How Gestalt Can Help You Create Better Training: This Month on #BLPLearn


Welcome back to our #BLPLearn blog series, where we offer a monthly look at design and technology as it pertains to learning and development. I’m your host, Jake Huhn… Senior Marketing Technologist at Bottom-Line Performance.

Let’s Talk About Gestalt Principles

Learning design and graphic design sometimes feel like two distant worlds. When you’re building a course—or working with a vendor—and you’re responsible for results, it can make graphic design seem like a trivial afterthought. You’re concerned with making sure every word is perfect, and making sure every step is explained thoroughly, and making sure you provide accurate definitions. Where’s the time to worry about how “pretty” that screen looks?

But I want to encourage you to make graphic design a higher priority—and there’s science to back me up.


It all has to do with Gestalt Principles of Organization. “The Gestalt principles of organization involve observations about the ways in which we group together various stimuli to arrive at perceptions of patterns and shapes.” [Gestalt Principles of Organization] These principles are essentially graphic design 101, and every designer should at least be familiar with them. And researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have shown how Gestalt theory can help improve learning:

“The new screen designs were then evaluated by asking students and others to compare the designs. The viewers were also asked to rate directly the value of using the eleven Gestalt design principles in the redesign, both for improving the product’s appearance and improving its value for learning.The evaluation results were overwhelmingly positive. Both the new design and the value of applying the eleven Gestalt laws to improve learning were strongly supported by the students’ opinions.”

These researchers aren’t alone, either. Other research has shown how these principles facilitate Visual Working Memory, an essential part of learning and other cognitive processes.

Implications for Learning Design

As a graphic designer, I gravitate towards how beautiful, clean design can improve learners’ comprehension of a course… but there’s more that Gestalt theory can offer learning designers. Gestalt is more than graphic design, it’s an entire psychology of perception—and it can improve more than just looks.

Consider what Gestalt theory teaches us about Similarity. Learning is facilitated if similar ideas are treated and linked together and then contrasted with opposing or complementary sets of ideas.

It can also shape the way you challenge your learners (think quizzing). “The Gestalt theory of learning purports the importance of presenting information or images that contain gaps and elements that don’t exactly fit into the picture. This type of learning requires the learner to use critical thinking and problem solving skills. Rather than putting out answers by rote memory, the learner must examine and deliberate in order to find the answers they are seeking.” [Gestalt Theory (von Ehrenfels)]

And bringing it back to where we started, the graphic design of your learning solution (the proximity of text to images, the negative space, the clean lines) is yet another piece of the puzzle when it comes to facilitating proper learning. If you organize your information and images according to these principles, your learning solution will look beautiful and be more effective.

So Take the Time to Learn About Gestalt Theory

I hope I’ve made the case that taking graphic design 101 can actually benefit your learning design. There is a lot of information on the web—from either universities or graphic design authorities—that can help give you an overview of Gestalt principles in design. A great starting point is this Designer’s Guide to Gestalt Theory on Creative Bloq. From there you can dive into the actual psychology and even explore eLearning Industry’s website for more industry specific coverage.


Chang, Dempsey, Laurence Dooley, and Juhani E. Tuovinen. “Gestalt Theory in Visual Screen Design: A New Look at an Old Subject.” Proceedings of the Seventh World Conference on Computers in Education Conference on Computers in Education: Australian Topics 8 (2002). Accessed March 27, 2016.

“Gestalt Theory (von Ehrenfels).” 2014. Accessed March 27, 2016.

Peterson, Dwight J., and Marian E. Berryhill. “The Gestalt Principle of Similarity Benefits Visual Working Memory.” Psychon Bull Rev. 20, no. 6 (December 20, 2013): 1282-289. Accessed March 27, 2016.

“Gestalt Principles of Organization.” Psychology Encyclopedia. 2013. Accessed March 27, 2016.

Should Instructional Designers “Teach to the Test”?

Teach to the Test

There is a lot of angst these days in the education field about “teaching to the test.” It started in K-12 but it’s crept into corporate speak as well. Some say that tests are no longer relevant. They are viewed as hold-overs of an out-of-touch education system. A growing bandwagon of people are saying that they want to help people learn to problem-solve and do critical thinking… and not just memorize facts.

