Learning Academy Blog

Articulate Storyline Training: Text Variables In Action

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Fri, Jul 1,2016


In the previous Articulate Storylline training blog post, I explained what Storyline variables are and why they are so important. I also wrote about the three types of variables available for you to use.

In this blog post, there's a video which takes a look at an example of creating one of these three types of variables – a text variable: 

In summary, then, variables give you the power and flexibility to start thinking about how you can link you design across an entire course and break free of the restrictions of just designing on a slide-by-slide basis.


If you’d like to discover 10 things you probably didn’t know about using Storyline, you can get a free copy of his short guide: Storyline Top Tips and Techniques.


This video was first published as part of an article on the Training Zone website.

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Topics: e-learning, e-learning software

Articulate Storyline Training: Variables Explained - Storyline's 'Secret Weapon'

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Wed, Jun 22,2016


In this next Articulate Soryline training blog post, we are going to focus on variables. If you were thinking about buying Storyline and trawled the Articulate website for product information about Storyline and its features, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a passing reference to variables.

In some ways, this is not surprising. They are invisible to the learners (so don’t make for very glossy website visuals). They are a little bit abstract (not an easy thing for light and fluffy marketing types to get their heads around). And learning to use them takes a bit of concentration and effort (not exactly a great sell if you’re trying to persuade prospective clients that creating e-learning is quick and easy).

Which is a pity. Because one of Storyline’s greatest assets barely gets a mention most of the time.

Why variables are so important

So what are these things called variables? Before I explain that it’s worth mentioning why they might be so spectacularly useful and important.

 Most of what people focus on when they are creating e-learning with Storyline happens at slide level.

 In other words, you are using tools and features to control elements on a specific, individual slide. Of course, this is really important. The more functionality and control you have over what happens on an individual slide (or one of its layers) the better.

But imagine if you want to control what happens between slides. What about if your instructional design thinking is moving beyond a slide-by-slide focus. What about if you want to design your course in such a way that what a learner does on slide 5 has an impact on what they can do or what they can see on slide 25, for example?

This is where variables come into their own. Because variables operate at a global level within your Storyline course. They are available to you at any point in your course from any slide. 

Variables explained

So what are they exactly? Well, first of all, there are three types: text; number and true/ false. Think of the first two as containers and the third as a switch you can flick on and off.

As the name suggests, text variables allow you to store and retrieve a piece of text the learners type into it. Number variables allow you to store and retrieve a number or changing numbers that are relevant to your course. True/False variables can be set to equal one of two different values. It will come as no great shock to discover that the values you can switch between are (you guessed it) true and false!

If this is all still a bit, too conceptual for you, let’s take a look at a simple example of how you might use each one. 

Text variables in action

Let’s start with text variables. We all love it when something is “all about us”. Making something about us – personalisation – always goes down well. This is just as true for a piece of learning as for anything.

So a text variable is a great way to personalise your piece of learning. First you create your text variable and give it a name. At the start of a course, you can ask learners to type their name into a special text field. This automatically stores whatever name they type in the field inside the text variable you created.

While the course is running, this piece of text (in this example, the learners’ name) is available to you at any time on any slide – you just need to retrieve it.

So, for example, instead of an instruction on a screen saying, “Please select the best response”, it could say “Debbie, please select the best response” (assuming Debbie was the learner’s name).

When you create the text box with this instruction in it, you would just make sure you insert the name of your text variable at the start of the sentence. This way, you are telling Storyline to retrieve what’s stored in that variable and display it at the start of the sentence. 

This means you could pepper your course with personalised references to the learner using the learner name stored in the variable. Note that once the course is finished, the name stored in the variable is lost, so if the learner returned to the course a second time, they would have to type their name again at the very beginning. 

Number variables in action

Similarly, number variables can store a number, retrieve it and display it at any point. You can also add, subtract, divide and multiply any numbers stored in your number variable.

So you might, for example, want to keep track of the number of times a learner clicks on a particular button on a slide and when they reach a pre-defined number of clicks either show them a specific piece of content on that slide or take them to another slide. 

