e-Learning Leadership Blog

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

3 Ways to Put the Serious eLearning Manifesto iPad App to Work

Posted by Christopher Allen on Wed, Nov 12, 2014

The Serious eLearning Manifesto is meant to be a constructive, actionable document for developing quality learning. While the manifesto itself is not meant to be “learned,” there are plenty of tips and tools that can help you practice the principles of the manifesto in your real-world designs and projects. For instance, to help facilitate its impact you could create flashcards to memorize its values and principles, print up a poster and hang it high in the office, or even create a worksheet/checklist for reference on every project. 

But before you rush off to the printer, why not download this free iPad app and keep the Serious eLearning Manifesto handy at all times? The app is designed to allow quick access to each of the main sections.

Here are three ways you can put the manifesto app to work: 

1. Project Kick-Off Meetings

Take a few minutes to discuss the Manifesto’s values with respect to the new project’s goals. This exercise, done with the project’s stakeholders (internal or external clients), will give you a powerful framework for challenging ineffective ‘text and next’ quick development models. After the kick-off meeting, ask the project’s stakeholders to download the app or visit elearningmanifesto.org to review the 22 principles. It’s a great opportunity to up-sell the benefits of quality learning design.

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Tags: Savvy Start, Serious eLearning Manifesto, ZebraZapps, Mobile Learning, Christoper Allen

What Happened to e-Learning Instructional Design?

Posted by Ethan Edwards on Tue, Nov 11, 2014

e-Learning has been around for a long time. I started designing e-learning modules in graduate school back in 1983 in what was already an established field. Granted there was not yet an Internet, but the basic challenge of designing instruction for automated individualized delivery was well underway. What is surprising is that after so many years of effort, the field still seems to be perceived as “new.” The field continues to grow impressively in practitioners and dollars spent. Yet everywhere there seems a pervasive agreement that much e-learning falls short of actually being everything it should be: students find it tedious, evaluation is suspect, transfer to performance is largely undocumented, basic models for excellent instructional design are scarce.

So what’s the problem? I think in large part, it’s daunting due to the multi-disciplinary nature of the challenge to master project management, technical content, technology, and instructional design simultaneously to create something powerful to deliver online. Unfortunately, the most immediate concrete challenges seem to be attended to first. Authoring tools provide powerful means to present media and to construct prompts to which students must respond, but too often technical functioning of any sort (“Yay, we got it to run on our LMS!”) stands in for actual sensible learning interactions. Once the technical hurdles are harnessed, the next burden is to nab existing content and slam it into slides punctuated with standardized questioning. I don’t mean to belittle that effort; even when this is done unimaginatively, it represents considerable work. Drowning the learner in excessive volume of content is rarely instructionally helpful. Then layer on top of that the difficulty in managing one’s limited resources to deliver a product on time and within budget. It’s no wonder that any actual instructional design is all but forgotten. 

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Social Media in e-Learning: Waste of Time, Magic Bullet, or Something In Between?

Posted by Nicole Mellas on Thu, Nov 06, 2014

A lot of online training is pretty boring and content-centric.

If you’ve spent any time reading this blog (or even perusing the blog titles), you probably won’t find this statement to be all that earth shattering. (If you do find it to be earth shattering, oh boy are you in for some surprises on this site!) Now, I’m not going to spend my time today writing another blog about what a shame it is that so much training lacks focus on the learner. I’m not going to ask you to read more about how successful e-learning employs contextualized challenges with rich feedback to create an experience that is meaningful, memorable, and motivational (though that DOES bear repeating, it’s not what I’m writing about today).

Let’s just accept, for a moment, that certain clients or stakeholders or subject matter experts insist upon paragraph after paragraph of “important” content on-screen. Let’s just accept, for a moment, that this often puts the beleaguered e-learning professional in the position of having to offer up a solution that is more page-turner than engaging instructional experience. What I find fascinating is that usually at this point, the same people who were clamoring for more and more and more content now lament, “This is boring. Nobody’s going to want to read this."


