How to Work with Instructional Designers

Happy Halloween everyone!

In an appropriate celebration of this spooky holiday, the ELH Challenge for the week centers around things that Instructional Designers don’t like to hear – the tricks amongst the treats of our jobs.

My team recently got a shiny new subscription to GoAnimate and so I decided to try it out and make a short video for this challenge. In order to make it a little more useful so we can share it around the office, I framed the video as “Things You Should Know About Working with Instructional Designers”. It’s a bit of a work in progress; we are also going to add some tips at the end. But for now, here it is!


Tell Me a Story… Explain Yourself!

hinksonToday is the first of our guest author posts!  Jake Hinkson is a film noir connoisseur and scholar who happens to also be great at writing crime fiction stories.  Jake blogs about film, writes essays for various publications, and teaches online workshops on storytelling. He’s a fellow southern transplant who loves cats, gently handles my ignorance of film, and loves to eat as much as I do.


First a story: in England, nearly a hundred years ago, there was a small boy living in London. One day his mother gave him a folded note and told him to walk down the street to the police station and deliver it to the man at the front desk. The boy did as he was told and went down to the station and gave the note to the burly, red-faced officer behind the front desk. The officer read the note grimly and said, “Follow me.” He led the boy to a small, gray cell in the back of the station, and said, “Get in.” Already shaking, the boy got in and the officer locked the door and left. For two hours the boy was left alone and crying. Finally, at the end of the two hours, the officer reappeared and let him out with the warning, “This is what happens to bad little boys.” The boy was ten years old. His name was Alfr540px-Hitchcock,_Alfred_02ed Hitchcock, and he would go on to direct such landmark films as Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window and The Birds, each, in their way, dealing with themes of unexplained terror, guilt and loneliness.

Hitchcock’s famous story about his two hours in jail—a story which he told many times in his life—is a simple illustration of the importance of certain events in our lives, but it also points to the important of stories themselves. After all, did this event really happen? Hmm…maybe. Maybe not. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t particularly care whether the story is true or not because it does the thing that story is supposed to do: it illustrates an idea.

This why we have stories, after all. We turn everything into narrative—we pick events and isolate details, all in an attempt to explain and illuminate. When you get home from work and your special someone asks you how your day went, you probably end up telling a story. If you’re trying to explain why you’re in a good mood, or a bad mood, or why you’re worried, or why you’re feeling whatever it is that you’re feeling, you probably end up turning all of that into a narrative that involves what you did and who you saw and what it all adds up to.

There was far more to Hitchcock’s long life than his visit to the police station, yet that was the story he choose to tell to explain his fear of wrongful persecution and to explain his complicated relationship with his mother. If the story was simply made up, or greatly exaggerated for effect, then that tells us even more. (I recall a creative writing professor telling me once that we learn more from the lies someone tells than the truths they tell. The lies, after all, reveal what they want to be true.) Hitchcock’s story was shorthand for the trauma of his childhood, a simple way to illustrate how one of our greatest storytellers developed his own particular obsessions.

We tell ourselves stories, it seems to me, to explain ourselves. We are, all of us, mysteries. The stories we tell are a way to organize it, to make it all make some kind of sense.


Yesterday I signed up for my third triathlon.  I did my first tri a few years ago and became hooked.  I don’t have the time (or money) to do more than one a year but I look forward to these events with great enthusiasm.


My friends and I after last year’s Iron Girl Rocky Gap Sprint Triathlon

To celebrate round number three, I’d like to write one of those cheesy “what my hobby taught me about life” kind of posts. So, here are 6 things that triathlons have taught me about instructional design and, well, life.

1. All big things are just made up of small things

I do sprint triathlons.  They usually take about 2 hours for me to complete. But the thrill of triathlons though is that you can really take each part individually and each piece alone isn’t really that bad.  And, when you’re training for that big day you get to start small and gradually big. In fact, just jumping into something so large can lead to serious injury so starting small is imperative.

So it is with instructional design. Sometimes our projects can take a really. long. time. But in the end, each piece is manageable if you have some small goals along the way.  The key is to make sure that everyone on your team (SMEs, graphic artists if you’re lucky enough to have one, etc.) is aware of those small goals and can celebrate when you reach them.  Not only will this help everyone feel like the work is progressing, but it builds camaraderie and can keep people on task.

2. Practice makes better

I don’t believe in perfect, but I do think the more we practice anything, the better we get. And it’s not just practicing the same routine over and over.  Eventually your body (or mind) will get used to that one thing and your fitness will plateau. Practice means stretching yourself and trying new things.  In triathlon training that means running sprints or hills, swimming quick drills and long distances, and biking new routes.

