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Engaging Compliance Training: Is It Even Possible?


by Steve Lee, strategic relationship manager

Have you attended one of Allen Interactions many webinars on applying best in class instructional design based on Context, Challenge, Activity, and/or Feedback, better known as CCAF? If so, are you saying one or more of the following?


“Yeah, I would love to design my e-learning around CCAF, but I have compliance training and that just won’t work”
“I love your methodology for creating better e-learning, but it won’t work for me, my work is too content driven”
“I wish I could make my content less boring, but I only create compliance training, so there’s no chance.”
“How am I supposed to make laws and regulations fun and engaging?”

Well, we hear you! At Allen Interactions, we strive to share our knowledge of what goes in to making good e-learning, even when that e-learning is compliance training. So, we made this webinar just for you!

On August 27th I will be providing a quick 45-minute webinar titled Bored No More: Engaging Compliance Training with ZebraZapps. In this webinar, I will demonstrate how to turn even the driest compliance content into exciting activities that are meaningful, memorable and motivational. I’ll show best in class examples of compliance training from Fortune 500 companies, as well as walk you through how to start thinking about, sketching and even prototyping some of these designs in ZebraZapps.

If you are interested in transforming your compliance training, than you won’t want to miss this webinar!

It's Free! Register Now ▶

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Do You Know How to Create the Perfect e-Learning Challenge?


by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist | @ethanaedwards

I taught a few sessions of ATD’s e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate Program this past month. I love the opportunity to share insights into what makes e-learning work with instructional designers, both experienced professionals and talented designers just getting their feet wet, with creating experiences to teach online. Part of the value of the experience is to encourage people to trust their instincts about learning and about online experiences. So many examples of ineffective teaching and boring interactivity are modeled by existing courseware, and by the examples and templates advocated by a designer’s authoring tools. It is wonderful to share in those “Aha!” moments when students realize that e-learning design needs to be so much more than dumping content on the screen and then asking trivia questions about what the learner can remember.

Regular readers of Michael Allen’s books or of this blog know how fervently we preach the necessity of creating lessons centered on true instructional interactivity–or as we abbreviate it: CCAF design. A CCAF interaction has a compelling Context, a meaningful Challenge, a behaviorally-significant Action, and content-rich intrinsic Feedback. These are simple words, reasonably easy concepts to grasp, yet sometimes difficult to start designing around.

Impossible e-Learning Challenge

Creating the Perfect Challenge

Challenge is achieved through several different aspects of stimulating the learner to act. You want the Challenge to make the learner pause, to think, then be motivated, to persist, to create a solution. Unfortunately, Challenge is often confused with difficulty…and interactions that are difficult just to be difficult (e.g., tricky wording of distractors, challenges that focus attention away from actual performance outcomes, misguided emphasis on preventing cheating at the cost of teaching, etc.) end up creating obstacles to learning rather than challenges to make learning more accessible. 

But getting the Challenge right is often the main thing that changes boring modules into what I call “irresistible e-learning.” Irresistible e-learning captures the learners’ attention in a way that holds them captive (in a good way) so that learning and achieving and solving replace getting done as their primary motivator.

Challenge and risk are the primary drivers in most games, and organizations often seek (and regularly fail) to capture a similar appeal in their e-learning through “gamification.” The bad news is that creating games is actually a lot easier than creating e-learning. (For one thing, most games are developed with budgets and resources many, many times greater than typically devoted to e-learning.) But resources aside, games only need to create a compelling challenge that entertains. E-Learning must create a compelling challenge that also insures mastery of performance objectives that, on the surface, seem to defy interest. One of the greatest triumphs in e-learning design, though, is when you are able to capture both: and irresistibly compelling challenge and interactivity that leads all learners to mastery.

Breaking the "Challenge" Challenge Webinar

Breaking the Challenge Challenge Webinar | Tuesday, September 9th

If you are interested in exploring the challenge of designing good challenges, I hope you’ll join me for the upcoming Allen Interactions’ webinar Breaking the “Challenge” Challenge. In it, I will explore the parameters of designing good challenges, share some examples, and then apply this thinking to real-life examples provided by the participants. Those who enroll in 3 days in advance, or more, will have the opportunity to submit their projects as candidates for discussion in the webinar.

