Tag: Connie Malamed

What I Learned at LSCon18

Last month, I attended the Learning Solutions 2018 Conference in Orlando. Once again, it was a great experience. I had fun meeting people like Judy Katz, Tracy Parish, Cammy Bean, and Clark Quinn in person who I have known online for years, plus seeing people again from last year.

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to process and reflect, I want to summarize some of what I learned. I did a similar post last year, and it helped me reinforce and remember what I learned. This is my own “spaced repetition” to help me use these ideas. These comments won’t always be the most important thing each speaker said, but one thing I took away from the session and think I can apply in my own work.

Diane Elkins: Microlearning Morning Buzz

One of the things I appreciated from Diane’s discussion was the balanced approach. This wasn’t the “microlearning will solve all of our problems!” hyperbole I see from many sources. We talked about how microlearning is sometimes a solution, sometimes on its own, sometimes in combination with other forms of training.

Diane also shared a really great idea for training where you have to meet a certain minimum time to meet a legal or regulatory requirement. Instead of doing lots of content dump (which is sometimes padded to fill the required time), why not do just the minimum content plus a lot of practice and maybe reflection?

As a side note, Diane’s hand puppet demonstrations of pointless conversations with SMEs are hilarious.

Kai Kight: Composing Your World

As a musician and former music educator, it was really fun to hear a session start with violin and to watch the reactions of the audience.

One of the ideas from his keynote was to not get so wrapped up in the notes that you forget who you’re playing for. That applies to our work (and many fields); we have to always keep thinking about the audience and what they need.

Kevin Thorn: Comics for Learning

This was a session I attended specifically because it’s outside of what I normally do for work. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to apply this yet, but thinking about the various visual styles for comics gives me some new ideas.

Kevin shared a ton of research, examples, and resources. One that I need to dig into more is the Visual Language Lab.

Ann Rollins and Myra Roldan: Low-Cost, High-Impact AR Experiences

This was another session where I have no experience with the topic, but was curious to see some possibilities. My biggest takeaway is that several tools for simple AR are pretty affordable and easy enough to get started. Simple things like showing a video or a little information to explain features is very doable. We tested Zappar in the session to create a quick sample, but Layar also looks promising.

Julie Dirksen: Strategies for Supporting Complex Skill Development

I took 5 pages of notes from this session, so this could be several blog posts on its own.

How do you know if something is a skill or not? Is it reasonable to think that someone can be proficient without practice? If not, it’s a skill.

One idea I’m going to start using immediately is for self-paced elearning where I ask learners to type a longer answer. I have been using a model answer to compare as a way to help learners evaluate their own work, which is a good start. Julie talked about giving learners a checklist to guide their self-evaluation even more. I can implement that right now.

Tracy Parish: Free eLearning Design Tools

This was a discussion about free tools and how people use them, based largely on Tracy’s immense list of free tools.

Platon: Powerful Portraits

This was an engaging keynote because he has so many great stories about famous (and not famous) people.

One idea he shared was that if you can get people to see themselves in the story you put forward, maybe you can build bridges to connect people.

Cammy Bean: Architecting for Results

The big idea from this presentation was to think about broader systems for learning. Instead of content in a single event, it’s a journey over time. It’s a mix of what you do before the training, during the training, and after the training, but we often focus just on the middle portion.

The mix is going to be a little different for every program. This model is one way to think about the different pieces.

  1. Engage
  2. Diagnose
  3. Learn/Understand
  4. Apply
  5. Assess
  6. Reinforce

The simplified version is Prepare – Learn – Practice – Reflect.

Connie Malamed: Design Critique Party

The best thing I took away from this session was actually the protocol for requesting and giving critiques.

The protocol for the designer requesting critique:

  1. State your objective.
  2. Walk people through the experience.
  3. Say what you’d like to get feedback on
  4. Become an impartial observer

The protocol for giving critique:

If your objective is ____________, then _________ [critique].

Joe Fournier: Novel Writing Tricks

One idea from this session was about how the idea of a theme might apply to learning. The theme ties to the objective. It’s the emotional or value shift in a story. In learning, the theme might be how reporting employee theft is better for everyone.

Panel: Evolution of Instructional Design

This panel included Connie Malamed, Diane Elkins, Kevin Thorn, and Clark Quinn.

Diane Elkins pointed out that in classroom training, we often ask questions that only a few people will answer, and we don’t track them. If it’s OK to do that in classroom training, why not do it in elearning too? It’s OK to ask learners to type longer answers even though some of them will skip it. Let’s not punish the people who are willing to do the work and learn more just because we can’t track it or not everyone will do it.

David Kelly moderated the panel, and he pointed out how our field has a lot of “shiny object syndrome.” We’re often looking for “one tool to rule them all” that will fix every problem in every situation. That just doesn’t exist.

David Kelly: Shifting from Microlearning to Micromoments

There is no definition of microlearning. There are lots of opinions, some of which are labeled as definitions.

Maybe we should be thinking about micro as in microscope: something that narrows the scope of focus to a tiny part of the whole.

Bethany Vogel & Cara Halter: cMOOCs can be Effective

They used Intrepid Learning as the platform, which may be worth exploring more.

In their model, a MOOC is a time-bound online program that contains highly contextualized spaced, micro, and social learning. “Massive” and “Open” aren’t really part of their model, so I admit I’m not sure why they’re calling it a MOOC (other than that’s what their clients are asking for). I think you could do this same model with moderated social, spaced learning and call it “blended” or a “journey.” The experience was good, even if I might quibble with the label.

Photos

You can get a feel for the conference here.

 

Book Review: Visual Design Solutions

Connie Malamed’s new book Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals is written specifically for learning professionals. As instructional designers, we often communicate visually as well as with text, audio, and other media. Many of us (myself included) don’t feel as strong about our graphic design skills as about our other instructional design skills. This book teaches many of the same foundational principles as other design books (including Connie’s first book, Visual Language for Designers), but the examples and applications are all geared towards learning. If you’ve read visual design concepts elsewhere but struggled to apply them to your own learning design, this book is written for you.

Visual Design Solutions

Visual Design Solutions is divided into four major parts, each with multiple chapters:

  1. The Big Ideas (thinking and working like a designer)
  2. Building Blocks of Design (space and layouts, selecting images, and typography)
  3. Power Principles (color, visual hierarchy, unified design, contrast, and grouping)
  4. Practicing Design (directing attention, adding excitement, enhancing meaning, telling stories, and displaying data)

Each chapter is relatively short and filled with examples (as a visual design book should be). If you have read other books or articles on visual design, a fair amount of this will be familiar to you. Even someone with no background in graphic design (which, let’s face it, is most of us in the e-learning world) will be able to understand the ideas. I found myself repeatedly thinking, “Oh! I could apply this in my [Acme Widgets] course!” or “Why didn’t I ever see that before?”

In addition to the principles and examples, I appreciated how Connie explained why you might choose one style over another. For example, she says, “Use a symmetrical layout to achieve a restful and static design; use an asymmetrical layout for one that is more dynamic.”

What I Learned

I had a number of takeaways from the book, but here are two big ideas I’m still thinking about after finishing the book.

Chapter 4: Organizing Graphic Space included specific ideas on layouts for e-learning. This is one of the areas where I know I could do better, and the examples helped me figure out why I’m not always happy with my own layouts. I need to be more consistent about using a grid and guides to align content. Using a grid means I can keep everything aligned and unified across multiple screens. That means content like titles is where learners expect on each screen so they don’t have to waste brainpower trying to find the title instead of learning. Grids don’t have to be symmetrical; Connie shows multiple examples of grid-based layouts that aren’t just centering everything on the page. Connie also says, “In course design, we are always looking for ways to engage the learner. One way is through the element of surprise, which you can achieve through visual design. When it makes sense instructionally, such as to emphasize a key point or to show drama in a story, don’t hesitate to break the grid and use a wildly different approach, like placing elements on a diagonal orientation.”

