e-Learning Leadership Blog

Embracing the Serious eLearning Manifesto

Posted by Michael Allen on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

by Michael Allen, chairman & CEO

Given decades of informative research on instructional paradigms, human learning, and performance measurement, it seems the burgeoning e-learning industry would have achieved enormous success in bringing each learner to a state of performance mastery economically and as quickly as possible. Instead, however, it seems the industry continually degrades its offerings—relying on technology for learner engagement and focusing more on content presentation than on learner needs and performance improvement.

In disappointment and frustration and as an attempt to disrupt the current, discouraging trends that have diminished prospects of beneficial impact, the Serious eLearning Manifesto has been put forth to bring attention to the foundations of effective e-learning.  In this blog, I’d like to review the eight values and characteristics of Serious eLearning. Although each topic is worthy of a focused treatise, let’s step through the comparison briefly.

Typical eLearning

Serious eLearning

Content focused
Efficient for authors
Attendance-driven
Knowledge delivery
Fact testing
One size fits all
One-time events
Didactic feedback

Performance focused
Meaningful to learners
Engagement-driven
Authentic contexts
Realistic decisions
Individualized challenges
Spaced practice
Real-world consequences

1. Content vs. performance focus.

Perhaps most detrimental to achieving both individual and organizational goals is drowning learners in quickly forgotten content presentations. Typical e-learning does exactly that. Subject matters experts and designers concentrate on presenting exhaustive volumes of information. With development time and resources constrained, learning activities that lead to skill development are given short shrift. This approach leads to minimal outcomes. A better alternative is to narrow content scope and provide carefully selected and sequenced situational practice based on identified, high value performance skills.

2. Authoring efficiency vs. meaningful learning.

Because positive impact is so often assumed and not measured, project managers respond to what is measured; and that’s usually production cost and speed. In a truly odd and iron twist of logic, authoring time has become treated as a more precious commodity than learning time. Yet, a few more authoring hours can result in many less training hours and significantly lowered training costs. In any case, the focus needs to be on providing learning experiences that are meaningful and helpful to each learner; that is, we need to produce effective learning. If it takes more authoring time to do that, it remains a wise investment rather than wasting huge volumes of expensive learner time.

3. Driving attendance vs. attracting learners.

With inefficient and boring e-learning, organizations must often mandate learners wade through their e-learning. The assumption is that if people attend, the goal has been achieved. If they can, learners will obviously opt out of boring experiences, often preferring instead to interrupt another person to get direction—direction that may need to be offered hastily and may be far from the best advice. In serious e-learning, designers work to engage learners who may, because they benefitted so much, become promoters of the training and encourage their peers to give it a try.

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Tags: Serious eLearning Manifesto, Michael Allen

Four Questions that Shift You into Design Success

Posted by Ann Iverson on Tue, Dec 16, 2014

by Ann Iverson, instructional designer | @iverson_ann

“Question everything!”Albert Einstein

As an instructional designer, I think the most important part of my job occurs in the design phase of a project. Not only am I building relationships and setting the stage, I’m working to create the blueprint for the entire learning experience. Essential design activities: include identifying the learner audience, what learners need to do to be successful, and what the main challenges are and how those challenges cause performance gaps. And the best way to get all that information, and more, is to facilitate a design meeting or, as we call it at Allen Interactions, a Savvy Start.

In the Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer guide, Angel Green defines the Savvy Start as a “solutions brainstorming event in which the design team, including key stakeholders, review collected background information and generate initial design solutions.” She goes on to say, “During the Savvy Start, we work to define, ideate, prototype, and test initial design solutions.”

One of the activities Angel suggests is to brainstorm a list of questions with the Savvy team, identifying those that dig deeper than, “What should the learner be able to do?” For example, the performance goal of a new retail employee is to provide exceptional service to every customer. Additional questions help stakeholders categorize that broad performance goal into specific activities, for example, how employees should greet customers, follow the return policy, or respond to customers when an item is out of stock.

