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[Dr. Michael Allen] My Engaging e-Learning Obsession


Michael Allen: My Engaging e-Learning ObsessionThis past month Dr. Michael Allen participated in the very popular Google Hangout interview series Obsessed for Success with Rod Caceres. Caceres interviews leaders and pioneers who have interesting obssessions. Dr. Allen was chosen as a premier leader in the learning industry for his e-learning obsession of eliminating boring, ineffective online learning from the face of the earth.

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Click to Tweet: You can’t learn someone, they have to learn on their own. "[Dr. Michael Allen] My Engaging #eLearning Obsession"

Click to Tweet: How can I create good learning experiences for everyone? "[Michael Allen] My #EngagingeLearning Obsession" #learning

Click to Tweet: You can’t teach people things that they already know. "[Dr. Michael Allen] My Engaging e-Learning Obsession"

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3 Real-Life Lessons Learned from Difficult On-The-Job Challenges


by relationship management assistant

We’ve all made mistakes at work – some more grievous than others. For every mortified person who has accidentally closed a business call with “I love you” instead of “goodbye,” there is someone else whose slip up could have caused injury, lost someone their job or cost their company millions of dollars. We may think of these situations as an exception to the norm and/or the result of a “bad” employee, but in fact these close calls happen more often, easily, and unintentionally than you would expect, and can commonly be traced back to lack of training or misunderstanding of policy due to ineffective training. I’ve interviewed a few individuals as they reflect on their most difficult on-the-job situations.

Employee Training

I’ll go first:

My first real job was at a chain of ice cream shops. My supervisor would often schedule me to close up the store alone—despite the fact that I was an inexperienced and untrained 14 year old to whom no responsible adult should have given the keys to a safe or free reign over what was, essentially, a room full of unsupervised candy. I enjoyed my freedom and the unlimited free ice cream that came with it until one day a very angry gentleman stopped in my store. He had been in the previous day, and an employee had assured him that he could make a dish safe for peanut allergies by simply not adding peanuts, not understanding that since all of our dishes and tools had come in contact with nuts at some point, none of them would be safe. The man ended up having a severe allergic reaction while driving home, causing an accident. He was, luckily, not seriously injured. I was terrified and had no idea what to do. I apologized profusely, refunded him, gave him gift cards, and attempted to call my boss who I could not reach. The man was appeased and left. However, the situation could have turned into a much bigger problem for my organization had the man been injured or decided to pursue a lawsuit.

Lesson Learned: Although formal training, reference materials, and a wide array of policies, guidelines, and emergency procedures did exist at my organization, they were disseminated via a 20-page printed pdf with only a signature from each employee to indicate that they had been received (and, by assumption, read and understood). Nothing about that piece of paper or the nonchalant way in which it was given to me screamed “Read me, I’m important and interesting!” If your content can save lives, jobs, and money, then it deserves a bigger stage than a pdf. A recorded webinar, interactive orientation course, and/or on the job coaching by an experienced employee would have more effectively communicated both the content and the importance of the content in a consistent way that could have prevented the situation.

David’s Story:

David worked for a summer as a ride operator for extra cost rides at a theme park. His immediate supervisor informed him during training that in cases of inclement weather when a ride needed to end early, he should give back the riders’ tickets, so that they could get their money’s worth when the weather cleared up. Unfortunately, what seemed like good customer service to David’s supervisor was considered theft by management. David and his supervisor were fired and ordered to pay for all of the tickets they had returned to riders.

Lesson Learned: Inconsistencies between official corporate policy and the informal policies of supervisors and coworkers can be a huge source of confusion for new employees. Direct managers who work with employees every day set the standard of behavior far more than a corporate handbook can—if they are not performing correctly, their team won’t either. Consistency in training methods, content, and evaluation is imperative to prevent these kinds of miscommunications.

Liz’s Story:

Liz’s director was out of the office, leaving her in charge of the library where she works. Her library was called by an automated phone system alerting them there was a “code red” emergency and that the town would be evacuated. However, the phone message was jumbled and Liz could not understand the directions other than that they needed to close the library and send unaccompanied children to a particular location. Then the phone went dead. Worried, but not wanting to blindly evacuate children from the library without knowing the full story, Liz did some research and learned that a train full of oil had derailed in a nearby town. She called her director who was able to contact the emergency service and figure out how to handle the situation safely. She praised Liz for staying calm and came by to help contact the children’s parents and make sure everyone was evacuated safely. Obviously, Liz had not been trained on this type of situation, but had she acted out of fear she might have evacuated children into unsafe circumstances or caused a panic.

Lesson Learned: You can’t develop learning for every single contingency that might pop up out of left field—sometimes oil tankers just crash outside your office and you’re at a loss. However, you can train your learners to know who to contact and where to find help should the unexpected arise.

Do you remember a time you ever felt totally lost at a job? A time when you were confronted with a situation that you were completely unprepared and untrained to handle? How could your organization have better prepared you for success? Share in the comments below!

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Click to Tweet: If your content can save lives, jobs, and money, then it deserves a bigger stage than a pdf. #traininglessons 

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Click to Tweet: On-the-job mistakes can commonly be traced back to lack of #training. "3 Lessons Learned from On-The-Job #Challenges"

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Be a Superhero with SAM


Molly Murnane, Learning Consultant, Humana | @MollyMurnaneID

Summer and superhero movies have always gone hand-in-hand with each other, and this season has been no different. There have been so many superhero movies released, that it has been hard to keep up with the prequels, sequels, trilogies and all the other films included in a series. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the stories, the drama and courageous protagonists. The films always have a crisis that no one saw coming and only the hero can save the day!

How does this relate to instructional design, you ask? Whether you know it or not, you and I have lived this storyline too: there is a crisis on the horizon; training has been tasked to change the course of history and in doing so prevent a major catastrophe! But wait… we’re not superheroes with secret identities; where’s our mask, cape and super powers? You’re right, there are no masks or capes, but we are like the caped crusaders we see in summer blockbusters. I’ll explain why I am an e-learning superhero and how you too can use the same secret super power to save the day.

Secret Identity

I’ve got a normal, everyday job and like many others enjoy my simple morning routine. My boss and coworkers have similar backgrounds and do similar things. My business partners depend on me to help deliver training that changes performance and provides value to the company. Like the metropolitan newspaper reporters, corporate industrialists, or demure secretaries of superhero movies, I go through my day under the radar, doing my job and fitting in with the crowd. But there is also another side of me—a side that gets really fired up when I see a “death by PowerPoint” presentation. This side of me commits to an eLearning Manifesto and watches TED Talks™ when I’m supposed to be reading training reports. This e-Learning Superhero side of me knows that the world would be a better place if we could all create training that uses appropriate context and challenges learners.

Be a SAM Superhero | Using the Successive Approximation Model

Secret Super Power

Like many of us, I didn’t end up in the training department on purpose. I fell into the job and stuck with it. Someone told me along the way that if I wanted to be great in my career, I would have to live and breathe the ADDIE model and write endless proof of concept documents referencing Bloom’s Taxonomy. These tools are useful and have gotten me this far, but now I know about the Successive Approximation Model (SAM), and I can’t go back! SAM, an agile development model, cuts through the red tape of analysis paralysis and provides learners with meaningful, memorable, motivational and measurable learning events.

Like other superhero powers, SAM may be a difficult concept to understand for those who don’t use it. Business Partners and even coworkers may reject a new instructional design model and be cautious of its ability to be implemented as easily as the well-established ADDIE. Knowing this, I use SAM as my secret super power. I enter my meetings with Business Partners, not wielding a SAM sword or a flashy new acronym. SAM’s power is so straightforward that it can go unnoticed to the untrained eye. From our business partner’s point of view, SAVVY Starts are similar to the last meeting, just more productive. e-Learning prototypes are now reviewed sooner and in smaller, dynamic pieces. The project requesters are more involved in the creation of training and are no longer surprised by the output three months later. They call on us in a training crisis; we are tasked with changing the courses in the LMS history and preventing a major catastrophe!

Be a SAM Superhero

For SAM supporters, use your secret SAM super power to your advantage. Shock and awe your project requesters with your increased resolve and confidence. Be faster than a speeding bullet with SAVVY Starts, more powerful than a locomotive with your prototypes. If you’ve tried to implement SAM and have been met with anxiety and rigidity, do not give up! SAM is a powerful tool that when used strategically can make huge improvements to your learner’s performance. Apply pieces of SAM when and where you can. Build the trust of your business partners and with each success story, implement another new concept of SAM. Fight the never-ending battle for context, challenge and activities along the way. I can’t wait to hear about your exciting adventures as SAM Superheroes.

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Click to Tweet: Find out how to use #SAM as your secret super power! "Be a Superhero with SAM" #elearningdesign #SAMvsADDIE

Click to Tweet: Be faster than a speeding bullet with SAVVY Starts, more powerful than a locomotive with prototypes. #SAMSuperhero

Click to Tweet: Build the trust of your team and with each success story, implement another new concept of SAM. #SAMProcess

Molly Murnane | SAM Guest Blog Allen InteractionsMolly Murnane is a Learning Consultant for Humana in Green Bay, WI where she is responsible for providing consultation and instructional design expertise to business partners, creating valuable, engaging learning experiences for classroom and virtual audiences. With nearly 15 years of experience, Molly has worked for organizations such as Zywave, Kohl’s Department Stores, and Shopko, and holds BS degree in Organizational Communications from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. With a passion for life-long learning, Molly also volunteers with Junior Achievement and facilitates experiential learning to inspire students to dream big and reach their potential.  Connect with Molly on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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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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Click to Tweet: Engaging compliance training is possible! Find out how!

Click to Tweet: “I wish I could make my content less boring, but I create compliance training.” Create engaging compliance training!

Click to Tweet: Bored No More: Create Engaging #ComplianceTraining with @ZebraZapps! #elearningwebinar

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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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Click to Tweet: "Challenge is achieved through several different aspects of stimulating the learner to act." #elearningchallenge

Click to Tweet: Learn to create irresistible e-learning with the perfect e-learning challenge! #webinar #elearningchallenge

Clicke to Tweet: An irresistibly compelling challenge can lead learners to mastery | Create the Perfect #eLearning Challenge

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.

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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!

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

Click to Tweet: Being an effective #instructionaldesigner means you understand more than the content you are delivering! #IDBooks

Click to Tweet: At our core, we must understand why people are motivated enough to change their behavior. "10 Invaluable #IDBooks"

Click to Tweet: These 10 Invaluable #InstructionalDesign Books just took over my to-read list! #IDBooks #elearningdesign

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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
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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.

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

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

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