Enhance Digital Learning Experiences with Video

I love a good vid. In this age of Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Now and YouTube, you can be pretty much guaranteed to find something you want to watch that is engaging and entertaining. Pretty much any interest you have can be ‘googled’ and located not only for entertainment purposes but also for learning. Want to learn how to build a deck? There’s a vid for that. Want to learn how to cross-stitch? There’s a vid for that. Want to learn how to use photoshop? There’s literally millions of videos on how to do that! How about how to take a better picture? Yep you guessed it. There’s a vid for that.

Practically anything you want to learn these days can be located in a 3-5-minute video or series of videos. So why would you want to sit through an eLearning module that goes for an hour and a half? If you had the option to complete a 1 hour eLearning module on building a timber deck, compared to a 5-minute video which would you choose? I know which one I would choose.

Unlike a traditional presentation of information where you read about a procedure, view some diagrams or pictures about it, and then trying to apply it in a real situation, video enables you to see, listen and review application all in the one package. I can see how someone is holding the hammer while nailing the decking timbers, or how they are checking everything is level with their spirit level, or how they are marking out their measurements.

Video is an extremely powerful learning medium, because it gets a lot of information across in a short period of time, and the viewer is engaged through sight, sound and a ‘real life’ situation. The success of websites like YouTube are a testament to the popularity of video and show how this medium can be used effectively in a learning environment. So, what about our eLearning modules? As developers, what are some ways we can use video in our modules to capitalise on the learning power of the medium and provide an engaging experience?

Provide a personal touch
You can add a short video to an induction module welcoming new starters by the CEO, Executive team, HR team, direct manager etc. Great to put a face to a name! Also makes it easier for the new starter to know who they are looking for if they need to find a particular person. An induction module we created for APG & Co. included a personal greeting from the company’s CEO, welcoming the new starter to the organisation.

Observe a Process
The process might be an interpersonal one, showing an example discussion around a customer service encounter, or a performance management session etc, or even how to use a product.
For example, a module we put together for the Department of Primary Industries around how to put on and take off Personal Protective Equipment when doing a site inspection.

Another example is one we created for NSW Health Get Healthy Program which allowed learners to observe a process and then answer questions about what was done well, and what could have been done better.

Case Studies
Another great way to use videos is to play out a case study. Rather then the learner read through a document describing the situation, the learner is able to watch it ‘live’ as the situation unfurls, and how the situation should be dealt with as best practice. For example the team I worked with created a series of videos for a financial institution to cover of the best practice way of completing a personal loan for a customer. This included all of the must ask questions required to process the loan as efficiently as possible, and showed the learner all of the expected legal obligations they needed to cover off while completing the transaction. The feedback was it was invaluable for the learners to see the required behaviour modelled, and it assisted them in understanding the various requirements.

Another example from our APG & Co induction video around ladder usage and safety. What was quite a graphic video allowed the learner to see the consequences of falling from height, and what sort of safety precautions should have been in place to avoid it. The module then went on to discuss how APG & Co. manage ladder safety.

What about a ‘choose your own adventure’ branching video scenario? The learner watches a situation occurring, and in various places the video pauses and they need to make a decision. When they make a decision, the next video shows them the consequences of their decision, and may prompt them to make further choices with other consequences. It is those choices and consequences that provide the learning experience, and assist the learner in gaining the new knowledge required.

Video can be as simple or complex as you like
It all comes down to your experience and the resources you have available. Start small and build to bigger and better engaging scenarios as you get more comfortable with producing video and as resources become available.
Have fun with it! You don’t need to be Hollywood to create great learning videos, with good instructional design you can create video on the cheap that is effective, and has the learning impact you are after.

Some are more involved with more professional production values, but both can be used effectively to engage the learner and get them involved in the story. When you are starting out with video keep in short and sweet but visually exciting for its 2-3 minutes, don’t just use a talking head – boring! Get your visual design hat on. A great example of this is the videos produced by Commoncraft – short and visually engaging while explaining quite involved concepts.

To learn more about enhancing your digital learning with video watch my recent webinar here.

Now take a look at some ways we can use video in Articulate Storyline to create interactive and engaging learning experiences.

Importance of a Good User Interface in Learning

I’m a huge fan of cooking shows such as MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules and one of the expressions they use when judging dishes is that people eat with their eyes. What they mean is that the presentation is the first thing people see which creates an impression even before they’ve tasted the food. This analogy is much the same in the world of eLearning, as people can be turned off just by the look of an eLearning module or LMS interface.