Questions are the key to success in the design phase, and having a Question Thinking (QT) mindset is essential. In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams defines QT as a system of tools for transforming thinking, action, and results through skillful question asking—questions we ask ourselves as well as those we ask others. She discusses the power of questions to direct our thinking, and therefore our actions. It’s about asking the right questions to move forward and drive results.

The right questions drive design sessions, and the entire project outcome. In fact, I believe that as an instructional designer, I’m only as strong as my weakest question. If I can be mindful of how I’m asking something, and reshape the question so it’s more focused, positive and/or open-ended, then I can shift the team’s perspectives and move us toward fresh ways of looking at things. Ms. Adams gives an example in her book of the impact of changing a question:

Questions have even changed the course of history. Think about this. Long ago, nomadic societies were driven by the implicit question, “How do we get ourselves to water?” Yet look what happened when their implicit question changed to, “How do we get water to come to us?” That new question initiated one of humanity’s most significant paradigm shifts.

Awareness and intention are key here. Ms. Adams describes two types of mindsets—the Learner and the Judger—and, with awareness, we can choose to be in either one. But, as you can guess, the Learner mindset is more productive and positive. The goal at the Savvy Start is to take on a Learner mindset and create a Learner team: high performers focused on collaborative inquiry. You can do both by asking yourself the right questions. Let’s take a look at four questions you can ask to shift into Learner mode for a successful design outcome.

Instead of this…

How can I prove this is the right way?

Try this…

What other ways could we get learners to the same result?

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Tags: Successive Approximation Model (SAM), Savvy Start, e-learning success, Design Thinking

4 Exercises to Help You Find Your e-Learning Writing Voice

Posted by Hannah von Bank on Thu, Dec 11, 2014

by instructional writer

I’ve always been a writer. As a kid, I cranked out little paper books by the dozens with such titles as “The Day all the Boys Disappeared” and “How Christmas Trees Got Started.” I bet you didn’t know that Christmas trees originated due to a convoluted plan by a cat/fairy/queen to get more cookies in the winter. It is a story that is both more and less magical than most people assume.

One of the toughest struggles for all writers is developing an authentic and unique voice, both for themselves and for their characters. A voice encompasses all the unique perspectives, mannerisms, and attitudes that make a piece of writing feel alive. It’s the difference between reading a description of a dastardly character and actually wanting to smack that scoundrel in the face because you hate him so, so very much. A voice is personality and it makes you feel.

While this may sound like pretty lofty stuff, developing a relatable voice is just as important for instructional writers as it is for novelists or journalists. Each course is a character in its own right with a perspective and tone all its own. Sometimes we create characters inside of our e-learning courses as well. The difference, and the challenge, of instructional writing is that we don’t get to do this all on our own. We need to take into consideration the vision of colleagues, clients, and learners. An authentic voice is a huge part of what makes a course relatable and memorable for learners, but incorporating the differing opinions of various project team members often results in courses stripped of all personality in an effort to please everyone.

But, there is a way to write an e-learning course that works for everyone without sacrificing personality and it all begins by setting expectations at the Savvy Start. Here are some brainstorming exercises that you can do at your next project kickoff meeting that will help you and your stakeholders develop an awesome voice for your course:

  1. Have each person involved in the project write down three words that describe the way they want the course to feel.

    You’ll probably end up with words like fun, entertaining, professional, or casual. Discuss as a group how these concepts can be reflected in the overall writing and theme of the course. Maybe you’ll discover that your team members have very different visions – that’s great! Now everyone can discuss these differences and come up with solutions instead of changing the script after weeks of working on it.
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Tags: e-Learning Design, Savvy Start, e-Learning Writing

You Say Quantitative—I Say Qualitative: Whose Training ROI is This Anyway?

Posted by Gerald Matykowski on Wed, Dec 10, 2014

In a previous blog post, Educating and Challenging Stakeholders on Instructional Design Best Practices, I suggested that certain qualities that make an effective salesperson can also help learning strategists and instructional designers influence decision makers to embrace learning and development trends, tools, and best practices. Several of these qualities focused on a learning strategist’s comfort level when discussing the relationship of best practices and the financial implications of learning and development projects.

The most common term used to reference financial and business drivers is Return on Investment or ROI.  When I look back to my earlier days as a learning strategist, I now know that I overused ROI in my consultations with customers and prospects. At the time, I had but a superficial grasp of what ROI meant and I applied the concept the same way no matter who I was talking to. This resulted in several admonishments by stakeholders that I was oversimplifying and adding ‘soft dollars’ to the potential benefits of the training I was proposing.

The purpose of this post is to suggest that ROI can mean different things to different people. If you want to better articulate the potential business impact (ROI) of implementing instructional design (ID)  best practices or new development tools, you should be ready to adjust your message depending on your audience.

What do Stakeholders want? It depends.

First, it’s a given that learning projects should be aligned with business objectives. It’s as critical as focusing on performance objectives and not just reorganizing content in e-learning designs. How one measures true effectiveness of learning programs may not always be fully appreciated by ID managers or even a CLO. On the other hand, it’s possible that they too want highly engaging and interactive Level 3 learning, but are stymied by their ability to communicate the potential return from those best practices. To better understand this challenge, let’s look at what ROI means, in very general terms, to various roles that have a stake in e-learning projects.

CEO – President – CFO

Ok, I admit that most of us may never present to, or even meet a C-level executive of a Fortune 500 company. But your CLO does live in the C-Suite and you or your manager may already have the ear of the CLO.

At the C-Level, it’s all about increasing shareholder value. The focus is on quarterly revenue and earnings (Balance Sheet, Income Statement, P&L). Most importantly, they are first and foremost focused on ‘hard dollar’ (tangible) ROI. This includes stuff that can be soundly measured like reduced trainer costs, travel costs, and seat time. Hard dollars are also related to increased revenue and customer satisfaction that can be directly attributed to training dollars spent. It’s about quantitative, not qualitative measurement. To a CFO, quality must be quantifiable.

When it comes to an ID’s role, C-suite executives want development costs lowered. They won’t care about action-based interactivity or an agile-like development process like SAM or the latest and greatest development tool unless it is demonstrated that increased spending on ‘speculative innovations’ like these will increase the hard dollars returned.

There are many less tangible, soft dollar returns that concern C-level executives including the company’s leadership supply chain and leveraging mobile learning opportunities. To fund programs for these initiatives, measureable input must be provided by CLOs and mid-level management. If a CLO can demonstrate that investing another $100K in compliance training will actually reduce quantifiable materials costs, accidents, and industry fines, it has a much better chance of being approved in a ‘check the box’ compliance training environment.
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Tags: Learning Strategy, ROI, Training Programs

6 Ways to Connect with the e-Learning Community on LinkedIn

Posted by Brittany Laeger on Tue, Dec 02, 2014

LinkedIn is a powerful tool for creating connections within your industry. Without leaving your desk, you can have a conversation with a Director of Learning from Fortune 50 Company or an Instructional Designer with years of experience. Here are a few tips to help you connect with e-learning professionals on LinkedIn!

1. Optimize Your Profile

Before you spend a lot of time making brand new connections, take a minute to make sure that your LinkedIn Profile is optimized. What does that mean? Is your experience up-to-date? Don’t forget to include your skills, software proficiencies, volunteer experience, and projects that you are able to list.

Pro Tip: Make sure to have a clear, professional headshot—an avatar isn’t going to cut it for your LinkedIn Profile.  This will help establish trustworthiness and let your in-person connections know they have found the right profile!

Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

2. Connect, Connect, Connect

When you have the chance to meet up with e-learning professionals at a workshop, online forum, webinar, tradeshow or chapter event, make sure to connect with them on LinkedIn while it’s still timely – capitalize on your conversations while they are still fresh in your mind and continue the dialog to create a lasting impression!