True/false variables in action

Finally, as previously mentioned, true/false variables act as a kind of switch. You can choose to start the ‘switch’ at either true or false. When the learner does something (like click on a button) you could set their action to flick the ‘switch’ to the opposite of its starting point (i.e. from false to true or from true to false).

When the learner reaches a slide later in the course, you might decide to show one piece of content on the slide if the variable ‘switch’ is set to false and a different piece of content if the variable ‘switch’ has been flicked to true.

In conclusion

In summary, then, variables give you the power and flexibility to start thinking about how you can link you design across an entire course and break free of the restrictions of just designing on a slide-by-slide basis.


If you’d like to discover 10 things you probably didn’t know about using Storyline, you can get a free copy of his short guide: Storyline Top Tips and Techniques.


This article was first published on the Training Zone website.

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Topics: e-learning, e-learning software

Articulate Storyline Training: Masters and Layouts In Action

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Wed, Jun 8,2016


In the previous post on this blog about Articulate Storyline training, I wrote about Storyline masters and layouts, their uses and how they are different from templates.

There's also a short video to help explain the concept.

Below you can watch another short video showing masters and layouts in action:



If you'd like to watch more short videos providing training on Articulate's Storyline application, go to our YouTube channel.


This video first appeared as part of an article on the Training Zone  website.

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Topics: e-learning, e-learning software

Articulate Storyline Training: Masters and Layouts Explained

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Thu, Jun 2,2016


Many people are familiar with the idea of a software template. This is a great way of providing some pre-existing structure for the creation of documents, PowerPoint presentations or pieces of e-learning.

And like many authoring tools, Storyline has template functionality, allowing you to create a high degree of consistency in how your courses look and function. In short, templates get plenty of attention – for very good reasons. 

However, software features that get lots of attention aren’t necessarily the only (or the best) way to achieve your goals. Many people using templates might be better off using a Storyline feature which tends to be overshadowed by templates: namely masters and layouts. 

Spot the difference

So what’s the difference between the two features and why would you bother with masters and layouts when you’ve already got templates to help you.

The key thing to remember about a Storyline template? It’s a way to save and share ALL elements of a Storyline project. When you decide to save a project (large or small) as a template, absolutely every element of that project is saved within the template – not only content, but also things like triggers, navigation, variables etc.

So you would use a template when you want to save the exact structure and functionality of your project. When you want to lock-down design and restrict flexibility. When you want to provide a complete course blueprint that others can work from. In short, templates are an easy and robust way of sharing a complete project and all its elements.

But what about if you like the idea of being able to create some time-saving consistency, but still need a reasonable degree of flexibility in how you create and populate slides within your project.

If this sounds like your goal, then masters and layouts may well be a better option for you than a template.

Masters and layouts explained

You’ve probably heard of a master slide and may already be clear about it’s function. But its likely you’ll be less clear about layouts and their function. So before we go any further here’s a quick video for you to watch explaining exactly what masters and layouts are all about. 




As you will have gathered from the video above, a master slide and its associated layouts provide an easy way to consistently set the placement of slide content and then apply it to selected slides within your course.

Let’s just take a minute to review masters slides first, followed by layouts

All about master slides

Master slides are great for any global content that needs to appear on every slide in your course. A master slide can save you going through your course and manually putting the same pieces of content onto every slide. And because the content on a master slide is managed centrally, the placement of that content will be precise and consistent throughout your course.

So master slides are extremely useful, but a little bit limiting. The reason for this? There is probably not that much identical content that will need to appear on every single slide of your course.

However, it’s quite likely that you will have quite a bit of identical content that does need to appear on certain individual slides, say, or all the slides in a specific scene. 

All about layouts

That’s why you can add layouts below your master slide. The real power of the master slide comes with its associated layouts. Layouts give you targeted control over and flexibility with the content that needs to appear on a given individual slide or slides in a scene.

It should come as no surprise, then that planning is the key to success with both masters and layouts. To get their real benefit, you need to have your course well planned out in advance, so you are clear from the word go which pieces of content will consistently need to appear where.

Some extra points to remember

There are a couple of other important points to make here. The first is that masters and layouts are not just about the consistent placement of content. You can also add triggers to the content on your masters and layouts making this functionality available on selected slides as well.