Date: Tuesday, September 9th
Time: 1:00 - 3:00 PM Central
Cost:  $99  $34.95 Staycation Education Discount!

Learn More & Register ▶ 

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6 Quick Ways to Engage with the e-Learning Community Using Twitter


by , Marketing Communications Specialist

The use of social media has made it easier than ever for us to connect with industry experts, thought leaders, and companies we admire! But sometimes it can be hard to cross the threshold of inserting yourself into the social media scene. So, if you aren’t yet harnessing the power of Twitter, here are a few tips from Allen Interactions to help you get started!


1. Beef Up Your Bio

Your bio is the elevator pitch of your Twitter profile! Tell readers in as few characters as possible what it is that you do and what makes you interesting. If you want to connect with other learning professionals, try adding a hashtag like #instructionaldesigner.

2. Use Hashtags

Hashtags allow users to categorize and find similar tweets. I So if you are looking for great tips on e-learning, you would search for #elearningtips or #elearningblogs. Hashtags are also used to start a trend, or to broadcast new ideas. Create your own hashtag, continuously use it and promote it, and see what happens!

3. Follow Twitter Lists

Twitter lists narrow down what you’re looking for and help cut down on the noise. For instance, there are tons of Twitter super users who have spent hours curating lists of great e-learning tweeters you should follow. Here are a few of our favorites:

Do you follow another great learning list? Post the link in the comments below!

4. Participate in Learning Chats

Make sure to join the conversations that are already happening on Twitter! There are several twitter accounts already dedicated to connecting learning professionals through asking questions and sharing knowledge. Check out these great chats:

  • LrnChat | Every Thursday 8:30 ET
  • Chat2Learn | See profile for upcoming dates
  • eLearnChat | Regularly scheduled interviews with learning professionals

5. Tweet (or Follow Tweets) From Events & Webinars

Most learning events, webinars and tradeshows today have hashtags that allow you to follow along with tweets from that specific event. This is a great way to get notes from presentations that you missed, connect with like-minded professionals and even connect with the presenters!

6. Ask Questions

If you have a question, Twitter is a great place to get answers! Ask a specific person or company for their feedback (just include @ + their twitter username). Want to ask us a question? Just tweet to @customelearning!

Pro Tip: Tweets starting with @username are seen only by you and the person mentioned. If you want everyone following you to see the tweet, make sure to start with another word or period.

Want to share this post? Here are some ready made tweets:

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10 Invaluable Books for Instructional Design


By , senior instructional strategist | @LearnerAdvocate
Angel Green senior instructional strategist

Sure, we all know the classics that line the shelves of many an instructional designer. There are The Principles of Instructional Design by Gagne, The Systematic Design of Instruction by Dick & Carey and of course, Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels by Kirkpatrick. Most of these are likely required reading in a Master’s Degree program on instructional systems design.

But, when you’re ready to move beyond the basics, below is a list of the 10 books I believe to be invaluable resources for instructional designers. And, because being an effective instructional designer means you understand more than just the content you are delivering, I have included a number of books in my list that have nothing to do with designing courseware or adult learning theories.


1. Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning, Michael Allen

This book is not first on my list simply because I work for Allen Interactions! In fact, I often joke that when I was offered my position at Allen, it was as if the mother ship had called me home. Long before I came to work for Dr. Allen, this book truly was one of my favorites. I was inspired by the Seven Magic Keys, MMM and CCAF. Everything in the book made great sense to me. I knew that great e-learning involved more than just the electronic delivery of content, and Guide to e-Learning gave me the proof I needed to push my project teams to design better.

2. Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen

In an industry like ours, which is so prone to theory-based, research-driven topics, Julie’s no-nonsense writing style is so wonderfully refreshing. She isn’t afraid to tackle some big issues, like whether or not there is validity in learning styles, yet she remains so approachable and down to earth. Julie Dirksen is like the instructional designer friend you meet with to talk shop over a pizza and a pitcher of beer. Both experienced and new instructional designers should find Design for How People Learn relatable, with plenty of analogies, metaphors and real-world examples.

3. The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, Karl Kapp

Even if your organization fears the word “gamification” or is leery of learning games, you’ll find value in this book. In it, Dr. Kapp balances academic research with real techniques and elements you can incorporate into your learning product design, regardless of whether you are calling it a learning game or gamification of learning. The conversational writing style and real-world examples creates an easy-to-read, useful reference guide. I often find myself returning to The Gamification of Learning and Instruction for clarity, reference and inspiration. In fact, I recently purchased the accompanying Field Guide, which I highly recommend after reading the book.

