Hand Over the Spoon

When I finally publicly posted my blog for the first time last week, I had a great response (thanks guys!). One friend in particular, who I haven’t seen in a while, was unaware that I did eLearning for a living.  She is starting to learn and use Adobe Captivate to make some stuff for her organization and asked if I had any tips or resources to share.

Well, I’ve got lots of tips.  Most of them are cynical (save often when working with Captivate or Storyline!) but here are a few not so cynical ones, in no particular order other than that in which I thought of them.  These really focus on some of the basics of good instructional and eLearning design since once you form bad habits in these areas, they can be REALLY hard to break!

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  1. Map out your plan before you open the software.  When new to this stuff you fall into one of 2 camps: “can’t wait to play around!” or “ack, I’m terrified!” Either way, you will minimize distraction and/or terror if you first have a storyboard.
  2. Related, if you are serving as the instructional designer make sure you are using some kind of process that includes an analysis of needs and learners and deliberate design. Learn more about ADDIE (a long time industry standard) and SAM (a newer, iterative model).
  3. Learn to write good learning objectives. If done well, and you follow tip 4, your course will essentially design itself.
  4. Create your evaluation/quiz questions before your content.  If your content doesn’t directly support a learner being able to complete the task/answer the question, throw it out.
  5. Chunk things into small bits.  Our brains can only handle so much at once. Each slide should contain no more than one or two pictures with a handful of words.
  6. Hand over the spoon. That is, give learners control whenever possible. Let them explore.  One strategy I particularly love for this is to give them all the information you want to present as a set of resources.  Then make them solve a problem using those resources.  This can have the added benefit of reinforcing how/where to find this information when they need it in the future.
  7. Play around with your software and stretch your limits. Learn how to create click and reveal interactions.  Once you get that down you can start to play with drag and drops, hot spots, scenarios and branching.
  8. But don’t make interactions just for the hell of it.  There is nothing more annoying than mindless clicking or having to click 100 times on one slide to reveal all the necessary information.
  9. Join some communities, listen in on webinars, read all you can. There are so many really awesome resources available so take advantage of them!
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Speaking of Resources…  Here are some of my favorites.

  1. No matter your tool, the Articulate community blogs are an awesome place to get ideas. In particular, check out David’s weekly challenges.  They are full of inspiration.
  2. The Articulate Building Better Courses forum is also awesome.
  3. ASTD – consider becoming a member.  Also, their Learning Circuits blog.
  4. eLearning Guild
  5. There are tons of great eLearning and instructional design blogs out there.  You should read some and find which ones you love.  Here are some compilations from Articulate, from eLearning Industry, and from Cammy Bean at Kineo.
  6. Michael Haney’s blog, eLearning Curve, has some great resources. Check out his “Discovering Instructional Design” series (summer of 2009). I really like the tips in this post on goal analysis when working in the affective domain.

So, what are your tips and resources for those just getting started? Do any of these in particular resonate with you? Coincidentally, the Articulate Community Weekly Challenge this week was about designing a poster around your favorite education or instructional design quote – there are some great submissions! My contributions are the images above.


  1. Very good points Allison. I also think it is important to remember that a person can be more easily distracted in a virtual environment so it is important to keep them regularly engaged through the use of questions, activities, videos, etc. Your method of regularly engagement, is second in priority to creatining your evaluation because it helps structure the information you plan to evaluate. If you have planned your method of evaluation and your activities then the instructional component should then fall nicely in place.


    1. Absolutely – planning of the engagements is key!
      I do think though that most of the time you can benefit from planning the evaluation as soon as you have your learning objectives, just before planning any activities. Often I find that the activities students use to practice are easily derived from or components of an evaluation activity that has already been designed.


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