Spoiler alert: if you’re hoping this blog is about to give you the answer as to how you can just sprinkle a few gaming elements or Twitter like Tweets on top of a page turner to transform it into engaging e-learning, you’re about to be disappointed. That’s not how gamification works. That’s not how integrating components of social media works. These are both immensely helpful strategies for serious e-learning when they are just that: strategies, conceived of as integral to the design process from day 1 (or at least day 2).

We already have a few excellent blog posts discussing how to add game-like qualities effectively when it comes to instructional design (I suggest starting here and here). So, in the spirit of adding to this conversation, I’d like to share a few ideas on how to effectively integrate social media components into the training experience.

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Tags: MMM (Meaningful - Memorable - Motivational), Nicole Mellas, Social Media

The Newest Guild Master: Michael Allen

Posted by Allen Interactions on Tue, Nov 04, 2014

The eLearning Guild presented Dr. Michael Allen with its Guild Masters Award, on October 29, at a ceremony held during the eLearning Guild’s Devlearn Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas, NV. The Guild Masters Award recognizes an individual for consistently contributing to the elearning community in terms of both quantity and quality of content—and thus helps make the community a vibrant center for learning.

"My singular drive has always been to help every person achieve his or her full potential through the creative use of multimedia technologies," stated Michael. "We don’t care about what people know. We care about what they can do and actually do with what they know. Our challenge, as effective instructional designers, is to get people to make the leap from knowing to doing."

Allen maintains that, to be effective, elearning must be meaningful, memorable, and motivational.  “While these principles are important for all forms of instruction, they are perhaps most critical to the success of e-learning where working alone on a computer can become boring so very quickly when there’s nothing interesting going on.”

Some of Michael's Career Highlights

Michael Allen is a recognized leader in the architecture and design of interactive multimedia learning strategies and authoring tools. He has more than 45 years of professional, academic, and corporate experience in the development, sales, and marketing of interactive learning and performance support systems. Michael created the advanced design and development approaches we've used here at Allen Interactions for more than two decades, which include CCAF-based design and the SAM process for iterative, collaborative development. He was also the innovative force behind Authorware, a leading authoring tool for its time, and the award-winning visual-based authoring and publishing system, ZebraZapps. He has been sharing his knowledge with the industry for more than a decade through eight published books on creating effective e-learning, including the ATD bestseller, Leaving ADDIE for SAMHis most recent endeavor has been as in instigator of The Serious eLearning Manifesto, which puts forth a declaration to improve the state of elearning, helping elearning professionals regain the creativity and passion for their vocation.


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Tags: Successive Approximation Model (SAM), Serious eLearning Manifesto, Michael Allen, Awards

Stop Scaring Your Learners: 4 Ways to Bring Life to Boring e-Learning Scripts

Posted by Ann Iverson on Fri, Oct 31, 2014

It’s that time of year when all things creepy and crawly come out to play. Chances are, you’ll encounter something scary in the Halloween experience. I’m always amazed by people who actively enjoy being scared. Are you one of them? Not me. Fear seems like such an unpleasant emotion—your palms sweat, your heart beats uncomfortably hard, you feel the urge to flee quickly, and so on. So I guess I should’ve been more honest with you. Your invitation to the newly-released horror movie? I wasn’t actually home organizing my closet. And the Trail of Terror gathering? I didn’t really have car trouble on the way there. In my effort to appear fearless, I was actually hiding from the truth—the real world is often scary enough for me. I don’t need monsters and ghouls to get my heart pumping.

Take e-learning, for example. I recall mandatory courses that I’d put off for weeks because I just couldn’t handle the terror. I imagined myself clicking the dreaded link, and listening to a narrator read the screens word-for-word. Of course I could read faster, we all can, so I’d finish the screen and do some work offline before the narrator stopped talking, which was my signal to click Next again. Her frighteningly-monotone voice would make me want to scream! I was always relieved when I conquered that e-learning monster! The nightmares would stop, the sun would come out, and the world was bright and shiny again.

