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Poolside Learning

water inner tubesI am continually amazed at how learning can take place anywhere, at any time.  I was sitting poolside enjoying the sunshine and a pleasant morning.  In the pool were three young children with their dad.  The children were a bit timid at first with their “floaties” on and hanging on to the side of the pool.  They used the steps in the shallow end, and the father told them to swim in the pool and do what they “felt comfortable” doing.

A few minutes later, one of the girls who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, asks her daddy, “Can we do something we feel uncomfortable doing?”  Wow!  What a teachable moment, dad!  The five year old then learned a valuable lesson when her dad responded with these words.  “Well, that’s an interesting question.  You should sometimes do things you are uncomfortable doing.  It’s only by doing things that you feel a little uncomfortable with, that you will grow and become better.” (Eureka!)  With that, the girls began swimming into the deep end, racing one another back and forth the entire length of the pool.

I couldn’t help taking in the father’s words myself and noting how truly profound his lesson was for his daughters, me and anyone else who might have been hearing them.  We are always required to stretch ourselves a little bit and step outside of our comfort zone.  Sometimes that step can be more than uncomfortable.  It can be scary, nerve-wracking, and downright painful, depending on the task.

I would like to pass this father’s wisdom new my new class of students for the upcoming semester.  I teach a college online course, “Technology in the Classroom”.  Much of the content of the course involves learning new software programs, instructional tools and educational methodology.  Some students will come into the class already comfortable on a computer. Others will be novices who are a little weary to press the keys, to explore and see what happens!  No matter what the content is in a new course, we are sometimes feeling anxious and a little afraid, because it is outside of our comfort zone.  It’s new to us, so we have to stretch in order to grow!

I would encourage all of my students (and everyone for that matter), to do something you are a little uncomfortable doing.  For that is the only way that you will grow and become better at it.


learn keysInstructional design is no doubt multidisciplinary by nature, involving many methods and tools that result in a quality learning solution. I think this can be a “pro” and a “con” to instructional design products and the instructional design industry overall.

Let’s begin with the bad news. If an organization is small or has a limited budget, they may not be able to afford the many talents that often make up a team that work together on an instructional design project. This might include the project manager, the instructional designer, the graphic arts specialist, videographer, technical writer, etc.  It is rare that a smaller, sometimes “one man/woman team” is equipped in all of these areas and can manage the full range of tasks alone in a timely manner. Is it possible? Sure – I’ve been there! However, the ultimate design of the training may have to shift, and some ideas must be altered to fit within the confines of the talent at hand. This too can generate a positive result, but it often requires some outside of the box thinking.

On the positive side, the fact that a learning solution requires so many different talents to work collaboratively together welcomes diversity of thought and often generates creativity! The best minds sitting around a table, or even across the globe with a focus on one learning project is very exciting. Everyone brings their best to the project; all points of view are honored, and a project with many facets comes together with a common learning goal. In this scenario, it’s possible that the sky’s the limit. The end product may have the ability to really “wow”. Ultimately, even with so many team members, the end product must still fit the bill, delivering a true learning solution.


When working on a project in a real team effort, I find that storyboard is our group’s salvation. It keeps us grounded. There is less confusion, and everyone knows their part. The best part about creating the storyboards for a project is the collaboration. Getting all the ideas flowing from all members really creates a sense of camaraderie. We are all focused with an “I can” attitude. The team members remain clear on the intent of the project, the roles and responsibilities, and we all seem to be happier with the final product when we use storyboards.

That being said, one storyboard template that I have found to be really great is provided by the “eLearning Brothers”. The template is free when you sign up, which also opens their entire library of nice freebies for you!   This eLearning storyboard template has been created in PowerPoint slides. The “meat slide”, which contains the typical storyboard features (title, instructions for developer, images, text, etc. is just one of many slides in this PowerPoint deck. The fact that they add some “preface” slides, for branding information, course goals, objectives, etc. makes this the whole package. From start to finish, the entire work of a training course is contained within the PowerPoint deck.

The one thing I do wish was included on the “meat slide” is a specific spot on the storyboard for the voice-over transcript. This is noted on the “course introeLearning Bros picduction” slide, and you are told to drag items such as audio and video instructions onto the stage of the slide. But I would prefer that part of the stage be sectioned off for the audio. Its presence on the slide serves as a reminder to include it. The beauty is, that I can easily create that additional box as well as other items I may prefer and save it as my own! That’s the other brilliant aspect of this storyboard; it allows flexibility but starts from a really great place! Check it out for yourself at:


Bulletproof your PowerPoint Presentations

Bullet pic

I am currently contracted to develop a helpful eLearning course, “Creating Better PowerPoint Presentations” designed for college instructors.  In doing so, I have come across some excellent resources.