The User Interface or UI refers to both the look-and-feel and functionality of the eLearning module or LMS menu. This means that your colour palate, navigation, images, icons and layout are all contribute to the overall UI. A well-designed website is easy to use and requires no instruction thereby minimising the amount of extraneous cognitive load on users. The same should apply to digital learning because if people are frustrated due to a lack of intuitiveness, it will take away from the objectives of the piece. The UI is not just making the screen looking pretty, it’s a tool to guide people through the learning experience.

Here’s some tips for improved UI design:

1. Make the Navigation Clear

Make sure it’s obvious what people need to do next. How to they move forward? If they need to click on all objects before moving ahead, let them know otherwise they may think there’s a problem if the module won’t advance. Also, remove any items that are not needed. One of my pet peeves is when I see a previous button on the first slide of a module. If something isn’t needed or doesn’t do anything remove it!

2. Make it Familiar

Many people who complete eLearning modules use the internet at work and home so are used to certain elements that are used in website design such as a ‘X’ used to close a window or blue, underline text for a hyperlink. Use these same standards in your eLearning as people are already familiar with them.

3. Consistency is Key

My colleague Matt Blackstock has written some great posts about making your visual design C.R.A.P. otherwise known as using Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Applying these principles will also improve you UI design. Some examples of consistency include keeping navigation elements in the same place across your module and making clickable objects (such as buttons) the same style, so one colour if the button is active and another colour if it’s inactive or been clicked on.

4. Don’t forget Mobile

If your eLearning will be viewed or your LMS accessed via mobile devices, it changes things when it comes to UI. Screens are smaller, and interactions are performed using fingers so keep the design free from too many elements and make sure all items can be operated via mobile devices.

5. Test, Test and Test

It’s always good practice to test your work both as you build it and at the end to ensure everything works the way you intended. When testing, you should always do the opposite or try a different way than you intended and see if everything still works. If you can, organise a pilot group of testers watch them as they use your module. Don’t forget to test in different browsers and devices too.

One final point is that it’s best to apply good UI design during the build phase as it is much easier than trying to go back re-design at the end.

What are your tips for good UI design?

Compliance doesn’t have to be boring

I’m sure you’ve experienced this situation before. When you mention mandatory compliance eLearning you’re greeted with a sigh and can see employees automatically disengage. This doesn’t have to be the case. You can turn your compliance training into an experience that employees actually want to complete.

Here are some tips:

  1. Instead of just focusing on the policies and highlighting what’s contained in each, engage employees by focusing on when the policies need to be followed and why they matter. Provide examples of what could happen if they don’t follow the policies. There are consequences that occur if policy isn’t followed – the consequence can be the opening of your training. This is how you can get employees emotionally engaged.
  2. Your training can list many policies and procedures or only highlight a few, but in either situation, can employees actually apply what they’ve learned in the real world? Instead of a knowledge assessment at the end of the training, why not involve the employees throughout the training through relevant real-life scenarios?
  3. Make the training convenient. Everyone is busy and the demands on employees is on the increase, so consider “Just-In-Time” compliance training. Provide resources that employees can access at the moment of need. If resources are readily available at the point of need, employees are more likely to retain the information. They are using the information and acquiring the skills when faced with a real-life situation on the job.
  4. Make it mobile friendly. Everything is mobile, so compliance training should be mobile too. Provide employees the opportunity to access the training when it suits them. Also, try to avoid cognitive overload and make the training bite sized (especially for mobile).
  5. If possible, make it social. Use social media groups and online forums where employees are invited to post questions and ideas and upload content. Get the discussions happening and incite a collaborative environment. Two heads are better than one!

I’m sure there are many other ways that we can create compliance training that isn’t met with a sigh. When tasked with creating compliance training, I try to think of myself as the learner and take it from there.

Using Adult Learning Principles in Digital Learning

When developing digital learning content, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of the learner.  Two essential questions to consider are:

  • ‘Who are the learners?
  • ‘What will motivate them to learn?’

The tools today are packed with features to make learning exciting and easier to use with templates ready to get you started quickly. But for those of us designing courses for adult learners, it’s helpful to understand adult learning principles too since this is not an automated function of any tool.

Malcolm Knowles pioneered the study of adult learning (called andragogy) in the 1970s, identifying the following six adult learning principles.

  1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults are relevancy oriented
  5. Adults are practical
  6. Adult learners like to be respected

These principles are an excellent summary of how adults learn.

PRINCIPLE 1: Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

According to research, “adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them”.

