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2016 Trends in L+D and how to make the most of them

December 21, 2015

blog postI wasn’t going to write an obligatory end of year/predictions for next year post, but then read this one and and liked how they added the “how to make the most of them” part, so I guess you could say I was inspired. Here’s my list of what I think might influence E-Learning in 2016.

Five Tech Trends for L+D to check out in 2016

1. HTML5 Tools

The rise of responsive HTML5 tools.This has been a raging debate in the industry for at least a couple of years, but we believe 2016 will be the year that these tools really start to go mainstream. While I would agree that there is a need to have modern tools that support modern devices, I also think that instructional designers should not just pump out courses that work on any device, but respect the use cases that each device would demand. We advocate that tablets are much like desktops, but smartphones (even the big ones) are not used like desktops, but as performance support devices. While there’s been much noise around the death of Flash, the HTML5 trend is a market change, not a technology change. The market is ready, the tools are more WYSIWIG, so everything is primed for lift off. We’ve been waiting for xAPI to become mainstream and with wearables and the increase of responsive tools, this could be it’s breakout year. A long shot, but something to at least try out.

How can you make the most of this trend?

Jump in and try some out. Pick a small project that you have time to experiment with or collaborate with a colleague.

Our input: as much as I wanted to try Adapt, the install on the authoring tool is just too daunting, so will try out Easy Generator and H5P instead.

2. Video, video everywhere

In L+D this means: blab, periscope, narrative, go pro, google jump, and other ways to either record or stream media. In the consumer world, streaming is mainstream, but for L+D, we are not really there yet, except Learning Now TV and some other industry programs or individuals who are doing it. To be a “Youtuber” is now a legitimate profession. The number of Netflix competitors is on the rise. Video has been around a long time, so in 2016 I think it’ll make up a larger portion of the content that we’ll produce or assemble.

How can you make the most of this trend?

Again, experiment. Keep your eye out for a project that would really benefit from this type of dynamic video or streaming approach. You can use an existing smartphone, so the barrier to entry is time and skill.

Our input: Blab is an easy start, it’s much like Google Hangouts or Skype video. Jump on a blab to see if there’s potential for you.

3. Virtual Reality

All the pundits agree that this is the THE trend for 2016.  Hardware will begin hitting the market and this is likely to be a consumer product trend as well in 2016. In L+D we could certainly see it used for more than gaming. The ability to create a fully immersive experience is essential for some areas of training (medical education) and it could be a tool for other industries as well.

How can you make the most of this trend?

Start with a Google Cardboard – this allows you to use your phone within a cardboard VR environment to begin to see the possibilities of how you might see this working in your L+D world. Even the NYTimes is giving away these sets to immerse readers in select stories. I wouldn’t suggest we all run out and buy Unity to begin building our own apps or games, but consider getting your hands on a low-end set to begin seeing the potential of this technology.

Our input: honestly, just start with a google cardboard unit, a $20 investment, and see what all the fuss is about. That’s what we’re doing. Also, read Donald Clark’s blog posts who has been writing around this topic for some time.

4. Podcasting

This seems to be making a comeback – everywhere I go, people are talking about it. It may be driven by the unexpected success of Serial, but there’s a resurgence – people starting their own and listening to them again. And, since many people are talking about tech cars and the influence Tesla has had on the automotive industry, I think we’ll see more innovation of media integrating in cars. So, not just radios or your own music, but the ability to subscribe to podcasts from your car dashboard.

How can you make the most of this trend?

If you are so inclined, you can try out podcasting, or just start listening to a few.  The beauty of podcasting, is the isolation of content to an audio channel. You might learn about how to tell a great story, keep listeners engaged. Check out the NPR coming out with radio production websites for public consumption. I follow a number of “start up” thinkers and most of them avidly follow Marc Andreeesen, who’s VC firm (Andreessen Horowitz) has a podcast on soundcloud. When the techies start to go audio, then you know it’s a trend. If you are a runner, driver, or regular traveler, then check out podcasts. Share some of your recommendations. Or you can be like Brent Schlenker who is using blab as a type of podcast tool.

Our input: the value for us is more in the storytelling or the way podcasters put together information about their story, to add context and extra information.

