2014 the year of the story

Top Story Concept.

In 2014 my focus was very much on creating interactive elearning and utilising the power of the story through interesting design and technologies. This showed under my five most highly viewed and popular posts for 2014. If you haven’t already, check these out:

  1. Using digital stories in elearning
  2. The awesome tool Videoscribe
  3. Rapid prototype vs storyboard
  4. Why storytelling should be part of your elearning kit
  5. 10 steps to create a digital story for elearning

These are also topics I’ve especially enjoyed blogging about. If you would like to hear more on any topic please comment to let me know. Have a wonderful 2015!

Should elearning be the answer for all training?

Thinking Business Woman Making Decision Yes, No Or Maybe Isolate

Years ago I was asked to do an elearning software simulation to train on software systems. On talking to key people I found that the changes were very small, non-complex and only applied to a handful of specific people. Don’t get me wrong I think system simulations and demos are a great learning resource. However, in this case building a software simulation would have been overkill when it was only for a small change and for a very small audience.

Before committing to a solution, there are some basic questions and things I like to know first like:

  • What is the need or performance problem?
  • Is it initially a training issue or does something else need to happen first (like developing business processes)?

If it is initially a training issue then I like to know:

  • Who does it affect? What type of roles do they have in the business? How many people need the solution?
  • Will the solution need to be available for new hires or other needs in the future?
  • What possible solutions are available?
  • Is there even a capacity for elearning? e.g. what technology does the audience have access to?

I never agree on a solution straight away as I think it’s important to consider all possible solutions and then find the right solution/s to match that particular business need. I also consider whether the training needs can be met in a more effective (easier, quicker, cheaper, more sustainable or better) way?

So in some cases, elearning may not be the best solution to match the business need or performance problem.

In the case mentioned above a short simple job aid met the business need and was a quick easy solution. The audience reported back the job aid was simple to follow and they were able to use the new part of the software system correctly and with ease.

What do you think? Should elearning be the answer to all training? Please share your thoughts and follow me to get notified of new posts.

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 Madelearningdesigns.com 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.

4 tips to choose the right text for your eLearning course

Does your text make a good first impression?

Girl Squinting Her Eyes

Psychology tells us that first impressions are powerful for forming lasting impressions. Did you realise the way you use text in your elearning courses creates a powerful first impression of the overall quality of your course? For a start, text needs to be easy to read. When text is difficult to read it puts the learner off progressing further into the course. Difficult to read text detracts from well written content. The first impression of your course is set even before your audience has a chance to digest any of the content.

How can you choose the right text to make a good first impression? Here’s some tips to get started:

Reduce the amount of text

I’m a minimalist when it comes to text, the less the better. A picture is worth a 100 words and a video or animation is worth 1000.

Avoid content dumping and having large blocks of text. Ask your subject matter expert what the desired behaviours are and what these look like in the real world. Then look for ways to replicate these behaviour choices rather than writing them.

Use a good font size

Use font size 16/18 or bigger for body text.  Headings should be even larger. Text that is too small is an instant turn off for many people – it is a no compromise design flaw. Nobody wants to be squinting to read the text – make it easy for your audience.

If you have been designing the course it’s a good idea to test your font size and style on someone else before committing to it throughout your course. Also test how it will look on the device/s that your target audience will be using.

Contrast you text colour

Colour contrast is important to make text easy to read. This is where either dark text is placed on a light background or light coloured text is placed on a dark background. See how the high contrast text is so much easier to read than low contrast text:

own graphic

Avoid CAPITAL text

As well as having the risk of yelling at your audience (unless that is what you want to do) text in capitals is very difficult to read. Imagine you are travelling in a car, capitals are like applying brakes to your reading journey, the mind has to stop to read capitals. This is why I don’t use capitals for all but the first word in headings – it makes them much quicker and easier to read. Of course, there are comprimises when organisations insist on captialised headings in their style guides.  Where I have the choice however, I choose not to capitalise each word in a heading.

my block text graphic

No-one wants to work that hard to read text!

To make a good first impression of your elearning you need to make sure your text is easy to read. Hard to read text through using large blocks of text, small font size, poor contrast, and excessive use of capitals is off putting to your audience and will detract from well designed content.

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy these posts:

Putting personality back into text

Performing an elearning makeover

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Why use branching scenarios?


1.  They are interactive and engage the mind

Rather than passive absorbing of information the learner is engaged in making choices. Branching scenarios focus on action i.e. the learner has to make the choice to do something. This leads to much more powerful learning than having to recall information or facts.

2.  They work well to spice up boring content or dry topics

Branching scenarios are a great way to spice up dry topics. I have found they work well in compliance courses and for training new or existing legislation to staff. When branching scenarios are used in these topics it shifts the focus on to what staff need to do. By having this focus it helps to avoid getting bogged down in heavy content or complicated legislation.

3.  They can be relatively quick to produce

You can design a branching scenario to be as complex or simple as you like to fit within your projects time contraints.  Design and development time will increase with the more branches (decision points) your scenario has,  more choices at each decision point, having more than one correct pathway, and having multiple levels of consequence (not just right and wrong) e.g. a partially right consequence.  Top tip: Get faster by keeping templates of your branching scenarios, then reuse them again and again for multiple projects. When speed is needed a simple branching scenario can provide powerful results.

4.  Endlessly versatile

No branching scenario needs to look the same, your only limitation is your imagination. You can use different branching structures. You can also use mulitmedia in different ways to present the branching scenario e.g. animations, photos, video and audio. Each new branching scenario can look original and innovative.

5.  You don’t need to be technologically saavy to build a great branching scenario

You can design and build a great branching scenario in Powerpoint without needing to code or know any specialist tools. A strong branching scenario is more about learning design than development skills. You will have more options if you’re saavy in tools such as Captivate and Articulate Storyline but they are not pre-requisites for building awesome branching scenarios.

If you liked this post, click follow on the sidebar to receive email notifications of future posts.

Other posts that you may be interested in:

5 ways to design more engaging branching scenarios

Design better looking branching scenarios

What are your thoughts on the benefits of branching scenarios?

What is a branching scenario?

Branching scenarios are often one of my ‘go to’ activities in my elearning courses.

What is a branching scenario?

A branching scenario places the learner in a situation where they are presented with a challenge and ‘need to make choice of what to do’. It guides the learner towards achieving the learning outcomes by learning what to do through consequences and feedback. If the learner makes a good choice a desired consequence will occur, if they make a poor choice a negative consequence will occur.

Branching scenarios focus on interactive learning rather than passively absorbing information.

Here’s a short video of a basic branching scenario structure:

Tom Kulmhann suggests one way to build branching scenarios is to use a three Cs approach, Challenge, Choice and Consequence – http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/build-branched-e-learning-scenarios-in-three-simple-steps/. This is a great simple way to start building branching scenarios.

Branching scenarios can be easy to assemble and can even be done with tools such as Powerpoint. All that is required is that you can click on different options that will take you to a new slide with consequences and feedback on your choice.

However, this does not mean that branching scenarios are easy to create! The real skill for creating a branching scenario is in the thinking behind how to translate the learning outcomes into behaviour choices with realistic consequences and feedback. To make a successful branching scenario there needs to be a balance of challenge, where the learner has to actively engage and think about what choice to make, and it is not too easy to select the correct answer. The choices and consequences need to also be realistic so the learner can imagine themselves in the situation in real life making similar choices.

If you liked this post, you might also find these other posts useful:

Why use branching scenarios?

Design better looking branching scenarios

5 ways to design more engaging branching scenarios

What are your thoughts?

5 ways to design more engaging branching scenarios

Use these tips to make your branching scenario more engaging, no matter what elearning tool you are using!

