Instructional Design Basics


Doing More than Infographics

* This post originally appeared in eLearningIndustry

There has been a flood of articles and postings covering infographics—the science behind them, how to create them, free tools to use and many other topics. This is great as infographics represent a powerful way to present content, but all of this has overshadowed one key concern with them:



This is fine if your goal is simple awareness, but if you want to change behavior, then you need to do more.

Infographics Don’t Have to be Static Pages

In this regard, it’s hard to ignore the literature on the importance practice, feedback and repetition plays in learning. These elements help ensure that your students are able to process and internalize your information.  Without them, it’s difficult for them to establish where they are, what they have learned and what improvements they need to make. By themselves, your normal infographics don’t address these needs—they are just static pages presenting quick bite-sized chunks of information.

Luckily you can create opportunities to add these elements by opening up your infographics—here you can give your students the opportunity to dig-in and play with your information.  Some strategies for this are:

Interactive Infographics

If your infographic is online, you can use animation, scrolling, links and other means to get users to interact with your content.  Creative use of this can create a Prezi like presentation for your content.  This is useful, as it allows you to create a linear flow to your content or establish a graphic organizer for it.  Each strategy will allow you to better highlight or tell the overarching story of your infographic.

Good examples of interactive online infographics can be seen on the How Search Works  and the Future of Car Sharing sites. As you look at these, keep in mind that your interactions don’t have to be limited to simple content links – here you can link to discussion board and forum features or initiate email, phone and video conferencing abilities.

Additionally these abilities don’t have to be limited to online infographics. Software apps like Layar, Aurasma, Clickable Paper and QR Code readers will allow you to embed additional content into your posters, manuals and other hardcopy materials.  Once embedded, students can use their mobile devices to interact with your infographic.

Expanding Your Infographic

Infographics simplify your content by consolidating your information into numbers, facts and other small chunks of information. However, finding ways to illustrate the aggregate details of your infographics can help students internalize your content. Strategies for this include:

1.     Qualitative Measures
Just highlighting a few stories from the data may be enough to give students the repetition that they need. In this regard, stories can be particularly powerful in highlighting key concepts and elements within your content. In addition faces, names and events are often more impactful than simple numbers and facts.

2.     Clocks and Counters
The numbers and facts associated with your infographics are often large and as such may be difficult for your students to realize or fully grasp. To help them make sense of your content you can represent these numbers with clocks and counters. Here saying a company is losing $5 million a year may not have the same impact as a counter showing that money quickly adding up. Some ideas on using these objects can be found on the Running on Empty post.

3.     Data visualization
Incorporating sorting, filtering and other reporting abilities to your infographic data is another useful strategy. These features give your students the ability to focus in on key elements and attributes within your content.  These activities require database connections and advance programming, but can be worth the extra effort.

The power of this can be seen with the Liveplasma site. This data visualization allows you to search for music, books and movies and will show you how your search connects to other similar items.  So searching for the Pixies will show you how their style relates to other bands—besides showing the visual connection, users can play samples to better highlight each band’s style characteristics.

Giving your students opportunities to interact with your content will provide them with the practice, feedback and repetition that they need to internalize your information.  In addition, these activities can expand your content options.    

Increasing Your Content Options

In this regard, infographics are well suited for conceptual content objectives as they allow you to highlight the key elements and attributes of that content. Attitudinal, interpersonal and others content objectives; however, don’t realize similar benefits.  Using the above strategies to open up your infographic data though will allow you to meet the unique needs for these other objectives.  For instance, creating interactive infographics can allow you to link to videos that highlight your procedural and interpersonal content needs.  In addition, the data visualization and qualitative measures can allow you to hit your attitudinal content needs.  Here numbers and facts might be easy to dismiss, but faces, names and stories have power—great examples of this can be seen at the People Killed Since Newton and US Gun Deaths sites.

Do More

Creating good infographics is a challenging activity—here  you have develop useful graphic metaphors, use appropriate fonts, maximize your whitespace and confront variety of other design considerations. Meeting each requirement takes skill and time, so don’t waste this time and effort by just creating an infodump. Do more.


Educational Videos: Creating Them for Conceptual Objectives

* This post originally appeared in elearning industry.

