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A Day in the Life of an Instructional Designer.

Maresa Malloy IDMaresa Molloy is an Instructional Designer at Aurion Learning. Maresa is also an avid fan of hill-walking and would love to be stuck in a lift with Andy Murray! But mainly she is an Instructional Designer who loves providing people the best learning experiences.  If you have ever wondered what an Instructional Designer is or what they do, then you are in luck! After some persuasion, Maresa has agreed to reveal all about how a typical day at Aurion Learning shapes up.


Describe your job:

My job as an Instructional Designer involves helping clients to identify the knowledge, skill and attitude gaps of its staff, and designing learning materials to help close those gaps, based on learning theories and best practices used in my field.

Sometimes the knowledge, skill and attitude gaps may seem fairly obvious. For example, a client may to provide all new staff with a staff induction programme or they may want to introduce completely new Fire Safety procedures.

For other projects, the knowledge, skills and attitude gaps are not so obvious. For example, a client may ask us to develop a leadership portal for a multi-disciplinary team – where the knowledge, skill and attitude gaps vary greatly amongst learners. For the most part – we present completely new learning content.

However, as an Instructional Designer you can’t assume to really know the gaps until a training needs analysis is completed that defines our target audience. Part of our training needs analysis involves what we call a ‘DIF analysis’, this involves sitting down with the client – and often with the learners themselves – to identify three things:

1. What is difficult for the target audience to understand?
2. What is important for the target audience to know or be able to do?
3. What questions are frequently asked about his content?

Only then can we target the areas which staff need the most help with, and design training materials that help them to perform better in their jobs.

The training materials can be delivered in a variety of online formats, but I specialise in the design of e-learning programmes.


Describe your typical working day?

A typical day usually starts off with a cup of freshly ground coffee – one of the many perks of working at Aurion and then onto our daily team ‘scrum’ where we discuss project progress, some design and programming details and release schedules. I’ll then throw on my headphones for some “work mode” music and get on with projects. Personally, I enjoy what I do, life at Aurion is fast paced, and we are usually working to tight deadlines and have several projects on the go at any one time. As part of this, I typically work with my team to produce e-learning programmes and other training materials on time. So in any one day, I could be:

  • liaising with the client and meeting Subject Matter Experts to assess project requirements, assess learner needs and discuss learning strategies
  • meeting with the learner to gauge any difficulties or challenges they may have with the subject area
  • designing and writing the content using storyboards
  • writing supplementary content such as help sheets and job aids
  • producing online training videos
  • learning new tools and techniques in Instructional Design.

For the most part I take a proper lunch break, we are actually encouraged to do so as it is really beneficial to step away from the computer. There are a good few team lunches at Aurion and we are regularly treated to the curry, pizza and sandwich houses that the Ormeau Road has to offer! Aurion also hosts monthly Lunch and Learn sessions for the team, it’s a great way to find out what’s going on in other parts of the company and find out what exciting e-learning and digital media projects that we will be working on!

My afternoons usually comprise of talking directly to clients, team meetings, discussing a project and trying to get the best solution for it. A good thing about my role is that I get to talk to the entire team about a project – there is little hierarchy or chain of command – all team members are included in the decision-making process, from how we will design a client solution, to how projects will be managed.


What qualifications or special qualities do you need for your job?

It is beneficial to have an Instructional Design related degree. I did a Masters in Technical Communication and e-learning, and learned a lot about learning theories and methodologies from this course. However, if you don’t have a degree, it is still possible to get a job in Instructional Design if you have the skills to design and write content.

I also think you need to have the ability to write creatively and to have a passion for how people learn. It also helps to have skills in technology as you get to work with various software tools.


What do you find most challenging about your job?

The most challenging aspect of my job is getting the client to agree to the creative delivery of the learning content. It is usually the case that I am given pages and pages of content that the client wants the learner to read and ‘understand’. My job involves convincing them that we only need to use the content that helps the learner to perform better. All of the other content can be placed on the Learning Management System (LMS) or sent out in an email. We then need to do something creative with the content to ensure that the learner wants and is motivated to read your material.


What aspect of your job do you enjoy most?

I love the actual writing of the content. By the time you get to this stage, you usually have all of the source material and it’s a case of taking pages of content and trying to do something creative with it. I enjoy the challenge and also the pressure to work towards deadlines.


