Instructional Design Basics


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about other tools and I came to the conclusion that we as trainers are doing the same thing, that is, we are giving outdated and useless tools to our students.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 So in a sense, they are a little outdated and kind of useless.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.


Highway to the Danger Zone

I’m not a big fan of Tom Cruise; in fact a comedian I saw many years ago, summed up my thoughts on him:

“... he basically plays the same character over and over…

Cocktail— he was a cocky bartender that was challenged by his past; he falls in love and overcomes his challenge.

Days of Thunder—he was a cocky race car driver that was challenged by his past; he falls in love and  …

Top Gun—he was a cocky pilot that was…”

His movies and characters have evolved a little since then, but for the most part he still repeats many of the same themes.   And as such, I am always a little hesitant to acknowledge him or his movies.

But today I want to mention Minority Report as it had some pretty cool ideas about our future.  One scene that I found particularly interesting is the one in which his character is walking through a mall as advertising jumps out at him.

I find this scene interesting as the technology demonstrated in it is not that far away. In fact, thanks to the recent growth in Smartphone and Tablet usage as well as advances in augmented reality, you might argue that it is already in place. In this regard, there are currently thousands of unseen objects just waiting to jump out at you.

Was Blind but Now I See

In several past posts I have talked about augment reality (AR) and how it might be useful for training activities.  With augmented reality, the user’s senses—what they see and hear—is augmented by some external device.

Many of us have experienced a form of this while watching a Sunday afternoon football game. Here extra visual information is added to the TV screen in the form of the Yellow 1st down line or with the Pen tool that highlights a person or place on the field to watch.  These tools help focus our attention and can greatly increase our understanding of what is going on within the game.

Recent mobile devices (Smartphones, Tablets, …) have technologies in place that allow for these same abilities. Here audio and visuals can be projected onto whatever environment we are interacting with at the moment.  And a key to this experience is the location information that our mobile devices can gather about us.

This information is important because it helps training administrators decided what their users might need to know. Specifically by determining where a users is, what is around them or what they are doing, administrators can deduce what their users may need help with and push appropriate content to them.

When Push Comes to Shove

There are currently several technologies that support these activities:

Each of these technologies contains triggers that administrators can use to push content onto mobile devices.  And how or what you want to push to your users will depend on your training needs.

Some things that you might want to push though are instructor lead materials that facilitate the user experience.  In this regard you could display a map over the user’s screen that provides directions to the different classrooms.  In addition, each classroom could be linked up to display needed classroom resources.  Here the users could access job aids, manuals, and other content through these augmented screens.  A final
classroom activity that may improve the user experience deals with level one evaluation—here your evaluations could be setup so that the surveys launch directly onto your users’ mobile devices.

Besides facilitating classroom sessions you could also use these technologies to present course content.  In an earlier post I describe how a course could be developed around QR codes but the other technologies offer similar abilities.  The GPS utilities in particular present some unique opportunities here as the triggers can be based on the user’s proximity to a location.

Regardless if you use this technology or not, it’s out there now and there are thousand of objects just waiting to catch up with you. And as Tom Cruise’s character found out, you can’t run away from them.  One day you’ll have to deal with it—let’s just hope you don’t have to take as drastic of an action as his character took.



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?



Location, Location, Location

My dad is kind of a conspiracy nut—he has certain theories about a shadow government that while intriguing are not likely based on reality.  You may note that I said likely here rather qualifying them as outright hoaxes.  You see my fondness for science fiction and growing up with my dad’s stories has shaped me into someone that doesn’t believe in them but I can see how they could happen.

Many conspiracy enthusiasts think that the government is too powerful and invasive—the big brother fear.  Here the government knows exactly where you are and what you are doing.  And though I don’t think this is happening, this day could come as mobile technologies offer some powerful abilities in this regard.

Rather then worry about this, today I am choosing to look at how I can use these technologies to help with training.

A recent development with mobile technologies is the incorporation and use of location data.  Here your location is captured and shared. Location is useful information in regards to training as it provides context about what you are doing and where you are.  With this knowledge, smart designers can use push/pull techniques to support their user’s learning needs.

Now in order to discuss this I want to step back a bit and look at something that you may be familiar with— the Microsoft Office Assistant.

This virtual assistant watches you as you work within Office and will pop up occasionally to talk to you about what you are doing wrong in it.  The assistant will then offer tips on using the software.

The tool is useful as it can provide timely information about what you are doing.  This is because the assistant knows your location, that is, where you are within the software. And with this information the assistant can diagnose what you might need help on.

Such contextual information is important for novice users, as they often don’t know what they need help on. In this regard, they don’t have the metacognition skills needed to determine how well they are doing.  They may also have limited access to important information about what they are doing so providing them with additional resources is a good thing.

A nice feature of the assistant is that it gives you the ability to customize your assistance needs. The tool recognizes that you may have unique needs and can tailor its content to meet them. And as your experience and comfort levels increase you can slowly wean yourself away from the assistant.

So this framework is an example of where giving someone the option of monitoring your location—in this case where you are in a piece of software—is a good thing as that assistant can help you.  We should be able to accomplish similar pursuits by using location abilities within mobile devices.

You are Here
With mobile location services there are two approaches that are being used. The first one centers on using AR technologies to tailor content to your needs.  These services often focus around performance support activities that can provide information on where to go and on what you are seeing. The second approach centers on a check-in concept and requires the user to engage in their environment. Here users “check-in” in order to gain privileges or complete tasks for that location. This interactive component can create a game like atmosphere for the users.