Recently I read a fun Mashable article that disparages several recent trends in startup videos.  A colleague and I discussed this article and came to the conclusion that with a few tweaks, it could easily be an article on how to create a good startup video.

Rather than making those tweaks though I am going to use it to discuss ways to make an educational video for concepts.  As to why this will work, you must first consider the startup video. Here they are basically covering a concept with the following elements: There is a problem, We have a solution and Our solution easily meets your needs.

With that in mind, let’s get started:

1.  Hipsters

These startups identified young people as their main audience for their products.  Being smart marketers, they know that including people in their videos that fit into their marketing demographics is a good idea—thus we see hipsters in the videos.

Understanding and defining your audience is a key component to creating educational materials.  With videos you should use language, images and content that applies to your audience needs.  In this regard, your content should be relevant and fit into the real world of your audience.  Doing this will aid transfer and internalization of your content.

2.  Happy claps

These upbeat sound tracks set the mood and help energize these videos. For startups, this strategy is aimed at one thing—selling.  As part of their pitch, it adds to the idea of “we have a solution and that solution easily meets your needs.”

In educational videos, music can be a distraction from your message and may affect your learner’s cognitive load.  Stories are a powerful though and can help your learners internalize content. In this regard, music (harmony, dissonance, tempo,…) can add something to your story that simple dialog and images can’t.  Just make sure to use it wisely and watch out for the cognitive demands you are placing on your learners. With educational videos make sure your use of music, effects, dialog and shots are relevant and needed as extraneous information can interfere with your message design.

3.  Animation

Concepts are often difficult to represent; for example, Time Management contains several abstract ideas that are not easily translated with concrete examples. To help illustrate their concepts these startups create graphic metaphors and analogies for their videos. Related to this is production value—high quality is needed and doing this well with full motion can be an issue.  As such many startups look to animation as it gives you abilities that can’t easily be duplicated with full motion.

These concerns are true with educational videos. And in relation to this, visuals that are less complex and detailed can lessen your student’s cognitive load and allow you to focus greater attention on your message. Other common animation techniques you may try for conceptual content are stop animation and whiteboard animation.

 4.  Meet Bob, Romance and Save the World

Startups need to grab the attention of investors and consumers quickly.  They can do this with stories as they are a powerful way to cover content. Meet Bob, Romance and Save the World are formulaic themes that have been proven to work and are why they continue to appear in these videos.

Stories are great at setting context and when this is related to relevant and real world applications, their use in education videos will help with internalization and transfer.  In addition, stories activate prior memories as good ones represent something that we can all relate too.  This activation can increase motivation and internalization of the content.

In this regard, motivation and emotional engagement can be critical to getting users to change behavior. In training we recognize this need by covering WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Getting students to value and accept your content is critical in order for students to transfer knowledge into their working world.

5.  Flat Design

These startups are selling an idea that they are hip, innovative and know what’s coming—using a dated style/template would conflict with this message.  As such flat design elements should be expected in their startup videos.

As to educational videos, this practice may conflict with common instructional design principles.  Here cognitive load and basic UX (user experience) ideas emphasize the need to limit distractions.  In this regard, a novel or complex style/template requires more working memory than a common or simple style/template.  Since our working memory is limited and is involved in storing information into long term memory, requiring less working memory makes sense.

Giving the prevalence of mobile and other technologies, our students’ familiarity with flat designs is being addressed. So if you want to appear hip, innovative and in the know, you are probably fine using a flat design in your videos for now.

Designers Don’t Need to be Creative—They Need to Design Well

Being creative and original is fun, but shouldn’t keep you from designing well.  Sure your video might look like something else and there may soon be a post on Reason Why Training Videos for Concepts All Look the Same but that’s ok.  In this regard you are using valid strategies to guide your designs rather than the latest fads.


CURE-ation: A Treatment for the Unhelpful Teacher

*This post originally appeared in eLearning Industry

Unhelpful high school teacher  is an internet meme that makes fun of all the bad teachers we’ve encountered.  And to celebrate this meme, I’ve made one of my own:

My Unhelpful Teacher Example

 An unfortunate thing about my example is that this is something that we’ve all done and continue to do in our training solutions.  In this regard we are constantly facing a dilemma with our students.