What advice would you offer any Instructional Designers who are interested in joining the Aurion team?

At Aurion, there is a growing focus on continuous improvement and pushing the perception of what learning is and where it can happen. If you’re an Instructional Designer who is looking for a new challenge then be sure to get in touch. As a growing team, we’re always on the lookout for talented people, you can view our jobs at http://www.aurionlearning.com/who.aspx#jobs

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. Follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates. 

Why adding interactive activities is important for e-learning.

By Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer at Aurion Learning.

At Aurion Learning, our experience tells us that one of the best ways to guarantee learner interest and retention is through the appropriate and frequent use of interactivity.

This short article identifies the top five benefits of adding interactive activities to your online learning resources.Engagement

  1. Changes learner behaviour – Interactive activities such as, scenario-based exercises, behaviour modelling and guided practice prompt learners to review the lesson against their own work-place practices which is an ideal approach to affect positive behaviour change amongst staff.
  2. Ensures the message is understood – formative assessments, questioning and assessed role-plays provide learners with instant feedback, offering appropriate affirmation or explanation depending on whether the learner has answered correctly or incorrectly.
  3. Connects with the workplace – printable job aid exercises, such as checklists and action plans, prompt learners to focus on the application of the course material to their particular role.
  4. Engages all learning styles – variety of presentation, practice and assessments support high levels of user interactivity and engagement. Rich task-based multi-media and audio immerse learners by providing realistic practice in the subject areas being taught.
  5. Promotes a positive learning experience the use of appropriate interactivity encourages learners to return to refresh their learning as well recommend the resource to their colleagues as material for group or individual learning.

As a quick rule of thumb, we feel that the definition provided by American Instructional Technology guru, Brandon-Hall encapsulates the spirit of good interactivity:

“An interaction is an engagement of the mind……. not the finger!”

Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting

By Maresa Molloy

Many e-learning programmes today are built for compliance training, which more often than not means that learners are faced with boring and tedious ‘page-turner’ programmes.

E-learning guru and author Michael Allen has spent years fighting this trend for monotonous
e-learning. In his book, Designing Successful e-Learning: Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting, Allen proposes alternative ways of designing e-learning to ensure it’s interesting and engaging for learners. Although published 5 years ago Allen’s book, which is aimed at experienced instructional designers, is still included on many university reading lists and is worthy of review.

So what is Allen’s main proposal in the book?

Designing Successful e-Learning: Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting is divided into three parts:

Part 1 – ‘Scenarios’ presents a selection of e-learning scenarios and asks the reader what they would do in these situations. This questions the readers’ current approach to designing e-learning programmes and opens their mind to the possibility of designing programmes differently.

Part 2 – ‘The Art and Science of Instructional Design’ provides a critique of how instructional design is practiced today. It introduces readers to the ‘Success Based Design’ practiced by the author, which he believes encompasses the best elements of current instructional design theories.

Part 3 – ‘Designing Successful e-Learning’ explains how readers can apply a Success Based Design to their own e-learning programmes. Allen suggests that instructional designers provide learners with meaningful, memorable and motivational experiences, which he says you can do by:

  • setting the programme in the context of the learner’s real-life environment;
  • by providing the learner with a challenge they are likely to encounter in this environment;
  • by providing the learner with activities that help them to solve the challenge; and
  • by providing them with intrinsic feedback – based on their performance of the activity.

The e-learning programme is meant to provide learners with a safe environment in which they can try out different options and solutions, and make informed decisions based on their mistakes and successful attempts. The success of the programme is then measured by how well they do in the real environment.

Allen’s approach contrasts with traditional e-learning which provides learners with pages of content, followed by an assessment to see if learners can remember the content. Instead of just focusing on the content, Allen places emphasis on whether or not learners can apply their knowledge in a real-life task.

Is the Success Based Design a better approach than the traditional approach?
In my opinion, the Success Based Design is clearly a better approach to take. It facilitates production of
a more interesting and engaging programme and encourages learners to gain a deeper understanding of the learning content, and how to apply that learning in real-life contexts.

For example, a Success Based e-learning programme that helps nurses diagnose specific sinus problems with their patients would present the learner (the nurse) with typical scenarios. In each scenario, the learner asks the patient (or programme) questions about their symptoms and they observe the patient for physical symptoms. From this information, they can then submit their diagnosis and the programme will give them feedback. The scenario is reflective of a real-life task and challenge the nurse is likely to face at work.

