Education, Instructional Design, Learning and Development

ARCS Model thoughts

It’s not enough to design great eLearning. Learners who are not interested in the topic, who do not buy into the goals, who generally resist change, or who fail to see the big-picture reasons for learning the new material or skill have what Guild Master Julie Dirksen identifies as motivation gaps.

Know your audience, establish relevance, and build confidence for the buy-in. Satisfaction is achieved and the learner does not feel time was wasted on another boring training.

Pamela Hogle‘s article on the website for Learning Solutions MagazineARCS Model Aids in Designing for Motivation is a well explained piece on motivation and barriers to learning.  As with most learning modules relevance, motivation, and usefulness are the primary frustrations designers must overcome in order to create an effective tool. Where the ARCS model differs from others is making confidence a key indicator. Applying new skills and implementing new strategies is a daunting task, takes time, and can be overwhelming. It is much more comfortable to keep the status quo, sticking with the familiar.  Reinforcing relevance and offering clear implementation strategies will build confidence necessary for a successful use of learning content. Establishing relevance is not enough. Many will be able to see how the training is relevant to them, but may be overwhelmed with precisely how to utilize the acquired knowledge. Concise examples, clear instructions, and modeling give the learner a vision for how the strategy can work for them. Sometimes the most difficult part of learning a strategy is visualizing its use in your own situation. Examples help provide clarity and the buy-in that what is being learned can actually be used.



Best Practices, Education, Instructional Design, Learning and Development

Bells and Whistles: Engagement


A few basics for creating an engaging lesson/learning module:

  • Plan. Don’t wing it.
  • Determine your objectives and desired outcome.
  • Establish how you will determine mastery.
  • Mine your resources.
  • Outline the lesson/course.
  • Build it.
  • Add the bells and whistles.

The course is just part of an overall process. For an instructional objective to be met and the course to be effective there must be ongoing performance support outside of the course. The learner must be motivated to engage in the content and to motivate the learner, relevance has to be clear.  Motivation can also be driven by opportunity. Meetings, projects, deadlines, task lists, family, and life in general are barriers to training. When categorizing tasks for the day training is not likely to be in the urgent and important category. Training is usually put in the “I will get to it when I can” or the “Oh my gosh it is due tomorrow” category.  If designers create training with time management in mind everyone’s life is made a little easier and training is more effective.  Compress activities and implement/suggest opportunities for practice to make training relevant to the participant. A few minutes here and there is a lot easier to manage than a sixty minute required commitment. There is a time and place for long sessions, but periodic required training is not it.  Saving progress is an essential feature. Chunk the module in such a way that there are natural breaks.

Planning is the key to breaking up the content into natural pauses. Story-boarding is an effective planning tool for planning. A storyboard is an organizational tool to establish the order of presentation, what resources are needed where, and where best to place learning checks. That is an oversimplification, but it explains the idea. PLAN for engagement. Preparing learning checks will chunk the material and engage the learner. Within the learning check, you have an opportunity to re-loop and review- TAKE IT.

Most understand that learning and presentation is a cycle. You explain what you are going to tell them. You tell them. Then you tell them what you told them.  I do not think of it in a circular pattern of instruction.  For me, loops are preferred.


In your loop learning, stimulate prior knowledge. Offering examples that relate to what the learner already knows can provide relevance as well as an opportunity to review prior material. Another opportunity to re-loop is by providing the chance to interact with the content.

Before building, gather all the resources necessary for success.  Mining of resources can take place before story-boarding or after. I prefer both. I gather the resources I know will be required. After outlining I usually find it necessary to add to my resource list.  Think of it like cooking. Before cooking you must check to see if you have all of your ingredients then purchase what you need. If you have all of your ingredients out, measured and ready for use you are not in a frantic rush to heat, stir, measure the next ingredient, and add it before whatever you are cooking is ruined by a delay.  Having all resources ready for use in an easily accessible folder or bank will make your instructional design process smoother and  less stressful.

When building your learning module, keep content frames clear, concise and uncluttered. Words, words, and more words is not necessary. Stick to the major points and add narration for explanation. Add images to enhance the topic and assist the learner in making connections.  While bells and whistles can be exciting and provide a tool to grab attention, don’t over do it. Too many bells and whistles become obnoxious after repeated use.  Keep in mind, just because the learning module is professional and serves a learning purpose, that does not mean it can’t be entertaining.  Lastly, if you are bored creating it, how will the learner required to complete it feel?

Keep it simple. Make it relevant. Plan and don’t wing it.

Learning and Development

Don’t break the team, take a break

Team building is a necessary evil in any organization. I call it that, because most employees hate it. People do not like to be forced into anything and for many forced socialization is not comfortable. Building the team is important. Stepping away from the project to get a new perspective is important. If organized in such a way that the time feels (and is) useful, the team will refocus, rejuvenate, re-energize and come back to the project with a new attitude for success.

Organizations that offer brain breaks, mental health days, or non-structured time away are organizations with happier employees. Team building is important, but not everything has to seem structured. Not everything has to have a grand purpose greater than the moments together. There is value in shared experiences. It is a difficult balance though. Team building during a stressful time where deadlines are looming and expectations are high is probably not the best time to host a four-hour workshop and then summarize what is coming up. It results in a scenario where the team is reminded of the tight schedule, but they are being forced to interact in a non-work way on something that has no bearing on the immediate goal.  If the goal is team building then it is probably not a good time to remind everyone that the report is due by the end of the day tomorrow.   Instead the break can be a simple activity that doesn’t take anyone away for too long. A shared lunch or a quick coffee break is probably a better activity than hours of icebreakers and team building exercises. That does not mean that an organization should not hold four-hour workshops. It simply means that timing is key.

Effective learning has to be relevant to the learning participant.  Most accept the importance of team building, but there never seems to be a good time and many times the activities do not relate to the project at hand. It has to relate to be effective. People need to feel that their time has value.  If they are having to do an exercise that has no relevant connection to the current responsibility the cost benefit ratio is out of balance, and therefore more frustrating than beneficial.  The purpose of team building is to build the social relationships and boost the collaboration effectiveness of the team.  Humans are social beings!  If given the opportunity to be social, they will naturally socialize…even if just to be polite. Guide that socialization in a subtle way and the social relationships will develop. Steal time from important tasks, or (worse) personal time, and there is resentment.  Work/life balance is just as important.  Shorter and more frequent activities can be just as effective as a team day.  The key is subtle structure, clear goals, and relevance.