during the exam.

Learners and memory is explored in chapter 4 of Julie Dirksen’s excellent book Design For How People Learn. Dirksen writes that “memory relies on encoding and retrieval, so learning designers need to think about how the material gets into long-term memory, and also what the learner can do to retrieve it later.” Another great example of the problem of memory and learning can be found in this video by Charles Jennings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6WX11iqmg0

For me, six hours of lecturing and one group activity did not create the best opportunity for memory encoding and retrieval. While I passed the exam, to achieve the best possible result, I needed to make connections and forge links between the instructor’s examples and the best practices outlined in the content.

So what instructional design choices would you have made in this circumstance? The instructor had a set number of hours to cover a vast amount of content. This content had to be covered because the learners were tested on it in an exam that they needed to pass in order to complete the course.

After speaking to some coworkers, we all agreed that the problem with the course was the exam. But what to do about the exam? The exam measured the success of the learner. You simply couldn’t remove the exam!

Or could you? So the first thing I would do is not remove the exam from the course, but remove the exam from the day. Instead I would place the exam online, allow learners a week to logon and complete the course. This would free up more time for learning activities during the day as well as allow for reflection.

The relationship between Instructional Design and Project Management

16 Feb

Recently, I have been managing some medium size projects. I’ve learnt a lot from the process, especially about the kind of skills that a project manager needs to be successful. I’m thinking in particular about organization, communication, team-building, and also problem-solving skills.

Interestingly these same skills are applicable to the work of an instructional designer. As instructional designers, many of us work on projects, under a project manager. Yet, the actual work we do, as instructional designers, often are mini-projects themselves.

Whether we follow the ADDIE model or Gagne’s Nine Events, as instructional designers we need to organize meetings and content, we need to communicate ideas and concepts, we need to build relationships with SMEs, and we have to problem-solve the ultimate question “how can we train this?”

An excellent resource for understanding the relationship between project management and instructional design is Brigham Young University’s Project Management for Instructional Designers. Check out the website here: Project Management for Instructional Designers

A Template for Training in Healthcare for the 21st century

14 Sep

I recently read Clive Shepherd’s excellent blog post on Julie Wedgwood. The post is a profile of Julie, who for the last 3 years has worked with the Cheshire ICT Service, which provides support for 10,500 National Health Service employees across Cheshire in the UK.

The post details the challenges that Julie faced especially with convincing management the value of training for the organisation. Working in healthcare myself, I also felt empathy with Julie’s initial struggles with existing trainers and working within increasingly tight budget constraints.

However, the story of Julie’s experience really came alive when Clive outlined her 3 year blended learning strategy. This strategy, implemented by stealth and slowly from the bottom-up, helped learners and trainers ease into a new way of learning.

An example of this new way of learning was the delivery of ELITE, the NHS Essential IT skills course. The IT skills of a healthcare workforce tend to range widely from zero to expert. However, healthcare professionals are increasingly becoming depended on technology to do their jobs. For me, the biggest hurdle to get those with zero IT skills up to speed, is actually getting them the training (some simply avoid IT training out of fear, others have jobs that don’t allow them the time to attend classroom training).

Julie’s solution to this problem is really innovative. To draw employees in, the ELITE course is mapped to qualifications (I find developing/sharing learning paths an excellent tool for learner motivation). In addition, the course is delivered as blended learning (offered within a classroom and as e-learning). The e-learning side in particularly interesting, as staff are supported by a tutor either by phone or email.

Notably, the most significant success of Julie’s solution was not just the increase in staff taking the ELITE course, but the increased uptake in other e-learning courses.

Although the learning strategy was implemented slowly and from the bottom-up, the change was culturally dramatic and lasting. Arguably, we have here a template for training in healthcare for the 21st century.

Check out the original post here:

A practical guide to creating learning scenarios

13 Jun

Recently I’ve been interested in creating learning scenarios in Captivate. A really valuable document that has helped me gain a better understanding of scenario learning has been Onlignment’s “A practical guide to creating learning scenarios.” Check out the document here:

Here are my top-tips from the guide:

1. Make the situation described to the learner seem relevant and authentic.
2. Challenge the learner about aspects of the situation.
3. Provide feedback. Learners learn by seeing the potential results of their decisions.
4. Learning scenarios are by nature interactive. Combine a more conventional case study with some means for collaboration, such as blog or even classroom discussion.
5. Scenarios can be used for applying critical judgement.
6. Scenarios can also be used for practising rule-based tasks.
7. Use whatever media are necessary to convey the storyline.
8. Branching allows learners to progress along different routes through the scenario and to experience different end points.

