Learning Designer Diaries – Taking the yawn out of compliance


Endlessly supportive though he is of what I do for a living, my husband does not share my enthusiasm for online learning. His spirits are dampened as the three-yearly mandatory fire safety module approaches once more. It’s dull so he moans about having to do it. Yet what could be more important to an organisation and its employees than the continued existence of both?

No doubt the learning objectives are covered, but I suspect a little understanding of human psychology would transform this module:

  • Grab their attention right from the start by showing the impact of getting it wrong.
  • Make it relevant by telling a personal story – what happens if I stop to put my coat on, or go back for my phone?
  • Let the shocking statistics speak for themselves – what’s the consequence of a one minute delay? Or two minutes?
  • Find out what they know already with a diagnostic challenge at the outset – personalise the rest and skip the unnecessary.
  • Create bite-sized activities, combining different media to vary the delivery.
  • Use an immersive simulation – explore different scenarios in safety; it doesn’t have to be budget-busting.
  • Turn it into a game – increasing in popularity, as we understand more about how they motivate and appeal to our competitive nature.

Compliance e-learning really doesn’t have to be yawn-inducing, if we just stop to think about why it’s mandatory in the first place. Take the suite of modules on safety that we recently delivered to a major UK retailer. Realistic and thought-provoking scenarios based on custom-scripted videos, beautifully shot in store locations… but that’s a diary entry for another day.

Sue Rennoldson is Lead Instructional Designer at WillowDNA

Sue Rennoldson is Lead Instructional Designer at WillowDNA

Conversations on AI can take you anywhere, including Austin TX!

Conversations are everything – whether they are short and action focussed or long and exploratory, stories kick start the new.  It’s a conversation that has started a new adventure for me, a conversation with Myra Travin, Educational Futurist for Learning Now Radio on AI and the future of learning that could take me to SxSWEdu in 2017.  It is one of the most enjoyable episodes I have recorded so far, because it tackles a seemingly complex subject from a highly pragmatic perspective. Learning and development is a profession that has been accused in the past of just looking for the next shiny thing;  AI, data analysis and learning could just be resigned to another passing phase.  But if you are in that camp, then there’s another great conversation in this past week on Radio 4 in the excellent and very funny Simon Evans Goes To Market that may help change your mind.  In this episode, they demonstrate that Mathematics is the surest way to secure a good job and earnings prospects as the nature of work changes and data drives our world. Numbers  can no longer be ignored, even if you did struggle with long division at school or don’t know the airspeed of an unladen Swallow (I’ll accept answers for either African or European Swallows, Monty Python fans). For learning, the impact of data and artificial intelligence could be profound – one of the challenges that limit organisational success is not lack of information, but the ability to put it to work.  The ability to draw on and learn from information to make decisions and test hypotheses has been transformed through AI. The hours of trawling through case law in legal services companies, cross referencing medical data and treatment outcomes in medicine, the change is happening now.  Soon the availability of systems that can utilise AI engines will help us organise, process and draw well-researched conclusions to help inform decision making will permeate the way we learn and work. There are some concerns about this and questions raised on the future of roles in organisations, but that’s why it’s so important we get talking about it now and understand how we can build a great future in this new context.  This takes me back to that great conversation that started this all off.  Myra has a gift of making the topic accessible and motivating you to go off googling for the latest stuff on AI and trawling through back issues of Wired Magazine!  She also laid down the gauntlet to me to think about the role I can play with helping others understand how AI will shape the way we work, learn and innovate. But rather than keep with in the realms of conversation, we want to take action – so having Mark Sheppard on the panel, a man of learning action who’s actually getting on with this stuff is fantastic.  His experience within the xAPI community and developing the Learner Experience (LX) model with Myra will bring a real grounding to the topic.  So here’s three of us, an educational futurist, Human Capital and EdTech expert and a knowledge management and learning strategist, putting our heads together, looking at the emergent picture in organisations and taking these conversations and turning them into practical steps. That’s what we’ll be sharing with you at SxSWEdu 2017 if you help making it happen. Please vote for our session at the SxSW PanelPicker and in the meantime, keep watching for more on the topic in the coming months.  Thanks for voting!

