3 things my exercise routine taught me about content creation

header image with text 3 things I learned from my exercise routine

I love all things digital and my exercise routine definitely reflects this: I do yoga and core training via my Yogaia app and listen to podcasts from iTunes while running. My two favourite podcasts of all time are Freakonomics and The other F word – I never miss an episode from either. In fact, both podcasts are so tightly integrated in my running routine that I usually listen to them only while running and postpone my run until there is a new episode to listen to.

My professional manifesto for this year is to “Look outside”. I want to look outside the field of digital learning to find inspiration to my work. There are so many things we learning professionals can take from eg service design, marketing, advertising and UX design and use to our best advantage.

I have joined a Slack channel so that in the future I’ll hopefully have more chances to learn from other disciplines. In the meanwhile: back to my exercise routine. What are the features in my favourite exercise videos and podcasts that have made me so extremely hooked to them? Further, how can I apply these to my learning content so it has the same addictive quality?

1.   Get straight to the point

“So let’s talk about your divorce”, started one of the recent interviews in The other F word podcast. Not a fun topic, but a great way to start a podcast. We don’t want to hear history, background, statistics first – we want to dig deep and we want to do it pretty fast. So do most of the people going through our eLearning.

2.   Familiar topics need fresh angles

The creators of the Freakonomics podcast master this like no other. They discover common elements in most unlikely topics and combine data from entirely different fields of academic research. They ask why until they get to the root of an issue. Topics that on the face of it seem familiar and even mundane become sexy and magical.

Due to company policies and legal obligations, people who use our learning solutions are often made to go through some topics that stay pretty much the same year after year. It’s our duty to find out what is new, unexpected and surprising about these topics and feed our users’ appetite with fresh angles.

3.   Rhythm

In core training classes, the concept of rhythm is easy to understand: sweat, take a breather, sweat again. The same goes for the greatest podcasts, and for quality learning. Alternating between ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ topics and allowing small breathers once in a while makes it easier for the users to digest the information.

Augmented reality in learning materials – go on, you can do it!


“Cassiopeia! Ursa Minor!” I shouted excitedly when an 8-year-old pointed to constellations during our evening walk from a friend’s house. With my mother’s teachings and just a little help from the augmented reality (AR) app Star Chart I was able to teach the names of the main constellations to a curious mind.

A lot of people talk about AR in education and research on it has been going on for years. I hear it’s being used in corporate learning, too, but I’ve never seen concrete examples. Being a curious mind, I couldn’t help but give it a go. Below is a video demo showing my experiment on how to create an interactive CV using the AR tool Blippar:

Blippar lets you create an AR experience with for instance video messages, photo slideshows, music clips, links to websites and social media channels – and a lot more if you do know how to code and are willing to go through the trouble. Just think of the possibilities in corporate learning materials! Even a dull old working book for a class training could definitely use some AR additions on its pages.

Downsides of Blippar? Not much that I can think of when it comes to learning solutions. I think that as long careful consideration is given to high-quality content, AR can significantly enhance user experience and learning.

I can’t help but think that I did something a bit similar already three years ago with QR codes – the technology is of course different, but the outcome isn’t that far if you think about learning: I put training videos behind QR codes and we stuck the QR codes to relevant locations. For instance, a sticker with QR code that contained a link to a soil cultivation video was placed on the dashboards of forest machines so that the operator was able to watch the video as a revision before he started work. A fire extinguishing video was placed the same way next to a fire extinguisher so that a trainer conducting a safety walk with employees was able to scan the QR code and open the video directly to show the right technique for using the fire extinguisher.

There are endless potential uses of AR in corporate learning, all the way from making printed training materials more interactive to supporting sales people by providing AR versions of the devices they sell. Why not build an induction to new employees using AR only? Visualise this: You enter the headquarters, it’s your first day on the job. Instead of a tour of the office, you are given a map that shows locations you need to visit in the headquarters. Each of the locations has an element – eg a poster – that starts off with an AR experience like the CEO’s video speech. Self-paced, modern – what’s not to love about that? Looking forward to potential AR projects – but as always, let’s make sure we only use it when it actually creates value and when we can ensure high quality content. Otherwise we’ll lose those precious curious minds.

Creative confidence in eLearning projects

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 13.15.00Last week I gave a workshop to one of our client companies on how to create engaging content to eLearning modules.

“To catch people’s attention and to ‘stick’ in people’s minds”, I said to the participants, “eLearning content should be simple, a little unexpected, concrete, credible, it should touch emotions and utilize stories. “

I continued: “And interactions should be interesting, challenging and engaging….”

One of the participants interrupted me: “But how do you, well, come up with this kind of content?”

Such a good question. Although it may have originally left me slightly speechless, the question certainly wouldn’t leave me alone afterwards. It kept bugging me during the weekend while I was emptying the dishwasher, playing the piano and cleaning the bunny cage. It made me go to my bookshelf and return to Creative confidence by Tom and David Kelley.

Creative confidence in short

So here is what I think: To create engaging content for learning I think one needs not just knowledge about the topic, but also creative confidence spiced up with a dashful of positive deviance.


The book Creative confidence (excellent website about the book is here  and one of David’s TED talks can be found here) is an extremely energising read and makes you not only want to finish your creative work projects, but also be more active in your local community and design the part of your garden you have always left “as it is”.

Creative confidence doesn’t require you to be formally trained in arts, media, or the like. Instead, what you need is deep empathy for your users and curiosity to know more about the challenges in their daily working life. You need to have the courage and resilience to come up with plenty of ideas, as most of them will likely fail. You need to have a good routine of writing quick drafts and not waiting for “the one brilliant idea”.

A quick start?

Two quick things you can do to gain more creative confidence when starting a new eLearning project:

1) Get new perspective: Try flipping your questions. Assume that your reports give out depressing facts about eLearning attendance or adherence to safety measures etc. Instead of asking “Why aren’t people completing our eLearning modules?” ask: “Why are people in these certain locations participating in our eLearning modules so well?” Instead of asking “Why isn’t our staff wearing eye protectors when they need to?”, ask: “Why do these certain people wear eye protectors?”

2) Gain more empathy: Try interviewing one or two users on how they feel about your current eLearning modules available or the LMS. Let them tell you what they like, what they find difficult, how they fit eLearning in their work day, how they share their learnings with their colleagues and what would make them even more committed. Most important: Be quiet most of the time, don’t defend, don’t judge.

Just let them speak.

One thing that improves any type of learning

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What is the one single thing you need for effective learning of any type – live or virtual classroom, online training, video? Good stories, of course.

The longer I have worked in the eLearning industry the more I have come to recognize the power of good stories. I have used stories everywhere: in scenarios and interactive video activities, as concrete examples to simplify a complex concept, and in motivational speeches made by top leaders. You name it – my “story factory” creates it.

Good stories grab the learner’s attention and make your learning content stick.

Even an experienced story factory like myself needs new, fresh ideas for using stories in online learning. That’s why I am starting Acumen’s course Storytelling for Change course next week. More to come as the course advances…

Go animate your eLearning, part #2

I am an enthusiastic singer. I practically never miss the weekly practice with my vocal group. We do everything: Eurovision, pop, rock, you name it. Here is a video project I created for fun to advertise our upcoming auditions. The topic? How addictive singing really is.


Although this was a project made purely for fun, the elements and the design process were mostly the same as when designing an instructional video. Adding to my previous post on video animation I wanted to add a few points to ensure the core message of your video comes out crystal clear.

  1. What’s your goal?

What do you want the audience to do after viewing your video? Since I focus on learning outcomes, I focus on the fact that after the video, the audience should have the skills and be willing and committed to do whatever the learning goal is (highlighting the words willing and committed). Defining the goal like this helps you fight off any extra frill and bling-bling that you (or other stakeholders) might be tempted to add to the video.

