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.


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.


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:



How the Jedi Masters Let Us Down


We live in a world where we as educators are competing with other knowledge sources—here our students are inundated with content and in my last post I talked about some of the problems with this. As our world evolves, our role as educators needs to change to address this competition. Here we need to do a better job marketing our content to ensure that our students get the right information and that they get it whenever they need it. This is especially important after your students have left the classroom.

To illustrate this need let’s look at the prequels for Star Wars—here the Jedi masters didn’t develop their skills to counter competing knowledge sources. So when young Anakin was being drawn to the dark side he didn’t have a nice chunk of content to bring him back to the force. Rather in these movies, when times were challenging, he was left to his own devices.  And since George decided to make Anakin a big baby in the prequels—all Anakin did was cry, rage and act like a wuss—Anakin’s move to the dark side was pretty much assured.

It’s probable that some of you have a young Anakin or two and that you want to avoid similar results—adding curation as part of your role may achieve this goal.

 Curation Tools

Finding, organizing and distributing content is a great way to keep your student on track after your class has ended.  And these activities are exactly what you need to be doing as a curator. Here you can share articles, podcasts, videos and other sources of content that supplement or expand on the topics you have covered in class.

This reinforcement is nice as it can help your students transfer knowledge into their real life experiences. In addition it can provide them with a nice refresher on content that they may not have used for some time.

The following table presents some tools to help you gather, organize and share content—with these tools you should be able to continue to guide your young padawans:


Type Examples Comments
Subscriptions  services Most web 2.0 sites allow for subscription services. Here you can sign up at the forum or topic level to get the latest content.This content is pushed to you through daily or weekly emails. LinkedIn Groups and Yammer are some specific sites that allow for subscriptions. This content is usually limited to one source and as such may present a narrow view of a topic.In addition these services usually require a membership account.  Tracking multiple memberships can be a hassle and may add to the level of spam in your inbox.
RSS Readers Most web 2.0 sites support RSS feeds. Here you can add feeds to your reader to get the latest content from a site or series of sites.Specific examples of RSS Readers are Google Reader, Feedly and Flipboard. Many of these applications are starting to use social networks to connect with trending information and recommendations.  In addition these connections facilitate the sharing process needed for curation.
News Aggregators These sites gather content through user submissions and automatic feeds.  These sites are often organized around topics and can use ranking features to separate good content from bad.Some examples of these types of sites are Digg, Google News and elearninglearning. These site gather content from many sources and they can help you find interesting content that you may have missed with other means.
Topic CurationSites These sites are focused around a specific topic that users create.  Here users can create pages that contain links to articles and resources on a topic.You can use these sites to tell a story or bundle a series of content around a theme. Once created others can access your page to review your content.Some examples of these sites are Storify, Bundlr and Delicious. These sites give you a platform to gather content on specific topics and themes.  Once set up you can easily share this information with your students.
Self Aggregation and Publishing These sites gather content based on feeds and search parameters that you define.  Once setup they publish a daily or weekly online paper that your students can access.Some examples of these are, News360, and Postano. These tools can connect to social sites to gather content relating to trends and recommendations. By doing this they can learn what you like and gather content around those likes.The publish aspect is nice as your students have a dynamic source of content that they can continue to access.
Social Feeds and Live Streams Social networking sites allow you to interact with your connections and networks.  Here you can see recommendations, likes, and trending information in your network.Some examples of sites like this are LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Many of the above sites are connecting with these technologies and using them as recommendation mechanisms.These sites make it easy to share information as users in your network see and follow your activities.


As you use these tools you may see some common trends and themes with them. Here these technologies are starting to converge and soon you will see curation tools that contains the following:

  • Content you receive is tied to your social networks—here Likes, Retweets, … in your live streams will be included in your content results.
  • Push mechanisms like publishing and sharing content will be tied to your social networks.
  • These tools will adjust to your behaviors—here what you read, like, share, … will influence your content filters.
  • The user interfaces for these tools will continue to advance and follow a newspaper or magazine layout.

As you can see there are a lot of options available on how to collect and share content with your students.  This is great as we all know how Anakin turns out in the prequels and we don’t want that. Here we want to continue to guide our students after their classroom experience ends—we want to keep them calm, focused and away from the dark side.

And if they turn to the dark side, well then blame just it on George after all he was the one that messed up Star Wars:

I wanted to acknowledge Audrey Woita’s contribution to these curation posts . Through our discussions and interactions, Audrey has helped define and shape the ideas and thoughts presented on this topic. If you ever need information on curation or other training activities she is a great resource.

Audrey’s LinkedIn Profile: