Design Thinking: Level-Up the Learner Experience

Two years ago I was at a CLO conference in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker asked a question that gave me pause then – and continues to drive me now. He asked, “Is the 45-minute course you created a good use of 45 minutes of the learner’s life? Because those are 45 minutes of time that individual does not get back.”

“Learner experience” (LX) is an emerging buzz term that originated from the software world, which focuses on “UX” or user experience. The question the speaker posed at the conference goes to the heart of what an effective user experience (aka learner experience) delivers to someone, which is three things:

1. Value – A good UX is one that solves a real problem for the user. If we deliver value, we are not wasting minutes of someone’s life.
2. Ease of use – A good UX is one that a user finds easy to navigate and to understand how to use. If we make something easy to use and to understand, we are supporting value (the first tenet of good UX).
3. Enjoyable – A good UX is a pleasure to use. It engages us and, optimally, it delights us.

Typically, UX refers to the experience of using software. But it can actually go way beyond software to our experiences in the real world. This could include our experience with a utensil, attending an event, or onboarding with a new organization or role. It has huge relevance to effective learning design.

So what happened?

Somewhere in the actual practice of instructional design, we throw this equation out of balance. We allow our stakeholders to exclude target learners from the design process and trust them to “represent” the learner. Or we become boxed in by the technical solutions that someone decided were going to become the “global” solutions for every learning in every situation (e.g. the LMS, the eLearning course created via a rapid authoring tool, the webinar, etc.)

The result, too often, is solutions that are out of balance. They may be viable from a business perspective and feasible from a technical perspective, but they completely miss the mark from the learner perspective. Or, they may be awesome from the learner point of view but technically unsustainable or unviable business-wise.

Design Thinking as a Solution

So how do we get to an optimal learning experience? How do we bring the target learner back into the design process in a way that is actually feasible for a business?

Try taking a step away from the L&D world and into the world of complex problem solving and product development. Consider embracing the philosophy, steps, and tools of a practice known as “design thinking.” Design thinking originated in 1969 and really came into its own in the 1990s as a human-centered approach to designing solutions. It has been used to resolve massive human problems as well as to design software solutions or consumer products.

Design thinking evolves solutions through an iterative process of observation, insight, ideation, experimentation, and testing. Its goal is to produce solutions that find the ”sweet spot” between human needs, business viability, and technical feasibility. The end user of the solution is the focal point. Any solution devised through the process must be designed with this user top-of-mind and involved in the formulation, design, and testing of the solution.

In its original form, design thinking included five steps. Many practitioners have added a sixth – implementation – for a highly iterative process that looks like this:

Design Thinking Tools

There is a rich set of tools associated with design thinking – tools to help build genuine empathy for and understanding of the user (aka our learner), tools to help with problem definition (it’s usually not what you think it is), tools to help ideate possible solutions to the problem, and tools for testing and analyzing solutions. These are four tools I really, really love:

1. Empathy Maps

Empathy maps help people quickly form a picture of the target user and see where gaps in understanding might be. In a learning design project, these can be used to quickly help a design team form insights about learners or recognize gaps in understanding that need to be closed. There are tons of resources on empathy map developing – just google “empathy maps” to find examples and templates.

2. User Personas

A polished output of empathy maps, personas are the result of observation and conversation with users to help inform understanding of what they value, what their pain points are, what their workflow and daily reality really is (so you can design solutions that reflect understanding of this workflow and daily realities). I love Arun Pradhan’s explanation of how they craft personas and get insights into target learners. They actually involve the learners in the design process and get them to interview each other. (This is huge in terms of time savings and a much more credible way to get perspective on the target learner.)

Our worksheet lets you check to see what questions you are currently asking about learners, see a sample learner persona
and create a persona of your own.

3. Analysis Matrix

Four quadrants to plot during solution testing: what people liked, what they didn’t like, what they had questions about, and what they would change.

4. Journey Maps

Journey maps show what a learning experience is actually like for a learner, what the pain points are, and what opportunities could be leveraged. This presentation by Joyce Seitzinger on crafting a meaningful learning experience shows the evolution of a journey map. She uses design thinking to craft the entire experience.

Here’s a simple starter template if you want to try creating one yourself. The categories to plot are on the left column. The steps involved go across the top.

I love design thinking’s belief in collaborative, team-based design and experimentation. I see it as compatible with both agile philosophy and instructional design methodology. The tools and techniques of design thinking, coupled with an agile philosophy and a commitment to research-based instructional design, enable us to deliver learning experiences that:

1. Deliver value to the learner and the organization.
2. Are easy to use and understand
3. Are enjoyable and engaging.

Why Learner Personas and Learning Design Go Hand-in-Hand


Most learning and development professionals are familiar with the term audience analysis. To maximize the effectiveness of your learning experience, you need to analyze your audience. By crafting a learner persona, you can go beyond a typical audience analysis and paint a vivid picture of who you are designing a learning experience or materials for. This means gathering more than simple demographic data. Ideally, you will interact with the target learners. If that’s not possible, make sure someone on your design team has firsthand knowledge of the target – either she has been in the learner’s role in the past or the learners report to her.

How to Create a Learner Persona

Marketing professionals have long used buyer personas to gain a clear picture of whom they are selling to, what motivates them, and what strategies work best to target them. They base the personas on real market-research data, but fictionalize them to a degree to describe a single buyer, which personalizes the buyer for the marketer.

Your learner personas should be similar. Base your personas on the research you do to help you understand their goals, motivations, challenges, and daily work flows. Add to these data any company data that exist on age, gender, educational background, years of experience, and so on. The table below offers an example of a tool you can use to help create a persona. The column on the left identifies the type of information you want to gather and questions you want to answer. The column on the right is an example that shows you the right level of information detail to gather.

This particular tool is used to gather data with the intent of creating a learning game so it includes specifics around game play.

 Information-Gathering Tool for a Learner Persona

Persona Element and Description Example
Name: Give your persona a name. You want this persona to feel real to you and not be a bunch of statistics. Stephanie
Demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, college, etc.): Make your training look like your learner. Don’t assume anything. Age 41, Caucasian, Female. Four-year degree from a small liberal arts college. Majored in communications. Sorority member who achieved numerous academic honors while in college and was extremely active.
Experience with the company, within the role: What is representational of your learner? Go with the median, not the average. Averages can fool you. Ten years of experience within pharmaceutical sales with specific experience in three different therapeutic areas: cardiovascular, primary care, and gastroenterology. Shifted to selling biologics three years ago.
Biggest challenges on the job: Most roles have common challenges; find them and include them in your persona. ·       Pace—the days are long

·       Keeping up—there’s always more you could be reading to stay abreast of trends, issues, and competitors

What she values most about the role? What motivates this person regarding the role? What makes her want to do this particular job? Your training can acknowledge both challenges and values. ·       Being credible

·       Knowing her product helps patients have a better quality of life

·       Hitting goals she sets for herself

Workday flow: How does a day go from start to finish? Your training should reflect understanding of the workday flow. ·       Because her territory is urban, Stephanie may schedule as many as eight appointments in a day.

·       She’s up at 6 a.m., with her kids getting up at 6:30. She starts her “work” day around 7:30 and often ends as late as 10 p.m., although she may take a break in the late afternoon.

·       Evenings vary. If there is a professional meeting, she could be dining with healthcare providers (HCPs) at that meeting. If there’s no meeting, she could be planning calls for the next day, entering notes into Salesforce, catching up on reading, or responding to emails.

Sales call flow: Be clear on how the rep sells the product you are helping her learn about. Learn how much time a good sales call takes. Map what you believe reps need to know and know how to do with what they will actually use in a sales call.

Types of calls made in a typical day: Find out how many types of sales calls there are. If there are several different call types, make sure your training program reflects this reality.

·       Calls need to follow a “ladder” process. Early calls have different sales call objectives than later sales calls. The ladder is a six-call process. Each “rung” of the ladder has a specific call objective and message associated with it.

·       Call lengths vary from five minutes to 20 minutes.

·       Early calls focus on educating HCPs on the product category. Later calls focus on providing information on the specific product being sold.

·       There are two categories of customers: clinicians and pharmacy.

·       Getting from the bottom of the ladder to the top may take anywhere from six weeks to a few months’ time.

Devices and how they are used during the flow of a day: Design for the device that reps use the most. ·       Uses laptop in early mornings and late evenings. Does planning activities; documents information in Salesforce; takes e-learning courses (because they’re not available for phone or tablet).

·       Phone is constantly in her hand throughout her day. She uses it to track appointments, check and respond to emails and voice messages, and put quick notes into Salesforce between calls.

·       Uses tablet to pull sales aids up on tablet when talking with HCPs, if needed and appropriate.

Where self-paced training will be completed: Setting matters because it tells you how distracted reps are likely to be, how much time is realistic to allocate for any self-paced segments, and whether sound is a good or bad option to include. ·       Wherever she can squeeze it in. Usually she’s at home, later in the evening while she sips some herbal tea or has a glass of wine. She may also start her day with it, leaving it to a Friday when she does more home office work.

·       If she had access through a phone, she could do small bits between sales calls or while grabbing some lunch.

Games played and amount of time spent playing them: Ask your targets what games they play, how much time they spend playing them, and how frequently they play. ·       Stephanie is slightly embarrassed to admit it, but she is completely addicted to Candy Crush and other simple mobile games like it. It’s almost a stress reliever for her. She’ll play it whenever she’s in line or waiting.

·       She also really likes playing board games with her kids; it’s great family time.

The Next Step

Once you gather the information, your next step is to convert this into a more concise format that’s useful to your team. Learner personas are often shown to a team as presentation slides or printed so they can be posted on a workroom wall for ongoing reference throughout design and development of the learning solution. When you create your personas, search for images that capture their essence and help you think of the real learners represented by the personas.

Create your own learner persona with our learner persona worksheet. Reference our example profile above as you go along.

How to Target Training to Learner Personas (Free Worksheet)


You want to make your training engaging… but why? Common sense tells us that engaging training is more likely to be successful. Blogs like this one share examples of award-winning training all the time, and it’s what people talk about at learning conferences as well. But sometimes us learning professionals do all the talking.

What do learners want?

If you found your way to the training field through a sales or marketing background, you probably already know what a buyer persona is. Here’s Hubspot’s definition:

 A semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.

But what about your target learners? Have you ever a created a persona for them? Do you know what motivates them, or what types of learning solutions will motivate them most? You might have assumptions or hunches, but don’t take that at face value. Here’s our definition of a learner persona, based off of Hubspot’s buyer persona description:

A semi-fictionalized representation of your target learners. You base them on research you do plus data that exist. They help you create a training experience that aligns with the realities and preferences of your learners.

So how do you create a Learner Persona? You might consider information like this:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnic group
  • Years’ experience in role
  • Years’ experience with your company
  • Household income (estimate a range)
  • College background
  • LinkedIn presence
  • Marital status / family status

Demographic information helps paint the picture, but you still need to dig deeper. Here are some other questions to ask when creating your learner persona:

  • What’s a typical day like?
  • What makes the role challenging?
  • What values drive and motivate the employee?
  • What gaming experiences are typical? (If you are designing a game. Otherwise, change this to “training” or “learning.”)
  • What device experiences are typical?
  • If the learners are sales reps, what does a sales call really look like?
  • Is every call the same? How do they vary?
  • How should training be designed to optimize this transfer into the learners’ world?

