Instructional Design Basics


Running on Empty

I’m not a real runner—at least that’s what I tell people when they find out I run.  You see I know real runners. I know people that run with respectable pace times, or ones that do 20 plus miles a week, or even those that approach every race as an opportunity to make a personal record (PR).  No, I’m not one of those guys—I am just out there playing.

And since I am playing, I have a whole different set of tricks that I use to keep me focused on running.

One of my favorites is the themed race—here races are based around a central idea or theme like St Paddy’s Day or Halloween.  In these events the bystanders and event organizers usually have signs, costumes, music and other activities that support the theme of the day.  Runners in these events usually participate as well which is nice as running next to an Elvis or a Waldo can keep you going when times are tough.

Because of this, these races seem less like running and more like a big social event. Using themes in your courses can provide similar effects.   In this regard, courses built around themes can provide extra motivation and interest into your content. And themes can make your courses feel less like a required activity and more like a fun and engaging event.

Today I’ll talk about a theme that I like to use with my course building activities.

Numbers Matter

A lot of the training content we build can be tracked back to significant numbers like costs, profits and reported incidents. And with numbers like this a common training objective may be to reduce or increase these numbers.

Other significant numbers like people affected and times an action is performed can be equally important to our course goals and objectives as these numbers highlight the importance of our training content. In this regard, these numbers can provide a way for us to sell our content which is why they may be associated with attitudinal objectives within our courses.

As mentioned these number are often large and as such may be difficult for our users to realize or fully grasp. So to help them make sense of our content we should break these numbers down into something that our users can see and or relate to.  Using a counter in this regard is an easy way to do that.

Let’s look at how this may look:

Infection Control Example
This course used a counter to sell the importance of Incident Command Management.  By using a theme of a possible H1N1 epidemic we were able to wrap the content around a story. Users saw infections represented in the counter—a counter that moved very fast according to the prediction that 40% of Americans could be infected.

Adjustment Codes Example
This course used a counter to sell the importance of using the right codes within our processing centers. Users were able to see how much money was being lost as a result of incorrect use of these codes and were able to connect these losses to equipment, staff and other resource needs.

BLS Example
This course used a counter to sell the importance of proper BLS techniques. Here users were able to see how often these skills are needed and how truly valuable they can be.

Adding Engagement

Besides presenting a visual that can help your users connect to the content, these counters can be used to create engagement.

In the Infection Control and BLS examples we developed content triggers based on the counters:

The Infection Control course was set up so that popup boxes would open at every 2000 infections.  These popup boxes presented a storyline that followed an H1N1 epidemic.

The BLS course was set up so that every two cycles of the counter (which represented two people suffering a cardiac arrest) an interaction would open up that the user had to complete before continuing.  These interactions were scenario based and forced users to practice basic life saving skills.

The real power behind these counters can occurs when you take them a step further and move into the gaming realm.  In this regard these counters can represent scoring elements.

The Adjustment Codes course used its counter as a simple scoring mechanism.  This course was built as a simulation where the user’s choices influenced how fast or slow the counter moved.  So when a user picked the right choice the counter would slow down and BJC would save money.

To reinforce this game environment cut scenes were added to this simulation—saving money meant scenes played that showed new equipment being purchased and losing money showed scenes where equipment purchasing and plans were put on hold.

Give Us a Call

As can be seen these counters can be used in a variety of ways and can be quite fun to develop. I’m sure though that some of you are thinking that they are beyond your abilities.  This may be true as getting them developed and working within a course can be difficult.

Luckily you don’t have to go it alone, we have templates and resources available that can be used to facilitate your needs here. So there’s no reason to go it alone and in addition there is no reason to produce a slow and tedious experience for your users.  Here themes can make courses and running an exciting activity.


Not My Typical Post

I’m not a big fan of the stream of conscious posts that are found on many blogs, but today I have something stuck in my head and I don’t have time to really develop my usual blog entry so…

Lately I have seen several articles on Gamification, which is a strategy that uses game mechanics to influence and or change behavior. This focus on influencing and changing behavior makes it an appealing strategy for marketing and training activities.   And some recent articles I have run across on Gamification include:

Google Reader

Marketing Applications

More Marketing Applications

Training Needs

Now before you freak out, roll your eyes or emphatically state that games are just for kids and not something for the training world, let me remind you that training isn’t just about how many classes/courses you have developed or other butts-in-seats statistics. Rather training is about changing behavior and in this regard evaluation, feedback and rewards are crucial components to ensure that employee behavior is changed. These components (evaluation, feedback and rewards) are natural mechanics in games and as such make games a perfect strategy here.

Saying this, an aspect in some recent games that I am particularly interested in, is the location-based abilities seen within mobile games. These games recognize where you are and let you participate in an alternative reality based on this physical location.  A couple examples of these games are:

Shadow Cities—a new obsession of mine

Playing Risk in the Big Apple

The reward mechanic in these games is that you and your team can take over parts of the world—control and establish an empire in this regard.  For some that might not be appealing but for me, that is, someone that spent many formative years playing D&D and Risk I can’t wait to play these games or anything like them.

And as to training and how a healthcare facility might employ a similar game mechanic, I think there are many possibilities:

  • Infection prevention and other patient safety activities could be observed and tracked.  Here whenever proper hand hygiene or some other patient safety technique was practiced this could be scored. High scores here would allow teams, whether it’s a floor, department or unit to take control over an area.
  • You could also tie this type of mechanic to Patient Satisfaction and other scores at the hospital level—here patients could enter their scores through a mobile application.  These real time scores would determine which hospital controlled the game area.

Ok so I think I got that out of my head for now—maybe one day I’ll turn it into one of my normal posts.  As for you what game mechanics do you see value with or which ones would you like to see implemented in a training activity?



Cool Kids

I use to be a music snob—one of those people that would find an obscure band and tell everyone how cool they were.   Then when the band became popular I would stop listening to them and move on to the next one.

Yes I was annoying then and though I no longer do that, I still have a tendency to disassociate myself from the mainstream.  So today it is with a little trepidation that I am going to talk about QR codes as they are heading that way soon.

What are QR Codes

QR codes are a type of bar code that can be scanned by your mobile device (smartphone, tablet,…) and by scanning these bar codes you can access web pages, documents and other media. Companies are using this technology to market their products—to see examples of these codes, check out some recent print materials (magazines, newspapers, posters, billboards).

Besides marketing though, this technology offers other opportunities, specifically; you can use it to deliver training and performance support content to your users. And this is how I want to use it with my Infection Control project.

Going From Objectives to Content

In previous posts I have made a big deal about creating interesting content and providing a story for your users. So with the Infection Control course I wanted to create a story where users gain experience and items by performing tasks and completing quests.  In this story the student assumes the role of an Infection Control Expert and the training content is pushed to them as they perform their Infection Control tasks.

To see how this was broken out into content, look at the first story element I created in my Table of Specifications, “A Staph colony is somewhere in the building.” Note that this element was associated to objectives 1, 2 and 4 and that the specific content I planned to cover in this element was:

  • What are symptoms of Staph infections;
  • How it is transmitted; and
  • How can hand hygiene and cleaning protocols prevent its spread?

From this guidance I wrote out parts of the content and then placed them in the following web pages:

Staph Colony


I then created additional web pages that carried on this story element and hit the remaining content for it.  Once the web pages were created, I accessed a free QR generator site to have my codes created for each web page.  Then I put it all together in a Word document, printed this document out and set up the codes in various locations. To see the live example of this course you can go to the 2nd floor of the BLI and take the 1st part of it there.

A nice thing about using QR codes in this way is that they provide an opportunity to interface with actual people. This is represented in the course when the student has to track down someone and talk to them about proper Hand Hygiene techniques. And since this is an actual person, this can be a place where you do a formal assessment—in this case, the user is asked to demonstrate proper hand washing techniques.

Still Cool???

As I indicated earlier, QR codes are about to become mainstream and as such may not be cool very long, but that is ok now as I recognize how silly such concepts are.  Mainly though I realize that being cool takes up too much time—it’s much easier to stick with a classic.

….ok so The Pixies never became mainstream—I guess old habits die-hard.


Stuck on You

One of my 1st real experiences with kids occurred several years ago when I went to visit my buddy Scott.  Here I got to spend a few days with him, his wife and their son Jeffrey.  And I must say, Jeffrey was a pretty cool little kid— he was smart, creative, well-mannered and everything else you could hope for in a son.

It wasn’t all good though; Jeffrey did have one small episode while I was there.  It occurred one night while he and I were sitting at the table playing with his dinosaurs. And when it became time for his bath, the little guy calmly ignored his mom’s request and kept on playing. At this point his mom tried to reason with him, telling him that he would get to play after the bath but he wasn’t having any of it.

This standoff ended shortly when his dad got involved—here Jeffrey got a spanking, had to take his bath and then went to bed without finishing his dinosaur adventure. Things could have gone much more smoothly for the little guy if he could have just let go for a bit instead of getting stuck.  In his mind the dinosaurs had important things to do—the bath had to wait. This however, did not jive well with reality, that being, the need to listen to his parents.

In a way, this is a situation I have encountered in many of the projects I have worked on.  Here I have often seen people getting stuck on an idea of how something should be presented rather then reality of the project.  Today I’ll talk about some of these experiences and hopefully present you with some ways to get unstuck.


