Designing UX for eLearning? Skip the Cargo Cult


When it comes to user experience (UX), most eLearning designers will tell you they can do better. The problem? They are not really UX/UI designers. They are instructional designers, eLearning specialists and trainers. If they work inside an organization, they do not have the luxury of having a cross-functional team that includes someone with deep UX/UI design experience. UX testing is not even on most project plans! We assume we know what the learner’s experience should be like… and that is what we create. No testing required.

This 6-minute video challenges that idea. It is from a UX conference held back in 2009, but its message is pretty timeliness. The speaker starts with a quote from Picasso. “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Sounds like carte blanche to copy, right?

Nope. Because a great artist is really seeking inspiration from what he sees. A great artist analyzes other ideas to see what he can steal to achieve his vision. Then, based on his intentions (or need), he creates his own masterpiece from that starting inspiration. When we attempt to copy, without understanding the drivers behind the design we are stealing from, we can end up with user experiences that do not meet the needs of our users.

Skip the Cargo Cult

Jeff Veen, the speaker in the video, uses the analogy of cargo cults, which refers to indigenous people on Pacific islands who tried to mimic the behavior they observed US soldiers perform during World War II to bring more materials goods to their islands. These people hope that by mimicking the superficial actions they saw, wealth will return to them. Veen argues that UX designs do the same thing. They look at successful examples and try to copy without taking the time for a deeper analysis.

We need to be much more critical and analytical of our user, and we all need better education on what is even meant by user experience design. We need to know the difference between user experience design (interaction experience and usability of the site) and user interface design (graphic design/aesthetics). This slide show is a great resource for learning about user experience design.

Test Your UX Designs

To get better at making sure UX/UI design fits well with our target learners, we need to test our designs. We need to grab 4 – 6 target users and watch them interact with our prototyped design and invite them to “think out loud” as they do. We need to tell them to speak aloud their inner thoughts and communicate what they like, what they find confusing, and what they find surprising or unexpected. As we watch, we need to get answers to these questions:

  • Is our user figuring out what to do easily? Is the navigation intuitive to them?
  • What frustrates them about the user experience? Is there anything that is disengaging them at any point?
  • Are they be engaged and interested by what they see? Does what they see or experience motivate them to stay with the experience or are they trying to get through it as fast as they can?
  • What delights them? What bores them?
  • What are they ignoring that you need them to attend to? (Oh yeah, you will see users totally ignore stuff that you think is super obvious.)
  • Where do they need help?
  • What do they think is missing?
  • Do users get what they expect when they do something?
  • Is there any point at which users become confused?

Before You Copy, Find out the “Why”

It’s great to look at templates or existing eLearning courses, websites, mobile apps, etc. for design ideas. However, be careful not to simply copy a design without fully understanding the “why” behind it. Before you simply copy a design you like, ask yourself:

What instructional design problem was it designed to solve?

What learning need was it intended to meet?

What user group was it designed to appeal to?

Be very careful of simply grabbing something you’ve done before – or that someone else has done – and then trying to shoehorn your learning objectives and content into that existing experience. Understand the why behind the design you want to copy so you can assess whether you should be copying it as-is, tweaking it, using it as a kernel of inspiration for something that is mostly new, or continuing your search for inspiration.

Validate Your UX/UI

You can think you’ve hit the mark, but will your learners agree? is a great resource for doing quick user experience testing for low-cost and quick speed. (Your results will come to you within an hour of you uploading your test.)  For less than $300, you can have 4-6 users test your user experience. You can quickly set up your test experience and write a “test script” for what you want to assess. You then specify the demographics of your testers (age, gender, education level, income level). You’ll get videos of people completing your test with screen actions clearly visible. You’ll hear testers “think out loud” as they go through your application or course. You will get written responses to up to five questions that you specify, and you can follow up with individual testers for clarification of their responses.

It’s a great way to skip the superficial and find out what really drives your target learners.

Our Top 10 Training & Development Blog Posts from 2015


Trends! Tools! Technologies! There are adult learning and instructional design blogs galore that sing the praises of the “next big thing” in the training and development space… whatever it happens to be on a given day.

We strive to do more with our Bottom-Line Performance and Knowledge Guru blogs. Of course, we do discuss current trends and techniques and share what’s possible. But our goal is always to go beyond the trends and get to the root of things. What’s going to move the needle? Is there truth behind this trend, or is it just hype?

Here are ten of the most popular articles we published in 2015. Seven of them appeared here on our Bottom-Line Performance blog… while three appeared on our Knowledge Guru website.

