It’s been an incredible year for the learning industry. Innovations in mobile technologies, the arrival of the ipad (was it just this year?) and the continued evolution of social learning, are just some highlights of a year that saw learning design continue to mature along side emerging and maturing technologies. What a ride! Useful tools and helpful resources in a wide array of media help make consulting, managing, designing and developing much easier than even 24 months ago. One such helpful resource is Connie Malamed’s eLearning Coach blog. I had the pleasure to chat with Connie to find out more about her and her design insights.
MA: For those who don’t know you or your blog, can you briefly share your story?
Connie: Like many people in our field, I’m passionate about education and training and think it’s a path to solving individual and world problems. I’ve been designing and creating learning experiences for over 20 years and love this career (except when I’m working till 2AM).
At some point I realized it was time to start sharing what I’ve learned, so I started a blogazine about Instructional Design and online learning, called The eLearning Coach. My focus is on providing practical advice as well as learning theory to those just starting out in the field as well as to experienced designers and developers. A wonderful unexpected byproduct has been how much I’ve learned by meeting people, researching new ideas and interviewing others.
Because I have a background in art too, I felt compelled to research and write a book that presents visual communication principles based on cognitive science rather than intuition. The book is called, Visual Language For Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics that People Understand. There’s a hard back and Kindle version on Amazon.
MA: I love your blog because there is a pragmatic approach to your posts. How does this pragmatism render in your designs and/or consulting?
Connie: I guess I’m pragmatic in the way I think about design and implementation simultaneously, which might not be the best approach for brainstorming. So when a client or the content requires a creative approach, I also think through the ramifications of the idea. For example, if we decide to use photos and audio of 10 customers in an eLearning course, I’m simultaneously thinking about how we can save costs by getting 5 narrators who can perform two unique voices each. Head in the clouds…feet on the ground.
MA: In your blog, you expertly discuss the value and interplay of cognitive psychology, visual communication/design, information design, and learning theory in learning products/solutions. What is the typical pushback you experience from clients about any elements of this philosophy and how have you overcome it?
Connie: Hey, I’m slogging around in the same mess that everyone else in our field experiences. Clients who don’t understand that less is more; that visuals are often better than text; that creative storytelling is more engaging than lectures; or that just-in-time information and performance support are often more effective than a grueling 8-hour course.
I truly like and respect my clients and want to help them, so I try to meet them where they are at and attempt to educate them about the most effective approaches to learning. Often, I can only make incremental changes in their thinking. Then I just do the best I can with what I’ve got.
MA: I’ve found a common up-front inhibitor for producing effective learning products is clients or SMEs insisting that adding more content to a learning product is better. What are some of your best practices to help content stakeholders understand that simple, streamlined content focusing on the single-most important actions the learner needs to know and do is better?
Connie: A few things that have worked for me are getting clients to stay focused on the skills and actions that their employees need to perform, by consistently pulling the client back to the key goals. I’ll ask, “Will that extra information help learners get the most important skills they need?” Sometimes this can be difficult when working on certain types of compliance courses, where pure knowledge is the end goal. Also, I find that Bob Mosher’s Five Moments of Need is a good model for explaining when an audience needs performance support and when they need training.
MA: What do you see as the top three most important learning design trends (meaning a trend that broadly encompasses visual design, cognitive psychology, information design, and/or learning technology) in the last few years that will have the greatest long-term impact on the eLearning industry. How?
Connie: One trend is the broader recognition of the importance of visual thinking. For example, in March of 2010, the Obama administration appointed Edward Tufte (design thinking guru) to an advisory panel. The visual problem-solving book, The Back of the Napkin, was Amazon’s #5 Business Book of the Year. And a few months ago, news outlets around the world announced research findings that showed doodling can improve concentration. This heightened awareness should eventually impact and improve the visual side of eLearning.
Another trend is the mainstreaming of information graphics and data visualizations. There’s been a huge jump in the number of information graphics (online and offline) used to explain data and concepts in newspapers, magazines and on websites. As people learn how to understand infographics, they’ll be used more in online learning.
A third trend I’m seeing is a greater acceptance of the “less is more” philosophy, mostly due to the fact that people are oversaturated and overwhelmed with information. If this persists, it could improve the clarity of instructional visuals as well as the technologies we choose. For example, businesses might be more likely to implement micro-courses or visual performance support tools on smart phones, realizing that people have limits with how much they can absorb at one time.
MA: In one of your posts , you mention you do not to use ADDIE as framework for developing online learning. (I also do not use ADDIE as a framework.) Can you shed more light as to why?
Connie: The ADDIE model, though very worthwhile, seems to be geared to creating Instructor-Led Training. I think we need a model that fits the eLearning design process and that also fits our current project, audience, content and client.
If you’re creating a high-end interactive course, then you might want to create serial prototypes to get the job done. If you’re using a Rapid Development approach, Design and Development might merge. If your project is very large and complex, then you might perform many different analyses at the start. I still think it’s good to learn a formal or classic approach first (I learned Dick and Carey’s method in Grad school) and then modify things as you gain experience.
MA: What’s next for you in the next few months? Where will you be speaking or what are your current projects? Where do you see yourself in 1-2 years?
Connie: Presenting is a great way to share knowledge and to continue to learn from your audience. I enjoy speaking about how to design for the human mind, so in the next few months, I’ll be presenting at the ASTD’s TechKnowledge Conference in San Jose and also at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions conference in Orlando. In the long-term, I’d like to write more books, particularly self-published eBooks. Then you can update them and send out a new version to your audience whenever the book is revised. Really, I have endless ideas of what I’d like to do. We’ll see what the future brings.
Thanks so much Connie! Great interview!