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Wedding Flowers – DIY

natejulie-502Our wedding was a success, photos have been edited (Photo Credit for all photos in this blog post – Justin Johnson Photography) and our video was published. We’re so excited with how our Geek Chic wedding came out and it was a perfect day to start our marriage. (I’ll be creating a post about our overall wedding).

A friend asked me how I made our floral bouquets and center pieces, so I thought I’d start off the wedding blog series with a DIY floral.

It was stressful, and I don’t recommend doing this if you are doing other DIY Wedding projects the two days prior to your wedding or if you are a perfectionist whom wants every detail to be pristine.

Why? I didn’t really care about flowers enough to hire a florist and I liked the saving costs. I spent less than $2,000 on all of the flowers, craft materials, vases, corsages and boutonnieres.  For a wedding of our size (6 bridesmaids, 10 groomsmen, and 9 parents / grandparents) in the greater Philadelphia area, florists cost anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000. natejulie-934

What I made-

  • 1 Round Bridal Bouquet with about 30 white roses, blue iris, yellow gerber daisies, and veronica sunny border blue
  • 2 Round Maid of Honor Bouquets with 18-24 white roses.
  • 4 Round Bridesmaid Bouquets with about 12-18 white roses.
  • 1 Round Toss Bouquet with about 8-10 white roses.
  • 10 Tall centerpieces
  • 200 Paper Cones made out of comic book pages, filled with white rose petals for our guests to toss at us

What I bought-

  • 9 short, flowering centerpieces
  • 16 corsages and 16 boutonnieres
  • Vases and Candles

Shopping List:

Home Depot-

  • 5 Gallon Buckets
  • Pruning Shears
  • Gardening Bags
  • 9 Flowering Plants for half of our table centerpieces

Costco Online-

  • Roses and hydrangeas, delivery day chosen for the Wednesday prior to our Saturday wedding.
  • White Rose Petals. I didn’t buy enough for what I wanted (to fill the paper cones and have the 60 foot aisle lined on each side with mounded rose petals). We had enough to fill the paper cones and to lightly sprinkle both sides of the aisle.
  • Boutonnieres and Corsages, delivery day chosen for Thursday
  • Lemons from Costco, picked up on Friday


  • Alum
  • Satin Ribbon – 4 – 6” Wide
  • Floral Wire
  • Hot Glue
  • Scotch Tape
  • Crowning Glory Flower Spray
  • Necklaces with pendants for decorations


Location, Location, Location:

Have a cool, dry place, like basement to work in. Lay down garbage bags or tarps for easy clean up. If you plan on hosting out of town guests, it’s also recommended to do the flowers someplace a bit out of the way so that you aren’t distracted. I snuck down to the basement three nights in a row from 9 pm – 1 am to work on the flowers. For someone who is a bit of an introvert, it was good to have a place to get away from all of the commotion. My husband had a blast entertaining our friends and I got to be distracted from the wedding stress.

natejulie-490Practice Makes Perfect:

I learned how to do floral design from Michael Gaffney’s YouTube videos and his book “Design Star”. I also practiced three times by using inexpensive flowers from the flower market. I also ordered test flowers from Costco nine months before our wedding to make sure they came fresh and delivered on the day I chose. In the winter, they were perfect.

Just In Case:

I over ordered for the wedding and it’s a good thing I did, because in one of the rose boxes, half of the flowers were brown. I called and got a refund. I wasn’t upset because I had plenty for all of the bouquets and plenty of extras for the center pieces. We had so many roses left over, we were able to decorate our rental home for our rehearsal dinner.









Now for the Nitty Gritty Details:

natejulie-485Wednesday – 2 hours with three people working. Flowers arrive, de-thorn, cut off all leaves, and peel off first layer of petals on the roses. Make sure to put them in water. This is a great task for the bridal party and other helping hands – there’s no risk to it.

Put hydragenas, flowers down, submerged in water for several hours. They are notorious for wilting in heat and get most of their water from their petals. Then cut the stems and dip the stems in alum, which opens up the woody stems to take in more water.

Continue to spray all of the flowers with water and crowning glory spray. Every few hours I’d spray them.

Wednesday evening, my parents natejulie-796annatejulie-296d I took a drive to Home Depot to see what kind of plants they had for the remaining half of the centerpieces. I was making tall centerpieces and wanted some short centerpieces to give the room an aesthetic variety. I originally had a plan to order miniature bonsai trees from Costco online three weeks prior to our wedding date, however at $32 each, plus shipping, and the chance that they wouldn’t deliver on time or with leaves on them, I decided to take a chance at Home Depot. I was so pleased when I not only found some plants that cost $12 each, but were also in our scheme of purple! PS, the Home Depot employee that was helping us kept making snide jokes about me “waiting to the last minute”. I finally had to tell her that I had a plan, but chose to save hundreds of dollars with this new plan.

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Thursday (morning) – Visit Trader Joe’s and get a few different flower varieties in your color scheme to add to the bridal bouquet. My mom called TJs to see which morning they get their flowers freshly delivered. We were there right when the store opened and asked an employee if they had any purple or yellow flowers yet to be brought out and she was so helpful in bringing out what we needed from the stock room.










Thursday Night – 4-6 hours, alone, with distractions. Assemble the bouquets and centerpieces.

After our bridal party began arriving and we properly got everyone settled, I snuck down to our basement workshop and began assembling the bouquets. This could have gone a bit quicker if I didn’t have so many interruptions – but hey! It was our wedding week!

natejulie-973I also assembled the centerpieces, which were stems of white hydrangeas and white rose bouquets added to the top of tall glass vases filled with lemons.  My bridesmaid and I taped a grid of scotch tape on the top of each vase to hold the flower bouquet on top. The bouquets were kept in water until the wedding and my brother ran around the venue 30 minutes before the wedding sticking the hydrangea and white rose bouquets on top. I think our exact directions to him (he was nervous and didn’t want to mess up his sister’s centerpieces) was “just firmly stick them in! You can’t mess up!”

Continued to spray flowers with the morning glory spray.


Friday Morning – 2.5 hours, alone, with distractions. Decorate the bouquets with silk ribbon wrapped around the stems and added charms that went with our Geek theme. I kept the stems uncut and long so that they could stay in the 5 gallon buckets with a couple of inches of water in the bottom without getting the satin ribbon wet. We delivered them to our venue that evening and the hotel stored them in a walk in cooler for us since the bridesmaids and I were to get ready at the on-site spa.


Saturday Morning – Less than 1 hour. My mother cut the stems of the bouquets short, just underneath the ribbon just in time for our wedding photos (Thanks, mom!). Someone with the groomsmen cut the stems of their boutonnieres – I hadn’t realized they came long – Thanks to that mystery person!

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The Result:

I’m so happy with how our flowers turned out, I got several compliments from friends and family who hadn’t even realized it was a DIY. My cousin was able to take the vases and candles for her own wedding, which wouldn’t be possible if I rented from a florist. I love that my mom and I picked out flowers at Trader Joe’s together since I planned the wedding from far away from my family. I also love that I now know how to make floral arrangements.

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How I Paid Off $80K Student Loans 12 Years Early

Paid In Full!

Paid In Full!

I paid off my student loans 12 years early! I paid off the 20-year loans within 8 years. Cue sigh of relief.

People don’t like talking about money. But I’m going to be brutally honest in how I did this for several reasons. I’m proud, I made sacrifices, and I hope people can learn from my tactics.

Although I’m not a financial planner / adviser, I’m going to share with you what I’ve done to accomplish my financial goals.

Basic Stats:

  • Four years at a private college, including:
    • 3 years of living on campus paying room and board
    • 1 semester abroad
    • 1 semester living off campus
  • $74,175 – Total loan amount at graduation in 2008. First payments were due November, 2008.
  • $80,000 est – Total loan amount, including interest in November 2009 when I first decided to really hunker down and pay my student loans off early.
  • $127,453 – Estimated total loan over the course of 20 years at an average of 6% interest. I used on online interest calculator to figure out this amount.
  • $50,000 – Starting salary

That’s an estimated $47,453 in interest alone. I figured if I got serious about paying off my student loans, I’d pay less in the long run. Yup $47.5K not coming out of my pocket sounded awesome enough to get serious.

What I did not do:

  • I did not stop contributing to my 401K. The last thing I wanted to do was steal from my future to pay my off my past, so I kept contributing 8 – 12% of my pretax income to my company sponsored 401K. I started at 8% and each year increased my contribution by 1%. Some financial advisors would suggest contributing only up to what your company would match (in my case, 5%), then put the rest of the income toward debt repayment. I’d rather see those small amounts earn compounded interest.
  • I did not stop contributing a little bit to my emergency fund each month. I had saved up to 3 months of living expenses for an emergency and continued to contribute $100 per month. I did this because, in the past, I’ve been in a job I didn’t like and couldn’t quit because I had minimal savings. I didn’t want to put myself in that situation again. I’d want to be able to resign from a position that made me unhappy and have enough in savings to support myself through the job hunt process. Pragmatic Girl strikes again!

