Instructional Design Basics


Don’t Make Me Wait


My driving routes to work and other places may appear to be random and half-hazard but this isn’t the case.  In fact these routes are often carefully setup to minimize the likelihood of traffic.  And though these routes sometimes result in longer commutes they typically lessen the amount of time spent in traffic.  This is good as waiting around drives me crazy.

Besides driving, this is a trait that is true in other areas and unfortunately for me, waiting, is a common occurrence with learning technologies. Often I have to wait on technologies to converge, infrastructures to get in place and for appropriate projects to emerge before I get to explore.

Today I’ll talk about a frustratingly long wait with mobile learning or mlearning.

You Got a Problem with Me?

Several years ago I wrote a post on issues that needed to be addressed before mobile could take off as a learning platform. For the most part those problems have been addressed but we still haven’t seen this platform really take off.

Part of this has to do with an early view of what mlearning should be.  In this regard, there was a an assumption that mlearning would be similar to elearning, that is, its content would be much like your typical online course, but just on a smaller screen.   If this assumption was true, then mlearning as a platform would have already taken off.

This hasn’t happened though as our assumptions about mlearning have evolved into something much more powerful.  Here learning professionals are looking at mobile technology in another way—they are focusing on what this technology brings to the table that the other platforms don’t and what they have found is context.

We’ve come to realize that these devices are able to determine where you are and what you are doing. In addition these devices have the computing and networking power to act on this contextual information. Here designers can use push/pull measures to deliver content that is related to a person’s immediate and future needs.

Context in this regard is an incredible performance enhancing tool, but unfortunately for me, it’s what has kept us waiting with this technology. The following table outlines some of the remaining issues with mlearning:



Where it’s At

As can be seen there are some significant barriers remaining, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.  In this regard there are some existing opportunities for mobile technology—two common strategies are:

Expert Access

Designers have seen the communication possibilities that are inherent in these technologies and are starting to use it as a pull tool.  Here by taking advantage of the voice, text, and video conferencing abilities that these devices offer, novice users can easily access experts in the field for questions, feedback and advice.

Designers are also looking at the push opportunities that these technologies represent—here they are using these devices to support reinforcement and practice activities. Such strategies are important as they will aid transfer and internalization of content.  In this area, having experts use curation tools can offer tremendous power as these tools can extend your learning activities.

Just-in-time Learning

Job-aids and handouts have always been popular tools to give to our students.  These tools are useful as they support our students in their working worlds.  Here when they need to perform their job, a student can easily pull out a job-aid or reference material and use it to complete the task at hand.

Designers have realized that mobile technologies can allow them to create more robust job-aids and reference materials.  And instead of simple procedural guides, checklists and handouts, we can now use Mobile Apps and ePublications to include video, augmented reality (AR) and other strategies to provide greater clarity for our students.  We can also act on the data that is inputted into these devices—such use can greatly impact ROI by increasing work productivity and decreasing error rates with some tasks.

Where it’s Going

All of this has me excited and looking for appropriate projects to explore; however, my real excitement comes when looking at the future.  The convergence of AR, wearable devices and connected profile information will create some intriguing metacognition tools.

In this regard, subject experts excel in their areas because they can apply more advanced metacognitive abilities in their field.  This allows them to focus on more stimuli as they work which in turn, also allows them to diagnose and evaluate their progress in deeper ways.  Soon these mobile tools will provide novice users with these abilities—here interfaces will allow them to focus on more things and provide them with more information on their progress.

The following video illustrates this as it demonstrates a possible Google Glass App. Today, expert runners are attuned to conditions (temperature, heartbeat, wind, pace, altitude,…) that novice runners are not. GhostRunner creates an interface that provides this information to all runners. This interface will alert runners to conditions that might impede their run and give them valuable feedback on how they are doing.

Such tools are going to offer amazing opportunities to improve performance and even though it means I have to wait a bit I’m OK with it—I hope you can stand the wait too.

GhostRunner Demo from OnTheGo Platforms on Vimeo.


Useless Gift Bags


A couple of weeks ago I received a gift bag as part of a tour. This gift bag intrigued me as it included a giant calculator and upon seeing it I thought, “Well this is perfectly useless.”

Saying this, I should note that mathematics isn’t one of my strengths and that a calculator should have been a great gift.  This would have been true several years ago, but we have Smartphones and other mobile devices now that can easily do this— so lugging around another device for calculations seems kind of silly.