The main limitation with Allen’s approach is that learners do not have to read all of the content. They can choose which scenarios they want to do and they can skip those scenarios that they think they know well. Traditional e-learning programmes, on the other hand, tend to be compliance-based which means that learners are forced to read all of the pages of content.

Nevertheless, the Success Based Approach focuses more on improving the understanding of learners and focuses less on compliance. Focusing on learners’ needs should always be a priority.


How well does the author deliver the content?
Allen describes the Success Based Approach very thoroughly in his book and provides useful diagrams and tables to explain his methods. He can be somewhat repetitive at times, for example, he repeats much of the same information about context, challenge, activity and feedback across several different chapters on designing instruction.

He also falls short of providing a step-by-step guide on designing e-learning programmes using this approach, and in providing practical examples of how it would look in an e-learning programme. For example, he does not show how the layout of the navigation and menus would look like. This would help give a clearer understanding of how he proposes to move away from the traditional layout and design.

Are there any limitations with his approach?
The Success Based Design is an excellent approach. However, I feel that because e-learning is a component of the overall training strategy of an organisation, many organisations would need to
re-evaluate their current training strategies before implementing a Success Based e-Learning programme. For example, many organisations today are still providing learners with endless amounts of PowerPoint slides in a training room, instead of providing them with interactive, scenario-based activities which are much more meaningful. If organisations update their overall training strategy, then a Success Based e-Learning programme would suit the organisation’s training culture and norms.


How well does the book rate in relation to other books on Instructional Design?
Designing Successful e-Learning is still a popular book on the market. Allen uses a friendly and informal tone to deliver some very useful advice on how to design successful e-learning. He breaks away from some of the traditional books which are heavily laden in theory and jargon, and speaks to the reader on a level they can understand. I would therefore recommend this book to any Instructional Designer who wants to improve their current approach to designing e-learning.

Are there further resources available from the author?
Michael Allen has a useful website where you can access information about his other books and other e-learning resources:

http://www.alleninteractions.com/michael-allens-books

Book information:

Designing Successful e-Learning: Forget What You Know About Instructional Design and Do Something Interesting – Michael Allen’s Online Learning Library

Publication Date: 12 Jun 2007 | ISBN-10: 0787982997 | ISBN-13: 978-0787982997

Is Articulate Storyline Any Good?

A Review of Articulate Storyline, by Lee Reilly

Storyline is the new and highly anticipated authoring tool from Articulate. It promises to offer its customers something different from Studio ’09, which contained Presenter, Engage and Quizmaker.Articulate Storyline logo

The first, and in my humble opinion, best enhancement to Storyline compared to Studio ’09 is that Storyline is not a plugin for PowerPoint, it is a standalone application. That in itself is worth re-stating – it is a standalone application. While creating a quick demonstration of a Storyline interaction for this review I found that Storyline didn’t crash once. It didn’t slow down, bug out, shut down or corrupt anything – it simply worked (and worked well I might add). For anyone who uses Studio ’09 on a daily basis you will know just how much project time you have wasted on enduring the numerous issues with Studio ’09 stability. These have thankfully not transferred over to Storyline.

If Storyline did nothing other than offer better stability and PowerPoint independence I would rate it highly. It does, however, offer much more than that.

Storyline provides users with:

Ease of Use:
This cannot be understated. Although Storyline is a standalone application, it inherits much of the PowerPoint interface look and feel. Everything is logically located and the more advanced features are intuitively set out and labelled.

Scenes, Layers and Triggers:
Now that Storyline does not rely on PowerPoint it has expanded how slides interact with each other. This is done using the “Story View”, a way of visually determining the order and branching of your content. This is very intuitive to use and set up. The inclusion of layers is a huge improvement too. No longer does content need split between slides and brought in piece by piece over a set. Now content can be assigned to layers, which can in turn be made visible with mouse gestures or timed events. This demonstration is all created in one slide. All interaction is done by showing/hiding layers and assigning simple triggers. Much more efficient!

Screen Recording:
I’m a big fan of Adobe Captivate, it works very well for product simulation (and for creating full e-learning courses). Having screen recording built directly in to Storyline, however, is great because it keeps everything within the same application. It also allows for captioning. Captions are based on mouse gestures during the recording.