My tactics:

Analysis- I analyzed all of my recurring debts, which included 12 student loans and a car loan.

When interest rates started to decrease, I consolidated my loans. My grandmother cosigned on my student loans and all but one of the loans changed to my name when I consolidated. I prioritized paying off that one loan with my grandmother’s name on it because I knew my grandmother was concerned that if I didn’t pay it, it would be left to her and my grandpa. So I focused on that one to give my wonderful grandparents peace of mind.

I read a lot on personal finance:

  • The Money book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke by Suze Orman
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
  • The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  • Learn to Earn by Peter Lynch
  • and articles from the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Forbes, to name a few. Basically the Internet gave plenty of personal finance articles in my feeds. Thank you search engine optimization and targeted marketing.

The Plan-

Budget– After analyzing my debts, I created a budget. I calculated how much I needed each month:

  • Food/utilities/ entertainment / and discretionary ($600)
  • Rent ($385 – 720)
  • Transportation ($200)
  • Savings ($100)

I had a zero-sum balance, budgeting for each available dollar and putting extra toward my debt. At the end of each month, any money I had left over went to a loan payment. So even if I had $22 left the day before my next paycheck came, that $22 went to the loan I was focusing on. Small wins. Small wins.

Sticking to a zero-sum balance prevented me from overspending because I knew exactly where my money went and how much I had to spend on discretionary items like eating out and entertainment.

Not only did I implement zero-sum budgeting, I also planned to use the Snowball Method to pay off my debt. In brief, with this method, you prioritize your debts according to how you want to pay them off, and you put every extra amount of payment to that first debt while still paying the minimal amount on all other debts. Once that first debt is paid off, the extra amount + the monthly payment amount of the first debt gets put toward paying down the next debt and so on and so on. Eventually, the last debt to be paid off gets the most amount of money contributed to it.


First loan to pay off had a minimum monthly payment of $121 and I was able to contribute an extra $50 a month to pay $171 a month. Once that debt was paid off, the $171 ($121 min monthly payment + $50 extra) rolls over to the next debt to be paid off, in addition to that debt’s minimum monthly payment, say $23. So now debt #2 is being given $144 a month instead of the $23 minimum payment. Once that debt is paid off the $144 a month is added to the monthly minimum payment of debt #3 so on and so on until your last debt basically has the biggest snowball contributing towards it to pay it down, in my case, my last loan was getting a minimum of $800 paid toward it just through the Snowball method.

The great thing about this method is that your standard of living never changes. You don’t miss the money because you’re still paying the same amount of money toward debt you always had. The difference is that you’re not getting used to having that that extra $121 a month from when you paid off loan #1. Because let’s face it, $121 a month isn’t going to get you much anyways, maybe a couple of dinners out? Maybe a shopping spree?


I wanted to start with the small wins. I prioritized my debts by the following criteria:

  • First debt for me to tackle was my car loan, with a relatively small balance of $9,967, but a high interest rate of 12.6%.
  • Next, I wanted to pay off the student loan that was still cosigned by my grandmother, which had a balance of $10,450.
  • I prioritized the remaining 11 student loans to pay off first by highest interest rate, then the smallest balance so that I could get the “small wins” and keep the momentum going. Small wins helped me to keep my confidence and prevented me from getting overwhelmed.

Follow Through

It’s one thing to set a budget and goals; it’s another to follow through with action.

Making Cuts

The hard part was finding ways to cut my current expenses so that I could put more than the minimum amount toward that first loan. This is where I got creative and tough.

At the beginning of my career, I moved to a bigger city where my job prospects were better than near my home town. I was able do this by having roommates who were reliable. We split everything three ways, including the groceries. They were also my good friends from college, so it was fun living them! They also had financial goals and constraints, so they were cool with cutbacks.

Here are some of the ways we saved money:

  • Cut the cable – using Hulu and Netflix, instead
  • Cooked dinners and pack lunches
  • Used coupons and apps like Groupon
  • Hosted friends instead of going out
  • I think at one point I put a brick in the back of our toilet so that less water would be used and saved some on the water bill (sorry for my craziness T & R)

Other ways I saved money on my day-to-day living expenses:

  • Shared a phone plan with my family (thanks mom and dad!)
  • Used public transportation and took advantage of the pre-tax transport dollars my company offered as a perk. I’d park my car on the street near the train station so I didn’t have to pay for parking.
  • Meal Plan for the week using the grocery store weekly flyer, coupons, and a look in our pantry to determine what to buy ahead of time. I tried to use food we already have in our cupboards before buying new items. For example, if we have rice, I picked a meal that needed rice instead of pasta. When I go shopping, I don’t go hungry and I stay away from the center aisles. The center aisles are where I’m more likely to buy items not on my list, since that’s where the junk food is shelved. I stick to my grocery list and know where items are located in my grocery store so that I don’t have to meander down every single aisle. Meandering is how you end up with a $200 grocery bill instead of a $75 bill.

I also set some rules:

  • Buy lunch out only once a week and only if going with colleagues. Though, I did cheat on this one occasionally.
  • Any additional expenses needed to be paid in cash, no use of credits cards unless I could pay the balance off immediately.
  • Set expectations / budgets for gift giving.
  • When I can’t avoid going out to bars or nightclubs, I try to stick to one or two drinks, and then switch to water or soda. Keeping the bill under $20 is my goal when going out.

The Tough Calls

I said no. I said no to my family’s “No Dudes, No Drama” annual girls vacation. Every year I suggest they come to Malibu (which is practically in my back yard). Hopefully one year they will take me up on the offer. I also said no to a couple of bachelorette party trips that would have cost me airfare and hotel.

I said no to people asking for loans. This is particularly hard when it comes to family. However, you can’t take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself.

I said no to myself for new clothes, new shoes and other nondiscretionary shopping trips. Saying no to clothing was pretty easy; saying no to new books was not so easy. Amazon was my down fall, so instead of buying new books I’d only read once, I got a library card. I can order any book or audiobook I want and it will be sent to my local library to be checked out.

When I Couldn’t Say No

Being a bridesmaid / maid of honor or even being invited to a wedding is an honor. So when I couldn’t say no, I saved. I saved a certain amount each paycheck for the 6 months – 2 year length of my friends’ engagement so that I could afford the dress, travel, and all of the expenses that come with being a member of the bridal party. The average cost of being a bridesmaid is roughly $2000. That’s a lot of money to pay at once, but $20 a paycheck is much easier to manage. It’s one less pizza to order.

I also got creative (or desperate) — once I ate dinner before going out for a friend’s birthday dinner. Since I wasn’t really hungry, I ordered just a bowl of soup. Everyone else ordered appetizers, entrees, drinks and dessert and ended up with a $50 – 75 bill. Mine was $8, including tip. A bit embarrassing, but no one made a fuss over it after I said I really wasn’t hungry. My soup was served as an entrée and I still had a fantastic time.

Getting Creative

I told my friends and family. Having moral support of the people around you is a good thing. If you tell your friends of your financial goal, they’ll be more inclined to suggest free or less expensive activities for fun. There’s no shame in getting your house in order.

Sometimes if I was craving take out, but could easily make food for myself, I’d take the money I would have spent on takeout and add it directly to my student loan. I did this quite often and it became fun to see how many times in a given month I could make extra payments simply by using my discretionary fund.

I got a free graduate education by working full time in academia. This could be a catch-22, since I probably could have made a higher income from the getgo if I had gone into the private sector from the beginning of my career. But I’m glad I have an MS and an MBA in Project Management. And even more so that I earned those degrees without adding extra student loan debt.

To prevent from overspending I removed my credit card information from my store profiles (, so that every time I wanted to make a purchase I had to physically get my card and type in the numbers and address. Sometimes I’d be too lazy to get my card.

Another trick for reducing online spending was to put things in the cart and wait a day or two to buy. Most of the time the urge to buy those items vanished.

When I did need to buy new shoes or clothing, I did so during the major sale weekends (Christmas, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day). I would shop online to minimize the spontaneous buys and return everything that didn’t fit properly. I also regularly checked the price on the items for the next couple of weeks and asked for a price adjustment if the advertised price was lower than what I purchased it at.

Increasing Income and Windfalls

Any extra income such as bonuses, tax returns, overtime pay (when I had an hourly job), and monetary gifts went toward my student loan debt.

I also earned more money by getting a second job teaching at my alma mater. At one point I was working two jobs and taking grad classes.

I made extra income by selling Jewelry, electronics, and textbooks online. If I wasn’t using it, it went on eBay and Amazon Marketplace. I think I earned about $800 by selling my used items.

I changed jobs. My parents and grandparents’ generations lived in a world where you remained loyal to your company and were treated well in return by earning a pension and receiving raises and promotions. That’s not always the case for my generation. Sometimes it takes making a move to increase your earning potential and progress your career.

