Instructional Design Basics


Educational Videos: Creating Them for Conceptual Objectives

* This post originally appeared in elearning industry.

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

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

With that in mind, let’s get started:

1.  Hipsters

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

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

2.  Happy claps

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

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

3.  Animation

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

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

 4.  Meet Bob, Romance and Save the World

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

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

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

5.  Flat Design

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

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

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

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

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


The Art of Selling

In an earlier post I mentioned a need to sell ourselves to the big wigs, after all, without their support we can’t get the funding we need in order to implement our training solutions.   There is also another group of users that we need to sell to—our students and here we are selling content rather then our business impact.

This can be a difficult task and as such I’ve included the following link to give you some tips:

Whoa, that was close.

Ok so that isn’t a good lesson, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying. Today I’ll talk a little more about our need to sell content.

Attitude Adjustment

Often our training initiatives have attitudinal objectives that are aimed at changing student beliefs, feelings and predispositions. This type of content can be problematic as there isn’t an explicit way to measure changes focused around a student’s attitude. And as such, some designers argue that this need can’t truly be represented as training content.

However, I believe that these types of objectives are perfectly acceptable and that this content is absolutely necessary for successful interventions.  After all, most designers would agree that answering the “what’s in it for me,” question is a key part to getting our users to complete and implement training.

Here we know that people are resistant to change and so we need to make sure our students “buy-in” to the idea that the training will make their lives better. Failing to provide this motivation can mean that our students do not fully adopt the content or change their behavior.  Besides selling them this idea though there are other student attitudes that you may want to change in your interventions.

For example with the Infection Control project, there is an attitudinal objective that I want to cover on the need to value our patients.  Part of this is covered in the, “Describing consequences of poor infection control” objective, but more emphasis should be placed on reinforcing this attitude.  So in order to demonstrate a “value of our patients,” the students will also:

  • Describe our patients—who there are, what they have done, what they still want to do, …
  • State our patients conditions—how they feel, what they can expect to feel, what are their fears, …
  • Describe how other people are impacted by our patients conditions—family, friends, other patients, staff, …

Walk in My Shoes

With the attitudinal objective defined in those terms, I can start developing content as well as determine an appropriate strategy.  Specific techniques for teaching attitude objectives are similar to teaching Procedural knowledge.  These techniques are based off of the work of Bandura and call for you to:

  • Provide a persuasive message
  • Model the desired behavior
  • Have the student practice the desired behavior and then
  • Reinforce the desired behavior.

So for this part of the training, I plan on using twitter and other micro-blogging tools to create a collaborative environment.  Here role-playing and story completion activities will allow students the ability to interact within the content and model the desired behavior.   These tools will also allow me to create an environment that defines the persuasive message and model the desired behavior.

In addition, by using services like Storify I can expand the usefulness of the content.  With Storify you can bundle your Tweets with other articles, posts and media to develop a rich storyline that users can read as a whole.  This bundling ability allows you to shape the content as it develops.

As for content I haven’t made much progress yet as I am still playing with the technology and trying to find the right voice.  For now though I have created a Twitter account (@Indexpatient) and have composed several tweets with different types of structures:  Conversation,  Watching or listening to something,  Internal Dialog,…

And by reading these examples you can start to see the potential story telling abilities with this approach.  As your read these notice that you have the option to link to other content within your posts, this ability allows you to create a much deeper experience. In my example, a video slideshow relating to the story will play if you select the link.  You can use these links to expand the storyline or use them to cover specific content—maybe it’s a definition or a Wikipedia link on infection characteristics.

You should also note that each post provides the opportunity for others to reply, which can create the role-playing environment needed to model behaviors.  Here subject mater experts (SMEs) and trainers can take part in the role play or the students can interact with the story directly.

Getting this to work will take some planning but once the storyline is outlined, several tweets are ready to use and the various roles have been defined,  I can easily begin implementing an informal solution.

Practice Makes Perfect

In the movie I linked to earlier, Tommy Boy saves the day by learning how to sell. By practicing your skills with attitudinal objectives you can also learn how to save the day.  Here we can get our students motivated to take our content as well as shape their beliefs and attitudes.  There is a lot of power in this regard so make sure you are selling something good like valuing our patients.




Invisible Cats

Please click here to learn about an important topic.

Now what did you learn, was it something like this?

If you learned that, then you experienced a type of learning strategy for teaching concepts.  Specifically you encountered the Concept Attainment model.

Here examples and non-examples of a concept are presented to a learner.  This presentation helps users identify the attributes of a concept and from this, form an understanding of it. This process can be used for simple concepts like “Invisible Cats” as well as more complex concepts.

Today I’ll talk about some additional strategies for teaching concepts.

RSA—The Good

Many of you may have seen the RSA videos and if not I suggest you take a look at them. These videos are rather interesting and use a good approach to teaching conceptual information.

Here they use analogies, metaphors and images to help users visualize the concepts that are being discussed.  And what emerges from this discussion is a detailed graphic organizer of the key ideas and attributes of the concept.