In instructional design it means continuously challenging yourself to innovate and then learning how to build out those fresh new ideas.

photo 1

Open water swim on Lake Habeeb

3. Practice with others makes much better

The best triathletes have coaches, as in any sport.  I am not nearly that good.  But I still need people to improve.  A running partner who is a little faster than me.  Someone to race up a hill on my bike. On some days I just need someone to give me the extra motivation to get in my workout.

I have talked at length about why community is important in instructional design and I mean it.  You can’t get better at anything without others to push you, motivate you, and give you feedback. Better doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sometimes practicing with others means reading books or blogs.  Sometimes it means getting inspiration from other people’s projects.  Sometimes it means collaborating or getting feedback on a project from someone else.  It’s not nearly as important how you incorporate others into your practice, as it is that you just do it.

4. Flexibility is key

Two types of flexibility are important in training for triathlons – literal muscle flexibility and some life scheduling flexibility.  It can be difficult to fit in the amount of training that is needed to practice three sports, and do some flexibility and strength training work every week.

Muscle flexibility is also important in instructional design – brain muscles that is. We need to make sure we aren’t getting too caught up in the rigid, power parts of instructional design (our models and theories). In the end, it doesn’t matter how much theory we know or how well we can apply a theory if those aren’t accompanied by some creativity, analytical thinking, and an influx of new ideas.

We also need to be schedule flexible. SMEs don’t always comply with our deadlines, technology issues can ruin a day, and sometimes life just happens. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stick to our deadlines, but rather that we should always build in a cushion when setting goal dates. I always love to under-promise and over-deliver, even on delivery dates.

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The transition area

5. Get the hardest things done first

In triathlons the swim always comes first.  Why? Because you are more likely to drown if you are exhausted from biking and running.  On the same note, the run comes last because, well, you can always walk.

I try to keep that in mind at work as well. I can be a terrible procrastinator, with the excuse that I work well under pressure. But recently I have tried hard to not put off the part you I’m dreading until that after-lunch-I-want-to-nap time. Use the time of day when you have most energy to get the hard things done.  For me this is usually until about 11 am.  In the mornings my mind is more flexible and everything seems a little easier.

6. The only goal that matters is the one I set for myself

Pressure to be the best is all around us and, for myself at least, often the worst of it is pressure we put on ourselves.

The thing is, I will never be a world-class triathlete, and that is ok. What matters is that I am constantly pushing myself to get better physically, mentally, and emotionally so I can handle the challenges thrown at me every day.  This includes making sure I have time with my family and by myself to unwind every day. It means letting go when I have too much on my plate and working harder when life is a little more flexible. It’s about knowing when a project is good enough and not driving myself crazy trying to get to perfect (which is always impossible). I have learned to find confidence in being my best, not the best. It’s so cheesy, and I would have rolled my eyes at this not long ago, but true.

My friend, Kate, looking strong at the finish.

I hope that you have something in your life that challenges you to be your best self.  What lessons have you learned?  Why do you love your hobby?  How does it pour over into your professional life?

And if you are looking for something to help challenge you physically and mentally, I would suggest starting with couch-to-5k program or a sprint triathlon if you already have s few 5k’s under your belt. Trust me, they are much more manageable than you think!

For Your Listening Pleasure

Picture1About 2 weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Mangione, an instructional designer who produces a podcast series called Eye on ISD.

Each week Chris discusses a few ISD topics and interviews a guest in the field. We had a great time chatting and I’m thrilled to share our conversation, along with a candid pic of our setup.

This week’s podcast includes sections on managing your online presence, ASTD’s change to ATD, learning and neuroscience, and SMART goals.  Our interview starts about 21 minutes in.


What do you do?

Last week David Anderson pulled out an internet meme I hadn’t seen in a while – that one where you say what your friends and your mom and society think you do – for the weekly E-Learning Heroes challenge.  There were lots of good posts; be sure to check them out. A few resounding themes were magic and some form of blank stares. It’s certainly clear that a lot of us have friends and colleagues who are clueless about how we spend our professional time.

This week’s challenge was a bit of a follow on.  David asked us to show what we really do by creating an eLearning resume or portfolio, and sharing a template if we were willing.

I did both and was asked to create a screencast about how to customize the interactive resume/portfolio template I created. Rather than also writing about it, I thought I’d just share that video with y’all.

So without further ado, here you go!


Side note: I actually created this template for my own use.  You can get idea of what I really do by checking out my personalized version.

If you have any questions about using this template, feel free to comment below or get in touch from the contact page.


Welcome to eLearned

Welcome to the eLearned blog!

I will be using this space to write about new things I have learned or done.  Because I am doing a lot of eLearning currently, many posts will focus on learning technology. But I will also be writing about training, development, performance improvement, or other topics that I think might be fun or interesting. My goal is to post at least once a week…  we’ll see how that goes.

Please enjoy, comment, engage, and learn along with me.