From the Bottom-Line Performance Blog

1. The Myth of Micro-Learning

There’s a new buzz phrase going around town these days in the L&D and talent development communities. That phrase is “micro-learning.” But too many people in our industry have a misunderstanding of this otherwise great concept. In this article, Sharon Boller looks for the truth behind the micro-learning hype: Read Article.

2. L&D in 2015: Too Much Content, Too Little Time

It seems the central challenges and pain points of learning leaders do not change much year after year. In many ways, organizations are still faced with the same central issues they dealt with five years ago… or more. In fact, four of these challenge areas come up again and again. Learn what they are and why they happen: Read Article.

3. Ten Steps to a Successful Product Launch Training Implementation

For product launch training to drive desired knowledge and skills acquisition, it must be carefully designed and implemented. Every product launch curriculum project is different, but certain characteristics remain consistent across most projects. Product launch curriculums that have these characteristics are much more likely to contribute to a successful product launch: Read Article.

4. Three Truths About Millennials and Workplace Learning

It may be tempting for an organization to focus its L&D efforts on catering to the perceived “new characteristics” of Millennials, but doing so might ignore the bigger picture. This article shows how to reframe the conversation about Millennials in the workplace: Read Article.

5. Is Your Process Training Nice to Know or Need to Know?

Processes and procedures are critical to employee success on the job, yet many organizations struggle to effectively train their employees on how to follow them. Here are five possible reasons—and questions L&D professionals can ask to overcome these challenges: Read Article.

6. Should Instructional Designers “Teach to the Test”?

In the corporate world, people really do need to recall facts to do their jobs well. There are plenty of times where being able to “Google it” is not enough. In this article, Sharon Boller breaks down why “Teaching to the Test” isn’t always such a bad thing: Read Article.

7. How to Create Award-Winning Training Solutions

Many of our clients care about awards and would like to have the prestige that comes from having them attached to their training efforts. But if you’ve never submitted for an award before, how do you know your learning solution is award-worthy? And what do you need to include in the submission to draft a winner? Read Article

From the Knowledge Guru Blog

8. 7 Steps to an Effective Serious Game or Gamification Implementation

Are you a do-it-yourselfer? When it comes to serious games, ATD says you probably are. In an ATD survey 71% of organizations reported that they prefer to develop serious games in-house. Here are 7 steps to making sure that your game based learning efforts are effective, and not just money down the drain: Read Article.

9. 5 Ways Serious Games Can “Level Up” Your Sales Reps

So many of the custom serious games we create at Bottom-Line Performance are designed for sales reps. Customers who use our Knowledge Guru platform often create their games for sales professionals, too. Our experience has shown that games are often the perfect addition to a sales training program or set of reinforcement and reference tools.  This article has five tips for using serious games with sales reps: Read Article

10. How Cisco Uses Knowledge Guru to Teach Product and Technical Knowledge (Interview)

In this article, Paula Rossini shares how Cisco uses serious games to teach its sales associates. Cisco’s sales associate training program (CSAP) has won multiple Brandon Hall awards for its innovative approaches, including a 2014 “Gold” award won in partnership with BLP. Read Article

Want More of our 2015 Top Content?

We took five of the webinars we gave in 2015 and turned them into a single article with links to each recording. Each webinar has a white paper, lookbook or work sample to supplement the learning.

How to Create Award-Winning Training Solutions


The after-glow of our three 2014 Brandon Hall awards is starting to fade away. Yes, excitement can only last for so long… and we are hard at work making plans to submit for 2015 awards. Many of the clients we talk to care about awards and would like to have the prestige that comes from having them attached to their training efforts.

But if you’ve never submitted for an award before, how do you know your learning solution is award-worthy? And what do you need to include in the submission to draft a winner?

The “Secret Sauce”

If you want to receive awards for the training you create, you have to be able to articulate two things: value and innovation. Too frequently training functions cannot articulate the value their solution(s) delivered to the organization. They cannot describe a problem or how their training solution helped solve or at least reduce the severity of the problem. That’s the secret sauce.