The second point is about the flexibility I mentioned earlier. Even when you have applied a master or layout to a slide, you can still add more content, triggers or layers to that individual slide.

So you’ll often end up with individual slides which are a flexible combination of preformatted content and triggers drawn from a master and its layouts and content and triggers which are specific to just that individual slide.

In summary, if what you need is flexibility and creativity and not the locked-down, restrictive approach that templates are designed to achieve, then masters and layouts are likely to be for you.


If you’d like to discover 10 things you probably didn’t know about using Storyline, you can get a free copy of his short guide: Storyline Top Tips and Techniques.


This article first appeared on the Training Zone website.

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Topics: e-learning, e-learning software

Custom E-Learning Design: Is Your Authoring Tool Holding You Back?

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Thu, May 26,2016



Increasingly, if you are working in a learning and development role associated with designing and developing e-learning, you’ll probably be expected to have some ability in using an authoring tool.

This should be good a thing. It increases your overall skill set and more important, it enables you to create more effective learning for your learners.

But what about if this isn’t what is happening. What about if your e-learning authoring tool is actually holding you back?

This might seem like an odd question to ask. Surely an ability to use an authoring tool will mean you are creating really effective e-learning. Not necessarily.

First, it’s your instructional design skills that should determine the effectiveness and quality of the e-learning you create.

But what about if you are not going down the road your instructional design leads you because you find yourself thinking, “No point in doing that because I’ve no idea how to implement it in my authoring tool. Better stick with a less ambitious design because I know how to do that.”

Hey presto, before you know it, your authoring tool is most definitely holding you back. The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way.

The problem with legacy authoring tools

Going back 10 or 15 years, most easy-to-use authoring tools were so limited in their functionality, they really restricted truly creative instructional design thinking.

Only if you were lucky enough to work in an organisation with a massive budget for creating e-learning and unrestricted access to programmers could you really pull off much that was original or really effective.

This is one of the key reasons we have had years of deathly boring e-learning. Lots of slides with dense text and stock photos. A Back and Next button applied to each slide – and not much else.

The emerging new breed of tools

Fortunately, the world of authoring tools is changing. While there are still far too many rubbish ones out there, we are seeing a new breed emerge. Much more powerful. Fantastic functionality. Much fewer limits on what you can achieve with your e-learning.

So here’s the rub. Lots of people using one of these new style of authoring tools don’t really know about some of the more powerful features available to them. Instead they are still churning out e-learning, barely removed from the deathly dull variety just described above.

What a pity! This is like owning a Porsche and only ever driving it around your local neighbourhood at about 20 miles an hour.

Getting the most from your authoring tool

So what’s the solution? Well, it’s twofold. First, you really need to make sure your instructional design thinking is up-to-date and fit for creating e-learning that is more focused on delivering practice of skills, than delivering screens of knowledge.

And, by the way, if you need some help with this, you can download a free 12 page guide to creating boredom-busting e-learning here.

Second, it’s time to up your game and start learning about the more powerful features of your authoring tool.

To help you with this, I’ll be writing three more articles focused around one of the most popular of this new breed of authoring tool, Articulate’s Storyline.

Why focus on Storyline?

Why the focus on Storyline? It may not be absolutely the most sophisticated and capable of all the tools out there, but it does offer a great balance between being relatively easy to learn and achieving well above average functionality and interaction.

In each of the articles that follow this one, I’ll be focusing on a different Storyline feature. Features that you’ve quite possibly heard of or maybe even used a little.

But you may not be aware of their real power and how they can help you create much more effective e-learning. Features which can really help liberate your instructional design thinking and save your learners from the boredom of endless knowledge presentation.

The best bit of all this? Once you feel confident in your ability to get your authoring tool to implement your instructional design ideas, it really will be your instructional design thinking that drives your development and not your authoring tool.

This will almost certainly make your role as an instructional designer more interesting and satisfying. It will also turn you into an e-learning hero in the eyes of your learners. Don’t underestimate how much they will thank you for NOT making them sit through hours and hours of dull, sleep-inducing e-learning!


If you’d like to discover 10 things you probably didn’t know about using Storyline, you can get a free copy of his short guide: Storyline Top Tips and Techniques.


