It Takes a Village, Photoshop, and Microcopy: This Week on #BLPLearn


#BLPLearn is our way of saving all of the great content our team curates… and sharing it with the wider community. We’ll take the best articles shared by our Learning Services, Multimedia, and Product Development teams in their weekly meetings and include them in the weekly #BLPLearn blog. We’ll usually include some commentary from the original team member who found the article, too.

Our goal is to make the weekly #BLPLearn blog a dependable source for quality, curated L&D content. Check back every Thursday.


Rather than restricting the social media conversation to a 30 minute window, we’re inviting everyone inside and outside BLP to share interesting links, thoughts, and articles with the #BLPLearn hashtag on Twitter. We’ll check the feed once a week and include the best articles submitted via Twitter in the post, too.


Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s dive in to this week’s articles:

It Takes a Village 
Submitted by Jackie Crofts, Multimedia Developer

I have an article for you guys on how interacting with and looking at what other game developers are making is an important part of creating games. It can help us strengthen our practices, or shine a new light on some. It talks about the benefits in perspective, process, and creativity.

It Takes A Village!

To go along with that, I’m also posting some links to what another local company here is up to. Even though Evanced makes learning games for kids, we might find some things we can take away from them. They have some nice looking iPad games, but I think “That’s Baloney” is the only one that’s free. It’s a trivia game, so maybe it’s another method of question asking we could consider spinning somehow for another question type later?

Evanced Ipad Games

The Post PSD Era Doesn’t Want to Kill Designers
Submitted by Ha-Trang Parks, Multimedia Developer

‘The Post PSD Era doesn’t want to kill designers’, from Trevor Connolly, discusses how designers are needed more than ever now that PSDs are falling by the wayside as the building blocks of web designs. It talks about the positives and negatives of using Photoshop, changes necessary for a PSD-free workflow & more.

Your thoughts?
The Post PSD Era Doesn’t Want to Kill Designers

Five Ways To Prevent Bad Microcopy
Submitted by Sharon Roeder, Learning Designer

My link this week is around the subject of Microcopy! You know those tiny little phrases on screen that say “Click next to continue” that sometimes I take for granted and write without really thinking of how another user might perceive the text or directions.

I know that this article is geared towards website design, but I think it has a valid place in our e learning instructions. I liked the third point that talks about not using copy as a crutch, and that sentences with less than 8 words are easy to read.

What do you guys think about these tips? Are they inline with what we try to do? Do you give microcopy much thought?

  • Good reminder to think about our instructional copy.
  • Make sure we don’t use internal acronyms or concepts in user-facing text. (It could make sense to incorporate “corporate-isms” depending on context; evaluate to see if it’s better to use their language or force them outside of it.)
  • You may not think about it when done poorly (e.g. “ERROR 404 HTML”), but when it’s done well it adds to the enjoyment (e.g., the Twitter whale).
  • Particularly like the guidelines around short sentences (the 8-word rule).

Five Ways To Prevent Bad Microcopy

This Week on #TalkTech: Gamified Chores for Kids, Rethinking Medical Records and HTML 5 Design Ideas

#TalkTech is the “flipped” approach to Twitter chats. We publish all the topics a few hours before the chat so you can show up at 3 pm EST / 12 pm PST on Thursdays ready to discuss. We discuss three topics a week and the chat lasts around 30 minutes.

We’re shaking things up in 2013 here at #TalkTech! Every couple of weeks, a guest curator will be picking our topics and leading the discussion. Not much will change format-wise… we’ll still publish the weekly post here and the topics will still be tweeted by @BLPIndy, but a guest curator (besides yours truly) will pick the topics and be ready to lead the conversation during the chat. If you are interested in being a guest curator for TalkTech, let me know!

This week’s guest curator is Kristen Hewett, Senior Learning Designer at BLP. You should probably follow her on Twitter, because she’s really awesome.

Topic 1: What job tasks might a simple game motivate your learners to complete?

Choremonster - Gamified Chore App

There really is an app for everything. This new iPhone app out of Cincinnati is another way for parents to help get their children to do their chores. The quick demo in the video is good, but be sure to check out the interview notes in the article to see what the app developers have found about what motivates the kids to complete the gamified chores. What job tasks might a simple game motivate your learners to complete?

