Storytelling: A Valuable Tool for Instructional Designers

Can storytelling make you a more effective designer?

Think back. Of all the things you have learned over the course of your life, how many of those lessons began with a story? It’s indisputable that human beings love to tell and consume stories but have you ever considered how valuable storytelling might be to you as an Instructional Designer?


Storytelling is multifunctional

Stories entertain us, engage us, AND educate us.  For centuries, human beings have been using stories to transfer information from one individual to another, ensuring that we benefit from each other’s experiences.

From avoiding those delicious looking poisonous berries, to understanding why it’s important to heed your father’s warnings and not fly too close to the sun, storytelling allows learners to envision and plan for experiences they may have never lived through themselves.

Both socially and individually, we as humans live storied lives, think in narrative structures, and most often recall information in story form. For this reason, storytelling mimics the way we naturally process information and learn.

Storytelling offers great benefits to learners

Because stories both alter and impersonate how we process reality, storytelling offers designers a valuable tool for creating a safe place in which learners can explore and adapt to new content. In doing so, learners are better able to make connections between imagined and past experiences and unlearn ideas that may pose obstacles to new learning.

In the fresh new realm of the story, learners are able to open themselves up to different ways of thinking and envision the subject through another person’s eyes.

In this way, storytelling allows learners to personalize and memorize content they may have normally felt little connection to. Even dry data can benefit from a designer who knows how to harness the art of storytelling.

In her blog, “The eLearning Coach”, Connie Malamed posted an interesting four-minute video by Hans Roslings that illustrates how a topic like global health statistics can be presented in a way that truly “comes alive”.

To learn more about how to incorporate compelling stories into your design, listen to Connie Malamed’s interview Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story. Cron offers some great insights into why stories are important to learners and common mistakes storytellers make. Listen Here: 

For more information on the brain science of storytelling and three ways you can use storytelling in everyday life, read The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains.

We’d like to hear from you. Do you incorporate storytelling into your design? How has it worked for you?

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

Dr. Greg Williams, Program Director of UMBC’s ISD Program, Interviewed by EdTech Magazine

In a recent article, A New Seat in the C-Suite: Chief Digital Officers Find a Place on College Campuses, Amy Burroughs of EDTech Magazine, investigated the many challenges that colleges and universities are facing as a result of the digital era’s evolving landscape. She discusses the roles of Chief Digital Officers (CDO) and how they help organizations respond to the changing landscape.

Ed-Tech-MagazineEdTech Magazine asked Dr. Greg Williams, Program Director for UMBC’s ISD Graduate Programs, how UMBC is dealing with the challenges and opportunities of new technology. Because UMBC has relatively few online programs, there is no official online coordinator; instead, Williams fills that role by virtue of his expertise. Schools are spread across the spectrum, from informal advocates to CDOs, with many roles in between. “Often, individual professors drive online programs because of their personal interest, while the university maintains a neutral stance,” said Williams.

Read the entire article here.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

5 Job Search Tips for ISD Professionals

Looking for some job search tips to help you land the ideal position?

Job searching is dizzying and can feel an awful lot like spinning in a circle and then taking that first wobbly step. With so many different ways to connect, it’s no wonder people feel flustered and confused as to how to best proceed. To be efficient, there are several job search tips that can help focus your game plan and help you avoid losing lots of valuable time.

job search tipsWe ran across an article written by Sanjay Sathe, founder and CEO of RiseSmart, that sums up some helpful job search tips and can help job seekers traverse the often unsettling terrain with more confidence and efficiency. To summarize his major points, he suggests to be specific, well-targeted, concise, interactive, and online.

Job Search Tip #1: Be Focused and Specific

When searching job postings, it’s easy to get lost. One way to stay on top of your search is to create a list of keywords that are specific to your area of ISD expertise and skill set. Scan postings using these keywords.

