Monthly inspiration – 3 quick tips

As this has been a very busy month,  I’ve had to get my inspiration quick and on-the-go. What are some ways you get inspiration and improve your practice on-the-fly when life gets hectic? Here are some techniques that work for me:

1. Seek inspiration anywhere and everywhere

The other day I was at the museum with my 2 year old daughter. While sitting down she handed me a book – How to be an explorer of the world. It had some different and interesting perspectives. Although the book was targeted to the parallels between art and science, I could see a lot of parallels with instructional design and my own learning.

Here’s a page I found particularly intriguing:

page 1

Inspiration can be found everywhere.

2. Choose a focus and examine that focus everywhere

Inspiration and learning doesn’t only come during work hours or in the work place it can be anytime and anywhere. Inspiration can be grabbed while on the run.

I find it useful to have a specific focus. For example, if I wanted to improve my choice and use of fonts in elearning design, I would study fonts everywhere I go. I would look at places surrounding me and how fonts are used on websites, signs, marketing posters, products, tv adverts and elsewhere. What techniques are being used to gain attention, create emotion, and draw the audience into reading the text?

This technique could be used for focusing on other areas of elearning design e.g. storytelling, developing personality in characters, use of colour, creating realistic environments, just to name a few.

3. Be deliberately unfocused

This is the opposite technique as the previous one. This is where you would choose to be deliberately unfocused and instead let inspiration find you when your brain is resting. These are the moments of clarity that we have when we’re relaxed and our brain has switched off. Have you ever solved a problem while you’ve been sleeping?

Below are some instructions from How to be an explorer of the world to help achieve an unfocused state, why not give it a try?

book 3

What are some ways that you grab quick inspiration? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Follow me to hear more of mine.

How to bake an elearning course

Pouring Cake Mixture Into Baking Tin

It occurred to me that instructional design of an elearning course has similarities to baking a cake. What parallels can you think of? What elearning skills are required to go from home baker to professional pastry chef?

Bake for your audience

First understand who you are baking for so you can choose a recipe to suit – no point on baking a nut cake for a person with a nut allergy.

Alternatively no point using lots of high definition video for a company that has little bandwidth or creating a course full of audio when your audience’s computers have no speakers. Choose tools, techniques, and an appropriate tone to match your target audience.

Keep the occasion in mind

Why are you baking a cake, is it for a birthday, a baby shower, a wedding, or something else? The purpose will inform what sort of cake you will make and how it is presented.

a chihuahua blowing out candles on a piece of cake

In elearning the why is also important. Why is an elearning course being developed? What’s the strategic purpose and the performance goal? You’ll need to know this before exploring possible solutions.

The ingredients

What and how much ingredients are needed to successfully bake your cake?

This is where we set the specific learning objectives. What are the behaviours that are required for success and how important are each of these?  Cathy Moore’s action mapping is an excellent method for sourcing both your performance goal and your learning objectives.

Content of the recipe

The baking instructions are always in order, with the equipment needed.

With an elearning course, you also need to logically chunk and sequence the content so it flows in a coherent manner. What equipment is needed to support making the content i.e. rapid elearning tools, multimedia software and equipment, project documentation.

Final checks before baking

Review the recipe. Do you have everything you need?

woman cook reading recipes book, isolated on white

Check your proposed solution with your stakeholders and and adjust the solution to ensure there is agreement on what the end result will be.

Baking your cake

Put your cake in the oven, set timer, watch for quality. Use a skewer to test.

Begin developing your storyboards, prototypes and drafts. Watch project time frames, quality and budget. Put your elearning course through a review, testing, and sign-off process so you know when it’s fully completed.

Taste testing

Second and third opinions are invaluable.

Closeup of woman eating chocolate cupcake

Pilot your elearning course with a small group of your target audience. Does it work how it’s intended? Do any adjustments need to be made before sending a completed course out to the wider audience?

Eating the cake

Mmmmm…. my favourite part!

How do you know your course has hit the mark, what are you using to assess success?

This post by no means includes everything about baking a cake or making an elearning course. Unfortunately it’s not a ‘piece of cake’ otherwise everyone would be producing results like this:

Final Touch Ups On Ruffled Wedding Cake

Like anything, producing high quality elearning courses takes practice.

If you found this post interesting, click on the links below to read some related posts:

Why storytelling should be part of your elearning toolkit

Performing an elearning makeover

In the meantime, I might just have a piece of cake, mmmmm….

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.

Finding Subject Matter Experts


Your subject matter experts (SMEs) are invaluable in helping you design a well thought out and targeted learning solution. So how do you identify who your subject matter experts are?

Here are some things to consider when finding your Subject Matter Experts.

How many SMEs do I need?

The amount of Subject Matter Experts you need in a project is dependent on the range of behaviour change required and how many audiences this relates to. A small behaviour change for just one audience may only require one SME. However a large behaviour change project going across several business units will require several SMEs.

What sort of Subject Matter Experts do you need?

Does the project or learning solution you’re working on cross several areas? A learning solution that covers multiple areas will get better results by utilising a Subject Matter Expert from each area. For example, if a learning solution involves implementing a new software system, a change in customer service approach, and a shift in leadership focus – find a SME for each of these areas. This way you will have access to expert advice for each area.

Do you have the target audience represented?

Always include a high performer from the target audience as a Subject Matter Expert. Even if all they only do is a reality check of your learning resources at review time. A SME from your target audience can also be useful for sourcing realistic scenarios to incorporate into your elearning activities.

Do you have a SME representing each of your target audiences?

If your learning solution is designed for several audiences, have a Subject Matter Expert representative from each group. This will help you build your design strategy to incorporate all of the audiences needs. From discussion with these SMEs you will be able to identify which parts of the learning solution can be generalised to everyone, and which parts of the learning solution will need to be specialised to particular audiences.

Are they willing to help and do they have time to help?

Once you have found your Subject Matter Experts you need to find out if they are first willing to help, and secondly if they have time to help. If the answer is no to either of these questions, you will need to source another SME who is more accessible.

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Your most important resource