5. Wearables and the Internet of Things

While this still seems to be considered a non-L+D innovation (and most people fear Big Brother when it comes to this), there are aspects that could impact adoption. Add in the xAPI connection and you could see some real innovation in delivering content and tracking performance.

How can you make the most of this trend?

Do some research and find out what the potential of wearables/IoT is for your work before you invest any time in tinkering or make friends with a tinkerer. It’s not about whether or not you can build a solution, it’s more about understanding the capabilities and seeing the potential. It might be beacons or mood trackers. It might be a watch or an RFID chip, but as this moves more towards consumer reality, it’ll seep into L+D too.

Our input: we’ve written several blog posts on this in 2015, so check them out to get a sense of how wearables could be used in the L+D world.

Things that seem to be fading:

Coding craze

While many people were on the coding bandwagon (confession: myself included), it turns out it’s harder than it seems to ADD coding to our already broad skill set. What L+D folks should know isn’t how to code (except for HTML, that would be useful), it’s what “code” actually means and know some folks who DO know how to code.

The uber-tool

I think that many E-Learning developers are looking for the uber-tool that will do everything. And perhaps it’s time we accept that does not exist. Putting your content into a magic software and expecting it to spit out a course for your desktop/laptop users, an app-like experience for tablet users and a performance support tool for phone users is a fool’s game. Consider some of your favorite providers – something like Evernote – is it the same product for all your devices? Nope. We need to be thinking of the same sort of thing. What are our users going to need to learn/recall from our content when using this device.


A couple of years ago, all anyone could talk about was MOOCs. In the corporate world, most people struggled to see the relevance or the logistics of how this structure would really be worth the effort. Overall, things have cooled on MOOC-mania and while they can still offer a way to deliver training, it won’t likely be in the corporate world. Unless you have a massive audience or some kind of generic skill that you are trying to reach/teach. So, stop spending all your time trying to figure out how to get on the bandwagon, because it’s time to get off.

So, that’s how we see things. What about you?


Other Training Debt

December 16, 2015

I’ve written before about “Training Debt“, based off:

Here are some other ways that training debt might hurt an organization or a cause.

Customer Training Debt

Without investing in customer training, you might find that your customers don’t know how to use your product. Without that knowledge, they might not get the full appreciation of your product. They may not be aware of ,or know how to use certain features. You should be concerned if that’s the case. And you should really provide not just feature list training, but use real tasks and help your users know how to get the most out of your product. They’ll be more loyal, more likely to refer and be more invested in how your product helps them meet their goals. If you don’t provide good onboarding and product training, they might become a “flight risk”. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, if your customers aren’t really using your product, then they may just be swayed by a better pitch. And you’ve probably heard the adage that its’ easier to sell to an existing customer than find new ones. Investing in training to increase customer loyalty makes good business sense. Putting it off, or throwing some random screencasts up on your website may actually do more harm than good. So, do the cost/benefit analysis and you’ll probably find that providing training is a good investment.

Some good examples:

Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes Community – these guys seriously understand how to make you want to use their product and continually provide their users with tons of training, ideas, hacks, tricks and freebies. Even if you aren’t a customer, they offer some awesome things.

ELH-learnSmartSheet – we have recently signed up for this online project management tool and have found the way they structure their training helpful. The notion of a playlist is pretty compelling. And while the interface isn’t as slick as some others we’ve seen, it’s a powerful tool, so learning ways to really get the most out of it is critical.

smartsheet helpSo, don’t just focus on building an “intuitive product”, consider how your users will get up to speed on your product and how good training will ensure that they don’t end up swamping your support service or cancelling their subscription because they can’t see the value in using your product because they don’t know how to use it.

Community Training Debt

If your community is lacking in knowledge, think about how difficult it will be to build, sustain or grow your community’s capacity. There’s sometimes resistance to providing training in areas where it seems like people should just “get it”. The reality is that we assume an awful lot when we are behind an initiative. And, we also place a lot of faith in motivation. We believe that people will want to do things so much, that they’ll go to great lengths to figure it out. But the reality is, that motivation is only part of the puzzle. If you really want to see new behaviours (because that’s REALLY what it’s about), you need to a few more ingredients. One of them is ability. So, invest in making sure that people know HOW to do something, not just that they WANT to do it. You’ll also need to make sure that they know WHEN to do it as well. If you ignore training, you may also end up with well-meaning but misguided supporters who dilute your efforts or create more work for you because of their lack of ability. Or you might find yourself falling into the trap of “I told them” and they didn’t do it. I have seen this many times, and it’s not a matter of  purely “repeat your message” (although that would be good too), but compounded with the assumption that everyone knows as much as you do.