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: they need to know it if they want to perform their job efficiently and/or safely. In compliance and safety situations, we need some objective verification that they do know it before they are allowed to perform the job. This is needed both to satisfy OSHA regulations and as a way to protect the employee and business.

Case in Point

I sat on a materials review call for a course we are developing within the healthcare industry. This particular scenario asks quite a bit from the learner:

  1. They need to be able to recall the steps to performing a variety of tasks.
  2. They need to select the appropriate tools to do specifics jobs.
  3. They need to be able to correctly put on personal protective equipment (PPE) when entering spaces where high-risk infections are present.
  4. They need to know what protective equipment is required in specific situations, which means they need to recognize different signage located outside patient rooms.

The entire course concludes with a certification test. The test directly links to what this role needs to know…and know how to do. I was concerned to hear a materials reviewer push to add course content that was not going to be part of the test.  This reviewer said, “We need to go beyond teaching to the test.” The implication was that we would fail the learner if we only include content that will be on the test. In essence, we want to give them a smorgasbord of information and heighten their competency by doing so.

What's Wrong with the Test

What’s Wrong With The Test?

We act as if it is shameful if we “only” teach to a test, but why? I suspect many of us believe that we are dumbing things down if we do just focus on a test. Perhaps we are afraid that teaching to a test limits our ability to deliver a rich, meaningful experience that elevates the general abilities of the learner. Too often, we want to turn people into the experts that we are rather than arming them with basic proficiency to do their jobs well.

What’s the risk? If we mix nice-to-know and need-to-know content, learners will likely experience cognitive overload. Worse, we risk them remembering some of the irrelevant information at the expense of the most relevant information.*

What does “Good” Look Like?

A good test should be an accurate assessment of the body of knowledge learners need to know to perform their jobs. If appropriate, it should also assess the skills people have or their decision-making ablity when judgment is a component of executing the job. It should only assess the knowledge and skill required to do the job. Courses that are designed to teach steps, processes, and the “why’s” behind those steps and processes need to keep their focus laser-sharp. People can only remember so much.

If it is essential that workers recall a specific body of knowledge and apply that knowledge to the execution of a set of procedures and processes then, please, don’t include anything that is not essential to them.

The problem is not tests. The problem is bad tests. Bad tests contain irrelevant material. Bad tests are poorly worded. Bad tests are too easy or too hard. Bad tests are not comprehensive, covering all the knowledge and skills critical to a job or situation.

Please do teach to the test… But only if you want to verify that people gained the skill and knowledge you have defined as essential to successful performance of the job.


*- Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer, The Science of Instruction, New Jersey: Pfeiffer, 2011.

Maybe you have a training need that requires some additional analysis? You can use our free Training Needs Analysis Worksheet to get to the heart of the matter.

What Will Corporate Learners Remember from your Training?

This is an excerpt from our white paper, When Remembering Really Matters: Learning Strategies for Long-Term Retention. The white paper includes eight strategies to improve learning and remembering. Here is Part 1:


How confident are you that learners really remember what they learn from training delivered in your organization? When a week or a month has passed, how much of what they learned can they recall?

Some of you may respond by replying, “That’s not my priority,” which may be true. Sometimes the goal of training is not about changing learners’ knowledge or skill. Instead the goal is to verify that learners completed the training. Your organization needs to provide organizational proof of compliance or proof that they communicated information. In these instances, you may equate course completion with “ef- fective training.” The question of whether your learners will actually remember the content covered in the training a week or a month afterward is never asked.


moneystackBut what about times when remembering REALLY matters? Organizations typically have business challenges to address and growth goals to reach. Leaders frequently identify training as a required el- ement for meeting these challenges or driving growth, and organizations spend billions of dollars cre- ating and delivering these solutions. ASTD estimates that in 2012 organizations spent approximately 164.2 billion on employee training.

Is that money well spent, or is it wasted? Imagine that you are in charge of designing and imple- menting a learning solution that addresses one of the business problems on the next page. What would your solution look like?*

moneybagEmployee turnover in a pivotal role is over 20%; the goal is 10%

A thorough performance analysis pinpoints lack of skill and experience as one of the drivers of the unac- ceptably high turnover. How much money do you save the company if you can design mem- orable training…and how much do you cost the company if you design training that doesn’t work? (Answer: millions of dollars)

peopleiconA home dialysis equipment manufacturer recognizes revenue growth is stifled by three issues:

1) Patients select home therapy, complete the expensive train- ing for it, but opt out of the home therapy after only a few weeks. 2) The time to train a single patient takes too long. 3) Centers can only train one patient at a time on the therapy, which means only .65 patients per month get trained. They want to reduce the patient drop rate, cap the length of the training at four weeks, and double the number of patients trained in a month’s time. How do you redesign it to produce the required business result?

timeA company wants to roll out a brand new product in a brand new sector.