Do we focus on?

  1. Low performers and bore the rest of our students.
  2. High performers and confuse the rest of our students or
  3. Average performers and lose a significant number of our students to boredom and confusion.

Since our compliance masters don’t care—they just want to know that training was completed—we often choose the last option. After all, average performers should account for a majority of our students and the other students will receive training— it’s just not optimal for their needs.

As an educator, we should be interested in improving everyone’s performance, so I’m not convinced that this solution is appropriate. Moving forward we have to stop being unhelpful with these students.

Who are We Training

To do this, we first need to recognize that low performers (novices) and high performers (experts) are being underserved in our training activities.  And from these groups we should note:

  1. Even our experts can improve their performance. Occasionally our experts may employ old methods/procedures or they may be new to an organization and its unique needs.
  2. Our novices lack the skills and background necessary for deep metacognitive activities.  Being able to determine, “how well I am doing,”is this content relevant,” and “what should I do to improve” is crucial to developing skills.
  3. Our novices lack strong ties to subject matter experts as their personal learning networks are filled with other novices.  These networks are important as we go to them for quick guidance and information.

All of this is important when considering the 70/20/10 model for Learning and Development. This model states that 70% of our work knowledge is the result of on-the-job activities; 20% is the result of mentoring pursuits and 10% of our knowledge is the result of formal training.  Although this model is debatable, it highlights another idea that needs to be stressed:

Your students are going to get trained on how to do their job and most of this training will be outside of your control. 

This is disturbing as we know that our novices lack the metacognitive abilities and developed networks to easily learn how to do their job.  These challenges ensure that they are going to make mistakes and worse yet, they may fail to learn from these mistakes.

How Curation Helps Novices

Fortunately we can lessen these risks by adding touch points with our students after our learning events. A well-timed post on how to accomplish a task may be just the thing that a novice needs to put them back on track.  Better yet, creating a resource that students can access and search for knowledge, offers additional guidance opportunities for them.

Finding, organizing and distributing content are key activities of a curator and it’s these activities that will allow you to create the additional touch points that your novices need. Here you can share articles, podcasts, videos and other sources that supplement or expand on the topics you have covered.  These touch points are important as we know that these students will need extra repetition, practice and feedback to learn.

How Curation Helps Experts

The benefits of curation are not just limited to your novices though.  In particular, curation will provide opportunities for you to develop and grow your experts.  This is because many curated sites and tools allow for comments, user submissions, postings, rankings, and other common social media features.

These technologies create environments that foster collaboration and it’s in these environments where your experts will shine.  In this regard, your experts are skilled because they continually update their knowledge—they read, question, try new things and then revise.

Many of your experts will use these environments to help them in their own internal development quests—here they will post comments; reply to articles and questions; and may even create content to post.   This collaboration is profound as it will require evaluation, synthesis and creation skills—these skills are at the highest levels on Bloom’s taxonomy.

Being Helpful

As your curation site evolves it can become a valued resource for your organization.  Recent technologies like Experience API will increase this value by providing opportunities to track user participation and activity.  And as this approach gains acceptance a new meme may be in order.  Let’s call it the Helpful Content Curator and some examples are:

Now the only really difficult choice is figuring out the ClipArt to use for this meme.


The End of the World May or May Not Come This Year

*This post originally appeared in eLearning Industry 

The other day my dad offered a glimpse into his world of intrigues.  Here I was giving him grief about the spat between the Pope and Rush Limbaugh. During our discussion, he broke out:

 “Some scholars say that the next antichrist is going to be the Pope.”

According to the Internet, my dad may be on to something.

Personally I think my dad and the Internet are wrong about the whole pope/antichrist thing; however, I do think some amazing things are going to happen in the next several years and that’s what I want to talk about today.

Predictions for 2014 and Beyond

The following list contains my predictions of likely events for 2014 and beyond:

1. You realize that mLearning is Overhyped (for now)
In our current landscape, mLearning doesn’t improve our formal learning environment much. In this regard, our users are still tied to a LMS and to the objects within it—any learning that occurs outside of this structure isn’t easily recognized.

