Instructional Design Basics


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:


The Problem with Information


Bring your own device (BYOD) is catching on; basically businesses are giving employees the option of bringing in personal mobile devices to use with company networks and systems.  This practice is interesting as I wonder about the support and security issues surrounding it.  It’s also interesting in that training departments have been using a like model for some time—here our students are bringing in their own content (BYOC).

In this regard, we live in an information age and our students are skilled at living in it.  In this world if you don’t know something you Google it or post a question to your social network.  Feedback in this world is often immediate and detailed. And as social networks and informal content channels grow, the use of BYOC will continue to expand.

This expansion should be an area of concern if you are dealing with compliance and regulatory concerns. In this regard you need to ensure that your employees get a consistent message and that the content they are using meets the unique needs of your organization.

Guide Your Novice Users

Normally having access to information is good as it creates an avenue to address and answer your questions.  And the faster you can access the needed information, the quicker you can get back to your job.  So the information age sounds like a great place and this would be true, if, everyone was an expert. We know though that this isn’t the case and that a large number of our students are novices.

These users are a challenge as they may not have the existing scheme and structures needed to distinguish between good and bad content.  In addition, they may not understand the context of use within your organization, so a chunk of content may be good but only in certain situations.   Besides lacking these skills new users may also be overwhelmed with the amount of content that is out there—finding the right answer can be daunting when confronted with a 100+ results.

Networks Can Be Bad

Our second challenge with BYOC deals with its informational sources.  Content in this age is no longer top-down and anyone can produce it.  Technologies and services like Wikis, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress,... have created an environment where anyone can easily produce and distribute content.  This new system is problematic as the validity of its content is questionable.

In the era of the top-down content model we knew that content was developed by recognized subject matter experts, followed a systematic review process and had a series of checks in-place before anything was distributed.  This is no longer the case with many of the informational sources your students are visiting. Here many of these sites and communities rely on social policing activities to validate their content. Users in these environments rate and edit content to ensure that it is accurate and appropriate; however, this social vetting process can take time and doesn’t always work.

A disturbing element to this problem is the trust that users place in their social networks.  Here we have a natural tendency to trust content from our communities and connections. In this world, if Suzy recommends an inappropriate article and you are connected to Suzy; you are predisposed to accept that content as credible and useful as well.  And when this happens it doesn’t take long for bad content to get distributed to a large group of people.

Put the Top-down on Social Content

With these concerns in mind, the information age may not sound like a nice place—here bad content is abundant and our users may lack the skills needed to discriminate between the good and the bad.  This doesn’t have to be the case though and the IS groups that are embracing BYOD offer a good approach for us to follow.  Mainly, these groups have recognized that BYOD is happening—people are bringing in their personal mobile devices and are using them for work— and have tailored their support and security procedures around this reality.

We need to do the same thing with BYOC, that is, recognize the reality and come up with an appropriate response to it.  One crucial component of this response will be to figure out how to control and filter content for our novice users.   Updating our roles to include curation activities may help address this area—here we can use the same sites and communities that our learners are using in order to help them filter content.     By publishing, sharing, organizing and recommending content in these areas we can again establish a the top-down system voice that says, “this is a good article and reflects our practice of…” and “this content isn’t appropriate as it doesn’t address…”

In my next post I’ll describe some curation options that may help you begin your response here.


The End is Nigh?

Despite some predictions 2011 is over and we are still here. The end of the world didn’t happen and the failed rapture pictures made good light of this subject.  So we survived 2011, but don’t feel too safe as the Mayan calendar ends in 2012—so the end of days may really be nigh.

Today I’ll give you my own predictions for 2012 and beyond.  But before moving on to this you may want to see What was on my mind in 2011 as that influenced my thoughts here and for those that need to be in the proper mood for the future, please see this prediction from Conan.

And with that we are now ready to look into the future……

2012 and Beyond

1. You will finally be asked to do mobile learning and you will fail

Smartphone and tablet penetration; Wifi and 4G network speeds and the buzz surrounding these technologies will finally trigger the higher-ups to call for this.

All of this is good as we need to move in this direction and the resources/time needed to develop solutions here will require champions and support from the top.   As my prediction indicates though be prepared to set realistic expectations from this group as you will experience many speed bumps entering this realm.

Some of the things to watch out for in these pursuits are:

Same ole same ole
Web based learning has been around for some time and people still try take stand-up training and force it into an on-line format.  I’m sure many of you have taken these courses and know that they are not fun or effective when it comes to learning.

This same problem will occur with mobile learning, that is, people will try to force content from another delivery method into it.  Here content from stand-up training or web based training will be pushed onto a mobile solution with like results—bad or boring content.

For this to work you must approach it as a new delivery system and understand what it brings to the table, that is, what it offers that the other methods do not.  Key differences here will help you determine appropriate use and strategies for mobile.  And in this light remember, mobile learning isn’t just web based learning with a smaller screen.