Adult learners like to feel a sense of control over their own learning. Online learning gives adults the choice to log on and learn at a time convenient to them. But what if they log on, and then have no freedom to navigate through the course in their own way? If possible, I like to give learners options to move around the course freely. It is best not to lock down the navigation which may lead to frustration and impede the learning process.

It can be argued that some learners will just click through to the end without reading each screen. To address this problem, I recommend putting in a Case Study or Quick Quiz at the end of each section to check their understanding. This will encourage them to go back to previous screens and take a closer look if they need to.  You could lock the Quiz or Test so they have to pass before progressing. For more information about navigation options, read Tom Kulhmann’s post on the Rapid E-Learning Blog.

But what about if the client asks you to lock down the navigation?

Some managers want their staff to click and read every item on a screen before progressing to the next screen. The good news is that self-directed learning is not just about navigation. If you have to lock down the navigation, there are other ways you can encourage self-directed learning. An important guideline is to lead the learner toward inquiry before supplying them with too many facts. Facts are often presented in the form of bullet points but this may not be the best way to facilitate learning. In fact if bullet points are over-used, it is a sure way for the learner to switch off. Instead try creating a real life problem (case study) that the student has to solve for themselves. You can supply a few facts or resources that they have to draw on to solve the problem. Then provide guidance or feedback after they have submitted a solution. In this way the learner is motivated to learn within a meaningful context. The learner has to think for themselves—and remember, adults like to solve problems and think things through for themselves. It is more likely that they will remember the information if they have had to apply it to a realistic workplace scenario.

PRINCIPLE 2: Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences

Even if you do not personally know the learners you are designing for, you can be sure that as adults, they have a wide range of knowledge and experience to bring to the course. Try to draw on this experience from time to time in the course.

When I start designing a new section in a course, I like to ask the learners a few questions to draw on their pre-existing experiences. By drawing on the learners’ current knowledge or experience, you are orienting them to the new topic and making the course more personal.

This example is from our Equal Employment Opportunity course. Near the start of the course, I asked learners to think about two questions: “What does EEO mean to you?” and “Have you (or someone you know) ever been discriminated against in a workplace?”.  I inserted a green box for the questions with the title ‘Reflection’. The same green box format appears several times in the course and asks the learner different questions for reflection. This is a good way to acknowledge their experience and by doing so, show them respect.

PRINCIPLE 3: Adults are goal oriented

Adult learners need to have a goal to work towards when undertaking online learning. Some adult learners undertake online training by choice. They already have a goal, for example to change careers or get a promotion. Other learners do an online course because their boss has told them they have to. In both cases, adult learners like to know how they will benefit from doing the course. In the first few screens they should be able to answer the question “How will doing the course make my job/life easier?”

As eLearning designers, we need to convince the learner that the course will be worth their while. Although clear learning objectives are a start, there is more that we can do. For example you could open the course with a scenario that they could realistically face in their workplace. Then ask “Would you know what to do in this situation?”. The idea here is to identify a gap in their knowledge which helps to motivate the learner to fill the gap. In other words, do the course!

As adult learners practice new skills, they need feedback about how they are progressing toward their goals. The timing of feedback is important: immediate feedback facilitates learning the most. The longer the interval between performance and feedback, the less likely it is that feedback will have a positive effect on learning. In eLearning we can provide feedback to an adult learner immediately after a skill has been performed. Using a tool like Articulate Storyline , its easy to provide feedback by question or at a deeper level by each individual response

It is also important to acknowledge goal completion; for example ‘Congratulations you passed the test’ or ‘Well done – you have completed Section One of the course’. Another option is to use gaming elements by awarding badges. This kind of encouragement gives the learner a sense of completion and satisfaction.

Principle 4: Adults are relevancy oriented

Adult learners are usually time-poor. Whether they are undertaking the course at work, on the train, or at home, typically there are dozens of other things they could be doing with their time. So it is important not to waste their time with unnecessary information or irrelevant screens.

When I am selecting course content, I ask myself “Will this help the learner achieve the course objectives?”. If the answer is yes, then it is included. If the answer is no, then I leave it out. Sometimes it is helpful to print out the course objectives and keep them next to the keyboard or on the wall in front of you.  By keeping the course objectives at the forefront, you are more likely to keep on track with the most relevant course content.

In addition, adult learners want to see the relevance of what they are learning to their own experience. Always choose images that you think the learners will be able to identify with. For example if you are designing a course about Workplace Bullying for the mining sector, choose images of miners, mine sites and other environments that the learners will be familiar with.