A couple of examples from personal experience:

Orca Network – I have to confess to being a bit of a “whale nerd” – I am fascinated by whales, especially orcas. Living on an island means that I see/spend quite a lot of time on the Pacific Ocean. Our local orca population is a mixture of fish eaters (“Southern Residents”) and mammal eaters (“Transients”). The Southern Residents are endangered. There are less than 100 of them (although we’ve seen a baby boom – 7 calves born this year), and finding ways to help sustain the population is something the community would like to see. You can see in the image indications to “Be Whale Wise” are linked to and the ability to report sightings (which help scientists gather information about the whales). Incidentally, I also love how technology can assist here – drones that can observe and the SnotBot project which can collect whale exhalations (“snot”) which can provide biological information too. I want to see these whales saved, I’m motivated, but also need to know what I can do personally to make a difference.

orca network

Note: If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see me post photos of my #islandcommute, where I am typically trying to spot whales (and occasionally do!) as well as sharing photos when I do see them in my leisure time – sailing or kayaking.

Economic Development

Recently I volunteered to sit on the local economic development commission. As a small community, there’s not a lot of economic diversity, and the commission exists to develop a strategy and work with other organizations to support and attract businesses. One of the key elements that I feel we can bring to the community is better training on HOW to start, manage and grow a business. Since I’ve worked with the BC Tech community developing the Market Validation Training for the past four years, and have volunteered as a Futurpreneur mentor, I feel that the combination of the subject matter experience and instructional design expertise can really contribute to building some skills.

So, don’t just build a website or invest in marketing. Those two things are often seen as the panacea to building community capacity. Invest in training so that your community or cause has motivated AND capable members who know WHAT, HOW and WHEN to act.

What other areas do you see training debt piling up? Where could an early investment lead to a greater return down the road?

The role of instructional designer in social/informal learning

December 3, 2015

One of the quandaries that instructional designers have been struggling with, is their role (if any) in informal or social learning.

First of all, what exactly is informal and social learning?

Informal – no set objective in terms of learning outcomes and is never intentional from the learner’s standpoint. Often, it is referred to as learning by experience or just as experience. For all learners this includes heuristic language building, socialization, inculturation, and play. Informal learning is a pervasive ongoing phenomenon of learning via participation or learning via knowledge creation, in contrast with the traditional view of teacher-centered learning via knowledge acquisition.

Social – I define social learning as participating with others to make sense of new ideas. Augmented by a new slew of social tools, people can gather information and gain new context from people across the globe and around the clock as easily as they could from those they work beside.

An instructional designer’s role is to design instruction. I believe in today’s world that could include informal/social. I’m reminded of an older post “Triple E-learning

  1. Bridging the two – adding informal/social to the formal – providing an additional way to extend the learning. This might mean adapting an existing formal learning into one that adds some informal or social learning. Really, we’ve done this for years with co-horts, small group work, discussion groups and other methods. We really just have more tools at our disposal in today’s environment. But, instead of it being an either/or situation, we need to consider how to make it an AND situation. I like how Clark Quinn describes options in this article

2. Building and supporting an informal learning “space” – whether it’s online or offline. This is a much more facilitative role and some would argue that it’s counter-intutitive to have a designer involved. One of the challenges of social/informal learning is that best learning isn’t necessarily captured or shared and an ID might have some ways of enhancing the experience. James Tyer captures this well in his post:

3. Connecting learning to the work – an instructional designer might be able to tap into an informal learning space or situation to identify a more substantial need or opportunity to amplify something shared or learned with a wider group and embed it into the more formal programs to ensure that it’s part of an ongoing culture of continuous improvement. Helen Blunden describes a project like this here:

spark image 2I think the big issue around whether or not the instructional designer has a role in these situations, is one of control. If the ID is acting as a gatekeeper or tries to direct all activities related to training/learning, then it’s easier to see why there would be reluctance around their involvement. I would hope that a good instructional designer doesn’t act that way, but instead demonstrates the value that they’d provide.