This realization started me thinking about other tools and I came to the conclusion that we as trainers are doing the same thing, that is, we are giving outdated and useless tools to our students.   Here our checklists, reference manuals, note cards and other job-aids are still needed but in their current format, they fail to take advantage of our student’s mobile devices. So in a sense, they are a little outdated and kind of useless.

Today I’ll talk a little more about this and give you some options on how to make these items valued again.

Dead Weight

As trainers we recognize that our students may not need to internalize all of the information that we cover.  We also recognize that our students will forget or lose much of the information that is covered.  As such many of our strategies include ways to help our students access content after training has been completed.

Some of these strategies include giving our students manuals that they can go back to whenever they need.  We also like to develop process guides and job-aids that users can print out and use on the job.  Finally we may create reference materials that users can access to quickly find information that they need—phone lists, price guides and other like aids are handy tools to have available.

These needs are still true, but the problem with these tools is that rarely are these materials on hand.  Often when our students need this information they have to go back and dig up the manual, print out a new checklist, or find the reference list that was developed.  Rather than doing this though our students have found that winging it, asking someone nearby or just avoiding the task is often easier to do.

Because of this, we as trainers should be interested in making our tools more accessible to our students and a great way to do is by making these materials mobile friendly.  Here we need to recognize that our students are constantly connected with their mobile devices and that these devices could easily contain all of our tools and more.

By making our tools mobile friendly, we would not only increase the likelihood of our student going back to our content, but we could also help them realize productivity gains. Here by taking advantage of the computing power in these devices our tools could automate some of their work by performing calculations; triggering alerts and notifications; and exporting their data into other forms and devices.  These activities would then give our students more time to perform their other work and may cut down error rates associated with some tasks.

Mobile Performance Support Tools

In this light, moving your tools to a mobile friendly format seems like a great idea and to help with this need, I’ve developed the following table:






Now it may be awhile before you realize these mobile options, but that day needs to come. If not, then one day soon, your students are going to confront your tools like I confronted that gift bag calculator.


Seriously the End of the World Is Coming


We survived another year—that’s two straight years of incorrect end of the world predictions.  You would think that people would stop believing this stuff but that isn’t the case, in fact, a popular show highlights this fear.  Doomsday Preppers follows people that are actively preparing for the end of world.

As to these preppers, I guess if the end of the world is coming, it’s good to be prepared, but these scenarios seem like a long shot to me.  And in this regard, I’d rather spend my energies preparing for something that is likely to happen. So let’s revisit the Connan clip and get ready for some predictions of the coming year and beyond.

One Step Back

Last year my predictions were pretty broad and longer in range than just 2012. This year, these predictions are still in play; however, some developments have either strengthened parts of these predictions or caused slight modifications:

Last Year’s Prediction Revised Prediction for 2013 and Beyond
You will finally be asked to do mobile learning and you will fail You are failing with mobile learning
Formal training wins Formal training still wins
We are not going away Well, some of us are not going away

1.  You are failing with mobile learning
If you are not doing mobile learning today then straight up, you are a failure.  In this regard, Smartphone penetration, IS infrastructure and content development tools are in place.  This means you no longer have any of these as an excuse.  Further, mobile provides performance support abilities not addressed by any other delivery system. This removes the final argument for not doing it, that being, lacking a use case for it.

In this regard, performance support has always been a need in training. Job aids and other takeaways are important because they help users transfer knowledge and increase on the job performance.   And it’s in this performance support area that everyone is failing at with mobile.  A recent initiative illustrates this failure:

The Berg Balance Scale is an assessment tool that determines a patient’s risk of falling.  Based on their score, various treatments are used to counter that fall risk.  In addition, clusters of scores indicate exercises that can be done to increase a patient’s mobility and lessen their future risk of falling.

This all seems easy enough and when a request for training on this tool came in, we came up with a pretty standard solution.  Here we developed an online course that went over the 14 assessment items and provided video and other content to illustrate each measurement item.  Then we provided students with a nicely formatted Berg Balance Scale job-aid that they could print out and use on the job.

So our solution focused on training (teaching them how do the assessment) and included a performance support tool (the nicely formatted job-aid).  This solution though should have been the other way around, that is, we should have focused on developing a performance support tool and included some training elements in it.

In this regard, we could have built a mobile application that would have walked the users through each step in the assessment.  And if they needed help on a particular item, they could have accessed training on that item through the mobile application.

The main advantage of that solution would be the time savings involved.  First we wouldn’t have forced everyone to take a 1 hour training course—users would only access training that they needed.  Secondly and more importantly, this mobile app would cut out the time needed to perform the calculations and cluster analysis in the scale.  Here users would enter the Berg Balance test information and then get the results in seconds. This time savings would be realized every time they performed that assessment.  Besides saving time, the automatic calculations and analysis would also lessen the chance of human errors in each assessment.

So to stop failing with mobile learning, you should start examining your content for performance support opportunities.  If you find an appropriate opportunity then build a mobile application or widget for it – doing so could save your organization significant money and decrease error rates.

2.  Formal training still wins
With Experience API  and Mozilla’s Open Badges, we are close to the goal of tracking informal learning. These and other technologies will bring about an environment where all learning is tracked.

In addition, recent movement around the concept of Big Data will further strengthen the need for tracking and assignment measures.   Here recommendation engines will be used in your systems to push and pull content to your students.  Using Big Data concepts, these recommendation engines will be used to counter risks associated to some types of employees. This means that one day soon, each employee will have predictive scores associated to them that indicates their risk for quitting, getting hurt, calling in sick,… and based on those risks, training will be pushed or pulled to them.

So in the end, it still looks like Formal is going to win in the informal/formal debate.

3.  Well some of us are not going away
Last year it was hard not to hear about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). This idea and others like freelance professors will fundamentally change the nature of formal education.  Here cheap content and competition will shift the nature of education as a product to education as a service.

Initially this means that there will be high demand for content production, but soon after market economies will take over.  As the market forces take hold, organizations will fail, consolidate and merge to meet demand. This means that eventually a great number of us will no longer be needed.

So learning professionals are not going away, but in five years there’s going to be a glut of skilled people in the field—ramp your skills up or face the consequences.

New to the List

Last year I spent a lot of time writing and reading about technologies and initiatives that are changing the stand-up training world. These are great changes and I’m excited about what they represent, so here are a couple new predictions to my list:

4.  Brick and mortar gets downsized, but this is good
Flipped Learning is changing the way the classroom operates. As this movement grows, our Tell/Show content will become the homework that our students complete and our classrooms will focus on Do activities.   This shift in focus, will allow stand-up instructors the ability to create problem-based and experiential learning environments.

Further as instructors produce, share and organize content for these environments, they will become curators of knowledge.  This is significant in that, these activities will extend their reach beyond the classroom—in this world, all learning events have the possibility of becoming life-long activities. Here students follow their instructors on social media channels long after the classroom experience is over.

As this shift happens, the amount of direct hands-on class time will begin to change as well.  Here since much of the class content will be covered online, there will not be the need to meet up as much.  So a class that meets three days a week now, may one day only meet once a week.

Brick and mortar classrooms will also have to deal with the competition MOOCs represent. Access to cheap quality content is a threat to the traditional stand-up model. And in this regard, students that are comfortable with online learning will begin asking, “Why should I pay thousands of dollars for this class when I can get the same or like content for free online?”

So the Brick and mortar classroom model is going to be hit with two forces—less need to meet directly and increased competition.  These forces will cause some turmoil in these circles, but this is good for the students. Here they will have more choices and still receive effective content.

5.  HR embraces the new world
The technologies talked about above, offer some exciting opportunities for professional development and talent management folks.

For one, organizations that are strapped for cash often lack the funds needed to develop their employees. Soon these organizations will be able to tap into the free and cheap content being offered by MOOCs.  In addition, they will be able to track completion of this informal content by taking advantage of Experience API.

These technologies also offer additional opportunities as they begin to open up the door to potential employees.  In our current environment, formal degrees are a requirement to get your foot in the door, but these degrees offer little in explaining an employee’s true background. ADL’s Training and Learning Architecture (TLA) as well as features like Mozilla’s Open Badges and LinkedIn’s endorsements and recommendations will allow talent management professional greater insight into potential employees.  Ultimately these technologies may change the formal degree requirements for many of today’s jobs and thus increase the pool of talent available for some hard to staff positions.

Finally as noted in my second prediction, big data concepts offer abilities to improve recommendation engines for training. These engines will ensure employees get individualized training and identify mentoring opportunities within the organization.

Minor Predictions

In addition to the above predictions I do have several minor ones that are not as significant and will not take as long to come to fruition.  These are:

6.  Trends associated with social media and mobile technologies have changed interface standards.  In this regard, the Next button is no longer sacred and learners are comfortable using their scrollbars.

