Our company supplies a full range of e-learning tools and services to corporate and educational customers. Our passion is creativity in learning, and it underpins everything we do.
This strategy was consolidated this year when we consulted with many organisations about the status of rapid e-learning in their businesses. Across the board we found internal development teams were frustrated with time pressures for development, the quantity of content they were being forced to convert to e-learning and the corresponding (or even inevitable) lack of creativity in their courses.
But even with these constraints, rapid e-learning doesn’t have to be template-driven PowerPoint with a multiple choice quiz tagged on the end. It can look good, it can be entertaining and it can work extremely well. But adding creativity to rapid content means a lot more than dipping into some clip art. It's about using techniques that allow creative design to be added to e-learning despite all the pressures that developers are currently experiencing.
In this webinar, I’ll explain and give examples of key techniques that have worked for us, on how to add more creativity to your rapid e-learning.
My presentation is about 40 minutes long, which will leave about 20 minutes for questions and feedback at the end.
I’d like to thank the Learning Skills Group for inviting me to give this webinar.
Also, I’m presenting today by invitation from Mind Click’s partner organisation Kaplan IT.
Kaplan are a major player in the e-learning space and they acquired my previous organisation Atlantic Link earlier this year to add the Atlantic rapid e-learning suite to their portfolio.
So it’s based on my experience of developing and heavily using an enterprise authoring suite that I’ve put together these thoughts on adding creativity to rapid e-learning.
If you would like more information on the Kaplan product suite, there are details here.
So, these are the areas we’ll be looking at today.
I’m going to cover five key areas of creative design.
First we’ll stand back and look at a model for categorising rapid content Based on that model, we’ll then extend it to explore how action mapping can be used to give space for creativity We’ll then look at how and when to add interaction to e-learning
Then we’ll dig into a couple of more practical skills:
We’ll look at creative design for non-designers And finally we’ll explore ideas for writing stories in e-learning to engage with learner emotions.
To summarise at the end, I’ll give you some key do’s and don’t to take away.
I’ll be asking you a few questions throughout this talk to get your feedback and this is the first one.
What holds you back most from being creative when building your rapid e-learning?
If you can type your feedback in the chat window, I’ll wait a few moments and read out the responses.
I hope this slide summarises the responses I’ve just received. As I mentioned at the start, our impression is that creative design has been shoved into a back seat.
This is because of the pressures you’ve mentioned, as well as those shown here. It’s clear that creative design has been sidelined, as efficient authoring software and standardised processes have increased content delivery as a positive outcome but reduced creativity as a clear negative.
Our experience is that learning developers are under immense pressure nowadays to deliver courses quicker and quicker, as management seek to get more and more efficiency out of rapid e-learning.
Also, we’ve had numerous feedback from developers who are frustrated with management who have decreed that rapid e-learning is the de-facto standard for content delivery, regardless of suitability.
The stressed developer is left chasing their tail... Trying to deliver creative solutions against a rigid development model.
Also, we often get asked ‘How do I take my e-learning to the next level?’.
I hope some of the ideas I’m about to go through will help with this situation.
Just a moment. It’s easy to forget the poor learner. What’s the consequence of this situation for them?
Again, from talking with organisations, the learner impression of rapid e-learning is often that it is a dull necessity. Rapid e-learning is seen as a predictable conveyor belt of knowledge that does not engage them. They are being bombarded with information, within which it is hard to pull out the critical application-based material that they need on the job.
They end up looking for ways of skipping through or even not completing courses. We’ve heard that this is a major issue in many organisations. Consequently, return on investment is being questioned.
And so to the first technique to readdress our approach to creative e-learning development. To start with, we need to look at the underlying model for defining what we put in a course. By refining this, we can streamline that amount of content we include in a course in the first place and give more time to add creative design to the critical material.
In essence, what we must try to do is break free of the security blanket of information dump.
The Pareto principle (which actually originates from economics) is being used as a strategy for rapid e-learning development. As we know, the biggest problem we face with content is the pure quantity of it. The principle states that 20% of activities can give 80% of the results.
For example, 20% of salesmen will produce 80% of the sales in an organisation.
So we can begin looking at content with this in mind, by thinking that 20% of the content can potentially achieve 80% of the objectives of the course. This is obviously not a hard and fast rule and will not always apply. However, it’s a change in mind set and a far more pragmatic starting point for rapid development.
So how do we apply this principle to content categorisation of e-learning? Well, hopefully we are all familiar with Bloom’s cognitive skill pyramid of Application, Understanding and Knowledge. This is commonly used to categorise content for learning.
The Application content contains the performance outcomes and key ideas, i.e. the behavioural change that we are trying to achieve. The Understanding and Knowledge is the associated processes, tools, references, and people related information.
By applying the Pareto principle, we can start with the assumption that the Application content is the 20% that will achieve 80% of the objectives.
This mind set is the first step towards more creativity. It’s giving us focus on the critical material and getting us away from information dump.
So let’s look at a worked example of categorising content, based on the approach we’ve just explained. We are designing a course for bank tellers, telling them what to do in the event of a bank robbery.
I’d like your input here. We have a list of content for the course. We also have a list of the content categories I’ve just explained. From the top, what category does the first item belong in? The second? The third? The fourth?
So, this is content categorisation in action. We’ve identified the Application content and we now know where to focus our creativity.
Before we move on, I’ve another question for you.
If you are under pressure to delivery knowledge-based courses, how does this affect the quality of your e-learning?
Please type your thoughts in the chat window.
Ok, once we’ve categorised our content, we then need an efficient and creative way to define activities to support each of the Application-based objectives.
This is where action mapping comes in.
Action mapping is an approach to rapid development that has been promoted by Cathy Moore. There’s a link to Cathy’s blog at the end of this presentation where she explains the approach in more detail than I will here.
Action mapping is focussed on the critical business goals of a course. So the content categorisation exercise we’ve just been through has helped us define these.
There are four steps involved so let’s see how the process works.
The first step is to identify the business goal, i.e. what business change do we want to create? This measurable goal helps you design relevant activities, identify the crucial content, evaluate the success of the project and show how your work supports the business.
2. Next, we identify the actions people need to do to meet the goal. Note that there may be one or more actions for each goal.
3. Then we design a practice activity for each action that a person must do on the job. Each practice activity should mirror the real world as far as possible. So we avoid facts and trivial games as these are not reality!
4. Finally, we identify what people really, really need to know to complete each practice activity. So, if information does not directly support an activity, we don’t include it.
We often use a mind map approach for action mapping as it allows multiple links between different parts. The map that’s created can then be used as a development outline and could even be the course menu.
The benefit of this approach is a set of tightly focussed materials, realistic and compelling activities, no irrelevant information and the course is more likely to have a measurable business impact.
To put action mapping in context, here’s a quick example of a map for a financial training course. We have a goal in the middle, surrounded by actions and activities.
We use Mind Meister to create these maps, which is an online mind mapping tool.
Now we’ll move on to look at adding interaction to e-learning. In particular, what is the best way to add meaningful interaction to a course in a creative way, given the constraints that rapid production places on us?
There are many, many resources and tools available for making e-learning what is often called ‘highly interactive’. So, I’m not going to dwell on what you probably already know. But a quick summary of interaction is probably useful.
First of all, an effective interaction contains four components: Context – which provides the framework the makes the interaction meaningful. Challenge – which is a stimulus to exhibit effective behaviour from the learner. Activity – which is the learner’s response to the context and challenge. Feedback – that provides information about the effectiveness of what the learner did. If one of these components is omitted, the learner will lose focus and not gain the required objective.
The interaction we add should focus on the Application content, that we have discussed already. This allows us to put our creative efforts into the content that really matters.
Next, it’s very tempting to add games, crosswords, drag and drop quizzes, etc to courses. But this approach often leads to interaction without context. They may show off your prowess with an authoring tool but the content will most likely be lost in the mire of technology.
There is no hard and fast rule as to how often to include interaction, but a good measure is every few minutes. This is obviously dependant on the nature of the content.