How to enhance, extend, embed are all ways that an instructional designer can add value.

I’d add a couple more “E’s” to the mix here:

An instructional designer can help establish an environment or culture where informal learning is included and even celebrated. This might be an online community, peer-learning exchange, user-generated content, or simply making a connection between two people. Instruction isn’t always a course. It seems to have become that, but I believe that instruction is much broader than that. Think of it like an interior designer – they may put the space together seeking not only function, but also beauty, but they also care about how people will BE in those spaces. An instructional designer can do that too, even if it’s a virtual space or a workplace.

An instructional designer can also evaluate existing formal programs that perhaps no longer need to be managed formally and could be more effective if they were informal and/or social. Much of what happens in organizational learning departments is driven by efficiency, which is not always the most effective. Unfettering a formal program to an informal environment might free up time to develop more effective formal programs and might tap into some pretty great informal learning and sharing. It takes a lot of courage though to do that, but it can be done. And, the reality is, it’s an improvement for everyone. The client gets the right solution to their problem. The audience gets the right mode of training/learning. And you, the instructional designer, get a variety of new ways to help everyone get what they need.

What do you think? Is this the role of an instructional designer?

Performance equation

December 2, 2015

When building your training solutions, it’s really important that you consider how your target audience is going to incorporate this new knowledge or skill into their practice, task or work. Whether it’s online or offline (or both!), think of how you can:

  • Specify and communicate (performance) expectations
  • Provide training and simulate a realistic environment where they can practice
  • Augment your solution with resources
  • Align access to those resources to the process
  • Provide coaching and feedback

performance equation

Considering these as part of your overall solution, during the design phase (from the beginning), is a good idea. Training is never an isolated solution, but works best if it’s supported. Within an organization, it’s also important that you specifically target management to set and communicate expectations and provide timely feedback. Expectations are not the “learning objectives” that are in a course, but a true conversation between manager and direct report, which should include the words “I expect”.  Often, if training is requested because of a performance problem, you can trace the root of it back to unclear expectations. However, building a training solution that includes guidance for managers around setting expectations, providing feedback and ensuring that they are aware of the training itself can avoid some performance problems. And if you are an instructional designer and are confronted with a request for training, explore the possibility that it could be poorly communicated expectations before you build instructional materials. You may save a lot of time and money by NOT building instructional solutions for those situations. And solve the actual problem. Like a good instructional designer should.

Want to know more?

How to get the most out of your instructional designer

November 25, 2015

(or how to be a good “client”).

We recently wrote a post about what makes a good instructional designer, and a great instructional designer is not the only factor in a successful working relationship. We believe it should be a mutually beneficial relationship, so here are some things that YOU as a client can consider when procuring e-learning or instructional design services and getting the most of our your instructional designer.

  1. Define the business problem AND the  performance problem. The instructional designer is uniquely qualified to help you solve these problems. Asking for a course is not getting to the real problem, it’s like picking a solution before you know what to solve or whether that choice is actually a solution. So, when we ask you “what’s the problem you are trying to solve here” don’t answer with “we need training on…”. Are you trying to address quality issues? Decrease time-to-competency? Speed up time-to-market? What do people need to do that they are not doing today. Let us help you with that.
  2. Don’t create prescriptive Requests for Proposal. Asking an instructional designer to just build the course as described diminishes the value that you’d get from a good instructional designer. Actually the whole RFP process is often a waste of time for all parties. An RFP shouldn’t be a list of specifications, it should be an open invitation to help you solve a problem.
  3. Recognize that there are many types of designers, and think carefully about what you really need from a project.
    • Are you expecting the audience to do something differently, from this point forward?
    • Do you have a range of skill levels – novice to master – that need different types of instruction?
    • Do roles influence what content you’d provide to the audience?

If you answered yes to any of these – You’d probably be better off with an instructional designer on your side.