I often see people getting stuck in this regard when a solution calls for a non-traditional approach.

Traditional Approaches
Traditional in this sense is a reference to behaviorist approaches that tend to follow a standard Tell/Show/Do model.  Here a course is very controlled and systematic—topic A then topic B and then C—and probably has a lecture type feel to it.

One key component of these types of approaches is the need for close-ended interactions and assessments. Here definitive correct/incorrect behaviors must be demonstrated and assessed.  In these approaches, objectives are often covered as distinct content pieces and assessed as such. And the overall training goals of the solution are realized when the users demonstrate specific behaviors.

Non-traditional Approaches
Non-traditional in this sense is a reference to constructivist and social learning approaches that tend to have their own project specific models.  Here a course is less controlled and may not be systematic— part of topic B and C unless the student wants A first and then maybe the rest of topic B—and may take the form of stories, scenarios, games, simulations and collaborative problem solving activities.

These approaches use open-ended assessment activities that require a rubric of some kind. In addition, objectives are usually covered together and wrapped around a real world story/problem. The goals of these courses are usually not defined around changing specific behaviors, rather they center on the user producing a product.

Obviously there is a lot more to behaviorism, constructivism and social learning but we’ll save this for latter posts. For now just realize that each approach has some fundamental differences in what is required and these differences are often what get people stuck.

Getting Stuck—Creating Content

A few years ago I worked on a project that had a simulation at the end of the course. Here I worked with another ID that was a hardcore, “A then B then C” type of fellow.  So as we worked on the simulation we quickly ran into some roadblocks.

As stated above, interactions for constructivist approaches tend to be more opened-ended in nature and revolve around real world situations. How this might play out in your assessment is that in the real world there often isn’t one clear right/wrong way to address a problem.  In addition, sometimes there may not even be a good choice to a problem—the lesser of two evils.  So it may make sense for your interactions to reflect these types of situations.

Knowing this I wrote the storyboards around a series of events that a user may experience on their job. The storyline that emerged here included a few of these challenging situations. In these instances, I limited the user choices to ones that didn’t have definitive correct answers.

I finished my storyboards and passed them on to the other ID for a review cycle. As this other ID reviewed these she immediately started rewriting the interactions.  Here she edited the situations and options so that there were clear right/wrong choices.  And by doing this, she altered the storyline to such an extent that it no longer followed a real world situation. In addition the final product that emerged was something that felt less like a simulation and more like a series of multiple choice questions that were loosely tied together.

This was an instance of the ID being stuck on the nature of assessment. In her mind these situations had to be clear and definitive—your classic closed ended question types. The reality of the project though called for something else.

Now in her defense I can understand her motives for the changes—she wanted the assessment to hit the exact content that was covered previously in the course.  In the course things were clear—there were specific answers and steps to follow. In addition the content had a high level of detail to it. Here the training focused around a small set of parameters, variables, and conditions. Anything outside of this may seem like a trick question or something that is unfair to the user.

These are valid concerns but there are better ways to address them in your simulations. The nice thing about these types of assessments is that you have more feedback options that are available to you.  With simulations you have the following options here:

  • Storyline—this is how the characters react or what changes to the environment happen based on the user choices.
  • Image—visual display of the changes to the environment.
  • Assessment—specific feedback you can give the user about their choice.

Each one of these options presents an opportunity to tie back to your clear and specific course content.  So in this regard you could have a character react in a way that forces a new interaction.  This new interaction could contain the expanded detail content that was covered in the course.  Your feedback offers the easiest way to address this though as you can tell users exactly how it connects back to the course content.

The important thing to remember with simulations is not to get stuck on the questions you are asking. Here focus on the story and use that to clear up and connect to any existing course content. Some tips with developing simulations can be found here. I’ll have more on simulations though in future posts.

Getting Stuck—Navigation and Interface Needs

This next project was quite a few years ago and focused on a new orientation course.  Here the sponsor wasn’t so concerned with users demonstrating mastery skills, rather they wanted a resource that would introduce users to their new world.  Engagement was a key focus for this sponsor as they wanted users excited about their jobs.

So after meeting with the sponsors I developed the appropriate design/scoping information and passed it on to the instructional designers (IDs) on the project. Here the IDs started developing the storyboards around our standard interface template. In addition to this template, they started reusing our other normal navigation controls (Table of Contents, Next, Back,…) and interactions within the course.

Shortly after they started the storyboards we all met up to see how the course was going. At this point, I discovered that what was emerging was basically our old A then B then C type of course.  I knew this wasn’t what the sponsor had in mind so I had stepped in to help the IDs on the project.  Here we had to start over as they were stuck on trying to make the content fit into existing templates and frameworks.

