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Category Archives: Instructional Design

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International E-Learning Part 3: Proven Production Techniques

When rolling out a new e-learning programme across multiple countries, you will undoubtedly need to overcome a variety of different challenges. At CDSM, we have experienced these challenges first-hand, and have decided to relay our experiences in a three-part blog series on ‘International E-Learning’. In Part 1, we looked at 5 challenges that can impact on the success of an e-learning rollout, and in Part 2 we looked at how to overcome these challenges. In this third part, we’ll look at the proven production techniques CDSM used to deliver Honda’s e-learning programme across Europe, with award-winning results.

Content is King

You’ll want the production of your e-learning to be as quick and efficient as possible, avoiding any unnecessary delays. This means that you need to plan each step of the production process carefully, considering the order of work and any interdependencies.

Proven production techniques - Happy business people working as a team

So where do we start? Well, in our case, content really is king. It determines how a programme of study is broken up, how the pages will be laid out and what assets need to be collected or created. Almost every part of the production process is informed by the content. Using theories about how we learn, our instructional designers started each module of Honda’s award-winning e-learning by creating a storyboard that provided all of the detail.

Upon customer sign-off of a storyboard, a number of teams – including graphic designers, animators, translators and technical authors – spring into action, bringing the storyboard to life (but always staying faithful to the instructional designer’s intent). In fact, the instructional designer is never too far away, as they need to ensure their vision is realised.

Quality is Everyone’s Responsibility

At CDSM, we firmly support W. Edwards Deming’s statement that “quality is everyone’s responsibility.” Although we have a dedicated quality assurance team who ensure project and product releases are thoroughly tested, every member of staff at CDSM is committed to producing work to the highest standard. Testing happens at every stage in our production process to safeguard quality and meet internal and external benchmarks. Our instructional designers not only check their own content, but also peer review each other’s, and our developers write unit tests for their work before they even start developing a feature. The final layer of internal quality assurance is added by our project managers, who perform spot checks before a project is released.

Ticking the boxes - e-learning programme
Our customers also have a part to play. We build user acceptance testing (UAT) into our schedules, ensuring that our customers have the opportunity to give feedback prior to release. We recognised that Honda were the subject specialists, so their feedback on the subject matter was invaluable, and helped us to fine-tune the course content.

Managing Rollout

Having produced innovative, high quality e-learning, we then had to consider the rollout schedule with Honda. With branches spanning Europe, there were a range of factors to take into account. We had to ensure that the e-learning was delivered to each country at the right time, in line with Honda’s product releases. Translation of the content was scheduled to meet each country’s delivery date. This was no mean feat and meant a rolling schedule of releases as opposed to the usual end of project delivery, but careful planning and ongoing communication with Honda ensured success.

If you want to find out more, download our expert guide: ‘How to Create Award-Winning E-Learning.’

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CDSM E-learning Insights Instructional Design

So, you want to be an Instructional Designer?

Our Senior Instructional Designer, Rhys Williams, gives us an insight into how someone becomes an instructional designer, and explains what the varied role entails…

There’s a scene in the television sitcom Friends where Rachel and Monica are desperately trying to remember what Chandler – one of their best pals  – does for a living. It’s the final question in a high-stakes trivia game and if the girls can’t remember, they lose their apartment. Pressured into coming up with an answer, Rachel shouts out: “He’s a transpons…transponster!” Of course, she’s wrong – there’s no such thing as a transponster – and Chandler (an IT procurement manager) and Joey win the game and the bigger apartment.

You’re probably wondering – what does this have to do with instructional design? Well, I’ll tell you.  Outside of the e-learning industry, it seems that very few people know what an instructional designer is. Although my own group of friends (we don’t have our own television show, you’ll be saddened to hear) could all tell you, if asked, that I work in e-learning, or that my employers are CDSM Interactive Solutions, I’d bet that very few would be able to offer up ‘instructional designer’ as my job title. Some might even end up saying that I’m a transponster.  

Drawing design using pencils and ipad - Instructional Designer

It’s not their fault. Even though its origins stretch as far back as the 1940s, ‘instructional design’ isn’t a phrase you hear too often when you work outside the world of e-learning. Apparently, it’s not even that well known by those who work in it. The Internet is awash with blog posts about accidental instructional designers – writers, teachers and/or trainers by trade who suddenly realise that their work turning traditional teaching or training resources into digital learning material has a name and that name is ‘instructional design’. It’s a nice story (albeit one that’s quickly getting old), but it’s not my experience.

Back in 2011, CDSM advertised that they wanted a new instructional designer and I successfully applied, acknowledging that I had many of the essential skills listed in the job description:

  • A strong background in creative and technical writing
  • An existing knowledge of contemporary design
  • Experience in proofreading and editing (with excellent attention to detail)
  • A practical knowledge of the correct use of spelling, grammar, syntax, etc.
  • Good communication and organisational skills
  • A willingness to learn

As with any role, there are always certain skills that you’ll need to learn ‘on-the-job’, and so in the years that have followed I’ve had to add an extensive knowledge of contemporary technology and learning theory to my skill set – additions that have come from a mix of mentoring, reading and assimilation. But what exactly, you might be asking, am I using these skills for?

What Does an Instructional Designer Do?

Lady smiling at the computer - Instructional Design 2

Ultimately, an instructional designer’s main objective is to create engaging and effective learning experiences. You could call this our ‘bread and butter’. However, the role is actually a lot more varied than you might imagine. Despite some of the online horror stories about instructional design jobs, CDSM don’t chain me to my desk until I’ve turned a customer’s 495-page training manual into an hour-long e-learning module. For example, in the past few months I have:

  • Held meetings with customers to discuss requirements and scope
  • Worked closely with our developers and other designers to come up with new digital solutions
  • Written and directed a series of situation-based e-learning videos at an off-site location
  • Met with a teacher on secondment to Welsh Government to discuss the creation of new learning materials for Welsh schools
  • Attended a series of seminars on accessibility
  • Researched and co-written a six-part blog series on e-learning design

My regular desk-based work is just as diverse. One week I might be working on assessment questions for a blue-chip company’s international compliance course, and the next I’m creating new PISA resources for schools across Wales. It certainly keeps me on my toes!

What Do Instructional Designers Need to Know?

For an instructional designer, theory is everything. It’s easy for poor instruction to hide behind good design initially but, just like the Emperor and his new clothes, eventually everything’s going to become embarrassingly clear. It makes sense, if you think about it, because how can you create good e-learning if you don’t first understand how we learn?

Before taking up the role at CDSM, I had no formal training in teaching practice, but thanks to a programme of mentoring, training and on-the-job experience, I was soon able to begin creating engaging digital learning solutions.

Two men talking over what's on a computer - Instructional Design 3

Extensive reference materials and an informed reading list (containing books and articles on topics such as Skinner’s rats, Bloom’s taxonomy and Vygotsky’s disagreement with Piaget) were essential aspects of my training at CDSM, allowing me to become well-versed in learning theory. However, an instructional designer has to always be open to new ideas and research. Six months after I had first read about Bloom’s taxonomy, Shelly Wright of the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) published an article on ‘flipping it’. This is the type of fresh impetus that it’s important to keep a look out for, as it can change the way you approach solutions for certain types of learners.

It’s also important to know the possibilities and limitations of your technology, as what you create in storyboard format has to translate well to the screen. I’m lucky at CDSM because I’m able to work with a team of excellent developers and designers, all of whom are sympathetic and responsive to issues such as accessibility, usability and readability. This makes the e-learning we produce a truly collaborative effort, with the written, visual and technological aspects working in harmony so the learner can efficiently and effectively acquire the knowledge and/or skills they need.

So, if you still want to be an instructional designer, brushing up on your learning theory is an essential first step (you could even use our series on e-learning design as a starting point). Then once you begin working with a company, you can familiarise yourself with their technology – as well as the requirements and scope of their customers – and you’ll be away.

And it might also be an idea to prepare a response to the question “What’s that, then?”, for when you tell your friends your new job title.

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Business CDSM E-learning Insights Instructional Design L&D Learning Wales

Learning Theory and Practice with Contemporary Web Technologies

In this blog post our CEO, Dan Sivak, explains the thinking behind CDSM’s combination of learning theory and practice with contemporary web technologies.

“Pigeonholing a person upon introduction is a strange and limiting behaviour that surely can’t serve us very well… but we all do it. This ‘snapshot’ way of making sense of the world must have its roots in the old adage: ‘we are what we do’. So when networking and meeting people I always try to remember that being a butcher, a baker or a candlestick-maker comes with baggage. People make judgements based on what you do and there is very little you can do about it. Working for an SME often means your company is relatively unknown. You have to regularly introduce yourself, your company and what it is that your company does. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve responded with, ‘CDSM is a learning technology company…’, only to be met with a puzzled smile and a shrug of the shoulders. Therefore, this blog post is an attempt to be clear about who we are and what we do.”

We asked our COO and our CTO to describe what they and their teams focus on at CDSM.

Brain C2a
Cathy Sivak, COO at CDSM Interactive Solutions

What do we do and how do we do it?

CDSM was founded by teachers with a passion for designing and delivering effective and engaging teaching and learning practice. As teachers in the classroom, we wanted to make a difference. There are not many professions that give you a better opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives. Although at CDSM we don’t often teach face-to-face any more, we still believe that what we do is making a difference and having a profound effect on the future, whether this is for the people we are involved in teaching or training, or the companies we are facilitating learning for.

As a teacher ‘by trade’, my priority is to base our solutions on sound pedagogical principles. We understand and exploit learning and development theory, and we design, build and support web technologies to engage with and develop thousands of learners every day.

We work in the UK public education and commercial corporate sectors, but to a large extent, the sector doesn’t matter because the science and the practice of learning and development doesn’t discriminate against the GCSE student or the industry employee. What matters is that we aim to help each and every end-user succeed, and to do so we think long and hard about how best to help them achieve that success. That may involve delivering anytime-anywhere bite-sized learning episodes, a blend of online and face-to-face interactions, simulation or scenario-based activities, or something in-between. Alternatively, it may involve providing intuitive and user-friendly tools to facilitate teaching and learning. Our solutions are varied and depend on customer requirements and purpose, but they are always based on our experience of what makes learning work.

Darren Wallace, CTO at CDSM Interactive Solutions

How have web technologies impacted learning theory?

Let’s make no mistake: CDSM would be nothing without its innovative technologies. Our technologies enable teaching and learning, build and manage identities, and make simple the development of groups and communities.

There is no denying the impact web technologies have had on all of our lives over the last 15 years or so. The internet has given us all unprecedented access to information, from the trivial to the revolutionary, and we now access this information 24/7 via a bewildering array of devices. It’s hard to imagine a set of technologies with a greater potential to empower its users, and for me at least, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting or rewarding application for web technologies than enabling people to improve their lives through learning.

We’ve seen several false dawns in e-learning over the last 15 years: from bloated one-size-fits-all learning platforms, to marketing companies parading design-heavy presentation tools as learning content. But the web has matured and, at CDSM, we understand the importance of web standards and interoperability. We’ve backed the web as a standard and a platform for learning and development since the turn of the millennium. The joy of my job has been to steer the company through the stand-out innovations and disruptions that have affected so many of us over the last 15 years.

We know that the devices people use to access their online lives are changing the way we live and work together.  We’re undoubtedly excited by contemporary web technology, and the reach and opportunities it affords us. But we’re not interested in technology for technology’s sake. Everything we do is guided by a passion for learning and the belief that equal access to information plays a vital role in all our futures. We want to build the tools that empower our users. And we’ll never stop learning.

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Business e-learning Education Infographic Insights Instructional Design Study

Boost Your Training with the Neuroscience of Education – Infographic

Eureka! In recent years, neuroscience research has made findings that could transform training and education. We’ve popped the results into our infographic-o-whizz-9000. Out came this handy piece brimming with tips for your next L&D project, and the lessons are spot on for both companies and schools.

One of the more interesting findings is that while many know neuroscience can improve training, few are applying its findings. That means this infographic shows how you can impress your boss with widely accepted ideas, but still leap ahead of your professional peers.

So, make your learners recall more for longer, boost their motor skills, and see their comprehension soar.

Click here to access the text only version of the Infographic

Click image to launch full size version

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