The ‘Test then Tell’ Approach – A Revolutionary Methodology

3 Jun

Today I read a fascinating blog post by Toni Tasic from Saffron Interactive. Check out the post here:
In Toni’s post, he explains the ‘Test then Tell’ approach that Saffron take when creating e-learning. Basically the ‘Test then Tell’ approach allows learners to reflect on a topic before receiving further information. For example, a topic is raised in a form of a question. From this question, learners use their own intuition, experience or previous learning to formulate an answer. Further information is then given, allowing the learners to refine their conclusions. This approach is the opposite of the more traditional ‘Tell and Test’ approach that has dominated education – learners have to absorb information and are tested on their memory recall.
I like the ‘Test then Tell’ approach because I would argue it offers a more engaging learning experience. For example, I’m currently working on a 1 minute screencast for file management training. In this screencast I want to get across the importance of versioning files. I could simply tell the learners about versioning and then create a test at the end. Or I could create a scenario that opens with a question. What would be more engaging? Right, clearly the scenario.
So, perhaps rather than calling the ‘Test then Tell’ approach, an approach, I would suggest we should start calling it a methodology. For me, the ‘Test then Tell’ approach presents a method that is revolutionary.

The Future of Instructional Design – New Questions for an ID to Answer

24 May

Recently I read a blog post by Tony Bates on an instructional design workshop (Just ID) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). It’s a fascinating read on how Instructional Designers in BC view the challenges facing their profession and its future directions.
Check out the post here:
Tony Bates Blog Post
For me, the most interesting point that Tony Bates made in the post regarded what he called the “elephant in the room” – namely the “the design of campus-based learning experiences when much can be done online.” I would argue that this elephant is also applicable to corporate training/adult education. As more learning technologies (e-learning, screencasting, mlearning, virtual classroom etc … ) become part of the training culture, Instructional Designers will have to develop the tools/models to make decisions about the most appropriate mode or modes of training.
At the moment, these types of decisions are seemingly made with just the budget in mind. But what happens when we begin to think about putting the interests of learners first?

The Tangible Benefits of Screencasting

5 May

Recently I created a number screencast videos that demonstrated the functionality and oddities of an application.

These videos will soon replace a classroom based training course that was both problematic to schedule participants into and perceived as too long in duration.

Addressing these classroom based problems aside, I believe these videos have other tangible benefits. For example, these videos allow learners to focus on the areas of the application that they feel are more relevant to their work. The videos also allow the learners to revisit the areas they find most difficult as often as they like.

As such, I feel these videos are also empowering learners to take responsibility for their learning. In fact, more than the obvious reductions in travel costs and time, I believe the real benefit from these videos is the creation of a culture of learning where the focus is on the learner and their needs.

For more on screencasting check out this link:

Stickmen, speech bubbles and e-learning

29 Mar

In the world of e-learning to train staff on new/upgraded computer applications, I often  face the problem of bland screen shoots and dull “Click … ” captions.

Sometimes I wonder whether another grey/blue screen will simply blur the learning experience into nothing  and result in the learner drifting off to sleep infront of their PC.

So what can be done?

Too much distraction will only dilute the content – will the learner be able to recall the process steps involved or only remember the crazy graphics? My guess would be crazy graphics everytime.

So how can I engage the learner at the right level – not too little and not too much? For me, the answer is to keep it simple both with content and with design.

Content needs to be to the point. A rambling paragraph of text won’t engage the learner. So try to keep the original purpose of the content without the extra words. Bullet points certainly help – both in reducing word count and in getting the key information across.

Design should also be simple. Recently I’ve been using stickmen and speech bubbles to bring my e-learning alive. The stickmen were originally hand-drawn, as were the speech bubbles. The result is a simple, no-frills screen, that still manages to get the key information across without bland screenshots or dull captions.