So, now that I design and write e-learning courses, my vow is to never torture the innocent people who are required to take them. One of the most basic ways I can do that is by writing better e-learning scripts. Good writing can make the difference between an e-learning course that frightens people and one that inspires them to pay attention. Are you with me? Here are four surefire ways to stop scaring your e-learners:

1. Be Friendly 

Friendly is a nice word, but what does it mean, exactly? Well, ask yourself, would you hang out with your e-learning course on a Saturday night? Do you like what is says and how it acts? Do you want to be with it? I don’t know about you, but I choose to hang out with people who are simple, direct, honest, and helpful. So, I write, and prefer, courses that reflect those characteristics. Give me a “straight shooter” over a complicated drama queen any day.

One easy way to be friendlier is to dump any technical terms and industry jargon that result in unnecessarily complicated language. You want your learners engaged, not working hard to decipher big words.

Sometimes, technical terms are necessary, especially in administrative, technical, mechanical, or scientific contexts. If you can’t avoid them, be sure to define technical terms the first time they occur using simple and concise language.

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Tags: Custom e-Learning Solution, e-learning

Seven Halloween Costume IDeas for e-Learning Instructional Designers

Posted by Brittany Laeger on Tue, Oct 28, 2014

Halloween is just a few days away and finding a costume for work can be a challenge! It's gotta be creative but also work appropriate!

Halloween is a pretty big deal at Allen Interactions, so here are seven creative costume ideas to channel your inner instructional design geek!

1. Prototype

Start with a white outfit. Use black tape to make a stick figure costume. Then, add an "Under Construction Sign" or carry around a few wireframe boxes or "blah blah blah" signs.

Stick figure costume: allfortheboys.com

2. Content Monster

The content monster is one of the scariest costumes for your learners! Start with any monster costume and then cover yourself in loads of content. Make sure to overwhlem everyone with words!

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Tags: Instructional Design

Oh What a Feeling: Emotion and Learner Engagement

Posted by Ellen Burns-Johnson on Thu, Oct 23, 2014

One of my favorite chapters from Dorian Peters' Interface Design for Learning calls upon instructional designers to create learning experiences that foster intrinsic motivation, and provides suggestions for how to do it well.

As part of my instructional designer book club (yes, you read that correctly—I am that much of a nerd), we are currently reading the fascinating to me Interface Design for Learning by Dorian Peters. Allow me to review the book: it’s good. One of my favorite chapters is the second one, in which Peters summarizes “the learning landscape,” explaining the rise of instructional design, constructivism, behaviorism, and every other -ism that contributed (or contaminated) the practice of analyzing how people learn. You should read this book for insights gleaned from that chapter alone.

But I digress.

We should design for emotion. Right?

I’ve always been fascinated by how the role of attitude, feeling, and emotion plays in learning events. Current industry thinking addresses emotions this way: someone on the team says aloud, “Yes, we must consider the learners’ attitude and motivation.”

Everyone nods solemnly.

Several people murmur, “Yes. Of course.”

Then, the topic is promptly dropped and the team returns to bickering between the words “recognize” and “identify” in the behavior-based performance objectives.

What the heck?

We all know from personal experience that learning can be emotional. Ever attend a full day of corporate training while contemplating a divorce? Go through e-learning while feeling dread for hospital test results? Try to attend an online class while yelling at the kids? It's really hard to engage in learning when your emotions are focused elsewhere.

Obviously, we designers are not usually able to control learners’ life situations and emotional states. But we can influence the many emotions invoked by training itself: resistance, boredom, anger over a newer, complicated process, frustration over extra responsibilities, fear of failing…all of which we want to avoid.

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Tags: Learner Engagement, MMM (Meaningful - Memorable - Motivational), Michael Allen's Books, Effective Feedback, Intrinsic Feedback