Browse Month by July 2010

Can eLearning designers learn from retail designers?

Creating engaging eLearning Part 1

Last night I was catching up with ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ where she was trying to help a dwindling DIY business based in a sizable village. On her arrival she was met with a busy shop front with all sorts of bric-a-brac displayed haphazardly outside. The windows were packed with notices of all shapes and sizes – that is if you could see them through the grime.

Once inside the shop, Mary was immediately faced with clutter, this DIY shop didn’t seem to know it was DIY store at all with greetings cards, ladies comfy shoes, toys and very dodgy ‘china’ products filling every nook and cranny of space. The result? Confusion and an urge to get out of there fast. What’s more, the staff didn’t seem to know anything about the products they sold so they couldn’t provide the customer with any help or advice.

To convince the shop owner there was need to change, they paid a visit to a well know DIY chainstore. What a difference. From the outside it was clear what the store did. Window displays were engaging and enticing. Once inside there were clear lanes well signposted and colour coded and staff were easily identified and conversant in their products but most of all there was….


Space to breathe, space to decide where to go, space to see things clearly.

The proprietor of the little DIY store didn’t get it…. look at all this wasted space…. imagine what else they could pack in and potentially sell. He really didn’t get it.

As I sat and watched I realised exactly the same was happening with eLearning. The little DIY store, poorly designed and set out was like poorly thought out, poorly designed elearning that is crammed full of information the learner doesn’t need for the task at hand. No space to breathe, confusing navigation and an urge to fill every bit of white space with something no matter how irrelevant.

Good eLearning is like the large DIY store – clear signage, lots of white space, clear navigation and time to think and choose the right route.

That’s where the analogy stops – I’m not saying the small organisations create poor eLearning or that large organisations create great eLearning – far from it. It is more to do with the ability and creativity of the designer not the size of the organisation.

So what can eLearning designers learn from this programme? 

Here are 10 top tips

1. Have a clear objective – know what you want to deliver
2. Think creatively
3. Give your learners space
4. Keep the information relevant to the task at hand
5. Give careful thought to aesthetics – learn some basic graphic design principles
6. Less is more
7. Set clear navigation
9. Allow your learner to think for themselves not confuse them with clutter
10. Provide help and support when needed

To quote Mary, “if you create a space that your customers enjoy being – they will enjoy buying” which is exactly what we need to achieve with great engaging eLearning.

What ideas do you have that we can borrow from retail?

Part 2: Putting the learning back in eLearning

Blaming the trainer?

If you can, do; if you can’t, teach. That phrase has always sat uneasy with me. I first heard it from a fellow student while studying art in Herefordshire College of Art and Design. He was referring to how the tutors at the college wouldn’t be there if they were any good at their calling. I always felt that was rather unfair – it is so hard to make a living as an artist (you only seem to make any decent money after you’re dead!).

Recent reports have brought into question the quality of L&D departments which reminded me of that phrase – and again, it sat uneasy with me. I think trainers are being given a rum deal from the anti L&D fraternity. It is clear that things need to change but is it really all the fault of L&D? Clive Shepherd, in his recent post “Rather than getting depressed, get going”, looks further than L&D at possible causes. In fact, I started penning this  before Clive’s was posted but he is so much more eloquent than I.

I know I may be biased, but I also feel the need to come to the defense of our trainers out there so I’ll continue with what I started before I read Clive’s post.

The speed of change is such that trainers do risk becoming the dinosaurs of the learning profession (see “Trainers of the Future” by Nick Shackleton Jones). If they continue to stick their heads in the sand (mixed metaphor but you get the gist) and fail to adapt their skills to become more learning facilitators rather than trainers they do themselves no favours. The future is more about helping people learn to learn and to support performance – and continue doing so.

I have heard first hand from trainers saying that they have been given the directive to design and deliver a training programme when they aren’t sure there is actually a training need. They try and convince the powers that be that it isn’t possible to deliver the amount of subject matter to an audience that large in such a short space of time but have no choice but to ‘work miracles’. They know they are not providing the best learning experience that they could deliver given half the chance, all too often they have their hands tied. I feel their frustration, they are full of enthusiasm to put new approaches into action only to realise that without the support of others in their organisation they will find it like swimming through treacle.