Both of these location services could readily be used to support training activities. Orientation in particular could benefit from an approach using these tools—new hires, transfers, patients and family members all have orientation needs. Here people are in a complex environment and probably have a whole series of questions that they need to ask. By knowing where they are, we can push/pull content to them before they even realize that they need to ask these questions.  For example a new hire orientation may go something like:

  1. Jon just started at the hospital and has been assigned the, “The case of the missing patient.” His first stop is at the registration desk where he scans a QR code to find out about the patient.  A clue here directs him to the radiology department.
  2. At the radiology department, Jon talks to Shelly and gets her augmented ID information. Part of Shelly’s profile has a presentation on the radiology department- its equipment, schedules, staff, etc.
  3. Jon now knows a lot about the radiology department but needs to get back on the case, he scans another QR code to find another clue.

Big Brother Needs to Hook a Brother Up
Location is just one bit of contextual data that could be used for training.  For instance the rise of social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, …) has created opportunities to access the complex social connections within members of a community. Here subject experts and trending information can be collected and dispersed. Additional data elements that include your schedule of activities (calendar functions) and training activities (LMS functions) are other useful data sets.

Training professionals would benefit from tying all of this data together:

  • Social connections (who),
  • Training requirements (what),
  • Calendar appointments (when) and
  • Location information (where),

When this is the case we will then have an environment that can evaluate each users possible training needs and how those needs fit into current and future environments.  Formal and Informal resources can then be pushed/pulled to your users as needed.

All of that data being collected is kind of scary and something Big Brother could be doing right now. And if so, I am more concerned about how they are doing it as I can see a use for it as well.


The only constant is change

When I was getting my start in Instructional Design, there was a shift from computer based training (CBT) to web based training (WBT).  Since then there have been several other major and minor changes that have come to redefine needs and directions in the field, such as:

  • Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Content Management Systems (CMS) have come and merged (LCMS). These systems allow workplace learning professionals (WLP) the ability to track and assign all of their training needs, while also providing versioning and content development controls.
  • Rapid response authoring tools have become affordable and easy to use. Such tools provide access to templates and forms designed to speed up course creation efforts.   With these tools, designers can create engaging content without the need for extensive programming and or graphic development    resources.
  • Web 2.0 and other technologies have opened up course delivery options. The days of massive text heavy courses are numbered. Online courses no longer have to be text heavy page turners or simple lecture based adaptations of content.  Rather, new technologies have made games, simulations and other exploratory environments realistic options for designers.   One recent trend focuses on using these technologies to support collaboration and other social learning activities.
  • Single source options such as XML and conditional profiles have addressed management and maintenance obstacles inherent in projects with multiple user populations. With single source tools, you can publish multiple training outputs from a single content source.

There is one change though that hasn’t truly made its mark yet.  This change has made a little head way, but it has mostly been explored only as a curiosity.  The change I am talking about is mobile learning and its day is about to come.

Check out the table below to see the reasons why mobile learning hasn’t truly caught on yet and what is in the future for this delivery platform.

Adoption barrier Current status Future
Insufficient processing power and storage space. Processing power and storage capabilities have advanced enough to allow mobile devices the ability to play and store all types of multimedia (music, videos, podcasts, image slideshows,…).

The standard storage capability of new mobile devices is around 8 gigs. In addition SD and Flash memory cards can be added to these devices to increase storage space needs.   A 2GB SD card can be bought for around $10.

The processing power and storage space of these devices will continue to advance.
Limited application abilities. For example, these devices primarily acted as a music playing device or as a phone. The “App store” is a reality for smartphones and other mobile platforms.  These devices now have access to tens of thousands of applications.

In addition the role of these devices has expanded to include camera, video, and text capturing capabilities.

More standardization of hardware and software capabilities will increase the usefulness of these devices.
Limited internet functions:

  • Early mobile web browsers only support simple text/image based content.
  • Many mobile devices relied on desktop synchronizations.
Mobile devices use true web browsers and can use server side software that allows for complex interactions and LMS tracking abilities.

These devices also have network access wherever WiFi or Cellular networks are available.

The use of Augmented Reality (AR) applications, Global Positioning System (GPS) and ability to connect to social networks will greatly expand the use and role of these devices in learning.

The constant online presence established by these devices will allow you to push/pull content based on your need and location at that time.

Slow download speeds. 3G cellular networks have download speeds in the range of 144Kbs – 2Mbps.  These speeds allow for full-motion video, streaming music and 3D gaming.

3.5G networks have download speeds in the range of 384Kbs – 14.4 Mbps.  These speeds allow for on-demand video and videoconferencing.

Broadband access almost anywhere at any time.  4G network estimates range from 100Mbps – 1Gbps. This will allow for high-quality streaming video and high-quality videoconferencing.
Early mobile devices were limited to a small screen. Screen size for smartphones and media players has increased some but is still relativity small. To address this issue, new devices have the ability to zoom in to view fine details. Tablets, E-readers, Netbooks and other devices may broaden their use to account for this need or current 3rd party products (Viewdock) may arise to extend screen limitations.
Limited penetration of smartphones and advanced media players There are currently 30 to 50 million smartphone users in the US and estimates indicate that within the next two years 49% of all US mobile consumers will purchase an advanced mobile device. These devices will become common place among US users.

As the table identifies mobile learning as a delivery platform is fast becoming a viable option for training solutions.  It is time to start thinking about how you may one day use this and in future blog entries I plan on helping you make some choices here.