10 Things Instructional Designers Hate to Hear

Every week, Dave Anderson of Articulate poses a different e-learning challenge. This week, the challenge is “10 Things Instructional Designers Hate to Hear“.

Here are mine:

1. That’s not what I meant!

2. By the way, the SME is in Belgium with a 9-hour time difference

3. Your SME is going on a 4-week vacation

4. E-Learning won’t work for that.

5. You should make people read the material first.

6. I think we need two people to choose from, not just one.

7. It’s going to take how long?

8. We can review it this week.  Oh wait, I’m busy…let’s see, I’m free in three weeks.

9. I know what I said but I’m thinking now we should make them do this.

10. Just use the Powerpoint slides, they’re good enough.

Oy vey!


Every Picture Tells a Story….or not!

Here is a simple little e-learning module I created.  The original intent was to demonstrate how to use layers and states in Articulate Storyline.


I showed this during a recent ASTD monthly session to over 40 people.  One of the key takeaways, for me, was how engrossed and captivated the audience was in doing the exercise.

I purposely did not include any visuals or photos or images or anything other than text and basic buttons because I didn’t want to detract from the lesson of learning about layers and states.

These folks thought the content and approach was compelling, interesting, engaging, and they loved going through the exercise.  And, they said they actually learned something!

I asked them, “did the fact that there were no visuals bother you?”

Many folks said things like, “I didn’t even notice.”; “I created the visuals in my head.”; “I liked that there were no visuals, it allowed me to stay focused and create the scene myself.”; “It didn’t bother me.”

There is so much emphasis in our (e-learning) community about images (use visuals in place of text) and pictures (do we use real people, characters, or silhouettes?).  Yes, there is a lot of talk about scenarios and stories but what I witnessed, from my little non-scientific session, is just how powerful the story really is and all the other “stuff” can make a good story better but it won’t make bad story (or no story) good.

Feel free to download the exercise and tell me your thoughts.  (You should download all the files as listed to ensure it runs properly).

(note: the content for this exercise was found on the internet.  I don’t remember where and I didn’t record where because I didn’t think it would get this far.  I’m happy to give credit and/or take it down if whomever owns it wants me to.)

House Painting and E-Learning…Yeah, They’re Similar

What’s the similarity, you ask?


Painting your house is no fun.  Not for me, anyway.

It took me lots of trial and error to realize that if I would take the time up front to prepare for creating something new (like a freshly painted room), that I could avoid a lot of pain and anguish after the fact.

So, how do you prepare to paint?  You move furniture, put covering down on the floor, tape off baseboards and window sills, repair small holes in the wall, and sand down rough spots.  You make sure you have the right brushes, ladders, trays, solvents, paint, rags, masks, and clothing.

And what’s the pain and anguish I avoid?  Spilled paint on carpet or hardwood floors that may never come clean.  Uneven and splotchy paint on the walls and look unpleasant and unprofessional.  Walls that no one wants to look at.  A big mess that I don’t want to clean up.  Possibly a room that will need to be painted again.

I’m hoping that you are already seeing the similarity to e-learning.

If you prepare properly for the creation of your e-learning module then you greatly increase your chances of having a job that will not only look pleasing and professional, but one where learners will actually learn something.

Next time I will talk about the steps you can take to prepare for a successful e-learning “paint job”.  In the meantime, be thinking about it yourself and see if you agree with me or have some additional steps to add (I am sure some of you could add steps to my house painting preparedness list!).

Until next time…

Say It With Me – I Am a Great Instructional Designer

I was on a webinar today from Julie Dirksen (http://usablelearning.com/) and one of the links she provided was to StoryWonk (http://storywonk.com/).

As an instructional designer, I have always considered storytelling an integral part of being effective.  I have books on how to tell stories and how to write stories (I love writing, too).  I am always looking for ideas on stories and how to use stories in learning.

I immediately clicked on the StoryWonk link and as I was surfing around the site I noticed some comments where everyone was saying “I am a great writer.”  I wasn’t sure what that was all about.  Were these egotists full of themselves?  Were these boastful braggadocios trying to convince the world of their wonderfulness?