Grid layout diagram

Chapter 15: Tell Stories With Visuals was especially interesting to me because I use storytelling techniques so often in my courses. I do almost all of my storytelling with words though, and this chapter challenged me to think about ways I could enhance my stories with better visuals. Some of the advice here was very concrete, such as thinking about how to lay out panels so it’s clear to learners which way to read. If your panels and gutters are all the same size, they line up in a grid and it’s harder to know if you should read vertically or horizontally first. Using narrow vertical gutters and wide horizontal gutters, as well as varying the widths of panels, makes the flow of reading clearer. This is a really simple idea, but it makes perfect sense. It’s something I can easily apply.

Varying the size of panels in each row helps readers move from left to right before top to bottom.

A Few Mild Criticisms

I have an electronic version of the book, and I think I would have enjoyed a print version more. I tend to buy physical books for my reference texts (as this book will be). Some of that is personal preference, but I think with such a visual book it might be more effective to see it printed on the page. Then again, these examples are designed for viewing on screens. If you’re normally a Kindle person, don’t let this stop you, but if you’re not sure, I’d go with the print version. (Update: Because Connie is a wonderful, generous person, she shipped me a physical copy. The book is beautiful in print, and it strengthened my view that this book is best when you can physically hold it.)

Because the book contains so many images, sometimes the images are on a different page than the text describing the concept. In the physical copy, it’s easier for me to flip back and forth between pages, plus you’re looking at two pages at once instead of one.

The book contains a lot of jargon. It’s necessary to have the specific words to discuss these issues and not be haphazard in design, so I know learning the words is important. All of the terminology is explained clearly. However, in a few places in the book, there’s just so much vocabulary at once that I found myself reading very slowly and rereading to understand it all. I don’t think that’s a problem with Connie’s writing so much as just an acknowledgement that visual design is a huge field with its own language. If you haven’t done much reading or studying in visual design previously, you may find you can really only absorb one or two chapters at a time. Spacing it out is likely more effective for learning it all than trying to read it all in one sitting anyway.

I kind of wish there was a concluding chapter at the end. I got to the end of the last chapter and literally said, “Wait, was that it?” A short recap would have helped remind me of all the principles, even if it was mostly restating the key takeaways from the end of each chapter.

Recommendation: Buy It!

Overall, I found Visual Design Solutions very helpful, and I will be coming back to it and rereading it again in the future. I recommend it for any instructional designer or e-learning developer who feels they could be stronger in visual design.

20+ More Books for Instructional Designers

In response to my list of 12+ Books for Instructional Designers, I received a lot of great suggestions for further reading. My “to read” list is now quite long, but I’m slowly making my way through these suggestions. Here are 20+ more books suggested by others.

Instructional Design and Learning DesignStack of books

ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design by Chuck Hodell was suggested by Phrodeo, who is using it as a textbook in a course she’s taking.

Marina Arshavskiy’s Instructional Design for ELearning was recommended by another student, Alisa, who says “I will definitely keep using it after I graduate.”

Design Alchemy: Author Roderick Sims suggested that I include “texts/resources that address Learning Design and not just Instructional Design” such as his own book.

Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to Instructional Design: Miriam Larson suggested her book, co-authored with Barbara Lockee. This book was positively reviewed in Education Review.

E-Learning and Blended Learning

Although I have several of Michael Allen’s books, I haven’t read Leaving ADDIE for SAM yet. Several people recommended that (including some who said they wished their organizations would pay more attention to it and move to a more agile approach).

William Horton’s e-Learning by Design is Nahla Anwer Aly’s favorite book in the field. I read it a number of years ago. Although I don’t refer back to it as often as some of my other books, it’s a strong selection, especially for those early in their careers.

Patti Shank’s The Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 1 and Volume Two: Proven Ways to Enhance Technology-Based and Blended Learning have lots of inspiration. Even though it was published in 2007, I still pull out the first volume sometimes when I’m stuck for ideas.

Research

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is geared more towards teachers and professors or those interested in the psychology of how we learn rather than specifically aimed at instructional designers. The authors have done an amazing job of reviewing, summarizing, and organizing dozens of studies about how we learn. As instructional designers, we often work hard to make learning easier, but the research shows that “desirable difficulties” can actually increase learning. I’m a few chapters into this book currently, and I’ve already picked up a few new ideas. I do wish the book had some visuals to help explain the concepts. As an instructional designer, especially one who develops self-paced e-learning, you’ll need to reflect on your own about how to apply these ideas to your work. Most of the examples are from classrooms, either academic or corporate.

Richard Mayer’s Applying the Science of Learning was recommended by Clare Dygert, who says, “If you want to create e-learning that works the way a human brain wants it to work, read this book!”

Urban Myths about Learning and Education was just published in March. Will Thalheimer gave it a positive review. My one caution with this book is that Paul Kirschner is one of the authors, and he has shown some (in my opinion) irrational bias against discovery learning, project-based learning, and constructivism in the past. Based on Thalheimer’s review, it sounds like Kirschner is more nuanced in this book, noting situations where the methods he previously labeled as “failures” do, in fact, have benefits. (For a balanced review of Kirschner’s previous attack piece on constructivism, see Don Clark’s review five years after its publication.

Visual Design

Connie Malamed just published a new book, Visual Design Solutions. Cammy Bean recommends it for all of those of us who need to communicate visually in our e-learning but lack the formal training on how to do so. Cammy also says it can be helpful for IDs who work with graphic designers so you can communicate with those team members more effectively. Unlike a lot of visual design books out there, this is focused specifically on visual design for learning.

Connie’s previous book, Visual Language for Designers, was helpful to me in learning about the fundamentals of visual design. Jeffrey Dalto reminded me that I inadvertently forgot her first book from my initial list (sorry Connie!). Jeffrey’s review can be found at Creating Visuals for Training.

Performance Consulting

Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It was recommended by Mike Taylor, who also recommended the next selection.

Dana and Jim Robinson’s Performance Consulting was also recommended. Mike says neither of these books is very recent, but they have remained relevant.

Other Books

Joel Gendelman’s Consulting Basics was a critical resource for me when I made the leap from being an employee to being a freelance instructional designer. I regularly recommend this book to people who are just getting started in the freelance world or hoping to make the switch. The tips are very practical and concrete, and my own consulting agreements borrow heavily from the examples provided in this book.

Daniel Pink’s Drive explains three principles of motivation that go deeper than just rewards and punishments: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. More money won’t always motivate behavior change (in fact, sometimes it might be counterproductive). Helping people improve their skills can be even more motivating, and that’s certainly part of what we should be doing as instructional designers.

The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever of Common Craft explains how to make information easier to understand. This was suggested by Luis Flores, who says, “As we create leaner and quicker learning experiences, being able to distill content is a skill that is indispensable.”

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is about why some stories and ideas are memorable while others aren’t. Robert Beck says, “Its principles are ones that I often turn to for reminders of how to make learning more compelling and memorable.”

TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks was also recommended by Robert Beck. He says, “If IDs keep in mind the elements of a powerful story and how to deliver a spellbinding presentation to an audience, they’ll likely design an effective training product.”

John Medina’s Brain Rules was Robert Beck’s third recommendation, and I’ve heard these principles mentioned by a number of others in the field. I’m a little cautious about neuroscience claims; I’m not sure that the research is as solid as it is sometimes conveyed. However, I know many people have gotten excited about Medina’s work.