And if you’re not skilled in creating highly complex interaction, remember that basic interaction coupled with a good story can be as if not more effective.
There is a very good reference to creating interactions at the bottom. This includes a long of list of interaction types and how and when to use them.
One of the hardest decisions is when to include interaction.
Even when you’ve determined the application content for a course, it can still be a skilful exercise to know what content needs what level of interaction.
If we separate interaction from presentation, the factors shown here can help with that process.
Essentially, interactive content should be complex and costly in terms of learner errors. It should also require immediate retrieval on the part of the learner. It will most likely be a change to an existing skill and finally learners should need to differentiate between good and poor performance.
As with categorising content, this approach allows us to put our valuable creative effort in to the interactions that really matter, and not waste it on meaningless and potentially confusing activities.
So we understand what interaction is and when to use it. But how can we use it more creatively and re-engage learners with our courses?
I think a big problem with rapid e-learning is that we don’t link interaction together enough in a course. So I’ve titled this slide Holistic interaction. What I’ve been thinking about is ways to make learners as intrigued about the next page in a course (and in effect the whole course) as the current page. Are there techniques we can use to link interaction together in a more meaningful and holistic way? Can we use techniques like suspense and delayed feedback to increase engagement, improve course completion and retention of information?
So I think this is a more creative approach to developing the interaction in a course.
I’ve come up with a few examples of interaction based on this idea of linkage. I’m sure there are many more.
We have answer reassessment, where a learner is asked a question or rates something at the start of a course and reassesses their opinion later on. We have a branching story, where individual interactions introduce a new part of a story, with decisions to be made that affect progress through the course. A character or agent can be used to link content together, provide feedback, give clues and extra information. They could also ask questions at relevant points – as an alternative to the standard multiple choice quiz. Finally, an investigative approach could be used in, for example, a money laundering course. The learner would be told to spot any suspect activities that could be money laundering. So again, this is an interaction that is constantly available throughout the course.
These ideas don’t necessarily demand more time or skill, just a rethink in the approach to creating interaction – and linking interaction together across the course.
So now to creative design. In particular, this section looks at techniques of design for non-creative people.
Before we delve into creative design, I’d like to know what type of designer you are. We have:
The Nervous wreck – thinks everything is bad and the learner will always be unhappy. The Creative mess – runs many projects simultaneously and has personal creative dreams. The Over-worker – spends a lot of time on small projects and doesn’t know when to stop. Mr average – has basic skills and doesn’t take any risks. The Trend setter – hand picks their projects, has latest software and keeps their skills highly polished. The Copycat – uses others work and claims it is theirs.
Which of these are you? If you fit one of these categories, please type it in the chat window.
Lack of creativity is a real bottle neck for rapid e-learning authors. Often people are highly technically competent but lack real creativity.
We cannot make non-creative people into great designers. Also, good design takes time and costs money, and this doesn’t sit well with the constraints of rapid e-learning.
However, I think we can teach people the principles of ‘design sense’. This is basically the ability to recognise good and bad design. I would hope that you can all recognise the classic design amongst this pair of albums. I know which one I would be proudest of in my collection.
So, here we have an underlying principle of creative design that I find very useful. C R A P is an acronym for a very simple set of graphic design rules. Let’s see an example of this in action.
This is a very poorly laid out screen. It is quite stressful on the eye. Nothing is aligned, the fonts are very similar and the button is floating in space on the right. The eye automatically tries to line things up and the learner is loosing focus on the content.
Here is the same content but now adhering to the design rule.
Contrast simply states that if things are meant to be different, make them different. Note the page title and body text. Repetition is to repeat elements consistently. Notice how I have repeated the company logo at a larger size. Alignment is to arrange elements in correct or relative positions. Notice how everything is aligned up and across the page. Proximity is placing similar elements in a relationship or space. Notice that the begin button is now with the text that describes it.
This is a simple set of rules but if adhered to, it tells the learner that a course has been designed, not just thrown together. On that basis they are far more likely to enjoy and trust the content it contains.
Clip art is often dismissed, and quite rightly so in many cases. However, if you have no scope to create custom graphics they are ways that it can be repurposed for e-learning.
Clip art can be ungrouped, reshaped and re-coloured and so reused in many different ways.
For example, if I was designing a diversity course I could start with these two images.
I can ungroup them and remove the background and unwanted elements.
I can then re-colour, add speech and bring them together.
This is a basic technique and I’m not saying that it should be used as standard. But if budgets and creative skills are in short supply then it can improve the quality and consistency of your output.
So, we’ve looked at a couple of techniques that can be used to improve your creative output.
The final discussion for today is on writing stories for e-learning. A good instructional designer will usually approach content with a story in mind. Stories provide the context and life blood for passing on knowledge. So in this section, we’ll explain about story writing and give a few examples to show how they can add creativity to your e-learning.
A final question for today is this. When was the last time you wrote a hand written letter? Was it weeks, or months, or years? If you could type a response in the chat window I’ll give some feedback.
So why did I ask that? Well I think that creative writing is a bit of a forgotten art. I remember writing long letters home from University. They weren’t a list of facts, they were stories. Not good stories but stories all the same. If we wrote facts in letters no one would read them. People want to be entertained.
The age of email has changed things. We can edit and re-edit, copy, paste and forward. With a letter we had one chance to get it right so we were far more focussed on making it perfect.
So why should we use stories in rapid e-learning?
Stories have many, many benefits to e-learning. Some of them are listed here. We also need to say that it’s not only the learner that benefits from stories... The author will enjoy the experience more and a story-based approach can help with organising content.
Also, storytelling is fast becoming the holy grail of both internal and external communications within large organisations. Advertising for example, has a strong history of highly effective storytelling.
Stories come in many forms, from anecdotes to simple illustrations. The type of story you create will depend on the content, the time you have available, the audience and the culture of the organisation. So have this list in mind when you are working through content as it will help determine the most appropriate technique.
Scenarios are the most commonly used type of story and are quite easy to create. Essentially they are projected stories or stories that occur in the future. Very useful for presenting a dilemma to a learner as part of an interaction and giving feedback.
What about taking stories a step further by carrying them across an entire course. So the course becomes a script and the content to be learnt is slotted in throughout. Let’s think about how a classic film script is put together. There’s a beginning, middle and end with crisis points, tension, a climax and a final resolution. Happy or sad.
It’s an exciting idea but the reality is that we haven’t got the time in a rapid e-learning course to develop a story like this. However, the key to engagement with a film is emotional attachment. We care what happens to people. So, this format is certainly worth keeping at the back of our minds when writing stories.
Why the picture of Britt Ekland in a Scottish croft? Well this is the story of a true story. Reading Thomas the Tank Engine to my kids became a laborious experience after 2 months of reading the same book. So I extended the story to include a story about the author, who’s name was Britt Allcroft. I made up a story of Britt Ekland living in a Scottish croft.
The power of the story is that I still remember this useless fact now.
To finish off I’ve got a number of examples of stories on the subject of managing conflict. So the content is the same but the story type is different. The reason for the film ratings? Well, this is to emphasise that writing stories has similarities to writing for film. But also, I anticipate that the type of writing you will get away with will be dependent on the culture of your organisation. So, let’s start with the U certificate.
This is an example of a metaphor being used to explain how to manage conflict in the workplace.
This example is a scenario. A conflict situation is described and a question is asked.
This is a case study being used to set the scene before more detailed content is presented.
Sorry, but Mary Whitehouse would not allow this level of story. The message here is be cautious of different cultures and backgrounds to avoid offending people when writing your stories.
Before I finish, here are some things to remember and avoid, based on what I’ve covered today.
With content, I would urge you to avoid information dump in your rapid e-learning courses. Investigate some of the ideas I’ve presented to reassess how you categorise and define content.
With interaction, as well as adding interaction at relevant points, also think of ways to link interaction together in a course. Try some of the ideas I’ve suggested and come up with your own novel approaches.
With creative design, remember the tips I gave you but also never underestimate the power of empty space. This is another key component of creative design. It’s a classic case of less is more. Single words or images can be very powerful.