It takes time and research just to get accurate demographic information, and asking those deeper questions about the target learner can be daunting. We’ll be leading a group through the exercise this week at the LTEN Annual Conference during our “Sales Enablement and Beyond” session, and we will give a shorter version of the session on June 22nd as a Lessons on Learning Webinar.

Learner Persona Worksheet

Want to create your own learner personas? Our worksheet lets you check to see what questions you are currently asking about learners, see a sample learner persona and create a persona of your own.

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.

How to Close the Account Management Skills Gap

Account managers and salespeople play two important but different roles in the customer acquisition and retention life cycle. But at some organizations, you can’t tell the difference. Most of the training that organizations provide their sales functions is centered around front line selling techniques, product knowledge, features and benefits. Increasing a salesperson’s ability to immediately impact sales dollars is obviously an important objective to drive. In some industries, it’s the most important objective.

Want to learn more about sales enablement? View our recorded webinar: Sales Enablement & Beyond: Using Games and Smart Implementation to Drive Performance.

The water gets murkier when an industry is highly complex and heavily regulated. In the Fall 2015 issue of LTEN’s Focus magazine, Wendy Heckelman, Ph.D. described the challenge life science and medical device companies face:

Life science companies can no longer rely on the “one-to-one” or “sales representative to physician” model to drive growth. Treatment decisions are often made by various stakeholders across large and complex healthcare and government institutions. They face the challenge of improving patient outcomes while simultaneously reducing associated costs. Therefore, decision-makers need solutions that address quality patient care and broader healthcare outcomes.

Key Account Management (KAM) requires a different set of competencies and behaviors than that of the traditional sales rep. When the selling process within an industry changes from a one-to-one sale (such as sales rep to doctor) to an account-level sale (such as an account manager selling to the C-suite of a health system), the type of training and coaching required to equip learners also changes.

The ideal solution to this problem is often a blended learning curriculum that helps your Key Account Managers take the long view and differentiate their roles from that of frontline sales reps. Here are three areas of focus to consider:

1. Realign core competencies

“Selling” in a traditional sense is only one small piece of the strategic account management life cycle. The selling skills, product knowledge and features and benefits you previously focused on in training do not build the competencies a key account manager needs to build long-term, mutual value with a customer’s organization. Before you re-design training, a sound analysis should be conducted to assess needs and find the gap between existing competencies and desired competencies.

2. Redefine the Launch or POA meeting

For the organizations we work with, the product launch meeting, national sales meeting or POA (plan of action) meeting is usually the key event that will (allegedly) prepare sales reps and account managers to sell the “right” products the “right” way. Once you have re-aligned your core competencies to include key account management and selling, the learning solutions included in these meetings will also change. Consider blending online pre-work with interactive live events that incorporate gaming and roleplay. The learning content should focus less on features and benefits and more on identifying ways to create long-term value for an account and articulating that value proposition as a compelling story.

3. Extend the Learning

Because Key Account Management is a highly complex discipline, ongoing coaching and performance support is essential. Include in your plans a way to reinforce key learning objectives and remind learners to apply the behaviors they learned regularly. A mobile reinforcement app such as Knowledge Guru can be used to embed the most common customer stories into long-term memory.

Start at the Beginning

If your organization has been equating selling with strategic account management, you’ll need to realign your core competencies and behaviors before you jump to the solution. Dr.Heckelman’s article includes a chart with some example competencies and behaviors, and these are a great starting point. Our recorded webinar on analysis describes how to conduct an audience analysis and task analysis, two steps that can help identify what your competencies need to be and how to close the skills gap.

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 ability 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.

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?

Want to learn more about how compliance training can engage your learners? Access our webinar: Comply, Engage, Amaze: How to Make Regulatory Training Matter.


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 a Fortune 500 client and got rave reviews from learners. Believe it or not, this course was one of the least expensive to produce!
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 a Fortune 500 client 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.