The folks in L&D who do gather up all the fancy trophies and industry accolades have submissions that describe innovative solutions that solved a quantifiable problem. Think about it in terms of submitting a “before and after” story. Here are some examples:

  • Before we implemented training, we had numerous safety accidents on the XYZ machine. It was costing us $X and X days in lost productivity as a result of accidents.  After training, our accidents decreased by X%, our costs were $X, and our days of lost productivity decreased by X.
  • Before training, we were spending up to 24 months ramping up a new-hire. Our team leads were self-reporting high levels of stress and our employee surveys indicated low job satisfaction for those in team leadership roles.  After we implemented our new employee onboarding training program, we winnowed down the ramp-up to 12 months—a 100% decrease in the time required to achieve full productivity. While we do not yet have the results of the most recent employee survey, a poll of team leaders indicates that they perceive stress levels to be “significantly lower” than before we implemented the new onboarding program.
  • We have 90 people in the director of recruitment role in our organization. Before training, the annual employee turnover for the director of recruitment role was 30%. It cost our organization $18,000 for every new hire we had to make, which meant our annual spend on the recruitment, hiring, and training of this role was $486,000. After training, we were able to reduce it to 20% AND decrease the time to full productivity by 3 months. Our annual costs for recruiting and hiring decreased to $324,000, which is a 33% cost savings.
  • Before training we were spending up to 3 months at a customer site following installation of our product. After we launched the revamped customer education program, satisfaction ratings improved from an average of 3.75 out of 5 to an average of 4.5 out of 5.  In addition, we reduced time on site by 30 days. This resulted in a cost savings of $8,000 per customer.

The common denominator in these stories is some form of data that identifies a problem, quantifies its impact to the business, and then quantifies the results obtained from implementing a training solution. Too often, training is not quantified.

So what can you do when you don’t have data? The simple answer is to get some, and here are some tangible techniques you can use to help you do that.

Probe more than once. Don’t accept the first answer as the final answer.

If you ask a subject matter expert or stakeholder, “What is the problem and how can you quantify it,” avoid accepting the initial response that might go like this:

“We don’t have any actual numbers, but I’ve been hearing from the field that this is an issue.  I’ve talked to our lab chemists and they  tell me that they are answering the same questions over and over. They are sharing basic information that field reps should really know themselves. If they were able to answer questions, I know it would be beneficial to us.

Your stakeholder or SME may well be right, but you should probe. If this is really a big issue that costs the company money, chances are that data is not as difficult to assemble as the SME thinks. Here are things you can ask to help quantify the problem and its impact on your company:

  • How many chemists are affected by a sales rep’s need to call for technical support?
  • Ask the chemists: In a given week, how many calls or emails from sales reps do you respond to and what are the most common issues? How much time do you spend on this per week – 30 minutes, an hour, 2 hours, etc.
  • Ask a handful of key distributors: How frequently do you ask a sales rep a product question that he or she cannot answer? If he or she cannot answer you immediately, can you quantify any dollar impact to your business? What about your perception of ACME as a supplier?

Ask for the stakeholder to give you a dollar value that they would associate with whatever problem they describe to you. Ask them: Is it worth $10K, $20K, $30K, etc? Why? What benefit will ACME get by implementing this solution?

Sometimes, the act of asking them to assign a value will help the stakeholder or SME realize they need more data before jumping to solution design. After all, the data might help create a better solution!

In truth, if it is worth $10K or less, then you are not looking at a very robust learning solution…and if you are not looking at a robust solution, will you truly affect performance change? Even if a solution is 100% designed, developed, and delivered internally (no vendors), the cost is likely to quickly approach at least $10,000 when we factor in the time for a training person to design and build the solution, the time a SME will spend providing content expertise, and the time all the employees will spend completing the training.

What about innovation?

This is the other element to the “secret sauce” of winning awards You have to go beyond defining a problem and quantifying results. You need to think about how you did it DIFFERENTLY than others have done. How is the solution an advancement in the field? What new approaches does it use that might be a model for others?


Of course, the “innovation” must be relevant to the topic you are submitting the award for. If you have submitted your project for a “Best Use of Blended Learning” award, but the results of the project are not at all related to the blended learning approach, then your chances of winning are lower, even if the results are good.

In the award we submitted with Cisco, the “before” problem they identified was a challenge with getting new sales associates to retain large amounts of product and technical information. Through learner surveys and learning objective completion rates, they were able to determine that the spaced repetition built into Knowledge Guru games had a meaningful impact on solving their problem. In this case, the way gaming was connected to learning science was considered “innovative,” and the innovation mattered because it drove results for Cisco.

So, You’re Saying There’s a Chance?

In the end, there’s no guarantee that a particular learning solution will win an award, no matter what organization you submit it to. A small percentage of projects will win any given award, and even fewer will win a “Gold” distinction. Whether you plan to submit your work for awards or not, adopt an award-winning mentality by showing measurable results and using innovative designs and approaches to drive those results.