This article first appeared on the Training Zone website.

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Topics: Course Design, e-learning

Will Convergence Finally Kill Off E-Learning?

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Tue, Sep 17,2013

House of CardsI've recently been watching the much-praised series House of Cards produced by and starring Kevin Spacey. I was a big fan of the original BBC series and I think he's done a great job of adapting the story for the American political landscape.

Spacey has also been in the news recently with his keynote address to the Edinburgh TV Festival. His main focus was encouraging new talent and innovation in the media world, but in talking about this, he made some observations that are as pertinent to the world of learning as they are to the world of the media luvvies.

A couple of months ago I wrote an article about mobile learning for the TrainingZone website. My main point: despite all the hype from the vested interests (desperate to flog you their products and make their big investment gamble pay off), very few people are actually doing anything with mobile learning.
Related to this, I also noted that it's become rather difficult these days to even define mobile learning given the blurring that's going on between different types of device.

I've also written previously about how, in general, learning and development folk tend to obsess about delivery mediums and devices and not enough about instructional design the effectiveness of learning. How we get distracted by the technology. How we tend to see learning in silos.

So my ears pricked up and my attention was immediately grabbed, when I saw this clip from Spacey's speech featured on TV (the bold text is mine, the block capitals are Spacey's):

"One way that our industry might fail to adapt to the continually shifting sands is to keep a dogmatic differentiation in their minds between various media - separating FILM and TV and MINI-SERIES and WEBISODES and however else you might want to label narrative formats.

It's like when I'm working in front of a camera…that camera doesn't know if it's a film camera or a TV camera or a streaming camera. It's just a camera. I predict that in the next decade or two, any differentiation between these formats - these platforms - will fall away".

In the early 1990s, I remember reading Nicholas Negroponte's The Media Lab. At the time, it was revolutionary stuff. Most of what he was predicting back then felt like science fiction - most of it has now come true, of course. But his big idea was convergence. This was the idea that separate technologies like TV, radio and computers would all eventually blur together into a massive multi-media whole.

Negreponte saw it all happening within a 10 year timespan. That was a bit optimistic. It's still a work in progress and as Spacey suggests, will probably take another decade of two. But coming it is.

So what would convergence mean for e-learning in particular and learning and development in general. Well, the death of silo thinking, I suspect. As the distinctions between the technology and devices we use to create and access learning become more and more blurred, I think the labels we currently use will become less and less significant or meaningful.

This will be a painful shift. Plenty of people who have made plenty of money from the old ways of thinking will almost certainly resist convergence for as long as they can. People who use the old-style technologies will be equally reluctant to take on board a whole new way of doing things.

And it won't be straightforward, either. As far as I can see, convergence in the media world will be a lot easier to achieve than in learning and development. Thinking about the learner experience in a world of convergence will be complex.

But in the end, I suspect, it will be the learners themselves who will demand this change. As convergence becomes more and more normal in many other aspects of their lives, they simply won't put up with learning that is still packaged into silos.

Towards the end of his speech, Spacey makes the following observation (the bold text is mine, the block capitals are Spacey's):

"Is 13 hours watched as one cinematic whole really different than a FILM? Do we define film by being something two hours or less? Surely it goes deeper than that. If you are watching a film on your television, is it no longer a film because you're not watching it in the theatre? If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant. The labels are useless - except perhaps to agents and managers and lawyers who use these labels to conduct business deals. For kids growing up now there's no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game of Thrones on their computer. It's all CONTENT".

I couldn't agree more. For all of us in learning and development, in the end, it's all LEARNING.
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Topics: e-learning

The 80/20 Principle and UK Articulate Storyline Training

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Tue, Sep 10,2013

80/20What is the 80/20 Principle exactly? Well the concept of 80/20 is based on the work of Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto done in the late 1890s. It was popularised in the 80s by author Richard Koch with his book The 80/20 Principle.

80/20 is about almost invisible divisions or patterns that exist in most things. It's based on the idea that 80 per cent of results flow from just 20 percent of causes. If you start to identify these patterns and their significance, 80/20 can help you to focus in on what's really important and not worry so much about the rest.

So how does it work, practically? Let's take the example of learning a piece of software - specifically learning an e-learning authoring tool like Articulate Storyline. Typically, when we're faced with the prospect of using a new piece of software like this, we can feel rather daunted. So much to learn, so little time to learn it, as the saying goes.

In other words, we tend to look at the whole and convince ourselves we will only be truly competent when we know everything there is to know about the software.  And a good many people will beat themselves up about not knowing all the features well enough.

Equally, many managers and supervisors love to peddle this thinking and terrorise people over their inability to be good at absolutely everything in the software. Only when you reach perfection, their thinking seems to go, will you be considered a worthy employee.

80/20 thinking, by contrast, is much more pragmatic and quite counter-intuitive. It's starting point is that aiming for the 100% is a terrible waste of your time and energy. You'll definitely burn yourself out in the quest for perfection. And you almost certainly won't get the best result approaching things this way.

Much better to identify the significant 20% and focus more of your effort on that. By definition, this significant 20% ensures you will get a better return on your efforts. And by the way, the division doesn't have to be exactly 80/20. It'll depend very much on what you are looking at. Your 80/20 could be as much as 60/40 at one end of the scale or as little as 95/5 at the other end.

And in case you're wondering, this is not an excuse for sloppiness. It's about the smart allocation of time and resources. When you focus on the significant 20%, you do it to the absolute best of your ability and give it your all - in recognition of the fact that this is where your time and energy is best directed.

So back to learning Storyline. Where does this leave us? Well it means that the way we conventionally think about learning software is guaranteed to lead to heartache and strife. Typically, we think we should start at the beginning and work our way through from beginner to advanced.

Applying 80/20 thinking, however, paints a very different picture. It highlights the fact that we only use about 20% of the authoring tool's features to produce about 80% of the results. In other words we only need to be really proficient in a relatively small number of key features that we use over and over again to get most of the results

For the remaining 80% of the features (that only bring us 20% of the results), we should take a much more pragmatic approach. Because we use those features infrequently, we should be prepared to use a 'just in time', performance support-style approach to using them.

So, in fact, you don't need to spend 5 days of training, learning every last detail of your new authoring tool. You will have forgotten all those cool, obscure features by the time you come to use them, anyway.

Much better to get really proficient at the 20% you'll use over and over and worry about the rest as and when you need it. By the way, for an authoring tool like Storyline, I'd estimate it's more like a 70/30 division - but as I mentioned earlier, the principle remains true regardless of the actual percentages.

And doesn't that feel good? No need to beat yourself up about all the things you can't do. Instead revel in the fact that you are now highly productive, because you have become super-efficient and effective at using those features that really deliver the most bang for your buck.

If you've got a bit of time of the next few weeks, I can't recommend Koch's book highly enough. And of course you can apply 80/20 to reading it, - Koch encourages you to do this, by the way.

No need to read the book from cover-to-cover. Identify the chapters or parts of chapters that you think will deliver you the most benefit and focus in on those.

In times gone by I have heard some people wax lyrical about 80/20 and others rant about how stupid it is - hence my Marmite nickname for it. In my experience it rings true and provides an elegantly simple solution to how best to allocate your time and effort. And although it divides opinion, I've heard far more people praise it that damn it. So I guess the 80/20 principle applies to the division of opinions about it too.

Storyline Productivity Fast TrackIf you are in the UK and you want some Articulate Storyline training and you can see the benefits of applying 80/20 to that task, check out our 80/20 Productivity Fast Track courses. We guarantee not to teach you every last detail of Storyline!
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Topics: e-learning, e-learning, e-learning software, e-learning software

E Learning Design: Lessons from Breaking Bad

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Tue, Sep 3,2013

test tubeGreat excitement and anticipation recently, as Netflix started to show the last 8 episodes of the US TV drama series Breaking Bad.

If you're a fan of this award-winning series, you'll have followed Walter White's epic journey from high school chemistry teacher to creepy drug kingpin who 'cooks' the best crystal meth known to mankind.  The creator of the series Vince Gilligan describes this as a journey from 'Mr Chips to Scarface'.

I've been a fan from the very first episode. And I'm sure, fellow fanatics reading this, can't wait to discover how the series finally twists and turns to its conclusion.

