I must be in a bad mood — or maybe I’ve been unlucky in clinking on links — but this graphic is horrifying. Indeed, it’s so obviously flawed that I’m not even going to point out it’s most glaring problem. You decide!

One more editorial comment before the big reveal:  Why, why, why is the gloriously noble and important field of learning besieged by such crap!!!!













Why is the goal of a learning-focused game, “fun?”

Somebody sent me a link to a YouTube video today — a video created to explain to laypeople what instructional design is. Most of it was reasonable, until it gave the following example, narrated as follows:

“… and testing is created to clear up confusion and make sure learners got it right.”

Something is obviously wrong here — something an instructional designer ought to know. What is it?

Scroll down for the answer…

Before you scroll down, come up with your own answer…














The test question is devoid of real-world context. Instead of asking a text-based question, we could provide an image and ask them to point to the access panel.

Better yet, we could have them work on a simulated real-world task and follow steps that would enable them to complete the simulated task only if they used the access panel as part of their task completion.

Better yet, we could have them work on an actual real-world task… et cetera…

Better yet, we might first ask ourselves whether anybody really needs to “LEARN” where the access panel is — or would they just find it on their own without being trained or tested on it?

Better yet, we might first ask ourselves whether we really need a course in the first place. Maybe we’d be better off to create a performance-support tool that would take them through troubleshooting steps — with zero or very little training required.

Better yet, we might first ask ourselves whether we could design our equipment so that technicians don’t need training or performance support.




Or we could ask ourselves existential questions about the meaning and potency of instructional design, about whether a career devoted to helping people learn work skills is worthy to be our life’s work…

Or we could just get back to work and crank out that test…




For years I've been telling clients they ought to use more video in their learning programs, especially their elearning offerings. My arguments have been as follows:

  1. People react to well-crafted videos and audio with increased attention.
  2. The storytelling often inherent in video is powerfully seductive.
  3. Video is now fairly cheap; you don't necessarily need high production values, expensive equipment, or professional help.
  4. Nothing persuades our learners better than seeing real people who are like them — giving testimony, telling their stories, giving their lessons learned.
  5. Video can utilize scenario-based decision making, which we know from the learning research is a powerful tool to support comprehension and remembering.
  6. More and more of our learners are everyday video watchers; their expectations for media consumption are more visual, less textual.

Video is the New Text

Today's headlines hint that video on the internet is the number one draw. Certainly, some of these are silly cat videos, but now serious sources are turning to videos. Take for example the TED videos, the New York Times, The Economist. Even National Public Radio (whose life blood flows through a non-visual medium) has a YouTube channel!

Video is here to stay. As of this day in 2015, more and more elearning is utilizing good video; but still more can be done. Still too many instructional designers don't have video skills or even knowledge. Still too many opportunities are lost for getting employees on video telling their stories and lessons learned. Still too few scenario-based decisions are wrapped in a video context.

But Isn't Video Hard to Do?

It's NOT easier than writing text, especially since most of us have more text-writing experience than video-creation experience. But it's not that hard and it doesn't have to be expensive.

My confession is that even while I was imploring my clients to use video, I rarely used it. So, six years ago I began to learn about video. I put in some time to learn it. I bought myself video equipment. I produced a few videos. Here's a sampling:

I still don't do very many videos. As a consultant I can't really afford to take the time, but I create them occasionally because of the value they provide. 

If you think you can't do video, check out the second video I ever produced (the last one on the list). As an on-screen presence, I was terrible, but overall the video is pretty good.

My List of Equipment:

So you can learn from my consumer research, here is the list of video equipment I use in my videos.

  • Consumer HD video camcorder. NOT a professional video camera. About 7 years old, so not the latest technology.
  • Inexpensive wireless microphone. (something like this)
  • Inexpensive tripod (something like this)
  • Inexpensive lighting (something like this, and this)
  • Inexpensive video-editing software (like this)
  • Inexpensive audio-editing software (like that included in most video-editing software).

I also endeavor to use some aesthetic sensibilities; developed over the years regarding audio, music, visuals, cinematography, etc. based on who knows what (going to art museums, listening to music, playing music as a kid, observing the craft while watching videos, movies, TV, etc.). I really don't know what I know or what I lack, but I do know that some aesthetic sensibility is important. I also know that real video pros have more of this than I do…so there are definite advantages to getting help from the pros.

One of my mentors in video production is Jason Fararooei of Yellow Cape Communications. I first met him at an ISPI conference where he talked about how he and his team created a video for a client learning engagement. I liked his thoughtful approach to the aesthetics and potency of video. I'm pretty sure the following video is from the talk I saw him give:

Jason's in the business of creating videos, so my videos certainly don't come up to his standards, but he does seem mindful that shooting on a budget can still produce good results. Here he talks about recording a conference session, but the idea can be used for recording short snippets from training as well.

Video IS the New Text…Sometimes

I don't really think that video will replace text, but it will replace some text. And remember this. In evaluating video vs. text, you can't just look at the costs. It's the cost/benefit that matters. In some sense you may have to do a comparison like the following (note the numbers are pulled from thin air as examples):

  • TEXT PASSAGE that only 20 out of 100 people read.
  • VIDEO SHORT that 70 out of 100 people view.

Your numbers will vary…but the point should be clear. Where video gets more eyeballs and more mathemagenic processing (learning-generating processing), it may be worth the extra investment.

