Do No Harm (to the learner)

The phrase “Practice two things in your dealings with disease:  either help or do not harm the patient” is found in Epidemics, Book I, of the Hippocratic school.  I believe this idea can be applied to instruction, in addition to medicine, that is Practice two things in your development of instruction and training: either help or do not harm the learner.  Some instructional or training contexts involve life or death consequences, so the quality of the instruction  is even more important than in situations in which lives are not on the line.  Regardless whether instructional or training contexts involve physical life or death consequences, though, we can do harm (impede learning), making learning cumbersome, delayed, or altogether precluded, when content is structured ineffectively. Avoid extraneous cognitive load, which results when content is structured in such a way that requires the learner to use cognitive resources for tasks unrelated to learning and understanding the content. It may be that the content lacks logical flow, images are used that do not aid understanding or are irrelevant, gaps in content make it challenging for the learner to understand the whole of the content or result in tenuous understanding, etc. All of these require the learner to use finite cognitive resources for tasks unrelated to learning and understanding the content.

As an instructional designer and adjunct sociology instructor, my goal is to make learning easy and light, to do no harm to the learner. How about you? What are some ways in particular that you ensure you do no harm to the learner?

Practice two things in your development of instruction and training: either help or do not harm the learner.

Be Extraordinary!



The Bones of a Killer How-to Guide: 3 Types of Knowledge

Recently my work group acquired Adobe Pro DC, and subsequently, we were tasked with creating a user guide to facilitate ease of use, flatten out the learning curve (-:, for colleagues who would also need to use the program.

I had learned from my experience editing a document with Adobe Pro DC that one process and three tools of the program are commonly used when editing a document: Converting a document to Adobe Pro DC, Edit PDF, Prepare Form, and Organize Pages. As the work group brainstormed ways to approach the project of designing a user guide, I thought it would be most appropriate to create individual how-to guides for the process and each of the tools mentioned above then collate the how-to guides into one booklet. Regarding the tools, I thought it would be a good idea to tell the user what the tool is, when to use the tool, and finally how to use the tool; that is, each how-to guide would include three (3) types of knowledge- declarative, conditional, and procedural.

I am convinced a comprehensive, aka “Killer”,  how-to guide will be the end result when it includes what a tool or object is (declarative knowledge), the circumstances in which a tool, object, or process is used (conditional knowledge), and how a tool, object, or process is used or carried out (procedural knowledge).

Caveat: A learner analysis to examine prior knowledge is the best way to determine if all three types of knowledge should be included in a how-to guide or the extent to which one should include an certain type of knowledge. For instance, it is possible that the learners know what a tool is (declarative knowledge), but they do not know when (conditional knowledge) or how (procedural knowledge) to use it. On the other hand,  a learner may know what a tool is (declarative knowledge) and when to use it (conditional knowledge), but he or she may not know how to use it (procedural knowledge). Conduct a learner analysis to be sure of which types of knowledge to include.

Be Extraordinary!


Respect the [Content] Flow

hand holding a marker
Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

In addition to growing an instructional design firm, I am a full-time instructional designer. A couple weeks ago, I was tasked with updating all the presentation slides for a one-week school. I really enjoy those type tasks  as they give me the opportunity to be creative while bringing to bear my knowledge of human learning theory and instructional design practice.

I immersed myself in the existing presentation slides, reading them several times over to gain understanding of the content and to cluster and sequence the content in a logical way (i.e. simple to complex, temporally, spatially, etc.) to make learning easy, no extraneous cognitive load. I consulted with the subject-matter-expert on questions about the necessity of content, terminology, images, and transitions. Then, using Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction as a micro framework, I carefully crafted presentations that were sound from an instructional design perspective and well-scripted, easily picked up “off the shelf” for  any qualified instructor at the school to use and teach with.  I felt good about what I created and believed the updated slides added value to the school. Turns out, what  created was not what the school instructors wanted.

After submitting the project to the project manager, I learned that, as it was, the existing content flow in the presentations had been carefully crafted across several instructors and over many iterations of teaching with the slides. The existing content flow was, to the school instructors, like gold, the impurities or problems of which had been borne out by repeated teaching, and what was left was pure and what worked best for them. The instructors did not want any changes to the content flow.

