I admire and encourage people who can express their creativity with whatever tools are available, but having access to PowerPoint and Clip Art does not make you a learning designer. I have owned a hammer for many years but that doesn’t mean I can build a house. So when a customer asked me to update some materials created by a friend of his family and make them available on-line, diplomatic feedback was required.

The customer operates in a business that is audited regularly for compliance had realised when preparing for an up and coming audit that there were gaps, misinterpretations, or occasionally complete ignorance among staff about a critical compliance issue. Initially the customer couldn’t find the soft copy of the materials, so I went along to meet him to view the printed workbooks which were in an old storeroom in the basement…with hindsight the decision to hide them in the basement was probably a wise one.

  • The workbooks seemed to have been created by someone who felt the need to demonstrate how many fonts and colours were available on their computer.
  • The supporting images can only have been selected by someone suffering from abnormal meaningfulness, they did not connect to the material and served no purpose other than to distract.

Every piece of white space had been filled with a riot of colour and the document could easily have been mistaken for a colouring book issued at a child’s tea party.

I began to look at the content from a learner’s perspective. Why this piece of learning was important, was not clear, and therefore it lacked meaningful goal specific content and contained no opportunity for learners to reflect, or confirm understanding and have recognition of that sense of achievement.

Business outcomes were not defined so learners had no idea of the relevance of the information to their job and the potential consequences of failing to pay attention to these important compliance issues.

Learning is Like Yogurt….it has a use by date

I asked my customer what he thought the problem was with embedding the learning and why these materials and any post learning initiatives had failed to do that. His response was not particularly complimentary to learners; however, he did make one very important point that enabled me to build a compelling case for a complete redesign of the content and that was “the learners haven’t used the knowledge, so they forgot it”.

Learning Design – Avoiding a Pity Party

And so it was that the conversation continued, focusing on why the wall of words in the existing workbooks would have been quick and easy to produce yet had proved to be totally ineffective.

We also discussed the inappropriate clip art images and how decorative graphics serve no real instructional purpose, graphics are not simply eye candy, and how representational visuals are intended to illustrate and support written content photographs of the actual process would have had relevance and context, therefore been meaningful to learners.

The food of progress! Armed with this new understanding about the choices made by instructional designers and how those decisions supported learning the customer was able to see why his existing materials had been ineffective and we were able to avoid having a pity party for those ineffective materials and move forward.

Feedback is the food of progress, sometimes it doesn't taste nice

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Feedback is the food of progress!

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