Cincinnati Startup Choremonster makes Chores Fun

Topic 2: How can medical records be redesigned to create a more compelling story?

Understanding medical records, heck sometimes even reading the doctor’s handwriting, can be a challenge. This article shows the results from a White House design challenge for medical records. It looks like you might actually be able to tell what those cholesterol levels mean in a single glance. Think about the data you need to present in your job – how could visuals tell a more compelling story?

eMedical Records Gets a Mobile, Open-Sourced Overhaul By White House Health Design Challenge Winners

Topic 3: How does HTML 5 open up new design possibilities?

Don’t try to open the next site in IE – you’ll just get an error message. Check it out in Chrome or on your tablet. With Form Follows Function, designer Jongmin Kim showcases what HTML5 can really do. Flip through several of his interactive pieces to see how they respond to your mouse or finger. Favorites include Ripple on the Green and Hue Blending. What new ideas do they spark for you?

Fast Company: Eye Popping Experiences That Show Off What HTML5 Can Do

And here’s a link to the actual project, which requires Chrome for best viewing.

If you’re new to Twitter chats, don’t forget about awesome tools such as that automatically save the hashtag and help you focus on the conversation!

Could you live on $1000/month? Learning Games with a Cause

A homeless organization in North Carolina, Urban Ministries of Durham, recently created an online learning game to help people understand the challenges of living at the poverty line.  “Spent” is a great game that very easily engages you and helps you realize the challenges of working a minimum wage job. Check it out:

While this game is meant as a marketing and awareness tool, you learn a lot about poverty as you play. It’s a very effective awareness tool, and I appreciate it for what it is. But as I played, I saw some game design principles that would be good for those of us who design workplace e-learning and learning games to remember:

  • Make sure learners know where they are and what the goal is. The goal of the game is to get through a month with some money left in your pocket.  Along the right side of the screen, it tracks which day of the month I’m on and I always know how much money I have.  When people complete our e-learning, they need some mile-markers to orient themselves to where they are in the learning.
  • Focus on the content, not the flashiness of the screen. The look of the game is very simple and uses mainly clean graphical icons. There is very little audio in the game, except when there naturally would be – for example, when you get a phone call. Too often with e-learning courses or serious games, we get wrapped up in how it “looks”. While that’s important, content is king! Spend your time focused on developing realistic, rich content and the amount of time/money needed for the graphics may be less.
  • Create clear consequences for your decisions. Just like in real-life, there are positive and negative consequences to each decision we make. In the game, you can easily see how many days of work you’ve missed and know that if you miss more than three, you’ll lose your job. In any game you design, be sure that there are real consequences to each decision.
  • Answers that aren’t black and white. Many times as I played the game, I didn’t know what the right answer was. The choice was often difficult, especially when it was about providing for your children. But this mirrors the reality of poverty. There doesn’t have to be a “right” answer in the game.

What do you think of the game? Can you see how the design principles could translate to one of your projects?

Here in Indianapolis, BLP supports Dayspring Center, which helps women and children transition out of homelessness. If you live in central Indiana, I encourage you to check them out and consider helping!

Designing for the How, not the What

As we wrap up our design focus for the month of September, I wanted to share some of the internal discussion we’ve been having here at BLP. Does this remind you of any of the courses you’ve developed?

It does me! Too often the activities in courses are about the “what” or the “why”. And I suspect that many of our professional, business-minded learners have Calvin’s mindset about some of the courses we deliver!

So, we’ve been exploring some of the ways that we can provide experiences that give learners an accurate view of how they’ll need to perform on the job…and isn’t that the ultimate goal anyway? Below are some of the shifts and goals we’ve been discussing. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? What would you add to the list?

Designing Synchronous e-Learning Courses

We’re continuing our discussion of synchronous e-learning (aka. distance learning) this month. Today, I want to talk about how to actually design synchronous e-learning courses. There are many elements of course design that need to be taken into consideration for synchronous e-learning. However, here are just a few questions to consider:

1. Technology

  • Is there someone who can act as a “host” on the session and manage technical issues and questions?
  • Is the technology that we’re using stable and robust enough to allow for interaction?
  • Is the technology intuitive enough that it is a help and not a distraction to facilitators or participants?

2. Facilitators

  • Are the facilitators comfortable using the technology?
  • Can the facilitators offer feedback to participants on activities in real time?
  • Are facilitators willing to take the additional time needed to practice and prepare for a synchronous e-learning course?
  • Do facilitators have clear instructions on how to facilitate the activity? Below is an example of a duel facilitator guide we created for a client recently. In this situation, the course will be taught both face to face and online. Facilitators make the choice on how to facilitate based on their situation.

3. Participants

4. Content

  • Have I avoided the temptation to make synchronous e-Learning more about lecture than exploration? While it can seem “easier” to take this route, in reality synchronous e-learning requires MORE interaction and opportunities to ensure that participants are engaged. Check out this great table to assess the level of interactivity across the various elements of course design.
  • Is the course chunked into management bites? As much as possible, shorter modules are preferable in synchronous e-learning to avoid the dreaded multitasking of participants!
  • Is the course designer/writer familiar with the technology? Has she/he ensured that what is written is actually feasible?

What do you think of my list? What’s missing that you always consider when developing synchronous e-learning?

Impact of Culture on Learning

I’ve been working on an instructor-led project lately and it’s caused me to think about what impact does culture have on learning preferences?

My disclaimer for this post is that I’m not advocating that we teach to “learning styles”. Check out this post for a starting point to learn more about why we shouldn’t design to learning styles.

However, my question is – How much should culture influence my design? And how much does my own culture influence the way I design courses?

I suspect that I don’t want to design to culture and here’s why. The question was, “This a German audience. They just want facts. Will they want to do hands-on activities?”

My first response was, “Yes!” I think that German audiences would hate death by PowerPoint as much as an American audience. However, wouldn’t there be different tolerance levels for the types of activities based on culture? How can we plan for that in our learning designs? (I would be willing to do a global tour and explore cultures to study it…I wonder if that’s in the budget???)

I did do a quick Google search, and didn’t come up with one link that addressed the topic.  Any thoughts? Things to consider?

Organizing Information

Happy Friday! In the past, BLPers (Yep, that’s what we call ourselves!) have blogged about the use of graphical organizers in the training we develop.  I am big believer in the need to organize information outside of a bulleted list. However, this week I’ve realized that I  need to rethink my approach; or at least think about it more! I had designed (with the help of an actual graphic designer) a simple graphic in a course to illustrated three possible scenarios. In the first round of edits, the comment was “This graphic is confusing to me. What does it mean?” Obviously, if a graphical organizer confuses the learner, it’s not helping!

So instead of just looking at a list and thinking about how I can translate that into a picture, I need to make sure that the graphic has a strong enough framework to actually help someone understand what the image is saying. Newspapers are doing a better and better job at this, and the Washington Post created a great one this past week to break down the economic stimulus bill (which makes my head hurt). They did a great job of visually organizing the information and also including enough explanation that I could begin to create some conclusions and questions based on that information. And that’s the sweet spot that I think we as learning professionals are often trying to find…not just organizing the data, but doing it in a way that gets the learner thinking!

To check out some more examples of how information can be mapped, check out I could spend hours looking at all of the information maps on this site and the ways that people have grouped and managed complex ideas. If nothing else, it’s a great place to look for creative ways to approach the same information!

If you really want to dig deeper into the supject, Edward Tufte is considered the a leader in the area of graphical repesentation of information. Among other things, he’s known for documenting how poorly designed PowerPoint presentations lead to the NASA Columbia tragedy. Check out a portion of his arguement. I know that I’m going to remember this the next time I put together a PowerPoint presentation!

Does Age Matter in E-Learning Design?

Happy Friday and Happy New Year!

In the January issue of ASTD’s T&D magazine, there’s an article titled “Tech Masters” which describes how Millinnial employees (ages 14-27) prefer to use technology at work.

The article makes some valid points about tailoring a workplace to this newest generation. However,  in my experience, age isn’t the only factor to consider. I offer two recent examples:

  • For the courses in my multi-course project (which is past the halfway mark – yahoo!), the SMEs decided that we didn’t need to have navigation screens.  They felt like it was self-explanatory and that the learners knew how to navigate in an e-learning course. (Learners still have the option of using a help tab.) They liked the idea of eliminating a screen in the course. Without making any guesses about their ages, I can safely say that these SMEs are part of a later generation.
  • At Christmas, my brother, a construction contractor, wanted to show me a picture of the gift he got his son. I had to explain to him how to get to Google to look for a picture of a Chilean Rose Tarantula (shudder). After informing him that I was never stepping foot in his house while that thing was there, I teased him about how slowly he navigated!

Since my brother is younger than the SMEs I work with, popular wisdom would say that he should be more tech-savvy and need less instruction when designing e-learning. But as always, it’s about knowing your learner! The SMEs use online resources every day and have to take many e-learning courses as part of their jobs. My brother rarely has to use a computer other than to manage finances.  Check out the Making Change blog by Cathy Moore and her recent post on getting to know learners and blog readers for some additional food for thought.

How do you get to know your audience better? How do you avoid making assumptions about learners based on their age?

Tis a Gift to be Simple: Powerful Images

Happy Friday!

I’m immersed in several course designs and an important part of the design process is determining what graphics and images to use. While we want our courses to be visually interesting and modern (and we often incorporate some amazingly complex graphics), sometimes the simplest image is the most powerful.

This is a graphic we’ll use in an upcoming budget e-learning course. We’re teaching learners the basics of managing multi-million dollar budgets, but our larger message is that they need to understand and know the status of their budget at all times. Rather than try and show portions of complex spreadsheets and analytical tools, we’ve created a clear graphic that helps them understand the point:

Learners will see the graphic during a case study and can track the progress of the case study. It enables us to reinforce complex ideas in a small portion of screen real estate.

A blog that inspires my use of simple graphics is Indexed. While highly amusing, it also helps me think visually and understand how I can use visual graphics to communicate complex ideas. VizThink has a podcast with the author, Jessica Hagy, posted, and you can hear more about her philosophy to simple images and their context. (Although it’s about 20 minutes in length, and I did not have 20 minutes to give it at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon! The issue of whether people will listen to a 20 minute podcast will have to be for another post.)

I leave you with one of my favorites from her blog entitled And as the 10th bullet point states:

And as the 10th bullet point states

Have you had success using simple, powerful images in your courses? I’d love to hear about it!

A Word about Wordle…and a bonus tool!

Happy Friday!

I attended the local TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages…Isn’t that a mouthful!) conference this past weekend and was exposed to some great sites that I think are applicable to my day job as a learning designer!

Wordle is a program that can take any document or website and create a word cloud. A word cloud is simply a image that represents the most frequent key terms. Many blogs and websites use word clouds for the tags associated with their site. Wordle is unique because it can do that for any document or website. Below is a word cloud I created based on the text in the BLP web 2.0 white paper. I just selected all text in the paper and copied and pasted into the Wordle site. Couldn’t be easier!

You can change the colors, font, and visual orientation for the word cloud. I really liked seeing the key words in the white paper and how often they’re used in relation to each other.

I could see the potential for a tool like this in both e-learning and instructor-led courses.

  • Use this type of visual to let learners know what topics will be covered.
  • Use it to ask learners to identify which topics they would like to spend more or less time on.
  • Or use it to ask learners to identify terms and ideas that they are unfamiliar with.
  • It could even be used in a design meeting if there is a lot of source content. Creating a word cloud for the source documents could help subject matter experts determine what content to include in a course.

How could you use a word cloud in the learning that you develop?

Your Bonus Tool

The E-Learning Queen posted an interview with George Columbo, the founder of Neulio. Neulio is a hosted platform that lets organizations publish web 2.0 media with a little more structure. It’s YouTube for businesses!

I checked out their site and encourage you to as well. They have a free learning community that anyone can join and practice uploading media. It’s potential for learning is interesting because:

  1. Videos are published in chapters. We learning designers know that “chunking” is a best practice!
  2. You can add quizes and written content to support the videos.

Check it out and have a great weekend!