I dug deeper and realized that Lani, the site co-owner, would end her lectures and presentations with an exercise where she would have attendees proclaim in a loud out-loud  voice, “I am a great writer.”

She has lots of reasons why you should do that and she has wonderful podcasts that go into the details but it made me think – the reasons she promotes that phrase for the world of writers applies to the world of instructional designers, too!

Too often I have students and acquaintances and encounters with other designers who seem to be in a place where they are “getting into ID”, or “learning ID”, or don’t really think they are instructional designers because they don’t have this certificate or that degree or enough experience or this knowledge or that expertise.

I say if you are designing instruction you are an instructional designer.  Could you be better?  Could you know more?  Of course.  That will always be the case.  You know more than some people and will never know as much as some.  Who cares?

If you love instructional design and enjoy doing it and if there is anyone that is better off or knows more because of using some of your instructional design then you are a great instructional designer.

Ok, instructional designers, say it with me now – “I am a great instructional designer!”

Thanks, Julie!

Thanks, StoryWonk!


Until next time…

e-Learning or e-Watching?

There is a lot of e-learning out there these days.  Companies are developing more and more of it.  Statistics show growth here, there, and everywhere.

A lot of the growth can be attributed to the fact that there are so many good rapid development tools that allow practically anyone to be able to create it.

But I have to ask, “How much actual learning is taking place?”

Increasingly, I find myself viewing a purported e-learning module only to come away thinking that all I really did was just watch and listen to someone show me and tell me something.  I didn’t really learn anything.

And I’m not talking about regurgitating a fact or figure I was informed about a few slides back.  That’s not learning.  That’s short-term memory recall.  And it’s something I’m not going to have the foggiest clue about in 6 months, or probably even 6 days (because I didn’t  really learn it)

So, is it semantics?  Perhaps.  But it doesn’t do our industry any favors by calling passive videos that are mostly information sharing and/or marketing tools e-learning.

When I see “e-learning”, I am actually hoping I will learn something.  And I am more than disappointed when it turns out I was just watching something where the intent was not learning a new skill or process or something else I really wanted to learn how to do or know.  I actually get a little angry.  And sad.

Because every time someone puts out a module that is really information sharing or marketing and touts it as e-learning, I hear another voice somewhere saying “e-learning sucks and is a waste of my time.” <shudder>

Which just makes it that much harder for real e-learning to break through and do it’s job.

And it really can do a very fine job.

Until next time…


Good, Fast, Cheap…pick any two.

Good, fast, cheap…pick any two.  This has been my email tagline since the mid-90’s.

I find it so fitting for just about everything and e-learning is no exception.

I bring it up today because the use of video in e-learning seems to be gaining in popularity.

And I ask myself, “Why?”

Video is a passive activity.  We watch videos.  We listen and we watch.  Often, we read something that matches what we are listening to and watching.

Are we learning?

To me, when I feel like I have “learned” something, it is because I feel that I am comfortable being able to do something.  I can manipulate a piece of machinery, I can behave in a certain way, I can recite some information.  Another way of saying it is, I can demonstrate knowledge.

Can I demonstrate knowledge of something I’ve gleaned from watching a video?

Well, I suppose I can if I am given an opportunity to do so.  At least, I probably could if that opportunity came within a few minutes, hours, or possibly days after watching the video.

And then, what would it take to be able to demonstrate that knowledge six months after watching that video?

I think the answer is practice.  Don’t we have to “try” something before we know we can “do” something (and I mean successfully do something – where it meets some acceptable standard of performance)?  Regardless of whether that “do” is in the form of manipulating, behaving, or reciting.  Sure, we can think we know how to do something but we really don’t know for sure (nor does anyone else) until we actually do it.

To say you have learned something, you have to be able to demonstrate that you can do something.  That is how you verify and validate that what you think you know you actually do know.

So, in the world of e-learning, where learning is supposed to be taking place, there has to be more than just viewing a video (otherwise we should just call it e-watching).  There has to be an opportunity to practice and demonstrate – and not necessarily in that order.

Which gets me back to the use of video in the world of e-learning.  Why is video becoming so popular and being touted as “e-learning”?

Because the two that the decision-makers have picked are “cheap” and “fast”.

Until next time…