The sales and support teams are completely unfamiliar with the product offering, and the sector is new to them as well. To make things even more challenging, these teams support products across nine different product lines with new product releases rolling out approxi- mately every two months. How in the world do you get them to remember THIS product? What sales revenue is lost if you cannot produce training that is memorable to members of the sales and support teams?

hospitalHospital labs spend well into six figures to acquire lab equipment your company sells.

Your agreement specifies that you provide them with a customer support specialist until they achieve competency in its use. Each week that your customer support tech spends in a lab is a week the tech isn’t available to assist with a new installation. You don’t want to hire more techs; you want to reduce the time each tech needs to spend with a customer AND you want your customers’ ramp-up time to be reduced. How do you redesign the training to achieve these results? What’s the cost of trainees not remembering here?

phoneSomeone has a heart attack on your corporate campus and passes out.

Because you have a large campus with more than a dozen different buildings, the safety pro- tocol is to dial an internal number to report an emergency rather than calling 911. What’s the cost here if those who witness the emergency do not remember what number to dial for help? This heart attack really happened at one of our client sites, and the individual who witnessed it DID know what to do because she had completed the safety training we created…and re- membered it. Would your employees remember yours? Would your training save a life?

Top 7 Custom eLearning Articles on our Blog in 2013

Best eLearning Blogs of 2013

Why do we all love ‘best of’ posts so much at the end of the year? Love is a strong word here, but I find them helpful as a quick reference to useful content shared during the past twelve months.

Regular readers know we strive to make this blog a hub for corporate learning professionals. Our goal is to educate and inform, and to that end we invest considerable time creating and researching content that the learning and development community will find useful.

To me, the seven top articles from the past year are really a checklist of what’s important and pressing to learning professionals. Agile learning design, Experience (Tin Can API), social learning, and increasing the interactivity of eLearning were all hot topics at the major eLearning conferences this year. Sharon Boller’s white paper, which summarized seven of the emerging L&D trends for the year, was downloaded thousands of times because we increasingly need information that helps us sort through the trends and determine what’s really pressing for our organizations.

The same goes for our Training Needs Analysis worksheet; with so much growing and changing in the L&D industry, it becomes harder each year to evaluate the technologies and tools available while designing curricula that are instructionally sound… and tied to business objectives.

You’ll notice that games and gamification are mysteriously not on this list of articles. That’s because we started a second blog in 2013 on, solely dedicated to using games for learning. We simply had too much content for one blog! Look for a “best of” post on the Knowledge Guru blog very soon.

I hope you find one or more of these articles helpful. They were the most visited articles on our site for the year, based on total web traffic.

1. What is Agile Learning Design? – This article is a great first stop if you are looking for a broad overview of agile design principles, and their use for learning design. We explain what Agile is, how it can be better than ADDIE, and (most importantly) how we have been using Agile design principles with our clients to improve the learning solutions we offer. The article includes a graphic that shows what the agile learning design process looks like.

2. Agile vs ADDIE: Which is Better for Learning Design? – Just because agile design principles work in a learning and development setting does NOT mean we must throw the baby out with the bathwater and ditch ADDIE. In fact, ADDIE is still our approach of choice for many projects. The real secret, we’ve found, is to modify ADDIE with some agile development stages and provide clients with working prototypes sooner.

3. Learning Trends and Technologies: New White Paper by Sharon Boller – This white paper was our single most downloaded piece of content in the calendar year. Sharon starts the white paper by identifying six truths about our industry today; things we might not even want to admit about what corporate learning really looks like. Then, Sharon lays out her vision for the year with seven of the fastest growing trends in the field.

4. How We Use Social Media for Informal Learning – We used ourselves as a “learning lab” to learn how social learning with social media really looks like in an organization. We wanted to better advise our clients, but we also wanted an easier way to curate content and stay up to date on the latest trends and technologies. This article has been widely shared as a case study for using social learning in an organization.