7.  Tappestry and other like apps will gain momentum as the focus around curation and tracking informal learning continues.

8.  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will continue to be big this year and will hasten the move to HTML5.  Start converting your Flash based courses to HTML5 and stop building solely with this tool.

9.  Augmented Reality (AR) is still not ready for wide scale mobile use. Here standards across devices for technologies like Near Field Communication (NFC) have not been established. In addition the public at large has not been introduced to this technology sufficiently.  AR use is still a couple of years away at best.

This is the End

You may note that none of my predictions included an end of the world scenario, so if this comes to pass well then “my bad.” If you’re worried about that stuff, you might want to check out the following links:

List of upcoming end of the world dates

Homepage of Doomsday Preppers

Regardless of what happens this year it will be interesting and I hope we all get the chance to enjoy it.  Cheers.


Secret Signs for Learning


Before formal institutions of knowledge became widespread, secret societies arose to pass on knowledge. Tradesman and artisans grouped together to share and pass on their skills. In this model an apprentice was taken and shown the ways of the trade. Then after several years they were allowed to go on their own. At this stage they were shown the secret signs of their society which was important as these signals were the certification to others in their trade—their proof that they were legit.

These days are gone and our legitimacy comes in the form of degrees.  Here colleges, universities and other formal institutions declare who is legit and ready to take on the world. There’s no need for secret handshakes as we now have transcripts documenting our proficiencies.   

However, new technologies and shifting attitudes on the value of formal degrees have people questioning our existing system. Today I’ll talk about some of these technologies and what they may mean for our field.

Cheap Content

Recently, Massive Open Online Classes or MOOCs have received a lot buzz.  Here several influential learning institutions are offering online courses that are open to the public at large. Besides being open, these courses can also be taken at little or no cost.  Now anyone with an internet connection can sign up and take a class from MIT or Harvard.   Besides these institutions, other content organizations have addressed similar learning needs.   KHAN Academy, iTunesU, YOUTube and others have been providing access to online educational content for some time.

All of this is great as it has created a flood of quality online educational content that everyone can access.  The dream of the internet finally opening up education can now be realized.  So Timmy, sitting in an isolated community can become a computer engineer by taking free or inexpensive online content.

However, the reality for Timmy is that this doesn’t mean that he can get a job as a computer engineer. Here formality still rules and documenting competency is a much needed requirement for the HR folks.  So today, Timmy’s resume gets booted out of the system as soon as he submits it.

Too Legit To Quit

For some time people have been working on a way to track informal learning.  This is important as a large part of what we know is gained by informal means.  We read an article, watch a video, discuss a topic or participate in other activities that have us accessing, reviewing and synthesizing content.   And all of this is done without the guidance and validation of a formal source of authority.

This is a problem though as the lack of formality makes it hard to prove our legitimacy. So how do you prove to your boss or the HR folks that you:

  • read 5 articles on networking technologies
  • participated in a local hackathon or
  • watched a YouTube video on Setting up DHCP into a Cisco router?

Formal content has Learning Management Systems (LMS); SCORM; and other means to track participation and completion results.  These technologies allow for the creation and maintenance of user transcripts that documents our proficiencies.

ADL’s Training & Learning Architecture (TLA) is a new set of technologies that is emerging to give this ability to informal content.  Two keys to this are:

Experience API

This is a technology that will track informal content by Noun, Verb and
Object.  This concept is similar to the Likes and other features we see in popular Social Media sites and in these sites we may soon see posts like:

    • Timmy read TCP vs UDP
    • Timmy watched Netcat – Tutorial
    • Timmy set up a Wireless router

Learner Profiles

This upcoming technology will describe information about a learner’s preferences, competencies, and experiences. This will act as a centralized transcript that a user owns—this will eventually mean that your learning is no longer trapped in one system.

You won’t have a separate transcript stuck at your college, one stuck at that job you worked at several years ago, or even a transcript for you current job.  Rather you will have your own unique learning record that you can control.  This centralize transcript will be your record of completion—and quite possibly your signal of legitimacy.

Why Corporate Training Should Get Involved

Such a model will cause some warranted resistance from the establishment, as it may be ripe for gaming and or cheating.  This is true in the immediate future but that doesn’t mean your company shouldn’t get involved in it as a nice thing about these technologies is that it opens up your possibilities.

For example the MOOCs above have finally realized the economies of scale inherent in online learning.  Some of these courses have gotten their cost per student to around $2.  With this kind of cost, you could create your own content to deliver to the public at large. This would be content that is specific to your organization, content that is specific to a particular job and finally content that is tracked and reported on in the form of a transcript.