I changed jobs twice within a 15 month period (not ideal) and my income jumped 40%. Even though I was earning significantly more – enough to bump me to a higher income tax bracket – I maintained my original standard of living. I continued to drive my old car, cook my own meals, pack my lunch, and live in an affordable apartment. The extra income went to my student loans.

The Finish Line:

I was on track to pay off my student loans in 2015, but then I got engaged! I reprioritized my finances so that my husband and I could have our dream wedding without using credit to pay for it, saving for two years. This meant pulling back on my student loan contributions. I was okay with this sacrifice and set a new goal of paying off my loans by the end of 2016. And I did so on October 30, 2016!

All this craziness and frugality paid off in the end. I’m 30, with three degrees, and debt free.

What I am doing now:

  • Still living way under my means. My debt to income ratio is now 10%. I also have an excellent credit score.
  • Continue saving an emergency fund, which is up to 7 months of living expenses.
  • Saving for a down payment on a home. In Los Angeles, that’s a lofty goal.
  • Saving for a new car. Remember I paid off my car loan in 2009 and have been driving the same car since 2007.
  • Saving a discretionary fund: vacations, shopping, holiday travel—those flights are pricey!
  • I use credit cards for every purchase, but pay off the debt each week. This means that I earn cash back and don’t accumulated interest. It also helps keep my credit score healthy since I no longer have revolving debt. I haven’t had to pay a credit card fee since 2008 and it’s pretty awesome I earn money from using the credit card. But this is only recommended for very diligent people.

Things I wish I had done differently:

(Mistake 1) I had scholarships and financial aid, but I should have applied to be a Park Scholar for full tuition and living stipend. I possibly gave up free money because I didn’t fill out a form.

(Mistake 2) I should have also called the Financial Aid office and negotiated a better package. But as one of the first kids in the family to go to school, I didn’t know this was a possibility.

(Mistake 3) I lived on campus the first three years. I should have moved off campus to save on room and board earlier.

(Mistake 4) I loved my college, and it was the only undergraduate program that had a specialized communication program that included Instructional Design. Most people in my field don’t get that education until grad school. Although I didn’t know I wanted to study Instructional Design when I first applied to colleges, it was worth it. However, I wish I took more classes each term to graduate a semester early to save on room and board, and other fees.

(Mistake 5) I studied abroad for a semester. It was the best experience. It opened up my eyes to a larger world. It made me realize I could live in a large city. It made me realize I did not enjoy event planning. Taking out an additional student loan to make sure I could afford the cost of living and exchange was not a good idea.

Well there you have it folks: how a programmatic, frugal, and driven millennial paid off nearly $80,000 in student loan debt in 8 years.

Travel and Technology

japanHow do you successfully navigate a foreign country in which you don’t speak the language and have no access to your cell phone’s data plan?

Nate and I recently took an awesome vacation to Japan, and although we were anxious about the language barrier, we found some unique ways to make it work.

Before I left the country, I installed several travel friendly apps to my iPhone. The first was XE, the Currency Exchange app that let’s you convert currencies. This app helped me stay within my spending budget because it gave an up to date conversion rate.

googletranslateThe Google Translate app was also very useful. It was great for translating foreign languages. This app let’s you either type or speak a phrase and then it translates it to the language you pre-selected. I used this app to translate signs and menus, however, it would have been great if this app included a photo recognition feature in addition to the typing and speaking functions.

lineAnother challenge we had was that I arrived a few days after Nate, so we were concerned about how to communicate to each other once my flight arrived. This was solved easily with the Line app. We were able to send SMS messages and make calls to one another over the WiFi network. It worked as well as text messaging and provided us an opportunity to stay in touch. This is a must have app for any people who live or travel to a foreign country.

But how do we use all of these apps if we don’t have data? Easy. Japan has a really convenient technology for monthly rental- a  mobile WiFi device.  It’s a portable, personal, WiFi hot spot that you can carry with you.  Nate signed us up for one with a deposit. We had to spend some time at the end of our trip to return it and get the deposit back, but it was well worth our time and money.

Besides the WiFi hot spot and the apps I used, another travel technology tip is to utilize GoogleMaps and the iPhone camera. Before heading out from our hotel each day, we planned our itinerary and mapped out directions in both English and Japanese. When the directions were loaded to my phone, I snapped a screenshot of the map so that I knew we could access the map even without an Internet connection. This proved even more useful when we got lost and couldn’t articulate in Japanese where we needed to go. I simply opened up the photo of the directions in Japanese and zoomed in to the location. The lady smiled brightly and knew exactly how to help us.

Overall we were able to navigate through Japan with very few issues. I’m sure we could have done this with travel guides and translation books, but books can be heavy when you’re packing light!


Relationship Building Excels Instructional Design

Working-togetherRelationship building is sometimes an overlooked aspect in the instructional design field. However, relationship building is an integral part to successful ID development. Subject matter experts, course reviewers, and design teams all contribute to the Instructional Design process and if one does not cooperate, the integrity of your project can be at stake. But with collaboration and solid relationships, your Instructional Design project can excel. Therefore, it’s important not only to advocate for sound instructional design practices, but also to advocate for the needs of your contributors.

Liz Ryan, CEO Human Workplace, states “project Management is a collaboration among people who all want the same thing and/but have widely varying views on the best way to get there. A project manager’s job is to keep everyone on the team feeling valued and listened to while keeping the many moving parts on track.” (source:

How do you keep your team feeling valued and listened to?

Respect Their Ideas and Expertise

At BlackLine Systems, the Product Training team works closely with subject matter experts in deciding which content is relevant and valuable. The SMEs have input in the initial course planning and script-writing steps, as well as with the final course review. Their input is invaluable for creating accurate course content.

Respect Their Time

The Product Training team is cognizant and appreciative of our SME’s time. We work on a schedule that best meets their needs, even if it means arriving at the office before 7 am or staying past our normal work hours.  The key is being flexible so that our SME’s are comfortable with recording with us.


When you spend a full day in a recording studio with your SME, you become pretty close to them in a short time. I spent a lot of time with a SME who was from out of town and was staying at a hotel. Even though we had met only prior to recording, I invited him for dinner and bowling after work with my friends. We spent all day cooped up together, I couldn’t imagine him staying cooped up in a small hotel room all night either. He accepted the invitation and we had a fun time relaxing outside of work. Now, whenever he’s at headquarters, he stops by my desk to say hello, an indication that we’ve developed a good relationship.

Praise Publicly

I think it’s also important to praise your collaborators. At BlackLine, we have a points system, called You Earned It, in which you give points to your colleagues that can be redeemed for prizes. The points seemed hokey at first, but it’s a positive way to thank your colleagues for their help. You can also set the points award to be public, which is a nice way to let the entire organization know that “hey, this person went out on a limb for me”. This public acknowledgement spreads good will and feelings of being appreciated.

Acknowledge Their Contributions

Our Product Team recently presented at the company’s monthly meeting (each month a different team presents). This was yet another avenue to express our gratitude to those subject matter experts, course reviewers, and designers for their help. Recognition is not necessarily a driving factor for why colleagues help Instructional Designers, but it’s a positive way to show mutual respect. I’m glad our company offers these ways to encourage collaboration.

With respect and acknowledgement, instructional designers can build successful relationships with their colleagues, which in turn will aid in the creation of excellent training and educational materials.

The Padagogy Wheel – Merging Bloom’s Taxonomy w/ EdTech

It’s back to school time for many people, and for those students who are required to bring iPads or tablets to class, here’s an interesting look at how the iPad can be implemented. It’s not just a coincidence or for a love of shiny new technology that educators are implementing iPads into their instruction.

Applied correctly, the iPads can be a very effective teaching tool.

Allan Carrington, Learning Designer at the University of Adelaide,  developed The Padagogy Wheel to illustrate how iPad and Mobile Apps can be used to support the instructional design theory Bloom’s Taxonomy. Carrington turns Bloom’s  Cognitive domain into a wheel that emphasizes how each of the six focuses of the cognitive domain can be supported through the use of Ed Tech, such as iPads and mobile apps.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is not new in the world of instructional design. It’s the foundation that learning designers use daily (probably without thinking about it) to create solid learning experiences. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of the different learning objectives established for learners, categorized in three domains. The three domains are achieved sequentially:

  1. Cognitive (knowing)
  2. Affective (feeling)
  3. Psychomotor (doing)

Learners must first know before they can feel, and then act on those feelings by doing.

Allan Carrington’s Padagogy Wheel model focuses specifically on the Cognitive domain, which uses specific learning objectives to accomplish each of the following skills:


The Padagogy Wheel does a good job of getting educators thinking about how to use the iPad to support learning objectives and encourage students to accomplish each of the six cognitive skills.

For example in the Remember/ Understand skill, an action verb that is used is explain, and the activity used to explain is commenting. The Padagogy wheel then uses the Facebook app as a tool to accomplish the activity of commenting to perform the action verb of explaining. Learners comment on Facebook statuses and newsfeed posts to explain their knowledge and show their understanding of the given topic.

