Two days of elearning design with Tom Kuhlmann, David Anderson and a Bento box

May 22, 2013


With a background in sales and business development I never expected to be going on a course to become a rapid elearning pro!

It all began 6 months ago when I started working with Little Man Project. After watching the developers use Articulate Storyline I just couldn’t resist having a play myself. Five months later and a few dozen articulate community tutorials later and I am truly hooked as well as amazed at how accessible and intuitive the platform is. So when I found out that Gill Chester, our in-house expert, was going to be helping with the Tom Kuhlmann Masterclass in London I jumped at the invitation to go along and hear first-hand what Tom and David Anderson, two of the leading Articulate elearning gurus, had to say.

This is my summary and reflections of the event.


Visual vs. Information Approaches

On day one, the most interesting thing that struck me was the very different way individuals approach projects. It seemed to me that most people can be grouped by, those whose approach a project from a visual perspective and those who approach it from an information (i.e. text) perspective. This came through during our session on Storyboards led by David. It was also reinforced during the last group exercise where we were tasked with coming up with a concept that we then had to create in Storyline. Although the concept was developed in unison it was immediately apparent when we started to produce the scene that the visual result would have been very different if every person created the same thing on our own. With this in mind, it might have been a useful exercise to get everyone to create the same scene and then make this available as a resource.

Personally, I like to approach any project initially using a broad brush-stroke method (not getting bogged down in the detail) by initially breaking information/text down so that each section either creates impact and/or isn’t so crowded that it fails to resonate with a learner. After this initial copy exercise, I like to think of it as a story or a journey for the learner.


You Give Elearning a Bad Name!

Tom is keen to help developers improve their visual design skills and spent quite a bit of time showing us different ways to present dull and flat subjects in a visually rich way. Although he is far too polite to say it, it struck me that it’s basically the fault of the developer not the content if a course is dull and leads to the learner pulling out their eyelashes one by one (which I have experienced first-handbefore I started at Little Man Project!!).

It’s this lack of imagination that I believe has given elearning a bad name. By pure chance I got chatting to a woman on the Tube (yes it is possible to speak to people on the Tube!) who was going to the same venue for a different course. When she asked me where I was going her response was not overly positive. She explained that her experience of elearning had not been very interactive but more about simply clicking through using the next button and just for the sake of it.

Tom also encouraged the use of sound to add an extra layer of richness to courses, as this is something we have been actively exploring in new ways recently. Sound (aside from narration) seems to be a little overlooked considering its effect of immediately transporting you into a different narrative or scene coupled with its increased use in other less expected areas such as in restaurants.  (For example Heston Blumenthal’s sound of the sea experience).


There’s more than one way to bore a learner…

Although Tom is clear that linear courses have their place I would agree with him that they certainly don’t have to be standard practice. There has to be a balance between linear and branching. He did go on to emphasise that likewise we shouldn’t overcomplicate courses and waste the learner’s time unnecessarily. For example by including a pointless space invaders game simply to add a bit of fun clearly doesn’t add value (unless you’re talking about space invaders which was pretty cool, right?!). But at the same time a torturous “next” button exercise can bring most people close to the edge, let alone it being an enjoyable experience.

Of course it also is about the time available to create courses, the stakeholder’s involvement and the restrictions put on a project that affect the outcome and the experience for the learner. That said I got the sense from most people in the room that if they were given total freedom they could and wanted to produce the very best elearning every time.

The individual types of course design processes were interesting to explore particularly the Bulls Eye Course that I had not come across before and which uses a backwards course design process.


Top Tips from Tom and David

Whilst I am sure it may not always be possible (as in many industries) to have enough time in an in-house environment to create the perfect courses, what I loved about the Masterclass was the number of top tips David and Tom gave us to help speed up the process and therefore give us more time to focus on the important things. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • The use of a generic, pre-defined project folder as standard, we use this and find this is a great time saver. It allows the team to instantly know where to find documents and regularly used templates and documents are available straight away.
  • Likewise using an initial visual look-and-feel mind map lets you explore the presentation of the content before you have committed to the design of the resource. This process doesn’t take into account the brand but focuses on associations the content might have visually. This is a great way to start the design process before you get immersed in concepts or presentation.
  • On the subject of time, don’t forget that any time invested in developing ideas should not be lost. A great idea for a scene, treatment or interaction should be kept and added to some sort of ideas/inspiration library that you can come back to for future projects. How great to have a few solutions to a project before you start them?!
  • Another simple but useful idea is what Tom describes as a “Floating Palette”. He uses this to create standardisedobjects such as text boxes, buttons, image styles that not only ensure consistency they also save time.
  • I was surprised to find the subject of storyboarding seemed to be the most controversial topic of all with no consensus over which approach to take. This included to do it or not, what tools to use and when to do it. Reading between the lines (later confirmed by Gill) even Tom and David had very different views. I suppose this surprised me because here at Little Man Project we are pretty passionate about storyboarding and will bore anyone in earshot about it given the chance. We feel strongly that this should be a visual storyboard that shows our client exactly what to expect. For us full graphic storyboard also places the design focus on the visual and interactive story rather than the information (see I told you we could bore anyone given a chance!). On the tools used (if a storyboard was even completed) the room seemed to be split evenly between people using PowerPoint and Word with a couple of Excel users (which left most people stunned). Group discussion highlighted the point that for some it depended on who you are storyboarding for because from a stakeholder point of view they do not necessarily need the same minutiae of detail that say a designer would.
  • Finally two relatively simple and quick tricks from Tom and David were using placeholder screens for rapid development and experimenting with the grid system of screen layouts

Tom and David’s suggestions for useful additional elearning resources which I will be looking into were:

As you can see, it was a packed event with lots of food for thought and practical things to do. I certainly found it interesting and useful although, as you would expect, many of the recommendations are already embedded practice for us.  Oh anddid I mention the amazing bento box lunch which was reason enough in anyone’s book to attend, yum!


Written by Jennifer Compton, Business Development Manager at Little Man Project.





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