2. Show a gun on screen only if there is an intention of using it on the video.

Chekhov famously said: One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it. This is an important guideline even though we aren’t creating drama. Why? Because once you do this, you are better off expressing exactly the message you want to express and the users will focus on that. Another extremely good way to simplifying your message only needs to come through one channel: audio or visual. If you need to express that it is midnight, you don’t need to say it. Just show it. And: Include only the visual/audio elements you absolutely need to pull your message through. Don’t show the fact that it’s nighttime with both the moon in the sky AND a clock on the wall showing “3 am”, one of these is enough. After all, it was Chekhov who also said: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”


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3. Create structure.

No matter how short your video is, it needs to have a basic structure. In longer videos (>1 min) you can use e.g. numbering or subheadings to help you structure the content.

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4. Humour is allowed 

But: be kind in your humour. The point of humour in instruction is again to make your content more memorable and engaging – be aware of stingy irony and profanity.

5. Add contradiction.

Adding contradiction is a basic means for creating complex characters in drama. But we are talking about 1-minute instructional videos – why would you want to care about contradiction? Because creating an contradiction is key to making your content interesting, which again is the essence of making something engaging and memorable. In other words, it helps you in your key goal: making people learn. Although we who create learning are not in marketing, we can continuously learn from there. Easy ways to create contradiction? Try having a voiceover that contradicts just a little bit with what the character does or says.


Go animate! Why? Because it’s easy

I bought GoAnimate inspired by two webinars: The first one was a wonderfully laid-back, hands-on presentation given by Melissa DeJesus from Lavastorm who gave a few great tips for using GoAnimate in a software training. Another spark of inspiration for my purchase was a demo given at the Learning Solutions Demofest by Rance Greene who has received multiple awards for his innovative eLearning projects.

GoAnimate is a cloud-based animated video creation platform. It has several different styles to choose from: 2D animation, whiteboard animation, infographics and – my absolute favourite, Common craft, i.e. this style:

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 22.21.53You can download your video files as e.g. MP4s and export them directly to e.g. YouTube, Vimeo and Wistia. The basic functions of the tool are fairly easy to understand so you will learn by doing – as long as you let go of your pride first. You only need to spend a few moments in YouTube looking for inspiration from other GoAnimate users to discover that there are hundreds of teenagers who seem to have been born with video animation skills.

But: I don’t want to write detailed instructions here on how you use the tool. What I do want to express is: Be the Master, not the servant. The tool is so intuitive that it is extremely tempting to just start crafting videos straight away by testing all the available character libraries and functionalities. Well, why not? Because, like the famous travel photographer Peter Adams said: “A camera didn’t make a great picture anymore than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” Being able to use GoAnimate will not make you a good video designer. Instead, you need to take all the necessary steps of video creation even if your purpose is to create a 30-second clip to start off an eLearning exercise.

What do I mean by the necessary steps? At the minimum, the following:

  1. Define your audience.
  2. Define the core message of your video, i.e. one sentence that sums up the key idea of your video. Talk about this core message with your stakeholders. Rewrite the message based on your discussions.
  3. Write the script / storyboard (what I mean of course is: Write, cut, edit, rewrite, cut, edit, and so forth.)
  4. Measure the duration of your script. Cut, cut, cut even more if possible.

Step No. 5 may then be: Start creating the video with GoAnimate!

Good luck, and remember – you’re the Master!



Achieving Zen in eLearning projects #eLearning

reaching_instructional_zenI recently listened to eight (!!) presentations from Learning Solutions and Ecosystem 2016 Conference that took place in Orlando, Florida in March.

To mention a few presenters, Connie Malamed, the lady behind the popular blog The eLearning Coach, gave an excellent crash course on visual design and Julie Dirksen from Usable Learning talked about the science of attention, willpower and decision-making.

My favourite presenter however was Sean Bengry from Accenture who discussed how to achieve Zen in eLearning projects.

Sean asked an interesting question from the audience: “What if money wasn’t a barrier?” In other words, if you had enough money to do what you want in an eLearning project, where would you spend that money?

Despite, or rather because of, the fact that I wasn’t sure how to answer this myself, I realized this was an absolutely brilliant question.

As an eLearning professional I am expected to find the best learning outcome on a limited budget and schedule. While trying to balance project resources for writing, media production, graphics and client meetings, I often find myself asking, “What is good enough”? When is writing, interactions, graphics, video and other media on a level that promotes good learning, blends in with the rest of the organisation’s image, but is still manageable within a project budget?

According to Bengry, if presented this question most people will still want to spend money on great graphics and better quality videos. This is understandable, as the visuals are often the components that stand out quickly and that people can comment easily.  From a pedagogical viewpoint this is interesting since better media doesn’t equal better learning outcomes.

If not media and graphics, then what? From a pedagogical angle I would of course spend money on analytics: pre-studies of how much people already know, and post-studies on how their behavior changed after they took the eLearning. I would spend ample time on defining the current problems, creating a business goal for the training and defining the means to measure it. I guess if being presented with absolutely no barriers in the budget, I would focus on – well, solving the business problem!

Bengry was along the same lines. Quoting one of my favourite logo designers and illustrators of all time, Ivan Chermayess, Bengry said wisely: “to design is to solve human problems”.  Like Bengry, I’d like to believe that when keeping that in mind you are on a path leading to Zen.

PS: The image in this post is from Goanimate where you can nowadays make Common Craft style videos and images – my next post will be about that!

Top 3 reasons why you should have realistic learning activities

Which year did our company launch its most famous product line ABC?

  1. a) 2013
  2. b) 2014
  3. c) this product line doesn’t exist yet

We just told you 5 slides ago what the main raw material for our new product XYZ is. So, what is it? 

  1. a) plastic
  2. b) steel
  3. c) both of the above

These questions measure how well I’m able to use the knowledge I have learned.



  1. Interaction is not the same as engagement

When writing scripts for learning materials, I often use the Economist Style Guide to check questions I have about grammar, choice of word or writing style. The introduction to the Style Guide says: “Your readers will generally be interested in what you have to say. By the way you say it you may encourage them either to read on or give up.” This is obviously true with regard to the text content in learning materials, but the same goes for the activities in your learning material. The type of learning activities you create encourage your users to either dig deeper in your material, or give up entirely, because they feel frustrated, patronised, or both.

Like Julian Stodd wisely says: “Interaction is not engagement”.

  1. Add business value, don’t just educate

We’re in business, not education. We want people to do stuff, not just know stuff. Like Harold Jarche says: Learning is the new literacy. Being able to take in a lot of information is expected of you so knowledge is simply not enough anymore, and doesn’t bring you authority. Instead, you need to show what you can do with the knowledge you have. This is why every single activity or interaction you have needs to be about how knowledge is applied in practice, not just ticking a box to prove that you have stayed awake for the previous ten slides.

You can even consider every single activity of your eLearning as a bite-size investment decision. Will doing this activity help the person achieve the goal we have set for the course? If yes, keep it – if not, get rid of it.

  1. Make them struggle

Why? When people struggle a bit, they can learn more deeply. Challenging activities where the user needs to apply knowledge in real-life context build intrinsic motivation, and this is of course what we are after.


Why aren’t all eLearning activities you see realistic ones where you need to be able to apply knowledge? Basically because creating good, realistic activities takes skills. You need to analyse what people need to be able to do after they’ve completed your learning content. You need to know what they most struggle with. You need to know about your users’ everyday work to be able to create realistic-sounding context to your activities. All in all, you need to talk with your subject matter experts, ask them a lot of questions, and do plenty of deep thinking by yourself.

Coming back to the Economist Style Guide. It says “Clear thinking is the key to clear writing.“ Could we tweak this a little and say that a clear business goal is the key to clear learning activities?

18 language versions done, here’s what I learned

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I am a linguist by training and at heart – I’ve even taught general linguistics at the university for one semester. This is why managing projects where digital learning materials are translated into different languages gives me immense pleasure!

I’ve worked with language versions for the past five years, but last autumn I had the chance to work with nearly 20 languages – many of which were new to me. Working with languages you have no knowledge of is extremely interesting since you need to find clever ways to ensure everything is correctly displayed.

What did I learn? At least these three things:

1. When you need to have your content translated, give the translator a visual demo of how the text will be displayed, preferably a full working version in English if that’s available. Especially when it comes to languages with non-Latin alphabet, seeing the context will mean the world to the translator.

2. Always try to work with web-safe fonts as otherwise you may (or rather, will) run into trouble with special characters. Do a test run with all the possible special characters in a given language with your font. Even if the font is said to support a certain language, do the test run anyway. It will save you a great deal of time, as otherwise you may be working for hours on a project before noticing that a certain special character isn’t showing as it should and need to change the font to the entire project.

3. Although you can’t be expected to know the syntax of each language you work with, do some basic research so you know what to look for while testing the final product.

At the minimum, first find out what special characters there are. As the space for text is always limited, you may for instance notice that the “tails” of letters like these are not displaying properly: щ ņ ķ ų ę ą (these are from Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Czech).

Second, learn how the basic punctuation marks are used. Did you know for instance that in French you need to have a space before and after many common punctuation marks (these at least : ; « » ! ?), like this:

Jean a dit : « Je veux le faire. »

Also, find out what kind of quotation marks are used – the English type (i.e. “like this“) or the German type (i.e. „like this“)? In my experience the German type„“ is much more common than I expected – for instance Czech, Polish and all the Baltic languages use it.

Hope this year brings me lots of new interesting languages to work with!

Confessions of a non-gamer or 3 things I learned in Gamification course

Eeva's course certificate

I started a course on Gamification offered by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania at Coursera.org in mid-November and managed to complete it around Christmas. Gamification is, in short, using game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts – non-game contexts being anything from business to learning, social impact and personal development.

I am practically a non-gamer, but have naturally been aware of the immense power games have for closing the engagement gap and helping new habit formation. So what did I learn in the course that I can apply to modern workplace learning?

  1. Don’t forget the fun. You can and should design fun in your learning. That said, fun here needs to be understood in the broadest possible sense. It covers easy fun (e.g. you win easily), hard fun (you need win over difficult challenges), people fun (you get to interact with others) and serious fun (you find your tasks meaningful). Before you try to “put lipstick on a pig”, i.e. draw fancy but irrelevant cartoon figures etc, ask yourself: “what’s fun?” It may be that for your training, fun means treating the users as smart adults, creating content that’s relevant and spiced with surprising facts, and developing realistic scenarios and other interactions.
  2. Consider how you use external rewards. Points, badges and leaderboards, i.e. PBL, are general elements of games and therefore a common element in all sorts of gamified systems. These can be incorporated in learning too. However, consider what your audience is like and what motivates them. Whilst you can use PBL for increasing motivation among people who enjoy and are used to competition, it may not work in all target groups. Also, be aware that especially for top performers, external rewards may decrease intrinsic motivation – these people may feel that whilst they would complete the tasks for pure enjoyment, having extrinsic rewards makes these tasks less interesting.
  3. Design with business goal in mind. This is essential in many ways but not least because it requires that you define a proper business goal for your training. Once that is defined, you can and should reflect any ideas that come up during the project to this goal: Does the idea support the business goal? If so, consider including it. If not, drop it.

Finally, about the learning experience itself – what was the course like?

The course was by no means an easy one! It contained a series of video lectures (most of which I managed to watch while commuting), written assignments and tests. The course also had a discussion board and this upped the experience to a great extent – I found myself totally mesmerized just by reading the professional stories of people in the discussion where the participants introduced themselves. One nice addition to the video lectures was the fact that they were interrupted every now and then with small sets of questions that you needed to answer before you could continue the video – these were good for reflecting what had just been covered and how that could be applied to other topics presented in the course.