Job Search Tip #2: Use a Well-Targeted Resume

A well-written resume goes without saying, but yet, it is the one area on which people tend to fall short. A resume is a first impression. Misspell a word, forget to use punctuation, neglect to format consistently or list stuff irrelevant to the ISD position and it’s sure to hit the ‘not interested’ pile. To help make your resume stand out, ensure that it’s fully proofed and be sure to use industry and field keywords.

Job Search Tip #3: Draft a Personal Statement

Inevitably, you’re going to be asked the question, ‘so tell me a little about yourself.’ This  question warrants a thoughtful response, one that will catapult you to the top of the list, one that tells the interviewer(s) you are serious and you are the perfect candidate. Devise a concise paragraph statement to use whenever this question is asked. Have it include your strengths, unique skills, and assets you will bring to the team.

Job Search Tip #4: Become Social Media Savvy

Most every company has an online presence now. Be part of their conversation. Get involved. Read their posts. Become their fan. Follow them. Interact with them. This could very well be the front and center ticket you’ve been searching for.

Job Search Tip #5: Create an Online Portfolio

An easy and influential way to show off your ability to present information in a clear, concise, organized manner is through creating a personal website that houses everything professionally important about you. Include your resume, bio, portfolio items and contact information.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

P.S. What other job search tips would you place in this list?

Design Rules for e-learning

The design rules for e-learning can vary widely.

As e-learning professionals, we want to create environments where learners can thrive. That is the worthy goal. So, which rules do we follow to achieve higher learning outcomes?

Donald Clark wrote a blog post, Mayer & Clark – 10 brilliant design rules for e-learning, based on Richard Mayer and Ruth Clark’s research on media and media mix hypotheses in online learning. In this post he describes several key areas of design and their research findings. Below we’ve summarized some of the major points.

design-rules-for-e-learningSummary of Design Rules for e-learning:

Eliminate Redundancy
It is not necessary to toss in every media mix known to mankind to bring e-learning environments to life. In fact, research shows it has the opposite effect. Too much media mix can lead to cognitive overload.

White Space is Key
Research shows that less is more. Allow for breathing room with information. To do this, be concise and thoughtful in how you lay out the content. Keep words to a minimum. Organize words using bullet points, subheads, bolded keywords and pithy paragraphs.

Audio and Animation
To help a student achieve learning, use audio along with your animation rather than text. Using text with animation can causes cognitive confusion and can impede learning.

Graphics and Text
When text is located away from its associated graphic, learning can be decreased. When the learner has to scan the screen to read text that sits apart from its graphic, their learning can be disrupted. The trick here is to keep the text close by the graphic that it is complimenting. When this is done, according to research, problem solving is increased.

Keep it Conversational
Using first-person and second-person language keeps things conversational. Keeping it in a dialogue format opens up the learning environment to one that is interactive.

Design Rules for e-learning in a nutshell

To be effective, e-learning environments need to keep a learner’s attention focused on the topic at hand, need to minimize distraction, and need to help increase cognitive connection. For a more in-depth analysis of the research conducted on this area, please visit Donald Clark’s blog.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

P.S. Please share your thoughts. Which one of the design rules for e-learning do you agree with the most?

5 Ways to Learn A New Skill

When we learn a new skill, we grow.

To grow, we have to be willing to stretch beyond what feels comfortable. Learning a new skill can intimidate many of us. Irrational fears can run around our minds and make us question if we have what it takes to push ourselves to the next level.

Getting stuck in this phase is easy. The problem with staying in this comfort zone too long is that we grow stagnant as the rest of the world develops around us. So how do we get unstuck and finally make that leap?

learn a new skillAccording to a recent article written by Amy Gallo, these are some important principles to follow to learn a new skill:

Ensure the new skill is attainable
To answer this truthfully, think about your current workload, your schedule, any outside demands and tally how much time you are willing to invest. Do you have the time required to learn a new skill? Can you commit to it wholeheartedly?