Case studies also need to be relevant to the learners’ experiences. In some cases you might have to talk to a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to gather ideas for realistic workplace scenarios. The more you can relate the content to the everyday experiences of the learner, the more likely they are to see the relevance of the course and engage with the learning experience.

Principle 5: Adults are practical

Adult learners like to apply newly-acquired knowledge in practical ways. They prefer to be active participants in the learning experience. That’s why there should be plenty of interactivity in eLearning courses. Quizzes, surveys, challenges, discussions, research projects – all of these practical activities help to facilitate learning.

The desire for interactivity is not much different from child learners—however there is one important difference: adults need to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills in their working life. In other words, they are undergoing training that will help them in practical ways to perform their jobs more effectively.

What does this mean for eLearning designers? It means you should write in a very clear, precise and direct way. Instructions must be crystal clear so learners can easily follow them. Avoid overly formal language that will only alienate the learners. Follow the principles of plain english.

It means the course should include plenty of practical advice that learners can implement immediately. Tips are an excellent way to do this. By sprinkling several practical tips throughout the course, it breaks up the content and brings the focus to a very practical level. I suggest using a Quick Tip throughout the course.  It brightens up the course, by breaking up content and allows learners to follow expert advice.

Principle 6: Adult learners like to be respected

I think this last principle actually sums up all the six adult learning principles. Put yourself in the shoes of the learner, take care in your eLearning design, ask questions about their own knowledge and experience. Things to consider to avoid disrespecting your adult learners include restricting the navigation, repetition of warning messages, narrating on screen text word for word, poor graphic design.

‘Respect your learner’ is an excellent mantra for any teacher, trainer or course designer.

If you’re want to learn more about using adult learning principles in eLearning then consider our Certified Articulate Training and eLearning Design Essentials course.

learning styles

Learning Styles in eLearning

Learning design is all about designing the right learning for the right audience, catering for different learning styles and maximising the opportunities for effective learning.

Effective learning design helps create engagement, and leads to emotional and intellectual connection with content to build practical, valuable skills which can be immediately applied in relevant situations.

A learning style describes the way that you, as an individual, prefer to learn. There are many models that claim to analyse individual learning preferences. Some take into account your personality, others your emotions. A popular one, the Honey and Mumford Learning styles inventory, is based on the way you approach new learning experiences.

Peter Honey and Alan Mumford developed their learning styles system as a variation on the Kolb Learning Cycle model.  For example, when buying a new gadget do you?

  • read the manual
  • try pushing all the buttons to see what happens
  • find someone to explain to you how it works
  • watch others using it.

Although many people exhibit clear preferences for one of these styles most have a combination of two or more. The benefit for those supporting learning of knowing learners’ preferred styles is that learning experiences can be tailored to maximise their impact.

Activists: Their philosophy is: ‘I’ll try anything once’.

People who prefer the Experience stage of Kolb’s cycle, ‘Activists’, enjoy involving themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical, and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new.


  • flexible and open minded
  • happy to have a go
  • happy to be exposed to new situations
  • optimistic about anything new and therefore unlikely to resist change

  • tendency to take the immediately obvious action without thinking
  • often take unnecessary risks
  • rush into action without sufficient preparation
  • get bored with implementation/ consolidation


Activists in eLearning

There needs to be plenty to look at and with video and audio segments as well as animation, activists won’t get bored.  The experience isn’t passive, activist learners will be clicking around exploring conversations and taking quizzes and exercises as they work through the material, giving them the opportunities they need to discover new experiences and place themselves at the centre of their learning.

eLearning also helps activists to guard against their weaknesses. By trying out new ideas in the safe environment offered by a well designed eLearning framework they can learn about the risks inherent in situations, and discover the benefits of planning and preparation.


Reflectors: When they act, it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others’ observations as well as their own.

People who prefer the ‘Review’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Reflectors, like to sit back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They enjoy observing action. They listen to others and get the drift of the discussion before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant, unruffled air about them.


  • thorough and methodical
  • thoughtful
  • good at listening to others assimilating information
  • rarely jump to conclusions



  • tendency to hold back from direct participation
  • slow to make up their minds and reach a decision
  • tendency to be too cautious and not take enough risks
  • not-assertive, they are not particularly forthcoming and lack ‘small talk’


Reflectors in eLearning

Reflectors can take information on board in bite-sized chunks or work through larger sections before taking a break. This allows learners to think about what they’ve discovered, looking for examples in their own lives, and forming their own views before returning to the Module. There’s no rush, and having a system that remembers how far the learner has got so they can return directly to the last topic they studied is beneficial. A Learning Journal facility allows learners to jot down notes as they go along, which they can return to later.

eLearning can help reflectors to make the most of their learning style, building confidence in their skills and knowledge at their own pace, allowing them to take more informed decisions independently.


