“Writing is the star of the show”

The title of this commentary is a quote from an article written by Harry Calhoun, called Why is writing for e-learning different?  at


eLearning that engages the learner is developed with good instructional methodology, relevant content, an easy to use interface, pleasing and relevant images and writing that flows and connects. However, when facilitating workshops for aspiring eLearning developers, the writing has often been the most difficult skill for people to grasp. Part of the challenge is unlearning how we are expected to write.

Writing for eLearning can be opposite to what is expected for other writing in an organisation. When I think of reports and other formal documents, I am expected to write in the third person. The tone of the document is very formal and information is often organised sequentially, from earliest to latest. When writing for eLearning, the style of writing I have found to be most successful is informal, using an active voice, and written in the first person – it speaks direct to the learner.

The writing also needs to be structured for easy reading and comprehension. For example, using a newspaper style, with the essential important information first. Opening sentences for paragraphs (if there are any) should be brief and descriptive. The writing allows the learner to quickly grasp what is relevant.

The visual display of the writing should also support the learner. Good use of white space around small chunks of text enables the reader to select and focus on the important elements. The use of justified text, too much punctuation and ALL CAPITALS can reduce the readability of text on the screen.

Writing for eLearning uses only those words that are necessary, in a way that is clear to the learner. This can be a challenge for someone who has spent many years writing formal reports.


Implementing a learning management system – lessons learned

The implementation of a learning management system (LMS) has its own set of project management challenges. Having implemented two LMSs – each very different in their nature and complexity – I have learnt six critical lessons to maximise success and minimise the challenges.

Lesson 1 – Start with the right picture

The foundation of each project is having the correct picture of training in the organisation. The picture of training includes a detailed description of the roles and requirements of the learners, trainers and managers, and the IT infrastructure. It provides sufficient information to create a set of business requirements that define both the outcomes and processes the LMS should provide.

This picture and business requirements are the basis for selecting the LMS and for decision making during the implementation.

Lesson 2 – Own it

Sponsorship and ownership of an LMS implementation project should be with the Learning and Development department, not IT. These departments can have different priorities which will significantly impact decisions, communication and reporting.

Lesson 3 – Pick the right team

It is difficult to create the right project team for selecting and implementing an LMS because other work related tasks and activities are ongoing. The project manager and team are critical to a smooth process and meeting milestones. The key member of the team, the project manager, must also be a project champion.

Lesson 4 – Know before you go

Learn as much as possible about selecting and implementing an LMS before the project commences. This will help with the development of the project description and realistic cost and time estimates. Some useful resources are available from this web site – click on the Resources tab.

Lesson 5 – Know the ‘must haves’

Very few LMS applications will meet all your requirements, or at least in the way you want them to be organised. To include them all can also lead to a complex tender process. The business analysis and project scope need to clearly define and support a set of priorities.

Lesson 6 – Test and test again

When trialling or testing an LMS, test it in the manner in which it will truly be used. Develop a set of stories or scenarios that represent what learners, trainers and managers will want to know or do.


The six lessons described here are critical for implementing an LMS. It begins with a clear and complete understanding of training in the organisation and a project owner that is also a project champion. Knowledge about LMS applications and a clear understanding of the ‘must haves’ support the decision making throughout the project. The right project manager will provide an effective and efficient process. Testing that is thorough and contextualised will help deliver a product that quickly gains organisation-wide support.

Read the complete article in the AITD magazine, Training and Development, June 2013 at  http://www.aitd.com.au/eReader

– Bronte

From Novice to Grok

I have been reading The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, by Karl M Kapp. An excellent book that I recommend to anyone interested in the design of learning. Chapter 7 talks about the difference between the internal knowledge structures of novices and experts.

This has interested me for some time because most of the eLearning we are asked to design will be delivered to all employees in an organisation. Whether a novice or an expert, whether they have 4 or 40 years of experience, they will be required to complete the same course.