5. Experience (Tin Can) API: What to Expect from Your LMS Provider – With all of the excitement surrounding the Experience API standard, we decided to write an article that explains, in clear terms, what the organizations we serve really need to know about the new standard. This article shows what’s possible with the Experience API… while also explaining the real roadblocks to adoption.

6. How to Structure an eLearning Interaction – I interviewed Manager of Instructional Design Jennifer Bertram to learn about what goes in to creating learning interactions within an eLearning course. Jennifer had some in-depth tips for writing scenarios in eLearning, and also suggested several alternatives to scenarios in an eLearning course.

7. Training Needs Analysis Worksheet (Free Download) – We shared a five-step process for conducting a basic training needs analysis. This article also includes a ten question worksheet for completing the needs analysis, available as a free download.

5 Simple and Effective eLearning Interactions

Sharon Boller - Bottom-Line Performance

Why invest in eLearning courses instead of “flat” media like powerpoints and webinars? The interactivity, of course. Besides the obvious benefits of reduced costs and a virtual training environment, eLearning allows learners to practice new skills and concepts safely through a variety of interactions.

I interviewed Sharon Boller, President of Bottom-Line Performance, to compile a list of interactions that can be used over and over again in a variety of eLearning courses. The resulting list of five eLearning interactions is a great starting point for structuring content that really helps change attitudes and behaviors.

According to Sharon, the main challenge is to think of an interaction as something that mentally engages the learner… not just “stuff they can click on and do for the sake of clicking and doing.” If you can help people begin the mental exercise of pondering something, you’re on the right track.

Let’s look at the five interaction types Sharon identified for eLearning.


Scenarios are perhaps the broadest category… and the most commonly used eLearning interaction type. Most eLearning courses will have at least one section with scenarios… and many of the courses we design are entirely scenario-driven. Sharon identified three main types.

“What Would You Do?” Scenarios

Present a scenario, either with a simple paragraph of text or text and an image. Then, ask the question… What would you do? Leave a blank field that learners can type into, then let them compare their response to a suggested response after submitting. It’s simple and effective to ask people this, and no fancy graphic design or programming skill is required to use this interaction.

Multiple Choice Scenarios (No branching)

Multiple choice questions hold many benefits for eLearning. First off, you can capture the data and easily score it. Multiple choice questions are more realistic than we’d like to think; Sharon pointed out that “life is a series of multiple choice questions.” Feel free to make liberal use of scenarios driven by multiple choice questions in your eLearning.

To control the complexity, and cost, of your scenario, only design for the series of correct responses, but write feedback for the incorrect responses. If learners choose an incorrect option, they see feedback explaining what they should have chosen before moving on. While you lose some of the opportunity for learners to see consequences and learn from mistakes, scenarios like this are much simpler to build from a programming and design standpoint. Try this interaction if you don’t have skill or ability to do a branching scenario.

Branching Scenarios 

The biggest opportunity for learning from mistakes in eLearning comes from branching scenarios. Let learners go down the wrong path for awhile and see where it gets them; they’ll appreciate the ability to see a realistic range of possibilities.

Multiple Choice Scenario

The key to a successful branching scenario is to keep most branches limited to two choices. This will limit the complexity. As you can see from the screenshot above, every decision does not need to be limited to two choices. The trick is to control the length of your scenario as you go, making sure it does not creep outside of your scope.

The Building Evacuation course we built for Hoffman-La Roche is a branching scenario from start to finish. We kept the course within a tight budget by limiting how far each branch could go; incorrect responses only continued for two more choices before ending. Try this approach when you need to include more than two options, but still want to limit the complexity.

See the course for yourself here.

Q&A… with a “success” meter

Questions and answers are a common feature of eLearning courses, especially in the form of a post-test. Why not include a meter that shows learners how their performance affects their job success, or the success of their organization?

The example below is a sales meter found in the Formulation Type Matters eLearning game we developed for Dow AgroSciences. Players answer customer questions, and their overall sales increase or decrease based on their results.

