Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Jott This Blog

I haven't had so much time lately to blog, as this project I'm working on has been quite grueling.

I find my best time for thinking up excellent blog entries is late at night when I'm lying in bed. That is, of course, if I'm even awake after the kids have finally fallen asleep.

Now I'm trying to maximize my time on the drive to work. Today, especially, my ideas are fresh from a restless night last night.

So thanks to Michelle Martin for turning me on to Jott.

jott_screen_3I am calling this blog entry in on my cellphone as I drive. When I arrive at work, it will be in my inbox. I'll simply have to cut and paste it into my blog tool, reformat it, and do some heavy editing. And then, presto magic, I have a new blog post.

It's taken a little getting used to.

Things I'm learning:

  • I have to talk much more slowly. Otherwise Jott doesn't get what I'm saying.
  • Jargon can be hard for Jott to translate. But it does a pretty good job and inserts [...] when it's not sure just what you mumbled.
  • You can only jott in 30 second chunks. I have way more to say than that. The answer is to immediately jott yourself again (and you don't have to redial the number, the lovely Jott Attendant asks you who you want to Jott when a previous jott is finished).

I arrived at work this morning to find 9 Jotts in my inbox -- fodder for a few blog posts at least.

(There's much more that you can do with Jott -- send Jotts to friends, send yourself reminders or txt msgs, create to do lists. I'm just scratching the surface here.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

E-Learning Project Reality: Guerrilla Instructional Design

I'll define it in one word: grueling.

Since November, I have been working on a big project for a brand-name institution: 29 self-paced eLearning courses.

Mostly software training, with bits of process and product information thrown in for good measure.

Courses range from 15-30 minutes each and are geared towards my client's external clients. No assessments or formal testing. Lots of software interactivity.

Most of these courses already exist as online, instructor-led experiences. I've got the PowerPoints and Word docs to prove it.

Relentless schedule. The lifecycle of an ideal course, on paper, is about 40 days. That's from initial content kickoff to final live courses.

It goes a little something like this:

Content Gathering

The first step is the contact kick off meeting. This includes myself, the instructional designers at the client company who manage things on their end, and any subject matter experts that they can assemble for the meeting.

We go through any existing classroom notes. We talk about the performance objectives. We review the content at a high level.

Generally, within a couple of days of the kickoff, I have a second meeting with the SME or course trainer. If possible, I sit in on a live training session. Schedules don't always work out, so more often this is a one-on-one tour of the software and the content notes with the trainer. Here we attempt to get into all the detail

Thankfully, I type really fast, so I've got a lot of good material to work with when I get to the next stage.

Story Boarding

If the stars are aligned, I immediately begin story boarding. Depending on the length and complexity of the course, this takes anywhere from 1 day to 5 days. Of course, this varies greatly depending upon how accessible the subject matter expert are to me.

Client Review

This is the single longest phase of this project.

Each course goes through an extensive review process on the client side, starting with the client's ID team and their SME team. The document is sent out to everyone, then the whole team gathers in a conference call and walks through the story board together.

Ideally, the team has reviewed the document beforehand and has all of their comments, but more often than not, this is their first look at it. I capture all of their comments, make revisions, and send out an updated version.

The client ID team wrangles the SMEs and gets more comments until we have a SME approved script.

Next, the story board goes to the client's editing department for copy editing. Have we dotted the right letters? Have we adhered to corporate guidelines?

From there, onward for a legal review to make sure all the trademarks are in the correct places and no false promises are being made.

This is where things get delayed and backed up: the SMEs and the legal department.


Once we have a final, legally approved document we can begin building the course.

The client takes all the screen captures because we can't have access to the software.

I prep the script and send it off for audio production (we've been working with an excellent independent guy with his own studio who can churn this stuff out!)

My development team builds the sucker. We've got this down to a lean and mean 5-7 days, which includes internal QA. We use a fairly templated approach, so at this point there aren't many bugs to discover.

Course Review

We post the course for the client team to review. Usually, this is another online walkthrough. Sometimes the SMEs have looked at it beforehand and have their comments all lined up, sometimes this is their first look at the thing. You never know.

We revise and fix. Sometimes have to record new audio. Occasionally have had to rewrite big chunks and send a story board back to editing and eReview because the right SMEs weren't initially included in the review cycle...or someone just didn't get that they really needed to review the story board...or....or. But that hasn't happened too many times.

Course Goes Live

We post the final course. The client IT team downloads all the files and puts it on their servers and the thing is live.


Instructional Design: When the Schedule Dictates What You Can Actually Do

So how much time do you think we have here for real creative instructional design? Not much.

