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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.


It’s not a test! Assessing Learning.

"The Melting Clock" by Salvador Dali

“The Melting Clock” by Salvador Dali

Previously, I’ve discussed the importance of evaluating training in the context of Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation Model. Many people neglect the evaluation process because they are either  on a very strict schedule (analysis is usually neglected, too) or they just don’t see how administering tests can work in the training.

The latter is a major misconception. Assessment is not about giving graded tests.

Tools: Assessment can be accomplished in several different ways. Some examples include:

Exams Non-graded quizzes
Rubrics Course Evaluation
Classroom Dialogue Polling/Clickers
Poster Presentations Oral Presentations
Portfolios Peer Review
Case Studies Written Reports
Fill In The Blanks State Examinations or Certifications
Publication  Observing Student Reactions

Simple Process: If creating assessment methods is daunting, I recommend starting simple.

  1. Select a training objective.
  2. Pair the objective with an activity.
  3. Create a rubric for evaluation.
  4. Review each student’s completed activity compared to the rubric to see if it aligns with the objective.
  5. Create a snapshot of your overall

Grading: Assessing your learners does not mean you need to change your grading structure or even give a grade at all. However, if learners believe that they are receiving something in return, they may give more effort when completing the assessment. Case in point: if you’ve been asked to complete a survey, you may have given up half way through if you didn’t see a personal benefit in completing it.

Cost: Evaluating learning does not have to be costly endeavor. Although there are many different software and hardware options to aid in assessing learning outcomes (such as PollEverywhere, TurningPoint, ExamSoft, and PearsonVue), assessment can be accomplished without purchasing third-party products. If assessment is a new goal for your organization, I recommend working through some of the simpler assessment strategies and tools before deciding on an external assessment product.

To Err is Human… to Keep at EdTech is Divine.

One of the challenges I have as an Educational Technologist is encouraging people to use technology during lectures and presentations, despite their fears.

The major fear is looking incompetent in front of an audience. This can occur when technology breaks or the presenter does not know how to work the tool. So instead of learning how to use EdTech properly, they opt out of the tool altogether.

There’s a few points I would like to make to help appease the fear that paralyzes the presenter and limits the use of technology:

Technology has its hiccups for everyone, even the most skilled technologist.

Internet connections are poor, flash drives get lost, files are corrupted, speakers don’t work, the list can go on…  but, it’s Okay! Since we’ve all been there, people in your audience will understand and not judge.

How you handle the hiccup is what defines us. If the EdTech fails or does not work, apologize for the delay and continue on with your presentation sans technology. It’s comparable to a child getting hurt, sometimes, the reaction of others after a fall is what makes a young child cry. Don’t overreact with groans and complaints, don’t panic. Pick yourself up, dust off, and start your presentation. Your audience won’t even remember the technical glitches if you don’t let it affect your overall presentation.

In today’s Internet driven world, current students and audience members expect presentations with audio/visual components. By neglecting this feature, you may lose out on that “star appeal” that attracts people to your audience or classes.

I once had a professor say to me, “if you teach the way you were taught, you will be frozen in time.”

Intrigue your audience, add a “cool” element to your presentation. Remember, technology is great when it enhances a presentation, not detracts from the content.

If you’re still afraid to add EdTech components to your presentation be proactive:

  • Learn! Have your Educational Technologist or Instructional Technologist show you easy ways to enhance your presentation
  • Practice, practice, practice, preferably in the room you will be presenting
  • Early and Often– Setup for your presentations with plenty of time to get through any glitches and know that the more you use EdTech, the more comfortable you will be using the tools
  • Buddy System- Invite someone along to the presentation that can help you setup or troubleshoot problems
  • Be Prepared- Bring back-ups of your digital work. If the tech still fails, be prepared with cue cards and hand-outs to switch to a low-tech presentation

Learning: Changing Orgs at the Micro Level

As I begin a new semester as a part-time instructor for my Alma Mater, Ithaca College, I think back about my time there as an Ithaca Collegeundergraduate.

I earned a communications degree studying Organizational Communication, Learning & Design (OCLD). I loved my classes from the beginning. How organizations change, grow and work effectively intrigued me. Discussions about how communication and design can impact on an organization made me giddy.

imagesBut more specifically, I loved (and still do) learning about how individual learning can have a significant impact. Not only is the individual impacted by learning, but their organizations are affected as well. When an employee decides to better themselves by learning a new tool or soft skill, the effort they put into it eventually goes back into the organization. Achievement on the individual level should be considered a win for the organization.

Learning on the micro-level (learning by the individual) can impact an organization on the macro-level.

And for this reason I concentrated in Instructional Design.

As an instructional designer, I believe that if a single person wants to learn a new tool or skill, they should be able to do so, and should be supported by their organization. Therefore, it’s my initiative to host weekly “Coffee Talks” even if only one person RSVPs. I’ll even prepare for and be available during the sessions when no one RSVPs, just in case someone decides to attend my learning sessions on a whim.

An Instructional Designer’s Philosophy

the_thinkerI’ve previously wrote about Being an Instructional Designer and Instructional Design Defined.

I once read, and wholeheartedly agree, “Instructional Designers create easy-to-understand educational materials for training and development purposes. They understand the process of learning and use graphics & creative strategies to make the material effective and interesting.”

As I think about who I am and what I do, I decided to share my thoughts about my career passion. As an Instructional Designer, I have a philosophy to designing effective instruction.

My instructional design philosophy can be summed in a few points:

  1. Learning should be about connecting to the content and then sharing your knowledge and interests with others.
    • An instructional designer curates knowledge. We provide learners with valuable connections to subject matter experts and information.
    • Learners should be able to explain or repeat the lesson to a partner.
    • Learners should be able to share the knowledge with a group of people.
  2. Adults need to know why they need to learn something and how it benefits them. Making this transparent is the start to good Instructional Design
    • Learners should be able to discuss how they use the information, how it benefits them, and any issues they have with the information.
    • A good instructional designer facilitates this discussion and provides recommendations, best practices and suggestions for mitigating the issues.
    • Learners should establish goals. If learners are not driven to set goals for themselves, instructional designers must aid in the development of these goals. Once learning goals are set, instructional designers must create and facilitate instruction that helps accomplish these goals.
  3. Good instructional design allows users to experience and interact with the content.
    • It’s okay to learn by doing and learn by making mistakes.

    Instructional Designers don many hats, including that of producer, coordinator, and facilitator. Read more about these roles here.

Instructional Design Document

Tool: Instructional Design Document

Category: Template / Project Management Documentation

Description: Many instructional designers utilize Design Documents to manage and document the design of instruction. Design Documents are essentially a formal outline that details what is to be included in the instruction. They serve as a “road map” during the Development phase. Design Documents allow for consistency among training and educational courses within a set curriculum. They also ensure accuracy no matter which Instructional Designer is assigned to work on the program. They also serve as a valuable project documentation tool to keep track of work hand off, version updates, and changes to the curriculum.

Many organizations have their own Design Document templates, but basically contain the same components (including, but not limited to):

  • Purpose and Objective
  • Audience/ Learner Analysis, including skills and knowledge gaps
  • Learning outcomes
  • Assessment Plan, including activities and methods of measuring learning outcomes
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Resources, including learner and instructor resources (textbooks, articles, case studies)
  • Media to be developed, such as slideshows, documents, video, podcasts
  • Scope and Sequence of Lessons / Topics
  • Team members and their responsibilities, including ID, SME, Media Experts, Graphic Artists, etc
  • Approvals
  • Evaluation Plan to measure the success of the overall instruction (not just the learning outcome assessment)
  • Maintenance Plan

Application/Example: I created a Design Document to aid in the consistent design of short 2-5 minute primer videos. These videos are directed towards students to help them understand the course lesson outcomes and what is expected of them. This design document is being used for both my online class in Professional Development at Ithaca College and also as a guide for Pepperdine University School of Law’s introductory courses.

Here is a PDF example of my Design Document for lesson 1 (of 8) of Professional Development II.

Design Document

Back to Portfolio

Motivation is Not Just for Cheerleaders: ARCS Model

When designing instruction, it’s important to determine the best way to motivate learners because it will have an everlasting effect on the learning outcomes and the learners’ experience.

The ARCS Model of Motivational Design was developed by John Keller. It contains four steps of promoting motivation in learning and presumes that people are motivated to learn when they see the value in the instruction. Motivation also occurs in learning when there is realistic expectation for success.

The ARCS Model consists of four parts: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.


The first two parts of the model, Attention and Relevance, are important because Confidence and Satisfaction build upon them.

Attention– Attention is the interest learners’ display of the instructional concepts. Grabbing the attention of learners is the most important part of the model because it INITIATES the motivation. Once learners are interested in a topic, they are willing to spend their time, pay attention, and find out more. Ways an instructor can gain the attention of the learner include:

1. Perceptual Arousal (using surprise or uncertain situations)
2. Inquiry Arousal (offering challenging questions and problems to solve that stimulate curiosity)
3. Variability (using a variety of resources and methods of teaching to meet learners’ varying needs)

Relevance– Relevance must be established by using examples that the learners are familiar with. The goal of the Relevance component is to make the lesson plan or instructional materials as relevant to the learner as possible. If relevance is not conveyed, learners will lose attention.

1. Goal Oriented (present objectives and purpose and specific methods for successful achievement)
2. Motive Matching (match objectives to learner needs)
3. Familiarity (present content in understandable ways that relate to learners’ experiences)

Confidence– Confidence focuses on establishing positive expectations for achieving success. The confidence level of learners is often correlated with motivation and effort in reaching a performance objective. Therefore, instructional design should provide students with a method for estimating their success.

1. Learning Requirements (inform students about learning requirements and assessment criteria)
2. Successful Opportunities (provide meaningful opportunities for successful learning)
3. Personal Responsibility (link learning success to learners’ personal effort and ability)

Satisfaction– Learners must obtain some type of satisfaction from a learning experience. This satisfaction can be from a variety of things such as sense of achievement and praise from a higher-up. This component is where feedback and reinforcement are utilized and learners use their results to be further motivated to learn. Instruction should be designed to allow learners to use their newly learned skill in an authentic setting.

1. Intrinsic Reinforcement (encourage and support intrinsic enjoyment of the learning experience)
2. Extrinsic Rewards (provide positive reinforcement and motivational feedback)
3. Equity (maintain consistent standards for success)

As an instructional designer, it’s important to understand what motivates learners and how those motivations can be used to encourage the achievement of the learning objectives.

Keller’s ARCS Model is one way that can guide the development of motivational instruction. Remember, today’s learners aren’t just interested in being lectured at, but want value from the instruction and in having the value, will be motivated to contribute.

Evaluating Learning, It’s Important! Kirkpatrick’s Model

Previously, we discussed the ADDIE model and the importance of each step when designing instruction. The last step, evaluation is equally important to the actually design and development of instruction.

Evaluation helps instructional designers determine the success of the instruction or determine the gaps in learning that must be overcome to improve future designs of the instruction.

Donald Kirkpatrick created a ‘four level’ model for training course evaluation in 1959 and gained popularity in the 70s.

Kirkpatrick PyramidKirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation are designed to evaluate training programs in a sequenced order. The model is typically displayed in a pyramid, in which the later levels are more difficult to assess and take a longer time to do so.

The four levels of Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation Model are:

Level One- Reaction
Level Two- Learning
Level Three- Behavior
Level Four- Results

Level One- Reaction is the basic level of evaluation in which the participants’ opinions and feelings about the training are measured. I typically hand out evaluation surveys at the end of each training to poll participants on how they liked the overall presentation and whether or not they are interested in using the technology in question.


Level Two- Learning is an increase in knowledge and/or skills as a result of the training. This training can be measured during the training in the form of a test. I have my colleagues walk through the instructional quick guides and complete the task at hand to demonstrate basic knowledge.


Level Three- Behavior is the transfer of knowledge and/or skills from the training to the job. This step is best evident 3-6 months after training and is observed while the trainee is performing the task. I have observed my colleagues as they attempt to achieve the tasks we discussed during training. Behavior skills are not yet achieved, as my trainees are not comfortable in performing the tasks without me standing by.


Level Four- Results the last level of evaluation occurs when results can be measured as a byproduct of the training program; such as, attendance and participation has a monetary or performance-based impact. Performance has positively been affected by trainings conducted on collaboration tools and best practices in email. Colleagues have stated that they spend less time emailing documents and working on shared resources since being trained on these tools.


Dynamic Online Education

Picture from

Picture from

Although my current position doesn’t afford me the opportunity to work in online education, I have had many years of experience in online education. As an Instructional Designer, I assisted faculty in adjusting their traditional classroom pedagogy for online instruction. I have also taken over 60 credits of online courses in my pursuit of an MBA in Technology Management. And lastly, I have designed curriculum for an online course that I instruct. Stating these credentials is essential for the point I am to discuss because it illustrates that I have different perspectives of online learning as an instructional designer, student, and instructor:

Online learning needs to be more dynamic.

I don’t mean that online learning needs to have synchronous course sections (which it should and oftentimes does), but there needs to be synergy between the delivery of the content and the contribution of students.

Take for instance a basic online course structure in a learning management system such as BlackBoard, Moodle, or Sakai. Students locate the required reading materials and lectures in a designated folder structure. They then move off that page to a discussion forum or assignment submission page and contribute to the class discussion.

If multiple readings are discussed within a given course lesson, it can cause confusion to the students because their discussion is not being effectively curated as it would in a traditional class or synchronous web conferencing session.

In addition, students may repeat the same general comments as their classmates (after probably reading their peers’ comments), therefore, not effectively contributing to the discussion. This results in students not being able to command the subject or demonstrate their understanding.

What I believe online learning should strive for is a re-design of the online classroom structure.

Students should be able to comment on and discuss the content right on the content page. For example, a student viewing a video should be able to add relevant and important contributions to the video at the timestamp that is being referenced. A tool that I believe does this is Vialogues (I hope to research this further). Students should also be able to contribute to a reading in an in-text fashion, similar to Microsoft Word’s Comment feature, pinpointing exactly where the student’s insight is referencing. These tools exist, but how we can apply them to online courses must be championed and designed by Educational Technologists and Instructional Designers.

Online learning has advanced so much in the last 15 years: the stigma of online learning has abated, tools make it possible for students and instructors to connect in real-time, group work is possible with collaboration tools, and secure exam taking is possible without proctors.

However, we, as Educational Technologists and Instructional Designers, should keep online education advancing.

We must innovate and stimulate change for a more dynamic learning experience.

If You Build IT They Will Come

ComputerThere are many thoughts regarding technology and innovation in Instructional Design.

The advice that is most often given is  Don’t Use Technology for Technology’s Sake.

What this means is that an Instructional Designer should not build instruction around the tool, but the tool should have a meaningful impact on the learning objectives. A tool should only be used if it will aid in the instruction and not hinder it. Technology will hinder instruction if 1) An instructor or learner does not know how to effectively use it and as a result, spends too much of instructional time trying to learn the tool, not the content and/or 2) The technology is so cool it’s a distraction.

In both cases the learner may lose out on the true purpose of the instruction because the focus is on the technology.

An Instructional Designer, therefore, must design the instruction with first, the learning objectives in mind, then design the instruction for the mode of communication (aka technology), whether it be Face-to-Face Instructor Led, eLearning, Mobile Learning, or self-paced study.classroom

However, let’s play devil’s advocate. What if we have an instructor that is so fearful (or afraid of looking incompetent) of technology that it dis-services its learners. An instructor that does not use technology to aid an instruction may be promoting an image of stagnation and as a result may drive away potential learners that were seeking “state of the art” education. Applying my business background here, it’s as simple as putting the right product with the right person at the right place. If the learners want technology-supported instruction, what’s stopping them from pursuing their goals at a competing institution that is giving them their needs?

As an Instructional Designer, is it best to force the technology, that is, build it into a classroom and instruction in the mere hope that the instructor will follow? Showing what technology can actually do in the real-life instructional environment may encourage the use of that technology. Or at least more so than a verbal description of the technology. In this way, showing how the technology can be applied to the instruction is a great way to stimulate the use. And the only way to show the technology is to have it.

And hence, taking from A Field of Dreams, If you build IT (Informational Technology), they will come. I hope.

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