What I learned:  Talk to instructors about plans to restructure content flow before restructuring content; be sure that updating presentations involves changes to content flow and not something else, like aesthetic changes to make all the slides have the same look and feel (a master slide background, for example); that is what these instructors wanted.

Respect the Content Flow.

Be Extraordinary!



Good Job!

Last week, I started re-reading a classic in the e-Learning literature, Clark and Mayer’s e-Learning and the Science of Instruction. In Chapter 12: Does Practice Make Perfect?, the authors outlined six principles for practice. I will highlight Principle 3: Provide effective feedback.

I have written here before on feedback (see the posts Three Types of Feedback and Practice + Feedback = Improved Learning Outcomes). What I got from Clark and Mayer’s take on practice feedback, that I have not seen, was the tip to avoid phrases that “draw attention to the ego and away from learning” (p. 267), such as “Well Done!” (p. 267), “Good job!”, “Nice work”. The tip struck me because I have been the recipient of such phrases and have written those phrases in feedback to my students.

Clark and Mayer  wrote that practice feedback should be explanatory, assisting learners in building appropriate “mental models” (p. 263). Using a phrase such as “Good job” or “Well done” may make the student feel good about himself or herself; however, when the phrase is used in isolation– without specific explanatory feedback on what was done well or what was good about the response, product, or presentation–it misses an opportunity to provide the learner with information on the specific knowledge, skills, or competencies that are accurate and should persist in future work. Likewise, practice feedback for an incorrect response that does not provide explanatory feedback, that is feedback that stops at merely informing the learner that a response is incorrect but does not tell the learner what is incorrect and how the response may be improved, misses a “teachable moment” (p. 263) for the learner.

In conclusion, telling a learner that the work he or she produced is good is  OK, or telling a learner that his or her work is incorrect is OK, but failing to tell the learner what makes the work good is NOT OK, and failing to tell the learner what is wrong with incorrect practice work and how to improve it is NOT OK. Remember to provide explanatory feedback.

See the post Three Types of Feedback, for descriptions of adequacy, diagnostic, and corrective feedback, from Robert Mager’s book Making Instruction Work.

e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard Mayer


Be Extraordinary!


Create Assessment Items Before Developing Instruction

Assessment by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Following the Dick and Carey model of instructional design and other prominent instructional  models, the first task, after analyses (learner, context, and instructional), is to create learning objectives. The learning objectives should be measurable and observable; no squishy objectives allowed. One must be able to tell when the learning objective has been reached (observable) and the extent to which it has or has not been reached (measurable).

Immediately after creating  measurable and observable learning objectives, the savvy instructional designer or instructor or teacher will create assessment items that are aligned to the learning objectives. It is all about alignment to the learning objectives. Assessment items should be aligned to the learning objectives, and instructional content should be aligned to the learning objectives- providing content, resources, and activities that will assist the accomplishment of the learning objectives.

Assessment items that are misaligned to the learning objectives will not provide valid measures of the effectiveness of the instruction. Effectiveness of the instruction is determined by the extent to which the learning objectives have been accomplished, as measured by the assessment items. Creating the assessment items immediately after creating learning objectives and before the instruction will ensure unnecessary and irrelevant instructional material is excluded from your instruction as you conduct a constant comparison between the inchoate instruction and the aligned learning objectives and assessment items.


Be Extraordinary!

Staying Sharp, Always Be Improving

wooden tiles that spell Improve
Improve by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

I am a LinkedIn Premium member. Premium membership has its benefits. One of the benefits of LinkedIn Premium membership is access to LinkedIn Learning (formerly LinkedIn Learning has thousands of training videos and tutorials on a variety of topics. To date, I have completed 24 training sessions, mostly on Instructional Design topics but also on business topics, such as Executive Presence and Body Language. My mantra is “Always be Improving” so I take advantage of opportunities to acquire, develop, and maintain knowledge, skills, and abilities that will profit me vocationally, personally, academically, or spiritually. At least, I use to, on a regular basis, take advantage of opportunities to acquire, develop, and maintain knowledge, skills, and abilities that would profit me in the various areas of my life.

Last month, I suddenly realized that it had been over a month since I completed a LinkedIn Learning course. I could feel myself loosing ground (Well, that may be a bit hyperbolic; I felt like I wasn’t staying on top of my craft.). I had allowed working as a full-time Instructional Designer, growing a business, and teaching online crowd out my professional development time. Last week, I got back to “always improving”; I completed one course on LinkedIn Learning– Agile Instructional Design, and I started another course– Adobe Captivate 2017: Animations and Effects.

I’ve learned that, just like anything else I want to get done, I have to plan/schedule professional development time, set aside a time to do it or it will get lost in the shuffle.   Always be Improving (A.B.I.)!

Be Extraordinary!


Andrew Gibbons’s Architectural Approach to Instructional Design



I recently started Andrew S. Gibbons award-winning book, An Architectural Approach to Instructional Design. In Chapter 3, Design Process, Gibbons purported four stages of design thinking. According to Gibbons, the design thinking of instructional designers develops in stages across the career or experiences of the instructional designer, from design thinking that focuses on the medium used for designing (stage 1) to thinking that focuses on the structure of the subject matter (stage 4). Here are Gibbons’s Four Stages of Designer Thinking

Media-Centric– Early in an instructional designer’s career he or she tends to focus design thinking on the medium for which he or she is designing, e.g. a website, computer-based learning, just-in-time resource book, a webpage

Message-Centric– During the message-centric stage of design thinking, the instructional designer focuses on the story- how to best present ideas, examples, explanations, etc. through the use of visuals, text, and clustering and sequencing content

Strategy-Centric– In the strategy-centric phase, the instructional designer focuses on strategies and structures that will provide learning guidance, opportunities for practice, and facilitate the attainment of learning objectives

Model-Centric– In the model-centric phase of design thinking, the instructional designer combines strategy with knowledge of the content to create a model of the content that is dynamic and responsive to the learner and mode of delivery

I believe an instructional designer goes through all of these stages of design thinking, to a lesser or greater degree, in any instructional design project. I take Gibbons’s point, though, that the focus of novice instructional designers is more heavily on the medium, perhaps because story-telling, strategy-development, and model-development are skills that are honed over time, through experience.

Which of Gibbons’s Stages of Design Thinking resonates most with you?





I Heart Scripting Content

I suppose every ID (Instructional Designer) has his or her favorite part of the instructional design and development process. As for me, I enjoy scripting content; I feel like the sculptor, and the raw content from the subject-matter-expert (SME) is the clay. I carefully extract the content from the SME, meticulously clarify the content through research and consultation with the SME, then use my creativity, learning theory knowledge, and instructional design expertise to mold content into an efficient and effective instructional unit. The creative energy that ensues is exhilirating, intoxicating, addictive..I heart it.


Be Intentional About Evaluation

Last month, Extraordinary! by Design finished an elearning project for a national franchise. Actually, it was our second elearning project for the franchise. The franchise contracted with us to convert existing paper-based training to elearning. The timelines were tight as we worked to have the elearning ready to unveil before a new product line was released. We used Rapid Prototyping, working design and development phases concurrently to create a functional prototype for review. We created Level 1 evaluation items to measure what the learners learned from the elearning modules; however, we did not develop evaluation instruments for evaluation levels 1, 3, and 4.

Now, a month after completion of the second elearning module and two months after completion of the first elearning module, we are circling back to engage the client about creating assessment instruments for level 1- reaction to training and level 3- behavior (or transfer of training to the job).

Results from evaluation of the training will reveal areas for improvement and help to determine the effectiveness and suitability of the training for the audience. Training uninformed by evaluation results is like practice without feedback; if it is not conducted, ineffective, erroneous, or inefficient knowledge and behaviors may persist– negatively impacting business or organizational goals.

We are eager to obtain evaluation results so that we may revise and amend training where appropriate and continue to create extraordinary results  for our client.

For more information on evaluation of training programs, check out Implementing the Four Levels: A Practical Guide for Effective Evaluation of Training Programs by Donald Kirkpatrick and James Kirkpatrick.