Category Archives: instructional design

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.


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!


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 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.


Unblock your “training brain” with ideas from marketing #book Friday

I’ve been starting a few new projects while still wrapping up some old ones so I felt the need to clear my head.

The booster for getting fresh ideas on the table came from my own bookshelf, and more specifically the marketing section. Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath is a classic I keep coming back to and here’s why: The book shows what I as a learning professional need to steal from marketing – and not just once for an especially exciting project, but all the time, in every training. The book shows with concrete examples why some ideas survive and others die, and what you can do to make your ideas – or in my case training – stick.

The book is based on six key principles, and as the writers prove over and over, people are more likely to absorb and remember content that was created using one or several of these. The principles are Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories.

Of these, I use the S’s and C’s regularly. As regards Simplicity, I think that if I can’t explain something in a simple way, then it is likely I haven’t understood it properly yet. Stories are also great, and perhaps I could use them even more. What’s good about stories is that they don’t have to be dramatic – the fact that they are in story format make people more likely to remember them. As goes for Concreteness and Credibility – I guess that’s also mostly about doing your background work properly to discover authentic contexts and good examples for your interactions and so forth.

What about the U and E? I definitelyhave some good experiences of adding Unexpectedness and Emotions in my own projects, and I should definitely do this more: Add more unexpected questions and surprising facts, create more examples that awake emotions and remember to appreciate the person in the other end with words that awake positive emotions. Marketers want people to do something, and that’s what we as learning professionals want too.

I’ll be starting Gamification course offered by University of Pennsylvania through so my next post will be about an entirely different topic, gamification.



Information is Beautiful #book Friday


A typical situation in planning eLearning: So much that needs to be said, so little space. Why not create an infograph?

Whereas inventing the graphics may seem as the obvious laborious stage, picking the key facts is also often quite a challenging task. Indeed, infographs are not all about graphics – you do need to spend time on deciding on the most suitable viepoint: Which facts to choose and how to best express them?

When the facts have been decided, we can dig deep into the visuals. This is where David McCandless’ Information is beautiful helps. Not only is it an astonishingly beautiful book, but it is a fabulous resource for anyone who needs ideas for creating infographs. I was especially delighted to find an abundance of extremely simple, yet powerful graphics, such as different sized dots on an xy axis, and plain text with different coloured fonts and font sizes.

All in all, Information is beautiful is great when you need new ideas for crystallizing your key information on one screen – or when you just want to have something extremely beautiful on your coffee table.