Nick Shackleton-Jones’ post also refers to trainers becoming more active in seeking out ‘the good stuff’. It is true we can’t carry on delivering the same old same old when information is at our fingertips (YouTube, Google, Twitter). I also believe that ‘learning professionals have a central role to play in the organisations of the future’.

However it is also the responsibility of the Company Owners, Directors, Team Leaders, Managers and Supervisors to provide the necessary support. They must empower learning professionals to create a streamlined learning culture, after all it’s their organisation that will benefit in the long run.

Let’s cut trainers some slack and give them the support they need to move forward.

Bogus website reviews

Star vector created by starline – www.freepik.comI was sitting watching Click, the BBC’s flagship technology programme, the other morning where they reported on bogus reviews on some websites It was saying that although customer reviews on websites can be valuable to us when deciding on using a business or service, there has been a spate of spam reviews potentially damaging firms’ reputations.  I have certainly found reviews very useful when booking hotels, buying a new Bluetooth headset or deciding which car to get next.  It is easy to focus too hard on a bad review and let that cloud our thinking even when there are a great many great reviews for the same business.

There was a good piece of advice at the end of the article on the TV programme which isn’t reflected in the web article here that advised to ignore all the excellent reviews and the extreme bad reviews and concentrate on the middle ground.  Something that I am careful to do.   It doesn’t take away the upset for the businesses or person targeted however.

The article brought back thoughts of what it is like when you put your all into delivering an engaging training course and everyone has enjoyed themselves and accomplished what they set out to do with no indication of anything being wrong and then when everything has been packed away and you receive feedback –one person appeared to have been on a totally different course.  It may be one in a thousand that may call your reputation into question and it is human nature to dwell on that one in a thousand rather than the other 999 satisfied learners.  We forget that external fears, problems at home, work politics etc can influence a person’s experience not forgetting how our own moods can affect us when reading reviews.

Not that we should totally ignore poor reviews – there may be something that needs to change – but we do need to put them in perspective or suffer sleepless nights and questioning of our own abilities. Remember the majority not the minority and to take criticism as an opportunity.

Does this ring a bell with you?  What are your experiences?

Can Milo be the future for Virtual Learning?

Milo, Mirosoft's virtual child is sitting on a home made swing on a tree branch. This is a still from the TED video shown at the end of the post.
Screenshot from video shown at the bottom of this post

Meet Milo


Milo is the brainchild of Peter Molyneux, a UK games designer and Milo was introduced to the world at the recent TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference held in Oxford. He is Microsoft’s virtual child . He appears so realistic that player’s react to him as if he were human as he reacts to their movements and voice commands all done through an infrared sensor. This brings artificial intelligence to the gaming world as Milo has been designed for the hands-free 360 motion controller Kinect.

The story behind the invention was Peter Molyneux’s disappointment with the blandness of films, TV and books in that they were all a ‘one-way’ experience. After 45 minutes or so, Milo starts to recognise the player’s voice and will react to questions and movements and respond with his own facial expressions and emotions – even to the point of blushing with embarrassment.

Although in its early stages, this is a very exciting time for the gaming world.

As with the world of gaming and fun – the world of learning may see a use for this in the future. As with Second Life that is already being used for effective learning and collaborative activities – how interesting could this new technology be used learning. I can already imagine it being useful in child protections scenarios where a learner has to develop special interviewing skills. Once this technology has grown into a community of artificial intelligences there will be plethora of opportunities.

I acknowledge that we need to be mindful not to use technology for the sake of it but I do believe that we can no longer be stuck in the past – the future of our workforce may be switched off by those old fashioned tools we are still using. We need to think about how we can immerse our learners totally in a truly engaging learning experience. Gaming already does that for our youths – let us reach out and harness that power for learning (and our inner child).

Here’s the TED talk: