Thursday, April 26, 2007

Memoirs of an "Instructional Designer"

I don't have a master's degree in instructional design or education. In fact, I don't have any kind of master's degree at all. I have never taken a class in pedagogy. I have never taken a course in adult learning theory. And yet here I am. My current business card says I'm a "Manager of Instructional Design". How did that happen?

I have learned everything I "know" about instructional design and teaching by doing.

A brief history:

Education: English and German Major.

Had thought I would go into teaching. Got accepted to a Master's program for secondary ed, but deferred. Got a job at an awesome company. Loved the people; loved getting paid. Bought a bike and took scuba lessons. Thought I'd try the working thing for awhile -- so long as I never had to wear panty hose.

I started my professional life in operations -- behind the scenes helping people do their jobs better. After a few years, I got involved in an IT initiative (then it was called MIS) -- designing a new software application to support our call center business. I talked to the users, translated their needs into requirements, translated that to the techies, worked up flow charts, designed screens, etc. That led into training. I did stand-up classroom sessions on the software. I wrote a monthly user-newsletter -- tips and tricks for maximizing the application. I had expertise. I had a knack for communication. I was an SME.

In the mid-90's, I made the leap to a multimedia training company. They liked my software training experience. I thought multimedia sounded pretty glamorous. I was a SME turned instructional designer. We produced loads of CBTs -- delivered on CD ROM. Lots of video. Lots of simulations.

My boss had an educational technology degree from Harvard. She taught me the basics of instructional design, although looking back it wasn't much: Instruct, Demo, Practice, Assess. I was never told about Gagne's 9 Events or the Kilpatrick Levels or ADDIE or the ARCS model or even much about adult learning styles, except that people all learned differently.

We had a novelist, turned video pro, who was our most creative instructional designer. Through observing him, I learned how to make good video -- the essentials of good lighting, dialogue, directing, storytelling.

I was there for 5 years, and then the company went under. Didn't make the transition to the web and got lost in the bubble.

Since then, I've done a bunch of freelance instructional design and script writing. I was a classroom assistant and lead teacher at a trade school for adult learners -- very hands-on (quite literally -- it's massage therapy). And now I'm here -- "Manager of Instructional Design."

I've created a lot of bad e-Learning over the years -- page turner after page turner. And I've created some really good stuff.

I've got a lot to learn about instructional/learning/experience design.

But at this point, I'm here to stay. This is my career. This is how I support my family. This is my expertise, even without the fancy letters after my name.

If you'd like to learn more about what I'm doing these days, check out my current job description.

My point is this: I don't think I'm that unusual. Or am I? What's your story? How did you get to be an "instructional designer"?

So let's get the tools and information out there to support folks like me. People who get "promoted" from SME to instructional designer and just start running with it. I believe that with the rise of rapid e-Learning tools, we'll see more and more non-instructional designers doing instructional design.

The 30-minute masters is a great start. What else have we got?

Rubric for Online Instruction Chico State

This morning, I stumbled across this Rubric for Online Instruction from Chico State University.

For those of us not from academic backgrounds, rubric might be a new term. I first heard of them when my husband was applying for k-12 teaching positions. At the time, it just seemed like a way to take all of the joy out of teaching. I was personally introduced to rubrics last semester in a faculty meeting at the school where I have been teaching.

A rubric is a statement describing the quality of the learning outcome, or rather a way to evaluate the effectives of the teaching experience and the student's comprehension or mastery. For example, if you are teaching an anatomy lesson, the assessment rubric for the student at the end of the lesson might be 1) Excellent: the student can palpate the named structures without assistance; 2) Good: the student can palpate the named structures while referring to the textbook; 3) Basic: the student can palpate the structure with guidance from the instructor.

Hadn't thought about applying rubrics to e-Learning programs (mostly because my entire body bristles at the thought of such structure!) -- but I do see the value. The Chico State rubric provides a way to assess the quality of the program; essentially a checklist to evaluate your program.

Does anyone have any experience with rubrics?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kineo & The Future of Rapid e-Learning Tools

If you don't already subscribe to Kineo's occasional newsletter, please do. Not only are they really smart guys, but they're also funny -- AND they like to share what they know with the rest us -- for the greater good of the e-Learning community.

The latest edition is chock full o' good stuff, including some thoughtful summaries of the eLearning Guild Annual Gathering and the future of rapid e-Learning tools.

The Kineo dinner sounds like a fabulous discussion, actually what I had been looking for in some of the sessions at the eLearning Guild event -- talking about where things are going, what companies are looking for, what companies are actually doing. I wish I could have joined you!

I was fortunate to have met Steve Rayson and Matthew Fox at the event -- you guys rock.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thank You Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes helps keep it real, man.

Sometimes I read something and it clinks around in my brain for awhile and won't let go. This was one of those things -- in keeping with the latest conversations on PLEs -- in keeping with my own struggles with working in the corporate realm.

Perhaps also because I sat at the same table as Stephen during Cecily Sommer's closing keynote speech (I offered you a dish of candy, which you politely refused) and watched as a he shook his head in seeming disgust/disagreement at her remarks on the opening of the Arctic icecap and the potentials for discovery and commerce and exploitation.

Sunday night I read Stephen Downes' posting on the The New Green. Downes adds a postscript (taken from a comment he made on Wesley Fryer's post on WalMart -- also an excellent read):

Learning isn't about being productive or being able to compete in today's world or even being entrepreneurial. It is about making choices for yourself, being in control of your own destiny, about leading a good life, being the best you can be, however you define 'good' and 'best' to be.

I remind/console myself that by producing good training programs I am (hopefully) helping to make someone's job better -- and in that moment, perhaps, I am helping to make his or her life better. Even if that person works for one of the big bad guys. Even then. Cuz we're still all just humans -- fragile and flawed and very connected.

Here's to leading a good life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

eLearning Guild Event Take Home Point #1

Last Thursday night after the eLearning Guild event, I was fortunate to have dinner with a small group of eLearning professionals -- a diverse group coming at the industry from lots of different angles. The group included Andy Snider (Snider Associates), Bjorn Billhardt (Enspire Learning), Pete LeDoux (GeoLearning), Doug Foster (D Foster Associates), Adam Girard (Bank of America) and myself.

Andy asked, "So, what's the next big thing in e-Learning?" Some ideas were tossed about: integration, personal learning, 3D, web 2.0, social networks. But the fact is, there wasn't One Big Thing that stood out to all of us. I guess, because there just isn't One Big Thing.

As I wandered around the conference, this is what stood out to me: there is room for everything in this big e-Learning world in which we live.
  • I had lunch one day next to a director of training at a big oil refining company. I asked him if he was making use of web 2.0 tools. "My guys just want the information. They want to take the course and that's it." This is his bottom up.
  • In the "Appropriate Use of New Technologies" session with Keith Resseau, a large percentage of the audience had never used blogs or wikis. I sat next to a training director for a regional drugstore chain. As the session ended she said, "Wow -- this could really work for some of my folks." Lightbulb.
  • Ray Simms and I had a conversation about sales training. A current sales person just asks the tech guy when she needs to gear up for a new product offering. Did she see a problem with that? No. That's what works for her. She doesn't have a training problem. So is e-Learning the solution?
  • I spoke with trainers at a large discount retail store. They struggle with huge turnover and one lousy computer in the back office. Top down dictates they move to e-Learning. How does that work? And certainly blogs and wikis and PLEs are not the tools for this sector of the audience. Please.
  • Rapid e-Learning tools are being adopted by companies, but they still want someone else to produce content for them. Even when you make these time-saving tools, people still want custom content; they still don't want to bother.

Tools. Custom Courses. Templates. Wikis, Blogs and all things Web 2.0. PLEs. Comics. Slick graphics. Video. Branching Scenarios. 3D. Games/Immersive Learning Simulations. Rapid e-Learning. Slow cooked e-Learning. Instructor-led. Informal. Formal. Bottom up. Top down.

It's all converging. There are still silos.

There is room for all of us.

Clive Shepherd said this all much more eloquently and intelligently than I have in his post And End to Polarised Argument.

Another take on Cognitive Load Theory

The authors of the Eide Neurolearning Blog weigh in on recent research and articles on cognitive load (including the death of Powerpoint that have been talked about here). While they recognize that some of this info is useful for understanding ways to effectively present information, "...the researchers still underestimate the diversity of their audience." Their main take-home point:

For the classroom, what may seem to be redundant information in a presentation, may be necessary for students with different information processing preferences.
This comes back to some of the basic "instructional design" I learned early in the game: that it's important to present information in a variety of ways because each of us learns differently and has a different learning style (in addition to providing that critical repetition and reinforcement -- what Clark Quinn called "multiple representations" in his session at the eLearning Guild event: "Deeper Learning Cognitive Science and Instructional Design")

On a sidebar note: assessing your own learning style is a whole 'nother matter.

One test showed me to be a VKA learner (Visual, Kinesthetic, Auditory)...

The TIPP learning theory showed me to be Traditional Personal with a visual preference (although I was also high on the auditory scale).

It's so easy to take one of these tests and skew your own results.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Conversations do matter

I am still quite brain dead from the the eLearning Guild event. Dead and yet quite alive. More committed to the power of blogging than ever. It was amazing to pick up conversations with people I had never met -- to continue right where we had never actually started -- to weave more threads together. To put real personalities and faces and human warmth on top of all these words I have been reading.

So now I'm sold on the values of social networking tools and Web 2.0. Completely. And I may start proselytizing. The last session on Friday I sat in on was "It's not innovative if it doesn't educate." It was Web 2.0 for beginners. And I realized that I'm no longer a beginner. I didn't learn anything new about the technologies or even how they are being used. But what I did learn is how much other people still don't know about this stuff. To the two women I was sitting next to, I was an expert. "You blog?!" "What's a wiki?" Neither of them had ever touched either thing. Not even wikipedia.

I was shocked. And yet not shocked at all. It confirmed what I have been thinking: that most of the e-Learning and training world out there is still doing the same old same old. Some folks don't want to change. Some folks don't know that they will have to change. Some are starting to have an inkling. And some folks probably won't have to change at all -- the old order is fine and this may not solve a problem. There is room for everything.

I had so much to share with these women in just a few minutes and I think they walked away really seeing the potential in these tools for their organizations. They were excited.

An so am I.

Thanks to all of you that I had a chance to continue conversations begun online. It was awesome!

Friday, April 06, 2007

David Byrne and PowerPoint

Remember back in 2003, when David Byrne published a book (described by AP Technology Writer Rachel Konrad as a "coffee table book for nerds") called E.E.E.I. Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information?

Oh that David Byrne, he's so creative and alternative co-opting PowerPoint like that. Check out some of the still slides from his work (I wish he would post the actual presentations...but I suppose even David Byrne wants us to buy his book).

In a March 13, 2005 article in The Toronto Star The Art of PowerPoint: David Byrne (Yes, that David Byrne) Defends a Reviled Software, "Byrne suggests that the medium itself is not the sole factor behind ill-fated attempts at over-simplifying complex information." The noted Edward Tufte blames PowerPoint. In contrast, "Byrne maintains that the proper use, or misuse, of PowerPoint lies in the hands of the user."

Here, here.

And the same holds true of rapid e-Learning tools and any in-house training effort. Of ANY e-Learning effort...This is why this training industry is not dead yet.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

More on PowerPoint and Instructional Design

Continuing the PowerPoint conversation begun yesterday here and picked up by Clive on Learning: Don't blame PowerPoint...and Quintus Joubert PowerPoint vs. Interactive Learning...

Here's another article on PowerPoint, found via Donald Clark at Big Dog, Little Dog: Bite the Bullet: Improving Your Presentation Strategies.

Some design tidbits:

Another colleague, Cliff Atkinson, who wrote Beyond Bullet Points, suggests taking most of your bullets off the slides entirely. Instead, put them into your Notes. You can use the notes for your own preparation, but by leaving just images on the slides you can deliver a polished talk that has a lot more impact; you won't be reading the
bullets (guaranteed Death by PowerPoint) and neither will the audience (who can
become distracted).

And this:

Few stage plays begin with all the actors on stage. For the same reason, you shouldn't project a complicated slide or diagram as one complete unit. Besides
the actors' egos and their need for an entrance, the fact is that no one can absorb a complex idea all at once. Introducing your important ideas sequentially lets them be absorbed more naturally. You can use the animation features of your presentation program to build your ideas a step at a time. Also, when you show a complex slide, the audience is distracted by trying to figure it out as you discuss it, so give it to them in stages as you talk about each concept.
Ho hum. This is all basic ID stuff, I suppose.

I also stumbled on this interview by Karl Kapp with Jane Bozarth over at e-Learning that had some good nuggets on basic instructional design and using low cost tools (like PowerPoint) to build effective e-Learning.

I've always pooh-poohed PowerPoint as an e-Learning tool...but it's all in how you look at, I suppose. And the truth is that so many of these so-called great e-Learning authoring tools out there these days just provide a developer with basic PowerPoint functionality plus a SCORM wrapper. Whoopeee.

But, as Clive says, we shouldn't blame PowerPoint -- nor should we blame all the authoring tools. It's the instructional design you lay on top of these tools that matters...

BTW -- If you haven't already, be sure to check out the demo lite version that's available for Clive Shepherd's course "Ten Ways to Avoid Death by PowerPoint". Excellent use of storytelling to make a point!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Off-the-Shelf Content: Help!

I have some questions that I am hoping someone can answer for me...or at least point me in the right direction. I've been trolling and coming up empty....It's kind of an e-Learning 101 question, but not in my realm. I've always been about custom content.

So -- how does off-the-shelf content work? Say, if you're purchasing a course library from SkillSoft or some other vendor:

  • If a client has their own LMS, do they purchase the courses outright and host them on their own servers? If so, is the vendor able to track usage or do they just sell the content for a flat fee based on LMS seat size?
  • Or do clients purchase courses that can be launched through their LMS, but that are hosted by the off-the-shelf vendor? So the vendor can closely track actual usage and charge based on that actual usage?
  • How are off-the-shelf vendor pricing models generally structured? By actual usage? By projected use (based on some factor like LMS license)?
I'm trying to advise a client but I have little to no experience in this area.


NewsFlash: PowerPoint Bad For Learning

Found via SlashDot, an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald "Research points the finger at PowerPoint."

The article cites new research from the University of New South Wales (home of John Sweller, "founding father" of Cognitive Load Theory).

Some key nuggets from the Sydney Herald article:

It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the
written and spoken form at the same time.

"The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster," Professor Sweller
said. "It should be ditched."

"It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented."

And how many e-Learning courses have you created with on-screen text bullets timed to narrative audio? Raise your hand. Me too. You know -- appeal to multiple learning styles; address the needs of both auditory and visual learners....

If the on-screen text is just a blurb that relates to the audio is that any different? I'm thinking about Karl Kapp's recent post Design: Bullets Be Gone. Or should we just end this practice completely?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

eLearning Guild Event -- My Sessions

As I've mentioned here before, I'm extremely excited about attending the upcoming eLearning Guild event here in Boston. Excited in sort of a geeky schoolgirl way. I'm excited to go to as many sessions as I can. I'm excited to pick people's brains. I'm excited to get feedback on our products and services (yes, my company will have a booth). And I'm even excited to work my booth -- althought that won't be my primary responsibility -- as the resident instructional designer, my job isn't selling, it's learning...

So here are the sessions I'm most interested in attending (you should see my schedule -- there are at least 3 things circled for each time to choose? how to choose?):

10:45 - 12:00 Deeper Learning: Cognitive Science and Instructional Design with Clark Quinn
1:15-2:15 Fast Track Intro to Learning Theory with Maggie Martinez
2:45-3:45 How to Apply Techniques of Professional Game Designer to E-Learning with Jeff Johannigman
4:15-5:15 The Future of Rapid e-Learning (Panel Discussion) hosted by Paul Clothier

10:45 E-Learning Technologies and Practices -- What's Really Happening Out There with Tony Karrer
1:30-2:45 PLE: Peparing for the New e-Learning Environment with Steven Downes
3:30-4:45 Using Simulations and Experiential Learning to Develop Leadership with Bjorn Billhardt

Friday (if I can actually get myself into the city that early...)
8:15-9:15 Using Questions to Deepen Learning: What the Research Says with Will Thalheimer
9:30-10:30 It's Not Innovative If It Doesn't Educate -- Appropriate Use of New Technologies with Keith Resseau

So it's a little bit of instructional design, some gaming, rapid e-learning, and just trying to get a general grasp of what's really going on out there. I'm interested in personalities -- hearing from some of the notables in our little blogging community.

And I'm wondering if I'm missing something really cool. Anyone have different suggestions for me? A particular speaker? A particular topic? I want to be efficient. I don't want to spend an hour in a talk that is just a recap of the conversations I'm taking part in out here, when it turns out that this Great New Thing is happening in the conference room two doors down.