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about other tools and I came to the conclusion that we as trainers are doing the same thing, that is, we are giving outdated and useless tools to our students.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 So in a sense, they are a little outdated and kind of useless.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



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.


Family Secrets

Back in the day, I use to enjoy watching a little Jerry Springer. Hearing about dark and twisted family secrets, was a nice escape from my quiet life.

As I have gotten older I have realized a couple of things: the Jerry Springer show is terrible; and we all have our family secrets.

Today I’ll talk about a family secret that instructional designers and other learning professionals don’t like to acknowledge.

Performance Support

As learning professionals we like to talk about changing behaviors and measuring learning. To us this is what matters and what allows us to justify our existence.  Here if we can demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge then we have done our jobs.

However, there is an area in our field that doesn’t care about changing behavior or mastering skills. This area just wants you to perform your given task at hand.  And if you learn or master that task then good, but it isn’t really necessary. After all, if you need to perform that task again you can always refer back to that resource.

The area I am talking about is Performance Support and the following story helps illustrates what this is:

A reporter once asked Albert Einstein if he could have his phone number.  Einstein agreed and proceeded to grab a phone book to look up his number.

The reporter was intrigued that Einstein didn’t know his own phone number and asked about it. Albert’s response was, “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it.”

As the story illustrates, performance support tools are mechanisms that are designed to bypass the learning function.  Here you can perform your duties without having to internalize a chunk of content.  These tools often show up in the form of job aids, handouts and help files but can also take other forms.

A performance support tool that I have grown to love and depend on recently is my Garmin navigation system. This tool allows me to get to my destination without having to study a map and plan a route. It does all the work and as such I think Albert would have been a big fan.

The Secret

These tools are often easy to produce and distribute but that’s not why we don’t like to talk about them. Our secret is that they are very effective and can be used for a variety of knowledge types.

Now you may see why it’s our dark and twisted family secret.

As instructional designers and learning professionals we know that performance support tools are effective; however, they are not on the formal side of training. And how are we supposed to justify our existence if we don’t track the mastery of skills and knowledge?

Why We’ll Talk About It More

There have been some recent technologies though that might get us talking about these tools.  One I am excited about is the use of QR codes to augment the users immediate environment.  Here we can project 3d images onto a computer screen that the users can interact with and or observe.

With such abilities we could create better job aids that our users could access when needed.  Job aids that allow our users to:

  • View all sides and components of an object
  • Zoom in or out to pick additional details
  • Watch an animation of how a task is performed and
  • Interact with the animation to trigger certain actions.

Given the rising prevalence of smartphones, this is a technology that people will soon have ready access to.  And given the sophistication of smartphones, tracking usage should be an option that can be incorporated into our job aids.  So maybe those formal folks can quit worrying about justifying their existence.  Maybe they will even start to acknowledge our dark and twisted family secret.

Me though, I’m not so concerned with all of that—I just want to play with this stuff.