These two articles came from Connie Malemed’s blog, The eLearning Coach, which is also fantastic.

“10 Types of Writing for eLearning”

“6 Alternatives to Bullet Lists”

If you design instruction and perhaps use rapid authoring tools that draw from PowerPoint slides, these resources provide some ideas that are quick and easy to put into practice immediately!  The use of shapes, pictures and characters as “alternatives to bullet lists” are quite easy to then connect to triggers, as in Articulate Storyline.

Thanks, Connie, for such awesome content.

Writing for Instructional Design

write picWhen creating eLearning courses, writing in different styles is important. At times a formal, or more technical writing is needed. Other times, it’s best to have more of a conversational style of writing. With practice and experience, you can become better at both types of writing in your eLearning work.

The more formal writing style is needed when the information is very factual, statistical or technical. This I have often found to be the case when developing Advanced Manufacturing courses. Writing a description of an air conditioning compressor is really not personal and requires little conversation with the learner. This type of writing, I have found, takes some practice. Finding the most important key words to display on screen or include for voice-over can be a little tricky. Often technical content is precise, and it contains multiple layers which need to be conveyed at just the right time.

Conversational writing on the other hand, is the way an online instructor can really make a connection to the learner. Speaking to them, through written word or audio, as if the learner is sitting in front of you in a classroom, is the sweet spot! If the instructor can achieve this, they draw the learner in and make them feel as if they have a personal teacher, not just a computer and screen. I feel I am strong in this conversational writing because I can draw from my face-to-face teaching experiences. One technique I use is to write and speak it aloud. I either do this as I’m writing the text, or read the text aloud once I have written the content. As I read it, I do so with the inflection that I expect the learner to have when they see it on screen, or hear it in my voice-over. This helps to ensure that I’ve used proper punctuation and wording. After hearing the content aloud, I often find myself changing up the words to include phrases that flow off the tongue. Sometimes I change a phrase because it turns out to be a tongue tying mess, and I want to prevent a problem when the voice-over is dubbed.

As I stated, both conversational writing and formal writing take considerable thought and practice when creating eLearning courses. The effort is worthwhile, as it makes a huge difference in the delivery of the course, ultimately affecting the learning outcome.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/juliejordanscott/4998041252/in

eLearning Activities

elearning pic

When designing the activities for this eLearning course on creating PowerPoints, I knew that I would have to think differently than if I were teaching this face-to-face. If this were an ILT, I would be able to look over the learner’s shoulder and guide them along the way. I would be able to interject immediately and even add tips that may come up in the one-to-one delivery of the content. Sometimes the learner’s questions directs the needs in a face-to-face training, learning more of what interests them. An eLearning training does limit that “spontaneous tangent training” that can happen more easily in person. But the “Aha” moments can still occur. The challenge is to predict the questions and potential areas to which the learner may way to venture. Giving them “suppose” statements, helps them to apply the lesson to what they may be thinking themselves and how they may be planning to use the skills.

In this particular training, the learners are asked to complete some simple tasks to create PowerPoint slides that meet a certain set of criteria. Although the task may be simple, they are given the freedom to create slides in such a way as to reflect their own innovation and their own real life application. They create the slides that they see as transferring to their authentic work. The fact that the eLearning course requires them to do some of this on their own, without someone guiding them and giving them shoulder advice so immediately, can actually be a benefit. In this way, the learner absorbs the knowledge from watching a demonstration, and then has the time to really think about creating a project slide that meets the criteria. The time lapse that an eLearning course provides, enables the learner to not just look and copy off of a sample in the classroom. After viewing the demo, the learner may actually take time off – complete other work, go for a walk – before coming back with the ideas to complete the project in a more authentic fashion. Keeping this in mind helps guide me in the development of the activities for the eLearning course.

eLearning Assessment

woman at computer

Having researched, developed and reviewed assessment tools myself, my approach to assessments for my eLearning course is that they be learner focused.  Gone are the days of “gotcha” testing.  The idea of “you shouldn’t teach to the test” is really kind of a pet peeve of mine.  What would be the alternative?  Teach the learner a bunch of content on a given subject, and then surprise them with test questions that are different than the content they learned?  More than unfair, and really pointless.  Assessments should be designed to ensure that the learner understands the material and can apply it.

For simple recall or knowledge questions I do like to utilize true/false, multiple choice and matching questions.  These would preferably be interwoven throughout an interactive lecture for example.  For higher level skills, I prefer simulations or step-by-step process demonstrations which show that the learner knows “how to” accomplish a task.  At the higher levels of the Blooms taxonomy, a learner may be asked to create something.  For example in my eLearning course, the learner must create a structured PowerPoint slide presentation that follows strict criteria.  Having them actually do the complete exercise and submit a finished product for review is as close to the authentic task as they’re going to get.  It is the real-life task!