States:
One of my biggest bugbears with Studio ’09 was the inability to create simple rollovers. Small things like rollover effects can greatly improve the overall user experience within a course and I am very happy to say that Storyline allows for them. You can now apply hover, down, disabled, selected and drag states on to assets. This allows for the creation of proper button sets and navigation schemes.

Mobile Ready:
You can now publish to HTML5, iOS and traditional flash formats, giving Storyline-created courses a much broader range of end-user platforms.

Overall Articulate Storyline is a big leap forward for authoring tools. It has managed to inject many interesting and useful additions while maintaining ease of use. It is definitely an authoring tool we will be using for upcoming projects.

Effective User Interface Design for Mobile Learning

by Noleen Turner

Sample mobile learning user interface developed by AurionWith the explosion of mobile learning many of us are now in the position of creating brand new mobile e-learning programmes or transforming existing e-learning content to mobile.

*A friendly word of warning to those involved in ‘conversion’ projects – mobile is different to traditional web – and your mobile learning programme won’t work if it’s just a regurgitated experience. Mobile learning is micro-learning, designed for short bursts of activity – your learners are likely to access it while on the job, performing a task, or in between other activities. And learners need to be able to access it via a range of mobile learning technologies which are likely to include smartphones and tablets.

But I digress…and to get back to the original point how do you design an effective user interface for mobile learning? And how do you manage navigation, usability, and aesthetics ensuring that the transition between screens feels natural and that users know where they are at all times during the programme?

LearningSolutions Magazine recently published an article entitled “From e-learning to ipad – how to adjust the user interface”. In the article they consider how the user interface design contributes to
the success of a learning mobile app – one in which the user interface enhances and eases the learning process.

According to LearningSolutions, the layout you build for your mobile learning app must enable users to answer these five questions:

  • Where am I?
  • How did I get here?
  • How can I return to where I once was? 
  • How far have I gone?
  • Where else can I go?

In response to these questions I’ve tried to come up with my own tips for optimising the mobile learning interface:

  How to improve the experience
Where am I?
  • Don’t overload functionality, features or content – just focus on what is necessary to get the job done.
  • Simple functionality will enable you to create a straightforward and easy to follow user interface.
  • Structure information so it can be easily accessed – learners expect to get the information they need with just a few taps.
  • Group similar topics together. The Learning Coach has a useful blog post on visual grouping.
  • Keep the screen uncluttered and use clear screen titles so learners won’t misinterpret visual cues.
  • Emphasise menu items already clicked (change colour or attach bookmarks).
  • Design for a low error rate – remember that selection errors on mobile phones are higher than desktops so surround selection areas with white space so that a learner can easily tap them and invoke the correct action.
How did I get here?
  • Create a visual trail as learners move through the content. For example, highlight a section already clicked on or use a “breadcrumb trail” so learners can track their progress through the programme.
How can I return to where I once was? 
  • Use navigation buttons to allow movement between learning units.
  • Ensure some navigation menus are visible throughout the entire course.
  • Provide Back buttons or Menu buttons to return to a map of choices.
How far have I gone?
  • Include a screen ID such as “Screen 2 of 24” to inform users of how far they have progressed through a lesson and how much there is left to do.
  • Use the word “screen” rather than “page”.
  • Group similar content and create intense learning nuggets rather that one long course – nobody wants to see “Screen 3 of 60”.
Where else can I go?
  • Use clearly labelled navigation buttons to help learners orient themselves.
  • Make sure navigation buttons are easy to find.
  • Stick to simple touch tap or swipe commands to manage navigation between screens (for now). Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use all the interface features of their smartphone / tablet – e.g. pinch open gesture to magnify text.  According to Josh Clark, author of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps, most people don’t know about the more obscure gestures that work on some mobile phones.

And finally…don’t forget to test your user interface
Once you design an interface, make sure you test it with a sample group of learners, checking how long it takes to complete the learning, how easily they can navigate the learning, how many navigational errors they make etc.

Useful resources for designing mobile learning
iOS Human Interface Guidelines
http://thatcoolguy.github.com/gridless-boilerplate/  guidelines on HTML5 & CSS3 topics
W3C
10 Tips For Designing mLearning And Support Apps
From e-learning to ipad – how to adjust the user interface
Ten things to think about when designing your iPad App

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