Which brings me to the term ‘Grok’. This was a new term to me. According to Kapp, the term ‘grok’ was coined by Robert Heinlein in his novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. A grok is a person who has moved from intellectual understanding to intuitive understanding. This is similar to the transition from ‘consciously competent’ to ‘unconsciously competent’ but seems to go beyond it.

There are two key challenges in eLearning:

  1. How to help the learner move from novice to grok
  2. How to deliver training, simultaneously, to novices and groks

We regularly use basic strategies to support both of these challenges – providing multiple scenarios that build from simple to complex in a range of contexts to help the novice gain both knowledge and experience; giving the learners a selection of pathways through the course. Part of what makes the design of eLearning so exciting, however, is the challenge, with each new course, to find new ways to support both novices and groks.

This issue is not restricted to eLearning. We can see it in the classroom and professional development programs. It is a challenge to create a training session or program that will appeal to the novice and the grok.

What strategies do you use to create training for novices and groks?

— Bronte

OECD Report predicts online learning

I recently scanned the report, Education at a Glance 2012 OECD indicators and a paragraph on P485 caught my attention.

It was the only mention of online learning that I could find in the report. (There was no mention of ‘eLearning’). However, what it said is significant for many of us. Even though it is talking about education and teachers, the comment could be made about many other profession or segment of the workforce.

“Between 1998 and 2010, the proportion of secondary teachers aged 50 or older climbed from 28.8% to 34.2% on average among countries with comparable data. This increase is particularly large in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (an increase of 8 percentage points or more). In contrast, the proportion of teachers under the age of 40 increased slightly from 36.2% to 37.5% on average among countries with available data, but decreased in seven countries, most notably in Austria, Japan and Korea, where these proportions shrank by 14 percentage points or more. In countries that stand to lose a significant number of teachers through retirement and whose school-age population remains the same or increases, governments will have to boost the appeal of teaching to upper secondary and tertiary students, expand teacher-training programmes, and, if necessary, provide alternate routes to certification for mid-career professionals intent on changing careers. Fiscal constraints – particularly those driven by pension obligations and health-care costs for retirees – are likely to result in greater pressure on governments to reduce academic offerings, increase class size, integrate more self-paced, online learning, or implement some combination of these measures (Abrams, 2011; Christensen, 2008; Peterson, 2010).“ (My highlighting)

I expect that not only governments will experience the fiscal constraints.

I met someone again last week who said their organisation does not want eLearning, but using technology to support learning cannot be avoided. The key message is – know your organisation’s needs; know the learning environment; know your learners; ensure you have the appropriate expertise and skills to develop and delivery exemplary eLearnng that is customised for you.

– Bronte


OECD (2012), Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2012-en

Does your eLearning support cognition or present content?

I recently read the article “What forty years of research says about the impact of technology on learning: a second-order meta-analysis and validation study” by RM Tamim, et al. It was published in The Review of Educational Research, vol 81, March 2011.

Firstly, the article contains some quotes that are excellent reminders of the importance of good instructional design in eLearning:

 In referring to the work of Richard E Clark (1983) – “media have no more effect on learning than a grocery truck has on the nutritional value of produce it brings to market. …… Features of instructional design and pedagogy … provide the real active ingredient that determines the value of educational experiences.”

“one of technology’s main strengths may lie in supporting students’ efforts to achieve rather than as a tool for delivering content.”

The analysis provided in the article indicated that computer technology that supports cognition has a greater impact than that which is used to present content. Well-designed eLearning that supports cognition will meet the standards we expect in good training – it will provide the learner with opportunities to think, reflect, make decisions and practice their new learning. Self-paced eLearning that requires the learner to simply read the screens, or passively watch a video, presents content and does not support cognition.

When you are looking at opportunities to integrate eLearning into your training program, consider the question – can I design it to support cognition or am I presenting content? If you want to simply present content to support learning in the classroom or on the job, are you using the most appropriate delivery method?