Learning Game - Success Meter

Other courses we’ve built include a meter showing learner performance compared to a competitor. Based on their ability to respond to questions, learners gained or lost market share for the company, or the competitor did. This interaction allows you to use a simple Q&A approach, but show how the results are tied to the success of the company. Learners like this approach because the feedback is presented in terms of a real-world consequence. Sharon noted that creating any type of consequence besides right or wrong helps make the connection with why learners’ actions matter.

Getting Advice from Characters

Use of characters and learning agents is common practice for instructional designers. Giving learners the ability to ask for help from various characters in the course works well as an interaction.

In the Healthy Families course we designed for the Indiana School of Nursing, we scripted out characters who represented different points of view someone might commonly go to. One was a co-worker, one was a boss. While considering options, learners could listen to 30 second sound bytes from a co-worker, listen to a boss share their perception. Learners would consider both pieces of advice… some of it good and some of it less valuable. Use an interaction like this to encourage the mindset of talking to other people or consulting a resource to gain information.

“Day in the Life” Calendars

Whenever possible, learning interactions should help mirror the conditions and decisions learners face on their jobs. Another interaction Sharon liked in the Healthy Families course was the ability to access the “day calendar” for the learner’s job role. By simply clicking the calendar and seeing a typical daily schedule, this interaction sets context at the start about why information in the course even matters.

Explorable Environments, Intriguing Visuals

When learners are not choosing their response in an eLearning scenario, they are often exploring an environment. A typical “exploration” interaction involves hovering over various things and learning what they are, and the key is to make the environment relevant, and the visuals compelling. If you have access to a graphic designer but no programmer, you can get a long way by designing a great graphic learners will want to look at and explore, without needing to include advanced programming features.

Avoid the BBP - menu screen


Throughout all of these eLearning interactions, Sharon recommends thinking in terms of “choose your own adventure.” Continuously putting people in the mindset of “what would you do?”, while creating some sort of real-world stake to make people feel vested. While some of these interactions obviously require some programming and design support, you can get started on most of them with even the most basic of authoring tools.

Need some help designing your eLearning course? Contact us.

Why Don’t Trainers Worry About ROI?

ROI of Training

ROI has been a buzzword since the 90s. People talk about it all the time… and measuring ROI is cited as a goal for many initiatives across an organization. We’ve been designing learning solutions since 1995, and while we think ROI is really important, we can count the projects on one hand where people actually calculate ROI. Why isn’t it happening?

The answer depends on the organization. Here are a few possibilities to consider. Do any of these sound familiar in your organization?

The C-Level cares about ROI… but frontline employees are not as concerned

Company leadership often takes complete ownership of the strategic plan. They set the revenue goals and allocate budgets for each department. The bottom line is, for them, the most important thing. When frontline employees get too disconnected from the company’s strategic goals, ROI will be the last thing on their minds. For example, an L&D department that is allocated a certain budget may only be concerned with spending the entire budget (so they will get the same amount the following year) and showing that everyone completed training. If they have not bought in to the strategic goals of the organization, they will only be focused on convincing leadership that their job is valuable.

ROI is long-term, but we must respond to short term needs in the moment

Some of us are too busy putting out fires to look up at the horizon. We are meeting the needs of today without anticipating the needs of tomorrow and evaluating our past actions. At least, that’s what happens when we don’t think about our organizational investments. It’s not just training, either. In fact, overly worrying about ROI can also be detrimental if it keeps us from taking even the smallest actions. Analysis paralysis is a risk, just as failing to consider ROI is a risk. Since we often need to take an action and move forward quickly in the midst of daily tasks, ROI can get pushed aside entirely.

We lack the necessary tools to accurately calculate ROI

Learning and Development does not get too deep in the analytics department. Most LMS’s are just used as glorified “completion tracking engines.” We want to know whether or not someone took a course or not so we can tell our boss that everyone completed the training. What we don’t also see is how each learner performed on the learning objectives, or how job-related performance indicators changed after completion of the training. Some LMS’s are more full-featured than others, of course. In many cases, it’s just a matter of the L&D department making full use of the tracking capabilities available to them.

Formal training fills a fraction of our time at work.

Formal training makes up a small part of the learning picture, so it’s hard to track its impact

Sharon Boller’s 2013 Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities white paper points out that the average learner spends only 31 hours in formal training during a typical year. Meanwhile, their working life has at least 2049 more hours of activity… and most of the real learning happens on the job. Since formal training is a relatively minor part of our working lives, it sometimes plays a small part in our overall success on the job. It might help us get started, but its impact decreases over time. We need a way to track more of the learning experiences that happen in the flow of work and think of this informal learning as an important part of professional development. Tin Can API (also called Experience API) makes this infinitely easier to do.

We haven’t had to calculate it before… so we don’t now

Many companies have delivered the same type of training for years. It’s already a line item on the annual budget and no one questions it because they don’t remember not doing the training. Instead of re-evaluating the results of the training on a regular basis, it becomes embedded in the company culture and allowed to continue indefinitely. This is why bringing in a third party can be helpful.


Compliance and Safety Training: When You Have to Do It, Make it Memorable

What’s the risk of delivering the same old compliance training year after year? The main reason most organizations train for compliance is, well, to comply. They are mandated to deliver the training by law. Some would argue it is in the company’s best interest to deliver the cheapest, most basic training possible that still meet the necessary requirements. Why waste time and money on making it fun and elaborate when the bare minimum will do?

While OSHA, HIPAA and FDA regulations do a great job of setting standards and auditing organizations when a problem is perceived, it’s still way too easy for people to slip up on a daily basis. Minor compliance violations go unreported in almost every workplace… and it never seems like a big deal until it is a big deal. Just because you made someone “aware” of a procedure does not mean they are actually following it.Compliance Training - Why Checked the Box... Now What?

The challenge of compliance is getting more serious for Hospital Networks. The Affordable Care Act has introduced a set of 10 new Partnership for Patients standards hospitals must measure. Medicare funding for hospitals is no longer tied to the volume of patients they see – it’s based off of the hospital’s ability to reduce its number of readmissions and various hospital acquired infections. Now, a failure to comply with standards is directly related to funding.

Employers must also be aware of the various parts of OSHA. While training is not always a requirement to meet OSHA standards, over 100 of OSHA’s standards require some sort of training to stay in compliance. Even if a particular OSHA standard does not require training, an organization struggling to stay in compliance may turn to training as part of their solution.

The US Department of Labor Website has an entire section on Training Requirements for OSHA standards and guidelines. OSHA encourages a personalized approach to compliance training so it reflects the local work environment. A one-size fits all, cookie cutter approach to compliance training may check the box, but will it really motivate learners to change their behavior? Probably not.

Motivating behavior change is the secret to true compliance… but most compliance training is just designed to list facts and make people “aware” of procedures. And while delivering generic awareness training that is legally sufficient may solve the short term need, it leads to big problems in the future. When a dangerous situation arises and your workforce has no idea how to handle it… you’ll realize the compliance training didn’t really work.

Custom eLearning is usually part of the learning solution when training for compliance. BLP works extensively with organizations in highly regulated industries to help them comply with government mandated policies and procedures. We design compliance-driven learning solutions to motivate behavior change, not just drive awareness. We want people to know what they are supposed to do AND do it… not just vaguely remember they took some required training and hated it.

If you have to deliver compliance training, you need to make it memorable. Here’s how:

Some examples of Compliance Training

Building EvacuationBuilding Evacuation - Second scenario Taking a course about Building Evacuation is not most people’s idea of an exciting day at the office. But what if the course is an illustrated scenario where you must successfully evacuate three types of buildings or risk you or a coworker becoming incapacitated or worse? We took this approach in a course for Hoffman La-Roche and got rave reviews from learners. Believe it or not, this course was one of the least expensive to produce! Try the course here.
Proper Handwashing TechniquesProper Handwashing Techniques - Germ Scene Investigation We wash our hands all the time, but are we doing it right? One of our compliance courses included videos on handwashing and aseptic technique with a “CSI” theme. Instead of just watching an instructional video, learners became Germ Scene Investigators at a crime scene. In the process, they learned memorable tips, such as singing “Happy Birthday” two times while washing hands to measure the amount of time spent. Proper hand washing is at the root of many hygiene issues… so it’s important to get it right.
Bloodeborne PathogensAnimated BBP characters Organizations that handle Bloodeborne Pathogens must deliver annual training to workers that makes them aware of the risk. Longtime employees often receive the same training over and over for years… so a new approach is essential from time to time to keep them engaged in the training. Our BBP Course for Roche Diagnostics takes a gamified approach with multiple levels to complete and BBPs to “defeat.” Oh, and they will laugh at you and animate across the screen!

None of these examples are at the high end of the price range, but all of them were rated as highly effective and fun by our clients. When you need to develop compliance training, take it as an opportunity to make it memorable and give learners something that will really, truly help them change their  behavior.

Otherwise, you’re just checking the box.

Need to create compliance training? Contact us.

What Is Agile Learning Design?

If you’re in the learning design business or working with game based learning, then you’ve probably come across the term “Agile” a lot recently, so we’re going to try and make sense of it. For almost 40 years the ADDIE model has reigned as king, the ultimate framework for instructional designers and training developers—but we have a feeling that’s about to change. Agile is a fresh approach to learning design that takes the ADDIE model to a new level. So let’s dive in and learn about Agile Learning Design.

What is Agile Learning Design?


Agile started as a software development process—a reaction to the cumbersome “waterfall” methodology that had been brought over from older manufacturing practices. Early software development companies had no model for their new trade, so they simply borrowed what had been established for years in other industries where products are made.

Interested in learning more about agile learning design? Watch our webinar: Agile Learning Design: A Practical Perspective.

The problem is that this method is extremely impractical for software development. This is because in order to move to the next stage of development, the stage before it must be 100% complete, perfect, and documented… and that’s just not how software development works. (I’m sure you can already start to see how this applies to learning design).

The Waterfall Method

“Yeah, this just doesn’t work for us.”

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development

By the mid-90s software developers had had enough, and they came up with their own ways of doing things. They created the Scrum and Adaptive Software Development processes along with many others. And in 2001, 17 software developers came together to talk about what they were doing—thus, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born.

It defined the Agile development process as an iterative method based on collaboration. Agile would focus on adaptation, evolving development, rapid prototyping, and constant feedback and evaluation.

So What Does This Mean for Me?

I’m sure by now you are eager to find out what this has to do with us, the learning designers. Well I’ll tell you: We are like software developers, our learning solutions are our metaphorical software—and an inflexible approach to ADDIE is our Waterfall.

I will be careful not to make many more comparisons between ADDIE and Waterfall, because while Waterfall was a flawed method from the start, ADDIE has been a successful model for learning designers for years. My point here (the whole reason we are taking time to explain Agile) is that the rigidity of ADDIE is now holding back learning design. It could be costing you time and money, on top of hindering your ability to come to the best learning solution through iterations and refinement.

Let’s make this more real. Here at Bottom-Line Performance we’ve begun to use an Agile learning design process, and we have quite a bit to say about it. As part of this post I interviewed Jennifer Bertram, the Manager of Instructional Design at Bottom-Line Performance, and here’s what she said:

What has the switch to an Agile process done for you and your team?

“[Agile] has allowed our teams to collaborate a lot more between Instructional Designers and Multimedia, and I think we’re creating more innovative solutions and focusing less on dry content and info screens. Our clients have also really enjoyed getting to see things that work much earlier in the process. They also like the flexibility and having more opportunities to provide input.”

What has this upgrade from ADDIE helped you do that you couldn’t do before?

“Well I think that we’re still doing all of the steps of ADDIE… but what it has done is it has given us a better way to move through the phases of ADDIE and keep coming back to them again, mainly the first three—Analysis, Design, and Development—because as you’re creating this design proof you’re certainly in design mode, but you’re also already developing a little bit. Then when you’re thinking about development, when we’re getting to Alpha, we’re already going back and redesigning things.

This way we’re just planning for it so it doesn’t cause so much frustration and anxiety, on both sides really, for the client— if we say “oh, well you didn’t tell us that back then,” but now we’re having a lot more conversations with them about the design—and then for the development side as well.”

What’s something new about Agile that you like?

“More client interactions and more iterations. So now we’re not going away and creating something and saying “what do you think?”—we’re saying together what our ideas are. So we’re getting solutions that our clients are happy with, and we have a more solid foundation early in the process.”

Don’t worry, there’s more! We’ll continue this interview in next week’s post, Agile vs ADDIE: Which Is Better for Learning Design?

So What Is Agile; What’s the Process?