And one final thing to avoid. Today’s authoring tools are extremely powerful but there’s a danger of becoming too focussed on their rich capabilities. Creativity when building e-learning starts with your mind so don’t constrain that process from the outset. Open your mind to different media, films you’ve seen, books you’ve read, experiences you’ve had and your creative output will improve.
There are many, many excellent e-learning blogs now available on creative design for e-learning.
For pragmatic advice on technical authoring skills and content design, I would highly recommend that you subscribe to Gabe Anderson’s and Cathy Moore’s blogs.
Many of the ideas I’ve shown today have come from these two resources. I’m sure you can find many more that will fill gaps in your knowledge or help you work through road blocks when designing content.
Thank you very much for listening today and thanks again to the Learning Skills Group for facilitating this session and for Kaplan IT for inviting me to give this talk.
I’m happy to take questions and comments.
Adding creativity to e-learning webinar
Dr Richard Hyde
Collaborative rapid authoring suite
Systems training import
Sound, video and image editing
Content manageable Flash interactions
What am I talking about?
A model for categorising rapid content
Action mapping to give space for creativity
Adding interaction that sticks
Creative design for non-designers
Writing stories that engage learner emotions
3 things to remember and 1 to avoid
Ask the audience...
What holds you back most from
being creative when building
your rapid e-learning?
What are developers thinking?
learning is the
How do I take
my courses to
What are learners thinking?
How can I
do I actually
Avoiding the security blanket of
Retrieval of information to solve
problems, make connections & apply
to practical situations
Retrieval of information & restating
in own words
Retrieval of information but not
outcomes & key
steps & procedures
Tools, references &
Example: Pareto principle
A course to train bank tellers
what to do in the event of a
Example: Pareto principle
How to prepare an incident report
How to stay calm
How to use the reference guide to
report the incident
Who to call or report to if you notice
How to assess potential bank robbers
How to call the police
How to trigger the alarm
How to help customers stay calm
What the bank insurance covers in this
type of incident
How to make sure everyone is safe,
outcomes & key ideas
steps & procedures
Tools, references &
Ask the audience...
If you are under pressure to
courses, how does this affect
the quality of your e-learning?
Making learners as intrigued about the next
page as the current page
Contain: context > challenge > activity > feedback
Focus on the application content
Test the learner’s brain not your competence with an
Include interaction every few minutes
Basic tools, storytelling, creativity and imagination
are as effective as games and flashy effects
When to use interaction?
Use interaction when...
Content is complex and difficult to
Errors are costly or difficult to remedy
Information needs to be internalised
Change to existing skill is major and
Learners need to differentiate
between good and poor performance
Use presentation when...
Content is readily understood by
Errors are harmless
Information is available for late
retrieval and reference
Change to existing skill is minor and
can be achieved without practice
Learners can differentiate between
good and poor performance
Linking interaction together
Make learners as intrigued about the next page as
the current page
Better course completion
Examples: Holistic interaction
At the start, you thought
you were an effective
communicator. What do
you think now?
You have to make a critical
purchasing decision. You
need to justify this decision
to the board. What would
you do first?
Answer reassessment Branching story
Do you need help with
that? I think I know what
you are trying to do.
Was there anything wrong
with that transaction?
Character / agent
Managing conflict: metaphor
We are all different. With our own
values, opinions and cultures.
Together, our differences can help
to build a great team. A team
where we draw on our individual
strengths, complement each other,
and share in our motivation.
Just like one, big, happy family.
At least, that’s the theory...
Managing conflict: scenario
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
You chose Bob and Tanya for this
project team because they usually
work so well together. Poles apart in
their strengths and personalities,
they somehow just seem to fit.
But it’s different this time. Relations
seem frosty and it’s affecting
everyone’s morale. Soon, your
business critical project will start to
What do you do now?
Managing conflict: case study
Kate Young had been verbally abused by
another manager for 6 months.
Close to a nervous breakdown, she took a
month off work.
When she returned she was determined to
meet the problem head on.
But she didn’t. She is now on long term
This is why we train you on how to manage
conflict in the workplace.