Pro Tip: Don’t use the generic request to connect email. Be sure to remind the person where you met them, ask a question, or send a link to something that you talked about. These suggestions will help you provide continued value to that individual.

3. Post Statuses and Questions 

Once you have all of these great connections, start posting statuses and updates from your LinkedIn profile. Statuses will not only let you stay top of mind, but it also gives you a great forum to ask questions related to your projects and get answers from other learning professionals.

4. Join Relevant Groups

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Tags: e-Learning Answers, Social Media

Be a SAM Superstar with "The 12 Days of SAM"

Posted by Richard Sites on Wed, Nov 26, 2014

This year we are excited to share our holiday spirit with you through the act of giving! So today, we introduce to you the 12 Days of SAM—to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas!

Now we know the real 12 days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day, but we wanted to put our own Allen Interactions spin on it. So starting December 4th, we’ll share with you a little bit of SAM everyday. By the end of the 12 days, you’ll be a SAM SUPERSTAR!

Click here to sign up for the 12 Days of SAM ▶

Now we don’t want to have all the fun so we invite you to submit your own requests of how we can help you become a SAM Superstar. Share your requests with us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, or in the comments section of our blog, and we’ll not only promote them throughout the week, but we’ll make sure to get them to you before the end of the 12 days!

To see all the talk about the Successive Approximation Model or to join in on the conversation, follow or use #12DaysofSAM in your social media outlet of choice.

What you will get:

  • Videos
  • Blog Posts
  • On-Demand Webinars
  • Book Preface
  • Agendas, Schedules and Team Lists!

Tis the Season of SAM!

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Tags: Successive Approximation Model (SAM)

[New e-Book] 14 Tips for Preparing an e-Learning Feast

Posted by Allen Interactions on Mon, Nov 24, 2014

As we all get ready to join our family and friends for the Thanksgiving holidays and prepare for the big meal, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the endless advice on TV, radio, and online about how to prepare the perfect feast. As it turns out, so much of that advice can easily be related to planning and preparing perfect e-learning.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and be safe!

Get 14 Tips to Preparing a Wonderful e-Learning Feast that Your Learners will Gobble Up!!

Here are a few tips that you will receive:

  • Plan Ahead and Allow Enough Time
  • Know Who's Coming
  • Send Appealing Invitations
  • Plus 11 More!
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Four Tips to Create the Perfectly Imperfect e-Learning Prototype

Posted by Angel Green on Fri, Nov 21, 2014

We recently redesigned the ATD Advanced e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate Program, and I had the pleasure of facilitating the first delivery of the new program. The redesign was based on feedback from previous participants, as well as discussions with participants of the basic ATD e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate asking them, “What next?” More often than not, we heard that they wanted to jump in!

The participants we talked to wanted an opportunity to practice a real design and have meaningful discussions about their choices and design decisions. Therefore, in addition to incorporating roundtable conversations and activities designed to uncover and tackle day-to-day challenges, share best practices, and offer guidance on emerging trends in the field, we now also have participants sketch and then prototype instructional treatments for a design challenge.

As I prepared for the pilot of the new program, I was a bit concerned about whether the prototyping activity would succeed or fail on execution. In the ATD e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate and the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Mega Workshop, we do a lot of sketch prototypes. It is the next step of arriving at a place where you are ready to take a sketch and build something that scared me—not so much because we were adding technology to the mix, but because the first time you prototype…it’s TOUGH.

The thing about the collective world of instructional designers (and I have traveled the country talking, teaching, and working with many of you, and oh, that’s right I’m one, too!) is we are by and large the biggest group of perfectionists and co-dependents I know. We want everything we touch to be spit-polish perfect―the graphics, the content, the grammar—all worthy of the coveted A+. We want to solve our client’s problems, to ease their pain, make things right, and to feel needed and essential in coming up with the solution. I can’t describe the excitement I used to feel when presenting my design documents and storyboards: I have the PERFECT remedy for all your problems Ms. Client and doesn’t it look beautiful?!?