One key to mobile learning is the location-based abilities inherent in this technology.  These tools allow you to determine your users location—where they are and what they are doing.  This context is a powerful tool and will allow you to push/pull training content and performance support tools that are relevant to their immediate environments.

Change is good?
These technologies have been around for some time, but that doesn’t mean industry standards have been set for Mobile Learning.  Here change is constant and the field is really just starting to figure out where to go and what to do.

In this regard you will have to answer questions on what browsers and OS to support; what interface standards (mouse, touch, gesture or voice) to follow and use; and whether to develop applications or browser based content.  Here you will need to try several prototypes and pilots in order to determine best use and practices for your students.

And once you have that figured out you’ll need to watch out for what is coming next as there is always another new feature or ability with this technology.

2.  Formal training wins

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other sites are now a part of our lives. And in this regard learning professionals are beginning to see how they can be used to support training.  Here they are using these technologies to push content in the form of blogs, wallposts, feeds and other mass distribution strategies. They are also using these technologies to create mentoring opportunities as the social networks within these sites can identify experts and trends to follow.

Such applications are making Informal and Social Learning opportunities too big to ignore and like mobile learning, your higher-ups are going to start asking about it. However, before this can really happen, something is missing from the picture.

In this regard there are real concerns about maintaining ownership of your content and keeping it private. There are also concerns about how to measure success and learning—after all, how can you determine Return on Investment (ROI) if these approaches are informal and outside of your normal tracking activities.

Some progress has already been made on these concerns and it is only a matter of time until they get resolved.  Here someone will figure out how to tie social and informal learning into your learning management systems and when this happens, Formal wins, that is, everything in essence becomes formal.

The Future LMS
In an environment like this, administrators are setting up filters, tags and other back-end preferences to control recommendations and connection suggestions. They are monitoring trends and emerging experts to place additional controls for pushing and pulling content.  Most importantly, everything that is happening on your site will be tracked and reportable.

As these environments arrive a new perspective will begin to take place regarding informal and social learning activities.  Today these activities are self-directed—here we are letting our students find their way.  As things get more connected and formal, we move into hive-directed—here the community activities and preferences will identify where and what our students should do.

Updates, check-ins and other activities will identify:

  • Training objects that related professionals have taken,
  • Subject experts that your student should connect with or follow and
  • Content that is trending.

Note that this future LMS isn’t just about assigning and reporting on training—it’s about direction, that is, what information will best help your students find their way.

3.  We are not going away

A few years ago I realized that course building tools and templates had become so cheap and easy to learn that most people could learn how to develop online training.  In addition, people are more comfortable with online content—they have an idea of the look and feel for online courses.

These thoughts caused me some distress and had me worrying about my job. Here I wondered if my skills would be relevant in the near future.  Looking at my 1st two predictions though has eased some of these thoughts as I know it will be up to the existing learning professionals to figure this all out.

Moving forward we will need instructional designers and other learning professionals to guide us in these new directions.  These people will take on the crucial tasks of:

  • Defining the new designs, strategies, assessment, and other elements that will make up these new approaches,
  • Identifying emerging tools and technologies that meet existing and new learning needs and
  • Guiding instructors, subject matter experts, and project sponsors in the new roles that will be created with these approaches.

Overall none of my predictions are that ground breaking and I’m a little lenient on when they might occur.  This is good though as I really don’t want to look as foolish as the end of the world folks.


NSFW or Is It

Sometimes I have ideas that might be fun for courses but never get the chance to implement them.  The other day I had one of these on using Internet memes.  This approach wouldn’t work well for many audiences so I doubt I will get a chance to try it anytime soon.  So rather than let that idea fall to the wayside and be forgotten I thought I’d share it.

After all maybe you could find a use for it and if not, maybe it will trigger some other idea that may be more appropriate for one of your audiences.

One popular type of meme is to reuse an image to convey a concept—maybe it’s a bad friend that everyone has or a superficial complaint about having a difficult life. Regardless of the concept, these memes can be pretty funny and the 40 best memes of 2011 post has many great examples of them.

Make a Note of This

If you look at some of these memes you may start to see a connection to content pieces you have within your courses.  For example a lot of us deal with new software implementations and a lot of this content deals with:

  • Notes—this is content that highlights specific steps or values to use within the software.
  • Activities to Avoid—this is content that identifies specific steps or values to avoid within the software.
  • Selling Points—this is content that will sell or highlight why the software is useful.
  • Tips and Tricks—this is content that identifies activities that will allow you to use the software to its fullest potential.