The Essential Persona Lifecycle by Adlin and Pruitt was recommended by Ieva Swanson. I have seen examples of personas used effectively for different projects, including creating a learning portal. This isn’t an area I personally know much about, but I can see the value in exploring it further.

Your Suggestions

Even though I have now shared over 30 books, I’m sure I missed some great reads. Tell me your suggestions!

Learning the Language: Why IDs Don’t Need To Be SMEs

My daughter was born last May. “E” was in a hurry to meet us and arrived two months early. When my water broke, we rushed to Duke University Hospital. I quickly received a dose of betamethazone and a bolus of magnesium. E spent over a month in the NICU. My conversations were suddenly filled a whole new language: brady, desat, gavage, TPN, bili lights, central line, kangaroo care.

E at 5 days old
E at 5 days old. She was breathing on her own, without oxygen support, but still connected to a lot of wires and sensors. She was so small that even the preemie diapers were a little big.

My husband and I continued working while she was in the NICU. I had to finish up a few projects before my maternity leave could really start. I pumped every three hours, so I never got more than two hours of sleep at a stretch that whole month. We drove 40 minutes to Duke every afternoon to visit her in the hospital, while juggling work and getting the house ready for her to come home. The staff at Duke were wonderful and helpful, but I was completely exhausted.

As fatigued and stressed as I was, I quickly learned the language of the NICU. In the first week, five separate nurses or doctors at Duke asked me if I had a medical background. I seemed so familiar with the terminology that they assumed I had formal training. I always chuckled and explained that I have no medical background, but learning the language of different fields is part of what I do for a living. As an instructional designer, it’s my job to be able to work with experts in lots of different subjects. The fact that multiple healthcare practitioners were fooled into thinking I’m one of them is just a sign that I’m a competent ID.

A few years ago, I wrote a course on bulldozer safety. I’ve never even ridden on a track dozer, but working on that course expanded my vocabulary: tramming, trunnion, berm, FOPS, frog, grouser, windrow, ROPS. Every organization also has its own lingo. At Cisco, I’d ask people to “pass me the ball” during meetings so we could finish before our “hard stop” and discuss what’s changed in CSAP since the program was “put on pause.” Like any big organization, Cisco uses hundreds of acronyms, and the same acronym in one group can have a different meaning in another team.

Learning those acronyms and becoming familiar with the vocabulary of your organization and field is part of the job of an instructional designer. It’s actually one of my favorite aspects of being an ID; one of the reasons I enjoy freelance work is that I’m constantly learning new things from a variety of sources. Lifelong learning is a major perk of this career.

I’ve seen people argue that IDs should have content expertise in the fields where they develop courses. Usually it’s in job listings where a company requests something like “5-10 years experience in healthcare or pharmaceuticals.” I’ve even seen someone in the learning field argue that content expertise is an “essential” qualification for doing this job. Personally, I think that’s completely wrong. It’s not essential; it’s not always even beneficial.

I agree with Connie Malamed: Instructional designers are content neutral. Connie explains some strategies for gaining knowledge when you’re not a mini-SME: preexisting content, instructional analysis, task analysis, research, and interviews. Even without the motivation of being responsible for the well-being of a teeny tiny human being, you can do the research and learn enough about a field to ask SMEs intelligent questions. That’s often the real key: do you have the right language to ask the right questions? We don’t need to be SMEs; that’s why we have a SME on our team. Our role is to be experts in learning, not on the content. We do have to learn about the field so we can collaborate with SMEs and develop content, but we don’t need the true depth of expertise of a SME. As long as we can learn the language, we can ask the right questions and explain our ideas in a way that others can understand them. We don’t need to be SMEs; we need to know how to talk to SMEs.

E is now 10 months old and doing great. Her language skills right now are focused mostly on blowing raspberries and saying ba-ba-ba-ba, but that’s a fun language for us to play with together.

E at 9 months
E at 9 months. She’s getting so big! You can’t quite read it, but her top says, “This is my little black dress.”