Instructional Design Basics


Don’t Make Me Wait


My driving routes to work and other places may appear to be random and half-hazard but this isn’t the case.  In fact these routes are often carefully setup to minimize the likelihood of traffic.  And though these routes sometimes result in longer commutes they typically lessen the amount of time spent in traffic.  This is good as waiting around drives me crazy.

Besides driving, this is a trait that is true in other areas and unfortunately for me, waiting, is a common occurrence with learning technologies. Often I have to wait on technologies to converge, infrastructures to get in place and for appropriate projects to emerge before I get to explore.

Today I’ll talk about a frustratingly long wait with mobile learning or mlearning.

You Got a Problem with Me?

Several years ago I wrote a post on issues that needed to be addressed before mobile could take off as a learning platform. For the most part those problems have been addressed but we still haven’t seen this platform really take off.

Part of this has to do with an early view of what mlearning should be.  In this regard, there was a an assumption that mlearning would be similar to elearning, that is, its content would be much like your typical online course, but just on a smaller screen.   If this assumption was true, then mlearning as a platform would have already taken off.

This hasn’t happened though as our assumptions about mlearning have evolved into something much more powerful.  Here learning professionals are looking at mobile technology in another way—they are focusing on what this technology brings to the table that the other platforms don’t and what they have found is context.

We’ve come to realize that these devices are able to determine where you are and what you are doing. In addition these devices have the computing and networking power to act on this contextual information. Here designers can use push/pull measures to deliver content that is related to a person’s immediate and future needs.

Context in this regard is an incredible performance enhancing tool, but unfortunately for me, it’s what has kept us waiting with this technology. The following table outlines some of the remaining issues with mlearning:



Where it’s At

As can be seen there are some significant barriers remaining, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.  In this regard there are some existing opportunities for mobile technology—two common strategies are:

Expert Access

Designers have seen the communication possibilities that are inherent in these technologies and are starting to use it as a pull tool.  Here by taking advantage of the voice, text, and video conferencing abilities that these devices offer, novice users can easily access experts in the field for questions, feedback and advice.

Designers are also looking at the push opportunities that these technologies represent—here they are using these devices to support reinforcement and practice activities. Such strategies are important as they will aid transfer and internalization of content.  In this area, having experts use curation tools can offer tremendous power as these tools can extend your learning activities.

Just-in-time Learning

Job-aids and handouts have always been popular tools to give to our students.  These tools are useful as they support our students in their working worlds.  Here when they need to perform their job, a student can easily pull out a job-aid or reference material and use it to complete the task at hand.

Designers have realized that mobile technologies can allow them to create more robust job-aids and reference materials.  And instead of simple procedural guides, checklists and handouts, we can now use Mobile Apps and ePublications to include video, augmented reality (AR) and other strategies to provide greater clarity for our students.  We can also act on the data that is inputted into these devices—such use can greatly impact ROI by increasing work productivity and decreasing error rates with some tasks.

Where it’s Going

All of this has me excited and looking for appropriate projects to explore; however, my real excitement comes when looking at the future.  The convergence of AR, wearable devices and connected profile information will create some intriguing metacognition tools.

In this regard, subject experts excel in their areas because they can apply more advanced metacognitive abilities in their field.  This allows them to focus on more stimuli as they work which in turn, also allows them to diagnose and evaluate their progress in deeper ways.  Soon these mobile tools will provide novice users with these abilities—here interfaces will allow them to focus on more things and provide them with more information on their progress.

The following video illustrates this as it demonstrates a possible Google Glass App. Today, expert runners are attuned to conditions (temperature, heartbeat, wind, pace, altitude,…) that novice runners are not. GhostRunner creates an interface that provides this information to all runners. This interface will alert runners to conditions that might impede their run and give them valuable feedback on how they are doing.

Such tools are going to offer amazing opportunities to improve performance and even though it means I have to wait a bit I’m OK with it—I hope you can stand the wait too.

GhostRunner Demo from OnTheGo Platforms on Vimeo.


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:



What Goes UP Must?

Physics is a science that we deal with everyday, yet few of us really understand the laws and principals that form this study.

Yeah we may have a cursory understanding of some of the concepts that surround it, but that is about it. And that’s ok as it isn’t really necessary to understand physics in order to get by; however, one thing that you must remember is that physics isn’t something you can ignore:

Don’t ignore physics

When it comes to online learning the same is true about SCORM, which is a key technology that controls your online training initiatives.   SCORM is a term that you may have heard about and you may even know what it is suppose to do, but few of us really need to understand it.  And that’s ok just as long as you don’t ignore it.

Funny Acronyms

SCORM stands for the Sharable Content Object Reference Model—you now know more about SCORM then most people—and as to what it is, well SCORM is a set if standards and specifications that enable web-based learning. It does this by allowing communication between your courses and your Learning Management System (LMS).

This communication is important in order to track your training.  Here your courses need to be able to update your LMS as to your users’ status.  Specifically you may need your courses to indicate:

  • When a user has started a course,
  • What page they were last on,
  • When they have completed a course and
  • What score they had in the course.

With this communication, you can prove your employees have fulfilled their training requirements when the State, Joint Commission, or other agency asks you to pull a training record from your LMS.

Another related technology is AICC, which is also a set of standards that allow for course and LMS communication. AICC stands for the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee and is an older set of standards for online training.  The main difference between the two is that AICC works better with content not hosted on your LMS and as such is often a popular choice when choosing a 3rd party vendor solution like McKesson.

The Dying LMS

There have been recent discussions about the death of the LMS.  Here learning professionals have talked about the rise of informal and social learning activities.  And it is true that these are some powerful methods to push/pull training content.  It is also true that much of our knowledge comes from on-the-job activities rather then formal training measures.  This however doesn’t signal the death of the LMS, rather quite the opposite.

Learning Management Systems are adapting to theses demands and are expanding their functionality. Here they are incorporating social learning by developing deep user profiles within their systems in order to track discussions, expertise and enable networking.  They are also developing mobile applications that will allow for informal learning integration. With these applications and the constant online presence available with mobile solutions your LMS will soon be able to track informal content in this regard.

Taking Advantage of Physics

So you can’t ignore these technologies—what then do you need to do?  Well this is where we come in as the CLL can set up your courses with the right standard or if you are building your own courses with Articulate, Captivate, CourseLab or Flash, we can walk you through the steps needed to use this technology.

All of which means that you’ll be good to go with SCORM— here you may not understand it, but at least you can use it with your solution.  And just like physics, you’ll be able to do some cool things with it:

A good use of physics