2017 Holiday Wishlist for Instructional Designers

Last year, I published a list of items that an instructional designer might want as a holiday gift. The post’s popularity has inspired me to create a updated Instructional Designer Wishlist for 2017.

  1. A reality check. Is the instructional designer in your life burnt out with the glut of “neuroscience”- inspired educational theories that may or may not actually be true? Help your instructional designer differentiate between BS and real theories with this book: Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel et al. (Link: http://a.co/4bOX40N)
  2. Thinking about thinking. This is an older book (2012) about how people think. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. (Link: http://a.co/1oifPCA)
  3. Getting unstuck. This is an interesting deck of cards that prompts you to think about a product’s design in new ways. Since all of our educational materials are essentially educational products of some sort, this card deck can also influence how an ID’er thinks about her content. Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck by Michael Michalko. (Link: http://a.co/8tEAbti)
  4. New Powerpoint Toys. Most Microsoft Office products are programmable – that is, you can write VBA code into Microsoft Office products to implement all kinds of presentation and collation logic. I do it all the time, and I love it. That’s why I was jazzed to find this book from David Marcovitz that shows how you can create educational apps inside Powerpoint that integrate with your slides. It looks like this book will put the hair on your chest, but why shy away from complexity if it makes your content stronger? Powerful PowerPoint for Educators: Using Visual Basic for Applications to Make PowerPoint Interactive, 2nd Edition by David Marcovitz.  (Link: http://a.co/9hV7Gfj

Happy Holidays! Happy shopping!

Photo source: Max Pixel


The Top 5 Leadership Skills for Instructional Designers

There are legitimately 20 or so core skills that could’ve made it to the top of this list, depending on the particular instructional design program, but the ones that bubbled to the top of the list are mainly around managing people, product, and process.

1. Instructional Content Production Project Management

  • Definition: The process by which humans and non-human resources are orchestrated around the tasks involved with bringing a single piece of instructional content from the back of a napkin all the way through to production.
  • Why did it make the list?: Cuz if you can’t do this, you can’t get content produced. Pick a method (ADDIE, SAM, etc) that works for the type of content you’re building, and go for it. There is no “right” way that works for all situations.
  • Resources:
    • Explanatory video
    • I couldn’t find any worthwhile resources on actual content project management beyond the usual suspects we find for ADDIE, SAM, etc. So, here is a good resource for generalized project managment.

2. Instructional Content Process Management

  • Definition. The management of content/media during its entire lifetime (not just its initial development), from: development, to production, to storage, to delivery, to localization, to evaluation, to redevelopment, and eventually to retirement.
  • Why did it make the list?: There is an enormous, sometimes multi-year process, that has to be well-defined in order for instructional content to remain accurate and relevant after its first production cycle. Without it, the overall body of work you produce will grow stale, at best, or completely atrophy, at worst. Knowledge and information move very quickly these days, so it is safe to assume that any piece of instructional content will need to be updated, completely revised, or even retired after some time; and the same holds true for localized versions of that content. How good you are at managing this process end-to-end will define the legacy of your instructional content.
  • Resources:
    • A discussion on project vs process vs program
    • A relevant blog that identifies the lack of focus on this concept in our craft/discipline on end-to-end lifecycle media and content management.

3. Instructional Content Pipeline Management

  • Definition. The standards- and evidence-based discipline by which you determine what content gets produced next. The goal of content pipeline management is to build a body of instructional content that takes your target learner from beginner to master practitioner – e.g. from learning the alphabet to writing books.
  • Why did it make the list?:  If you do your job well, the law of attraction kicks will kick in. Those around you will see the value of what you do and will request more of it. How do you decide which requests to take on? How do you say “no” to requests in a way that is substantiated by evidence and standards? Get ahead of the onslaught of requests by using data to define full learning journeys and end-to-end, multi-year curriculums, if possible. Bonus points if you can get this done using AI-informed decisions.
  • Resources:
    • Education software that accommodates standards-based curriculum planning.
    • Curriculum process tips
    • I blogged about AI-defined learning journeys

4. Collaborative Leadership

  • Definition. I prefer Linda Hill’s defintion: “… at the heart of innovation is a paradox. You have to unleash the talents and passions of many people and you have to harness them into a work that is actually useful. Innovation is a journey. It’s a type of collaborative problem solving, usually among people who have different expertise and different points of view.”
  • Why did it make the list?: For one, most of us are women, and let’s face it, if we practice regular, assertive leadership, we are perceived as unlikeable. (Really, can you imagine a female leader acting like a loveable grump like Belichick and getting away with it in the workplace? We don’t.) For us, collaborative leadership is just self-preservation because we aren’t afforded the dignity of respect with “regular” leadership. The 2nd consideration is that ID projects can involve a ridiculous number of people and professions: the writer, the copy editor, the graphic designer, the SMEs, publisher, the printer, the audio artist, the videographer, and so on. Your ability to drive collaboration among these professionals using well-defined processes and communication protocols can help ensure that no single professional becomes a bottleneck or a silo.
  • Resources:

5. Instructional Design Talent Management

  • Definition: Selecting and developing instructional designers.
  • Why did it make the list?: Your ID’ers (and, arguably, your graphic designers) are the ones doing all the heavy lifting in an ID project so hiring correctly and then managing that talent will help you produce the best body of work in the long term.
  • Resources:
    • A good overview of the profession of instructional design. I found the sections on Career Path and Professional Development most useful.
    • Common sense guide to hiring in general
    • General discussion of professional development for IDs.
    • Many ID’s are introverts; resources provided below
      • Understanding introverts infograhic
      • An introvert’s first day at the job
      • Read Susan Cain’s book: Quiet
      • An introvert’s guide to the first day of work
      • A guide to managing introverts

Call to action: Send me a comment about 1) How might we further define leadership in this profession, and 2) which linked resource did you find most helpful and why. 

Thanks for reading!

6 Podcasts For Instructional Designers


Instructional design is one of those professions that requires you to synthesize a vast variety of skills. If I had to pick the top skills necessary to create excellent instructional content, they’d be:

  1. Leadership and management
  2. Knowledge of the science and psychology behind learning
  3. Visual design
  4. Writing and copy editing

It’s hard to keep on top of these skills, since each is a distinct skill with an entire industry / profession surrounding it. Podcasts can help keep your brain engaged in these skills in a spoon-feed kind of way – just my style.

Related to these topics, here are my clickable top picks for podcasts:

  1. Leadership and management
  2. Knowledge of the science and psychology of learning
  3. Visual design
  4. Writing and copy editing

It’s all very meta – I know. How do you learn about learning? So, your call to action: let me know your top picks for podcasts that help you with your job.



Using Instagram for Instructional Design, Particularly Microlearning

If you’re an instructional designer, it pays to stay current on social media trends; you have to produce content where your audience consumes it. Instagram (abbreviated “IG”) is a not-too-new social media platform that seems to be gaining popularity. It’s mainly used to post photos and/or videos with related text. By virtue of this, Instagram has value as a instructional platform, particularly, if you produce microlearning photos, cards, videos or text.

To get started, you just need to download the ap. Instagram is a free mobile app, and on a mobile device, it can be used to view and publish IG content. Within a desktop browser (not on a mobile device), IG content is viewable but publishing IG content gets a little tricky or gets impossible. Therefore, my recommendation is for you to use it entirely on your mobile device.

IG account setup is fast and easy, and publication of multi media content is easy too. You’ll have to choose between creating a private or a public account, but there really is no difference, so create a public one.

When you’re ready to add content, you need to first the get the content to your mobile device so you can upload the content into IG, or you can either create photos and videos via the IG app.

Adding text that annotates your photo/video is the tough part of IG. You need to plan your text. The text editor is painfully basic (e.g. it can’t even preserve line spacing) so you need to really spend some time thinking about how to get around the ways the IG editor will mangle your text. Understanding the text editor takes some practice, but don’t worry, your text is editable after publication.

Additionally, your text can and should contain hashtags and at-mentions, which are the keys to socializing your content. Adding relevant hashtags and at-mentions takes time and research. This too will get easier over time.

When I publish official IG content, I pre-plan all of it using a spreadsheet that has these columns:

  1. Publication date: the day I will publish the IG post
  2. Media: the photo, photos, video or videos that I will publish
  3. Text: the explanatory text for the media
  4. Hashtags: the topical hashtags that will be used by IG to index my post
  5. At-mentions: the other IG accounts that will be at-mentioned in my post. I use this very sparingly so I don’t spam IG accounts.
  6. Total number of likes after 1 week
  7. Total number of comments after 1 week
  8. Total number of views after 1 week (video only)

I also ask for peer-reviews on columns 2-5.

As an instructional designer, IG should not be a difficult tool for you to adopt to increase the reach of your instructional content if you just use the spreadsheet approach. This blog post tells you who you are likely to reach on IG, but basically: teens consider it one of the most important social networks and most IG activity is from outside the US. This tells me if that if I want to reach an international audience of up-and-coming adult learners, I need to tap into Instagram’s power.

Happy posting! When you do, tell me about your experience with Instagram via the comments.

