WritersUA 2011 Monday – Design and tools for eLearning

This week I’m attending the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. These are my notes from the session called “Determining the Best Design Approaches and Development Tools for eLearning” presented by Joe Ganci. If you find any inaccuracies, they’ll be mine.

Joe’s presentation style is conversational, easy and comfortable. He walks right up to the audience, asks them questions and tells them personal anecdotes to illustrate his points.

First points to consider

There are four things to consider when determining your design approaches and your choice of development tools for an eLearning system:

  • Talent – Who is your talent? Who does the work?
  • Topic – What do you want to teach people, and who is your audience?
  • Technique – What technique are you going to use to impart your information?
  • Tool – Determine the tool or tools after all the other questions are answered.

For the rest of the session, Joe dived deep into each of the above points, and showed how your choices will influence the tools that you choose.


Who does the work? Consider these three groups of people:

  • Instructional designers
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Programmers

At the beginning of a project, the instructional designer creates a number of deliverables, including the storyboard, design document and analysis document.

Subject matter experts are well known to technical writers.

When considering the programmers, ask these questions: Who builds the eLearning in your organisation, and who should it be?

How does talent impact tool selection? SMEs, instructional designers and programmers will be using different tools. Joe showed us how the different groups of people are comfortable with different tools. For example, SMEs may use presentation tools like PowerPoint, instructional designers may use Camtasia, programmers use things like XML, HTML, Flash.


Looking at the information you want to impart, there are four key areas:

  • Information (concepts)
  • Compliance
  • Technical information
  • Soft skills (highly scenario-based)

Questions to ask yourself: Which of those information types are the most requested within your organisation, and who works on them?

How does topic impact tool selection? For informational topics, presentation tools like PowerPoint and Prezi are useful. For compliance topics, you may choose Camtasia or Lectora. For technical information, something like Raptivity, SmartBuilder. For the soft skills, you need a lot of computing: XML, HTML, Flash.


Joe discussed four kinds of technique in eLearning systems:

  • Tell me
  • Show me
  • Let me
  • Test me

Moving from top to bottom of the list, these techniques require an increasing level of complexity in the instructional design.

Questions to ask: What techniques are your favourite for eLearning, and which techniques do you want to implement next.

One of the audience members said he prefers a combination of “show me” and “let me”. Joe agreed. You don’t want to overdo the “let me” side of things.

It’s sometimes a good idea to be able to present each candidate with a slightly different experience.

When testing the student, one technique is to set up a pool of questions, and have Captivate randomly select questions out of the pool. You can base the pools on level of complexity, to ensure that each candidate gets the same overall level of test.

Essential questions for determining your design approach

Joe took us through each of the following questions that we need to ask, and discussed the various options for each.

  1. What is the content? (Your objectives, lesson plan, time available to the learner, existing content that you can base yours on.)
  2. Who is the audience? (Age, prerequisite knowledge, language, culture, disabilities, educational level, and so on.)
  3. How will you design the material? (Rapid prototyping, or the traditional instructional design approach, or a combination of the two.)
  4. What is necessary for the design? (How much time is necessary, do you need a video, do you need audio, how much text is required, how much interactivity, and so on. A number of the answers depend on you audience as well as the topic. The answers to these questions affect your choice of tool.)

How does technique affect tool selection? For “tell me”, the presentation tools like PowerPoint are effective. For “show me” and “test me”, you may use Smartbuilder and similar tools. For “let me”, you will need HTML, XML, Flash, and so on.

Questions to consider: What tools are available to your organisation, and what tools do you know? You need to consider also how well you know a tool, and whether you know everything that you need to know.

The tools

There are a number of tools, and many of them do similar things. But they don’t all work the same way. There are some really good surveys out there. Joe pointed out the survey of the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010.

Interestingly, the tools at the top of the list are things like Twitter, YouTube, GoogleDocs – social and informal learning tools.

As a trend in the next 3 years, Joe sees more and more hand-held platforms.

How does all this affect developers of eLearning?

We will be basing our work on the known foundations, but we’ll be looking at new ideas and techniques too.

An example of eLearning developed by Joe

Joe showed us an eLearning tool that he created in Captivate. It’s aim is to train hotel clerks in dealing with conflict. It’s available on the web: Hotel Clerk Training, Dealing with Conflicts. (Make sure you have audio enabled on your computer.)

It’s pretty cool. You can hover over each person, such as the manager or coworker, to see what each person says when you (the clerk) ask them what to do.

There’s a bit of humour in it, especially in the acting on the video segments – enough humour to make you smile, and enough to make you sympathise with the people.

When the user chooses the right response, the system responds with some jubilant animation to reward them.

Why is this type of approach better than PowerPoint? The student who is already an expert can fly right through the lesson without wasting time. A novice can explore all the answers in full. It’s also more interesting and more engaging. An experience as close to real life as possible is more likely to put the learning into your long term memory, as opposed to short term memory.

My conclusion

Thank you Joe for an interesting and engaging approach to the choice of tools for eLearning. It’s very useful to see how our decisions can affect the tools we choose, and how indeed we should make other decisions before deciding on a tool. I love the hotel clerk training tool!

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 15 March 2011, in technical writing, WritersUA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks Sarah for including our “Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010.” blog post – much appreciated!Upside Learning Blog is about innovation, design, development, and trends in the Learning Solutions domain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: