What I do

eLearning Infographic: The Periodic Table of Instructional Design

The world and her dog appear to be in love with the Periodic Table as a thing of design beauty. elearning Brothers got in on the act with the Instructional Design periodic table, which I thought I’d include here in its Photoshoppy glory.


There’s a nice little Storyline version here:


Checking in and going back

Good ways to learn stuff, Interactvity tips and ideas, Mmm...nice., What I do

This, apparently is a “Happy businesswoman”…

Yeah…so, about a week after I wrote that last blogpost, I had an interview with my old mates at Thomson Reuters. There was an opening for a role that was fairly similar to my old role from years ago, but with a new boss, new structure, and working on a knotty project that would require me to come up with some really creative learning solutions.


Oh, and a bit more money.

It turned out that I had missed the old place; the temperamental kettle taps, the meetings about meetings, the orange…so much orange… So, I’ve been back at Thomson Reuters for several months now. I’ve got more creative freedom and a bit less responsibility – in fact I’ve been told to be less intense.

So there you go, that’s the career update. But I wanted to show this:


It’s a video showing how to create an origami flower. I like origami. But I really just wanted to note how they use overlays and non-verbal cues to instruct the user on creating a very complicated paper flower.  The music is…well..it reminds you that you’ve still got a video running.

It made me think, how could you do it better?

Could you, say, add a menu, so you can go back to cue points and re-run sections on folds. Perhaps a bit of navigation? Does it really need that music?



It’s January

What I do

..time for my annual eLearning blog update.


LEGO!!! In a stock pic!!!

The past year has been busy. I’ve discovered a fantastic new content creation tool and built a number of courses using it during my three-month stint at Learning Pool. I was a bit cautious about Adapt at first, since it was decidedly more basic than Captivate or Flash. You have a limited set of template options which you combine to create course pages. But the templates cover all of the basic eLearning interactions (click to reveals, card flips, videos, hotspots etc), so whatever limitations you might encounter in terms of interactivity are cancelled out by the sheer ease of putting a course together. And on top of that, you don’t have to completely redevelop the same content for mobile because it’s all written in HTML5. Good eh?

I moved to Kaplan Financial in June 2015 and am working with them on a one year contract. It’s another change of content approach, looking at professional development from a slightly more academic standpoint. These aren’t one-day or two-week courses, but far more academically rigorous professional qualifications. So, slightly drier than the usual eLearning topics, but in some ways far more interesting. I mean, how do you make changes to inheritance tax laws educational and interesting? We’re hoping to do some really interesting video work over the next few months, so I’ve got plenty to get my teeth into.



Me, myself and iBooks

What I do

A couple of years ago, I noted a review of a new Apple authoring tool that promised to make textbooks a whole lot more fun. At the time I said that it was horribly limited, and there was no way of recording results of polls etc, but that it merited further investigation. Then I parked the idea for a while, and forgot about it.

A contact has asked me to look at turning some PDFs into interactive ebooks, with a particular emphasis on ibooks. I’ve been looking at ebooks for a while – having a Kindle app on my iPad -, and it strikes me that the textbooks or non-fiction books that I’ve found  are just the offline versions with a few links and bookmarks in them (here’s one example). They could do so much more. I’d like to be able to illustrate examples with videos and podcast interviews, or perhaps build exercises or seminar packs of resources that learners can share with a larger group. For example, package a video, a podcast and some examples together, then ask the learner group to discuss the situation and build a response based on what they’ve learned, enabling them to combine what they know with what they’ve learned and come up with a comprehensive, practical solution that they can apply to their own situation.

I think this would work best with CPD learning – as long as you worked closely with the SMEs to build a situation that reflected real life and that learners could relate to. I think this approach could work really well with CPD qualifications such as APMP, which discusses concepts and ideas around project management rather than delivering a set of templates and processes.

Still…watch this space. I’ve got to relearn some forgotten coding skills so that I can dummy up a prototype but I hope to have something to show you soon.

Speaking of forgotten skills…

In other news

Thinkstock ref: 187548690

Freelancing: it’s a whole new way of grinning at a laptop.

This blog is probably going to hear a lot more from me. I’ve decided to try and make a go of things as a freelance instructional/content designer. I’ve spent a long and productive time in the world of paid holidays and sick leave, but I’ve been very conscious that the roles I’ve done over the past few years use a particular skillset at the expense of my other skills. For example, while designing instructional situations, I find myself getting frustrated that I don’t have the power to change the website content to match, and vice versa.

I’d like to find a way of keeping all my skills and experience up to date, and learning about new situations, new projects and new ways of working. The best way to do that, I feel, is to work as a contractor, getting as much experience as I can in lots of different situations.

So, from 25 February (eeek!) if you need an instructional designer or content designer/manager type to work on your website or gussy up your technical literature, my portfolio is here, and you can contact me by email.

Axe-sharpening (or how to cut without hurting the SME’s feelings)

Design processes, What I do

I’ll be up front about this. I don’t always get my way when it comes to cutting content. More than one client/SME has taken my beautifully crafted draft and packed it with vital phrases like ‘reaching out to synergise…blah…blah…”, or added some extra message from a senior manager because it’s there.

I'm revising my rule about stock photos when I find something bizarre or just plain freaky. Just what is going on here?

I’m revising my rule about stock photos when I find something bizarre or just plain freaky. Just what is going on here?

However, I try to head off such issues before they get to be a problem. Where I can, I try to involve the SME and the product manager in the drafting process. I try to sit down with them and work out the top two or three takeaways or learning outcomes. So, by the end of a module, a learner has to know what they need to do to create a leave request, or add analysis to a chart.