To start fresh we defined the common elements and themes in the content. With these themes we then talked about how they could be represented in menu structures that users could interact with. For example one theme was that users would have to interact with a lot of different people in their new job.  So we created a visual representation of these people that users could click on to interact with and access the content.  This graphical menu structure was much more engaging then our normal navigational structures. We did this with several themes and created a hierarchical content framework for the course.

We also found ways to create new interactions within the content. For example there were several tables in the content that contained various statistics about their jobs. Here we introduced a slider bar that users could interact with to view the different values. We followed this up with questions on the data contained in the new animated tables.

This process wasn’t easy though as the IDs were seriously stuck on their old methods and strategies.  To get them to be comfortable with the new approach, collaboration was a key—here I needed to create an environment that didn’t constrain possibilities.  Next we had to take these ideas and represent them online with prototypes.  In this regard, I encouraged the shitty first draft concept. I just wanted them to build out the content—we would refine it and fix it as it came. And slowly but surely the course that emerged was very open and focused around discovery interactions. More importantly our client was very satisfied with this end result.

What To Do if You Are Stuck

If you haven’t developed a non-traditional course yet and you are tasked to do this, you probably will get stuck at one point. Developing for this type of course is a paradigm shift—the standard Tell/Show/Do models and your regular interface templates will not work here.  You have to go back to your project needs and examine how those relate to constructivist and social learning activities. Here don’t be afraid of creating a terrible first draft.  Also plan on using prototyping and collaboration to help you get your content into shape.   After a few painful tries, you’ll learn to let go and just go with it.  This is important as you don’t want to end up like little Jeffrey here—getting a spanking is no fun at all.


Drinking Kool-Aid

Ok I’ll admit it. I don’t get microblogging or twitter as many refer to it. I’ve tried to get into it. I have even created an account or two but I still don’t know what all fuss is about.

Yes I know you can follow people and trends; market yourself or your website; and use it to track down where everyone is meeting at for the night.  And all that sounds good, but every time I try to use it I get stuck.

In saying this, you may think that I would be a poor source of information about how to use twitter for training activities—you would probably be right, regardless…

As mentioned twitter and other microblogging tools can be a good way to market your materials. In this case you are using it as a pull mechanism, that is, you are using twitter to pull users to your content.  Here you can send out messages about a course or class to encourage users to sign up for those events.  Your messages can be simple text messages, images, links to additional content, podcasts or even videos.

The form of these messages may include endorsements from key stakeholders; facts and figures explaining the need for the training; and other normal marketing techniques used to gain interests in your content.

These tools can also be used to push content directly to your users.  Here you are using these tools to send out specific content that you want users to internalize. These messages may include small bites of content like facts to know, key steps in a process, a basic rule to follow or any other important content that can be squeezed down into a small chunk.

You can also push out specific questions and problems that you want students to consider. Using these tools in this regard creates a way to start and facilitate discussions on your content.

Something with Potential
I guess all that stuff is good but it isn’t all that new.  We’ve been using push/pull techniques with online training for years.  It’s also not very exciting- it doesn’t seem like something that will engage users any more so then the other techniques we’ve used for years.

So maybe that is what has me stuck and until I find something unique and cool about these tools my attitude will probably remain a simple:


Fortunately, I have found some articles, which have the potential of changing my mind on these tools.   The first article talks about how a user set up an account to create a role-playing environment.  In this environment he and others acted as characters from a video game that they liked. While in this environment they expanded the storyline of the game with the messages that they sent back and forth.  The second article shows an example of how a user setup a series of twitter messages to develop a Choose Your Own Adventure book for users.

By following like applications you could use these tools to connect to and expand your content. Here you are creating a bridge to your content and expanding your universe where your content isn’t static—it’s dynamic and can change based on your user interactions. These applications also follow a game like flow, creating an engaging environment for your users.

What You Need
So that seems cool, I wonder what you would need to do something like this…

Well the first thing is a story and characters within your content. In the CLL we have a couple of series that would make ideal applications.  There is Professor Lester and his focus on safety; Dr Bolus and the Sugar Sleuths with their focus on patient care, and our newest star, Jackie Bauer and her determination to save the day.  The Infection Control group also has a start with this in their germ character that is a common theme in their courses. Imagine getting a tweet like this:


Next you need to tie in and bridge to your content.  You’ll need to define people to play your characters and give them guidelines to follow. Then let them go at it— initially you may need to do some marketing to build and maintain your environment.

Finally you will need a microblogging tool; fortunately this is the easy part as there are many out there.  For BJC you will probably want to use Yammer as there is a current organizational account with this tool.  Since it is organizational, only BJC employees will have access to the story and content that you create.  To sign up for this tool all you need to have is an active BJC Groupwise email account.

Sounds easy huh, well maybe not but if you want to try it, I’m game for now!