  1. Tell your instructional designer what’s really important to you – is it cost? Is it release date? Is it easy maintenance going forward? Is it multi-device operability? If we understand what’s important, then we know how to help you and what the constraints are with the project. And, everyone has budget constraints, so be up front with these.
  2. Be clear on the existing standards or practices in your organization. If you have an established template or standard within your organization, your instructional designer might find it restrictive so it’s better to know up front. Your instructional designer is a creative type, so having to fit everything within a specific format might work for presentations or branding, but might not work for learning. Most instructional designers I know don’t want to be handcuffed during the process, however give them the opportunity to decide and not find out part way through the project. If you are looking for someone to just do what you tell them, then hire a temp or a co-op student and save yourself some money.
  3. Include time/budget for up-front analysis, which includes: defining the audience(s) and identifying the barriers to behaviour change, among many other factors. If we are able to do this part of the work, we might be able to recommend a LESS costly option (as in – maybe you don’t need a course after all…), or we may suggest that you’d be better served training managers as well. Or perhaps we determine that a course won’t help, but a peer-to-peer learning option would.
  4. Provide access to the actual audience & Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) – REAL access. One of the common challenges many instructional designers have seen is that the SME thinks that “everyone” needs to “know” a laundry list of things. But, they may not, or perhaps not in one fell swoop. And knowing does not equal doing. And being able to vet that with your target audience will help us ensure that we’ve hit the mark with both defining the problem and the solution. Your instructional designer can help you not only filter the content, but also working with the audience representatives shape the delivery method, the sequencing, and other aspects around how the instruction is delivered or accessed.
  5. Share the outcomes you’d like to track. This is especially true if you want to track things with your LMS or using xAPI. Knowing this information is an important part of the design process, so tell us this information in the discovery/analysis phase.

Above all be open to different interpretations/proposals that view your problem from a different perspective.

If you are an instructional designer, what did I miss? What would you like clients to do/say to make the working relationship smooth?

How to identify a good instructional designer

November 23, 2015

In the last post, we made the case for why instructional design matters.

We believe that designing good instruction for learning requires a unique set of skills and the reality is (as with any profession) there are good ones and not so good ones. When you are looking for an instructional designer, especially to build your online course, here are some things you should look for:

  1. Good (needs) analysis skills – they ask questions about the outcome and challenge you on the creation of the course. Why does it deserve to exist? Cathy Moore describes this so well.
  2. They focus on activity first – they don’t just ask you for the powerpoint file and then develop a course. They want to understand what the key tasks are involved so that the instruction supports the task. What do people need to be able to DO after this instruction? Or what is it intended to support them doing?
  3. They ask about mistakes that the audience might be making (as a result of lack of training) and consequences of those mistakes – understanding how to use training to avoid things that would harm the organization is critical. It’s not just about telling them things (i.e. sharing content), it’s about ensuring that the training is used to actually train someone, not just show them information that we hope they’ll use when the time comes. I think Dave Ferguson’s post is a good place to start.
  4. They ask questions about the environment – your instructional designer should be preparing your audience for the moment when they apply that task. Consider that you might need to have not just training, but also performance support.
  5. They differentiate between information that needs to be memorized vs information that should be referenced. In other words, they understand that some information remains constant and some changes and shouldn’t be memorized, but the process of looking it up should be.
  6. They help you solve your business problem within the constraints of your business. Sometimes a course isn’t pretty because there isn’t budget or time to enable that. But if it solved your business need, does it matter if it was “award winning”? Look for a partner that is looking to make YOU more successful, not themselves.
  7. They meet you where you are. A good partner won’t be forcing their “best practices” on you or belittling how you approach training (unless you ask them to help you shake things up).
  8. They don’t just build a course, but challenge you and ask about the actual business problem, the performance gap, and WANT to solve your problem. Even if that means telling you that a course/training won’t solve your problem.
  9. Their solution is not just a course. To really change behaviour (and that’s why you are working with an instructional designer), you need to address timing, feedback, spaced repetition, culture, process, etc. People aren’t just “trained” by the magic training wand. Will Thalheimer outlines his approach.
  10. They look at assessment as more than a multiple choice quiz at the end of the module. They help you design meaningful ways to ensure that they have learned something.

Bonus: they pay attention to information about how people learn.