This is unfortunate as our mobile devices are always with us and support powerful self-directed content.  For instance iBooks and ePubs are widely available and used with these devices.  These objects can contain dynamic content, video, 3D multimedia, Augmented Reality, complex interactions and software widgets.

More importantly these iBooks and other objects can be embedded within our environments and tools. This feature becomes more significant as our mobile devices gain context awareness.  Such awareness gives designers the ability to use push/pull measures to deliver content that is related to a person’s immediate and future needs.

Fortunately these limits are changing as Experience API and the Internet of Things are slowly becoming a reality.  This year you will need to start embracing these technologies and figuring out how your content will work in this new world. Converting your manuals and job-aids to mobile friendly objects is a good place to start.

2.  Formal training wins
This long standing prediction of mine isn’t solely about push/pull, directed versus self-directed or even formal versus informal learning; rather it is about what recommendation engines and open reporting abilities mean for our field.

Here Experience API and Open Badges will soon allow us to track any type of learning (formal/informal, directed/self-directed,…).  In addition as our Personal, Social and other data profiles become connected/organized within internal systems, our abilities to recommend content for our students will increase greatly.   Adaptive learning will eventually be part of this and will mean that our organizations will be able to predict not only the content that our students need, but also their unique content preferences.

These systems will also allow us to track and report on all learning activities regardless of whether they are internally or externally provided or even directed or self-directed activities. And when learning professionals have this ability, then, it’s all formal, that is, we have the ability to control what is learned with our recommendation engines as well as the reports to track it.

3.  You need to up your game now
MOOCs, freelance professors and other trends are shifting the nature of education as a product to education as a service. Here cheap content and competition will eventually mean that market forces will take hold and cause organizations to fail, consolidate and merge.  When this happens a glut of skilled professional will be around.

You need to start preparing for this eventuality to ensure that your role is valued and needed in five years.  Fortunately many new roles are emerging today that will demonstrate this value for years to come:

  1. Data experts are needed for learning and development folks.  People analytics  will enter into HR and Talent Management areas and Adaptive Learning needs will begin entering the learning realm.
  2. Curation and metadata activities are needed to capture, sequence and validate all the cheap and quality content that is available online.
  3. Gaming and simulation development skills will continue to gain influence and acceptance in the learning world; however, this will remain a niche area until cost/quality/time requirements scale down for it.
  4. Mobile performance support professionals will be needed to create the tools and content that will be embedded in our work environments.
  5. Traditional online course designers will be needed, but these designers need to update their skills to address our changing user interfaces—touch, voice, gesture,…

4.  Formal learning institutions will embrace new opportunities
Many colleges, universities and other formal learning institutions are in for a rough ride in the next several years. Brick and mortar classrooms will have to deal with the competition MOOCs represent. This access to cheap quality content is a threat to the traditional stand-up model, as students will begin asking themselves,

“Why should I pay thousands of dollars for a class when I can get the same or like content online for a fraction of the price?”

Only a small group of schools and companies will emerge as the dominant MOOC providers, which means that everyone else will need to figure out how to adjust for their loss of revenue.  One promising option is for these learning institutions to form academic partnerships with regional companies and organizations.  Here these institutions agree to offer specialized degrees and programs to companies for a set number of students—a learning cohort.

Such agreements will create new revenues for these institutions and will allow them to safely plan and project enrollment numbers based off these guarantees. These agreements also benefit the regional companies by providing specialized training for their needs as well as cutting costs related to normal tuition reimbursement models.

5.  Internal data wars will happen soon
In the business world, the departments that tell the best story or demonstrate the most value get the resources and influence within the company. Such dynamics make sense, but can lead to infighting and groups being less than willing to share information. This is unfortunate as the above predictions rely on data sets across our business lines.

Getting recommendation engines and reporting tools developed will require cooperation and data from Human Resources, Training, Talent Management, Organizational Development, Business Intelligence, Information Systems, Legal…

This year, be proactive and start building relationships with all of these groups so that you can begin developing your engines and tools.

This is the End

You may have noticed that none of my predictions included an end of the world scenario and if this comes to pass well then “my bad.” If you are rooting for the end of the world, I suggest reading up on the whole pope/antichrist thing.