4. Leaving ADDIE for SAM, Michael Allen with Richard Sites

There is good reason this book was an ASTD bestseller and is causing such a wave in the industry – it really can help instructional designers and learning leaders create a higher quality product in a timelier manner. Understandably, a recommendation for this book from me seems a bit biased – after all, I co-authored the accompanying Field Guide with Richard Sites (which you really should purchase as a set, in my opinion). Therefore, I’ll let Molly Murnane (@MollyMurnaneID), Learning Consultant at Humana share her thoughts:

"Before Leaving ADDIE for SAM, I was stuck in an instructional design rut. I was creating training that was more about delivering content than creating learning. What I found in SAM is a commonsense, measurable way to create training that delivers results. Not only that, but SAM generates the conversations that gets colleagues excited to work together. Anytime you can deliver results and get people excited about training, it’s a huge WIN!"

Out of my list of 10, only the first four books target the industry of instructional design. As instructional designers, it is our job to motivate our teams, come up with creative ideas, sell those ideas to stakeholders, write effectively, and at our core, we must understand why people are motivated enough to change their behavior. In addition to the aforementioned instructional design books, I believe these books are also invaluable to instructional designers.


5. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, David Kelley and Tom Kelley

An interesting thing about being an instructional designer is that you must be very detail oriented and logical, but yet creative too! Well, at least if you want to create engaging, non-page turner or lecture based learning, then you need to be creative in your design. But, if, like many people, you feel you aren’t the “creative type,” I encourage you to read Creative Confidence. Brothers Tom and David Kelley describe, and provide real exampels for, how we are al equipped with the power to be creative; it just may be dormant, untapped or underutilized. And, because the authors are designers, a large portion of the book focuses on human-centered design and an iterative process. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book: “We aim to understand why people do what they currently do, with the goal of understanding what they might do in the future….An empathetic approach fuels our process by ensuring we never forget we’re designing for real people.”

6. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo

For those of you familiar with SAM, you know that the pivotal moment in the process is the Savvy Start. The Savvy Start is a two-day brainstorming and prototyping session. And, if you’ve ever been witness to overly planned and heavily orchestrated brainstorming, it often goes terribly wrong. Tons of funny YouTube videos and Dilbert cartoons poke fun of brainstorming, innovation and “thinking outside the box.” To ensure your Savvy Start doesn’t flop and wind up modeling one of those videos or cartoons, get this book! Gamestorming is filled with wonderfully detailed activities you can do with your Savvy Start participants to get the creative energy and ideas flowing in the room!

7. Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design, Bill Buxton

Before I came to Allen Interactions, my “design” consisted of many, many words. Needs analysis, design documents, even storyboards, filled with words used to gain approval. I thought (wrongly) that my extensive knowledge of the English language meant that I could find the words to describe what I was thinking. Today, my design process philosophy is, the fewer the words, the better. When trying to explain something, specifically in terms of an e-learning interaction, there had better be a way for you to see what I’m saying! Frequently, I am on the phone with a client and simultaneously snapping a picture of a sketch to email immediately just to ensure we are all on the same page. Sketching User Experiences was the start of my journey away from design documentation and into real design. Originally recommended to me by Dr. Allen, this fantastic book has literally changed the way I approach design.

8. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek

I purchased this book after a participant in a workshop told me about Sinek’s TED talk, which I immediately watched. The participant had been promoted to lead the training department in his organization, yet had never been involved in any type of training design or development (sound familiar?). He came to the workshop to broaden his knowledge of the industry. In it, he identified a wonderful similarity in the world of instructional design, specifically motivation (in MMM), to Sinek’s “Golden Circle.” The Golden Circle is Sinke’s representation of how, biologically, the human decision-making process works, and why people do what they do. While this book may be targeted to leaders, it only takes a tiny leap to shift from how to get consumers or employees to act to how to get learners to act. I added this book to my list because I believe recognizing the importance of the “why” helps you better design courses that gets learners to act.

9. Bringing out the Best in People, Aubrey Daniels

Fifteen years ago, this book was required reading in my master’s degree program, and has stayed by my side since. As an instructional designer who follows the model of Context, Challenge, Activity and Feedback (CCAF), I find so many wonderful gems in this book. For example Daniels writes, “Can we introduce and arrange consequences in such a way that tasks that are now difficult, dull, or boring, become exciting, challenging and rewarding? Is that possible? It most definitely is.” Daniels’ ABC model of Behavior Change (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequences) is a wonderful way to think of designing scenarios in training events. Provide the Antecedent, allow your learner to choose the Behavior, then demonstrate the Consequence (which can be positive or negative, immediate or future, and certain or uncertain) as the feedback based on the learner’s choice. Viola, CCAF and training that focuses on behavioral change!

10. Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

I’m a highlighter and a note taker when reading a book, and perhaps only the Guide to e-Learning and The No Cry Sleep Solution (this working mother needed babies that slept!) have as many highlights as Influencer! I even color-coded the highlights in my e-book. Green highlights related to instructional design and learners (i.e., “When leaders and training designers combine too much motivation with too few opportunities to improve ability, they rarely produce change. Instead, they create resentment and depression.”) Pink highlights were beneficial for influencing the team with which I work, both internal Allen employees and my clients. Yellow highlights were statements I believed could help me positively influence change in the larger instructional design world. (How might I help other instructional designers adopt learner-focused design using an iterative process?) Whether you’re looking to influence behavioral change at home with your spouse or children, in your team at work, or in the larger arena of the world itself, Influencer offers you the inspiration, hope and techniques to help even “little ‘ole you” make an impact! 

Narrowing this list to 10 was really difficult, I must admit. I have plenty more books I adore, find extremely valuable, and frequently refer to, but I needed to keep this blog from becoming a book of its own! 

So, that’s my list…what are your favorite books? Comment here or use the hashtag #IDBooks to share yours!

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[Premium Training Webinar] Breaking the "Challenge" Challenge



Date: Tuesday, September 9th
Time: 1:00 - 3:00 PM Central
Cost:   $99  $34.95 Staycation Education Discount!

Register Now — $34.95

Create Effective e-Learning Challenges

Effective e-learning design revolves around the successful use of the CCAF model of instructional interactivity—where interactions are made engaging through a use of meaningful context, compelling challenge, relevant activity, and content-rich feedback.  Crafting a great interaction requires thorough integration and mastery of all these elements and how they transform learner engagement. But, it can be difficult to grasp the power of this model unless we break down the individual elements.

In this two-hour webinar, Ethan Edwards, Chief Instructional Strategist at Allen Interactions, will explore what it means to design a compelling challenge.  Challenge can be built into an interaction following a number of strategies that are far more significant than simply making a question “difficult” or by simply creating obstacles.  In fact, a good challenge should actually be an incentive to invest in the interaction rather than a deterrent.

Special opportunity for early registrants: 

If you enroll 5 or more days before the webinar, you’ll have the opportunity to submit a design challenge.  Ethan will choose examples for the design exercise from those problems submitted.  Just think, if your design challenge submission is selected, you'll get a great start on your own project!

Participants will leave with a Challenge Design Tool that will help guide you in designing the “challenge” part of your CCAF designs.

Iterations: 3 Ways to Implement an Elusive Savvy Start


In this episode of Iterations, Richard Sites and Angel Green discuss three ways that you can work around busy schedules and still get the value of a Savvy Start to kickoff your e-learning projects!

Richard Sites, vice president - training and marketing


Richard Sites
vice president - training and marketing & co-author of Leaving ADDIE for SAM
Follow Richard on Twitter ▶ 


Angel Green - senior instructional strategist


Angel Green
senior instructional strategist & co-author of Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide
Follow Angel on Twitter ▶ 



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Click to Tweet: I love these three great ideas for implementing a #SavvyStart in my company! #elearningprocess #kickoffmeeting

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No Couch Potatoes: A Case for Making Training ACTIVE


by , instructional writer/designer | @EllenBJohnson

Ellen Burns

A passive learning experience can feel comfortable, but we don’t want our learners to “veg out” during training.

When stakeholders, SMEs, and instructional designers share a meaningful goal, it generates a lot of excitement in the room. I know we’re on the right track when I hear statements like these: 

  • “We want our employees to enter widget orders in under 5 minutes.”
  • “Associates need to initiate conversations with customers about our ABC gadget.”
  • “Managers must answer employees’ questions about the new customer service initiative.”

