One Learning Challenge – Three Designers Put Their Skills to the Test #devlearn

The Challenge: Develop an online training module to help fire-related professionals (fire inspectors, building managers, firemen, etc.), identify fire door builds and analyze each build for compliance with current fire codes.  The audience is familiar with the regulations related to fire door safety, however, support was needed to increase the exposure these professional had to the different types of hardware that can make up a fire door.

And a note: Unfortunately I forgot to type down names on this one.

First designer
The first question she explored was to identify the primary sensory inputs used in the task so that learning could be built towards those inputs. Design features included a scenario, chunked information, and testing as a self check. A pre-test with extensive feedback for the wrong answers was provided. It was also important to include an “I’m Stuck” button to provide performance support (helping orient the user about what to do next, for example).

Along the lines of performance support, the design prototype is meant to reinforce the tools fire personnel use to conduct their inspections. A resources icon was available throughout the learning module. Ideally, the resources would also be available as a package that could be downloaded to a mobile device.

Visual design decisions included using a fair amount of white space in case learners were not used to e-Learning.  The designer worked to achieve simplicity in her design.

Second designer
Before the second designer put mouse to mousepad, she began with a number of questions for the subject matter expert. The goal of these questions was to identify any potential challenges to address through the design. She also recommended the use of an analysis checklist to frame the assessment of the problem to be addressed. One is available from E-Learning Uncovered (

The challenges identified for this particular project included wide range audience varying in gender and age. The question also came up regarding what defined success.  Some fields have a wider margin of error than others.  It’s okay to be 99% correct as a professional writer, since there’s an editor to fall back on.  But what is the margin of error for someone who has to ensure a fire door will work as intended?

Motivation was a important to address in the design of the module. This designer believes in starting with something big to encourage a 100% accuracy job.  She used a three pronged approach:
1. Advertisement – She started with an advertisement for the course, using actors who were exemplars of people taking the course. The powerpoint featured images and quotes, in a “Ken Burns” style documentary to emphasize the importance of taking the course. The ad was a simple powerpoint slide show with fade in/out and zoom in/out effects.
2. Actors from this advertisement were used as the cast of characters in the training to promote continuity.
3. The course also incorporated the resources the learners where to use professionally.

Other suggestions included using Google to learn more about your audience, and to frame design using Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping technique. This technique gets to the root of the task the learning will need to do on the job, and the information they’ll need to learn to support that behavior.

Third presenter
This designer used a two pronged solution – A performance aid to be used both during and after the course. This performance aid would have been formatted for Mobile devices, but a smart phone and a paper version would be available.

Any bullet points listed in the current resources would be converted to checklists that force the user to look at and confirm or reject each item.  The designer also advocated using pictures of common issues as a means of passing on wisdom.

The development process used Michael Allen’s framework of identifying Context, Challenge, Course Activity, and Feedback
Context: Understanding the learner’s role and other situational details
Challenge: Interwoven with Context, this is what the learner needs to do based on context
Coures Activity: Begin with a challenge to arouse engagement. Use emotional response as a motivator (“guilt is good”).  The activity needs to be a meaningful interaction simluating real world thoughts and processes.
Feedback: Show the learner how their decisions panned out.

The project itself had three levels.  First, identify the fire doors in the building.  Next, inspect the fire door using the interface built by the designer to replicate the form the learner needs to fill out.  Finally, Provide performance feedback.

A last bit of advice from this designer is to have the users interact with the learning module the same way they’d interact in life.

Useful tools, tips, and techniques:
OmniGrapple (for Mac only) is a diagram and flow chart creator
Finding inspiration – The designers suggest looking at good elearning design to learn how to do it yourself.
Screenshots – You never know what you’ll need, so screenshot everything and then pick what you really want later on.
Allen Interactions – Good source for looking at exemplar online courses
Consider looking at serious games and educational simulations for more examples of interactive interfaces.
Healthcare companies and insurance companies also have a fair amount of freely available online courses from which to gather inspiration.
Even youtube has some examples of good ID.
Resource for hiring actors or avatars

Commonalities among the three designs: Use of simulations/practice activities.  Having performance support tools at the ready during the training.  Using realistic tools wherever possible.

Some discussion was dedicated to the subject of how to pitch an ID idea to a company.  Ideas included using your previous work as exemplars, as well as exemplars of potential work to see if you and the company are a good fit. Note the potential work doesn’t have to be your own creation. It can be from another source, as long as the source is given credit and that you as an ID can live up to the promise of replicating the tool.

It was also suggested to build a rough prototype so that the client can get a feel for it. Again, this prototype doesn’t have to be from your own collection of designed works. Remember to clearly state it as someone else’s prototype, and be sure you can recreate the prototype from start to finish.

On a final note, Illustrations are better than images, which are better than video.  Images work better than video since the information may change rapidly.

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