This approach is also nice in that it hits multiple learning styles (auditory and visual) and having multiple inputs here, can help students form stronger connections to the content.  If you liked this approach you can check out Prezi, which is an application that allows you to create whiteboard presentations like the RSA videos.

RSA—The Bad

Now before you go out and copy this approach, I do want to cover some of the bad things introduced in these videos.  Some of these are:

Passive Activity—Video is a passive activity and on its own does not guarantee transfer.  To ensure success here, include other activities that force the students to interact with the content.

Linear Activity—Video is linear and forces users to sit through all of the content whether they need to or not. Video doesn’t easily allow users the ability to skim, skip ahead or review content.  Help your users out by making your videos short and to the point.  Also include player controls that allow for fast forward and rewind capabilities.

Cognitive Overload—These videos have a lot of things competing for your users attention.  The animations, images and panning can be a distraction to the main message that the speaker is covering.  Users can only attend to a limited amount of content so make sure all of your information is relevant and supports your main content needs.

Other Approaches

Video can be a resource intensive approach and may not be an option available to you.  This is ok though as you can address conceptual information in other ways.   For instance you can include the visuals used in the RSA videos to create static images that act as the graphic organizer.

An added option here would be to make the graphic organizer the main menu for your content.  This option would provide greater control to the user in relation to accessing the content and be more engaging then passively watching a video.  Besides the visual elements presented in the movie, you can also use simple text formatting, tables, charts and graphs to help users identify key attributes within a concept. For instance check out the following document to see how these simple tricks can be used to highlight the main ideas behind Engineering Controls in the Laboratory.

Engineering Controls

Not only does the revised content in this document highlight the main ideas behind the controls, but it also makes a nice handout that users can take away from the course. As such, focusing on a text approach can add some benefits that video can’t match.

Regardless of the approach you take remember to focus on your content—make your content interesting and relevant to your users.  The RSA videos are successful in part because their content is interesting. Here the lecturers have something meaningful to say and they say it well. Your topics probably won’t have the appeal as Invisible Cats but that shouldn’t stop you from keeping your student watching/learning.


Being Lost Isn’t Always Bad

A couple of months ago I went to Chicago and while there decided to meet some family friends. I’ve only been to Chicago a couple of times so this was a great occasion to break out my GPS unit and let it guide me to my destination.  So I plugged in the address and proceeded to drive.

Now you may not know this, but these units are not always 100% right as often there is construction or an odd street that will throw off your planned route. This is ok though as you can jump on a side street or take some other detour and the GPS will automatically recalculate your route.  If you do this enough times you will eventually get to your destination.

Well it just so happened that this trip had some unplanned construction located near the end of my route.  So as I neared my friend’s house, I ran into the construction and was forced to take a detour, a detour that made the trip much more meaningful.  You see the original route was all highways and main roads—it was the most efficient route to my friend’s house.

Fortunately for me though, this detour forced me into my friend’s neighborhood.  Here I got to drive around and see the fun little shops, restaurants and houses that made up their experience in Chicago.  I would have missed this with the original route and wouldn’t have understood why they liked living there so much.

From this experience, I learned that sometimes it is nice to jump off the planned route; especially if you have a tool that will eventually guide you back to your destination.  This is a lesson I can apply to my e-learning projects as well as I have been doing these for a long time and have identified some direct/efficient routes to follow.

Today I’ll talk about one type of project in particular that I have had a lot of experience with. Here I’ll share with you a route that will quickly get you to your destination. However, while using this route, don’t be afraid of the occasional detour as they can offer valuable experiences.  Also remember that your projects are unique and this uniqueness may require a detour as well.

Software Training Initiatives

We live in a technical environment and a common training need is software training—there is always a new piece of software or a new website that is designed to make our lives easier.  And if you are in a training/education role, you will probably have to develop a solution for this one day.

Fortunately, screen capturing software has made it easier to develop rich training content for software training initiatives. With relative ease a person can create demonstration movies of software procedures and functionality. Additional capabilities (tutorials and simulations) are included with many of these screen capturing tools and with them you can create powerful interactive environments for your users.

So with screen capturing software you have a tool for your solution but what about your content—what do you need to do here in order to get to your destination?

Knowledge Types

In previous posts I’ve talked about knowledge types, which are basically categorizations of the content you will develop in your course.  These categories are based on the objectives you have defined for your solution. You use these objectives and your knowledge type categorizations to guide you on what and how to develop your course.

And with software training initiatives you will need to address 4 key knowledge types:

A small but important part of your training should focus around selling the software. In this type of solution you are trying to get your users to buy into the idea of using the new software. Here you are trying to change their attitude—you want them to accept the new method of doing things.

Now this may not seem like a big need as users often don’t have a choice—the software is being implemented so they have to use it regardless if they like it or not. This may be true but with training you should think of potential stallers.

Phrases like “This software sucks” and “The old system was better…” are not uncommon with software implementations and if not addressed this attitude can derail your training.  Simply put, your users are not going to learn your content unless they have been sold the need for it or you have answered the “What’s in it for me” question. Failing to answer this may mean higher numbers of help desk calls once the software is implemented or that your users fail to use the software to its full potential

A significant percentage of your overall course objectives will be conceptual knowledge types; however, this will not transfer into a large percentage of your course content.  With this knowledge type you are basically describing the purpose of the various forms, pages, and reports that the user will use within the software. This is important information as it can be used to help sell the software being implemented and focus users on key values to use in the system.

