How to use Twitter as a learning tool

Ostersund, Sweden - April 13, 2014: Twitter website under a magn

Using Twitter as a learning tool – part 2

First it’s important to mention Twitter is easy to incorporate as a learning tool. In fact the hardest part was going through and getting faculty approval. Actually incorporating it into the course design as one of the learning tools was easy, low effort, no cost, and intuitive (Using Twitter as a learning tool – part 1).

Here are three steps to complete before designing Twitter activities in a course:

1. Get familiar with Twitter yourself

If you aren’t a regular user of Twitter do some background research to understand how the tool works. Here I’ve tweeted a website that I found particularly useful:

2. Inform students you’re using Twitter

Tell students that Twitter will be used to complete some of the learning activities. You do not need to teach students how to use Twitter just source some beginning starter videos and website links so they can get themselves familiar with it. There are lots of videos about Twitter on Youtube, here’s an example of one:


3. Explain the Twitter conditions specific to the course

There are two important conditions students needed to know to participate in Twitter activities successfully.

  1. The first was how to identify the course teacher’s tweets and receive current news and examples from the teacher. To meet this first condition we opened a Twitter account for faculty to use specifically for this course. We chose a relevant username/twitter handle so the teacher could be easily identified. For example, “@universitycoursename” – not a teacher’s personal name. By not having the teacher’s name it also meant that other faculty members could tweet under the same twitter handle in the future if desired. The students were advised to follow the teacher’s twitter handle to receive course updates and current examples related to course content.
  2. The second condition was how the students could allow the teacher and other students to find their tweets. For this condition we asked students to include a course and cohort specific hashtag in each of their tweets, for example, “#unicourse2014”. This meant that their tweets could be searched by either course lecturers or their peers. In each Twitter activity students were reminded to use the course specific hashtag.

Once you have completed these three steps then it’s time to start looking at how Twitter activities can be regularly incorporated within the course content. My next post in this series will describe how I incorporated Twitter into the course activities and other possibilities for using Twitter in activities. You can read my previous Twitter post here or follow me on to get notified when new posts are available (approximately 2/3 times per month).

You may also find these posts interesting:

Monthly inspiration – Brain Rules 

Using digital stories in elearning

Secondhand shopping for elearning

Monthly inspiration – Brain Rules

Brain power

As well as learning new things, I also find it useful to revisit previous things I’ve learnt to keep them fresh in my mind. At university I studied Neuropsychology which introduced me to the power of the brain over our behaviours and choices. This month I’ve been revisiting the power of the brain and its affect on how we learn by reading John Medina’s book  – Brain Rules.

If you haven’t read this book I highly recommended it. It is extremely relevant to anyone working in the learning and development field. If you have already read it then you’ll believe me when I say I’m getting even more out of it by reading it again.

Here’s some of the gems I’ve got out of the book this time:

From Brain Rule #4 – We don’t pay attention to boring things

Grabbing attention and engaging your audience’s emotions is critical for your elearning to have any effect. John Medina states that engaging emotions is critical for remembering: “the brain remembers the emotional components of an experience better than any other aspect”.

Surprised Lady

So what does this mean for elearning practice? Engage peoples emotions, surprise them, use humour, intrigue them, present something unexpected, use stories they can relate to – create a memorable experience – grab their attention!! Whatever you do, do not provide a boring list of facts and figures or screeds of factual text.

The brain needs a break

Under the same attention rule John Medina writes about the brain needing a break. He states “The most common communication mistakes? Relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots (p 88)”.

So what does this mean for elearning? It means less content is more learning. Focus only on the content your learners really need, leave out all the nice to know stuff and big winded explanations. Focus only what they need to be able to do and cover this well by making it make sense – connect the dots.

From Brain Rule #6 – Remember to repeat

You probably already know that repetition and practice is key for learning and transferring information from the short-term (or working memory) into the longterm memory. Why then are so many elearning courses treated as one off events? What are some ways that we can build repetition into our elearning courses to prevent the learning from being lost?

Below I give some simple suggestions of how you can incorporate repetition into elearning:

1. Connect to previous experience

Encourage your learners to connect with their previous related experiences as these are already in their long-term memory.That way there is already an anchor point for the brain to attach the new learning. This makes it easier to store new information/learning.

2. Schedule introducing new content, activities, and practice over a period of time

“The way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals (p 147).” Deliver elearning and activities in bite size pieces over a period of time, repeat content by providing different activities and interactions with the content. This transforms the solution from a single “elearning event” to a learning process.

3. Revisit content

“A great deal of research shows that thinking or talking about an event immediately after it has occurred enhances memory for that event, even when accounting for differences in type of memory (p 131).” In the training classroom after an activity there is usually a debrief/discussion session. This can also be applied to elearning or blended solutions. Why not incorporate opportunities for your audience to both reflect on the content and to discuss the content with others? Invite them to discuss with managers, colleagues or like minded people.

Revisiting John Medina’s Brain Rules book brought neuroscience and learning back to the top of my mind, I hope it did this for you too.

Want to receive updates on this and other topics, click on the follow me button, I post new blogs 2/3 times a month.


Medina, J (2009)  Brain Rules, 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school.

Using Twitter as a learning tool

Brussels - March 03: Twitter Hit By Hackers.

Twitter is a powerful social media tool used for micro-blogging and social networking. Google the stats of Twitter use and you will see numbers in the millions and billions. Twitter is hugely successful as it enables users to disseminate information quickly and easily through Tweets. It also makes searching for content easy through user generated #hashtags.

Twitter is easy to access, simple to use and it is a powerful tool to include in your elearning toolkit. In fact it may come as no surprise that Twitter has been voted the top learning tool for 5 years running by Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools for learning.

So why might you want to use Twitter as a learning tool?

Let me share 5 reasons why I chose to implement Twitter in a distance university course I was recently involved in:

1. Relevance to the content

The course I was tasked with designing included the impacts of social media as one of it’s key topic areas. Therefore it made sense to actually utilise Social Media within the instructional design of the course – walking the talk.

2. Bring current events into the content 

The subject matter of this particular course was rapidly developing where reference to current events and new technology developments were important. Twitter research activities provided an avenue in which I could pull very current events and technology developments into the course content without having to constantly rewrite the content each year or two.

Twitter is great for linking to current events or examples within a subject.

3. Access and mobility

Twitter phone

Twitter is extremely mobile meaning that students can utilise Twitter on their smartphones and complete activities while on the go. This meant the Twitter learning activities could go to where the students are – mobile learning – rather than forcing them to access the learning through a static computer.

4. Bite sized efforts

All Twitter activities were designed to be completed rapidly within 5 – 10 minutes max. This meant that these activities could be completed in small bite sized efforts and provided an interesting alternative to posting in a forum or other activities. It also invited students to engage with content in a different manner.

5. Curation of content

By using a unique #hashtag for each student cohort, students could potentially search tweets by other previous student cohorts and share information, resources and references. This increased the possibility of a community of learning being built over time that goes beyond the course timeframes and boundaries.

Students could also use Twitter to ‘favourite’ and curate their own content to use within their assignments and assessments.

The lecturer could also curate Tweets and use Tweets over the course to share student generated content – social learning.

In summary, here I’ve given 5 reasons why I used Twitter in a particular university course. Twitter can also be used in other environments for different types of learning experiences. There are many reasons why you might consider using Twitter as part of your learning toolkit, some may or may not be the same as mine.

Have you used Twitter as a learning tool? Please share your reasons for using Twitter in the comments below, or you can Tweet them to me @LoMinister. If you are interested in different elearning methods or want to read more about how I’ve used Twitter in activities you can also follow me on my blog –

Below are some other posts you might find interesting

Secondhand shopping for elearning

Why story telling should be part of your elearning toolkit

Second hand shopping for elearning

Hand pushing virtual search bar

I have a passion for secondhand shopping. I often find useful, quality, beautiful items discarded by previous owners just waiting for me to breathe life back into them. The same goes with content that already exists in places like the internet.

Once the learning objectives for a course are sorted, I start hunting for what exists already so I don’t have to create everything from new. One of my favourite places to secondhand shop for content is YouTube. There are millions of videos on YouTube, most without copyright conditions, and some very high quality that would take hours to develop.

When I find relevant content this doesn’t mean my development and instructional design is done for me – I now need to think of how to utilise it. Is it pre-course work or a motivator? Will it be used to introduce a point, emphasise a point, tell a story, will it be used as an activity starter, or even as a summary? There are a multitude of ways to use already existing content.

When using ‘second hand’ content always keep copyright in mind. Check if the resource has copyright on it – most YouTube videos are fine but a few do have copyright or viewing conditions. Acknowledge the source, this may be as simple as making sure the original source can be tracked back. Look at the embedded videos later in this post you will see you can track them all back to YouTube where they were originally uploaded.

Below are a couple of examples of my latest secondhand content finds. For each of these videos I designed an activity around it that directly related to the learning objectives of the course. Imagine the time it would have taken to create each of these from scratch.

This video supported a learning objective about information overload:

This video supported a learning objective around advantages and disadvantages for ICT information sharing:

Do you partake in secondhand content shopping? What strategies do you use for re-purposing other people’s content?

You may also find these blog posts of interest or click follow to see more of my posts:

Writing learning objectives how to use them

No-one likes a cheat!

Rapid prototype vs storyboard?

No Problem

Traditionally elearning courses have been storyboarded so the instructional designer can plan the content and activities and get feedback before starting to build the course. Storyboarding allows you to check your design is on target with expectations before investing time in developing.

However, sometimes it makes even more sense to rapid prototype rather than storyboard. Rapid prototyping is where all or some parts of an elearning course or activity are roughly built i.e. it’s a working model that’s not in the finished polished state. Rapid prototyping shows what you intend to do – whereas storyboarding tells what you intend to do.

So when does it make more sense to rapid prototype rather than storyboard. Put simply – when it is more useful to show how it works rather than tell how it will work. Here are some situations when I choose to rapid prototype rather than storyboard:

Working with SMEs or clients new to elearning

If I’m working with clients that have little or no prior experience of elearning I will prototype parts of elearning interactions (or show them a similar elearning interaction) so they can see exactly what a drag and drop, system demo, contextual feedback, or a branching scenario looks like.

When look and feel is important

Look and feel is always important but sometimes you might need to show rather than tell look and feel. This could be an advantage when a client’s preferences are to see how it works. It could also be wise to prototype part of a course if you are investing a lot of time and energy into the look and feel of a theme, or if you’re a developing a series of modules that will all have the same look and feel. Better to have solid agreement at the beginning rather than developing 10 modules, only for the client to ask you to change the look and feel afterwards!

When rapid prototyping will save or not add any more time

Sometimes I’ve actually found it quicker to skip the storyboard stage altogether and go straight into rapid prototyping an elearning interaction. For example, I usually go straight to prototyping for software simulations. I do this as I find it more useful/quicker/easier to get feedback from a prototype (working model) than from a storyboard presented on paper. Even though it may take slightly longer to rapid prototype it saves me time as it’s part drafted in the tool already and it results in a clearer vision of what the final product will be.

For a complicated interaction

If the interaction is complicated it can be useful to roughly prototype and get feedback from stakeholders before investing the extra time in perfecting the interaction and graphics. It’s also useful when it’s difficult to explain a type of interaction. For example, I’m currently prototyping an interaction in Articulate Storyline where the learner will receive individualised feedback based on their previous choices. It’s hard to explain what I’m doing in text, but I’ll show you the rapid prototype once I’m done – push the follow button to subscribe and get notified of when this is ready for you to view.

What do you think about rapid prototyping? Are there times when you choose to rapid prototype rather than storyboard? I’d love to hear your thoughts – follow me to hear more of mine.

Do your Characters have character?

picture narration3

Characters like the one above that tell you a whole lot of information are boring and add no value to the learning experience. It’s even worse if they are used in the same static pose and have no emotion. Would you want to spend your precious time with someone who has one fixed expression and insists on talking lots of information at you?

Using characters in elearning is now becoming more prevalent as text based Powerpoint looking elearning decreases. However, it’s not enough to just add characters into a course – they need to be used well. They need to have both purpose and personality. Do your characters have character?

I recently looked at an example course from a company, although it had nice looking graphics and characters, it was immediately obvious that the characters had no ‘character’. They were being used just to “tell content” or narrate information. They were in a static pose and showed no emotion or reaction to any of the content in the course. In fact if the characters were removed from the course it would have had no learning impact as the information could have been “told” without the characters being present at all.

So how can you give your characters character? Here’s a few tips:

Make your characters converse rather than tell

Use characters to simulate realistic conversations, thoughts or decision making. Make their conversations (whether written or in audio) sound like what a real person would say in that context. Check with a SME (subject matter expert) if the conversations, thoughts and decisions of your characters’ sound realistic for your audience. Adjust where needed.

Have characters that convey emotion

Use your characters to add emotion into your elearning. To do this you will need your characters to display a range of emotions realistic to the context you are giving. If you are using photo images of characters it is often worthwhile to subscribe to a specific elearning stock image site – check out this post. When using illustrated characters make sure that they are either available with different emotions or that you are able to edit them yourself to show a range of emotions.

Create body language

Body language is a strong part of communication. When you have static images of characters use a variety of poses to simulate body language. This movement of different poses will help to give your characters personality and make them seem more realistic. As well as having a variety of poses you can also use different angles and include close-ups, mid-range and full view images of your characters to increase interest.

When using characters in elearning make them add value to your learning content. Check that they are active characters where they are part of the content and context rather than passive characters who are just talking content at you. Use the tips above to make sure your characters have character.

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Making your elearning theme come to life

Young man in suit looking astonished in laptop. Surfing the inte

To make your elearning theme come to life you need to build atmosphere and emotion into it. There are many ways in which you can do this to make a memorable elearning experience.

Consider all the elements of your course and make them fit your elearning theme e.g. learner goal/challenge, language style, type of interactions, graphics, fonts, animations, audio, and video. It’s like having a consistent overarching story running through the whole elearning experience, where everything looks like it belongs together.

I recently built a compliance course focused on on a futuristic theme. My clients wanted a positive focus in their compliance training by doing the right thing for the customer rather than focusing on avoiding breaching the legislation.

Having the right theme – futuristic – helped put the positive spin into this elearning course. Here’s how I built atmosphere and emotion into my theme.

Start with a learner challenge

It’s motivating to jump straight in and start with a learner challenge. This can be as simple as asking the learner a question. For my futuristic theme, I gave a couple of sentences describing the situation and then asked the question “what future will you create” with a two photos of the same customer, one with a happy expression and the other looking nervous.

Font to match the theme

Getting the right signature font to match your theme works well for creating atmosphere. For my theme I downloaded the “Back to the Future” font from and used it to match my theme…

In to the Future - da font

Background graphics to match the theme

This is where I thought about what graphics in the background could add value to building the theme and experience. With the futuristic theme certain things popped to mind like space, time travel, motion, black hole, speed. With a couple of well placed searches in stock sites I was able to locate the perfect background graphic for my theme:

Abstract Motion Background

Sound for scene setting

Using sound to set the scene can be a very effective way to develop the right emotion. For my theme I downloaded a futuristic sound woosh to match the fly from left entrance of the ‘In to the Future’ title.

Animation and motion

Use motion and animation to match your theme and build interest. Choose a couple of styles of animation and keep it simple so it doesn’t overwhelm the learner. In my theme I used two types of animation: in the initial slide I animated the ‘In to the future’ title and the three following statements to fly in from the left. At the beginning of each branching scenario I also added a spin to the slide transition.

Matching language

It’s important the language style matches your theme no matter whether it’s spoken audio or whether it’s in writing. To match my futuristic theme I needed to make sure the language I used was in future tense. I also keep my language conversation as this tone fitted my theme, topic and audience.


There are lots of other ways to build atmosphere and emotion in your elearning theme, such as developing characters and the overacrching story. An important thing to keep in mind is that the visual, audio, and interactive elements, as mentioned above – add to your theme, rather than detract from it.


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Planning an elearning theme

rejected theme blur

Elearning design is more effective when it’s about creating an experience! Why not develop your interactive activities so they fit an overarching theme or learner challenge. Then use this theme to immerse your the audience in a believable environment, take them on a journey that keeps them engaged the whole way through….

Sounds great! Then take a look at some strategies I use to plan successful elearning experiences:

Present the overarching theme early on

No point spending lots of time designing, developing or even storyboarding only to find out the theme doesn’t suit the business direction or goals. I’ve recently presented a theme it didn’t suit the organisation that I was working with (though I’m keeping it in mind to use elsewhere in the future).

Thankfully, I had presented the theme early in the scoping stage before design and development had commenced. This allowed me to ditch it without too much loss of time and energy and I had plenty of time to go back to the drawing board.

Involve your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and stakeholders

Of course, it can be sad burying a theme that you’ve melded in your mind and brought to life…. but if your SMEs aren’t into it as much as you are – it’s not going to work! After all they’ll provide the content for your elearning interactions.

Having a theme rejected is not necessarily a bad thing though. In fact it can help you find an even better one! A rejected theme means you can ask specific questions about what was wrong with it and what they would prefer. This will help to clarify the business goals and direction.

And so a new theme was born …

….and this time it had everyone’s approval and excitement!!

I’d love to hear your thoughts around planning elearning themes? What challenges have you faced?

If this post was useful to you, you can follow my blog to receive updates of new posts.

Performing an elearning makeover

Before And After: Makeup

I’ve recently be given the task of refreshing an old online compliance training course. As with most elearning projects I get assigned it needs to be completed rapidly within a few weeks. Here’s how I do an elearning makeover: give the course a haircut, restyle and makeup!


A good hairdresser assesses your face shape, and personal style before giving you a haircut. It’s the same theory for redesigning a course – first we need to assess what’s needed i.e. what are the learning objectives and do they need to change? Then we can cut out all the excess content that doesn’t directly relate to these learning objectives.


Restyling is about finding those Instructional Design strategies that are the keepers from the old course. Then figuring out how to make them work in the spruced up course.

For example, I’ve looked at what works well in the current course and how can this be reused and adapted. The current course has a lot of question based scenarios of what would you do in a situation: a,b or c. Currently these are text heavy and look a little boring. Not to worry though nothing that a learner challenge, graphical additions, characters and conversation bubbles can’t deal with!!  The existing content is solid so no need to go back to the drawing board – phew that will save time! There are also great assessment questions that I can reuse.


This is where we get into the cosmetics of the course or the look and feel. Are the graphics and media still appealing, or is something new required to bring it up to date and looking good? As well as looking good, the graphics and media also need to add value to learning. That text based branching scenario could be easily turned into graphics by adding the people and environment. This will make it look more realistic and more memorable.

It’s amazing what a good haircut, restyle and makeup can do to a tired looking elearning course!

What do you do in your elearning makeovers?

No-one likes a cheat!


I recently saw a disgrunted tweet from a big elearning company because another smaller elearning company had blantantly copied a significant amount of their blog word by word then posted it in their own blog the next day. Needless to say they were taken back that another company had copied their hard work without even acknowledging the source! The sad fact is that this sort of behaviour is not uncommon… I’ve come across this kind of cheating frequently where people pass off others work as their own. For example, I worked for one agency where an instructional designer created course content directly from the web by copying and pasting the text from different websites to create their “own” content for their training guides.

This kind of cheating is wrong and unnecessary. Especially when we can create original content easily and without having to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel. Here are a couple of ways in which you can use what already exists without cheating.

Acknowledge your source

The first most obvious way to avoid cheating or plagiarising is to acknowledge your source (University 101). If someone has a good idea paraphrase them or directly quote while acknowledging the source. It is perfectly acceptable to do this as you are illustrating how you are using someone else’s idea to build your own.

Also, when using someone else’s web content, such as a Youtube video, you can link directly to the external content from within your elearning course. This way the learner can see who produced the video as it hasn’t been embedded (and potentially changed) in your course.

Use stock sites

Looking for free images can often be a false economy with the extra time spent searching for the right image that doesn’t have copyright restrictions. Graphic images, sounds and music are often heavily copyrighted and rightfully so. For this reason it makes sense to put aside a budget in each elearning project to purchase images and/or music off a stock site. Purchasing off a stock site means that you don’t have to worry about copyright. Also stock items are high quality and relatively cheap in comparison to the effort of initially creating.

Here’s some stock sites I frequently use:

In short you don’t have to cheat to produce a low budget elearning course (or blog for that fact). What strategies do you use to avoid cheating while still working smart?