To me, these and similar statements indicate a real need for the kind of performance-based training that I love to create.

But I do sometimes encounter questions like these:

  • “Where will the content go?”
  • “These activities are great, but where will learners actually learn about the topic?”
  • “Could we start with a 5-minute video to introduce the content in a really interactive way?”

When I hear these phrases, I know we’ve got a “couch potato problem”. It’s time to talk about passive content for a few minutes.

What do I mean by “passive content”?



We’ve all experienced the guilty pleasure of lying on the couch and watching too much television. You lie there, maybe for hours, just absorbing things.

That’s kind of what passive content feels like—absorption. I use the term “passive content” to describe any part of an instructional experience that isn’t related to the learner doing something. A bit like the idea of learning by osmosis, passive content expects the learner to learn by simply reading, listening, or watching.

Passive content might look like this:

  • A video with talking heads telling people things
  • A series of slides with text for the learner to read
  • A series of slides with text AND a narrator
  • A series of slides with animations AND a narrator AND cool transitions (you get the idea)

Why do we use it?

“Boring is bad,” as Dr. Allen wrote in his seminal book Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning. Passive content is very often boring in training, yet we sometimes encounter a lot of pressure to create it. Dr. Allen has also written in the Guide about why those pressures exist, so I won’t go into detail about them here. But I think that often, the reasons boil down to the fact that taking the passive route is sometimes the path of least resistance on a project. This might relate to differences in how key stakeholders think about scope, budget, and quality. 

Does it work for training?

It can, but only when the following conditions are met.

  1. It works if the learner is paying attention to the content.
  2. It works as training if the learner is actively engaged in the process of figuring out how to act upon the information.
  3. If the goal is not to train, but to educate.

So why is passive content risky?

Take a look at that list of conditions in the previous section. That’s a lot of big “ifs!” Of those three items, only one is really within our control—the goal of the material being produced. So when we design training with passive content, we're taking a big risk. We're making assumptions that the learner is paying attention and is also trying to figure out how the material applies to their role.

The thing is, we simply cannot control learners’ attention, though we CAN design for it. Plus, even if learners are paying attention and trying to figure out how to change their own behavior, they may make the wrong conclusions. If we don't design training to capture learners’ attention and direct them to the right conclusions, then we risk spending a lot of money on material that will result in little or no positive change for the organization.

And how we approach design really does depend on what kind of change we want to bring about. Passive content might work for educating, but not for training. You might be thinking “wait, what's the difference between training and educating?” I like to define training as an instructional experience with the goal of changing a behavior or establishing a new behavior. The key is impact on behavior. I think of educating as establishing a base of knowledge and understanding to be drawn upon later, with no specific behavior in mind.

According to these definitions of the terms, most of what we are asked to do at Allen Interactions is training, not education. There's usually some desire for behavior change involved in all of the material we create.

How do we design to reduce that risk? 

If you’re designing training (not education) with passive content, then there really isn’t much you can do to reduce the risks that learners will tune out. You could invest a lot in making the experience an entertaining one, but if you’re going to take that extra step, why not instead invest that effort in making the experience an ACTIVE one?

When your goal is to train, then you must design to reduce the risks associated with conditions 1 and 2:

  1. The learner has to be paying attention to the content
  2. The learner has to be actively engaged in the process of figuring out how to act upon the information

You can do this by creating an active experience that requires the learner’s attention. Earlier I mentioned how reading, listening, or watching become “active” when they are applied in such a way that the learner must DO something. Here are a few examples from training I’ve helped design:

  • Reading background information on a fictional legal case before deciding whether to appeal
  • Listening for nuances in a recording of a caller’s voice in order to choose the best response in simulated customer service conversation
  • Watching a video to establish context for a problem-solving activity, which draws upon the narrative in the video

In order to successfully navigate the interactions in each of these examples, a learner has to (1) pay attention to the content and (2) figure out how to act upon the information they’re presented with.


Most of the media we encounter today does not require us to do anything more than read, listen, or watch. Sure, we might enjoy taking a more active role. For instance, we can debate the finer points of an opinion piece on Facebook or discuss the plot of a movie over dinner with friends. But, all we’re really expected to do is show up. Beyond the end of the movie or article or podcast, engagement is optional. We can be couch potatoes.

