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.


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.


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?



Learning to Fly

While reading my posts you may have attributed some names to me that fall along the lines of dork, geek, nerd or even dweeb; after all, references about D&D, Star Wars and others clearly point to someone with those tendencies.  To clear things up though I have provided a link to a nice little Venn diagram that should help you determine exactly where I fall within this spectrum.

Regardless of which term you choose, a movie that nerds, dorks and geeks alike obsessed over in the late 90s was The Matrix and there was one scene in this movie that caught my eye as something that was particularly cool. This was the rooftop scene where Trinity learns to fly a helicopter:

Neo: Can you fly that thing?

Trinity: Not yet [pulls out cell phone] Tank I need a pilot program for a B-212 helicopter.

[Tank inputs the pilot program into Trinity]

Trinity: Let’s go!

This technology isn’t available now or in the near future; however, as a previous post identifies, using Smartphones and other mobile devices is fast becoming a viable option as a training solution.

A main reason why mobile learning is so appealing is its ability to push and pull content regardless of where your users are located.  With this delivery platform your users are not tied to a location—they can access your content whenever and wherever they need it.

Cellcasts (also known as a pushcasts) are one option that some are using for their solutions here. These initiatives focus around the idea of pushing content directly to your users mobile devices. This content is usually self-contained, self-paced and limited in scope to one or two objectives. It is usually small bits of just-in-time information and might be in the form of a podcast, vodcast, simple html text or a combination of these options.

A nice feature of this technology is that it can be tied to a learning management system (LMS), which will allow your managers the ability to track who received the cellcasts, their completion status and other useful information concerning their training.

Regarding this technology, there are several companies that offer software and services to support these types of treatments.  For an overview of each, along with a little more information on these approaches see the following links.

As can be seen with the above links, using these solutions, will allow your developers the ability to create mobile friendly content which can be pushed onto your user's mobile devices. In addition, you can control these pushes based on pre-determined rules and tie it back to your LMS.

BJC doesn’t currently have this type of solution available; however, if you are interested please voice that need so that we can investigate a business case for it. Then maybe one day we can save the next user stuck on a rooftop needing training.


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.