Many times, you and your team will be able to create the video. Sometimes you'll have to get help from a professional.

Large organizations, or vendors who produce lots of instruction, should consider developing video capability in-house.

For all of us who call ourselves instructional designers, we ought to dive in and learn some video skills. If I can do it, you can too!

Dr. T, What Are You Thinking?

And, just to avoid 100 snippy comments, let me anticipate your next question…Hey, Dr. T, why did you use TEXT here, NOT VIDEO?

Roll the credits…SMILE









I just read the following research article, and found a great mini-review of some essential research.

  • Hagemans, M. G., van der Meij, H., & de Jong, T. (2013). The effects of a concept map-based support tool on simulation-based inquiry learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(1), 1-24. doi:10.1037/a0029433

Experiment-Specific Findings:

The article shows that simulations—the kind that ask learners to navigate through the simulation on their own—are more beneficial when learners are supported in their simulation playing. Specifically, they found that learners given the optimal learning route did better than those supplied with a sub-optimal learning route. They also found that concept maps helped the learners by supporting their comprehension. They also found that learners who got feedback on the correctness of their practice attempts were motivated to correct their errors and thus provided themselves with additional practice.

Researchers’ Review of Learners’ Poor Learning Strategies

The research Hagemans, van der Meij, and de Jong did is good, but what struck me as even more relevant for you as a learning professional is their mini review of research that shows that learners are NOT very good stewards of their own learning. Here is what their mini-review said (from Hagemans, van der Meij, and de Jong, 2013, p. 2:

  • Despite the importance of planning for learning, few students engage spontaneously in planning activities (Manlove & Lazonder, 2004).  
  • Novices are especially prone to failure to engage in planning prior to their efforts to learn (Zimmerman, 2002).  
  • When students do engage in planning their learning, they often experience difficulty in adequately performing the activities involved (de Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998; Quintana et al., 2004). For example, they do not thoroughly analyze the task or problem they need to solve (Chi, Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981; Veenman, Elshout, & Meijer, 1997) and tend to act immediately (Ge & Land, 2003; Veenman et al., 1997), even when a more thorough analysis would actually help them to build a detailed plan for learning (Veenman, Elshout, & Busato, 1994).  
  • The learning goals they set are often of low quality, tending to be nonspecific and distal (Zimmerman, 1998).
  • In addition, many students fail to set up a detailed plan for learning, whereas if they do create a plan, it is often poorly constructed (Manlove et al., 2007). That is, students often plan their learning in a nonsystematic way, which may cause them to start floundering (de Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998), or they plan on the basis of what they must do next as they proceed, which leads to the creation of ad hoc plans in which they respond to the realization of a current need (Manlove & Lazonder, 2004).  
  • The lack of proper planning for learning may cause students to miss out on experiencing critical moments of inquiry, and their investigations may lack systematicity.
  • Many students also have problems with monitoring their progress, in that they have difficulty in reflecting on what has already been done (de Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998).
  • Regarding monitoring of understanding, students often do not know when they have comprehended the subject matter material adequately (Ertmer & Newby, 1996; Thiede, Anderson, & Therriault, 2003) and have difficulty recognizing breakdowns in their understanding (Ertmer & Newby, 1996).
  • If students do recognize deficits in their understanding, they have difficulty in expressing explicitly what they do not understand (Manlove & Lazonder, 2004).
  • One consequence is that students tend to overestimate their level of success, which may result in “misplaced optimism, substantial understudying, and, ultimately, low test scores” (Zimmerman, 1998, p. 9).

The research article is available by clicking here.

Final Thoughts

This research, and other research I have studied over the years, shows that we CANNOT ALWAYS TRUST THAT OUR LEARNERS WILL KNOW HOW TO LEARN. We as instructional designers have to design learning environments that support learners in learning. We need to know the kinds of learning situations where our learners are likely to succeed and those where they are likely to fail without additional scaffolding.

The research also shows, more specifically, that inquiry-based simulation environments can be powerful learning tools, but ONLY if we provide the learners with guidance and/or scaffolding that enables them to be successful. Certainly, some few may succeed without support, but most will act suboptimally.

We have a responsibility to help our learners. We can't always put it on them…

Who is better at crafting an instructional message about science, scientists or instructional designers?

I say we instructional designers SHOULD be able to do a better job, so I'm encouraging YOU, my colleagues, to give Alan Alda's Flame Challenge a try.

Here's Alda's challenge:

"We’re asking scientists to answer the question – “What is a flame?” – in a way that an 11-year-old would find intelligible and maybe even fun."

You can read the full challenge by clicking here.

The deadline is April 2nd, so you better get moving!!

To see what you're up against, consider the content, which you can find, for example, on Wikipedia, under the entry for flame.

Some thoughts on how to be successful:

  1. Consider pairing with an actual scientist (it's not really us against the SME's!)
  2. Use adult learning principles, but not in the stupid, static, uncreative way most of us use them on adults, which is pretty ineffective for adults too. SMILE.
  3. Realize that if you really want to win, you may actually have to craft your piece in a way that won't really do all the things that we'd like to do as instructional designers. For example, where we know extra spaced practice would be good, those who judge the contest may not understand all that.
  4. Utilize multimedia and visually beautiful images.
  5. Utilize language that, like a flame, (a) illuminates, (b) produces emotional heat, (c) and mesmerizes attention.

Good Luck Instructional-Design Team!!