This is the harsh reality of eLearning in the trenches. When great just can't get in the way of good enough.

This is what I've started calling guerilla instructional design. Get in and out as fast as you can with the fewest casualties.

But the client is delighted with what we've been producing. Initial feedback from actual end-users has been really positive. Something's working here.

Is That A Light At The End of The Tunnel?

  • This morning I sent off a first draft of story board #22.
  • About six courses have actually gone live.
  • Another four courses have been built and are in revision purgatory.
  • Another ten plus story boards have been written and are somewhere in the vast client review process.

The great irony is that the projected due date for the final course is May 21st, which also happens to be the due date of the real baby that is currently kicking around inside of me.

My client hopes I go late.

Photo credits:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Instructional Strategies?

chalkboardWhat instructional strategies do you use to make your content more memorable and engaging? I'm not just thinking about the gadgets and the gizmos that you use or the instructional design "method" behind the process (e.g., ADDIE), but rather the teaching tools themselves. Strategies that help learners connect with and remember the content.


"King Phillip Came Over From Geneva Spain"

Remember that one from high school biology? I remember the mnemonic itself, but not all the terms. Something like: Kingdom, Phyllo, C?, O?, Family, Genus, Species.

Luckily, these days I can quickly search online for a refresher.

I missed Class and Order. And it's Phylum, not Phyllo. But not bad for knowledge I haven't used in 25 years.

Wikiquote has a lengthy catalog of mnemonics for a wide variety of subjects, from bartending to home repair.

Do you ever develop a mnemonic for a custom course? Or chunk out your content and create an easily remembered acronym to remind the learner of the steps they need to follow?

I don't know if I've ever done that. But I've got a mind to try it out one of these courses.

Getting Snappy

I had an interview with an instructional designer the other day, who's developed and led a lot of instructor-led courses. She described getting her learners to "snap things out."

She works with the content, chunks it out, and creates snappy rhymes to help learners remember the material. In class, she has the learners walk around the classroom, chanting the rhyme and snapping it out.

Things might get a bit silly with all that snapping, but I bet it's effective.

How could you do that in an e-learning experience? How do you get your learners to get snap happy?

I'm excellent at creating ridiculous rhymes and ditties for my kids; I think I could come up with something interesting for a course.

Reflective Learning
mirror I learned this one from Clive Shepherd's 60 Minute Masters: insert moments of reflection into the course.

Create pauses in the activity to get the learner to stop and think; apply the content to their own world; make their own connections.

In a recent course, I designed "Think About It!" pages. The course asks the learner an open question. The learner can type their thoughts onto a yellow sticky pad on the screen. These aren't saved for managerial review, they're just a moment in time for that learner.

Time Well Spent

It takes more than rapid regurgitation of content to develop a mnemonic or create a snappy tune. My bet is many eLearning designers don't often have the time to develop creative instructional strategies. But, given the right course, it may be time well spent.

Other Ideas?

Here's a few more ideas off the top of my head:

  • Storytelling
  • Case studies
  • Role plays

What other strategies or approaches could you suggest?

Photo credits:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Salaries for Instructional Designers

Are you wondering if your salary is up to snuff? Do you need a raise? Want to figure out what you might make if you were to enter the illustrious world of instructional design?

Here's a list of salary resources where you can find out more:

(I liked this one a lot. You enter your own salary and location and see how it compares to the averages in your region.)

(Kind of basic, but it's good to view another data set.)

ASTD (Warning, you need to purchase the article, which I didn't do...)

E-Learning Guild's Annual Salary Reports for the US and Canada 2008 (Lots of ways to cut the data here. Great report!)

[I discovered the first three links via a posting on the ITFORUM discussion list.]

Photo credit: $5700 by Andrew Magill

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Accidental Learning

Yesterday, on my evening commute, I head a wonderful essay by noted cellist Yo-Yo Ma for NPR's "This I Believe" series.


"Every day I make an effort to go toward what I don't understand. This wandering leads to the accidental learning that continually shapes my life."

I really like the term accidental learning.

It's more than informal. It's accidental. It's serendipitous.

So, what kind of accidents have you stumbled upon today? What unknowns have you crept into? What discomfort have you gone towards?

Photo credit: Cello Inlay by asluthier

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Instructional Design: Where's Your Center? Who's Your Master?

As you create training solutions, to what master are you answering?

Are you being content centric or learner centric? Or are you forced to be sponsor centric?