The feedback for the lower level tasks can be immediate, appearing after each test item answer is submitted.  But the higher level tasks, creating a product, proposes a more difficult review of the learner’s work.  The review of the learner’s product can be more subjective, and it may require more of a time lapse.  The use of peer reviews in a discussion board is a great way to assist the learner in an online course.  Submitting the work and receiving feedback from the instructor is also easily done, but may include in a time delay.  If I were in an ILT course, the feedback could be ongoing as the learner is completing the product.  This would create more of a continuous “trial and error” scenario.  Even the final submission of the product in an ILT course could be immediate.  Once completed, the learner could present his PPT slideshow right away and the instructor and other classmates offer their critique of the work.

Whether it be an ILT course or an eLearning course, assessments must be derived from the objectives.  The learning objectives are set clearly at the onset.  There should be no surprises.  The learner knows what is expected, completes assignments and activities related to those objectives.  The assessments are the final step in the process; they test the learner’s completion of the objectives.

eLearning Objectives

When creating the objectives for any course it is important to consider scaffolding as well as the various learning domains. While Gagne’s Learning Domains are comparable, I prefer to use the domains within the Bloom’s Taxonomy: Affective, Cognitive and Psychomotor. Bloom’s Taxonomy is well-known and all the information can be found within a single, helpful chart.

The objectives for this course remain the same for the learner, whether it be offered face-to-face or as an online course. The learner is first required to identify what makes for a PowerPoint that would meet best practice standards. This starts the learner out at a low cognitive level, beginning the scaffolding of skills required. Then the learner must begin to apply the information that he “knows” and create a PowerPoint slide that includes the criteria required (change layout, insert text, images and create audio recordings). This requires the cognitive and psychomotor domains for sure. We can only hope that the learner is benefiting from the affective domain as well, although that is not measured in the course.

eLearning Analysis

Currently I am working on an eLearning project that will help instructors design PowerPoint slides for their eLearning courses. In the past we have done this segment of a larger week long training in a face-to-face setting. In the Instructor Led Training (ILT) session, the learners watched a video, listened to the Trainer who presented from a PowerPoint. Mind you, the PPT slides for this presentation were created to be a demonstration of the effective PPT slides we want the instructors to create. The problem with the training was that the session focused on the Trainer, not the doing by the learner. Due to time constraints in the ILT session, the lecture and demonstration took all the time we had together, and the learner was left to practice on their own, with little guidance, and somehow they were expected to just finish with a good result.

I expect the eLearning project to have the same effect as a “flipped” classroom design. The learners can watch the videos, view the “How to Create Effective PowerPoint Slides” presentation, and then begin dabbling on their own. But then they will have to turn in some of their work, their created PPT slides. Through class discussion boards and critique from the teacher online, the learner will continue to improve their work. In this way, the learner will be able to learn more, receive constructive criticism and continue learning through trial and error. Then they will be more confident about their finished product.

Challenges that I can foresee in the project are due to evaluation and resource constraints. First of all, while we may be able to get an Instructor to initially create an effective PPT, there’s no guarantee that we will be able to change his behavior for the long run. The Instructor may be able to complete the PPT design and meet the given checklist of items, but the affective outcome is not as easily measurable. The Instructor may find it much easier to continue with the method of using the textbook publisher’s slides, which will involve much less effort.   Secondly, the resources needed, an instructional designer to coach the Instructor, may not be available to the Instructor for future PPT creation once his/her initial course is created. Without this resource, the Instructor may fall back into old habits. Without continual practice and performance expectations, the Instructor may not be motivated to continue to develop effective PPT slides.

My Experience with eLearning

About a year ago I purchased a new laptop computer with Windows 8.   While the format looks great, I was new to how Windows 8 worked. In order to even begin using my computer, I had to first master Windows 8, both for regular laptops and for my new touch screen laptop.  Thank goodness for YouTube, the fastest and perhaps most popular form of eLearning!   I searched for a tutorial on YouTube and quickly found answers. The fact that I could watch and listen to instructions made it very easy to follow. The instructor used screen capturing and demonstrated each aspect of using Windows 8.   The two tutorials definitely met my expectations. Within 15 minutes, I was ready to go and begin using my computer.   I was able to use my laptop very quickly, and I knew that if I had to refer back to the tutorial, I could do so to refresh my memory on some items.   I was surprised at how much material could be covered in such a short amount of time. Viewing the exact “how to” features was great!   The quick tutorials included everything I needed to know in such a short amount of time. I am sure there may be advanced versions of how to navigate Windows 8, but the tutorials I selected worked great for my purposes.  YouTube does play a significant role in the popular form of eLearning today!

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