The Safety & Compliance Training Lookbook (Free Download)


Safety & compliance training is required by law, but it can have a greater purpose besides simply meeting a requirement. What if your employees need to evacuate a building? Or what if a vial of contaminated blood is dropped in the lab? In both of these situations, employees will need to know the proper process to follow and start following it almost immediately. Effective training can help employees protect themselves—and it also protects the organization from harm.

Training that is needed to comply with an internal company policy can be just as important. Cybersecurity is a hot topic right now because many companies cannot get their employees to consistently follow procedures to secure their data. Could training help prevent these security breaches? In some situations, yes.


Unfortunately, safety & compliance training is often viewed as just another “expense.” Organizations know they have to do it, but they are not willing to invest budget and resources needed to make the training effective. Other times, there is plenty of budget, but it is being invested in instructor-led, synchronous training that is expensive and hard to sustain. An engaging eLearning course can actually save money, especially if it is instructionally sound and helps employees reduce accidents.

eLearning has become the preferred delivery method for safety & compliance training because it is easy to track completion… but it’s not always the right choice for your learners. If they do not have access for a computer or mobile device in their role, an instructor-led solution may be needed. And what exactly should an eLearning course include that teaches safety procedures? Should you use illustrations, photography, video, a combination? Will your learners respond well to a gamified course? What level of multimedia is truly needed to teach, and what would simply be over the top?

Every organization is different, but this much is certain:

  • Safety training should be interactive
  • Safety training should include plenty of scenarios and practice opportunities
  • Safety training should attempt to engage and motivate learners
  • Safety training should be easy to track and prove compliance

Get inspired with our safety & Compliance Training Lookbook

We’ve created dozens of safety & compliance learning solutions for Fortune 500 clients in our 20 years as a company. Sometimes a facilitated workshop is needed. Other times, we’ve created a gamified eLearning course for a key safety topic. To reduce costs, we’ve designed safety curriculums and created the first few courses then provided the client with templates and a style guide for their internal team to continue development. The possibilities are endless.

Our Safety & Compliance Lookbook includes 17 of our favorite safety & compliance samples, all organized by topic and approach. Use it to decide what type of training to use at your organization for each topic.


Is Knowledge Transfer Part of Your L&D Strategy?


There is a gap in your organization.

On one side, you have your business objectives, your subject matter experts and all of the knowledge, skills and content employees need to know to meet your objectives. On the other side are your employees: human beings trying to do their jobs in an imperfect environment. The bridge between these two sides is where knowledge transfer is supposed to happen… yet many organizations report that knowledge transfer is simply not happening. How do we pass the baton? What’s the problem and how do we fix it?

Respondents to our 2014 Learning and Remembering Survey indicated that they know what effective training looks like, but external limitations and roadblocks prevent them from delivering learning solutions that improve performance. In response to the question “What challenges do you face when delivering training that helps learners remember your most important content,” knowledge transfer was the number one answer (38%). Organizations struggle with employee forgetting, lack of training reinforcement and subsequent gaps in retention.

The other challenges that respondents noted are also related to the knowledge transfer issue:


There are plenty of tried and trued learning strategies for long term retention that can be applied to make knowledge transfer more effective, but they only work when they are applied properly. Unfortunately, the individual tasked with developing and/or delivering training inside an organization is sometimes a subject matter expert in disguise; they know their content but they do not know how to help employees learn it!

Let’s say you lead a functional area in your organization that needs training. Depending on your organization’s structure, you will either reach out to the internal L&D department, outsource to a vendor, or both. You might have a specific metric to hit, or maybe just a boss to please… but either way you expect training to help you meet your goals. What can you do to make sure knowledge transfer happens and the baton gets passed?

Take the time for thorough analysis

The analysis phase of a project can be highly enlightening. Take the time to evaluate your processes, people and current work environment to determine what type of training will be most beneficial. An honest needs analysis can help you discover the process that lacks buy-in or the topic area with too much content related to it. It also helps to…

Get to know your learners

When we start a new project, we often conduct interviews and focus groups with learners to understand their roles, preferences and challenges. Perhaps there is better way to deliver training to your front line staff or a way to streamline a course so it just focuses on essential information? Don’t forget to include management in this process, as their buy-in will be critical to the success of your training.

Embrace the Design Phase

The design phase of a project is the perfect chance to clarify vision and connect the purpose of your training with the goals of senior leadership. Don’t let your internal team, or your vendor, design in a vacuum; we use agile learning design to involve clients early and often with working prototypes and mock-ups that allow potential issues to arise quickly.