Education government and policy Instagram accounts:

Examples of Instagram accounts that publish microlearning videos

An example of an Instagram account that publishes microlearning cards:

An example of an account that publishes static microlearning text

Game ideas for Instagram

Picks and Pans: “Chicken People” – A Documentary that Follows Good Instructional Design Principles

Just a quick note to encourage all my fellow instructional designers, especially those of focused on engineering knowledge topics, to go our and watch Chicken People. It’s a documentary about the world of champion chicken breeding (yup, that IS a thing).

Top 4 reasons you should watch it, even though chicken breeding and instructional design theoretically have nothing to do with each other:

  1. We’ve all been asked to write content over something that seemed like nothing: “You want me to write about what now?”. This documentary proves that a good editor can pull together a brilliant, multi-dimensional narrative if you just look in the right places. It also proves that the art and practice of storytelling is key to creating compelling content. We, as an industry, really need to focus on the art of storytelling more.
  2. The documentary does a beautiful job mixing stills with video and voice over narration. If you’re looking to be inspired for how to storyboard your next multi-media learning project, Chicken People may give you a few good ideas.
  3. You’re a Font nerd. Don’t deny it; just admit it. The typography work in this documentary is delicious – some grade A font-porn.
  4. There’s a beautiful, minimalist approach to text-based instruction in the documentary that really follows the “show-don’t-tell” philosophy. The first 1/2 of the documentary spends a good bit of time educating the viewer on some key terms and concepts in chicken breed standards. The visuals they use offer gorgeous and inspirational examples of animated text/graphics over visual stills and, at other times, just animated text/graphics.Check out this photo for an example, though the animated version of it in the documentary is better.

Did you watch it? What were your thoughts on the movie? Send me your thoughts via the comments section.


What Game Theory Can Teach Us About Instructional Design

Game theory is fascinating! It’s the study of achieving the best outcomes of a “game”, like soccer or chess, where more than one person is involved and the theorectical outcomes are known or are generally predictable.

So how does Game Theory apply to Instructional Design? In one sense, the two disciplines don’t really intersect at all. After all, instructional design is a lot of things, but it rarely involves war-time-like strategy. However, if you’ve ever studied game theory, you’ll know that game theory educators have some very interesting instructional techniques to teach people decision making – and decision making can be a part of any type of instructional content, especially when geared toward advanced learners.

Let’s explore a game theory example in which two people are playing a coin-flipping gain. Each player is given a quarter to flip and the rules of the game are: you gain one point if you flip heads.

If you were to write out the outcomes in a slide, you might have the dreaded “bullets of insanity”:

  • Scenario 1: both players flip heads, so both people “win” but tie
  • Scenario 2: both players flip tails, so both people lose, but lose equally
  • Scenario 3: one player flips heads, the other flips tails, so the player who flips heads definitively wins
What I’ve observed is that game theory educators don’t use the “bullets of insanity”. They use a fairly standard outcome matrix. Let’s build one for our scenario, step by step.

First, let’s only consider the outcomes for player 1.

Player A
Heads 1
Tails 0
Pretty straightforward, eh? If Player 1 flips heads, he gains one point. If not, Player 1 stays at 0. Now, let’s add the “game” part of this by adding in and comparing the outcomes for the second player. Notice how easy it is to spot the situations that yield the best and worst outcomes for both players.
Player 2
Heads Tails
Player 1 Heads 1, 1 1, 0
Tails 0, 1 0, 0
Isn’t that SO much better than the “bullets of insanity”? And it lends itself to eLearning animations as well. You can animate the filling in of each of the outcome boxes (e.g. “1, 1”) with a voice script overlay.

So, the next time you need to discuss comparative decision making, now you have a bullet-free way to do it, courtesy of game-theory educators. To see more examples, check out this amazing website: http://gametheory101.com/

11 Point Checklist: How to Evaluate a Multiple Choice Question

The title says it all. I had to research this question because I need to evaluate questions written for a certification exam. For years, my exam Bible has been this blog post from Cynthia Brame.

I distilled her main points to a checklist (the “tl;dr”).

  1.  The stem presents a single problem.
  2.  The stem is aligned to the testing objective.
  3.  The stem only contains necessary information (i.e. no extraneous information).
  4. The stem only contains negation if necessary.
  5. The stem is a question.
  6. Each possible answer is plausible.
  7. Each possible answer only contains necessary information (i.e. no extraneous information).
  8. Each possible answer is mutually exclusive of other answers.
  9. Each possible answer has grammar consistent with the stem.
  10. Each possible answer is parallel in form (length, language construction) to at least one other answer.
  11. Each possible answer is presented in logical order, if one can be determined.