Better yet, as a company, you could identify existing content that meets your needs and define paths for it. So for an entry level IS position someone may need to take the equivalent of:    

Part of this will require some formal assessment and validation from your organization.  This may be done with some existing social media features like LinkedIn’s endorsements and recommendations or some other future metric that predicts competency.  Working with regional leaders, teachers, and experts to serve as mentors and guides can open up other opportunities to validate legitimacy.  Finally designing your own forms of assessments like tests and checklists can serves as ways to determine who is competent for a specific field.

All of this is still some time away from now and it will definitely bring some challenges as verification and validation of skills isn’t going to be easy.  I look forward to the day though that we no longer rely solely on formal degrees and Timmy gets his shot.

In this regard, I hope these changes bring back the secret signs as handshake like the below would be fun:



Rare Breeds in Elearning


The last Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, died this summer.  George was found in 1971 and spent the last 40 years alone—lonesome was an apt name for him.

Unfortunately, our field has created some Lonesome Georges recently. New technologies and evolving skills-sets have made some specialized roles unnecessary or less important.

One recent rare breed is developers, as you no longer need real programmers to get your content online.  Today I will talk about this breed and why you shouldn’t count them out.

Problem Children

Over the years, I have had several incidents with developers on my projects.  These incidents usually center on them not doing what I want with the content.   A common scene in my world is, I turn in storyboards and wait for them to work their magic.  Then when I review it online and I am left thinking, “… this is nothing like what I documented in the storyboards.”

Conversations soon follow and in my experience, three common reasons are usually to blame for these instances:

 1.    Skill/Technology Gap

The developer didn’t follow the storyboards because they didn’t know how.  In these instances, they may lack the skills or technology needed in order to meet the needs as defined in the storyboards.  This is actually common—here technology changes and many programmers have to continually develop their skills.  In addition, many parts of our courses fall outside of traditional programming.  Animation, video effects,… fall into roles of multimedia development, which may not be something a true programmer knows or cares about.

 2.    Unclear Storyboards/Documentation

The programmer didn’t follow the storyboards because they didn’t know what I wanted.  Here my storyboards were not clear or very organized, so the programmer did the best they could.  This is also common as I am not always sure what I want—sometimes I only have a vague idea and it takes several iterations before my vision becomes clear.

 3.    Control Issues

The programmer didn’t do it because they didn’t want to. Unfortunately, programmers can be control freaks and this issue can sometimes appear in the middle of your projects.  When this happens, if they don’t like a design they may just ignore it.  Often the programmers have valid reasons for doing this—it could be a usability issue, back-end networking or security related.

Playing Nice

Regardless of the reason, whenever this happens it has the potential to become a problem that may require a crucial/challenging/difficult/… conversation.  In this regard, you need to pick your battles carefully.  Here you need to determine if your need is important enough to fight over, that is, is it worth the extra time needed to change the course back to the design in the storyboards and is it worth the potential damage to the relationship you have with the programmer—a relationship you may need later on.

In the least, you should talk with the programmer to see what happened and why.  This is important, as not following the storyboards, isn’t a good way to handle these situations. In this regard, it is easier to change a design around when it is at the storyboard stage than after it has been built. In addition, if there are design concerns then the programmer and ID should work together to define a strategy that will meet all needs.

Talking with the programmer can help you avoid these problems in the future.  In this regard, it can create a collaborative environment that will allow them to bring up their concerns before building the content. Involving the programmers early on in the storyboards is another way to avoid these problems—getting and addressing their concerns upfront will save time later.

Why You Need Them

It may sound like programmers are difficult to work with and that they deserve to fade out like Lonesome George, but this isn’t the case.  Our field is always changing and at the moment we are experiencing a rapid evolutionary cycle:

  • New technologies like mobile (SmartPhones, Tablets, eReaders), augmented reality, and location based content continue to define new needs.
  • Social networks, Open Badges and LMS integration (cloud and private) are creating opportunities for big data and recommendation engines.
  • Voice, touch and gesture interface systems are emerging and are changing how we interact with technology.

These technologies absolutely require real programming skills and can’t easily be addressed with standard course building tools like Articulate and Captivate. So continue to pick your battles and work on your relationships as developers may be rare but they are not dying out.

As a reference tool I’ve create the Types of Programmers document—maybe it will help you deal with these creatures.