Theorists: They prefer to maximise certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgements, lateral thinking and anything flippant.

People who prefer the ‘Conclude’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Theorists, adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won’t rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme. They like to analyse and synthesize. They are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic. This is their ‘mental set’ and they rigidly reject anything that doesn’t fit with it.


  • logical ‘vertical’ thinking
  • rational and objective
  • good at asking probing questions
  • disciplined approach

  • restricted in lateral thinking
  • low tolerance for uncertainty, disorder and ambiguity
  • intolerant of anything subjective or intuitive
  • full of ‘shoulds, oughts and musts’


Theorists in eLearning

eLearning needs to have modules with clear concepts and theories which can be tested and remembered. Where additional research may help theorists to gain additional knowledge, reading lists should be included to assist theorists to explore concepts in greater detail. Key thinkers on each topic can be identified so that learners can anchor their knowledge to academic research. By including models, acronyms, and clear logical concepts well designed eLearning gives theorists the structure and clarity they need. Warnings can be included to identify the limitations of theories and their application in the real world, helping theorists to build their knowledge whilst maintaining their ability to take a contingency approach.


Pragmatists: Their philosophy is: ‘There is always a better way’ and ‘If it works it’s good’.

People who prefer the ‘Apply’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Pragmatists, are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice.

They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are essentially practical down-to-earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems. They respond to problems and opportunities ‘as a challenge’.


  • keen to test things in practice
  • practical, down to earth, realistic
  • business-like get straight to the point
  • technique oriented

  • tendency to reject anything without an obvious application
  • not very interested in theory or basic principles


Pragmatists in eLearning

For pragmatists, the content should be arranged in clear, easily identifiable modules designed to deal with everyday challenges. Within each module the material can be accessed at an element level, allowing pragmatists to access the sections they need to address the issues they are facing now. Practical examples of how to apply new knowledge are included, along with handy downloadable forms and checklists to enable easy application.

Exercises allow pragmatists to take the concepts and profile themselves and their teams against them, and strategies for dealing with individual situations are included to keep the learning real. By including case studies and anecdotes well designed eLearning enables pragmatists to better retain and apply information about concepts.

3 Tips To Meet Modern Learners Expectations

Did you know that people unlock their phones up to 9 times every hour? If you find this hard to believe, then think about how often you grab your phone as you see a notification light up or hear your phone chime. You might also be surprised to hear that employees get interrupted every 5 minutes and people now lose concentration only after 8 seconds, which is less than the 9 second attention span of the average goldfish!

With the increased demands on employees, the ubiquity of information and the digitalised lifestyle, it’s no wonder that learner behaviour and their expectations of digital learning content has changed.

What does this mean for those of us who design learning?

  1. Less is more

To highlight the need for reducing the training time, here’s another research finding that might interest you – 1% of a typical work week is all the time that employees have to focus on training and development. It’s therefore not surprising that when we mention the word ‘training’, we often hear ‘I don’t have time’.

  • Speed, convenience, relevant objectives and quality information is important to the modern learner, so filter out the nice to knows from the need to knows.
  • Break the learning into smaller bites, which the learner can access over a period of time. More information is likely to be absorbed and retained (and the learner will feel less overwhelmed) if the information isn’t delivered in one long sitting.
  • Build breaks into the content where the learner is advised that if they need to take a break from the training, this is the right time to do so.
  • For refresher training, insert the quiz at the start and from the quiz results, target the training only to specific areas of need.
  • Think about how long you might watch a video for on your device before you swipe or click next. This also applies to today’s learners. Approximately 4 minutes in duration per video is cited to be the maximum optimal length of a video within eLearning content.
  1. Involve the learner and make it interactive

Have you ever turned to YouTube for information? The modern learner expects to be provided the information to know exactly how to do something.

  • Instead of pushing the information to the learner, engage and involve them by pulling the information from them. When appropriate, ask the learner a question before providing the relevant background information. Use the feedback to deliver the learning and the information.
  • Scenarios are a great way of learning by doing. They aim to involve the learner by presenting them with a situation, upon which they are asked to make a decision, then they witness the consequences of their decision.
  1. Create an intuitive design and user experience

Are you like me where sometimes you’re a little shocked if you see someone reading an actual book as you’re travelling to work? We’re a society of swipe across and up and down on our devices. We know how and when to swipe and how to close a lightbox. It’s intuitive. That’s how we should create our digital learning.

How much instruction text do we really need in our digital learning content? If it’s good design, the trigger or next action should be obvious, without the need for explicit or unnecessary instruction. Consider using navigational and instructional icons and designs that modern learners are familiar with, such as those that they use every day as they search for information on their phones.


Bronya Benvin. 2015. 7 Killer Tips For Effective Video In eLearning. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elearningindustry.com/7-killer-tips-effective-video-in-elearning. [Accessed 14 July 2017].

Josh Bersin. 2017. The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned. [ONLINE] Available at: http://joshbersin.com/2017/03/the-disruption-of-digital-learning-ten-things-we-have-learned/. [Accessed 7 July 2017].

Kevin McSpadden. 2015. You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/. [Accessed 14 July 2017].

Steve Penfold. 2016. Modern Learning: 6 Reasons Why Learning Has Changed Forever. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elearningindustry.com/modern-learning-6-reasons-learning-changed-forever. [Accessed 7 July 2017].

Manage Cognitive Load in Digital Learning

Research into our cognitive architecture has led to the development of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) and related guidelines which, when applied, results in more efficient learning. It’s widely accepted that our memory system consists of three components – a sensory memory that receives information from our surroundings, a working memory to process this information and also to retrieve information from our long-term memory.

  • Working memory – As the name suggests, our working memory (formerly known as short-term memory) actively processes information. This information enters the working memory from one of two sources, either from our sensory memory (our senses) due to our interaction with the world around us or it’s retrieved from our long-term memory. The ability of our working memory to hold information is very limited so it can easily be overloaded.
  • Long-term Memory – Whilst working memory is responsible for the active processing of information, the long-term memory is the storage area of our memory system. Information is stored in the long-term memory in knowledge structures known as schemas or mental models. The number of schemas held in long-term memory is what differentiates experts from novices therefore, the focus of any instruction should be the formation and construction of schemas in the long-term memory.
  • Cognitive Load Theory – The study of the human memory system and its components has provided extensive evidence about how humans process and store new and existing pieces of information. This knowledge is essential when it comes to designing instructional activities and to account for the processing and storage capabilities of the human memory system.
    CLT is “a universal set of instructional principles and evidence-based guidelines that offer the most efficient methods to design and deliver instructional environments in ways that best utilise the limited capacity of working memory” (Clark et. al, 2006, p.342).

Other points to note about CLT:
1. It’s universal so applies to all types of content, delivery methods and people.
2. It offers principles and instructional guidelines.
3. It’s evidence based, there’s been lots of studies and experiments to test the theory.
4. Applying the findings leads to more efficient learning.
5. It leverages our learning process.

Three Types of Cognitive Load

  • Intrinsic – which is the mental work imposed by the complexity of the task or content. Another factor to consider with intrinsic load is element interactivity which is the number of elements that interact with each other.
  • Extraneous – which imposes mental effort by including items that are irrelevant to the learning goal and wastes cognitive resources. A lot of eLearning could be improved if extraneous load was removed.
  • Germane – which allows cognitive resources to be put towards learning.

A number of principles have been developed based on CLT. Examples of these principles include:

  • Worked example effect – giving novice learners worked solutions of unfamiliar problems to study.
  • Split-attention effect – reducing the need to integrate multiple sources of information in order for it to be understood.
  • Modality effect – presenting information via both the visual and auditory channels.
  • Redundancy effect – not presenting the same information via both the visual and auditory channels.
  • Applying these principles to instructional design will facilitate improved learning outcomes because they incorporate the findings of research into the functioning of the human memory system.

When thinking about digital learning, our cognitive architecture looks like this:

So, let’s look at some things you can do to manage cognitive load in digital learning and help the learning process. Often, it’s about reducing extraneous cognitive load.

  1. Use the visual and auditory channels as this helps to spread the cognitive load. However, presenting audio and identical on-screen text results in redundant information being processed by the learner. Audio should be used to describe what’s happening on screen to be most effective. Exceptions to this are people are not native speakers of the language and for accessibility.
  2. When using text and images, text should be placed near the corresponding parts of the image. This will reduce split attention.
  3. Avoid using decorative images. The image/diagram used should be directly related to the material being presented and not be there to ‘jazz up the screen’.
  4. Less is more:
    • Focus on essential information, write concisely.
    • Eliminate extraneous visuals, text and audio – get rid of ‘nice to know’ information.
    • Eliminate redundancy such as unnecessary words and modes.