Regardless of what happens, the next several years are going to be interesting— I hope we all get the chance to enjoy them.  Cheers.



Reviewing 2013


Looking at my blog, you might think that this was a slow year regarding my development activities.  You would be partly right; however, to get a complete view on what has occupied my mind this year, you need to check some additional resources.

Writing activities

As for writing, my blog only contained 3 other posts this year.  Primarily these posts focused on mobile learning and how it will be used to support performance improvement rather than strict training initiatives.

I did have a couple additional articles that were posted on other eLearning sites:

Learning Solutions Magazine

Build   a Dream Team for Your eLearning Project

This article talks about developing a team for your eLearning projects.  It talks about the pros and cons related to high and low process teams as well as formally trained verse   self-trained members.

eLearning Industry

CURE-ation:   A Treatment for the Unhelpful Teacher

This article talks about why you should use Curation activities to engage your novice and expert students.

These external posts were fun and will be something I’ll focus more attention on next year—so keep an eye out for me there.

Content Curation

In addition to creating content, I helped administer an eLearning community.  This year I read and shared many great articles with this group.  Some highlights included:

Favorite Resources that I Submitted/Shared

The Future Of Technology Isn't Mobile, It's Contextual
This article presents a great look at the future and how data will be gathered and used. We need to start thinking about this and figuring out how to use it responsibly for talent management and training.

Read a Lawyer's Amazingly Detailed Analysis of Bilbo's Contract in The Hobbit
I have been an avid Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader since I was a little kid, so I had to share this article.  It demonstrates an interesting strategy to teach legal concepts.  Using pop culture references and stories can achieve similar results in your training interventions.

Writing Styles for eLearning Narration  
There are a lot of different writing needs for eLearning courses.  This article does a great job of highlighting these styles and their unique needs.  

Favorite Resources that Were Submitted by Someone Else in the Group

47 Mind-Blowing Psychological Facts You Should Know About Yourself
This post has 47 interface and instructional design tips/tricks that you should follow. Not only are these tips useful, the article includes the research behind each of them.

Why Even Radiologists Can Miss A Gorilla Hiding In Plain Sight
This post talks about inattentional blindness and how it shapes what we see or don’t see.

Feedback in scenarios: Let them think!
This article gives some great advice on how to improve your scenario feedback. Plus, there are some Cathy Moore fans in my group so I had to give them some love.

Resources that I Submitted/Shared that Received the Most Likes/Comments

Prescribed: A Personalized Tour of Obamacare
This is a great example of how you can create highly engaging courses using interactive video. This example is really cool, but the production needs in it are quite steep.

Don’t Make Me Wait
This article is on the current state of mobile learning and where it is headed.  As to the posting, many people were excited about the metacognition enhancements that wearable technologies may offer one day.

36 High-Quality Flat Design Resources
Interface styles are changing— this post gives you some resources to help you adapt and transition into this new style.


Breakdown of the Types of Articles I Submitted/Shared

The following chart illustrates that a lot of my time in 2013 was spent investigating and curating three areas:


eLearning Development Skills
Surprisingly the majority of resources I shared in this category was on developing writing abilities.  Over the year I shared a number of articles on grammar tips, scenario writing skills and other general writing needs with the group. Another significant focus in this category was on specific industry tools.  I included links to articles on Captivate, curation tools and other software designed to support eLearning initiatives.

Trends in 2013
My next main category focused around trends going on within the industry. Curation, infographics, video and Experience API will continue to remain popular topics in 2014 and increasingly you will be asked about them.  In particular interactive video and Experience API will be touted as the next thing you need to be doing— get familiar with these technologies so that you can use them appropriately.

Innovative Course Designs
Many examples of innovate course and content designs were shared with the group. Here these examples highlighted how the use of pop culture references and game mechanics can increase engagement.  In addition, these posts illustrated creative uses of mobile and new interface designs that could be used for your content.

This Is Almost the End

In this light you can see that I haven’t been totally slacking- hopefully next year though I’ll be able to give the site more attention.  As to the topics that took up my time, I’ll get to these more in my annual End of the World post that is due out soon.  Meanwhile enjoy the holidays.