No matter what team is designing your learning solution, asking the right questions along the way is essential to keep the focus on knowledge transfer:

  • Have we built multiple repetitions of key concepts into this solution?
  • How will learners receive corrective feedback?
  • Are adequate practice opportunities provided so learners can apply the new knowledge?
  • How will the training be reinforced on the job?

Avoid Learning “Myths”

Sometimes, training that is designed with knowledge transfer fails because the instructional design was not sound. Ever heard someone mention learning styles? Sharon Boller outlines several commonly cited learning “theories” that are actually myths in this article.

In the end…

Knowledge transfer is not as complicated as our industry makes it out to be. Most of us intuitively know good learning design when we see it, and the concepts seem common-sensical when they are explained. The real challenge is to know when instructional approaches need to be modified… and when some other barrier such as inconsistent buy-in or an ineffective technology are the real reasons for poor knowledge transfer.

Is your current training effective? Are you getting the information across? Use our Self Assessment for Your eLearning Program to find out where you stand.

Is Your Process Training “Nice to Know” or “Need to Know”?


Process is critical to every business, and research increasingly tells us that “tiny habits” matter. It is the small actions, not the sweeping initiatives, that truly define our businesses… and our lives.

Every individual has had to learn a set of processes that are tedious or difficult to follow. Think about the sales rep used to using Outlook to log follow-up tasks who is now asked to re-input the same data into the CRM, or the call center representative who must ask every customer who calls in, even the irate ones, to answer a three question survey.

But at the same time, every manager or decision-maker knows the pain that follows when sales reps are not documenting their activity, or when customer service reps do not collect meaningful data on customer satisfaction. In some environments, the consequence of ignoring processes is even more dire: accidents (and lawsuits) happen. People get hurt.

Policy and process are top priorities for L&D

L&D is often asked to help solve the “process problem” and get employees proficient at following the right steps. In fact, 41% of respondents to our 2014 Learning and Remembering Survey listed policies, process, and procedures as the primary type of knowledge employees must know on the job.


So if processes and procedures are considered so successful to employee success on the job, why do so many organizations struggle to effectively train their employees on how to follow them? Here are five possible reasons—and questions L&D professionals can ask to overcome these challenges.

1. Too many processes

One challenge might be that there are too many processes, or the processes are too complicated. Depending on your role within the organization, you may have limited ability to fix this issue. Your job, then, is to help employees focus on the right processes, the most essential information.

Questions to ask: Think about your C-suite: which processes and procedures would they care about most? Which processes have the most direct impact on the bottom line? Those are the processes that deserve the most attention and emphasis in your training. You might still need to produce training on a large number of processes and procedures, but the training you produce for processes that impact sales, customer satisfaction or safety should be more robust and impactful than training that teaches the employee dress code, for example.

Which processes and procedures are absolutely essential to the business? Align your efforts with the areas your C-suite cares about most. Perhaps one process is customer facing while another is about storing documents, for example.

2. Content overload

Similar to the problem of too many processes is the problem that arises when employees are presented with an overwhelming amount of detail on processes they must follow. In our Learning and Remembering survey, 24% of respondents cited the amount of content as their primary challenge and 38% cited knowledge transfer and retention as the stumbling block, which is often closely related to the overwhelming amount of content employees must complete training on in a given year.

Questions to ask: How often do they need to follow the process? Is it information they must know cold to perform their job function, or an infrequently used procedure that can simply be looked up when needed? Reduce learner’s cognitive load when possible and focus on the three to five key steps they absolutely must follow.

3. Lack of motivation or buy-in

Middle management might report that a certain sales documentation process is complex or difficult to follow, but that may not be the real reason employees are falling short. Lack of buy-in from the middle managers who actually coach and support employees on the job may be the real culprit. If the process is a change from a past workflow or standard way of doing business, you can expect excuses and resistance. In situations like these, L&D is really being asked to do more than simply apply adult learning theories to make instructionally sound courses; the learning solutions you produce are also an internal marketing tool to sell employees of the benefits of following the new process.

Questions to ask: How can we make middle management see the impact this process and procedure has on the business—and their jobs? Sometimes, L&D functions spend so much time producing process training for front-line staff that they neglect the needs of middle managers to be included in the bigger picture. Make middle managers feel like leaders who can see how their actions are linked to the company strategy. Design experiences to show them how everyone benefits when proper processes and procedures are followed, including themselves.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

Training technicians how to use a software tool? Why not create a functional simulation of the software within an eLearning course that allows them to practice following key steps? For processes that are more complex, a single eLearning course or series of short vignettes may not be enough. Instead, consider a blended approach that introduces basic concepts in online prework, followed by live training sessions with an instructor.