By now we’ve defined Agile learning design as an extremely iterative process. By using collaborative teams (client collaboration included) and constant iterations and feedback, you end up with a faster and more flexible (aka: agile) process that arrives at more innovative solutions. But this is a fairly vague description of Agile, only accounting for the big picture. How does an Agile process actually work? Where does it even differ from ADDIE? Take a look at this flowchart and see for yourself:

An example of the Agile process applied to learning design

Well there you have it, Agile learning design in a nutshell. Something that started with a bunch of software designers coming together to shoot down Waterfall Methodology became the secret to more efficient (and innovative) learning design. Stay tuned for next week’s post on Agile vs ADDIE where we’ll further break down the differences between the two processes and show you when it makes sense to be more Agile.

Karl Kapp, Sharon Boller Partner for Learning Game Design Workshop

Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

Learning and Development professionals have been hearing about learning games and game based learning over and over again for a few years now. Game based instructional techniques are growing in popularity, yet many instructional designers lack the skill set to design game based learning. They have not done it before, so they lack clear direction and do not know where to start.

That’s why Sharon Boller, President of BLP, is partnering with Karl Kapp to facilitate Play to Learn, Designing Effective Learning Games. Karl is a professor at Bloomsburg University and his book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction is one of the most highly regarded resources in the field. Karl’s academic background blends well with Sharon’s experiences of implementing game based learning solutions with BLP’s clients.

Game Based Learning Design Skills in High Demand

Game Based Learning is regularly included in today’s corporate training programs… and the demand for learning designers with a game based learning skillset is growing fast. We’ve known this shift is happening, but the growth became even more obvious when the Play to Learn session we are hosting for ASTD ICE quickly reached capacity. We’ve seen attendance rise rapidly for our free game based learning webinar series, too… but it is tough to build a skillset in a one hour online session. The web is full of introductory knowledge, but game based learning design is a skill that takes practice and coaching.


Register for Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games

Our Approach to Game Based Learning Design

If you want to design game based learning, you need to play lots of games. If you want your game based learning to be good, you need to be able to mock up a quick and dirty prototype and play test the heck out of it fast. Find problems, refine, and try try again. You’ll do all of that and more in this workshop. The Play to Learn workshop helps you learn the following:

  • A six-step process to design a learning game and create a paper prototype.
  • How to use a play testing process to do rapid iteration of a game design.
  • How to consider various core dynamics and tweak game mechanics to improve the playability and learning efficacy of a game.
  • How to sell games to an organization’s stakeholders as an effective option, answering the question “why games?”. All the game design skills in the world can’t help you unless you know how to convince your organization to buy in.
The workshop agenda is intentionally balanced between foundational information and hands-on practice. You’ll play games… then talk about the game elements you saw and discuss how they link to learning. You’ll learn the lingo of game design and learning game design… then play cooperative and competitive games and discuss what situations each one is best for. You’ll create a learning game prototype of your own… then play test the prototypes of others and discuss findings with the group. And yes, you will leave with the latest game based learning research in tow that you can take back to stakeholders in your organization. All with the help of Karl Kapp and Sharon Boller – two leaders in the field.

More on sharon Boller and Karl Kapp:

Sharon Boller: Karl Kapp:
Sharon BollerSharon Boller is president of Bottom-Line Performance, Inc. (BLP), a learning solutions firm she founded in 1995. Sharon has grown BLP from a single-woman sole proprietorship that employed 1 to a $2M company employing 20 team members. Sharon is also the creator of the Knowledge Guru™ brand affiliated with BLP that focuses on game-based learning. She is the lead game designer for its inaugural product, known as Guru Classic, and she is leading the development of a second, more robust offering known as Guru Game Builder that will allow users to create multi-level learning games. Read full bio Karl KappKarl M. Kapp, Ed.D., is a scholar, writer and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. Karl is a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA. He teaches graduate level courses including Learning in 3D and Instructional Game Design. Karl has written five books including Learning in 3D and Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning and The Gamification of Learning and InstructionRead full bio

Event Location

ExactTarget logo

The workshop will be held at ExactTarget in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. ExactTarget is a client of ours that is frequently on the forefront of using game based learning and gamification for training. We are thrilled to have them as an event sponsor… and even more thrilled that out of town attendees will be able to stay right in downtown Indy.


If you want to come to the workshop, you should register soon. Register by June 30th with the promo code EARLYBIRD13 to receive $50 off! We also have special pricing for current BLP clients. Get in touch with someone at BLP to find out more about client pricing.