Learning Live Preview – a conference where you can get stuff done

leanring liveSummer time and the livin’ is easy?  Well being specialists in the tougher L&D challenges, we aren’t ones for the easy life!  A good creative and intellectual challenge is what we prefer and the issues facing the changing face of learning and performance in organisations required some rigorous thinking. That’s why I would encourage you to get along to Learning Live on the 7th and 8th September, as its a departure from your standard conference.  The format is lecture free, which makes the event by its nature, highly collaborative.  For someone attending, its means you can come along with questions and expect to leave with practical answers. It can be difficult to find the time and the budget to get out to events but because the LPi have worked so hard to make these sessions to participatory, you can expect to leave with some of your strategic to do list ticked off. Some of my essential sessions include:

MICHELLE PARRY-SLATER: The value of free: creating fantastic learning assets

NICK SHACKLETON-JONES – Redesigning Learning

JOE TIDMAN: Delivering an agile Global Learning Strategy

ANDREW JACOBS: Developing the L&D professional to be relevant to the business

TOM SPIGLANIN: Personalised learning in unusual places

CATHY HOY: Embedding Learning – Maximising the role of the Manager

BRENT SCHLENKER: VR isn’t the future – it’s the past & present (and future)

Oh and of course my session 🙂

LISA MINOGUE-WHITE: Learning where it really matters – a practical guide to understanding the business through value chains


Learning Designer Diaries – The ‘how much and by when’ story

It’s never easy, having the conversation with the sales team, a potential client and asking the all important ‘how much and by when?’ question. Every designer’s aim is to delight their audience – it’s a marriage of art and science. Using creative treatments to engage people and deliver a tangible result takes curiosity, analysis, rigour and imagination. To make this happen means getting the right resources in place with the right time frame and a realistic budget to go with realistic expectations. When it’s a critical programme that if executed well could reap huge benefit, it’s worth thinking what you really want as an outcome, taking the time to plan it properly and invest in the idea. – It can be fun and informative. You don’t need sky high budgets, but agreeing on a realistic budget that is linked to the business results you want to see is an important dialogue. So next time you are looking to buy in for a project (having done the important job of really understanding the learning requirements and business drivers), this could be a useful visual to use as a discussion point to agree the budget you need. blog image-01 If it’s something that is going to be short lived and disposable, you adjust the time and budget to reflect it. If it’s a programme that is linked directly to transformative change and critical skills that your organisation needs to be successful then give it some thought – what is it worth? Think of it like this – for your next children’s birthday party, get out the disposable plates, but if you want to make the most of that really nice bottle of red you splashed out on, don’t pour it into a plastic tumbler.  

Lizzie Wakefield - Digital Designer

Lizzie Wakefield – Digital Designer

Learning Designer Diaries – bespoke e-learning content techniques

Like many bespoke e-learning designers, I am a big fan of Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes challenges.  The openness and inventiveness of the community makes it such a popular resource and I regularly look out for themes that catch my eye. This week’s challenge is ‘Personalize Your E-Learning Courses with Gamification Techniques’ and it set off an idea (in the middle of the night!) that got me thinking.

Creating a personalised experience

Often when creating bespoke e-learning content, we are looking for ways to enable the learner to create their own journey: explore and discover, rather than show and tell.  Many programmes are designed to do this at a higher level, through effective blending of learning mediums and balance of formal and informal (often called scaffolded learning).  However there are many creative ways to deliver a more personalised experience in the content itself, such as branching scenarios, diagnostics, choosing avatars and enabling learners to customise environments.  I wanted to explore we could create a more personalised experience through gamification, putting the learner in control and providing motivation along the way.

I wanted to know if it was possible to hand over control to the user to explore and discover moving around a screen more like you would see in a game – I hadn’t set out to develop this but having woken in the night wondering if this was possible – I found it was!

Try it out here gamification_learninggamification_test

I haven’t worked on the design aspect here – just functionality, the first part of this is designed to hand over control to the user – they can move about an environment exploring and discovering as they choose.

The second part is the treasure hunt where I have used the idea of having to solve a simple code to find the treasure – but this could be dressed up in many different ways to test different objectives.

Lizzie Wakefield - Digital Designer Lizzie Wakefield – Digital Designer

Learning Designer Diaries – Hip Hop, you don’t stop (learning!)

Breaker in Berlin by Lisa Minogue-White

Breakers in Berlin © Lisa Minogue-White

Which rapper has been searched for most often in the last ten years?

This lone question, delivered through a simple Storyline quiz, played its part in driving adoption of our client’s shiny new software and creating a buzz along the way.

How? Because the tool’s new users could only find out the answer from the tool itself. And correct answers were entered into a draw for some very tempting prizes. One question was released every day during launch week and the response was phenomenal. Standard SCORM reporting was all that was needed to operate the draw and prove its worth. With every correct answer, the chance of winning a prize increased.

Of course, alongside the fun and games was a suite of modules giving a step by step guide to the tool and case studies in its use. But that’s another story (and that story involves some beautiful animation, custom music to move the learning along and gorgeous graphics). 

And did you get the name of the rapper right? Well, it could only be Eminem.

Sue Rennoldson - Lead Instructional Designer

Sue Rennoldson – Lead Instructional Designer

Games, promotional content, communications, animation, video and music are just some of the ways we help our clients bring their learning needs to life – get in touch to find out more.

Introducing the Learning Designer Diaries

learning designer diaries icon v3I am delighted to introduce our new regular feature – the learning designer diaries.  Our talented learning and digital design team at WillowDNA will be sharing with you quick insights, case studies, reviews and research. From examples of our creative client work, through to top tips on learning design, the team have lots of share with you. Our first post will be from Lead instructional designer, Sue Rennoldson on how to combine internal communications and learning to engage the organisation.  Find out why a question on hip hop was the key to driving adoption of a major new tech solution. Your learning designer diaries team are:    

CIPD L&D Show Preview

Take a quick look at the conference programme for this year’s CIPD L&D show and the key theme becomes clear – transforming learning. future for learning In previous years, the major of the conference has been typified by presentations of specific L&D projects, from organisational wide transformation, through to specific interventions for key areas of the business (such as new approaches to sales academies, leadership programmes or innovative use of learning technology).  This year, heads of L&D and CLOs are going bigger – sessions such as ‘How L&D Can Lead Digital Transformation in 2016’ and ‘Removing Organisational Barriers to Empower your People’ to ‘Influencing Business Leaders to Embrace the Modern Learning Agenda’ typify the agenda. I’m looking forward to reporting back from the event, to see how this transformative theme is received and some of the highlights from the session.

Performance is more than support – final thoughts on strategy

Thank you to everyone for your feedback and shares from this series, we really appreciate it and more importantly, it appears to be striking a chord for those devising their learning strategy. So to make this happen, we can no longer use the excuse that learning and development take care of the learning round here.  Even if that is a prevailing culture in your organisation and even in the most controlled environments where learning is served by a structured LMS and access to external sites, social media etc are restricted (and believe me, this still exists probably more than you would expect!), things have already changed whether the organisational strategy has led that change or not. On most of the desks or in the pockets of your people, they will have devices that will connect them to whatever they need and whoever they need.  So is all this talk of learning and performance necessary at all? Well I believe it does, because as well as being more empowered than ever before to access knowledge and insights we need, there’s more of it and we all have more to do!  So learning and development as a key business enabler are not redundant, but they do need to reposition and in some cases re-skill to be relevant in this new work age.  They have the potential to be the ‘catalyst’ for performance, making learning more relevant, flexible and deliver closer alignment to what’s really needed.  As well as embarking on this evolution themselves, they are taking many people with them – this is truly a team effort. It will challenge the role of leaders, the way technology is managed and procured, how content is delivered, it will shape talent strategy, demand more rigorous and business aligned measurement.  It sounds complex, but starting with real business issues and designing learning scaffolds to support it is what we have always done and continue to do.  The flavour of each of those scaffolds is different; e-learning can still be entirely relevant but for other contexts, the creation and facilitation of communities may be the answer.  You’ll know what to do through taking a performance focussed consultancy approach and its an approach that can handle a changing world. Picture1

Performance is more than support – Performance Catalysts

So our final instalment of our series, we look at performance in the context of innovation and how performance catalysts (people who help build new connections, bring together different factors and create supporting environments) are key.  Inspired by my conversations and reading the work of Tom Spiglanin, the role of performance catalysts could be a useful way to support learning and development ensure they align with the heart of business performance.

Performance catalysts

Performance catalysts making connections, curating great content and insights, facilitating communities and more…

Example: new product development, breaking a new market


This is where the organisation as a whole needs to align behind a performance culture that encourages experimentation and analysis, investment in appropriate technology, understanding of how to engage through communications and content.  But perhaps more important than this, that each individual in an organisation can positively contribute to the performance of others when given the tools and appropriate support (which is where the learning team come in!).  Innovation and breakthroughs don’t just arise from an organised brainstorming sessions and generating ideas at the veracious rate of James Dyson and Jonny Ives is not an everyday occurrence.  But may small improvements can amount to significant business value and of course encourage conditions where those breakthroughs are more likely to happen.  This takes a level engagement much deeper than an ‘idea of the month’ competition – Amy Brann in her book ‘Engaged’ is a great starter in developing the conditions for performance in organisations, informed by research into neuroscience as it relates to work.  It’s a significant topic on its own, but Brann’s books are a great place to start.

Goal setting

This is where assertive and focussed learning team that can talk the language of the business comes into its own.  There may not be a stated performance gap but exploring current practices and current performance levels, learning teams working as performance consultants can help identify opportunities for improvement or where talents and knowledge are being under utilised.  Tangible goal setting with targets then become a two way street, not just delivered from the board but also suggested by the business themselves.


Leading on from goal setting, communities are fertile ground for identifying performance improvements, challenging the status quo, sharing ideas from outside the business and sharing ways in which they have found efficiencies, better tools, great suppliers etc.  The challenge here is to give these communities clear purpose.  Its clear how much benefit can be derived through improving knowledge sharing and collaboration so it’s a common frustration when communities just don’t stick.  Most often that’s because they are imposed upon an organisation as a ‘new initiative’ – low participation rates and a quick decline into obscurity follow.  Communities thrive when they are addressing real points of pain experienced right now and have appropriate facilitation and technology support to make it easy to contribute and access.  Once established and trust built between community participants, innovation communities can then be established.  Organisations need to be realistic – multi million dollar ideas are not going to generated on a weekly basis but the opportunity to take part in this type of activity can be highly motivating and rewarding.  Those organisations will to accommodate some risk taking are more likely to find that USP and have happier employees! 

Tools and Tech

Collaboration platforms that enable the quick sharing of content, links and research as well as upload of user created content sits at the heart of online communities.  Many organisations will already have platforms such as Salesforce Chatter, Honey, Yammer and Ning – each have their own strengths and weaknesses and adoption is often patchy.  This is a great example of tech as the enabler, not the solution.  If you have well supported communities orientated around a clear purpose for its participants, this should drive what it needs. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find communities organically emerging and using tools with which they are comfortable.  Making good choices in providing opportunities for collaboration come down to making it quick to search, quick to create and upload and content fresh.  This is where you’ll see more organisations taking the portal approach that many of our customers adopt – aggregating tools into a single portal that pulls in relevant content, enables intelligent sharing, content feeds and upload.  With improved and easier integration, it is becoming easier to create the right solution for your particular organisation and swap out elements as needed. There are other ways to support a learning culture through supporting learner generated content – tools like learn.ist for creating your own portfolio, Adobe Voice for quick animated stories, Microsoft Snip for walkthroughs, iMovies and Adobe Premiere Clip for quick video editing – all free tools and all support development of quick, disposable content.


Catalysts: This is the culmination of the new learning professional’s role – it is a multi faceted role that is truly performance focussed.  If the learning team are fulfilling the role of performance consultant, they are well connected throughout the business and able to recognise and capitalise on opportunities for individuals and teams to work together to deliver something new. Leaders are also hugely influential here through their active support of time participating in communities, space of experimentation and a measured degree of risk taking.  Of course, organisations must keep focus on delivery but to truly breakthrough in your given sector, Einstein’s very well worn quote is worth repeat just one more time ‘ Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ So we are almost at the end of this series – in our final instalment we’ll give you a quick take away summary to help inform your strategy.