Because we’re so used to reading, listening, and watching, I understand why designing instruction around “doing” can seem risky. Unlike modern consumer media, however, those of us responsible for training within our organizations don’t want couch potatoes. We want learners to do more than just show up. We don’t want engagement beyond the training to be optional—we want people to learn, to practice, and to improve their performance on the job!

So isn’t it riskier to invest in passive content that learners might ignore? Instead, invest in training that really encourages learners take an active role in the experience.

Want to share this post? Here are some ready made tweets:

Click to tweet: "Boring is Bad!" | A Case for Making Training ACTIVE! #boringisbad #elearningdesign

Click to tweet: Passive content is risky! "No Couch Potatoes: A Case for Making Training ACTIVE!" #elearning #corporatetraining

Click to tweet: The thing is, we simply cannot control learners’ attention, though we CAN design for it. #learningdesign #boringisbad

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Responsive e-Learning and Milton Berle’s Glasses


By Gerald Matykowski, Inside Sales Manager

GeraldI am a relatively new employee at Allen Interactions and delighted to be here. In my role as Inside Sales Manager, I am challenged on a daily basis to apply my instructional design, sales and entrepreneurial experience developed over the last three decades. I provide support to our Strategic Relationship Managers and to those of you who come to us for resources and custom services. As I settled into my role at Allen Interactions and began talking with instructional designers about their existing and upcoming challenges, I started noticing history repeating itself. Today, instructional designers face challenges very similar to those encountered in the early 1980s, when the computer-based training space emerged. Let me share some history before I offer an example.

From Film Strips to PLATO

450px Platovterm1981While I did not ride a mastodon to work as some of my colleagues might suggest, I have been around the CBT, CAI, and e-learning industry for some time. Long ago, in an AV Lab at the University of Minnesota, I could be found, along with other education majors, preparing to demonstrate my mastery of 35mm projectors and innovative uses of overhead slides. Of course, it was college, so there was also a good chance of finding the occasional free spirit firing up an old mimeograph machine in search of an altered mental state initiated by its toxic ink.

The AV lab was notoriously cold, and one day I noticed students warming their hands over what appeared to be a pizza oven. This ‘oven’ had an orange window that I soon learned was a computer screen—not a portal to a freshly baked pizza. I asked the AV Lab manager, “What is that thing?” She said, “Oh, that’s PLATO.”

That was the tipping point for me. Since that moment, I have lived on or near the leading edge, and in some wild times, the bleeding edge of learning technology. PLATO, with Dr. Allen, was the beginning. 

Pushing the Multi-Platform Envelope

In 1982, an executive in ‘the Tower’ (Control Data’s Corporate headquarters) decided that our organization should build a 64-hour computer literacy curriculum. The curriculum was to include courses on new technologies like word processing, spreadsheets, robotics and artificial intelligence. That was fine if the only delivery platform was to be mainframe PLATO. For those of you who haven’t read ancient e-learning history, PLATO mainframes were computers the size of a minivan that produced enough heat to warm an entire three story building. 

Technology advances in the early 1980s fostered rapid development and adoption of Apple, IBM (Intel-based ‘PCs’) and even CDC ‘micro’ computers. The latter platform sported the non-ubiquitous 10.5 inch floppy disks and a CPM operating system – never to be seen again.

In their wisdom, the ‘Tower’ asked that the computer literacy curriculum be delivered on all these platforms, plus the PLATO mainframe. 

I imagine that somewhere between the 14th floor of Control Data headquarters and the brilliant technicians charged to make this miracle happen, someone made statements similar to the following:

“So, let me get this straight. You want us to create 64 hours of CBT and deliver it on a computer that has 40 characters across the screen, 24 lines vertically and has the computing capacity and sensory capability of a tapir. Then, we have to deliver it on two other systems with substantially different screen sizes and three different operating systems. Finally, this will all be developed on a mainframe system that weighs half a ton and communicates with corresponding systems via trans-oceanic cables.” 

Well, at least that’s what I was thinking. 

Hard-Wired ‘Responsive’ Designs

The Control Data computer literacy curriculum is history. It was indeed delivered on Apple IIs and IIIs, IBM 286s, 386s and other Intel ‘PCs’. The CDC 110 and PLATO mainframe systems were also delivery platforms. The challenge included four operating systems, at least three different screen resolutions and varying graphics capabilities. My role in this project was to employ the PCD2 Author System that was created to address the challenges of the day. At the same time, Dr. Allen’s team was working on the first non-template based author system called PCD3. In many ways, the PCD2 and PCD3 teams found innovative ways to harnes current technology to address this hard-wired ‘responsive’ design and delivery challenge. I still consider it an amazing technological accomplishment for 1982.

Today's Technology

Many of you reading this have far superior insight and wisdom than I have regarding ‘responsive e-learning’ design. Some of you are working on leveraging context within the environments where the tablets and smartphones are used on the job or during travel. Others are exploring current and future device capabilities to focus effective modifications of designs and/or applications for agile performance support systems and true mobile learning. And now we must consider the three dimensional (or 3D) capabilities just introduced by Amazon on their smartphone. 

Fortunately, although these challenges are similar to those we faced at the outset of the technology-based learning system revolution, current technology to address them far exceeds what we had in 1982. We are no longer constrained by the lowest common denominator of screen size and resolution.

Today, we can leverage mobile app publishing tools to generate serious learning games and simulations that adjust to your smart device. One example to consider is the Sunny Side Grill App which helps you understand why you occasionally get cold eggs at a diner. This app was created with ZebraZapps. It downloads to your device with one click and adjusts to your screen size—no underwater trans-oceanic cables required. In 1982, this type of capability would have been considered magic.

On occasion, I still use a pair of huge framed Milton Berle-like glasses that I wore in the early 80’s. Only immediate family members have viewing privileges. Apparently these saucer-like specs are once again considered stylish as my daughter recently wore them to a ‘hipster’ party. Similarly, the CBT challenges of multiple screen sizes (resolutions) and designing for various ‘personal computing’ platforms have also returned in 2014 via mobile learning opportunities.  Fortunately, we are better tooled in 2014 and the future looks bright to deploy serious e-learning where our learners need it most.

Want to share this post? Here are some ready made tweets:

Click to Tweet: History repeats itself. #ResponsiveeLearning might be older than you think!

Click to Tweet: Then & Now: The Challenges of Responsive e-Learning Design

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Generous e-Learning Design, Part 2


by instructional strategist

Linda Rening

My Great Aunt Belle was a wonderful cook. She spent days in her prairie farmhouse in Southwestern Minnesota getting food ready for any family gathering, and the family spent weeks looking forward to her delicious meals.

The challenge came with Belle’s belief: “If a little is good, a lot is better.”

She was used to feeding farm hands during busy harvest times, so when it came to the family, she prepared huge amounts of food despite the fact that many of our family members didn’t know a threshing machine from a combine. She also got her feelings hurt if anyone said “no” to a second or third helping of anything she had prepared.

Force Feeding Content

Was Great Aunt Belle generous? Of course. Was that generosity always the best thing for her guests? Not Really.

You’ve likely already made the connection to e-learning. Force feeding content to our learners is not being generous because it doesn't take into account what’s in the learner’s best interest. Whether it’s an overabundance of food or a flood of information, gluttony is neither pretty nor pleasant.

What, then, is generous e-learning? Brenda Griffith, who is also an Instructional Designer at Allen Interactions, made this comment to my original blog on generous e-learning:

…being generous is about doing more than is strictly necessary or expected. Instructional designers add value by not regurgitating content from a SME [Subject Matter Expert], but by translating it, simplifying it or re-focusing it for the learner. The content/quiz format is an example of taking the path of least resistance.

I agree. When we dump content on our learners and then write recall-style test questions, we are really taking the lazy way out.

A Two-Step Approach to Avoiding the Gluttony

So, let’s get practical. How can we go about “translating, simplifying, and re-focusing” content for our learners, as Brenda suggested?

The first step is to answer the most important question: What will learners DO as a result of this e-learning course? We then dig out our Bloom’s Taxonomy and write good behavioral objectives.

Once we have our behavioral objectives, we can ask the next important question: What do learners need to know to be able to perform the desired behaviors correctly? From those answers, we should be able to identify important content and information.

Then comes the step that is often overlooked: organizing the information in such a way that we aren’t just dumping content on our learners, but rather simplifying it for better understanding. One way to do that is through what I call the Hierarchy of Information, which looks like this:


Using this model, we think about all of the information that we could relate to learners and we decide what’s crucial to performance, then what’s directly related to the crucial information, and finally what is tangential, but still pertinent. Those become the primary, secondary, and tertiary sets of information. In other words:

  • Primary: must know
  • Secondary: nice to know
  • Tertiary: could know

As we begin the process of moving information to an e-learning course, it is only the primary information that is actually in the e-learning course. The secondary is included as optional pop-ups or behind another kind of optional click, and the tertiary is accessible via hyperlinks or resource documents. Instead of giving the learner the information, we give the learner the choice about getting the information: “Click here to read more about…”

An Example

Here's an example: Let’s say we were going to create an e-learning course on good instructional design. We could organize our content like this:

  1. Primary
    1. CCAF (Context, Challenge, Activity, Feedback)
    2. 3 M’s (Meaningful, Memorable, Motivational)
    3. SAM (Successive Approximations Method)
  2. Secondary
    1. On-line examples of Context, Challenge, Activity, Feedback
    2. Theories of motivation as related to learning
    3. Ways SAM is more effective than ADDIE
  3. Tertiary
    1. History of instructional design
    2. e-Learning development tools
    3. How to augment e-learning with media

Second Helpings are Optional

Is that the only way to organize content on Instructional Design? Of course not. The specific organization would depend on our behavioral objectives for our learners, the relative expertise of learners coming into the course, etc.

Organizing and prioritizing content for our learners is not taking the easy way out by just dumping content into PowerPoint slides. It means we are putting our learners first and deciding how we can help them get the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.


Information is like my Aunt Belle’s peach pie: the first piece is a great way to end a wonderful meal; the second and third pieces should be optional.

Want to share this post? Here are some ready made tweets:

Click to Tweet: IDs add value by translating, simplifying or re-focusing content for the learner. @customelearning #generouselearning

Click to Tweet: More content ≠ Generous e-Learning | Learn how to create generous #elearning @customelearning #elearningtips 

Click to Tweet: A Two-Step Approach to Avoiding #eLearningContent Gluttony @customelearning #elearningtips 

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[Michael Allen Webinar] e-Learning: Are You Serious?



Date: Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Time: 10:00AM Pacific / 1:00PM Eastern (60-Minute Session)
Can't attend? Register anyway. We'll send you the recording and materials after the event.
Cost: $ 0.00

If implemented correctly, e-learning can positively impact any organization. But so much of the e-learning created and invested in today relies on technology, and focuses on content instead of the learner and improving performance – the result – boring e-learning and wasted budgets! 
Join Dr. Michael Allen, as he explains how the 22 principles of the Serious eLearning Manifesto can help combat today’s e-learning failures by creating learning solutions that generate business impact. Dr. Allen will explain how following the Principles of the Manifesto can help you re-align current training needs for greater budget impact – focusing on your company’s greatest asset, its employees.

The e-learning experience can and should optimize use of the learner’s time, individualize the experience for full engagement, address needs, optimize practice, and prepare for transfer of learning to performance proficiency. So join Michael Allen as he shows how the Principles of the Manifesto act as a tool for leaders within learning and development departments to better understand the goals of their designers, and help them achieve those goals – resulting in a robust e-learning program that can improve a company’s bottom line, result in performance change, and improve your ROI.
In this webinar, attendees will:

  • Gain valuable knowledge of the Elearning Manifesto Principles
  • See examples of e-learning created with the Principles of the Manifesto in mind
  • Understand the ROI of using the Principles of the Manifesto to create your elearning
  • Understand the performance impact of using elearning that takes into consideration the Principles of the Manifesto



About Michael Allen

Michael Allen is Chairman and CEO of Allen Interactions, a universally acclaimed custom learning solutions provider. Allen is a treasured architect of interactive multimedia learning, recognized for his many insights, inventions, and presentations. With more than 40 years of experience in e-learning, both in academic and corporate settings, he is known today for his role in creating Authorware and ZebraZapps and overseeing the work of his studios at Allen Interactions. With a Ph.D. in educational psychology from The Ohio State University, he is an adjunct associate professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, a sought after conference speaker, and a prolific writer.

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