The Padagogy Wheel:



The Padagogy Wheel, developed by Allan Carrington, Designing Outcomes


An alternative eLearning Tool: iSpring

I’ve been using iSpring to publish eLearning training courses for the last few months. As a user of Adobe Captivate and TechSmith Camtasia, I was a bit skeptical when my manager first introduced iSpring to me. I enjoyed the full all-in-one record and edit capabilities of Captivate and Camtasia.


iSpring is easy to use, it works as a plug-in to PowerPoint. Many people already know how to create PowerPoint presentations, therefore, there is a small learning curve to using iSpring.

As you can see from the image pictured, iSpring has it’s own tab and the features are fairly straightforward: publish, presentation explorer (timing) links, audio, import audio, insert Flash and YouTube files, among other features.

Another benefit to this eLearning software is that I can use it on any of my computers because it’s a plug-in to PowerPoint. This means that I can develop eLearning courses without a lengthy installation process or it taking up my computer’s resources.

In addition, I enjoy being able to add high quality video and audio files to the PowerPoint presentations. It makes for better content compared to simple text-only slides. Once the course is published via iSpring, the high quality multimedia files can be maintained by selecting the correct quality settings.

My eLearning development process includes creating high quality MP3 audio files and MP4 video files to be imported into iSpring. I do so by using what I think are the best production tools (for a PC). I record narration in Adobe Audition, edit the raw audio so it sounds clean and crisp, then import the MP3 files into iSpring. I do the same thing for the video demonstrations, choosing to record and edit screen captures using Camtasia and then importing the MP4 files.

I also like the iSpring Quiz feature. I use the Quiz feature to create interactive practice activities and course end assessments to evaluate the learner’s knowledge of the content. The Quiz feature offers a variety of question types such as matching, multiple choice, short answer, etc. The question pools make exam creation / variation easy.

When the iSpring PowerPoint is developed, there are several options to publish the files. It can be published for the Web, HTML5 (mobile compatible), or LMS compatible.

The final output includes a navigation pane for learners to advance the class, as well as a Notes section for transcribed /outlined content. These features are beneficial for learners who want a quick refresher of the course content, without committing to the full length course.

The downside of using iSpring is that simulations are not compatible with the LMS publishing setting. However, the simulations are compatible when the course is published as an HTML5 file.

I’m not willing to give up Captivate and Camtasia fully, but iSpring is a simple eLearning developer software that I’d recommend for any instructional designer’s toolbox.

Avoid the Traps- Instructional Design Decisions

A great website I like to use for eLearning resources is  I recently read an article by Stephanie Ivec that summarized important instructional design decisions that should not be overlooked. The article is titled 5 Instructional Design Traps to Avoid.

Ivec warned against falling into these common traps:

  1. Forgetting Learning Objectives

The benefit of learning objectives is that they keep the course focused.

  1. Too Long to Be Engaging

According to Ivec, and I agree, elearning gives developers the opportunity to divide complex topics into smaller modules for easier comprehension.

  1. Features for the Sake of Features

Limiting animations and features for when they make important information stand out will help learners process key content.

  1. Irrelevant Content

Using scenarios and real-world examples will help learners apply the learning to their job tasks.

  1. No Evaluation

Evaluating the effectiveness of the eLearning course can help create better courses in the future.

My department of eLearning Developers/ Instructional Designers have been perfecting our methods of instructional design. We have discussed different approaches to making our eLearning courses effective and exciting for our learners.

We’ve created a standardized template that includes an introduction, objectives, agenda, content, practice activities, and summary. The template helps us to keep our courses consistent and minimizes the use of unnecessary animations that may otherwise distract the learners.

We’ve ensured that each topic is concise, not more than 3-4 minutes per demonstration, with an activity to keep our learners engaged. We’ve eliminated irrelevant content, such as removing content that is too novice for our learners. The course concludes with an evaluation– a quiz assessing the learner’s knowledge of the content.

Overall, it is important for instructional designers to give everything the learners need and nothing more. It’s also important that the content is packaged in a way that is manageable and intriguing.

Sharing is Caring: Knowledge Sharing

downloadWe all do it. We share information, skills, and expertise with those around us. This activity is formally called Knowledge Sharing, but the free flow exchange of information is an important part of everyday professional development.

Recently I shared with a colleague in the sales department my eLearning planning toolbox. This toolbox included an instructional design document, a template PowerPoint, and a draft roadmap for building eLearning programs. Sharing these design templates with my colleague helped her to start planning her own eLearning program. She also received training on recording and editing tools. By providing her with this information and helping her get started, she will be able to create a program that adds value to her department.

There are several different modes of communicating and sharing information. Examples include Wikipedia, workplace shared drives, and informational meetings. This Web site is another example of how information can be shared. Formal knowledge sharing experiences include conferences, conventions, and publications created by professional organizations. Knowledge is also shared informally- conversations over coffee and in the break room can have great impact on a person’s work.

Knowledge sharing has specific benefits. It promotes cross-functional training. Knowledge Sharing promotes participative decision-making and shared expectations. It fosters good will among colleagues and it fosters an open and trusting environment. When you’re on the receiving end of information, you learn and better yourself. When you’re on the giving end of knowledge sharing you exhibit your professional expertise, which can help establish a positive reputation in your field. Knowledge Sharing also helps to establish professional relationships.

Some people use information as a way to control power. Keeping information and tips to yourself may give you an edge over your colleagues. But I strongly feel that the more you share the more value can be added to the company.

Action! Activity! Stimulating Interaction in eLearning

An instructional designer can stand out from others by developing comprehensive learning experiences that stimulate user interaction.

There are three components to instructional design development that are typically included in eLearning:

  1. Tell– the user about the subject matter
  2. Show– the user the subject matter with images and videos
  3. Do– provide the user with a practice activity that replicates what was told and shown

The tell and show are most commonly used in instructional design because they take less time and resources to develop.

Depending on the scope and time frame to develop the training project, talented instructional designers are able to create a stimulating user interaction experience—the Do.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to begin new projects where I’ve scoped out interaction.

After discussing the timeline and workload with my colleagues, we decided to complete two reiterations of the courses.

The first versions of the courses include the “tell” and “show” components. We decided to launch these first versions of the courses in order to provide our users with timely content. The second version of the courses will include the tell and show content, but will also include user activities.

We record all of the content pieces for both versions of the course at the same time, but post production is first conducted on the Tell and Show version. After a course is complete and launched to to the users, the Do content is then edited, added to the course, and relaunched to the users.

The content for these courses were produced as follows:

  1. Tell– Use Adobe Audition to record subject matter experts’  narrations of the content
  2. Show– At the same recording sessions as the “tell”, the subject matter experts’ record a screen capture using TechSmith’s Camtasia. After editing these with the voiceovers, the final result are “Demonstrations” that show the user the subject matter
  3. Do – The final piece of production is recording a second version of the subject matter in Adobe Captivate. We’ve been able to record Camtasia and Captivate on the same computer, at the same time. After post production is concluded on the tell and show, attention is focused on producing “Try-It’s” that allow the users to practice what they learned earlier in the course.

Gardening: sunshine, relaxation, and socialization

photo 3This year is the first year that I’ve grown a garden without the help of my dad. I decided to start a garden in Los Angeles for a couple of different reasons and have been surprised with the added benefits.

I started the garden for the obvious– to have home grown produce. I also started the garden because I wanted an excuse to be outside in the beautiful Southern California weather.

What I found surprising were the added benefits:

Watering my garden guarantees me twenty minutes a day without screen time. I can take a deep breath and relax while taking care of the plants. As much as I love technology, and I did some Google searches for  gardening tips such as keeping the snails away (copper tape and coffee does the trick), I do enjoy the break of shutting off the computer and playing in the dirt.

photo 1If you’re curious about other ways I’ve broken away from the digital world, read my article “Disconnecting to Reconnect”

I’ve also enjoyed getting back to my roots (pun attended). I grew up in rural Central New York and as much as I love living in a city, I miss the country serenity. Having a garden gives me “zen time” to think about where I came from.

photo 2Another benefit of gardening is that it has made me a more sociable neighbor. I live in a small apartment community. My garden is in the shared common area, which means when I’m tending my garden, I have the opportunity to speak to my neighbors as they come and go.

It reminds me of the poem Mending the Wall by Robert Frost. The line “good fences make good neighbors” sticks out in my mind. This line can be interpreted as follows- having a fence between properties forces the two neighbors to walk the fence together annually in order to repair any damages. Without a fence, the two neighbors would not have an excuse to speak to each other. Similarly, if I wasn’t out in my garden every evening, I wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to catch up with my neighbors.

I’m really enjoying the sunshine, relaxation, and socialization that my garden gives me… I also can’t wait until I can be eating my vegetables!

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