Content Centric Solutions

These are those courses that have the entire book of knowledge in 'em. Every software interaction and menu is explained in detail. It's all there. You've covered the content to death. And probably killed a learner or two in the process, if they even bothered to stick with it.

Learner Centric Solutions

This is what we're all striving for, right? That course that meets the needs of the learner. The right content, in the right format.

Sponsor Centric Solutions

Unfortunately, it's often the project sponsor who's really calling the tune. They claim to have detailed understanding of the learner. As the course designer, you're not encouraged or even allowed access to actual learners to get an understanding yourself. Perhaps that kind of access isn't possible, given the limited budget.

Or maybe what really matters is what the Senior VP of Training thinks of all this. If they like the colors and the interactivity and the general format, then they consider the project a success. Evaluation complete.

eLearning vendors (those that design custom courseware) are often handed the course to be built. The sponsor says "we want this eLearning course." So the vendor scopes it out and does the design work, the storyboarding, the development work.

But the bottom line is, the vendor needs to butter their bread and produce what the client has asked for.

What strategies do you use to ensure a project stays learner centric vs. sponsor centric? How do you ensure your consulting expertise gets communicated in a development project?

Photo credit: Spirals On Blue by Tanakawho

Monday, March 03, 2008

Metaphors of Instructional Design

In the exciting and sometimes heated recent debate on the role of instructional designers (The Value of Instructional Designers, Karl Kapp's We Need a Degree in Instructional Design, Learning Circuits Big Question for Feb) I've seen instructional design compared to:
  • brain surgery
  • interior design
  • carpentry
I certainly don't think it's rocket science nor do I think it's brain surgery.

I like the analogy Michele Martin uses: instructional design as cooking.

Most of us can cook a little something. Perhaps you're best at opening a box of frozen fish sticks and laying them on the cookie sheet and dumping a bag of frozen peas in a pot. In recent years, I've resorted to this meal quite often. Hey, I've got small kids and I know my audience. Which is critical in both cooking and instructional design.

Not all meals are created equal. Just like training experiences. Some might require that you simply follow the recipe; others may demand a five star experience:

Just Follow the Recipe

A lot of people out there can create a great meal by following a recipe to a T.

Of course, you need the right tools -- accurate measuring spoons and cups, and the right ingredients.

Muffins, spaghetti sauce, cookies, yum. There are still those who follow the recipe and end up with burnt yuck.

The Dump and Pray Method

My Granny followed the dump and pray method of cooking.

Admittedly, I never had the pleasure or displeasure of sampling her menus, so I can't say if this method worked for her, but I've found it works for me in the kitchen.

Granted, I've read a lot of cookbooks. I watch an occasional cooking show, but not as a rule. (I don't have cable, so I don't know from Rachel Ray). And I've cooked a lot. Generally, I know what works. I know how to carmelize a mean onion and have a good sense of my herb cabinet.

I've taken many a cookbook recipe and improvised, creating something new and innovative. I can step out of the box.

Many self taught cooks achieve culinary perfection through this type of of experimention. Can you replicate the meal the next time? Maybe yes. But maybe it's slightly different the next time 'cuz you've used more garlic.

The dump and pray method works best when you understand your audience. Do you know who's going to be eating this particular meal? And it works best when you know your tools and your ingredients.

Creating a Five Star Meal

I don't know much about the starring system for restaurants, but my limited understanding knows that it has to do with the complete experience. The right napkins and place settings must be used or you lose a star.

I was once making an omelete with a professional chef who showed me how to make the red pepper we were cutting up five star: each piece had to be the exact same size, all the white trimmed off, all the edges perfectly square.

I rarely see the worth in that. But then, I tend to prefer thick chunky, even in an omelete.

But there may be times when a five star meal is exactly what's required. In which case you need a five star chef who probably went to a high-end Culinary Institute of Learning and has the knife sharpening skills to prove it.

Instructional Designers as Chefs

Different eating experiences require different expertise. And I would argue that different training experiences also require different expertise. Back to Instructional Design as a Spectrum.

Sometimes we may just dump and pray -- and if you're good, you come up with something great. Sometimes you just follow the recipe -- perhaps using a rapid eLearning Template tool and a solid ISD model. Sometimes you need a five star chef.

If you've seen the recent animated feature, Ratotouille (I watched it twice while home sick a few weeks ago) then you know that "Anyone can cook." Even a rat.

Now I'm not saying that SMEs are rats, or instructional designers are rats....

So what are you cooking up these days?

Photo credits:
The Last Happy Chef by Mykl Roventine
Open Onion by Darwin Bell
Mouse Spaghetti Tastes Better When Cooked by Jannes Pockele