Once we’ve established the learning outcomes, we work out the key tasks involved in getting to that outcome. So, for example, where do you go to create a leave request, is the request form online, what information do you need, etc. Once the process tasks are in place, we can look at the extra information.

Next comes the issue of style. A standard presentation-style walkthrough sometimes works to get the message across, but it’s often not quite engaging enough. A scenario may work better; or perhaps a quick summary of the steps and then a scenario that requires the learner to make decisions. If possible, I’ll record a webex or Captivate with the SME so that I can get as much information about the process as it happens.

Using that information, we have enough to create a draft. The SME gets to review the draft, but we’ve usually decided on the approach in our meetings and the SME is onboard.  They’re usually keen to get the  project underway and see some visuals.

Because we’ve taken a collaborative approach, the initial alpha stage usually goes smoothly and the changes are minor. Getting the SME on board at an early stage  saves time, tears and tantrums later.

Audio in e-learning (eLearning? ELearning? E-Learning?….meh)

Interactvity tips and ideas, What I do

This isn’t Christopher Pappas, this is Phones from the classic Marionation series of my childhood, Stingray. Phones was Troy Tempest’s sidekick and endlessly patient friend who probably had to listen to an awful lot of lovesick moaning and shuffling from Troy and that wimp Marina…

Christopher Pappas has some useful tips on using audio in e-learning.

I’ve had some interesting issues with audio while working on the new QA APMP eLearning module. It’s a pretty intense course – trying to fit in five days of classroom-based learning into an online format while keeping the learner on board and interested.

If we had gone down the route of mirroring the text with the audio, we would have ended up with an endless drone. It would have compromised our attempts at interaction too. However, I’m not so sure that we used audio to its best capability. I would have liked to include interviews or audio from trainers and other subject matter experts, offering tips and and case studies that, while not necessarily vital to pass the exam, may inspire learners to think about how they could apply the concepts to their work.

Still, it’s something for the next iteration, I suppose.

Informal learning

Good ways to learn stuff, Measuring eLearning, What I do

I hate stock photos, so here’s a pretty Datastream chart instead.

Where I fall down with most eLearning advice and practice is that it’s directed internally, towards employees or students, and not externally, ie, towards customers.  So, there is a plethora of tips and tricks and ideas for getting people to remember fire regulations, diversity policies etc which are all great, and probably work brilliantly. I particularly remember a conversation about framing a piece on fraud legislation within a detective story, which sounded like great fun for both learner and developer.

This isn’t, however, where I’m coming from. Most of my time is spent trying to work out how to deliver the maximum information about our productsandservices in the shortest time available.

Our typical user works in financial services, usually in a very fast-paced environment where she or he needs to make decisions quickly. They don’t have time to work through a detective comic or click around a screen: they want to know how to use RSI to analyze share performance; or what buttons they click to create a portfolio report for their clients, who needed the information yesterday. The market is bouncing up and down like a Harrods lift on the first day of the summer sales, and there are a hundred hungry competitors eyeing their desk space.

Our approach has been called “product help on steroids”, and I think it’s more than that, but it’s a good place to start. Our teams create short (by eLearning standards) courses, lasting up to around 45 minutes (PowerPlus Pro is…complicated). Within each course is a menu of topics. How you take the course is up to the user. If they’ve only got a few minutes, they can click on a topic and get a short elearning video that takes them through a typical task in about five minutes. As the topic is usually done in-product, the user can have his or her version of the product open at the same time, so they can follow the actions. The player allows them to pause the action, rewind, or  move onto another topic. We’re also experimenting with PDF takeaways so that users can have a reminder on their desks.

In general the user feedback has been very positive, but our issue now is that, given the rather stodgy image of eLearning, how do we get our lovely little topics in front of the customers, and (hopefully) cut our support costs by reducing the support calls?

More thoughts later…lunchbreak is over, and I’ve got a bunch of modules to QA for tomorrow’s launch.

Blowing my own trumpet

What I do

I don’t really intend to use this blog to blow my own trumpet (much – not when I have a small child to do that for me),  but I’m quite unreasonably proud of this:

Technical Analysis: Using the Relative Strength Index.

I’m afraid you will need to register as a Thomson Reuters customer, but we’re working on that.

We decided to take an alternative look at creating online learning for technical analysis in the financial field. We wanted to take our short, sharp approach and see if we could create a short module that told a user everything they needed to get started with a technical analysis tool.

So where did we start? The primary source was our SME responsible for technical analysis. The SME had an idea for some on-demand snippets on applying technical analysis in Thomson Reuters products. Somehow his draft scripts ended up on the eLearning team’s desk, and I drafted a script that had the presenter explaining the analysis, working with animations produced by our inhouse Flash expert.

The biggest challenge from our point of view was the combination of the presenter and the animation. Previous versions of these modules had an onscreen presenter who waved vaguely at the screen. This kind of worked, but the video team weren’t comfortable with the process. This time I took an idea from The Boss, who suggested we use the SME as the narrator and concentrate exclusively on the animation for visuals. The SME was based in NYC (he has since left the company), in the same office as the video team, and off he went to the studio.

It worked! Under strict supervision from the pros, he recorded a really lovely, engaging and personable version of my/our script. I’ll overlook the fact that he made changes during the recording that he “forgot” to tell me about. I’ll even overlook the seemingly endless back-and-forth, and stripping away of most of our special effects, because the end result was pretty good, and unique, and useful.