Of course, you’ll also want an instructional designer that can translate all of that into an online environment, but first and foremost, you want someone who is interested in the learning needs before the technical requirements.

What have I missed? What would you say are the must-have skills?

Why Instructional Design matters

November 16, 2015

In the first post of this series, I wrote about my observations of blurring the lines between web design and elearning, as well as the obsession with beauty over useful. In this post, I’ll explore what the differences between the web design and instructional/e-learning design. They are different, but closely associated, design approaches.

So, the closing question at the end of the previous post was “does instructional design matter”? I’m going to declare my bias right up front. I am an instructional designer. I think instructional design matters.  A lot. Some would argue that instructional design doesn’t matter and is “old style”. I think a good instructional designer is going to know HOW to best support learning and when a good instructional designer thinks an e-learning course is a good fit, they know it’s different than a website.

What IS instructional design?

In short, instructional design is the systematic process by which instructional materials are designed, developed, and delivered. (See more at:

To me instructional design is primarily to provide access to learning activities, sometimes through a guided sequence of content. The overall design intent is engagement, learning and behaviour change.

How is it different than web design?

“A Web designer is someone who prepares content for the Web. This role is mainly related to the styling and layout of pages with content, including text and images.” (

To me web design is primarily to organize and structure information so it can be located easily and to style content. The overall design intent is efficiency and succinct communication.

Why does it matter?

A web designer cares about CONTENT first. What is the body of information that we have to work with? How can we categorize it logically in areas that make sense? How do we structure this content to meet the goals? The website owner (“the client”) decides what content is in there, and the web designer determines how to organize it. In looking at the competencies for a web designer (or user experience designer), there’s no mention of behaviour change.

An instructional designer cares about ACTIVITY first and content second. What are they going to do with that content? Should this content be included? What format should it be in? What order should it appear in to ensure that it sequences in a way that supports behaviour change? The instructional designer advises (or should) the online course owner (“the client”) what content should be included and in what format. More of a content advisor. These competencies are different than those of web design.

I could be wrong, but the biggest differences to me are:

  1. Design intent – what is the reason for this site/course to exist?
  2. Role of the designer – web designers offer expertise on how to treat content; instructional designers offer expertise on whether or not the content is the right content and what activity is necessary to meet the instructional goal. Perhaps it’s too simplistic, but I think that web designers focus more on the output (they work with what they are given) and instructional designers focus first on the input and then on the output.
  3. Audience – web designers are building for a broad audience; instructional designers are (attempting) to build for a focused audience
  4. Who benefits – a website benefits the client who commissioned it, whereas an online course benefits the individual who is taking the course

What about graphic design?

Both instructional designers and web designers care about the visual aspects of the project. How we use visuals and what the purpose of it, differs, but it’s pretty nuanced. I think (and I could be wrong), that visuals can stand alone more in web design, whereas in instructional design, visuals are used to support the instructional goal. Pretty is not enough. It has to look good, but not detract from the instructional purpose. I have seen online courses that are so meticulously visually designed, but it’s almost distracting and you’d remember the theme or the style, but not actually learn anything. I think it’s a really hard balance, but I’d hope that an instructional designer would direct the graphic designer to ensure that the end result is a perfect balance of form and function.

So, who cares what it’s called?

I do.

Design is a word that gets tossed around pretty frequently these days. But, it’s not a homogenous profession. I worry that not differentiating instructional design from web design or graphic design diminishes the field of instructional design. I worry that it’s seen as an unnecessary or so easy that any related field (or smart enough person) can just “make training”.  Why pay someone to do instructional design at all?  I worry that there’s an overemphasis on style instead of substance. Dazzle them with beauty and no one will realize that the course itself is hollow. I worry that instructional designers are not educating people about the importance of instructional design.

So, how to channel that worry into something more productive?

  1. Do a better job defining the value of instructional design so clients can feel good about investing in it.
  2. Work on comparison samples to show the differences – perhaps take a website and create an online course out of it.
  3. Continue to pursue e-learning design that’s begins with substance and is enhanced with style.

Whatever design you are referring to, one principle that should weave through all types of design is to make something useful. So, if your users need to learn something, you should engage the services of an instructional designer.

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