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4 Creative Process Tips for the e-Learning Graphic Designer


4Tipsfore LearningGraphicDesignersChristopher Palmby , media artist 

Remember pencil and paper? That archaic method of taking notes that existed before touch screens and smartphones? Well, apparently it’s still pretty useful to have around! Ever felt stuck in an initial design or needed inspiration for an animation? Sometimes dusting off that sketch pad and removing yourself from the digital world will do wonders—to open up your mind and help process those creative ideas jumbled in your head.

Tip 1: Sketch It Out


Being able to quickly sketch out an intricate scene during Savvy Start meetings with our clients is very useful. Through sketching of initial placement and ideas that are brainstormed in these meetings, a tremendous amount of time and budget can be saved instead of committing down a path and hoping it was right after all of the graphics had already been created. Could you do this same method with rough graphics and placeholders? Sure, but then you run into the issue of a client being turned off by the unpolished product they see. I find with sketches, it becomes much more apparent that what the client is looking at is an idea or concept. Then we move onto digital prototypes.

Tip 2: Basic Layout

e learning layout

Your sketch has been approved and it’s time to begin prototyping! So, just to be sure we’re on the same page, we define a prototype as a tangible idea or concept in the form of a roughly constructed interactive component with few words and either no media, stand-in media or sketches.

At these beginning stages in an iterative process like SAM, it’s easy to get caught up in designing each and every brick as you place them, making sure they are perfectly aligned and sized. But it’s a trap! Much like you did with sketching, you want to take a general approach initially. Throw all of your bricks on the page. Start with a huge slab of stone and whittle your way down to reveal your Michelangelo. I usually use solid shapes and colors to get the general idea of where my elements will be placed on the screen. This helps give me a realistic idea of how much space I have to work with. At this point, if something is taking up too much room, or not enough, it is easy to adjust since I haven’t committed fully yet.

Tip 3: Design!

e learning design

Finally! You have your concept down and your layout created. Iterative design continues with more rounds of prototyping which can take several forms depending on the means of delivery. You probably have a general idea of what kind of look and feel you’re going for and now it’s time to start creating those graphical elements. The foundation is set, pour the cement! However, unlike in my metaphor, a digital design is not set in stone. The best thing you can do for yourself at this point is save your progress. Save every source Photoshop file, even the most mundane ones. It’s ALWAYS the one time you don’t save your source that you need to go back and make an edit.

Tip 4: Refine and Revise, Refine and Revise...


Having finished your design, there is nothing left to do. Sit back and watch as everyone basks in the glow of your beautiful creation. Right? I think this has only ever happened once or twice in my career, and looking back on those designs now, I can see flaws that would have been caught with a round of revisions and feedback. Iterative design is never perfect nor complete, but through several rounds of design, prototyping, and evaluation, we can obtain a quality product. Keep an open mind, but don’t lose the initial vision. That said, not every change is worth making. It’s important to think critically about what a change would mean to your design―ask yourself, “Does this add value, or take away from the design in any way?”

Just as there are many ways to complete the same task in Photoshop, the creative process can greatly differ as well. Please share your method below!

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

Click to Tweet: 4 Creative Process Tips for the e-Learning Graphic Designer #elearningdesign

Click to Tweet: Check out these great tips for #elearning #graphicdesigners from Chris Palm! 

Click to Tweet: Feel stuck in an initial design or need inspiration for an animation? Check out these #elearning #graphicdesign tips!

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Iterations: Setting Expectations for an Iterative Process [Ep. 12]


In this episode of Iterations, Richard Sites and Angel Green discuss how managing the expectations for your team will help bring clarity to the project that will result in better communication, better reviews and ultimately a better final product!

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 ▶ 



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

Click to Tweet: To be successful using an iterative process, clearly communicate expectations to your team. #elearningprocess

Click to Tweet: Setting Expectations for an Iterative Process (SAM) #instructionaldesign #iterations

Click to Tweet: A good #SAM leader is a transparent leader! Learn how to be a transparent #SAMLeader! #elearningprocess

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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.

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

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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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 ▶ 



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

Click to Tweet: What if I don't have two days to get everyone together? "3 Ways to Implement an Elusive #SavvyStart" #SAMProcess

Click to Tweet: Hold a series of #SavvyStart meetings! "3 Ways to Implement an Elusive Savvy Start" #elearningprocess #elearningtips

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

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10 Reasons Why You Should Attend the Allen Interactions User Conference


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

The countdown has begun. The buzz is palpable in our offices. Our first ever user conference is right around the corner. So, here are the ten reasons why I believe you will want to attend:

1. Be Inspired

A bit of TED™, a dash of Ignite®, and a sprinkle of PechaKucha™. Throughout the day, you will hear from a select set of speakers (real Allen Interactions partners, respected business leaders, and of course Michael Allen) who are sure to inspire. During these brief presentations, they will share stories of challenges, successes, and most importantly real results. These speakers will encourage, engage, and motivate you.

The day will also provide inspiration through demonstrations of several award-winning, performance-driven courses (some never before demonstrated!). Seeing what is possible will help ignite your creativity. 

2. Become an Agent of Change

Allen Interactions thought leaders will offer strategies and techniques designed to move your courses beyond content-driven e-learning. Learn how you can use the instructional design model of Context, Challenge, Activity, Feedback (CCAF) to create learning that produces a real change in learner performance. Through discussions with our client partners, hear how they were able to initiate change in the type of learning offered in each of their organizations.

3. Collaborate and Network 


This is a day of collaboration and networking! You will participate in table team activities and discussions, making connections and gaining input from your peers in the field of adult learning. During the course of the day, you will have an opportunity to mingle with the crowd, meet Allen Interactions employees and create connections that will last long after the day has ended.

4. Set Yourself Free

Is your instructional design process or your development tool holding you back? Are you being asked to create courses faster, cheaper, and with greater appeal to learners? Learn how an iterative process shifts focus from analyzing and revising content for approval to designing and developing performance driven interactions. See how anyone can go from creating content to developing serious learning, without a degree in computer science.

5. Get Answers to Tough Questions


Are there concerns that keep you up at night? Perhaps you wonder about how you are, or should be, measuring the effectiveness of your training. Maybe you are curious about what’s on the horizon for the industry? Should you focus on a mobile strategy, gamification, social learning? How should you allocate your personal development and your organization’s resources amid an ever-changing swirl of trends and buzzwords? Well, who better to discuss these questions (and any others you may have) than with the experts and peers that will all be gathered together in this room!


How do you move from storyboarding to prototyping? Why is it better to communicate without words? What is a Savvy Start and how can it help ensure a better product? How, and when, do you get learners involved? How can you work better with your SMEs? What are some creative instructional treatments that appeal to the learners and the stakeholders? You’re bound to learn more than you ever dreamed possible for one day! 

7. Build Your Own Action Plan

Great intentions are wonderful, but change only occurs from action. As part of the user conference, you have an opportunity to create an action plan to take home with you. The guide will prompt you to document specific steps you commit to taking, discussions you need to have, and new techniques you will attempt upon returning to reality. 

8. Share Feedback


You don’t need to be one of our client partners to share your feedback - we have a social presence, we offer training sessions, books, workshops, webinars, blogs, case studies, demos, white papers and products available to the public. What would you love to see Allen Interactions offer? How can we improve our industry outreach? What can we do to help you? Of course, if you are a client partner, we’d love to hear about your experience as well!

9. Make a Difference

As an industry, we should push ourselves to do better—for our learners, for our organizations, and for ourselves. We should feel compelled to challenge the status quo. Our learning interventions should no longer burden the learners, with little to no measurable benefits to the organization. In this user conference, our goal is ignite a spark in you to commit to making a difference. Together we can move the needle, making a change in the industry, one course at a time.

10. Visit Chicago in September 


We’re still in the thick of summer now, but fall is right around the corner. Chicago in September is bound to offer beautiful foliage, crisp air, and a feeling akin to the beginning of a new school year—where everything and anything is possible. 

I can’t express how excited we are about our first ever Allen Interactions’ hosted conference. With each internal planning session we have, the anticipation only grows more intense. We really think you’ll find such value in attending. I hope to see you there.

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3 Ways to Start Implementing the SAM Process in Your Organization


by , vice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites

Richard Sites, vice president

Over past couple of years, I have taught a number of workshops on SAM (Successive Approximation Model) and have given even more talks on the subject. In these workshops and talks, I always get the same basic questions, which I guess makes sense since I am talking about the same thing. But, the one question I can guarantee I will be asked is,  “How do I implement SAM in my organization?”

While I am happy to be asked this question, as I firmly believe organizations benefit from the efficiencies and improvement in quality gained in an iterative process, this is a tough question to answer! Truthfully, it is nearly impossible to answer even in a 2-day workshop, let alone a 90-minute lecture.  Since I do encounter this question so frequently, I have learned to focus my answer on a few key factors that increase the likelihood of success.

Angel Green and I often use the phrase “moving the needle” to describe the efforts when implementing SAM in an organization. By “moving the needle”, someone is making incremental changes that produce noticeable results.


Let me share some of these incremental changes with you.

  1. Start at the start.

    There is no better way to build excitement for the power of an iterative design than to kick-off with an active brainstorming and sketching session, which is called the Savvy Start in SAM.

    Sure, we recognize that you might face resistance when asking for the full amount of time required of a Savvy Start (as described in the book), but perhaps you can facilitate a one-hour brainstorming session on a single performance event or objective.  The energy and excitement generated from a robust brainstorming/sketching/prototyping event goes a long way to build credibility within the organization for a new instructional design approach.
  2. Select a project that is reasonable in size to start.

    SAM is a powerful process that can handle even the largest learning and development projects. But, when it’s your first attempt at it in your organization, discretion is the better part of valor.

    In line with this approach, you may opt to pick a small part of bigger project to implement SAM principles and activities. Either way, make sure that you give yourself, and SAM, the best chance for early success.

  3. Find places in your process where you can add SAM principles and practices.

    Often the processes we use to design and develop learning events are a combination of ISD practices and organizational requirements. These processes usually look for the opportunity for approval and review, not for how a deliverable is created – giving plenty of ways to incorporate iterative design.

    For example, instead of spending a lot of time analyzing content, why not have a brief brainstorming, sketching, prototyping meeting with a small number of colleagues? Both of these strategies can help you create a design document, but by the process of challenging your design with others, you are more likely to arrive at a higher quality product.

As I mentioned earlier, answering the question of how to implement SAM deserves a lot more than a single blog post. So, if you’d like to learn more strategies for implementing SAM, please join us at the Allen Interactions User Conference in Chicago on September 22.

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Your Questions Answered: 5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff


by , vice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites

Richard Sites

Yesterday, Angel Green and I hosted a webinar titled “5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff.” The goal of the webinar was to provide specific actions you can take to improve the start of your projects. If you are interested in checking out the recording of the webinar, you can find it here.

In the webinar, we shared the following tips:

  1. Put down the binder and walk away from information.
  2. Avoid analysis paralysis.
  3. Get the right people in the room.
  4. Be ready to listen.
  5. Brainstorm, sketch, prototype, repeat.

Now, it’s nearly impossible to cover everything in a 45-minute webinar, and of course, we didn’t. There were so many great questions asked by the engaged participants, but unfortunately we couldn’t address all of them. However, as promised during the webinar, we wanted to be sure to provide answers to most of them. So, here goes!


  1. SAMFieldGuide3DBlogCan you define/review the SAM acronym?
    SAM stands for Successive Approximation Model, an iterative instructional design and development process. It's an advanced development approach we’ve used here at Allen Interactions for years that was created by Michael Allen. We have a lot of information on our website and in Leaving ADDIE for SAM and the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide.

  2. Would you consider virtual meeting being "in the room”?
    Hosting a virtual Savvy Start, the kickoff brainstorming meeting in SAM, can be tricky, but not impossible. If everyone can see the sketches, each other, and the prototypes, then you should be fine to proceed with a virtual meeting. However, make sure you inform the participants in advance of the need for them to stay focused and participate. Otherwise, your meeting will not be as successful as one that is in person.

  3. What kind of talent do you need on your team to pull off a successful brainstorming project kickoff meeting like a Savvy Start?
    At a minimum, you should have an instructional designer (ID) and a prototyper. These can be the same person – and often are. A project manager is important, but if this person is not available, or the Savvy Start is an abbreviated version, the ID and prototyper are the most critical.
  4. So at the beginning of the brainstorming meeting, are the expected behavior changes already identified, or do you work this out in the brainstorm as well?
    Yes and no. There may be SOME behavior changes identified and brainstorming these moments is a great starting point. But during the initial brainstorming, other essential behavior changes typically arise—these also need to be sketched and prototyped to ensure the training addresses all key performance moments.
  5. So how much content should a designer get to know before the Savvy Start?
    Angel and I address this point briefly in the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, but you should know enough to be able to participate in the conversation. More importantly, you should know where to find things later versus becoming an expert on the subject.

  6. Do you ever do any other types of needs assessment (surveys, interviews) other than "getting everybody in the same room?"
    You certainly can (and should) conduct other types of assessment to support the design efforts. But, the purpose of the Savvy Start (“getting the right people in the room”) is to proof out the performance moments more effectively. More importantly, the brainstorming and prototyping that occurs in the Savvy Start provides direction on the type of questions you should ask. In other words, the Savvy Start gives you an initial design concept to “proof out” during additional discussions (surveys, focus groups, one-on-ones, etc.).

  7. Just to clarify, you are using SAM to facilitate these projects?
    Yes. Allen Interactions has been executing SAM for over twenty years. It’s not just what we promote, it’s what we do every day.

  8. What do you do if you get people in a room and you have one or two people who are stuck on their belief that the issue is X when in reality it is Y?
    Be happy! Just imagine if you would not have found this out until the end of your project. The time, money, and effort you have saved by identifying this early is immeasurable. Brainstorming the performance event and then sketching and prototyping out the event should provide the opportunity to highlight the real issue (or maybe find out that it really is X and not Y!).

  9. What if you are not a good sketch artist? My concern is that the vision that comes through your fingers onto a whiteboard may be very different than the one in your head.  I wouldn't want the client stakeholder completely misled by the lack of my fine art talent!
    The whole point of sketching is that it is rough and basic, not refined and exact. Everyone can sketch. Don’t worry so much if it’s perfect as long as it conveys the fundamental objects and their relationship to one another. During her upcoming webinar, Design Thinking for Instructional Designers, Angel Green will talk about the power of a sketch, and how to abandon the need for perfection as an instructional designer.

  10. Can you clarify/elaborate how to avoid analysis paralysis? This is a problem my team has frequently.
    The best way to avoid overanalyzing is to laser focus on the specific performance moments. And, when you get to these performance moments, be careful not to spend time thinking through all possible permutations of every potential scenario. In SAM, you continually analyze and evaluate throughout the phases of SAM as the instructional product is developed (from sketching through gold). 

I hope that the answers to these questions provide some insight into the benefits of being savvy with the way you start your projects. By avoiding excessive information early, moving past analysis, gathering the right people together, listening and brainstorming, and sketching and prototyping, hopefully you can get your learning and development projects off on the right foot.

For more on effective design techniques, join Angel Green for her upcoming webinar on Thursday, June 26, Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer. In this webinar, Angel will address ways to ensure that your projects include good design and how to effectively work with your team to build better learning events.

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5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff



Date: Wednesday, May 28th
Time: 1:00 - 1:45 PM Central Time
Can't Attend? We will send you a recording and materials!

Register for this complimentary webinar! 

  • When you start a new e-learning project, is it exciting? Is it fun?

  • Do you walk away with a shared vision of success among the project team members?

  • Or, like many people do you feel apprehensive about project schedules, overwhelmed by content, and isolated—stuck on an island alone with your computer?

We believe project kickoffs are the most vital way to ensure a successful project.

We believe this so much that we have a name for our project kickoff meetings—the SAVVY Start! Join Richard Sites and Angel Green, authors of the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, in a complimentary webinar in which they will share their five savvy tips for kicking off a successful e-learning project.

In this webinar, you'll learn real strategies you can implement to make your e-learning project kickoffs fun, exciting, engaging, and a real team-building experience.

Meet the Presenters!

Angel Green - senior instructional strategist


Angel Green
senior instructional strategist
Follow Angel on Twitter ▶ 



Richard Sites, vice president - training and marketing

Richard Sites
vice president - training & marketing
Follow Richard on Twitter ▶



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Iterations: Live from ASTD ICE 2014!


Richard Sites and Angel Green are live from ASTD ICE 2014! Join them to hear more about our exciting week!

More from Allen Interactions!

The Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide Debuts at ASTD ICE!


The Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, written by Richard Sites and Angel Green, made its official debut at ASTD's International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C., May 2-7!

This companion to Michael Allen's 2012 bestseller, Leaving ADDIE for SAM, provides the job aids, tools, and templates you need to put the SAM methodology in motion and take your ISD practice to new heights.

To learn more about the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, download the complimentary foreword written by Michael Allen and the preface!

 Leaving ADDIE for SAM Richard Sites Angel Green


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