1.  Set the learner a challenge

By setting a challenge for the learner you can turn a simple branching scenario into something that is much more fun!! Make it memorable and exciting by turning choices into a mini game.

Imagine practicing customer complaint skills by playing a game. Below is an activity that does that. Can you help a customer with their complaint without exploding the situation? If you choose an aggravating response you will explode the situation. If you choose a not so good response the fuse will shorten bringing the situation closer and closer to exploding!

challenge    The choices   explode

2.  Put the learner in the situation

More powerful learning occurs when we can imagine ourselves in the real world situation making decisions. Some ways you can help the learner imagine themselves in the situation is to design your visuals and media to fit the audience and use “you” language. In the game above there was two types of audiences who dealt with complaints, one took complaints face-to-face and the other over the phone. The speech bubbles going off to the side meant that either audience could imagine themselves in the conversation.

3. Build emotion into the branching scenario

Like a story an essential ingredient in a branching scenario is building emotion. Incorporating emotion changes the elearning from being factual and distant to being personal and engaging. Incorporating emotion can be done in a variety of ways for example; through humor, using multimedia such as audio and video to create mood; developing characters through the branching scenario by giving them dialogue and actions to suit their personality; have characters show relevant (or exaggerated) facial expressions; and having elements of surprise.

4.  Connect with your Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Make the scenario as realistic as possible, that includes building in the mistakes people are likely to make. This is where your SME is invaluable, as they will have insight into potential and/or existing misunderstandings.  You can then build these into your branching scenario. This will give not only give your learners the opportunity to receive feedback and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment, it will also help them avoid making the same mistakes when applying the learning.

5.  Make the choices challenging, include the grey areas

It’s tempting to include responses that are easily identified as being right or wrong. However, if you include the grey areas – where the responses that have a mixture of right and wrong, you then motivate the learner to think more deeply about which action or response to take. Have you ever completed a course where you have just gone through the motions as it’s been too easy to identify the right and wrong responses? By including the grey areas you will not only make the branching scenario much more challenging, it will also engage your learners on a deeper cognitive level.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on making more engaging branching scenarios.

Design better looking branching scenarios

There are endless possibilities for designing branching scenarios that look creative and innovative. Here’s a few ways to make branching scenarios look even more engaging and memorable:

1.  Ditch the multi-choice layout

Branching scenarios are always much more interesting than reading a page of information. However, when presented in a multiple choice style, with question text, and then an a, b, c or d response, they become predictable and not overly engaging. It also makes them look like a test which can be a big turn-off!

2.  Create an environment

Design images and media that look the environment where the learning will be applied. Look at your learning outcomes and imagine the learners applying them in the real world. What does it look like? Where will the learning be put into practice? Is this in an office, a factory, outdoors? Who will be there? What objects are likely to be in the environment and how will these be arranged? Below is an example of creating an environment by using graphics:


3.  Visually mimic how choices would be made in the real world

How will the learning be put into practice? Do learners need to choose between different objects, conversation responses, or actions? In the example above, the learners have to first find the hazards in the scene, then make choices on how to minimise them. This design is engaging as it makes it easy for the learner to imagine themselves in the real situation.

4.  Use more visuals and minimise text

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Use visuals and multimedia to convey key messages. It is much quicker and more memorable for a learner to source key information from visuals rather than reading paragraphs of text. Let’s face it we’re in a world where people want access to information fast, this includes their learning!

5.  Consistency in presentation

Design a theme for your branching scenario. Choose the type of graphics you will use, photos, illustrations or a blend of both. Choose fonts that reflect your topic and match the graphics. Choose a colour scheme and use this consistently. Designing a theme will give you consistency and will make everything look like it belongs together. Think of your branching scenario as telling a story. For example, in a children’s story book the illustration style remains consistent. It doesn’t suddenly change half way through.

There are many more ways in which to design better looking branching scenarios.

What are your thoughts?