Example: A customer training program we created moves basic terminology and introductory content into eLearning courses and game-based modules. Technicians then attend a live, instructor-led session where they are able to practice operating the machinery with an instructor present. Reinforcement is handled via a flashcard app post-training.

5. No “pain,” no change

Training is often the go-to solution when learners are not following a process or procedure. But once again, let’s assume that your employees are human beings who are intelligent and capable of following basic steps. They could learn the process and follow it if they wanted to, but they have not found a compelling reason that motivates them to do so. Training is sometimes developed in a vacuum that is very different from the actual work environment. In the learning solutions you produce, strive to show employees how following a process or procedure benefits them, or actually helps relieve a real or imagined pain they encounter on the job.

Example: We developed safety & compliance training for hair stylists in Regis corporation salons. A key interaction in the “Slips,Trips, and Falls” course asks stylists to try to retrieve items from a high shelf. If they do so with the “shortcut” process, the character falls off the ladder and sprains an ankle. The course actually shows the consequences that arise from taking the “shortcut,” and how the shortcut is not really faster if an accident happens.



Trying to find out what is “nice to know” and what is “need to know”? Download our Training Needs Analysis Worksheet.

The Corporate Learning Starter Pack (Free Download)


The status quo is no longer working in Learning & Development.

Rapid authoring, agile learning design, game-based learning platforms and mobile have made their way into our field, along with other innovations. Stakeholders who understand the impact training can have on the business are asking L&D to measure this impact based on real business outcomes.

And then we have our learners, who increasingly demand engaging, interactive learning solutions that truly help them improve their performance.

It’s time for a new plan.

For nearly 20 years, we have partnered with our clients to design and deliver the right learning solutions for their training and performance needs. While every project is different, we have evolved a set of internal tools that help us analyze the current situation, design a single course or blended curriculum to meet the need and select the right technology.

We’ve simplified these tools to create the Corporate Learning Starter Pack. Use these tools to jumpstart your planning process and create learning that meets and exceeds your goals!

There is so much evaluation and planning that goes into training, from a simple course to a full curriculum. Your budget and needs will ultimate shape your decisions, and the tools we’ve created will help you organize all of that information together in one place. With tips, questionnaires, checklists, and more, you’ll feel better equipped to tackle your training needs.

What’s inside

In the Starter Pack, you’ll find some of our most popular eLearning resources:

  • Needs Analysis worksheet: Ten simple questions that get you to the root of the training need.
  • Self assessment for your training program: A chance to be honest about the current state of training in your organization.
  • Template for planning your training program: A structured approach to sketching out the various learning solutions you must include.
  • Technology evaluation checklist: A shortcut for evaluating what technologies should be included in your approach.

Global eLearning: When One Size Does Not Fit All

Global eLearning
Want life to keep you on your toes? Try deploying eLearning to a global audience. Good ideas have to be great ones, and even the best-laid project work plan can be torn asunder as project teams grow and decision makers multiply. We’ve been deploying global eLearning curriculums with our clients for years, and that experience has taught us that, well, every project is truly unique. One size really does not fit all.

…But would that last sentence have worked in a global course? “One size does not fit all” is a phrase we use a great deal in the US, and its meaning seems universal. But how does that translate into Chinese? I’m not entirely sure, but if I was a learning designer developing eLearning for a global audience, I would need to check on that one.

Before you start a large curriculum design project (or even a single eLearning course) for a global audience, make sure you can answer these questions:

How will we get consensus from decision makers around the globe?

If you are lucky, all of the key stakeholders will be located in the same country. More than likely this is not the case. Your company’s stakeholders all want an opportunity to have buy-in and support each decision… but this can add months in development time. It is important to identify who owns the decision and who makes the final decision. If multiple global groups will meet with the vendor at different times, agree to break decisions into parts where everyone decides on their own piece. Otherwise, your group must try to make key decisions outside of meetings with your vendor.

How Will Content From Disparate Sources Be Collected?

Your organization is huge, and the vendor will likely be hunting around the globe to speak with SMEs, conduct focus groups and gather the necessary information. With so much information to gather, you’ll need to identify the key pieces you can provide to get the projected started, then agree on individual pieces the vendor can deliver while content is still being finalized on your end.

How will we make the solution feel universal?

In an article published in April 2013, we said that eLearning illustrations can make learners feel like a course is “everywhere and nowhere at the same time.” We’ve found that even the most “serious minded” learners respond positively to graphical illustrations instead of photography. It also avoids the problem of images that are too realistic. The laboratory in Iowa may not look the same as the one in Budapest, and illustrations can reduce this problem significantly.