If you've never even heard of Breaking Bad and you enjoy quality TV drama, then I'd encourage you to check it out. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.

And if you are already wondering what on earth any of this has to do with e-learning and instructional design, then let me explain.

Like any good Breaking Bad fan, while I was watching the last batch of episodes on DVD, I just had to look at all the special features, too. The first one that caught my eye was called The Writer's Room.

And how interesting it turned out to be. Apparently, on average, it takes a team of writers around three weeks to hatch an episode of this series.

I'll just repeat that, in case it didn't sink it the first time. It takes approximately 8 people, 3 weeks to come up with just the outline for 45-50 minutes of television drama.

The actual writing of that episode takes another 7 days or so. And the filming of the episode takes about 15 days.

I have no idea how this compares to other TV series, but it  really highlights how  creating a quality product is a major task.

But most striking of all? The three weeks it takes to work out what is going to happen in the episode. And this is just working out the plot. Satisfying yourself that you are creating credible actions and reactions for the various characters involved.

Of course, I couldn't help but draw some comparisons with how people typically go about creating a piece of e-learning.

For a single episode of Breaking Bad, in very rough percentage terms, that three weeks of creating the plot ( effectively the instructional design equivalent of analysis and design)  accounts for about 45% of the total development time. That's pretty astonishing.

Try selling that percentage of analysis and design time to an e-learning client, internal or external. Chances are you'll be laughed out of the room.

Very few people would be happy to accept that percentage of a project's time devoted to analysis and design.

Of course, plotting out a TV series is not the same as doing the analysis and design for a piece of e-learning. For e-learning, you probably don't need 45% of the time devoted to these activities. But you could comfortably spend quite  a bit more time on this stage, percentage-wise, than most people usually do.

So often, skipping over the analysis and design is the norm. Everyone would much rather skip over that and go straight to development.

Which is strange. Because as consumers of TV drama, we all know a poorly plotted film with a crumby script that rushes to production is a disaster.  Yet we are quite happy to live with a poorly designed, badly scripted piece of e-learning that gets rushed to development. With predictable results.

As I wrote last week, as long as we allow authoring tools to frame the e-learning development conversation (and process) we are in trouble. With this approach and mindset, we will be turning out the e-learning equivalent of B-movies or a TV series destined for the afternoon schedules. And we know how embarrassingly bad most of those end-products are.

For the minority, who are willing to get deadly serious about the analysis and design of their e-learning, popular, performance-improving courses are the gratifying end result.

With just a small shift in thinking and approach, more Breaking Bad quality e-learning is perfectly achievable for a lot more people.

storyline courseWant to be a smart user of your authoring tool, making sure you are in control of the e-learning design decisions?  If you are just getting started with Articulate's Storyline authoring tool check out our Storyline Productivity Fast Track training.
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Topics: Instructional Design, e-learning, e-learning, e-learning software

ELearning Design: Analogue Instructional Design in a Digital World

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Tue, Aug 27,2013

computerRecently, I spent some time working with an e-learning development team, who by their own admission, had spent years producing nice-looking, but very boring, page-turning e-learning.

I don't want to knock these guys. They knew they were missing a trick and they were keen and eager to do something about it. And there's no question that after working with them for just a couple of days, they are now much better equipped to produce actual learning - that will have the added bonus of looking good.

But it struck me. Here are people who are totally at home in the digital world, yet their instructional design skills (such as they were) were very definitely of the analogue variety.

This is an extreme version of a scenario, I come across all too often. People acquiring and enhancing their digital skills exponentially, but leaving their instructional design skills (if any) trailing far behind.

Several decades into a brave new world of everything becoming digital, we still seem to be remarkably naive (or hopeful) about software's ability to solve all our learning problems. It's almost as if when we're presented with a piece of software for developing or managing learning, the common sense part of our brain disconnects and we go all gaga.

No need to think. Just follow the steps of the software procedure and all will be well, we seem to think. If only we can get good at using the software, we all delude ourselves, all will be well.

Nowhere is this disconnect more apparent than in the world of e-learning. Yes, you can become a Storyline or Captivate super hero. Yes, you might have mastered variables, layers and states. Yes, you might have found a work around to an obscure software glitch that the developers haven't yet fixed.