You can reduce working memory load by providing external memory supports, more commonly known as performance aids or performance supports. Performance aids are beneficial when time is limited to build schemas into long-term memory. They can be used before and after more formal training methods but aren’t suitable if something needs to be completed quickly and accurately. Performance aids are most effective when they predominately use visuals.

All of the research into our memory systems and cognitive load is extremely useful as it provides evidence-based insights into how people process information. In turn, it allows designers to create activities based around the processing limitations that people have. As a result, by incorporating these factors into our designs, we can improve the overall learning experience.


Clark, R., Nguyen, F. & Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in Learning. San Francisco, John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Mayer, R. E. & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

eLearning Development: Articulate Versus Code

In the eLearning world, it’s no secret that there’s a divide between people who build courses from scratch using HTML and JavaScript and people who use an authoring tool for the whole course creation. I’ve often heard web developers say that eLearning authoring tools are cookie-cutter solutions. Hmmmm. I’ve been involved in course creation using both approaches and I’ve seen some really effective courses created in Articulate that gives web coded courses a run for their money – in design, development time and $$$!

Here’s a snapshot comparison of the two development methods:

  Code Development Articulate Development
Team structure
  • Specialists who work within strictly defined roles and boundaries; the instructional designer works on the content, the graphic designer works on the design elements, the developer only working on the technical elements and so forth.
  • Each person has their designated role, however in many cases, roles cross over and skill sets are transferable allowing team members to become involved and lend their expertise during different phases of the project.
Development process
  • Linear process, following a sequential flow.
  • Iterative process, where modifications can be made during each stage.
User acceptance testing
  • Users are involved in the beginning during the requirements stage and at the end. User acceptance testing is performed at the end of the coding phase.
  • Testing is usually performed at every iteration. End user feedback guides modifications along the way, ensuring a product is built that meets the needs and requirements.
Time and cost
  • Due to the linear approach, there is low productivity and flexibility. Building courses from scratch using web based tools can take months. Build duration impacts on cost.
  • This iterative process is highly productive and flexible. Due to faster turnaround times, projects often have a shorter duration.
Maintenance costs
  • If you don’t know how to work with HTML, then chances are you will need to rely on a technical expert to make any adjustments.
  • Minimal due to the ease of making updates without the need for technical experts.


Now going back to the comment that eLearning authoring tools are cookie-cutter solutions – I have to disagree. After recently starting to use Articulate 360, I’ve discovered some really cool features, to help customise the courses we create.

In brief Articulate Storyline 360:

  • Allows you to customise interactivity with minimal effort
    • Add interactivity with motion path animations, layers or triggers
    • Use out of the box: buttons, hovers, markers, hotspots, dials, sliders, data entry, lightboxes, scrolling panels
    • Custom build animations and interactions
  • Tin Can API , SCORM, and AICC compliant content can be published for your LMS with a click of a button to track your courses
  • Provides an excellent library of resources and templates that can be used as is or modified
  • Easily include media and simulations
    • Add audio, video, web objects
    • Create screencasts and software simulations
  • Is responsive to every mobile device
  • Compresses to smaller files for all bandwidth support
  • Supports right-to-left language such as Hebrew so you can translate your courses

For the full list of features, visit the website here. Be aware there are regular updates to the software that adds new features and keeps up with the changing landscape of online learning.

If you work in L&D, how often have you heard that a course needed to be developed yesterday? The reality is that you don’t have months to wait before the course is built. However regardless of which tool or method you use, you can’t skimp on the instructional design aspect of course building. It’s how you use the tool that determines how effective your courses are.

Creating Real Engagement in eLearning

In the eLearning space, a phrase that I see used a lot – to the point of overuse – by designers and developers is their ability to ‘create engaging eLearning experiences’. But what does that really mean? Well, according to dictionary.com the word engage is defined as:

“To occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons)”

That sounds reasonable and is definitely something we should be doing but why is there still so much poor eLearning around if so many claim to be able to create engaging eLearning? Authoring tools alone can’t create engaging eLearning, at least not without human input, so it’s up to us! I suggest that maybe there’s different ‘types’ of engagement in eLearning experiences that are created by designers and developers.


Visual engagement comes from the appearance or look-and-feel of the eLearning. It’s about the colours, fonts, images and text. It’s how these elements are connected and how well they support the message and content (or don’t!). But while a visually appealing module can draw you in (occupy your attention), looks are superficial and will wear off quickly on long, dry, content driven eLearning because boring is still boring even if it looks pretty.