Here is an illustrated example from a course we created for Cummins, Inc:

Illustrations for global eLearning

How will we keep expensive translations to a minimum?

If budget is an issue, try to think carefully about video and audio. How can you use video and audio creatively and add interactivity to the course without creating re-work? Obviously, avoiding audio of people speaking is essential, assuming you do not want to rely on subtitles.

How will the meaning of our courses translate into other languages?

The colloquialisms and vernacular may mean something entirely different in another country. They might even be offensive in another country. Vendors must work carefully with their clients, and do their own research, to determine how various language choices will work.

More tips for global elearning

For more thoughts on how to make your global eLearning project a success, have a look at the graphic below:

Global eLearning Chart

Project Showcase: Memorable eLearning for Salon Employees

In our business, there’s no better feeling than having a great client. A partner who wants to make memorable eLearning that engages the target learner. One such client of ours is Regis Corporation, a global leader in beauty salons and cosmetology educationRegis is committed to excellence in training and continuous learner improvement, and we have been helping the Regis Safety Group design and develop a new eLearning program since September of 2013.

Regis Corporation

Our current focus with Regis is safety training. Regis keeps its hair salons safe for guests and employees by complying with OSHA regulations. In the past, training was a combination of face-to-face and DVD based, led by managers during monthly meetings. Salons would have a briefcase of print materials to work through as part of this training. But Regis wanted to make the process more efficient and engaging. They really wanted to shift to an online delivery format and the recent implementation of a new LMS gave them the ability to do this, and track completion as well.

Regis’s Goals:

  • Make OSHA training easier to track for each learner.
  • Make safety training more engaging, memorable and effective.

Regis asked us to design an eLearning program that included five online modules that they could use for the initial eLearning launch. They asked us to develop three of the five modules AND provide all design & development assets along with ongoing development support. The Safety Group’s goal was to be able to update the first three courses on their own, develop the final two courses in house, and even create more courses in the future.

The Design Meeting:



Design choices were driven by our target audience: salon employees such as stylists and managers. Salon employees are on the move all day, not sitting at a desk with immediate access to a computer. They have very little time to devote to training. We designed the eLearning program to include small bursts of five-minute activities with self-paced modules that could be taken during breaks or in between customer appointments. Doing so allowed salon employees to finish a module and get to their next appointment without losing their progress. We also focused on a clean, conversational writing style with engaging visuals and learner interactions.

Regis had already seen our work samples such as the award-winning Avoid the BBPs course and Building Evacuation course, and this influenced some of their “must-haves” for the design. They liked the idea of an illustrated look and feel… and also wanted to create an immersive learner experience.

Key Features of the courses

  • Custom illustrations: An illustrated environment eliminates the problem of learners looking at a photo and saying “that’s not my salon!” We created fictitious settings where all the elements were strategically correct (chairs, displays, etc) but in an illustrated format. This way, learners can see themselves in the environment. Quick visits to a few actual salons allowed us to observe salon employees in action and take photos of the salon work areas that served as the inspiration for our illustrated look.



  • Interactions instead of text: Since most of the safety topics are “common sense” in nature, each module consists of interactions that allow the learners to practice proper safety procedures.



  • Strategic audio… with a transcript: Regis liked the idea of using audio to add to the learning experience. Since some salons place their employee computer “station” on the salon floor, we created a transcript feature so stylists can complete a course without disturbing guests or other salon employees.
  • Scenario-based: Each course has 4-6 activities, and learners are immediately dropped into situations to see if they make the right choices. If they cannot, they are shown the consequences and given a chance to try again. We made the consequences real: your character can get injured, miss time at work, etc if safety procedures aren’t followed in the course… just like in real life.



  • Mobile Friendly: We made all the courses iPad-friendly.

Example: The Ladder Activity

This ladder safety activity is a great example of the course’s design. The goal? Answer five questions about ladder safety correctly. If learners answer correctly, the character climbs up the ladder safely. If the learner answers incorrectly, the character falls off and makes an “ouch!” sound. Learners then must answer a question to climb back up.



While the answers to these questions may seem like common sense, the activities (and consequences) show and remind learners, “Oh! Here’s what can happen if you don’t do it right.”

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Example: Reaching High Places Safely

Employees don’t always realize that the safest way can be the fastest. In this activity, learners have three options: find someone to help them climb a ladder, jump up to get the product, or jump on top of the dryer. We ask: “What is the fastest way?”

If learners choose to jump, it takes one second to get the product, but they sprain their ankle and must go to the doctor.