But all this blue-caped super-hero-ness comes to nothing if all you are doing is producing sophisticated but vacuous pieces of digital output that your learners would rather not be wasting their time ploughing through.

And I wonder why we are still seduced by the promise of the software. No-one would be daft  enough to believe that being really proficient with a saw, hammer, chisel and screw-driver would be enough to turn you into a master furniture-maker.

Proficiency in using these tools and nothing else, would probably enable you to cobble together some very rudimentary pieces of furniture.

But you would only start creating highly functional and attractive furniture after you had mastered some very different (but nevertheless complementary) design skills.

Creating e-learning is no different. Master your chosen authoring tool all you like. It won't turn you into a designer of truly effective e-learning. It will simply make you a highly-proficient software user.

Master the software and apply some digital-world instructional design skills? Well, then there's potential genius in the making.

As long as software development tools are driving the e-learning conversation, there'll be many a page-turner churned out - to the dismay of your learners.

To finally deliver on the promise of e-learning, means re-aligning and upgrading your instructional design thinking from analogue to the digital.

storyline courseUsing Storyline for your e-learning development? Find out about aligning your instructional design thinking with your Storyline skills.
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Topics: Instructional Design, e-learning, e-learning

Courseware Design: When SME Rockstars Just Don't Rock

Posted by Andrew Jackson on Tue, Aug 20,2013

guitarWe've heard quite a bit in recent weeks about our new 'rockstar' Bank of England Governor, Mark Kearney. Well, today, I have a 'rockstar' story of my own to share with you today. A story about a subject matter expert who was supposed to be the rockstar of his subject matter world. - in this case systems analysis

It was 1997. And there was great excitement all round because this great genius was coming to my university to give a guest lecture. (I was studying for a masters degree in systems analysis at the time).

In the world of systems analysis, he was renowned for thinking outside the box, challenging the conventional wisdom and coming up with innovative solutions to sticky problems.

At the appointed hour, we all shuffled into the huge lecture theatre ready for a memorable 90 minutes.

And it certainly was memorable  - but for all the WRONG reasons. Because after only a couple of minutes, it became painfully clear the 'rockstar' just wasn't going to rock.

He was quiet. Rambling. Obtuse. After about 10 minutes, I was completely lost. No idea about most of what he was saying. Overall, the 'rockstar' was completely oblivious to the needs of his audience. Completely wrapped up in the complexity of his own little world.

And this story is an interesting one, because it's an extreme example of some very flawed thinking: that the smartest person in the room must be the best and only person to teach us the subject, or design the courseware to teach us the subject.

What a big mistake. In most cases, the subject matter expert is almost always the very WORST person to take on either of these roles.

And if you've ever worked your way through a piece of e-learning designed by an SME, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Yet in the worlds of both business and academia, the thinking seems to be that your brain simply can't fail to benefit from being exposed to another brain that's much smarter than yours.

But as my story shows, if the smart brain is so wrapped up in its own complexity and cleverness, nothing much gets communicated. Confusion, boredom and disappointment are usually the only outcomes.

And, by the way, my apologies if you belong to that small minority of SMEs who are also naturally gifted teachers and/or course designers. If that describes you, trust me when I say you are truly an SME rockstar.

So what about if you belong the the majority? An SME who doesn't possess natural rockstar status? The good news? There is still hope. It's perfectly possible to make your knowledge and skills more accessible and their transfer to others more effective.

You'll need to learn some new skills yourself. And you'll need to recognise your wealth of knowledge has to be constantly re-worked and re-calibrated each time you are designing or delivering a piece of learning, so it is suitable for different groups of learners and different delivery mediums.

You'll also have to learn how to carefully structure and refine your knowledge and skills to make sure what you are designing or delivering actually results in useful, effective learning.

But if you are up for the challenge, there's almost certainly a great piece of learning  or two inside of you, just waiting to get out.

essential guide to instructional design successIf you are you an SME designing courseware or delivering learning and you feel like you could do with some help and guidance, check out our Essential Step-by-Step Guide to Instructional Design Success.
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Topics: Instructional Design, Course Design