Physical engagement comes from having to actually do something during the module and in many cases this will probably involve clicking, dragging and hovering (again, requires some attention and effort). I’m all for doing in eLearning but I do question whether clicking/dragging/hovering does anything for engagement, I mean if there’s some information and instead of just displaying it, users need to click some buttons to reveal it in small pieces, is that any better? I wrestle with this – is more clickable, dragable and hoverable more engaging?


This type of engagement is about using the mind. It’s about provoking thinking, providing a challenge or challenges. It’s about applying information to situations that people are faced with, having them make decisions and dealing with the consequences. It’s using stories. It’s making you feel something. It’s also about creating an experience that’s relevant and useful to people that will ultimately improve their performance. For me, these things are what really makes an eLearning experience engaging.

In creating an eLearning module, all these types of engagement play a role (maybe there’s more types?) but often the mental engagement is left out because we’re trying to push content onto our people. We think that just making it look good and having them use their mouse/finger is enough to create engagement – it’s a start but doesn’t go far enough!

So, what are your thoughts on engagement in eLearning?

How about measuring engagement? Do you do it and if so how?

Facilitating Memory Retention in Digital Learning

Instructional designers are interested in the question “How do people learn?”. This is not an easy question to answer because there are so many factors involved in the learning process—motivation, environment, ability and so on.

In this post I would like to take the question one step further to ask “How do people retain what they have learnt?”. In particular, I will look at some ways for Learning Designers to encourage memory retention.

Repetition is not a dirty word

We often think repetition is boring but there are times when it can assist in learning and memory retention.

I recently read a blog post by Nick Elkins where he paraphrased from Dr Susan Weinschenk’s book 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People:

“Repeating information, and the use of that information, forms new connections in your brain where memories are stored. Repeat it enough times, and it sticks. To further build on that, if you tie newly presented information to already-formed memories or experiences, then it’s easier for them to remember that information.”

Let’s say you are introducing a difficult concept/idea/policy into an online course. Do not assume that the learners will ‘get it’ straightaway. It may be obvious to you or the Subject Matter Expert, but it could be the first time the learner has read or heard this information. Instead of jumping to the next point, give the learners a chance to digest the new information and see it expressed in another way.

Here are some ways to repeat and reinforce important or complex points:

  • Paraphrase the concept or idea on the next screen—there are several ways to explain one thing.
  • Explain or suggest how the point might relate to their pre-existing knowledge and skills.
  • Demonstrate the concept or idea through a diagram or chart.
  • Insert a video where a person is explaining the concept.
  • Include a case study that shows how the knowledge can be applied in a real-life scenario.

The point is that just because someone has read something once, does not mean they will understand it or remember it. There are times when reinforcement is needed, particularly for the most important ‘take-aways’ from the course.

Branching to customise the learning experience

Some learners will retain information more easily than others. In your eLearning design, you can provide learners with a choice to recap something they learned earlier, or to move on. Take a look at this example from a course built in Articulate Storyline.


Of course, learners can go back to a previous screen themselves if they need to, but there is no harm in providing them with a prompt like the example provided. I chose the words ‘Quick Reminder’ because I think it sounds more appealing than a word like ‘Revision’.

The beauty of branching is that it gives the learner choices. In the example I have given, the screen caters for Learner A who has read about SMART goals a dozen times (and is a bit sick of reading about them!) and Learner B who vaguely remembers hearing about SMART goals a few years ago and needs to learn it again.

Checking understanding throughout the course

According to Confucious, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” In other words, perhaps the real learning takes place when we apply new knowledge and skills. This often happens after the learner has completed the course and they are back in the workplace. But even within the eLearning course, quizzes and tests give learners a chance to apply what they have learnt on the previous screens. Learners are required to recall information and apply it to answer questions.

I prefer to build short quizzes throughout a course. This facilitates progressive learning and brings the learner into the action. Instead of one giant quiz at the end, try putting several ‘Check your understanding’ quizzes in a course. Here is an example. memory

If you have a long course with just one quiz at the end, I think learners are tempted to just click-click-click their way through the course and ‘try their luck’ with the final quiz. If they are rushing to the end, it is unlikely that they will remember much of the course.

Final Word

With the latest developments in authoring tools, we have the technology to create truly engaging and memorable learning experiences. There are some excellent examples in the Storyline showcase.  These courses are likely to have a positive impact on the learner because of their originality, rich interactivity and smart design.

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