Find the method that compliments your best learning style
We all learn differently. Some prefer visual over auditory, while others learn best in a hands-on type of situation. Think back to previous times when you’ve learned new skills. Which were most effectively learned? In what type of environment did you learn it? Was it in a classroom, online, or in a one-on-one workshop? Find the system to learn a new skill that works best with your personality.

Learn from a trusted mentor
Find someone doing exactly what you want to be doing and model after him/her. Talk with this person. Ask open-ended questions that will get the conversation steering down a path that will enrich your learning experience. Shadow him. Many are willing to take others under their wing and teach them lessons that they may have worked years to learn.

Tackle one or two skills at a time
Many times we overwhelm ourselves by trying to tackle too much at once. It’s unrealistic to create too many challenging goals and expect to sustain the drive and motivation to achieve them all at once. Pick one or two actionable items, at most, and focus on them. Once you’ve mastered them, move on to the next set.

Take what you’ve learned and apply it by teaching it to others
When we learn a new skill, a great way to cement it in our brains is to put it into practice right away. A great technique to doing this is to teach someone else what you’ve learned. This action may open up new questions you have on the process and cause you to dig deeper to understand and learn it even more proficiently. It also offers you the ability to connect to action right away by illustrating the skillset to someone else.

Instructional designers can apply these tips to their personal learning goals, and keep them in mind when they’re helping others acquire new skills.

Most important THING to remember when you want to learn a new skill is to take action on it!

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

P.S. Let’s turn this over to you… Do you use any of the above tactics or have any additional ones when you learn a new skill?

How to Stop Procrastinating

As professionals, there is always something new to learn, always something to be doing, always something to be improving upon… We know this, but sometimes, we find ourselves in a comfort zone where we stick to what’s tried and true. We know this leads to complacency, to tired material, to apathetic feelings. Yet, we look at the alternative, which in this context is to thrive and shake it up, and we think “yeah, I should really take that class, I should really work on that, or I should really brush up on that skill.”


The first step to take to stop procrastinating is to eliminate the word “should.”

When we say “I should do xyz” what we’re really saying is “later I will do xyz.” And when later comes, we look back on our broken promise and admit we allowed procrastination to seep in and take over our important tasks.

Second step to take to stop procrastinating is to ask ourselves why we allow it to seep in? Are we bored? Are we tired? Are we lacking the time?

Many situations can keep us from growing as professionals. We can make a list of excuses and line them up for what seems like infinity. Do excuses really help us?

To stay fresh and fulfilled as professionals requires that we step outside the walls of comfort and reach for more. In other words, we have to stop procrastinating and take action on critical personal and professional development steps that will help us further succeed in our roles.

Andy Phillips shares his ideas on how to best break free from procrastination by breaking bad habits in his posting The Quickest Way to Improve.

He suggests writing a list of bad habits, placing them in a bowl, and picking one of them out once a month and not doing the habit. When mastered, he advises to choose another. To gain more insights on his method, check out his website – The Art of Small Improvements.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

Have you experienced success when you’ve tried to stop procrastinating?

3 Job Searching Tips for Instructional Technologists from the eLearning Coach

We wanted to share some job searching tips from Connie Malamed, blogger at the eLearning Coach, and a close friend of ISD Now.

elearning coachShe recently shared her podcast on “Finding a Job in Instructional Technology,” with us. In the podcast, Connie interviews Joe Fournier, Director of Instructional Design and Technology, who has hired several individuals within the field.

Joe shares 3 helpful key job searching tips for finding a job in instructional technology:

  • A Thirst for Learning: A good instructional designer often possesses a thirst for learning
  • Portfolio Power: Joe encourages instructional designers provide portfolios (particularly in an online format).
  • Bye-Bye Boilerplate: Hiring managers are looking to hire instructional designers who fit with the team and close any existing gaps. Outstanding interviewees can have a conversation with you, not regurgitate boilerplate talking points about themselves.

To hear the full podcast with job searching tips for instructional designers, click below.

Click here to listen to the podcast “Finding a Job in Instructional Technology” in a new window.

Subscribe to Connie’s podcasts in iTunes.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now
P.S. Are you looking for a job in instructional technology? Join the UMBC ISD Career and job list-serve!

What are Some Tricks to Google Search?

Curious about knowing some tricks to Google search? They do exist.

tricks-to-google-searchMost of us who are busy professionals are trying to save time. We’ve only got so many hours in a day to get things accomplished. If you’re like most, you’ve probably researched the best ways to streamline processes and create systems to make life easier and help you work more efficiently and effectively.

Learning the Tricks to Google Search is critical if efficiency and effectiveness are a top priority.

One area that can easily become a time waster is in the land of searching for information. We type into search engines those terms we believe will magically bring out the content we need, but often are discouraged when we discover page after page of irrelevant content.

So, what kind of tricks to Google search can we put into practice so we can become better searchers and save time for those business and learning activities that can keep us focused on the success track?

Whitson Gordon wrote an article “Top 10 Ways to Speed Up and Beef Up Your Google Searches” on Lifehacker. In this informative article, he details some great tricks to Google search that will streamline the process. Some of the ideas he outlines are making use of built-in tools, user scripts, and cache tools, to name a few. Check out his article for in-depth ideas how 10 easy to use tricks.

The bottom line is, the more focused we can be on the task at hand, the more efficient we will be.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

P.S. We’d love to hear from you on this important topic. What are some tricks to Google search that you’ve discovered?

Join us for a Complimentary Webinar on January 15, 2013

UMBC’s ISD Now Webinar Series is holding its next complimentary webinar, “Visual Language for Designers”, on January 15, 2013.

This webinar will be held from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET.

Connie-MalamedThis complimentary webinar will touch on the importance of understanding the hidden language of visuals, and how this adds to more impact.

In this lively webinar, Connie Malamed explores visual design principles that are based on cognitive science. Participants will learn about the power of
visual communication and how to use graphics to engage learners, convey meaning and facilitate retention.

Register today!

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

PS. Feel free to check out Connie’s website.

6 Ways to Design Effective eLearning Courses

To design effective eLearning courses, one must pay special attention to the nuances that can make or break a learning environment.

A critical component to a successful course is one that is well-designed in terms of being engaging, practical and easy to navigate. For a course to be effective, students must be interested and motivated to learn the material. With so much vying for their attention, how can we better design courses that engage and motivate our audiences?


SHIFT’s eLearning Blog talks about 6 ways to design effective eLearning courses.

Effective eLearning element 1: The importance of how adults learn

The brain works hard to learn, digest, and retain information. When a student is engaged in learning, the brain steps into action and fires off all kinds of responses. A well-designed course will cater to the brain’s high functions and allow the learner to walk away with a solid bank of new information.

Effective eLearning element 2: Adding graphics to improve learning

People judge a course by how it looks. Does it appeal to their senses? Does it make them want to learn? Does it flow? Graphics should lift a course to higher learning ground by being relevant.

Effective eLearning element 3: Aligning text near relevant graphics

Seems simple, and it is! It’s also critical in helping students retain information. When appropriately displayed, the brain registers the graphic with the text and implants it in memory.

Effective eLearning element 4: Using audio to explain graphics

According to SHIFT’s blog, including audio to your courses may increase the effectiveness of the learning experience up to 80%.

Effective eLearning element 5: Keeping it real (human)

Students are human beings, not robots, so be sure you’re tapping into their emotions. Technology is great with all of its useful bells and whistles, but at the end of the day, students relate to new information best when it also taps into their senses.

Effective eLearning element 6: Avoiding distractive visuals, audio and text

Nothing spells disaster to a learning environment than distraction. Be sure the right things are standing out to students by eliminating the clutter of unnecessary visuals, audio and text.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

p.s. Do you have additional elements to add? Please feel free to chime in by leaving a comment. To learn more about how to design effective eLearning Courses, read SHIFT’s eLearning Blog.