But, when you prototype and iterate, you have to let all that go. All of those perfectionist traits that you’re probably actually secretly proud ofwearing your OCD badge like it’s an honor—they all must simply be traded away in exchange for the worst thing ever—the possibility of failure! 

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Tags: Successive Approximation Model (SAM), Prototyping, ATD

Incredibly Obvious e-Learning Design

Posted by Linda Rening on Wed, Nov 19, 2014

Have you noticed that everyone seems to be an expert in “training?” It seems curious that folks who have deep knowledge and experience with things like: sales, pharmaceuticals, electrical engineering, marketing, customer service, etc. also believe themselves to be experts in training. And yet that’s what I see: highly-educated and deeply-committed Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who want to step out of their field of expertise, and into ours.

Why does this phenomenon occur? I think it’s because everyone went to school. Seriously, I do. Because all of our SMEs and clients went to middle school, high school and, many to college, they feel they are prepared to make decisions on the best ways to transfer knowledge to learners.

The analogy seems ludicrous, but, we’ve all been to a doctor, too. Still, we don’t go around brandishing tongue depressors and ordering each other to, “Say Ahh,” do we?

Among the tragic flaws in believing that having been to school prepares one to create training is the central difference between learning in school and learning in the workplace: School is rarely “performance-based” learning. If we don’t count classes that teach “vocational skills,” like car repair, sewing, woodworking, etc., and focus on the core academics, the purpose of education in school is three-fold:

  1. Mastering depths of knowledge and theoretical skills that may or may not be applied later
  2. Learning to think critically
  3. Knowing how to use information resources

Compare that with the purpose for training in the workplace:

  1. Know the appropriate behaviors in a given situation
  2. Improve performance
  3. Get better results, ultimately increasing profits
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Tags: e-Learning Design, SMEs, Training Programs

Overcoming One Size Fits All Learning

Posted by Allen Interactions on Thu, Nov 13, 2014

by Julie Dirksen, design consultant, @usablelearning

We are delighted to have Julie Dirksen as a blogger this week. Julie worked with Allen Interactions for nearly a decade as an instructional designer and currently is a design consultant for Allen Interactions in addition to her other clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies, to innovative technology startups, and major grant-funded research initiatives. Julie has more than 15 years of experience creating highly interactive e-learning experiences, is an avid blogger, author of Design for How People Learn, and a facilitator for ATD's Advanced e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate Program. 


One of the tenets of the eLearning Manifesto is Individualized Challenges over One Size Fits All learning experiences. I think it might be useful to take a closer look at how this can work in an elearning environment.

Historically, one of the great promises of elearning was going to be customized elearning experiences. From the early days it was viewed as one of the great benefits over a classroom experience—each learner could have a distinct learning experience customized or adapted to their needs, which would be so much better than being in a class where a single solution had to work for everyone. Basically, your elearning would be intelligent and adaptive to you.

Yeah, that didn’t really happen that much.

Aside from a few companies like Knewton (which focuses on the K-12 market), we haven’t really seen adaptive learning implemented in a broad way. In most cases, it’s proven to be too costly and difficult to have a behind-the-scenes algorithm adapting the learning experience, and on most projects it’s difficult enough to have the resources to create one good version of the content, rather than multiple versions adapted to different audiences.

So, in the absence of adaptive algorithms and multi-versioned content, is there a way to create customized learning experiences?  

I think the answer is yes, but it involves a specific structure for learning experiences, and it puts the responsibility for customization on the learner.

Basically, you have a structure where the task or problem is presented up front, and all the didactic explanatory information is presented as resources to be used as needed.

Creating Individualized Learning - A Software Training Example

An example of this is the task model interface that Allen Interactions uses for software training. A lot of software training is a game of follow-the-red-box. Learners are shown how to use the software as an animation or simulation has them follow highlighted items around the screen.

In the task model, the learner is given a task to complete, and needs to figure out how they are going to do it.

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Tags: e-Learning Design, Serious eLearning Manifesto, e-Learning Challenge