So let’s take a look at how this content may get represented with a meme.  Here a popular strategy that is used with software manuals is to create note boxes for Notes, Tips and Tricks and Warnings—instead of the standard note box you could use a meme:





Other ways you may represent your other content pieces with these memes are:

  • Interrupting Kayne—could be used to identify Notes
  • Scumbag Steve—could be used to identify Activities to Avoid
  • Success Kid—could be used to identify Selling Points
  • Most Interesting Man—could be used to identify Tricks and Tips

Quote This

Let’s use another popular strategy to highlight how these memes could be used.  Here we can look at the quote boxes, which is a technique that is used to break up text and highlight a chunk of content that you want people to remember. With this technique you can highlight key information, facts/figures, or an interesting piece of content.  And a use of this might be:





Post This

Wallposts and Twitter comments are a common activity for many of us today and these activities can be a way to push content to your users. These informal techniques may engage your users in a way that your normal course content can’t and may lead them to access formal content for further learning.

To get this started you can use an avatar of one of these memes and start posting short content chunks.  Part of these messages can contain links for further information:





Where to Find Your Memes

The following sites can help you out with identifying memes but you might want to be careful when accessing them, as this content is not always suited for work.

Don’t let that stop you though as these memes are becoming more mainstream and a popular way to express ideas.  So today this may only be suited for a small audience (generation Y and some gen Xers) sooner or later though most of us will know what they are and be comfortable with their use.


A Case for Informal

One day in the distant future I’ll ask my son to do something and he’ll indignantly reply, “Why.”

Yes—it is only a matter of time until Max cops an attitude. When this happens I’ll probably break out the standard, “Because I said so,” as this is the answer that I got whenever I asked that from my parents, teachers or any other person in authority.

But in this regard Max will have a point, asking “Why” is valid and not without merit.   We do need reasons for our activities—especially when those activities come at the expense of other needs.  Juggling priorities and resources is something that we deal with a lot in the training world and as such, “why,” is a question that you may be asked when looking at Informal and Social Learning pursuits.

Today I’ll give you a better response to this than, “Because I said so,” as that probably isn’t going to fly with those asking that question now.

Know Your Audience

In previous posts I’ve talked about the need to understand your audience. One of the main things to define here is their level of expertise—do you have a group of novice users or are they experts when it comes to your training content.  Such knowledge will help you determine your content and design needs.

For instance, if you have novice users you may need to add extra scaffolding and structure into your course.  Their lack of knowledge will hinder their choices on where to start, what questions to ask and their ability to determine how well they are doing (metacognition skills). All of this may mean you need to develop a linear and controlled course—the Tell, Show, Do structure works well here.

Focusing on those concerns though doesn’t mean you have covered all your audience, in fact, experts or those that have some expertise in your content have opposite needs.  A big no-no with learners in this regard is to waste their time—making them take a bunch of content that they already know or forcing them down a path they don’t need will alienate these students.   Your experts need the freedom and ability to skip over content that they already know.

This is something that we have recognized with our training and have addressed this concern by developing test-out options where appropriate.   Besides gaining the love of our students, these tests-outs have also saved a bunch of money in time saved.

So with experts and semi-experts it makes sense to hit this concern—only give the content that they need—here everyone is happy right?

Practice makes perfect

It would be nice if it was that simple, but as learning professionals we should be concerned with growing everyone’s skills.  By allowing experts the ability to skip content we are missing out on a chance to refresh their knowledge, practice their skills and improve their expertise.  In this regard we may meet the training and compliance requirement but that is it—here we are not changing or improving performance which is what training is suppose to be about.

So you have a dilemma when it comes to this group—do you force them to take training and waste time or do you let them test-out and forgo any improvement opportunities.  A Yogi like, “Yes” is the appropriate response to this dilemma.

Here you should support your formal training activities with informal learning.  These informal activities provide the chance to improve the skills of your experts without forcing them down a content path. Since these techniques tend to be on the pull side of training (users pull the content to themselves) you are giving these users the freedom and choice they demand—here what they take and when they take it is open.

Deep Thoughts

Besides giving them the freedom to practice their skills, these informal techniques also provide other benefits. Many of the Web 2.0 and 3.0 features used with Informal Learning activities are focused around user generated content.  Here posting content, replying to content, and rating content are all keys to creating an active environment.

And if you look at these activities and apply them to behaviors noted in Blooms level’s of learning you will find that they match up to his highest levels (synthesis and evaluation). So by participating in these informal opportunities, your experts may form a deeper understanding of your content.

This deeper understanding of content is something that I have experienced directly. In this regard,  I was an Instructional Design expert before I started this blog—I had the experience and formal schooling that said so—but since starting it my knowledge on ID has increased tremendously. By supporting your experts with informal learning techniques you will provide them with a means to achieve similar gains.

Improve Your Experts

So why indeed!

  • Is there a need to improve expert performance?
  • Is creating opportunities that allow for a deeper level of understanding a bad thing?

Hopefully in this light, your response to that question becomes a little clearer now. In truth we should aim to improve performance with all of our students, unfortunately though our formal training interventions are usually aimed at only doing that for novice employees.  Informal techniques though provide an environment that can foster this growth.