For significant upgrades or new system implementations, cross tables can help users organize this information. Here you will want to indentify the old form/page that users used for a particular purpose and what the new form/page is in the software.

This knowledge type will probably be the bulk of your content and with it you will need to define the fields within the software as well as the data/values used within the fields.  Key values such as what not to enter or codes that trigger specific events need to be highlighted and noted with this content.

Since this is a large chunk of factual content, performance support tools can help your users transfer this knowledge once they complete their online training. To address this you should create additional materials that users can access after training is complete. Materials that users can print like job-aids and manuals can be useful in this regard.  Help files are an additional option that can be used here.  These files can be an especially useful as you can connect your content directly with the software by using context sensitive help functions.

This knowledge type will represent a large percentage of your overall course objectives and content. This content is where you define the specific steps and procedures users need to follow in order to use the new software.

As you create materials for this knowledge type you need to highlight the steps within the procedures. This information should list the specific forms, fields and values users need to process within the system.  As with the factual information, job aids and help files can be useful support tools for this type of content. Such treatments can be especially useful for complex procedures and for procedures that users do not encounter often.

With your procedural content, you should take care to develop realistic scenarios and make sure that any screen shots or simulations do not have junk or sensitive data displayed.

Getting to Your Destination

The following table will help you develop content for each of the above knowledge types:

Knowledge Types for Software Training Initiatives

Addressing the 4 knowledge types should provide you with the content you need to create effective training for software training initiatives. In essence this guide is your quick route to get you to your destination. And as you use it, just remember to keep an eye out for detours.


Assessing Your Assessment—Part II

Before getting into Instructional Design, I started off as a high school social studies teacher.  While prepping for that field, a main area of study for me was history and in one of my classes a professor once asked me, “why is the study of history important.”

Up until that point I had never really considered the why—for me, it was just something we had to do.  So in answer, I gave the usual, “you should study history so that you don’t repeat the problems encountered in the past.”  I thought that sounded pretty good, after all, there is a famous quote similar to what I said so it must hold some relevance.

However, my professor had a very different reason:

“The study of history is about cause and effect—this event lead to this result, which then lead to this...  So in essence, the purpose behind studying history is that it improves your critical thinking skills and is why history is taught in our schools.”

Hmmmm, now that actually sounds like a real reason for the study, unfortunately, it doesn’t match up with how history is taught. For instance, think back to your old high school history class—what kind of tests did you take; were the questions something like:

  • When did Columbus discover the new world?
  • Who conquered the Aztec empire?

I bet that’s pretty close to the truth—most of the tests you took probably centered on dates, names, and places.  And for the most part, these tests assessed your ability to recall and memorize facts and figures.  What they didn’t do was assess your critical thinking skills.

Now as may be common with my posts you may be asking yourself what this has to do with you. Well it’s simple, this is a common problem associated with test construction, this being, creating test questions that are not focused on the right thing.  Often the tests we create are focused on recall and memorizing facts and figures rather then the real purpose behind our training.

Knowledge Types
When constructing a test a way to avoid this problem is to step back a moment and reexamine your objectives, specifically, you should check to see how your objectives match up to your content knowledge types.

By using knowledge types you can break down any content into the following categories:

  • Fact
  • Concept
  • Rule/Principle
  • Procedure
  • Interpersonal
  • Attitude

These categories are important because they provide you with information on how each objective should be covered and assessed in your course.

In this light your test question needs becomes a little clearer, for instance:

  • If you have an objective that is a procedure, your assessment for that objective should be focused around testing the procedure. “Demonstrate how to …”
  • If you have an objective that is a rule/principle, you should assess that rule/principle,  “Calculate the ….”
  • If you have an objective that is a concept, you should assess that concept, “Distinguish between …”

Levels of Learning
The verbs you use in your objectives will start to highlight what is factual information or recall level and those that are at a deeper level of learning—the application level.  Verbs such as define, identify, list,… are aimed at recalling factual information and as such, like the history tests we took, probably don’t fully address your training needs.

Now it’s hard to talk about verbs for objectives and levels of learning without someone bringing up Bloom.  Bloom and his colleagues did some great work identifying levels of learning and establishing a hierarchy of these levels.  And if you want to use their work to help you develop your objectives and assessment needs you will probably be fine.

I will caution you though to think about your true needs while consulting Bloom’s work.  For instance, synthesis and evaluation are at the top of Bloom’s hierarchy—it is doubtful though that you will need to assess at that level with all of your content.  The important thing to remember here is your goal for the training; is it to change a specific behavior or to create a subject matter expert? Answering this should help you determine what level of learning your need to focus on.

In later posts I will expand on knowledge types and examples of questions to use for each type. For now just make sure you focus your test questions around the real purpose of your training.  Is it recall, is it application, is it to change behavior, or is it to create a subject matter expert?