If they choose the dryer, they accidentally knock all products over and must pick up what they’ve knocked down.

Learners receive feedback in the form of a winding clock that goes down no matter what they do. The course is designed so that the “safe” way takes less time than other choices because of all the potential risks.

Ergonomics Course

This second course in the project takes a similar concept and applies it to making choices that help learners avoid ergonomic injury – fatigue in arms, wrists, back, or neck. The characters themselves give feedback (via thought bubbles) when incorrect choices are made.


First Build, Then Enable:

This project is unique because, while we designed the first five courses and developed the first three, Regis also wants to develop some courses in-house going forward. In our design, we thought through how Regis can develop similar courses based on our design in the future. We even provided them with a pre-programmed screen template catalog and image library for their ongoing use.

We continue to provide resources to Regis for the courses their team is developing. When they decided to go with a “special agent” theme for the Hazard Communication course, we provided graphic design, content development, and testing support. Their course theme was clever: Regis set it up so learners complete a series of HazCom-related “missions” to become a special agent.

This type of collaboration is very rewarding: Senior Learning Designer Alicia Ostermeier notes that Regis has been fun to work with as a creative partner because our two teams are truly “in it together.” The ideas both teams have added to the project have made these courses truly memorable.

eLearning Course or Job Aid: Which do your Learners Need?


Most L&D departments are shifting from “just sit down and take this course” to “just-in-time learning.” eLearning is still important, yes, but we are seeing these trends grow:

  • Shorter courses. We like to call them “learning snacks.”
  • More reference guides. Courses are becoming more scenario based with the learning objective being to “find and locate.”
  • More interactions, scenarios, and activities within courses.
  • A new emphasis on creating a learning environment with job aids available to learners where and when they need them.

With more modalities than ever before, how do you know what learning solution to create and when? I posed this question to VP of Client Services Leanne Batchelder and she had a simple answer: do a task analysis!

Benefits of a task analysis

If you’re asking the question: “eLearning course or job aid?”, it all comes down to what people need to be able to do. Are you trying to provide support for on the job tasks? An eLearning course will be most useful for focusing on the tasks learners do the most often, or tasks that are the most critical.

Tasks that put the company at greater risk of liability, loss of money, and mistakes are also important areas to focus on in training. If poor performance increases risk in an important area, it probably should not be relegated to a job aid. Areas like these should come out in your task analysis.

What about easy tasks? This is where a job aid comes in handy. If learners complete the tasks with ease, or hardly ever do them, a detailed eLearning course would be a waste of resources. If a task is really important yet easy? A task analysis will once again help identify this, and you can respond with a step by step job aid, screencast, or other more detailed medium.

job aids: simple information when its needed

Ergonomics is one training area that should either be covered in a simple, short eLearning course or a series of job aids. We are currently developing a training program for one client to help people set up their desks, manage the phone, and perform other basic tasks. They could go through training, sure, but they might not even use their new desk until a month after they take the course! And with content so simple, you can be sure learners won’t return to the LMS to look information up after the fact.

For this project, we will develop a series of job aids, such as a 5-step visual job aid that can hang in the cubicle. The needed ergonomic information is available just when they need it, just at the right time.

eLearning: For Building True Skill

eLearning is ideal for building skill in a “safe” environment. The interactions with a course give learners practice opportunities where they can “learn by doing” before being in a real situation. A course is ideal for more complicated tasks learners must perform all the time. eLearning courses motivate learners by showing the consequences of completing a task incorrectly.

Example: NxStage Home Hemodialysis Patient Training CurrDesign_NxStage_image2

We developed a blended learning curriculum for patients to perform their own home hemodialysis using NxStage’s hemodialysis machine. One part of the eLearning in this curriculum has learners practice troubleshooting alarms on their home hemodialysis machine. As you might imagine, hearing an alarm going off on a hemodialysis machine you are hooked up to is terrifying! This was an important skill and learners needed to build confidence and competence in a safe environment.

The biggest reason for patient drop-out was because the alarm would go off. A “job aid” was available and information was located in the user manual, but this was not helpful “in the moment.” Severe medical consequences would ensue if the alarm was severe… so true skill was needed in this situation.

For this reason, we made the “Troubleshooting Alarms” portion of this curriculum eLearning-based, so learners could practice safely. As a result of the updated training, NxStage was able to cap the patient drop rate at 4% per month.

Which Do I need? Possibly both

The reality is that most corporate learning programs will require both eLearning courses and job aids to be successful. The key is using the right solution with different types of content.

Not sure which you need? Try using our task analysis worksheet or contact us!